Future of this hobby?

I took some time off work, and I read the Jan edition of Stereophile cover to cover today. In the Letters to Editor section people were writing in about what will happen to this hobby as the target audience ages and the younger generation doesn't jump on board. I am 28, and I fear that the concern is definitely real. My friends, fiance, and people my age are in love with their Ipods. That is great that they are into listening to music in whatever manner they choose. My friends and fiance all agree that my stereo sounds good but also feel that stereos bought at discount retail stores fill the same need and have no interest in spending the extra cash.

Also, I went to a couple of Chicago Audio Society meetings to see if I could make some friends that shared my interest. I felt a little out of place though when I was the only person in the 20-30 demographic out of a population of forty people. Further, there may have been one or two people in their late 30s and probably half of the people were over 50.

The only conclusion I can reach on this subject is that lesser products are meeting the needs of people my age, and I don't forsee the younger generations waking up one day and deciding to sell the MP3 players so that they can buy high-end turntables. In 20-30 years as much of the current audiophile population ages and some move into assisted living or other arrangements where these elaborate and space consuming set-ups are no longer wanted or needed, the few remaining young people that actually care will be able to take ownership of kick-ass systems at steep discounts. I along with any kids that I have will have our cash ready in anticipation of that day.
I agree, Firecracker_77.

We are living during a massive paradigm shift in entertainment, akin to the move to home stereo from radio, and to the move from radio to television.

High end audio will continue to be enjoyed by an increasingly older demographic, until eventually the equipment becomes like collectible...like old tube radios.
I think it's a small group and will remain, but I don't fear it will go away at all. There are young people on this forum and with the internet (which is where I discovered that there was such a thing as high end audio) it will reach people that are into music and value quality.
Great post! The fact is that the arrogant manufacturers of high end gear, with a few notable exceptions, have continued to make the gear uglier, bigger and precipitously more expensive. Having wires all over the living room and speakers the size of the monolith in 2001 does not meet the needs of modern living circa 2006. Nor does displaying umpteen large black boxes. If that was not enough to alienate new converts to the hobby, then the prices will certainly turn them off. Audio is no longer a status symbol; the days of Hef, in his smoking jacket, next to a reel-to-reel, in Playboy are long, long gone. And the elitist attitute shared by many audiophiles, retailers and manufacturers alike is just one more nail in the coffin. The ipod and Bose wave radio fill the need of modern consumers, they are compact, intuitively easy to operate and elegantly styled. All of this is lost on the dinosaurs that perpetuate the old order while whining about diminished sales and flagging interest.
It occurs to me now might be the ideal time to begin developing and Audiophile Assisted Living Center. Someplace nice, like Ojai, California.

Just think of the activities: discussions about digital vs. vinyl, isolation techniques, and remote vs. manual adjustable beds. CD shuffleboard.

An audiologist on staff 24/7.

LOL Tvad!
It occurs to me now might be the ideal time to begin developing and Audiophile Assisted Living Center.

Oh, and of course each room will have two dedicated AC circuits for analog and digital...and the breathing machines will be on a separate circuit, too.

Sign up today! Deposits being accepted. (Paypal adds 3%).

That could be a great business idea! There is a small niche market that would appreciate a nursing home for audiophiles. Instead of sitting in a common room playing backgammon and watching tv, there could be a big group of people gathered listening to a pair of 10 foot tall speakers from the comfort of their wheelchairs.
We are out there you just need to look harder.
This is a great post. As most Americans continue to value flash and convenience over substance and fidelity, this hobby will likely continue to shrink. I am 31 and have been in this hobby for 16 years, but my friends look at me like I'm an alien if I mention the fact that my stereo cost more than my car. It's all about worshipping music more than the dollar.
The advent of the transistor did not kill the hobby. Tubes still rule the top.

The Sony Walkman and Discman did not kill this hobby.

The CD/DVD is not kill vinyl. Neither did analog tape, which is about dead itself.

This has always been a 35 year and older hobby. Young people have other priorities. The young also don't have the income to fund this hobby.

Look back 25 years and later. All there was then was the receiver for the most part. Most of the early high end companies trace back to no later than the mid 80s.

Who ever thought of cables 20 years ago?

This hobby is actually still young.
All attempts to interest my son in 'my hobby' fall on, enlightened ears up to a point. He loves my system, loves his music and thinks I am
a) nuts to pay the money for such a system
b) a lunatic to pay for any kind of software.
I have said I will give him my second system if he pays for his music: answer,
"Get real, how can I afford £16 for a cd on my wages"
I can see his point but still can't bring myself to bother with an I=pod for the very occassional holiday listening and bring myself to rob artists of their living - in spite of the fact many spur of the moment purchases make me feel the 'robbed' party.

I'll hold of and & may give him a turntable for his 30th,
I'd hate to see all my vinyl going to the tip when I snuff it !!!!
Does give pause for thought.
It does occur that the younger generation already expect to get hi end for next to free through the dreaded Ebay.
Rgds Si
Firecracker,,Just think of all the great deals youll be able to find when all us older Audiophiles start to pass on and our kids sell our stuff for pennies on the dollar!I like Sugarbries reply!Tvad,LOL ,,maybe someone will come out with a line of "Audiophile hearing aids! "
Sugarbrie, what a good attitude. I couldn't have said it better.
I think Sugarbrie's post points to the problem. Tubes and vinyl and all the mystical pretentions to the holy grail fail to impress a generation that sees the rewards of digital technology in their lives. I have known people who insist good writing can only be done longhand or, a great concession to modernity, with a manual typewriter. You make high quality sound seem unattainable for those who refuse to mortgage their futures to it. Listened to any good powercords lately?

The CD/DVD is not kill vinyl.
There will always be vinyl lovers, as you say.

This has always been a 35 year and older hobby.
Perhaps, although I will argue that the seed of interest was planted in me in my late teens and early twenties. This is no longer happening to our 15-21 year olds...especially when it comes to the Holy Grail of vinyl.

I'll bet the stereo high-end hobby now skews 40+, and is aging rapidly.

This hobby is actually still young.
Sugarbrie, I applaud your optimism, but you are whistling past the graveyard my friend.
There are still some younger people who are into the hobby. It's just rather expensive to get into. I am 26 and got my college roomie Bcos17, who is 25, into the hobby.

I do think, however, that there is a movement toward smaller setups and gear that serves dual purposes. The younger generation did not grop up on viynl for the most part. They grew up with CDs and DVDs so I don't think it's any big surprise that the industry has moved more in that direction.

I think most young people are fairly ignorant as to what good sound really is. Many think loud equals good. Many are rather impatient too (instant gratification generation) and are unwilling to take the time to figure out what combinations of equipment are good, how to set the speakers up properly, and set the room up correctly to maximize the sound.

Regardless, listen to the recording quality of many of the "top 40" hits and I think it's easy to understand why many younger people would have no interest in investing in better gear.
I built my first pair of speakers (Jensen 12 inch triaxials) at age 19 (and still use them today). I saved lawn cutting money for a used (high end trade in) Sansui receiver and played many many albums on a Phillips straight arm turntable(the silver one with the cool green light on/off switch - forget the model), all before I was 20. I was not alone amongst my friends who almost all had their versions of audiophile bliss in their rooms at home, and in their cars. I have to agree with Firecracker_77 on this one, and a few isolated cases don't change the fact of it.
I am one of those 40 somethings that you guys are writing about. I would gladly purchase space in one of your audiophile assisted care facilities, providing I can still hear from the Alice Cooper shows I still go to.

Both of my boys have systems worth triple the amount of my first one. I am going to take this as a warning to make sure they don't fall away from this hobby.

Thanks for the wakeup call to arms.
All is not lost in my opinion. Current audiophiles will be fortunate to enjoy this hobby with the equipment that has been produced and that which is manufactured in the next 20 or 30 years before companies begin to fold in a worst case scenario. So even if things turn sour, we will still be able to enjoy for the rest of our lives the equipment produced up until that time. As such, we will all be able to enjoy the hobby that we have bought into. For those who never have the opportunity to climb aboard before the decline in offerings, I guess that is their loss whether they ever realize it or not. I plan on starting a family in the next few years and will raise my kids in an atmosphere that encourages quality audio so that someday they appreciate when dad passes on his equipment to them. Instead of discouraging their use of MP3 players, I will insist that they plug them into my set-up to hear the differences however degraded the source may be.
For those who see it fading away, then explain CES in Vegas.

Years ago it use to be only a quiet get together at one small hotel. Now, not only is Alexis Park overflowing with companies sharing rooms to fit it all in; but now next door at the St. Tropez a second hotel is also overflowing with companies and gear with "The Show", brought to us by the owner of this website.

Quite a few high end companies are at the Hilton as well. Martin Logan just to name one. At the main convention center you'll find Bryston, YBA, and most of the cable companies. You'll also find all the mid-fi gear makers like Cambridge Audio, Audio Refinement, etc at the main convention center.

It keeps getting bigger every year.

Young people don't drive BMW's Audi's, Mercedes, or Jaguars either. Does not mean they going out of business. It all comes down to disposable $$$$$$$$$

When the current young reach middle age, I doubt they'll still be hangin out at the mall listening to tunes on their IPODS.
Older people can also afford stuff younger folks getting started or paying student loans can't.Reminds me of the debate on Clasical and Opera debates.Back in the 50's when Glen Gould said something within earshot or a repoter it neded up in Time magazine or when Bernsteins interpetation caused such furor it would spill over to the Times letters section for days or weeks.well thos days are over to be replaced when P-Didddy's entourgae/bodygurad shoots up a night club.Who know maybe all this crappy MP3 stuff and Ipods listening will kill Hifi but not entirely.Ther will always be somebody sekking a better mouse trap for one of our most primal needs.I am currently amazed by how many hi-end companies there are out there and maybe there are too many.I am further amazed when a company like McIntosh stays intact and doesen't become a Marantz.And cripes maybe it's not sucha bad thing.I want more vinyl but maybe SACD's hagve just about caught up.What I don't want is one more (or 5 more next week new companies that further confuse my Pea brain can handle because professionals are bought off and civilians on epinion.com or C.net put there money down and want to justify how much brain power they have.Over at Epinions and other consumer sites every poduct get's a 4.83 or 4.72 out of 5 and it drive me nuts which is a short trip indeed.
I am afraid there has been a huge paradigm shift. The real question is the younger generation concerned about the quality of play back. The answer is no . Many of you have said this wasn't the case 20-30 years ago either. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were always cheap smaller even portable ways of getting music into life 30 years ago. BUT when I was in college your receiver and speakers and sources were a very important status items the helped define you as much as the car you drove. It was clearly very different. The quality counted. Now what I sense is happening in this hobby is that it is going through simply a momentary fad for the most materialistic consumers who have found this as a niche to enjoy music. I fear it will lose its appeal even to the small group that enjoys it now. As far as music in general goes despite the popularity of the ipod, both my kids have one, they don't seem to care as much as we did about music. Brick and mortar stores are all claiming that they won't be able to survive and some forms of music are becoming almost extinct classical for instance. Sure there are schools famous for it but the audiences are virtually all octegenarians. There are very few people my age, mid forties, that listen and new software a real rarity even on our coveted websites. What's happening now is the last fits of life kicking away but it is only a small group of us that make high end. We really do look like we have 2 heads to most people. I wonder exactly how many people actually visit this page regularly. It seems like the same people visit the forums usually a few hundred per thread even if that's a fraction of the total who look for the auctions or to buy and sell were talking a couple of thousand in a country of over 300 million (I know not everyone has web access). I think we are actually at a high point as I said before. I hope I wrong but I am the only audiophile in my workplace of several thousand that I know of.
As I am often of a contrarian perspective, so too is the case here...

Despite all of the angst and hand wringing in this hobby, I feel that high end audio is well positioned for some substantial growth in the next 25 years. Also, I agree with a lot of what Sugarbrie has to say. Beyond which, there are some additional factors I feel come in to play:
1) Size. I realize this issue keeps coming up, but has anyone seen the reaction to LG's debut of the 102" plasma at CES. It's utter lust by most. No one complains of the size of televisions, in fact, we all know that big is better when we talk tvs. People will put up with a stereo in the living room. What's more, when their thirst for a serious tv becomes quenched, the next thing on the shopping list is going to be an audio system capable of playing on the same field as their glitzy new tv.

2) Status. There has certainly never been a shortage of nose in the air dealers willing to sneer at what we currently own while pointing us ever higher up on the totem pole. But, the mistake the high end has made for a very long time is that their target audience has been audiophiles. They have always preached to the converted. Now that magazines like The Robb Report are beginning to delve into the waters of audio, the products we lust after will begin to be exposed to an infinitely wider audience. How difficult would it be to convince people that big speakers should be as prized as big tvs??? It's marketing, people need to be told that they want and NEED big speakers.

3) Price. Following #2. A non - issue. No, let me restate that, it's a benefit to be exclusively priced. How many people think it's just grand to have a $10K watch on their wrist? Loads!!! My wife wears a Rolex, and to be quite honest, it tells time no better than my daughter's Timex. In fact, it's actually been worse over the years! We've had to send the darned thing back twice. But, that pride of ownership is there in spades. Like fine watches, wine, cognac, cigars, cars, firearms, shoes, clothes, jewelry, and furniture, high end audio is a marketable commodity. Again, blame the manufacturers for lousy marketing of the product...

4) The ascendancy of Asia. Particularly China. Music reproduction is taken far more seriously per capita in these cultures. As the wealth of countries like China continues to grow at an exponential rate, the sales of high end audio gear will follow suit in these places. It already has begun gaining traction. Does anyone think that all of what the Asian based companies is being sold to North Americans and Western Europeans? Again, blame it on the stupidity of the companies based in North America and Western Europe, but they risk not marketing in Asia (and, also Eastern Europe & Russia) at their own peril - not that I believe them wise enough to know better anyhow (see #2 & #3). Those who keep harping on the sweatshop conditions and oppression in China refuse to see that the standard of living is being ratcheted up faster than any society in the history of this world. These people are buying televisions, cell phones, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, jewelry, cars, wines, AND stereo equipment.

In the end, my advice is to sit back, and enjoy the music. From my perspective, high end audio is not about to die, it's on the verge of an explosion in growth.
I'm afraid Mechans makes much sense -- even though I hope the future obeys to Sugar's predictions...

There's a significant shift in the "reason why" behind hi-end buying decision. Before it was "better sound". Better sound doesn't seem to justify a purchase anymore...
After all, much of sound creation, storage, & reproduction, is digital. From digital unto digital: difficult to tell what is "bad" or "better"... I mean, now you can easily process a recording to sound "good" on an average set-up or target the I-pod's spectrum & tailor the recording for that...

Also, many people look at audio-visual -- rather than just "blind" audio...

Maybe, if hi-end becomes a "lifestyle" purchase there may be a resurgence.
Even better, sugarbrie is right & I'm being pessimistic.
To paraphrase Bob from Minnesota
Something is happenin' and you don't know what it is
No one can accurately predict the future, but it's very clear that things are changing. Don't let the profusion of tremendous quality products fool you. It's very common for the best products to be produced at the end of an industry cycle. They'll always be a few craftsmen/fanatics out there producing great quality products.

I admire Sugarbrie's optimism, but Audi/VW is in serious financial trouble, Mercedes had to buy Chrysler to diversify and that hasn't gone very well and if Ford hadn't bought Jaguar, they would have died a decade ago. BMW is doing quite well, but audiophile companies that market themselves in similar ways as BMW (Wilson, Martin-Logan, Krell, etc.) generate a very polarizing response in the audiophile world. There a strong strain running through the audiophile world that wants to keep this hobby small and elite. Clearly,
There's no success like failure
And failure's no success at all
1970, I was 20 years old and caught the audiophile bug. Almost none of my friends were interested then, almost none of my friends are interested now.

Future of this hobby?...almost no one will be interested but us. To be honest, untill I found the internet...I was almost sure "us" was becomming "me".

There are several issues I see.

Excellence is it's own virtue to some. So, paying to have true reproduction (live music) does seem crazy to most people. It's cost is so high that it's unattainable for most. For those who can afford it and care enough about music or the art form, they can achieve it.

Younger people cannot make the economic leap and therefore compromise at a level of performance and material, not of sonics and life likeness.

It's not unreasonable, it's expected.

When I was a teenager forty years ago, I listened to records on my $15 columbia "system" with two speakers. When I heard the same albums I listened to on my current system, I didn't recognize the lyrics. I had no idea that was what they were singing...

My children do understand the difference in sonics, but refuse to take the time to listen to music. It's not time in their lives yet to relax and appreciate beauty.

They are the same with food and wine. They have had great meals and wines, but it doesn't hold the value to them that they cost. Their value of money is too dear.

When security isn't their first priority, then there's time for aesthetics.

Youth is a time for passion, they make their own. We old guys need help from others. At least I do.
When I was a teenager forty years ago, I listened to records on my $15 columbia "system" with two speakers.

This statement perfectly encapsulates the crux of this issue, in my opinion. I also listened to two-channel music for hours and hours starting from when I was fifteen. I listened in my room on a dedicated system, and in so doing the experience of listening to a dedicated two channel system was made a part of my life experience.

Fifteen year old kids do not listen to two channel music today for hours and hours on dedicated stationary two channel music systems. They listen to two channel music on computer systems in their rooms, or on iPods, which are mobile listening systems intended primarily as background music scoring to other life experiences.

Young people experience music today in completely different ways than we did in our teens and twenties. This is the paradigm shift to which I refer in an earlier post, and this paradigm shift is precisely why dedicated two channel (and I would argue multi channel) music reproduction systems will never be a focus of the computer gaming/iPod generation.

However, this is not to say that music will not be an integral part of life for these kids. In fact, I would bet that whole-house, server-based music systems could be quite important to them, but this is significantly different than the two channel audiophile systems which are the primary focus of these forums and the audiophile hobby as it exists today.
tvad is right. what we are witnessing is a cultural change, even within the ever shrinking hi end hobby.
I had a twenty dollar mono record player that I started on over 40 years ago. The thing is that, while technology changes, I also played pinball and watched television--and in a way these were the 'amusements' available for teenagers at the time. I would have killed for a transistor radio (portable--eventually got one) and have in the intervening years bought walkmans, discmans, atari, computer chess standalone games, not to mention a bunch of computers. Im still an audiophile primarily and none of these other activities made me want to quit. My 13 year old has and does all the typical stuff, including audio (but not ipod) and she still uses a boombox I bought her when she was 5 (and didn't know what it was). I agree the hobby is changing, and probably not for the better, but it's not at all an easy thing to predict what will happen as time goes by.
If the high end is truly valid because it honestly offers the best in musical reproduction, then future generations will seek it out for that one, simple reason.
Young people today seem to have so many things going on, and MP3 and other portable devices are convienient for them. I feel that as they get older and settle down, good audio will find some importance to a few. But I feel it will always be kind of a niche market and not main stream. But who knows what the future holds. What we consider very good might become the standard for everyone someday, or maybe something even better. At my age, I doubt I will live to see it, but when you think back over what the world was like in 1905, alot has happened in the last 100 years.
The "young" don't care about sound quality. True and true when I was young. I did not care then either. I care now. What I expect is the current young will also care about sound quality when they're no longer young. And they'll be saying about the new young then, what we're saying about them now. And on and on and on.
I noticed audiogon has more posts than it ever had.
Perhaps when the health benefits of music enjoyment via dedicated listening are quantified and fully understood will people begin to invest in high end audio equipment in greater numbers to practice "preventative medicine."
Grant - Just watched "Broken Flowers" last night (good flick) - There are some short scenes of Bill Murray listening to music on his couch...looks like he's deliberately sitting right in the sweet spot...well, those scenes would make a hilarious ad for your Assisted Living Center.

Firecracker - great post! The responses here have been some interesting reading. That's disconcerting, but not at all surprising about your experience with the Chicago Audio Society. I think your desperate cry for an awakening will not fall upon deaf ears here, as you've seen from the responses already. We feel your pain my friend. Seriously, one aspect of this hobby that has always turned me off is that it seems to be, by it's very nature (or perhaps by human nature) an isolationist pursuit. I will paraphrase...no why even type it again, I'll paste a note I wrote to Grant and a few other A'gon friends just a few days ago on a different subject, but it applies here in an edited form:

People like what they like for reasons that are as different as our fingerprints. The very nature of recorded music is a "coloration" or variant from the moment the sound leaves the source. How you prefer to hear it played back to you, and in what space that effects that playback, is not necessarily going to be the same from person-to-person, and there can be beauty, musicality and enjoyment in oh so many variants. So it does raise my hackles, always, when anyone starts talking about anything like components in finite and absolute terms (and this happens frequently). That kind of thinking goes so far away from enjoying/sharing the hobby, and enjoying the music (an aspect of the hobby that brings us all together on common ground for the most part). It is the proverbial carrot on a stick...reaching out and never satisfied. The whole point of this stuff is to enjoy life(music). I dunno' but constantly reaching for something I can never attain is not an aspect of life I enjoy much. Don't get me wrong, I do like putting together a system and tweaking it to some extent so it enhances my enjoyment, but it is not a relentless pursuit for me. So that's a long way around saying that the kind of arrogance Howard describes does really bug me. It probably alienates allot of folks from enjoying, and or considering our hobby, and thus isolates all of us that much more from the general public who already thinks we're nuts...and I know you know they're all quite right ;-)

What I think this hobby needs is more noble ambassadors the likes of Albert Porter, the late Patrick Malone, and many others here on this site, and contributing to this thread, who are happy to have the opportunity to share their enthusiasm for audio gear and music, without any ego attachments or expectations that others will embrace their own personal choices/preferences. A few good men (and one or two ladies too) to pass on the baton to you young folks, many of whom don't even know what an LP is. Unfortunately you will have to weed through some input from the opposite end of the spectrum as well, but hey, that's life.

As far as technology and the gear; If the demand is there, and I do think it will be, there will always be someone out there making and improving upon the goods to meet that demand.

Just keep on sharing your enthusiasm and it may just spread.

The hobby was different back in the early fifties when I got involved. "Involved" is the right word. We had to wire up our own electronics, and design and build our loudspeaker (just one of them). It was a "hands on" quest for sonic perfection. As such it stirred more emotion than going to a shop, plunking down a few grand, and walking out with the latest greatest thing. And in those days, a state of the art system was within financial reach of a dedicated high school kid (like me).

Many Audiogon folk seem to be interested in cars. In a similar way that hobby has also changed. It used to be that if you wanted a "hot" car you had to soup it up yourself. No more. Auto showrooms are full of mass market hot rods. Twice the performance and half the fun.

And we must recognize that entertainment is increasingly more than just sound. A simple example from my own experience is the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera "Mikado". I have excellent recordings on LP and on CD that I have enjoyed for many years. I recently bought a DVD. The sonic quality, especially when played on my HT system, is plainly inferior, but yet I find that watching the DVD is more enjoyable than listening to the CD or LP.
Marco, thanks for the Audiophile Assisted Living Center marketing tip! :)

Regardless of the varied points of view on the topic of the future of the audiophile hobby (and it seems to me it'd be helpful to define the hobby in terms of two-channel or multi-channel)...the discussion is juicy. Thanks for the thread Firecracker_77.
Eldartford - If you have not already, go out and rent the film "Topsy Turvy". Not sure how the audio is, but the film itself is great!

Grant - I'll get in touch with Bill and Jarmusch and see what we can work out. It may be a pricy investment, but it'll be worth it! I'll take my usual cut of course.

Jax2...Thanks for the tip. We will see if Topsy Turvy is in the NetFlix library.