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What would it take to make audio 'cool' again?

Having a killer audio system used to be hip, can it happen again?

I suppose you could say the original Beats did it for headphones, they made it OK for average folks to buy expensive headphones, but Beats were more about a fashion statement than great sound. You wear headphones, home audio systems are more private. Ah, but when your pals come over and see, or better yet hear your sweet sounding hi-fi and get blown away by your music, the craving for something better might take hold.

The Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

So when I pose the question, what would it take to push the audiophile hobby into the mainstream, please don't say cheaper hi-fis. I've covered very inexpensive audio countless times on this blog, and it's easy enough to put together a tasty system with a pair of Andrew Jones designed Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers, currently selling for $120 per pair on Amazon with free shipping for Prime customers, and a Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver for $150, again with free shipping. If you're playing vinyl, the Audio Technica AT-LP60 is the perfect starter turntable at just $99 on Amazon. For digital audio I'm a huge fan of Schiit's Modi 2 converter that goes for $99. Of course, I could spout an endless shopping list of more expensive gear that sounds better, but right now I'm just pointing out that there are highly-affordable, very decent sounding products out there.

Before we go any further, please understand where I'm coming from: owning expensive audio doesn't make you an audiophile, it's more about how you listen, and have an appreciation for good sound. When it's really good, you'll savor the music.

One thing's for sure, there are a lot more music lovers than audiophiles. That's fine, but some of those music lovers will over time seek out better speakers, headphones or electronics to get more out of their music.

After all, audio gear is the music's messenger, but if you never hear something better than what you have now you'll literally never know what you're missing.

Can we "grow" new audiophiles?

Some say it would take consumer electronic giants the size of Apple or Samsung to take the lead and bring awareness of better sound quality to the masses. That might be true, but the catch is the giants need at least the potential of huge sales numbers to justify making an attempt. From the 1970s to the present, the giants have ignored the home audiophile market. I really don't see that changing any time soon.


The Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers.


Others believe higher quality music recordings would make a big difference, but I'm not at all convinced about that. That's too high a hurdle, akin to halting climate change or a lasting world peace. I'm joking of course, but the forces at play maintaining the status quo of recording sound quality aren't budging. Sure, Sony is hyping the glories of high-resolution audio gear, but the sound quality of Sony Music releases is still mostly lo-fi.

The ongoing vinyl sales surge is the most visible aspect of a nascent, more widespread audiophile awakening. Playing LPs is so much more of a hands-on practice, and primes the user to pay more attention to the music than streaming tunes. When I meet new vinyl fans, most seem eager to invest in better gear and to make their music sound better.

Headphones are another area where I see a growing interest in the audiophile pursuit. Headphones are a better fit for today, where a lot more people listen on the go than they do at home. The audiophile headphone sales boom shows no signs of slowing down. Some of those headphone audiophiles will eventually "graduate" to a home audio as well.

What do you think, what would it take to bring more people into the hobby? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

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