Old School Audio RevivalJason Knott, Editor, CE Pro Magazine
The February issue of CE Pro is a perfect example of how the changing market continues to provide integrators with unforeseen opportunities.
It wasn’t too long ago that the entire industry was declaring, "Audio is dead," and there appeared to be plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that conclusion. For one, iPods had virtually monopolized the audio source market, bringing with them the specter of highly compressed audio files that made audiophiles cringe.
At the same time, there had been a nearly decade-long string of bubblegum boy bands and less-than-talented female pop nonsense that pushed talented artists off the radar for an entire generation. The adage of "the more backup dancers a singer has, the less talent he or she has" certainly held true. (It was a good decade to be a backup dancer!) The result of this trend is that gave Gen Yers little reason to care about quality audio. Of course, add in the continually growing influence of computers, gaming, mobile phones and other digital pursuits, and audio didn’t stand a chance.
But a funny thing happened to high-performance audio on the way to its extinction - it had a resurgence. Consumers who were hit hard by the recession could not afford take out home equity loans to do major renovations or add on new media rooms. Likewise, the amount of expendable income was drastically reduced. So without putting tens of thousands of dollars into new rooms, they instead have been opting to focus on upgrading their existing audio systems.
Consumers are buying new high-end loudspeakers, amplifiers (digital and tube), turntables and vinyl records. The key, according to one custom integrator, is conducting an impressive demo. High-performance audio sales are difficult at best without the ability to strategically take the customer through a step-by-step demo noting the nuances of sound and pointing out the differences in audio clarity found in various pieces of equipment. The lesson: If you don’t have a showroom, then find a location where you can demo audio equipment - your own home, a previous client’s home or elsewhere.
The custom and specialty retail channels are the only places where consumers can upgrade their audio intelligently - ever had an audio demo at Best Buy? At the same time, Gen Yers are downloading The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other classic bands, or inheriting such record collections from their parents. (And in a related story, a recent Boston Globe article profiled a local resident who spent the night outside a venue "to beat the crowd" buying tickets for a Backstreet Boys/New Kids on the Block concert - and fewer than 20 people showed up the next day.)
Meanwhile, the number of vendors with demo rooms (and the number of attendees) in the high-performance audio exhibit area at The Venetian in Las Vegas during CES last month was uplifting. Integrators once again realize "the right audio" can still be a strong profit center.
Does audio’s comeback mean dealers should ignore how to create a solid business model around new opportunities like digital home healthcare/aging in place technology and smart-grid home controls? No way. You cannot ignore the realities of the changing market dynamics. But it is refreshing to see an old standby like high-performance audio making a revival.
About The Author:
Jason Knott, the editor of CE Pro magazine, contributed this article.