• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

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

Robbo99999

Master Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
5,005
Likes
4,700
Location
UK
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.
It may be possible to do something like that, just I don't see it as useful for the reasons I mentioned.
 

killdozzer

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 2, 2020
Messages
1,343
Likes
1,341
Location
Zagreb
A combination of these is possible. I'd like the most faithful reproduction (similar to an objectivist) and spend least money (nominal) and have my gear also look good which contributes to how nicely I feel while I enjoy music (romantic). I might add that faithful sound sounds good to me as the owner (subjectivist)
 

birdog1960

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2022
Messages
301
Likes
302
Location
Virginia
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.
But what if you really enjoy catching and eating fresh trout? I'd be bait spinning every time. And I wouldn't be fetching flies from overhanging limbs. To each his own...And while fly fisherman and golfers can be considered artists, I've seen plenty engaging in both that were best suited for crayons.
 

rwortman

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jan 29, 2019
Messages
653
Likes
580
But what if you really enjoy catching and eating fresh trout? I'd be bait spinning every time. And I wouldn't be fetching flies from overhanging limbs. To each his own...And while fly fisherman and golfers can be considered artists, I've seen plenty engaging in both that were best suited for crayons.
I wasn’t expressing a preference or passing judgement. I am not a golfer or a fly fisherman. I was just explaining that its not about catching efficiency. I fish for other species and I prefer artificial lures. It’s mostly because I don’t like messing with bait and also because sitting in a boat drowning bait is a bit boring.
 

Sal1950

Grand Contributor
The Chicago Crusher
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
11,589
Likes
12,795
Location
Central Fl
Just bring me a 30oz or better Porterhouse steak,
or the same in a thick slice of Prime Rib
with a well cooked sweet potato on the side
 

birdog1960

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2022
Messages
301
Likes
302
Location
Virginia
I wasn’t expressing a preference or passing judgement. I am not a golfer or a fly fisherman. I was just explaining that its not about catching efficiency. I fish for other species and I prefer artificial lures. It’s mostly because I don’t like messing with bait and also because sitting in a boat drowning bait is a bit boring.
When we moved to the mountains, I was determined to master (or at least become decent) at fly fishing. Streams here are tight with many trees. A roll cast is usually the only option. Just didn't enjoy the fuss plus my vision isn't up to working with tippet.. Catching hellgrammites with a seine (for smallmouth) is all part of the fun. To bring it back to topic, I look for something similar in audio/video equipment: proficient but not fussy.
 

Sal1950

Grand Contributor
The Chicago Crusher
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
11,589
Likes
12,795
Location
Central Fl
I had a good friend who appeared to be more passionate about making and collecting the fly's than any actual fishing.
A lot like some audiophiles I guess. LOL
 

birdog1960

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2022
Messages
301
Likes
302
Location
Virginia
I had a good friend who appeared to be more passionate about making and collecting the fly's than any actual fishing.
A lot like some audiophiles I guess. LOL
Yes, the dudes with the new high dollar waders and fancy vests are sure to be in the trees all day. I usually wade in sneakers and old khakis but I have o admit, I fall sometimes.
 

Peterinvan

Active Member
Joined
Dec 10, 2021
Messages
205
Likes
151
Location
Canada
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!
Thanks for the essay and the thought provoking ideas.
I have a couple of related thoughts…

1. I would like to think of myself as an objective music lover, and I like to read the audio news every day. My trips to my favorite headphone store are usually motivated by reading reviews…. But I am in the 70+ demographic, so I have to trust my aging ears before purchasing. I get an updated audiologist’s report every few years and look at the chart. I can see that I need brighter equipment as my ears age. Plus, I get my ears cleaned, as I am prone to wax buildup.

2. I belive that good industrial design (good form plus good function) plays a big part in my decisions. I couldn’t stand looking a an ugly piece of equipment on my shelf. I confess this influenced my recent purchase of the Meze 109 Pro phones.
 

cinemakinoeye

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Nov 28, 2021
Messages
55
Likes
57
Location
Newtonville, Massachusettes
[…] try to classify all audiophiles without mocking anyone […] 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 […]
Taxonomies always come with implicit and explicit biases, classification is an act of judgement, which may entertain, offend, confound, or clarify. It all depends on the context. The question I have is when is a taxonomy like this useful and when is it not? We humans are quite complicated, I find myself in the realm of subjectivism and objectivism at the same time without any sense of contradictions.
 
Last edited:
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
660
Likes
1,241
Location
San Francisco
when is a taxonomy line this useful and when is it not?
I like to think it's useful when we find ourselves struggling to understand why someone on an audio forum thinks a certain way. In many cases their value judgments about audio are based on a basic motivation that is at odds with our own, but without understanding the basic motivation, we can't understand the rest.

It's not useful for making up our own minds, nor is it useful in evaluating equipment, or learning about audio. But it can be useful when dealing with humans while talking about audio.
 

cinemakinoeye

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Nov 28, 2021
Messages
55
Likes
57
Location
Newtonville, Massachusettes
[…] it can be useful when dealing with humans while talking about audio.
I will grant you it could be useful as shorthand to acknowledge where one is coming from, but best in my mind to allow people to self-identify. I’m 30% serious, 30% kidding, and 20% something else I can’t quite put in a category.
 
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
660
Likes
1,241
Location
San Francisco
I will grant you it could be useful as shorthand to acknowledge where one is coming from, but best in my mind to allow people to self-identify. I’m 30% serious, 30% kidding, and 20% something else I can’t quite put in a category.
I agree that people prefer to label themselves if they're going to have a label. I don't intend to encourage people to start labeling each other. "You're just a filthy romantic!" ... no. The idea is to recognize and understand who you're talking to before you get confused or upset at their nonsensical (to you) ideas.
 

pablolie

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Jul 8, 2021
Messages
761
Likes
1,218
Location
bay area, ca
I will grant you it could be useful as shorthand to acknowledge where one is coming from, but best in my mind to allow people to self-identify. I’m 30% serious, 30% kidding, and 20% something else I can’t quite put in a category.
What about the remaining 20%? :-D



-
 

TimF

Senior Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Messages
408
Likes
657
A friend asked me to help him get a DAC. He has been analog only in his main audio system playing LP records on turntables, and now he wants to add a DAC so he can play some digital music files. It should be easy to find a very good if not state of the art DAC that can be used with a preamp; and that could also be connected directly to an amp and used as a DAC/preamp. It is the golden age of DAC's. For a few hundred dollars one can be in DAC heaven. It is, though, an impossible task to find him a DAC. This man couldn't stand and wouldn't use any audio equipment that doesn't have a pedigree, high-end cache, or mythic credibility. It is impossible for him to assess sound quality and hence equipment fidelity independent of brand because he has so totally bought into the built up legacy of advertising and the hifi audio magazines. I do not think I could even get him to try a DAC from Topping or Gustard. I wonder if you can buy little metal product labels of high-end manufacturers that could be put prominently on the front of lesser priced equipment. I know you can buy high-end clothing labels to sew into your modestly priced business suit. This man firmly believes that high-end equipment companies have electrical engineers that perform magic and that insert their magic components into their gear. Ultimately I think he is driven by snobbery and image self-consciousness.
 

pseudoid

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 23, 2021
Messages
2,788
Likes
1,667
Location
33.6, -117.9
One can be an audiophile as well as a music lover
I prefer to use that word around those who tend to know/care little about the subject matter and always to describe or reference equipment/hardware. [10-4, Roger!]
Around those who profess to affiliate themselves in such categories, I stfu and listen.
Kudos go to @kemmler3D for starting this thread but I am not all that certain that it really went in the direction he may have expected!;)

I demand a Diplomatic Passport (the Black one) along w/an H1-B visa, to freely travel between the "kemmler3D 4:2:1 Territories".
Otherwise, I may either seek asylum in a non-aligned music faction or be forced to remove my avatar.:facepalm:
 

pablolie

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Jul 8, 2021
Messages
761
Likes
1,218
Location
bay area, ca
I am not at all against admiring gear and loving aesthetics and tactile experience. I am pretty sure everybody that loves audio/music has at times bought something that didn't deliver on superior SQ, but enhanced the overall experience.

I recall giving many parties at my bachelor place before getting married - and I had decent-ish gear even as a student, so the music sounded good, and many friends that were establishing their own "grown up" preferences as professional success set in took note. I had a friend that hit it huge as a startup co-founder, and when he cashed out simply went to the most expensive audio shop in San Francisco... and ended up with B&W Nautilus and stuff like that, which he set up in a dedicated room in his new mansion. But the revealing aspect of it is that he only owned about 20 CDs, most of them Dire Straits and similar and some Duke Ellington thrown in. To me, that's not an audiophile (although I should also note I don't believe anyone owns the definition of the term, and probably there are as many "types" of audiophiles as there are people engaging in the audio hobby), it's a bit of a show-off thing. Fun. But not passion for music or a journey to establish one's own preferences. (Note: he dismantled the room after a few years, and sold the Nautilus at a huge loss to a known musician that owns a studio in the area).

The moral of the story is: know what you really enjoy before you plonk down silly money into it. If you never owned a mechanical watch, don't buy a Patek simply because you suddenly have the extra cash. If you never owned a motorcycle but always thought they looked cool, don't buy a $50k race replica special... and, if you never bought much music and never regularly spent time listening to music by *yourself*, I'd recommend you simply set up a soundbar like everybody else, it'll do the job these days (some sound amazingly good).

Clearly pretty much everybody in this forum -myself included- wants to keep learning and being informed about new technology and options to make their personal music listening more enjoyable for themselves. The equipment is a necessary tool to deliver on what should also mean the most: the music. To me, hoarding the best sounding gear without having passion for the music (the artists, the performances, the history etc) just doesn't make any sense. Unless you've been fascinated and love a certain music piece, there is zero reason to try to continue to improve your system to listen to it with additional enjoyment.

I often have friends ask me how much I paid for my gear. I'll always answer: "Oh these bits and pieces here, let's walk through them, cost me XYZ... but the *journey* to get here cost me 10x this or more"... :-D Also, when your music server tells you that you own over 7k albums and 90k tracks, you know that your music:gear spending ratio kinda stayed rational on your "audiophile" journey.

I remember when I started dating my SO, who is a professional classical piano player, we talked about classical music - and she thought I was exaggerating my claims about the time I spend listening to music at home to get her... well you know. When she started spending a lot of time at my place, one days she said "Wow you *really* spend a lot of time enjoying your music, you weren't lying". I was also incredibly flattered when she was really curious about my gear, because she discovered she really enjoyed listening to piano stuff - and to me there is hardly anything more enjoyable than sit with a close friend and listen to music.

I do have some "audiophile" friends, and most of the time we talk about music discoveries - it's quite seldom we discuss gear at all these days unless a newbie is around. :)
 
Last edited:
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
660
Likes
1,241
Location
San Francisco
I wonder if you can buy little metal product labels of high-end manufacturers that could be put prominently on the front of lesser priced equipment.
A resin-based 3D printer and a little metallic paint would probably get you pretty far. ;)
To me, that's not an audiophile
I may or may not agree, it depends on how you define it. One definition is anyone who seeks out better gear for the sake of better sound. Arguably your friend was that.

Another definition would be someone who actively cares about sound quality. Your friend wouldn't fit that definition, I guess.
To me, hoarding the best sounding gear without having passion for the music (the artists, the performances, the history etc) just doesn't make any sense.
Collector-ism shows up in any hobby (that isn't "supposed to be" about collecting) where there is some functional aspect to the collected item, significant aesthetic and functional variation, some resale value, and a nominal practical use for the item. Examples: Audio gear, disc golf discs, mechanical keyboards, guns, knives, pens, etc. I am not surprised that some people hoard gear for the sake of the gear.
 
Top Bottom