10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started My Audiophile Journey

Take these advice so you won't do the same mistakes that I did!
Take these advice so you won’t do the same mistakes that I did!

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Here’s some friendly advice to save you from tumbling down the audiophile rabbit hole.

The audiophile world is filled with endless possibilities and discoveries. However, like any journey, it comes with its share of challenges and lessons to be learned.

As someone who has been in the hobby for years, I’ve had my fair share of failures and disappointments mixed with a few wins.

Here are the top ten things I wish I knew when I first started that could’ve saved me from a lot of trouble (and money).

1. Your Ears Are the Best Judge

Only your ears should decide what sounds good and what doesn't.
Only your ears should decide what sounds good and what doesn’t.

Your personal listening experience is paramount because everyone perceives sound differently.

For example, if you go through audiophile forums, you’ll see that highly-rated audio equipment can be received differently based on personal tastes.

I used to scour audiophile forums, reading countless reviews and opinions on various equipment. While it was informative, I found myself getting swayed by others’ preferences.

I remember being torn between the Sennheiser HD600 and the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. Many praised the HD600 for its neutral sound, but when I finally tried both, I preferred the warmer tones of the DT 990 Pro.

In short, your preferences should guide your choices in audio equipment. You shouldn’t buy something just because someone says you should. Ultimately, what matters is what sounds good to you.

2. Start With Budget Gear

Being an audiophile doesn't automatically mean you should spend a lot!
Being an audiophile doesn’t automatically mean you should spend a lot!

When I first got into this hobby, I was tempted to splurge on the most expensive equipment, thinking it would guarantee the best sound. However, I quickly learned that starting with affordable, quality gear is a smarter approach.

Begin with affordable, quality gear, and upgrade as your budget and experience grow. This will help you develop a basis for what good audio sounds like, which is crucial when making future upgrades. It also helps you understand what you truly value in audio equipment without committing a huge sum upfront.

If you’re not sure where to start, brands like Audio-Technica offer entry-level audiophile headphones, such as the ATH-M50x, providing an excellent quality-cost ratio.

3. Understand the Basics of Audio Technology

Knowledge is power even in the world of audiophiles.
Knowledge is power even in the world of audiophiles.

As I delved deeper into the audiophile world, I realized the importance of understanding audio processing fundamentals. Learning about concepts like equalization (EQ) and compression gave me the tools to fine-tune my setup to my preferences.

This allowed me to make informed decisions about what gear to buy. It also helped me understand the important roles of each component in your system and how they interact.

For example, reducing bass frequencies can clarify the soundstage in headphones that are overly bass-heavy for certain music genres. EQ adjustments are also useful for compensating for acoustic anomalies in your listening environment.

Additionally, learning about compression is great for appreciating music dynamics in genres like classical or jazz.

Bobby Owsinski‘s “The Recording Engineer’s Handbook” is a valuable resource that covers these topics in depth. It also provides practical insights that can be applied to both home listening and more technical setups.

4. Test Audio Gear Personally

Try out as much headphones as you can!
Try out as much headphones as you can!

Online reviews can be helpful, but I’ve learned that nothing beats personal testing.

I once bought a pair of headphones based on glowing reviews. But, I was immediately smacked with the fact that they were extremely uncomfortable for my head shape and size. So, I had to return them the next day.

As mentioned earlier, audio perception is highly subjective, and the environment plays a significant role in this. For instance, speakers may sound different in a professionally treated review room versus your home or studio. Personal testing allows you to evaluate the gear in the context of where it will be used.

In-person testing also often reveals nuances that are hard to convey through reviews. Factors like the weight, build quality, comfort of headphones, or the user interface of an amplifier are best assessed firsthand.

Now, I make it a point to test gear in-person whenever possible. And, trust me, it minimizes the risk of buyer’s remorse.

5. Don’t Get Swept Up in Hype

Don't trust the manufacturer claims blindly.
Don’t trust the manufacturer claims blindly.

Every other month, there are new products touted as “revolutionary” or “game-changing.” These high-spec devices, coupled with slick marketing, are like a siren call to new audiophiles who are eager to experience the best in audio technology.

However, it’s crucial to approach these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s good to stay informed but skeptical of new trends until you can verify their value through your own experience.

Remember, the allure of “the next big thing” is often amplified by influencer endorsements that might not always be objective.

I’ll admit, I’ve fallen victim to this too often before. I remember being enticed by the promises of MQA, only to later realize that many of its claims were inaccurate.

I’ve learned to approach new trends with a healthy dose of skepticism.

While it’s good to stay informed, I now wait until I can verify the value of new technologies through my own experience. Sticking with acclaimed products that have stood the test of time, like the Sennheiser HD800S, has served me well.

6. Engage With the Audiophile Community

The audiophile community isn't exclusively online! Here's a quick view of CanJam 2023. (From: Eric D. Hieger, Psy.D.)
The audiophile community isn’t exclusively online! Here’s a quick view of CanJam 2023. (From: Eric D. Hieger, Psy.D.)

Surrounding myself with knowledgeable and experienced audiophiles has been invaluable to my growth in this hobby.

The audiophile community is made up of enthusiasts who have spent years refining their understanding of audio gear and acoustics. For a newcomer, this community is a treasure trove of wisdom, offering insights that go beyond what one can read online or hear in a store.

Audio shows are also invaluable for learning and sharing. Events like CanJam, Capital Audiofest, and AXPONA are excellent for exploring a wide range of audio equipment. They provide opportunities to sample products and do sound comparisons or experience setups they might not be able to at home or in local stores.

These events often feature talks by industry experts and manufacturers, where you can ask questions and receive tips on the spot.

Audiophile meetups are also social gatherings where enthusiasts can form lasting friendships through shared passions. Attendees not only find camaraderie and support but also access avenues to buy, sell, or trade high-quality, pre-owned audio equipment.

7. Pay Attention to the Audio Source Quality

Playing Coldplay’s Everyday Life in lossless audio via Apple Music.
Playing Coldplay’s Everyday Life in lossless audio via Apple Music.

When I first started, I primarily listened to lossy MP3 files, not realizing how much detail and depth I was missing out on. It wasn’t until I switched to lossless formats like FLAC and WAV that I truly understood the difference. The increased resolution and lack of compression artifacts allowed me to hear nuances I had never noticed before.

Streaming quality is another factor to consider. While convenient, some streaming services use lower bitrates that can compromise the audio fidelity. Opting for higher-quality streaming options or using a dedicated music server with lossless files has become a priority for me.

Additionally, consider the recording’s production quality itself, as even the highest bitrate cannot compensate for a poorly recorded track.

Investing in good quality recordings and choosing the best available format within your budget can significantly enhance your listening experience, making each nuance in the music more perceptible and enjoyable.

8. Invest in a Good Amplifier

The best headphones deserve the best source. (From: Trav Wilson)
The best headphones deserve the best source. (From: Trav Wilson)

One piece of advice I wish I had received earlier is the importance of investing in a quality amplifier.

For novice and seasoned audiophiles, the quality of the amplifier is critical. An amplifier connects your audio source, like a turntable or digital player, to your output devices, such as speakers or headphones.

A high-quality amplifier is crucial for getting the best sound from your speakers or headphones.

I remember upgrading from a basic amplifier to a high-end model and being blown away by the difference. The improved power handling and reduced distortion took my system to new heights.

Don’t be afraid to spend a bit on this as much as you would on your headphones. Investing in a good amplifier not only boosts your current system but also prepares it for future upgrades.

9. Beware of Perceptual Bias

How the expensive cables debate sounds like.
How the expensive cables debate sounds like.

Perceptual bias was a hard lesson for me to learn. This bias happens when expectations shaped by brand reputation, reviews, or prices affect how we perceive sound quality.

I once bought a pair of expensive headphones, expecting them to sound better simply because of the price tag. It wasn’t until I did a blind test that I realized my perception was skewed.

When audiophiles buy expensive equipment, they often expect superior sound. This expectation influences their perception of the audio quality, a phenomenon known as the placebo effect in audiology. As such, they might think the audio is better than it actually is.

This is why critical or active listening is essential for new audiophiles. It involves listening to different music genres and paying close attention to different sound elements without preconceived notions about the equipment. Doing so helps you make informed decisions based on actual performance rather than hype or placebo effects.

10. Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Music, Not Just the Gear

The ultimate goal is always the listening experience, not the gear acquisition.
The ultimate goal is always the listening experience, not the gear acquisition.

Audiophilia is fundamentally about enhancing the enjoyment of music. However, it’s crucial not to let the focus on equipment overshadow the pleasure of the music itself.

I’ve had moments where I was so focused on analyzing the equipment that I lost sight of the joy of simply listening.

Now, I make a conscious effort to remind myself that the gear is a means to an end, not the end itself.

While it’s fun to geek out over specs and features, at the end of the day, it’s all about letting the music transport me to my happy place.

The true essence of audiophilia lies in the emotional connection to music. This should always guide your choices in audio gear. Keeping this view ensures your audiophile journey doesn’t take away from that.

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