• 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".

MattHooper

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2019
Messages
4,028
Likes
6,378
As I've argued before: IF terms like "subjectivist" and "objectivist" are of any use in audio, I see them as designating different epistemic attitudes towards audio equipment.

The Subjectivist holds subjective "uncontrolled" impressions to be the most reliable method of evaluating audio gear. From this level of confidence, the subjectivist will believe his perception is telling him the truth about audio gear, even against measurements or controlled tests that would contradict his belief. His subjective perception tells the truth, above all.

in contrast:

The Objectivist acknowledges the fallibility and limitations of our subjective perception and values methods of evaluating audio gear that address those limitations. From this, the objectivist accepts the value of "objective measurements" correlating to subjective impressions, and listening trials controlling for known biases.

Notice I've worded that very carefully: being an "objectivist" does not, on this account, commit the objectivist to always seeking one particular type of audio gear, or in becoming an engineer or scientist. No more than "Accepting the validity of science and engineering employed by NASA" commits one to becoming a Rocket Scientist.

It merely means recognizing that engineering and scientific controls (acknowledging our fallibility) is the most reliable path to understanding how audio gear works. It doesn't commit you personally to "buying the most accurate gear created" (otherwise we'd all have to identify that gear and buy the same thing, and reject less-than-perfect audio reproduction that may still give us pleasure). Rather, you can use that knowledge to buy whatever gear happens to please you! In a way that helps you make informed choices and weed out bullshit.

I think this captures the essential conflict between "subjectivism/objectivism" in audio, explaining the arguments that tend to occur, while being a more open ended Big Tent that accommodates the different goals many "objectivist" audiophiles may have for their systems. It's not a small box. Further, it's put forth with the acknowledgement that people can be somewhere between those two poles, and in fact any individual may move between them at any point in time, or in specific instances.
 

Timcognito

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jun 28, 2021
Messages
1,198
Likes
5,129
Location
NorCal
Don’t like the category thing at all because it forces one the subscribe to a narrow group when one may identify aspects of several of the so-called audiophile groups that started this tread. But to keep this thread going and avoid the promised home maintenance chores I will venture to say that there is another missing category the Industry Audiophile. The key feature is that some or all of their income comes from selling or writing about audio gear. (S)he may be master of specmanship, have golden ears, have a garage full or measuring devices or background electronics or recording. Their home may have all the latest technology in different rooms and boxes of classic gear in storage, huge collections of recordings but because they have heard, read about, tested, build devices, attend audio shows, have website or magazine devoted to audio, they are underneath it all selling gear, subscriptions, readership or clicks to advertisers who sell gear. They must be perceived as expert audiophlies even if they are or are not, in order to survive and keep their gig going. Listening to music is a necessary thing but may not be a passion. The main alignment and allegiance is the industry and general tolerance for those whose wares are suspect no matter how it's promoted. There some very fine true audiophiles in this group and some that even call out the Charlestons among them.
 

jsrtheta

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
May 20, 2018
Messages
743
Likes
746
I believe this is certainly true. I could direct folks here to at least one website where this is clearly manifest.

(I'm no qualified psychologist but this hasn't prevented me from stating opinions about human motivation.) In the case of these "high-end" audiophiles who personally own "megabuck" equipment, big factors are denialism and self-doubt. It is scary to them to contemplate that a $1000 dollar that is SOTA by measurements might actually sound better than their $20,000 amp. That's very discomforting to them and it is mentally easier for them to simply dismiss and distain measurements or low-cost equipment in general.
There is a class of people who buy extremely expensive equipment because they spend a lot for everything else they buy. They do not suffer from denialism and self-doubt. They're just filthy rich.
 

Gorgonzola

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 27, 2021
Messages
748
Likes
983
Location
Southern Ontario
There is a class of people who buy extremely expensive equipment because they spend a lot for everything else they buy. They do not suffer from denialism and self-doubt. They're just filthy rich.
Yes, I agree that there is that class of people. They want to impress there friends and collogues or maybe they just like the 'bling'. OTOH, I suggest that most of that class of equipment buyers are not actual audiophiles.
 

Capitol C

Active Member
Joined
May 21, 2021
Messages
115
Likes
119
Location
Washington, DC
I've been enjoying this discussion! It inspired a question in me, though: Is anyone aware of Godwin's Law being literally true in an audio discussion? That is, are you aware of examples of someone being called a Nazi or Hitler as the discussion goes on?
 

MattHooper

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2019
Messages
4,028
Likes
6,378
I've been enjoying this discussion! It inspired a question in me, though: Is anyone aware of Godwin's Law being literally true in an audio discussion? That is, are you aware of examples of someone being called a Nazi or Hitler as the discussion goes on?

Sounds like a question a Nazi would ask!






:p
 

tomtoo

Major Contributor
Joined
Nov 20, 2019
Messages
3,141
Likes
3,824
Location
Germany
Yes i out my self. Iam a bad german math nazi. I have a deep believe that 2+2=4. Maybe induced into me by Hitler?? Who knows? But even some other freaks around the world believe the same??? All bad math nazis??
 
Last edited:

Talisman

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 27, 2022
Messages
217
Likes
438
How you know that this reviewer has always the same taste like you? You just have to look at the klipsch rp600m. This measures like shiit, but so often good reviewed? One look and i know it sounds not good. No reviewer needet. I mean it measured so bad that even klipsch did see they have to change. And GR took the oppertunity. Worthless reviews.

Much better to try to correlate your hearing to measurements. Couse then there is something to hold on.
This is trivially the reason why, despite being an iron rational from every point of view, I cannot be defined as an absolute "objectivist" in the audio world.
I absolutely believe in the measurements, I strongly believe in Amir's measurement, but I liked the sound of the rp600m I own more than that of other more correct speakers, such as the kef Q350.
Measurements can tell me what is more correct, not what I like best, and since the ultimate goal of my passion is to ENJOY the music, I put my pleasure in front of the absolute "perfection of reproduction".
For some it will seem a heresy, and I do not blame those who just want his system to be as neutral as possible, only I prefer something else.

But as an iron rational I will never say that what I feel is better because I like it more, I am 100% aware of my choices and of the fact that the measures tell me an objective reality from which it makes no sense to try to escape.
 

Martin Takamine

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Sep 8, 2019
Messages
199
Likes
450
Location
East Coast
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!

Unsolicited, unnecessary, and unsubstantiated.
 

tomtoo

Major Contributor
Joined
Nov 20, 2019
Messages
3,141
Likes
3,824
Location
Germany
This is trivially the reason why, despite being an iron rational from every point of view, I cannot be defined as an absolute "objectivist" in the audio world.
I absolutely believe in the measurements, I strongly believe in Amir's measurement, but I liked the sound of the rp600m I own more than that of other more correct speakers, such as the kef Q350.
Measurements can tell me what is more correct, not what I like best, and since the ultimate goal of my passion is to ENJOY the music, I put my pleasure in front of the absolute "perfection of reproduction".
For some it will seem a heresy, and I do not blame those who just want his system to be as neutral as possible, only I prefer something else.

But as an iron rational I will never say that what I feel is better because I like it more, I am 100% aware of my choices and of the fact that the measures tell me an objective reality from which it makes no sense to try to escape.

You are a human. There is absolutly no need to be slave of any kind of a FR curve. Its just a orientation. And if i would be the only person in the world that prevers woodruff over vanilla ice cream. Than it is like it is.
 
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
334
Likes
732
Location
San Francisco
You are a human. There is absolutly no need to be slave of any kind of a FR curve. Its just a orientation. And if i would be the only person in the world that prevers woodruff over vanilla ice cream. Than it is like it is.

Tend to agree. There are almost no 100% pure objectivists who listen to FR curves they dislike because they're technically correct. Doing that doesn't even make sense because the 'standard' curves are meant as modeling tools for the audio market in general, not "you, personally, are supposed to like this curve".

IMO preference scores are interesting metrics, but metrics (except in the case of the mythical 100% Objectivist) are not a substitute for one's own preferences.
 

Axo1989

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jan 9, 2022
Messages
882
Likes
713
Tend to agree. There are almost no 100% pure objectivists who listen to FR curves they dislike because they're technically correct. Doing that doesn't even make sense because the 'standard' curves are meant as modeling tools for the audio market in general, not "you, personally, are supposed to like this curve".

IMO preference scores are interesting metrics, but metrics (except in the case of the mythical 100% Objectivist) are not a substitute for one's own preferences.

I don't disagree, but the proposition—pure objectivists who listen to FR curves they dislike—is oxymoronic. If you are a pure objectivist (should such persons exist) there is no 'like' or 'dislike'. Those are subjective judgements.
 
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
334
Likes
732
Location
San Francisco
If you are a pure objectivist (should such persons exist) there is no 'like' or 'dislike'. Those are subjective judgements.
The pure objectivist would "like" the idea of listening to a "correct" curve while ignoring their own feelings about the curve. A sort of audio masochism, I guess. These people are naturally rare if they exist at all.

But you can find this type of behavior in other areas in life. People who "like" bourbon because it's the manly thing to drink, not because they actually like it, for example.
 

Vacceo

Major Contributor
Joined
Mar 9, 2022
Messages
1,766
Likes
1,784
The pure objectivist would "like" the idea of listening to a "correct" curve while ignoring their own feelings about the curve. A sort of audio masochism, I guess. These people are naturally rare if they exist at all.

But you can find this type of behavior in other areas in life. People who "like" bourbon because it's the manly thing to drink, not because they actually like it, for example.
A pure objectivist would like to listen to the source straight to the brain; no room or speaker, electronics or anything to alter it.
 

Axo1989

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jan 9, 2022
Messages
882
Likes
713
The pure objectivist would "like" the idea of listening to a "correct" curve while ignoring their own feelings about the curve. A sort of audio masochism, I guess. These people are naturally rare if they exist at all.

But you can find this type of behavior in other areas in life. People who "like" bourbon because it's the manly thing to drink, not because they actually like it, for example.

Yes I also think that such purity would be impossible, or extraordinarily self-abnegating.

When I first starting measuring FR at listening position in my room/s the result was much more treble-weighted than I was accustomed to—even applying for the normal modest FR tilt. I listened for some time (months rather than minutes) disliking it until I adjusted my ear/brain. There was a degree of stoicism involved. The upshot was not dissimilar to the difference between untrained and trained listeners in the Harmon research (which I digested later).

Other improvements (better room, more bass extension, careful speaker setup, more attention to the reproduction chain etc) were necessary and delivered better overall sound, both objectively and subjectively, but the initial FR adjustment was pretty interesting.
 
OP
kemmler3D

kemmler3D

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
334
Likes
732
Location
San Francisco
A pure objectivist would like to listen to the source straight to the brain; no room or speaker, electronics or anything to alter it.
Who knows, maybe such a thing will be possible in our lifetimes... what's the SINAD on a neural lace...?
 

Axo1989

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jan 9, 2022
Messages
882
Likes
713
Yes I also think that such purity would be impossible, or extraordinarily self-abnegating. ...

After thinking about this, I'm going to disagree with myself.

Living with complete objectivity I still think impossible. But detaching from emotion—including subjective like/dislike—for a particular event in a particular context is like yoga or meditation. Certainly possible, with practice/training.

Those disciplines address both physical pain and restless mind. For aesthetics, I experienced several years training viewing/hearing experimental film and sound. Identification with characters/melodies/motifs along with narrative structures/outcomes and associated pleasure/displeasure can certainly be set aside with training. This is a necessary discipline when different aesthetics or rationales for artwork are an important part of the work.

It's not so much that emotional responses don't occur within yourself, more that you can observe them dispassionately. Of course, the self is complex. Detached observation initially triggers existential disquiet, but later becomes its own type of pleasure. It becomes a zen joke: detach, even from detachment.
 
Last edited:

ROOSKIE

Major Contributor
Joined
Feb 27, 2020
Messages
1,448
Likes
2,514
Location
Minneapolis
I don’t like to be put in any boxes generally. Neither in the ones you defined nor in others.
You know there really is a 'I don't like to be put in boxes', box - right?
I mean that is a classic one.
Maybe the most classic, at least from what I remember about my junior high days.
 
Top Bottom