Audiophiles vs DIY-o-philes

Hi folks, I've been visiting the DIYaudio forum during the last weeks or so and it appears to me that the people who are discussing matters are often very well informed about the technical issues and often have a technical background as well. but sometimes I have the impression that these wonderful people are emphasizing the technical rather than the non-technical issues, like: how a unit really sounds. The term "musicality" is not for the techies but more for the non-technical audiophiles and musicians. But what does the audio-music-o-phile wants? Isn't that to get a "musical" and emotional sound that will bring him closer to "live"? This is a prelude to a very controversial issue that I want to discuss: are the audio-techno-philes who are measuring and DIY'ing things more concerned with measurement data and circuit topologies rather than with how a unit really sounds?

There is a vast chasm between science and art. My career is in the former but my stereo is based on the latter. For me, it is the only way to go but it takes a lot of effort, thought, and understanding to get a grasp on any form of art. Many people don't want to go to all that trouble and instead settle for the much easier route of using formulas to achieve their goal. Unfortunately, the scientific road is littered with pot holes since formulas are inherently based on a simplified version of our world.

Measurements are descriptions of this scientific road. However, they cannot tell the whole story since we are always dealing with an infinite number of variables - which includes the human ones. As a result, they only offer a view of trees and not of the forest. This can lead to severe misunderstandings that all originate from the oversimplified formulaic basis. During my years of engineering research, I have run into lots of people who are blinded by the numbers. Our world is more complex than we know, and to feel that measurements tell all is to fall prey to an ego trip.

I have thought of making my own amps and speakers before but have decided there are other people who have devoted their life to the cause and thus are surely way ahead of me in terms of greater understanding. Human experience is the only way to learn beyond simple formulas.

Buying the equipment is much more expensive than DIY but anything "great" never comes cheap - whether in terms of money or time. Besides, finding just the right components for my room and ears is a sufficient artistic endeavor for me to feel fulfilled for a long time to come.

Not that word "emotion" again! Look, the electrons don't care much for that kind of stuff. I admire those knowledgeable enouhg to be DIYers. You will find them on AA. More power to them!
The toughest thing for non-DIY audiophiles is to leave superstitious pretentions to art behind & accept that many even high-priced commercial components are compromised & built to cost. The problem has been aggrevated by the trend toward industrial design in fit & finish of audio components, which adds materially to cost without improving performance. The discussion is not really about science vs. art: any good DIYer spends time listening to music. Unfortunately some DIYers don't have the cash or experience of well-healed audiophiles in evaluating high-end commercial pieces relative to home-grown efforts. Industry price inflation has led DIYers further into retreat from upscale consumer behavior and widened the gulf between audiophiles and the original DNA of the hobby in DIY. Doubtless there are DIYers with pale skins from too much obsessing over oscilloscopes in sunless basements-- and who rarely come up for air or music. But for every one of these, there are 10 suckers born every minute who eagerly pay a rediculous premium for nebulous improvement in some new audio component, or conduct an endless merry-go-round of transactions in audiophile nervosa on Audiogon.

My background is in art & DIY is a hobby.
The problem has been aggrevated by the trend toward industrial design in fit & finish of audio components, which adds materially to cost without improving performance.

No Kidding! $50 drivers in a $10000 speaker least the piano black finish looks impressive because that is mostly what you paid for...even though it does nothing for the sound!

Doubtless there are DIYers with pale skins from too much obsessing over oscilloscopes in sunless basements-- and who rarely come up for air or music. But for every one of these, there are 10 suckers born every minute who eagerly pay a rediculous premium for nebulous improvement in some new audio component, or conduct an endless merry-go-round of transactions in audiophile nervosa on Audiogon.


=> An "informed buyer" will recognize beneficial science/design from "meaningless hyped specifications/formulas/hyperbole", or from outright "snake oil", AND, at the same time, will have a good ear/memory for what sounds right musically. Both are essential. One without the other is quite lost. Think Gordon J. Holt.

Unfortunately for me I have tin I am lost from the get go!
At least in my case DIY is very much driven by the quest for better sound within a given budget. In the case of speakers, many were designed ENTIRELY by ear, with nary a measurement. Nowadays we have the benefit of much research into the behavior of drivers in boxes, and detailed specs for drivers, but this only means fewer itterations of the design because the starting point will be OK. The final evaluation and design tweeking is always done by ear.

Non-DIY audiophiles seem quite ready to accept mods to their high priced off-the-shelf gear. Perhaps they don't realize that much of the DIY work is mods, and there was a time when all mods were DIY.
I think you are way off base. The DIY audiophiles I know build and then listen. It is 100% about how things sound and nobody really cares that much how it measures. Measurements may come later and are used to analyze when things go wrong, but if it sounds good the measurements don’t matter.
In the blue corner with Have Mr Dave Willlllllllson (applause) a well respected maker of fine expensive loudspeakers with a big workshop, lots of staff and huge overheads, and In the blue corner Audiogons very own Mr DIY guru and extremely nice guy John Kalllllllllll.......inowski (applause). Pep talk by the referee, clean fight, no holding, biting or kicking In the family jewels, break when I say 'cone'. Ding Ding. 25 years DW has been making speakers. JK 20 years, so not a lot In that one.Tied 1-1. Who sells the most speakers? DW by a mile. 2-1 to the blue corner. Who can make any pair you like to virtually dimension, shape, size, form and not working to rule? JK. 2-2. Who can you call anytime (well nearly) for a hi-fi chat? JK 2-3 to the red corner. Who has the best (most expensive) website and brochures? DW 3-3. Who has the best sounding speakers? I would say red corner, and the vast majority will boo and hiss and say blue corner. 4-4. Oops, Ring Invasion, ref stops the bout. A tie has been declared from a hard fought battle of the bass woofer heavyweights.

BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS...............

I would say that both are well respected speaker bods who know their capacitors from their circuit boards. My own personal view Is that Johnk can make anything as good as D.Wilson Including the all Important sound for a huge amount less than Mr.Wilson can, obviously a one man show working In his own workshop Is not going to have the overheads of a big speaker company. There Is absolutely nothing wrong with going the DIY way to attain a world class sounding speaker rather than to any other big speaker manufacturer who also produces world class sounding gear. I would prefer the red corner route myself. Judging by all the good feedback Mrk gets he leaves all his customers satisfied with all aspects of his work. Its all down to you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

I was Impressed with the Maxx2's at the Denver show as I heard them with a cd I am very familiar with. I would not trade them for my Oris 150's that Johnk had a hand In. Does that mean they are better? Nope. I just prefer mine. They also cost a lot less.

Just my own personal opinions on the topic...........
Dgarretson: so in your opinion most of the people who are buying expensive gear are fools and most DIY'ers are (although being restricted in their financial resources) the genuine audiophiles? This also implicates that products from these consummate DIY'ers are better than most of the "overpriced" gear. Is this in fact the truth? So most of us, non-techie audiophiles, are being fooled by the so called high-end manufacturers and that our hearing is likely more sensitive to suggestion and "placebo effect" than the dedicated DIY'er?

Shadorne sez
Unfortunately for me I have tin I am lost from the get go!

I admit to liking oscilloscopes -- they are very useful. As well as unsmoothed RTA and FFT -- lots of fun. What about DSPs -- great machines (sound is often a bit dry, but the benefits are always very liquid).
Actually, to return to subject, it would seem that the primal scream of the diy-er was originally: buy "better" is not an option so I'm left with diy for improving sound.
The you realise that diy can be fun (or not, depends on the person).

But the underlying motivation is: get BETTER sound.

Of course, diy-ing may become an end to itself -- i.e. where the machine & the engineering challenge takes the upper hand over the initial onjective which was sound.
But I think that's rare.
here is another view:

a fool and his money soon are parted. there are fools and stupid fools. a stupid fool makes one mistake after another.

foolishness is not necessarily overpaying for audio equipment, but rather not being aware of one's preferences and therefore buying and selling and not having a clue as to the source of dissatisfaction.

the value of a component is subjective. one may consider a $2000 amp overpriced, while another may consider a $15000 amp fairly priced.

the key to remember is the value in use equals the value in exchange.
I've tried on numerous occasions to generate some excitement in doing some DIY hotrodding, etc on this site. Personally, I haven't gotten much response. I think many (maybe most) members of Audiogon have much more disposable income than I and like the aesthetic of the finely machined, ultra-expensive components. Not implying that this is wrong, I would definitely love to be in that game but for me, the audio quality is of almost sole importance and my budget has some very rigid constraints.
"the key to remember is the value in use equals the value in exchange"

I'm not sure what you mean here, but if you mean that your valuation of equipment is based on what the market will bear on resale then you are obviously not a DIYer. Modded equipment is well off the gold standard of branded commercial components.
hi dgarretson:

i have stated a principle of economics, namely that a consumer will pay a price equal to the value he/she places on an item, or what he/she believes it is worth.

the transaction has nothing to do with the market price.
it is based upon subjective value.

for example, if a used cd player is selling for $1500 and i think it is only worth $1000, i won't buy it. the fact that someone else will buy it is irrelevant. it is possible that someone may value the cd player at or above $1500, in which case, a sale is made.

by the way, audiophile amd diy-o-phile have different connotations. such terms may imply a desire to achieve a certain level of sound quality. however, some people are more confident. less lazy and more motivated to build something, than others. some people would prefer to let someone else do the work.
the DIY crowd is a different hobby than high end, just as collecting music is. one thing that's facinating is how audiophiles would love to believe that their equipment exhibits 'emotion'...most likely lodged in our heads from seeing 'the love bug' or '2001'as kids.

Expressed in terms of economic principles, the problem is that rapid price inflation at the high end has transformed audio into just another luxury goods market. A luxury goods market (e.g. yachts, exotic cars, art, and high-end real estate in NYC) is typically price inelastic. The higher the price the more sells. Valuation is set by intangible factors such as prestige associated with membership in an exclusive community. Luxury goods manufacturers maximize their profit margin at low volumes of production. So the more money chasing high end audio, the more the market fragments into niche suppliers. Currently it's starting to look like a mere reflection of the gilded age.

It's comforting to believe that valuation is a deeply personal matter, but the subjectivist notion of valuation carries the audio hobby further away from its moorings in performance and musical enjoyment as selection criteria. DIY helps to refocus the hobby on its original value proposition.
i would conjecture that many hands-on hobbyists prefer that route because they believe they can achieve "better" sound by selecting the parts themselves, rather than relying upon the designer's choices. i don't think it's purely an effort to save money.

the subjectivist notion applies also to other collectibles.

there are fads in all hobbys and although most audio components are depreciating assets, in contrast to paintings, and sculpture, for example, some components actually increase in value.

you are accurate in your analysis that most expensive audio components are price inelastic.

where the elasticity increases may be in the lower priced items, say in the $2000 to $5000 range, where the overall demand may be higher. it is in perhaps this range, or some other range where sales of products may be more price sensitive, than products say, in the range $10000 and up.

you are also accurate in your assessment that "expensive" audio gear is just another collectible for many who can afford it.

note, it is possible to design and build your own amplifier and spend thousands of dollars aon parts and labor, which could exceed the cost of another amplifier which may be suitable for one's needs.

the point is do it yourself may be motivated by quality of sound rather than economics, and that the diy hobbyist may be no different than the non diy audiophile.
Components in the "bread basket" of the marketplace(say up to $10K) are good for modifiers, insofar as they can be well engineered while compromised in the parts bin. Sometimes fairly simple parts upgrades can take them to a much higher level.

This is not to say that components above $10K are not compromised. It's just that in the view of most owners, modifying them is tanamount to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
DIY'ers always say their stuff is superior to the stuff from the mainstream manufacturers. This is very annoying!

Chris, I distinguish modifiers from general DIYers in this regard. A modifier has the opportunity to start with a stock component & control variables by making small incremental changes. After 10 or so such changes to a component the ear has received an education as a test instrument. The non-DIYer audiophile has only the opportunity to swap whole components. This brings in a wider range of variables between models & manufacturers to complicate comparisons. It is more difficult to evaluate component A relative to component B, than it is to evaluate component A relative to component A with mod B. The modifier is simply extending the R&D of the original designer, freed from the constraints of development cycles & costs.
When Is a DIY'er classified as a mainstream manufacturer? when he has 1, 4 or twenty under his employ?

I would also be annoyed If I'd spent 40k on a pair of speakers purchased from a 'mainstream manufacturer', when a professional DIY'er could make me something that sounds as good or better for a quarter of the price. Money to tight to throw away lightly out of my wallet. Not having a dig at those who take the 'pro speaker manufacturer' route. I have done that In the past.
+++ DIY'ers always say their stuff is superior to the stuff from the mainstream manufacturers. +++

And more than often they are correct.

I have ‘tweaked’ a few components for friends and they were all amazed at the difference. I once spent less $10 on a $300 DVD and it was transformed - $2,40 on BG electrolytics (times 2) for output coupling caps and about $1 for 4 UF4007 diodes. (the balance on beers and solder)

+++ This is very annoying! +++

Not half as annoyed as I am when find I spent over a $1,000 on an audio component that consists of electronics that at wholesale would cost less than $100. Or how about a pre amp that retails for close to $4K that uses coupling caps that cost no more than $1-$2 a piece?

Personally I rather build my own (from one of the hundreds of good designs available on the net) and use the very best components. I wager anything I end up with the better product and spend considerably less doing so.