In some ways the gentleman could be described as the typical North American audiophile.
In others, he was most certainly not.
He was white, looked to be in his 60s, was well-spoken, and nicely kitted-out in a Hawaiian shirt. He had started a conversation with me while we rode an elevator at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel – home of the inaugural Los Angeles Audio Show – on Saturday afternoon, because he recognized the name on the press badge around my neck. He explained to me that LAAS was his first audio trade show, and described flying down to take in the sights, and sounds as a “bucket-list type of thing” he wanted to do. He said he’d been reading about shows like AXPONA, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and High End in Munich, and was inspired to attend this event because it was close to his home in the Pacific Northwest.
He was impressed with the show’s layout, and the large number of manufacturers and vendors on hand, but then he said he was surprised at how many older, white men were in attendance. My eyebrows shot up, and he seemed to notice my expression had changed. I couldn’t tell if was being cheeky, or if he was sincere. I tend towards the latter. I’ve never had conversations about North American audiophile demographics brought up by someone who is in the demographic, never mind one who is also disappointed by its prevalence. The chance meeting, and conversation stuck with me throughout the day, and when I brought it up with fellow journalists, and industry insiders they were just as surprised as I was at who had instituted it. But it led to some interesting discussions about what constitutes a “typical” audiophile.
While attending Munich this year I wrote about how different the demographic of the crowds were at High End compared to every major show I’ve been to in North America. High End was full of families, and a lot of women – either singly, or in a group, young, and old, or with their friends or daughters – as well as young couples, and tons of teenagers. A radically different mix than anything I’ve witnessed over here. Another point that came up during my conversations over the course of the day was that people had often heard stories of teenagers, young adults – people in their early twenties with money to spend for example – being out-and-out ignored by vendors in rooms at North American shows. Attention lavished instead on all the grey, and white hair crowding around gear. What to do if the stories are true?
Any industry, or hobby, if it wants to grow, and thrive, needs to attract enthusiasts of multiple generations. If it cannot bring young people onboard, then there is little hope it will maintain relevance as numbers shrink from attrition. I know from experience that getting more young people interested in high fidelity is a topic that is always under discussion, sometimes from young people themselves who have discovered the importance of great music reproduction in their lives, but when those senior members of our little tribe start questioning why they see so many older faces at industry shows, you have to ask yourself: Are the kids alright?