Written by 6:00 am Audiophile, Audiophile News • 4 Comments

What Kind of Audiophile Are You?

Paul Wilson examines what the definition of the term audiophile really means…

Merriam Webster defines the term “audiophile” as “a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction.” If you check out the “Audio Glossary” by J. Gordon Holt you will find the following: “anyone actively interested in high quality sound reproduction.” Look through any of the nine million search results I found on Google and the answer is about the same. In short, audiophiles like music to sound spectacular. 

Terms like high quality and high fidelity are decidedly prevalent. 

Being, I completely realize, perhaps somewhat over-analytical, I find a disconnect in any of these definitions. My issue is how do we define “high-fidelity” or “high quality,” or any similar description, and incorporate that into describing the term audiophile? 

We can claim we strive to make our music true to the recording. However, in only but exceedingly rare instances were any of us actually in the studio during recording. Because we were, in fact, not, how then do we make an accurate comparison? How does one audiophile know if their musical portrayal is more or less accurate than another system’s presentation? How are we to ever know if what we hear musically is consistent with what the studio recorded? Answer – we can’t. 

There are many ways and devices to play music. An Apple iPod sells for about $200.00. A home theater processor may be purchased at a big box store for as little as approximately $600.00. In our own niched hobby, it is entirely possible to put together a system many would classify as “high end” for roughly a $1000.00. If we strictly limit ourselves to most published definitions of audiophile, such as the two previously mentioned, any of these devices could conceivably apply. 

What about those systems we call 1% systems? You know the ones; they sell for insane amounts of money. Low to mid to upper six figures. Maybe even seven figures. How well do they compare to a studio recording? Answer – there’s really no way to know unless you were there at the time of the recording – which was not the case. 

System cost has no real bearing on an accurate and intimately informed comparison to a studio recording. I would submit system cost has likewise little association to what constitutes “superior sonics.” 

The real disconnect in this is how each individual music enthusiast defines how music is supposed to sound. Will an iPod sound as good as the big box receiver? Most of us will likely say no, it will not. Will either of them sound as musically fulfilling as the $1000.00 put together system? Probably depends on how “high quality” as it applies to music is judged. But off hand, I would think most “audiophiles” would again say no, they do not. 

Manifestly, judgments of superior sonics are individually based. 

Like many audiophiles, I enjoy reading a variety of web sites. I was intrigued by a comment on one site where the responder began by declaring “I AM NOT AN AUDIOPHILE.” His was certainly a defiant tone. Confusingly enough, this responder then described in great lengths what had been done to his audio system to enhance the sound. Reading the description sounded like something created by a Frankenstonian mad scientist. I had visions of wires and things strung all over the room. Sort of over the top for a person who was categorically not an audiophile. 

So, if you do not classify yourself as an audiophile but you are indeed highly interested in superior sounding music, what are you? How can anyone not be an audiophile yet go to great lengths to ensure recorded music sounds better? Such is the conundrum I find so puzzling. 

It seems, therefore, consequentially illogical that adequately answering this question has anything whatsoever to do with system cost. Take one audiophile who has an investment of $2500.00 in their system. They laud over and are completely mesmerized by the sonics produced. I would submit this applies to quite a few music lovers and systems. 

Conversely, consider a person with a system whose cost is $500,000.00. Setting aside any preconceived notions about the logic of such a large investment, would not the owner of that system be equally mesmerized as the person with the budget system? Could the owners of either system definably be considered as being “enthusiastic” about high-fidelity sound reproduction?”

What then should be said about the person with a “2 Ben” iPod who is equally mesmerized by the sonics their choice produces? Maybe they do not really care what level or quality of sonics a handheld device produces? What if they do? Are they an audiophile? Because there is no empirical standard as to what constitutes “high quality sound,” how then can the term audiophile be applied – to any system, regardless of cost?

I find this labyrinth like examination very interesting. I tell people quite routinely “I AM an audiophile.” I never give one whit of interest if the other person has any knowledge of how that term matters, in any way whatsoever, to enjoying a song. Just like, however, a medal worn on a tunic, I happily and proudly proclaim my dedication to superior reproduced music. 

It is a certainty there are incalculably more people who simply like to hear a song than there are those who are self-described audiophiles. Orders of magnitude more. 

We may chafe and scoff at their reluctance to embrace our hobby, this musical art to which those of us who care are so devoted. We can thumb our collective noses at those reproduction systems we find less than satisfactory – systems deemed not up to the challenge. 

We can spend any sum of money under the sun in pursuit of our own personal definition of “high quality sound.” In the end, however, our own definition is of our own making. We, individually, define our own personal standard for quality sonics and the barometer by which those sonics are evaluated. We are our own judge and jury when defining the term “high fidelity sound.”

So, again I ask, what kind of audiophile are you? 

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