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Where Do We Go from Here?

Why we need to focus on the high-performance and luxury aspects of our industry.

In the Alfred Hitchcock thriller To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant asks, “Where do we go from here?” The reply was “to jail.” Grant’s character spent the rest of the movie trying to prove his innocence. What is the reply when the home theater industry asks that question?

Our first clue might be found in industry recaps of CEDIA Expo. While the keynote by John Penny of 20 Century Fox focusing on content might indicate a market desirous of what we have to offer, the rhetoric of post-show reviews suggests a crime scene. Statements such as “mass market,” “price point,” “accessible,” “easier,” and the like paint a worrisome scenario.

While there were a few reports of high performance and excitement — most notably referring to 4K, HDR, and high-performance audio, mostly centered around immersive formats — even these were stripped of their impact by discussion of price point options in every category.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Creating Sonic Connoisseurs

Something has gone missing, and we need to find out where it went and get it back!

Our team reported a similar scene. As designers and engineers serving a discerning clientele, information about the highest performance is vital. We went looking for that information, but also for clues to the mindset of our industry. We certainly found some valuable information, but, with only a few exceptions, our designers and engineers were steered toward price-point alternatives. Often, when admiring and inquiring about a flagship product, our team would be diverted to consider a new lower price alternative that is “almost as good at a much lower cost.”

Our clients don’t do almost! One might say high performance or luxury in our industry has become a case of mistaken identity.

This is not a criticism of CEDIA. It is an alarm sounding for our industry. I believe CEDIA Expo will accommodate as high performance a demonstration as a vendor will present. I do not think there is a requirement that price point or compromise options be made available in order to participate. It is a decision made by vendors. It is also not a criticism of value-oriented and price-point products and services. These have valid markets in their own right.

However, if we intend to participate in high performance or luxury markets, we need to identify true best-of-class products, services, and experiences as just that. Declare the superiority and desirability of these and celebrate the extraordinary. Instead we are guilty of aiding and abetting the ordinary in impersonating the extraordinary.

Look at other luxury products, which feature the finest. If a lower price option is available, it is not featured (and in many cases there are none). Bugatti starts at $2.99M, Rolls at $300K, and Bentley $190K. None of these companies lead with their “lowest price” options. They know who they are and they aren’t afraid to say it.

What harm is there in presenting value options as good enough — tacitly suggesting someone may not really need to step up to the top of the line? Many of us have heard, “I am not willing to spend the money to get the very best. Just get me to 90 percent, and that will be good enough.” From where does that thinking originate? I call it a good-enough mentality, and it is false. In fact, the difference in sub-par and sublime is less than 5 percent of the performance. Good enough is not good enough for the luxury market. If we do not provide the very best for the top end of our market, where will the rest of the market go? This is the slippery slope to becoming a compromised, commoditized industry!

This story does not have to end poorly. It can end happily ever after! There is a lot of excellence to celebrate. Few of the luxury pursuits in the world possess the talent — and even less have the connoisseurship potential — of the private theater niche. Audio manufacturers engineer loudspeakers, amplifiers, and processing that outperform any predecessors and deliver sonic experiences never before available. Video quality continues to shock us with accuracy and realism. Content is just getting better and broader. Theater and listening room design and engineering has eclipsed the offerings of the past. These and more result in a singularly valuable amenity. Those who possess a truly fine private theater unanimously agree — describing his DCI private theater, one owner exclaims, “It’s my pride and joy!”

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We must claim our rightful identity and spurn the allure of mass market and simplification. We must fully realize that we are capable of providing the world’s finest and boldly offer that choice to our clientele. Then we must step up to the challenge of doing what it takes to deliver on that potential, refusing to compromise on engineering, diligence, quality, and results. This is when we will be able to claim our rightful place among the world’s great passions and pursuits.