As the number of dedicated AV shops dwindles and mainstream misconceptions about audiophiles and hifi swarm, many high performance audio manufacturers and retailers face a disquieting future.
However, when we look at indicators like the multi-billion dollar headphone industry, the resurgence in vinyl and the overall growing popularity of music and home theater, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of audio. So what needs to happen for hifi to become the next chapter in the sound revolution?
Having spent 21 years at MyerEmco AudioVideo, I witnessed firsthand the growing challenges of selling great audio in a retail setting. Overly expensive elitist products, faux technical performance themes, short, forced and imperfect demos and other factors scared many mainstream customers away from even considering a high performance audio experience and set unreal benchmarks for what a great audio experience should be and what it should cost.
Over time, the term “audiophile” has become stigmatized among mainstream consumers. Audio products were built to “good enough” performance standards in the service of lifestyle considerations and, more so, profit margins.
Meanwhile, at the high end, hobbyists who invested significant time and money in high performance audio systems have lost relevance and were pigeon-holed as curmudgeonly middle-aged men with more money than sense. For the good of the industry, that stereotype needs to evolve. The new definition ought to be more inclusive and focus on an appreciation of sound quality and aspirations for something better sounding. Audiophiles understand the value of a high-performance system, but they can be male or female, spend $500 or $50,000, and enjoy two-channel listening, surround sound for a friends and family movie night, whole-home audio or an escape with headphones. Bottom line, there is no shame in being an audiophile!
People who enjoy exceptional sounding audio products and the experiences they provide should be proud of their investment and excited to tell people about it. You can buy an amazing sounding speaker or subwoofer that will vastly improve music, movies and TV for 15-20 years or more, for less than $1000. Considering we often pay $500 for a phone that will be replaced in a year or two, the true value of great audio is indisputable.
Of course, manufacturers have to play their role as well. When the opportunity came to acquire SVS, I recognized the company’s unique value proposition, dedicated customer base and passionate workforce as a recipe for long-term audio industry success. Below are the consumer-focused pillars we used to grow in a shrinking market and what I believe is a blueprint for future success in the audio industry.
- Investment in great performance over all other aspects of product development
- Pricing that appeals to a broader audience than was previously possible with this level of product performance
- Exceptional service at every touch point, from customer research, to purchasing, to setup and ongoing support
- Generous in-home demo options with no risk
- Focus on building user and expert reviews as 3rd party validation of our performance
- Unprecedented post-purchase satisfaction assurances via a consumer “Bill of Rights”
As the base of customers shopping for elitist high-end audio systems dwindles and is marginalized, more hi-fi shops will unfortunately have to close their doors unless they adapt to the times. We think the remedy is simple. Bring the passion for great performance that brought most of us into this industry in the first place back to our businesses.
Even though SVS’ foundation is a consumer-direct model, we’re actually now seeing more interest from dealers and retailers who view our unique energy as a platform to build their own long-term success. Working with brands who speak directly to their customers has its advantages since they use digital advertising and other online tools to establish an interest before customers ever enter the shop.
If there is to be another sound revolution, it will be as much about education as it is about awareness. Mainstream consumers need to know they can get world-class audio performance at reasonable prices from helpful people online or at retail. Perhaps this will help remove the stigma that is now attached to the term “audiophile,” and highlight the awesome experiences we as an industry have at our fingertips to offer an audience only now waking up to what is possible. Perhaps then we will have the beginnings of a high performance Sound Revolution.
Gary Yacoubian, President and managing partner, SVS CEA Audio Board Member