What the heck is an Audiophile? Has the term become overused and/or misinterpreted to mean something else? What should our main focus be? All of these answers and more can be had by swiping your credit card and JUST KIDDING! Stick around homie and let’s talk about it.
Greetings comrade and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…
What is an Audiophile?
The definition from Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as the following:
a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction.
Here’s another definition:
A person with an interest in high-fidelity sound reproduction and its associated technology.
The keyword here is “High-fidelity.”
What does that actually mean?
I think it really depends on who you are because I can perceive high-fidelity completely differently than the next guy. Is there a clear-cut definition of “high-fidelity?”
That would be really hard to quantify, and a lot of great gear has come out over the last 5-10 years that probably wouldn’t be considered Hi-Fi to the people who spend thousands of dollars on really high-end equipment. But does that mean the people who buy more affordable stuff aren’t audiophiles? What is Hi-Fi and what isn’t? I’m not sure if we can really say with any amount of certainty.
The problem with the modern audiophile is that he/she does NOT fit the mold of the above definition at all, but there’s another issue:
Notice how it didn’t say, An audiophile issome deranged lunatic on the internet who gets mad at you for having an opinion contrary to his own.”
Because let’s be honest, to an extent that’s what it’s turned into.
Even going off of that definition from Webster’s, I wouldn’t consider myself an audiophile. I enjoy music, regardless of if it theoretically sounds “bad” or “not as good as it could sound” to another person. If someone tells me my setup isn’t ideal, I really couldn’t care less.
And that’s the distinction.
An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. An audiophile seeks to reproduce the sound of a live musical performance, typically in a room with good acoustics. It is widely agreed that reaching this goal is very difficult and that even the best-regarded recording and playback systems rarely, if ever, achieve it.Wikipedia
Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there.
I would say that I fit the definition of desiring a more live-sounding performance, so in that sense, I am part audiophile I suppose. Things like instrument Timbre, spacing, Soundstage width and depth, attack, sustain, and decay all get my nads pumpin.’ What is Timbre?
I absolutely enjoy those aspects of sound, and I’ve talked about it ad-nausea here on the blog and channel; namely my initial experiences with an array of headphones like the HE400i,Focal Utopia,Audeze LCD-3, etc.
The problem is that I think audio companies tend to over-exaggerate their claims and make it seem like achieving that goal of live reproduction is all but guaranteed, which in actuality it isn’t.
A couple of years ago I attended Audio Advices’ “Music Matters” (a lot of irony there) here in Raleigh, N.C. and it was a lot of fun. I got a chance to demo a lot of gear and made some friends.
One thing that stood out in my mind, and something I will never forget is the Klipsch rep who almost immediately singled me out and invited me back to his “room.” I had a beer in hand and figured, “Wow, he definitely isn’t going to try and take advantage of me.”
Nah, so I nonchalantly moseyed on into the room and there were 2 speakers set up. “Whew!”, I thought. “I’m not going to get sexually assaulted today!”
He told me to sit on a chair in the middle and take my clothes of… I MEAN to have a listen to some songs, but not before closing my eyes and opening my mout.. JUST KIDDING.
He played me some music and it sounded great!
When I came to, I thought, “Wow, I’m a real audiophile now!” All I need is a lobotomy and some tights.
Jokes aside, it was his over-the-top, completely unnecessary flamboyance about his product that rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended).
I’ll never forget what he said immediately after the demo was over:
“It’s like YOU’RE THERE!! RIGHT??!!?
“I mean, sort of” I replied in a very ho-hum, low-key tone.
What he said next frightened me as he began to approach my chair: “Well, that’s not good enough for the folks here at Klispch Audio, Stu.”
“How did you know my name?”, I gasped, trembling in my chair.
Haha just kidding I made that part up.
Now, this would have been completely fine if it wasn’t painfully obvious that he was trying to sell me something. Imagine a used car salesman at the shadiest dealership ever, only he’s an audiophile and talking way louder; bordering on yelling.
This is my problem with audiophiles. Is it really about the music? Does Music really matter? Or is it about wild unsubstantiated claims, product shilling, and making a lot of money off unsuspecting noobs?
Because from where I stand, people are still placing way too much emphasis on the gear and not discussing music. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to talk about it nowadays.
The other part of it is that oftentimes, the people who are satisfied with their more affordable gear are scoffed at and ridiculed.
They would be able to discern a difference in DAC A vs. B if they only had X headphones, or Y cables, or the amp that gives handjobs if you ask nicely enough.
This sort of thing is ruining audio in my opinion.
I think according to the pure definition of the word, we’re all audiophiles if we all love sound.
I like how Steve Guttenberg put it when responding to the “Audiophiles care more about their equipment than music” claim:
Some do, most don’t. The gear provides access, it’s the portal through which we hear our music. The better the speakers, headphones, amplifier, turntable or digital converter, the better the music sounds. When I play a recording that I’ve enjoyed dozens of times over the years through a new speaker that reveals heretofore unheard details — like the way the singer phrases a line, or the drummer accented the beat a certain way — that’s huge! The band may have struggled to get those things just so, but I might have never noticed those details before. Better gear might make the difference — and in the end, the gear serves the music.Steve Guttenberg
I like this quote a lot, but I don’t necessarily think better gear = better sound due to the law of diminishing returns. I won’t get into that much here as I’ve talked about it many times previously, but I love the bit about unheard details. That is definitely something that most people will experience, and thus why the majority of folks DO end up going down the rabbit hole. The Law of Diminishing Returns
The other issue is that even despite what he’s saying (which is true in theory), people still end up just talking about the gear per my own experiences; what with the thousands and thousands of comments on my blog and channel. It’s like a disease.
Now you could argue, well, they’re just asking because they want to achieve the best sound possible!
True, but at what point do we stop obsessing about that and just buy something? While I don’t think every product is for every person, there are so many great setups out there. It almost becomes silly trying to find that perfect match, because you’re always going to be on the hunt for better. There’s always going to be an “upgrade” no matter what. People will always look for excuses to buy more crap. Trust me on that. I’ve talked to hundreds (if not thousands) of newcomers at this point, and they’re fully aware of what begins to happen.
Take this example which is just one of many:
Read that again:
“Typical of an audiophile. Get a setup that I am happy with and listen to it as I surf the internet for my next setup LOL.”
It’s so true. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people get caught in this trap, chasing a unicorn that doesn’t exist.
I speak with 7 years of experience now, and the better part of the last 4 giving a LOT of advice. It doesn’t matter that much. I really couldn’t care less bout gear anymore now that I’ve heard over 100 headphones and just about 50 Amps & DACS.
Just get a setup and be done with it, because diminishing returns is a real thing.
Yes, the hobby of listening on different setups can be fun if you’re a reviewer (or even just an enthusiast) but most people aren’t. They just want something they can use for many years to come and be happy with the purchase. Most people are just regular people, and that’s another issue with reviewers. For whatever reason, they don’t get it. The people who thank me for helping them understand that and appreciate where I’m coming from – because even though I’m technically a “marketer”, at the end of the day I’m really not trying to sell you something per se, I’m trying to help you. YOU came to me with a question. I didn’t seek you out and blast you with sales calls, upsells, or some sort of pitch.
Ultimately, all I can do is give my honest answers per my own experience.
Check out this definition from the Cambridge dictionary, which perhaps explains the crux of the entire problem.
a person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about equipment for playing recorded sound, and its quality.
To me, that’ damning, and speaks to the dilemma we’re currently in. The only explanation for there being thousands and thousands of dacs on the market is that of $$$.
How many of them can you honestly tell me are necessary? I’ll wait. I would imagine that number is very small in reality.
I will say that hearing great sound does make you curious about what else is out there. I would be lying if I said I’m not an eensy weensy bit intrigued by the thought of hearing a really expensive setup. As in, the one you can hear God with.
But I’ve told many people who can attest to this: If I had the money to spend on a final setup, I’d likely get a Focal Utopia, a really good amp, and a really good dac and be done with it.
Per my own experience, there isn’t anything out there that even comes close to the hi-fidelity reproduction that the Utopia is capable of. It’s simply a pitch-perfect product and I think everyone should get a chance to listen.
If there were ever a time to shill something, shilling a Utopia would make the most sense because it does actually represent that pinnacle that most people end up chasing.
For me, gear at large comes down to the sometimes subtle (and not so subtle) flavor differences between products.
If we’re being honest, most audiophile headphones sound, mostly good.
I think it boils down to finding YOUR most preferred sound signature and buying based on that; i.e.
Do you prefer more bass or less?
A more forward mid-range or somewhat relaxed?
Bright treble or darker?
Closed or open?
What types of music do you mostly listen to?
These are all questions a person should ask before diving in.
From there, your tastes may or may not change depending on the amount of gear you try. I will say that nowadays I prefer a more rolled-off bass vs. a boosted one, and yes, that took a lot of demoing products and trying new things. So in that sense, maybe the hobby isn’t quite the detriment I’m making it out to be, but I will still caution people to not become one of those guys who collect headphones. It’s really not a good look.
If you’re interested in the Utopia, check out my experience:
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.