(Don’t) Ask An Audiophile

September 09, 2013

I learned this lesson the hard way, so let me offer you, my fellow audio fools, this simple suggestion: If you’re searching for simple advice on the purchasing of any electronic device related in any way, shape or form to the reproduction of sound waves for auditory stimulation and pleasure, DO NOT ASK AN AUDIOPHILE. 

Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest! And I apologize for calling you all audio fools, but your second lesson is this: If you’re not an audiophile, you’re an audio fool (usually). At least according to many of those residing in the mysterious world of audiophilia. 

Now, I offer these words of warning because unless you’re prepared to be beaten, bantered and belittled for bringing up words like budget, Beats, Bose or Best Buy in any conversation relating to said equipment, you’re likely better off scouring the WWW on a Sunday afternoon in the comfort and safety of your own domain. 

With that said, if you’re ready to embark on a journey in search of the mystical state of Audio Nirvana that’s been eluding you for your entire auditory existence to date, an audiophile may be exactly what you need. In my case, The Spirited Uncle M has emerged as my survival guide.

Now I’m sure many of you are asking yourselves what the doo-wop is an audiophile, and who the heck is The Spirited Uncle M. 

Thanks to Wikipedia, I can provide a concise definition and objective of the former:

“An audiophile is a person enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction….
A key goal of audiophiles is to capture the experience of a live musical performance in a room with good acoustics, and reproduce it at home. It is widely agreed that this is very difficult and that even the best-regarded recording and playback systems rarely, if ever, achieve it. 
The term High-end audio refers to playback equipment used by audiophiles, which may be bought at specialist shops and websites. High-end components include turntables, digital-to-analog converters, equalization devices, preamplifiers and amplifiers (both solid-state and vacuum tube), horn and electrostatic speakers, power conditioners, subwoofers, headphones, and acoustic room treatment.”

It’s a lot to take in, right? Don’t worry, you’ll learn.

The Spirited Uncle M 

Now as for him, aka The Audiophile, he’s a bit harder to define; I’ll simply offer some background details and you can come to your own conclusion on why he is “The Spirited Uncle M” and not just “Uncle M” over time. First, he is actually my Uncle. Second, he is likely the pickiest and most opinionated person I’ve ever met. Lastly, he’s been an audiophile by all definitions for more than 30 years and will make your head spin with his wisdom on musicians, producers, studios, equipment designs, manufacturers, and basically everything else that falls into the audiophilia world.

There is a room in his house dedicated solely to the pursuit of Audio Nirvana and all of the equipment, research, experimentation, and other activities that accompany said pursuit. This room is often referred to as “The Sound Lab,” and he is the mad, yet comical (providing he is in the right mood), scientist that inhabits it. Picture a slightly younger, taller, curly-haired Einstein that insists on wearing nothing but black jeans, t-shirts and sneakers—that’s Uncle M. It should be noted that absolutely nobody outside of his inner circle is allowed to enter The Sound Lab. Also note, if you are lucky enough to be invited into The Sound Lab, in order to sit on one of the dedicated “listening chairs,” your pockets must be free from any and all objects that may leave even the slightest indentation in the (black) leather surface, and you must absolutely keep your hands to yourself. 

Still with me? OK.

Aspirations for a Listening Room

So, I have a small entertainment room where I enjoy listening to music after a frustrating day at work, watching TV and movies to escape uneventful days, and repeatedly getting killed by kids that are likely a third of my age in online shooter games. Having just purchased a new, bigger, sleeker, shinier, gloriously vivid seductress from Sony (a new 240Hz LED HDTV), excitement was emanating from my being. That was, until I heard the two excuses for speakers projecting some sort of weak, lifeless buzz from the back of it (Really Sony? Really?). 

Fear quickly followed my disappointment—how would I ever decipher where the enemy shooting is coming from and defend myself against the humiliation of sneaky knife attacks on the virtual battlefield? The boom box! Brilliant! I will output the TV audio to the boom box via a 3.5mm mini plug to RCA cable and wha-la, room-rocking, thunderous gun blasts and explosions will ensue, and I’m sure music and movies won’t sound too bad either. 

Well, little did I know that such a setup would open myself up for widespread criticism from The Spirited Uncle M upon his next visit. If I recall, I believe things like, “You can’t listen to music on that piece of crap (the boom box),” and, “If you want real bass for gaming you need 999 watts of Class-Z power from a something-or-other amp into a super-powered subwoofer” were said.

Reeling in embarrassment, I, the apparent audio fool, asked The Audiophile what I thought was a simple question: “Well, what do you suggest? And, remember that I’m on a budget.” 

Here’s your third lesson: Speaking of a budget is damn near blasphemy to most audiophiles (I hate to generalize as they come in many varieties). After all, you can’t put a price on experiencing pure Audio Nirvana. Nevertheless, I insisted that I have a very modestly paying job, and that I would be more than happy to experience Audio Bliss instead. 

To keep this introductory post limited to a respectable length, I will simply tell you that The Spirited Uncle M proceeded to let loose with a complex narrative on audio theory, equipment, and manufacturers in what I swear was a foreign language. However, the one thing I did clearly hear him say was that he would put some thought into a sound system solution for my needs. 

Before departing that evening he made sure to convey a few final words of wisdom for contemplation: “Money talks and bull**** walks.” 

I didn't realize it then, but my journey from audio fool to audio-something-or-other of higher stature was about to begin.

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  1. Great article and great idea for a blog! Remember, its not about stature or fitting in to a group, its about YOU enjoying music through a system that sounds great to your ears. Too many audiophiles try to impress others with their equipment, only to never really be satisfied with the results of listening to the system put together by listening to other's opinions. I hope that makes sense.

    1. Michael, thanks for reading and the comments!

      You're absolutely right about this journey needing to be about personally enjoying the music. I hope to hit on that point in future posts. If you read my latest post, you'll see that I am using a 24-year old CD player in my "beginner" hifi setup; and you know what? It SOUNDS AWESOME!

      I hope you'll keep reading and share some of your insight along the way.

  2. I auditioned a BDP-103 for several weeks thoroughly impressed by its stellar video performance but somewhat unimpressed by its average audio circuitry.audio discussions

  3. Yo Proby,
    Stop screwing around already and get a BETTER transport and digital cable to give your schitt Yaggi a chance to sound superior. Remember Audio 101 MONEY TALKS AND BULLSHIT WALKS

  4. How can I split my mini-mic signal into one going to my laptop and another one going to my DVR?
    It seems that I have to boost/amplify the microphone signal to the DVR.





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