Form follows personas

October 30, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Have you ever noticed how our stereo systems seem to match our personalities?

I am without question an over-the-top personality who leans to extremes and promotes an inclusive liberal bias to life. I want to share what’s important to me.

With that in mind, consider how Music Room Two reflects those values. I doubt anyone would argue that 1.2 tons of Infinity IRSV isn’t over the top. Nor would I be shy in pointing out the listening room’s multiple P20 Power Plants, BHK 600s, and more dollars tied up in Audioquest cables than what many consider an expensive automobile.

Over the years I have come to be able to often correctly guess a personality based on their system. Conservatives, liberals, artists, whacky, reserved…you name it.

That our beloved passion is able to support the myriad of personal choices is a blessing.

We can each shape our systems to perfectly match who we are.

That’s HiFi magic.

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64 comments on “Form follows personas”

  1. I’ve also heard it said that dog owners look like their dogs.
    (I wonder if Paul has ‘SONY’ stamped across his stomach)

    My home audio set-up probably does resemble me; big, loud
    & dynamic, with enough clarity to understand what I’m saying.
    (I’m almost an American) 🙂

    **Royal Ascot Mike**
    I checked out the available Jeff Beck – ‘Truth’ SACDs on Discogs…yikes!!
    With shipping & tax they are around AU$150 each; I think I’ll pass for now.
    The remastered Red Book versions are around AU$30; far more acceptable 😀

    1. Interesting the comparison between SACD and Red Book. For such purposes it would be helpful if the SACD player had an option to select the Red Book layer to play instead of defaulting to the SACD layer thereby making it almost instantaneous to hear the difference. To be able to make such a comparison you need both copies of said CD, but even this isn’t straightforward, as when I tried it the CD’s played at different levels, the Red Book being about 2dB louder.

      BTW, plus one for HDCD mentioned the other day. Worth seeking out HDCD’s even if your DAC doesn’t have the decoding. Something to do with the way they’re recorded.

      1. Not sure how much difference switching between the DSD/SACD and the PCM/CD layers would work with this player. From what I read (Hi-Fi News & Record Review, Nov. 2020), the SA-12SE uses the Marantz Musical Mastering (MMM) system that upconverts all digital signals to DSD before decoding the 1-bit data stream via code written by Rainer Fink running on a field programmable gate array (FPGA).

        1. That’s interesting about the SA-12SE. I wasn’t specifically referring to that one but all SACD players and transports. I still have SACD playback but gave it up on my main system to get better sound from Red Book. The reason being that the majority of CD’s I listen to are Red Book. Don’t get me wrong, I think SACD is a great format but not one supported by most of the music I listen to. I didn’t really want to lose the facility but my choice of direction was influenced by a number of factors, primarily taking advantage of what became available, very serendipitous, and of course the ever present cost factor.

          1. My Arcam DV135 flips things the opposite direction. It is not quite a universal player as it is 2 channel only and it doesn’t know what blu-ray is, but otherwise it will play any chrome doughnut you feed it, 1080p video discs included. The SACD 1-bit DSD stream is converted to PCM for decoding by a Wolfson WM8740 chip.

            And it does sound pretty good. The disc transport needed replacing about 4-1/2 years ago (a Sanyo drive unit, I think; it had given me yeoman service for about 8 years, so I can’t complain too much). I took it back to the brick-and-mortar dealer where I had purchased it for repairs. When I went to pick it up, I wanted to make sure the replacement drive would still work with my unicorn discs (HDCD, DVD-A, and SACD). They connected it to one of their systems (frankly, better than what I have) and, even cold, they were pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of a player they had not sold in over a decade. And these guys are used to listening to dCS gear.

            1. Tony,

              When I said music I was really thinking of specific artists. I think it’s true to say that most new country, Americana and folk artists have never dabbled with SACD. If they have its generally been for one album, for example Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘Time Sex Love’. Most mainstream pop and rock is not available on SACD. Again artists have dabbled with the odd release, John Denver, Gloria Estefan, Sting spring to mind. I have the classic Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler’s done one, Elton John a few, also Genesis of which I have some, but these artists latest releases are not available on SACD, they seem to have given up on the format. Visit a local record store if you can find one, what’s in the SACD section? What’s the proportion of SACD’s to Red Book releases. My point really was that most of the CD’s I play at home are simply not available on the SACD format, that appears to be the preserve of the classical genre.

              1. I have to agree, especially when it comes to country, folk and Americana. I have about 600 SACD’s of which about 20 are either jazz or classical. The rest are rock and blues. It is true that the format is dominated by classical and jazz.

  2. Lardy…..i bought mine for £35-00 quid on Amazon some months ago…..just went on there now and still available but currently £49-63! i’m sure the Red Book version would sound great through your new gear……….R&R

  3. Having never thought about a HiFi system reflecting someone’s personality, todays post is a bit of a head scratcher.

    Big, bad, loud, pretentious, cocky, in your face, state of the art, old school, critical, judgmental, brash, wrong point of view, closed minded…. are just some on a list that goes on and on.

    Then there’s a few “fringer’s “ who have what they do based on what they like and want to afford. These type of people need to be eradicated…. ? After all they don’t fit the pigeon holing or nicely fit generalized descriptors.
    Maybe eradicated is too strong a word… exiled for proper ‘retraining’ might be more appropriate.

  4. The post invites individual introspection, as we consider our audio systems as extensions of our psyche.

    I am neither an introvert nor extrovert. I am more a realist than idealist. My emotions are dynamic, ranging from quiet reserve to occasional outbursts, but never out of control. I am an exacting perfectionist. Economical but not chintzy. I value quality over quantity and will pay more to get the best. I do not like spicy foods. I lean toward neutrality. These traits describe my audio system: a few high-end components selected to achieve exceptional realism: resolution, tonal accuracy, and natural dynamic response and three-dimensionality. .

    My system visually belies its capabilities. The equipment stand and loudspeakers unobtrusively blend in with the living room furniture, not at all pretentious, reserving an element of surprise for the audible reveal. When the system is fired up and music plays, the soundstage appears appropriately scaled; the music is delivered clearly and with substance as in real life, without exaggeration or unnatural artifacts. I am an open and honest person. I want my system to be equally transparent, and most of all believable. As with my own persona, there is always room for improvement 🙂

  5. Amen, Paul! That our property reflects who we are is well known in marketing and other disciplines. It applies not just to HiFi, but to cars, homes, you name it.

    However, there is one big modifier. Follow the money. That means who is actually paying for the property, whether its the HiFi, the car or whatever.

    There may be many others with your persona who may be harder to profile because they don’t have the capacity, as in your case, of passing the expense on to customers or to the government in the form of business expenses.

    To get an accurate view of personas you look at property, but also the capacity to acquire it out of your own personal resources.

    You, or I or anyone is likely to make very different choices when those areas that define our persona have to be funded out of the same money pot as the one used to sustain our basic needs.

  6. I believe my wife would agree that my audio system matches my personality:

    “A project in work, with potential promise”.

    Promise of “what” will be determined in time 😉

  7. Hummmm…some might say that over the top, ostentatious consumerism and the flaunting of that wealth in an effort to market a company’s products to be a conservative capitalist mindset?! Then you invite (potential and current) customers to partake in such a display of wealth; an approach I consider brilliant. I don’t know Paul, there may be hope for you yet.

    1. Personality profiling is well established science that folks who hate being typed always reject, even though crime serials based on profiling have been bringing the science into the public domain for years now.

      Paul started talking about property but, like a commenter says, the choice of music also plays into a profile. I like diversity and that is reflected in the many musical genres I listen to.

      Another commenter mentioned liking music from the liberal 60’s as contrary to his being a conservative. You can easily argue that looking to the past is very much a conservative tendency.

      What we do is often more meaningful than what we say. Paul self-portrays as a liberal progressive while promoting ostentatious consumerism and the flaunting of that wealth. It is ironic because it involves conservative trickle-down economics at work.

      Although it is ironic I, too, am glad for Paul’s conservative capitalist mindset. Look at all the folks that PS Audio employs. Sales of PS Audio products to those who can afford them help keep the economy going. The reality is that being an economic conservative is not inconsistent with a progressive outlook on social issues.

      The two could come closer if PSA more closely resembled a company like Schiit Audio. Excellent gear affordable to a great number of consumers.

      Most of us have complex personalities. It does not mean that profiling is invalid but that it takes some work to figure us out.

      Some folks don’t want to put in the work, or don’t know how, and reject the notion completely. That’s ok. I’m forever thankful we are not all the same. What a boring world this would be.

      1. I got to talking to a guy this week who worked for the gas company, he was checking on my neighbor’s gas meter. He started talking about being into music, so I offered to show him my sound system and meager CD collection. We were both telling each other how we were into all kinds of different music. He looks at me real seriously and says, “I’m a black guy and I’m even into Beethoven.” I look him in the eyes and reply, “I’m a white guy and I’m into Parliament.” We had a good laugh.

  8. You have suggested an interesting hypothesis, Paul.

    “Over the years I have come to be able to often correctly guess a personality based on their system. Conservatives, liberals, artists, whacky, reserved…you name it.”

    Can you please tell us about specific audio systems, and how you guessed correctly the owners’ political views from those systems?

    Thank you.

  9. Sorry, this is just an exercise in stereotyping that I suspect has no value other than to give some indication of disposable income.

  10. I never try to understand an individuals persona by the audio system that they own but rather by their listening preferences and their recording collections. You can change your audio equipment but usually don’t change the types of music genres that you love. You may add additional musical genres over time and favor new genres over old but I think the type of music that a person listens to defines their personalities in a better way than the audio equipment that they own.

  11. My stereo systems are bold with a hint of wimsy, like myself.
    No stereotyping of others is necessary to appreciate Paul’s post today.  If you yourself are lazy or an extreme penny pincher your system likely reflects that.   My stereo systems are all tidy but cobbled together not unlike my shoes, my clothes, my life.   I could better serve my ears by making a change in the direction of system simplicity.  Thanks Paul.

  12. Guys, This just doesn’t work. Neither gear nor music says anything about who you are. I am a retired scientist and politically I am conservative.

    My music is 90% classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s ( Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan, CSN(Y), Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Eagles, Steely Dan, etc. ). These people are almost all bleeding heart liberals.

    My gear is big, powerful and extremely neutral. What does this say about me? I am an old geezer who can’t do half of what I use to be able to do.

    1. I went off liberals 40 years ago during a talk by Shirley Williams. They spend their life sitting on fences and it does terrible things to their nether regions. The only one I like is Tristram Hunt, who gave up being a liberal to bring the V&A Museum back to life.

      If I had to draw a parallel between Audio and liberals, it would be Alba, because no one’s heard anything from one for 40 years.

    2. There are conservative liberals and liberal conservatives. It depends on the issue. When it comes to music, I am always surprised at the types of music that appeal to people I thought I had stereotyped.

      When looking at the Hi Fi Family Systems, I think I see different personalities in each system. When I see a system that looks haphazardly thrown together I think to myself, “How could that possibly sound cohesive?” Or when I see big horn speakers I think, “That person must be the life of a party, who loves to toot their own horns.” Or small speakers with tiny source gear and amps, “They must be low keyed and a bit reclusive.” Or a cluttered mess, “The sound must be equally cluttered and unfocused.” When the photo looks like the cover of Architectural Record with an oversized almost empty room, double height ceiling, tall multi-driver arrayed speakers, massive monoblocks and a single listening chair, I think, “Somebody lonely is out to impress.” Unfortunately I will never be able to meet the system owners to see how much I misjudged them.

      1. It’s like when you speak to someone on the phone and then eventually get to meet them.
        Does that person EVER look like you imagined them?
        In my experience, no.

    1. When I see your system I can tell you are on a budget, but your system might sound (accidentally?) every bit as good as Music Room 2 🙂 I’m serious, you can never tell by just looking what will sound great or not.

      1. Thanks Joseph and Martin!

        I haven’t yet had the opportunity to hear PSA’s MR2, but if breath catching, goosebumps, jaw dropping, toe-tapping, spine tingling, mind blowing Ho.. Sh.. moments are a regular part of the IRSV listener experience, then IMHO…I AM There!!! 🙂


  13. There is no such thing as a liberal or conservative audio system. No more than cars are designed for either. All designs are owned by both. I used to sell audio and found there is not such consistency. Both liberals and conservatives will own extreme equipment, and others cheapo stuff.

    You can tell them by the system they own by just looking at it? How?

    You can only tell them by how they think and act. Then some may try to tag their system with an identity.

    One can be liberal politically… And, extremely conservative in audio design. I find PS Audio to be very conservative in construction and design. That is good. No one will bullshit you and tell you something that’s fantasy to try to sell a product.

    Don’t confuse a liberal political/social mentality for not having a conservative side in some other area of one’s life. For we have both male and female hormones in our bodies.

  14. Let’s not forget Paul can be extravagant in setting up his MRs because they are for marketing products he sells and they are tax deductible business expenses.

  15. Should this post not be titled:
    Stereotypical Stereo Types?.
    I AM my system, getting better with time, not nearly as good as I thought it was in prior versions (but was still pretty awesome..) and we’ve both been in the same house since 1971….
    But now, I’m startin’ to believe the system will out-live me..

  16. How do you know a system is liberal?

    When its solid state, but demands you see it being tubes! And, insists you to believe it contains 12AX7’s in its preamp section!

    Now, that! Is a real liberal audio system!

  17. Paul claimed specifically that he could predict conservative or liberal political inclination from stereo systems. I find this absurd on its face, and I asked him to provide examples of successful predictions. None were forthcoming.

    I think today’s post suggests once again that it simply is not possible to come up with an intelligent blog post every single day.

    1. RonRes,
      With all due respect sir.
      Do you really think that Paul, or anyone for that matter, is going to expose
      an individuals politics here, publicly, at your whim, by providing examples?
      What sort of “examples” were you hoping for?
      I don’t think that that would be a particularly smart move on Paul’s account.
      You’ll just have to take him at his word I guess.
      ‘Intelligence vs Common Sense’ has been a long established battle amongst
      human beings.

    2. I am not certain I could give you an example that would resonate with you, Ron since you don’t know the people I know and have had the experiences with.

      Perhaps I was being a bit too specific because my words immediately were taken to mean politically conservative and liberal (for example) and that I’ve not been able to do nor care about (to be honest). The context in which I was referring would be more accurate perhaps to use tidy vs. scattered, persnickety vs. artistic, etc.

      1. Paul, Thank you. You are right, we all jumped on politics or penny pincher, etc. But, if you think about it, it is not unusual for one’s traits to come through in how they decorate so why not in how they assemble a sound system.

      2. Thank you very much for your reply, Paul.

        Yes, I did jump to the political meaning of those adjectives. I apologize for assuming that you meant the political meaning of those adjectives.

        I agree that a tidy presentation of audio cables suggests neatness and tidiness in other areas of life.

  18. My system is modest by high-end standards, but not cheap.

    My listening room is in severe need of redecorating and is getting worn around the edges.

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