Why are audiophiles afraid to admit they're audiophiles?

You don't have to own an expensive hi-fi to be an audiophile. You just have to enjoy listening -- really listening -- to music.

Most audiophiles don't self identify as audiophiles. I suppose that's because audio is something of a guilty pleasure, best enjoyed solo, and that's part of the problem. Wine aficionados or guys that collect Corvettes aren't shy about their pursuits, but audiophiles have a hard time admitting they love gear.

Audiophiles are the other " one percent ." We might be the only people listening -- really listening -- to music at home; the other 99 percent don't. They have music "on," in the background. To me, owning expensive gear doesn't make you an audiophile. Occasionally focusing your attention on music is what makes the difference.

Luis, with his wife Lupe and daughter Raisa Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I recently attended a meeting of The Audiophile Society, a small group of NYC area audiophiles and asked them, one on one, "Are you an audiophile?" It was a little awkward, walking up to strangers with a microphone in hand to query them, and their answers surprised me.

David wasn't comfortable with the audiophile label, and he grudgingly admitted that he owns a high-end system only because it "magnifies my enjoyment of the offbeat music I listen to." For him the music comes first, and some of his greatest listening experiences happen in his car. The gear is less important than the music.

Gary had no trouble fessing up to his passion for audio, and said he played his stereo more than he played his guitar. It was easier to get pleasure out of playing records than his guitar. He bought his first stereo in 1973 when he was going off to college, and he's still hooked.

I spoke with two female audiophiles, and both were pretty passionate about music and gear. Margery readily admitted to being an audiophile -- she sees machines as her friends, and they "speak" to her. The best audio gear's industrial design fascinates her.

Luis was there with his wife and daughter, and they all seemed to be having a good time. Luis told me his father listened to a lot of classical music, and that's where it started for him. He didn't have much money when he started out, but he learned how to buy decent used audio gear at church sales and thrift shops, and after a few years he'd sell a piece and get something better. He enjoys music, and the better it sounds the better the experience is for him.

Luis' wife, Lupe, would go shopping with him and listen, and encourage him to buy better gear. A few years ago she found two pairs of exotic electrostatic speakers, SoundLabs and Dayton-Wrights, at a synagogue sale, so Luis and a lucky audiophile buddy bought them on the spot for $75 a pair! These speakers sold for thousands of dollars when they were new, and both sets of speakers were in excellent condition.

Jonathan wouldn't call himself an audiophile; he preferred audiophile/record collector. He bought his first hi-fi when he was still in high school, but graduated to full-blown audiophilia when he started reading the Absolute Sound magazine in the early 1980s. He used to buy one major component a year, but those days are long gone. He has around 4,000 LPs and just a handful of CDs, and still listens on a great system.

There are dozens of audiophile clubs around the country, but NYC's The Audiophile Society is one of the oldest. They meet each month in one of the member's homes, and frequently have guest manufacturers visit and show off their gear. Guests are welcome, and if you're a newbie, these clubs are a great way to learn about the hobby.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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