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What You Spend On Hi-Fi Equipment Is Your Business

Stop trying to justify to people what you spend on Hi-Fi. Music is our oxygen and important for mental heath.

Headphone Row at Focal Powered by Naim in Austin, TX

We’ve all been there. That awkward moment when we proudly demonstrate our latest Hi-Fi purchase to our friends and they just look at us with some degree of incredulity and finally ask “When exactly did you stop taking your medication?”

That look has nothing to do with price; it can range from a new $200 headphone to a $50,000 high-end audio rig. The phenomenon is not limited to people outside of our little corner of the universe.

I recently received that same look from eCoustics EIC, Ian White, during a recent staff meeting when I started discussing a new $2,800 pair of IEMs.

“That’s just crazy to spend that kind of money on universal IEMs,” he replied.

Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier
Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier

This is the same person with a stack of Cambridge Audio Edge Series Electronics powering a pair of Magnepan Loudspeakers at the moment and someone who has faced similar comments from friends, family, and other members of the team who are confused by that kind of expenditure.

All of this got me thinking about how we foolishly explain ourselves to those who wouldn’t be inclined to spend that kind of money on audio gear for themselves.

We’re talking about the enjoyment of art; music and cinema appeal to almost every segment of humanity — yet we feel this weird sense of guilt or defensiveness when the conversation turns to money.

The natural instinct is to respond with how much other hobbies also cost; golfers spend an inordinate amount of money on course fees, equipment, lessons, travel to golf courses around the world, and therapists to fix physical injuries from playing.

Do you belong to a Skeet and Trap Club? A high-end shotgun, ammunition, and other equipment can cost thousands of dollars. Just to blow clay targets out of the sky.

But I don’t think that tells the right story or at least not all of it.

For most audio enthusiasts, we can’t remember a period in our lives when music wasn’t an integral part of our existence. If you can — that was most likely a bleak period that most don’t want to revisit.

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But unlike golf, fishing, shooting, or any other hobbies that we we enjoy on the weekends to recharge our mental and physical batteries after a grueling work week — music is a constant companion.

We listen at home, during our commute, at work, and then repeat the cycle in the opposite order. Many even fall asleep to some form of music and wake-up to another.

EIC Ian White has written many times about how listening to his Sansui FM Tuner overnight from the age of twelve heavily influenced his love of classical and jazz music. He would lay awake in bed and listen until he finally drifted off.

I think that is the big dividing line between audio enthusiasts and those who feel we’ve lost our minds.

Music to a lot of people is background noise. For audiophiles, music is life. At least it should be.

How do we explain to non-audiophiles why we’re willing to spend so much on products that they feel are exorbitantly priced?

I’ve suggested to some that they should try depriving themselves of things that are essential to their existence. Whilst nobody is arguing that music is as important as eating and drinking — for many people music is essential for their mental health.

Headphones at Focal Powered by Naim in Miami, FL
Headphones at Focal Powered by Naim in Miami, FL

Being able to use headphones or earphones to block out constant outside noise helps keep me from feeling frazzled before I even get to the office some days.   Other times, it’s a way to escape for an hour at lunch with a favorite LP or playlist.

As eCoustics’ Headphone Editor, I spend most of my time listening to headphones, but even I will concede that there are moments when headphones or earphones can’t compete with the dynamic capabilities and gestalt of loudspeakers.

This has nothing to do with sound quality; although I still contend that a headphone like the Audeze LCD-5 ($4500) and an RME ADI-2 DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($1039) can compete rather favorably with some stereo systems above $30,000.

How I can I possibly say that? Convenience.

Having speakers in my office makes a huge difference to my work day and how my co-workers perceive me. When I’m relegated to headphones, that I have to take on/off not to miss conversations, I tend to wear them only when I know I have an extended period without interruption. This means that when something goes wrong and I’m likely to have constant traffic in and out of my office — I cannot listen.   

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KEF LSX II Wireless Speakers in Mineral White on Desk
KEF LSX II Wireless Speakers (Mineral White) on Desk

Having a small set of KEF powered speakers on my desk allows me to leave music on behind those conversations and immediately fall back into the zone when the conversation ends. This breaks the cycle of stress. At times, a single song will change my mood entirely. I am transported to another place and time far away from the stress of the day.

On the surface it doesn’t seem like a big change, but those opportunities to break away from stress change how we interact with others and how we view the world around us.

There are few things that we can enjoy on a daily basis that can compete with that experience and how it impacts our lives.

Rather than apologize for spending whatever you can.

Enjoy it.

Related reading: Does the Audiophile Community Have a Problem?

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Ratan

    March 1, 2023 at 9:19 am

    Absolutely agreed, and excellent article!

    After years of using mismatched gear, due to both financial constraints and previous jobs (2012 – 2021), I never completed my high-end desktop system plans until very recently, starring end of 2022.

    In that time my tastes, usage case scenarios, and lifestyle changed.
    After experiencing how useful a TWS IEM can be over carrying a DAP and a set of cans, my old Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 1’s helped me build something better, whilst considering my then long experiences with AKG K 712 Pro, Audeze EL8 Ti, and Focal Elear cans.

    So, late 2022, after saving a considerable amount, invested into two major pieces of audio equipment.
    In Dec ’22, bought the T+A Solitaire T headphones (in white/silver), for both wireless commute and office use, with extreme fidelity for a set of wireless cans.
    In Feb ’23, bought the FiiO M17 digital audio player (desktop audio player in reality!). This is my ultimate source and headphone amp, which I can build around, and is to me a more affordable entry into end-game territory.

    As the T+A Solitaire T cans are internally wired balanced, I can use the included 2.5mm TRRS to 4.4mm TRRS cable with the FiiO M17, and with the M17 in DC only mode (3W at 32 ohms), I can unleash the wonders of the Solitaire T!
    However, I do not lose out on the sonic voicing of the Solitaire T in wireless mode when I go to work or I am in the office; T+A did amazing technological marvels to match sonics in any mode the headphones are operating in. There are significant differences, but the overall voicing remains, even in ANC mode.
    If I need a change, I still have my Meze 99 Classics that have a balanced 2.5mm TRRS cable, for a change of music pace and enjoyment.

    Cost? Very expensive, and not including a 1Tb Micro SD XC card and recently purchased (and just dispatched) Shargeek Storm2 battery for use as power source upgrade for the M17!
    However, the experience and flexibility is absolutely worth it!

    If I don’t need to upgrade again for a while I can be happy!

  2. Step

    March 1, 2023 at 7:04 pm

    Being in my sixties, things change. The excitement over audio and music started in the seventies in mass. Every town had its audio store, and cities had numerous ones. We would go in some days, bring our albums, and dream about someday owning some JBL speakers and a Marantz receiver. The salespeople, in their twenties and thirties, would sometime just let us listen if the story wasn’t busy (with customers that could afford it). The artist (not computer-generated music) and real artists were numerous. Great albums dropped almost every week or month at the latest. Musicians were not autotuned, you had to hit the note with your own voice or guitar. You couldn’t wait to get yours. You would borrow (and yes, make a cassette copy) or go to someone’s place to listen. It was peaceful; we weren’t looking at a phone all day, shooting up things in video screens for a body count. Glad I got 60-plus years in the rearview mirror; youth today are missing a significant part of life. I have about 4-5 high-end systems; some are boxed up in the basement, and my kids are not interested in them. Times do change, and not always for the better.

  3. Asa

    March 2, 2023 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks for writing and expressing this!

    Over the last years, I’ve been upgrading sound systems in almost every room in our home. It brings joy and satisfaction every time I turn each system on and listen (or watch/listen). They aren’t the most expensive nor best-in-class, but are all audio/videophile-grade pieces that have elevated and improved the overall experience. My eyes/ears never tire of it. People sometimes wonder, but then you let them have a peek inside and then the light-bulb goes on, even if just for a moment.

    Thanks for providing reviews and experience on some of the best, bang for your buck, audio/video equipment in the world (and some not so ‘value’ oriented). Good to know what’s out there and and some of the back-story of what the intention is for it coming to life.

  4. Ernie M

    March 5, 2023 at 4:57 am

    I have to agree to disagree. Many just could never afford those high electronics prices. I have a $300 pair of speakers connected through a $400 Amp with DAC to a Windows 10 Pro desktop PC via Micro USB. The sound is full, dynamic and detailed, even at low levels. I am a realist. You don’t need to spend, nor should you, insane amounts of money to get food sound. And not everyone gets their money honestly and ethically either. Let’s be real.

    • Ian White

      March 5, 2023 at 12:37 pm

      Ernie,

      A lot of people can’t afford a lot of things. Does that mean that others shouldn’t own them? Nobody forces anyone to hand over their money when it comes to buying things. Having listened to some of the most expensive audio components in the world over the past 24 years doesn’t make me envious of anyone who might own them. I enjoy audio at a much more affordable level but that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t enjoy it at their level.

      Should we all drive a Prius? Because all cars are the same right? They take you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and that should be enough by your logic.

      Your last sentence applies to whom? Are you talking about politicians, celebrities, athletes (who do earn their money), arms merchants?

      The market ultimately decides which brands do well or die. If nobody buys really expensive hi-fi…then those specific brands go out of business. It’s the same with any product.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • Paul B

        March 6, 2023 at 3:48 am

        False equivalence is always a handy go-to for capitalism’s propagating minions.

        When the ratio between price and value switches between objective and subjective, depending on whether you’re buying or selling, the aim of articles like this one – along with the many ensuing discussions on internet hifi forums – tends to be getting those with more money than sense to buy into lucrative nonsense.

        • Ian White

          March 6, 2023 at 10:35 am

          Paul,

          “capitalism’s propagating minions.”

          I know. We should burn the rich at the stake and only let people own three pairs of pants.

          I’ll stick with Capitalism.

  5. Catherine Lugg

    March 5, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    I have always been wild for music–see 3 degrees (BM in music ed, MM in flute performance, MME). That said, making a living at it wasn’t possible. So, I became a research nerd and was a prof for 26 years. During much of that time it really was all about getting published–constantly and consistently. It’s only when I got close to retirement I returned to SERIOUS listening.

    That said, besides the technological changes over the last 40 years, the bad back, hearing loss, etc. really do shape what I buy. Nothing can be over 25 pounds, and DSP is my salvation when it comes to BRIGHT treble (which doesn’t play well with tinnitus). I do a lot of window shopping, but I get the JOY of playing with new gear. My spouse and I have an agreement–I can buy, but I have to think ahead as to WHO will get it if and when I lose interest. That one new rule has helped enormously. BTW: All of my brothers and I were and are serious music geeks. And it’s been the consistent joy of my life. That share it with friends and family is just the best.

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