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A HiFi Rave

Hugh R. Dean

The mainstream mags (back when I read them) regularly ran these "wither high end" and "how can audio compete with home theatre." This didn't concern me. Now that I've seen the situation, I am completely baffled at how those writers could consider this a marketing issue rather than a total cultural meltdown.
This is interesting. As a capitalist society 'advances', then marketing becomes the tool of retail penetration, almost regardless of product quality. Sales can always be had with good marketing, and if the product is defective, then a portion of potential buyers will change their choice second time round, but if the price point is right, then even they will purchase the product again.

Perhaps marketing is culture; certainly the profusion of TV channels and the viewing habits of a large number of consumers bear this out; entertainment, culture and marketing all combine in many program styles - most obviously home buy and chat show programs. If this seems like a cop out, then just as a people only ever get the government they deserve, then consumers only ever get the products they deserve.
This was all brought on by an unusual and vaguely uncomfortable experience today at a local audio and video salon. A friend had tipped me that they had a tonearm that might suit me so I went down this morning and opened the store. They had several nice sounding audio rooms playing state of the art gear, Levinson, Thiel, and like that. They also had 3 video (okay, home theatre) rooms. The star performer in two of the rooms was Jim Carry (Batman and The Mask) and the third room featured a basketball player and some cartoons (Space Jam).

Given the visceral (but passive) excitement of a high speed Harley/Kenworth chase with a shotgun and a robot down an LA storm drain, then I am surprised there are not more home theatre demo rooms. In my town the best hifi shop is now roughly equal in home theatre and hifi listening rooms, and I am surprised home theatre does not utterly dominate. I think there are many reasons for this change...These developments began when I (and you too, I suspect, Ron!) was about 35, back in the mid-eighties when home theatre began in earnest as a marketing push. Remember when videos were so very popular, before laser disks? Money was tight and a lot of families came to value inexpensive entertainment with a video at home. OTOH, [On The Other Hand] hifi is an intellectual/emotional pastime, usually obsessively enjoyed by a technocrat--one person, no competition for the whole, consuming family. Very often hifi buffs enjoyed the dying gasps of the classical education (no pun intended there, either!) and face it man, we are not the focus of the marketing dollar any more. Marketing to the young is usually a slick, formulaic mastery of a few 'cool' tricks; the middle aged are much more discerning and cynical. Look at car audio; how many dudes do you see on Main Street who have $5000 systems in their cars - we could buy an acceptable system, perhaps even including a SE kit, for those sums.

I am NOT a SNOB. There is nothing high-brow, snooty or artsy godam fartsy about me or my lifestyle. But somebody needs to explain this one to me: Who on Planet Earth has $10,000 to spend on home theatre that wants to see Jim Carey's face 34 inches tall?
I think you and I would be surprised at the answer. Much as I shrink away from Jim Carey, I concede that he is very popular, in a zany, hyperactive way and I offer mild gratitude that there are so many low-brows on the planet. They surely make us look good!

A great many people buy these systems on gut reaction - yes, even smart people. They love the 'system', even if they later recognise the sonic shortcomings 'after the show'. Point is, they never notice when the video is playing; the one requirement is power. Was this not the same thing during the horsepower race of the late sixties/early seventies, when a small block actually produced 300HP stock? Truth is, modern engines are not so powerful but they are much more refined and economical - it's not all bad.

Let's face it, hifi is fading somewhat in society at large. Too many other things to spend our discretionary money on, and in these straitened times people have less leisure time - not more, as the SF novels thirty years back predicted. What we have is spent with computers, videos and games--and that's even before we consider the garden and the auto (which no-one without specialist training and equipment can work on anyway). Heck, we might as well develop an SE amp for autos. We'd spend more time listening to it!

Hugh Dean

© Copyright Hugh R. Dean 1999
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