BLOG #41. Manufacturers vs Customers - 50:0 (Some Personal Impressions from the CanJam NYC-2018)


BLOG #41. Manufacturers vs Customers - 50:0 (Some Personal Impressions from the CanJam NYC-2018)

“A good deal of modern American culture is an extended experiment in the effects of depriving people of what they crave most”.

  - “A General Theory of Love” by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon (p. 225)

I just returned home from exhibiting at the Canjam NYC-2018, which was the fourth CanJam Show I have witnessed (and the third one where StereoPravda would officially tout our wares).

There is no need for a “microscopic” view on the show – the Internet is crammed full of the meticulous descriptions of the products presented there.

That is why I would rather look at the show via my “telescopic” eyepiece, so I can concentrate here at a couple of the most significant current trends spotted “on the map” of the High Performance Portable Audio.

The first most significant trend is that the industry has definitely reached a saturation point in terms of the realizing of its current potential of the technologies it utilize.

The second most significant trend is closely related to the first one: in the absence of some long term perspectives for a steady improvement the loop of the instant gratification instinct is being commonly used, it’s the mechanism that the industry is constantly and strenuously breeding within its customers’ community.

Nevertheless,  every technology’s full potential is divided into two parts: if, let’s say, 50% of its full potential is realized on the manufacturers’ side, then the other, let’s say, 50%, is realized on the customers’ side.

That is only via the technology consumers’ special dedication, their extra effort, the long term (vs short term) planning, the concentrated investment of their money, and their additional amount of time “consciously spent” on real education and gaining some real firsthand experience.

Just to give you an example of what I am talking about I would look at the full potential of the Balanced Armature technology applied for the earphones (I am positive that some similar trends currently exist within all the other fields of consumer technologies – realizing the complete potential of the smartphones is another good example).

There are some fundamental sonic requirements regarding ear monitors’ design and positioning which you can ignore when you rush a product to the market as soon as it’s already “good enough”, but which will shoot you at your feet when you try to reach “the best it can be” phase at a later stage of your product line’s development.

Incidentally, the constant newer and newer model “arms race” at such shows is a solid indicator of a product crop that is just “good enough”; all the while the main theme of the CanJams, at least, as I see it, is supposed to be to highlight all the best products money can buy.

The “best it can be”, by its definition, cannot be improved. Of course, the reality is that even “the best” products can be improved, but their evolution curve is much, much slower than for “the good enoughs”, so you cannot really expect “the best it can be” products to substantially change their designs and their designations every year, even if the current market put the irresistible demands to do so.

There are some great examples of “best in can be” in “home” audio – Vandersteen “2” or Klipsch “Klipschhorns” loudspeakers in various (insignificant) variations come to my mind – when the basic model is being produced for almost 50 years or more.

As I already mentioned, these deficiencies in application of the soniс fundamentals of “the best it can be” earphone design cannot be “corrected” in a further development of the sound of some already compromised products.

Like the deficiencies in the “correct” positioning of an ear monitor within the ear canal and its intended acoustic isolation contours cannot be fully compensated sonically by any tricks later, both in the electrical, or in the acoustical domains (the same way as with wrong  initial positioning of the loudspeakers in the room).

As a manufacturer, if you want to improve your product which started at the wrong tracks, you will quickly hit the performance ceiling with no chances of improvement (like whatever you would do to improve the sound of an audio system set up in the living room – but…listening to it from your kitchen – that would be, from the kitchen’s sonic perspective, like “shooting sparrows with canons”).

The current problem is that to start at “the right tracks” for a portable audio product a manufacturer should rely on the intended customers full awareness that the “the best it can be” can only be reached at the expense of the customers’ own “50%” chunk of the total technological potential of the industry.

…Which, due to the manufactures’ ubiquitous fear of “waking up The Beast”, in High Performance Portable Audio is still resting “dormant”.

That’s why, as the conventional technologies fully exploited their potential, the future gains in portable audio’s sonic performance are not in some new mythical technological breakthroughs, which the forum community is so eager to believe in, but in the realization by this community of the “no pain – no gain” old dictum.

The latter was taken for granted as a raiason d’etre of the “home” version of the High End Audio through all its years, and even more so, this dictum has, actually, been its main driving force.

For instance, the home High End Audio community has been taking for granted “the pain” of, say, humongous speakers and all the rest of the gear consuming the space of the house.

The same way, to reach the next level of sound quality, the High Performance Portable Audio community have got no choice but to start to take for granted, say, a “pain” of adjusting to the initial discomfort from using “deep insertion” IEMs (considering that, as a rule, the ear canal’s cartilage issue, like the wife in the house, would sooner or later fully adapt to the situation).

Nevertheless, the High Performance Portable Audio companies are still very touchy about educating the customers in this particular direction, probably, still out of their naïve hope for a significant expansion, which is based on the assumption of the least possible dedication of the “lowest common denominator” on the market (as the saying goes: “to dine with the rich, you have to feed breakfasts to the poor, in this context – “poor in their aspirations”).

Therefore, it in full accordance with these mass production principles, the expansion can happen not via stimulating personal achievements of their customer base, but on the opposite, only via neutralizing their personal potential with an intoxicating instant gratification buzz for something anonymous but tantalizingly “new”.

This new gear is always abound with some new, mostly useless, features, and is alleged that it provides even “higher level of comfort”, like the latter is the commonly accepted uppermost unquestioned priority for all and for everybody vested their interest in the portable audio (on the other hand, sound quality claims become more and more muted).

At the same time, the sonic advantages of portable audio products designed with the sonic fundamentals in mind – like earphones’ deep insertion, possible products high (-er) maintenance, bigger and bigger (and not smaller and smaller!) units’ sizes and weights, etc. – and which do rely on the customers’ “dormant” energy are mostly ignored and swept under the carpet of the public discourse.

…All the while only the customers themselves, with the energy of their own deeds released via supporting the appropriate solutions –  and already not the manufacturers community - are capable now “to improve” the current crop of the products.
In terms of hitting “the best it can be”, without resorting to these “dormant” aspects of the technologies resting on the customers’ shoulders, we will continue to stay still in the current domain of wishful thinking.

So, the manufacturers will continue to go through the (same) motions with a straight face producing some “new” mass market products disguised as “something special” (allegedly, better), and the customers will continue their “personal achievements” rat race in their claimed search for the music Nirvana in a vicious circle of trading one inappropriate anonymous product for even a less appropriate one.

Aa a result of this one-sided technological suffocation, the vast majority of all the latest “bells and whistles” at the recent portable audio shows, especially, the most expensive ones, are no more than just some “new” instant gratification toys for the most gullible.

P.S. Idealistically speaking, what we really need now to expand our sonic horizons in portable audio is just a clear-cut awareness of all the audio enthusiasts of “what they crave most”, so they would be fully prepared to what to expect from this game in terms of their full investments and their full returns.

It will obviously take time, so during this total technological capabilities’ side transition time – when “the ball” will be in the hands of the customers’ – and not the manufacturers’ – team, we should put all our expectations for some alleged “new” products on hold.

But after that monumental task is accomplished, the next task to provide some appropriate means to uncork audio enthusiasts’ own personal potential for greatness and to satisfy their genuine “crave” – the means which would exploit all 100% of the available technologies’ potential – this next task will be just a trivial one.

27.02.2018 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  1730

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