The Hub: News, events, gossip: Come the REVOLUTION

Okay: we're at the point where virtually everyone in the audio industry knows that we're not in Kansas any more, or at least not in the boom years of the '70's. Those golden olden days in audio (at least as remembered by the gray-headed boomers so often seen in the biz) saw a stereo in every dorm room and in most family rooms. Now we see iPods and computers.

In our last entry of The Hub, we looked at some of the ways in which audio manufacturers are reaching out to new and burgeoning markets; in this entry we'll take a look at some steps that can be made to reach the 'Pod and 'puter generation, right here in the good ol' US of A. Granted, it might not be like old times...but give it a chance. It could turn out to be even better.

We modestly propose a few nontraditional marketing programs to take Hi-Fi to the people. Some of them, anyway.

COLLEGE TOURS: Back at the dawn of time when BSR turntables were as common in dorm rooms as..umm...HOTPLATES, mainstream audio companies like Kenwood and Pioneer sent traveling roadshows to college campuses. Could it work today?
Why not? Here's the plan, in a nutshell:

Two people drive a truck from campus to campus, and set up 3-4 room exhibits in Student Union buildings, in association with a local dealer(s). The truck would carry only iPod/streaming-related PORTABLE products. The local dealer would exhibit some larger, stationary gear. Room One would have only headphones, of a wide variety and price ranges. Room Two would have iPod docks, boomboxes, dacs, amps, small active speakers, etc. Room Three would have a shrine to audiophilism: Analog, tubes, horns, planars, etc.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Give the next generation of consumers a free sample of this addictive drug:good sound. That's all we have to do. Surely, 1/100 or 1/200 will get addicted with their first hit. Sure, it sounds cynical--but mothing works like demos. 2) Sell some products to the students or faculty - not only for some cash flow, but for planting seeds on that campus, so that their friends see the cool new stuff. 3) Enroll student entrepreneurs as 'affiliates', to sell products to their friends for a commission.

The tours would be funded by the manufacturers whose products will be displayed. We would need a large headphone maker as a major sponsor (Sennheiser? Monster?), then associate sponsors with their iPod gear and/or headphone amps (B&W, Klipsch, Schiit,Focal?), and perhaps a few small sponsors with tweaked dac's, small tube amps, etc.

Our next plan is a shameless example of piggy-backing on not just a successful company, but a successful brand. Hey, nothin' succeeds like success, right?

RIDING APPLE'S COAT-TAILS: Consider the typical Apple user. He/she sacrifices software choices, and pays a lot more for the hardware, purely for the sake of a better user experience. From the outset they are pre-disposed to becoming audiophiles, since that is EXACTLY the same behavior exhibited by us audio addicts.

Apple has captured the high-end segment of computing, and an Apple store is where we will find the most-concentrated numbers of consumers with a taste for a 'better' experience. The fiendishly-simple business model: Rent retail space as close as possible to existing Apple Stores (directly across the hall/street ideally).

Use the front display to attract Apple users with Apple-based audio /video systems. Inside the store, have a variety of combinations of computer/iPod related audio gear. Save one room for the audio shrine: a purpose-designed room with analog, tubes, horns, acoustical treatment, the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Try to get each walk-in person to plug their iPod into 3 or 4 things: headphones, a small iPod system, and definitely, the Big Rig.

Secondly, rent warehouse space close to the store. A large variety of high-end audio products are stored, which would be provided by various manufacturers seeking exposure in a market where they have no dealers. Audiophiles could arrange for home auditions of products, which they would pick up at the warehouse/store, and return there (or not). Well-qualified audiophiles could also arrange for an audition in the store's listening room if in-home audition is too difficult.

Walk-in Apple users who show signs of possible addiction would be directed toward products which best fit their budget and tastes, and a system of that type could be set up in the listening room, for a later appointment where we educate them on how to listen. Apple makes in-store appointments for tutorials to serious users, so again the Apple Store visitor is already exposed to such concepts.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Each location would attract high-end-leaning consumers from the mass market, and expose to them to the best possible performance for each price point, starting at prices low enough to encourage spontaneous purchases. 2) Each location would provide an audition-site to audiophiles and manufacturers who are without dealers. 3) Multiple locations with a branded indentity would become associated with Apple, their philosophy, and their psychology. Apple consumers would more easily equate/desire better sound.

You, out there: whether you'e in the business or outside it, you undoubtedly have ideas at least as good as these. Probably better, really; we've lost brain cells along with our hearing. Why not share your ideas? Again: let's keep it positive and constructive, please.

Click on "post your comments" in order to allow us to marvel at your wisdom!

Just to say... I got into this audiophile only a few years ago, since november 2007. I was in grad school at the time and spent endless hours putting together the system I have by watching audiogon, head-fi and ebay. Beyond this i have spent days in shops like Lyric hi-fi (not the friendliest staff, to a guy in a t-shirt) and Sound by Singer (i kept asking them to hire me) I worked backward my want to build a stereo for my home lead to me wanting to get more from my ipod. There have been several experiments where it turns out young folk prefer the sound of compressed audio (because its what they know) now imagine you could, with the addition of a small (affordable) piece of equipment, show there is something more the "beats" they over paid for can offer. Better yet for even less then what they paid for the "beats" they can even more. Now how about you try them listening to vinyl on a music hall MMF 2.2 through a nice integrated instead of their crosley. They'll see the difference. everyone I bring over sure does, they still think I'm crazy but every now and then one of them calls me to ask for advice.

in addition the most searched for items on (head room) are dacs and portable amps... lots of people want more from what they already have (thats why they buy the over priced "beats") I mean I saw a a kid that cant be more than 20 wearing the new B&W headphones on the sudway and folks wearing GRADOs aint too odd a thing to see either (it does remain odd to wear open phones on a train though)

Kids are gear-o-philes they just have to walked toward more gear.
I complement you on your precis of where we are now. I cannot believe that we are a nation headed for a spartan monastic anhedonic lifestyle which reverses the fundamental pillars of the "American Dream." I understand we are looking at contraction in our clearly overexuberent lifestyles fueled by mindless debt. But if your daughter values music, she will not forget what it can and perhaps should sound like.I think she is trying to justify the peer driven dictates of fashion. I am sure we all do things during certain times to fit in. The fit in part may be slow to change but I am confident is not permanent and indellible.
I expect with some hesitation that a certain pent up demand exists and among those generations who are in the midsts of the national hangover. I am a witness to those that are certainly young enough to be more culturally apt to buying the most ECo friendly cars around, but on the weekends are tooling around in anything but. There is this also a great divide in this country in terms of wealth. Perhaps the youth we should seek to convert are on Wall St. not Main St.
The products I mention will not make any headway luring people into making a good soundsystem something to value unless you make it accessible. Thus if the demographic is the young make it affordable but good.
I remember almost everyone of our generation rich, poor or in the middle finding a way to put together a system.
Please bear this in mind, once more. Imagine kids getting together to spend their weekend nights together. Kids are social and kids like music, it is impossible for me to imagine kids at an social event etc each wearing an individualized player and dancing to the beat of different synthetic bass lines.
I just got a new idea to promote. Anyone with capital??
Keil: As the portable audio marketplace becomes more sophisticated, I'm sure we'll see more devices like the one you described. An interesting dilemma with the transition from headphone-listening to--what should we call it?-- in-room listening is that in order to equal the transparency and dynamics of good 'phones and amp, one has to spend a LOT of money on speakers/amps/source. How well we manage that crossover of enthusiasts may well determine the fate of what we now think of as high-end audio.

It's kind of like going from motorcycles to cars: in order to get the explosive acceleration and handling dynamics of a $15,000 super-bike, you have to spend, what? $100,000 in a car? Obviously, a bike is not suitable for all conditions (unless you are wildly suicidal), and in my mind, neither is listening with headphones. Undoubtedly there are parties with dozens of people be-bopping inside their heads while wearing cans--but the idea creeps me out.

End of THAT rant.

Jay: Back in the dawn of time, say the 1980's, when I would hear a popular song being used/abused in a commercial, I would say(and WAY too often to anyone who was around me), "it's a systematic debasement of our musical heritage". I believed it then, and I believe it now...but I no longer bother to say it.

Why? Because popular songs old and new are used that way so often these days that that portentious, pretentious phrase would be coming off my lips on a continuous basis,like Om Mane Padme Om, and I'd end up in a padded room next to Ted Kaczynski. Whether we like it or not, modern life has a continuous soundtrack, and like any wide-bandwidth media requiring an endless supply of content, that soundtrack tends to be cliched and mindless.

I really think that silence is needed in order to appreciate music. If there's never any silence in the world or in our heads.... it's worrisome. To me, anyway.

Mech: good ideas, but Eminent Technology-designed flat speakers have been available for computer systems for years, under the Typhoon brand, I think. There may even be ET-branded ones.

So far there are only a few Apple-approved products in the high end (from Peachtree and Manley, maybe a few others), but I'm sure the number will increase. I've used wonderful small speakers whose styling fits the Apple line perfectly, but while folks seem okay spending $1500 for a big Cinema monitor, the same price for speakers is greeted with disbelief. Even from Apple's top audio guy.

But: things could change.

Rdav: No need to apologize; we're all newbies at SOMETHING, every day of our lives. If we're not, we ain't livin' right.

Yes, costs of almost everything have skyrocketed while real wages have flat-lined. I've read so many depressing stats lately that they all run together, but I believe the average cost of a college education has gone up about 25% in the last decade, while wages have increased only 1-2%.

As you point out, discretionary income has dropped dramatically, restricting purchases of almost anything beyond food, clothing and (one hopes) soap. Curiously, the bite has mostly come out of the middle of the market: super-value low-end products are doing well, and very expensive goods with high perceived-value are doing well. It means people are still willing to pay big bucks, but not for throw-away goods.

I think that's good, and indicates opportunities for solid products. Pricey goods in sectors where standards change daily (think home theater processors) might have problems. And yes, there while be a lot of retooling to adapt products to the new marketplace. Again, I think that's good. A static industry is a dead industry.

Keil, again: No arguments from me.

Mech, again: "Spartan monastic anhedonic"? Didn't they used to share bills with Aztec Camera??

Seriously, that's not a phrase one reads every day, especially when talkin' 'bout Hi-Fi. Thanks for that wake-up call to my synapses!

I think there will continue to be a market for quality audio gear; it might just be a little less big and splashy than what we're used to. I can't say that's necessarily a bad thing.

If you look at American cars that preceded the Great Depression, you'll see lots of chrome and gaudy colors. Following 1929, cars became more sober and subdued, less chrome, more muted colors. Post-WWII, we were back to day-glow colors with enough chrome to pollute all of New Jersey.

Things go in cycles. I think we'll survive, and so will music.

Thank you all for your stimulating (and lengthy!) comments. I apologize for my unusually lengthy comments, but I thought many good points were made which needed to be addressed.

Keep 'em comin', kids!
I have 2 sons in college. Both love music. Both play music. Both have NHT M-OO speakers with S-OO sub on their computers. They grew up with my system. Both were born at home with Pachelbel's Canon in D playing on my turntable in the adjacent room. They've had music all their lives so it is safe to say that lack of exposure to excellent sound has not been a cause. However, they seldom use my system and they seldom use their own speakers. They both have Grado SR 325I headphones and that is how they listen at home. They use earbuds with their I-Pods occasionally and use their I-Pods through their car systems. They know I'm panting on the sidelines for a chance to load them up with ever more interesting audio, but they prefer their headphones.

So, in light of all this personal experience and in deference to Rdawhitaker's excellent analysis, I have to conclude that you will not be able to bring back the good old days without bringing back labor unions, free form FM radio and The Beatles. Bank regulation and an end to offshore outsourcing could be useful too.

Rdawhitaker is right. The kids don't have the opportunity, advantages or interest that we had. Most of them probably don't even know Hugh Hefner's name, much less Harry Pearson.
Do manufactures and other parts of the industry offer internships to college/tech school and high school kids? Seems like another way to attract interested parties, have them learn a trade and build a base of younger designers that can really get into the minds of younger generations. Its also relatively cheap labor.