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Audiophile 101: What is an Audiophile?

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Image credit @Evshrug
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In my time browsing various headphone and audio forums, I’ve observed again and again a somewhat amusing contradiction. If you go to a sound science forum and ask “What is an audiophile,” they will tell you an audiophile makes purchases based on emotion and nostalgia, with little regard for research, price to performance, and specs which would allow a system to be EQ’d into any sound (including the “ideal” sound). Meanwhile, there’s an opposite camp that will happily buy anything just because it makes them feel good, because “that’s the point of music,” meanwhile they would define an “Audiophile” as someone who pays more attention to gear, specs, and listens to tone sweeps more than music. Conundrum! Paradox! I’ll do you better: ‘WHY’ Audiophile? The truth is the word “Audiophile” comes from two roots: Audio* is easy enough to understand, while -phile comes from the Greek root “philos,” which carries a meaning that doesn’t directly translate to “loving” or “affection,” but also an attraction, tendency, or pursuit towards something. My Philosophy professor said that his field was not merely the study or love of knowledge, but a passionate journey for a complete understanding of everything there is to know, an ideal that could never reach a conclusion. Similarly, an audiophile is a person who is attracted to audio, an iceberg so deep that it also causes exploration, whether that person is trying to improve or change their system’s audio performance or whether they’re unable to leave their parked car until the song on the radio finishes. Dan Clark giving an audio seminar, Image credit @Evshrug
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However people explore audio, it’s because we all share that common attraction to sound. It’s half-chosen, half-instinct. Often it’s awoken by someone close, a friend or family member who is already far along their audio journey, and they share their excitement and a taste of their experience. This taste sparks the imagination for just how music could fill our sense and feel like we’re ascending beyond the life of pure survival, or ignite a curiosity that if things can sound THIS good now, just HOW good can it get? How do you audiophile?
Image credit @Evshrug
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Keep in mind the commonalities in the hobby… we all have a shared interest! That’s a great chance to carry conversations and perhaps strike up new friendships, maybe we can be that “Audio Uncle” for someone else (the cool uncle, I assure you ;) ). I would also encourage the perspective that people gaining expertise in another area than you is an opportunity to learn from them, and hopefully showing your respect sets the vibe that they can respond in kind. Also, don’t be afraid to be spoiled by something incredible… sure, you may have to readjust and maybe cheap experiences won’t be as thrilling anymore, but treating your senses to state of the Audio art, even just a demo, is one of the valid times to remind yourself that “You Only Live Once!” Image credit @Evshrug
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I’d love to read your comments and stories about how you got into audio, and what brought you here 😃 Thanks for reading, and sharing - check back later for the next installment where I share an overview of the Audio Component chain! Footnote: * (if language roots interest you, audio comes from the Latin audire ‘hear’)

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albertofgomez
25
Apr 28, 2023
I consider myself an "audio enthusiast", Audiophile is a very complicated term, and coming from Head-fi is sometimes a little complicated to understand even after all these years, and sometimes require a level of appreciation of the music, that is ruined by the quality of the recording, and honestly I can't deal with bad recordings, no matter how good the music is. The first problem we face, is that nobody will ever know how a recording is supposed to sound, and how true to the played material it was done, as all mikes and reflections in the room, all introduce colorations in one way or another, mixing monitors are not the best speakers, and even while they have a flat response, sometimes they are not 100% accurate. Add also that we have bad recordings, and good recordings, nothing related to the material itself, but to the production and mixing after it...so the first problem you face in audio, is to determine to what extend what you are listening is as close as the real thing as possible....having say that, the rest is just taste and enjoyment, and perception of the ears...what sound good to me, sounds colored to another listener...pick what you like, inside your budget, and you will be better served. I had spent some money following a dream that was always short to my expectations, so I stopped listening to people's recommendations, and began listening to my music instead...there is also a budget to fill, no matter how much I like it, I will never be able to afford an Orpheus, so even while indeed it is not my cup of tea, I know that I will never have it.
albertofgomezWell, art is in the eye of the beholder… just as the meanings and emotions brought upon by paintings and lyrics are filtered through our own perception, so too is the tone of music. The artist and mixing engineers edit recordings to make them more punchy and part of a cohesive hole, and concerts sound way different than the studio, so it’s expected that the song exists within a certain latitude. Thus, I stopped worrying about “artist’s intent,” which sounds more like a marketing tactic to sell extended editions of already released movies. Here’s (one) artist’s intent:
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https://songwhip.com/wilco/what-light I 💯% agree with you to “pick what you like, inside your budget, and you will be better served.” Your enjoyment is the end goal! In fact, since I get burned out on music, I revel in the fact that I can listen on my speakers and different pairs of headphones, and get something different out of it! Hope that turn of perspective gives you interesting thoughts. Three cheers from a fellow Head-Fi’er! Have a great weekend!
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EatDatDjent000
1
Apr 3, 2023
Love to see that ZMF Ori in the heading picture, not a pair of cans you see every day
EatDatDjent000My friend won the naming contest for the Ori! Good eyes!
AJCxZ0
0
Apr 1, 2023
  1. I am an audiophile because I have refined taste in music and its reproduction.
  2. You are an audiophile because you spend too much on audio equipment.
  3. They are an audiophile because they're a pompous buffoon.
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AJCxZ0I like to think an audiophile is a potential friend, as we have a shared interest. Someone having a more expensive system than me doesn’t bother me (sometimes they’re very sharing with lessons learned or even sharing their setup!), as long as they don’t lord over me and class me out 😂
i wouldn't really call myself an audiophile but i guess i started appreciating music and audio stuff more around 2021 because of a channel called dankpods. I couldn't really understand what was going on because everything sounds the same out a phone speaker. and coincidentally my sony mdrzx310 broke so i thought, what the hell i'll buy some nice headphones. My first purchase, akg k271 mkII. They sucked, but i rolled with them for a while because it was a hefty investment for me and i just needed something, but i had to mess around with the eq just for them to be serviceable. then my birthday rolled around and got some dt770s which blew those other cans out of the water. I just sort of wanna try some new things which is also why i got the 6xx's since i haven't used open backs, now looking for planar magnetic but that's a bit of a pipe dream
IAmNotAnAudiophileAppreciates music, wants to try new things: name doesn't check out (in the most positive sense!) Welcome to the hobby! I totally understand sticking with your first "good" purchase for awhile... you may say it sucked, but it was a better "nice headphone" than the mainstream Sony on-ears you had before (Sony makes great HiFi stuff too! In fact... they're one of the major music labels, have top-shelf headphone and speaker gear, and they're even behind the "HiRes" sticker, haha). DankPods is hilarious, good place to find out what the stinky headphones are XD I'm very happy to hear you're enjoying your time with the DT 770's and HD 6XX; Drop actually sells a few planar magnetic headphones around the same price range as the HD 6xx, check out our listings for HiFiman and keep an eye out for Fostex Planars :)
Logistics
13
Mar 6, 2023
Shortest path to enjoying your music is realizing that nobody hears the same as you. Nobody can tell you what will sound best to you and price has no bearing on whether it will sound good to your ears. Try before you buy and start small so you can recognize incremental changes as you go. Some of them will yield "better" according to your hearing and some will be "different" and some will obviously be "worse." Sources do not output a flat frequency response whether analog or digital, pre-amplifiers do not output flat nor amps nor speakers nor headphones, and YOUR HEARING is not the least bit flat and there is no realistic way to graph your hearing. But this brings to the fore the irrelevance of using meters to adjust your system until it outputs flat by means of EQ's because your hearing will still have peaks and valleys and removing a peak in your rig's output may be bad if thats where your hearing had a dip. You'll also run into those who feel they need to stay true to the original recording, which means nothing because it gets remixed by a person at a sound board anyway. Just try something first-hand, but don't get caught up in the game of buying more and more expensive gear thinking that's the answer because it's not as long as you're judging equipment with your ears and not your ego. Buy gear that allows you to enjoy your music, not impress others and you'll be a true audiophile.
LogisticsThis is true. Not only does each measurement rig put out different results from another, even among the same product line (though the tolerance is lower on higher end setups), but also each seating of the headphone onto a rig produces a different result, and our ears each act as a filter more unique than a fingerprint, to the point where mids vary and you may as well disregard everything above 7 kHz. Background noises, dirty AC mains power, and even humidity and air density can affect results. It is all too easy to make one measurement, or only cherry pick measurement results, or even massage the headphone’s position and clamp until a resonance peak or modal dip in response appears or disappears in a place that backs up the subjective claim someone wants to make, and then hold up the graph as if it was objective fact. Then, there’s the fact that we perceive audio differently than we see light or it is represented on a freq graph: We see each frequency of light blended together to make a single color (or white if all frequencies are equally present), and the Frequency Response Curve graph is made using a single, synthetic, pure sine tone without any harmonic overtones (though the dB graph will be affected by cup resonances) that plays a sweep across the range one frequency at a time… but when we listen to music or videos our brains are able to separate and process multiple frequencies played simultaneously, able to distinguish vocals, drums, piano, guitar, etc, though sometimes it gets even more complicated as some sounds boost or mask others to a degree. A headphone will literally never sound the way it graphs. They are often held up as objective fact, but are not able to be accurately reproduced on other equipment at a different location. They can be of some use to headphone makers to see the effects of design tweaks and materials/positioning, but even at the highest level the final evaluation requires human audition and is subject to the listener’s personal “ear EQ,” hearing, and taste. Unfortunately, many consumers have been taught to evaluate headphones with their eyes (or YouTube recording “demos,” which are their own can of worms) without understanding the limitations of frequency response graphs.
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JeZu
2
Mar 6, 2023
Hi I’m uncle audiophile
Tousana
7
Mar 4, 2023
I stumbled across this topic and found it very enlightening. Am I an audiophile? If you mean do I like to hear the best sound I can, then yes. Am I itching to buy the latest greatest thing nope..... I am a recording engineer and have been for nearly 40yrs. and have seen many changes in audio. When I started there was only tape, now I do most of my work in a computer. I have a decent system at home, but nothing like some of the 1000+ per side systems I get the chance to listen to while working. I love to explore and listen as well as work on many different types of music, it's what I do, and my system at home is where I listen to what I want in my preferred 2.0 configuration, but I do also have a nice 7.2 system for movie viewing, which to me is where multiple speaker listening is most appreciated, just my opinion. I will always strive to hear the best sound from what I can afford!
Dylan.Aragorn
0
Mar 3, 2023
Anyone want to recommend a solid amp/dac and headphones for someone who's interested in audiophile stuff? With so many options it's kind of overwhelming to actually figure out what I want or what's a good 'first buy' to get into this stuff.
Dylan.AragornShould I make a video about different sound signatures of headphones used for music listening, similar to what I did here for gaming headphones? The idea was to inform people how to read between the lines of reviews and decide for themselves if a headphone (gaming headset) was to their taste: https://youtu.be/42SRsSlIj-c To give a good recommendation, you ought to share some info about questions that should be easy and not too overwhelming, that will make it much much easier to break down what is appropriate for you in the market: 1.) Total Budget for the system? 2.) Where will you mostly listen (office, sofa, walking park trails, subway, airplane, etc)? 3.) Are you looking for isolation (like ear muffs) or would you mostly be alone in a calm low-noise environment (or would it be a plus to be able to hear someone trying to get your attention?). 4.) One - and - done system, or something you can upgrade over time with your budget? 5.) most people have wide tastes, but Is there a genre you gravitate towards/avoid? 6.) Are you typically looking to relax and sink into a long listening session for over an hour, or do you only grab a brief time here and there and you want to maximize the WOW factor? That should be a decent starting point!
Dylan.Aragornif you can, you might wanna just head to an audio shop where they'll demo you different gear and go off on what you like the sound of best that fits with your needs. Personally, I recommend the beyerdynamic dt770 since it ain't too expensive and they sound pretty nice and clean for what they are. the 880 and 990 are also good choices since they have the same guts but they're semi open and open back respectively so they'll leak more noise out. AMPs i'm not sure since i've only got one and i haven't tried over ones.
glennkresge
10
Mar 3, 2023
I have lost count of how many Headphones I have along with high-end portable players, not to mention four HIFI systems. But it is still about the music with me. I want to hear it in the best way possible. After hearing music on a great system, then hearing music from an average source, it troubles me. I like good audio equipment. I am not sure if I am an audiophile, but I sure do like good music sources.
glennkresge
10
Mar 3, 2023
well stated! I certainly agree. I have wasted money buying middle-of-the-road audio equipment. But no more! It pays to buy it right the first time if you really want the best-sounding audio source.
glennkresgeWell, it sounds sort of like I’m being a snob 😂 but to be clear, I don’t think I have to buy TOTL to have non-fatiguing, satisfying sound. I think everyone will have a different level where they feel satisfied; for me, I’m just not enamored with $30 stuff… but I know they can be satisfying for others. I’ve been using the HD 560S with an Apogee Groove at my computer lately: it’s not the best I own, but it’s very good, and generally I stick with a setup for awhile and then rotate.
smenon
3
Mar 3, 2023
Hi there.... this is actually an interesting topic. I had started being interested in listening to music during my early teen years (80s). However, I gradually realised I did not appreciate the same track if the quality of sound was bad. So it was not only the track but the quality of the reproduction mattered, hence it was the sound. Fast forward 40 years later, I had started getting into low and mid tier headphones, dac/amps and clean source files. Ironically I started with my car systems before moving onto portable equipment. I am no audiophile, by any stretch. But I do think it is a drug - chasing the dragon so to speak. While the rush of hoarding and swapping equipment has its own rush, the real dopamine generator is listening to a track that one knows and anticipating the flow of the sound. If an audiophile is such an addict.... then just maybe, I am one.
smenonYes! I totally agree… I always liked music, but throughout my high school and the first half of my college years, it was a tool to make killing time more bearable or background noise to have a bit of stimulation. But when I got my AKG Q701, from that point on, music itself was able to satisfy my ADHD brain as an entertaining activity in itself! Sometimes, a little difference makes ALL the difference! 🤟
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