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Reclaiming the Term ‘Audiophile’

by August 25, 2022
Reclaiming the word Audiophile

Reclaiming the word 'Audiophile'

I was recently watching a video made by audio reviewer and YouTube personality Steve “The Audiophiliac” Guttenberg, in which he was interviewing Yale Evelev, the president of Luaka Bop Records. The thumbnail for the video includes text that reads, “Yale loves vinyl, tube electronics, and horn speakers, but he’s no audiophile!” Steve has interviewed many music-lovers on his channel, most with interesting stories about how they became enamored by — or even obsessed with — music, audio gear, and sound quality. Steve often begins these interviews with a simple question: “Are you an audiophile?”

Reclaiming the Term Audiophile  - YouTube Discussion

What exactly is an "audiophile"?

audiophile1

I think Steve asks this question because, to him, it’s obvious that all of the subjects of his interviews are audiophiles, though many shy away from identifying with that term. Yale Evelev, for example, says that he is not an audiophile, despite the fact that he owns multiple audio systems. Vintage audio electronics can be seen sprinkled around his home. Yale loves his horn speakers from Tannoy, JBL, and Altec, though he also has owned Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series speakers in the past. He has tube electronics from Line Magnetic and Sun Valley, though at one time he favored gear from Dynaco and Cary. He has multiple turntables.

Steve Guttenberg

Most people that I know, that are audiophiles, almost never say that they are.

— Steve Guttenberg

As I was thinking about why so many audio enthusiasts do not want to label themselves as audiophiles, I was transported back to the Gender and Women’s Studies class that I took in my first semester of college. (Yes, I did think it might be a way to meet lots of girls all in one place, but I was also genuinely interested in the subject matter.) One day, our professor asked us to raise our hands if we identified as a feminist. Many hands went up; some did not. She then asked us to raise our hands if we believed that women should be afforded the same rights, privileges, and opportunities that men have. The rest of the hands went up. By definition, she argued, we were all feminists if we believed in equal rights for all genders. The professor then asked those who hadn’t raised their hands initially what made them hesitate, and so began the class discussion on the connotations of the word “feminist.” For some, the term had negative connotations. “If I say I’m a feminist,” they might ask, “does that mean I’m supposed to be a militant, man-hating, bra-burning extremist?” For others, the term evoked images of suffragists (Susan B. Anthony), writers (Mary Wollstonecraft), athletes (Billie Jean King), public officials (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and modern-day inspirations (Malala Yousafzai). These were important figures who changed the world. “If feminists fight for equality,” they might wonder, “have I done enough to call myself a feminist? Do I deserve that title?” For those who didn’t raise their hands at first, the dictionary definition of “feminist” was only part of the decision whether or not to identify as one. I once heard a standup comedian describing this exact phenomenon. He pointed out how strange it is that so many people who clearly believe in the rather simple philosophy behind feminism do not want to be associated with the word, and made his point with an imagined scenario in which people were chatting at a party. It went something like this:

Person 1: What do you do for a living?

Person 2: I’m a physician.

Person 1: My wife is a doctor, too. What kind of medicine do you practice?

Person 2: I treat kids.

Person 1: Oh, how wonderful, a pediatrician!

Person 2: No, no, not at all. Well, I’ve never been comfortable with that term.

Person 1: … Wait, what?

elevators

The Ugly Connotations of the Term Audiophile

I believe it’s much the same with the term “audiophile.” There are many connotations associated with the word, and some in our hobby think we’d be better off abandoning it altogether. Some folks view audiophiles as an elite class — people with golden ears, six-figure speakers, and turntables the size of Volkswagens. If you’re slumming it with an old Sony receiver and a pair of $100 yard-sale speakers, you might not feel like you qualify as a card-carrying “audiophile,” even if you devour every issue of Stereophile, and even if you’re obsessed with sound-quality, constantly trying to make your music sound as good as possible. Or perhaps you don’t want to be labeled an audiophile. You’re a rational, analytical thinker with a healthy respect for measurements and an equally healthy skepticism toward magical thinking and pseudoscience. To you, the term “audiophile” conjures up images of a foolish old man, buying magic beans from a snake-oil salesman promising to make his speakers sound twice as good. But the reluctance to identify as an audiophile is just as prevalent among subjectivist listeners, who associate the term with measurement-obsessed gear-heads who care more about graphs than they do about enjoying the music. They see an objectivist’s attitude not as skepticism, but as cynicism. To me, it is as simple as the term “feminist” seemed to my college professor. If you really care about sound quality when listening to music (or watching movies, or playing video games), there’s a good chance that you’re an audiophile. If you care about sound quality and have even a casual interest in audio playback gear, you’re an audiophile whether you like it or not. In my book, anyway. (Speaking of feminism, I detest the term W.A.F. — Wife Acceptance Factor — and I think the audio community should have left it in the 20th Century where it belongs. But that’s another story.)

The term ‘audiophile’ has been relegated to the guys that are into audio tweaks, or they think they have better equipment because it’s more expensive, and I’m here to say that’s all nonsense. I think we can all be audiophiles.

— Gene DellaSala, founder and President of Audioholics

Chief Audioholic Gene DellaSala recently made a video in which he states that we should reclaim the word “audiophile,” for everyone who cares about sound quality. We should dismiss the connotations of exclusivity and elitist behavior, and welcome anyone who enjoys listening to music, and who seeks better audio performance. I am completely in favor of that notion, but I think that we as a community have some work to do if we want to make that a reality. Have you ever been treated as a pest in a high-end audio store because you don’t look like you have big bucks to spend on gear? It’s happened to me more times than I care to say. At audio shows, where people ostensibly come together to share a common interest and learn about cool new gear, I’ve seen people laugh at “dumb questions” from newcomers to the hobby. I’ve seen a manufacturer representative treat potential customers with disdain simply because they weren’t sure where they stood on the debate about cables, tweaks, and power-conditioners. If you’ve spent time on virtually any audio forum, you know how quickly the name-calling and vitriol can start to fly when discussing any number of topics, from the digital-versus-analog debate, to high-res audio and MQA. In his video, Gene touches on one of the most prevalent negative behaviors in the world of audio: gatekeeping. Gene mentions people who say crap like, “You’re not an audiophile because your equipment’s not good enough,” or, “You didn’t hear a difference in cables? Either your equipment is not revealing enough or your hearing is not good enough.” That kind of utter BS needs to stop if we want the word “audiophile” to be embraced by the community and held in high esteem.

It’s all bogus. It’s all snobbery, trying to put yourself in an ivory tower and say that you’re better than the other person.

— Gene DellaSala

But these types of behaviors can be hard to stamp out, even within ourselves. You can have the best of intentions and still end up alienating people. I know that I’ve been guilty of this in the past. For example, several years ago one of my friends asked me what soundbar she should get. She was genuinely interested in getting the best sound that she could, but she only had about $400 to spend, and her boyfriend didn’t want to clutter their living room with speakers. I told her that she should forget the soundbar idea and save up more money to buy a decent receiver and at least 5 speakers plus a subwoofer. I wanted her to have the best experience possible, and I’m not really a fan of soundbars. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that I hadn’t been helpful at all. In fact, I had effectively discouraged her interest in getting better sound simply because I felt that a $400 soundbar wasn’t “good enough” for me to recommend. I dismissed her needs, and I felt like a dick. I later recommended a Pioneer soundbar (designed by Andrew Jones), which was within her budget, and she ended up buying it. She loved it. It offered the dialogue clarity that she had been craving, and was an enormous step up from the speakers built into her TV.

Randy the Cheap Audio Man

I think we need to really coin a new term here. I think a Hi-Fi enthusiast is a little bit different from an audiophile because there’s a lot of negative connotations associated with (the term) audiophile. Gatekeeping, dismissive, elitist… frankly, I personally have experienced all of those things with people that are self-described audiophiles.

— Randy Messman, of the YouTube channel Cheap Audio Man

I do think that the term ‘audiophile’ is, or has been, coopted in a negative way. And I don’t know if I want to reclaim it… I don’t know if I would like to be known as an audiophile. I would rather be known as someone who appreciates art and music rather than someone that appreciates gear.

— Andrew Robinson, audio reviewer and self-described “Recovering Audiophile"

rt60-graph

RT60 Decay Time of AH Smarthome Theater Room (target = 350msec)

Anyone can slip down the slippery slope that leads to behaviors that end up giving audiophiles a bad name. Heck, even Gene dips a toe into gatekeeping in his video. He says that anyone who loves music and wants good sound is an audiophile, but he also says, “If you’re truly an audiophile you’re going to want to get the best in performance — something that’s repeatable. Something that you know, that you can measure and you can listen to. You can make tweaks, and you can actually hear and measure differences in stimulus.” He also says, “If you really want to be an audiophile, you want to embrace the science of accurate sound reproduction because you want to get good sound.” There are surely some audiophiles out there who love music and want great sound, but have no interest in measurements. They understand that room acoustics are important, but they either can’t, or simply don’t have the desire to measure their rooms’ reverberation and cover the walls in acoustic treatments. I know plenty of folks like that, and you probably do, too. To them, it may seem that Gene is gatekeeping about what it means to be a “real” audiophile. Does Gene think that you have to do things his way to be an audiophile? Of course not. (That’s the whole point of his video, after all). But his comments help illustrate my point that it can be hard to express passionately-held beliefs without potentially marginalizing others. Nevertheless, I think we should try.

You are all audiophiles. If you are into your equipment. If you are into the music. If you are curious about how this stuff works. If you are always looking to better the sound and you actually sit down and listen.

— Gene

We Are All Audiophiles!

MemorexOne of Gene’s comments that really resonates with me is the notion that maybe an audiophile is just someone who actually sits down and listens to music. Steve Guttenberg has said something similar — audiophiles are simply people who listen to music and give it their undivided attention. They aren’t doing anything else — not exercising, or cleaning the house, or cooking dinner. Just listening. I can relate to that. But the most “audiophile” moment of Gene’s video comes near the end, when he describes his experience of listening to immersive Dolby Atmos music on a great system. “Multichannel, done right, is a truly audiophile experience,” he says. “It transports you into that music. You forget about your surroundings. The speakers melt away and what you’re left with is an incredible, immersive surround effect. It’s like the voice of God, almost. It’s like being in heaven.” To me, that is a perfect expression of audiophilia. Just absolutely geeking out about the way great music played back over great gear completely consumes you and carries you away. That, I think, is what it really means to be an audiophile..

Are you an Audiophile? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread and be sure to watch our video Reclaiming the Term Audiophile.

 

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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Recent Forum Posts:

ryanosaur posts on September 02, 2022 18:24
lovinthehd, post: 1571409, member: 61636
Just saw this thread on different “classes” of audiophile if you want to break it down some more….
That's a weirdly warm-mess of people with insecurities saying they don't like being put in a box! (Or, at least is was this morning.) Blech. I get why he did it. Some of it fits… but as an insight to the psychology of a marketing-head it should be pretty evident that it gonna be a bit of a wreck.
lovinthehd posts on September 02, 2022 18:06
Just saw this thread on different “classes” of audiophile if you want to break it down some more….
Mark of Cenla posts on September 02, 2022 17:58
I am not sure, but I voted yes because it was closer to how I perceive myself. I am not currently trying to improve any of our six sound systems. I do have backups if any gear dies. I am considering buying a DAC around holiday time. None of our gear cost over $250 (new). I am enthusiastic about audio though. I have rated all of our speakers, and I have two different audio test CD's. Peace and goodwill.
Speedskater posts on September 01, 2022 11:22
Maniachiavelli, post: 1571243, member: 66486
THEY didn't redefine the word. YOU did. There was no problem with having “audiophile” being an inclusive term that covered everyone enthusiastic about audio, subjectivists and objectivists alike, until everybody started pointing fingers at each other
No! they did.
They refuse to accept, that if it's not' ears only' listening, it's not worth talking about.
BMXTRIX posts on September 01, 2022 08:14
I'm going with no.

Not because I don't like good sound, but because I'm not really chasing that aspect of it. I'm more about chasing what the best values are on the market. If I can get cabling which delivers 95% or 99% of the quality, I will stop looking for better. Same with everything else audio related. I don't feel the need to upgrade or change out my speakers all the time, I am happy with what I have almost always.

I do care about putting them in the right spot, and setting things up right. I also care about putting the appropraite wiring in place.

I also care a fair bit about the video. So, I am more of a videophile for sure.
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