Why They Scorn Us—and Why We Should Care

Photo © Kipnis Studios 2015

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Reddit? Social media has done much to bring together people of every interest imaginable to share their fascinations, desires, and, occasionally, delusions. From fans of frogs (FrogStomp) and proponents of clean public toilets (Benjyo Soujer) to a group that challenged an Iranian cleric's statement that women's flimsy attire causes earthquakes (Boobquake), social media is a global town square in which anyone with a keyboard and an attitude has an equal voice.

Like all self-respecting Facebookers, audiophiles also have their groups, including Audiophile Network, High End & Vinyl Lovers United, Audiophiles North America, and Hi Fi Audio, with memberships ranging from 3000 to 10,000. On these virtual forums audiophiles exchange opinions, upload system photos, and discuss the inexhaustible pros and cons of cables, tweaks, noise isolation, and, of course, analog vs digital.

For fun, I recently took a break from posting to my own FB group, Jazz Vinyl Lovers, to ask FB audiophiles a handful of age-old but still-relevant questions: "Why do so many music lovers dislike the audiophile state of mind? Is it envy of audiophiles who have more long green to spend on music reproduction than the rest of us? Or is it that only the music should matter, and not the gear? Or, since most people can't hear the difference anyway, why the serious expenditure on what amount to boys' toys?"

I was gobsmacked. Responses to my queries rolled in at a seemingly exponential clip— more than 500 in less than three hours, and more continued to arrive for a week, eventually totaling 50 single-spaced pages. That's a lot of kvetching about cables and soul-baring about speaker sensitivities!

A sampling of the responses:

"If you have a nice high-end audio system," said Aleksandar Matijaca, "post a pic on http://www.reddit.com/r/audiophiles/ and wait for the hatred."

One member boasted: "Who says it has to be shared? I'm an audiophile for me. It satisfies, entertains and pleases me."

Another paraphrased Friedrich Nietzsche: "Egoism is the very essence of the noble/audiophile soul."

"I find the hobby to be pedantic and petty," wrote John Fiebke, "filled with socially awkward dweebs who argue constantly about minuscule details that have nothing to do with music and everything to do with just winning a contest of 'my stereo is better than yours.' If this hobby . . . were about the music I wouldn't hear Diana Krall on every device at audio shows year after year."


But does the other green play a role?

"Your suggestion that [envy] might play a role could easily be perceived as a hostile, elitist sentiment," Dan Sorrells replied. "Even your benignly posed question—'or perhaps most people can't hear the difference?'—implies some sort of superiority over mere 'average' listeners."

Think again, Dan.

"Does [envy] play a part?" mused one correspondent. "People nowadays have access to credit and other means to spend on gear. Having an extremely expensive set-up doesn't necessarily mean someone has enough disposable income to justify buying the gear, kinda like if a guy drives a Ferrari but lives in his mom's basement with student loans and credit card debt."

Still another suggested that all human beings are essentially created equal: "I believe any human can hear the difference in quality given the opportunity," wrote Conrad Hunter. "It's just that some people choose to place value on that difference while others don't. But once you've recognized the difference you can never 'unhear' it. I'm always surprised at the number of audiophiles that can't tell when speakers are out of phase."

Popular New York City radio DJ Paul Cavalconte thinks it's all in our heads: "The dichotomy is that audio is satisfying on both lo-fi and hi-fi levels. A great rock oldie on a transistor radio is just as sweet as a symphony on a cathedral-filling system. There's a limitless path to better, but no right or wrong."

This, from a sensualist: "I believe the senses can be developed till you die and the pleasuring of those is mostly the center of our existences," said Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic.

And a well-positioned comment from Bob Weiniger: "I believe that the general disdain for 'high end audio,' generally, and audiophiles, in particular, stems from the present day attraction to egalitarianism, especially amongst the 'have-nots,' who having found a rationale for 'putting down their betters' and others who have accomplished (and therefore amassed) more than they, somehow feel less inadequate by demonizing the 'haves' and trivializing their well-earned fortunes and accomplishments. Cognoscenti have ALWAYS known that irrespective of the pursuit, 'the best' shall always cost more than the 'run of the mill.' There is no substitute for quality and quality costs money. This is as it should be."

Still curious, I posted a follow-up question: "How can we win converts to our music-loving audio pursuit?" This time, unfortunately, the number of responses from the audiophile groups was close to nil.

Quizzing a Facebook group isn't a scientific survey, but perhaps audiophiles harbor mixed emotions about their hobby, if it is a hobby. How do we defeat the us-against-them mentality that frames audiophiles either as nerds focused on sonic artifacts or as men obsessed with expensive hardware? Perhaps we are OCD patients more intent on interacting with merchandise we can buy than relationships we should cherish. A handful of munificent FB audiophiles responded with positive advice: appeal to friends and family, rely on what you love best and appeal with the music.

"Start playing music at shows that is found in actual music lover's collections rather than 'audiophile' shite that lives in a different universe to what real people listen to," wrote Eric van Spelde.

"They get it or they don't," wrote another respondent. "If they come to my place and ask how to get a system together, that's different. They can spend their money how they want."

"After setting up my system I had my son come over for a listen," said one audiophile, "telling him it wasn't merely good, it was going to be 'oh my God' good, and played some tunes he was familiar with. He agreed with the OMG assessment. At least he has a reference point now."

Roscoe Trey Nicholson said it best: "The greatest reaction I have had from a non–audio nerd was an ex-girlfriend hearing her favorite album (Radiohead's Kid A) on my system. In tears. And from then on, we'd wake up, make coffee, and put on a record every weekend morning."

Kal Rubinson's picture

I remember that room. It certainly conjures unachievable expectations.

bcahl's picture

It is the benefit of using the combined experiences to bring together the unachievable. Even if the entire system is never sold, someone gets to experience some higher end equipment so that they know what they can achieve within their means. I respect the comment, but respectfully disagree.

Not to malign, but a photo credit for Jeremy Kipnis might be in order. He is continuing to enhance his system even as we speak.

mrvco's picture

I dabble in relatively modest audio equipment (mid thousands at most), but when I'm listening to the right music at the right time, it really doesn't matter whether I'm listening on my factory car stereo or using my phone and a pair of decent canal phones or on my "hifi" rig... it's really about the music and I think that gets lost in all the multi-thousand dollar Ethernet / USB cable oneupmanship that always seems to dominate much of the audiophile world.

I'm far more impressed with what someone can do with a few hundred or a few thousand dollars than I am with what someone else can do with a small (relative) fortune.

Anton's picture

"I remember that room. It certainly conjures unachievable expectations."

Where one person smells a hobby, another smells a fetish.

Many audiophiles have sonic paraphilia. It likely colors people's perceptions of the group as a whole.


Djcoolray's picture

The point of stereo equipment is to recreate the same exact sound that was recorded in the first place. Then the ability to hear better depends on whether you took a hearing test and what the results are. We are all not the same and I took a yearly hearing test in the army, and my hearing is well beyond the normal range. Those people that have interests that occupy much of their time, do so because they don't have a short attention span and have a sense of achievement !! It does not matter if it is building cars or computers. Gaining knowledge about something before planning to do something involves problem solving skills. Those that can not focus enough attention long enough become discouraged and find something more user friendly to occupy their time.

Venere's picture

Judging by your photo, it's been a while since you were in the Army. When is the last time you had your hearing checked? I am 57 years old and was recently pretty shocked to find out I can't hear a damn thing above 12Khz. So I've quit worrying about that new beryllium/diamond/ceramic tweeter that is flat to 45khz. Only my dog will know it's there.

Djcoolray's picture

I have only been out of the Army for twelve years as a lifer ! I get my hearing regularly checked every year at the VA !! We are not all the same....the point of enjoying music is the ability to hear it and the memories we had when we first heard a particular song !! The equipment is just used to provide the best possible sound for those of us that can tell a difference !! Collecting is a different kind of hobby.....because it is enjoyable to find new toys !! Comparing the capabilities of different kinds of equipment while collecting is a good way to find the best sound, which is better than buying new junk...with the exception of new speakers and turntables.

Staxguy's picture

When one sees this room, one wonders: how does one enter this room, and how could anyone look at so much clutter? :)

Were the room devoid of electronics, one would think: oh, one could pick up a book, sit down, and read: there is something to be said for simplicity in hobby.


The audio guy in me of course questions the entire setup. Not the money spent, but the equipment chosen, placement, and room design. When you go to an Imax, and you are interested in audio, you take note of the speakers, type, wattage and the placement. You notice also the seating position, and setup of the screen.

Of course, you also look at the projection room - which is open - to see the equipment. The rack of gear, and the film system. The IMAX film (media) most particularly.

This is coming from an audio and video perspective.

Now in this man's room, there seems no placement. Sure, there is "Theatre in the Round" setup, but this man does not posess a mike like George Cardass to make his own recordings tailored to his particuar room - and thus enlighten us - that we know of. He may have progressed.

There could be some have-not v. have arguments, but mostly those would come from the audiophile community. I doubt most would come from the non-audiophile world - most would question the judgement of spending such money on audio or electronics in general. They would have much more interesting ways to spend - like Ferrari's.

Of course Ferrari's are just as boring as audio - but they crash in more spectacular ways. Excitement is really anything you enjoy or think will get you further.

So most everyone would think first of cars, because they think a better one would get them more (and better quality, variety, etc.) sex.

Were it me, I'd say that "hi fi has left the building" in the way that it is marketed. Look to the wonderful hey-day photos (marketing) that are published on the Polish Audio Blog.

3000-10,000 Facebook group members is also too low for a hobby. 500,000 would be a better goal. A friend has 5,000 friends on FB.

What's that if not an inditement?

prerich45's picture

"most would question the judgement of spending such money on audio or electronics in general. They would have much more interesting ways to spend - like Ferrari's."

Ferrari's are not that interesting to everyone. It's an uncomfortable car that can go really fast, but you go to jail if you go that fast. Sometimes sport's cars seem to be more ludicrous of a hobby than anything (unless you own your own track - where you can push that sport's car without endangering others).
Hi-fi tends to be a private hobby and one that only impedes on the people that occupy the living space. Hi-fi is somewhat of a luxury. If I was interested in cars as much as I was Hi-fi, I'd gravitate toward luxury (large roomy cars that made me feel comfortable). Hi-fi makes me feel comfortable and relaxed....like a comfortable car.

ednazarko's picture

A big part of the issue with audio and audiophiles is shared by many other hobbies that involve gear that must be purchased and that has many price points. Like photography, for example. People taking pictures range from low end smartphone users taking a picture of their cute cat to photographers who use medium format cameras and backs that come in around $60,000... and who takes pictures of his cute cat. At every point along that range, there are people who are into the artistry of photography, who know there's artistry but are really into the gear itself, people who would like to be into the artistry but don't have the talent or work ethic to develop the talent, and people who make a living producing photographs of some sort with the gear - yes even at the cheap smartphone level. Envy points all kinds of different directions because of economics, talent, work ethic. And the ultimate envy is picking on a pro whose work your 4 year old could match, or who has no taste in gear. (But who makes a very nice living...) I'm personally VERY familiar with this problem.

Same thing seems to be true with audiophiles. Some people are really into the gear, some are really into music, some both. Some take pride at being able to put together a system for a couple thousand dollars that rocks peoples' worlds, others take pride in putting as much into their setup as they did their house. There are no doubt people at both ends of the system economic scale who really can't hear the differences - sometimes its physiology, sometimes it's a lack of effort at learning how to listen. I do know listening is a developed skill... I can hear the second trumpet or third trombone or whatever instrument and part I'm interested in, big bands to symphony orchestras, a skill developed through years of musical training and performance. I'm sure there are people who can hear even more obscure difference than I can.

So, I think that there are a lot of different hobbies in the audio realm that look very similar at a physical level - speakers, amps, sources - but that are very different to the practitioners. Hence the chatter and natter and speaking at cross purposes.

And, in the audiophile world, the ultimate targets of envy are those who are able to make a living that gets them continuous access to gear that's out of economic reach to most people.

North Korea's propaganda ministry tells its people they "have nothing to envy." Really, if you've got audio gear that you love, for whatever, reason, it should be true for you. Unless your hobby is envy and the art of trashing others.

Djcoolray's picture

As a person with a broad range of skills, I can tell you that the ability to increase ones skill is the ability to pay attention to detail in everything we do....audiophile, auto fanatic, cooking and computer repair geek !! Many audiophiles purchase defunct stereo equipment, rebuild it and sell it to other members of the audiophile community. In that situation we have those that pay peticular attention to detail and have overwhelming problem solving skills that can not be just duplicated by anyone. Also the picture looks like a photo lay out from someone that is just showing off how much stuff they have !!

It's the ability to rationalize the difference that make everything what it is !!

TheNoose's picture

I don't like Diana Krall very much.

Yes its time to purge our hates online again...doesn't everyone? The motives to like and dislike, to love and collect, to obsess and dig deeper, shoot down, ridicule, and deploy pseudo-science, are distributed nicely around a normal curve.

You expected something different?

I'm not sure what the point of this article is really...other than publishing nice selective quotes taken from a normal curve...

Some people like hi fi, some people like to trash hi fi...so? Simply insert your favourite interest or hobby or indeed any subject and replace hifi with that...the sentence remains pretty accurate.

So what? Who gives a rats? Oh speaking of those nasty rats, I love the soundtrack of Ratatouille...great movie, great soundtrack. So there! Your turn...

Venere's picture

With you 100% on Ratatouille, still my favorite Pixar movie and, as you said, a GREAT soundtrack. That's the music that made me sit up and take notice of Michael Giachino, who IMHO is the best composer working in films these days. Oh, and if you can find a restaurant that does it right, ratatouille is a very nice lunch dish as well.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Interestingly, Ratatouille was one of the items played for me on that system and it was the best thing I heard. Perhaps the excellent video action and quality enhanced my experience but it vastly exceeded my enjoyment of the audio-only selections.

Jeremy Kipnis's picture

Of course, the use of a true Multi-Channel mix intended to achieve an immersive effect (like some of Pixar's best films) is bound to be more effective as an illusion than either listening to straight 2-Channel Stereo or one of my synthesized multi-channel alternatives; as I recall, the group of Stereophile writers almost uniformly requested a 2-Channel only playback of their audio materials --- something that requires sitting farther back in my TRINITY Cinema (rather than in the enter seat) to achieve the correct 60-degree inter channel separation.

Please see my website for more details (about my cinema and media room designs -- seen in the copyrighted picture above)


prerich45's picture

Hello Jeremy!!!!! Have you updated your system at all (immersive surround formats, new prepro, etc.)? I've always loved your system!!!! A lot of people just don't get it!!!

BradleyP's picture

You nailed it with your sage thought:

"So, I think that there are a lot of different hobbies in the audio realm that look very similar at a physical level - speakers, amps, sources - but that are very different to the practitioners. Hence the chatter and natter and speaking at cross purposes."

You exposed the chaos: There are actually several audio hobbies. Here are mine: I love well-performed and superbly-recorded music. I enjoy scouring audio and music reviews for stuff to preview on Spotify. I've cataloged 1200 albums across most genres that way in about 2 1/2 years after reviewing at least four times that many. I dig way-overperforming "affordable" gear to play it on because that's what I can afford these days, and I love to turn music-loving friends on to how I do what I do. There's never been a better time to be a music/audio hobbyist.

Anton's picture

"I've cataloged 1200 albums across most genres that way in about 2 1/2 years after reviewing at least four times that many."

So, would that be 4800 albums reviewed in about 900 days...over five albums per day?

I am thoroughly jealous!

illgble's picture

"How can we win converts to our music-loving audio pursuit?"

The truth is that it's totally doable, but at a cost you're not willing to pay. First, sit down and read Thorstein Veblen. Second, think hard about wine snobs. Third, admit that, by and large, the people who disdain audiophiles are right - i.e. overwhelmingly audiophiles are ridiculous just like wine snobs are. It's not an issue of whether or not wine dorks can actually taste all the things they say they can; it's that they can't prove it and they insist it's enjoyable beyond any reasonable comparison. It's a situation that is ripe for abuse and is in fact rife with abuse.

Think about other pursuits like fast cars, painting, or rock climbing. The people who enjoy these things are in a poor position to claim they're experiencing something other people don't get. I mean, anyone can ride in a fast car and every brush stroke of a Degas is just as visible to the novice as to an expert. And so, these fields, while having their ridiculous snobs, are not absolutely inundated with poseurs. Oenophilia and audiophilia? No such luck. They're both highly susceptible to this kind of thing. But audiophilia gets a double whammy because while all wine essentially costs about the same to produce, and generally commands its high price only after it has both received many accolades and has become scarce, audio gear comes out of the gate with high price and prestige immediately on display.

And therein lies the rub - the poseur's money is just as green, yada. The whole industry is floating on the cash of poseurs. Are there *true* audiophiles? Sure. I mean, probably, right? But are most of them ridiculous poseurs funneling cash into a prestige machine? Definitely. Audiophiles may have highly tuned perception of sound, but like someone who works in a barn, they have completely lost their ability to smell manure. Or as a friend of mine used to say whenever we drove by a cattle operation, "I smell money!" The audiophile industry can't afford to really try to convert people because they'll just as surely run off their lucrative snobs.

Anton's picture

I am glad that at least some oenophiles aren't rendered apoplectic when it comes to blind tasting.

"Oh, crap! I can't see that wine's label, I won't know how it tastes!"

Most oenophiles will give blind tasting a go. Audio guys, not so much.


On the other hand, plenty of oenophiles do need to see the label. Great studies showing oenophiles can have expectation bias, as well.

kursten's picture

They hate us because they envy the fact that we can spend so much time and money on the pursuit of audio nirvana when they're stuck in traffic listening to the radio or spotify on a bus with ear buds. The fact that we have stereos that cost more than many peoples' cars gets right under their skin. It's like people dining at 3 star Michelin restaurants exclusively when everyone else is eating McDonald's. Of course they're going to hate us! The important thing is that we never apologize for our ways. We should never feel ashamed for knowing more or having more than the average person if we earned that knowledge or gear. Just because technically and financially challenged trolls want to get their jabs in, doesn't mean we should step back and take it. We should call out their ignorance every time and educate the masses (who are willing to learn) and never apologize for caring and knowing about music reproduction.

A painter wouldn't feel bad for using quality paints, nor would they accept criticism form people who have never painted about their use of a particular type of paint.

ednazarko's picture

one of the contemporary painting artists I admire a lot only works with house paint from the home improvement store. because for him, it's got all the characteristics that matter to him. hard to argue when one of his works goes for more than my entire 401K plus retirement account...

olc's picture

Reread your own post post and ask what's not to hate about that attitude.

And my system is well over $25K and ten times that wouldn't dent my lifestyle, so your envy nonsense is just that.

spacehound's picture

Are just boasting, and a snob with it. You post justifies everything 'the man in the street' laughs at.

And don't forget, the moment you leave whatever work you do, you ARE a 'man in the street' as are we all.

kursten's picture

Are you naive enough to think people take no issue with the fact that much of the gear reviewed in this magazine costs more than many people make in a year? The writer asks why so many people hate audiophiles and I was honest enough to get to the heart of the matter. I wasn't born with money and before I had any, I was resentful of those who could spend so much on gear I could only read about. I never mentioned how much I have spent on my gear (unlike some people here) nor have I said I'm better than anyone else. I simply stated the obvious since nobody else had done so yet. If you interpret my post as snobby, perhaps you're another sad troll who only has the courage to confront people online and therefore takes every opportunity to call people out. That, my boy, is patently pathetic. I know if you saw me on the street, you would not do the same.

spacehound's picture

And so is yours.

YOU were resentful. Not everyone is a sour guy like you seem to be.

No one 'hates' audiophiles, they just think that those of us who spend tens of thousands of dollars on this stuff are idiotic. And because of the 'law of diminishing returns' they are correct.

Do you REALLY think the average passer by goes around worrying how much your stereo costs and 'hates' you for it? NO. But draw his attention to the fact that such things EVEN EXIST and he will laugh. I certainly know that my Lamborghini owning friend would. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE THE ONLY 'RICH' GUY AROUND? They just are not aware that such stuff exists and would think it very 'nerdy' if they did.

And SURE I would say it to your face. As probably would the other couple of guys who agree with me.

JohnVF's picture

It's never money that brings resentment. It's arrogance. And the two aren't always tied together. The richest person can be the nicest, and most loved. The poorest the most despised if they carry themselves in a manner that says "I'm better". Like you, for example.

kursten's picture

Perhaps you and spaceboy should get a room and let the grown ups talk. It's obvious you're only here to spread your hatred. Grow up or GTFO.

spacehound's picture

Your arrogance is showing again!


Djcoolray's picture

Most audiophiles own equipment that reproduces a certain frequency range. Most of which was produced in the 1970's and can be found by anyone in the Goodwill store, taken to a repair shop for rebuilding. The collections that most audiophiles have, no matter how vast cost more time than money to acquire. Then just like car guys that build there own hot rods, looking at new expensive stuff is like a car guy looking at a Porsche....looks cool but but car guys don't buy Porsches. People with money have always spent too much money on things. Audiophiles don't spend that much money on their equipment.....only rich people that can't get it right have to buy new junk !! Go on to eBay and check out a marantz or pioneer receiver ! People with short attention spans jump to the conclusion that all that equipment was bought brand new...and why do we pay attention to childish people that complain ?? I bought a mahogany cabinet tube stereo made back in 1961 that out performs anything that Harnem Karmen ever made, I had it rebuilt and spent less than eight hundred and the sound is better than anything new. There are new turntables and speakers that are with buying at a price that most people can afford....like the Pioneer PLX-1000 ! Plus, what happened to ignoring those that could never possibly understand anything outside of their own selfish perspective ?? Why are we paying attention to the lifestyles of the rich and not so famous ?? Only stupid rich people have to buy the latest new thing and it is immature to think everyone is the same and doing things for the same reasons !

JohnVF's picture

I completely agree. For a long time I thought the snooty audiophile was a myth. An urban legend. Then I waded into some online audio discussions and found them there in full bloom. This isn't to say that all or oven most of us are like that...but the few, unfortunately, leave the bad taste that 'normal' people can't get rid of, so they stay away. Far away. Even those with the dough to afford this stuff.

spacehound's picture

...in an expensive part of the UK (Hampshire). I go often to a nearby country pub and talk to 'pub friends' - people one sees often there but rarely socialise with anywhere else.

A brand new $200,000 Maserati 'Grand Cabrio' in the car park. I go in - "Hello Dave, I suppose that monstrosity in the car park is your latest toy?"

He gives a big grin and buys me a beer. A few minutes later I buy another one for myself and one for him.

If I said I was about to spend the same sort of money on a 'stereo' WHICH IS HOW HE WOULD THINK OF IT he would say I was nuts!

(Who goes there? Everyone from the postman to a guy who's income is about 15 million dollars a year. We all think of each other as 'equals' - there are a lot more important things in life than buying power.)

JohnVF's picture

An attitude akin to what you just posted is why many people despise audiophiles. I know a lot of people with 6 and even 7 figure salaries who might consider owning a great stereo but they wouldn't ever consider interacting with other audiophiles for risk of having to listen to this kind of unearned arrogance.

dalethorn's picture

If audiophiles are that bad (probably), then don't go anywhere near headphones. The headphone "gurus" are some of the most uncouth and uneducated people I've ever dealt with.

kursten's picture

That room belongs to Jeremy Kinpnis


bcahl's picture

And his website is http://www.JeremyKipnis.com. I've been to his Cine Beta recently and was very impressed with the picture quality and the audio quality. The photo does not do justice to what the system is capable of.

Jeremy Kipnis's picture

Thank you for your kind words, Ben!

I expect to be showcasing the new OLOGE ACOUSTIC Loudspeakers to replace the Snell M&C speakers very shortly :-)

spacehound's picture

It's hideous. Like something out of a nightmare SF film.

And likely not much musical taste either. If you sat in the middle of the orchestra/band you would not be hearing it in the manner intended.

Home cinema? It's for 'CHAVS' (as we call them in the UK). Batman, or explosions, whatever. Good films tend to be quiet. They don't rely on 'effects' or 'immersive' sound. Reality (the real world) doesn't either.

DaveinSM's picture

@Kursten, thanks for the link to the article. I'm a straight-up two channel stereo guy, but I certainly can appreciate that system. And while that is a ton of money for an AV system, in the area I live, having a big house with a room that large would probably cost another $6 million (SF Bay Area).

Laszlo's picture

When most of us baby boomers were in college ('65 -'69 for me) we looked forward to getting our first good stereo. Typically it was our second major purchase, right after a car. This yearning was perfectly normal and well accepted amongst our friends, all of whom considered themselves to be regular people who liked music. The term "audiophile" did not yet exist so there was no onus on anyone who wished for high quality stereo gear. Of course it all boiled down to the speakers as all of us knew (thanks to Hirsch Houck reviews in Stereo Review) that amplifiers all sounded the same and differed only in how much power they put out. The top of the heap was the AR-3a speaker which as best I can recall sold for about $275 a pair. At the time I was earning that exact amount biweekly as an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant. So AR-3as were out of my reach. I got KLH model sixes for $120 which was as big a deal as I could stomach. But all our friends were doing the same. They were getting their Sansui or Sony rigs with lattice work on the front of the speakers and green lights on the FM dials of their receivers and feeling they were making wise decisions about something important, something that every employed, hard working citizen needed and deserved.

There may have existed a high end audio world back then, too. I recall looking through the KLH brochure and seeing a listing for an oddity called "KLH Model Nine Electrostatic Speakers". These were listed for $1200 which I knew had to be a misprint as no speaker on earth could possibly cost that much. But such stuff was beyond the boundaries of our world and no one ever talked about these speakers. They might as well have been unicorns.

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, all this changed and college kids stopped talking about stereo stuff. Maybe there was just too much stuff to talk about: skateboards, snow skies, motorbikes, trips to Europe or Mazatlan, and finally personal computers and video games. Maybe music became just one of those background things that was always there and always free or practically free. So anyone who actually cared about music reproduction had been expelled from the mainstream. They were now cranks and eccentrics indulging bizarre interests that no longer resonated with what matters to regular people. Spending even two or three thousand dollars on a modest but high quality system now strikes most people as freakish as would buying house paint for $200 a gallon. Who would do such a thing and why?

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

What the hell is this article about? Lonely old men with too much time and money? Just like those stupid articles about hi-fi shows? Get a nurse.

kursten's picture

Why bother reading any of this if you're so offended by it? Is running your mouth online somehow productive in your opinion? Are these 'lonely old men' worse than ISIS or are you just taking a break from your efforts to bring them down? If we have too much time on our hands, what does that say about someone who reads this stuff and isn't even interested in it?

BillK's picture

The problem with the complaint about "real music" not being played at shows is that everyone has a different idea of what that is.

I myself question why people go for 180g pressings of AC/DC or Guns n Roses where to me hearing perfectly reproduced distortion is just that. On the other hand, the grandfather of audiophile show recordings, the Mannheim Steamroller "Fresh Aire" series (particularly II and III) are two of my favorite albums to listen to, period.

What's interesting about the Internet is people's seeming need to be right; it's not that one person can hear the difference in cables where another cannot, it's that they cannot possibly make a difference, and you're stupid, a rube, a moron, whatever if you think you can resolve a difference. Yet few deride those who feel they can taste the difference between a $100 bottle of wine and one selling for $10,000.

Are there are manufacturers who sell just to reach some stratospheric price point? Of course there are. But are there actual major improvements in sound to be had? Oh yeah.

In most other areas of life, connoisseurs are left to their own device, with others stating they're perfectly happy with Coors Light as compared to the latest hip microbrew. But in audio for some reason there are myriad folks who make it their mission to try and convince the world that we would be better off taking the money spent on better cables or perhaps a better phono cartridge (or on vinyl at all, given CD sound is perfect) and using it for toilet paper. There are several forums I frequent where members regularly tell those seeking advice that DACs were perfected by 1990 and any developments since are simply marketing spin.

Quite the strange pedestal upon which to hang one's self-worth.

Sal1950's picture

And I was one of the masses that went out and bought that nice stereo as soon as I could afford it. I read Stereo Review and Audio, then later found a guru in J Gordon Holt and Stereophile.
Along the way I learned about imaging and proper speaker setup, room tuning etc. My friend who had also bought their first HiFi's would come by and listen, their jaws dropping as I seated them in the sweet spot seat and they would notice something called imaging for the first time. We would then talk and I would explain to them that this was the real reason for "Stereo" and they could experience much of the same thing too with only the proper setup of their speakers.
Time would pass and I would go to their houses and their speakers would still be in the same position. One in a corner and the other on a shelf on the other side of the room.
I'd ask about not correctly positioning the speakers as we had talked about and they would say something along the lines of how the wife didn't like the way the room looked like that.
And so it went, as the time passed and my system grew and improved, theirs never changed unless if broke. Now a days replaced by a small bluetooth connected single speaker and their iphone/ipods. SAD

Laszlo's picture

I know what you mean. I once went to a friend's house where both speakers were placed behind the sofa firing into the back of the sofa. This ridiculous set up apparently was sufficient to satisfy him and his wife. The key here was that the speakers "just disappeared" but not quite as we audiophiles use that term.

tonykaz's picture

The Music System is a delivery device for our high.

Although, for some it's a "Show-Off" sort of thing,

for some it's a collector hobby,

and it's a Religion of True Believers.

We are all at least one of the above,

I'm the Addict.

Tony in Michigan

ps. there are those that Sell this gear, for them it's a just a business. ( I was one of these too )

BradleyP's picture

It takes less time than one might think. I click around a lot sampling tracks and can rule out half of the albums in less than a minute or two each. If one survives the first couple of minutes, I put it in a playlist I call "In Review" for further listening while I work. Five to ten minutes is all it usually takes to either delete the album from "In Review" or put it into the proper genre folder as a "keeper." Try it!

olc's picture

I have to disagree. The point is to recreate the experience of listening to the music. To that end the system provides cues that the listener combines with his experience to create the sound i his head. I remember when von Karajan did AR speaker ads saying that the 4xs sounded just like a live orchestra, and I have no doubt that what those speakers produced was adequate for him to create the whole thing in his head. It's nice to have "highly accurate" equipment, but even that term is subjective in that every listener brings his own set of experiences, expectations, and prejudices to his judgments.

gsnorris's picture

I'm a little surprised at the lack of responses that get to the heart of the matter - the palpable sound of musical instruments.

I grew up learning to play various instruments and being in bands and orchestras. Somewhere along the line, I found myself mesmerized by high quality recordings played through high quality systems. In my own living room, I could close my eyes and focus on the beautiful sounds I had been around for so many years. I could envision the instruments (and even the musicians) in front of me.

It's thrilling enough for me to enjoy a nearly 3D rendering of any musical instrument. But, on top of that, how amazing is it that we can be transported right into the studio with Miles and company recording "Kind of Blue" in 1959?

That doesn't mean I don't love hearing the intentionally tinny sound of "Street Fighting Man." My old Zenith owl-eye transistor is fine for that. My priority is the music itself, but if it's available in more realistic-sounding form, I'm in.

I'm on my 2nd pair of speakers and 3rd turntable in 39 years. I'm not a gearhead. I'm not trying to impress anyone. My advice to critics of high-end audiophiles is to avoid stereotyping. As in any other walk of life, there are those with honest goals and those with dubious goals.

If you have a Ferrari because driving is an irresistable passion, maseltov. If you have a Ferrari because they're the ultimate status symbol, get a life.

spacehound's picture

I'm an Iranian cleric too and earthquakes have nothing to do with women's clothing. The flimsier the better, it gives Allah a clearer view.

The OTHER GUY IS A PHONEY, he's not a real Iranian cleric at all. Do YOU use YOUR real ID?

Allahu Ackbar!

The guy talking about the 'Diana Krall Syndrome' is correct. "My stereo is more expensive than yours" is the ONLY reason we buy this stuff. Old fools who can't hear a thing. That is the truth. We Iranian clerics never lie.

Facebook? It's for retards. Having a Facebook ID PROVES you are one.Read the Qur'an instead.

GET A LIFE? Do you REALLY think sitting by yourself listening to imitation music is a LIFE? How sad you must be. GET OUTSIDE. Buy a camel and see the world. You might even hear some REAL music.

Steve C's picture

If money were no object, yes I would have a system like that. That is not how the world works. House, family and work. Of course being a musician for 50 years helps in identifying great sound. When you hear an instrument out of tune the hair on the back of my neck, of whats left, halloweens. But when that sound is so harmonious that hair rises again, then I have found a sound I like. Hope that helps.

dalethorn's picture

I hear those wonderful sounds on headphones, some of which might tickle a few hairs even if the latter don't raise up. But what I've always wanted is a house and a large reinforced sound room, and something like the Cerwin-Vegas used in the 1974 Earthquake film. It was said that you could plug those speakers directly into an AC mains outlet, and while you'd hear a *very* loud 60 hz tone, no damage would ensue. That speaker, EQ'd for a reasonable mids-treble flat response, would add drama to certain pieces that would seriously impress and entertain my friends at our house parties. But, there are practical barriers, and so I live with the audio part of audiophile and leave the grand physical experience for the wealthy.

dalethorn's picture

When I was a young teenager, I had a small plastic battery-operated record player. I took it apart and connected the speaker left-right wires to an external speaker, and WOW - a fuller sound. That was not my imagination, and it was really wonderful hearing the added lower-end tones. I got some resistors from radio shack and connected the speaker wires to the resistors, then connected those to a miniplug which went into the microphone jack of my little cassette recorder. I then listened to the tapes using an early Sony walkman headphone, and WOW - even more bass and more high end too!

That was a beginning, or a new beginning that may have started with a table radio when I was a toddler. Who knows ... the point is that when more musical information was available to my ears, my satisfaction greatly increased. In subsequent years, there were ill-informed purchases reminiscent of the "one step forward and two steps back" axiom, but by and large things got better and better.

I've arrived at a point now where I leave the house for a time, and then when I return and fire up the stereo system, I'm amazed all over again at the quality and completeness of the sound I'm hearing. Now for those users who don't get to that level of satisfaction, or they're just curious about what new things are available for additional sums of money, I can only hope for them that they don't squander their families' last few dollars on audio gear, or drive themselves into homelessness while chasing an elusive dream.

As to the rationale of $100k turntables and $50k preamps, the discoveries and refinements that occur in the development of some of those products DO trickle down to my level, and I'm grateful that someone is paying for it.

kevon27's picture

BOSE.. case closed..

lawton's picture

Just a few anecdotes. My teenage son is already an accomplished musician (oboist) and lives with music all day, either practicing or listening. He will listen to his usual menu of large scale orchestral music on my system, but just out of convenience. He often listens to symphonic music on an old portable DVD player (with the built in junk speakers) or his computer. I will ask him why he is listening to a portable DVD player when the 'good' system is right there for him to use. He just shrugs and says 'this is OK.' He did not even notice the 'soundstage' of the big system until I pointed it out to him. He was not impressed. One day he was listening to the big system when I walked in and found out that one of the speakers was not connected. I asked him I he noticed anything different. He said 'no.' I have given up turning him into an audiophile. He listens to music and gets great joy out regardless of the vehicle used. I now realize that I not only listen to music, but I listen to the presentation of the music. Both are important to me and that is why spend my time and money for that experience. My son thinks that I am crazy to spend so much money on a stereo, and I would be if I listened like him.

JohnVF's picture

I've found the headphone folks to suffer from the worst kind of dogmatic opinions. LIke the cult of the technics turntable just for something else. And no, that's not a slight at the SL-1200. Just the worship of brands at the cost of liking anything else.

pnoel1969's picture

Thanks to Ken Micallef for this article. There has been quite a bit of dancing around the issue of Us-Them/ Audiophile-Nonaudiophile in recent months in Stereophile. It was refreshing to read someone willing to cut to the heart of the issue.

While I think the article lays bare differences between audiophiles, especially differences in opinion, it neglects differences between audiophiles and others. Audiophiles are not necessarily videophiles, cigar aficionados, car enthusiasts, foodies, etc... Yes I have a nice music system but I balk at the notion of paying a premium for many other things. I'm sure this is true for many other audiophiles: understanding why, should offer some insight as to why our avocation is not shared by everyone else.

Fact is that for many things, people simply do not need to buy premium products to have a satisfying experience. Even while recognizing better quality and that paying more may yield better quality, a person may not find the difference compelling enough to invest their time and money. Given this, as the increase in quality becomes more incremental and the increase in cost exponential, premium products tend to be relegated to niche markets outside the purview of most people.

As for why we should care, as audiophiles, it is in our interest to grow the hobby whether we take our place at the low-end of the high-end or at the bleeding edge of perfectionist audio or at a place somewhere in between. That said, it is foolish to assume that inside every music lover there is an audiophile dying to get out. Not being part of the experiences typical of the majority, audiophile pursuits are not even on the radar of most music lovers: less a question of why they scorn us than why they are unaware of us. This is something we have to recognize when deciding to introduce others to the joys of good music reproduction. Most folks don’t require high fidelity to enjoy music and as a consequence won’t see the point of shelling out for a high fidelity system.

Likewise we have to recognize there is scorn and indeed some of it is well-earned although some of it is not. Some scorn is born of ignorance or unfamiliarity with quality audio reproduction and some results from a quick dismissal of all audiophiles and hi-fi for the excesses of some. Some scorn says more about the one who scorns than the object of the derision. Again, recognizing which is which, is the key to deciding how one should respond when one happens across disparagement directed at audiophiles. As the article exemplifies, audiophiles come in all shades. It behooves us to remind those who would scorn us that ours is a bigger, more varied tent than generally recognized. Room could be found even for those who, like me, used to look down their noses at audiophiles, should they give premium audio an honest try and find they can’t live without it.

Happy Listening!

DX-7's picture

#1) on music

First off, it would be a poor excuse of a hobby if we were just listening to cables and amps instead of _music_.

Enjoyment of music should be front and center, so if you want to draw other people in, you have to do so with the music they like to listen to.
That means all that "preaching-to-the-choir"-demo material (D. Krall and friends) has to go. It screams "niche" and "putting the sound above the music" more than anything.

Don't be afraid to demo a system with a Taylor Swift vinyl or the (indeed so very, very excellent) Ratatouille soundtrack CD. :)

#2) on money

True, a Ferrari is a more interesting car than a VW Golf. But in the grand scheme of things it is the far less relevant one of the two.

Both manufacturers and press should pay more attention to what matters and is affordable for most people.
Gear categorized as merely "entry level" or "mid-fi" should not be considered a mere starting point - for most of us it's "end game" already.

Some perspective: I consider myself an audiophile yet the two most expensive pieces of gear in my chain are a Logitech Squeezebox Touch and Philips Fidelio X-2 headphones, €300 each, with the latter being the single biggest bang-for-the-buck audio-wise I've ever come across.

Also, statements like "don't bother with Vinyl below $20k" are not going to help anyone, even those who actually can afford it: Ivory towers are fairly lonely places to live in.

Karystrance's picture

Long live John Fiebke! Audiophilia and social intercourse are, unfortunately, mutually exclusive. As for Diana Krall, I've often wondered how many of us would own her discs, along with those of Patricia Barber, Jennifer Warnes and f**king Jacintha if they were all just plain old 1983-issue OJCs. One only needs to peruse the various audiophile websites for a few minutes to know that nobody interesting would ever want to associate with us.