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The many faces of obssession

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Nomos Metro (http://www.nomos-glashuette.com/)

Leaving me alone with my thoughts is probably not a good or healthy thing. But I had some time recently to rummage the cupboards, as it were, and it occurred to me that the average audiophile is more than a little compulsive.

No, I don’t mean we’re all OCD, though I have joked about that in the past (Lord, I apologize). But there’s something to be said for that — while it is most assuredly the case that there are quite a few distressed souls afflicted by this unusual and potentially disabling condition, OCD is akin to many disorders. That is, it’s not disorder, but perhaps helpfully thought of as a continuum or spectrum, with folks experiencing varying levels of effect and impact. Lots of disorders are like this, and I don’t expect that to be too tendentious to offer up, but I’ll add the codicil that nothing particularly rides on it — other than audiophiles tend toward an obsessive character more than, say, your average interpretive dance artist.

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Meisterstruck from Mont Blanc

Where things get interesting, at least in the context of this particular set of sesquipedalian perambulations, is in how this translates across — are there other interests for the average audiophile? That is, is it the case that for any given audiophile, they’re interested in other topics to the same (or same-ish) degree that the audio hobby can and frequently does encourage, and if so, what inspires such fascination? My intuition, not surprisingly, is that audiophiles are indeed just as fetishistic about other things, and in fact, perhaps many other things.

So, I went exploring.

Actually, it was a pretty short tour. It seems audiophiles do obsess about non-audio things. The problem is that they seem to obsess about a lot of things. And by “a lot”, I mean … well … pretty much everything.

I should probably kick that over. Most audiophiles I’ve talked to about this are not hopeless shut-ins, lost in their own swirling chaos of detail and abstraction, or even close to that. In fact, I can only think of one or two. But there does seem to be a general trend in the overall population that has them wandering rather close to the singularity that may typify pathological behavior: they’re really quite particular people. And this realization reminded me of an article my wife made a lot of hay out of on an odd criteria around decision making:

Psychology researchers have studied how people make decisions and concluded there are two basic styles. “Maximizers” like to take their time and weigh a wide range of options — sometimes every possible one — before choosing. “Satisficers” would rather be fast than thorough; they prefer to quickly choose the option that fills the minimum criteria (the word “satisfice” blends “satisfy” and “suffice”). — WSJ: ”

How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are“.

One guess as to which category most audiophiles tend to land in. So, happiness aside (which happens to be a very interesting explanation for the whole “trade up” obsession that happens to many audiophiles), I would suggest that many audiophiles are maximizers by nature. Not all. Many. Enough. Enough to keep the industry of audio-tweaks alive and well for decades, at the very least.

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Damascus chef knife from master blade smith Bob Kramer

So, my survey also turned up some interesting parallels to audio obsessions. Watches (aka, “horology”) was a very early and heavily cited parallel fascination. Not just any old Swatch, of course, but the entire world of mechanical high-end. You think loudspeakers are expensive? Pardon me while I choke down a startled laugh. Google the term “tourbillon”. Yeah. No, I’m not really talking about Rolex — that’s a great brand, but has more in common with “Bose” and Bang and Olufsen than any of the truly boutique-y brands out there. You don’t have to wander very far from that mainstream to hit cult-like high-end watch brands that retail for $10k for their entry-level around-town models, and more interesting offerings with prices that scale rapidly up and past the rarefied air of $100k … for one piece of occasional-wear piece of men’s jewelry.

If you could see me insert a shrug, that’s what I’d be doing about now. These things are what they are. Just as clearly, that level of pricing is not for the casual “enthusiast”. That said, there are quite a few brands that have staked out the high-quality, low-cost end of the market, so I don’t think it’s fair to brush off the entire industry as mad. And precisely therein lies the lure — and the cliff. So, while we’re clearly at risk of falling down yet another rabbit hole, I have to offer that I think that mechanical watches are fascinating — they’re wearable works of art. The parallels to the boutique audio manufacturer are obvious. Wanna taste? Check out Worn&Wound — this site has some fantastic watch porn photography.

Roaming a bit farther afield, you have pens. Yes, pens. Fountain and roller and everything in between. And while not as face-melting as watch prices, the price for certain quality hand-made fountain pens can be every bit the cost of a car. And for the exact same reason that watches can command such prices — there’s a bespoke quality to pen manufacture that just speaks that “we’ve got a secret” kind of language that some of us find as easy to resist as sailors do with sirens. Ware Scylla!

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Photo from Lee Shelly Photography

High-end autos are a little different, I think, and represent a slightly different slant. Viewed from the lens of “vintage”, however, audio, watches, and cars all line up quite smartly. Bespoke quality, insider knowledge, and a rich history, and the maximizer motor is revving.

But it’s not all Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Think of cameras. Wine. Craft beer. Home cookery and tools. Wearable fashion, like bags, clothing, and shoes. Sporting gear. Trains. And don’t forget tools: if you haven’t checked out the delightful world of Japanese wood working, you’re missing out.

It seems that we’re a weird bunch.

So, there I was. Looking at all my other hobbies. At the other hobbies of my audio friends. And I started to perambulate a bit more.

So, yeah. I’m gonna do some of that here.

To that end, I’ve asked Nina Sventitsky to chime in occasionally. As you know from her first “Reluctant Sommelier” column, she’s a wine-educator in her day-job, even as her other gig is as a partner in the audio company WyWires.

Lee Shelly, whom many of you know from his incredible audio product photography, will be offering an occasional contribution under the series title “Selective Focus” where he explains, guides and pokes holes in current topics in photography.

Did I ever mention that I had some fun in recent years in culinary school. No? Well, learning to Cook at 40 was eye-opening.

And yes, more will come as I find interesting writers with experience with the relevant obsessions.

It’ll be occasional stuff. The central mission of Part-Time Audiophile is high-end audio and it still is. Call this “other stuff” what it is — seasoning. We’re all complicated creatures, with many and varied interests and tastes. As this stuff gains traction — or not — I’ll find a home for it. But for now, feel free to play or ignore as your own tastes and interests dictate. I fully understand that some of you will be annoyed by the diversion — to that, I offer a heartfelt “whatever”.

Audio reviews are still going to happen. Audio shows are still getting covered. Rest easy, there. But we’re going to pull back the lens occasionally, and focus on the first half of the site — the “Part-Time” part — and see what that brings us. My intuition is that there’s a lot more overlap that you might first expect. More importantly, it’ll be fun for me — and that’s more than enough reason by itself.

Hope you enjoy.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

8 Comments on The many faces of obssession

  1. after many years of research, reading magazines, visiting forums, listening when I had a chance, watching youtube, I was finally ready to get rid of my hard earned cash and buy some high end audio. but just then, the speaker I identified as the best bang for the buck, went up in price whole $6000! Used prices proportionally went up as well, including old models of the same shyte. Obviously, I was not the only one who did the same research. supply and demand rulez. There are 1000s and 1000s of this various (overpriced) shyte. In comparison, there are only 5-10 high end watch makers (btw I did research in that arena as well – the best bang for the buck is JLC, and if you really struggle with bucks go for Zenith).
    So, being maximizer I realized I am never going to “catch” that high end audio shyte. Instead I am investing in my kids education, approx. I spent $50k on schools and tutoring in the last couple of years. Good bye high end audio shyte from me.

  2. I think its quite normal that people have other hobbies that can overlay with audio.
    Besides being an audio enthusiast, I also enjoy electronics and DIY in many different areas.
    I might enjoy audio but few things compare to having the skills to build stuff from raw materials.
    As for the Part-Time thing, its always fun to embrace new things…

  3. Yup….
    Audio, pens, watches, wine-keys, wine glasses, wine, cigar lighters, cutters, cigars…
    hmmmm glazing, home appliances, phones, headphones, audio…..

  4. Nice Scot! Motorcycling and craft beer for me, aside from music/audio.

  5. Great article. I’d say Rolex is more like Magico than Bose. Most parts are engineered and made in house. This includes the stainless steel and gold. They are also a sole proprietorship and not part of a huge conglomerate (swatch group or richemont). The fact that they’re more common than a Patek or A. Lange and Sohn shouldn’t detract from the fact that a lot of work in house goes into their products.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // February 27, 2015 at 2:16 PM //

      David — don’t get me wrong. I’d happily own and wear a Rolex! Full disclosure — about 12 years ago, I got a huge bonus so I splurged and bought an Omega Planet Ocean. I was going to get a Rolex — I was thinking of it as a “business investment” (ha!) — but got the Omega and spent the difference on a swanky custom-made ring for my wife. All that’s to say that Rolex is very pricey. The reason for that isn’t just market valuation — according to something I read a million years ago, they have one of the highest budgetary spends on advertising in their industry. Just like Bose.

      But I’ll offer that, after “getting into watches”, the watch I lusted after was an A. Lange and Söhne.

  6. Very much looking forward to ongoing columns on this subject.

    In my travels it seems a lot of motorcycle fanatics enjoy audio and music too. Maybe these were just isolated incidents, maybe not. At the website for audio distributor/importer Philip O’Hanlon (On A Higher Note) is an image of a sweet vintage Ducati (Pantah IIRC, red and silver) parked in a living room with exotic loudspeakers of some sort. Philip states he likes to “blow the cobwebs out” on SoCal back roads.

    Would love to blast around my old stomping ground in Marin County with Philip, in particular Lucas Valley Road.

  7. Great article Scot! I can certainly relate via watching many of my friends. I, of course, have no such challenges…:)

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