The Holy Trinity

In an e-mail exchange with Stephen Mejias about why the mere mention of cassette decks on can so easily inflame our readers (and John Atkinson), I began to develop the idea that the brains of audiophiles and music lovers are governed by three complementary needs, or desires, that define who we are. I joked to SM that these desires, which apparently shift over time, constitute the Holy Trinity of Audiophiledom. They are, respectively, the love, desire, and need for:

1) Music
2) Quality audio reproduction
3) Ease of access to music

Well, SM took me seriously. He shot back an e-mail that basically stated, "Dude, you should write about that!" (Actually, SM doesn't say dude, but that's how I remember it.)

We can abbreviate the above factors to Music, Quality, and Ease, or MQE. The relationship among them constitutes a person's MQE ratio, whose three variables, expressed as percentages, always add up to 100%.

There is no perfect or superior MQE ratio. There are only different ratios that reflect individual proclivities and situations. The MQE ratio does not prove that one audiophile or music fan is more awesome or more correct or has better taste than another. It simply helps us understand what's going on in others' heads, which may then lead to a deeper understanding of others'—and our own—desires, and help explain a difference of opinion about a product or piece of music or format.

If you're reading Stereophile and claim that your MQE is 100/0/0, I don't believe you. Quality of sound must enter somewhere, and when it does, it can only move the music number down. This is not to say that you value your favorite music less; it just recognizes that the factor of quality is a blip, however small, on your radar screen. The same with ease of use: I'd suggest that audiophiles have a higher Q factor than the general population, but they also have varying factors of M and E—which leads to some lively debates in our website forums.

So the first principle of the MQE model—or, at least, the first trap to avoid—is this: Just because a number goes down doesn't mean you value that factor less; it just means that one or both of the other factors have entered the picture. For example, I rate my E factor higher then I used to because, as my collection of recordings has grown, I've found that easy access to its contents helps me find and enjoy my favorite music more. Hence my love of what the Meridian Sooloos Music Server has done for Q, and especially for E, which may not matter so much to someone else. And a high-quality recording will always get more play and make me happier—I'm a sucker for yet another remastering of, say, the Pixies (thanks, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab!), or a better-sounding D/A converter, amplifier, or loudspeaker tweak, and on and on.

From this derives the second principle of the MQE ratio: that each factor is closely related to the others, which is why there can never be an inherently superior or perfect MQE ratio. If one person gains more M satisfaction when their Q and E numbers are higher, then how is that a bad thing? If others don't factor in quality as long as they can easily play and dance to the tunes they love, then how is that a bad thing?

In short, regardless how much you love music, your three MQE numbers will always add up to 100%—which means everyone will have a perfect score.

I made some quick calculations and figured the following: I'm guessing that SM's MQE is around 70/29/1. He thinks it's more like 85/13/2, so let's go with that. Stereophile Editor John Atkinson's might be around 55/40/5 (I'll have to ask him). And, as of 2010, mine is around 45/35/20.

My MQE model may not be formalized as such in business thought, but I'll bet that, on some level, and whether or not they're conscious of it, every audio manufacturer tries to hit a target of some sort of ratio of these values. Apple's iTunes is probably after the 50/10/40 market, while Continuum Audio Labs, who make very expensive turntables, is after the 30/60/10 customer. Each takes a different path to arrive at 100% musical enjoyment.

I also believe that everyone's MQE changes over time. Playing into this are the availability of new technologies, money, the discovery of a surprisingly great new musician or composer, perhaps even a rebellious nature or emotional need—or a new life partner. If we were to plot our individual ratios a year at a time, no two paths would look the same. Like DNA.

When I was a kid, my starting MQE was probably around 90/0/10. Around the beginning of high school it went to 70/20/10. When I owned an audio shop, it was around 25/65/10, and now it's 45/35/20. In another 20 years, who knows what it will be? I can imagine someone with an early love of technology who starts at around 10/60/30 and then, as the love of music grows and deepens over time, ends up at 60/20/20. And so it goes. My partner, Corrina, claims that she was at 90/5/5 when we met, but that, "after 20 years with my audiophile," her MQE currently hovers at around 50/30/20. That's my girl!

Individuals will form tribes with others of similar MQE. The flame wars that rage in our forums can be seen as MQE struggles—and as long as some feel their numbers magically add up to more than 100%, those wars will never end. But other tribes form whose members create lasting friendships, and support audiophile clubs and trade events such as the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

MQE is no ironclad formula, and it's certainly not a time-tested one—I'm no psychologist, and it's taken me just a couple hours to think it through and write it down. But it might help us understand and appreciate that the unique blend of desires of each audiophile and music lover is what makes the audio world such an interesting and stimulating place. At the very least, it might help tamp down a few of those counterproductive forum flames.

Ariel Bitran's picture
i think SM does say "dude" on a regular basis.
Glotz's picture

He really should Dude it up more, again.