I saw more college and high school-aged people at Rocky Mountain Audio Festival in Denver this year than in any year previously that I’ve attended. It was both heartening to see, and not exactly surprising.


Heartening, because for the most part, the average age of an audiophile in America is like 60. Any long-winded hobby that requires time, space, resources and academic study like this is usually inhabited by the retired — by age or success, or a combination of both.

It’s not like I could come close to affording any of the stuff I liked at the show, but I appreciated it and enjoyed the demonstrations nonetheless. There’s a lot to enjoy about high end audio that doesn’t require being mega-rich.

Also, I’m not surprised by the youth turnout because year after year, I hear modern electronic producers and virtuosos young and old stepping more into the audiophile world in terms of sound quality of their work. Digitally produced music today is just better than it has ever been in the past. I think this has a something to do with digital audio workstations (DAWs) and recording interfaces becoming more dynamic, wider-ranged and just better over time as their software evolved, but there are other factors.

Pretty much across the genre board, there has been a growing understanding of and appreciation for realistic, full sound. Whether it’s a recorded sample in an electronic track that sounds so real you have to look over your shoulder to see if a faucet is running or a dog barked, or it’s a painstaking microphone setup at the perfect spot in a giant performance hall using state-of-the-art equipment that offers a newer, better and fuller take on a traditional sound, music makers out there are paying more attention to ultimate fidelity.

So the next generation of audiophiles need not worry that their music libraries will soon consist of the old guard like Diana Krall, Allison Krauss, Dire Straits and what have you. Those artists carried the torch of high fidelity in the past, but there are plenty of modern champions of excellent sound.

I think another element in the rise in studio output quality over time is the improvement of monitor listening systems in studios and wherever music is recorded. Headphone science has exploded in the last 15 years, and the widespread availability and consequent ubiquity of subwoofers in control rooms of studios, and also the rise of room-corrected sound via Digital Signal Processing (DSP) have allowed musicians to hear more of what they’re doing, and led them to stretch their sound to the limits of the current playback paradigm.

The result of all of this is that while younger audiophiles may not be buying Kharma Exquisite Grand Reference speakers at $150K a pair to listen to a Flying Lotus album or a new single from Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers, they’re starting with headphones or desktop systems and falling in love with the right tech that teases out the potential in the new audio marketplace.

If they make some money over the subsequent years, maybe Kharma speakers can be a retirement present to myself. Er, themselves. It’s fun to dream, anyway.

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