HiFi snobs

March 22, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I really dislike labels as they apply to people. I have spent much of my adult life working hard at removing them from my lexicon.

Labels encourage us to place complex people in simplistic organized little boxes.

That hardly allows for diversity or nuance.

Yet, today’s crowd seems ever more eager to assign labels to people in the same way we might catalog sweaters or golf clubs.

One consistent label thrown at our community is that of the HiFi snob. A person who believes that their tastes in music and its reproduction in the home are vastly superior to those of other people.

What is troubling about that definition narrows down to a single word. Taste.

Taste infers superiority.

How would you or anyone else feel if another claimed superiority?

What we can safely say without issue is that our system’s performance vastly outperforms that of the average person’s home audio setup.

It’s why anyone can walk into the room of a highly resolving high-end audio setup and immediately hear that which they are unable to experience in their own home.

It’s why the label golden-eared audiophile is disingenuous.

Our carefully crafted systems are the star performers.

We’re just along for the ride.

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23 comments on “HiFi snobs”

  1. It’s not that an audio system may sound better, it’s more a matter of who actually cares that it sounds better. Most people don’t care. That’s why people who don’t care think those who do care are hifi snobs. And they would be right.
    Meanwhile, here’s another view of the matter: https://youtu.be/C4HflC2L7M4

    1. Good point, yes, the margin between care and snobbery is not easy to define.

      Not sure if Paul would call himself a food snob…or if he’s only caring for himself 😉

      1. A snob is someone who thinks others don’t care enough and hence their greater caring gives them higher status.

        Most people care to the extent that is affects them, and don’t really give a hoot what other people think about their choices.

      2. This margin between care and snobbery only exists in what might be considered elitist hobbies such as wine, art, hifi, etc etc, the list is long.
        I doubt that anyone who cares for animals, the sick and elderly, social issues or the climate etc would be considered a snob.
        The obvious difference being possession and ownership.

        1. Yes, social care was not my topic.

          But there can be Hi-Fi, food, live concert or sports snobs etc. A snob is someone who implies or make others feel incomplete or bad, not doing things (or not being able to) as he does, independent of the topic..

    1. Absolutely the truth. The one constant of this hobby since I first got involved in the early 80’s has been the air of superiority from other audiophiles. “Golden-eared audiophile“ is a sarcastic label for someone who is the stereotypical equipment enthusiast who only recognizes their paradigm of audio reproduction. “You don’t hear what I’m hearing? You are obviously the audio unwashed.” @paul, the audiophile community thrives on snobbery, and honestly, is heavily encouraged through the marketing of equipment by manufacturers. It’s what gets people to spend thousands on power cables, tens of thousands on preamps, and hundreds of thousands on speakers…and lets not even get into turntables.

    2. This is so true Mike, “snobbery comes from within” folks who have experienced listening to my system from outside our “community” have no concerns about what is happening and aren’t listening as the conversations are all over the place not audio. Those who have come over and listened within the community can’t wait to discredit what I’ve built or suggest better improvements. We all have different ears and measurements only placate them and their egos. 🙂

  2. Snobbery comes from a line of thinking where the attitude of “It has to sound like this” to be reference quality. Snobbery limits taste because the snob will discount taste and miss out on ‘differences.’ ie ‘one track mind.’
    That is not even close to what this hobby is all about. A lot of times in this hobby of ours I’m after difference not better because when you get to a certain pinnacle in audio that is what one should be after. 🙂

    1. Hey Richtea,

      Could be a misread. Or is it when pride turns to outwardly judgmental?

      A fine line. Especially when ‘judging & critiques’ are an every day event in most of the ‘audio family’ lives.

  3. In today’s world with the pandemic, the invasion and the personal problems that most of us have ( such as getting old and decrepit ), I could care less what anyone thinks of me and my enthusiasm for home audio.

    I find that how people react to someone’s hobby is set mostly by society’s perception of it. If you tell someone you are a stamp collector they will think you are a true nerd. How can you possibly enjoy something so boring? If people realize what I have spent on my audio gear their reaction usually is that I am crazy. They often say that if they had that kind if money to spend on a hobby they would buy a new car, or a bigger house. or travel around the world. And then there are the things that get the wow reaction. If I show up at the next social gathering I go to in a Ferrari no one is going to think I am a nerd or crazy. They will want to know how fast does it go, is it fun to drive, how much did it cost, can I see the engine, etc. They will have no appreciation for what an incredible piece of automotive engineering that it is.

  4. Everyone has there “thing” they are into. “Gear heads” for automotive, “Gamers” for those who are into that, “Golf nuts”, “Audiophile”, etc. the question at hand is what behavior is perceived as snobby.

    I think it’s two fold. Foremost, is the hearing of differences vs. no measured difference thing. To the outside it’s perceived us as thinking we have super powered hearing that others do not.

    Secondly, most people don’t openly share their system. They are in their audiophile cocoon. Frankly, it is quite creepy. If I didn’t have folks to listen with, I’m not so sure I would be in this hobby.

    1. “the question at hand is what behavior is perceived as snobby”

      1) One who despises, ignores, or is patronizing to those he or she considers inferior.
      2) One who is convinced of his or her superiority in matters of taste or intellect.

      Snob is a pejorative term for a person who believes there is a correlation between social status and human worth. Snob also refers to a person who feels superiority over those from lower social classes, education levels, or other social areas. The word snobbery came into use for the first time in England during the 1820s.

  5. I really don’t think that people that hear my system think I am a snob. They may think I am crazy for spending a lot of money on stereo equipment but they do not say that. Most either say that it sounds very nice or that the piano sounds like it is in the room or just become transfixed.
    The only snobs I have run into are usually the salespeople in certain stores I have visited. These snobs usually judge you by the way you are dressed. Thank God this has not happened too often.

  6. Well,

    What a fine ride my audio adiction is. In the long run, a Ferrari Testarossa might be cheaper. But you can’t use your Ferrari every day. You can use your audio system every day, and I do.

    1. I hear that. I avoid trying to add up how much I have spent over the years. It’s definitely in the Ferrari ballpark, but with the price of gas these days the system is looking better an better. I agree that you can always enjoy your stereo.

      1. If we eliminated the audio, alcohol, dating and general partying? It’s most certainly a house AND a Ferrari.

        And if I could go back 45 years and do it all differently?
        Nyeah… I’d likely do it ALL over again.
        Except Tiffany. Would definitely NOT date Tiffany. OwwwwICH! Crazier than a swirly eyed bedbug in an insane asylum rat hole loony bin.

        Ah, who am I kidding. Did you SEE Tiffany???
        “Heya Tiff, whatchya DOIN tonight?? I’ve hidden all the knives, I’ve got protective head gear, a fire extinguisher, a new safe word and 911 on speed dial….come on OVER”

        Sorry – way off topic diversion..

        Tiffany Tiffany…
        Oh lordy lordy.

        How long IS a restraining order good for?

        If you guessed redhead, mark yourself down for 150 bonus points.

  7. I don’t know that it is snobbery, but when you’ve carefully built something that can really only be wholly enjoyed by one person in one very limited seating position, it tends not to be a group sharing event. After all, I’m betting every (home based) system in this forum was built for that one special person…right? I’d LOVE to sample endless other systems – it’s just that we tend to be spread pretty far apart and weekly audio club get togethers just don’t seem to be a thing. Not in my location anyway. And we tend not to advertise it either; I literally don’t know of any other high end(ish) setups in my town. Although I’m sure there ARE some… It CAN be a bit of a selfish obsession; which tends to resemble snobbery. And oddly enough, when you’re in the luxurious indulgence of it, you sit there and just wish so & so could hear this, or I bet he/she would love how this song sounds. Hell, you’d love to share it with EVERYBODY.

    It’s a bitter sweet thing – the single seat, sweet spot, focused sound room; it is a selfish endeavor who’s aural excellence is something you so desperately wish everyone could experience, as you serenely and blissfully sit alone in the room, that you passionately and tediously built for yourself.

    But let’s face it, we will excitingly demo our obsessive achievement to anyone (sometimes willing or not) at ANY opportunity. I submit that in itself removes 98.1% of the snobbery. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine!

  8. “Only one person in the sweet spot” ?

    The highest audiophile enjoyment I get along with my Audio Club mates is at a home meeting, where a host has prepared an interesting program of music.
    And cameraderie.
    And gear talk.
    And supper.
    And ideas for new music that we didn’t know about. How about Hiromi?

    1. She is a delight – especially to watch. She looks like she LOVES her job. Some pianists perform an entire concert looking like they really need to pee. There are performers who inspire you to hit the keys and then there’s those like this that make me wanna give up & never touch the keys again.

      I also love Keiko:


      Get those two and Senri on the drums in a concert and you’ve got more talent on one stage than all the Grammy nominees over the last five years combined….


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