Is HiFi Green Enough? An Introspective Commentary

Knock knock knocking on HiFi's door

Knock knock knocking on HiFi's door

Is HiFi greener than previously thought? Have I been wielding my sword in the wrong hand? An entrepreneur weighs in on and I am left wondering if this blog needs a new direction.

I recently had the good fortune to speak with a successful HiFi entrepreneur. I would mention who it is, but he asked that I keep that private. Anyhow, he started by explaining how he had started out working at a large corporation as an engineer, decided mid-career that he could make a better product, and thus decided to start his own company. He literally built it up from his garage into a highly successful business. I realize this isn't exactly unique, many people dream of leaving their corporate cubicle jobs to do this, some even do it, but to succeed isn't so easy. Needless to say, this is something I greatly admire - it is the American dream.

Despite a busy schedule, he was kind enough to take time to read my blog and give me some honest feedback. I felt quite privileged, but I was also a bit worried - honesty can be hard to hear. He said that while my blog posts are entertaining enough (ouch, this wasn't starting out well) they also appeared a bit antagonistic. I think he was being kind, here - some of my articles, such as the one about replacing TVs instead of repairing them and the one criticizing Outlaw Audio for not producing a full-featured pre/pro, will be seen as downright blasphemous, I'll admit, but I wasn't convinced at all about what he was saying.

With considerable suspicion, I listened. Was he suggesting that I sugar coat what I was writing? If so, this would really strike at the core of being a blogger with integrity. There are workers suffering horrible labor conditions as I write this, and our environment is being polluted at an alarming rate. He understood my passion, and said that it was a good thing to have passion about writing, but he also suggested that perhaps I was focusing my attention in the wrong direction.

There was an inexplicable part of me that wanted to believe this, but I wasn't sure where this was coming from. He said that at the end of the day (such a business school 101 term, but I'll let that slide...), I was challenging the HiFi industry, the very industry I was dependent on for soliciting content from. If I wanted to be part of that community, to receive gear to evaluate, and to generate the feedback I needed to grow my readership, I needed to redirect my energy somewhere else.

Uh, yeah. Where else?

Dark clouds seemed to be forming in the sky above us.

I felt a bit like my world was crumbling under my feet. The whole purpose of this blog had been to champion green thinking, to challenge that which is wasteful and unjust, and to convince people that there is a better way. Now he was telling me that what I was writing about was the wrong direction? So what direction should I be facing? Was he going to point it out at least?

A faint ray of sunshine seemed to illuminate his head like a halo...

He explained that for the most part, HiFi is actually quite green because most of it actually uses far less energy than your typical home appliance.

Hold up! Sunshine gone. The roar of thunder was heard in the distance.

Now I know this wasn't the right time to bring this up, but I always get particularly irked when people, especially business people, condense what it means to be green into just energy-efficiency. To me it's so much more than that. So at the risk of coming off ungrateful, I reached for my armor and made it a point to describe this in vivid detail with the many stats and figures that I had collected over the years.

The battle lines were drawn, I thought.

He patiently let me finish, but with a wry smile he replied: "So what?"

So what?!? My hand involuntarily went up to signal the dogs of war....

I was now getting quite irritated and I thought we were talking past each other. I thought that either he's just a self-important oaf trying to re-educate me, or he's just toying with me. I guardedly went with the latter assumption and surprising even myself, I stayed my troops.

The tension was high. I just needed a spark...

The wry smile now turned to seriousness (should I have launched a preemptive strike?), but what he said next made quite a bit of sense: it didn't matter much what I cared about or what he thought about it. However, it did matter that this is what the public at large hears when they see the term "green" thrown about. So for all practical purposes that is what it means. OK, there's a ring of truth to that, I suppose.  

We had reached an uneasy truce, it seemed. The skies were clearing a bit, although darkness still lurked over much of the battle field. We weren't done yet.

He continued: regarding the bigger issue, that I'm on the wrong side of HiFi, that is one that I can actually do something about, he said. I simply need to point out how green HiFi typically is. I again fought back urges of actual violence as he spoke those words, but curiosity won out and I wanted to hear where he was going with this. An uneasy detente was forming, so I stood and listened. 

He pointed out that I didn't need to give up fighting against those injustices that I had so eloquently described with my plethora of facts and figures, I just needed to direct them at bigger offenders.

There were bigger offenders in HiFi? OK, he was now finally getting my attention.

Actually, I was beginning to see where this was headed. Thinking back on it now, it should have been a foregone conclusion: he said that my real fight should be focused on describing how mass-produced electronics are less green than HiFi and that they are a far greater blight on the environment.

Like the long-awaited ending of Mahler's 8th, the heavens slowly began to open up and a full chorus of angels was singing above us.

Now it was sinking in. I realized that this was indeed useful information.

I thanked him for his candor and after a few more niceties, we concluded our discussion and I went about my way. 

I've had a few days to ponder this now, and I'm truly glad I had this opportunity to hear this. Considering that statistically only about 1% of blog readers actually provide feedback, I don't get to hear much about what I'm writing. Blogging is a lot like talking about a revolution (thank you Tracy Chapman): it's a whisper, sometimes for years, until it can find something meaningful to intersect with that then gives it a life much greater than its author originally intended. Will the meeting of green objectives and a new focus on the good in HiFi electronics be the intersection that builds this new movement? 

Well I would like to hope so.

This is going to be a new direction for this blog. I may even have to change some of the captions and graphics if I'm going to go through with it. As I do with my reviews, in an upcoming post I'm going to put this new paradigm up against my GreenHiFi criteria and see if it stands up to scrutiny.

- Michael GJK