There's been a lot of talk, lately, about the state of our hobby and industry, and about what we might be able to do to bring them back into the mainstream of public interest. All kinds of suggestions for bringing about a high-end "renaissance" have already been given, both here and in other publications, and the consensus seems to be that, if we take the right approach, it's far from an impossible dream.
We're already familiar with the tremendous boom of interest in "personal audio" in recent years – particularly the growth in high-performance headphones and headphone-related electronics and accessories that seems to have resulted from the near-universal acceptance of the "smartphone" and its huge potential as an entertainment device. People love their movies and their music, and "stepping-up" to better quality headphones (or, more likely, earbuds – particularly the superb but very modestly- priced ones from 1More) has made it apparent to those who've tried it that better quality sound can make almost any entertainment experience better and is definitely worth the extra cost.
It's not too great a step from there to believe that – once they've heard better-than-just-ordinary sound reproduction from their 'phone – they'll want it for their home systems, too. And if that's the case, who knows how far it might go?
There are two big differences, though, between getting better sound for a smartphone and better sound at home. The first is the expense. Putting in a home music system of at least moderately high performance is likely to cost far more than just the cost of a pair of good headphones, even when you select carefully to get the very best sonic bargains. (Like speakers designed by Andrew Jones, for example, or some of the latest high-performance-relatively-low-cost analog playback gear)
Perhaps even more important than the expense is the fact that – in order to sound good – a home system must take up prime physical space in your home and, for best performance, may even require that its proper placement take precedence over your other home decor (furniture placement, wall hangings, etc.) considerations.
While certainly worth every dollar, every effort, and every decorative concession, getting good sound at home does require a high level of commitment. And such a level of commitment might very well require some reason other than just the desire for better sound.
In earlier articles, I've already suggested one possible way to get people to make that commitment and to bring high-end audio back into the mainstream of the affluent lifestyle: Make it desirable for more than just its intended purpose.
People don't just buy cars for transportation. Yes, a car will take us where we want to go, but what we drive will also tell the world something about us and what sort of people we are; with what kinds of tastes and preferences; and with what level of income and social standing. A high-end hi-fi system can do the same thing: It can tell the world what kind of people audiophiles are and can make them want to be just like us. All we have to do is to make it happen.
Perhaps you've noticed that, in fact, it's already started: In movies and television programs, wherever music is an actual part of the scene, and not just a background soundtrack, if the music is recorded (instead of "live"), it's an LP that's playing as part of the character's home system, and you'll very often even see the character select the disc and set the stylus into the groove. That's no accident: Either it's an essential part of the story or the director is showing us something about the character by letting us see what kind of music he likes and what kind of system he plays it on.
That kind of information is always positive, showing the audience how "hip", intellectual or "cultured" (if the music is classical), or whatever else the character may be; showing his affluence and good taste; and even, depending on the needs of the scene, showing us his mood or giving us a clue to his thoughts at the moment of action.
It's also really good for our hobby and for the industry that supports it: The more the public can be brought to think that "hip" people, or intellectual people, or cultured or affluent people are music lovers and Hi-Fi fans, the more they're likely to accept High End audio as a sign of a desirable lifestyle, and the more likely they are to want a system for themselves.
These "product placements" are one way that filmmakers can influence their audiences and "bring them into" the story. They're also of tremendous potential value to the manufacturers of the products being shown. Why else would manufacturers actually pay money to have producers and directors use their particular product in a scene, either as a direct "prop" or even just conveniently visible in the background?
Yup, that's right – pay money. Even if a director knows that he needs something for a scene, there's still always a choice to be made as to which something it should be. If you see a particular brand of soda or beer being drunk in a scene, you can bet money that the manufacturer paid to have it used.
What, though, if it's not a particular product that you want touted, but an entire industry? How can you get that worked into the production? And how does it get paid for, by whom?
Getting it included isn't the hard part; there are companies around whose entire function is to get product placements for their clients. The hard part is to get the money for a non-specific product. Who's going to want to pay for placing a product that isn't his own, even if his company is a part of the industry to be promoted?
Back in the mid-1990s, there was an organization called the Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio (AAHEA) that could have done just that. AAHEA was, as I remember, a group of high-end audio manufacturers and other interested parties brought together by Joyce Fleming (of McCormack Audio), Harry Pearson (The Absolute Sound magazine) and a whole lot of other important and influential people, to promote our hobby and the industry that has arisen from it. (Side Note: Enjoy the Music.com's Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin is the only member of the press to have earned AAHPAV's Masters Degree).
Specifically, AAHEA gave out awards for the best new audio products introduced each year (My company, at the time, was a member, and we were quite proud to have two of our own products nominated for that honor by an independent panel of judges and reviewers!) More importantly, though, it served as a general PR "clearinghouse" for industry news and information, and could have played an important role in promoting the high-end audio industry by arranging or even paying for product placements.
Think what it could have done for our industry if every appropriate room in every affluent home in every movie or television program had had an obvious High End sound system in view. Whether it was playing or not, it would have shown the world that that's how things are supposed to be and how people are supposed to live, and audiences everywhere – as they so often do for other products or lifestyles – might have taken the hint and made it a fact.
It's not too late for a new Academy (AAHEA II, perhaps?) to be formed. Its primary purpose could easily be to provide non-product-specific promotion for our entire industry, which would, in fact, benefit every manufacturer of every high-end audio product. Funding for it could be provided by its members as dues calculated (as they once were for the EIA [Electronic Industries Alliance]), as a very small percentage of members' total gross sales, with bigger companies paying more and smaller ones paying less. Members would also make product loans as needed for production and pay a small fee (for a whole lot of advertising impact) if their product or its logo were somehow given specific attention.
At this time, the high-end audio industry really has no active promotion, and even CTA (The Consumer Technology Association) the organization that sponsors CES (the Consumer Electronics Show), seems to have little interest in its growth or continued existence.
A new Academy could fix at least some part of that and could benefit our entire industry. Certainly, there are potential problems: Certainly some manufacturers could seek – and get – a "free ride" on the publicity paid for by others. Perhaps something could be done to prevent that, but even if not, so what?
More publicity would be better for everyone, both industry and audiophile. It could help our industry and our hobby to grow, and would certainly bring more people to enjoy our hobby and...