What Does It Take To Be An Audiophile & Are You One?
This series is one that’s near and dear to my heart, and I’m going to break it up into multiple segments here, because, well, there’s a lot to consider and go over. What is an audiophile? The thing is, there’s no consensus across the board - or even in the world of audiophilia - and that’s not a good thing. Everyone has a different answer or idea. Is it one thing, or do you have to check off the boxes on the list of “things you must have to be an audiophile.”
Most hobbies are cut and dry. Do you collect "this?" Then you're "that." Audiophilia is a bit more nebulous. But it doesn't have to be. There are a lot of conceptions and misconceptions about being an Audiophile, so let's break it down one step at a time.
Who Wants to Be An Audiophile?
Question: Who or what is an audiophile?
A) A rich person who has a $60,000 sound system
B) A hipster who listens to nothing but vinyl while drinking their favorite IPA from their local craft brewery
C) Someone with tens of thousands of songs and albums in their music library
Why Is There No Consensus?
It seems as though everyone has their own idea of what an audiophile is. Whether it's a 40-year-old man living in his mom's basement with tons of vintage audio gear from the 70s and 80s, the hipster who collects vinyl and IPAs, or the 65-year-old retired banker who has a $50,000 system in its own room with high-quality amplifiers and a wall of loudspeakers - the perceptions and misperceptions are abundant. I think one thing that most audiophiles, those who don't consider themselves audiophiles, and non-audiophiles alike can agree on is that the common denominator amongst all of them is music. It always comes back to the love of listening to music.
The audiophile industry is volatile. Not because of the people in it (mostly), but primarily because new products and technology are coming out all the time, constantly bombarding the consumer or music lover with the latest and greatest audio equipment.
It’s a tough place to find yourself in, especially if you like to have the best tech in an ever-evolving and changing market. Manufacturers are always one-upping themselves, trying to constantly innovate and drive the hobby forward. What once was the newest product with the latest tech could easily be obsolete within a year or two. Some brands have a short lifespan and can come and go, depending on the competitive marketplace. Change is the name of the modern game, which is sometimes ironic considering the hobby gives so much reverence and admiration to older audio gear and how things used to be.
Everyone does it a little differently too. Some people like large speaker setups with stacks of gear. Other people like to be portable and have a small, easy-to-carry DAP, or music player. Some people like open-back headphones. Others closed-back. This. That. Tomato. TamAto. Everyone does it differently so it’s tough to figure out what is right or wrong. Or right and wrong, because I dare say, there is no wrong way to be an audiophile. Unless you’re a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. There is such a large variety of gear, setups, budgets, ergonomics, and genres that it can simply be overwhelming to try and make your way through the hobby when you are new or you don’t know where to start. That’s okay because guess what? We all have to start somewhere and sometimes you just have to dive in head first.
When I want to get more information on a tech product one of the first places I go is YouTube – unboxings, reviews by reputable sources, demos, etc. The same thing goes for audiophilia. There are a ton of personalities, sources, opinions, and “authorities” out there with their take on the gear that’s going to make or break your music. What bothers me more about this hobby (like in all hobbies), is that someone can hate a product while another “reputable source” or “authority” can equally praise the music gear for being the best thing since sliced bread. Who is right? How can you have multiple authorities with completely oppositional views and opinions on sound reproduction?
Well, that’s a great question. You can’t really, but in this hobby...you can? So far we’ve established that:
1) Everyone does it differently
2) There is no wrong way to be an audiophile
3) You can have different opinions and still be right
4) There is no consensus on what an audiophile actually is
I'm sure you're getting all the answers you were looking for. If you learn anything from this blog make sure it’s this: everyone hears differently. That’s going to go a long way to making sense of the four points I just made.
Everyone Hears Differently. Why?
It’s difficult to find consensus on something when everyone is on a different page. When it comes to listening to music, no two ears are the same - figuratively and literally speaking. When Drew listens to a new pair of headphones, I don’t hear it the exact same way he does – we might agree on a few things concerning the sound signature, soundstage, imaging, textures, etc, but I don’t hear the music in the exact same way that he does.
There are a number of reasons why people hear differently. There are varying levels of hearing loss, various shapes of the ears, canals, and different orientations of cartilage which results in varying time differences for the audio to actually hit your eardrums. The way the music hits your ears, reflects, and how it travels down your canal and eventually hits your eardrum is different for every single person on the planet. Hearing loss can affect individuals differently as well, causing sensitivity to certain frequencies or rendering some completely inaudible. Our head sizes and shapes vary which also leads to headphones and earphones sitting differently, or even sealing in different ways.
Experience also plays a big role in this. If you’re a newbie to the hobby and you’re looking to upgrade from playing Spotify on your smartphone and earbuds, then listening to a $500 pair of headphones is going to yield, let’s say, a perceived 800% improvement in sound quality. If you’re coming from a portable USB DAC and upgrading to the Matrix Audio X-SABRE 3 Pro, then we’re looking at an estimated 500% perceived improvement in sound quality. If you’re looking to upgrade from your dCS LINA system to say, an all-in-one like the Warwick Aperio, perceived differences in sound quality become negligible. Your perception is based on your experience, and everyone has varying levels in this regard.
Listening preferences and ergonomics also vary from person to person. Some people like listening to open-back headphones over closed-back, or being able to be portable over the need for a large hi-res system in their home. Some audiophiles prefer a more analytical sound whereas some lean to a warmer and more musical presentation. Why? Who knows. Budgets vary, audio gear types vary, and there are countless differences to consider why no two people hear the same.
So, if we can’t come to a consensus about hearing things the same way, is there anything that we can agree on when considering what it takes to be an audiophile? Sure is. The one and only thing when it comes to music. The passion.
Mid-level Open-Back Headphones
Great for: At-home music listening for someone who wants premium performance without a premium price
Entry-level Closed-Back Headphones
Great for: Listening on the go, compact design for travel, and great isolation with ANC and wireless options
Portable Digital Audio Player or DAP
Great for: Taking your high-resolution music library with you - high-end components and top-quality sound
The One Thing Necessary For Being An Audiophile
No matter what your level of “expertise” in this hobby there is only one thing that matters: that you have a passion for music. It’s the one and only thing we share as audiophiles, and it’s the most important aspect of the hobby. It’s the starting and ending point. Everything else is secondary. It’s this appreciation for listening to music that we can all agree on.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in expensive equipment, high-end components, custom audio hacks, bit/sample rates, and more, but it’s all aimed at one goal and the result is always you – sitting there and listening to the music. That’s the focus in all this that some audiophiles have lost sight of over the years. Yes, the equipment is important – but with so many factors that play into the range of different preferences and abilities (sonically, monetarily, etc.), it becomes seemingly impossible to define the term or persona of “audiophile” otherwise.
Along with that passion for music is the consideration that you’re different from the average audio consumer. You expect more from your music and ultimately, you’re willing to pay for it. That’s what a hobby is after all, right? We all put our money into what we love, whether it be cars, collecting cards, movies, building models, books, and much more. Audiophiles want more than just Beats headphones and noise-canceling. They’re getting into the nitty gritty of what makes your music sound better, if it’s from a $150 USB DAC or a $25,000 complete HiFi system. They’re willing to invest in making sonic games because they want their music to sound the best for them so that the end result of listening to music is more enjoyable. It’s no different than someone wanting to get an 80-inch OLED flatscreen to be able to watch their movies in high-definition 4K and have more vibrant colors and a clearer picture.
We all have our hobbies and what we decide to spend our money on. It goes to our passion.
Make Sure Your Music is Maxed (Quality)
One thing can't be denied, and that is high-quality audio is going to sound better than standard quality. High fidelity, high-resolution, or high-end audio, whatever you call it, is going to make an impact on the overall audio quality of your music, and that is usually easily detectable by almost anyone. Higher resolutions and formats, no matter the audio system, will sound better than your lower-resolution MP3s or YouTube playlists. It's another great and easy place to start if you're considering venturing into the world of better sound. Check your source - if your audio files aren't hi-res then try listening to some to see if you hear a difference.
Are You An Audiophile?
Basically, it comes down to if you have a passion for music or not. If you expect more from your music to the point where you buy gear to make it sound better – you might be an audiophile. If you actually sit around and just listen to music as an extracurricular activity, then you might be an audiophile. If you hear differences in the music you play on multiple sound systems, then you might be an audiophile.
There’s this notion that audiophiles have to be rich, or snobby with music, or have dedicated listening rooms in their house, or talk about music with some strange alien terminology that no one understands – it’s all nonsense. Sure, those things exist within audiophilia, but by no means does it define the hobby. You’ll find a surprising variety of people at audio shows from all sorts of backgrounds – it’s a melting pot of diversity – and that’s a great thing for any hobby. The sense that it’s accessible. I’m here to tell you that you too can be an audiophile! You probably already are if you’re asking the question. Don’t let the myths and misconceptions dissuade you from getting into the hobby.
It’s time to open the curtain on the audiophile community. Let’s clear the air – it’s not a stuffy room full of pompous, old, rich white guys talking about how many times they clean the vinyl record before putting it on the turntable. It’s about the average Joe who loves music. Maybe he wants to see about getting a DAC amp to plug into his phone for a cleaner sound. It’s about the average Jane whose mp3 streaming service isn’t cutting it anymore and who wants to buy a dedicated music streamer for hi-resolution options. These aren’t people throwing down tens of thousands of dollars that they carry around in cash in their pockets on new audio gear.
One of my favorite rooms at AXPONA is the Expo room, where they have numerous vendors with vintage audio gear for sale, huge libraries of physical media, and tons of other things that you would expect to find in a much smaller, hometown gathering of music lovers. Not these huge and expansive rooms with multi-million dollar sound systems. It’s the only room in the entire show weekend where I really felt the community of average audiophiles come together in their love and passion for music.
It focused on the music rather than the gear that was playing it and being able to see some of the roots of the high-end stereo industry is a good reminder of how far the hobby has come over the years. On top of that, it’s interesting to see the advancements in technology too. There’s very much a hobbyist component to audiophilia that gets hidden behind the fancy and shiny chassis of the latest gear from all the best brands. It doesn’t have to be new and expensive to sound good.
Entry-Level DAP Music Player
Great for: Extreme portability and wireless streaming for your music
Mid-Level Universal IEMs
Good for: Next-level in-ear fidelity. Musical, dynamics, and amazing design
Flagship-Level Open-Back Headphones
Good for: End-game sound. If you want the best-of-the-best for open-back sound
Every Audiophile Is Different
The fact remains that everyone hears differently. Every audiophile is different. Each person also has their music genre preferences – and because each piece of gear has its own sound signature, it’s going to present genres differently. We talk all the time here that some gear pairs better with genres than others based on their natural sound signature and how the audio circuit is designed.
Each audiophile or music lover comes from a different background, a different station in life, different means, and varying experiences. Your experience with music is distinct to you, and that has been a pivotal role in shaping your journey as an audiophile. Because of that, you might have specific responses to certain types of music that others do not. Songs speak to us in many ways, and some people even have physiological reactions to listening to music. You are unique, and so is your experience with the music you love.
Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.
Why Dragon Cables?
You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand-new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. Why is the cable always an afterthought, when it’s just as important as the rest of your system? At Moon Audio, we use the best raw materials in our cables to unveil your music. We believe the materials matter and your audio cables should have the same care and craftsmanship that manufacturers put into their audio components and headphones. Audio cables are ultimately the connection to your music. The fact remains that cabling is often considered the last priority to that of the main product and a means to cut down the overall production costs. It’s as simple as that.
So what is the point of this blog? What do I want you to take away from this if you’ve even made it this far? Think about the stereotypical image of an audiophile. Now throw that out the door. Before going down this path I would have never considered myself an audiophile, but I’ve always loved music. And that’s the starting point for everyone – the shared passion for the music we listen to.
I said in a previous review that I think the difference between an audiophile and someone who simply listens to music is that the audiophile listens to music as an activity in itself. They’re simply sitting…and…listening. Like reading, or watching a movie or TV show. There is a joy to be found in just sitting and listening.
Forget everything you thought an audiophile was, and take it from me: a shared love and appreciation for music is all it takes. You don't have to be rich, you don't have to have special hearing. and you certainly don't have to have a special room in your house for a humungous speaker setup. It's time to embrace your inner music lover - it's okay to want more from your music. Just like everything else, we all start from somewhere and it's usually a long and never-ending journey. But that's okay - because it sure is a fun and rewarding one.
So what's the next step in your Audiophile journey?