The hi-fi market is going through some interesting times right now. The market in the UK especially is very volatile. It’s hard to predict whether next month will be up, down or sideways, as possibly reflects our ever-changing economic woes. But at a deeper level, there is also big change. Product categories are redrawing themselves; we are seeing the rise of the big integrated amp in place of the multi-box pre/power combo right across the audio map. And perhaps more significantly, we are starting to see absolute state of the art audio electronics appearing at more wallet-friendly prices. The remarkable new HRT Music Streamer HD is the perfect example of that.
Recently, at an industry meeting, the annual UK sales figures for consumer electronics were released. Amid the gloom and doom and more doom, there were a few glimmers of hope – hi-fi sales were down, but not down as far as the home cinema market (the sales of TV sets dropped by a billion pounds in a year), and there were even some small upturns in the fortunes of audio; turntables once again bucked the trend, as people buy more vinyl and spend more money on the turntables they buy.
The other success story is headphones and headphone-related devices. The big story here was that the headphone market eclipsed the whole hi-fi and home cinema market by a not inconsiderable margin. Headphone sales now account for a fifth of a billion pounds alone. While a great deal of that market is driven by fashion rather than sound quality, it challenges the idea that people no longer care about music or the sound it makes.
I think the audiophile spirit is alive and well and living between the ears of people spending a lot of time and money listening to fantastic sound through their headphones. Was there a ‘lost generation’ of audiophiles, or were we just waiting for that generation to grow into their headphone amps? It’s telling that one of the most significant product launches this year has been the Meridian Explorer portable headphone amplifier/DAC. There is an increasing maturity in the headphone world, and products like this reflect that.
Of course, it’s difficult for older audiophiles to view this new paradigm with the same enthusiasm. But then again, they like things like turntables too. So perhaps there’s hope yet!
Alan Sircom, Editor Hi-Fi+