“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.
While I’m all for an egalitarian appreciation of hobbies and own both a mid-fi sound system and watch, it should be noted that there is a term for watch enthusiasts– horophiles or horologists. And there are many who’d never consider donning a mass-produced quartz action piece, though they might pull out the Caddyshack quote- “Oh, it looks good on you though” – when they see yours.
Thank you – Great article!
As someone who owns 26 watches (and counting) I appreciate the coloration between the two hobbies and your points concerning the “snobbery” found in the “High Fidelity” world.
Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care—-about Time!
The pretentiousness of the word audiophile. I hate it. I just tell people I’m an audio enthusiast.
I personally thought this was a really great article
I opened a store in Seattle that almost specifically combats this problem. Rather than taking a snobbish appproach to sound I decided to make the entry easy and friendly. I often sell systems for $100 for everything, or $3000. I’m of the mindset that as long as you will feel you have improved your music listening experience you made the right choice in gear regardless of cost. Many of my customers are first timers into the world of 2 channel or vinyl. I often have to explain grounding wires, how to hook up speaker wire, and other basics. I love doing this though because it is introducing someone else into the world of audio and musical enjoyment. Often I have those same customers come back 6 months later and upgrade part of their system. That is always a success in my book.
Thanks for a great article.
A watch gives us the present time of day while listening to music can reflect our present day, take us back to a glorious past or propel us into the future (depending on your choice of mind enhancement). How many times have we found ourselves deeply into a listening session and, at some point, look at our watches wondering were the time went?
I have found many watch enthusiasts, and people who have a passion for fine cigars and wine, are into High End audio. It’s more than indulgence or simple ownership, it’s a personal connection for many of them. There’s nothing like timeless design, technical execution and true craftmanship which is why I choose Breitling, Panerai and A. Lange & Sohne, all which were purchased pre-loved, over an Apple Watch. If TIDAL Audio were a watch company, it would be A. Lange & Sohne because much of what makes it great is not visible on the surface. See what I mean here: https://youtu.be/eWb3YKfx90U.
Many manufacturers create products for reasons greater than market trends and I respect their desire to create more than commodity products. I’m not saying the manufacturers who create lower priced items are not producing great products or are not serving a segment of the market. I’m just saying that I’m happy those that do push the envelope to create their vision of reality continue their quest so that the technology gets pushed down to more affordable products. After all, where would we be without NASA?
Remember the time when people had listening parties and shared the joy of music? I encourage people to invite friends over to share their love for music through their audio. I also encourage people to bring their children and significant others to the shows for the exposure. Watch how the time spent together can create memories and hopefully help the future of the audio industry.
I applaud you Eric. This was a very enjoyable, and “timely”, report!
What a steaming pile this article is. Conflating “audiophile” with “pedophile” because of the suffix “phile” is sloppy and juvenile. How about “Francophile?” “Cinephile?” “Oenophile?” It’s a grammatically correct way to say you like a thing. “Creepy,” conversely is a semantically null word mostly used by tweens. BT dubs, slick: “segregation” and “otherness” are how groups are formed. It’s what sets you apart. If there’s nothing special about an endeavor then why bother at all? There’s a place where the sort of egalitarian audio you described already happens : it’s called “literally the whole rest of the world.” Your dream has now been given form… please run along and stop trying to pass this off as audiophile commentary. This article is in a common and annoying class of shitposts where the author’s revolutionary concept is “I question your basic premise as a way to attract attention to myself. Aren’t I avant garde? Viva la revolucion!” Um, no, nor are you particularly original or clever. Watch lovers are “horophiles.” http://www.the-horophile.com/
As a member of the UGWC you have valiantly proved the point of the article.
Cars and watches are strictly for public displays of wealth and status. A megabuck watch doesn’t tell time any better than a cheap digital watch. Driving a megabuck supercar at 65 mph on an American road leaves 90% of the car’s performance unused.
Audio is personal. The only people who know about my audio system are people who have been in my home, and people who participate in specific audio forums. So, I think a large part of the general public is completely unaware of the hobby.
A comparable hobby would be maybe Persian rugs. The difference between a cheap and expensive rug is known only by other rug aficionados, and you’ll see the rug only if you visit the owners home, and you’ll only know that the rug owner is into rugs is if you ASK about the rug (the equivalent of asking to hear someone’s audio system).
Car audiophilia is more similar to watches and cars. Most car audio systems do not sound very good, but that is not the point of those systems. The point of those systems is public display and attention — hence the thunder popular with those systems.
Music differs from watches. A watch is a mechanical device that just gives us the time of day. What is to dispute about ? The accuracy ? Looks ?
Music differs greatly because it has emotional roots. Sound is subjective and that is where the opinions go. With ones emotional contact with the system being played.is not anothers.
I do not believe the average music enthusiast [ audiophile] is the culprit. There are some snobs out there however I find not Enthusiasts but dealers mostly.
Still can remember walking into ???? and being asked “what are you listening with” The look when I mentioned ??? was enough to insult me and never returned.
We find lots of helpers out there in the hobby.
Yes business was down however picking up with the new economy. Exposure to better sounding music still attracts newbies of all ages
That is exactly what we try to do at at kinds of venues. Bring it to the people they will listen.
Excellent article. But there is a term comparable to “audiophile” for those of us obsessed with watches: “WIS”. Watch Idiot Savant.
Maybe a helpful thing in bridging the divide (or simply not making it wider) would be to not list the MSRP in parentheses after every product. It’s not just that you (and almost every other publication) do this, it’s that it’s the only piece of information you choose to put there, thus elevating its importance. Such that the newbie feels that the amount of money spent is an – if not the – important factor in the definition of oneself in the hobby. Yes, price is an important factor in purchasing decisions, but the value of your gear should not – and does not – equate to one’s enjoyment, and that may go doubly so for the newbie. Going from a tiny portable Bluetooth speaker to a Sonos 3 (or even a 1) is a revelation for the person experiencing it for the first time. It doesn’t matter little was spent to reach that place. So, in an effort to take action toward (not just talking about) being less exclusive, let’s drop the focus on money spent and focus more on personal enjoyment achieved.
Amen. One of the best market analysis I read about our industry. Really well done Eric. Should be a Harvard Business Review case study.