Let's face it folks; some people have the money to create and maintain privileged lifestyles that include meaningful upgrades in almost every area of life. The list is lengthy: Organic food and fine dining, nice clothes made from non-synthetic materials, automobiles the rest of us just drool at, exotic vacations, symphony attendance, exclusive organization memberships, employees to lift virtually the entire burden of housekeeping etc., lovely, artistic landscaping, health club activity plus the time to use it, and a degree of freedom in choice of activity and scheduling that escapes me for one, and I'm just part of a large group. Oh, and one other item goes along: magnificent residences filled with state of the art kitchens, expensive furniture, carpets, and costly artworks of almost any type, genre or era. Whether it's the 1 percent or the 10 percent, the rest of us just aren't in that statistical category. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, just observing. The truth is that affluence can and does bring on a host of knotty issues that less exalted economic and social status precludes. So what's the point of the polemic here?
Maybe prioritizing a nice stereo properly set-up in your home today is analogous to Prime Minister Nehru's famous dictum that "religion is the crutch of the masses." Now you must really be wondering if I've got any working marbles. Why would I say that, most folks today don't even know who Nehru was?
Here's why: For over thirty years, I have sold, serviced and visited countless hi-fi clients living in a wide range of material circumstances, the only common bond being a love of music and other entertainment media. I have sold nice stereos to hippies living in home-made cabins in the woods. I have sold nice stereos to a large and surprisingly middle class market, not just folks who could buy top shelf if they wished. I've also been lucky to do enough top-level work that I have been given "carte blanche" to design and personally install a number of #1 stereo systems, and yes, those were the expensive kind, but purchased as essential lifestyle elements by their affluent, sophisticated, very intelligent owners. Nobody is going to tell them they shouldn't, either. I repeat, essential lifestyle elements, not plush toys. Yet many "Good Life" adherents who have reaped a fortune are clearly missing this magical constituent element, and may not even know it! Why?
Strange but true, there is no implied correlation whatsoever between a high-end lifestyle and ownership/appreciation of a true, top-notch stereo music system, even though such a correlation clearly exists in all the other lifestyle areas I mentioned at the top of the page. Today, that ‘custom' client is often pointed towards architectural audio, i.e., a not-inexpensive background music-type system with MP3 piped in through speakers located in their high, angled ceilings, that they are able to control with an I-phone. The entire experience is as much about simple (?) control as it is sheer pleasure. Now don't get me wrong, having a constant musical ambiance on your property is quite nice, but these systems do not come close to the general quality level of such exalted lifestyles, nor do such even begin to provide the real and truly profound musical rewards available. It is troubling to me that this consideration is so rarely put on the table, so to speak.
I guess I'll have to take the rap for outing this disconcerting reality. Considering my rare position as the operator of the high-end audio division of a successful CI company, I want to make clear that I'm not complaining or criticizing anything here. I'm just asking a valid, worthwhile question to which I have no immediate answer.
Shouldn't such lofty and lucky folks be encouraged to have both; who is dictating priorities here? I wonder.
When you ask any prospective client a casual question to which their unsolicited response is ,"We just love music," there is your qualifier, period, to incorporate from the embryonic point of system design, a real, two loudspeaker stereo that can immerse them, relax them, and make them feel good in a way that no lower-fi background music in the universe could, from bang per buck stereo to perfectionist efforts. This first and crucial message must come from the electronic system designer, the person at the top, not the house audio specialist.
Considering that the custom installation business began in small hi-fi stores, it only makes sense now to come full circle in a big way; custom outfits will benefit their clients, their business, and the specialty hi-fi business by taking this stance. For so many reasons, it is now the custom outfits that should be carrying the real Hi-Fi ball to their increasingly upscale client base. (Perhaps a CEDIA panel should discuss this.)
In these custom systems, most of the operable devices are more like appliances than cultural entertainment providers; why should they all go together anyway? The entire experience is biased much more towards control than deep pleasure. Folks don't put masterpiece paintings on articulating wall brackets any more than their musical pleasure should be sublimated to pool/spa control.
So here's the scenario: outrageous sculptures or impressive paintings are prominently displayed, super-expensive furniture is precisely positioned on exotic rugs, but just one pair of gorgeous, stylish top-end loudspeakers positioned properly in one of several beautiful spaces found in these large homes is somehow seen or thought of as an undesirable or even ostentatious (!) adjunct. Pardon me, but WT-? I already know from long experience that the room with the sweet two-channel stereo also becomes the real adult sanctuary, not just for music, but also maximum relaxation, personal conversations, and deep thought. The Home Theater room can be big, big fun, but is essentially a single-purpose, video-based environment, and is not usually used for deep thought, close communications etc., but splashy social occasions instead. I have seen this real-world scenario manifest so many times.
There's some type of mis-direct at work here, methinks, based on generalizations that may or may not apply.
First of all, simplistic analyses of complex situations don't work for me. It's like saying "digital audio is just zeroes and ones, how could there be differences you can hear?" (Please, that one, never again!) I'm sorry, but my worldly experience and awareness of diversity preclude painting broad brush strokes over the population as a whole.
Second, I'd like to address every CEDIA member organization on the subject of "Luxury Goods sales 101." People make discretionary purchases based on emotion and then rationalize those decisions with LOGIC; I've seen this happen in a matter of minutes. What better way to arouse emotion than a sensitive, thrilling demo of chosen music on a great two-channel system. Just this last year our custom technology company, of which Lavish Hi-Fi is my part, closed or aced several large projects by first designing and installing gorgeous sounding, stylish-looking music/cinema systems as the qualifier for the rest of the entire custom project. These "big fun" systems got the emotions going; the rest of these whole estate projects then flowed much more comfortably. I am surprised and a bit let down that these fundamental paths are not taken as a rule, or if they are, without that transmittable, infectious enthusiasm for the end experience that clients can sense and feel emanating from the company principal. Pardon the quip, but one cannot sample most of life's very best experiences through a telephone, although you sure can access many practical solutions to everyday life. But why should culture, art, and tech solutions necessarily be bedfellows in the first place? Because they can be controlled by a phone? Wow, that's a chilling thought.
I haven't come across a "Paint Sistine Chapel" I-phone app, and I don't expect to. Somebody very famous would be turning in his grave, I'm sure. And you can check out the Rolling Stones for fun on you-tube, but you'll never get really close to the magic of their best recordings or legendary performances that way.
Until streaming high resolution audio becomes the norm, and it's coming soon, the seemingly banished "physical media", (a phrase I detest BTW,) still offer the most profound, artistically rewarding experiences. The statistically real and heavily publicized resurgence of vinyl LPs should squash any thoughts that ‘folks don't listen like they used to.' Bunk, I say, they simply must be carefully, professionally exposed to the full experience. Then and only then is someone in a position to make their own choice. Steering them down a pre-set path simply represents a built-in agenda.
Of course, not many modern custom installation companies offer high-end stereo conveyed by an experienced and caring operator. After all this, I am lucky to be in exactly that rare position.
Let's approach this from a different tack now...
On the subject of stress reduction, presumably a major need for big financial movers and shakers, it is scientifically proven that listening to music reproduced at low distortion as a sole activity can lower blood pressure, provide the most enjoyable method of universal cultural contact, and the deep emotional satisfaction therein derived. Unless the 1%-ers want to start meditating and chanting their mantras, this group seemingly ignores what should in fact be the most logical of progressions. Great home, great everything, so I am rather curious as to why they far too often leave great sounding music in their home off the list? One room with clean, big, natural sound coming out would also fill their highly-reverberant, tile, glass and hardwood interiors in a more enjoyable manner than the tinkling of background music way above their heads.
Yet my questions remain. Almost everyone knows or has read that there are legitimate wellness benefits to clean music listening as a sole activity. Yet the cream of our electronic consumer base is often surprisingly void of an experience that so many around the world prize as an essential lifestyle element. My mind boggles, and little high-end shops are on the endangered species list while another $50 bottle of wine is poured accompanied by the tinkling from up there somewhere.
The antidote is always the same: the truth, expressed purely and simply. I have been both praised and vilified for this at different times.
I was so glad to come across Audio Lifestyle Magazyn , from Europe, on Facebook recently, because it consistently shows two things: One, the revelation that there is a genuinely appreciable aesthetic to high-end gear properly set-up that requires no more or less domestic accommodation than a new artwork, and Two, that the coupling of lifestyle and the top-notch sonic/music experience I speak of are in fact understood and manifested by upscale folks in numerous other parts of the world, Europe and Japan in particular. So what is going on here? Without pointing fingers, let me simply say I have spent 30 years working in two very affluent counties, and continue to encounter this bewildering discontinuity as the stock market soars.
While only big bank accounts can commonly buy big bucks toys, the majority of genuine higher and high-end gear I have joyfully purveyed during this 3 decade period has been purchased by more or less middle-class folks who simply prioritize ownership of quality, non-disposable audio products and daily deep enjoyment of music. They'd rather have that Conrad-Johnson pre-amp, or those Kef loudspeakers, or those Audience speaker wires, than other items that could use up their limited discretionary budget. And they always tell me that once the nice stereo arrived, much less questionable TV programming is viewed, and they wished they hadn't waited so long. This is why my faith in the power of music and fine audio quality, though challenged at times, never ultimately waivers. Many folks in many locales feel the same way as do I.
We might want to take yet another lifestyle lesson from the Europeans, who are still far more involved with music enjoyment than we are here. Without good European distribution, many audio specialty companies would be in trouble today. The United States' obsession with "fast" is also laughed at there. Maybe they know something we've forgotten and seriously need to remember. The artistic and musical traditions go back so much further over there, and that may well form a good part of those cultural roots that continue there today, lacking here.
I'd love to be wrapping this up by waving a magic wand, but the entire raison d'etre of this piece is unfortunately a question. When quality is the main lifestyle focus in every category that can be improved given abundant funds, why is the quality of sound and pleasure of musical experience being neglected or de-prioritized? Every conscionable system designer, custom installation professional and related parties should emphatically recommend and pursue the sale and installation of a high-quality two-channel stereo to every single client who contacts them about a major residential project. Why should we, pros' ask, it will be so much less installation work than the muzak-type system? If you can't come up with the very simple, non-negotiable answer, that's not a good sign, but here it is anyway: Even with all the systems integration work, video security, pool, spa, lighting and climate control, etc., providing our dear and sophisticated clients the means to this singularly profound and wellness-enhancing musical experience that can be repeated over and over in the comfort of their luxurious residences is the very best thing we can do for our custom clients, 365 days a year. I challenge any contradictions to this belief.
If a fine stereo isn't part of your own "good
life," you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to bring one of technology's
most unquestionably positive, human achievements home and find out just how
important and life-changing this lifestyle upgrade can be. May the 1%-ers please
lead the way!