Have We Made the Audiophile Hobby Too Technical?

AR-TooTechnicalSmallFormat225.pngI am an audiophile. I earnestly practice the serious and critical listening of music. I will endeavor to further my knowledge and understanding of the science of the electronics. I will endeavor to further my knowledge and understanding of the physics of how sound behaves in an enclosed space. I will choose equipment, construct and arrange my audio room based on those guiding principles learned through the furtherance of knowledge. 

Does that about sound like the audiophile hobby? At least to many of us?

Recently, one of my longtime friends, two of his sons, one of whom is married, stopped by to visit overnight. They were on the way to see my friend's mother in law who was sadly nearing the end of her life. 

AR-MusicEnjoyment225.jpgAfter dinner, all five of us made our way to the audio room to listen to music. Being the only audiophile in the group, I attempted to briefly explain what they would be hearing. I indicated "you will hear the singer right about here" and pointed to the center of the front wall. I certainly didn't want or need to go into very much detail. They simply wanted to hear a song. 

They were all impressed by what they heard. "Wow" and "I can't believe this" were uttered several times by more than one of them. At one point, Christopher and his wife, both barely in their mid-twenties, got up and started to dance. 

I was partly surprised by their boldness, and partly gratified because as I see it, our hobby, whatever anyone's goals actually are, should also be about one definable attribute - having fun. How many of us have ever stood up and started dancing at an exceptionally great concert? Well, my hand is raised. 

It also, at that one definable moment, occurred to me maybe our hobby has become more about science and less about having fun. Could that be possible? I should think it depends on one's definition of having fun. 

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Thinking about this more, I found myself curiously concerned that perhaps our hobby has grown too indoctrinated with things like dynamics, imaging, compression, null points, comb filtering and many, many other technical terms. I mean, really, we have our own language to describe what our systems are doing and how they sound! 

Having a hobby with its own language is not so uncommon, right? Look at wine, for instance.  Oenophiles talk at length about the bouquet being any number of adjectives non-wine enthusiasts might find absurdly ridiculous. Is that materially different from trying to explain to the average person various audio technical descriptors like, for instance, bright and liquid? 

I enjoy reading various audiophile outlets. I enjoy skimming through a variety of forums to see what real, everyday audiophiles are talking about. I am pleasantly surprised at how technically proficient many of those forums are. Are there those who haven't a clue? Of course. There are also scores of people placing comments who appear to possess a superior quotient of technical knowledge. 

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We, as audiophiles, should rightfully have sufficient interest in the hobby to want to learn more. We need to be better informed. Reading, talking with others, listening to how our systems sound are all parts of a learning process. It is a collective effort to gain a higher degree of skill in the hobby. There realistically cannot be anything wrong with increased awareness. 

Again, however, have we somewhat, to perhaps an even minor degree, conceivably lost our way just a little? Have we begun, as hobbyists, to place a disproportionate emphasis on the process of recording music, the science of how our systems reproduce said music, and the physics of how sound behaves in our listening space? Have we forgotten the simple act of enjoying a song? How long has it been since any of us danced in our audio room with a loved one? 

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I suspect this global question is what separates us from those who use a smartphone as their primary means to enjoy a recorded song. How many of us, like myself, have had someone ask "what's the big deal? It's just a song!" We, as audiophiles, cannot fully understand how anyone can listen to vastly over compressed music on an iPhone. Likewise, those same people are completely mystified by how much we spend and the emphasis we place on an audio system, a thing whose proportionate mission is to play a song.  

If our true construct through the science of recorded and reproduced music is about a heightened level of enjoyment, is it not also possible gratification may additionally be gained through knowledge? Is there anything definably, calamitously wrong with being better informed? If we use our learned information for improvements and to increase our enjoyment, is that necessarily wrong? 

Short answer, no, there most certainly is nothing wrong with the advancement of knowledge. 

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I am an audiophile. I seek a better understanding of how music and sound works. I use that informed knowledge in the attempted betterment of my audiophile goals. I will take that knowledge and use it to choose equipment and construct and arrange my audio room to increase my satisfaction of the music I play. 

I will use the language set before me to describe what my system is doing and how the music it portrays sounds in real life. Anyone who is not a practitioner of those guiding principles and efforts is not an audiophile. Those who prefer compressed, inferior sounding music reproduced on a minicomputer are well within their rights to not only be totally satisfied by their choice, but also indignant by mine. 

I am an audiophile. And I am wholly comfortable in that role.

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