I am afraid of heights. I cringe at the thought of walking out on a tree limb. Standing at the top of a cornice when the family's skiing, I am the last to go down, afraid. When it comes to heights I am the wimp of the family. And I find it equally scary stepping out on the opinion limb as well. But here goes. When did it become uncool to be an Audiophile?
We've been exploring this subject and it's sparked a lot of interest, including one of the mainstream magazines, CE Pro. I am personally very interested in figuring out how to put the pride and honor back into the term but to do that we have to figure out what happened to get where we are; relegated to the status of a fringe group. When I was growing up my father's generation were all into hi fi. If you could afford a console or even separates, that was a mark of sophistication. The hip men's magazines of the day, Playboy and Esquire extolledthe virtues of a hi fi system. Popular Science magazine ran regular articles, ads for better gear populated the newspapers. Even into the 60's and 70's it was cool. Every 20 to 30 year old I knew had a hi fi system and a stack of records. What happened? We got trampled by the monopolists. Every industry goes through this, from cameras to cars. The big companies smell an opportunity to dominate, monopolize and profit from a market segment. Hi Fi was just peeking its innocent little head over the horizon when the big companies smelled fresh meat. First it was the Americans, with the likes of Sydney Harmon muscling his way into the mainstream. Amar Bose was there as well. Then the Japanese brands kicked in, the Europeans, it was a race to the bottom. The feeding frenzy was fueled by magazines such as Stereo Review who made a lot of money supporting the idea of the mass market, saying whatever their puppet masters told them to say. They hired writers and editors that bought the story they were being fed, hook line and sinker. And what was that story? That Audiophiles were elitist fools. When you want to make an assault on any industry standing in your way, the first step is to discredit them. You trivialize them. You ridicule them. You make it uncool to be cool. You turn that around and convince customers that not only is it unnecessary to be an enthusiast, to have to know something to achieve something, but those who do so are chumps. Elitists. Faceless fools chasing a dream when "common sense" tells us we can have what we want packaged nicely in a neat little box called a receiver. And why couldn't we have this before? What makes the elitist chump's story false?
Here's the story they told us. "Real companies" weren't yet involved. Real engineers, real scientists, people with measurement equipment, money and the backing of the experts had yet to come on the scene. But now they have arrived, ready to do battle. Ready to uncover the charade perpetrated by the Audiophile hucksters of the world. Ready to help you, the hapless consumer get a fair shake. Ready to free you from the grip of the discredited industry. Ready to sell you their honest, real, product. That was the story and who amongst us was brave enough to not buy into it? None of us wants to be the fool. You can discredit just about any group in exactly this way. What you say doesn't even have to be true. Much of it isn't. You can see the attacks in old issues of the magazines of the day. Distortion figures with .000000001% low figures. "And you believe an old tube circuit is better?" Wink, wink. "You must be one of the fools that swallowed the Kool Aid". We were an easy target and when the Sherman tanks of the industry monopolists started rolling, we stood and waved our flags till we were mowed down in their path. We slunk away and hid out in small enclaves, clubs, and tried to not get shot. Yes, that's how the title Audiophile got smeared into something bad. We were attacked. Remnants of those attacks remain today. Those monopolists had their heyday. They left a lot of carnage in their path. They've moved on to other feeding grounds. We're free again. For now.