At some point HiFi has lost that flair in the broad perception which is almost essential for the existence of this “idea”, this concept of high-quality music listening, and which it actually deserves, namely to be part of a modern lifestyle, to stand for everyday enjoyment and joy.
For years now, many people have been rightly criticising the fact that the world of consumer electronics is not moving forward, but backwards. Of course, this does not mean functionality, but quality alone. It is thanks to solutions such as all-in-one speakers, Bluetooth speakers, so-called wireless speakers and especially soundbar systems that we have increasingly moved into a mono world over the last few years, so that the essential advantages of high-quality music reproduction are not even brought to bear, such as a realistic reproduction of the sound stage with the depth and breadth that even a simple, classic stereo hi-fi system could offer. The desire of customers for solutions that are as compact as possible and can be integrated harmoniously into the living environment is understandable, especially since expansive hi-fi systems or even elaborate home cinema systems have always been aimed at a comparatively small target group.
All this is of course a fatal development, because if the quality is no longer right, the interest of the customers also dwindles, because if the added value is missing, the thing loses its appeal and one turns to other nice things in life. It is exactly this development that has been observed over the last few years, and it has led to HiFi as an umbrella term for listening at an appealing level hardly having any significance in the broad perception of people. The market is thus becoming smaller and smaller, as consumers turn their attention to other industries that skilfully convey the touch of luxury and exclusivity that one wants to afford, be it travel, fashion, interior design, travel or wellness.
This also makes it clear who the real competitor is, namely not just any other established manufacturer in the industry, not the nearest specialist retailer, they are all ultimately in the same boat. This fact would have to be remembered much more often in everyday business and we would have to fight together to win back customers from the real competitors. Competitors that, as described, are to be found in completely different industries.
But, for this, a certain rethinking is necessary, sometimes also a different philosophy. Using strategies that worked sometime in the 1980s or 90s, that somehow got you through the 2000s, won’t really be a sensible way to go, because the development of the last few years shows that they no longer work today. Much too much parts of the industry are busy with themselves, have retreated to a good part into an ivory tower and indulge in audiophile self infatuation, this must be said so harshly, unfortunately.
To put it in a nutshell, those who insist on what has always seemed to be true, who feel sorry for themselves that the world out there doesn’t understand the exclusivity of what they have to offer anyway, will ultimately die in beauty.
Fortunately, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that the industry is developing one or two very clever strategies to counteract this development. Acting according to the wishes of the customers. And that is above all the desire for simple, straightforward solutions with a high degree of flexibility that can be part of everyday life. And this is not at all in contradiction with classic hi-fi virtues, but can be combined with clever concepts in a splendid way. This could make it possible to turn hi-fi as an idea back into what it has always been, namely an expression of modern lifestyle. In short, it is a matter of adapting to the needs and reality of the customers, taking them seriously, and building on this to create quality again with one’s own expertise.
A Bluetooth Speaker per se is nothing reprehensible, nor is a soundbar or an all-in-one wireless speaker, because they fulfil very specific customer needs. The challenge now is not to demonize them, but to show that there is more to them than that. But, and this is crucial, it is important to understand the basic intention, namely that hi-fi is not an end in itself from the point of view of many customers, but rather serves a specific purpose and must be integrated directly into people’s living environment.
The market for headphones is a prime example. It has long been understood that products must be marketed as lifestyle solutions in order to be successful. The image has to fit, then suddenly the price is almost irrelevant. The fact that quality does not have to fall by the wayside is proven by countless solutions from established manufacturers, but also from tens of newcomers. It is precisely this concept that needs to be applied to other areas of the industry.
Active speakers, for example, are gradually gaining in popularity, highly integrated, combining all the functions of an entire hi-fi chain, thus concentrating on the really essential: a pair of impeccable loudspeaker systems in compact form as bookshelf speakers, or even as fine, elegant floorstanding speakers. There are many things that deter many a customer, such as multiple components or cables to connect, because everything is at best “wireless”. The primary source here is the network, such as streaming services, but other sources, from TV sets to record players, can also be integrated.
This also applies, by the way, to solutions that do not go quite so far, but which also rely on the same strategy, namely noble all-in-one systems from established hi-fi smiths. The basis here is a classic stereo integrated amplifier, combined with a streaming client, a D/A converter for external sources such as, once again, a TV set (HDMI), and of course a phono preamplifier. All this is packed into a noble cabinet, usually in the form of a solution that belongs to the Midi-HiFi class, or an elegant system of classic HiFi guards, so that it can still be easily integrated into any modern living environment. All it requires is a pair of fine speaker systems…
As there, control is of course primarily via smartphone and tablet, but also in a multi-room network with other audio systems throughout the house if desired. The comparatively rudimentary UPnP as the smallest common denominator for multiroom audio streaming is long since outdated. Technologies such as HEOS from Sound United (Marantz, Denon), BluOS from the Lenbrook Group (NAD, Bluesound, Dali Speaker A/S as technology partner), Yamaha MusicCast, or platforms such as Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast are the connecting element and even allow for a direct integration of consumer electronics into the smart home of tomorrow. And a scaling of solutions, from compact all-in-one speakers to soundbar systems and the finest hi-fi.
And then there’s vinyl, still one of the topics that is perceived like no other as a modern lifestyle. There could hardly be a better hook, because first and foremost a record player requires a certain amount of attention when choosing the right configuration, but also when it comes to everyday handling. And the customer is obviously willing to do this, you just have to understand how to reach him exactly there…
Lifestyle and quality can thus be brought back into harmony. Easy to integrate into the living space, flexible, virtually intuitive to operate and, last but not least, impeccable sound quality speak for these systems and ensure that you can appeal to new customer groups again.
It has to be said quite openly, HiFi as a collective term for high-quality music enjoyment and everything connected with it does not enjoy a high status among many people nowadays. This must be changed as soon as possible if the industry as a whole is to have a future, and if this new generation is to grow up.
Yes, hi-fi does not need anyone in the end, that is a fact. A television set, you think you “need” it, but the fine audio system is already “optional”. If you decide on a soundbar that is not from the TV manufacturer, but actually from a specialist, it is an exception…
More than ever before, the industry has to try to revive demand, whereby the real competition is not the competition, but completely different sectors such as fashion, travel, wellness and similar. Nobody needs the fine jewellery either, nobody is dependent on the latest fragrance of a luxury brand, and even the fine wellness weekend is ultimately not a must, but a small luxury that people simply treat themselves to from time to time. If the industry, the specialized trade, and yes, also we as specialized media, up to hi-fi enthusiasts as opinion leaders, as “influencers”, manage to make hi-fi understood as this fine luxury of everyday life…