The Democratization of Hi-fi Through Personal Audio Pt. 1

I missed the golden age of stereo, I've said it before and that really sucks. 

By the time I got a job at Pearson Publishing, home of The Absolute Sound magazine in 1994 (where other mags also lived, like The Perfect Vision & Films in Review) the party was nearing its end.  Don't get me wrong.  I met some amazing people during that time period, and I'm in touch with almost all of them today.  As a matter of fact, I've been seeing many of them at various trade shows since my first CES in 1996!  But something's changed in the high end audio industry: There's no more unity.  Sure, a few of us who've known each other for years spend time together at shows, but for the most part the high end audio community, meaning manufacturers, marketers, reps and so on, has become so detached from consumer culture it's become an almost cartoon-like, microcosmic world.  One of the pieces of fabric that binds this world together is apathy between peers, and for the user to be brutally honest.  Magazines and editorial departments are holding onto archaic formulas because they don't have enough faith in their audiences.  They think if they change their approach they might lose their core audience. Well guess what:  Your core audience is aging itself out of existence anyway, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

It's the elitist attitude that brought high end two-channel to its knees.  Not to mention the cost of entry for a would-be audiophile during the worst global economy since the Great Depression. Add outrageously priced gear to a separatist attitude, and it's no surprise the demographics for high end two channel in-room playback has been waining since the late eighties.  Then came the iPod and mp3 files and it all went to shit.  The audiophile industry started poo pooing the iPod generation so badly, they broke almost all ties to pop culture.  Then came high end computer playback/desktop audio, and the re-awakening of headphone culture. And now: We're experience a renaissance of vinyl playback! There are kids that LOVE their analog. Oops - ALL CAPS, I know, it's offensive. But get over it. It's the 21st Century. It's ALL changing. Right here. Right now.

Thanks to a sea of innovation and excitement swirling around it: Personal audio is king.  Why? For many reasons.  One: Generations have grown up listening to headphones, whether Beats By Dre or Sennheiser, it's irrelevant.  That's how they relate to their music on a daily basis.  Two: We want our music with us at all times, and we also seek sonic fulfillment from our portable rigs. This is a new concept.  Portability in music was strictly a convenience before.  Three: There's a global online gathering place for the world's most dedicated personal audio devotees (writers, straight-up hobbyists, and newbies alike). That place is Head-Fi.org. There are others, and I do NOT want to discount them. I just haven't spent time there yet.  Having a gathering spot where you can interact with a tribe of like-minded people is a powerful thing, especially if you share love for a common denominator.  That provides a connecting point to develop bonds over despite our individual origins and biases. At Head-Fi, the common denominator is our love of music and our chosen playback experience: Delivery via headphones and personal audio gear (headphone amps, digital audio players/DAPs, DACs, and also a decent amount of Hifi as well)  

Now, one of the keys to keeping ANY tribe moving forward is proper policing.  There's just no way around it.  People will be people, but if you place some emphasis on decorum, and also dedicate time to enforcing it, the results are far better than if there's no policing at all.  The same could be said of society.  Unfortunately, in many high end audio forums, such as Audio Asylum, numerous trolls spend much of their time cutting reviewers and editors to pieces. Even worse, many of the editors waste their time responding to their madness. 

You can't reason with someone who takes time out of their life to complain about yours.  The younger generation on Head-Fi?  With the occasional exception: They're too busy seeking information on the latest ortho-dynamic closed-back headphones, or the new portable DAC/headphone amp combo that gives the user more options. In addition, they get to interface with the manufacturers that are designing and building the equipment they adore.  You see, Head-Fi works as a community, and the manufacturers are just as engaged as the end users. That's another difference between personal audio today and high end audio.  In the high end it seems too many manufacturers design esoteric products in their ivory towers, come down, and tell the end user they need to buy it to have "the best." There is NO "BEST." We're ALL individuals (sound familiar??) At the end of ALL OF THIS: We're reacting to the sound of music. At the risk of coming around again, soundin' like a broken record: Music is an art-form. It stirs emotion, and if it doesn't do that for you - my words won't matter anyway. But everything matters when trying to achieve that deep connection to your music: So try it all! You'd be amazed what the right cables can do for your sound system - or even proper power and resonance control! Scream snake oil all you want. NO worries. I'm havin' FUN rockin' Gangstarr's "Take Two and Pass" right now, and I'm not even home. Bumpin' it on my Audeze LCD-2 planar cans, Double Helix Cables Molecule SE, CEntrance HiFi-M8 (amp/DAC combo - battery or USB-bus powered) via Wywires Platinum Series Litespd Digital USB cable. Uh huh...

and let the venom spew - - - 
No?

Check out what experienced reviewers have to say. I NEVER said we were irrelevant. I just said we're no more important, nor, these days, are we better-informed than our audience. We're all users, we're all fans, we're all hobbyists, we all love music. So those of us engaged in the art of critiquing audio, whether headphone gear or high end two-channel, we need to work on dropping old habits together. How do we do that? I don't have answers, but the audience does! One thing I have learned: Standing out from all the noise ain't easy - and bringin' well-intentioned passion and never-ending enthusiasm will reach some of the most dedicated readers you've ever had. Some of them might even get into battles over the interwebs for you, and those beefs may've been lit-up by the most beautiful GIRL IN THE ROOM. Time to break our own walls. I would never pretend to be able to reach Steve Guttenberg's editorial level, the quality of his words, despite his insane output. I wouldn't tell David Hyman how to change the world, or tell Alex Rosson what's next! We gotta know our place. As I said in Responsibility of the privileged: We're merely guides - but with that comes responsibility. I don't take that lightly. If you really felt the words of the last Occupy Hifi column you'd know where I'm comin' from. Lets all step-it-up, together. Our readers, end-users, The audience, will be the better for it.

To Be Continued...