Audio is Not a Luxury Offering
Years ago, when I first got into high-performance AV, the customer base was a mix of people from different income brackets and walks of life who were unified by an appreciation. and even enthusiasm. for really cool AV experiences. Some were wealthy people who just wanted the best performance possible, but just as often, I came across customers who saved for three months to get a subwoofer or TV they’d meticulously researched.
My current professional life is based on the premise that both of these customers still exist. What may have changed is we’ve come to fancy ourselves to be a luxury purchase along the lines of a Prada or Fendi handbag. This mentality limits high-performance audio to being little more than an accessory to an affluent lifestyle as opposed to what we see it as: an intrinsically fun and valuable experience for a broader base of consumers.
Recently, we exhibited at both the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the Toronto Audio Video Show. What I saw were a lot of audio systems that were wildly expensive, and targeted at a lifestyle 99 percent of us will never be able to afford. After speaking with hundreds of attendees at both shows, I was struck by how many people came back to our room a second or third time, primarily for two reasons: one, because they could actually afford the system we were demonstrating, and two, we were having fun doing it. Just as in retail, there’s nothing worse than walking into a room and being met with tired demo material and someone looking down their nose because they know you can’t afford the system you’re hearing.
One conversation I had with an RMAF attendee named Barry really stuck with me. He was there as the guest of a self-proclaimed “hard-core audiophile,” and sheepishly mentioned that he wasn’t really an “audio guy,” and didn’t understand how someone could justify spending $10,000-plus on a pair of speakers. He had recently purchased a soundbar for about a grand, and was happy enough with the sound quality. To show him what was possible, I played him a few demo cuts with our most affordable home theater system, and he was blown away that such an immersive and visceral audio experience was actually within his reach. The option of better sound had never been presented to him, so he wasn’t even aware of the possibility.