Looking back I can remember myself actively listening to music for more than three decades now. It all began with my very first system which I got as a gift in my early teenage years. As my father has always been strongly convinced by the idea that you buy twice whenever you buy cheap I got a Sony and Bose system which you would consider way above standard for a guy at my age back then (and the size and shape of the room I was living in). That was truly the starting point of it all even though I was (of course) far away from anything that could be described as being an audiophile or pursuing an audiophile lifestyle.
actually happened was that I had a setup that enabled me to loose myself in
I didn’t know much about different amplification classes, how loudspeakers really work and which different technologies are available and what each of their pros and cons are. The same is true for anything centered around the topics of AD and DA conversion. Even more I didn’t know about (clean) power and the impact of different connectors and how it all comes together in an audio chain and the room (acoustics) it is used in. All I did back then was listening to CDs and tapes(!) and enjoying the wonderful world of music that opened up to me.
It’s all about the music
A lot has
changed since then. My musical taste, knowledge, possibilities, gear and the
way I hear and assess music has certainly progressed over time but in the end nothing
has changed when it comes to the overall idea of why I am so much into music.
It’s all about the experience, the feeling, the state you’re in when you truly
soak up a piece of music. The goal is to get the most out of it. The best potential
experience (within the bounds of possibilities) you can get with your specific
kind of music you’re listening to so eagerly.
Having come all that way I would consider myself today to be a strong disciple of what John H. Darko would call a “Music-First Audiophile” which he outlines in his manifesto. I almost fully agree to all of his views and remarks in his definition just with a few exceptions. As the compact disc was very much on the rise when I started to listen to music I never really got into the vinyl playback experience. Even though I have to admit that reproducing music that way of course has its very own character and allure I simply never really got that much into it.
The second divergence I would see for myself is my view on headphones. While I get the points why it’s sometimes cool and/or necessary to use headphones I wouldn’t consider myself to be “transducer agnostic”. I do own different pairs of headphones and I certainly understand that the path to the audiophile maximum (if something like that exists) can be achieved more easily (from a financial standpoint) with headphones. I just do not get the same amount of joy out of it. Maybe that might change whenever I truly dig deeper into that field and spend some serious money on that topic. For now I just prefer loudspeakers quite a lot.
Pursuit of Perfection
excitement and enthusiasm that you get out of a (music-first) audiophile
approach is certainly everything else but an act of instant gratification. Based
on the law of diminishing returns at some point in time you might reach an
overall setup that comes close to your own definition of perfection. But up
until then it is a long evolutionary path of testing, learning, trial and error
and constant improvement. Sometimes you step up big time by adding/replacing
essential parts of your setups while other improvements might be rather small.
The idea is to walk that path and enjoy the progress (even though it might be
ever so small) of getting closer to your perfect listening experience.
While music is certainly my biggest passion it is not my only one. Beyond that I would consider myself to be a petrolhead and there is of course a reason why I’m mentioning this.
The extraordinary engineers at Porsche are building sports cars for more than 80 years now with some specific focus and devotion on the world-famous 911 series for more than 50 years now. Within this timeframe they built eight generations of the same car in a strong evolutionary process. With each model being released they got closer to their definition of the perfect (street-legal) sports car. From an outside perspective it always seemed to me that they had already reached perfection with the current model being available at that point in time and I always wondered what could even get better in upcoming versions.
But they never settle with the status quo and what they have achieved so far. They pursue a path of optimization upon near perfection and their ingeniousness allows them to come up with something surprisingly better again and again! It is that kind of evolutionary path and strive for perfection that has its very own appeal and can also be found in an audiophile approach to music/life. So it’s not only about the experience while listening to music but also the process and steps in between that you get a lot of joy out of.
From my point of view (and in accordance with the Music-First-Audiophile approach) it is not all about being a “Golden Ear” but much more about the joy, excitement and addiction you can get out of music and the gear you use to reproduce it in a way that suits you best. Still to give you a basic idea of what the differences in digital music quality can be I strongly suggest to run through that test to get an impression if you are able, willing and well-enough-equipped to hear differences in these formats ranging from 128kbps to 320kbps mp3 and uncompressed WAV.