What is an Audiophile?
Recently I upgraded my stereo system for the first time in years, including the replacement of my dying 12 year old Yamaha receiver. While I am not one who must have the latest electronic gizmo, neither do I hail from the Luddite tribe; however that may be, I was so many levels out of my depth that I should have hired someone to purchase a system for me. The world of audiophile grade equipment is a strange place; there are cables that connect an amplifier to a processor which cost more than many used cars. There are small companies who build $65,000 cd players, and obviously those who purchase them. This isn’t a judgment, I see no difference from someone who purchases a custom tailored Bugatti for two million dollars versus someone buying a handcrafted 2,800 lbs pair of Moon Audio Titan’s for $500,000. I must say I am a little curious to hear those…caviar anyone?
I am a couple of weeks into my new set up and I have to say that this has been like trading in an old tried and true Honda Civic for a Infinity M45 or more to the point, what its like going from marijuana to cocaine. The addiction factor to replay all of my old compact discs, ones I haven’t touched in several years is astonishing. I find myself giggling in between tracks as I have not heard the additional layers of sounds and details of my favorite songs before. My MP3 player is looking lonely and abandoned. I've never owned a separate CD player as a component before, I always relied on whatever type of DVD player I had to play discs, and that was on very rare occasions. Where pictures are worth thousands of words, the audible completeness of music on good equipment is not easily describable. Where I am usually verbose in structure, I find words unable to render my feeling and experience musically adequate. As a matter of fact, one such place that does give some justice to superlatives and audio is 6 Moons.
I have spent some months researching the equipment I wished to purchase. Not unlike hubpages, audio forums are filled with agreeable and less than agreeable commentaries. What is nice is seeing everyone describe there entire system down to how many feet and inches their equipment is placed next to walls. As with hundreds and thousands of possible combinations of amplifiers, speakers, cd/sacd players, bluray players, pre-amps, processors and power conditioners, I felt that any choice of equipment would matter only to my taste and budget. What I didn’t expect was the absolute distaste the audio/video community had for professional magazine writers. Because sound preference and purported equipment performance was rarely backed up by equipment testing, there were piles of misinformation to cut through. As many local audiophiles would state, big magazine audio testers would sample high end products that 90% of the population couldn’t afford. This leads to a distrust foisted upon the editors to legitimize their claims of a $33,000 cd player being worth every penny. Then there are testers who use the same adjectives to describe every listening experience. What I found interesting was what the editors actually use in their own listening environment. This would tell me the only thing I wanted to know. Just like finding out what kind of car an automobile sales manager personally owns, I want to know what does a big expensive audio magazine editor plop his hard earned dollars down for.
The next obstacle was actually obtaining a demonstration of the equipment I narrowed my choices down to. I was stuck between a rock and jazz place. Big box stores inevitably rely on cheap stock that 90% of consumers will take home. Then the high end stores really do not have much time for you if you cannot afford their lavishly expensive products. I ended up purchasing my components from five different stores; four if you include one stop shopping from Amazons collection of retailers. In the end, the only item I could demo was my stand alone stereo speakers. The English make some nice speakers, no Jaguar electronics to worry about here. What I've ended up with is a nice combination of stereo speakers, CD player and class D amp to damage my hearing for the rest of my fleshly existence. I find myself buying CD's for the first time in more than 10 years…that in itself is a testament to good home audio. My reasons…relaxation; building a calm atmosphere for unwinding at the end of my hectic day. I equally look forward to sharing my new sound stage with family members and their tastes.
Please leave me some feedback on your own experiences and how you enjoy your music. Thanks for reading.
2014 - Update
Well, I would have to call myself a guilty party and say I fully immersed myself among the audiophile-esq. In the years since I first wrote this article, my own audio system has undergone several dozen changes and arrangements. With each new change, a slight or significant audible difference has emerged. I must admit that good quality and not inexpensive gear is worth it to my ears. Where I went from the total aggregate of my equipment costing under a grand, to the point where my gear is going to exceed 10X that, I can exuberantly proclaim my interest, satisfaction and excitement with this hobby has matched that sum with no regrets. Another interesting and fun tidbit, is my wife has been more than supportive of this hobby, seeing my enjoyment, and in turn, she often gets to hear music she loves with greater appreciation. Yes, at first (okay, still) she doesn't understand how I keep buying new cables from eBay, but then, when I sell used ones at really high residual values, her eyebrows raise in amusement. If one cannot beat them, let alone understand them, then join them! Cheers to you my friends.