There seems to be a lot of in-fighting within the audiophile world about people’s personal choices and the equipment they finally place in their system. Stuart Smith takes a tongue-in-cheek look at what he thinks are the reasons for this phenomenon…

LET’S TALK FROCKS 

The idea for this article came out of the initial thought that people involved in the audiophile world seemed to be much more vociferous in decrying and denouncing the business of selling hifi and the buying decisions people make, than almost any market sector I could think of, and I began to wonder why this should be, and what sets this particular sector apart from the likes of say the fashion industry.

The fashion industry, much as the hifi industry, has very distinct levels that make it up. In fashion there is the haute-couture market that caters to the well-heeled socialite and they buy into this exclusive market for their own reasons. We then have the prêt-a-porter level that is a slightly watered down version of haute couture and a little less expensive, even if out of the each of the vast majority of people. Next we have the high-street where you and I may well buy our togs. Of course the high-street has its own divisions broadly based on the final selling price of a garment…some will buy from M&S, some from Tesco and others from Primark. Peoples’ choices of where they shop will largely be based on disposable income and whether they feel comfortable in a particular brand’s clothes – personal choice based on a wide variety of influencers and preferences. Likewise in audio there are a whole load of reasons that people buy a particular brand and not all of it is down to the way it sounds… shocking I know. Now, Primark’s clothes may well be well made and look great, but I don’t see everyone that shops there suggesting that it’s the only place you should buy your clothes from.

I could have looked at the car industry and why people buy into particular brands and I’m sure I’d find the same situation as the fashion industry…people buying cars based on personal preferences and what they can afford. Isn’t this just the same as the hifi industry?

There’s a certain kind of audiophile that seems almost evangelical in their desire to suggest that anyone who spends more than tuppence ha’penny on their sound system is either a raving lunatic or in league with Beelzebub himself and responsible for all the woes in the World including hunger, pestilence, disease and not being able to remember where you put your car keys last night. These are the kind of people who moan and moan…and then moan some more to anyone that will give them an audience, that everything in the hifi world is now a rip off and the owners of the companies making hifi are the most evil kind of people and unspeakably wicked for wanting to make a bob or two.ANGRYMAN

Let’s face the truth of the matter here; having a decent hifi is a bit of a luxury and like all products there will be different markets within the wider market. Of course there will be those who want to feel that they have scored a bargain and managed to put together a system that is “oh so much better than anything at fifty times its price”, but then at the other end of the scale you will have the “money no object” folk that want to have what they perceive as being the very best. In between these two extremes you have the vast majority of audiophiles who will have differing degrees of disposable income and different preferences in the way a system sounds. Oooh look, that’s a bit like the fashion and car industries I briefly described earlier…

As with the article I wrote last month about cable wars, we have a whole host of audiophiles with different mentalities and different opinions on this.

THE HATERS

Let’s start at what I feel is the bottom of the food chain here with the I Can’t Afford “THAT” So I’m Going To Whine kind of audiophile. These people almost invariably come off sounding bitter and petulant and, it seems to me that they are the kind of person who may prefer to wear hessian underwear – cheap as chips but not the most flattering choice of undercracker. Perhaps life has dealt these people a relatively poor hand and they don’t have the opportunity to splurge a king’s ransom on audio, but for the love of baby Jesus will you give it a rest please. Yes, we all know that some audio equipment is outrageously expensive, but no one actually has a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to part with their hard earned dosh. Buy what you can afford and if it makes you happy and gets you involved in the enjoyment of music then all power to you!

Probably drives an Austin Allegro in diarrhoea brown and wears an old jacket with leather patches on the elbows from a charity shop.

A similar breed to the above is the I Can Afford “THAT” But I’m Morally Superior To Everyone So I’m Going To Whine. These people are on a moral crusade and convinced that they’re the most honourable people on the planet and that by waging a campaign against expensive hifi they will somehow make all the ills of the world disappear and everyone will live happily ever after. Personally I think that this particular band of people would be better employed spending their time and energies targeting a sector of the unfair system we live in that actually has a major effect on the planet…there’s loads to choose from folks…use your imagination a bit. This band clearly have the time and the money to spend writing angry letters to their MPs and signing petitions…use your time and energy more wisely people!

Probably drives a Prius and is wearing M&S slacks.

Then we have the I Have A Vested Interest In Whining About Expensive Hifi. These people can come from a variety of backgrounds, be that resellers, manufacturers, folk looking to sell used kit, or brand ‘fanboys’. These are a tricky bunch to deal with as they will invariably claim that they are taking their stance from the lofy heights of the moral outrage point of view, when in actual fact it would appear that they are putting down more expensive brands by way of self promotion or loyalty to a particular brand. Yes, we all know there are lots of brands out there that offer really excellent value for money, but ‘fess up and be honest about what you are doing…you are trying to earn a crust in a difficult marketplace just like everyone else, or trying to promote your favourite brand for whatever reason you can think of.

Probably takes the bus and is wearing an anorak.

THE UPPER ECHELONS

Now, if we swing to the other end of the scale and to the upper echelons of the audiophile world we also have a number of different attitudes that prevail and these are, in the main, in stark contrast to the people above who we will broadly label “The Haters”. This group of audiophiles will always strive to have what they believe is the very best of everything, it’s just the means of getting there and motivations are very different.

First up are the people with oodles and oodles of cash and for whom money is absolutely no object, but who are modest and have no need to shout about their purchases to the world. These people will be have made their own money perhaps and feel that to “willy wave” about the expensive kit they have would be crass and a little uncivilized. This group are unlikely to enter into discussions with others about whether this or that is sonically superior because they know that their decisions have been based on what is perceived to be the best. Let’s call this group Loadsamoney Why Would I Entertain Your Opinions. Probably drives seven series Beemer and wears an understated Hugo Boss suit in black. 

Then we have the normal guy who has a very strong desire to have the best premium products that he thinks sound the finest, but really has to scrimp and save to afford them. Now, this is my favourite group because they have invested heavily in what they perceive to be the very best and will have sacrificed other things in order to achieve their own personal idea of audio nirvana. This group will perhaps be a little embarrassed by their purchases, realising, that in actual fact, other things should have taken priority over their audio habit. These are the true enthusiast to me and stand as testament to what is great about this hobby. These people will be the ones who carefully listen to the equipment they intend to buy, taking notes and identifying what they truly believe to be the superlative products. Their rig is unlikely to be made up of the “household” names of audio and is likely to contain rare and hard to find artisanal brands that they have travelled far and wide to hear and select. Let’s call this group Not Wealthy But Obsessed.

Rides a bike and wears whatever was to hand when he dressed this morning.

Willy Wavers are the type of audiophile I find really entertaining and I reckon there’s a bit of this in most of us if truth be known. If we’ve worked or saved hard we all like to show off a little bit…human nature, simple human nature. However, the true hardcore Willy Waver of the audio world will buy the biggest and flashest product they can and then tell the world and his dog about how great this product is and how anything else that you may own is vastly inferior and to be scoffed at.

Drives a Lamborghini round Knightsbridge at three in the morning whilst looking simply fabulous in Versace.    

THE REST

In-between these extremes you have everyone else…the normal audiophile who just loves music and the gear that it is played on. Of course you’re going to have groups within groups, but, depending on disposable income and passion for the hobby they have, this is where the vast majority of us sit. We will argue the merits, or otherwise, of products based on what we perceive as being great sound at whatever price. This group sees the merits in all sectors and price-points and is interested in hearing loads of different kit. It matters not one jot what the outlay for a particular piece of equipment is to this group of audiophiles and they can take pleasure in enjoying being sat in front of a million dollar rig without either becoming jealous, evangelical or whiny, just as they can take pleasure in more modest systems. Yes, these people may well be very proud of the music centre they have put together and they will obviously want to talk to people about it and share it with others, but this is done out of a love of the hobby and a love for the music and gear. It is done without malice and without nastiness and with a genuine desire to learn more, hear more and improve their system over time.  Let’s call this group Probably You!

Drives whatever you drive and is wearing whatever you are. 

THE LOWDOWN 

Ok, we’ve met the players in this game, but I want to get a few things off my chest and these opinions of mine are aimed squarely at the broad group of whiners of the audio world who gripe about companies charging often quite large sums for their products.

First off all new products cost money to research and design…these are not in the main the Fred In A Shed type of manufacturer (though these clearly have their place in audio) and employ real people and pay real wages, allowing their workers to support their families in a reasonable level of comfort. These companies pay taxes and contribute to the system (like it or not) and are out there in this capitalist world playing the game of profit making.

I often hear people moaning about (cue Jeremy Clarkson’s adenoidy whiner voice) “£10 000 (you could have chosen ANY number here) for a DAC is outrageous, the bits inside are only worth 27 pence”, but I think they are missing the point. Do these Moaning Minnies not think that the huge bulk of people, realistically thinking of spending ten large on a single piece of audio equipment, are not going to have done their homework, listened to a few alternatives at different prices and read reviews… or that they have the right to spend their money however they wish… or do the haters think that their perception of what good value is the only legitimate opinion out there?

Forever trying to force your negative opinion down others’ throats and forever telling a person what is good for them does little other than alienate and isolate yourself, so that you look sour, not a little bit envious and in the end people just stop listening and taking any notice of your opinions.

I think the main point I am trying to make is that the everyday music lover and audiophile is not stupid creature needing Nanny Hater to stop them being hurt by the big bad world that is going to force them at knifepoint to splurge money they don’t have on whatever they are having to pushed at them – we are able to make our own decisions, spend our own money however we like and enjoy our hifis (cars, clothes, homes…) in our own way.

I drive a Peugot 206 and am wearing jeans and a tee shirt if that helps any!

Stuart Smith

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