Hobby or lifeline?

March 21, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

For some, building a reference audio system is a hobby. For others, their life’s blood.

Which is it for you?

When I ask this question of people I often sense a defensive reaction as if one envokes less passion or commitment than the other.

I am not sure we need to make that distinction.

Sure, the two terms are different: a hobby is considered optional while a lifeline is essential. Yet, I don’t see that difference when it comes to levels of intensity or commitment between the two. We can be just as passionate and intense with our hobbies as we are with our lifelines.

This might seem like a silly distinction but I think it speaks to the heart of what we’re all invested in, wringing emotion out of music.

We squeeze every ounce of performance out of music trapped in recorded medium and I don’t think hobbyists squeeze and less than lifeliners.

Perhaps the difference between hobbies and lifelines is more semantic than real.

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19 comments on “Hobby or lifeline?”

  1. I could live without home audio, but I would struggle without live performance. That’s about as far as it goes. I enjoy listening to music through my little portable Devialet Reactor even if my main system is available in the same room. I think if people really like music they can be indifferent to the playback system, as long as it is reasonably decent. Remember that the vast majority of music lovers, in particular classical music lovers, do not have more than a rudimentary stereo system. I gather this from speaking to them at concerts. A friend who is a patron of several music venues and festivals doesn’t even have a functioning audio system. What gave me angst is a problem like tonight, having tickets for both Mark Morris and Bernard Haitink. Gave away the Haitink tickets a few days ago.

    I have no doubt high end audio is a hobby uncorrelated to the pleasure of listening to recorded or broadcast music, which most people achieve without. How seriously people take their hobbies is a matter of personal preference, but I don’t think music lovers who don’t engage in expensive audio systems are losing out.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything about classical devotes that would make them less likely to have good audio systems. Music lovers with good quality home audio (and I’m not even talking about “audiophile” audio) are a vanishingly small percentage across all genres.

      And, actually, I would bet, classical music listening is at a far higher proportion among audiophiles than among the general music listening population.

  2. Good Audio reproduction has attracted me from my youth.

    During the shorter months of the year I find myself spending much more time listening to my ‘home reference ‘ system and ultimately start thinking and about changes and improvements. (I’m much more apt to get new equipment between October and April)

    Now that the weather is turning for the better I turn my focus to all the other hobbies and I enjoy in the great outdoors. Music doesn’t take a back seat, but reference audio does.

    In fact I would say I enjoy my ‘home reference’ more in the warmer months.

  3. Definately a hobby. I definately listen to my system more in the winter, which I feel is telling. There are things like golfing, hiking, running, etc, that I would much prefer doing.

    Growing up as a kid, I spent the entire day playing outside, only coming into the house too eat. I guess it never left me. I would much prefer being outside to doing anything inside. I also never listen to portable music outside, even when I run. It just doesn’t fit, or belong there, for me.

    1. Good Morning everyone music has been a important outlet for me all my life but now I would think it depends on your lifestyle if you have a family or not how much time and space you are allowed for me my wife knew about my Acoustic Research based stereo system and 750 records when we met. The only conflict now is getting time to spin vinyl but I am lucky we live close to my Sister in laws so she can watch her Brazilian Novells there

  4. For me it’s a lifeline. I setup my desk in the sweet spot of my dedicated listening room. When working at home, I can’t function without the music (all classical).Sometimes it’s a little too distracting with a great recording, so I pause a bit. For serious listening, I slide my desk back.

  5. LIFELINE over here… not sure why anyone would get defensive over that question? From my perspective its “biblical” what music has done for my life. Its always there, has a mute button, and can change your emotions with a simple click. Kinda the perfect spouse, and yes I’ve been divorced twice. LOL. But all joking aside I’m a 0311 Marine and music has saved my life several times! Also really enjoying your equipment actually have my original PWD MKII in for a tune up now. So Thank You to you and all of your team that has the passion to eternally search for the Musical Truth!

  6. For me it was an intellectual challenge. The only thing I like more than working on a puzzle that interests me is solving a puzzle. How does it work? How can I use it to make something do what I want it to. I love building things. Ever since I was a small child with an Erector Set, (steel, my favorite material), Lego Blocks, Block City, kits of all kinds, planes, ships, rockets, even a see through model of the human body called “the invisible man” because of its clear plastic case that let you see all of the organs and bones through it. I liked playing with chemistry, electronics, optics, but I also liked math and science. That’s why I became an engineer. “The difference between the men and the boys is the size of their toys.” How does sound you hear work. Can you make it happen with the same results another way. A worthy challenge. And what a great toy it was. I enjoyed the recordings and I enjoyed the machines. Best of all, I enjoyed building machines to sound the way I wanted them to, the way I remembered them live. So it was a hobby. My day job was also building toys, only they were far larger and more expensive and had nothing to do with audio.

  7. Strictly hobby For me and I enjoy the hi end part of it, better equipment and more enjoyable sound that is pleasing to the ears and can open up lots of motion in ones life.

  8. In the last 5 years I went from an avid bicycle rider, to dealing with chronic pain.
    But even when I was out riding 3-4 days a week, averaging a 100 miles a week, I would come home, shower, and than listen to music. I never got in to portable music, other than a cheap RCA MP3 player and Koss Sport model headphones that I used in winter at the YMCA gym. Besides spin classes, some lifting, I spent one season on the rowing machine, started at 20 minutes and added time each day up to an hour. One of the trainers would often join me on the other rowing machine. Either conversation or music, as rowing gets boring. Riding, I needed to be able to hear, as well as see cars. I avoided multi use paths as much as possible. Too many people don’t seem to understand how to use them.
    I have never felt the pursuit of better sound to be a hobby. At 14 when I was exposed to my first stereo, owning one became a goal. It took a long time to learn about the high end. Stereo Review and High Fidelity never talked about room treatments or imaging. I can go years with little to no thought of upgrades, but I never stop listening to new music, along with LPs that I have owned for almost 50 years. Five albums I have never stopped playing have been Jethru Tull’s first two albums, Blodwyn Pig’s “Ahead Rings Out”, the Velvet Underground with Nico [ the banana LP], and “Abbbey Road”.
    After all these years, getting a component that reveals details never heard, is always a wonderful thing.
    I had a coin collection, that was a hobby. I sold it without a thought. I would rather eat Ramen than part with my main system.
    If finances changed, I have components that I would upgrade, but I have a system now that is very good. I bought a used Benchmark Dac2 HGC so I could get into PC music. My Camelot DAC lacked the necessary inputs, but when a friend first offered long term use of the DAC portion of a Lindemann 825, the transport works intermittently, I hit a new level of refinement. That year he told me he had discussed it with his wife, and that it was now a Christmas present. I was not only overwhelmed by his generosity, I was ecstatic.
    Music and the gear that gets me closer to it is a passion. When I hear hobby, I always wonder what is next for that person. I think it shows that a person believes that they could lose interest or that they get more pleasure out of the gear than the music. My life will always have music and the best system that I can afford.

  9. Classical and Jazz music is my life line, High Fidelity Audio is my hobby.

    This distinction became very clear to me when we moved into our new home which could not accommodate my washing machine size speakers.

    Not yet prepared to sell my old system or buy a new system I went without music except for in the car, iPhone, and live performances for almost two years.

    Then finally one day out of desperation I searched through the garage for a working portable or table radio. Every radio I owned was a non functioning brick except one. A 1963 Zenith all tube AM/FM table radio that hadn’t been used in 20 years. It belonged to my mother and was a fixture in my home’s kitchen growing up. Always tuned to the one Classical music station in Denver, it played from sun up to sun down.

    It was amazing how much joy that old radio brought to our new home’s kitchen. Once more permanently tuned to a Classical music station.

    Classical and Jazz music is my life line, High Fidelity Audio is my hobby.

    1. One of the most heart-warming posts here in ages.

      Forget all the intellectual snobbery and other BS, most people just enjoy listening to music. My wife loves her time in the car every day driving to and from yoga, about an hour in total, starting her day with music. HiFi has for most of its existence been “boys’ toys”, self-evident from the fact that you are more likely to see a unicorn than a woman in a HiFi store.

      The odd thing with cars, the ultimate boys’ toy, is that I’ve never seem anyone try and justify the expense in any rational way (you don’t get to the shops any quicker in a car that does 200mph than one that does 100mph), whereas audio does seem to require justification. One of these days someone will say they spent $100,000 on their audio system because they like audio and they’ve got the cash, and just like looking at new shiny boxes, even if it sounds no better than the previous system upgraded at huge cost. That’s OK as hobbies are often irrational. Not seen it yet.

  10. It is better to be a hobby as if it is a lifeline, it will put too much pressure on you and remove all the joy from it all. I can survive in not listening to my system for days as it is purely a hobby. The joy is also in setting it up well and fine-tuning. It is not just listening.

  11. Life blood. It is frustrating sometimes and I occasionally walk away, but I am always pulled back. An interest I have now is getting my everyday audio, not my reference system, to sound as good as it can. I really do think that Qobuz is one of the greatest options to come along in a long time. Rather than stream mp3 using amazon or satellite radio, stream cd quality or hidef using Qobuz or Tidal. Your car radio or an old sony or marantz system sound better.

  12. I think for me it’s the music that has infected me and is living deep in my soul, I couldn’t imagine a life without all my cds and records.

    HiFi is more a hobby. As I’m better able to afford it I’m really enjoying better gear to hear it better but given a choice between my collection and a nasty cheap system or 5 or 10 records and a reference system I’d reluctantly pick the former every time…

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