Why are audiophiles so nuts about their hobby?

Inspired by the thread in IMHO about obsessed hobbyists. Several people mentioned audiophiles.
I concur.
Several years ago, I had to visit someone’s house for a work project. The guy happened to be a hardcore audiophile and had literally 100 grand worth of stereo equipment in one room. And not only that, but he had a special chair with a special animal skin rug in front positioned in just the right spot to get an optimal listening experience. He had me try it out. It was fantastic, I’m not going to lie, but it’s not like I attained nirvana (no pun intended). And if I had heard it in a different setting, without someone explaining to me how special it was, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it.
So am I just aurally impaired or somehow just unable to process great sound? Or are these guys really nuts?

It varies of course, but yes, some of them are nuts, IMO.

Beyond a certain point, audio quality (in a scientific sense) doesn’t get any better, and also there are limits to human hearing and perception. Some audiophiles do not believe this. They believe in things which cannot be measured or explained by science, and yet AFAIK, they are not willing to admit that their beliefs are of a supernatural/emotional/cultural nature.

Is it really necessary to purchase $100 k worth of equipment to accurately reproduce the sound of the recording? What kind of music would require that? Most rock bands aren’t going to be using $100 k worth of musical instruments on any given song. For complex orchestral arrangements I guess it might make sense, but otherwise it seems like a huge waste of money to me. Better to take that money and buy more concert tickets, and listen to real live music instead.

I once asked a doctor of audiology about the claims made in high-end audio equipment ads. She said that while such things were measurable by scientific instruments, the human ear was simply incapable of hearing a lot of the claims made by the ads. For example, a human could not differentiate between, say, 0.004% total harmonic distortion (THD) and 0.009% THD, no matter what an audiophile claims he or she can hear.

FTR, I am not an audiophile.

20 or so years ago Stereo Review (I think) did blind tests and in most cases “experts” could not tell the cheap stuff from the real expensive stuff. That makes me laugh when I think of people spending a fortune on stereo gear.


And they tend to do a lot of hand-waving when you post a link to the wiki article on confirmation bias.

It’s like any other hobby: it gives you a sense of control over a little part of the universe. Just like a train set.

I once heard some high end speakers that sounded bad if you were not right in front of them.

Some people just assume anything that costs a lot must be top notch. Like $200 shirts that are made in China right next to $30 shirts.

I’m sure a $100,000 audio system sounds significantly better than my $150 Aiwa that I bought a decade ago but after a certain point (probably well before 100k) you are getting rapidly diminishing returns. And a certain point after that, you are getting literally nothing at all for your money.

I think there are some that just want to appear superior. If you sit somebody down in front of your ridiculous sound system and they say they can’t tell a difference you can just scoff and act like they have bad hearing. They are simply unable to detect the subtle tones that make the experience so sublime! Others just don’t want to admit they spent 2 grand on a dollar’s worth of cable and got scammed.

I think if your sound system costs more than the system used to record the music in the first place, you’re probably just wasting your money.

Many big name guitarists use basic Fender guitars and amps that cost $700-$1000. A lot of the $2000 and up guitars/amps are bought by guys who just play at home. The pros spend more time worrying about their music , not how much their equipment costs.

Guitars and amps are a whole different ball game from stereo equipment, in that guitars and amps are supposed to *create *a sound, while stereo equipment is supposed to reproduce a sound. Very diffferent things. That said, your point is well taken.

Speaking only for myself, I can tell the difference between a $200 stereo system and a $5,000 system. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell the difference between the $5,000 system and a $100,000 system, though.

As gladtobeblazed says above, if you’re listening to (most) rock music, it’s not going to make that much difference anyway. If you’re listening to classical music (and perhaps other genres of music with which I’m not that familiar), yes, a high-quality stereo system will make quite a difference, although only to a point.

The dudes with the $100,000 systems? They’re listening to the system, not to music.

One of the real high end stereo companies is located a few miles from where I live, they make most of their stuff here.


They have been around 20 years now and have grown recently. They use tubes for some of their amps which is rare. Some of their amps cost $5k.

Indeed most true audiophiles are nuts, and I mean that literally. It would not surprise me if many of them have a mild form of OCD that they deal with by channeling their compulsions into getting the “perfect” musical experience. Don’t confuse that with people who tell you that your $200 speakers suck. It is pretty remarkable when you first hear a good quality system if you are used to listening to cheap speakers. What do I mean by good quality system, well my opinion is you can get 99% of the sound quality audiophiles get for $2000-3000 or less.

Audiophiles are divided into two groups. One that believes that audio performance can be measured and the other than believes there are elements of sound that measurement equipment cannot capture - the “golden ears” versus the “meter readers”. Harry Pearson of “The Absolute Sound” is an example of a “Golden Ear”, while Bob Carver is the ultimate “Meter Reader”.

I’m not an audiophile of either type, although music and good sound are vitally important to me. I’ve heard amazing systems, but most of the audiophiles I’ve known have had abysmal taste in music, so I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I’d rather listen to music I enjoy on a poor system than music I don’t like on the best system in existence.

The hilarious thing about most audiophiles of either stripe is that they’ll spend and spend on upgrading their components, putting them in crappy rooms. Any recording engineer will tell you the room, and the sonic treatment of that room, are more important than what you put in the room. If I was going to spend $100,000 to listen to music, most of it would be to build a perfect room, with excellent isolation, non-parallel walls, carefully designed diffusion and absorption treatments, a great high-volume, low turbulence heating and air conditioning system, isolated electricity (ideally balanced AC). You do all that, and a $599 “home theater in a box” is going to sound glorious.

Of course if I had $100,000 to spend, and was going to build that room, it would be a home theater. Because you can always turn the lights off and just listen to music.

Recently I had a guy tell me his home theater sounded way better than our local IMAX theater which is very high end. Not sure what he spent on his system.

The thing is that design techniques and technology from the professional sound recording and reproduction world have trickled down into the world of consumer sound - amusingly bypassing the “high end” audio world.

Back home in Chicago, I have a pretty serious sound system with 6 foot tall speakers (my excuse is that I got an astounding deal on them - literally ten cents on the dollar). It took hours of tweaking to get the surround levels right so I had good imaging.

But at my apartment in Kansas City, I have a small room with a $599 “home theater in a box” from Yamaha - a receiver, 5 small speakers and a subwoofer. But, and this is the important bit, the small system came with a microphone and an automatic adjustment system. Start it with the microphone at your listening position and it will produce a series of tones and clicks and it will automagically adjust the speaker levels, crossover point, and delays to get imaging every bit as good as the best I could achieve with the $3000 speakers at home. Because I placed the speakers carefully, then let the automatic system do it’s job, it works very well. Back when I was a sound engineer in the 1970s, the equipment to do this cost $100,000! Now, it’s a chip and a microphone.

“Golden Ears” would sooner die than admit that a $2 microphone and chip could do a better job of adjusting their sound system than they can.

Audiophiles are like the foodies of the technology world. If the sound reproduction isn’t up to their almost impossibly-high standards, then it sucks, diminishing returns be damned.

FWIW, I’ve got older entry-level audiophile gear (NAD amp, Carver tuner, Dahlquist speakers), but I’m certainly no audiophile. I just don’t like blingy, overly complicated audio equipment, and it seems like the higher-end stuff is just simpler to use than the mass-market stuff. If it sounds a little bit better – probably not that perceptible to most people, myself included – all the better.

Low distortion level is something of a marketing gimic. I’ve seen very expensive systems with distortion ratings in the 1% range. That’s not a typo.

Do some of these people still complain that vinyl albums sound better than CDs?

While you are correct about guys buying expensive guitars to play at home (some folks derisively nickname the Paul Reed Smith (PRS) brand as “lawyer guitars”) you forget a key point: a guitar for gigging is different vs. a guitar for home. You want relatively inexpensive, durable, versatile guitars - subtleties are lost in an arena. They go for basic Fenders, as you say, because they are good for the road. That same player may have very expensive guitars at home.

As for audiophiles - I think **The Second Stone **has it right - it’s a way to geek out. I totally geek out on my guitars and have fun doing it. I am inclined to agree with most posters here that state that past a certain dollar level, if the system is set up effectively in a decent room, I will not be able to hear the difference.

However, when I was just out of college and working at HP, I ended up at the home of their Chief Technology Officer, who was an audiophile. He had designed an *entire room *- the shape and materials used - as well as designed most of the stereo components. When I heard that system - in the correct chair, thankyouverymuch - play Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (yes, of course on vinyl - but this was a number of years ago), I felt like I could reach out and touch the orchestra. What was amazing was when he tweaked some controls, he moved the brass to another section in the room…amazing, but at a whole 'nother level of geekery vs. what an average high-end audiophile could build…