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??"

andy_c's picture

That's a good link, Louis. The first time I read that was when following a link from another good article called "Science Was Wrong Before".

dalethorn's picture

You should differentiate between 'science' and The Scientific Method. Too often people are led into bad science by failing to distinguish these.

Louis Motek's picture

Bill, I think what you are disappointed with is how big business has been recently "rewriting science" to suit their bottom lines. Such as: Milk is good for you! Milk is bad for you, drink Almond Milk! Eggs are great for your health! Eggs contain cholesterol, they're bad for you! You need vitamin x, y and z! Fish contain mercury, eat chicken instead!


If you follow all of this silliness all the way down to the core, there is always a marketing team behind each and every one of those statements and none of them come from a purely scientific inquiry. 


At a campfire one relaxing evening, I found myself, over beers, talking to a seasoned surgeon. I love the way these guys talk when "not in uniform". When his heart opened up he said "People eat whatever they want and the body takes from that input whatever it needs. You can't control that with any special formula, pill, or potion, it's all mostly bullshit. There is a 30% success rate effectiveness of every drug ever tested which turned out to be a placebo. It's in all the white papers."


Louis Motek

jimtavegia's picture

I think we are more akin to the Salem Witches and would rather we all be disposed of the old fashioned way...with fire.  What we hear, or try to hear, and then try and share with others is just, plain scarry stuff. We are told we think we hear things that aren't there as the mp3 carries all the info.  I hear voices, but when they start arguing I just leave the room. MP3 lovers should do the same. 

dalethorn's picture

I would love to have friends and relatives who are audiophiles - people whom I could visit with frequently and listen to their premium loudspeakers (I don't have that option in my small apartment) and peruse their music collection etc. But I don't know any audiophiles locally, or don't have sufficient rapport with them to be invited to share in their music enjoyment. When I did have a good system with loudspeakers (Stereophile Recommended) 30 years ago, I did know a couple of such audiophiles that I did visit occasionally, and those sessions were rewarding. I would have to speculate on what the factors are that separate me from that type of experience today, but there are many factors, not the least of which are the lack of local high end audio stores that accomodate audiophiles meeting there to listen to the gear, have a coffee, and share experiences and music. The audio shows like the one in Newport Beach don't facilitate meeting local people who can share their 'stuff' on an ongoing basis in local venues.

Scaena's picture

Hi Bill,

I have studied this conundrum at great lengths, in the interest of self-preservation. Hate to disappoint, I have the answer and you have a larger point. This does not end well, but read on.

Even the most primitive marketers have known that if a product requires social acceptance, then all energies must first be spent on creating the trend, and not the product. Blue Cheese gives us the perfect example....

A person finds a putrid, moldy piece of cheese in a cave; every instinct tell him its a bad deal, but he is starving so he decides to eat it anyway. Then figures out a way to convince others- most important! More so than making the cheese appealing. Lets be candid, its nose is indistinguishable from toe-cheese. Till today, centuries later, there is no one who tries blue cheese for the first time is won over- also true of cigarettes. Clearly it is not sold on first impressions. Its taken a massive 'village effort' to build a culture around the most unappealing of commodities. Its even got the full backing of the French law.

Now imagine if Blue Cheese was promoted only through shows that resembled a Star Trek convention; as our shows do; where one was being asked to develop a palate solely on first impressions, at these conventions no less. Therein lies the problem in our trade, we have done less to build a culture than blue cheese. We dont even have a single consortium in the high-end industry, where we promote as a group. (it was briefly attempted and failed due to lacking of wider support) contrast that with the fact that Roquefort cannot be produced without royalties to the Roquefort Société. A Swiss movement watch is sold only after millions have been spent convincing the world that a Swiss Movement is essential.

We have that very problem, good gear is not necessary to enjoy music, we want the market to believe otherwise, but have done little if anything to drive the culture our way. We have driven culture away from it by being insular and clannish. Here is a simple test; in any doctor's waiting room, one will find a magazine promoting the culture of a Swiss movement watch or that handbag you described. Where other than the halls of audio shows will you find free copies of an audio magazine.

The Swiss say it best; its not the grass, its not the milk, but the bars of chocolate in the airport. Without which noting else matters.

Bill Leebens's picture

Louis: you have more confidence in a self-improving, self-correcting model of science than I have. I know far too many researchers whose work has come to a dead halt because it is politically unpopular, and their funding has vaporized.  America right now is frighteningly anti-intellectual. Thanks for the link, though.

And as the son of a surgeon, I recognize the pragmatic attitude. Indeed, people will do what they will do, and their genes and their luck will determine the outcome. Not fatalistic--just realistic.

Jim: what can I tell you? This ain't no party; this ain't no disco. We have to deal with reality.

Dale: so... are we proposing Audiophile Match.com ? Now THERE'S a scary thought.

"Hi, I'm Bob-- I live with mom, I ride the bus but I have $20k in My System...oh yeah, and I'm obsessed with Diana Krall..."

Sorry. That was harsh.

I think one of the consequences of the disappearance of local dealerships is that the social networking has become neglected. While there is a lot of online activity--well, it's not the same, and there's that pesky issue of monikers and concealed identities.

Clearly: audio-evangelism is tough to do if we can't even find or hang with Our Own Kind. An excellent point, and I'll have to mull over WTF to do about it. There are some very strong audio societies that do a good job of introducing newbies, but it's a big wide country with a lot of territory left uncovered.


Bill Leebens's picture

Hi Sunny/Scaena-- We've discussed this many times through the years; the audio industry has done a pretty poor job of making its case to the public. As a result, we find ourselves as a  low priority in most households--in the US, anyway.

Historically, attempts to form an audio industry association have either gotten nowhere or have died soon after their inception. There are two primary problems with organization, both related to the industry largely being composed of small companies, which are led by, umm, independent individuals:

1. No consensus. Anyone who's ever tried to get a group together for lunch or dinner at an audio show knows how tough that is...well, imagine trying to determine the course of an industry with those same folks. Herding cats is simple, by comparison.

2. No money. Let's face it: consumer electronics in the US may be a $230 B/year industry, as the Consumer Electronics Association says, but the audio biz is about 1/2 of 1% of it. Small companies are concerned more with immediate ROI than overall industry growth.

I applaud the outreach of local audio societies and headphone/personal listening groups. They're making the effort, and given how few local dealers there are these days, we need to help out with the evangelism, as well. The questions are: how do we do that, and how do we pay for it?

andy_c's picture

"I don't know, and I don't get it—but there is no abuse greater than that cast upon audiophiles."

Hmmm, I assume you meant something along the lines of, "compared to the other groups mentioned, there is no abuse greater..." The quoted statement trivializes actual persecution suffered by people of various ethnic groups, religions and so on. Is there an editor in the house?

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

If it's approval and status we want, maybe we should collect something else. Collecting machines that put small holes in things at a distance seems to be more acceptable than collecting music or the machines used to reproduce it.

Bill Leebens's picture


Clearly, CLEARLY, my piece was hyperbolic in an attempt to be humorous.
I am painfully aware of a great deal of the abuse which occurs at all levels of every society on the face of the Earth; that awarenes has caused me to develop a rather sardonic sense of humor in an attempt to deflect SOME of that damn pain. I don't claim to be aware of ALL the abuse everywhere; I doubt if I could live with such knowledge.

I can't help but think that here we are, allegedly dealing with the enjoyment of music--and note that "joy" is in the middle of the word, "enjoyment"-- and you choose to accuse me of trivializing reality? No, I'm trying to face it in the best way I know how, which is to celebrate the senses of joy and humor that God gave me.

And by the way-- there is not only an editor in the house, there is an Editor in the house. He understood my intent, and thought it was funny. Perhaps we're BOTH twisted; perhaps it's all the years we've spent in consort with humorless techies.

Three quotes come to mind:

The first, from my daughter: "You don't know my life."

The second, from Louis CK, one of the wiser social-commentators out there:

"As soon as you crack your knuckles and open up a comments page, you just canceled your subscription to being a good person."

The third, from my brother Chuck, whose brashness generally reveals larger truths (and also from a friend, who reminded me of this recently):

"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Rick: no doubt. .30-06 trumps 33 1/3, every time.

Louis Motek's picture

Keen observation, Scaena. Here's an account of how the real professional marketers do it.

Pfizer (the enormous pharmaceutical company) markets not only their drugs; they begin with creating demand. Well before bringing Viagra to the market, they had to first change the way the market viewed impotence, because the whole notion of impotence was complete tabu. Men would not even talk to their own doctors about it, so how could they ask for a prescription? What Pfizer did, without introducing the drug or the drug's name, was first drive a massive marketing campaign to rename the disease from the term "impotence" to the term "erectile disfunction." It's easy to understand why. "Impotence" implies the loss of your manlihood, whereas "erectile disfunction" implies "a temporary problem a man can fix with a wrench." The crowning achievement of the marketing campaign was a year of late-night and early morning TV shows in which jokes were made about what could now be called simply by the two letters "E.D." Leading society from using the term "impotence" to using the term "E.D." made all the difference in the world. Once the new term was firmly rooted in society, only then did they release the drug known as Viagra. To excellent effect. 

Of course, to launch a nation-wide advertising campaign of that magnitude costs a lot of money, more than the audiophile market can afford.

As a child, I was first introduced to the term "audiophile" from an NPR radio program called "Audiophile Audition". This program was aired across the entire nation. This was in the late 70's / early 80's. I don't know if it is still around or often listened to. It seems to me that in such a context, the term "audiophile" gets more free positive exposure than anywhere else.

Here's the formula for our marketing meditation:

If 'audiophile' = 'impotence'; then '?' = 'E.D.'?

If 'audiophile' = 'putrid mold'; then '?' = 'Blue Cheese'?

Terms such as 'high fidelity' and 'audiophile' are outdated. They have taken on new connotations since the 80's, ones that no longer support the cause. Something more akin to 'virtual reality' or 'aural time travel' would be far more accepted by far more people today.

Perception is lead by huge marketing campaigns. See the history of "surround sound". Today, the name is understood by your average Wal-mart shopper, and a need is born under the Christmas Tree. Before surround sound was pushed, there was no such thing as a "home theater". You just bought a TV.


Louis Motek 

Bill Leebens's picture

Sorry, Louis-- a number of jokes come to mind regarding that thought, but I'll try to be serious for a moment.

Your analogy is excellent, and you are correct in that a market must be prepared to accept difficult concepts. I'm not sure how "music in the home" is a difficult concept, but as more and more schools eliminate music programs, the thought of actually producing music in one's home becomes more and more foreign; perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that simply LISTENING to music at home has faded from prominence. But then--there are a lot of distractions these days....

You are correct that the terms we use to describe the audio experience are outdated, and I'll give some thought on how to attack that issue.

On the grand scale, it still comes back to development of the market, and that requires cooperation at all levels: shows, media, manufacturers, retailers. As I've previously pointed out, achieving cooperation in any one of those groups is difficult; getting them all to work together is a pretty daunting task.

Regarding John Sunier's "Audiophile Audition" program--I, too, used to enjoy it, along with "Music From the Hearts of Space", which was its trippier cousin. The AA radio show is no longer around, but there is still an Audiophile Audition website, and as a matter of fact, I had some interaction with John Sunier recently.

Louis Motek's picture

 I'm not sure how "music in the home" is a difficult concept, 

It's not. It's what Scaena said, namely, that music appreciation or enjoyment is not dependent upon great gear. The difficulty is explaining the merits of such gear to an audience who knows the former but does not yet appreciate the latter.

Just as with fine watches. Just as with fine anything.

Wine is spoiled grapes. Spoiled in exactly this certain way. 

Fine audio is the disturbance of the air. Disturbed in exactly this certain way.

I guess it's not for kids.


Louis Motek

Bill Leebens's picture

...would likely be a lot more entertaining than "Fresh Air" on NPR. It also makes me think of physicist Freeman Dyson's extraordinary autobiography, "Disturbing the Universe"--with the same double-meaning to "disturbing".

You're right, Louis; when you get down to it, it's very simple. We just tend to complexify everything--if that is indeed a word!

You've also reminded me of the juvenile description of the four-stroke cycle engine that was the standard joke in racing-- the four strokes are, of course, "suck-squish-bang-blow".

Accurate, if a little racy. Pun intended.

Bromo33333's picture

The strongest reaction I have every got about having high quality home stereo gear is bewildered disbelief.  I don't think people have a reference for this, though most enjoy the music played on it.

THey might think we're a little crazy, but I have detected ZERO disrespect.

I might add, that one of the bewildered has a very expensive late model BMW M5 whose price puts my stereo's to shame...

Bill Leebens's picture

Bromo: glad to hear it. The guilt of the Beemer payments probably kept him quiet!

Glotz's picture

That simple fact is price has and will always be a huge stumbling block to acceptance.  It doesn't 'make sense' to their 'brains' by consuming tv and media memes all day long to pay retail. Most see themselves as 'too hip' to play into marketing ploys.  Those smart enough to see through some marketing bs, become ultra mistrustful of everything. Most have paid 'less than retail' on their appliances, gotten a 'deal' with their mobile phone, 10% under cost for their car or generally found a way to pretend they are savvy consumers in justifying any major purchase. Value has died and it replaced itself with lowest price.    

If the industry is growing, the old guard is buying more, and yes, thank G-d, trying to bring in a few more younger music lovers.  Hard travails, for even most of my non-audiophile friends who have dabble into higher-end components don't make it their hobby- at all. Cleaning lps, buying new cables, etc., are not on the 'honey-do' list anywhere near the top.  Talking about great music is still as far as it goes- unless they get a subscription to a magazine they like and trust.  (I am reminded of free chocolate mentioned above, and yet realize that no audiophile magazine has that kind of cash in this digital media age... but what of free online subs?  Hmmm... Website Giveaway!) 

And while I do frequent online retailers, and they do sell many products for 30% under retail than what the local dealer has traditionally offered (and where are they these days... dead or dying), I, the audiophile, am guilty of destroying the very hobby I set out to promote, because I'm tired of the rest of society trying to rip me off for less and less value every day.  

The other fact is, many simply don't care nor have the patience to train their ears in the first place. They relegate their music for the car or the workout, and don't give a flying frick about music and its possibility for greater fidelity, let alone how it would enrich their time at home.  These people like to run their mouths on about how connected to music they are, but 80% of fans at a Radiohead show still only take pictures, video, talk and otherwise destroy the musical vibrations of that concert, and yet post on Facebook on how 'epic' the show was. (It's like a hacker with bronchitis at your favorite classical concert hall- only much worse.) 

They are also being dumbed down by their own car radios with digital broadcasts and iPods with lower-res sound. They don't know it, and being reminded by an audiophile only futher alienates them.  Sucks, but there's no way to say it unless they discover it on their own.  And that's not going to happen outside of an audio expo. 

Sad, yes, but think of the days before modern tv/cable, videogames, internet enterainment, online gambling, fantasy football, and all of the other activities outside of the home that are largely the same, but have a modern, glossy sheen on them. People like sharing those things, and their pride in owning them. Sharing used to be in person, and now it's the internet. 

And when it comes to sharing for them, following is easier, and people just wanna be liked and validated for being 'hip'... having a brand name every one already likes is far easier.  SM, for instance, proclaimed his desire to fit in months ago in his column. Not a good move if you are trying to bring in younger readers and audiophiles. We are different, and we need to be that way... we demand more. (SM's column needs to be there though... and you need a column for the gear a step above that as well.)

Yes, if they did demand more, they would see that audiophiles have fully embraced the modern era, and have some of the coolest gear on the planet- unfortunately it takes an IT degree to get the PC/Mac to work with almost any component today-  For example, much of JA's article on the new Marantz Media Server NA-11S1 (this month!) reminded me, even today, I would rather invest more in analog, and just use my Sony PS3 and PC as a media server- if the songs want to play occasionally. I don't use it or expect to use it as a primary source, for the lack of pure ease of operation.  It's daunting for newbies to tolerate messy operation.  If I had 10 grand, Sooloos and the rest sound entertaining... maybe.  That's real money though. 

These alone prevent the masses from even peering behind the curtain. It's off their radar, and what is on the internet is like a different language that requires work and trust if they want to jump in.  

For instance, AudioKarma might be a great website to dabble into for audiophile DIY needs from time to time, but the reality is that most of them aren't audiophilles and pretty much hate the audiophile process or thinking.  Strangely, they'll put a brand-new SME 3009 tonearm on a 30-year old direct drive Technics 'table and decry that all of the new turntables are all bs.  WTF with big capital letters.  It's obvious that there was a need for Stereophile's knowledge in university and college cirriculums many years ago.  

As audiophilles, we represent the 'old days' as a result of image it used to represent- before cool toys and short-attention span entertainment.  

It takes real intelligence, trust and patience... and big money to be an audiophile. Not everyone has that kind of cash to blow in the first place, and those that want to need to realize it could take years to build a full system with all of the functionality one desires.  

I'm like an 'Audio Rabbi'-  I'm resolved to building relationships with existing audiophiles, and if a fledgling comes to be 3 times with an open mind and patience, only then I will train them on what I know, and share knowledge on all things audiophile.

mike a's picture

Having been a Stereophile reader since the 8 page folded “mag” by JGH, this discussion is interesting but repetitive. Two major distinctions are blurred here

The love of music and the love of its reproduction in the home.

Love of music – how many columns have been written to encourage all of us to go hear the real thing! It is ALL about the music. The actual event, the performance, the vibe, that is what it is all about. The “sound” and your perception of it is almost secondary, so dependent on factors such as the venue, your seat, your neighbors, the wine you had at dinner. However, with no music, no home equipment needed!

Love of music reproduction – That is what this mag is all about but I have always struggled with the Holy Grail. The gold standard by some is comparison to the live event, others to all those descriptors we use, soundstage, imaging, timbre, etc. Since it has been so MANY years of reading, for me, I am always amused on how every few years; this piece of equipment is the best I have ever heard. Is there that much difference or has the “standard perception” changed? Go listen to that old Audio Research preamp again, is it that much worse than the newest thing from Simaudio or BAT?

Marketing – who cares? If this became mainstream, you all would “leave” to find the next fringe (“you have never heard this” snobbery shtick). Just accept the fact that you belong to a group of “hobbyists” who hopefully love music for all of its uniqueness and pleasure it gives you through whatever level of audiophile gear you have. Much like wine, the reviews can you assist you on what you might buy, but ultimately, you can judge for yourself if you like it or not.  The problem is when your judgment gets clouded by outside opinion.

Bill Leebens's picture

"Rebbe" Glotz-- I agree with your comments, for the most part. As much as I love analog sources and I'm happy to see a resurgance in that area, I don't expect it to become dominant again for two simple reasons: 

1. it's a lot of work! Assuming one possesses the skills needed to do it, downloading digital files is easier, and...

2. digital files are portable and shareable (sp?). Not going to get into the argument of who "owns" a digital file and what copying rights are, but such material can be carried around, and easily shared with friends. 

Yes, I suppose we do represent the old, non-cool past (personally, I'm agING, but I'm damned well not agED), but as is true of a lot of positive things, analog skipped a generation-- the children of the children  born into the CD generation are discovering LPs. And that's fine. Whether it's a trend or a fad remains to be seen (sorry, Mikey!). Personally, those revived-'70's fashions can't disappear soon enough to suit me.

I suppose in the big picture, this is a hobby. But like a guy who was popular in high school and then never again, many in the industry (including me) hold hopes that SOMEHOW, audio will once again regain the dominance it had in the dorm rooms of the '60's and '70's.

Well--I don't think it's going to happen: there are just too many other activities available that weren't around back then, in addition to the old standards of drinking, dope and sex.  But again, the fact that many households  haven't had serious home music systems for some time, the younger generation might find something worthwhile in that -- the whole skipped-generation thing again.

Eh...we do what we can. ;->

Mike a-- I love vintage gear, and have owned a lot of the classics, tubed gear from Marantz, McIntosh, Fisher, and so on. I also love vintage cars, and have owned a number of classics from Alfa, BMW, FIAT, and so on.

As I have (ahem) matured, I find I have become less-interested inhaving to constantly worry over and diddle with such things. Just as driving a FIAT in the past always meant having one--or two-- back-up cars just to be assured of getting to work, such is often the case with old gear. I recall systems where I fussed over hums and pops and dangerously-glowing tubes more than I listened to music.

I think real progress has been made in reducing distortion and coloration levels in the past 40 years, especially in transducers. If you enjoy those distortions and colorations--and I'm not saying it's wrong, if you do-- you might not see a lot of progress.

In general, I find a lot of modern gear clean clean clean, but not emotionally involving. Why that is, I dunno; personally, the most-involving system I ever owned was a '50's console containing a Marantz 1 and 2, a Sherwood tuner, and a JBL D-123 that I bought for $15. But that's another story.

The good part is that under the right circumstances, both a $400 bottle of Chateau Lafitte and an $8 bottle of Coppola Rosso can be enjoyable. If you agonize over the $8 bottle, and how you wish you had the $400 bottle, you'll likely not enjoy the cheapie. 

And what that has to do with our discussion, I have no idea. I may need more coffee.

Talk amongst yourselves!

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture


There are several sites wherein audio pros - people with degrees in engineering, and years of recording experience - discuss the unreliability of our judgment WRT to how we hear and interpret sound.  (The bass traps fellow's seminar with several recording engineers comes to mind.)  

In building my system I've tried be aware of two truths, which are often at odds with each other:

The first is that happiness equals reality divided by expectations.

The second is that the more vested we become (in cost expended, opinion expressed, time devoted, dogma adhered to) the more difficult it is to admit we're wrong.

I've found that listening to a lot of live music resets my expectations for what my system should be able to do within my budgetary constraints.  But that's just me.

I know audiophiles with extraordinary systems and room treatments who don't use live music as their benchmark.  They have very different expectations.  And, I have to admit, I don't like the sound of their systems.  To me, the music they play sounds as if it's on steroids; not real at all.  But, that's what they want.  And, they've paid off their mortgages and put their kids through university; so who am I to judge.

Your article has drawn some of the most heated and thoughtful comments I've seen in a long time.  So did Mikey F's cartidge shoot out over at Analogue Planet.  Thanks to both of you for pushing the audio press in a fresh new direction.

Scaena's picture

Hi Louis,

You are spot on. However, It is not as difficult as " a nation-wide advertising campaign of that magnitude costs a lot of money"

A single company created the motorcycle market in America. Prior to Honda motorcycles there was no market for motorcycles (in usa) only eccentric ruffians rode them. Honda did the most amazing thing that is still taught in schools today. They 'created the market' by creating a simple message: 'Good people drive motorbikes' ; the actual ad said "you meet the nicest people on a Honda" This single phrase and concept created the motorcycle industry as we know it today. And Honda still has the lion share of it.

We don't even have a message, we cannot answer who is it for? What will I get out of it? Who normally buys it. For instance if we say, those who love music buy 'audiophile equipment' but you wont find musicians in general owing anything on Stereophiles top 5  products. Incidentally the failure to get our product in the hands of Trend makers has cost us dearly.

But this has been due to the blatant snobbery of our industry, most guys would not be caught dead being associated with a 'rapper' for instance. Even the audio guys who make $100 headphones. Whereas all luxury brands from Bentley to Vuitton have vested heavily in the 'next generation'. Think about this, it will blow your mind; a rapper comes out with the Beats Headphone just a couple of years ago, it cost $200 and he has 60% of the entire headphone market!! Thats millions, imagine if Grado went after that segment with their $100 headphone. At least our industry and shows would have gotten the recognition.

What is the difference between the unheard of superior Grado headphones and the money minting world sensation the Beats Headphones- vision!

Louis I think that the only message we have managed to send is that this is an industry for those who collect gear. Kinda like the difference between a coin spender and a coin collector.

Bill Leebens's picture


It is always amazing to me how much our expectations can shape our experiences. And you're right, the more deeply invested/embedded we become in the our structured intellectual/sensory framework, the more difficult it is for us to experience events authentically, without being swayed by our preconceptions and defenses.

I hate new-agey jive terminology, but there are times when it fits-- and "authentic experience" is one of them. Being a good Type-A midwestern boy, it is innately tough for me to relax, go with the flow, be here now, yadda yadda. But the ability to just respond to what IS, even if it's not what we'd expected, or hope for-- is probably at the root of true happiness, or at least enjoyment.

Audiophiles are by nature obsessive types, and not prone to derive maximum joy from minimal circumstances. Maybe we could all stand to be a tad more Zen. I certainly could.

Thanks for the kind words. I call 'em as I see 'em... and sometimes folks don't like it. Oh, well!



Scaena's picture

Bill you wrote "Audiophiles are by nature obsessive types, and not prone to derive maximum joy from minimal circumstances."

It wasn't that way in the beginning, thats what it has been bastardized to now. I remember distinctly the emotions from childhood, being an audiophile meant you walked on the moon with the pride of being able to own the best...which did not cost that much. The joke back then was, you could wait till you went impotent before one could afford a german sports car. Today cables that are considered the best cost more than a Ferrari.

Back then an audiophile system was one you could afford in college and when those folks went on to make a fortune, they would still have their pride and joy from college as their stereo system, as if to serve as a reminder of those bygone passions. Its turned around for the past two decades, Not only have we deprived the impressionable youth of that incredible felling of owning the best, we further expect them to miraculously pick up the hobby.

Well studied fact about music (was discussed on NPR) if you haven't been exposed to a type of music by your late 20's, you will never like it. Now imagine not being exposed to the gear either.

Bill Leebens's picture


More good points-- but I hate to tell you, Beats did over half a billion in sales last year. That's right, with a "B". Oh, and Dre reportedly made $110M last year, most of it from Beats.

So-- clearly, they're doing some things right, when it comes to marketing. Maybe there's something magical about brands that start with "B", but which also drive 'philes insane:

Bose, Beats....



Louis Motek's picture

Understood, but it was not the rapper who had the vision, it was Monster. Monster gave the rapper money for his name. It would be the same if Grado gave money to Sting and created a headphone brand called "Swing by Sting", or gave money to Renée Fleming and created a headphone brand called "Matinée by Renée".

Big names cost big money. 

No audiophile sized company money could buy a name like that.

Funny you mention Beats headphones. I did some of my own random marketing research while waiting for some flights in an airport. In airports, you cannot help but notice the ubiquitousness of Beats headphone ads (as well as Bose of course). This spawned in me a high level of curiosity. In an exchange of only a few sentences, I discovered the entire marketing plot of Beats headphones. It was revealed to me by the minimum-wage earning, scrupulously manicured afro-cuban woman who took time from her daily Starbucks-and-texting procedure to answer my questions.

I: "Hello, I am interested in your headphones. There are so many brands. Which of these is the best?"

She: "Well, if jou askin' me, I'd say, yeah definitly, these ones, the Beats by Dre."

I: "Oh, these? Is that so? Why is that?"

She, completely seriously: "See, day got da bass."

Thus was revealed to me the genius of the marketing team's lectures to the thousands of salespeople throughout the world pushing these headphones. They are taught to expound the merits of bass-heaviness as is congruent with the acquired needs of the rap and hip-hop community. The lower the waistline of the pants, the higher the likelihood that one confronts a prospector seeking bloated lower frequency response. Thus, pairing the headphone's name with that of a well-established rapper represents the perfect method of market entry, because it appears as a personal stamp of approval, and the marketing spin (a fool-proof version for these rather low-paid salespeople to memorize) consists of the minimum amount of words: day got da bass.


We don't even have a message, we cannot answer who is it for? What will I get out of it? Who normally buys it. 

I am enjoying the challenge as presented by Scaena. 

Let's just define the audiophile. There is a well-known thread on Audiogon called "You know you're an audiophile when..." I'm sure most have read it (if not, go take a look, it has a lot of gems in there). If one could take literally all of that humor and put it into the fewest amount of words, one would have a working definition of the audiophile. 

Once one had that defined, then one could begin marketing successfully.

In all my years at this, I have come to the conclusion (so far) that the entry-way to becoming an audiophile is entirely personal. This means that it is a process that grows from a subconscious spark some time in one's life. Those sparks could be many things, no need to list them here, you know what they are: childhood piano lessons, a father who tinkers with tubes, making a DIY speaker, reading a great article, meeting another audiophile and listening to his system, and so forth. 

But because it is entirely personal, this means that any and all marketing to this group must be confined to people otherwise already in that mysterious group. 

When you go about defining who your target is in the very ad that is supposed to appeal to that target, you are cutting the romance off before it ever even started.

How about: "You get into the most interesting arguments when you buy audiophile gear."  Ha ha ha ha!!!


Louis Motek

Scaena's picture

There is no artist I adore more than Gordon Sumner, on all levels music, poetry, and spirituality. However, I would not pick him to set a trend amongst 20 year olds. Most dont know who he is- no joke, sad really.

Louis Motek's picture

People like that know very well the difference between private life and public imagery. They don't confuse the two too much. Another expert example is Yo-Yo Ma. In interviews, he skips over (most graciously) all the private questions, especially those pertaining to his family. The more a public figure bahaves in this way, the more respect I have for them.  


Louis Motek

Music_Guy's picture

I like analog and I like digital.

I like live music.

I like studio-produced music.

I like the gear that reproduces that music...and the better sounding to me the more I like it.

I have spent more time/money than my non-audiophile friends and family consider reasonable.  (But come nowhere near to even a fancy high-end interconnect)

I think my system sounds great!  (But if I had more disposable time/money, I would go higher.)

I like sharing the experience with friends and family.  I'd like to think I am above such things but I still wish they would all appreciate the sound and gear and think me cool and sophisticated for putting it together and sharing it with them.  I wish it were otherwise, but they don't seem to get it like I do.

No matter...I enjoy it.  Maybe my enthusiasm will be contagious.  Who knows...?

Scaena's picture

 I would share the secret of the success of Beats headphones but I don't want to turn you into a competitor. I enjoy having a cigar with you.

Its the same formula as Apple and Starbucks. No surprise that you mentioned all three in the same post.

Grado today could get a chunk of that billion by a single simple act. Imagine if a very popular artist/celebrity (not Kenny G) was spotted wearing a grado in Malibu. It would spread like a wildfire amongst the yongens.

Louis Motek's picture

and is described in modern-day marketing literature as only one of several co-ordinated steps necessary in a larger process now known as 'brand hijacking'. The terms depicts a rather democratic view towards marketing, with subconscious subliminals thrown in in very discreet ways. If not done carefully, such tactics backfire. But if done correctly, swarms of followers can and do amass. But if day ain't got da bass, ja ain't got notin'. 

Instead of 'audiophile,' I propose the new term: "electrotechnical audio artistry". "Audio art" for short. 

Audiophiles get renamed: "audio art fanatics" or "fans of the audio arts". If on the haughty side, one could use the term 'audio art connoisseur.'

High fidelity, or high end, gear gets renamed: 'electrotechnical artwork.'

So instead of audiophile recordings, we now have audio art recordings. As opposed to mainstream recordings. 

Instead of audio shows, we have audio art shows, or electrotechnical artwork shows. 

Now we can permit more wine and cigars at the shows, and it would be easier than ever to diferentiate the snake oil peddler (or electrotechnical artist-wannabe) from the true artist. The true artist is striving for something according to internal discipline, acquired knowledge and personal expression of this journey. The wannabe artist is striving for something the true artist is striving for, but is engaged only in external comparison rather than internal milestones. 

"Oh, this stuff looks like failed Salvador Dalí. Let's move on!" 


Louis Motek 

Bill Leebens's picture

Music Guy--good for you! Keep sharing.

Louis, Sunny-- I get the feeling you may have had a few too many cigars already? ;->

I assume--hope--that the Kenny G idea was a joke. FWIW, I think the spokesperson model is useless in a market already saturated with endorsed products, most of which are junk.

For more insight into the genesis of the Monster/ Beats program, I suggest you  read this article, one of the best pieces of business reportage I've ever read, and the single best piece about the audio biz that I've ever read in mainstream media: 


Summary: if you're dealing with the President of a record company, assume he has a floor-ful of attorneys at his disposal.


Scaena's picture


The only take-away we need to learn from is that- consumers were willing to spend a Billion on $200 headphones. We just did not have the pulse of the market.

Here is food for thought and a mirror for perspective; could it be that we are, what Kenny G is to music. Only, in our infinite wisdom we have ensured we don't market to women.

dalethorn's picture

Would it be too cynical to believe that coordinated attacks might be another market strategy? For example I've seen "Beats spam" escalate from very annoying on some sites to outright denial of service attacks. Not everything is what it seems, or the premise of the Art of War would be wrong.

Glotz's picture

and I also read elsewhere of the 'partnership' in years past...  disgusting on every level. 

It sickens me how they screwed over the Lees', and how they exploit the market based on fashion, rather than sound. As I said in previous months, it's all about the bling.  

Monster Cable also did a disservice to audiophiles when the overcharged for HDMI cables and power conditioners. I think that alone created mistrust in the retail world.

I thought people were abhorred by the 80's and the excess it meant.  Granted society is more fractionalized, but I'm reminded of TBone Burnett's epic album from the 80's- about the 'Sixties'... "Keep all the bad, destroy the good". 

Further proof that the mainstream will not and cannot understand audiophiles... unless it looks pretty.

Louis Motek's picture

Thanks for sharing, Bill. (One) moral of the story: One only then ever really starts making cash out of audio when one forfeits one's investment into sound quality. Do not waste business energy on making great sound. Even after all that invested 'tuning', those headphones sound like total crap. The Lees naïvely cared about that and therefore misaligned their business attention. Dre's team didn't care, they just required their name on it, to push it into videos. They were spot on, in a business sense.

Others are similar. Apple marketed the friggin' white color of their headphones when it was a black-headphone-only world, not ever their sound quality. Sound quality is not a marketable feature. Bang & Olufsen know that. Bose knows that. Dre knows that. Even Ultimate Ears Boom knows that. They don't ask "do you like how it sounds?" They rather ask flat out: "Can music get you laid?" They should feature removable woofers: you can use it as a condom, too.

Oh. But then Ya won git da bass. 

Louis Motek

Bill Leebens's picture

Dalethom: in today's world, there's a very thin line between awareness and paranoia. 
I'd say that almost anything was possible. Sun Tzu was less conniving and disingenuous than most modern politicians, and witness the coming crackdown on false online business reviews.

Glotz: I applaud a well-executed industrial design, such as the Beats designs created by the Ammunition Group. The designs are clean and well-detailed. What's done with the basic design may be another matter.

Also: refer to my previous comment regarding record labels and attorneys: you simply don't go into a gunfight with a whip. I don't think you'll find much sympathy for Monster in this case, given the company's aggresively litigious past.

Louis: back in the day, plenty of dorm sound systems were used in pursuit of seduction. I won't say it's a noble pursuit, but it is definitely a time-honored one.

Scaena's picture

Bill some of our customers have said, 'I just did not want to wait till she left me for a guy with Scaena's"

baumer's picture

"It was revealed to me by the minimum-wage earning, scrupulously manicured afro-cuban woman who took time from her daily Starbucks-and-texting procedure to answer my questions."

Did this woman share the details of her paycheck with you in the course of your condescending conversation? Is everyone you meet the target of such derision?  

 "See, day got da bass."

"But if day ain't got da bass, ja ain't got notin'. "

"Oh. But then Ya won git da bass. "

"day got da bass."

We get it. This woman speaks differently than you do, in a patois you find so amusing that you can't help but repeat it in every post. Did you do this charming impression for her in the flesh, or just for laughs on the internet? 

"In interviews, [Yo-Yo Ma] skips over (most graciously) all the private questions, especially those pertaining to his family. The more a public figure bahaves in this way, the more respect I have for them."

Since you clearly understand the relationship between gracious interaction and respect, I am certain you will understand how little respect I have for the way you come across when posting to this thread.

I hope this casual disrespect is atypical for you.

Louis Motek's picture

Please do not misinterpret. I am merely accentuating what Scaena said when he noted that people are willing to spend billions on an image, and do not engage deeply into nuances of sound quality. That is what differentiates the audiophile culture from the mass-market culture.

The audiophile culture revels in being geeky about nuances that most people who say "day got da bass" wouldn't even dream of considering. I also meant to consider that formulation of that very marketing line into those exact words is worth billions of dollars. "F*** sneakers, let's make speakers!" This is how billion dollar industries are made.

The beats headphones are mass-produced garbage which sound horrible (successful industrial design, though). Did you see the video clip in the Gizmodo article of those people moving around? That is the type of thing that the retailer I encountered watches daily. I merely painted a picture in a few words about my encounter with what was typical of the marketing practice of beats headphones. Namely, 'day got da bass'. That is the only selling point made available to the retailer, and it works.

I was not being derogatory. That is how the salespoint procedure looks for such a successful product aimed at the mass culture. It was an enlightening experience for me, and I just wanted to share that sudden realization. It happened to have happened right after the New York Audio Show, so the contrast in culture, mannerism and sound quality comprehension was startling to say the least. 

Big money is ruthless when it comes to effective means. "But it doesn't sound all that great" doesn't exist in that realm. And that's why big money is big. It remains focussed on what brings in cash. Usually it's boobs and popular images of success. 

Sorry if I was misunderstood.

Louis Motek 

baumer's picture

Hey Louis, 

To be sure, I agree with your point here. 100%. Audiophile companies have a long uphill battle against very powerful market forces and they would do well to better understand why companies like Bose and Beats are so damn succesful, rather than dismiss them out of hand as products for people who don't know any better. 

And again, I'm not even on the side of political correctness.

I'm simply saying that if one wonders why people tend to think of audiophiles as elitist and dismissive, they'd need only point to comments like yours in order to make their case:

"The lower the waistline of the pants, the higher the likelihood that one confronts a prospector seeking bloated lower frequency response."

Does that really read to you like the writings on an "open-minded" man, or dost thou protest too much? 



Louis Motek's picture

Oh, and she was chewing bubble gum. 

Just sayin'...

(Upon audition, Dre's authentic haute couture version was "That's the shit!". "Day got da bass" is the modified version thereof, suited for a wider audience.)

Louis Motek

Scaena's picture

Louis allow me to throw you a lifeline.

All they did was make it cool for everyone to wear large headphones in public. Which means you can wear a staxx headphone at the airport and not be considered an alien dork.

If you believe that people cannot distinguish for themselves what is good, then that in itself is condescension. There is nothing wrong with buying something that is only cool, some would say that its more perverse to buy that which is not cool and then have to spend a fortune on a mail order bride.

Which is what this discussion was originally about- why is audio not accepted like other things- and now we have come a full circle.

baumer's picture

"Which means you can wear a staxx headfphone at the airport and not be considered an alien dork." 

and for that I am eternally and unironically grateful!

My gateway drug into audiophilia was a pair of Grado SR60s that I bought from Lyric Hi-Fi with money from my first job after college. I'm sure that's a familiar story here.

But however many here share that story, there are many, many others for whom Beats by Dre could be a gateway into hopefully "better" purchases. 

And now that we've got their attention, and they don't think that $300 is a crazy number to spend on headphones ( the way my friends used to think the $70 I spent on the Grados was insane...until they heard them ), we should do all we can to offer them products that are both cool & great-sounding.

Bill Leebens's picture

Sunny: I completely believe the alleged comment from your customer. Completely.
Your second comment, I'll agree with.

Baumer: Not to make light of this, but is it possible to convey an accent or dialect without being thought to be mocking it? I'm honestly not sure. Having lived in areas known for pronounced regional accents, this has been a real concern of mine for decades. Knowing Louis to be a pretty bright guy, I'll cut him some slack on this, but I hear what you're saying.

Years ago I tried to write stories based upon people I knew in Memphis; I found it impossible to reproduce the speech patterns and vernacular without sounding like a cartoon version of Faulkner. Given that Faulkner frequently sounds like a cartoon to begin with--that's pretty bad.

When I was a kid, I read cartoonist Milt Gross' "Nize Baby", written entirely in the Yiddish-ese of NYC's lower east side. People I know who grew up there seemed to think it was an accurate representation, and found it funny.

Would it be found hugely offensive today? No doubt. I am truly dismayed by this issue, and find that all too often we deny the uniqueness of regional dialects and vocabulary, in the interest of being PC.

Are there differences? Hell, yes. How do we convey them without offense? I dunno--said in my native upper-Midwestern nasal bleat. 

It would be interesting to see how we could reproduce the accents of the various participants in this thread without offending SOMEONE. I doubt if it could be done.

Louis: dude--stop while you're behind! ;->

baumer's picture


Thanks for the thoughtful reply. As a fan of Faulkner's, I understand exactly where you are coming from, and I don't mean to imply that - even on a silly audiophile discussion forum - Politcal Correctness is somehow more important than capturing the unique rhythm of an interaction. And as a native of Bawlmer, MD who spends the summers "goin' down 'e o-shun, hun", I certainly have no regional accent higher ground from which to speak! 

My issue here has much more to do with the gleeful repetition of "day got da bass" perpetuates not an authentic attempt to capture the audio saleswoman's ( equally as valid as Louis' formal ) manner of speech, but rather a dismissive and unsympathetic description of her that Louis is proving incapable of abandoning - witness, "oh, and she was chewing bubble gum. Just sayin'..."

I have no doubt that Louis is a brilliant man, but he is coming across as tone-deaf in these exchanges. ( Terrible, terrible pun not intended. ) And I would imagine that the irony of this unfortunate tone being taken in an otherwise thoughtful discussion of how to bring new audiophiles into the fold is not lost on other readers. 

In some sense, Dr. Dre seems to be saying, "buy my headphones and we'll all be cool together." Regardless of what you think of their sound quality, or their design, his is an inclusive approach, a welcoming one. Is it any wonder he has successfully sold millions of headphones?  

Now, reread Louis's description of his interactions - do you think the saleswoman would have any interest in learning about headphones from him, especially if she knew how little he seems to think of her?

Scaena's picture


You have sealed the deal with me with your use of a single pertinently powerful word- 'inclusive'

It is just that and no more. It should be the mantra in our trade. And gratitude is in order for Beats for helping build the first bridge.

Lets call it for what it is; Afro-Cuban percussions move the soul universally, percussion recordings made by Louis could be used to induce a coma. Clearly one is inclusive, the other is exclusive.

Thank you for the clarity.

Louis Motek's picture


Afro-Cuban percussions move the soul universally, percussion recordings made by Louis could be used to induce a coma. Clearly one is inclusive, the other is exclusive.


I provide a free service for any anonymous person on the planet to download free high resolution recordings. This costs money, by the way. I consider it a contribution to help spread the word about high quality audio.


Why it should 'induce a coma', and what you mean by exclusivity when the files are provided free of charge to anyone, is unclear.


Louis Motek

Louis Motek's picture

Day got da bass.

I meant this as an icon of billion dollar effective marketing without recourse to standard low-dollar audiophile marketing of nuances regarding high oh so high audio quality. By repetition, I meant to place those four words on a pedestal for audiophile companies to view and marvel. That is all I meant.  


Louis Motek 

Louis Motek's picture

I love the various accents that abound. In fact, you can learn a foreign language by listening to a native speaker's poor English accent. The mistakes they make in English are invariably considered proper grammar in their own native tongue. All you have to do is not hate them for it. Just observe. Do not evaluate.

There is nothing wrong with buying something that is only cool...

Agreed. I am merely observing the billion dollar phenomenon.

Marshall McLuhan said it best when he wrote: "I have observed that the moralist typically substitutes anger for perception." 


Louis Motek 


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