Stereo systems. Like cable TV and camera film, younger people largely couldn’t care less about them. So says CNN in an article called “The Death of the Home Stereo System.”
It may be painful for some longtime home entertainment enthusiasts to accept, but kids and many older people don’t want traditional AV components because, frankly, they don’t need them.
CD players. AV receivers. Record players. Cassette decks. Stereo pre-amps. Whatever other box you can think of. To today’s youth, these are not cool things; they’re antiquated things from another age.
Who’s to say they’re wrong, save for the most strident audiophiles? If Pandora and Spotify and SoundCloud and Bandcamp and iTunes and smartphones were available back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, wouldn’t home entertainment acolytes have used them? Instead, they made do with the tools available at the time. Hi-fi systems. LPs, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, Walkmen, AM/FM receivers, speaker cables… lots of stuff. You needed all of that back then to hear music at home and on the go. You really don’t need to buy any of them any more.
I am a huge music fan, and I haven’t bought music in over a year; I stream everything from Bandcamp, Grooveshark, YouTube, SoundCloud, Pitchfork, Stereogum, A.V. Club. For free. I truly don’t need to own music anymore, and most musicians today understand that. I’ll support a band instead by attending their show when they come around, or by buying some merch. The profit margins are better on that stuff for the musicians, anyway.
Sound quality is not my primary concern; it’s good enough. I’ll surrender pristine sound quality for portability and, more importantly, for selection. Never in human history have humans had so much music available to them. You can hear virtually anything, anytime, anywhere, and all you really need to make it happen is a laptop or smartphone. That’s a good thing.
CNN’s story quotes Alan Penchansky, audiophile and former Billboard columnist:
“[T]he midmarket for audio has completely been obliterated. You have this high-end market that’s getting smaller all the time, and then you’ve got the convenience market, which has taken over — the MP3s, the Bluetooth devices, playing on laptops.”
He wishes more people knew what they were missing. At its best, he says, audio reproduction has “a religious aspect.”
“There’s a primacy to audio,” he says. “It’s a form of magic.”
See, there’s the problem. Audio is not the magic. Components are not the magic. Music is the magic. Music is the religion. Quite frankly, it always has been. And hearing music whenever you want, wherever you are, is magic.
There’s nothing wrong with a great home stereo system. I have one myself; I just don’t rely upon it anymore. But if I didn’t have one already, there’s little chance I’d buy one now. I’d rather have a wireless multiroom audio system and stream whatever music I wanted anywhere in the house.
Like many things that go from mainstream to niche, snobbery rears its ugly head. And that’s nothing new, says CNN:
Even in the ’50s and ’60s, when stereo sound first became widespread, the audiophiles had their hi-fis — and the younger generation listened to tinny AM radios and cheap phonographs.
“The seeds of the decline of what it meant to own a stereo were planted way back then, because the original audiophiles were people who were baby boomers’ fathers and mothers,” he says. “As rock ‘n’ roll starts to become more of a thing, a lot of that stuff is produced so it’s meant to be heard on AM radios.”
A Phil Spector Wall of Sound production — in glorious mono! — would probably have driven a hi-fi enthusiast up a wall, says Milner.
Great artists always rise to the latest and greatest in technology. The digital nature of music production, distribution, and playback has created huge advances over the last 10 years — new sounds, new channels, new ways to listen.
Also, “crappy electronics” aren’t what they used to be:
New materials and processing technology have improved the sound of small and inexpensive devices, says Patrick Lavelle, president and CEO of the consumer electronics giant VOXX International, which manufactures such brands as Klipsch, Acoustic Research and Advent.
When kids think of great stereo audio today, they think… headphones.
There’s a reason why high-end headphones are so popular. Very few people have the time or the patience to sit still and listen to a record in its entirety anymore. Because people are always on the move, music must be too, and the proliferation of pricey headphones proves that people still desire good sound quality. Beyond the argument that they’re listening to tinny MP3s through them, the fact is that most people just don’t need a hi-fi stereo system to enjoy music any longer. Our attention spans are shorter, our lives are more hectic, and music is largely not a “listening experience” but rather a lifestyle accessory.
“If you can take your entire music collection and more in something that fits in your pocket, why would you not do that?”
Seriously, why wouldn’t you?
The merging of home entertainment with portable entertainment is perhaps the most exciting ongoing technological development of the 2010s. Let’s embrace change, and let the past be the past.
Yes, those were great times. So are these. And there’s so much innovation to come.
There’s never been a better time to be a music lover. That should apply for all of us.