Not around here anyways.
For as long as I can remember music has been present around me. Whether that was from my parents singing, or playing their teenage records on the record player, which included all sorts of ’50s and 60’s hits by Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a long list of rocking kids that took the boring lifeless music of the ’30s and ’40s and gave it some pepper. Chuck Berry is the most notable. Everyone wanted to duck walk and play the guitar and sing like him. He was wild stuff.
Little Richard and many others took note and a transformation was underway. This pivot has been chronicled heavily and better than I can do here. So let’s just say music grew some wings and with the popularity of the electric guitar and the growing availability of cars and venues, people would travel to congregate en masse to hear bands play. The Grateful Dead was a moving circus of free spirits, great music, and energy that remains ignited today still by the founding members who have shown the dedication and spirit that their music holds. It’s epic, legendary, and a tribute to how important music is to remain healthy, happy, and focused. Music is about time, and limited time is all we’ve been given on this planet. I feel that it’s that critical. The music plays along as we live.
And along my life’s path I can’t recall many moments that I’ve been without it. There have been some solitary passages of time that such aural stimuli was deliberately removed. But I corrected that as soon as possible.
So it’s almost always playing around me. And I pick up when out and about when and where music is piped in from above. Grocery stores play it. There’s a retail hotspot near me that includes a Post office, Trader Joe’s, a jewelry store, and a few other franchises that rotate occupancy in that outdoor mall. They play a lot of John Mayer. That makes a lot of sense.
But to get back on track about the critical persistence and infinite nature of music, I was receiving my musical signals by way of some unrefined methods when growing up. The vinyl albums were a great source, but the equipment at hand was poor. And growing up in the rural South made matters difficult as a child. Sourcing anything of quality meant getting it from Atlanta, where I was born. That went for hardware and software.
I believe I’ve written on here before about the relatively sudden transitions from Vinyl to cassette tape, to CD and “digital tape” which makes no sense, was expensive, and went the way of the Betamax and Delorean. So not to be redundant I won’t explain the growing pains America endured getting from albums to CDs. And then from CDs to thumb drives and hard drives, and what is looking like the winner now, stored in the cloud and streamed. Which is how it should be.
People really aren’t buying CDs anymore. Thank goodness. I still have a lot of them, scratched up, or missing forever. Maybe 100 or so, which is about 500 less than I’ve ever owned. The problem with CDs, among many, is they’re too easily picked up and taken when they don’t belong to the taker. So I have endless cases with liners intact representing music I once “owned.” All the records I had growing up should be at my father’s house intact and covered by a few inches of dust at this point.
That problem of theft is solved when I buy music online or pay to stream it. No one can simply take it and walk away with it so easily. It also helps the artists because people have to legitimately buy or stream it versus take it from someone else, that being another person or online entity like LimeWire or Napster, or a bunch of other underground, shady workarounds to paying for material that it seemed everyone used and no one admitted to. Torrenting still exists for snatching music and movies on Pirate Bay and elsewhere, but to me, the risk of viruses and the poor quality, and the fact it’s stealing makes it something I don’t bother with. Call me Goody-Two-Shoes.
Pandora was founded in 2000. I was living in Atlanta where I had a large, modern base of music, both live and digital, to absorb. I used to walk down the street to Smith’s Olde Bar to see John Mayer play all the time before he put out his big records and decided to become a musical God, both on guitar and being the newest member of The Grateful Dead, essentially taking Jerry Garcia’s place.
At the time Pandora made the most sense to invest my time and attention to. I began using it as a vessel to obtain my music from since they had the biggest library and their platform was most accessible in my world. I grew weary of buying, losing, scratching, and generally growing tired of playing the same CDs. It was a money pit. And the winds were pointing in a direction that CDs weren’t going to be how music was sourced much longer anyway. Growing broadbands, cheapening subscriptions and broadband usage and unrest among artists getting paid fractions of a penny for their work were matters that were growing more real with the passage of time into the 2010s.
Spotify came unto the scene and gained a lot of traction, fast. Their library surpassed Pandora’s, which was the reason I switched, and their ability to play at a higher quality attracted me as well. The cost was the same for Pandora and Spotify, and Spotify seemed to be gaining ground in locations where Pandora had no presence. Such as being included in head units of automobile electronics, used in plugins for WordPress installations, and places where I needed or wanted it. That made the decision easy. And soon thereafter, Spotify left Pandora in the dust as a major competitor for me.
So I’ve been using Spotify with no complaints for several years. It makes maintaining a library organized pretty easy, which is no feat when you collect Grateful Dead shows and albums spanning 50+ years plus all the broad musical tastes I have. So I’ve built a big library that I sometimes worry about what will happen to once things change externally on the music front, which they certainly will. Meaning Spotify is replaced for some reason.
I try to download and save playlists, albums and store music in Cloud services like Dropbox, Amazon, on Hard Drives, iCloud, and elsewhere as possible. Usually, the formats don’t translate, on purpose. Apple likes to keep things proprietary, for example. Like .heic vs .jpg for example with images.
One thing I’m getting the feeling of is that Apple is slowly becoming less relevant as far as music goes. They aren’t interested in it like they are with other things. They’re more interested in designing high-margin hardware like AirPods. They bought the Beats by Dre headphone line for a billion dollars, then let it rot. Which is what should have been done with it, before wasting that much money on it.
Apple has/had iTunes which is nothing more than a music store. And one they shoved in your face and forced you to use at times which is a major marketing mistake and turn off to the customer. It’s what happens when a company thinks it has enough money to force customers to do what it wants, rather than solve for what the customer wants. No one wins that way.
That’s enough analysis of the history of the music industry’s middlemen. It brings us up to today well enough.
So last week I receive a barrage of offers for “Amazon Music” which seems a lot like “Amazon Video” which I use quite a bit with my 5-year-old daughter. And I also have, as an Amazon Prime member, a large amount of cloud storage, where I keep music and images and videos. Not my primary storage, but backup among many other backups.
“Amazon Music” seems to be a new offering although its UI is old and familiar for some reason. And it’s offered for 3 months free before a $9.99/month fee. They also make prominent the fact they have “HD” and Ultra HD” albums. Meaning they offer a higher bitrate than normal for those willing to pay for it?
Something curious to me is that they have ads all over the place stating this offer is for “new subscribers only” and then sent me emails which state the same offer is “for current Prime members only.” OK?
Either way, it’s free for 3 months. So I sign up to try it out.
Something I do notice is that the sound with Amazon’s “Ultra HD” is richer than the highest setting on Spotify. I have higher end audio equipment than probably 99% of America, so I can hear such discrepancies especially playing familiar tracks that I’ve heard a million times. I’m not saying that to brag or anything but to make sure for an experiment’s sake all constants are set and the very same equipment may provide subtle distinctions, if any.
I’m listening to Roxy Music’s Avalon right now, and the depth, richness, and wetness to the music are dripping. The sound stage is greater. It’s more immersive, which is a goal I would think audiophiles would seek. It’s more indulgent.
I also notice with Amazon, there are the same albums, but one with HD and one with Ultra HD, which seems to mean that the subscriptions will be offered so that you can have the “HD” at one price, and the “Ultra HD” at a higher cost. That will probably be sprung on me at the end of the 3 month free deal I’m under now.
I also notice that Amazon has an impressively large library. As large as Spotify, for my needs. That makes things interesting. 70 million songs. 7 million Ultra HD. Now we’re talking. I’m truly like a kid in a candy store. I keep finding little gems like this remake of Resignation Superman from Big Head Todd and the Monsters:
So yesterday I spent a few hours compiling and organizing a library under Amazon’s service. I can foresee things changing in the future with this sort of aggressive positioning by Amazon. They obviously want in on this game and are going in full-tilt and with all their money in the pot, and not just testing the waters. They’re committing, in other words.
I’ve seen such things happen in the business world and when a company comes into a field with such force and determination, they usually stay there for a long time. They have to charge in that way because they’ve lost the “first to market” advantage Pandora and even Spotify have. So they need to overcompensate somehow. “Ultra HD” seems to be that method. And it’s working very well, of course. Amazon doesn’t put bad money into things, and they pivot quickly.
So that brings us up to date and up to speed with the music streaming and consumption situations, we have on our hands as of this day in 2021. It’s an all-around better situation for the consumer, artist, and everyone involved if you ask me. People have more choice of music than ever before. They have more hardware choices than ever before and with the internet, a better selection, and cheaper alternatives to play music on. The artists are better compensated. And the music sounds better and is “on-demand” which was a dream I had as a child that has come true. To be able to hear any music I want at any time I want. It was an impossibility growing up and something I yearned for as a child. Now I have that ability and to be able to hear it on super-high-end equipment at that. And for less than $10 a month is simply amazing and I’m humbled and thankful to be alive when this situation was rectified. It’s what I dreamt of as a child.
There are 5 main competitors in this space. There’s a summary of each that has been laid out for comparison by the people at Audio Advice. Qobuz, Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and Tidal. Pandora has been knocked out of competition.
I sometimes use Apple Music and signed up for Tidal, but was driven away be, as I remember, their pricing. Apple can be so wishy-washy that I remain with a low level of skepticism that they wouldn’t just uproot things. Just because they can. They’ve done it before.
Which leaves Qobuz and Amazon. Qobuz has a puny hi-def-catalogue, is expensive, and therefore doesn’t attract me when considering the ever-growing library of Hi-Res tracks Amazon has, as well as what represents a bottomless trunk of money and resources and experience scaling things quickly. Apple has a lot of high-res songs, but they limit the amount of offline songs at 100,000. That might seem like a large number, or irrelevant, depending on your own perspective. But I assure you there’s a LOT of songs out there and collections can amass quickly, especially with the incredible number of songs available. It surely would be unwieldy for someone with no experience at file management, but for those that have the interest and skills, which there are a lot of, and growing by the minute, it will make a difference at some point. And you don’t want to run out of road.
Television and radio have both relented their awful business models where they shove advertisements in your face in exchange for the ability to see and hear the material you wanted. Thank God. They still exist as a viable business model, but no one pays them any notice. It’s basically a way for CNN to play non-stop at airport terminals, and companies to advertise their stuff. Subliminal messaging at its finest.
Streaming is the now. Netflix paved that super-wide highway. I owned 1,000 shares of Netflix that I bought at around $17 a share in the late 2000s. I had to sell it to pay for rent and other living and moving costs when I agreed with my father to move to Alabama, which was the worst mistake I’ve ever made. I don’t even wonder what it would be worth today. Life would certainly be different.
So what comes after streaming? We’ve reached a point that we can summon any tune on a whim. And have it play back via any number of devices: phone speakers, headphones, earbuds, 2.1 signal, 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, dual subs, wall of sound?
At the risk of overstating something, I’m always trying to find out what the end game is for consumers and brands/services/products. It’s how I think as a marketer. To be able to link those two up together at the right time for the right price and in the right way is what marketing is. It’s not about sales, or advertising, or digital and social media. It’s about solving people’s wants and needs at the right time, in the right way. The 4/5 P’s of academic and more serious marketing you may have heard of.
And I’m seeing that what the competitive advantage is going to be in the near future isn’t the number of albums or songs a service offers. No one needs or wants 70 million songs in their library, of course.
It isn’t about price, necessarily. The price point has been flagged at $9.99/month. There will always be tinkering and deals with that, but it’ll flagellate around that point. [Edit- after reading and sizing up all the competitors, there IS a big price difference. And Amazon is the winner.]
It isn’t about customer service. That largely is invisible and taken care of via frequent software updates. All the software is, and is expected to be, stable at this point. Same with privacy, accessibility and security issues. Any issues with quality is now on the shoulders of of your ISP. The SaaS companies know what they’re doing.
The UI and UX will always be tinkered with and fine-tuned, and this is where the differentiation begins and ends. The UX.
The User Experience. And that’s what music all boils down to. It’s an Experience to behold. Many, if not most people have been deprived of an immersive aural experience that’s very available and reachable to almost everyone, and they don’t realize it. This is where the honey is. Accordingly, I’m noticing Amazon updating their UI very often, improving upon it, and access to building your library and playlists as easily as possible. They’re working hard to be in spot #1.
If you’re like most people, and you probably are in some way, then you grew up being served music through commoditized, economical and subpar listening gear and as an afterthought. Something to be played in the background, except for that ONE SONG you had to crank, still on a very average sound system, to be generous.
I grew up differently than most people. Not saying better, for sure, just differently. And one thing that was constantly different was that the households and schools I attended put a lot of investment into their sound systems and around their “conservatory” which housed instruments, listening media and a place dedicated for appreciating fine music, of any genre.
McIntosh and Carver tube amps, Marantz preamps, Large Klipsch speakers that were the size of refrigerators, AKAI and Sony reel to reel players, turntables with the finest of mechanisms and needles, walls of vinyl albums, Nakamichi Dragon cassette players, and so on. And when they played the music it was Loud. Not so much that it hurt your ears because the systems were so refined and powerful that they reproduced the aural signals in very hi-fidelity, so the sound was clear as crystal. Just loud so you could hear what was going on. The breaths the musicians and singers took. The fingers moving along the strings. Whispers among band members. It was a super-hi-def experience of super-hi-def equipment. And often at super-hi prices which many people wouldn’t consider spending on audio equipment. Fait enough, I suppose, although I know for a fact they’d spend that much on televisions, video game consoles and games, trampolines, pools, and other nonsense that they’d grow tired of and either replace or take to the dump within a short matter of time. Priorities and what their cultural exposure has been.
But the equipment and environment put you into the music. It immersed you and you could feel the beats and bass and wind and air being moved by the instruments in your chest cavity and in every empty space in your body. It was that intimate of an experience. And few people have had that experience, but it’s not far away and these days very within reach of anyone who wants it. They just don’t know how to make it happen. Or if they want it to. Some people just aren’t into music or experiences. I get that. But a lot of people are. It’s a very safe way to transcend reality and be taken away to anywhere you want to be immediately and for as long as you like. It’s what I’m trying to explain, in that it becomes an experience. Not just something you hear. Like the siren of an ambulance or the bells of an alarm clock. It’s much more. It’s been produced by professionals all around to be more, in fact.
It used to be that subwoofers and huge floor-standing speakers were in people’s homes, quite a bit. I won’t deny that. But they weren’t good quality. The bass was muffled, muddy and boomy. There was usually no pre-amp or dedicated amp, and the turntable was Radio Shack or K-Mart junk. Just an AM/FM receiver. The 1970’s and 1980’s perpetuated that with Boomboxes being prolific and console record players surviving the 1950’s and 1960’s. We still had one well into the 1980’s which sold with our beach house. It was replaced with some crappy speakers and a throwaway turntable. 2.1 systems were still a ways off.
I was listening/watching an interview today that included the CEO of SVS, which is a manufacturer of Subs, and who’s getting into the speaker business. He says the sales pf speakers are actually overtaking the Sub business, which is incredible, since their Subs are what they’re known for, rightfully. I have an SVS PB-2000, which I love.
He was asked how he got into the “bass” business. His response was that he and some guys bought an online seller of subwoofers, which needed a lot of work. That’s usually the way most people become successful, is to but undervalued assets like that, incidentally. So with a lot of work, hiring the right people, and some time – 10 years now, they’ve built a reputable subwoofer company that designs and manufactures “high-end” subs that work phenomenally well. They are meant to go with home theaters and 2.1 systems and can often be found as a dual sub setup, which I can’t even imagine. The drivers in their subs shake a house off the foundation as-is. They’re extraordinary and I can’t recommend them enough. But they’re taken the 2.1 experience to a new level. Same with the home theater setup. I’ve had and still have some nice subs. 10 and 12 inches – Klipsch, Energy, Polk, and so on. And they’re “OK” for what I have them doing. But to match up with my Klipsch Heresy III’s, there’s no substitute. And honestly, I’d like to have the SVS PB-16 Ultra.
But you have to at least to experience it to decide whether you want a ticket to ride or not. And being given that ticket is where audio companies are losing out on sales. That’s big if you run an audio company, such as Cambridge Audio. I’m sticking that link there in hopes a fine man I’m conversant with who does indeed run Cambridge Audio picks up on that fact, should he pass his eyeballs across this ever-lengthening discussion of which way the music business, a large group I admit, is heading in my humble but serious and precise as-can-be evaluation to see if I’m right. And history is now siding with me that I usually am about such things I pay close attention to.
And I think that’s what Amazon has caught onto. With the broadening of the pipeline that music is able to be streamed, and the availability of a much better bitrate, all that’s left is hooking up the source with the ears. That’s handled by Amazon, thank you, and the rest is up to the consumer to locate the most workable system they can find for their own situation. Which is where the fun begins as a marketer and lover of audio equipment.
Audio companies are releasing iterations of new equipment to keep up with the demands and capabilities of what’s available, offered and makes the most sense to harness to plug music into the aural inputs of consumer’s brains. Some are able to do it better than others.
Take Cambridge Audio’s new EVO unit, which checks off a long list of wants in the most capable way imaginable. Most importantly it leverages streaming as the way we’re getting our audio signals these days very happily.
I can’t overstate how strongly Amazon is positioning itself over competitors by offering an ultra HD option for the best albums ever released. 7 million of them today and more on the way. Consumers are going to slowly pick up on how revolutionary their listening experience can be. Too much emphasis is being placed on visuals and screens.
Screens and optics are vital, yes. Don’t get me wrong. But the very best visual can be ruined forever by low-quality audio accompanying it. People will put up with watching crappy videos, but they will immediately turn off wretched audio no matter how great the photography may be. Awful sounds are even used as torture.
So Cambridge Audio has it right. Amazon has it right. SVS has it right. Klipsch has it right. Anything else is hoping or worrying it’s going to be something else when the data, evidence, and the actual experience itself, set up properly, demonstrates what the future of audio is.
People are going to demand higher quality audio hardware and devices, which will be delivered. But the quality and standards are going to be controlled by those in the industry that have managed to position themselves as leaders in the field. And those brands again are the time and lab and home-tested brands that are so familiar for good reason: McIntosh, Carver, Denon, Cambridge Audio, Marantz, Klipsch, Martin Logan, Polk, Sennheiser and SVS. These are the guys that stand to capitalize on this streaming revolution if they’ll join in on the fun as Cambridge Audio has and embrace streaming as the definitive winner for a long time out. Yes, vinyl’s not going away, nor will any archaic sentimental media that someone’s willing to pay for.
But this is the heyday of streaming and Amazon has found the sweet spot of Ultra high def, affordability, galactically huge libraries, artist compensation, and most importantly individual User Experience, which is what music has always been all about. Unless someone “outAmazons” Amazon, they are about to be the winner, yet again in another lucrative market. And that isn’t where it ends by a long shot.
The fun is in chasing the perfect sound with innovations in audio engineering from the big boys I previously mentioned. The more this goes on and the longer it goes, the more affordable it becomes and easier to access by the masses, which is what’s needed to normalize a superior audio listening experience and bring an exceptional event to the consumer instead of what it’s been up until lately.
When I bought my Klipsch Heresy IIIs from a dealer who delivered them to my listening space (my basement office) white glove to me from Indiana, he told me that he never gets many orders.
That stands to reason if you think about it. He washed it off as people wanting to watch basketball (being in Louisville, KY) over sitting around listening to music. But I don’t buy that excuse.
Firstly basketball is seasonal, and now that COVID has taken over, people are unfortunately spending way more time indoors confined to single rooms. That sets up almost a hostage situation where having a high audio setup would be a prerequisite to me.
And people are having to listen to something. Whether that’s silence, the nagging of their partner, the giggles of their children, or music or a tv show or movie playing in the next room, there’s some audio going on.
And for most of those scenarios, it involves, these days, a screen, accompanied by what? Audio. And how are the receiving that signal? By default, factory-set and given equipment, which in nearly all cases is going to be minimal and neutral and cautionary. Not made for optimization at all because every users case is going to be unique. It makes sense, but it leaves the new owner in an awkward an unprepared spot. “So what am I supposed to do with all this responsibility and buttons and settings and all these variables?” At that moment, the response is usually glance through the user manual, blink twice, and drop it all and leave it as is. Most people aren’t equipped to take the ball and run at any given moment. I say “most” not “all” deliberately.
I am a person that does read and re-read and reference the user manual and learns every feature of each device I acquire. Otherwise, I’m either paying for things I don’t need or have things I could use but don’t know about. Sometimes there’s just a mismatch that is justified, like when an audio equipment maker partners with another music or SaaS vendors like Pandora or Spotify or Alexa or Siri and not the one you, or anyone, actually uses. It’s like the lagging element is trying to buy or force its way into your customary way of doing things. This is probably the case, but that’s more of marketing exploration.
So back to why my local Klipsch dealer doesn’t have a line forming at his doorstep. A few quite obvious reasons, to me, at least. Keep in mind I tend to look at things from the perspective of a marketer, not a consumer, or company owner or distributor, and definitely not an audiophile.
Plucking the lowest hanging fruit has to do with the quality of the equipment. It’s the same with cars. You don’t want to make them too good or people will only buy 1 from you and that’s it. Planned obsolescence? Similar. Klipsch speakers, particularly their highest-end ones, like the Klipschorns. How often do you plan to rotate these things around your house? Never?
Incidentally, I’m not holding up Klipsch, SVS, or Cambridge Audio to be the pinnacle of audio gear at all. It just happens to be what I have and have experience with which stands to reason I would be able to discuss with the most insight. There are plenty of higher-end speakers and equipment out there I’m aware of and drool over. Unfortunately, I’m confined to my own reality in so many ways.
Point is, most of this very delicate and very expensive equipment is meant to last and perform to a high standard for a long time. Thus the cost. 10-year warranties. A lot of this gear is passed down between siblings and generations in my experience. A lot of high-end speakers, amps, and equipment are kept within the family and used when needed, for events and situations that many people may not experience due to socio-economic factors. It stands to reason you aren’t going to find a McIntosh Preamp in an urban educational setting. Or Cornwalls playing Lil Wayne at your next pig picking.
I was exposed to this phenomenon growing up as I did. I saw high-definition audio gear being passed down from Father to son(when dad got his bonus), to next son, to next son, and so on, when they needed some good music or the opportunity arose.
I spent my summers in New Hampshire growing up and went to a camp on Lake Winnipesaukee for 6 years. And at that camp, in NH, the cabin leaders were able to bring their own audio, and it became a contest as to who had the best stereo and played the best music the loudest, at appropriate times. I was introduced to a lot of great music while at camp this way, with my cabin leaders being usually pedigreed students of, or alumni of Exeter, Philips, Dartmouth, Harvard, and other local schools of notorious clout. One of my greatest treasures as a child was a mixed tape my camp counselor made for me that included all sorts of 1960’s hits that, as a boy from South Carolina, I hadn’t ever been exposed to. Yankee Teen music! From the 60’s! Magic! I loved it and remember vividly the Bose 301 speakers he had lodged in the corners of our cabin and would play records full blast across our division of cabins while dancing naked in the doorway for all to see his magnificence. That was until one of my cabin mates tried to shut the door while he was entertaining the world and crunched his fingers in the door jamb. That was the day the music died. But the legacy and memory live on. And to a young boy from SC, those Bose 301s and Pioneer tape deck, turntable and amp looked and sounded loud, crisp and clear. It made that much of an indelible impression upon me that I’m writing about it a little over forty years later.
And a few years after those camping days, I went off to a boarding school in Virginia. There I saw what all sorts of equipment others were using to supply much needed entertainment.
Let’s start with the music department of the school. What else would a prestigious college preparatory school equip the music department with, but a set of Klipschorns? And the first thing the music teacher did was waltz into class with a CD and promptly melted our faces off.
He wanted us to hear the music. Experience it, in fact. Which is what we did. Mission accomplished. There’s a difference between listening to a lot of loud noise, and experiencing a musical presentation.
And as students, at an all-boys school, I saw a lot of gear that was friends’ bigger brothers hand-me downs, and setups yoinked from well-established homes and “borrowed” from languishing massive living rooms. Barely missed at home, but cherished in a dorm room.
Keep in mind that was long before the notion of “Bookshelf speakers” and 2.1 systems were even an idea. So most of what was being lugged around was the size of a footlocker at best.
So Bose 901s, Klipsch Fortes and Cerwin-Vegas were common. It certainly piqued my interest, having guys coming in to board from much more metropolitan areas than where I was from back in SC. Same as what they were listening to. It broadened my horizons in very positive ways. And it was very important that you and your roommate liked the same music and agreed upon how it should be played. Usually, one person’s audio setup would trump the others, so the best system won out. Everyone shared music and tapes and albums and cassettes were in constant flux being copied or exchanged around campus.
We got great bootlegs from people with bigger brothers who were in college and either recorded concerts, like REM playing at their frat house, or found audio gold over the college airwaves by ways of local bands giving their demo tapes to the college radio station. That was when “alternative” actually meant alternative. There really was such a thing! Many no-name bands found their way to a gigantic stage that way. The Athens, GA scene flourished that way. Finding new, unique bands was a constant struggle. Getting in on overlooked but majorly important and great bands was a constant effort because if you blinked, they might be gone. Luckily, a lot of the greats didn’t fade into black. Bands by name might be The Smiths, The Church, The Replacements, The Hoodoo Gurus, The Violent Femmes, Husker Du, and so on. So a lot of the music coming out of those speakers was as good as the speakers themselves and have had the same longevity.
So there’s the first very lengthy reason High-end audio doesn’t fly off the shelves. It’s very durable. And being kept up well, not to mention built with a high degree of engineering to make sure they last and perform over time, assures that they probably will never die in the owners’ lifetime. A lot like a Rolls Royce or a Breitling watch. It was built to last.
The second reason is the one that probably perturbs me most. The marketing of these items. And this opens a whole can of worms.
There’s a snootiness involved that rivals the group in the other corner who are self-proclaimed oenophiles. When we’re dealing with individual senses such as taste and sound, we’ve entered the realm of the unique. Everyone’s different, and the experience is going to be different. Yet there are those that insist everyone comply and conform. You can usually spot them by finding they wear 5 masks at a time, incorrectly.
These are the consumers that self-certify themselves as the connoisseur of all things aural. Audiophiles is what they’ve deemed themselves. Yes, they’re knowledgable. Yes, they’re obsessed. What they aren’t are professional, hired sound engineers who work in a space where they can locate optimal performances and precisely detail every aural event in a controlled, dedicated environment. If they are, then they need to quit their day job pronto.
This is a good segue as any to discuss Bose while talking about snootiness.
I set Bose aside because of this: they’re half sound engineers and half marketers. Their products aren’t designed to replicate the original signal. What Bose does is manipulate sound so that it seems to sound better. That’s a crazy-fine line I admit. But it is a line.
What Bose does, it does well. And what it does is heavily market itself as true, high-end gear when in fact it’s smoke and mirrors. They’ve discovered how to trick the ear in a way, which is unnecessary and even deceptive, which I’m not claiming is unscrupulous, but the fact of the matter is that what you’re hearing isn’t authentic. No big deal to most people, as long as it sounds good. However, it’s still artificial. And some people are fine with that, which I can appreciate. It’s the difference between going to Disney World and riding the Safari ride, versus going to Africa and embarking on an actual Safari.
So if people want to spend a lot of money on an aural experience, and yes it can and is a sizable investment, they have two options. One ticket will buy you a simulated, slick ride, and the other ticket will get you as precise of a reproduction of the original signal to your brain as possible, with some very nice well-designed, and made almost pieces of furniture. Whereas with Bose you find yourself with something that doesn’t age quite as nicely, involves gimmickry and plastics, and something you really aren’t going to be able to fine-tune and adjust as you want to suit your own ears. A lot of what you pay for is sustaining their significant marketing efforts, and possibly for a reason. I don’t see a lot of legacy Bose products around, which is likely because it wasn’t meant to last for the long haul. Their lineup, such as the Acoustimass package, has its place in Delis and basements. I find them usually blown out, and trying to find a home on eBay. So you have my stance on Bose.
Back to the audiophile conundrum. Unfortunately, as with all things on the internet, they attract birds of the same feather, and lo and behold, they’ve found a spot on the internet to perch themselves to orchestrate things as they see fit.
And because of the internet’s democratic tendencies, they, or their website gains influence and provides a sense of power. So, like it or not, it creates a marketing channel. The forums and online fun are then legitimate and credible, for good or bad. And they’re usually all over the internet.
So if your speakers or brand aren’t flying off the shelves it could very well be due to social influence, which has obviously become very powerful and should be monitored This is a fragile area marketing-wise. This is where a professional, such as myself, can make a big difference. Reviews should be tempered but feedback from this group doesn’t represent the market at large. At all. They can influence it to a degree, but they certainly don’t define it, which must be remembered by businessmen, and told to the people who may think their ranch is more cattle than hat, when it isn’t. It’s mostly a big foam ten-gallon hat that’s knocked off by the smallest breeze.
July 2, 2021 Epilogue:
As I’m always reading and researching and keeping an eye out for things I’m interested in, like all the things I discuss in this post, I’m noticing even in the short time space between when I published this article and today a flood of new articles on “Pro” and audiophile and audio retailer and manufacturer’s websites talking about streaming “High-Def” audio. Does it seem we all noticed the same thing at the same time, maybe?
Amazon Music defines Hi-Def “Bit Depth” and “Dynamic Range” as something like this, (as was sent to me in an email):
Here’s an article that popped up on my radar just a few days ago. Interestingly, or not, these types of blog posts and articles are never dated, and never accept comments. I find both of those practices unseemly because I and you know why. I suppose it’s because the author, who’s paid by the company he/she works for to write the article, is writing what is actually a marketing piece, and not something to really help the person reading it. Yes, it offers a smattering of value, but they don’t plan to keep it up, respond to user’s questions or comments, or bother with it again. It’s to garner SEO value mostly. And that’s selfish to me. They’ll rationalize it as not having to deal with crap in their comments, or one thing or another, but that’s life online, I’m afraid. If you aren’t going to pay, you shouldn’t play. Otherwise, it’s self-serving and what they’re offering as some type of “free resource” or “expertise,” which it isn’t really, is just a for-profit marketing hook. Believe me, I know. I’m a marketer. And as such, I try to keep standards high for everyone’s sake.