We Don't Get No Respect

There are all sorts of ways of having fun, and just as many ways of spending money. Most of the time, spending money is necessary to have fun; whether it's going to a movie, having dinner out, scrapbooking, playing video games, whatever—nothin's free.

Some people like fancy watches. I like to look at Rolexes and Patek Phillippes—but the idea of wearing something costing 20 grand or more, maybe a lot more, at the end of my simian arm where I can bang it to bits on a doorframe, strikes me as insane. Oh, well; I don't badmouth people who buy or wear such things, just because I choose not to. The prices might make me gasp in disbelief, but that happens with a lot of things.

Speaking of which: what about that Hermes bag recently shown in a Hong Kong shop window—priced at the equivalent of $70,000 US? Is it more functional than a $70 bag? Likely not. Is it stunningly, heart-stoppingly beautiful? Ehh, not to me. Does the material or worksmanship justify the price? Not so much. I don't get it, but I don't hate someone who buys and carries such a bag—unless she happens to be a Kardashian.

What about cars? Almost everybody loves cars. Unless it's horrifically whorified like the Beebs' leopard-print Audi R8, no one abuses the buyer of an expensive or exotic car, even ones which cost millions. There might be a head-shake or a "Really??", but reactions to expensive cars generally tend towards admiration or amusement—not violent rage.

Enter the audiophile. Short of announcing that you're an officer in NAMBLA, you've just gotten back from bow-hunting baby seals with Ted Nugent, and you've decided to cast Grandma adrift on an ice-floe in the "time-honored" way—almost nothing you can do will guarantee a shit-storm of abuse like referring to yourself as "an audiophile."

Granted, anything ending in "-phile" tends to sound a tad precious and twee; how many wine-lovers refer to themselves as "oenophiles" without irony? But it's not just that damned pretentious word. It's...it's...well, what is it?

Music is everywhere. The iPod makes it possible for anyone to carry a zillion songs they might've liked once, anyway, everywhere they go. Fine. Carrying a 'Pod, wearing headphones—even around the neck—is acceptable. In certain circles, it's almost mandatory.

So why is it unacceptable, weird, even, to have a bunch of music at home, along with the gear needed to listen in a social environment where the pleasure of listening can be shared? Wouldn't you think that sharing music in one's home would be more socially acceptable than the act of walking around in public, isolated from others by piped-in sound?

Is it that collecting thousands of LPs and CDs smells a bit of hoarding? Or that monolithic speakers speak to overcompensation of personal shortcomings? Or that We don't get no respect! Or that those who indulge in either are occasionally, shall we say, deficient in areas pertaining to personal style, fitness, and hygiene?

I don't know, and I don't get it—but there is no abuse greater than that cast upon audiophiles. Take a look at the comments following recent articles about audio enthusiasts on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal websites. You'd think that the subjects had held Girl Scouts captive in their cellars, rather than inviting people into their homes for a pleasant evening listening to music.

I like listening to music. I even like the equipment I use to do that. "Is that so wrong??"

Bill Leebens's picture

Well, I have known some wacky Rabbis, but...

FWIW: the suits are largely for trade events. I view it as a way of saying that I take the industry and the job seriously, even if I don't take myself too seriously. Admittedly, that distinction is lost on many people, who seem shocked to discover that I don't have a 2 x 4 embedded in my intestines.

I also think it shows respect for my colleagues. Living in Florida, my daily attire is shorts and t-shirt, barefoot if possible. I don't feel the need to show respect for Floridians, which you probably understand if you follow the news at all.

Anyway, enough about ME. Thanks for the compliment. I think.

There is a shift in the industry, which is inevitable when many of the old guard (meaning, even older than ME) pros, dealers and manufacturers are retiring and/or dying. I'm afraid that most of us don't seem to retire until we die, which is either proof that we love what we do, or an indication that even 7-11 won't hire us to be the token grumpy old guy who bitches about all the goddamned Powerball tickets he has to sell.

There is also the skipped-generation phenomenon, which I mentioned earlier. The children whose parents grew up in the CD era are reviving vinyl, partly due to sound-quality and the whole cover art/liner-note thing, partly as a screw-you-Dad thing. Whatever the reason, the trick is to utilize and capitalize upon that and the Beats experience to introduce real listening to a new audience. That's an iffy thing, given the number of attractions and distractions competing for attention these days. I can't say that even my own children really get it--yet-- other than the occasional  foray to see how Mary J. or Deadmau5 sound on "the Dad system".

I can tell you that this won't happen smoothly, or without bumps in the road. There will be resistance which will have to be overcome. Yes, we will have to have more popular artists willing to step up to the plate and proclaim the necessity and value of good sound-- and in my experience, most are unwilling to do so without the incentive of stacks of Benjamins, something in short supply within the industry.

We also need to overcome the division that exists between "audio" and "high-end audio". I have tremendous respect for companies that seriously pursue perfection, no matter what it takes; I also have tremendous respect for those who provide tremendous bang for the buck, which requires just as much dedication as the "ultimate" approach. Maybe even more.

If it is indeed all about the music, then we need to lose the snobbery, and recognize that a couple hundred bucks' worth of 'phones and amp are valid, not something to sneer at. Similarly, that kid with the Craigslist NAD amp may well be tomorrow's megabuck system-owner.

And even if they're not, they still deserve to be treated well, and welcomed.

Unless they're a Justin Bieber fan. Then we should shun them. ;->

Glotz's picture

One of the most fun posts... EVER!  Great stuff Bill! 

But yeah, we're all getting older.. at 44, with a full grey beard for 10 years (I must have a condition!), I am really worried for the industry in the next 20 years.

I think the language much of the industry uses to woo audiophiles needs to change.  The one recent audio convert I have under my belt was upset at the over-zealous marketing-speak in his Musicdirect catalog, and I see a lot of the dangerous language peppered all over various magazines.  There are no rules for distys or mfgs, however. 

Marketing that promotes better sound needs to be value-driven and realistic in its tone. 

I've lived in Florida (Clearwater/Tampa/St. Pete) briefly, and they all need to be treated like Rodney! 

Oh, PS- my name is Jeff.  

Bill Leebens's picture

Thanks, Jeff.

Earlier in this thread there was a rather hair-splitting discussion of the distinction between science and the scientific method. I think taking a bigger and perhaps less-dogmatic view of the Big Picture might be useful for those of us who ponder what we know in audio--or at least, what we THINK we know.

This TED video featuring neuroscientist Stuart Firestein provides a lot to think about. It reinforces my view of science and engineering, namely that it's not about rigidly carving in stone that which we know, but about exploring what we think we know, and that which we know we don't know.


Firestein points out (correctly, I think) that "knowledge is a big subject; ignorance is a bigger one". He also quotes Erwin Schrödinger as saying that much of science is simply "abiding by ignorance"-- which I may use as a title, if I ever write an autobiography.

The idea that "the more we know, the more we know that we don't know" is not a new one. One Einstein quote which I've repeated many times through the years is,
"as a sphere of light expands, so, too, expands the sphere of darkness surrounding it." Physicist Freeman Dyson came to realize that tests of nuclear devices were futile, simply because each new test resulted in new areas of enquiry which required more tests to answer--and that such a string would go on ad infinitum.

Some may view such a continual, open-ended quest for knowledge as frustrating. It is for me one of the joys of audio, or any subject worthy of investigation. To me, audio is also a joy because it combines the art of music with the science of physics (and math, and much more). It's both left-brain and right-brain. 

How many fields can say that?

Glotz's picture

Love the video.

And I have always felt that our love here is the only one that marries art and science so well.  

And in the last 30 years, Stereophile has single-handedly taught me that we know relatively little about quantifying sound, but the effort is justified.  

JA has really effectively communicated much of the importance of measuring components, though it is apparent that gear often defies explanation in its delivery of great sound.

This month's review of the Croft integrated amp is a current example.  It looks like a sound design, and the point wiring really inspires confidence, and the RCA jacks are a nice touch over the board mounts usually in this price range.  

The measurements are another story, but again, 2 separate reviewers exclaim they love the amp.

I believe their ears first, despite measurements telling us that ears are crazy.

Louis Motek's picture

I once tried my own hand at something similar to what the TED talk was emphasizing with regards to Olfactory sensitivity and our ability to interpret such small differences and to afford them such large intpretive meaning. 

I wrote it to help enlighten to the skeptical public the audiophile cause:



With regards to JA's "dog in this fight," I can't but help seeing a business opportunity here. The advertisers in every audio publication would love to, for the same cost, also receive wider publication in the form of some sort of pooled mainstream advertisement to help promote our cause. Think audiophile shows and how they advertise their own efforts of advertising the show exhibitors. How they advertise to the exhibitors how much wider audience they are drawing in. How they advertise that they are expanding awareness among the larger public. 

If, as earlier stated here, the audiophile press always was and remains "the trend setters and the proverbial consortium," then the audiophile press could pool all of their advertisers together, raise all of their rates by (I'd say maximum) $50/month (or whatever it comes to), and publish, all together, the mainstream public awareness campaign, without losing anyone in the process of having to choose.

I believe that a ralying cry could be well formulated to ring all of our viewpoints in encore. "It's all about the music" as headlined above in my "vision ad" is one main point. Another could be this fascination with the parameters which result in sonic differences (but that travels into Geek territory where one must tread with utmost care if at all -- better not go anywhere where there would be any differences of opinion at all). Our rallying cry is just "let's get good sound". Because that's what differentiates us from the mass market, otherwise we'd all be rich!

Crucial to the success of any publication of any public awareness campaign would be that all logos would be of equal size. Just as soon as you put an umbrella around it, and emphasize any one company or publication more than any other, you are going to have meetings, arguments, and as history has shown, failure for sure. Some will not want to be associated, etc. etc. and it never ends.   

Louis Motek

Louis Motek's picture

... the trick is to utilize and capitalize upon that and the Beats experience to introduce real listening to a new audience.

The dilemma here is that the "Beats" example represents a well-choreographed, highly visible public awareness campaign that drove home, on M-TV in a concentrated effort to raise public awareness, not the aspect of sound quality, but of big headphones as a lifestyle accessory for one to wear in public, on the street, in your personal favorite color. 

What's our corollary, what lesson do we draw from this, when our goal is spreading interest in better sound quality? Rolex does not advertise clock accuracy. That's waaaaay too geeky (and never would justify their prices).

Rolex instead advertises as follows (this is verbatim from a two page ad in The Economist):

"Why this watch? This watch is a witness. To words that moved nations. It's dared men faster. Further. Worn by luminaries. Visionaries. Champions. It doesn't just tell time. It tells history."

Beats effectively says (and here I'm making this up, but it's the thought that matters): "Wear these headphones and you'll be hip like us, like Dr. Dre, like the successful M-TV artists whom you see wearing these things all over the place."

In effect, in both the Rolex and Beats examples, it is exactly the same ad promotion tactic: One says "be hip like today's chart-toppers" and the other says "be hip like those who make history."

Audiophile industry ads needs to find their own rallying cry. They will never appeal to people who don't otherwise already have an inclination to listen quite intently to music.

This is a special type of person. (I'm not saying he's an elitist type; I'm just saying this person is different from the one who wants to be hip like those on M-TV or the person who wants to be hip like those who have made history.)

So when we say "we need to capitalize upon the Beats experience" I believe it is a marketing lesson just like any other. Find your target by defining who he is, first; then you'll understand how he thinks and most importantly, what he cares for. Then you will say "Hey, we care for that, too. We're together. Come, check us out!" 


Louis Motek

Bill Leebens's picture

Glotz: after playing with gear for 40-something years, I'm convinced that whether it should or not, whether it makes sense or not...in audio, everything matters. Everything. Topology, layout, components, board type, no board, casework, high-mass, low-mass, whatever.

Sometimes the things we think should matter turn out to be not so important. Sometimes an element works fine in layout A but sucks in layout B. Ultimately, every design, whether it's $200,000 or $200, has compromises and trade-offs. That's the nature of reality: just when you think you've got everything under control, you become aware of a zillion other things which you'd previously thought were insignificant.

Oh, well. That's where the whole "blend of science and art" thing comes into play.

Louis: I truly appreciate your enthusiasm. Having been involved in previous group efforts...I'm a little skeptical both of the ability to make things happen, and of the ultimate effectiveness of such efforts.

I'm not trying to be a downer. I am, however, really at the "show me the money" stage of my life. ;->

Louis Motek's picture

Well, in line with your seasoned views, Bill, $35,000 divided by 50 USD contributions would need 700 participants. Those would necessitate very small logos indeed.


Louis Motek

Bill Leebens's picture

Louis-- exactly. I believe I used the term "micro-dot-sized" before. I think working from the existing base of supporters that we have within the industry, and from this magazine, would make more sense.


We'll see!

dalethorn's picture

This article just got posted on Facebook, and now drifting down to the comments .... oh, the angst!! It reminds me of a story where a fan of an ancient prophet bought some expensive gift items, and proceeded to lavish those gifts on her favorite prophet. But this prophet was known to be rather frugal, and in his speeches he exhorted his followers to refrain from accumuation of weath, and to give all possible to the poor. So the prophet's associates, seeing that this woman was wasting money lavishing expensive (and expendable) goods on a man who ostensibly rejected such things, called out to the woman to stop, and instead sell the items and give the proceeds to the poor.

And then the prophet shocked his associates by saying "The poor will be around long after I'm gone, so let's worry about them tomorrow, and for now let's have a party" (quote approximate). There have been countless misinterpretations of this story, or the moral of the story, and yet it's simple enough: There is no fixed amount or even a percentage of your discretionary money that's appropriate for buying audio gear, when there are people starving in (fill in the blank). You decide what's appropriate, and if you go overboard, either your karma will catch up to you or you'll die and someone will get a heckuva deal at the estate auction.

nunhgrader's picture

Some of these comments remind me of the schoolyard again :)

Bill Leebens's picture

Thanks, gents-- anything I say will likely be subject to massive misinterpretation, so I'll just say, thanks for your input!


Glotz's picture

What's really interesting is that Henry Rollins finally took the dive into audiophilia (scary term) out of necessity, in lacking accurate sound reproduction out of the studio.  His LP’s fizzled instead of rocked. He loved Led Zepellin. He wanted to hear more of it, and develop a deeper intellectual and emotional connection to the music. 

When he finally could afford great gear, he went all in. It brought him to the Promised Land.  It takes that one great experience to effect that change of attitude.  We need a lot more of that.

What about the joy of not going all in, but dipping your toes in with great vinyl playblack for $400, or cables in audio or even experimenting with DIY creations of your own for minimal investment.

If it's the subjective enjoyment of music is increased for a closer relationship and for entry level amount, we need to translate that for others; whether it be pro or dj, rock legend or garage band guitarist, or just a someone that needs to discover more of their music. 

There must be a way to get other voices of art and music to be more willing to talk of their musical roots, and their journey with technology as well.  As We See It is a great gateway, and should be broadened further. What about more SM doing a show series- Turning On Music Lovers?

IMO, messaging here in the pages of Stereophile and in marketing, should be a drawing a larger distinction of to what to expect from between Stephen's musically engaging system sound, and Henry Rollin's musically engaging but, hologram-in-a-room system sound.  

Something special in the ether needs to come about to bring a bonafide buzz to the industry.  What about a viral video of JayZ listening to MF's system?  It's not far from the cable guy sitting on my couch tripping out to the melifluous sounds of the Magnepans.  Here a chance situation opened up a marketing opportunity.  How that's capitalized is not my guess... 

Bill Leebens's picture

I think opening our hearts, minds and living rooms pretty much covers it.

Thanks for your efforts, and your input!


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