Audiophilia and the iPod Generation

Point up front: Before I write this, I want to make it clear this post is about the bridge between 'audiophiles' and the modern youth with their iPods - or, whatever - encased in a story because it is interesting. Otherwise skip to the last two paragraphs.

My Uncle recently passed away. Two years before, he had been permanently put in a rest home. He was an audiophile; before he got sick he had a nice surround system with SACD capability, 5.1 with B&W 600 series and Marantz components. He spent most of his time listening to music or watching movies/TV, as he was relatively infirm even before that.

I consider myself an audiophile, much to the fault of my Uncle and Father. I still have my Uncle's Dual turntable with Shure cartridge. Even still, I have no use for other technology, such as fancy cell phones, Kindles, or iPods/iPads. When I went to Iraq in 2008 however I wanted to listen to music, so I went out and bought an 80GB iPod and a better pair of Shure headphones. I put my favorite recordings on it, and it served me well.

After I returned, and my Uncle was hospitalized, I took many of his favorite CDs and put them on the iPod for him, since he could no longer enjoy his system. He appreciated the 'Shure' brand on the headphones. Recently, the iPod returned to me through the family, since they knew I had given it to him. I charged it up - it still worked - and began listening to the selections I had put on it. A diverse collection from many including Julie London, George Wright, Mancini, Classical Organ, Cher, Enya, Al Green, Dave Gruisin, etc; my Uncle liked just about everything.

In the mean time I had bought a cheap pair of 'earbuds' at my local Blockbuster to watch movies on my computer during a move, when my TV was gone. I changed out the Shure headphones for the cheaper ones just for kicks, and they sounded like absolute 'crap.' Granted, the Shures cost about $120 more than the others. But this amount of difference in sound for the price is hard to come by in 'HiFi' equipment in general.

So, on to the point. These Shure earbuds really sound good. How many of these youngsters today start out with a cheap pair of earbuds? Surely they must have friends, some of which may have a better product. If they take one listen to the better product, they'll have to hear the difference. If that happens, then musn't some of them wonder about what they can get and what kind of better quality is out there? Some won't care about sound, just like in previous generations, but many will.

Perhaps this has been written about before, but it seems to me that with all the 'worry' about the audiophile hobby going bust to the iPod generation, there may not be too much to worry about. I think it would help if there was some bridge between headphones and speakers though - once they get a tast for good headphones, perhaps they'll appreciate the sound of a better docking system. As they get older, why wouldn't they branch out into a full system? The iPod and earbuds may actually be a cheap entry into the hobby for the masses that ultimately hooks them.
First, I'm sorry to hear about your Uncle, and think it was wonderful of you to share music with him the way you did. I hope someone does the same for me when I'm in that situation someday. Let's be thankful for people like you.

You are correct, most the headphones (especially the Apple earbuds) are awful. The iPod makes a great music source when using AIFF and Apple Lossless files, but it takes a high quality set of headphone (earbuds) or a direct digital dock to expose it's potential. I'm always recommending the Etymotic IEMs and other good options. When people hear what they are missing, they never go back to the cheap earbuds.

Why don't more "dealers" recommend and expose people to these options? Some do, but I think most dealers like more profitable sales, so they ignore the simple, affordable solutions. Also, most Apple stores carry the Etys and some Shures.
What a wonderful story and musical legacy. Thank you for sharing it.

You make a valid point. To that, I would like to add that these small devices run on software and software can be improved to reproduce audio beyond what we consider high fidelity now. In the future, it's conceivable (if not inevitable) that new file formats will emerge allowing greater and greater resolution. With file storage going up and the size of file storage devices going down, the capability of holding these files will fall right into place. Sure, Grado, Sennheiser are all designing better and better headphone technology and there is no end to the market. There is actually a headphone store in Portland OR now (32 ohm audio) that specifically caters to headphone technology. I'm sure there are plenty more like it out there.

Has anyone looked at iPad sales? Holy cow! We can’t underestimate the flexibility of these devices. I believe future generations will adapt and embellish these improvements just like we have done with video technology in the last couple decades. Hi-Fi isn’t dead but it’s sure changing shape.
I think you might be overestimating the number of folks that really care about good quality sound. We all do, that's why we are here, but I still maintain that the majority of the population is fine with "good enough" sound quality. Whichever manufacturer has the best marketing capabilities will be the one to sell the most product. Not unlike what Bose has done with home audio.(how many pairs of apple ear buds are there floating around compared to all of the "high-end" earbuds available. If I had to guess I would say apple outsells the competition 10:1)

I think the number of people that don't know good sound when they hear it is a large number. Those same people are not going to part with $150 for better ear buds when they can get a replacement apple set for $30.

While it would be nice for a larger majority of the population to be into good sound, this is still a very niche hobby.
@Horseface: I totally agree with you. I have a turntable and enjoy the spinning black stuff as much as anyone, but I'm also just as impressed and inspired by my Apple Mac, iPad and iPhone. These devices have not only changed the way I communicate and create, but especially how I listen to music. I understand that not everyone agrees, but there is no reason why these digital solutions can not be good now, and excellent in the future.
S7horton: Most people's thought and care of sound quality is like their thought and care of nutrition. When there is fast food and snacks everywhere, it's more convient to eat those options, and that's why we have such unhealthy eating habits in America. The same thing is true with other items and activities, most people (not all) choose the easy solution, instead of taking time and investing money in better options.

At the same time, I think that some "audiophiles" make things more difficult than needed and drive a lot of people away. A little common sense can go along way. ;)
Jimmy 2615, thanks for sharing your story and thanks for your Uncle for sharing with you something that always will keep you connected.
I have 4 teenagers myself and they all have I pods as do all their friends. I brought up this same subject with my kids and even after getting an adapter to plug in my Grado headphones I use at home to show the differance it can make,they don,t seem as keen on the quality of sound as they all listen to them pretty loud and volume and portability is where it seems to stop with them.
My kids recently bought me an I pod nano for my birthday, first thing I did after getting it loaded up with "tunes" was to go out and upgrade the headphones!
Great story and while I use a pod only for when on the tractor mowing I think I will upgrade the buds after reading this. I have read alot about earphones but for some reason now I really want some.
And in close thanks for your service in Iraq.
I bought my Shure SE210s before my last deployment. Now, two years later and much abuse (not intentional, just a lot of use), they still work and sound fantastic. As soon as I get my feet on dry land again I'm going to upgrade to the Shure SE535s. From what I understand they are incredible. I did buy the Bose QC15s before we got underway so I could get rid of some of this fan noise while I'm listening. Believe it or not, the Shure earphones offered just about as much noise reduction. Now I just plug in my Shures and then put the Bose headphones over top without the connector plugged in and turn them on. Takes out maybe one more dB worth of noise. If that. Quiet enough to enjoy anyway.

And more to the post, I also agree that most people simply don't care. I have a few buddies on the boat here that think their apple earbuds are the greatest thing ever. Some have no concept of noise isolation or cancellation. Others that try to engage in audio talk around me find themselves lost and bored very quickly. When they find out I spent $xxx amount of dollars on a power cord they quickly say I'm insane and they refuse to listen anymore.

Maybe it's the money some of us are willing to pay that also affects their interest. A lot of younger kids don't have more than a few hundred bucks to mess with anyway. That will barely get you an iPod. A lot of kids grew up in the iPod world. All they know is MP3s. To them, that may sound good.

I bet a lot of them actually would care. They just don't know what to look for and they are already told by good marketing advertisements that a $300 Samsung 5.1ch surround system with a receiver is the best they can get. They are sold on the cheap stuff. Cheap is all they know.

Need to educate!
I turned my nephews onto higher quality earphones a few years ago, not even realizing that I was helping to create such a bridge. Thanks for opening my eyes.

It is tricky because if you simply tell someone they need better earphones, ah, they kind of tune you out. A demo is infinitely preferable, in my experience.

Thanks for sharing that story with us, Jimmy.

It seems like the younger generation doesn't know good sound, but it's actually not true. I work at a college and have this discussion often - without discussing hifi gear. They know uncompressed sounds better. They know the earbuds sound like crap compared to better headphones. They attend live concerts enough to know what music really sounds like.

The problem is 2 fold IMO - they don't truly know what to buy. Why? No one advertises. Bose must be the best, because no one else challenges that claim.

The second issue is that it's not a priority. If getting better sound was a priority, I'm sure they'd Google headphones and get enough information to figure out what they need. They're not stupid.

The issue isn't money for the most part. Look at their shoes, clothes, watches, video games, etc. They have no problem with dropping $100 for a G-Shock watch or $60 for Halo (XBox game). There are some very good headphones for $60 out there.

If it was a priority,I'm sure they'd get far beter stuff than they're using. I think they've accepted what they have is 'good enough.'

I've got plenty of stuff (non-audio) that's 'good enough.' There's people out there arguing what tools, car wax, shaving razors, etc. are the best and why people use the non-mass market crap rather than th'good stuff.'. We argue audio. No difference really.
Kbarkamian - Especially regarding your last paragragh... spot on.
Thinking about this thread a bit more, I realized something...

My father and two of my cousins are into photography. They argue cameras, lenses, etc. ad nauseum. It seems like taking pictures is an excuse to use the camera, and that they'oncerned with the picture quality than the event or moment they're trying to capture. That may be a bit harsh, but I don't think it's really that far off.

With our first child on the way, I want a good camera to take pictures to document our daughter's first few years (not the delivery!). My Sony point and shoot does a decent job, but it's really nothing special and the pics aren't what anyone would consider archival quality.

I really don't want to ask the about cameras. Why, you may ask? Because I know they'll take it too far. I don't need to hear about every detail of what makes a good camera. I want something that'll take respectable pics that won't cost an arm and a leg, be heavier than a bowling ball, and have a sniper scope attached to it. I used my father's camera at my wife's baby shower (snuck in for a few pics and to say thanks), and it was a disaster.

Why post this here? I think we can get like this with audio. We can get a bit carried away when people ask us what to buy. My brother in law was asking about what to look for in a stereo, and I think I lost him about 2 minutes into it. I sent him to the right store, and he got a good starter system (I consider it that anyway). So I guess it worked out.
Again you are right. I'm a painter too and I can even get into arguing brand x oils to brand x oils and this canvas vs. that canvas or natural bristles vs. synthetic. A lot of what you chose to use is dependent on how you want your painting to look which not ironically sounds exactly like a perfect description for peoples tastes in audio.

Anyone can spot a quality product vs. garbage. And we certainly wouldn't have a site like this that has tens of thousands of posts regarding what's what and what's better in audio if it weren't for personal tastes and preferences.

There's already too many debates over Sonos vs. Apple TV vs Sooloos vs Squeezebox and no less and perhaps many more in the way of power cords.

After a while you need to stop reading and start listening.