Timepieces, Cars, Opera, And Premium Luxury Audio
I saw a cartoon on one of the audiophile sites on Facebook the other day that reminded me of something that I've been thinking about our industry for a long time: As a technology sector, we're a largely undiscovered wonder and glory. We've been able to accomplish fabulous things! We can, using only two or more channels of information, come very close to duplicating the experience of live music played within a venue of practically any size, by and with virtually any number of performers. We know an immense amount about an immense number of aural subjects, all related in one way or another to the correct and faithful reproduction of music.
We know physics. We know acoustics. We know electronics – including things about electronics that other, less focused, technologies and disciplines have never yet even imagined. (Burn-in, for example, or the fact that there are significantly more things that affect the sound of our electronic devices than just R, C, and L. [Resistance, Capacitance, and Inductance. Yes, Inductance with an "L", for Heinrich Lenz, who discovered it]). What we don't apparently know is how to make the general public want to participate with us and our immense love of music (audiophile hobby).
They're staying away in droves, and it's not because music isn't important to them. It is, and to a remarkable degree. Music is involved in every aspect of human culture. It's the background to or part of all of our favorite activities and entertainments. We express our religious faith with a hymn and it's a bugle call that inspires our patriotism and marches us off to war. Music is there with us even when we're not conscious of it. Think of all the singing commercials we're besieged by every day. Why do you think they're singing? Yes; music affects our emotions, and our emotions affect what we choose to buy.
So, if it's not because music isn't important to them, maybe people don't join our hobby because better-sounding music isn't important – or at least not important enough for them to pay the extra money that a good sound system might cost.
That's probably not true, either: People regularly pay vast amounts of extra money for things that have little or no functional benefit to them at all. Do you really think that a Rolex, MB&F, Czapek, Kari Voutilainen, etc mechanical timepiece keeps better time than the cheapest ITU-R sync'ed electronic watch? People also pay millions for a Bugatti car that will go more than 200 miles per hour, knowing full well that the likelihood of them ever driving that fast is in the range of slim to none.
Obviously, it's not the "to-the-second" accuracy or the road-burning speed that the people who buy such things are willing to pay the extra money for. So, what is it? I think it's something far more valuable: Either how the purchase makes them feel about themselves or what they think other people will think of them (or how they hope those other people will respond to them) if they buy the upscale items in question.
And that's where that cartoon comes in. It expresses, using a different example, something I've long believed – that if you buy a Lamborghini or some other hugely expensive car, people will think you‘re crazy but will secretly envy you and wish that they were you, but if you spend that same amount of money on a high end audio system, they'll just think you're crazy.
There are some things in our society that have social value and have become a part of our expectations of how people are supposed to be at certain levels of society. Think about opera, for example. For more than the last century, it's been a popular American belief that when you reach a certain level of wealth and sophistication you show it by becoming an opera fan, contributing to your city's opera company, and having season tickets (and preferably a box) at your city's opera house.
This, of course, has nothing at all to do with whether you actually like opera – it's just been a socially accepted way to demonstrate your position in Society. The same could be said for any of the arts and for fancy watches, big houses, and luxurious or exotic cars.
Regardless of anything else, it's all social display and, as social display always does, it not only works, but it works both ways: Wearing a Rolex, driving an enviable car, or being an opera buff not only shows others that you have reached a certain level of social standing – that you're one of what used to be known as "The In Crowd" – but not doing so (unless you have some other perceivable social currency to trade on) shows that you are not.
That's how it is and, for as long as people continue to use how they are regarded by others as a basis for judging how they feel about themselves, it's how it will continue to be.
It's also a key to bringing more people into our hobby.
In the movie Crazy People, driving a Jaguar was advertised as a way to get special favors from pretty girls (a Rolls Royce is better still!). That may or may not be true, but driving a fancy car, besides any social benefits it might offer, is also fun and will get you from place to place. Wearing a fancy timepiece has more than just social benefits, too; it also tells time and may be aesthetically pleasing.
And opera – once you have the opportunity to see and hear it in live performance – can be as good a show as any top-rated movie. If we could find a way – perhaps by product placements in movies or the media; perhaps by massive industry advertising; or perhaps by a celebrity or other endorsements (think of what James Bond did for Rolex and Aston-Martin). We seek to get people to couple in their thinking one's social standing or the quality of one's lifestyle with the quality of one's luxurious premium sound system.
Imagine our industry being deluged by newbies trying to prove to themselves and the world how "cool" they are by buying new sound systems. And, once they do, isn't it certain that – as with opera – some of them, on having the opportunity to live with and enjoy the real pleasures of luxurious high-quality sound, might join us in the fold?
Isn't it possible that someday a new cartoon might be drawn showing one person asking another why he spent so much on his sound system and the other asking him why he spent so little?
We have a wonderful hobby that combines technology, aesthetics, and artistic performance. Think what it would do for us and for our industry to bring others into it and help them to