Audiophile sound

February 8, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I often hear the term Audiophile Sound in reference to gear. Especially speakers.

How does a speaker sound audiophile and what does that mean?

My guess is that it depends on who is asking the question.

From our viewpoint, the audiophile sound means it’s as close to live as technically possible. In other words, it doesn’t have a sound. In fact, the less it has a “sound” the closer we believe it to be perfect.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, an audiophile quality system is so far removed from their experience of reproduced sound that it warrants a label of its own. “Sounds like an audiophile speaker”.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.

It all depends on who is asking the question.

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41 comments on “Audiophile sound”

  1. I don’t have audiophile friends. One or two friends have briefly heard my audio system. One, Nadia, was completely non-plussed. In their new $3m apartment she and her husband listen through a $50 Alexa Pod. That’s how it is, these days. You have to get past the concept of “audiophile” first, and I wouldn’t go there with people who clearly have no interest. It’s totally nerdy. My wife did ask why I keep the audio system given the 6 ceiling speaker/lights costing about $3,000 sound just as good.

    1. Steven,
      Does your wife ever ask you why you come to ‘Paul’s Posts’ everyday & communicate with your nerdy audio ‘friends’ here…or are we just one of your dirty little secrets? 😉

      1. She does find it completely weird and nerdy. My excuse is that we talk mostly about cricket, which is something she can accept as a fact of life. She is grateful for the recommendation of Victorinox kitchen knives. I tend to post as respite from work, a 3 minute change of literary scenery.

    2. Everyone has a GSOH (good sense of humour) or so they claim. Everyone likes music, except for a famous actor who said it didn’t really interest him, I think it was Ian Ogilvy. It’s an interesting conundrum about wealthy people, some have the best of everything simply because they can afford it while others aren’t that fussed. I think I’d have been tempted to try and educate about the pure joy of listening to high quality music reproduction but accept you could be on to a loser. I suppose it would be like trying to sell me the latest carbon fibre fishing rod. I’d be thinking how you could cut it up and adapt it for equipment supports. As to your wife’s question, I don’t mean to be provocative or create disharmony in the household, but I’d have turned it on its head. Why did you bother with the ceiling speaker/lights? 😉

      1. I questioned myself about the ceiling speaker/lights. Besides having them in the rest of the house, they are non-directional when we are both in the room sitting opposite each other with music on and I sometimes prefer the surround effect to stereo.

        For parties and entertaining, ceiling speakers for ambient are great because they don’t block out conversation like point sources. I suspect that’s why Sonos is so popular, as most people use them mainly for ambient music.

    3. In my experience only very very few woman understand this nerdy hobby. I know only two of them who were really excited. One plays harp and the other is doing yoga. Her comment after some hours of listening “I’ll sue you in case I crash my car when driving home”, IMO she is a bit sensitive. The final piece was dyers eve from Metallica.
      The hit rate in men is almost 100 %, young people do just need some explaining what is going on. The reaction of one to Placido Domingo’s e lucevan le stelle “Never know that opera can be this fascinating, what a voice, I got goose bumps”.
      I think most people just don’t know that there is Audiophile Sound existing.

      1. The only person who really clicked to audiophile sound through my system was female. I played her side 2 of “In the Court of the Crimson King”. Her name was Shelley, aged 5.

  2. Yesterday ‘Michael’, in his 10:21am post, said that great recordings just let the electronics & the loudspeakers get out of the way of the music that they are reproducing.
    I’m wondering whether it could be said that an “Audiophile sound” or more specifically an ‘Audiophile Loudspeaker’ is a loudspeaker that can also get out of the way of the recorded music that it is reproducing.
    Home-audio is subjective, it is different SQ levels of music reproduction to different people, so I would agree with what Paul has written about an ‘audiophile sound’ to many listeners being a perceived better level of sound quality that is far removed from their previous or current experience of reproduced sound.
    Even someone who considers themselves an audiophile might still regard a loudspeaker or complete home-audio rig that produces a more accurate musical sound or higher overall SQ to be a more ‘audiophile sound’…after all it’s only terminology & terminology can be subjective too.

  3. Yeah this is a tough one. Getting through the mire of subjectivity is far too difficult. For me personally, if a speaker or headphone is ticking a few boxes off my list then it shall warrant that ‘audiophile label.’
    Experience plays a big role in this post from Paul. I know a lot of you I’d love to go loud speaker shopping with, but for headphones I definitely can be left on my own. 🙂

      1. It’s posts like that that bring me back every day.

        The Winter Olympics have convinced me that home audio is not the most stupid thing you can do with your life. My wife said if I suggested we take up bridge, as all our friends seem to do, she’d rather dive under a bus. Apparently you can now do husband and wife Curling. Sign me up.

        1. Wow, Not wanting to play bridge. I am glad my wife can play bridge. And she has done audio shoot-outs with me. Also she is a great cook, but we argue all the time. Three out of four, not bad. 😀

      2. Anytime, Martin. Your advice and passion for sound would be a great experience. Their aren’t many of us that are like us on here in this community. It is an honor to be unique just like the few on here.

        For the record, if I were to shop for large, floor standing speakers I’d audition the FR 30’s and the Wilson Audio Alexx. Those won’t set me back at all. 😉

        1. I’m confused. You would audition the FR-30 at $25K and the Wilson Audio Alexx which is now the Alexx V and cost $135K which is more than five times the cost of the FR-30.

                1. “Just don’t sell an ear”. Funny that because I’ve developed sudden nerve deafness in one ear, audiogram roll off from 4K first order.
                  But my music still thrills me.
                  One ear may be enough. Or is most of the music below 4K? Yes.

                  1. Peter,
                    Aww man, that is terrible news.
                    I wouldn’t wish that sort of hearing loss, especially just in one ear, on my worst enemy, far-less a fellow audio-enthusiast.
                    I have less HF hearing in my left ear than in my right one but it’s negligible compared to yours.
                    I hope that my hearing can stay reasonably ‘buoyant’ for as long as I live.
                    Cheers,
                    Martin

                    1. The books say it is likely to remain.
                      But against expectations from the Audiometry, my sound perception seems to be just as enjoyable.
                      The hospital will check if there is anything but unlikely I’m told.

                      Praise be to the man who said
                      “The main thing is that you enjoy the music”
                      I first met him on rec.audio.high-end. A serious extrovert who was the first nutter I heard of to actually spent all that money on a low powered Japanese valve amplifier based around silver.

          1. Price range is important and I believe the latest Alexx goes forward around 365,000 now. Lol.

            Oh I’m just fantasy shopping, friend. There is no logic when you dream hardcore. 😉

  4. An audiophile speaker…
    1. One who stands on a soap box extolling all the benefits of their audio ideas to the exclusion of all others. Theses type of speakers are typically very loud and in your face.

    2. An inanimate device that projects sound into a room – mostly derived from electrical signals. Many require special reviews and certain qualities to be elevated to the status of audiophile. These can encompass any quality from soft and demure to loud and in your face.

    If you ask the speaker in the first definition, there is only one correct answer ✌️ 😀

  5. Man, I have been looking for an opportunity to write something about this:
    First, I’m not so sure any more that people are really wanting to duplicate a true “live” experience with music. I’ve read a lot about the early days of recording and how at that point, because the only thing people knew of music WAS live performance, engineers & producers were doing everything they could to make recordings seem live. But I think that after advances in recording options that came about in the 1960s – with multi-tracking, artificial reverb, EQ, etc. – recordings became even more live than live. How many times have we gone to a concert and sat there disappointed that it didn’t sound anything like the studio recording? Have we created a new “live” that doesn’t exist in real life? I listen to a lot of classical and jazz and from a purely sonic standpoint I like recordings better than live performance – however, I dearly love concerts – what I get there is the PEOPLE and what they do in person to create and enjoy the music (not to forget all the coughing and glass-clinking, etc.). Here’s something I learned when I was a recording engineer: if you were to go to a symphony concert and hold up your iPhone and record the sound, when you got home and listened to it on a good sound system, you’d likely be disappointed. However, the mic in that iPhone actually recorded the sound pretty accurately – even using a great stereo mic in the best seat in the house wouldn’t make that much difference. The difference is psychological – because you weren’t listening within the environment, with all the other senses playing their roles, using only your ears, it fell short. This is not unlike the way TVs and movies have to deal with conveying the “reality” of a situation – if you ever really did police surveillance, you’d find that it would involve sitting there picking your nose five times as long as the whole movie. So what we do as engineers is influence or color the sound so that it gives the impression of being live. We ENHANCE it. We move the microphones closer (who sticks their head in a piano to listen?), we EQ, we edit, we multi-track, we mix, we compress, etc. in order to create the impression of being there live, or maybe today more of being in the mixing room. I know there have been many attempts to minimize the amount of “over-production” in some recordings – like the binaural method of miking where they actually use a model of a human head and record from its ears – but I find most of those recordings a bit dull, not because they ARE dull, but because I don’t want to watch a cop sitting there picking his nose for 8 hours.

    1. A well stated post JLawry…. Thanks

      I’m still deciding if watching a cop picking their nose for 8 hours is better than watching them pick some other part of their anatomy. 😀 (The analogy is well stated and the meaning is well understood)

    2. Great post & observation ‘JL’.
      I must say that I tend to agree with you about the disappointment
      of live music compared to well produced studio mixing.

      “You can pick your nose & you can pick your friends;
      but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

  6. I’m not sure the source, it was about forty years ago, but one of the sound magazines like, for example, The Absolute Sound and I’m sure you would know the author, maybe J. Gordon Holt, was describing a track on a “reference disc” produced by the mag. It was a track of a high school marching band. It didn’t sound great or even good. And that was the point. It was supposed to sound like a high school marching band on the playback. Point taken.

    1. One Reference Recording “your friendly neighborhood big band” was recorded from the back of the hall — as we would hear it.
      Oh and “if you think the sound of the drum is loud… it is!”
      Uncommon, yet quite satisfying once one tuned in.

  7. Dear Paul,

    I think I know what you’re trying to get at, but I believe that you have explained the question in a way that is unnecessarily confusing. You ask “What is audiophile sound?,” but then you suggest that good audiophile sound “doesn’t have a sound” and that “the less it has a ‘sound'” the more perfect it is?

    In 2016 a group of us on WhatsBestForum spent a lot of time and intellectual energy developing four alternative, but not mutually exclusive, objectives of high-end audio:

    1) recreate the sound of an original musical event,

    2) reproduce what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played,

    3) create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile, and

    4) create a sound that seems live.

    I submit that this framework might offer a more productive way forward. Perhaps asking an audiophile “what sound are you trying to achieve” might be more illuminating.

    Alternatively, I think the pursuit of one or more of these objectives can achieve “audiophile sound.”

    With warmest regards,

    Ron

  8. Most non-audiophiles are more impressed with audiophile systems that have something visual associated with them. Think of the music at a rock concert with the dynamic spotlights, laser lights and performers in motion. Or the soundtrack accompanying a widescreen motion picture. My digital pipe organ console with lighted drawknobs and moving parts and a backdrop of real organ pipes is visually connected with the “audiophile” sound system, so people say “wow, that sounds like a real pipe organ in a church.” Without the visual, most people would not be as impressed. When it comes to audio systems, just seeing massive speakers and glowing amps gives some people an illusion of superior sound, whether or not those systems really do perform better than a smaller-scale system.

  9. My definition when a speaker has an audiophile sound is a third one, part of the first half of your post:

    It’s if a certain or more characteristics stand out, which, even if they positively stand out, is not how it should be. A really good speaker is so well balanced at its price and quality point, that it is acoustically hidden behind the music.

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