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A no-taking-sides, no judgment classification of the 4 types of Audiophile. "The audiophile bestiary".

birdog1960

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Except there isn't enough space to display them. Bit of a conundrum.

the article points out that space is only one reason works aren't displayed eg Iranian revolution. Even with limited space in major museums, traveling exhibits seem an obvious solution: https://www.artsandartists.org/exhibitions/bernini-and-the-roman-baroque/
 

Axo1989

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On the former point - added distortion is universally preferred but not on every instrument, and always in varying amounts. This is why producers / mixing engineers add harmonic distortion on just about everything, but don't usually add more distortion on the master track. By the time the listener gets it, all the "nice" distortion should have been added already, in the studio. Adding distortion via DSP is literally an entire industry unto itself, it's just that producers get to have all the fun.

On the latter point - agree. There is plenty of room for preference on distortion or non-flat FR, but it's not cost-effective to buy exotic gear to get those effects. There is nothing special about those sounds that can't be done with DSP these days. Spend $500 on software and you can do in a week what 30 years and $300K swapping speakers could otherwise.

Of course, the DSP route completely lacks glamour, but if you want a "warm" (or whatever type) sound without the hassle, that is the best way to get it IMO.

The lack of glamour is obvious. But personal, some enjoy tweaking on computers, others like to do it with more tangible objects.

Certainly DSP (applied by the user, a bit different when integrated by the speaker designer) can adjust tonality and improve things at LP. But there are additional characteristics—the sort of things you see in a wavelet spectrogram measurement of a loudspeaker—that are more difficult to modify effectively.
 
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ahofer

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the article points out that space is only one reason works aren't displayed eg Iranian revolution. Even with limited space in major museums, traveling exhibits seem an obvious solution: https://www.artsandartists.org/exhibitions/bernini-and-the-roman-baroque/
My wife designs and takes traveling exhibits (she is a Museum Director who came up through the curatorial ranks). It’s not a big part of major museum curatorial efforts. Not all types of works travel well, and the exhibition has to work in the venue. The big traveling shows tend to be more thematic (some big ones in the last few years included the Harry Potter Magic history show and the Alice in Wonderland show that traveled internationally-until the pandemic). I wish there were more. Someone from the Museum has to travel with the objects, and it’s a good boondoggle.
 

birdog1960

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My wife designs and takes traveling exhibits (she is a Museum Director who came up through the curatorial ranks). It’s not a big part of major museum curatorial efforts. Not all types of works travel well, and the exhibition has to work in the venue. The big traveling shows tend to be more thematic (some big ones in the last few years included the Harry Potter Magic history show and the Alice in Wonderland show that traveled internationally-until the pandemic). I wish there were more. Someone from the Museum has to travel with the objects, and it’s a good boondoggle.
The small local museum in our town (my wife is on the board) has greatly benefitted from traveling exhibits as have the residents here. The pandemic actually provided opportunities to get shows that would usually be beyond their reach except for cancellations from bigger museums during the pandemic. I think many museums are still reeling financially after it and could benefit from more of them.
 

MattHooper

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On the former point - added distortion is universally preferred but not on every instrument, and always in varying amounts. This is why producers / mixing engineers add harmonic distortion on just about everything, but don't usually add more distortion on the master track. By the time the listener gets it, all the "nice" distortion should have been added already, in the studio. Adding distortion via DSP is literally an entire industry unto itself, it's just that producers get to have all the fun.

On the latter point - agree. There is plenty of room for preference on distortion or non-flat FR, but it's not cost-effective to buy exotic gear to get those effects. There is nothing special about those sounds that can't be done with DSP these days. Spend $500 on software and you can do in a week what 30 years and $300K swapping speakers could otherwise.

Of course, the DSP route completely lacks glamour, but if you want a "warm" (or whatever type) sound without the hassle, that is the best way to get it IMO.

I think your last sentence gets at why this isn't a "thing," really. :)

It's sort of like reminding old car enthusiasts "you know you can get between A and B with better gas mileage these days, right?"

The first thing is that pretty much all the tube emulator plug-ins I know of are made for DAWs. I don't know of any specifically designed to somehow slot in easily to a consumer hi-fi system. Do you?

Also, while I don't use tube plug ins for my post sound work, I've played with a couple over the years and most have not really mimiced what I seem to hear from my CJ amps exactly. For me the CJ is sort of plug-and play - put it in to my system, it does it's thing, I love it. I've occaisionally tried other tube amps in my system and enjoyed those too, and also tube rolled a bit. It's all been very enjoyable. I think this is much like the vinyl thing; what you diagnose as a "hassle" is actually part of the fun and pleasure for many who are in to tube amps. Then there is of course, as you indicate, the other aspect - aesthetics, conceptual, pride of ownership etc associated with tube amps. The DSP idea is sort of like telling vinyl record fans "hey, you know you can get that music via streaming or on CD, right? " Sort of a solution that nobody wants because it kind of misses the target. Those attracted to tube amps wouldn't want it, and those not attracted to tube amps and who might be technically savvy enough with digital audio to set it up in their consumer system, are also unlikely to integrate it in any significant manner.
 
OP
kemmler3D

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I totally get that, I haven't run across a lot of vinyl or tube people who were mostly in it for the sound per se, and not interested in the gear for its own sake.

That said, you can get about 1,000,000 and 1 VSTs of varying quality to do tube distortion or anything else. Most hifi-oriented stuff won't host VSTs, but EQAPO does, so that's pretty close, you can get a windows PC to run it for less than most people will spend on a DAC around here... The interfaces of these VSTs are usually no worse than anything else you might encounter doing DSP for home use, often much better.
 

MattHooper

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I totally get that, I haven't run across a lot of vinyl or tube people who were mostly in it for the sound per se, and not interested in the gear for its own sake.

Well, you'd find a great many people listening to vinyl or using tube amps who haven't spent anything like the time many ASR members have on learning the ins and outs of electronics and audio gear, measuring stuff, haggling over different designs, scanning plots and graphs, doing DIY projects etc. Those vinyl/tube amp folks may just as well look at what goes on here and think "They seem to be interested in the gear for it's own sake...not much discussion of music going on there."

I think it's fine to admit we're all here for the gear. Of course we all love music too, but it's the interest in audio gear that distinguishes us from "normies." That's essentially what it is to be an audiophile and why a forum like this exists in the first place :)
 
OP
kemmler3D

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Well, you'd find a great many people listening to vinyl or using tube amps who haven't spent anything like the time many ASR members have on learning the ins and outs of electronics and audio gear, measuring stuff, haggling over different designs, scanning plots and graphs, doing DIY projects etc. Those vinyl/tube amp folks may just as well look at what goes on here and think "They seem to be interested in the gear for it's own sake...not much discussion of music going on there."

I think it's fine to admit we're all here for the gear. Of course we all love music too, but it's the interest in audio gear that distinguishes us from "normies." That's essentially what it is to be an audiophile and why a forum like this exists in the first place :)

Oh, totally. What I mean is that even if you're interested in gear, if you're doing tubes or vinyl it's because you like tubes and vinyl. Not many people are on a no-holds-barred quest for tube sound with total disregard for the tubes themselves, that's all.

I think that's fine and cool, it's just funny that people talk about liking the sound, but only pursue that sound within certain categories of gear. Nobody (outside of producers) is spending a lot of time setting up filters on their PC to approximate vinyl distortion, for example.
 

birdog1960

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Oh, totally. What I mean is that even if you're interested in gear, if you're doing tubes or vinyl it's because you like tubes and vinyl. Not many people are on a no-holds-barred quest for tube sound with total disregard for the tubes themselves, that's all.

I think that's fine and cool, it's just funny that people talk about liking the sound, but only pursue that sound within certain categories of gear. Nobody (outside of producers) is spending a lot of time setting up filters on their PC to approximate vinyl distortion, for example.
reminds me of some fisherman. To some, fly fishing is the only acceptable method. But a good bait fisherman with a spinning outfit will out fish a decent fly fisherman 90% of the time. Guess which I mostly do.
 

pseudoid

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@kemmler3D, Should I seek therapy; as it sounds like I can easily check-mark each 'box'?:eek:

202211_SOlderDudeFlawedTest.jpg

Thank you @solderdude<< I even took that "inbetweenist" test and was insulted that it labeled me as a "100% objectivist"!
202211_FollowPassionBS.jpg
 

Els

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Hi all, long time listener, first time poster here. Apologies in advance, 1500 word essay incoming:

TL;DR: ITT I try to classify all audiophiles without mocking anyone.

I think it’s amazing how much contributors to this and other forums have advanced the state of the hobby as well as the industry “from the bleachers”, so to speak. I’ve learned a ton just by reading.

It's really great to see how much we accomplish simply by sharing information and opinions online. But it's also a bit sad that the audiophiles seem to argue and disrespect each other so much. There's something like Godwin's Law at work here, where the probability that a slur like "audiophool" or "pedant objectivist" will be used approaches 100% as a thread grows in length.

So, I have something to add to the discussion. Not about the listening equipment, but about the listeners.

Yes, unfortunately I am no engineer - I’m part of the reviled class of subhuman leeches known as marketers. A big part of my job is to study and genuinely understand what motivates people, so we can figure out why they buy the things they buy.

I have been in product (note: NOT the same as engineering) and marketing for most of my career, both in acoustics (slinging pyramid foam on eBay) and consumer audio (Bluetooth speakers & headphones), among several other things. I’ve also been an audio hobbyist since my teens, took an audio minor in college, and have spent time reading discussions on various audio-related forums all the while.

In this time, I have observed that there are fundamentally different audiophile philosophies that don't appear to be clearly understood. While there are more than a few attempts to classify audiophiles out there, none I’ve seen are completely serious, most are jokes, and most tend to confound behaviors and basic motivations.

My goal here is to propose a legitimate way to classify audiophiles - without judgment. My hope is that by doing so, we can argue less, appreciate each other more, and generally get on with discussing audio instead of thinking the other guy is some kind of idiot or lunatic.

With all that incredibly long preamble out of the way, here’s my view of how to classify audiophiles. My goal is to write each description in such a way that the people described would actually (mostly?) agree with it, and that others might start to see the point in it.

Each category is defined by the fundamental philosophy or top priority among the group. You may share behaviors of many groups, but (if I have thought this through correctly) you can’t belong to more than one group.

The Nominal Audiophile: Their most important belief is that a person should not spend more than a certain amount on audio equipment. However, they do want the best sound they can get within that budget (and usually without inconveniencing themselves in any real way.)

This actually describes most people who think about their audio purchases even a little bit… which is not everyone, but it’s some. I classify them as audiophiles, because in any given decision-making they do around audio, “sound quality” (however they understand that term) is their first priority once the budget is met. (I’ve done the research, this is true.)

They DO care about sound, just not as much as self-described audiophiles do. Most of them will start a given comment with “I’m no audiophile,” but we know the truth… they’re still technically audiophiles. The other 3 types of audiophile almost always start out as a Nominal Audiophile before they catch the bug.


The Objectivist Audiophile: Their most important belief is that exact, distortion-free reproduction of the recording is the highest and perhaps only sensible goal of audio equipment.

Objectivists trust numbers over their own ears, and especially other people’s ears. They believe that all audible phenomena are measurable in principle, and many of them believe that all relevant audible phenomena are measurable with existing equipment and psychoacoustics. Objectivists have bravely met the hard truth that even their own ears can’t be trusted, and make the most of it, satisfied in the knowledge they are actually moving ever closer to an authentic version of the true recording.

Objectivists almost always allow some room for preference (at some point, especially with regard to the in-room sound field, even the notion of “fidelity” itself becomes a bit subjective) - but they are much less willing to entertain a preference (even their own) that is for objectively lower-fidelity reproduction.

If the measurements are good and what objectivists hear is bad, the most likely explanation is that the right measurements have not yet been performed, the problem will eventually be rooted out numerically. True objectivists will not slaughter sacred cows, because they don’t care about the concept of “sacred” or even “cow” - they simply want to know whether their pound of beef weighs exactly 453.592 grams.

Objectivists often agree about equipment, because they will tend to read the same measurements, and credible measurements generally trump other opinion-drivers for objectivists. However, objectivists are often troubled by the failure (from their point of view) of other audiophiles to recognize what they see as obvious superiority / inferiority in equipment.

The Subjectivist Audiophile: Their most important belief is simply that audio equipment should sound good to the owner.

“If it sounds good, it is good”. Notably, this is also the dictum of the musician and producer. Their core belief is that they should enjoy what’s coming out of their system - that's what "good" means here, nothing more or less. If the numbers say their sound is flawed, but they like the sound, then to hell with the numbers. Even revising the audio actively and creatively (via DSP, strong tube distortion, etc) is fine within reason.

Subjectivists rarely reject measurements out of hand, and some rely heavily on them to narrow down their choices, but measurements are a means to an end, not the philosophical bedrock of their approach to audio. Subjectivists may or may not totally trust their ears over measurements, but at the end of the day, their ears run the show.

Subjectivists disagree a great deal about equipment, because de gustibus non est disputandum - there’s no accounting for taste. One man’s trash is another man’s favorite tube amp. They also vary in how much faith they place in measurements and specs, opinions of reviewers, feelings about certain types of technology, and so on. As such, what seems obvious to one will seem insane to another - that’s just how it goes.

The Romantic Audiophile: (Romantic in the sense of the romantic authors and composers, not love and marriage.) Their most important beliefs are that the experience matters most, that audio equipment should support the listening experience in any way they see fit, and that human judgment of the experience trumps all other factors.

The difference between the listening experience and good sound seems subtle, but it’s cataclysmically huge. Subjectivists might not agree about what good sound is, but few of them would argue that sufficiently advanced technology could not - in principle - quantify the differences they debate. Romantic Audiophiles feel that the experience of listening, and the impact of equipment on that experience, are fundamentally not quantifiable or reducible, nor is there much point in trying. Placebo effect, DBT ABX, LCR… these things miss the point.

To understand the Romantic Audiophile another way, try to understand this: Is the experience of looking at the Mona Lisa the same as looking at an absolutely identical reproduction of the Mona Lisa? Objectively, of course it is. We just said they’re identical, right? But if you know one is a fake and one is real… you may answer “of course it’s not the same!” One was touched by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci, and one was made in a lab or something. The viewing experience is therefore nothing alike… this is Romantic Audiophilia in a nutshell.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, Romantics don’t actually tend to discount, ignore, or completely disbelieve measurements - but they also believe that a listening experience is genuinely more than the sum of its parts. They also tend to doubt that measurements capture everything they hear. For Romantics, measurements are more like the index page of a book than the whole story.

Romantics surprisingly don’t often seem to disagree much about decent equipment, but very rarely place another person’s account of a listening experience above their own. They can appreciate the experiences a wide variety of equipment can provide, without attempting to create a ranking, they are often content to simply describe. Romantics have a hard time understanding the Objectivist fixation on measurements above experience (since they value experience above all), and don't really care if their purchases make sense to anyone else. Acquiring strange new gear really is their hobby, because that's a way to create a new experience, regardless of what it "actually" sounds like.


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Ultimately, I think all of these points of view are valid in their own right. There is no single correct way to enjoy listening to music. (Objectivists might have a hard time with this... I do... but remember that "lower distortion is better" is still just an opinion.)

I count myself in the Objectivist segment, maybe the Romantic segment only while at concerts… Whatever your ‘alignment’, It’s easy to see how we might end up misunderstanding each other. Although we’re all “audiophiles”, we approach the same equipment with divergent goals.

It’s as if we have whiskey, water, and gatorade drinkers all discussing “drinking” and “beverages”, but without having first understood inebriation, thirst, or exercise. Each will seem slightly insane to the others.

I should also note that this doesn’t describe every variance of opinion I’ve noticed, nor every type of audio buyer. Another big split in opinion is whether ‘apparent resemblance to a live performance’ is the most appropriate goal of fidelity or not. There are non-audiophile budget-driven buyers who simply want to hear something louder than their phone or TV. And there are conspicuous-consumption buyers who buy expensive speakers for the same reason they buy expensive cars they don’t know how to drive properly.

Anyway, I'm interested in whether these descriptions make sense to people, hopefully they are not offensive to anyone!
There is a lot more that devides the two camps.
Objectivists are more rigid in their opinions, actualy they should not have opinions since everything is in the numbers.
Objectivists spend less on audio, there is actualy, nothing wrong with that.
Objectivists don't beleive components can have a sound signature, that's the big one, they do, of course, from the beginning of the chain to the end product.
 

Sal1950

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There is a lot more that devides the two camps.
Objectivists are more rigid in their opinions, actualy they should not have opinions since everything is in the numbers.
Objectivists spend less on audio, there is actualy, nothing wrong with that.
Objectivists don't beleive components can have a sound signature, that's the big one, they do, of course, from the beginning of the chain to the end product.
I'm afraid all three of your comments are very wrong.
That's the subjectivist view of objectivists.
 

rwortman

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To some, fly fishing is the only acceptable method. But a good bait fisherman with a spinning outfit will out fish a decent fly fisherman 90% of the time. Guess which I mostly do.
That’s because it’s about the art of presenting the fly not about how many fish you catch.
 

Robbo99999

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I'm not sure how useful it is to try to classify audiophiles into different brackets. If I was to quantify myself I'm in your objectivist category, but I use my own subjectivity to fine tune the headphones and speakers I buy through use of EQ - albeit EQ based around established standards such as Anechoic Flat for speakers and Harman Curve for headphones, but particularly for headphones I'd fine tune EQ after initial tuning to the Harman Curve. I'm aware that with headphones there's more scope for variation as they are more unpredictable with how they react with your own anatomy, thereby changing the frequency response you receive - so you have to be more subjective with headphones, but that understanding is based on "science" as well as my own experience that my various headphones don't sound exactly the same when EQ'd to the same curve. So I'm an objectivist, but not a blind faith objectivist, inasmuch that I understand (in my opinion) where/when you need to apply your own subjectivity to get your best final experience. That's my philosophy.....but I'm not really sure it helps much putting audiophiles into different brackets.
 
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rwortman

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no, it's about what the individual fisherman desires...
Only if what the fisherman desires is to learn the art of presenting the fly. I am not a fly fisherman but I know more than a few. Fly fishing is not the most efficient way to get fish any more than golf is the most efficient method of moving a ball into a hole a quarter mile away. Both are about learning proficiency with the tools.
 

pseudoid

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That’s because it’s about the art of presenting the fly not about how many fish you catch.
We used to call catching flies in the palm of the hand "fly fishing". That was an art form too, I have caught up to 3 flies in one stroke.
 

Keith_W

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I'm not sure how useful it is to try to classify audiophiles into different brackets.

I think the OP mentioned the reason in his first post. As he said, his job is in marketing, his job is to "study and genuinely understand what motivates people, so we can figure out why they buy the things they buy" (direct quote from the first post). I can see how an analysis like this could be quite useful for someone in marketing. First, you figure out your demographic, and what proportion of hobbyist belongs to what category. Then, decide which category of customer your product should be marketed at. Example, there is no point for a power cord company to sponsor this forum. Finally you figure out how to market your product.

I think the OP did it in an objective and non-judgmental way. He described the different types of audiophile very well, such that someone who has no idea about audiophiles will understand how to create and market a product for different types of audiophiles.
 

Robbo99999

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I think the OP mentioned the reason in his first post. As he said, his job is in marketing, his job is to "study and genuinely understand what motivates people, so we can figure out why they buy the things they buy" (direct quote from the first post). I can see how an analysis like this could be quite useful for someone in marketing. First, you figure out your demographic, and what proportion of hobbyist belongs to what category. Then, decide which category of customer your product should be marketed at. Example, there is no point for a power cord company to sponsor this forum. Finally you figure out how to market your product.

I think the OP did it in an objective and non-judgmental way. He described the different types of audiophile very well, such that someone who has no idea about audiophiles will understand how to create and market a product for different types of audiophiles.
If that is the case, then still we're not here on a quest to sell to audiophiles, we're not a company trying to fleece the gullible. I don't think it's that useful to categorise. It's instead just useful to understand "the science" of speakers/headphones/playback gear, and then apply that in your purchases, which is the real truth of good sound....because as the modern world knows science reveals the truth of how things work....but there's still a little room for subjectivity, especially in headphones as the science has not been applied to totally "solve that problem". It's not really that useful for us to label people into groups, as it has no use and instead at best serves to create negative divisions & tribalism (not that I have a bugbear about that as it's peoples responsibility to be strong enough to resist that if they choose).
 

Keith_W

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Sorry Robbo I respectfully disagree. I still think it is a useful exercise. You might have seen the "political compass" questionnaire, where you are asked a series of questions about where you stand on various issues like tax, welfare, migrants, gun control, religion, etc. Based on those answers, you are placed on a compass with one axis being "Left" and "Right", and "Authoritarian" vs. "Libertarian". We could formulate an "Audiophile Compass" and i'll bet it would be an excellent predictor of where people fall in those categories he mentioned. You know, questions like this:

Answer all questions on a scale of 1 - 10, 1: strongly disagree, 5: Neutral or no opinion, 10: strongly agree.
- Power cords make an audible difference.
- I am happy to make purchasing decisions for components such as DAC's and amplifiers on measurements alone.
- I am willing to spend more than $10,000 on a component apart from speakers.
- The difference in sound between DAC's is negligible.
- The difference in sound between amplifiers is negligible.
- I am confident in my ability to hear differences in components without an ABX test.
- A 328kbps MP3 file is sonically indistinguishable from a FLAC file.

.... and so on. Of course it has to be rewritten so that all the scores tally and weighting adjusted for the different questions but this was something I just whipped up to demonstrate. Then after you collect your data you need to perform statistical analysis.

Once you have your compass, you can do a survey of the members and gauge the "temperature" of a forum or group of people. Besides being of benefit to potential marketers or advertisers, it may be useful to repeat the experiment in other forums to find out whether they might be places you would like to hang out, because the likelihood of receiving replies that you perceive to be useful (i.e. aligns with your particular audio beliefs) would be higher in those places. This is science too.
 
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