“And yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony, it’s not rock & roll. We’re just talking, to the kids.” – Art Brut, Formed A Band.

What might see a greater number of young folk – the under 40s – take more of an interest in better audio gear? What might cause them to drop their Bluetooth speakers, their lossy streaming services or cause them to give up on their shoulder-shrugging indifference to poor sounding headphones?

At an audio show, playing well-recorded music from the last ten years is one way to strike a chord with Millennials or Gen Y-ers. And that might mean exhibitors occasionally spinning music choices irrespective of their weaker sound quality. This approach hasn’t hurt Zu Audio’s bottom line, not one jot.

Then there’s the wallet issue. Despite a dominance of big ticket systems, this year’s RMAF (for example) once again set aside a handful of rooms to affordable gear as a concession to financial inclusivity. However, not everyone in our imaginary under-40 (!) target market is strapped for cash.

Also potentially expanding high-end audio’s appeal is the demonstration of gear that better fits the aesthetics of modern living spaces. Loudspeakers and their associated electronics are audio furniture. Positioned in a lounge room and facing the couch, owners are forced to look at their audio gear as frequently as a picture hung on the wall or an ornament.

Aesthetics and good sound don’t have to be mutually exclusive items. There’s no certificate of achievement for doing it tough on a hifi system’s outward appearance. Besides, looks are what spark the initial conversation.

Just ask Bella NYC, “New York’s premiere subscription and newsstand-based women’s luxury lifestyle publication”, who tapped KEF for event collaboration for a red carpet event with Brazilian model Camila Alves.

According to KEF America’s Dipin Sehdev, “Bella NYC focused on the design of the speakers. We know that a speaker has to do two things. First, it needs to sound good. KEF has great sounding speakers. Secondly, the speakers need to look good. KEF invests a good deal in product design and has a dedicated industrial design team making sure the speakers look as great as they sound.”

According to Sehdev, KEF America has taken to partnering with artists and projects where sound is a core part of the conversation.

Earlier this year, several Deadmau5 pop-up stores put the KEF Blade Two on playlist playback duty and visually augmented by a smattering of KEF’s handholdable Muo Bluetooth speakers to keep pricing approachable.

More recently KEF America teamed up with the Porsche Club of America (PCA) as part of the German car manufacturer’s Werks week in Monterey, CA. That put the LS50 Wireless and a range of KEF’s Porsche Design headphones in front of attendees so that they might get hands on with audio products outside of the more traditional contexts of a hifi store or an audio show.

This week brings the announcement that KEF are once again hitting the collaboration switch marked “mainstream” to partner with New York’s Museum Of Arts And Design (MAD) whose Sonic Arcade: Shaping Space With Sound is an exhibit in which visitors are encouraged to interact with sound-generating art installations.

Expect to see/hear KEF’s Blade, Reference subwoofers, LS50 (powered by Hegel electronics) as well the Studio F.A. Porsche-designed M500 headphones and Ultra-thin T301
satellite speakers.

“Industrial Design is an integral part of the entire KEF listening experience. KEF speakers represent the perfect union of art and technology”, said Alec Chanin, KEF’s President, via press release.

21st Century ‘Marketing 101’ tells us that expecting customers to show up simply because you’ve got what they’re looking for is no longer sufficient. Want someone outside of the core audiophile fraternity to buy your audio gear? You gotta go to them.

Experience tell us that RMAF and shows like it are experts at talking to existing audio enthusiasts. They lend a crucial sense of community to an otherwise solitary pursuit: sitting (alone) in front of a pair of loudspeakers or sealed off from the outside world by a pair of headphones. That the audio show demographic has barely moved in the past ten years tell us that maybe – just maybe – it’s time to re-think the forever-hopeful Field of Dreams approach. Maybe – just maybe – cultivating a younger generation of audiophiles falls beyond the remit of the audio show circuit.

Perhaps it’s time to hand off audience growth to alternative channels where stylish gear is seen/heard is shorn of its special interest context. KEF are showing us a handful of ways that this might be done.

After all, the kids aren’t hanging out at a hotel on the edge of town. They’re sipping shakes at the local mall, they’re ardently following their favourite musicians, they’re attending art galleries and they’re lusting after fast cars.

In Part 2 we’ll consider two more high-end audio companies who are cutting through directly to a more mainstream audience.

Further information: KEF America