For every audiophile reading this article I have a challenge for you. Pretend for a short while you are not an audiophile. No world class audio system. No budget system. No analog. No HD downloads. None of that. The idea of spending five figures, or even more, even less for a silly stereo system is absurd.
Equally ridiculous in your view is all the time and attention those “audio guys” employ moving speakers around in a room in distances so small, they cannot possibly influence anything. They even spend time talking to each other and go to each other’s homes to hear different systems and talk about who knows what.
You are perfectly happy listening to music on a smart phone, a handheld device or one of those round electronic things that obey your spoken command. They all sound just fine and allows any listener to enjoy a song and even sing along if they wish. All this money, not to mention the space taken up in the house is crazy. Certifiably crazy.
Now, what would someone need to tell you in defense of our hobby to alter your beliefs?
My first comment would be to say that the hobby, while potentially expensive, has nothing to do with purchase price. Individual component costs are irrelevant. It is all about a percentage of disposable income. I would also point out that audiophilia is, and nothing more, a hobby. It is a means to occupy one’s free time. I would then point out that enjoying an audio system is done predominately at home – safe and sound from anything going on outside. Family members don’t have to wonder where you are because they know your whereabouts exactly – in the audio room. I have even made that very point to the wives of audiophile friends before.
But wait, you say, all that expensive equipment! Certainly, those funds could have been used elsewhere and for more productive means. Yes, possibly, but also keep in mind the audiophile hobby is more about disposable income than purchase cost. I very much doubt many people will actually buy a component costing five times as much as they make. No one in their right mind would deny medical or educational needs of a child or other family member in favor of new speakers. We purchase audio equipment within our means and only when we can afford to do so.
But what about all that time spent moving, adjusting, hanging those large ugly panels on the walls – what about all that nonsense? It’s just a song! Who cares what it sounds like?
To answer those questions, one needs to have somewhat of an understanding of the physics of how sound behaves in an enclosed space – and the effect music can have.
When you understand walls, ceilings and floors are stationary and the musical signal is not, and understand further that different frequencies have different wavelengths, some shorter than others, some longer, those questions start to become more clear.
We move speakers millimeters at a time because the speed of sound in a given room is constant, the room is fixed, and the behavior of reflected sound, even at minimally different angles, greatly influences what we hear. We position our systems to make the most out of room dimensions and the placement of furniture within that room. Acoustical panels are a means to bolster that effort by additionally managing reflected sound. Of course, you may not be interested in the scientific aspects of the audiophile hobby, but I am, I would tell a skeptical interrogator.
I would further point out, my doubtful music friend, a high-performance audio system is intended to impart an emotional connection, much like the one when attending a spectacular concert or live performance. Everyone has heard live music and found themselves thoroughly captivated. That seldom, if ever happens with one of those round things waiting to be told what to do or play. Convenient, yes. And that’s about all.
I would remind you of the movie Jaws. In the opening scene, a girl runs down to the beach, takes off her clothes and runs into the ocean. With no music, its nothing more than a girl skinny dipping in the ocean. Add John Williams’ incomparable score, that bum, bum – bum, bum, getting faster and faster – it imbues a sense of urgency. You know something is about to happen, but what? Enter the shark and the musical crescendo causes you to jump in your seat.
But that can happen if the movie is viewed from a TV, right? Perhaps, but when you go back and listen to that piece of music, it would be really something to hear it as the composer intended. Actually hearing the dynamics and power of the music, hearing how it moves and flows along. Hearing how it ignites an emotional connection – how it carries one to a different time and place. Can that effectively be done with television speakers?
In my view, no it cannot. Music is much more than notes on a page or the stripped-down playback so prevalent from low resolution television speakers. I would maintain that to really understand all the subtle and not so subtle nuances contained in a recording of live music, one needs the appropriate audio system. Round things that tell time and give traffic updates are not a path to the remarkable experience easily obtained by high-performance audio. You must join the club.
More than likely, I would tell such a disbeliever that I am an audiophile and I prefer music delivered in spectacular fashion. I will buy equipment I can afford and within my means, regardless of the actual price, and do so without failing family and fiscal obligations.
I will, additionally, move equipment and arrange rooms to best accommodate how an audio signal is delivered. I will listen to music alone or with friends and will be happily involved in discussing the hobby with others.
At the end of it all, I’m an audiophile. There’s really nothing more to say.