Friday, May 23, 2008

Are Audiophiles Going Extinct?

This article says that they are.  More importantly, it says that people do not care as much about their music or the quality of their music-listening experience as much as they once did.  That's very interesting if true.  I wonder if this is a permanent trend or if it is temporary.  Beyond a certain point, the average person definitely does not care about the quality of their sound.  How else can we explain the explosive growth of low-bitrate MP3s?  They are moving to higher bitrates now, but when the Diamond Rio had 32 megs of RAM, people weren't listening to 192kbps tracks.  The list of high-quality audio formats built to replace the CD is long.  The list of failed products is equally long.  DVD-Audio?  SACD?  DCC?  DTS CDs?  None made more than a blip on the radar.

Of course, quality audio for music may be declining, but people are paying more attention to the audio in their home theaters now.


  1. I buy that people are listening to music in noisier places... they're taking their music with them to the office, in cars, on buses, etc.  This is why modern music tends to have very low dynamic range... it increases the number of places you can listen to it.
    I don't buy the argument that people care less about sound quality, though.  Noise grates as much now as it ever has.  If you find a quiet corner you can appreciate a clean recording on a portable music player just as much as you could in a home theater.

  2. Good point.  We can also see that recognition of high-end headphone brands like Shure or Senheiser is increasing.  I suspect that some of this is just a transfer rather than a dimunition of interesting in quality.

  3. I'd agree they are going extinct in a sense.  I was an audiophile (on a budget) for 15-20 years.  While there have been multiple stages in that going away, as far as music, a watershed moment was after getting a zune and the zune pass.  I got rid of all my CD's etc.  Music for me has become a disposable commodity and that was not true before.  I truly don't care about it that much any more.  The mobility etc suits my lifestyle better plus maybe I’m just getting old.  That being said I do still obsess with perfection, but it has been translated to home theater and its setup/sound/video/etc.

  4. I think the baseline for audio quality has moved. It used to be you had to work really hard to get a low noise floor and an acceptable frequency response. These days, most playback systems sound pretty darned good, not audiophile quality, but certainly far better than comparable consumer-grade systems of days gone by.
    My Logitech desktop computer speakers sound amazing for their size and price. Most factory car stereo systems sound really good. And almost any portable music player sounds better than a cassette walkman ever could.
    So, I think many of the factors that used to motivate people to become audiophiles have gone away.

  5. Personally, I don't think it's getting better or worse. I think the number of people who can name an audiophile brand is about the same as it has been in the 20 odd years since I started caring about audio reproduction.
    The majority of people have always bought home hifi based on how impressive the led array is or or how many bands the graphic equalizer has. These days it seems to be how many watts is your home theater amplifier capable of.
    However I look around and still see about the same number of audiophile magazines on sale in Barnes & Noble (including expensive imports like What Hi-Fi) and the companies that I've done business in the past, like NAD and B&W still seem to be alive and kicking.

  6. Before I got out, it seemed that the music industry was asking this question more and more - does quality matter?
    A musician will obsess over the proper gear/part for the song, the engineer will obsess over the signal path and outboard gear ( including A/D converters ), the mixer will obsess over placement and EQ, and mastering will obsess over tonal clarity and consistency over the context of the entire album. A $250,000 orchestration reduced down to a $150 MP4 player; sharing sonic space with countless other tracks, environments, and playback contexts. Many asked, "What's the point?"
    I imagine that for them, its a bit like seeing a Ferrari in a traffic jam. Their work is an inspiring thing to behold, even under its constraints, but they know it could be so much more.
    I couldn't help but wonder if the layman - who has grown up listening to the onslaught of all variety of frequencies - could even discern the brittleness characterized by these compressed formats? If they can still be moved by sounds in a less than ideal state, does the argument matter? Put in a testing context, who gets to say if it is broken? Who's the real customer?
    My 0.472014 Rubles.