There are actually two distinctly different, yet intertwining, topics I've desired writing about for some time. Many manufacturers within the high-end audio industry make the best products money can buy. Sure we have $50,000 devices, yet there are products that offer high value for the dollar as a company can set a $1000 price target and then design the best product they possibly can within said price constraints. Yet why is it newbies like Beats can succeed so well, and why should a high-end audio company bother advertising to audiophiles instead of seeking a far larger audience as Apple and Beats have achieved? So how do these two different topics find a way to 'merge' in some respects?
Love 'em or hate 'em, or in my case I could care less other than the need to use the best tool available, Apple is the big mover and shaker. They make extremely easy to use products that take little thought-process to use and do a good job for most tasks. Being above average is ok and the all-important backstory and packaging, like we find within the perfume industry, can be all that it takes to sell a product. It is like Beats headphones, as they are stylish to the modern music enthusiast and basically do the task at hand. Think about this: Sennheiser, AKG and the like have been around for what seems like forever yet some upstart takes the headphone industry by storm. How did that happen? Sure all boats rise during high tide, yet what was the 'problem' with Sennheiser, AKG and the like that was lacking where Beats came in and dominated the headphone sector's makertshare.
So this begs the question how successful is it for companies to limit themselves to only advertising to audiophiles and musicians? Sure you want to keep true music lovers in the loop, yet expanding your horizon may also play a key role to your company's success. Was talking with a very large and longstanding company representative a few weeks back. While I can't name the company due to certain constraints, they are proudly American and have been within the industry for many decades. You's know who they are if there was even the slightest of hint. So during our discussion I asked why they seem to no longer seek out much in high-end audio magazine reviews and do very little advertising to audiophiles. The response was food for thought and so...
Basically, it boils down to their feelings that audiophiles do not really buy their products as they think they're more of a mainstream company; having a longstanding reputation and all that. Sure I was a bit taken aback. Seems to me they want audiophiles, yet at the same time are shunning us. Interesting business strategy. Funny thing is, their strategy has been in place for a few years and guess what, the company's sales are floundering for the past year or so. Took them for what seems like forever to release their most recent 'statement piece' too, so that can't be helping matters. With so many sales at the same (high) price sector of the high-end market, you'd think they'd also be doing well with their mega-buck large speakers, big beautiful amps, preamps… and legendary namesake. Nope, as my connections inside their company have told me that sales are off by a respectable margin.
Another company you've heard of is also shunning audiophiles. During TAVES their rep told me they were seeking to find a "rapper" to promote the company's products. Their products have virtually zero visual styling are look about as interesting as a pile of dog shit on the ground. Come to think of it, dog shit would look more Frank Gehry-esque artistic than their line of products (with all due respect to our friendly and loving four-legged friends). So what do their products look like you ask. Typical boring black and/or silver box lacking anything that could even remotely resemble being hip, cool, phat, righteous… or whatever is the stylish slang catch-phrase of the current generation. So with such boring styling they think some highly desirable rapper will bestow accolades on their product line? Sure it's possible, provided a few hundred thousand dollars or so crosses hands. Still, i don't foresee any self-respecting rapper endorsing boring black and silver boxes. Do you? Appearing within a movie as a very brief product placement is also an option, yet have heard the results in doing that are extremely lackluster until said product plays an up-front role that helps the storyline. Background products may as well be landscape blur between scenes.
During HIGH END in Munich a manufacturer asked me to see their latest creation and what I felt about the visuals. It was, well (sigh), another box and what looked to be some feh-looking panels merely slapped on the sides (feh means, well, "nothing much/not good" as I've been hanging around my longtime Yiddish-speaking friends as of recent. Welcome to living within Florida Steven).
On the plus side we have Devialet with their Phantom speakers. Look at how well their products have been received within the audiophile marketplace, in museums as very useful works of art and other shops. Even Apple is now carrying their product in some stores! You may also want to check out the guys at Ferguson Hill for some really great looking speakers.
So where does that leave high-end audio? Are we a small teeny time niche' sector of audio and you're happy with low-volume sales that kinda pays the bills and you're looking to touch only a very few people with higher musical pleasures? If so, that's cool by me. Yet image if we had more 'break out' companies who brought in a higher volume of customers like Apple and Beats. We don't need many, yet a few handfuls could easily do it. What if high quality audio gear was once again the thing to have for enjoying life, life experiences, and lifestyle as it was in the 1960s and 1970s (give or take a decade)? Audio gear seems to be more an afterthought to most people today. Sure many of them love music, yet how are we reaching this audience effectively, if we're really reaching them at all in any meaningful/critical mass way as Beats, and the growing Devialet Phantom speaker has? Judging from the very affluent homes I've been within most have no idea that we as an industry exist? They do know Bose, with a few perhaps buying "the very best so I purchased B&O equipment." Am sure many reading this would agree that B&O gear does look very stylish and it does sound better than most hi-fi you'd find in Big Box stores.
If music labels are going to be pushing Hi-Res Audio and investing vast sums of money educating consumers, what are we going to do to build on this in offering products that pique the interest of music enthusiasts to listen to Hi-Res Audio? How are high-end audio products going to fit within their modern lifestyle both technically and visually? How are we educating music enthusiasts that we even exist? What type of advertising plan / organization does high-end audio have that can effectively engage and build on this audience?
Am sure some of the above may ruffle some 'feathers'. Hey, it's how I feel and feelings aren't fact. I trust you this much to get off your ass and do something. Should I trust you? Show me. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...
Are you really ready for these sexy commercials? Possibly NSFW!