Abstract: From Whence Hi-Fi? User-Led Industrial Formation in High-Fidelity Audio Equipment

Jeffrey Tang


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a group of technological enthusiasts effectively fomented a new industry in home high-fidelity audio equipment. These passionate consumers—called audiophiles—began buying and assembling professional audio components from wholesalers to create customized, high-quality home audio systems. Presented with a committed, generally affluent, and growing group of consumers craving more realistic "high-fidelity" reproduction, a few entrepreneurs realized that a new home-audio market had practically fallen into their laps. By the mid-1950s, the hi-fi craze had swept across America, led largely by proselytizing audiophiles spreading the hi-fi gospel, and high-fidelity audio had become a thriving, profitable industry. This case of industrial genesis is notable for the extraordinarily strong role played by enthusiast consumers who actively "pulled" the home hi-fi equipment industry into existence through the sheer force of their spirited demand. Most hi-fi pioneers came directly from the ranks of audiophiles and kept their firms small. Strong ties between producers and consumers ensured the continued importance of audiophile enthusiasts in shaping the development of the industry. One legacy of this unusual industrial history was the persistence of pricing schemes in hi-fi audio that bore a closer resemblance to traditional wholesale pricing than to retail pricing.