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Why has high-end audio turned lifestyle into a nasty four-letter word? Surely listening daily to music in the home is nothing but a lifestyle.

The iPod finally evicted music consumption from the man cave into the streets for real. Audio became homeless and public spectacle. Where visibility of fine hifi was always limited to visitors, most other trappings of lifestyle—the house, car, clothes, watches and jewelry—are public domain. That's half the appeal. Impress the neighbors. Be noted. Belong. Apple's iPod revolution moved audio into the public eye. Now there's no doubt who and how many are actually doing it. Lifestyle and visibility are interlinked. The fashion aspect of lifestyle is useless if nobody sees you with it. For hifi iPod & Co. obviously enjoy the highest visibility. Is that why audiophiles struggle with the term?

If public visibility or shared awareness is key, there's not just observing actual people. There's also advertising. Here the small size of most cottage industry hifi makers disables participation in the kind of extended ad campaigns throughout the most popular fashion media where the masses would take note. This limits exposure in such media to mass-market brands. Bose is the perennial whipping boy followed by B&O. Hard-boiled audiophiles look down on either. So it's back to the same thing. What's visible are examples from the perceived low end. Audiophiles conveniently forget that one has to start somewhere. Only real use establishes habits which then need feeding. Once people start listening—what to doesn't matter—they begin to live the lifestyle. That's key. As in any other segment, financial success and exposure inevitably lead to a desire for better.

But that's not the end of the lifestyle issue. Compare anything Apple—or successfully competing—with most of performance hifi. Sleekness crushes squareness. Multi-tasking condemns single-mindedness. Compact kills big. Apple understands cool. Their entire empire is built on it and how to breed desirability. The generation for whom Apple has set standards and expectations (noble materials, invisible fasteners, 'Scandinavian' industrial design, intuitive user interfaces etc) views most of hifi as seriously lacking in cool factor. Our stuff is big, ugly, overpriced and does too few things with too much. We're last century. On today's clock that's nearly an ice age away. And those of us talking about hifi are mostly old and very unkewl, with our forums cess pits of mindless intolerance. What newbie wants to participate in that?
Let's put it differently. If Ikea as far and away the biggest resource for college kids and young professionals won't display hifi components in their home furnishing show rooms; if Pfister for the high-street clients won't; it's because our audio machines don't make the grade for 2011 where appeal is always pursued in the public eye. Lifestyle must be seen to become aspiration and eventual fulfillment. Hifi must mix and mingle where other stuff that competes for discretionary hipness coin shows off. The iPod already does. Applause!

Rather than attending a trade show that takes a $50.000 bite out of a small company's annual PR budget, why not donate—or loan on rotation—complete systems to popular hang-outs in malls, restaurants, clubs and java huts? Why not let installed hardware do its own preaching in front of captive audiences at schools? Each time we hit Ikea they're jammed. And they do sell A/V racks and such. Except there's never any actual gear displayed. It wouldn't and needn't play. But imagine a pair or two of Everything But The Box's new Terra III monitors sitting there silently. Spring would come and the grass grow all by itself.

The need to 'get out' into the public eye is of course also why accessorizing with custom colors and finishes has made audio inroads. It's why speaker makers feel forced to think out of the box. It's why pocket kit à la Pacific Rim bonsai audio (KingRex, Trends) is successful; why Bel Canto long ago adopted half-width chassis; why small pretty speakers outsell big ugly ones; why integrated amps (with DACs and headphone outputs) have returned.

It's why ear buds have become a fashion industry; why aftermarket pimp jobs for iPhones & Bros. are big business. It seems that one thing all of us in this hobby can do right away without spending a dime is fix our blasted attitude toward this lifestyle issue. Fine hifi and music consumption are part of the same lifestyle. Anyone who listens to music no matter what it is or over which gear is a member. Why treat any of them with contempt rather than a warm welcome? The question itself is perverse for even being posed. But it takes very little digging indeed to appreciate that it's not self-explanatory. Many of us cats in this hobby are in very sore need of an attitude adjustment. Scratch, pee, hiss. It's time we did some collective petting. In public. Meow!