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Hi-Fi: How Do We Listen?








Pictured (from left) Nan Pincus PTA Contributor, Dave McNair PTA Contributor, photo by Eric Franklin Shook PTA Managing Editor

Recently a happy convergence in my schedule allowed me to spend several days doing lots of listening to my home stereo. Like 6-to-8 hour stretches. Vinyl only. Undisturbed for the most part except by Speedy, our cat. This is rare for me. And incredibly enjoyable.

Words by Dave McNair

During all that listening I also thought about stuff. I’ve found it’s damn near impossible for me to stop thinking even if I’m engrossed in the music. No real surprise there if your mind is like mine—a dash of OCD and a big dollop of ADHD (everything has to be perfect, but not for very long…)

One of the things that popped into my head was some notions about how audiophiles and non-audiophiles (also known as The Sane People) listen to music. I’ll ask the reader a few questions to get the party started.

During an active listening session:

  • Are you listening primarily to the music
  • Are you listening to your system (or a particular component)?
  • Are you listening to some mix of both?
  • If you move between states, what triggers this?

We’ve all heard the time-honored audiophile saying, “A better sounding system really enables me to get into the music more,” or some minor variation of the phrase. That, my friends, is some weak bullshit. Okay, before y’all get your knickers in a twist, hear me out. If I’m in a small tight-knit group of audiophiles and someone makes that comment, as a friend I’ll nod my head in agreement and mumble, “Yeah.” Makes sense, right?

But when I drill down on that idea I come up with something else to consider. Maybe it has something to do with how our brains process the listening experience. I’m not a neuroscientist (yet), but I have read some excellent books on the subject. I’d recommend This Is Your Brain On Music and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, as both are an excellent insight into the human condition when music is involved.

I submit that the perceptual elements of listening to the gear or listening to the music are each processed differently by our brains. But let’s break it down even more. It doesn’t require a particularly deep knowledge of music or recording to enjoy music, right? It does, however, require a bit of some kind of additional knowledge or experience or context to appreciate a style of music that may not have previously been in our wheelhouse so to speak. Be-bop or fusion for someone only exposed to the American Top-40 hits? Heavy rock or prog-rock to someone who only knows hip-hop? World music for a country music fan? I myself have never taken the time to get into opera recordings although I have enjoyed live opera immensely, so I know it’s possible for me to become an opera lover if I want to properly educate myself.

What about listening to the gear? I’m guessing that folks who have not been exposed to great hifi and the sound of different components don’t do mental check listing about what their speakers are doing (or not doing!) for the sonic presentation. They simply enjoy the music, or not. Then there are those of us who love music but have some inner something that compels us to pursue a more dramatic, detailed, nuanced, realistic, or whatever, element to the presentation. We go on a quest to assemble a system that sounds good (to us).  And that is when the listening-to-the-gear thing rears its ugly head.

But it’s not ugly, you say. It’s fun. It’s what puts the hobby in being an audiophile. Okay. I get it. We’re able to exercise our impressive powers of aural acuity over the difference between this DAC and that DAC. And that is important when assembling or changing some aspects of our playback system. I do think however that we pay a price for this. Listening like that is fun but for me, but it’s not as deeply gratifying as disappearing into the emotional intent of the music. And sometimes this state of bliss can happen when I least expect it. Hearing something outside by a pool or bar on a Sonos system or hearing something found on YouTube on my phone. You feel me?

I used to think that the better my system became, the more I’d get into the music. This has not been the case. In improving my system I have gotten great joy by marveling at the performance of the collective tech achievements contained therein, but have I enjoyed the music more? Not automatically. Part of my own particular brand of neurosis around this is because of the nature of my day job. I am required to listen analytically in a particular way that is very difficult to just turn off if I want to listen for fun. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I can’t blame it ALL on the job cause I know other audio engineers that listen in a detached way more similar to the non-audiophile music fans. I’ve always been jealous of these folks.

By detached–or better yet, non-attached–I’m talking about listening while mixing or mastering music that is closer to a Zen-like state, but with just enough awareness to have a feeling about what to change or manipulate to make things sound better.

Concepts around this-is-your-mind-on-music lead me to sometimes try for a different awareness when I want to listen for fun. Most of the time I will instinctively listen to the gear, but other times I try to clear my mind and simply take in the music with as little mental chatter as I can. It’s hella hard. Any readers who have tried silent meditation know what I’m talking about. Which begs even more questions.

During an active listening session:

  • How does the joy of gear listening compare to the joy of music listening?
  • Is one way more tangible or meaningful than the other?
  • Does the sound of the gear itself influence the pure music listening experience?
  • What are our individual listening biases and how much does our bias inform these questions?

I’ll break down what I mean by bias. Science has proven that we listen with our eyes. Google the McGurk effect then prepare to freak out.

I’ve listened to enough tube gear to think I know what tubes sound like, so my brain won’t let me have a “tube experience” if I see a solid-state amp in the rack. If someone has done lots of phono cartridge demos, their brain will not let them hear the adjectives usually attributed to an MC cart if they know an MM is on the tonearm. If I’m sitting in front of small speakers my brain won’t let me hear the sound as being large. Many times I have been in the studio and turned a knob on an equalizer and heard something definitely change only to find out later the eq was in bypass. Ooops!

I have a deep bias towards vinyl as my preferred listening medium. I can rant for days about how strongly I prefer listening to records vs digital. But ya know what? I’d bet a large sum of money that if I have no clue whether digital or vinyl sources are playing, I can become very engaged in that pure musical kind of way (that I would usually attribute to only happening with vinyl) while listening to a digital source – provided I was into the music.

Another elephant in the reviewer’s listening room is volume matching. This is also a proven scientific thing. When auditioning two different things, whichever is louder always sounds better to us. Even by a fraction of a dB. I will initially listen in a completely subjective, unfettered manner, but at some point, I try and make closely matched volume comparisons. Even better if I can set it up to rapidly switch because of another scientific aspect of hearing: aural memory is very fleeting. We’re talking in the range of 3 -5 seconds by one study.

And what about the notion of having to live with a piece of gear for a long period of time to deeply probe it’s sonic mysteries? Ahhhhh, maybe. But more pesky neuroscience tells us that our brain adapts over time to tell us what we want to hear. That seemingly successful break-in to mellow out a harsh top end is more likely your brain getting used to a different high-frequency presentation from your new DAC.

  • So what does all this mean?
  • Can a serious audiophile also be a music lover in the purest sense?
  • Are these notions about how we listen inherently unanswerable?
  • For the love of God when will he stop with the questions?

I have some thoughts about how I approach all this. When reviewing something of course I’ll concentrate my listening on what effect I hear the component having on the music. Duh. And yes, I think having a better sounding system can sometimes cut down on small sonic distractions that take us out of the Zen Listening State, but for a true music lover, it’s nowhere near a requirement.

When listening for pure pleasure I try to quiet my mind enough to immerse in the music. Most times, I oscillate between these states. It’s also music dependent. If I want to deeply immerse I will reach for the classical. That’s because my mind is not distracted by hearing the “production.” The same goes for jazz, but to a lesser extent. If I’m listening to vocal music, I find it helps to read along with the lyrics.

Recently I was listening to an album of Debussy piano pieces. When I think about that experience, a few things emerge. First, it was an old record, not particularly hi-fi but certainly in the sweet spot of sonically acceptable without having that “listening to the system” kind of distraction. While listening, my mind was blissfully following melody, harmony, dynamics in a relatively no-thought state. Then a passage appeared that reminded me of a chord sequence common to mid-century jazz.  In an instant my mind was off thinking about jazz and did Debussy shine a light to future jazz composers with these kinds of harmonies and voice leading – then I started sonically searching for when this might appear again in the Debussy piece. Bang, now I’m in my thinking mind not my awareness mind.

When the record finally got to Claire De Lune (last song of side 2- make em wait for the hit), the mistracking from inner groove distortion was so bad that I needed to force my mind to ignore it and vibe with one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. I almost cried at the musical beauty. Damn. Sometimes it’s tiring being an audiophile.

And then sometimes I just wanna put on some modern pop recording and marvel at the bangin’ low-frequency extension of my system. I think either type of listening is completely valid but having both modalities available is having your cake and eating it too. Make mine vegan double chocolate coconut.

I invite readers to look inside their own listening habits and mental states and comment. Be honest. I’m curious and I think other audiophiles might be as well. How do you listen?








36 Comments on Hi-Fi: How Do We Listen?

  1. Nicholas Tkaczuk // September 24, 2020 at 5:02 PM // Reply

    I’ve been an audio enthusiast since high school in the seventies, working in the (specialty ?) audio business, studying speaker design, building components, setting up systems, but generally enjoying the hobby as a hobby. I also saw the hobby almost implode in the nineties. And I blame the audio rags for this. Their was a time when people had free will and could come to their own opinions of what they liked or didn’t like. Good audio dealers hopefully could setup audio systems and demonstrate that product A sounds better, or different than product B just by you listening.
    But their was a decade where I packed it all up and purchased a Cambridge CD88 and built a quarter sawn oak shelf for it and was in audio bliss. The Highend Journal arrived full of opinions by writers who obviously know more than you know that started to make people cast doubt on themselves and ability to make up their own minds. The two top audio rags at the time and you all know who they are, were the culprits casting doubt, one more so than the other. Not to mention the price of the hobby was getting to the point that when reviewers, most who couldn’t afford the product themselves ( loaned equipment ) started to describe things like a thousand dollar cartridge as affordable. A person out of college reads this becomes disinterested in audio. Now most of the shops are gone and we are left to mail order outfits. Auditioning equipment gets impossible. Interestingly when I started working in audio those two magazines were treated like comic books at the shop. Many of the reviews were a source of laughter but then a sea change was slowly occurring; customers came in wanting to hear some product that was better than what we recommended. It got to a point that we had to sometimes get a component in the store just to find out what crap it was.
    Now certain companies always had a belief that if you the retailer setup systems to the best of your abilities and explain to them what’s really important to having a great sounding system; even encourage them to go hear live music and forget about most of the audio jargon used to describe something that doesn’t exist. Just enjoying the music. If after that the listener does not here differences, in improvements well no need to force it down their ears. And frankly many times when you here differences, are they better or just different?
    Now that I got all of that off my chest this past year with Covid19 and virtually no live music here in Chicago plus most of my audio equipment having melt downs, new equipment plus a lot of new recordings has been on my agenda. Living in a Condo with thin walls leaves most of the truly full range speakers on the nyet list. Yet once bitten by Billy Cobhams cut “Storm” , an incredible assault on a drum kit or the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 2nd conducted by Haitink/ Concertbow bringing me to the edge of my seat I still want to occasionally move a lot of air ( hope that I don’t sound like someone pontificating too much; took two dispensary gummies for knee pain ) so dynamics is the game for me most of the time. But other times I like a more elegant somewhat restrained sound and one pair of speakers just will not do. Visceral one moment dialectical the next. What changed recently in how I listen is how I describe it to others. When friends/acquaintances ask what my setup sounds like using bass, the top end, soundstage, etc. I now use terms like more their their. When comparing different versions of the same recording I might just say this one simply sounds more like music or makes me happier. I don’t really care about the source even when I here the difference I might just not care.
    Theirs a mail order Lp ( vinyl ) business that insists that his records are superior to the majority of the pressings even of the same run out there. And insists that what the majority of pressings out there have musical value. And his better records probably are better. Huh. And to think that all this time since listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who plus many others in high school, hunkered down in a friends bedroom enjoying the hell out of the music we were all just kidding ourselves.

  2. It’s 1969. Friday night and you are in your 1st car-a beater- with your buddies listening to an 8 track tape of CTA. A warm six pack of beer. I will never recreate that feeling again with a stereo system of any price.

  3. Howard Swayne // September 24, 2020 at 7:35 AM // Reply

    Some of my most profound listening ewperinces have been on an inexpensive car radio. Only the music mattered.

  4. Great article! For me, it’s a combination of listening to the nuances of how the music I’m listening to is produced, the arrangement, separation and clarity. I find myself listening in that manner first with a wide variety of genre’s. I love both vinyl and hi-res digital and listen to both as often as I can. An inexpensive system can sound really good if properly tuned and not overdriven. However, there’s something magical to be said for higher-fi gear. Lots of myth or snake oil with regards to uber expensive cable, another story. The quality of materials and design used in upper end equipment, in my opinion, creates a degree of clarity and depth that draws me in to the music… I seem to collect equipment, one day I’ll sell some, but I’m a believer in audiophile grade gear… The use of high power amps for example, not for loud, although that can be fun, but it’s like having a V8 vs V4… there’s an effortless soundstage to the music if you tap the pedal a little or a lot…

  5. Larry-Wendy Burke // September 16, 2020 at 2:54 PM // Reply

    I can really relate to this , both from a HiFi point of view and movies, sometimes the activity is listening the component performance, spoils the music experience, the same goes with my home cinema, I need to just chill out and immerse myself in the moment of listening to music or watching the movie, not constantly testing my equipment , Thanks great article. Larry

  6. I honestly don’t think I listen to my system very often. If I am trying out a new piece of equipment or some tweak to my system, then I will listen critically to determine if I like the sound better before or after the change. But if I am just sitting down with a cocktail to listen to music, I am not thinking about or focusing on the equipment. I may be delighted that I can hear details in the recording like the pick hitting the guitar string, but I am admiring the system as a whole and not trying to attribute it to a particular component.

    The exception to this is if I hear something that sounds “off”. I will immediately go into analytical listening mode to try to determine if it is system related or something in the recording, and if I can do something to fix it.

    I do think that listening to music on a good sounding system might add a small amount to my enjoyment of the music, but not very much. I have my high end system in a dedicated listening room, and this is where I have my serious listening sessions. I also have a “mid-fi” system in my living room that is meant to provide background music while entertaining or surfing the internet. I often play (gasp!) mp3 files over Bluetooth, and I do not think that diminishes my enjoyment of the music to a significant degree.

  7. Great article! I think a lot of people simply listen to the melody, or maybe the beat, as far as listening to music goes. I’m thinking of my Mom (that’s got a nice melody) or my Dad (that’s got a good beat) when I say that. I think we, as audiophiles and/or music lovers listen deeper than that. While a beautiful or haunting melody can really affect me ( to the point of tears welling up in my eyes), sometime it’s just the sound of a kick drum or bass in conjunction with the percussion that draws me in. And while i can enjoy music on something like a Sonos system, I do appreciate good sound and find I am more drawn into the music when it’s played on a true hi-fi system. One of Steve Guttenberg’s guests on his Youtube channel mentioned that he really enjoys listening to music, but he also enjoys just listening to sound, and I think that really sums it up for me as well. I not only deeply enjoy music but also the ‘sound’ of music. My hi-fi gives me both.

  8. Hi fidelity is not necessary. If I know a piece of music well, a single speaker desktop radio gives me all I need. The pub jukebox also can do that. In fact that kind of raw, dynamic, forward sound is a bonus. I’ve also found car stereos are great for new music. Maybe then intellectual distraction of driving allows the music into your mind unfiltered by overthinking.

  9. Johannes Jutbauge // September 14, 2020 at 1:57 AM // Reply

    Great read! I listen daily to cd, vinyl and digital. I’m certainly no expert on hi-fi but appreciate good sound, that being said I can go a little mad if I have to listen to someone paying music from a phone all day! I think I listen mostly to enjoy the music, but I’ll notice if something is off or wrong and want to fix it!

    I find also that my system for example sounds better for certain types of music. I have Dali and Yamaha running through Denon and it’s very crisp for classical and drum n bass etc but not perfect for dub or older blues.

  10. I used to go to 1-3 concerts a month because my town has a pretty active music scene and I have broad tastes so I consider myself more for the music than for the equipment, but I like to fiddle with the equipment.

    I have a pretty good record and cd collection in my listening room and that is where I have upgraded my main equipment.
    The way I listen is typically put on an album or CD and sit back with a drink and a book and change albums for an evening of immersive reading. Sometimes something jumps out at me and I just sit and listen.

    Most of my equipment is modified or restored. For source I switch between either a Marantz CD player, a turntable I built with a Tien Viroa tonearm or Roksan Radius 7 into an Akitika preamp. For amp/speakers it’s Dynaco ST-150 Van Alstine modded into Kef Reference 100 speakers and in winter Dynaco ST-70 with Curcio driver and Rega Rs1 speakers. I also have a streaming setup in the living room which consists of Amazon Echo link, Dynaco ST-70 with tubesforhifi 6CA7 driver board and Spica TC-50 speakers.

  11. benjamin qilafku // September 13, 2020 at 6:41 PM // Reply

    Dave as it is your case music listening is my greatest passion.My world revolves around the music and gear related to it.Sorry to say but vinyl never stuck with meI I am fully digital kind of audiophile.Happy to see your lady sharing your hobby, mine hates it limiting the the use of my system. which consist of Focal bookshelves speakers paired to a sub and a Denon amp.For me the gear is the vehicle that rides me to the lushness of the music I love, once I get there forget about it enjoy my music.My music is played low at about 60 db to avoid bother my neighbours and my family where nobody shares my hobby,two adult sons.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      The woman in the pic is PTA writer Nan Pincus. Eric Franklin Shook snapped those pics while the three of us had a recent listening and hifi hangout.
      My actual partner Linda is very into music and while not a hifi nut job like me, loves playing tunes on a nice system. I am lucky that she is fine with my system taking up lots of space in the living room and always willing to arm wrestle to decide TV or records on any given night. 😀

  12. Until relatively recently I just enjoyed music on mostly low end equipment and it was simple joy. Getting hi end hifi setup made the enjoyment much more difficult, at least for a while. Suddenly I heard “soundstage” — it was so new and unexpected that I could no longer hear the music, I was listening to individual instruments instead. Completely disorienting. It took several days to get used to it. High dynamic range was the next surprise. My setup now has enough headroom to deal with this, but some recordings make it difficult because the quiet parts are sometimes too quiet and turning the volume up is dangerous if I want to keep my eardrums whole when the louder section comes. Still didn’t figure that one out.

  13. My audioFILE (10 inch mill bastard will do) ears find sound from yellow colored equipment to sound best.

  14. I really love the photo at the head. It’s like a Dutch genre painting where there’s some kind of chaos or upset going on the background, and a cheeky maid or child is grinning mischievously out at us!

  15. Hi, my name is Ernesto Valera, I’m from Santiago de Cuba, really love your article, I agree absolutely with everything you said, I’m going to share this with all my friends,they are audiophiles, and for sure they will learn a lot with this, great pleasure.

  16. James The Listener // September 13, 2020 at 11:16 AM // Reply

    THREE THINGS A TRUE AUDIOPHILE SHALL NOT DO: A PARODY OF TRUISMS

    1. An audiophile shall not play a Doobie Brothers record, tape, cd, sacd, or hires file and simply “Listen To The Music”.

    2. An audiophile shall not exclusively appreciate, enjoy, and immerse in the music devoid of analysis and comparison of the mastering, mix, tonal balance, sound stage, etc.

    3. An audiophile shall not disassociate musical fidelity and listening pleasure from equipment and costs.

    4. An audiophile shall not listen to and/or enjoy a Phil Spector Christmas Song on AM Radio.

    5. An audiophile shall not cease to improve their hifi system no matter what the cost or marginal improvement

  17. Thanks for the post Dave. Your lady looks like AOC. Swear to God I’ve been seeing AOC look-alikes all over the internet: 1-10 into Star Trek Discovery S3 trailer. Check out your VTA btw. It looks worse than mine! I enjoy listening as background music. From time to time, a track will pull me out of what ever I’m messing about with, and I’ll think: wow! That sounds great, I’m feeling this. Conversely, a garbage system might also pull me out: wow, that sounds like crap! I think the largest enjoyment for me is the gear: upgrading, choosing, shopping, and building DIY components: amp, preamp, and speakers are all DIY, and I loved doing it.

    • Dave, don’t fall for the “in your photo, the VTA looks off” trick. It’s the audiophile equivalent of snipe hunting. Also, the woman isn’t Dave’s “lady.” That’s PTA writer Nan Pincus.

    • 1. That’s PTA writer Nan Pincus
      2. I will be adjusting VTA as soon as the special tool from Rega arrives that enables shims to be installed.
      3. Thanks for telling us about your listening habits!

  18. It’s about emotion to me. My emotional state always dictates what I get from a listening session. I’m a 50+ year audiophile and it just keeps getting better for me the more broad my own emotional journey becomes with each passing year. The equipment is fun to analyze and play with and the “quality” needs to be a certain minimum level so the emotions of the artists come to life and come into me so I get to feel, or at least feel a version of what they felt. I’m also blessed to be have that condition where I can see music (no drugs needed) just the proper emotional state. It has added another dimension of enjoyment to my life and it’s one of the things I’ll miss most someday when I’m no longer able to hear well enough to trigger the response. For now though, music is bliss. Pure beautiful bliss for me – in the proper emotional state. Lastly, the healthier I am and more intense I workout the more I feel and see the music. Sensitivity I think is ramped up when I’m at my physical peak.

  19. REALLY excellent essay, putting things in perspective. One point needs to be corrected, however. You say, “I try and make closely matched volume comparisons. Even better if I can set it up to rapidly switch because of another scientific aspect of hearing: aural memory is very fleeting….” This represents a misunderstanding of how memory works. As with any other kind of memory — visual, tactile, whatever — we can remember accurately what our system sounds like, beyond that fleeting moment of aural retention, by characterizing the main aspects of its sound: relative amounts of bass and treble; texture and detail, or lack of it; and whether there are any unpleasant artifacts such as glare or glassiness. Listening over time, we retain this general impression, and then when we switch cables or whatever, we can again, over time, discover whether there has been real change. If I were to depend only on the kind of memory you mention, then I’d never be able to pick out my girlfriend’s face in a crowd, because I can’t visually retain an exact image of her face for more than a second or two. But I have characterized for myself what makes her unique — eyes wide-set, length of hair, etc. — and those allow me to make the necessary distinctions. I really wish people would give up on the misconception that fleeting aural memory makes instant comparisons necessary. We don’t have to switch instantly from one car to another to realize we’re having a different driving experience. Same with stereos.

  20. John Lepkowski // September 12, 2020 at 10:53 PM // Reply

    For myself, bliss came when i bought exactly what i liked, not necessarily the finest or best in other people’s opinion nope just the things that sounded good to me. In my case it was a set of klipschorns for the front of the room. Yamaha B2 amplifier, Nakamichi tape deck and a Technics turntable directly out of 1986. Admittedly the Nakamichi Dragon does not work anymore but it’s really cool to look at so I keep it. Even if it was working, I wouldn’t know how to use half of what the thing you can do. There’s too many complications and just like a fine watch, the more complications the more expensive it is to service.

  21. Yes, I prefer to listen to music but…Just rebuilt a Dynaco ST70 that is used above 250hz. Essentially brand new with updates, I drive KT77 tubes, 6CA7 and EL34 tubes with solid state power with power supply improvements and precision matched resistance/capacitance.The idea was to bring the classic design into 2020 while respecting it. In the end it sounds nice good sound stage good upper end.

    Evaluation is a pains taking process and is not listening to music for enjoyment. It is also not fair to impose this listening on others. You can screw their listening experience up. While everyone likes good audio not everyone has the same attention span for consuming musical information. Listener fatigue is an individual experience. For me it is listener fatigue to listen to something that does not have fidelity. In most situations don’t make the user choose between hearing the sax player fart and just enjoying a dynamic presentation at a moderate level. The latter always wins.

    I think being a trained listener takes the fun out sometimes. My good friend and i discuss this very thing. He enjoys music from a mono Bluetooth speaker as he creates cut glass masterpieces hours at a time. I can get lost in a recording and its texture. As someone said, “Equally valid”. BTW good article.

  22. I did not know that Chopin also wrote a piece called Claire de lune.

  23. I am very lucky as I simply listen to the music. The system does not exist.

  24. You clearly weren’t alive in the 70s. You must be new comer to vinyl, having been raised in a digital world.

  25. QLN ?

    • Correct.

    • Andrew Wilson // September 12, 2020 at 7:14 PM // Reply

      Damn, I can’t believe I’m typing this.

      So it’s about the music for me. The system has to be good enough, but it’s secondary. It’s the “good enough” part that changes because a nuanced listening experience – finding a new layer in a much loved recording because you’ve upgraded something – is a beautiful journey to take. I’m no audiophile but I definitely have an ear for sound and my system works well. It’s been appreciated by friends from Amazon Echo listeners on up. Nothing in the system is ridiculously expensive, but the way it’s set up in the space maxes the capabilities of every piece. This happened without a plan and now I’m afraid to move anything! What an amateur. Anyway, it’s subjective. Everyone’s ear speaks a different story and mine are immensely pleased because my setup is good enough. Thanks.

    • Wow…. man do you take it to a new level. Call me lucky, call me blind, shoot, call me deaf but after several years of buying. Listening, selling and swapping I’m down with my system. I sit down, crank it up and drift away. My head would literally explode thinking the way you do. Not right, wrong or indifferent. Just a fact. I’m exhausted just reading it. It’s your passion so I guess it good for you. Enjoy.

  26. I’m a music lover first and an audiophile second. I love having a high end stereo that gets loud and is able to articulate the fine details of a song that you’ll be missing on a car radio, or bluetooth speakers, or PC speakers. But that said, I have no background in production or music theory at all whatsoever, I just like music because it stimulates a strong emotional response in me if it’s a good or unique song.

    I don’t like to pick apart minor details and think it’s pointless honestly. I’m one of those people who is wholly convinced that a $100 PC sounds card versus a $1000+ DAC makes absolutely no audible difference and whatever people do hear is simply a combination of confirmation bias and the placebo effect.

    That said, I’m also a firm believer that an amp is the most important part of a setup. The best speakers in the world are useless if you don’t have an amp that can react quickly enough and provide enough precision and power to keep up with a vibrantly complex song that’s all over the place sonically.

    Once I have my system setup I don’t think about it anymore honestly, and I stick to just enjoying the music. So yeah, I’m one of those people that simply enjoys music and doesn’t get caught up in the technical details while listening. The technical details are important when choosing components for a setup, but after that I just don’t worry about it, aside from say tuning the Sub to have a flat frequency response to match it’s position versus yours for a particular room.

  27. I’m a music lover first and an audiophile second. I love having a high end stereo that gets loud and is able to articulate the fine details of a song that you’ll be missing on a car radio, or bluetooth speakers, or PC speakers. But that said, I have no background in production or music theory at all whatsoever, I just like music because it stimulates a strong emotional response in me if it’s a good or unique song.

    I don’t like to pick apart really minor details and think it’s pointless honestly. HiFi to me is about listening to a song and noticing some interesting detail or sound here or there that you couldn’t hear on cheaper speakers. But I think after spending a certain amount on a setup, that experience fades due to diminishing returns and everything that’s more expensive is not necessarily adding anything new to each song itself.

    I’m one of those people who is wholly convinced that a $100 PC hifi sound card versus a $1000+ DAC makes absolutely no audible difference and whatever people do hear is simply a combination of confirmation bias and the placebo effect. That said, I’m also a firm believer that an amp is the most important part of a setup. The best speakers in the world are useless if you don’t have an amp that can react quickly enough and provide enough precision and power to keep up with a vibrantly complex song that’s all over the place sonically.

    Once I have my system setup I don’t think about it anymore honestly, and I stick to just enjoying the music. The technical details are important when choosing components for a setup, but after that I just don’t worry about it, aside from say tuning the Sub once to have a flat frequency response to match it’s position versus yours for a particular room. So yeah, I’m one of those people who appreciates a good HiFi setup, but I’m a music lover first.

  28. Laughed out loud at the distinction between listening to music vs gear. In my case I definitely oscillate, moving more to the latter when a deep bass drum is convincingly recreated on my loudspeakers or an acoustic instrument comes through in perfect clarity.
    I have a variety of speaker setups from quality loudspeakers to punchy but inaccurate wireless. Your point about initial distraction from listening to lower fidelity sources was interesting…I get the same reaction where I’ll be hyperaware of the compressed soundstage or whatever but within about five – ten seconds it sort of normalizes and I mostly just hear the music (occasionally getting distracted by an unnatural bass note or something.)
    Overall it’s funny how our brain just adapts and makes you wonder why we bother with chasing “better”. I find this in all my hobbies with sharper camera lenses, better displays and more expensive craft beer. A big part of it for me is just to enjoy the ‘different’ as a way to engage more with a hobby. Sure these cheap Bluetooth earbuds sounds “worse” than my open back headphones but isn’t the exaggerated bass kind of fun for a change of pace? Once I get over the “this would sound so much better on…” it gives me more appreciation for the fundamental beauty of music that transcends what I’m listening to it with.

    That being said, no way I’m trading my loudspeakers for a sound bar anytime soon!

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