Who Are The Modern Audiophiles?

Written by Paul McGowan

I recently read this piece on industry website Dealerscope Magazine, and felt that Gary Yacoubian very clearly stated  the rite of passage that appears to be taking place. I’ve struggled in the past with how to convey this idea: audiophiles aren’t dying off as a breed, they’re just changing somewhat. Adapt, or die—right?

Thanks to the kind folks at Dealerscope.com for their permission to reprint this piece. —Ed.

One of the oldest lessons I learned in retail was – find out what stimulates a customer’s passion and present options based on what appeals to those passions. It used to be that someone passionate about investing time and money into musical playback was described as an audiophile, and the pursuit was viewed as a legitimate hobby. Over time, the “true believers” among audiophiles have stigmatized the term by injecting a sense of elitism which really doesn’t belong there. Maybe it was the grouchy, condescending attitudes expressed towards novices in forums and blog comments. Or maybe it was the notion that you had to spend ridiculous amounts of money to even qualify as an aspiring audiophile. These attitudes ultimately shrunk the category and put audiophiles squarely at the butt of many jokes.

Jokes aside, when someone says the word “audiophile”, what image appears in your head? An older man, sitting alone, listening to an absurdly expensive stereo system? It’s a tired cliché, and unfortunate because the reality can be so much more positive and inclusive. The good news is that most younger audiences have no preconceived notions about what being an audiophile means, so if you define it around different kinds of content and how to experience it, the term can evolve to be inclusive in a way that’s hugely positive for the audio category. And if you look around, the audio world could really benefit from a rallying cry.

Think about it in these terms: Could someone streaming Spotify through Apple TV be an audiophile? Could a gamer who plays through a 5.1 surround sound system be an audiophile? Could someone using a laptop to power a 2.1 desktop system be an audiophile? I would argue yes to all three. And when you’re talking about selling to a person’s passions, the term audiophile conveys a sense of aspiration and expertise that draws them deeper into their quest for the best sounding system within their means.

Our Director of Brand Messaging, Nick Brown, recently asked a number of media who work in the CE industry to provide their definition of the modern audiophile, and here are a few responses. (Full list is posted on our company blog here: Who are the Modern Audiophiles?

  • “I believe audiophile should refer to your level of enjoyment and appreciation, and not to you level of investment in the gear or the purity of your recording. Does good gear matter? Sure, but it shouldn’t be used as a litmus test on a consumer’s sincerity to their music.”
  • “An audiophile is someone who cares about sound quality enough to make an effort to improve their audio experience. The internet and advances in technology have made this very accessible, so “audiophile” is no longer a term applicable only to those with fat pocketbooks or strong DIY skills.”
  • “To me, an audiophile is simply someone who loves and seeks high-fidelity audio reproduction. Adhering to the rules of the faith-based audio community should not be a requirement.”
  • “As long as you strive to improve the listening experience, you are an audiophile to me.”

These “industry voices” present the modern audiophile in very progressive terms. Anyone seeking a $30 earbud upgrade, their first subwoofer, or a $50,000 pair of speakers can figure into these definitions. So really, defining the modern audiophile is about releasing the stigma and making it inclusive, whether you’re seeking to improve the sound experience for vinyl, Blu-rays, DACs, video games, Netflix, cable, streaming, or any combination.

We recently surveyed SVS customers from the past three months, and 60% said they consider themselves audiophiles, 27% not, and 13% unsure. That tells me it’s a polarizing term, and if you asked the question, “Do you care about improving sound quality?” the results would be overwhelmingly positive.

We need to be the torchbearers for making hi-fi, surround sound and the pursuit of better audio experiences a noble quest. We’re seeing that our audio business can’t just be about headphones, speakers, vinyl, etc.  It has to be about movie fans, live sports fans, streaming music lovers, gamers and anyone who desires or might benefit from a convincing, immersive sonic experience, period.  These are the modern audiophiles, and they need more of our attention!!

To reach the next generation of audiophiles, we need to challenge our own preconceived notions about what it means to be an audiophile and rethink how we demo and communicate with these new audiences. It can all start with the same question we asked our survey takers, “Do you consider yourself an audiophile?” Whether they answer yes or no, you are inviting them to think about a deeper interest in sound quality and opening the door for a conversation about whatever content and experiences they are passionate about.

The other side of it is working with brand partners who are dialed into the desires of a younger and wider base of audio consumers, and who are investing real resources into social media marketing and analysis, paid and organic search, digital marketing, and most importantly, using these tools to engage people’s passions for music, movies and any other experiential content. This is how we nurture the next generation of audiophiles.

What world do you prefer: one where audiophiles are becoming extinct, or one where they are alive, well, and ready to be re-defined and engaged?

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