Written by 6:00 am Audiophile

Can You Put The Brakes On Audiophile Buzzkill?

Mark Smotroff advocates for audiophile considerateness online…


AR-BuzzkillYellow450.jpgI recently responded to a post in a Facebook vinyl enthusiasts group where someone was genuinely excited, sharing a picture of their spiffy new 180-gram classic rock album by a big name band. They had gotten one of the newer reissues, one of which many of us who are more deeply into collecting records by said band know is not the best sounding version in the reissue series. However, rather than chime in negatively telling the person they’d made a mistake, I bit my virtual tongue and stopped to think for a moment. 

I did not want to do the obvious thing here. I did not want to jump into “teacher” mode at a time when my opinion wasn’t being asked for or warranted.  More importantly, I wanted to be somehow supportive and not burst the bubble of this person’s moment of joy.

Why should I be the buzz killer of this bloke’s enjoyment of a favorite album in a sparkly new form? 

I didn’t want to go into detail about the album’s lesser mastering and how much better this other version was (again, a different mix). I remembered when I’ve had that done to me. And I remembered when I’ve done it and felt lame afterwards (and, a big mea culpa to anyone I might have thoughtlessly done this to over the years — I’m not perfect!)

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So, not wanting to be that dude, I replied with a “thumb up” and a more positively-spun simpler comment that if they really liked that new reissue so much they should at some point explore this other version with the different mix that also sounded really great.  I got an appreciative “thumb up” back from the guy. Mission accomplished!

Unfortunately, someone else jumped into the conversation thread there and wrote exactly the opposite of my intention, saying exactly what I knew would be a big bummer for this guy who’d just spent $25 or $30 on his nice new record.  And… I got tagged along the way in this thread too. 

Uggh… the buzz killer!

I felt bad for the original poster who just a few minutes earlier was so excited about his new record. I responded to let buzz-kill guy know that I knew what he knew and why I specifically did not comment on the posting that way: I didn’t want be the buzz kill to this collector’s enthusiasm.

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All this got me thinking a bit about the crossroads of social media bravado — where everyone at some point or another becomes one part used car salesman, one part street corner preacher and one part narcissistic self-promotion poster boy — and the underlying aesthetic of being an “audiophile.” 

It is a combination that can be a lethal for the uninitiated and aspiring. In our quest to pursue all that sounds good, many of us enjoy those ego-gratifying moments which come with experience: whether its someone’s cool sound system you are invited to experience or someone famous with whom you’ve rubbed elbows with, an article you’ve written or whatever.  It is all good until that point where it isn’t — there is a moment where all that confidence can get out of hand and become a big bummer for others.  

Years ago when I first started getting into the social media world, I was doing — like everyone else — what I was “told” to do: sharing “news” of my hobbies and life joys with relish, assuming everyone was sitting there waiting to hear about my latest conquest or discovery. Now, apart from being a music geek, musician, aspirant audiophile, record collector, freelance writer and tech marketing communications specialist, I’m also a pretty solid foodie.

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I’m not going out to super fancy restaurants all the time (I don’t have that kind of money, kids) but I do appreciate a good meal, even if its seeking out the best Taco or Gyro in San Francisco’s Mission district.  On my growing Facebook page, I used to post pictures of my latest restaurant experiences — with enthusiastic “photo captions” worthy of a newspaper review critic.  That is, until one day someone commented: “gee, I’d love to try that if I could afford going to a restaurant all the time like you.”  

(cue the sad trombone sound effect: now)

In my case, the perception became reality even though it wasn’t true — I wasn’t going to fancy restaurants every day but over time it sure must have seemed that way.  I realized I was giving off the exact opposite vibe I wanted to portray — I wanted to inspire, not bum people out! So I backed off on those posts. I still will however post my great bargain joys like that great Taco or awesome Gyro. And I will post my periodic bumbling achievements as an aspiring cook and baker.  

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And that mindset kind of underscores part of why I relish being something of an “everyman audiophile,” if you will. In a way, buying a big fancy system is easy: if you have the bucks, you can pretty much buy anything and when you get your CEDIA-grade installer to get it all set up for you, it will sound pretty awesome. That is super cool and fine and good. I get it. 

But figuring out how to put together a great sounding system yourself on a tight budget is another thing entirely and a bigger challenge. Personally, I like being on this side of the fence because I know that I can share my joys — and my learning curve — without discouraging others from the hobby. I have inspired many a friend who have come to my house and — upon hearing it — state that my sound system must have cost me tens of thousands of dollars. It didn’t. And several friends have subsequently stepped up their entertainment systems because of this.  

To me, that is what being an audiophile is really about. Sharing the joy in a way that others will want to partake in this great entertainment hobby, enhancing their appreciation for better sound.

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After all, if you break down audiophile it means someone who is enthusiastic about high fidelity sound.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, the suffix “phile” means “loving : having an affinity for.”

So, sometimes its a good idea to embrace the deeper side of the love equation in being an audiophile and just zip our lips for a moment. It is good to be mindful of others in general, so we inspire, support and spread this passion for great sound around.  

I realize that this subtle sort of one-upmanship is not unique to the audiophile world. It happens in every arena where a select group of individuals find a common thread of interest, whether you are collecting Beanie Babies or Bugati‘s.

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But just because it exists doesn’t mean it is right. And as these challenging Pandemic isolation times compound the already shrinking marketplace for audiophile gear and listening appreciation, perhaps a bit more compassion is in order from all of us. 

When you get on social media to post about your system or a new rarity you’ve acquired, consider whether you are sharing it for the love of the hobby and the music, or are you sharing it for self-aggrandizement. 

Think about it. 

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There was a time when I was a novice and I learned from others along the way… and, heck, I’m still learning every day!  So, while I’ve always tried to share my knowledge base with friends, now more than ever is a time for audio enthusiasts to be giving back… No one is born an expert audiophile — its a culture that needs to be nurtured. 

So when someone has made a seemingly “obvious” mistake, don’t be so quick to point out their error. Instead, put the brakes on your comments, take a minute or ten to think of a way to positively share useful insights in a supportive and non-off-putting way that won’t make the person feel small and inadequate.

It is a subtle difference, but it is a distinction that can go a long way to building up a new generation of audio enthusiasts.

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