One night, when I was just twelve years old, my parents took me with them to Emmons Audio Equipment in Studio City, California, where they were meeting a friend of theirs to help him pick his first HiFi system. What he bought that night (that I remember) was a Garrard record changer, A "Mac 30" amplifier, and ― remember that this was well before 1957, when the first stereo records came out ― one Bozak speaker. The really important thing that happened, though, was that I heard real live 32 Hertz (We called it "cycles", then) bass for the very first time, and I fell in love: No first kiss was ever more thrilling than the sound of the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ (probably played by George Wright) over a Bozak B310A, and I was well and truly hooked for life!
At twelve, I became a "HiFi Crazy". I didn't learn the fancier term, "Audiophile" until some while later, probably from reading High Fidelity Magazine.
While the terminology may have been up for discussion, there was never any doubt at all about what it was that turned me on: It was the sound; not the equipment (as a kid, I could only lust after that from afar); and not the music, either: As I've grown up, I've gone through just about every musical "phase" you can think of, from rock n' roll, to country, to baroque -- for a while, there, I was Kid Snob, and, for me, if it was written after 1758 when Handel died, it wasn't even music at all -- to classical, to jazz, to folk, to electronic, to... you name it. At twelve, though, those were all undiscovered country for me and the sound was really the only thing that mattered!
Today, I'm a whole lot more sophisticated and a whole lot more affluent, but the sound is still what turns me on. It's not ALL that turns me on, though. I've also become a music lover and a lover of beauty and a major fan of just about any kind of human accomplishment, including superb circuit design, gorgeous wood- and metal-work, and lovely glassware containing gentle glows of orange, blue or purple.
Even so, for me, being an audiophile is still, above all, about audio and the sound. While horns can be loud and lovely (I own a pair), and electrostatics can be an open window into the music (I own three pairs), and every other kind of speaker has its own, sometimes colossal, appeal (and I own several pairs of them, too), for me they're all just air pumps, and their only REAL function is to create pressure waves in my listening room that I can hear as sound and enjoy. If they're beautiful looking, I will certainly notice and enjoy that, too, and if they're wondrously exotic or viciously expensive, I will certainly notice that and brag about them to anybody I can get to hold still long enough to listen to me. In the final analysis, though, if they don't pump good air and sound good, I'm going to be disappointed and I will almost certainly change or get rid of them. The same thing applies to the cables that feed them, the electronics and sources that drive them, and even the room that I listen to them in.
And that, finally, gets around to the subject of this article: While I know that my definition of an audiophile is "somebody in love with sound", I'm coming, every day, to find more and more other people who claim to be audiophiles but who don't seem to share that definition at all!
You probably know them. You may even be one of them - one of the people who seem to care more about how a thing is made or what it's made out of than how it sounds; or one of those (perhaps frustrated musicians) who seem to be more interested in creating a sound to please them than in simply enjoying the music as it really is. Or you might just like nice things or like showing other people that you like them and can afford to own them; or - but I certainly hope not - you might be one of those guys who is simply a "collector" and, whether it's records or gear or cars or bikes or cameras or anything else, cares more about getting it and having it than about actually enjoying it for its intended purpose.
Personally, I don't much care whether my electronics use tubes or transistors. I own and enjoy both kinds. I also love the looks of some of the current crop of ultra-exotic turntables and all of the absolutely beautiful wooden horns and wood-chassis or wood-trimmed electronics. I love, too, the great new asymmetrically-shaped electronics that defy stacking like ordinary gear, but are too pretty to stack, anyway.
I love all of it, but as a lover of beauty or of art or of innovation, and I'm not at all immune to the pleasures of just plain showing-off, but I try to keep in mind that my real goal is the sound, and that that's, in the end, more important to me than anything else.
How about you? Years ago, Anthony H. Cordesman ("AHC", to readers of the absolute sound) described audiophilia as not a hobby, but a "sport" that could be enjoyed both by playing and by cheering-on one's "team". Do you think he was right? If so, which team are you on? There seem to be lots of games going, and lots of teams out there to support: tubes vs. solid state; digital vs. analog; "cables and stuff DO work" vs. "cables and such are all voodoo"; Krell vs. Rowland; Audio research vs. Jadis; "My stuff cost more than yours" vs. "I got the better bargain", and on and on and on.
Could it be that there's more than just one kind of audiophile?