Can you stop being an audiophile?

I once tried going cold turkey and stopped listening to my high-end system. But I quickly came back.

Steve Guttenberg
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 Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

High-end speakers may be hard to leave behind.

Michael Trei/CNET

Audiophiles share a common passion for great sound, that's what makes us audiophiles. Sound quality is a top priority, because once you've lived with great sound with speakers or headphones, you can't settle for less. 

As one of my pals recently put it, "I can stop being an audiophile nerd, but I'll always be an audiophile. Once an audiophile always an audiophile." Sure, you can still enjoy music on a humble Bluetooth speaker , but audiophiles know the music is a mere shadow of what it could be over a decent audio system.

I'm speaking from experience. I went "cold turkey" and stopped listening to my high-end audio system for a few weeks in the 1990s. I felt my system was getting in the way of enjoying music, I was too obsessed with sound quality, so I felt the system was pulling my attention away from the music. I was seriously considering selling all of it, and just getting a pair of inexpensive speakers and a receiver. 

I didn't do anything rash, and after that time out I came back to my high-end system and fell back in love with it, and the way it made music sound. I've heard many a sad story from audiophiles who sold all of their gear and came to regret it. Most of them eventually got back into the game.  

Audiophiles hear differently

Appreciating sound quality is hardly an automatic thing for most people, it takes time and experience to develop a taste for the finer things. It's akin to learning about art, wine or music, the more you focus your attention on these things the more you'll get out of them. The opposite is also true, the less effort you put into listening to music, the less you will hear.

For a lot of audiophiles it's all about the chase, upgrading their equipment again and again to reach some idealized version of perfect sound. Other audiophiles take their time and put together a great system, and rarely change a thing thereafter. Some are more restless and swap out gear every year. I admit I'm in the latter group.

Some audiophiles go heavily into vinyl, some stick with files, both are equally relevant audiophile pursuits. It's very much a personal journey, finding the sound that best fits your needs.

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Then there are audiophiles who go for vintage speakers and electronics, and that can be a cost effective route, where if you choose wisely you can buy a set of $500 speakers, live with them for a year and then sell them for close to what you paid for them. Then they buy another speaker and another, it's a great way to discover what you like. It's the same with amplifiers and turntables, etc. Being an audiophile is mostly about focused listening, which leads to a desire for better gear.

If you've only listened to music on free earbuds or a plastic Bluetooth speaker, you don't know what you're missing. If you're curious and want to get a taste of the audiophile experience, but don't have a lot of money start with, try a set of ELAC Debut B6.2 speakers and an Onkyo TX 8020 stereo receiver. They sound awfully good together, and they may be all you need.

Watch this: Sony's latest truly wireless earphones are its best yet

Monoprice ups sound quality game with a sweet $150 headphone: This comfortable, full-sized M650 is the best-sounding product I've ever heard from the company.

This starter audiophile system sounds outrageously good for $88: The Lepai LP2020TI stereo integrated amplifier and a pair of Dayton Audio B652 Air speakers dazzle the Audiophiliac.