Do You Care About AESTHETICS? What Are Your Gear/Listening Room Preferences?...


Just wondering about how much people care about the aesthetics related to this hobby.

To what degree do you care, or not, about a speaker looks, an amp, etc? Is it only about the sound, or do you appreciate or require your gear to be attractive to your eye as well?

And more generally, how much do you care about the aesthetics of your listening space?

My answer to both is: I care quite a bit about the look both of my gear and my listening room.

I’ll elaborate on my preferences first.

I just love a beautiful looking piece of gear, especially speakers. I generally prefer a wood finish, and for instance some of the Tidal speaker finishes are drool-worthy to me - any speaker that has a gorgeous rich wood grain with an impeccable finish will stop me in my tracks, especially if it features a graceful or cool design. (I hate a wood finish that has blah color/grain//execution) . I’m also open to other non-wood-finish designs. I spend a fair amount of time on pinterest just looking at beautiful audio gear.  Though for me my current Thiel 2.7 speakers, in one of my favorite wood finishes - ebony - are almost ideal. Sleek, contemporary, beautiful without being garish and...very important....SPEAKER GRILLS!

This is where I depart from many of my audiophile brethren who seem to want to see every bit of technology they paid for, including all the drivers. Although some drivers can be beautiful...most are not (IMO) and so often the screws around the drivers strike me as "industrial" with an unfinished look. The kind of thing you’d never get away with in most other high quality products.

I also don’t like staring at speaker drivers because, for me, it impedes the illusion of soundstaging/imaging/speakers disappearing. If I am seeing the woofer and tweeter right in front of me while the music is playing, I can’t help but perceive them as part of the experience, so I’m conscious of the midrange coming from THAT driver and the highs coming from THOSE tweeters right there! Once the drivers are covered in a nice grill, I don’t perceive the music as coming out of the speakers (if they "disappear" well to begin with).

That general aesthetic carries to the rest of the gear and room. I certainly love some audio jewlery and I’m a tube fan. But ultimately I much prefer a clean, uncluttered visual environment for listening to music (and watching movies). So my amplification/source gear for both my 2 channel and home theater surround speakers is in a separate room down the hall a bit. (If I had to have them in my room, I’d still want to orient them out of my sight when listening to music).

So essentially all I have on view in my listening room is my stereo speakers, and some discretely hidden home theater surround speakers.

Having the preferences I do, I can often find myself somewhat aghast at set ups in which the owner clearly doesn’t care about aesthetics at all "who cares how anything looks? It’s all about the sound!" This can go from set ups (that I’ve also visited) that are the audiophile version of a frat boy’s first apartment, where you think "Ok, I know why you live alone." Wires strung everywhere, speaker grills lying around the floor, just...tons of crap everywhere. I just couldn’t relax in that type of environment.

Then there’s the more studious version, in which the owner clearly cares about aesthetics....they just have a different sense than I do. For instance, those set ups that featuring speakers with a billion exposed drivers, with giant subwoofers (woofers exposed of course) beside each speaker, every bit of amp/source equipment around the speakers, cables prominently displayed...all that stuff to me is the equivalent of being overwhelmed by the technology to a practically intimidating degree.

I like the technology, and I am definitely willing to pay more when I can for a more beautiful, higher class looking product. Speakers especially because they are unavoidable pieces of permanent furnitur, and they can be beautifully crafted. I also love any other gear that’s beautiful and I can always get the aesthetic pleasure of their being in my rack. But I prefer all that to take the back seat to my concentrating on music, hence the clean look for my room. (Which is actually a huge challenge for me to pull off, since I’ve had to integrate both my 2 channel system and home theater system in the same room).

So with my own likes and dislikes laid bare, I’d love to hear others chime in on the same subjects.

Cheers,

Prof






prof
Since I like listening in the dark aesthetics don't matter to me! But I buy my IC's like I buy jewelry - by look and feel!
When i have an hour ill read this as its very important(maybe).
I definitely require both, aesthetics and sound along with a visually pleasing listening environment.  The sound of the equipment certainly takes priority over its looks. I am not fond of unpleasant sound or vision.


I don't not care,  but sound quality trumps all and other than my speakers my gear is pretty plain/homely but sounds great. But I do really appreciate great industrial design and will forever lust after meters on my gear.
ebm,

lol, I understand!  If I could go back and edit it I would.
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Looks like a prop from A Clockwork Orange.
Other than that, I hope no women here are offended.
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In my case, aesthetics played a primary role in the setup of my gear, and I tweaked placement from there. Even though I have a "dedicated listening room", it opens up to a "dedicated dining area" at the back, and the front has "dedicated double hung windows". :)
As for the electronics, I listen in the dark most of the time. I like a good looking tt and I have the hanss t-60 with vpi 3D tonearm. Speakers, I use Ushers that are made out of real wood and bent with a large press to get the year rounded back. Finishnis cabinet quality. The room, nothing in it but the necessary room treatments, 1 chair, and 2 large lp storage cabinets in the back.
I believe eligibility for this question can be significantly narrowed by two qualifying ones, "are you single" and if not, "do you have a separate audio cave." If the answer to either is negative it’s usually a nonstarter. (I am no to both. :) )
In all seriousness, I am with the OP on this. I very much care about overall aesthetics and I don't like my gear to be intrusive. Quite frankly 90+% of audiophile gear is unattractive to me and if Bang and Olufsen or Apple made a system that had the soul of a true high end rig, I'd probably call it a day and quit this hobby. Of course that will never happen so here I am still, frittering away my free time on this insane hobby and loving every second of it (well, mostly).

Incidentally I think Devialet and other French manufacturers are pointing in the right direction w.r.t. aesthetics, and I hear the sonics are pretty good too but you lose a lot of flexibility with the all-in-one boxes so if the sound is not "perfect" you're kind of stuck.
When I purchase a car its styling and color are important factors to me, in addition to its performance and features. And likewise when my wife and I choose a piece of furniture or an appliance or anything else that affects the decor of the house. And decisions about the purchase of stereo components are no different in that respect.

It happens that my listening room is my living room, but my approach would be the same even if it weren’t.

Also, consistent with what was said in the OP, speakers which don’t have grilles would be non-starters for me. And the beautiful real wood construction of my Daedalus Ulysses speakers was a significant factor in my decision to purchase them.

Regards,
-- Al

Al, I was looking for beautiful wood and ended up with black piano finish speakers (like Wilson Puppy) that, according to my wife, resembled small coffins.  Over time they grew on us and now we love them.
And the beautiful real wood construction of my Daedalus Ulysses speakers was a significant factor in my decision to purchase them.

I agree the Daedalus craftsmanship where their wood work is concerned is spectacular.

From their website "They are constructed of solid hardwood with dovetail joinery and a natural, old-world style, hand-rubbed oil varnish finish. This finish process takes three to four weeks of application and buffing to produce a deep, fine furniture luster.....buffed to a rich fine furniture finish that makes others look like plastic".

And it's evident just by looking at photos of their finished products.
The larger Maggies are more imposing than attractive---can't have everything.  My ARC amps sound a lot better than they look, as well. The whole setup is quite big in a medium-size room---not so aesthetic, so I repurposed the living room as my listening room, and it all looks better. 
I certainly think HiFi aesthetics are very important. Simple though it may sound, if something is visible in my home I want it to look good/beautiful. In fact, I have just assembled, what I consider to be, a truly beautiful and spectacular sounding 2C system. See my previous post on this system for details:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/second-system-that-sounds-and-looks-spectacular-i-am-there

I could not be happier with the sound and truly stunning looks of this system.
Sound is first, but at the prices charged for equipment everything must look good too or forget it. At least in my first system.
I have found no direct correlation between appearance/aesthetics and sound quality. However, in speakers if aesthetics drive the purchase it should be understood that it will dictate performance parameters; i.e. selection of dynamic speaker over panel or omni to satisfy aesthetics. 

I have found no direct correlation between appearance/aesthetics and sound quality.

@douglas_schroeder   Doug, has this been formally evaluated by you or your colleagues at Dagogo? If so, it is a very interesting finding.

The choices and reasons for, by gear manufacturers with respect to design approach is worth exploring in detail. Perhaps a future article (if this hasn't already been done)?
I care about both - like the OP. Two reasons. First, there is a plethora of good-looking, good-sounding gear; it is not necessary to choose. My ZuDef4s and AncientAudio electronics look and sound great. And if I did not like their sound, there were others - AudioNote, Daedalus, Shindo, Auditorium23, etc. Second, all gear must be designed (size, shape, materials, etc) - even "ugly" gear; so why not make it attractive as well as good-sounding?


@Ebm > When i have an hour ill read this as its very important(maybe).

Blindjim > Very nice. Cordial, in fact. In Reading each word ‘aloud’ slowly, this entire page thru your remarks took less than 3 minutes. Reading silently? Less than a minute. Yeah. I timed it.

this is what is wrong with America in general. Folks who either can not read well, refuse to read more than 100 characters, or opt to boost their post count artificially by infusing ridicule to those who are expressive.

This type of behavior says much more about the descent of social and communicative skills we possess as a nation and why they continue to dwindle. Its no wonder we rank near the bottom of all the major countries in the world in education and have become about as popular as Russia.

= == = = = = == = == = =

one would think being unable to see well would indicate the visceral is of little consequence. Sorry. IMO, this is not so.

Beauty is in the eye…. True musical magic is realized by the heart.

Having bought this home based on specs I was able at that time to demand, an incidental arrangement of equipment which could be managed which ordinarily would not otherwise have occured.

It was built and outfitted completely from personal choices, apart from its floor plan, of course. This allowed for as the OP mentioned, a separation of gear and listening room.

Having the gear and the speakers independent of each other sure makes for an exceptional esthetic. I like the outcome. So much so when I move from here, possibly, I’ll keep this same arrangement even if I have to knock down a wall and rebuild a specific nook with dedicated wiring and cooling for all the electronics.

BTW… cooling is the main reason for things being kept apart from the listening environment.


As for esthetics of gear in general, I doubt anyone buys anything that doesn’t at least look clean and unblemished, barring minor wear marks usually hard to see or virtually unnoticeable at distance.

Apart from loudspeakers, when considering electronics, performance is key. Not merely their esthetics. Gorgeous sounding amps for instance, don’t always come ins color options so one is usually stuck whith what is available once they fall in love with ABC or XYZ amps. Speakers however loom large and are eye catching critters often arriving in what ever color the buyer chooses, that is if bought new or at times by sheer chance. Albeit, after the fact one could have speakers refinished, unlike preamps amps, DAC, CDPs, etc. I stay with basic Audiophile formal black, or gold when or if available.

If I had to go all single ended power, and keep the gear near the speakers instead, one has to do the best one can with the adjoining space. I would opt for individual stands rather than a rack. Low profile and short wires for the signal processing plug in stuff.

Wires and electronics don’t have the esthetic choice of speakers. Likely never will. So then it is catch as catch can.

Unless I’m entertaining more than one or three folkis, the lighting is gonna get dimmed. Maybe off completely. So grills on or off is immaterial. In fact, if the sound is best with them off, I could care less what the drivers look like, see ‘performance’ note above, regardless the light switch position.

Acoustic treatments for the room itself? Appropriate. Always they sould blend into the existing theme and color scheme. Why not?

this is what is wrong with America in general. Folks who either can not read well, refuse to read more than 100 characters, or opt to boost their post count artificially by infusing ridicule to those who are expressive. 

While true, it remains unfortunate that in the grand scheme of things, there are significantly more important things wrong with America than reading and writing alone would ever be able to address.
@douglas_schroeder

"I have found no direct correlation between appearance/aesthetics and sound quality. "

That would seem pretty obvious from the experience of most audiophiles, wouldn’t it?

At least in a wider sense, it’s obvious someone can design excellent sounding speakers with a shoddy look, and visa-versa.  We've all experienced this.

The industrial look of the typical prototype in the factor will be crap, but will sound essentially the same as the final, beautiful looking production models.

I’ve had to send away speakers whose looks I was in love with...but they just didn’t sound how I’d hoped.

On the other hand, it is a fact that the looks of a speaker can influence the perception of sound (e.g. tests that show a more expensive looking speaker is rated higher in sound quality in sighted tests, but not in blind tests).

My current speakers certainly had to sound right to me, but I wouldn’t doubt that the fact I like their looks so much also influences my experience to some degree.




Prof, I disagree about whether the conclusion is obvious. As in most areas of consumer products aesthetics and performance are expected to go hand in hand. Only use of hundreds of audio components has revealed what I consider a significant departure from the aesthetics and performance linkage. Most audiophiles will not get their hands on so much gear, so they may never draw that conclusion. BTW, you seemed to zero in on speakers; I was not discussing simply speakers, but all audio components, even cables. Now, when it comes to speakers I believe your observations are more accurate. Yet, the internals of speakers can be mediocre, even with very popular, aesthetically pleasing ones. (Now, I'm not interested in a debate on the efficacy of the wiring and internal components of speakers)

Perhaps further clarification is in order. In terms of "build quality," there is usually a correlation between a highly aesthetic product and high quality of build. It's not very common that a manufacturer who puts great effort into the "total package" will skimp or do shoddy work on the circuit, but usually is proud to show the quality of the internals. However, that does not correlate to superior sound, at least in my comparisons of gear over the past 13 years or so of reviewing. That is not obvious at all in the community, as very high quality, highly aesthetic products are immensely popular, yet they are not consistently the best sounding. YMMV


Hi douglas,

I agree that a highly aesthetic product will tend to come with high build quality (though...even that, depending on interpretation...may be something of a tautology).

I simply meant to point out that most audiophiles in this forum would be quite aware of the divide between aesthetics and sound quality.


As in most areas of consumer products aesthetics and performance are expected to go hand in hand.


Sure. But the audiophile community - such as those in this forum - generally comprises people very picky about sound quality. It’s long been obvious, and often a point of contention by audiophiles, that mere good looks
don’t provide good sound quality. That is after all why audiophiles tend to disparage nice looking, life-style products - e.g. bose, beats headphones etc and others - as style over sound quality.

Only use of hundreds of audio components has revealed what I consider a significant departure from the aesthetics and performance linkage.


Again...it hardly takes experience with hundreds of audio components to notice the disparity between looks and performance. It’s been noticed by most audiophiles for a long time. It was quickly obvious to me when I got heavily into high end audio in the 90’s, and my long experience since with many products wan’t necessary to augment that conclusion. It’s true now the same way it was true when I first got into this hobby.

And most audiophiles - again of the type that inhabit discussions like these - have had long experience hearing lots of different equipment - from their own, friends, at audio shows, dealers, etc. We all have "boy this looks nicely made" but "wow that was disappointing sound" experiences.

I can’t imagine - and I see no evidence - that anyone in this thread is under the misapprehension that good looks entails good sound. Whether we are talking speakers or any other gear.


@gdhal 
+1, hahaha
B
Yes, fair enough douglas.   Cheers!
@douglas_schroeder  and @prof 

Good discussion and points. Thank you.

Based on what Doug has said, it appears that his position is an informed one...but ultimately opinion, which of course may be correct.

Doug, I embrace and value your audio credentials...but since I don't know your design ones, I am in the dark in that regard. Do you think Soo would consider this topic worth exploring and publishing?

It would be very cool to have a design panel give a sense for design ratings and overlay it with an audio panel's findings on sound performance ratings.
I struggle to think of how an event such as you describe, david_ten, could happen without collateral damage to manufacturers due to misperceptions on the part of the audiophile community. There is no consensus on good design in terms of technology, so it would take some creativity to address the needs of both manufacturers/dealers and audiophiles. 
....without collateral damage to manufacturers due to misperceptions on the part of the audiophile community.

’Misperceptions on the part of the audiophile community’ are clearly (my opinion) a large part of what drives and sustains this community and likely a large portion of it’s lifeblood....I imagine that most successful manufacturers are steeled against the daily onslaughts of bloodletting. Misperceived as it may be. : )

My way of saying that I believe manufacturers and dealers are constantly dealing with this and that it is part and parcel of.....

Below is my first stab (pun intended) at this, and requires more development.

There are ways to deal with your Very Valid Concern, and as an online magazine that has to balance all of your stakeholders’ needs, as well as it’s financial interests and reputation.

For example, both panels can be anonymous and separate. Manufacturers participating in the analysis can be Listed or Not, individual components would not be. The data can be (should be) represented without specific attribution.

What I suggested was to look for the correlation (lack thereof) that you mention in your original post regarding this. That finding or other findings would be very interesting. [NOTE: I’m NOT specifically interested in whether (pick Manufacturer) is rated High or Not on both Design and Sound Performance (pick specific component)].

If you conduct this using individuals (vs expert panels) then the individual would be only aware of the products they viewed in the design portion (assuming that the sound performance portion can be done with logos and identifying markings, etc. hidden or screened).

The simplest way (but poorer study design) would be to have all your staffers rate say 10 components in each category for sound performance and then have a team of designers rate the same components per an agreed upon aesthetic formula/approach/scale. Then overlay the data points.

As a personal example, I’m actively considering two integrated amplifiers. One beautiful (to my preferences) and one not so much (again to my eyes). Both are supposed to have exceptional sound quality and performance. I have heard neither at this time. Both are also priced equally. All other things being somewhat equal, I wonder if I will choose the one that I am drawn towards aesthetically over the one I am not, even if there is a performance differential not in it’s favor. And I am sure that my aesthetic bias and preference may well play a role in minimizing any sound performance differentials.
I was just perusing the classifieds here and saw some speaker photos that really re-enforces my distaste for visible screws on speakers.

For instance there is  pair of YG Acoustics Carmel speakers.  Apparently a great sounding speaker and generally a nice enough design to my eye.
But all those screw heads around the driver, and the tops of the speaker!
To me it's such a downgrade, given a cheap unfinished -made-in-shop look, or like something put together from IKEA.  Yuck!

Somehow furniture manufactures (and manufacturers of other components) manage to discretely hide unsightly screws in their design - as they add nothing nice aesthetically and only detract.  I don't know why more speaker manufacturers can't do this, or don't bother.

Maybe more audiophiles like the look of bare screw heads than I'm aware of?


prof, try repairing your lovely aesthetic, high cost speaker with hidden screws. If it ever needs a new driver - you're screwed (or out big bucks). 
The gear in my living area (living room, bedroom) must be small and discrete, and the electronics hidden. Audio is not the focus of that area. For my media room I only care what it sounds like, not what it looks like.

Fortunately with today's technology, you don't have to sacrifice too much with a sub/bookshelf discrete system.
douglas,

Yes I understand the utility of exposed screws.  But still some manufacturers seem to care about the fact they are not aesthetically nice to look at.  Monitor Audio, for instance (as one that comes to mind) manages to hide the screws.  Others manage to make them very discrete - e.g. inset black-on-black.

The worst to me are those where the manufacturer just doesn't give a toss - like using cheap looking silver screw-heads sticking out garishly on a black speaker front.

This is one reason why I very much favor speaker grills to hide all of that.  And especially speakers that have been designed/voiced with speaker grills in mind.  A great example being the Thiel 2.7/3.7 speakers I own which were designed for having the speaker grills on, hence the speaker grills are nicely inset and form a perfectly fitted look, vs the after-the-fact look of many speaker grills that stick out, like the manufacturer has said "well if you really WANT to cover up our drivers, here's a cheesy grill to use."

Again...all this is of course a statement of my own aesthetic view.
With all the choices we have these days, there's no reason you can't buy gear that both sounds as good as it looks.