“The only thing worse than audiophile snobbery, is the anti-audiophile snobbery.”
Firstly, and mostly to get this out of the way, the term Audiophile sounds creepy. To the newcomer it sounds too much like that other -phile word that so frequently comes with horrible sexual and abusive connotations. Secondly, to those who have a more informed understanding of what an audiophile is, the term begins to promote “segregation” and “otherness.” Having a social label that creates an us and them mentality can only lead to an identity war. There is evidence to this next statement, but for sake of my argument let’s just assume that everyone wants their audio to sound as best as possible, to which the term “audiophile” then becomes only an identifier for those who have the disposable income to acquire what everyone else cannot. Now, of course there are people with the means who prefer to acquire fast cars or fancy watches over what could (to our minds) be a much more useful and grand stereo system. Let that be a fun fact of personal taste that creates interesting diversity among the rich.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
I ended my last paragraph with the word rich on purpose. Many of lesser means but for a solid love of good sound have exhibited a hatred for the “ audiophile otherness” that have claimed themselves as the real deal. A hatred for those who have drawn a financial border for entrance to the hobby with terms like mid-fi and otherwise stood fast at the gates ready to deny migration into the hobby if one seeking it has not adopted the cult like commandments and principles set in stone by the audiophile clergy or spent the requisite money needed to buy audiophile approved components. When you get right down to it, being an audiophile is partly to adopt a snobbery of our own. I think it would do us best to drop the cult like moniker, which often boxes in our membership and stifles our thinking about what is and isn’t acceptably good sound. It would open us up more broadly to people by removing the “identity” from the hobby and include everyone who more than likely wants what companies like Bose have been peddling for decades, simply put “better sound and nothing else.” There is no Bose owners club which snobbishly looks down or up to anyone. They are just regular people, who are looking for something better, and maybe would find their way to us if only we weren’t so drastically abhorrent to their kind. Is it possible that audiophiles aren’t good for business?
“Is it possible that audiophiles aren’t good for business?“
I don’t do segues and I’m a fan of the former Top Gear (feat. Clarkson, May, Hammond) produced by the BBC, and in spite of my inability to afford nearly all of the cars demonstrated and lauded on the show, I never once felt like a pauper or peasant while tuning in or sharing my love for the program with friends. Nor have I felt “other’ed” while attending an exotic or classic car event. The people who collect high-end or exotic cars are happy to share their experiences with those of lesser means, and often the walls of class and society break down with mutual interest. It would not be strange for a well earning banker and an underappreciated (and underpaid) school teacher to converse at length about a specific model of car, given that both had love for it.
Looking for ways to keep our audiophilia open, I found myself looking at another hobby I participate in that often proves to be more accepting and overall — less hostile when it comes to discussion about what is and isn’t [LABEL UNKNOWN].
I say “label unknown” because when I asked the Urban Gentry Watch Club (UGWC, the largest Facebook group for watch collectors with at the time of writing this, is over 35,000 members), “What is the social label for people who like high-end (quality) watches?” Many of the responses were humorous. One word labels like “rich” or “broke”, which take a bare bones matter of fact approach to the question, simplifying it down to the most objective and determining factor. One commenter wrote, “Most of us poor slobs truly want a Rolex we just can’t afford. But don’t hate us because we came in the servants entrance.” Which instantly makes me feel guilty for shaming those just outside of our hobby who have sought better sound and done so with thrift store vinyl and a Crosley.
To his comment I replied, “Since there isn’t a real defining label for the watch collector community, it really comes down to brand camps.” Yes, there are those in the watch collecting community who hold unpopular opinions about various brand camps. But the Rolex and Tudor guys aren’t viciously at each other’s throats over it. Nor is there really any defined level of entry. Brands like Seiko and Casio are widely popular with watch collectors I have found, so it may seem that with horology intact, little is cast away from the hobby as long as you show genuine love for interesting methods of wearable timekeeping. The UGWC Facebook group, like many of our own Audiophile Groups on Facebook, has a simple set of rules, but most importantly, “Respect your fellow gentry.” Where they succeed over our audiophile groups, is they succeed at following the rules of gentlemanly respect for differences in taste. Even in instances where I tried to incite a feud or hotly contested argument, most members would with smiley emoticons and “LOL”s agree to disagree or even better yet, accept each others points of view and take away with something learned.
“The anti-audiophile snobbery is something we as audiophiles have created.”
This is where I think the aging and dwindling group of audio fundamentalists known as “audiophiles” could stand to pay attention. Audio brands are disappearing, sales are not where they could be, and “membership” into two-channel is looking over a cliff. Morbid of a thought as it is, many of us audiophiles won’t be here in ten years, and I don’t see too many new recruits at the door. In attending audio shows like Axpona, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, or Capital Audiofest, I did not encounter as many young vinyl collectors as I hoped among the two-channel rooms. The millennial audience at headphone booths was nice to see, but that shift in the market has roots far from the traditional audiophile scene. It owes more to iPods, iPhones, gaming and computer tech. In fact, I am out of touch with my own generation for not being into headphones for sake of being a two-channel guy. So there. Even in our own camp, there is a wall between head-fi hobbyists and two-channel traditionalist. The anti-audiophile snobbery is something we as audiophiles have created.
Going beyond the social media internet communities, I decided to track down my local watch collectors club. Which lacking a fancy social label like “Audiophile Society” is just called “Watch Group-NC”. There I met many pleasant and eager enthusiasts from all ages, races, and incomes. All sharing and appreciating each other and their collections. Some were there for trade and dealing, and some there more for the show-n-tell aspect. Everyone was respectful, and the typical class barriers of race, income, and more recently politics, were now shed away for a evening devoted to the enjoyment of horology.
The audiophile culture has been so obsessed with refining and defining itself to a smaller and more strict set of tenants and thought-lines, I now fear that no one daring to bridge that growing distance has a chance to find community, acceptance, and a future. It’s lessons learned in these avenues that could outright save our hobby and inspire future generations and markets to consider becoming, dare I say… audiophile.
Photos from the Watch Group NC monthly meeting.