How Audiphiles are Different

So, I can’t spell Audiophile. Doh.

Again, moving this to a new thread to avoid polluting the OP that got me thinking about this.

A couple of events have intersected for me which made me realize just how very different audiophiles can be. Not just in their tastes but the very way in which the ear/brain mechanism is wired for them. This then profoundly affects their priorities in equipment and rooms. There is no one right way to be but those who argue purity of reproduction is the only reason to be an audiphile, well, I have news for you...

At a show many years ago the rooms varied a great deal in the amount of acoustic treatments. Some very expensive gear was in some really poor sounding rooms. From a couple of these rooms I overheard several participants talk about how great the demos were. I was a little surprised. I couldn’t hear anything. All I could hear was the ocean spray of the room.

After this somewhere I read about how exhausting meeting room and class rooms can be. Our brain is always listening through the room acoustics for words. This takes effort. In a reflective room we literally burn more calories just listening than we do in a dampened room. It makes it harder to study or listen, and we get tired more quickly. I’ve also thought about how musicians listen and how many of them don’t hear the recording or the room, they hear the musician's technique. Their brain’s entire symbol system and language is wired to feel technique and expression.

I have hypothesized these things:

  • Some of us can listen through bad room acoustics much more easily than others
  • Being able to hear minute differences (say in DACs) which don’t appear in steady state tests may very well be possible given long term averaging or some other feature we replicate in modern machine learning/neural networks.
  • We train ourselves to be different types of listeners.

And as a result:

  • Different listeners have different ear / brain wiring which focuses their preferences one way or another.
  • At least to some degree this must be something we learn/train ourselves to do.
  • If this is something we can train ourselves to do maybe we should be careful to train ourselves to listen for musical enjoyment rather than discriminating across equipment.
  • We should embrace the diversity of audiophiles rather than claim a single purity of purpose.
  • Charlatans and snake oil salesmen will never go away.

All of this is just about ear / brain mechanisms. It’s also possible some of us have physical receptors or a combination of different ears/different brains which cause us to hear differently. I remember chatting with a rare lady who was an audiophile and she pointed out that for years she couldn’t listen to DAC’s. They gave her headaches. This was about the same time that DAC’s started getting good at Redbook playback.

What are your thoughts?



My intended point was only that we all experience sound differently, so it should be expected that audiophiles would all appreciate different systems/sounds and poor acoustics might be more critical for some than others.

i think with experience we recognize when the circumstances limit the value of what we hear. the lack of room<->speaker synergy, or too high SPL’s, or non musical source or musical choice.....or......those things all sometimes happen.

or maybe we are not in the mood to open our minds and ears. i find it good at shows to return to a room multiple times if i have an interest to give myself multiple times so it was not me. i rarely trust my first impression as i carry baggage into the session and i have to get past that.....and wake up to the music and get past my head space. let the music come to me as just music, not sounds. how do i feel?

these situations happen at people’s homes, at shows, at dealers. it’s part of learning. and many times it takes time to ’get--understand’ the system balance and intentions. it might have completely different type of balance than your system so you need to be able to embrace that part of it. and it’s hard sometimes. it might not be just different, it could be bad. it can happen.

If audiophiles have personal preference for sound quality, and therefore we differ in how sound is perceived, how do you explain that most of the time we do agree on what good recording sound is like: we do agree on which music halls, around the world, do sound wonderful and the ones’s ( most of them) which don’t sound so good. ; and we do agree even that the Munich hi-fi show has by far the best possible sound quality rooms to offer and draws many audiophiles from around the world.

Keep in mind that these are objective observations and not subjective based opinions.

Musicians are trained to hear intervals, chords, arpeggios, BPM, the 16 known basic rhythms and their variations, intonation, pitch, technique and position. There may be other things to learn such as stage moves (taught as a serious elective at Musician’s Institute - GIT, BIT etc.), but expression is not a quantifiable discipline. It won’t be on the Ear Training final exam where in most schools, you’ll be transcribing an entire song in standard musical notation. And yes, ears and ear drums vary in size and sensitivity. Damage plays a part as well. There is also a phenomenon that some experience where they fill in the implied notes and do not realize until told, they are only implied. There is now a name for it, which escapes me at the moment.

my mind can push acoustics into the background for the most part. but what i can't seem to tune out - is noise, esp. if it is percussive in character [phonographic crackle]. that is the thing that got me to become an audio restoration technician. i never understood how some people can describe phonographic playback as coming from "a black background" when surface noise for me stands out like a sore thumb even on golden-ear systems. 

Listening is also a test. An assumption is being made here to a degree that machine measurements are the objective truth, and that if one heard accurately the listening test would be identical to the mechanical test. The question is whether sound equipment is being made for ears or for machines.

Anyway, here's another test, which I assume everyone has done at one time or another. Start listening to a recording on stereo equipment, then cup your hands behind your ears and note the difference. Then, recall that everyone's earlobes are shaped differently.