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Audiophiles’ Lack of Respect Hurting Audio Industry

The belligerent side of audiophiles is hurting audio adoption among consumers. It's time audiophiles abandon their misguided ways and help the audio category grow.


You don’t have to be an audio expert to enjoy the benefits of a loudspeaker, such as this Wilson Audio Alexandria.

Dealers, manufacturers and everyone in the consumer audio market have generally appreciated the passion of audiophiles. But there is another side to this unabashed enthusiasm: the elitist attitude and lack of respect sometimes directed towards product designers and recording engineers.

This is hindering the growth of the audio market, and it couldn’t come at a worse time as consumer audio continues to transition to a world of convenience with downloads, portable devices and streaming services.

Vinyl is making a huge comeback, but its sales are minor compared to downloads, and the idea of sitting down and taking the time to spin records is too consuming for most people who are busy with kids, work and everything else life throws at them.

Audiophiles, with their passion, could act as spokespeople for the category. But instead of discussing the enjoyment that can be derived from listening to great music on quality components, they often spout off about the minutia of system tweaks and the quality of recordings.

The criticism of product designers is subtle, but comments like this on the quality of architectural speakers sums up their attitude: “In wall speakers are for those people who don't listen to MUSIC.”

The barbs towards musicians and recording engineers are much more pointed. Here’s a response to a Facebook post that talked about the quality of a particular recording: “You couldn't be more right ... Many of today's engineers are technogeeks who wouldn't know a trumpet from a clarinet (visually or auditorially).”

Think of it this way: I’m a huge Patriots fan, but how embarrassing would it be for me to sit in on a film session with Bill Belichick and criticize the play calling from Super Bowl XLVI when I couldn’t identify how a certain play was supposed to be executed?

I’m nothing more than a fan of the Patriots, and audiophiles have to realize the same thing. Do they actually think they know more than these professionals who have invested a lifetime of training into their respective fields? Do they think musicians say to themselves, “let’s make a sucky recording?”

How would audiophiles respond if a mixing engineer sat them in front of a mixing console and asked them to adjust the equalization of a guitar on a specific track so it cuts through the mix better?

My friend Chris Maggio, a classically trained guitar player, has been practicing diligently on a song called Koyanbaba by Carlo Domeniconi for a project we're working on. He says there are a couple things that make the song tough to perform.

“It is a bit on the difficult end of the classical guitar spectrum mainly because of the tuning: C#G#C#G#C#E low to high [this is sometimes called a Middle Eastern tuning],” he explains. “The piece is also difficult because of the alternating bass line in the third movement and the sheer speed of the fourth movement. A great recording of it is on the CD ‘John Williams The Guitarist’ Sony Classical 1998.”

With the amount of work he’s putting in on the song and the effort that will be taken to record it, could anyone think he or our recording engineer, Mike Blewitt, will do anything other than their best to make it the highest quality rendition of the song?

I admire the passion of audiophiles, but they have forgotten about the visceral response most people get while listening to music. The masses listen to music while they work, drive and do household chores. Their end goal is entertainment, so it’s not important how they listen or why they listen.

Maybe it’s time for audiophiles to rediscover the enjoyment of music. It will help them gain respect for product designers, recording engineers and musicians. And it will help grow the channel.

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Article Topics

Blogs · Audio · All topics

About the Author

Robert Archer, Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass.

56 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Maxim  on  03/13  at  10:24 AM

Im taking some work time off to say what I wanted to write for a long time.

I work in the audio/video/home automation domain and I studied electronics for 2 years and also studied 2 years of sound engineering. I was also a dj and started mixing with vinyl like the good ol’ ways.

One of my teachers in sound engineering once said to the class: the reason why vinyl sounded better then cds for types of music like old jazz and classic rocks and stuffs recorded before the 80’s is that BEFORE THERE WAS NO POWERFUL SOUND COMPRESSION AND SQUASHING MASTERING that gives you clearer music and also more “in your face” type of sound like they do now…Vinyl sound by default gives you more bass and gives you predefined equalized sound because of the vinyl material (also cuts down on high frequencies). SO WHEN YOU COMPARE A 60’S ALBUM ON VINYL AND ON CD, OFF COURSE THE VINYL WILL SOUND BETTER BUT ONLY BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF COMPRESSION THAT WAS DONE BACK IN THE DAYS.

But if you put a 2012 recording that is met to be listened on cds and you put it on vinyl, trust me you will not appreciate it that much.

the true sound quality would be a recent recording being put on blue-ray true hd sound quality so you have no loss of information from the sound recording studio to your home.

If you are not happy just put an equilizer to your sound system and adjust it to match the vinyl sound.

Its like comparing a LADA to a FERRARI saying “oh but it was my first car and I loved it so much”

All that just to say that your rolling stone albums sounds flat on cds just because the information on it is digital so it dosent give you that default “equilized sound” from the vinyls.

Posted by Frank Doris  on  03/13  at  10:31 AM

I got into high-end audio because it made my favorite music sound better. In fact, I was captivated when I first heard a high-end system and it literally changed my life. That’s the feeling and the message we (I’m an audiophile) should be spreading—that a good system can connect listeners to the (recorded) music they love in a way that is extremely powerful and emotionally moving.

Posted by nbakid2000  on  03/13  at  11:33 AM

“How would audiophiles respond if a mixing engineer sat them in front of a mixing console and asked them to adjust the equalization of a guitar on a specific track so it cuts through the mix better?”

So now no one is allowed to criticize something unless they themselves know how to perform said action?

No one can say, “This car drives poorly” or “This house wasn’t built right” because they don’t know how to build a car or build a house?

I don’t have to know how to mix an album to know when a mix sounds muddy or bad.  How “difficult” it is to perform has nothing to do with a mixing or mastering engineers decision on how to present it.

Nothing is open for criticism any more according to this article. I call BS.

Posted by Robert Archer  on  03/13  at  11:50 AM

Hi nbakid2000, I’m not saying you need to be a coach on the Patriots staff or an employees of Gateway Studios to criticize a football game or recording, but if you’re listening to music in a room that’s not conducive to music playback is it the recording engineers’ fault it sounds muddy? Why does the audiophile blame the recording engineer and how does this misguided blame help someone that is considering buying that album?

That criticism could be directed towards something like “how much fun it is to listen to that record instead of how muddy the record sounds.”

Posted by Christian Wenger  on  03/13  at  12:21 PM

Some audiophiles might lack of respect but it is their thing to listen to music in the most authentic way. The people who are disrespectful to the “common music listener” are not audiophiles but a significant part of the industry: They promote digitally compressed music formats and sell bad sounding equipment, spreading false promises with their hideous marketing campaigns. If the “industry” would just provide good equipment in all price ranges, they wouldn’t hurt themselves so much. The article is missing the point.

Posted by Dr. AIX  on  03/13  at  12:39 PM

Robert, this is tough topic to discuss. As you know, I’m an audio engineer/producer producing audiophile recordings for my label, AIX Records. I just returned from Florida where I gave the keynote address to a mixed crowd of vinyl/analog/two channel devotees and digital advocates. Getting a recording to sound “perfect” is dependent on a lot of different factors but the most important thing to recognize is that there is no definition for perfect audio. What works for me is a completely natural, purist tracks in HD presented in an aggressive surround mix. For others it’s a spinning piece of vinyl with the “warmth and euphonious” sound that has been so familiar for so many years.

In the world of the major labels and mainstream distribution, the demands of the labels dictate the level of fidelity that is allowed on a particular release. I spent 16 years as a mastering engineer and know first hand that the A&R folks at the labels will reject a master unless it has been subjected to lots of dynamics compression and “pop” sensibility EQ. I did a Bad Company project 5 times until there was no fidelity left! Audio engineers are paid by the labels so it is completely normal for them to crush the life out of the tracks they process…otherwise they won’t get additional work. I don’t master my records at all.

At AXPONA we had a 2500 sq ft room with top of the line equipment from Oppo, JVC, Bryston, B&W, DH Labs and releases from my label. The sound was absolutely amazing…pure music without the hype. We even delivered HD video…some in 3D! Even the hard core vinyl guys next door who had initially said that “digital is inherently harsh and emotionally detached as compared with analog” came to me after visiting the room a few times and admitted that I had, “won them over”. He still loves his vinyl but he acknowledged that the HD-Audio surround mixes that I played were none of the things he associated with digital. When it’s done right digital actually exceeds the fidelity of vinyl/analog tape.

There are commercial limitations on engineers. And there are lots of audiophiles who are settled in their ways and won’t even come into a room like mine because I have 5 speakers set up. They believe that buying a K2 mastered CD for $40 each will magically elevate a familiar album to “high definition” fidelity or that a $3000 power cord will make a dramatic difference in the performance of their system. Snake oil is rampant in audiophile circles.

At the end of the day, “perfect music” reproduction is attainable in a variety of formats…if that reproduction does what music is supposed to do for a particular individual. It is true, however, that some formats deliver more accurate reproduction of a performance…but that doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of audiophiles. I hope that as the general public gets to know better fidelity the tide will turn. It seems things are moving in the right direction…although slowly.

Posted by Michael Trei  on  03/13  at  12:47 PM

I believe a lot of the criticism is due to a genuine frustration with the state of audio these days, and the feeling that quality standards continue to erode at an alarming rate.

Whether you believe that CD was an advance over LP or not, it cannot be argued that MP3 and AAC are anything other than a downgrade over what was being offered decades earlier. Then add in the loudness wars and the obliteration of dynamic range in music, and it becomes easy to see why audiophiles are frustrated. Quality is moving backwards, instead of forwards, and there is no good reason why that should be the case.

If you don’t believe me, compare the top selling albums of 1980, with those of today. In 1980 they were Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Eagles’ The Long Run, and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. All dynamic lively albums which sound great on any system. More recently it’s been Born This Way by Lady Gaga and Recovery by Eminen, albums that are so squashed dynamically that nobody would ever use them to show off an audio system.

The suggestion that an audiophiles shouldn’t criticize audio engineering if they couldn’t sit down and twiddle the knobs themselves is ridiculous. The truth is, audio engineering competence really has been slipping over the decades as record labels trim their recording budgets, and cheap Chinese recording gear tempts artists with zero training to “engineer” their albums themselves. This is why so many big time recording studios have shut their doors, and those that remain can barely charge enough to keep the lights on. Becoming a trained recording engineer is not a recommended career path these days.

The complaint about architectural speakers is born out of frustration too, where audiophiles remember a time where loudspeakers weren’t shut out of the house as if they looked like a giant pile of stinking dog poo. The obsession with making the audio gear totally disappears does nothing for audio quality.

Sure audiophiles could do more to be upbeat about their hobby, but I think many feel that their frustrations are being ignored in a race to the bottom for audio quality.

Posted by nbakid2000  on  03/13  at  12:47 PM

“That criticism could be directed towards something like “how much fun it is to listen to that record instead of how muddy the record sounds.”

The point is that if something is poorly presented, it makes the experience much less fun to watch. This is what brickwalling and muddy mixes do.  There’s a few albums I would love but the vocals are mixed too low. That destroys a LOT (not all, but a LOT) of enjoyment for me on listening.

Same with brickwalling music - I have one album in particular that I can’t even listen to except in the car because it sounds so bad on a regular stereo (but it sounds great on earbuds/cheap headphones). I can’t experience “fun” because it’s presented in a very poor way.

Posted by nbakid2000  on  03/13  at  12:55 PM

So, case in point, it’s not “their” fault the mix sounds bad, it’s the listener’s.

It’s up to the listener to spec out their room to make it sound good. I have to spend my money to make sure their recording sounds good.

Here’s where that logic falls apart: I have multiple albums where the mixing is clear, spacious and the mastering is not brickwalled.

If I play another recording in that same room that sounds bad, is it STILL my fault? Do I STILL need to mod my room for THAT particular recording? Is it my fault that my room doesn’t accept the presentation that the mixer/mastering engineer intended, even though multiple other albums sound amazing in the same room?

Again, the logic behind this article is not sound.  All audiophiles ask for is good mixing and the elimination of brickwalling/severe limiting of their recordings (ie, the end of the loudness war).

Posted by Robert Archer  on  03/13  at  01:15 PM

Hi Mark, I agree with most of you and Michael’s points, but at the end of the day I think audiophiles are losing sight on the fact that a good song is a good song whether it’s streaming at 128kps or at some high level audiophile bit rate.

The public doesn’t understand the audiophile’s criticisms because they enjoy the music regardless of the format.  The music industry is moving away from hyper compression even if it is a slower rate than what audiophiles would like.

My point with the blog is that instead of the constant criticisms, audiophiles could help to educate consumers on the benefits of better audio. If more consumers are aware of the problems that affect the music industry then the more likely the music industry is to correct them. They cannot lose site however of the fact that good music is good music.

nbakid2000 a good listening environment will enhance the experience of any recording. But to your great point, the loudness wars are hurting the quality of music recordings. With that said it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the music.

Michael, just one thing. I don’t think the skill level of those making music has fallen in any way. Did you know that over 30 Berklee grads were nominated for a Grammy and nine of them won. Do you think you could pass the requirements to get into the Berklee School of Music, never mind get the degree in music production? That’s just an example of the skill level that’s coming into the music industry. 

It is fair to say that with computer audio programs and interface devices there’s a greater variance in quality production with more home recordings hitting the Internet, but you should kind of know that before you purchase that music anyway.

Posted by nbakid2000  on  03/13  at  01:28 PM

“nbakid2000 a good listening environment will enhance the experience of any recording. But to your great point, the loudness wars are hurting the quality of music recordings. With that said it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the music.”

When everything is mastered at one level (brickwalling/severe limiting) on audiophile equipment it sounds bad. That is a fact. It has to do with the lack of dynamic range and the way we naturally perceive/hear sound.

If everything is one level, then it becomes a drone, a background noise. That’s not how sounds in the natural world work.


That said, I have a room where multiple recordings sound amazing, so it’s NOT my room set up, it’s the mixing/mastering choices that the engineers have chosen that make a particular recording sound bad.

I have never judged the quality of music on mastering choices - I have, however, based the enjoyment of said music on the way it is presented (because I can’t ignore the “drone”).  I have multiple multiple bad sounding mastererings that I enjoy listening to because I appreciate the music.  But my enjoyment of said material would be greatly enhanced if they were presented properly - and it isn’t my equipment or room that’s the problem.

Posted by Michael Trei  on  03/13  at  01:47 PM

“The loudness wars are hurting the quality of music recordings. With that said it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the music. “

That’s a bit like saying “chemical processing has spoiled the flavor of this food, but that shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the meal.”

“I don’t think the skill level of those making music has fallen in any way.”

I disagree. Unless you’re already an established artist, bands today will often track their recordings in a project studio with no knowledgeable help, then go to a “real” studio for mixing. But you can’t fix it in the mix if the basic tracks are incompetently engineered. It takes training to know how to mic a drum kit.

“Do you think you could pass the requirements to…get the degree in music production?”

I have a degree in music production from a four year University, and both built and was an engineer at several professional recording studios in the 1980s.

Posted by Robert Archer  on  03/13  at  02:01 PM

Michael a good song is a good song regardless.

If you have a degree in music production you know how hard it is to get into a school like Berklee and how hard it is to get a degree from that school. Are you saying those people don’t know what they are doing or they would rather make bad recordings?

Mark has it right, the labels are the biggest culprits in the squashing of music to make it iPod or radio friendly, but things are slowly moving away from that.

Bands also make make demos on computers and iPhones as a matter of fact as a way of documenting their ideas. These ideas often get reworked in the studio. Studio time is expensive however and some lesser known bands are simply doing the best they can, but if you can’t recognize their songwriting and performance efforts than you are missing the boat on why music is fun for many people.

Posted by roebeet  on  03/13  at  02:09 PM

I would also consider myself an audio enthusiast (as you do), not an audiophile.  And I don’t know the industry.  But I do know my own ears and the last 15+ years of audio engineering in pop/rock leave a lot to be desired.

All a consumer needs is a halfway decent set of headphones and actually listen in a semi-quiet room, and they will hear what I’m talkling about.  Modern pop/rock recordings are generally compressed to the point of fatigue.  But we shouldn’t complain about that?  I’m sorry but I call BS as well.

Using your football comparison, it’s like Belichick started bending the rules or breaking them to win games, and the casual fan doesn’t notice because they’re only half-watching the game anyway.  But Belichick knows and isn’t happy about what he’s doing, and neither are the hard-core fans who actually are watching closely.  But Belichick’s superiors tell him “just do it—it wins games”. Of course the difference here is that, in football, there are rules and you usually get penalized if you break them.  But in the audio industry, the referees don’t seem to exist.

You believe that the loudness wars do not detract from musical enjoyment.  I could not disagree with you more.  Good songs can shine through inferior equipment and used to on our old AM radios and cheap record players with one speaker.  But those same LP’s, and early CD’s were not just for the casual listener, they were also for the critical listener to enjoy as well.  But in the last 15 years or so the critical listener has been ignored. 

But we shouldn’t complain about it.  Sorry, but I don’t think so.

Posted by Michael Trei  on  03/13  at  02:33 PM

“Are you saying those people don’t know what they are doing or they would rather make bad recordings?”

Almost any engineer you ask will pay lip service to their hatred of the loudness wars, yet nothing ever seems to change.

“The labels are the biggest culprits in the squashing of music to make it iPod or radio friendly, but things are slowly moving away from that.”

Do you have any evidence of that? From my perspective, things have only gotten worse. We have gone from tracks with just 3db dynamic range, to actual digital clipping becoming the accepted norm in some genres. The really stupid thing is that radio stations already compress the snot out of their audio signals, so there’s nothing to be gained by making the recording hyper-compressed to start with. Young music fans are becoming conditioned to accepting hyper-compression as the way things should sound, which is really sad.

Cheap recording gear is great for making demos and working on ideas. When I was in a punk band in the 1970s, we would have killed to have access to some of the technology you can get now for peanuts. The problem is when those home recordings end up becoming the basis for the finished product.

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