It’s the time of year for saving money!
I 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.
After 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
It is a technical hobby that needs accurate terms and descriptions to be viable…ignorance is fixable through research.
It is not too technical unless one decides they want to know more about some facet of sound reproduction. Do you want to know how LPs are pressed and cut? Do you want to understand more about the ones and zeros of digital and why so many bit rates? Or you could just go to the Rega Store and and buy a complete system within your budget and just listen to what ever and however you want. One of the few companies were one stop shopping is possible and still get a remarkably revealing system. You could do the same thing at MacIntosh, but be prepared to spend way more and probably hear more. a lot of zeros after the dollar sign there, but worth it to many.
Hrm – not really. Building and designing the devices is a technical endeavour. Maybe DIY Audio will be considered a technical hobby. Audiophilia? Not at all. If the hobbyists were actually technical or technically inclined persons, there would not be so much magical thinking around it. At most, they know the marketing message from manufacturers. If they were really technical, they would understand is all nonsense. Audiophile routers anyone? 😀 (hahahaha)
You cannot be an audiophile without being technical and making gear decision based on science and performance. Of course one could just walk into a hifi store and tell the sales person you have $10K to spend and you will be waiting out in your car to put what he decides you need in your trunk and the back seat. I hope he likes what the salesman decides he needs.
Great points to actually use as a counter argument
1.- Science and performance – exactly – however if science and performance were factors in audio selection, many well known companies would go out of business.
2.- Re: throwing $10K to a salesman – again, you hit it right in the head. Because that is exactly what happens, except under the illusion of the audiophile knowing what he is doing when in fact is based on marketing use of pseudo-science, brand name and yes, status.
Most of my audio mistakes have been when I have gotten rid of some gear thinking that what I was about to buy was better in some way. Thinks I should have kept: Pioneer RT 707, Teac 350 cassette deck, Fisher 500 TX receiver, Dynaco A-25 speakers, Hafler Amp and Preamp, Yamaha R9 receiver, Technics SP10 TT and SME Arm.
Great piece. Technical knowledge is fun and helpful–but a person should not need any to enjoy a great system or a great glass of wine
I’m not an audiophile (I honestly don’t enjoy associating with most people that refer to themselves as such as I find them to be quite obsessive) but I do have a firm enough understanding of the electronics involved so as to make informed decisions about my purchasing of playback equipment.
Once one understands the basic electronics, and the minimum thresholds for audio transparency, it’s amazing how little one has to spend to achieve high fidelity. I can do it with a $200USD computer, $9USD DAC, $35USD streamer, $500USD amp and $500USD speakers, and actually have, with a performance analysis of each device to prove it. I spent less than half that on the amp and speakers in reality as I caught them on sale at substantial discounts.
I’d describe myself as a melophile instead, and imperfect reproduction doesn’t bother me much. Then again, the equipment I have meets high fidelity standards regardless. I can enjoy a 128 kbps MP3 file on my phone just as much as I can a 24/96 FLAC on my desktop system. Granted, the FLAC and desktop will have more clarity and dynamics, but the MP3 and phone can still get me grooving which is all that really matters in the end.
Never let the numbers get in the way of the music and all is good. 🙂
I think the technical stuff is interesting, to a point. It’s good to understand things like frequency response and amplifier power ratings, because through that understanding we can achieve more satisfying and realistic music reproduction.
But I think we spend too much time worrying about things that aren’t important to music reproduction. Like signal-to-noise ratio — which was very important for cassette decks, but not at all important for solid-state preamps and amps, DACs, CD players, etc. Or concepts such as “inner detail” and “texture.” I’m not convinced that those terms really have any meaning at all; I’ve never heard a musician or recording engineer use them, and can’t fathom what they have to do with the art of music.
You have a great point. Not only from the recording/artist side – remember this are devices designed and built by engineers. A favourite one is “musicality”. Imagine being an engineer and asked to make the device you just designed “more musical” (how much? 20% more musical? HAHAHA). To an engineer makes absolutely no sense. Of course, it doesn’t happen. No, being an audiophile by itself does not make you a technical person. As practiced now, is closer to pseudo-science, a set of unproved hypothesis and statements wrapped in language that sounds scientific (or technical) to make it believable. Or maybe there is a business opportunity – make, let’s say a DAC in both “polite” (another term beloved by the audiophile press) and… hrmm… “RUDE” 😀 (hahaha) versions…
I would always consider polite to be Class a or a tube integrated amplifier. some tube amps don’t measure as well as sold state ones often can and Class A runs hot and usually is expensive per watt. As someone who records I can tell you that what is performed and what is captured will never be the same as we have gear in the middle, some of it costly and excellent, but still not what we would hear sitting front row center, or even 7-10 rows back, even better if a large ensemble. If you play an instrument you may be a better judge of a recording or playback gear being more accurate.
I am now on the quest as some of my gear is getting over 10 years old and it may be time to retire some of it and replace it with newer, and hopefully improved, better sounding gear. The improvements in digital seems to be coming faster then elsewhere, but I am also looking at getting a nice pair of bookshelf speakers. I just gave away a pair of old Large Advents as they were in need of some work, especially in the cross-over area and the tweeter was original, so much work needed to be done and at 73 I just didn’t feel like doing if, but the cabinets are well made and the new owner is going to make a project out of them. I have an older pair of AR-58’s, the last remake of the famed AR-3a, that I have re-foamed the woofers twice, and replaced the midrange driver when that foam failed and substituted an Audix unit with the same ohms rating and efficiency, but it had a sealed back, fit perfectly and cleaned up the midrange some to me. They still sound excellent to me and everyone that comes to the house to hear music likes them.
I will only change out one thing at a time so make sure I am not fooling myself. The Project S2 DAC was a great buy and the improvements most noticeable playing back the bits from my old spinners. Sadly there is more music to be bought and enjoyed as well. Bach’s GB Variations from Lang Lang and Simone Dinnerstein are both new to me and very enjoyable. I also bought two others of her discs that are equally enjoyable; BACH STRANGE BEAUTY and A CHARACTER OF QUIET recorded at her home during the pandemic. It is about the music after all.
A number of British loudspeaker engineers would vouch for musicality, it’s part of the voicing process, and all speakers are voiced. Electronics are a whole different thing.
I think what’s too technical are many streaming setups — and I have been using streaming (home network and then subscription) for almost 10 years now. Streaming has the potential to offer outstanding fidelity and convenience, but still, users find themselves at the bleeding edge.
Why does a purchaser have to research whether a piece of gear does gapless? Why should the user even have to know what “gapless” means? We should be able to assume that any new technology is at least as good as a CD. Yet manufacturers let us down, and much of the time, even they don’t seem to realize the problem.
Mysterious incompatibilities arise, and I’ve chased my share of those. A unit can work great for the reviewer, yet after months or years, an issue arises. Is the problem with the device, the subscription library, or the third-party software recommended by the manufacturer? It can be hell to find out. Also, such a technical system is prone to intermittent or non-reproducible errors, and heaven help you as a user if you run into one of those!