I am white, male, middle-aged and middle class. When I go to hi-fi shows most of the people there look just like me. Hi-fi as a hobby seems to be dominated by white men of a certain age. When I have seen couples at demonstrations I have got a strong sense that the female partner has come along to support their partner and not the other way round.
Whilst there are an increasing number of female journalists working in the area, they are still in the minority and the audience seems even less diverse. Similarly, the audience at British Hi-fi events seems not to reflect the ethnic diversity of the population.
Attendance at live musical events has never had the same narrow profile. On the other hand, technology has long been associated with nerdiness, which tends to have masculine connotations.
I was once asked by a University department why I thought their postgraduate cybersecurity course was almost exclusively populated with male students. The University had a number of undergraduate courses with a much more gender-neutral population that dealt with areas covered by the course. However, the marketing materials would have done the latest spy thriller proud and simply oozed machismo – which was not actually the reality of the course material.
Modern technology in areas other than Hi-fi seems to have a much broader appeal – mobile phones, laptops and other devices do not seem to be restricted in their appeal to men. This sort of technology is now associated with a mainstream lifestyle appealing to all groups and even promoted through the technology itself by the use of social media in all its forms. One glance at the marketing for such products shows how far it is come from selling technology to nerds.
One of the key aspects of this type of mainstream technology is the quality of design epitomised by Apple products led by the late Steve Jobs and British designer Jonny Ive. Although there are an increasing number of more design-conscious products, they are often still not regarded as “serious” Hi-fi.
Naim Audio is a good example. For the last decade or so, they have been producing products aimed at a mainstream market: first the Uniti range and later the Muso range. These products have proved very popular and provide a major proportion of their income. However, they are marketed in a different manner to other Naim products and sold through different outlets such as John Lewis.
The Uniti products start at over £2000, so sell for prices that exceed a lot of kit regarded as “proper” Hi-fi, but most Naim customers consider that only the separate components are “proper” kit.
There still seems to be an assumption that good aesthetics require a compromise in audio quality. Even high-end kit which clearly has major design input reflects an emphasis on engineering style. A company such as Chord Electronics which has a strong design identity still seems to project quite a macho image.
Another strong area of aesthetics is the high-quality finish often associated with wood used for loudspeaker cabinets but it still looks more like furniture for a gentleman’s club than a chic domestic environment.
There is undoubtedly still a layer of casual sexism within certain types of hi-fi journalism. You can still find reference in reviews to “wife friendly” kit or complaints from reviewers that the large loudspeakers that they would like to place in the living room would not meet with their wife’s approval.
Once again we seem to be faced with the challenge that Hi-fi is sold as a technology rather than a means to access music. Listening to music is a universal activity, and if the reason to buy better Hi-fi is to gain a more pleasurable aesthetic experience, thenaesthetic considerations should have a greater emphasis in both the design and marketing of products.