Hi-Fi? What's That?
A woman came to my house yesterday to give me a bid on some planned remodeling. When she came in, she sat on the couch in the living room, in what would be a good spot for listening to that room's sound system and, noticing the large speakers, she commented "Gee, you must like to listen really LOUD." When I responded that "No, I like to listen really good", she gave me a look of frank bafflement and obviously had no idea at all what I meant.
Although what that woman said took me aback, it probably shouldn't have. It was hardly the first time I'd ever run across people with not even the slightest understanding of our hobby. One incident that particularly comes to mind is the time, a few years back, when I went to Canada for the Toronto Hi-Fi Show. At the airport, as I was passing through customs, the young lady Customs Agent asked me why I had come to Canada.
When I told her that it was for a Hi-Fi Show that weekend, she had no idea what "Hi-Fi" was. And even after I had explained it to her a number of times, she still had no clue until I said that I was there for a trade show for the consumer electronics industry. And even then, I think she thought I was talking about boom boxes or something.
The same sort of thing has been true about my own business activities: When I've been asked what I do for a living, at least since my working with XLO cables company, and I've said that I design and manufacture cables for high-end audio systems. People, more often than not unless they are, themselves, audiophiles, have no idea what I'm talking about. And if I tell them the prices of some of the cables, they immediately assume that anything that expensive must certainly be for professional use, only.
The idea that ordinary people might be so enamored of the sound and the emotional satisfaction of music reproduced so well as to be reminiscent of a live performance just never occurs to them, and I think I know why: Music has become so ubiquitous and often so trivial – either as TV or radio commercials, "fluff" pop music, or "elevator" or "bumper" music intended to be heard but not listened-to, that for all too many people it has lost its value.
Even just a century ago, music was something rare and wonderful – something that you either played or sang yourself – at home with family or friends; in church, in a concert hall or some other public place; or that you heard performed for you through the wonder of radio or the phonograph. And less than fifty years before that (and for all of prior human history), you either played it yourself, heard it live, or didn't hear it at all.
Today, music is everywhere and, instead of having to make it or seek it out, we're barraged with it in one form or another at virtually every waking hour. And, instead of being enjoyable, emotionally expressive, or inspiring, much of it has become something that, whether consciously or not, we simply filter out.
If the music doesn't matter, it seems only natural that its sound quality shouldn't matter either. And, in fact, for the general market there seems to be little interest in improved sound quality. Although there's seemingly constant innovation in features and gadgetry in most of consumer electronics, the best non-audiophile-quality sound – what we hear from "mid-fi" home stereo systems, TV sets and the better car radios, – seems to have reached a plateau, getting little better over time, if at all Paradoxically, though, as technology improves, the worst of non-audiophile sound sources are getting better, so that most of what people actually hear sounds at least okay.
And That's A Problem
That's exactly what I'm referring to: To people who don't care or don't know any better, "perfectly okay" sound is just fine, and having okay-sounding music keeps them from ever wanting anything better – or even from finding out that something better might be available.
Another thing that might be keeping people from joining or even becoming aware of our hobby is the decline of physical media and their supersession by streaming.
Not too many years ago, when recordings were only available on vinyl or digital disc, or on magnetic tape, people could buy a recording that they liked (or thought they might like) by a favorite artist, composer, or group, and add it to their collection to create a personal music library. Over time, that library would grow and become, like a scrapbook or a diary, a record of a person's tastes and musical history and become a cherished part of his life and legacy.
Simply being able to access any recording for a fee denies any sense of permanency or collection, and instead lessens the likelihood that any particular bit of music will ever be called-up again. It also reduces the listener's personal involvement with the music, and denies him entirely the ability to actually hold it in his hand and see it as a part of his life.
Fortunately, though, things seem to be changing: More and more people – especially young ones – are buying LP turntables and records and many of them are doing so because of their confidence that analog sound is superior. There's a growing return to CDs, too. Used CDs and CD players on eBay and elsewhere are going up in value and there may soon, as with LP turntables and related gear, be new stock on the market. Reel-to-reel tape recorders, players, and tapes are also showing a resurgence, and there are even people out there pushing for a return of cassette tapes.
For whatever reason, there seems to be a whole lot of new people attracted to music and sound and, someday soon, it may even be possible to talk to someone other than a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile and actually have them know what "Hi-Fi" is. They might even...
Note: Roger Skoff is an audio authority with many years of experience. He has more than 500 published articles within various major audiophile publications. He was also the founder and designer for XLO Electric Company, Inc. a manufacturer of premium cables for high-end audio and home theater. Roger currently heads a new company named RSX Technologies, Inc., which designs and manufactures cables and other premium products for high-end audio and custom installation.