Who are the Modern Audiophiles?

Our president, Gary Yacoubian, was recently asked to contribute his thoughts on what it means to be an audiophile in 2018 for a popular consumer electronics industry magazine (read it here). As part of the project, we asked a number of writers, reviewers and other audio thought leaders the question above to better understand how audiophiles have evolved with technology.

Below are the responses we received, but we’re most interested in what you think: Do you consider yourself a modern audiophile, why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Chris Heinonen, ReferenceHomeTheater - An Audiophile is anyone that spends time and/or money in the pursuit of better sound quality. From arranging a room to get better sound quality, to investing in better equipment, it all counts. You can spend $50 on headphones to $50,000 on speakers but as long as you strive to improve the listening experience, you are an audiophile to me.

Steve Guttenberg, The Audiophiliac/CNET - Audiophiles focus on the sound quality of live and recorded music. Audiophiles buy the best gear they can afford and, at times, “actively” listen to music, without multitasking.

Andre Marc, editor, AVRev - “My definition of a “Modern Audiophile” would be one who rejects absolutism and antiquated dogma. An open minded, inclusive, and price neutral approach is best. The ultimate goal in the hobby is musical enjoyment, and there are many ways to get there.”

Rob Sabin, editor-in-chief, Sound & Vision - Do you listen regularly to music? Well, guess what? You're an audiophile. Of course, if you've never bothered to plug something more sophisticated than Apple's white earbuds into your phone, you might not know it yet. But everyone with the capacity to be moved by music has the capacity to be moved more deeply by better quality playback gear. And it isn't about committing to a full-time hobby or a big budget. It's about caring enough to want to hear more. Whether you do that with a $50 headphone upgrade or a $5,000 (or more) home audio system, it's all about the same thing.

Grant Clauser, smart home editor, Wirecutter - While the term ‘audiophile’ has both positive and negative connotations, to me an audiophile is anyone who takes their music listening seriously enough to seek out ways to upgrade it. An audiophile listens deeply and appreciates the artistry and nuance that can be found in a diversity of music. Being an audiophile doesn’t make you a snob or require an extensive investment, but does require you to care about how things sound and actively configure your experience. I tend to avoid the term because it can be polarizing.

Anyway, the concept of the audiophile has largely been exclusionary, and that’s why it’s been a problem. I would prefer seeing audiophile as an inclusive term rather than exclusive. Can you call yourself an audiophile and still listen from a Bluetooth-connected speaker? Can you call yourself an audiophile and still listen to Pandora? A lot of people would say ‘no’ to both of those, and that’s why the world of hi-fi has developed a reputation for snobbery. That’s a shame. For my part, I believe audiophile should refer to your level of enjoyment and appreciation, and not to your level of investment in the gear or the purity of your recording. Does good gear matter? Sure, but it shouldn’t be used as a litmus test on a consumer’s sincerity to their music.

Steven Stone, editor, AudiophileReview - A modern audiophile is someone who listens to music without multitasking – the music alone is sufficiently involving that no other sensory stimulus is needed.

Larry Greenhill, reviewer, Stereophile - A modern audiophile combines a passion for superb music reproduction with a willingness to master the new technologies now available in digital music storage and playback.

Robert Harley, editor of The Absolute Sound and author of The Complete Guide to High-End Audio - An audiophile is someone who enjoys high-end sound. What is high-end sound? It is when the playback system is forgotten, seemingly replaced by the performers in your listening room. It is when you feel the composer or performer speaking across time and space to you. It is feeling a physical rush during a musical climax. It is the ineffable roller-coaster ride of emotion the composer somehow managed to encode in a combination of sounds. It is when the physical world disappears, leaving only your consciousness and the music.

@ljokerl, Head-Fi - An audiophile is someone who cares about sound quality enough to make an effort to improve their audio experience. The internet and advances in technology have made this very accesible, so "audiophile" is no longer a term applicable only to those with fat pocketbooks or strong DIY skills. I've heard people say that just making it to a place like Head-Fi when doing research on a headphone purchase makes one an audiophile or audio enthusiast, but I would take it one step further - the increase in utility has to come from the idea of a better listening experience, not from getting the best bang for your buck just because it's what savvy shoppers do.

Gene DellaSala, editor, Audioholics - I think the modern audiophile has been embracing convenience that just a decade ago most would have never considered. Back in the day, vinyl and SACD was the holy grail of audio nirvana. Now you see today’s audiophile is far more sophisticated as they are building media servers or NAS and streaming HD audio FLAC 96/24 or higher. They seem to be less fussy about exotic cables and more into speaker placement, room acoustics and the ability to have instant access to all of their audiophile recordings from a single point controlled by their iPad or other tablet device. A lot of this has to do not only with convenience, but education from sites like Audioholics who aim to dispel myths in the industry to help consumers get the best possible audio experience in their homes.

Brent Butterworth, HomeTheaterReview - To me, an audiophile is simply someone who loves and seeks high-fidelity audio reproduction. But the concept of an audiophile has evolved in a way that sometimes has more to do with the person's self-identity as a member of this group than with the actual pursuit of high fidelity. To many who identify themselves as audiophiles, any convenient, modern technology with broad public acceptance is automatically bad, and any antiquated, impractical technology is automatically good. The old tech can be fun -- I bought about a dozen records last weekend -- but I'm sad to see many audiophiles reflexively reject technologies that can actually improve sound quality, such as subwoofers and noise-cancelling headphones.

Bob Archer, CE Pro - Unfortunately the term audiophile can have a negative connotation to it, but in its purest form, it refers to someone who loves music so much they can't settle for anything less than the best possible way to listen to the music that emotionally stirs their souls.

Joe Paone, Technology Integrator - To me, being a modern audiophile means being open to music in whatever form you can get it, even if it's just MP3. And then, if you love it, getting that music in high-res form for enjoyment through your killer home audio system. To close yourself off from the low-res world means you might miss exposing yourself to a lot of new music you might love. For the older heads, think of streaming services as AM radio in the 1960s. You liked what you heard, even though it was grainy, so you bought the "high-res" LP for your hi-fi system. But you wouldn't have known to buy it if it wasn't for AM radio playing it. The modern audiophile has shed the snobbery and opened up to the widest world of music we have ever known. And then uses quality equipment to reproduce that music in its best form.

Dave Clark, PostiveFeedback - People who want to get the best possible sound from the music they love by a ‘system’ and format that fits their lifestyle.

Chris Connaker, ComputerAudiophile - A modern audiophile is someone who seeks access to any music at any time in any quality.

Theo Nicolakis, TechHive - Deep down the modern audiophile is an analog lover born in the digital age. He wants both convenience and quality so that he can listen to a high end two channel setup or on a pair of great-sounding headphones on the go. Today's audiophile wants the best of both worlds.

John Sciacca, contributing editor, Residential Systems - To me a modern day audiophile means someone that loves music and tries to enjoy it in the best quality they can. This might mean upgrading speakers or components; experimenting with different subwoofers, multiple subwoofers, subwoofer locations; trying different in-room audio calibrations. The modern audiophile is less hung up on the specs and brands and more into the final result of enjoying a favorite piece of music and getting it to sound as good as possible. For many, this might be a terrific pair of ear phones running through an outboard headphone amp and DAC. Or it could be listening to a turntable through a pair of good bookshelf monitors. Ultimately, it is about the love and enjoyment of music and the pursuit of making it sound just a little better.

Gary Yacoubian, SVS President – You no longer have to spend silly amounts of money or obsess over every last detail of system set-up and calibration to be an audiophile. To me, anyone with a desktop PC system, a 5.1 home theater or even a two-channel gaming system could be considered an audiophile as long as they’re willing to invest in better sound quality. It’s not about the pursuit of perfection, it’s about a desire to get the most out of every listening experience, within your means. That’s the modern audiophile.

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Apr 28, 2020