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The Audiophile Community Has a Problem: Part Deux

The audiophile community doesn’t like it when others call out their bad behavior online and I have some suggestions on how to make it better.

Male Suggestion

I knew that my previous column on the “Audiophile Community” would rankle a few tweeters online and I’m glad.

The truth hurts.

Everyone wants to be “right” in this age of instant gratification and follower counts and who cares about civility when you can pound away on another human being from the safety of your IKEA chair in the basement.

Our future as a society is very bleak if we think this is the way forward.

A number of readers responded privately that the audiophile community on Instagram is actually very positive and inclusive and my experience would suggest that to be true — for the most part.

I do know that female audiophiles who post frequently have to contend with the usual infantile sexist comments in their DMs and that some audiophiles question their membership in the club, but I fully support their enthusiasm and desire to spread the gospel and help bring more people into the fold.

We’re lucky that any women care about this hobby at all. And it is a hobby. Not some life or death pursuit that should cause others to draw virtual swords and pretend that they’re anything more than armchair warriors living out some fantasy in the cloud.

With that in mind…a suggested path forward.

We need to be polite. Yes, audio breeds strong opinions, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to be rude or snide. One can disagree without argument and even suggest reasons why they disagree without becoming unpleasant.

Do you argue like this with co-workers when you disagree with something at work?

I can suggest a good therapist if that’s the case.

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We need to assume others have the same understanding that we possess unless they specifically ask for an extended explanation of why we believe something.      A yes/no question does not require a dissertation in response and doing so only serves to make the writer look pompous.

To quote the former disgraced Governor of New York, “You don’t know what you don’t know, and if you don’t know…then you don’t know.”

We need to accept the possibility that we could be wrong.

How many hi-fi components have any of us brought to market?

Entrepreneurs bring new products into the market on a daily basis and not all of them pass the sniff test.

Consumers decide their fate.

Not some cabal of online “scientists” with a rather suspect agenda.

Is audio an absolute science? No, is anything really? Even those arguments that center on electrical theory are subject to the constraints of our understanding and that is subject to change with each new discovery. No matter how certain we are today, we need to be prepared for new information to alter that understanding.

We need to be practical. Not everyone has the budget for $4500 headphones and the idea that one cannot enjoy music without them is ridiculous. Most of us, regardless of how much we spent on our home system, still listen to a stock car radio when we travel, and while I’ll be the first to admit there are a few things I’d change about the tonal balance of the system in my vehicle, it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the music or singing along.   

You wouldn’t buy your teenager with a Learner’s Permit a Porsche 911 GT3, so why does everyone in audio need to start out with an Audeze LCD-5, Meze Elite, or Beyerdynamic T5?

When a question asks for a comparison of two components, assume that the person asking that question has already done their homework and for whatever reason these are the items they have settled on.

Budget, availability, size, aesthetics, and a myriad of other factors play into these decisions and the fact that we might have chosen differently doesn’t mean everyone would.

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We need to take a stand against bad behavior even if we agree with some of the content. When a conversation starts decaying, push it back to the original topic and keep it focused on that.

I’m going to totally ignore your question about the best affordable audiophile turntables because anything under $2,000 is junk and you’re not a serious listener if you think that Rega is going to better my $2,985 VPI that I had someone modify against the wishes of Harry Weisfeld. Poser!

Posts with name-calling or negative behavior should be unceremoniously deleted by moderators; a practice that I know is difficult because it involves paying someone to monitor hundreds of posts in a very short amount of time.

Repeat offenders regardless of any perceived status in the community should be stripped of privileges in forums and Facebook groups.    

There is this weird belief online that just because you have the right to say something — you should even if common sense dictates that you should walk away from the computer or look up new winter coats on Huckberry.

The issue is that there will always be someone online to cheer you on and who doesn’t love being right or part of the mob.

Sane people who care about high-end audio for the only reason that matters — the enjoyment of music.

Page 1: Does the Audiophile Community Have a Problem?

43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Tim

    December 14, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    The bottom line, even if measurements can be called objective (and in many cases they aren’t, which is a whole other can of worms), the interpretation of those results is purely subjective, based on subjective “standards” that the measurement cult tries hard to justify as an objective truth. Just one example, the Harman curve is a collection of subjective impressions that itself has been modified over the years.

    There *are* certain objective facts about components that can be measured and compared, but they rarely make a difference to end users.

    I love how measurement folks claim high res audio is a lie, but that .001% difference in noise is significant.

    • Ian White

      December 14, 2021 at 3:08 pm

      Tim,

      And who made them experts? So I can buy a fancy suite of measurement equipment, create a website, and suddenly I’m the Lord of measurements with the ability to damage brands with my questionable testing standards?

      Do these people actually listen to the equipment under test?

      It’s become a cult and nothing good comes from people who drink the Kool-Aid and think they are on the right side of history.

      Ian White

    • William

      December 15, 2021 at 1:17 pm

      Well, measurements DID make a difference to THIS end user. I bought my most recent DAC solely on the basis of its measurements – high resolution, low noise, etc. – because that was how I bought my previous one seven years ago. (And secondly on the basis of price.) I loved the earlier one and I love my new one – because they sound the way they measure. Clear, realistic, beautiful. But I only do that with DACs.

    • Bill

      December 15, 2021 at 2:13 pm

      Aren’t the kind of dismissive comments above the kind of rudeness we want to banish from audiophile forums? Lumping all who learn useful things from measurements together as “measurement folks,” “the measurement cult,” etc. I thought name-calling was what this essay was against?

      • Ian White

        December 15, 2021 at 3:16 pm

        Bill,

        Perhaps, but sometimes you have to call something out for what it is.

        I don’t have an issue with measurements. A product is either well designed or it’s not. Where the ASR crowd loses me is when they declare a product to be “junk” based on measurements alone.

        I do want to know if a product is flawed — but only when that includes both measurements and listening tests.

        I own a few amplifiers that I know have mediocre measurement results. They still sound better to “me” than some of the other amplifiers I own that delivered better measurements.

        How do we reconcile all of that?

        Ian White

        • Bill

          December 15, 2021 at 3:30 pm

          I can accept what you’re saying, that equipment shouldn’t be rejected based on numbers alone. The reason measurements work for me, in the positive direction, is because I’ve read reviews and measurements for decades, correlating what the numbers say with what I hear and what the reviewers and others hear. But some of my purchases are still based more on experience, intuition, and word of mouth.

          • Tim

            December 27, 2021 at 8:23 pm

            Hi Bill, lots of sites publish measurements but don’t engage in character assassination as well. I call people cultists who have actually trashed real measurement experts for not being subjectively snarky enough! The claim that some people hate measurements, when in reality we just don’t want to read hysterical trash-talking by nincompoops, is misdirection by that very same cult. I used to read a popular cult site avidly, until I realized the con they were pulling. I have no respect whatever for those people.

  2. WJennings

    December 14, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    I’m somewhere in the middle here. I think measurements have their place and we can learn a lot from them if done well and their limitations are understood. We do need them to keep fraud down in an industry that is rampant with it. Even some big names (Audioquest and the HDMI scandal) have been caught fudging results to help increase sales. For reducing that, I applaud those doing the work to measure and test those claims. There are things that are extremely difficult to measure and things that are nearly impossible to measure that have to be considered as well though. Impedance is a simple measurement to do correctly, FR requires calibrated tools but easy enough for a hobbyist to do. How does one measure transient speed, detail level, instrument spacing, layering, and soundstage? all of these things make a difference when listening and none of the commonly cited measurements can adequately explain what should be expected from a speaker or headphone. The fact is we need both groups as until measurements evolve that can answer all of the questions (if that ever happens) they are only part of the answer.

    • David H Miller

      December 14, 2021 at 6:26 pm

      ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’

    • Ian White

      December 14, 2021 at 6:50 pm

      Measurements will never be able to answer all of those questions.

      We all hear differently and nobody is using the same exact system with any specific component.

      Ian White

    • Jim Farrell

      December 15, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      It’s all a bit sad, really, and derives from a lack of empathy, an absurd idea that what you own says something fundamental about who you are, and an unshakeable faith that you are always, always right.

      Weirdly I was led here by someone on ASR ranting about this article and it’s responses and perceived digs at ASR.

      Equally weirdly I note that the two opposing groups say, almost to the word, exactly the same things about each other. It’s “a cult”, ” drink the Kool-Aid”, etc.( Sorry, Ian )

      I agree with everything in this article. People need to get a grip and remember it’s just a bloody hobby. Strangely I have noticed much less left/right political aggro on hifi sites compared to it’s ubiquity elsewhere. Clearly this is because folks in the hifi world can find an adequate outlet for all their rage and angst in the subject of cables.

      I read and watch the objectivists and the subjectivists because I am interested in it all and they all have something valid to say quite a lot of the time. However I can’t imagine how dysfunctional it all seems to newcomers.

      • Ian White

        December 15, 2021 at 3:20 pm

        Jim,

        “However I can’t imagine how dysfunctional it all seems to newcomers.”

        This.

        Ian White

  3. David H Miller

    December 14, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    I thought this article and its predecessor were well written and thought out. I’ve been a reader of Audio Science Review on occasion, but I agree it’s become an echo chamber for ASR Nazis that insist Amir’s measurements are some sort of gospel that cannot be wrong. In a recent review of the GoldenEar BRX bookshelf speaker Amir concluded, ‘I can’t recommend the GoldenEar BRX. It doesn’t deliver a better experience than budget speakers well below its price.’ I posted a response which simply said both Stereophile’s John Atkinson and Twittering Machine’s Michael Lavorgna liked this speaker a lot. This was met with derision and what are basically libelous attacks on Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Lavorgna. This got an upvote from Amir believe it or not. That is simply encouraging the sort of awful behavior described in the aforementioned article. Good luck with that approach buddy.

    • Ian White

      December 14, 2021 at 6:48 pm

      David,

      Two things about ASR really bother me. The cult that has developed around it is kinda sad and I know they love to boast that they have millions of visits every month and how their influence is only growing. Well…when the same 1,000+ people visit 100 or 200 times a day and spend time responding for hours on the same threads…that’s not real traffic.

      I question if they listen to any of the equipment that is being tested. If the measurements are the only methodology for testing, then I have no use for it.

      How does the equipment actually sound?

      ASR: “Our tests concluded that they measure poorly and therefore suck.”

      World: “But did you actually listen to any of it?”

      ASR: “But our testing gear goes to 11…”

      IW

    • Steve Hart

      December 14, 2021 at 8:05 pm

      David, I’ve listened to the Golden Ear BRX. They didn’t play my reference albums properly. I didn’t measure it with the robot becasue once I reach a failure point in my reference albums I stop.

      As side note when I introduced my self to John Atkinson at 2016 RMAF and said Hi I’m Steve Hart and you were wrong about a monitor review (Listening 166 I believe) and he explained an issue with his listening room. Michael Lavorgna has apologized for his words and behavior toward me face to face.

  4. David Williams

    December 14, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    Audio is inundated with ego. It’s ego that drives snobbery (if it’s not expensive, it’s junk), and equally reverse snobbery (if it’s expensive, it’s snake oil). Many measurement fanatics are disguising reverse snobbery, and many my-ears-only fanatics are disguising a need to feel superior to others. Sadly, this is a significant part of the human condition. The only way to overcome it is for the group to police itself. Call out rudeness, snobbery, and ego celebrations at every opportunity. Always report rule violations to moderation, but no moderation group has the time to do it all for us, it’s up to the community to set and enforce civility.

    • Ian White

      December 14, 2021 at 7:53 pm

      David,

      100% that.

      I delete 100-200 comments a day now that are utterly absurd, racist, or filled with venom towards writers, manufacturers, and other posters.

      The community definitely needs to police itself.

      Ian White

    • Bill

      December 15, 2021 at 10:12 am

      You hit the nail on the head

  5. Martin

    December 14, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    This is going to sound clever to some I’m sure. But I’m not on Instagram, I rarely use Facebook, mostly for my Club info, or a business opening hours, and even more rarely look at Twitter. I have no stress, as to me It’s in the same category as gambling, alcoholism, or sticking my hand in the fire. See, I told you I would sound clever!

  6. Aslag

    December 15, 2021 at 3:02 am

    “Is audio an absolute science? No, is anything really?”

    Yes, and sciences are still science even though they revise theory over time given new evidence and reasoning. In fact, this is how science works.

    Your beef with rude, opinionated, snobby people on the internet shouldn’t cause you to misstate basic scientific concepts.

  7. Atmfrank

    December 15, 2021 at 4:48 am

    I read ASR, I listen, I read this rant and I can fully relate to the sentiments expressed (thank you). I am 65 yrs old and grew up with “HIFI DIN 4550”. We now live in a very fragmented and unhealthy space. Actually the best remedy to solve this problem is to DISCONNECT from all cables, de-tether from all preconceptions, from ego, from righteousness. Just leave the ears in place and maybe an audio room analyzer. There are so many facets to good audio, where do we begin, where do we end the discussion? Complete mystery and impossible to answer. My mantra: spend as little as possible, enjoy what you have! Every now and then justify to buy something new without obsessing over it. Read more thought-provoking articles like this one. It helps…but it doesn’t solve the problem.

  8. Ww klenk

    December 15, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    Guys like this lose me before he starts. Comparing the purchase of a high end audio system with buying a 911GT3 for someone with a learners permit??? ….Wha? That makes no sense. Just one more faux journalist displaying ignorance

    • Ian White

      December 15, 2021 at 3:18 pm

      His point is that newbies need to walk before they run when buying their first high-end systems. Telling potential audiophiles that unless they start at that level, they’re not really “serious” audiophiles was his bigger point.

      Ian White

  9. Mark

    December 15, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    I’m baffled by all this. While I’m sure that there are nasty people online, I seem to rarely encounter them, especially on ASR. I’ve certainly seen strange ideas circulating on Audiogon forums. There are a few points to this article and follow-ups that need to be scrutinized, however:

    (1) Audio “objectivists” (sorry crazed Randians) don’t do listening tests. Almost all do as far as I can tell, so that claim appears radically unsupported.

    (2) Notions like the Harman curve don’t reflect all possible listeners: Correct, the Harman curve is “crowd sourced” and an ongoing effort to identify the best speaker/headphone response for the largest number of people. Clearly that doesn’t mean everyone will be satisfied, but it is the best combination of science/preference/testing that we have going on. Dealing with individual differences and learning effects, etc. etc. requires great care and the efforts on this front are extremely careful.

    (3) There seems to be a confusion here between audio components and engineering efforts that are well-justified based on science and those that are clearly snake oil. The latter include most expensive cables and other power conditioning and vibration isolation accessories. I considered it both reasonable and ethically justified to warn people about the marketing grift they are buying into. Beyond that, it’s their choice but we should make the buyer aware based on solid science and reasoning. When they push back with bizarre claims, they should be refuted (preferably with kindness).

    (4) Cost points are less accurate predictors of reproduction fidelity than measurements. Indeed, we are in a golden age of fairly low cost yet high performing components.

    So like I say, I’m baffled by these articles and many of the complaints here. I read ASR and occasionally comment, some Audiogon (and sell old gear there), Cringley on headphones, and Stereophile. I just don’t see the animosity and do see vibrant communities engaged in interesting debates.

    But carry on! I’m listening to my under-measuring (sensitivity-wise) Tekton Double Impacts driven by a Benchmark AHB2 and Matrix X-Sabre 3 via Roon and am happy about the influences of the online community and the education I have acquired (above and beyond my MSEE and other professional expertise). The experience is stunning and sublime.

    • Ian White

      December 15, 2021 at 9:58 pm

      Mark,

      Spend 23 years in any industry and you experience it every single day. You would be quite shocked by what female contributors have to contend with and the nasty vitriol that writers/editors face from “audiophiles” who think that they get to decide what’s good/bad based on “measurements” alone.

      90% of audiophiles are generally fine people who love music and equipment and just get on with it. The remaining 10% are a nasty bunch who think they have the right to attack total strangers online like somebody anointed them as the gatekeepers.

      This is a hobby. Nothing more.

      Ian White

  10. David Bent

    December 16, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    I would love to see some of these malcontents playlists.Do they really enjoy music or just devices.

    • Ian White

      December 16, 2021 at 6:17 pm

      David,

      Playlists? Best laugh I’ve had all week.

      Ian White

  11. G. M.

    December 16, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    I worked as an installer for a high end av distributor. I’ve installed and setup everything from dahli to Wilson Watts. The audiophile community is toxic af. Most of my customers only cared about how expensive their equipment was, and automatically equated cost to sound quality.

  12. Laurence Ford

    December 17, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    Did anyone ask Trump, or any of his sycophants if they would like to comment? Readers do not have to answer, as the larger sea of music lovers wear masks, get vaxed, accept US History for what it was and continues to be, don’t argue about CD v. vinyl, tube v solid-state, can delay gratification, find vast commonality amid the diversity, and are keen to accept the existence of static and enjoy life.

  13. Mark Smith

    December 18, 2021 at 12:27 am

    Re the notion that people who repeatedly name-call or make negative comments should be banned from forums: Who is the judge of what’s name calling and negative? How do you define it? Is it like when Justice Potter of the Supreme Court said (more or less) “I can’t define pornography but i know it when i see it”? In response to someone questioning dismissive comments in this very thread, Mr. White responds “Perhaps, but sometimes you have to call something out for what it is” I’m guessing many who make dismissive comments have the same attitude and dissent can always be seen in a negative light even if it’s necessary. Censorship is never the right answer–ignoring them is better.

    • Ian White

      December 18, 2021 at 12:34 pm

      Mark,

      I don’t think people who make dismissive or negative comments should be banned. I allow them here. I definitely think people who send female contributors NSFW suggestions or comments should definitely lose their privileges in regard to commenting and that’s my decision as EIC.

      Dissent is a healthy thing. We would live in a dictatorship if that ever became the case and as a journalist I would oppose any attempt to silence others just because you don’t agree with their opinion.

      The biggest issue with forums is that people think that there are no limits to what they can say without consequences and that’s an issue. But I agree…ignoring idiots is the right course of action 99% of the time.

      Ian White

  14. Mark R Smith

    December 18, 2021 at 7:24 pm

    Agreed, Ian. I used you as an example of how we can’t arbitrarily ban dissent just because someone else is offended or interprets it as “dismissive”–but that doesn’t mean i think all behavior has to be allowed–some is clearly beyond like your NSFW example…

  15. Jurgen

    December 19, 2021 at 6:51 am

    “I have absolutely no idea what musical or natural mean”. A major contributor at Audio Science Review Forum commenting on my description of a dongle dac (that did not provide satisfactory SINAD results). Then a whole group ganged up dwelling on measurements…that’s what typically happens there to anybody like me.

    The issues: 1) blind belief in a guru and his methods, 2) the inability to make their own judgement, and 3) the lack properly interpreting measurements, and (4) cultivating a herd mentality that results in bullying.

    There is not much that can be done but avoiding such groups.

    • Ian White

      December 19, 2021 at 4:13 pm

      Jurgen,

      I’m not sure that they actually listen to music.

      Happy Holidays,

      Ian White

      • Jurgen

        December 19, 2021 at 9:52 pm

        Happy Holidays to you, too, Ian…and to everybody else.

        After my first three blogging years I have calmed down quite a bit.

        Generally, measurements against listening…should be…measurements (quantity) AND listening (quality). None of them is entirely objective or subjective and both should be reconciled.

        I am seriously interested in correlating quantity and quality…there is no direct relationship…no black and white.

        Much of the gear I like does not perform well in measurements…and a lot of the performance relies on synergy…now measure that :). I also had gear that measured well but sounded meh to my ears.

        In the end, it helps, just like with other aspects in life, not trying to impose oneself on others.

        • Ian White

          December 20, 2021 at 12:29 pm

          Jurgen,

          My issue with ASR is that they take the measurements and run with them as if some higher authority dropped them from above. How do we even know if what they are doing is valid?

          I’m like you, my Croft gear does not measure well. I know that. It still sounds better than 90% of the products that I get in for review. Matched up (synergy) with a pair of Spendor, Harbeth, or Wharfedales — musical bliss.

          Nobody wants to buy a piece of junk. Measurements are one part of the equation.

          Ian White

          • Jurgen

            December 20, 2021 at 8:45 pm

            That (measurement) problem would not exist if people didn’t impose themselves on others…like with religion.

            We had this before with Apple disciples.

            How did Cicero say: cuum suique…everybody to their own.

            P.S. I use Apple computers :).

          • Ian White

            December 20, 2021 at 9:39 pm

            Jurgen,

            Unless those measurements come with a lot of actual listening, I’m not really that interested in what they have to say.

            Apple customer since 1979. Typing this on my MBP.

            The original Macintosh 128K is in a box in my parent’s basement. Bar Mitzvah gift in January 1984.

            Ian White

  16. Jurgen

    December 19, 2021 at 9:54 pm

    Last but not least, I didn’t know that wiljen looked that good…see above banner…like 20 years younger :). That’s probably because he stays away from controversy.

  17. Frank Doris

    December 21, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    This article really gets to the heart of the problem. I agree, we need to be more civil, and as you say, online forum participants who are nasty, rude, condescending, know-it-alls or all of the above are the real issue. My best strategy is to simply ignore them. I’ve been in the audio industry a long time and I know what I hear, and if other people think I’m hearing a placebo effect or imagining differences when there aren’t any, or my observations are invalid without measurements, then I’m fine with that. (Go to the Harman listening lab and take their double-blind test and see if you can pass it, like I did).

    The real shame of it, as W. Jennings notes, is that the rude behavior of certain forums (I won’t dignify them by naming them here, but you’ll know them when you encounter them) discourages newcomers from getting into one of the most pleasurable hobbies in the world…the means to hear your favorite music reproduced with great sound. To those who might feel intimidated by the know-it-alls…don’t be.

    • Ian White

      December 21, 2021 at 3:27 pm

      Frank,

      Thank you for taking the high road with your answer.

      “My best strategy is to simply ignore them.”

      Amen.

      Ian White

  18. Leonard Norwitz

    December 21, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    I’m a first-time contributor to this column, having discovered it in my e-mail this morning. I have to say that I’m not all that surprised by the main issue here, though I feel it is as much a reflection of social media as it is the audiophile community. People do tend to say stuff on social media simply because they get to feel important, imaging that their words reach thousands and will be swayed accordingly. Even though names are included there is a certain degree of anonymity that permits certain people to indulge in their worst social behavior. I’m all for civility and a degree of humility about our opinions.

    Re the matter of measurements vs listening, I have a suggestion. Given that we have a difficult time demonstrating a clear correlation between measurement and satisfaction as well as the likely impact of bias confirmation, how about ignoring reports of measurements altogether until after doing your listening? That is, if listening satisfaction is the primary objective. If you’re the reviewer, you might include your measurements in a separate file, to keep the kool-aid further from your reader’s lips, as it were.

  19. Mr. Pete

    January 2, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    I think it is human nature to want to be right all the time. With the advent of the internet, blogs, YouTube videos, etc., the lid has been taken off the box for every person to comment on everything regardless of whether they know anything or not. Look at our current state of politics.
    I am retired and can’t sleep so I can look at a lot of music “stuff” on line. It is entertaining to say the least. I recommend the book The Paradox of Choice to all of you to read. I think we have too much of basically the same thing(s) so how do I make my “thing” stand out from something that is basically the same? The same thing goes on in the video world…blacker than black screens…etc.
    I personally do not care if people argue over whether something is .000000000005 vs .00000000004 results. The thing that bothers me the most is the poor self-control of insulting language/comments. It all boils down to what I told my students for 35 years…ignorance and stupid is everywhere!
    Unfortunately, you are never going. to be able to stop someone from posting a nasty comment. They hide behind a keyboard. As all of you know….they would never say things to your face that they say on line. Welcome to the internet.
    If you think things are bad for women in audio looks at the gaming world.
    Mr. Pete—–>
    aging hippie

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