Audiophiles are an interesting bunch, we all have differing ideas about what even makes us audiophiles. There is the textbook deffinition from Merriam-Webster:
: a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproductionhttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/audiophile
I feel as though even that is a bit vague, I mean what is high-fidelity. Once again we can visit the dictionary and find that it is the reproduction of a sound as faithful as possible to the original. The truth is 99% of us have no idea what the original sounded like or how it was intended by the artist creating it. I have interviewed artists and talked at length with some about their music and I still can’t tell you if the way I listen to it is how it should be. There are likely some folks that have listened to music with the artist and they may actually know if they are listening in the highest fidelity possible, but that simply isn’t most of us. How can w know we are approaching that level of high fidelity and does it even matter. We are going to get into some talking points and ideas that I have seen on various forums for Hifi fans and hopefully open up a discussion.
Original vs Reproduction
When we look at the source material for listening we are talking about a song or album. What are we considering the original, is it the recording, the mastering, the product at the end sold to listeners? Each step in the process of bringing a recording to your ears has changed it somewhat or a lot from the original files recorded in the studio. If you are listening on a CD or Streaming, each of those has altered the sound to put it in a consumable format. Then the Playback devices all seem to have some different sound to themselves so that is a further alteration of the original. When we reproduce the sound at home everything has some impact from the room to the electronics used. Personally, I don’t think there is a point of perfection to achieve, but rather a journey of betterment until the listener is content in the sound they hear. For me, it is not about getting the source, but rather hearing as much of the nuance and detail as possible in a pleasant manner. For me, this means bright and detailed highs, and rich mids, with crisp and deep lows. I don’t mind not having a perfectly flat response, so long as it sounds fairly even and well distributed, but it doesn’t need to be perfect, I like bumping the higher frequencies a touch. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want my curve to look like the DOW on an election year but a little enhancement is okay. All this leads me to another topic as well.
Do we listen to music or systems?
There is a meme you may see in audiophile circles that is designed to poke fun at us. It states Audiophiles do not use their systems to listen to your music, but rather they use your music to listen to their systems. While thinking about the above and achieving this sonic nirvana we seem to be after, are we losing sight of why we got into it, to begin with. Have we started using music as a means to prove to ourselves and others we have reached reproduction perfection? I will admit that I am guilty at times, I have certain music I use to judge equipment. I have to, to some degree as I review equipment. I play music I have an intimate familiarity with to conclude how well a particular device plays in comparison to others. I will say though this is not something I do when I am not reviewing anything. I have my personal set up dialed in and don’t mess with it outside of “resetting” it after removing a review piece such as putting my speakers back in place. Once it’s back to the original settings I just enjoy the music, for me, is what I want out of it all. I truly enjoy music, I don’t need a multi-thousand dollar set up to enjoy music. I would be amiss to say I don’t enjoy the immersion I get in my listening room much more than say the factory Bose system in my Miata. However, I’m not going to ride around in silence just because my car doesn’t sound nearly as good though, it’s still music that I enjoy.
Does it ultimately matter, if someone is the other in this scenario? What is the consequence of someone who doesn’t listen to the music but rather listens to their gear? At worst it seems as though that individual may struggle with happiness, they may find that the system is never good enough and continue to chase their own Idea of perfection. I could also be completely wrong, if they have the budget for it, maybe that pursuit is what makes them truly happy. Nevertheless, how does that affect the other audiophiles? Well, the used market stays stimulated, and it helps the new market for manufactures. Seems good for everyone to me, as I won’t enjoy my music less because that person also exists. I doubt any artists will stop recording just because a handful of the people who buy their music don’t actually listen to it the way most of the fans do.
Audiophool vs. Audiophile
Among the meme mentioned above I have seen other things that seem to have the intention of dividing our hobby. There are these rivaling thoughts and ideas that seem to only hurt our community. Talk of snake oil or claiming what someone likes is junk or not true audiophile equipment. I want to break down some of the ideas I see spread on the forums and my thoughts on them.
Snake Oil is a term tossed around alot in the forums. It mostly seems to be applied to any product someone has or wants that someone else doesn’t see the point in. The major player here is cables. Some folks don’t see how a cable makes a difference and they argue with those who think they make all the difference until both are blue in the face. Once again, how I see it is, how does this affect me or our community from either point of view? If you have the money for 10,000 dollar speaker cables and you like them great, if you buy 5 dollar lamp cord and you like that, well great. Neither of those people’s choices cost me money nor do they change my system. My belief is cables have the ability to change the sound, how much or little, I don’t know. I haven’t tried every combo available to make a truly educated statement. I will say there is a limit, this is just physics. If your cables are made out of fiberglass they will probably sound horrid as fiberglass has such a high resistance that almost nothing will get through it. Honestly, you won’t hear anything, at my day job our Hasting Rods are fiberglass and resistive up to 50,000 volts, so just making a cable out of material because it does technically conduct electricity doesn’t work out. That said copper is copper, no matter how you advertise it, outside of purity levels. I think what makes cables better than others is the build quality, and their ability to shield the conductor from noise. All wires are antennas waiting for a signal. Shielding becomes important especially when you don’t have the option of balanced cables. I had this problem in my own system using some cheap speaker cables that had to be near a power source. I had static coming through the speaker. When I made my own with much better shielding the static is gone, nothing else in the system changed. Speaking to quality, reviewers more than most people need a high-quality cable with hearty terminations. I plug and unplug cables enough to have and end get brittle and break off. My choice for RCA’s has been Audioquest Evergreens, they have met my demand, have a good look feel, and build quality for a pretty reasonable price.
That last bit there seems to get our community fired up as well. Looks, seem to be barred from entry into our club. Performance seems to be the secret code word at the door and some of this snake oil so to speak isn’t in the know. Aesthetics are important to many people, sometimes that is the only reason some people buy the cables they do, they look damn good down there on the floor. There is something good looking about a substantial speaker cable coming out of an amp that is just pleasing with a nice woven sheath and pretty splitters at the ends. The sheath I put on my homemade speaker cables is nothing more than making otherwise ugly cables look nice. I made little bloodwood risers to lift them up a bit and help manage their placement, again because it looks nice. If there are side benefits great, if not who cares. I want to know if the people who get upset about the so called audio jewelry also get upset about a car’s paint job or decorations in other rooms of the house.
I will say I can understand the frustration from people that stems from the audio jewelry companies adverts. Some of this stuff is just out there, such as room crystals that do something or another. There is completely unbelievable stuff for sale out there, but is it that bad? People believe in all sorts of stuff that others don’t. I don’t believe in healing crystals, but I have no intention on bringing the market down. If someone wants them and someone sells them so be it. I know some folks have to preach their version of the truth to “save” so to speak others from falling “victim” to the evil cable manufacturer. The other option is to let people spend their money how they like on stuff they want.
Equipment choices seem really bother people. I see so many people talk down to others based on their likes. I notice it most when looking at budget or older equipment. There is so much hate directed at certain brands such as Cerwin Vega and Bose in the forums. I don’t care for either myself but I also don’t try to bring down others that do, they are members of our groups and enjoy this hobby in their way. Some are people that are just starting and have what they have, others are people that just like what they like. I will never understand the reason some folks buy a bunch of inexpensive speakers and put all of them in a room, but if they enjoy it who cares. I don’t need to understand it. I would rather spend the same money on a pair of higher end speakers, and I am sure there are those that don’t understand that mentality, and again they don’t need to.
What to do with all this
The point of it all is to hopefully bring us together and help people see that just because someone practices our hobby differently doesn’t hurt us. So much of this hobby is subjective, there doesn’t need to be a chart or measurement to define what someone enjoys. There is no testing equipment to show why I don’t like Picasso, or to the contrary why I do like Van Gogh, I just do. I don’t care for many of the vintage speakers that others love. Some people are very analytical about everything and want measurements and charts, while others feel as though they detract from their hobby. This reason is why we try to do a bit of both in our reviews. It is why you won’t see many outright bad reviews on Hifi Chicken, outside of a product just not working almost everything has a market. Remember people bought and enjoyed pet rocks, imagine how a review of a pet rock would even work. There are very few products I have owned or checked out that simply just did not do what they were supposed to do. One thing I have found that differentiates higher-priced products from the cheaper entry-level ones is the service you get along with them. A 15mm socket from Harbor Freight fits the bolt the same as one from Snap-On, however, when or if it breaks the difference is that Snap-On truck is almost always at the dealership ready to change it out. My cheap Chinese tube amp amplifies sound just like my Nakamichi PA5 Stasis, by definition it works, chances are when it is at the age of my Nakamichi though, it likely won’t. All that said though I don’t feel the need to tell someone that their cheap tube amp isn’t part of our audiophile club. There is no need to talk down to those who own them. We are already a niche community, no need to keep the barrier to entry so high or we may cease to exist someday. Let’s lift each other up, help each other, and try to bring more into this wonderful community.