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High-Performance Audio is Ripe for a Comeback

Gary Yacoubian, Specialty Technologies/SVS

Opportunities for better consumer audio experiences are all around us. This is perhaps the greatest reason why high-performance audio is ripe for a comeback. Blu-ray’s ability to capture high-resolution audio and video, the growing collection of downloadable hi-res music available, and even game developers putting major emphasis on soundtrack composition and effects; all spell the return of golden days for golden ears in the near future.
Beyond the growing content options, there is concrete evidence showing a shift in consumer habits towards better audio. Indicators like the multi-billion dollar headphone industry, the resurgence in vinyl and overall growing popularity of music (thanks to the Internet) and home theater inspire optimism about the future of high-performance audio. Consumers are yearning for something better, they’re also doing more research and making more educated decisions about the audio products they purchase. 
From my perspective as a member of the CEA Audio Board and president of a high-performance audio manufacturer, there is no better proving ground for a comeback than the largest technology show in the world. According to the CES Exhibitor Directory, over 556 exhibitors classify themselves as “High-Performance Audio” companies. With 3,531 total exhibitors at the time of this writing, that’s roughly 16 percent of total exhibitors. Not exactly a dying industry when you look at the numbers.
Furthermore, for the first time in CES’ history, there will be a dedicated spot in The Venetian for what is billed as the Hi-Res Audio Experience, where attendees can, “…discover clearer, crisper audio on the most advanced high resolution audio (HRA) devices that are more convenient, compatible and cost-effective than ever before.”
While all of these signs are promising and CEA’s efforts should be applauded, there are some things, we as an industry, could do more effectively. One, is communicating the value of audio equipment. You can buy an amazing sounding speaker or subwoofer that will be used almost every day to vastly improve music, movies and TV for 15-20 years or more, for less than $1,000. Considering we often pay $500 for a phone that will be replaced in a year or two, the value of great audio is truly underrated.
Manufacturers have to do their part as well. When the opportunity came to acquire SVS, I recognized the company’s unique, future-facing value proposition, dedicated customer base and passionate workforce as a recipe for long-term audio industry success. For the high-performance audio industry to remain healthy and grow, it needs to be more than a bastion of elitist brands and skyscraper-high price points. Even more importantly, we need to bring the passion back, and communicate it effectively! This happens by a commitment to the total customer experience, offering exceptional service at every touch point, from customer research, to purchasing, to setup and ongoing support.
Lastly, the term “audiophile” needs to be de-stigmatized. The term has largely come to represent curmudgeonly, middle-aged men with more money than sense, who spend hours tweaking gear by themselves; when it should be a point of pride and connote anyone with a passion for enjoying and improving sound quality. 
I don’t suspect The Return of High-Performance Audio will make the “Top Trends of CES 2014” for many mainstream media outlets, but that doesn’t mean a comeback isn’t brewing. The potential of streaming live concerts, more labels releasing hi-res downloads and the overall proliferation of music and content in the digital age show the time is right and we’re on the verge of the next Sound Revolution.