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Should Audio Reviewers be an Audiophile or an Audio Enthusiast?

Should audio reviewers be an Audiophile or an Audio Enthusiast?

Here is my perspective on what it is to be an audiophile and whether or not a reviewer should be one.

You can ask ten people to define in their own words an audiophile and you will get ten different answers; snob, rich, nerd, gifted hearing, snake oil, audio fool, elitist, eccentric, loony, doesn't exist, etc.

In my own words, an audiophile is someone who seeks an accurate, reproduction of real life instruments and vocals on audio gear within their budget.

Yes, there are audiophiles in all budget sizes.

There is a lot more than just money spent that goes into being an audiophile but it isn't complicated.

Let's be clear, there is a difference between an audio enthusiast and an audiophile.

What is the definition of an audio enthusiast?

An audio enthusiast is someone who enjoys music and gear, desiring to get the most enjoyment out of each listening moment, obsessing about the specs and capabilities, dissecting the gear not the music, searching for that next WOW moment, product or song.

What is the definition of an audiophile?

An audiophile is someone who seeks an accurate, reproduction of real life instruments and vocals, enjoys critiquing each listening moment, dissecting the music through the gear, listening for naturalism and realism.

There is nothing wrong with being one or the other or a hybrid.

There are a lot of similarities but a few differences that set each apart.

One focuses more on gear, measurements, graphs and specs; the other focuses more on the music, instruments, vocals and reproduction.

Understanding what an audiophile is listening for can help explain the gear and sources that they use and desire.

There are all sorts of gear available and it can be hard to figure out what you are getting sonically.

But you won't know what to purchase if you don't know what you want and why.

One of the biggest misconceptions of audiophilia is that in order to be considered an audiophile, you have to be rich. It is often thought that audiophiles believe that all "cheap" gear, under 1k, sounds like garbage. And on the flip side, audio enthusiasts think that gear over 1k is craziness. This is totally false! Gear is only a small aspect of audiophilia. Gear helps you to discover the details and sonics that you are seeking but you don't need mega dollar gear to be an audiophile. There are all sorts of budgets and audiophiles exist throughout the varying budget ranges.

Another misconception is that an audiophile only uses vinyl and speakers. False again! There are all sorts of gear avenues to explore in the audiophile community and there are audiophiles in each one. Back in the day when the definition for audiophiles was introduced there weren't very many, if any, headphones; so vinyl and speakers were the norm. But an audiophile is seeking an accurate, reproduction of real life instruments and vocals, enjoys critiquing each listening moment, dissecting the music through the gear, listening for naturalism and realism and that can be done on any sort of gear; speakers, IEM, headphones, sound bars, etc.

Misconception three is that in audiophilia the specs are chased by both an enthusiast and an audiophile. False for the third time! An audiophile is not concerned with all the specs till they are blue in the face. An audiophile is concerned with the quality of reproduction until they are blue in the face. An audiophile uses specs as a guide to know whether or not gear is compatible but they do not obsess over whether or not everything matches and measures 100% accurate. An audiophile is more concerned with sonic synergy among gear and what ultimately reproduces the best music to their ears.

Speaking of chasing specs, misconception four is that there is no place for subjectivity in audiophilia. This is the fourth false. Audio enthusiasts are more objective then audiophiles who tend to be more subjective. An audiophile, is subjective when selecting gear to pair or what music sounds best. They do not focus on the gear measurements and graphs to dictate what they are hearing but instead they use their ears to tell them what the gear actually sounds like.

The fifth misconception is that gear doesn't sound any different then what the graph and measurement says. Or that graphs will indicate how gear will present the tone, timbre, detail retrieval and resolution. Audio enthusiasts tend to believe this concept that the graphs and measurements will tell you how gear will sound. An audiophile will tell you that this isn't the case more often than not. Just because something measures "neutral" doesn't mean it will sound "neutral" to your ears.

Another misconception is that audiophiles only listen to classical, jazz or instrumental music. This is the sixth false. Yes, most audiophiles enjoy and listen to classical, jazz and instrumental music but it's not the only genres in their music library. Audiophiles have all sorts of music genres that they listen to from; oldies, classic rock, metal, hard rock, country, new age, blues, pop, dance, electronic, etc. An audiophile listens to a lot of classical, jazz and instrumental genres because those genres often have the most natural, accurate and realistic reproduction of instruments and vocals.

Another misconception is that audiophiles dislike bass and are all treble-heads and that audio enthusiasts are all bass-heads and dislike treble. False again! The difference is that audiophiles enjoy bass and treble that is detailed accurately and reproduced realistically. Audio enthusiasts enjoy bass that is powerful and authoritative but not as detailed accurately and not reproduced realistically and treble that is boosted to add in details and air in an unnatural way. A boosted bass that is controlled, detailed and resolving doesn't bleed into the mids. But a lot of time, mid and upper bass can bleed into the mids because they aren't reproduced accurately. When upper bass and lower mids are done accurately, there is an increase in note weight and density, this is not bloat or bleed.

Another misconception is that a raised and extended treble increases detail, resolution, soundstage width and depth. This is false. Most of the time boosting treble gives a false sense of detail, resolution, soundstage width and depth. Just because something has rolled off treble doesn't mean that it will lack details, resolution, sparkle, energy or air. Details and resolution are found in all of the frequency range. A lot of times, a slightly rolled off treble gives the most natural and accurate presentation. There is a fine line in treble that a lot of gear veers too far over into unnatural sound.

A wider soundstage provides a more natural and accurate separation of instruments and vocals is another erroneous thought. Soundstage is another area that walks a fine line between too much and the right amount. A lot of times soundstage is extended too far to give the separation and depth but it isn't naturally accurate even though it sounds awesome. Often what is heard by our ears in the real world is overlooked and disregarded for the large, deep, separated stage because of the enjoyment but in reality it isn't natural or accurate. An audiophile seeks to reproduce the most accurate and realistic soundstage that matches up with the outside world and that may not include every little detail and have the widest separation.

Another false narrative is that for an audiophile, every little detail and the best resolution has to be revealed to be the best product. When listening to the real world with your own ears, you do not hear every little detail and resolution is not always the best, as there is distortions and imperfections that exist all around us. An audiophile is seeking an accurate, natural and realistic reproduction of sound so they do not desire to hear every little detail and the resolution doesn't need to be the best.

Another aspect of an audiophile is that they seek natural and realistic tone and timbre. This is true. An audiophile uses their own real life experiences from hearing instruments and vocalists to translate that to what they are seeking in the gear and music so to match the accurate, natural, realistic reproduction.

Now how does all this apply to reviewers? To understand a review fully, you need to know where the reviewer stands as an audiophile or an audio enthusiasts. Get to know your reviewer and how they define sounds and why they believe what they believe.

A reviewer needs to be open and honest about the terms and definitions that they use and why. By doing this the viewers and readers will learn how to interpret the review. Going forward with time, the reviewers audience will understand the perspectives and approach instead of being confused and frustrated by the reviewers use of undefined terms and definitions.

A reviewer should share what gear they use on a regular basis and why. This will help the audience to compare with their own experiences so they better understand what the reviewers is hearing and why. If the reviewer is constantly using different gear and not telling the audience what gear is being used then they will be confused and misunderstand the review.

Reviewers should define what they are seeking and or preferences and why. This is the easiest and best way to let the audience know whether or not they are an audiophile or an audio enthusiast. A reviewer giving their definitions of an audiophile and audio enthusiast will help the audience to understand the approach and perspectives of the reviews.

Reviewers should share what music they use for reviewing purposes and what they listen to on a regular basis for enjoyment. This doesn't have to be done in the actual review but can be a link in the description. Randomly mentioning and sharing music preferences on forums, servers or livestreams can help the audience connect with the reviewer. Getting to know what type of music the reviewer uses and enjoys helps the audience to explore different genres and also opens the avenue to hear what the reviewer hears on gear pairings.

Reviewers should state whether or not they use streaming services, what services, network streamers and music management programs and why. This will help the audience to relate to the reviewer with commonalities and preferences. I use Audirvana, Tidal and Amazon HD along with local mp3, flac and dsd files.

Reviewers should share how they relate to the music and gear and how it interacts with their personal life in the past or present. Doing this adds a personal touch to the review and will help the audience understand the reviewer on a more intimate level. Focusing more on relating and communicating with their audience then growing the subscriber count will ultimately grow the reviewers audiences respect and loyalty. Reviewers should focus more on accurate sonic impressions and comparisons then picture and video quality.

In conclusion, these are just my random thoughts about what audiophiles and audio enthusiasts are seeking and whether or not a reviewer should be an audiophile. I haven't done any scientific research or polls; I am just basing my conclusions off of my personal experiences and observations. I believe a reviewer can be either an audiophile or an audio enthusiast. But a reviewer should be honest and open with their audience about whether or not they are an audiophile or an audio enthusiast. If a reviewer can NOT honestly and openly answer the question, "Are you an audiophile or an audio enthusiast and why?" that should be a red flag.

I am an audiophile; I am pursuing an accurate, natural and realistic reproduction of instruments and vocals!

Ask yourself, "Am I an audiophile, audio enthusiast or a little of both?" Secondly, ask, "Is my favorite reviewer, an audiophile, audio enthusiast or a little of both?" Thirdly, ask " Why did I answer that way to both of those questions?"

Twitter: @TalkDbs

Review Process:

Terms and Definitions:

Measurements and Graphs:

Get to Know your Reviewer:

Reasons I am the Honest Audiophile:

Recommended Gear:

Rosson Audio Design RAD-0:

MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version)

Moondrop SSR:

Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788:

Massdrop THX AAA 789:

Grace Design SDAC-B:

Geshelli Labs J2:

Music recommendations:

Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality

Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage

Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone

Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone

Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement

Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre

Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre

Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance

Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics

Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check

Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids

Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging

Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension

Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control

Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check

Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics

Hans Zimmer: “2049” - sub bass extension

Cher: “Believe” - sibilance

Stanley Clarke - “Passenger 57 main title” - percussion, bass, separation and placement

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - “The Pine of the Appian Way” - soundstage, imaging and separation

Houston Person - “You are my Sunshine” - tone and timbre

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