SVS President Gary Yacoubian was interviewed by the CTA, the world’s foremost tech industry group, for his thoughts on high performance audio, what it means to be a modern audiophile and innovations we can all expect in the near future. The original interview is here, below is the full transcript.
What is high end audio? How does the technology behind high end audio work and what makes it different from traditional audio devices?
The notion of having a totally immersive “like-being-there” audio experience is what distinguishes high-end or high-performance audio from the more convenience oriented audio devices of today. It’s about staying faithful to the source content and rendering sound with high fidelity and convincing realism so it’s as close as possible to what the artist or director intended you to hear and feel.
In terms of the technology, it’s really a lifestyle choice. A Bluetooth or in-wall speaker might create a surprising audio experience relative to its compact size or minimalist form factor, but in no way does it claim to provide a fully immersive and convincing audio experience. It’s not like high performance audio doesn’t fit into people’s lifestyles, it totally does, but it makes no apologies about its presence in the room and it creates an experience that lets you literally surrender yourself and believe you’re right there in the room with the artist or in the middle of a movie scene.
One of the great things the CTA has done is pivot from the term “high end” audio to the term “high performance” since its speaks more to the technology, innovation and experience instead of the price tag, which is important. High performance audio is about enjoying sound with more depth, clarity, impact and emotion, and not a celebration of luxury or expensive products.
How has the modern audiophile evolved? Are they still just about the music?
The “modern audiophile” enjoys great sound in the spirit of inclusiveness and not elitism. It’s not a solitary experience, it can be a shared experience. A 20-something year-old customer was recently telling me about his listening parties where he and a group of friends all go to a different house each week and listen to a full album on vinyl, all the way through, on different speaker systems, and just enjoy the social aspect of music and the unique sound of each system. You can still have a social and almost spiritual listening experience and not have it be in solitude or with a sense of one-upsmanship.
The other evolution we’re seeing is that modern audiophiles are content agnostic. It doesn’t matter what you’re listening to; music, movies, on-demand TV, gaming, it all just falls into the realm of wanting the best audio experience you can have within the constraints of your room, budget and personal listening preferences.
And this is important because of the way the industry views high performance audio. In a lot of ways, it is viewed from the inside as elitist and almost irrelevant. But the reality is, a lot of people want these experiences, and they are embracing them, but we are not engaging them on the level they want to be engaged on or communicating the value of these experiences in an inclusive way, and that needs to change.
We need to be torchbearers for making hi-fi, surround sound and the pursuit of better audio experiences a noble quest. We’re seeing that the audio business can’t just be about headphones and portable speakers. It must be about movie fans, live sports fans, streaming music lovers, gamers and anyone who might benefit from a convincing, immersive sonic experience, period. These are the modern audiophiles, and they need more of our attention.
To reach the next generation of audiophiles, we need to challenge our own pre-conceived notions about what it means to be an audiophile and rethink how we demo and communicate with these new audiences. It can all start with the same question, “Do you consider yourself an audiophile?” Whether they answer yes or no, we are inviting them to think about a deeper interest in sound quality and opening the door for a conversation about whatever content and experiences they are passionate about.
In what ways are millennials and younger generations embracing high end audio? What does this mean for the high-end audio industry?
I think the more important point is that a lot of the “conventional” audio space has decided that millennials don’t matter because they don’t care about great sound, so they’re not trying to connect with them. But we know differently. Millennials and younger audio consumers need to be spoken to in the way they’re used to being spoken to via social media and digital marketing, but in a genuine, non-pitchy kind of way.
It needs to be constantly reinforced that immersive, uncompromised listening experiences are available to them. Millennials, and to an increasing degree, all of society, are very mistrustful of extreme luxury. They don’t believe in it. A lot of this is because millennials and younger people have always had access to the best smartphones and mobile technology available for the same price as the wealthiest individuals, so why shouldn’t that apply to audio and all technology as well?
What’s compelling is that younger people are going to live concerts, music festivals and blockbuster movies in record numbers. They spend unprecedented amounts of money to attend these events, so we know they love and appreciate engaging and immersive experiences. It just needs to be shown to them that it’s cool and within their reach to have these experiences at home.
The other important point about “millennials” is that they’ve moved beyond this mystical unicorn like consumer and they are now starting careers, they’re getting married and starting families, moving into new homes and reaching their peak spending power, right now, and they need to be talked to. And it’s crazy for any technology category not to be reaching out to them in the ways they like to be reached.
What are the latest innovations in the industry? What can attendees expect to find at CES for high end audio innovation?
A lot of what’s going on with high performance audio innovation is companies are embracing the most future-facing, modern, up-to-the-minute user interfaces and marrying them with the ability to create immersive and convincing experiences. For example, voice control, smartphone apps, streaming and other “smart” technologies are becoming increasingly relevant. We’re seeing it with some of the technology platforms like DTS Play-Fi®, which is incredibly intuitive and totally geared toward modernizing high performance audio in a way that young and old people can embrace.
There’s this misguided idea that high performance audio is just an expensive hobby for the wealthy but people who come to the high-performance audio part of CES will experience movies with surround sound that emanates from overhead, which is the height of home theater audio innovation, and bass that literally makes you flinch from feeling the powerful sonic energy throughout your body. You can hear the breathy vocals from a female vocalist or perceive every note from a guitar solo with a sense of breathtaking clarity and realism, like you’re right on stage. I guarantee this kind of tactile sonic experience isn’t available anywhere else at the show.
The ability to create great sound is nothing new, the ability to bring it into the modern, convenience-oriented lifestyle is the new frontier. And to do it affordably is just as important. I think a lot of the most compelling high-performance audio products are challenging the traditional value proposition beliefs. In other words, the notion of trying to bring uncompromised audio experiences at extreme price points still exists, but there are several exhibitors at CES that are challenging that very notion and making it more affordable for everyone. If people want to enjoy music and home theater experiences that showcase the pinnacle of sound quality and just how closely we can connect to the artists and entertainment we enjoy every day, the Venetian Towers at CES is where it’s at.