Thursday, February 14, 2008

Where Has All the Music Gone?

Today, John Thomson, Associate Publisher of Marketnews and here's how!, will be guest blogging. Thomson is a passionate outdoorsman, but he's also passionate about consumer electronics, and is floored by the lack of decent audio equipment in what appears to be a highly untapped market in Canada (or at least Ontario!) Read his story below.

Where has all the music gone?

Over the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of being a guest in about eight beautiful ski chalets. One is a log monster with five bedrooms, another has cathedral ceilings with majestic views of the Valley, and all are decorated to the nines and owned by well-heeled professionals. But what they all have in common is an iPod in a dock with 2" speakers as their exclusive sound system.

How is it that well-educated individuals who all love to entertain have uniformly decided to forego a nice two-channel audio system, and have determined that an iPod dock will do the trick? Think about it: Here you are in a 1,500 sq' living room with 30' ceilings and you are trying to entertain 20 guests by pushing out as much volume as the little dock can muster. What am I missing? The steaks alone cost close to a sound system so it can't be a money issue.

Does music play a greater role in my life such that I'm wiling to invest in an appropriate sound delivery system? I don't think so. All of these people love their tunes, but somewhere along the way, an $11,000 hot tub has taken precedent over a $2,000 sound system.

Seeing that we are in the business of promoting and reviewing beautiful sound, such an observation is extremely disconcerting. Is it that since the properties are recreational, there is a fear of theft by installing a sound system? Maybe, but then again, what about the gazillion other things that a would-be thief could swipe while the owner is away?

After a few glasses of wine, I always try to subtly (OK not so subtly) steer the conversation over to the music and ask the owner where the real sound system is to complement such a beautiful chalet? The answer is always the same: We haven't gotten around to it yet. Hmm. I set up a sound system before we had a 'fridge in our place, so I just politely nod and pour another glass.

Retailers: there's a lost opportunity here. All those chalets scattering the nation with crappy sound! Two book shelf speakers, a small sub and an integrated amp/CD player...and sure, why not throw in an iPod dock. Call it the vacation system, call it anything, just do something because my alcohol consumption is going through the roof trying to drown out the dock. Please bring back warm, ambient sound to ski country.


Lee_D said...

Tragically, as an industry we have failed to make great audio an important luxury in the perception of well heeled consumers.

The devolution of audio towards quick and dirty sales of "inabox" solutions and ipod docks has taken a toll. There are still upscale dealers who do a good job, but this battle was lost in the mass market.

On the marketing end manufacturers need to go after luxury clients the way car, jewellery and wine and spirit makers do.

Alas, easier said than done...

Saxe said...

You have articulated my feelings exactly. I will tender an explanation. Convenience. Fitting into the lifestyle. The ipod and associated itunes which finds its way into the PC has so effectively converted our source of music to the PC/Mac, or to the ipod itself, because it's so EASY! Fun too. I have often put together a playlist that suited the taste of my dinner party guest(s) and what they were going through in their lives. The feedback is always there, supporting your theory that music is still important to people. I will often burn a CD for everyone to take with them at the end of the evening... great party favours! However, the sound quality in my ipod is a little bette rthen average. Since memory has been getting cheaper, I began by ripping my own CD collection (leaving out the padding... the tracks which I never liked anyway) at 320 kbps or better, as opposed to the "High Quality" 128 kbps which sounds dead nasty. Of course, the good news that will satisfy the hunger we have for great sound quality, is that memory is now cheap like borscht! Half a terabyte for $200! So now I'm ripping bit-for-bit. Absolute CD quality. I've got it ALL. Convenience AND quality. So keep the faith! Look for more itunes-based improvements to come... better sound boards... And check out for some great sounding gear to accurately reproduce our music. (PLUG!)

John responds said...

Like you Saxe, I'm at a high bit rate too and now seem to have my iPod in my pocket as a just in case for all dinner parties. Subtly switching my playlist for the sad beastly noise destroying any ambience is a start, but the vehicle for playback stays the same. Now that we have addressed the sad state of audio for evening ambience we should now move the topic over to the importance of dimmers being on every light. I never realized just how bad I looked under 60 watts of lighting. Anything brighter then a candle and I'm in trouble!