Audiophile hype is necessary.

treesinlisbonIf you are a stressed commuter, the tree in the photo will make you curse specially in rainy days. Not only it hides the time of arrival panel but also the incoming bus.
Now let’s say there’s an car accident and the same tree saves the lives of the commuters, will they still hate the placement of the tree after such event? Perspective is a curious thing and it can be applied to everything.

The audiophile hobby these days is flooded by hype products but some of them can actually bring more music enthusiasts to the hobby, and that is a great thing at least for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate hype specially when it brings bullshit to the table (Yes, Sony! I’m looking at your SD audiophile cards), but hype also makes big players in the Hi-Fi industry move their asses and actually make good use of their engineering teams. Sadly it also makes some products more expensive, for instance you now pay more for entry price turntables because of the vinyl hype.

I wrote about hype before the Pono player was released. Pono the High-Resolution player gain massive traction from artists that really noticed the difference of High-Rez audio inside a car. On the good side because of it, companies from all around the world jumped on the bandwagon and now everybody can purchase better audio players.

The Beats headphone hype also gave a breath of fresh air to the on-the-go music market, companies like Sony, Sennheiser, AKG and other big players had to up their design, quality and advertising to face the competition of star athletes turned audiophiles. Yes, because everyone knows soccer players know how good headphones should sound.
Hype, gonna love it! Jokes aside, finally headphones started to be viewed as an amazing way to hear music even by high-end magazines.

The hype behind the portable digital to analogue converters (DACs) and headphone amplifiers also made companies like Creative Labs release solid gear for a decent price.
As the owner of the Creative Labs Sound blaster E1 and soon the E5 I can only be grateful of the hype behind this kind of gear. When the big players come to the market everyone wins! Niche audiophile companies might suffer but the consumer wins.

Hype for all that matters is a necessary evil if the hobby wants new blood in the ranks.

Audiophile power conditioners.

voltsGiving 5oo€ for a audiophile power conditioner sounds crazy but depending on the tech inside it might actually help prolong the lifetime of your Hi-Fi gear. Yes, I actually wrote that and I’m not joking.
Archimago’s blog has a great objective test and review about a power conditioner from a very reputable brand called Belkin.
Belkin unlike some audiophile brands actually has some pretty amazing engineering behind their surge protectors and power conditioners.

Sadly its not always the case with audiophile brands, often selling their so called filters and cheap surge protectors inside glamorized power strips.
Anyone with a little knowledge about electricity will notice the ripoff on the components and so called tech. I had the sad vision of a so called power conditioner selling for 5oo€ that had a very minimalist construction, so minimal that my Lidl brand surge protector power strip might have more engineering inside.

Audiophiles will buy that kind of gear and expect better sound because the power line is being filtered, but the gear in question is so basic any DIY enthusiast can actually build something similar from way less money and do a better job at filtering and surge protection. I won’t point fingers at bad brands because I don’t want any legal problems but I advise anyone who really needs a solid power conditioner to search for reputable brands like Belkin or APC.

I also advise anyone who doesn’t have a surge protector to buy one for their sensitive gear, I might actually save the day, specially during thunderstorms.

Are High-End audio buyers silly?

First of all what is high-end audio?
Wikipedia that evil encyclopedia made by crowd sourcing has this on the subject: 

High-end audio is a class of consumer home audio equipment marketed to audiophiles on the basis of high price or quality, and esoteric or novel sound reproduction technologies. The term can refer simply to the price, to the build quality of the components, or to the subjective or objective quality of sound reproduction.

Stereotypes and points of view.

There was a time that I had to laugh at amplifiers with the price of a car or setups with the price of a new house, but these days I understand a little better some high-end buyers. Not all of them buy expensive gear because they can, some actually buy it because they really love music. 

The typical stereotype of high-end buyers are rich people with too much money in their hands who want expensive toys, like soccer players or other so called stars. I’ll be sincere I still think most of the gear sold by high-end brands are for those types of “I’m the best so I want the best” kind of people but some who buy high-end worked very hard for their dream gear and those few should not be branded silly even if sometimes they fall under the pseudo-science crap and voodoo marketing BS. (Any opinion written by me without the BS word is not mine 😀 )

I’ll give you a nice example of people who buy high-end not because they enjoy expensive stuff but because they really enjoy the quality.
I’m talking about Moleskin buyers, we pay 15€ or more for a high-end notebook, most people will be happy with a cheap clone so why do people enjoy Moleskin’s so much?
Hype some say! I’m not a hype kind of guy and do try to be objective about the stuff I buy.
I would say build quality, I have a moleskin that sustained so much abuse you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. Any other clone would be in the trash by now.
I don’t feel silly for buying moleskin’s for myself and as gifts for friends and family because I know they are still using them.

Many audiophiles fall in to this category, they know they have amazing gear and it will last almost a lifetime if they don’t succumb to the upgrade virus.  
Most expensive gear will take lots of abuse before going off spec.

I’m writing this not because I’ll buy high-end gear anytime soon but because I believe not all audiophiles who buy high-end gear are arrogant bastards.
People with other hobbies should not make fun of audiophiles, because car and motorcycle fanatics also spend a bucket load of money with new parts and restoring their gear.

Maybe I’m getting older but I believe people should follow their dreams, unless they want digital high-end cables! Yes, I’m evil!  😀          

Ultra-expensive gear and normal wage.

I live in Portugal, a country in the economic tail of Europe, my monthly pay is about 750€ after all discounts, it’s not bad if you think about the minimum wage they pay here.
That brings me to the fact that most consumer audio websites and magazines make me uncomfortable with my bank account.
Maybe it’s because they only review the most expensive gear around or maybe it’s the casual mentioning of a price tag that makes me wonder if it’s common sense buying two 250K amplifier mono blocks with the final price of half a million dollars.
Why do most consumer audio magazines have a fetish about ultra-expensive stuff?

Bias, especially if the medium advertises the reviewed gear or brand, it’s a way of having good relations with the brand that pays the monthly bills or lends gear for the reference system of the reviewer.

The upgrade syndrome, because most audiophiles always search for the best sound and reviewing ultra-expensive stuff is like showing food to a hungry man.
Most of them will never be happy with their gear and will always search for a better one.
This goes full circle and feeds of itself, editors need to release what their audience wants or the competition will do it first.

 

So how can one solve the uncomfortable feeling of being a normal person with a normal wage in a world of ultra-expensive gear?

Don’t buy magazines that only review expensive stuff, show the finger to the editor and say “I want affordable audio gear reviewed more often or I’ll cancel my subscription”.

Be a critic of ultra-expensive gear, always with good humor and respect for the reviewer and medium, if they are not amused, you might have a case of serious bias virus. Bias virus is a dangerous thing, please run against the wind to avoid the smell of bullshit.

Start a blog or website, you have the right to give an opinion about your hobby but beware of trolls and cable discussions. Try to be professional and don’t bash specific brands because some can be a bit too aggressive with lawsuits.

Read articles and reviews made for audio professionals, usually they review affordable gear and have less bias because pros smell bullshit miles away. You won’t see audiophile or even some consumer brands on these mediums, but it’s a great way to learn about audio tech without the bullshit.

Understand what you need in a Hi-Fi system and your available budget for it, think real based on your wage, and don’t fuck your bank account because you want those 100K loudspeakers.
Your audiophile friend might have the money to buy ultra-expensive stuff, but you should not compare his budget with yours because you’ll never enjoy your system that way.

Always enjoy good music, if you got the chance hear as many systems as you possible can with your own favorite songs, buy the music you enjoy the most and hear it with friends that also enjoy music.

The lust for upgrading tech gadgets.

People love new stuff, from smartphones and tech gadgets to furniture and clothes. Most people don’t like keeping the same old stuff around, but why are we so in need to upgrade tech gadgets?

We live in a consumer oriented lifestyle, there is a constant need to consume or economic shit happens.
Don’t believe it? You should, because its real and people starve from it. You can search for International Monetary Fund related stuff on the internet. Enjoy the sad view on European economics gone wrong.

Some say that we buy stuff made to fail by design or look unfashionable after some time, it’s called planned obsolescence and there is in fact proof of some companies doing it. Look around and you can see daily examples of it, especially on the smartphone and tech gadgets market with a short life cycle. Every time you are forced to upgrade this way, you are spending resources and polluting the environment for the sake of companies making easy money.

In a perfect world, stuff would last a lifetime, but we don’t live in a perfect world and stuff will fail sooner or later because some components especially electronic ones will fail after some use even if well designed. Good stuff should last some years before the need to a upgrade.
Upgrades are a necessary evil but with moderation, if you got something that works and does the job why the hell will you buy the next model after a year or even less?

Here is some stuff that can make us upgrade:

Only the best and faster: Some people buy for the sake of faster and faster CPUs and GPUs , better operating systems and better software in general. Most of this stuff is fabricated marketing and normal people don’t actually need a smartphone with a super 10 core CPU.

Style: People love novel stuff, if it’s pretty many of us have the desire to buy it, designer’s toy with that feeling, it works believe me. Every time I look and a new thin metal tablet I feel the desire to buy the new pretty one.

Normal use failure: Ok, stuff will fail after lots of use, it should last a bit before it happens but there´s no way to change the fact that a battery will die after some cycles and you will need to replace it or that a power source will have bad capacitors after some time.

Hype and aggressive marketing: People talk and write about it like crazy and you crave for it because everybody says it’s the next big thing. Hype is dangerous for tech because it’s a fabricated thing, most of hyped stuff will be useless after sometime. Note that I don’t join hype with style because not always what’s hype has style.

Planned failure
: This thing sucks and many companies use it to sell more units, “what if we use a slow fan to dissipate that power source? It will die in two years of component failure and we sell another one.” Planned failure is a dangerous thing; now imagine the same power source brakes in to flames and your room burns to the ground, shits happens all the time because of this kind of failures.

Status:
Some people want to have status, showing that they have the best money can buy. A curious thing is that most people with status don’t actually think about upgrades, I know some rich people that have old stuff laying around, maybe that’s why they are rich!

So there is more to upgrades that it might show, some people actually want to have the best of the best even if they know they don’t actually need it, some are convinced to buy a new product by aggressive sellers and some just have money to spend.
I know this because I had the pleasure to see this kind of strategies in action and had the bad luck to fall prey for some of those forced nasty upgrades.
I’m not perfect, I also have old stuff laying around my house, from TVs to smartphones, but these days I try to resist upgrading my stuff for the sake of saving some money.