The world of hi-fi is going through a sweep of changes at the moment, with everything from the ongoing vinyl revival to the arrival of new technologies such as Spatial Audio making waves in the industry.
You may be struggling to keep up with all the latest trends and wondering what is most important. Here, to help cut through the noise as part of our British Hi-Fi Week special event, we catch up with Cambridge Audio's CEO, Stuart George, to get his take on what’s next in the world of hi-fi and how he expects younger listeners to enter its world.
A CD revival
George says that one of the most important things the company thinks about is getting younger listeners into hi-fi – which he believes will be a big challenge.
“I don't know if the hi-fi is necessarily relevant for them yet. They obviously need to be made aware of it and educated a little bit about it,” he says, when asked what he thinks hi-fi means to younger listeners.
“They shouldn't need too much education – it should be relatively simple. What we all share is a love of music, that's the common bond that we have. It’s that passion for music that doesn't change regardless of age.”
Despite this, he suggests the starting point may be a surprising one – the desire to own the music they love.
“CD is an interesting one. I think part of the Renaissance for CD is people discovering music as a physical form and identifying with being a music lover,” he says.
George goes on to suggest this CD revival could be a direct response to the rising cost of vinyl since it started. A record is now an expensive item, especially for younger music fans.
“[It’s different from], where vinyl was 10 years ago. Back then, vinyl was all cheap. It was in second-hand stores and you could pick things up for not very much money; but it was a bit of a lucky dip in terms of what quality the record was in when you got to it, and how playable it was. The CD is a bit more robust than that, so you've got a decent chance as long as the CD is in one piece.
“There is a fair chance it will play and it is of high quality compared with what people might have experienced by listening to stuff on their phone. And CDs are still relatively affordable in the second-hand market.”
He adds that Cambridge Audio is in a unique position to take advantage of the forecast revival due to its experience making CD players and turntables, such as the five-star CXC transport.
“CD1 was obviously recognised in its day as being the number one CD player; and then I'm always really proud of the Alva TT V2 because at that point it was a real landmark,” he says.
The CD1 from the mid-80s certainly made its mark, making its way into our best Cambridge Audio products of all time feature.
Separates vs all-in-one
George says that he expects the CD revival to be part of a wider journey for younger listeners entering the world of hi-fi.
“Younger people these days have grown up without really having any experience with physical media,” he says. “Their journey starts with streaming, which just means listening to something on your phone; and then maybe it's on a computer.
“But then you might discover that actually, you can play it on an external audio device – maybe it's a Bluetooth speaker or a little boombox or whatever. And then you do graduate from that to physical media or more.”
He explains that this mirrors his own journey into the world of hi-fi.
“One of the reasons my own musical taste is quite open is because I remember things my dad used to play that, musically, I would never choose to listen to,” he says.
“But, because they were played on a decent stereo, they actually had an impact on you, and you appreciated what was within the music. I think we've got to go on that journey again.”
George says he believes this means there will still be a future for separates alongside all-in-one players, as the new generation of hi-fi enthusiasts grows.
“I think it's a little bit like the diversity you see in the car market, in the sense that people will have a sports car if they are able to, or if they insist on it being in their lives.
“Whether it be an all-in-one or separates, each decision comes with various choices and, to a degree, compromises. So if getting the best possible sound quality you can is a choice you are able to make – and you have the space and the room that that choice demands – then I think you are still going to go with separates.
“But, for many people, the convenience of what we offer with the likes of Evo is really attractive, and there's a lot to be said for that. It's presently the system I use at home because those are the space restrictions I have. I'm losing a little bit in terms of sound quality, no doubt, but I can live with that because it offers other benefits.”
Despite all the changes, George is adamant that Cambridge Audio’s core reason for existing hasn’t changed since it first opened its doors many moons ago.
“We are here to put smiles on people's faces – to deliver joy to people,” he says. “Of course, it is all done by engineers with massive brains – but the organisation that we are is a bit beyond that; it's all about that love of music.
“That's the object of the exercise. Engineering amazing things is not an end in itself; it has got to have a need and a purpose in people's lives. It has got to be relevant to our core purpose.”
He adds that this is a key reason Cambridge Audio isn’t looking to add certain vogue items, such as spatial audio, to its speakers and is instead focusing on its use in cars, where he believes it makes more sense.
Spatial audio is a new technology found on the Apple HomePod 2 and Sonos Era 300. It aims to “surround users in a dome of sound” by delivering audio from above as well as behind and to the side and front of listeners.
These are the best CD players we have tested and can highly recommend
Check out our picks of the best speakers
These are the best turntables money can buy