Positive Feedback ISSUE 64
november/december 2012


…and Steve says…More on the Next Generation
by Steve Lefkowicz


It seems for about as long as I've been involved in this hobby, there has been an ongoing discussion about how to get new people involved. The nature of the conversation changes occasionally. Sometimes it's about how to get people with lots of money to spend some of that money on audio gear instead of other luxury items. Sometimes it's about friends and co-workers who think we are little obsessed, if not totally off our rockers. And more recently, it had been focused on how to get the "young people," the next generation, involved. One thing that makes that focus interesting is that we all know that "young people" all listen to music. We know this because we always see them with their earbuds stuffed in their ears and their iPods playing. We know there's a chance of getting them interested in better sound, since we see more and more of these "young people" using better, or at least more expensive, headphones rather than the throwaway earbuds that came with their iPods.

So, what will it take to get these so called "young people" to consider the benefits of keeping higher quality files of their music on their iPods, to start thinking about maybe listening over speakers that are better than some cheap "multimedia speakers" attached to their computers, or even possibly setting up a real, honest to goodness stereo system?

It's not that hard. Here's four basic points that I can assure you will work. I'll elaborate on each one a little.

Stop telling them their music sucks and isn't good enough for better hi-fi. Our parents hated our music too.

I hear this all the time. The crap the kids listen to isn't any good, and they won't appreciate high-end audio until they develop better musical taste. In fact, at CES, I had a discussion about this very topic with a group of people, including a journalist from another high-end publication. One of the first things he stated was that we had to first educate the youth about better music. My son walked out of the conversation at that point, just like the entire next generation will walk away from the hobby if we keep telling them they have to like "better" music (which I think really means our music) to make this hobby worth while. No one will want to get into this if they think they'll have to give up the music they already like.

Stop telling them that it'll take $10,000 or more to get a hint of what "high-end" is all about. And don't make a big fuss over cables and isolation stuff.

What was your first real stereo system? Was it high-end, or just something that gave you musical pleasure, and let you enjoy your music collection? I left for college in 1975 with a Superscope compact system I bought for $199, and about fifty records. A year later, after seeing some of my college acquaintances with nice sounding stereo systems, I bought a Stanton Gyropoise turntable ($99), and Kenwood KA-3500 integrated amp ($130) and a set of Sennheiser HD-424 headphones ($75). A few months later I added a set of EPI 180 speakers for around $250. High-end? Not really. Musically fulfilling? Absolutely. That system got me through college and my first few post-graduation jobs, almost eight years, as my record collection grew to several hundred LPs.

My son is in college now with a set of old Large Advents, a mid 70s Luxman integrated amp, and about 8000 songs on his iPod. His ability to fill a room with nice sounding music not only satisfies his needs, but also has made his apartment the default place for people to gather and hang out. Is he concerned about cables, or first order reflections, or treating his walls, or the size of his soundstage? Not a bit. But, I can assure you that will come later. He understands that proper setup is important, and at least his speakers are well situated symmetrically in his room.

There are lots of ways of getting decent, livable sound on an entry level budget. Carrying on about your $5000 interconnect or your $10,000 equipment rack isn't going to impress anyone except for your fellow aging audiophiles.

Stop telling them that their iPods and 256kbps files are "unlistenable trash". Just let them know that higher resolution rips will sound better. Demonstrate!

I have heard hard core audiophiles actually claim that listening to standard CDs made them physically ill. I've heard audiophiles claim to have been given massive, unrelenting headaches from one track of MP3 music played in their presence. I had an importer of fancy, European gear tell me that I "must suffer greatly" listening to my system, because I have synthetic carpeting in my room. To listen to audiophiles complain about the horrors of less than high-end sound, you'd think average, everyday, run-of-mill playback would be outlawed or at least controlled along with other dangerous things like drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

Agreed, bad sound is unpleasant, and given a choice, I would rather have silence than listen to truly bad sound. But making outrageous claims about the ill effects of music playback that the very people you are complaining to listen to everyday, just makes us all sound like crackpots. Rather than lambaste someone for listening to an iTunes download, just play them the same track from an iPod in Apple Lossless format, or even a just 320kpbs file. They'll hear the difference, and at some point, it‘ll be important to them.

Demonstrate every chance you get, but with their music, not yours. They think your music sucks as much as you think theirs does!

I wrote about this once before, in Issue 6. If all you want to do is show off your system, then by all means, crank up your favorite audiophile tunes and let them tremble in disbelief. But, if you want them to connect with good sound, and maybe start thinking they want this for themselves, do everyone a favor, and put your records, CD and high-resolution files away. Only play music that they know, that they like, and that they connect with. If you happen to have 24/96 files of something they like, play it. If you happen to have a Classic Records reissue of one of their favorite records, go ahead, wow and amaze them. If not, trust me, they don't want to hear what you have. They don't care about sound-staging, or imaging, or anything at all other than hearing music they like sound better than they've ever heard it before. If your system can do that, then be quiet, play their stuff, and rest assured you've done your part to help spread the word about this wacky hobby of ours.

It works!

The night before my son headed back to college as winter break ended, a few of his friends stopped by the house around dinnertime. Instead of going out for the evening, they ended up hanging out, and we mostly spun vinyl the whole evening. Turns out some of his friends love classic rock, so we played old Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cream, and Doors (both original vinyl and 24/96 files). We went through some early Gabriel era Genesis on Classic Records reissues. I was surprised at requests for Velvet Underground and Nico, Philip Glass (the soundtrack from Koyanisquatsi), some Zappa, and early King Crimson.

We also played Jack Johnson on LP and from 16/44 Apple Lossless files from CD, along with Local Natives, Rebelution, and other current bands. Next thing we realized it was way after midnight. They are all hooked!

One thing that really helped, was that I happened to have the system set up with my pair of Direct Acoustics Silent Speakers, instead of the Tekton Lores I usually use. Why was having my second-choice speaker in the system a good thing? The Silent Speakers have a huge sweet-spot, and having a group spread out across the entire nine-foot wide couch meant that overall, everyone still heard pretty good overall sound. The Lores may be the better overall speaker, but maybe not a better choice for an occasion like this.

It's worked with my son and his friends. No reason it won't work with others too.