Hi-fi was never about the mass market. If the term is to mean anything at all, it mustn’t allow itself to be debased by manufacturers who want to chase the market, but must be reclaimed by those of us who demand quality!
When I were nobbut a lad, we kids all used cassette tape. Cassettes were simple, cheap, and you made up your own tapes, copied from your mates’ collections, or from music recorded off the radio. Cassette was rightly derided by the hifi fraternity as a poor quality medium, but what the heck?
The medium of choice for today’s kids is a compressed digital file, like MP3, and music is downloaded and shared, rather than copied from mates’ collections. MP3 is rightly derided by the hifi fraternity as a poor quality medium, but it’s convenient, cheap and ubiquitous, so what the heck?
The difference is that these days, MP3 file-sharing is accused of killing music, and the MP3 format, and downloaded music in particular, is being blamed for the demise of hifi. This, I think, misunderstands the fundamental distinction between mass-market consumer goods, and specialist high fidelity equipment.
I think one difference is that, though kids have shared music around since Elvis was still in nappies, sorry, diapers, a proportion have always gone on to seek out higher quality music reproduction. The popularity of compact cassette didn’t really affect sales of vinyl records to a significant degree, nor stifle the development of CD, so why are downloads being blamed for the demise of CD? Especially as recent sales statistics don’t appear to show that CD sales are tumbling towards oblivion at quite the rate that some would have us believe.
Part of it, I suspect, is that hifi manufacturers are chasing the market, rather than leading it. Many brands are developing their own music servers and if you visit hifi shows, it is interesting to note the number of high end brands who are prepared to set up a demonstration system using a laptop as a source.
This is fine, up to a point, and I entirely agree that manufacturers should embrace new technologies and widen the appeal of their products, but if they do that at the expense of their fundamental customer base, that saddens me. Perhaps it’s a conscious decision, these manufacturers may well have decided that they prefer quantity to quality, but I think we have to reclaim the term hi-fi from those consumer brands which have debased its meaning.
The thing is, hifi – proper hifi – has a limited appeal, mainly for people who are prepared to go to some trouble and expense to get the best quality music reproduction they can manage because they are passionate about music. It’s most definitely not for everybody and if that sounds elitist, then sorry, I won’t apologise for that. (Just to be clear, when I said ‘sorry’ just then, I wasn’t apologising for that, I was apologising for not apologising for that. Sorry if that wasn’t clear).
Where was I? Oh yes, hifi is a specialist, product, which caters to a specialist market. There should be a place in the world for excellence. Hifi relies, in turn, on high quality recordings and high quality storage media like CDs, SACDs and even vinyl records. Downloads have their place, they are convenient and have a mass-market appeal, but hifi was never about the mass market. If the term is to mean anything at all, it mustn’t allow itself to be debased by manufacturers who want to chase the market, but must be reclaimed by those of us who demand quality. Most of all, we must make sure that the small proportion of kids who want something more than just a mass-market product know that it exists, what it is they are looking for, and where they will find it.