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Sound and Vision: Does hi-fi do enough to attract the younger generation?

OPINION: There’s a question that’s been on my mind for some time – is the hi-fi industry doing enough to appeal to younger generations?

This is something I’ve been pondering on and off, and the return of the Munich High End Show brought this feeling into greater clarity. Now, you may or may not know that the High End Show isn’t really about ‘affordable’ products – the clue is in the name after all. More affordable products are likely to be snapped in two over the organiser’s knee than permitted on the show floor.

These are flashy, expensive hi-fi products that’ll retail for a few thousand of whatever your local currency is at the very least. There are even speakers that will sell for up to a hundred thousand pounds or dollars. For most of us, this is not in the realms of affordability.

To a degree, nothing about that should be too surprising. High End attracts a specific market and a specific type of hi-fi lover, but then that’s also rather hi-fi in general. I think more can be done to attract a younger audience however.

Front bottom right view of a black and gray Cambridge Audio EVO and CD transport

For many hi-fi manufacturers, there doesn’t seem to be that progressive stance of introducing a younger audience to hi-fi. It’s not like from the 50s to the 70s – the time when a lot of these audio brands sprouted up – where the idea of a teenager first popped up (teenyboppers!), and music and dance became truly central to culture. People needed audio systems to listen to that music on that wasn’t a dusty old gramophone or what have you.

Right now, most brands are piggybacking the ‘digital revolution’; control apps, music streaming, multi-room, etc.; but this isn’t necessarily driving the appeal of a younger generation into music, more hoping that one will eventually lead to interest in another. It’s not like when the iPod first arrived on the scene with its colourful marketing and youthful appeal.

If there’s a vibe to hi-fi, it’s that it feels rather stately and mature, something people grow into at an older age. If you’re younger it’s all about smartphones, headphones and portable speakers – there doesn’t feel like a crossover point into hi-fi unless there’s someone else (probably older) in the family that hands that interest down.

I look through the spate of press releases of manufacturers that launched products in Munich and wonder whether it’s a concern. I’m not saying there should be some ‘youthful equivalent’ to hi-fi shows (though you could arguably say music festivals do a similar thing), but if you’ve been to one then you’ll recognise the audience as mostly middle-aged and male.

The announcement of the Cambridge Audio Evo CD transport feels like a product intended to shore up the present and get people who have a CD collection back into listening to them while also offering up streaming support, but what about the future?

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The solution?

For someone just getting started, look closer and the price is £999 for a product designed to work with Cambridge’s Evo 75 and 150, which means a minimum spend of over £2000. And the Cambridge is one of a few new hi-fi products like the Denon DNP-2000NE looking to combine physical media support and digital streaming in one box, but that’s even more expensive with prices starting at £1599.

So the question is, how does a younger audience transition from the likes of, shall I say ‘soft’ hi-fi like wireless headphones, true wireless, and portable speakers into hard hi-fi, music streamers, DACs, turntables and amplifiers? I wish I had the answer. The vinyl resurgence and even the revival in CD and cassette tape all seem to have been unexpected, and vinyl at £40/£50 a pop is an expensive hobby.

I fell into hi-fi. Watching my brothers practice DJ-ing when I was younger didn’t have an effect on me – I was much more into film, and movies are an easier sell when you’re a kid – so I can see there might not be 1:1 conversion when there’s so much else out there when you’re younger. Perhaps this site should devote more time to entry-level products/place more of an emphasis on demystifying hi-fi concepts and making them easier to understand to help make hi-fi accessible.

That’s a thought I’ll be grappling with, but I also think more can be done on the brands’ side too. You look at Sonos and it seems to have found a mix that works, even if you could construe the company as not being traditionally hi-fi – Sonos is ‘hi-fi-lite’ as it were, but perhaps that’s an area for growth. A series of products that act as a step up before moving them more into ‘proper’ hi-fi. We’re all here to see hi-fi become even more successful, but I’m not sure its outlook always helps it to achieve that.

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