I recently paid a visit to one of my favorite local high-end audio stores. The store is a local institution. It’s been in business for decades and is the go-to place for the best quality audio equipment. Whether it’s entry level gear for a few hundred dollars or uber-high end equipment like Wilson Alexandria speakers ($200k/pair) or $55k/pair Dan D’Agostino Momentum Monoblock amplifiers, this store has you covered.
I’ve known the owner for years and recently stopped in just to say hello. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about him is that he never pressures customers and cares about helping his clients enjoy music.
Of course, we ended up talking about music, gear, and the state of the audio industry but during our conversation I happened to ask him about any recent meetings of audio societies there. Naturally, I figured that they were a key part of his business. “I don’t host them any more,” he said. “Audiophiles don’t listen to music. They only like to listen to their gear.”
That comment hit me like a brick.
In all my years of being an audiophile that pejorative description never ever came across my mind. I guess it should have, but it didn’t. For me personally, I became enamored with audio gear as a way to help me get closer to the music. In other words it is a means to an end—not the end itself.
I think most of us real audiophiles will remember the day or even the very moment when we heard that song or that album that was so moving, so life-like, that we wanted to have that experience each time we turned on the music. Music wasn’t white noise in the background, it was an event. It wasn’t whoever has the most toys, or gear wins.
But this additional observation is somehow more deleterious then anything before. It infers that the only thing audiophiles care about is demo material. That music is no different to audiophiles than test tones. It’s all about showing off what this piece or that piece of gear do on this track or that one. It’s like saying your car is no longer about enjoying driving but winning a drag race to show whose car is faster, beefier.
This experience shocked me into another reality: audiophiles aren’t necessarily respected for their love of music. In fact, they are sometimes publicly mocked. I’ve recently come across comments that said “audiophiles are fools” and “gullible” believing that snake oil cables are what audio is all about. And another that says that all audiophiles are snobs and if you can’t have the system with a minimum value of $X then you are not a real audiophile. Really?
Is this what we’ve become?
I certainly hope not. Walking along the fine line between perception and reality, I think all of us true audiophiles—defined as those who strive for the highest fidelity audio reproduction—need to think very carefully about where these characterizations and stereotypes have come from. For every finger we point outwards there are likely three pointing right back at us. I’m sure there have been times when all of us have knowingly or unknowingly put down someone else’s gear, scoffed at how their audio system performs, or boasted arrogantly about this or that about our own setup.
I think that today’s audiophile needs to go from elitist to evangelist.
If we truly care about the music then each of us should take it upon himself or herself to expose others to great music and great musical reproduction and mentor others in making that possible. Such an evangelistic approach doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our own styles or preferences or even biases. Instead, it entails becoming mentors, teachers, supporters in the simplest of ways.
In fact, I can imagine a conversation like this with a kid listening to music:
“Hey kid, I see you really like music.”
“You know what, you’re an audiophile. Welcome to the club.”