Audiophilism is a hobby

This post grew out of another discussion on music vs. sound. According to a poll taken in that discussion, it is clear most A’goners claim they listen to their rigs primarily for the music. Although I don’t doubt the truth of that, I maintain that much of the listening is as a hobby, with music being a very important component. I’m not saying we can’t be profoundly moved by the music but rather that a lot of our enjoyment comes from the sheer sound emitted from our speakers. Great music is of course a vital part of the experience, but with all the manipulations we do with our systems, we  are fascinated by the idea of sound in itself as a hobby.


There are some interesting things here.

1. Define ’hobby’. If you’re not making money at listening, isn’t every interest that isn’t a profession a hobby?

2. Yeah, the original conjecture is the ’Missing the forest for the trees’ argument. It basically sums up what we think of as obsession. Obsessive behavior is a high attention to detail coupled with a diminished ability to decide what is truly important to focus on. Don’t mistake obsession for passion. The operative distinction is that an obsessive listener becomes fixated on something on the way to their ultimate goal to the point where they lose their focus on the goal itself.

3. A truly exceptional sound system is beguiling. Many recordings simply sound great even to the point where a mediocre or tangentially interesting piece of music can just blow you away simply on the merits of its qualities, like tonality or texture. But the overall piece itself is perhaps just decent and not earth shattering. I’ve listened to many things where I thought, this production is amazing. This has no right to sound as good as it does. That’s totally a thing.

4. Part of the journey of the audiophile is, in finally reaching a point where the system is objectively ’very, very good’, we have to pause and take stock. Why did we set off on this quest for great sound in the first place? Now that the system isn’t an impediment, what should I listen to next? The problem is, the (audio) world is now my oyster and what do I do with all this amazing possibility. Many listeners just crater when confronted by the vast array of choices. They were so busy learning how to listen that they weren’t actively thinking deeply about what to listen to.

For me, the point of listening has always come from and returned to a place of joy. Whatever I am listening to, it is going to be the result of a conscious, mindful decision. I never feel guilty about what’s spinning or streaming and I never tolerate any material that I don’t find fulfilling or satisfying to whatever I’m feeling passionate about at the moment.

For me, the 13th Century poet Rumi sums it up perfectly:

"The quieter you become, the more you can hear."

On the surface this can be read as referring to physical stillness, but there’s a lot to unpack about us, our striving, and about letting go of that and just returning to listening from a place of joy.

You have to go through years, decades!, of trials of learning to truly hear, learning about all the ways that audio can sound bad, and how to avoid those, before you arrive at a place where none of that is a barrier to what you originally wanted. Once you arrive at that destination, and this can be done! you have to be able to put all that baggage down and get back to what originally set you on this path in the first place.

You’ll have experienced a lot of music and learned a lot along the way. The person you are will inevitably be changed by your experiences on the journey, and so, a conscious effort is required to discover who you are as a listener today. That is a challenge we should embrace and not shrink away from. That's when the fun really starts! Some people sadly do get fixated on the journey and never arrive at its end. That's sad, but that's the nature of people. It's certainly not all audiophiles by any stretch.

@engineears Well said.

I think a pitfall of being so attentive to the fidelity of the playback is some folks cut out of their life significant swaths of music because the recordings don’t sound like whatever some audiophile magazine told them in an article constitutes “good sound.”  
I see the act of seeking the best mastering of a particular recording as totally logical and reasonable.  
I see the act of denying oneself the experience of listening to great music (not audiophilic media’s espousal of ‘great recordings,’ but great music) as sad.

I’ve arrived at a place where the goal of the playback system architecture is total transparency. I don’t believe that recordings can be improved in the reproduction process. Eliminating distortion is the key. That includes:

- No tonal coloration (incorrect timbre) by ensuring a correct response curve

- Having both speakers output within ±1 dB (although 0.5 dB is better) at the listening position across as much of the pass band as possible for a correct stereo image

- Having speakers with even off-axis fall-off across all frequencies

- A room setup that eliminates de-cohering early reflections

- Reducing phase and timing distortions by correcting time arrival at the driver level

That produces transparency and is my ultimate goal. Siegfried Linkwitz (RIP ❤) stated a great case for this in the decade prior to his passing.

If your playback system is reasonably transparent then what you get is an honest representation of every recording, warts and all. And that’s perfect to me. If I hear a digital representation of a wax cylinder and it sounds like the wax cylinder sounded, that’s just right. My goal is never to make every recording perfect, only to hear exactly what the recording and mastering engineers wanted me to hear. Then listening becomes like visiting an art museum. I go through the galleries and experience each work for what it is and accept it as the experience it was meant to be.

What this results in is a system where, if I sit in the sweet spot, the stereo image is holographic and the timbre is totally natural (if the recording was made that way). In properly reproduced stereo soundfield recordings it sounds like I am occupying the same space as the musicians. With gimmicked, hard panned, or recordings that otherwise don’t attempt to create a stereo soundfield, well they are what they are. I don’t try to make them into something they’re not. Some old jazz or psychedelic recordings are like this, for example. But when I am not in the sweet spot, the equal fall off across all frequencies as you move off axis means that even if the stereo illusion is reduced or eliminated, the timbre remains faithful and sounds natural. So if I’m in the kitchen and the system is playing in the living room, it still sounds as if a perfectly EQ’d mono system is playing. That’s fine. That’s just right.


I agree with the process and it taking decades. I am happy to hear you have reached what makes you happy. I can almost hear it. But that is not my cup of tea. That is the great thing about our pursuit, there are flavors for everyone.

So, what is your system? There is place to put photos and ID your equipment.