Issue 240 February 2014
High-End Audio's Golden Opportunity
Editorial By Robert Harley
Consumer Electronics Association, the huge trade group representing the
consumer-electronics industry, is throwing its weight behind an industry-wide
initiative to promote high-resolution digital audio to the mass market. The
CEA joins major manufacturers (led by Sony) and record labels (notably Sony
Music, Universal Music, and Warner) in a concerted effort to show consumers
that high-res offers a more compelling listening experience than MP3, and even
The CEA decided
to pursue this strategy based on two studies it commissioned examining
consumer attitudes toward the role of sound quality in making purchasing
decisions ("Notions of Quality: Audio Expectations of Consumers," July 2011,
and "Discovering the Motivations and Opportunities Behind Home Audio Upgrades,"
November 2012). The studies found that 90 percent of consumers identified
sound quality as the most important factor in enjoying music, followed closely
by "compelling content." Seventy-two percent said that superior audio
electronics are vital to enjoying music. The conclusion was that, after price,
consumers identified sound quality as the most important criterion when
choosing audio components.
The hardware and
software industries view high-resolution digital audio as the platform from
which to market better sound to the mass market. They are giving high-res an
initialism (HRA, for high-resolution audio) and hope to do for the audio
industry what HD video did for the television business. "Adoption of HRA,"
says the CEA, "offers benefits for consumers as well as new market
opportunities for the CE and music industries. HRA offers the highest digital
sound quality while retaining the benefits of digital audio, such as
portability and personalization. HRA music files provide greater clarity and
detail than MP3s and other compressed digital audio formats, resulting in a
listening experience that more closely represents the original recording." CEA
President and CEO Gary Shapiro said, "We expect major HRA announcements over
the next year and believe that the technology will have a strong presence at
the 2014 International CES."
All this is
obviously great news for the high-end industry, for a number of reasons. We'll
all have greater access to affordable high-res hardware and a broader range of
music titles. But in the larger perspective, the concerted effort of the CEA,
major electronics manufacturers, record labels, and retailers to promote
better sound is the golden opportunity the high end has been hoping for.
high-end industry can't just sit back and wait for the rush of new customers;
it must seize this opportunity by bringing the high-end aesthetic to product
categories and price points relevant to the consumer stepping up from
mass-market dreck. Fortunately, we're not starting from a standstill; many
forward-looking high-end companies have been pursuing this strategy over the
past few years — AudioQuest with the DragonFly, Meridian with the Explorer
and music management software on HP computers, as well as NAD and Peachtree
with a variety of products, to name only four. Today there are many examples
of companies creating components that bring high-end values to the average
consumer rather than expecting the average consumer to make the leap into the
high-end world on his own.
improvement in sound quality for large numbers of people is a win for music,
for consumers, for the industry, and for audio magazines. The challenge for
The Absolute Sound is to offer the performance-oriented newcomer a vehicle to
discover products relevant to the way he accesses music while also serving our
core audience of serious enthusiasts. If the CEA's marketing program is
successful, droves of consumers who have never heard of high-end audio will be
looking to upgrade. In twenty years the DragonFly customer may very well
become a Wilson customer — provided he discovers that first stepping stone
into the high end in the first place.
As part of our
endeavor to expose new music lovers to the joys of high-quality audio we've
expanded the full-time editorial team with the addition of Spencer Holbert.
Spencer, who joins us as Editorial Assistant, is a self-described "audiophile
geek" who at the age of 27 owns thousands of LPs. His system includes products
from McIntosh, Music Hall, Rega, Paradigm, Pro-Ject, and AudioQuest. He also
has rebuilt a vintage Harman Kardon A500 tubed amplifier. Spencer brings more
than youth and audiophile credentials to TAS; he holds degrees in linguistics
and history, and is a superb writer and editor. Part of Spencer's charter will
be to discover the best entry-level products and write about them in a way
that engages new readers. Watch for his first contribution in our next issue.
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