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Audiophile Or Music Lover: Do We Have To Choose?

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's JourneyI fell in love with music like most people as a child; in fact I think you have to be forced to not love music. Truth is most people need music. There are some who become too busy, too serious, too macho, or maybe somehow come to think of it as frivolous, but those people don’t become audiophiles. The reason I point this out is that while there are many music lovers who don’t become audiophiles, I’ve never met an audiophile who didn’t love music.

As I said, I fell in love with music as a child. At first, it was the live music that I heard at church. Then my parents got a new black and white TV that had a little record changer in the cabinet. My parents must have had the weirdest LP collection on the planet, it consisted of Christmas albums they would get as free promotions from gas stations. Then mother had LPs by George Beverly Shea, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Mahalia Jackson, while my father had Pete Fountain and Al Hurt albums. I listened to these until I was old enough to get a transistor radio, it was just slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. On this little gem I could pull in the “Big Bam” and listen to the dreaded ‘Rock and Roll’. It was on this little wonder that I first listened to the Beatles, Gary Pucket and the Union Gap, and many other early rock and roll bands.

It would be five years later when I was in a college prep school listening to the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, and many others; then I met Jeff. He wasn’t listening to music over a portable record player. He had an Allied Radio amp, a pair of homemade bookshelf speakers and a cheap Garrard turntable. I noticed that I gravitated to his room to listen to music, even though he wasn’t in my group of friends. I just enjoyed the music more in his room than I did on my own little Panasonic record player.

A few years latter I’m a freshman at Baylor, and I thought I finally had a pretty great stereo. It consisted of a Kenwood receiver, a Pioneer turntable, and a pair of KLH 17s. Then Ken Askew showed up with his Quad 57s, Marantz electronics, and an AR turntable. After hearing Ken’s system, the way I listened to recorded music would never be the same again.

The reason I share all this with you is that after I discovered the writings of J. Gordon Holt and his little rag called Stereophile, and then HP and The Absolute Sound, I have heard and read the question “are you and audiophile or a music lover” over and over again. First in letters to the editors and then by reviewers themselves. This is so much part of the audiophile lingo that reviewers often will say a certain peace of gear will appeal more to music lovers than to audiophiles.

The more I was thinking about this the more ludicrous this idea has become to me. I have met many audiophiles over the years, and I have yet to meet one that doesn’t love music. Yes, there are many audiophiles who equally love playing around with the equipment. There are also audiophiles who get caught up for a while in whatever the latest fad is, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love music. Can you imagine someone telling Itzhak Perlman or Yo Yo Ma that they aren’t really music lovers because they play the best instrument they can find instead of a brand new mid-priced one from their local music store?

Why do they spend what sometimes sound like ridiculous amounts of money on their instruments? The answer is simple. They care about how they sound. I think that’s the real question: are you a music lover who cares about how recorded music sounds or not?

I know there are plenty of music lovers who don’t care so much about how it sounds. I know one very personally, my wife. She had just as soon listen to MP3s on her iPod as my system. It’s not that she can’t hear the difference, she probably has better ears than me. It’s that she doesn’t care about the difference. We are both music lovers, we both go to hear live music 5 or 6 times a month, we both listen to several hours of recorded music everyday. It’s not that she is a music lover and I’m not because, I’m an audiophile. It’s just a matter of how much we value the sound of recorded music.

Yes, I know audiophile get carried away with tweaks, and other seeming ridiculous stuff. Feel free to call us weird, but don’t say we aren’t music lovers. We’re just music lovers who care about how the recorded music sounds. By the way, I find it mind boggling that there are so many music lovers who don’t care about how good recorded music sounds. I think they are the weird ones and, yes, Becky already knows I feel this way.

Until next month, keep on boppin’.

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2 Responses to Audiophile Or Music Lover: Do We Have To Choose?

  1. Eduardo Trevino says:

    It’s a great article, really affirming. I totally agree.

    I love music first and foremost: melodies, chords, words, phrases but I also love sound itself: every instrument offers a different “colour”, that’s why the production is sometimes called the ” sound palette”, and at least in my mind, music sometimes can be a sonic painting.

    I mean, the guitar sounds a certain way and it makes you feel a certain way; the synthesizers sound different and give you a different emotion or mood. Also, all the sonic decisions involved in a song or record matter: whether is live instruments or synthetic ones, or both; if it’s a male or female singer; the mixing techniques, the gear they used, the software they used.

    so yeah at the end of the day I love all of it, all at once: music & sound.

  2. Norman says:

    Nice article, they are the weird ones, indeed.

    I always cared about how the music sounds, but after listening to electrostatic headphones I also discovered the beauty of classic music as it was faithfully reproduced for the first time. Previously there was a quality barrier that blurred the instruments and prevented me to enjoy classic music (I mostly listen to electronic music).

    So buy a pair of electrostatic speakers or headphones and “train” for a while your wives’ ears with a few great classic recordings. That combination of electrostatics + classic music (and other purely acoustic music like acoustic jazz) is great for stress-releasing before sleep. She might start to become an audiophile. 🙂

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