The word “audiophile” gets thrown around a lot on this site. You’ll also see the word a lot wherever vintage audio or high-end sound equipment is discussed. The word is sometimes used in a mocking way, but in general it just refers to someone who is deadly serious about sound quality.
An audiophile cares a lot more than the average person about the fidelity of sound. Every component in the audio chain gets attention from an audiophile. From the actual recording format to the cables, and every little spec and component of the amps and speakers. The most extreme audiophiles can’t tolerate even the slightest perceived imperfection.
For a lot of people their audiophilia borders on an unhealthy obsession, but most audiophiles are simply people who have a discerning ear and try to get the best audio experience they can. So really they are just like most people who care even a little bit about sound quality, but just more serious.
Having Goals Is Important
So what are audiophiles trying to achieve? It’s hard to get a straight answer about this. One view is that audiophiles try to reproduce the sound of a live performance. So their equipment, listening position, and room acoustics are geared towards this.
The problem is that a lot of studio music never sounded like a live performance in the first place. So here the goal may be a little different; the goal may be to reproduce the sound as closely to how the artist intended you to hear it. So the idea is to remove as much bias from the recording before the sound reaches your ears.
The world of the audiophile suffers from the same sort of criticism as that of wine experts. Most regular folks think it’s elitist nonsense, and it doesn’t help that a lot of what audiophiles believe or perceive is unscientific.
On the other hand, there are a lot of noticeable things that can be improved upon in consumer audio; things that are just too expensive or too much trouble for the average person. In other words, it’s not only audio qualities that people are skeptical about, but also those that people just generally don’t care about.
If you see someone who just keeps using the bassless, distorted el-cheapo earbuds that came with their phone, that’s not an audiophile.
It’s important to note that there is nothing good or bad about being an audiophile. People who just enjoy music without really caring about the finer details of quality are OK. At the same time, as long as they aren’t jerks about it, being an audiophile is a fine thing. There are some real issues though and all potential audiophiles should know about it.
Blinded With Science
The main issue with a lot that happens in the audiophile world is that products marketed at audiophiles are very inconsistent. Because sound quality and perception is so subjective and there are no universal scientific standards that divide “audiophile quality” from everything else, marketers have a field day with the word. There’s no greater warning signal than when a product actually uses the word “audiophile” in its marketing material. It may be a fine piece of hardware, but I would be twice as critical.
There’s also a lot of audio snake oil doing the rounds. Fake tube amps that use the placebo effect on listeners is one nasty example. You can unscrew the “tubes” and it all still works!
Insanely expensive cables with no audible advantages are another moneymaker. There’s no proof that they do anything your ears can detect, but many audiophiles have drunk the Koolaid and this is now a big industry.
The True Believers
For the most part however, the things that audiophiles care about do matter and can be heard with a healthy set of ears. These are things like the correct balance and separation of low, mid, and high-frequency sound. The absence of compression artifacting in digital music is also important.
In fact, if possible, the avoidance of digital audio is even better in the eyes of an audiophile. If digital is the way, then audiophiles like to listen to lossless digital formats like FLAC. Anything that “colors” the sound leaving the speaker, from the speaker cabinet to the actual room, has to be taken into consideration.
Careful What You Wish For
When you think about it, having a case of audiophilia can be a curse. Whereas regular people can enjoy music even if the sound is not perfect, an extreme audiophile has to spend several thousand dollars before they can get the same enjoyment. If you are an audiophile then you’re in for quite a ride as you look for your own take on audio perfection. If you aren’t, well just be happy you can enjoy the music for its own sake. You should still buy some better headphones, though.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.