Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Playboy magazine promoted the "Playboy Lifestyle", which sought to define the appropriate lifestyle accouterments for the fashionable, successful man about town. Among these must-haves, including fancy golf clubs, fancy watches and hot cars, was a beautiful high performance hi-fi system, featuring McIntosh components and the like. This was all presented in beautiful full color photo spreads showing the ultimate bachelor pad, or alternately articles focused on the specific areas of interest. And these audio oriented objects of lustful desire (and I am not specifically speaking of the women that the magazine also focused on) were not hidden away in closets, but proudly displayed as gorgeous works of art, which they were and still are. All these objects, from Ferraris to Marantz amplifiers, were clearly presented as aspirational goals for which the acquisition of was something to be proud of and to be shown off to one's friends and associates.
Now fast forward and skip to today: Clearly, we have developed a wider portfolio of aspirational objects of desire which define success and signify the expression of fully achieving the upscale lifestyle, not just for playboys and bachelors, but for everyone. Besides personal items like Rolex watches (or how about a $387,000 Patek Philippe grand complication 10-day tourbillon), $38,000 Testoni dress shoes and the like, let's consider what goes into a successful person's home.
When one builds or outfits a proper upscale home, there are the absolute must haves. Beginning with the "showplace kitchen" (and the key word is showplace) we have the Viking ranges (not to mention $47,000 La Cornue Grand Palais stove ranges), Sub Zero refrigerators (or $41,000 Meneghini Arredementi refrigerators), as well as little add-ons, like $10,000 Mugnaini wood fired pizza ovens and $10,000 La Cornue rotisseries. Let me tell you, when you outfit your home with entry level luxury kitchen must haves or higher end exotica, you don't hide them, you show them off front and center.
And, all around the luxury, upscale aspirational home, we find expensive aspirational furniture, lighting sconces, bathroom fixtures (nobody puts cheap toilets and sinks into a luxury home) etc, etc. And parked in the garage? It's a Mercedes or BMW, plus toys like Porsches or, if you are more successful, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. That 200mph capable Ferrari F12 is certainly not purchased to drive at 200mph, but to cruise over and show off to one's friends at the golf club. All these status symbols exist not so much for their improved performance (that $387,000 Patek Philippe is lucky if it keeps time as well as a $20 Timex), but for the status it conveys to the owner's friends and associates, as well as the personal pride of ownership, telling oneself that "I have really made it"!
Audio equipment, certainly more exciting than an $8000 Rachiele Ultimate Kitchen Sink, has been left standing at the curb. When we went apartment shopping a few years ago in Manhattan, we looked at over 60 luxury priced apartments, all outfitted to the hilt with at least Viking ranges, if not La Cornues. There were exactly three that had what could be loosely described as an audio system: one with an entry level luxury system, one with an inexpensive component system with floor standing speakers (this belonged to a sports mega-star) and one had a Radio Shack subwoofer/satellite system. One apartment belonged to an art dealer that had very expensive paintings on the wall, and a JVC boombox. Now, how and why did luxury audio miss the bus?
As I began: at one point, luxury audio was a highly desirable personal status symbol. I firmly believe that it could have continued and developed into a luxury component of the upscale lifestyle. However, it seems like, somewhere along the way, someone decided that beautiful, glorious audio equipment should be hidden, not proudly displayed, as if the owner should be ashamed of owning it. What a shame, because realistically, most people purchase these sorts of luxury goods to show off. And if not there to show off, why bother? Of course wonderful audio gear, beyond looking great and being capable of making quite an impression on one's friends, really does deliver real, dramatic and enjoyable performance benefits, as opposed to a high end watch, for instance.
I have two points or action suggestions: I think that, perhaps, industry organizations like CEA/CTA, whose signature show began with audio all those years ago, would more vigorously promote high-quality audio products as works of technology art. Specifically, I believe that the most effective mechanism, and the only one that realistically would have any hope of being cost effective, as well as having real impact, would be a well targeted PR campaign, with a high-power PR person. This would focus on getting high-end audio shown in movies, TV shows, magazine articles, etc as an essential ingredient of the high end lifestyle. PR can achieve this. Also, it is up to dealers and integrators to convince your upscale clients to be proud of their purchases and show them off proudly to their friends, as a work of technology art, rather than hiding them. Perhaps their friends may become motivated to indulge themselves.
Enjoy the Music.com's CES 2016 Video With Sandy Gross
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