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Impracticality of the Audioholic Addiction to Audio

by Fabian Blache III July 28, 2004

The Endless Trend to Upgrade Components and Ignore the Obvious

It's amazing how we can painstakingly prepare a room in our homes for a newborn, right down to the minutest detail; yet often fail to adopt a similar approach when introducing new equipment to our listening environment. Certainly there is a significant difference between a newborn and a new pair of speakers (well at least for some) but the logic and reasoning behind all of the accommodations is synonymous. The effort is to have the existing space and furnishings synergize with the new additions. Yet, synergy is often the one key aspect that is overlooked when it comes to audio upgrading-even though we approach the effort with that in mind. Our focus is frequently masked by the euphoria that comes from opening a new box and marveling at the latest acquisition.

Addiction is defined as a compulsive psychological need for a habit-forming substance or thing. It is also referred to as the condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied or involved with something. How apropos when discussing the incessant nature of most audiophiles? Once the bug is caught, the need to stay on the cutting edge, to own the very latest equipment, is about as pervasive as a NASCAR drivers' need for speed! nascar.jpg

For purposes of this discussion I will refer to both audiophiles and videophiles as simply 'audiophiles.' The principal driver behind the 'upgrade at all costs' phenomenon resides in the audio and video purist's quest for the utmost precision in the replication of sonic and visual media. There exists a pervasive and almost uncontrollable desire, often mistaken, as a 'need' to dispose of some former technology in favor of the new. Some can argue that this truly is an affliction as opposed to an affinity. However, that is a debate for a later day.

Often times, the rationalization behind the shuffling of various components, in and out of the afflicted party's entertainment system, is the thought that by simply embracing new technological upgrades, other factors that either degrade system performance or fail to enhance the experience will be circumvented. They perceive that more glaring issues in the product choices may be overshadowed or improved with the addition of the new component. This mindset, and its subsequent beliefs, manifest itself through multiple purchases of varying interconnects or the inclusion of potentially esoteric devices such as obscure and costly vibration dampening cones, ceramic platters and resin basis. In some cases consumers will even repurchase existing CDs or DVDs that have been reissued in 24 karat gold editions.

This is not to say that vibration damping is not a significant part of the placement, running and synergy process, but before you plop down $800 for three metal cones to place under your CD transport, you might want to consider replacing those drapes in your den with faux wood grain vertical blinds? Often times we get so hooked on things that may prove to be gimmicks that we overlook the obvious.

Interestingly, it is not uncommon for someone who has the means and the affliction to have once owned a variety of receivers, power amplifiers, lime conditioning units, speakers, CD and DVD players, various interconnects and a variety of other items for which the expenses quickly add up to astronomical figures. People have been known to procure specific lines of credit, incurring great debt, to facilitate their efforts to achieve sonic and visual nirvana.

Fortunately, once one has elevated their tastes to a certain class of equipment there's usually a healthy market for the reselling of previously owned items without incurring too steep a loss in the long run. The adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure holds very true in the world of audiophile equipment. Many burgeoning audiophiles peruse the Internet looking for dealers, throughout the nation, that sell used equipment. Equipment that was once coveted by the former owners only to be discarded in favor of something new that is perceived to be much better only a short time later.

The circle of life for good used audio components is robust and regenerative and many ways. Usually, previous owners, of these kinds of goods, very meticulously cared for their equipment; keeping it very clean, relatively dust free and away from harmful smoke and sunlight. I myself have purchased items through online sources that arrived double and triple boxed with the contents that did not display one single discernible scratch, smear or mark. Utterly amazing!

Nevertheless, one must ask the question: Why?

How could it be that at one moment we can earmark a particular piece of equipment, review a plethora of material that markets a forthcoming item, poor through pages and pages of news, information and forum posts and even track a countdown to the actual release date only to make the purchase and discard the item in favor of something newer-in some instances not even months later? How can this be?

Is it that we are always wrong about our decision? Did we ultimately purchase the right item? Was it not he same piece of equipment that we were espousing in every forum we could find one moment, only to completely discount and forsake it the next? Are we that disloyal? Perhaps it is that we audiophiles are just that irrational? One thing is certain; those of us who see some of ourselves in these questions have likely wasted a lot of valuable time and financial resources by going about our quest for supremacy the wrong way. room.jpg

The truth is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with seeking to better the components in a system. It is a logical step in the maturation process, as ones eyes and ears become more trained to recognize and assimilate the variables impacting the performance capabilities of our components. It is quite possible to be an AV novice one moment only to systematically develop the eye, ear and skill of discernment needed to truly appreciate the various outcomes that equipment makers are trying to achieve with each new offering. But with that a new question emerges. Does it require component upgrades to achieve one's desired end?

The obvious answer here is that it does not.

Speaking from a position of relevant knowledge and understanding, having sold high-end equipment in New York City , and being self-proclaimed audiophile myself, I have often pined over why it is that some of the more obvious factors that impact system performance, especially when speaking of sonic reproductive capabilities, are so often overlooked.

Audioholics.com's owner Gene DellaSala once posed this very erudite question: " Why do people always feel the need to upgrade their equipment, to stay on top of the latest trends, while they often miss the basic principals-such as resolving room acoustics, speaker placement, system calibration, system synergy and the sort?"

The answer is rather simple. Moreover, it is based upon the same fundamental flaws we find in virtually any discipline where performance can be improved. Simply put, we have adopted a global philosophy that all of the answers lay in the hand of the technicians and that the solutions will manifest themselves via the prowess of the newest product for which that technology has been enhanced. It is the classic ' appeal to authority' fallacy taught in the most basic logic classes in our universities and our biggest area of vulnerability as consumers. We expect the club to make it fly farther, the shoe to make us jump higher and the size of the woofer to produce the best bass? Yes and no.

Want to know why the very best writers are employed to dumb down the technological aspects of new equipment when companies pen the new glossy marketing hyperbole? Because they know and realize that as long as they can grab your attention, with slick glossies and loquacious rhetoric you will remain focused on feeling that you are behind the curve, inferior and out of sorts with current trends and improvements. They know you will read and reread the verbiage to extrapolate exactly what it is they want you get from the effort: That you have a product in your home form a great lineage of equipment makers, but even it is from their very own line you are missing out on something very special now that they have been able to R & D and harness some subtle new technique that one ups their last effort. That is a really humbling and rather disparaging truth. Nevertheless, you can trust that it is quite accurate.

This is not to say that information contained in these materials is devoid of any truth and is all hype. That is neither the case nor the point. However, how many times have you ever seen a marketing slick for a new item tell you that " …the benefits of this new and improved version of our critically acclaimed parent offering are only marginally eclipsed by our latest technology… " and that "…by simply investing some quality time in assessing your listening environment you may be able to achieve and in many instances surpass these benefits by tweaking your physical surroundings at a fraction of the cost! "

Instead, keeping up with the Jones's is the order of the day and our desire to do so is only exacerbated by the feeding frenzy for new and improved goodies that this type of campaigning promotes. Interestingly, for those who truly have the means and the disposable cash it is actually a lot of fun to buy new stuff, but when will you ever have the time to truly realize its potential?

That becomes the question that then tests whether you are truly an audiophile or simply a packrat with expensive stuff. But to intimate that it is necessary in the long run to constantly and consistently upgrade components is a severe stretch.

Something as simple as a throw rug, curtains, accent pillows or more specifically designed items like tube1.jpg Tube Traps and Acoustic Panel treatments can make all the difference in the world. Not only can these products significantly improve or enhance the sonic performance of your existing and very serviceable components, but they can truly breath new life and expectations into the experience of enjoying your equipment.

Until you've properly placed your speakers and tuned your room, you are likely 'unfairly' judging the performance of your system to the point that you may make radical and costly modifications to the core components that are truly not in your best interest. You could find yourself spending money that could easily be allocated to acquiring more music or movies, better interconnects, or be used to add in an additional component altogether.

ceiling.jpg The benefits of placement and room analysis cannot be overstated. Acousticians the world over were truly on to something when they began realizing that sonic anomalies do not only exist in large concert venues like the enclosed and vast Louisiana Superdome or the open air environment of Virginia's rather quaint Wolf Trap. Our homes were often not designed with audiophile applications in mind. Materials were frequently not optimal for gleaning the best sonic characteristics from music and movie sources. Even when these considerations are taken into consideration, during new construction, the finished structure varies the manner in which it refracts and absorbs sound waves-with the addition of each new tangible item introduced to the environment.

One must also take into consideration the components combined from input through output source. System synergy is as crucial in gleaning the best possible result as placement and acoustic tuning of the listening or viewing environment. Using a rather gross example, one cannot expect to here a significant increase in the sonic performance from their decades old Technics bookshelf monitors simply because they have now decided to pair them with the latest and greatest amp/preamp combo at a cost of two months salary. Okay, this would be pure idiocy but you certainly get the point I am making. Sadly though, there is someone out there who's done this very thing. The horror! mirror.jpg

Seriously speaking, if you turn audiophile only after having invested a life's wages into a pair of speakers that, in hindsight, exhibit poor bottom end characteristics, it would be logical for you to consider woofer control properties when conducting your research for that new amplifier you are considering-now that your old amplifier is no longer suitable to your newfound proclivity for sonic excellence.

Quite frankly, there are copious pages of written material on all of these subjects. The Internet is rife with the stuff. In fact, even here at Audioholics.com you can find very lucid reading on the aforementioned subjects. This readily available and quite valuable information covering system synergy, room tuning and placement can easily educate the misinformed, exposing untapped aspects of audiophile life upon which they can obsess. The beauty is that the benefit of this particular quest is often significantly a cost-effective way to expand one's horizons that in the end yields the most significant gains.


In an article entitled " The Art of Tuning Your Room " published by Audio Revolution written by Jerry Del Colliano, the author had Bob Hodas tinker with their reference music system. While Hodas used some rather nifty gadgetry, to assist him with measuring the sonic performance of the room, the solutions to the acoustical anomalies uncovered proved quite simple as revealed in this telltale quote from that piece:

" When all was said and done, Bob hadn't done anything other than move my woofers, image my WATT-Puppies and set my EQ parameters. The results were awe-inspiring. Never, I mean NEVER, before have I heard such an improvement. I have always had a great music playback system in my listening room and for many months I have listened to this particular system with much enjoyment. However the changes Bob made to my system resulted in easily a 20 percent improvement over a system that out of the box has to be considered to be one of the better money can buy. I was astounded. " ~ Jerry Del Colliano

I could not possibly make the point any better than that folks.

So, seasoned purists and newbie audio and videophiles alike, if you have not ventured down the path of simplicity and looked around your room to consider the possibility that your listening and viewing environments are truly even the very best equipment's worst enemies, then think again. In actuality you may have done a fantastic job of researching and procuring the ideal pieces for your space and tastes, but have just not gone that one simple, extra step toward realizing the full potential of your arsenal by simple knowing how to deploy it better.

It really is that fundamental. Which is likely why, amidst all of the techno talk and marketing hype, we become completely enveloped in the quest to stay technologically current; while missing obvious opportunities to optimize our well-seasoned equipment-realizing efficiencies that aid in delivering more of the sonic bliss we are seeking along the way.

Pics courtesy of Acoustic Sciences Corporation, Realtraps, Acoustics 101, Acoustical Solutions, Bay Area Audio