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Does the Audiophile Community Have a Problem?

The audiophile community has a big problem and it needs to address it before the long-term damage is irreparable.

Male Know It All

The audiophile community has a problem and it’s something that is both inhibiting the growth of the high-end audio industry but also turning a lot of people inside the community off. We’re not the nicest group of people.

When I started my blog in 2018, I named it “Audiofool Reviews” and gave it the tagline “musings of an aging audio addict.” My first post was an “About Me” and I made the point that I was an audio enthusiast and put some distance between myself and the audiophile community.

Things in the community were not great then, but little did I know the next few years would make me wish for the return to 2018.

Audiophile Meme
Credit: Headpie

The basic problem is how the community is perceived. The audiophile community likes to portray itself as some “enlightened” group of passionate music listeners but that’s not how it is perceived outside of our little circle.

Steve Young once said “Perception is reality. If you are perceived to be something, you might as well be it because that is the truth in people’s minds.” And therein lies the problem.

The community has a history of pushing away female audiophiles; we have the most female contributors of any hi-fi publication and the emails and comments that we have to delete from audiophiles are pretty disgusting.

Where does that come from? If you wouldn’t send those kind of emails or comments to your own mother or sisters — what makes sending them to women writers or forum participants acceptable?

Here again though, readers will say “but I’m not misogynistic or narcissistic,” but if we contribute to any part of the stereotype (pun intended) we contribute to all of it.  And sometimes all that it takes to contribute is staying silent while others behave poorly.

This isn’t some weird commentary about #metoo or being woke. Audiophiles don’t understand that how they behave on Facebook or online forums is doing real damage to this industry.

Facebook Discussion Excerpt

I’ve been an active member of the Head-Fi community for a very long time and I am a registered user on multiple online forums. It’s become easy to highlight certain forms of behavior that have become all too common.

A new user asks about a specific product and gets told that it is junk and they need to spend at least double that to get something worthwhile.

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A user asks for a comparison of two products and instead gets a litany of suggestions why they should be looking at something else entirely

Users ask basic questions and get answers that border on electrical engineering courses and often include pseudo-science rather than just addressing the question.

Threads get hijacked and become battles between opposing camps (cables, power cords, etc…). 

To paraphrase the late George Carlin, why is it that your crap is stuff and other peoples stuff is crap? The idea that what you own or use makes you superior to other people is pathetic.

Female posters are treated with patronizing answers because only men know what sounds good in the world of hi-fi.

Online forums like Audio Science Review and Facebook groups have decayed into battlegrounds between objectivists, subjectivists, cable lovers, cable haters, and those who are obsessed with measurements and feel a lot of power telling others who think their own listening experiences are what truly matters, that they are morons and fools.

A lot of these “measurement” cults don’t actually listen to the equipment they test and shred online and feel quite confident telling the acoustic and electrical engineers who design hi-fi products that they are frauds and only they are qualified to tell audiophiles what is good.

Could you imagine going on a Porsche forum and telling someone from that company that they don’t know how to design a proper engine; and that prospective customers should listen to you versus them? Because you know better from some tests an amateur posted on a forum.

It’s laughable on a good day and rather sad behavior.

I’m not entirely sure when the tide turned, but 2018 is when I noticed a decidedly ugly turn by the community. It’s one thing to disagree with another with a degree of civility, but when you create a group that is dedicated to mocking “cable morons” or to list all of the “reviewers” who are clearly on the take — you know the community has some really bad apples.

Audio reviewers don’t make a lot of money. If you think there is some secret cabal of reviewers/editors getting rich writing about home audio/video — you are sadly mistaken.

This is a hobby for 95% of us who are fortunate enough to review components.

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Our EIC and Publisher have other jobs; and they both put 50 hours a week into the magazine. Do the math. That means they work another 25-30 hours to feed their families.

My favorite comment online that I see with great frequency is perhaps the most condescending and it’s sadly the norm in 2021.

I can’t help it if your hearing is not good enough to know the difference.”

If you have ever typed those words in some online group or forum, you are definitely part of the problem and one of the reasons why the audiophile community has earned a bad reputation for being arrogant, narcissistic, and generally hostile. That doesn’t apply to everyone but it happens so frequently that it’s how the outside world views us.

How do we change that?

Next page: A suggested path forward, Part 2


Related podcast: Losing the Next Generation of Audiophiles

Related reading: Has a Decline of Pop Music led to the Rise of the Music Snob?

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Mike DeBoard

    December 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Women don’t care about this shit. Most men don’t care about it. Almost nobody cares about wire and other multi thousand dollar placebos. The general public knows how to perform the sniff test. That’s the problem.

    • Ian White

      December 13, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      Mike,

      I disagree about #1 in regard to women. You would be surprised how many women do care about better sound quality when listening to their music. I’m not saying it’s a huge percentage compared to men but 16% of our readers are women. How? Instagram community.

      I do agree about your second and third points. None of my male friends (outside of the community) care at all about this. They read the occasional article but think audiophiles are nuts. And these men spend $100K on cars.

      The general public has so much media tossed in its face 24/7 that it’s hard to garner its attention for more than 30 seconds.

      The long-term issue is explaining to people that they don’t have to spend insane amounts of money for better sound quality and making the community more welcoming. There are a lot of assholes in the audiophile community.

      Ian White

      • Tim

        December 13, 2021 at 7:19 pm

        Ian, I wonder do your car enthusiast friends claim smugly that their 1990 Toyota hatchback is better than a new Boxster because it gets better gas mileage and is cheaper? After all, the speed limit is still the same for both cars, right? Wouldn’t that be the “objective” conclusion?

      • utubecomment21

        December 21, 2021 at 6:19 pm

        If there are any women audiophiles, In my sub 35 years, I’ve never met one!

        But I think it would be wise not just to focus on women, but to broadly encourage the long-lost art of civility, and respect, even if there are obvious flaws in someone’s argument.

        Personally, if I make a statement, I back them up with links, data, and even videos to affirm my position.

        However, given that I too had fallen into the bad habit of being less than courteous to those opposing my views (mainly in YouTube comments) now, I’ve taken to – simply making my statement, and leaving it there. I don’t read replies, I don’t respond back, and I’m happier for it!

        There is too much that divides, personally, socially and politically, and I don’t want to be a part of anything that promote anger and division!

        • Ian White

          December 21, 2021 at 6:38 pm

          I know plenty of female audiophiles; not to mention the two very capable writers who contribute a lot to this publication and the community itself.

          I think your attitude is the right now. Keep it up!

          Ian White

  2. Tony Dyson

    December 13, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    Online fora provide people so inclined with a “safe space” to be their worst selves. Stringent moderation would be the only remedy, but most forum operators do not have the time or resources for that.

    • Ian White

      December 13, 2021 at 2:46 pm

      Tony,

      I gave up on forums almost a decade ago for my mental health and because I was subjected to daily bouts of antiSemitism from some members.

      There is a particular board on a specific forum that was hidden from the outside world because of how horrible it was. Where personal politics and racism was the norm 24-7 and one member even committed suicide after months of abuse. We watched him fight with other members on a daily basis and get a lot of heat back. He was fine most of the time when dealing with him on a individual basis but then he descended into some really horrible commentaries about race and certain countries and he went down the rabbit hole into some dark places.

      Websites like ASR hold zero interest for me because a lot of the users are just there to be “right” and make others feel very small because their views don’t align with certain points of view.

      After 23 years of consumer A/V journalism, I advise most newbies to ignore all of those forums altogether.

      Ian White

  3. Peter

    December 13, 2021 at 4:48 pm

    Apart from the cowardly trolls that think they will not have any repercussions when hiding in the cloud, there is one problem I have developed.
    As I developed an ear for well recorded music… I have developed an intolerance for poorly mastered recordings and poor sounding equipment.

  4. Tim

    December 13, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    “A user asks for a comparison of two products and instead gets a litany of suggestions why they should be looking at something else entirely”

    ^^^This^^^ I see this every day, usually multiple times per day. “Why do you want a streaming preamp? You should get a turntable, phono pre, expensive cartridge, blah blah.” As I like to remind my wife, we men get mansplained to by other men all the time.

    The measurement cult has long since devolved into a new line of snake oil. I regularly see people lecturing others not to get a DAC with *only* 110 Sinad, when they could get one with 114 Sinad!!! That’s four whole ‘nads!!!

    Ditto the invocation of ABX testing. People spout this nonsense because they have been fooled into thinking that hearing is just an electrical response like one of the $40,000 tape measures they worship. Our hearing is a million times more sensitive and subtle, we have the power to discern, decode, and interpret sound far beyond a twitchy voltage meter. There’s some weird puritanical body shame going on.

    • Ian White

      December 13, 2021 at 7:11 pm

      Tim,

      10000% this.

      I find the measurement cult kinda scary.

      Me: “Aside from the measurements, did you actually plug that product into your system and listen to music through it?”

      Measurement Cult: “We didn’t need to. Its measurements were average and that told us everything. We don’t actually listen to the equipment. We just measure it.”

      Me: “So you don’t actually know what it sounds like.”

      Measurement Cult: “But our measurement devices go to 11…”

      Ian White

      • Steve Hart

        December 15, 2021 at 4:10 am

        Ian, I agree on the measurement cult but the Okto Research dac8 Stereo is the best DAC I’ve ever measured and listend to. Cost about $2k when I tested it. That DAC rubs a lot people the wrong way because of price. But it plays my reference albums and recordings well. After testing I spent two evenings playing music I like in my office. It performed very well.

        Please do me a favor and the next time you go to a show ask to play Pet Sounds in few rooms. See if anyone will play it.

        Stay safe

        Steve

        • Tim

          December 27, 2021 at 7:49 pm

          Steve, I have the Okto and absolutely love it. And rPi as a source has always sounded flawless to me in many different DACs. That said, my 8yo old Krell streamer, which could only handle 16/44.1 for some reason, blew away anything else, including the Okto. I put that down to the brilliant implementation by Krell.

  5. Eric Anderson

    December 13, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Measurement Cult: “But our measurement devices go to 11…”

    Perfect, you need to make the shirt.

  6. Hartyewh

    December 13, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    It is the same with every niche hobby related to tech. I’ve come across the exact same behavior on camera forums. Some people have so little in their lives that they make a hobby into their life’s purpose and can only feel good about themselves if they feel to be on the top of a hierarchy they have imagined. Music lovers seem to be much more tolerant and nice than the toxic gear lovers that make a lot of noice. Luckily there are much more silent viewers and readers who are probably ordinary decent people. Huge shame about the treatment women in particular seem to get. Having some more women usually cleans the air in any environment so they are surely needed in these circles.

  7. RT

    December 13, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    Would you like some water with your whine?

    There is no audio forum more toxic than Audiogon, a bastion of ignorance w.r.t. audio.

    “acoustic and electrical engineers who design hi-fi products” — that’s the thing, not many real acoustic engineers or even solid electrical engineers design these products and certain few of them make outrageous claims. Look at the cable shills. Most are so far removed from electrical engineering or the related physics field to be laughable. Look at Synergistic Research. Barely a decent piece of test equipment in their whole factory (check out videos).

    I don’t think ASR is perfect, but I have been rather contentious on there, had arguments, but other than a light warning, I didn’t have my posts removed, nor was I banned when I criticized Amir. That gives them right there more credibility. They also don’t discount peoples “listening”, they just don’t accept sited listening tests for what must be very subtle differences if they exist at all. This is a reasoned approach based on the opposite line of thinking never being able to validate their claims.

    NOT ONE CABLE VENDOR HAS EVER DONE A PUBLIC, PROPERLY ADMINISTERED BLIND TEST. NOT ONE. That should give you pause. If the differences are night and day as claimed, then a blind test properly administered should give near 100% pass rates. NOT ONE.

    But you go on blaming the people who are bringing science, logic, evidence, and process to the audiophile world for everyone else’s inability to substantiate their claims. I suggest looking in the mirror.

    • WJennings

      December 13, 2021 at 10:25 pm

      RT,

      I am not a cable believer myself but am not willing to state categorically that differences cannot exist. Facts as we know them are subject to change with new discoveries daily. I would point out that your logic is ignoring a major scientific principle; Absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence. Saying you can’t prove something exists, so it doesn’t exist, is an age old fallacy and no more science than blind belief.

      • Steve Hart

        December 15, 2021 at 3:48 am

        Will, a lot of the “cable believer” is based on price. I have slightly different spec wire connecting my Klipsch Heresy’s which produce a more live type sound than the wire connecting acoustic suspension speakers I use to produce a more studio type sound. But the cost is the same from a military source. If I swap them I can hear a slight difference and if I’m having a good day measuring I can show a slight differnce.

        I believe the point of diminishing returns on wire is reached rather quickly

    • Xyzzy

      December 17, 2021 at 2:48 pm

      You need to get to a bathroom because you are quite full (of it).

      There are videos on you tube where cable swaps are done and you can hear the difference even over the posters cruddy mike and your cruddy speakers.

      I dont know what I would ever buy on specs alone.

  8. A2D

    December 13, 2021 at 9:58 pm

    We all know why the “audiophile” community hates ASR and blames them for global warming … I mean all ills in audio, but it may as well be global warming.

    ASR publishes measurement data. Pure, simple, measurement data. The equipment they use is not a mystery. The methods are not either. Often there are other people with similar equipment validating the results. To that end, what ASR publishes is irrefutable. You may question the implementation of the test, but the result, no.

    ASR has exposed the warts in the audio industry. Expensive products that poorly perform. Expensive cables (especially digital) showing absolutely no difference. Expensive speakers with significant design issues. Cheap amplifiers and cheap DAC outperforming, at their intended function, items costing 10, if not 100x as much. People on ASR do not claim that distortion, or modified frequency responses are not preferred by some. But that is neither here nor there. They show measurements, and you are welcome to your own interpretation.

    The reason why some aspects of the audiophile community hate ASR is a simple one. Money. They are showing that all those high dollar items don’t do what they claim and/or the advantages if any are so minor (and inaudible or close to it), that the cost adder, sometimes extreme, is not warranted though Amir will recommend any product with demonstrated competent engineering even if expensive.

    • Ian White

      December 13, 2021 at 10:55 pm

      1. We review more affordable equipment than most magazines. I even set a $10,000 system limit for the publication so we’re hardly influenced by the companies offering products we don’t cover.

      2. You’ll notice that we don’t have a lot of advertisers that influence what we write; we have more coming in January but the focus is on entry-level and affordable high-end products.

      3. Nobody here will dispute that there are very expensive products that don’t offer the kind of performance they should for the money. That same rule applies to inexpensive products that don’t sound very good.

      4. How many ASR reviews involve actual listening to the product and comparisons to other components in a system?

      5. Do you base how you buy a car 100% on specs provided by the manufacturer and magazine or do you actually take the car for a test drive on the road? I’ve read car reviews and had a very different experience actually driving the car.

      6. I have formal culinary training and read reviews of knives and appliances with skepticism until I actually use that product in the kitchen. The same should apply to audio/video. Read the specs and actually try the component and see if it gives you pleasure listening to music. I’ve listened to $100K speakers that I thought were terrible; even if they measured well.

      Ian White

    • Tim

      December 27, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      I respectfully disagree. Nobody hates ASR for publishing the data. But like any shady preacher, Amir knows full well the real money isn’t in the scriptures, but in the interpretation. He has trashed companies, other reviewers, sites, ad nauseum, while screwing up countless tests and then just LOLing on his merry way. The contempt for him is justified and deserved, and he is nobody’s victim.

      Newsflash: Harman dealer sez Harman gear best, is proven by Harman. Yeah, enjoy your “objective” data.

  9. Ostap Nakoneczny

    December 13, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    There is one measurement that seems to be religiously avoided by almost all reviewers – a formal hearing test. Many(most) are at the age where they have their hearing compromised. How can these elderly reviewers talk about a speakers’ air and top end extension when their hearing has no extension at the top end beyond 15KHz? These same reviewers most likey also have some hearing loss below about 40Hz. So how am I to believe their assessment of a speakers’ bass capabilities?. The equivalent would be an art critic who is colour blind. but forgets (omits) to mention it. All reviewers that are afraid to have their hearing tested are avoiding a reality check, and are seriously shortchanging their readership.

    • WJennings

      December 13, 2021 at 10:31 pm

      Ostap, Agree with your comment and I have made it a point to note the limits of my hearing in many reviews and have a hearing test annually by a licensed audiologist. I would encourage everyone, reviewer or not, to do the same. Hearing loss is insidious and most people don’t realize they have any loss until it is a severe deficit. Finding out early in the process of hearing loss cannot reverse it, but it can help slow the progression and let us all enjoy this hobby we love safely and for a longer period of time.

      • Ian White

        December 13, 2021 at 10:47 pm

        I get my hearing tested every single year as part of my annual physical with a certified audiologist.

        I’m down a few dB on my right side in the upper frequencies but otherwise I hear rather well. I was told that I had the hearing of a 40 year-old which isn’t terrible for a 51 year-old with 3 kids, wife, and dog.

        Ian White

  10. Jim Farrell

    December 15, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    The hearing issue is interesting given the demographics of the audiophile community (with perhaps the exception of desktop and head-fi).

    Perhaps one should argue that the perfect reviewer has the hearing of a fifty to sixty year old white male…

    ” Cymbals? What cymbals?”

    • Ian White

      December 15, 2021 at 3:12 pm

      Jim,

      That made me laugh.

      Ian White

  11. DH

    December 17, 2021 at 4:19 am

    Possibly of interest: “Masculinity and gear fetishism in audio technology community discourse”
    Annetts, Alex (2015) Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

    https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/702044/

    This is “a study of audio technology community discourse and its historical features [that contends] that the audio technology domain is fundamentally exclusive and hierarchically stratified…[focused upon] a hegemonic masculine performance, gear fetishism and the articulation of technical knowledge.”

    • Tim

      December 27, 2021 at 8:13 pm

      Thank you, DH, great link.

      “I contend that the audio technology domain is fundamentally exclusive and hierarchically stratified, based on discursively inscribed prerequisites to participation and enunciation, notably a hegemonic masculine performance, gear fetishism and the articulation of technical knowledge.”

      Oh yes oh yes indeed…

  12. Stof

    December 21, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    RIP Jan Vigne who used to post on this site’s forum, but she treated people a lot worse than most men do. She did not belittle people’s questions or get into low-end high end debates with the new folks, but heaven forbid someone disagreed with her views on anything audio related.

    • Ian White

      December 21, 2021 at 6:46 pm

      Never met her so I can’t really comment.

      I have worked with a lot of women in the industry over the years and found them to be just as knowledgable and always professional.

      I think online forums promote a pack mentality on a lot of topics and I’ve seen some really brutal threads make people snap. I won’t mention names, but a chap on a board committed suicide many years ago because members pushed him over the edge — and none of it was related to audio. A disagreement about politics and race/religion turned into something rather ugly and this person (who clearly had other issues) took his own life. I quit that site that day and never looked back.

      Ian White

  13. utubecomment21

    December 21, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    I think it would have been better, not just to focus on women, but to broadly encourage the long-lost art of civility, and respect.

    Personally, if I make a statement, then I back it up with links, data, and even videos, mainly from acoustic engineers that have proven their worth. I mainly steer clear of enthusiasts, reviewers, professional or otherwise and/or proprietors of brands, as this introduces an obvious conflict of interest!

    However, given that I too had fallen into the bad habit of being less than courteous to those opposing my views (mainly in YouTube comments) now, I’ve taken to – simply making my statement, and leaving it there. I don’t read replies, I don’t respond back, and I’m happier for it!

    There is too much that divides, personally, socially and politically, and I don’t want to be a part of anything that promote anger and division!

  14. Stew

    December 21, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    The HiFi world is one of the most bizarre worlds to exist within our world!! I’m all for peoples opinion on products and how they sound, but at the end of the day, only you, the listener, can judge how good something is within your own setup.
    Who cares if someone’s £20k amp sounds better in their house than mine does… in my house in my listening room, mine sounds great! I got bored of spending for the sake of spending and started listening. I have some £50 per metre speaker cable in a box after ‘downgrading’ it to £5 per meter for a room refit. Guess what…. doesn’t sound any different!!
    I consider myself a HiFi enthusiast, Christ the money I’ve spent on Amps, DACs, turntables, speakers, transports etc I would hope I was… but I got tired of listening to magazines, forums and other people… what sounds good to me is what is in my listening room. Just my 0.02p worth.
    And as for female audiophiles…. who cares about male/female enthusiasts…. surely it would make a great first date to chat about audio gear, speakers, cables, transports and all that good stuff than Jimmy Choos!!

  15. Kit K

    December 21, 2021 at 8:30 pm

    Why do those posters see or know no “female audiophiles”? Because the women in their lives know better than to talk about sound with those mansplaners!

  16. 'Lil Snot-Nosed Tommy

    December 21, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    Yeah they all seem to know whats best for us, that is “joe Biden” mentality IMO

    I have a 1984 Yamaha A-1000 integrated amp, a decent Technics TT and a pr of PSB Stratus Gold speakers in my winter home that works for ME…Is there better stuff, I’m sure there is, and I like to read reviews in case I want to audition something. But if you’re gonna tell me how much better your stuff is, or that mine is junk, I’M DONE WITH YOU. You dont know DICK about what pleases ME..so keep those kind of comments to yourself. I’ll be the judge of what I like. My .02

    • Ian White

      December 21, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      I owned a pair of Stratus Gold for 6 years. My first real high-end speakers.

      I’m headed up to PSB in Toronto in January depending on the border rules and I might have a surprise for you.

      Ian White

  17. Adam

    December 22, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    What, should we beat ourselves up for yet something else. Everywhere you look, the mantra is ‘hate yourself more’. Should we hate on ourselves? For god’s sake, it’s a silly hobby nothing more nothing less. Let’s not try to make it a matter of national importance. Most ‘reviewers’ on YouTube or blogs are self professed experts with golden ears. They’re not. There just like everyone else. It’s a hobby. If my son or daughter aspired to make videos or write opinions / reviews about audio for a living, I would advise them taking a look inwardly, and focus on a real job that contributes meaningfully to society. The relatively super-tiny clique of high-end audio is so un-important in the real world. It’s mostly a bunch of people (99.9% dudes as most women aren’t interested) with a lot more money than average that can spend on audio ‘jewelry’ with abandon. The rags cater to this lot. As for me, like most, I try not to offend anyone, and I like to learn and share about this hobby with other fellow enthusiasts. But I am fully aware, in the eyes of the vast majority of the world population we are loons, and this hobby is meaningless and a silly waste of money.

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