That depends upon what you consider to be hi-fi. And what we consider to be hi-fi is probably very different from what most people consider it to be. But, what’s for sure is that there are a serious number of audio products available for people to buy these days, which suggests that home audio is very much back in vogue.
Look at the assortment of brands that are available in mainstream stores, offering audio products for the masses and the amount of floor space taken up by audio in shops like John Lewis. It’s been a long time since there’s been so much available outside of the specialist hi-fi shops. That’s got to be a good thing surely? We, as the self proclaimed guardians of quality audio, should be pleased that more people are now buying systems for their homes, rather than just walking around the streets plugged into their iPhones.
It’s also telling that the super-brand of accessible home audio, Sonos, has just opened its flagship London store, demonstrating a confidence that the consumers want to buy home audio again. And, as we know that London real estate is not exactly cheap, there must be a strong belief and plenty of analysis to show that people want to buy their products. We should applaud this as an industry, as it puts home audio right there on the high street, in people’s faces. Sure, it’s not hi-fi when compared to the über expensive products we sell, but we should also face up to the fact that our products are never going to be mass market in the same way as a Sonos or Bose system is. We lost the mass market back in the 1970s when the midi system launched and it’s unlikely to come back our way - most people simply don’t understand how we can charge more for the ‘needle’ on our turntables than their entire whole house, iPad controlled, streaming audio solution costs.
And talking of turntables, there’s another audio product that’s continuing to take the mainstream consumer market by storm - it appears to be more than just a blip. HMV reported that turntables were selling at a rate of one per minute in the week before Christmas last year and this year may be even busier, if the vinyl sales predicted by the BPI come to pass. They are expecting an additional one million albums to be sold during the holiday season, bringing the total for the year to around four million - that’s a quarter of all the sales happening around Christmas. If four million albums are sold on vinyl this year, then the rise in sales since 2007 will be a staggering 1,472%.
The BPI’s report also showed how the demographic of vinyl purchasers is developing. According to the research company, Kantar Worldpanel, nearly a quarter of vinyl purchases in the UK were made by people aged 34 or below. And, in our very male dominated industry, it’s really encouraging that a quarter of vinyl purchases are now made by females. In terms of hardware purchases, the research shows that of those people intending to buy a turntable before Christmas, a quarter are aged under 35 and 46% are female.
Now of course most of these turntables are of the £90 variety, not the level we’re more used to. Should we care that the quality of reproduction falls far short of what we expect? Well yes of course we should as purveyors of quality, but it does potentially present an opportunity to bring a new breed of customer into our world. A tough task no doubt, but maybe the best opportunity we’ve had in years to talk to people who a) know what vinyl is and b) have started listening to analogue music again.