How Do You Live The Audiophile Life


I don’t really have the credentials to be on Audiogon. Kef Q150s and new NAD equipment that replaced my stalwart Arcam Solo. Maybe I can peek over the fence.
So I’ve have a question about the new equipment. I’m browsing the forums, looking for an answer. I know as much as about audio as anyone who isn’t an audiophile. But I was astonished at the number of brands I’d never heard of. And I know the price of the stuff I have heard of.
I’m in NYC. Maybe there’s five high-end dealers here. I’m guessing that number drops off quickly once you cross the Hudson.
This is a long winded way to ask how you live the audiophile life? How do you get access to this stuff? I’d want to hear something before dropping a car-like sum on it. Do you buy blind? Do you travel? Go to the industry shows? Help me, teach me, inform me.
I guess this question applies to speakers as well. Maybe more so. But I was in the amplifier section so . . .
paul6001
You develop your own taste and then buy the best you can for what you can afford. :)

Being frugal may lead you down dark, dark places no one else goes, but if you can say FU to the reviewers, and the fan boys and delight yourself alone, you'll be happier and richer for it. :)
You need to go to some HiFi shops and listen. Since you’re in NYC, you'll find some fine shops in NJ. Some members here can chime in with names and locations. It’s always good to call ahead.

Get subscriptions to The Absolute Sound and Stereophile! 
IMO the UTMOST importance is to know what actual musical instruments sound like in various venues..If you don’t know what the real thing sounds like you will NEVER have a really good system..
After you know what to listen for start with reviews reviews reviews..These will help narrow down the list of suspects that interest you..After that you either travel to a store for demos OR buy unheard from a dealer that has a strong return policy or gently used at a price that you can recoup if you don’t like what you bought..
Kef Q150s are fantastic. I just got a pair myself when they were on sale.

I’m lucky. I live in a metro area with several nice hifi dealers and have built relationships with all of them. That is part of living the audiophile life.
Don’t worry about the cost. Worry about the sound. It’s different (the sound preferences) for everyone. And that’s what makes it so neat.
It is totally realistic that you could legitimately, and I mean stone cold legitimately, prefer the sound of a component or system that costs 5x or 10x or less than something else.

It’s about the sound. That’s the audiophile life.

Back to those Kefs. I keep them in my third system along with two other sets of bookshelf speakers. Why? Because I’m odd or dorky or obsessed with “the sound” enough to want to rotate thru them and understand and appreciate and really cherish the differences. That’s the audiophile life. It’s about the sound.

One of the most important lessons is diminishing returns. Those Kef 150s are 4x less expensive than one of the other speakers in the rotation, but to me they sound 97% of the way there. Doubtless to some they would sound better (to me on some songs they do). It’s about the sound.

My first real amp as an adult twenty years ago was an NAD. It was probably one of the least expensive pieces the dealer displayed, but to me at the time it was a ton of money and I was so proud to own it. I still have it and always will. It’s about the sound.

You say you don’t know the brands. You will. 99% of the consumer crowd doesn’t know NAD. They just know what’s at Best Buy. Dude, you’re already here! Welcome! It’s about the sound.

Enjoy the sound. Enjoy learning about the sound. Enjoy recognizing when you hear even better sound, because many people either cannot or don’t care if they do. 

We care. That’s the audiophile life. It’s about the sound.
@paul6001 No credentials are needed besides a love of music and a desire to play it back with better fidelity than the average consumer.
Hi,
++++for enjoy the music and care about your gear. it's a nice journey.
Buying blind, visiting, listening, reading, learning is part of it.
Just like a little kid.  WHY?

Why do I (you) listen to music?

Do you like music?
Does the music sound the way you like?
Does it HAVE to be right?
Can you get it to sound the way you want?
Do you like to tinker, and tinker and tinker to get it RIGHT?

Are you NUTS? LOL, have to be a little off.. ok! OCD is the norm, not the exception...

The quality of the question you ask, determines the quality of the answer you receive. Quality question, Quality answers...

Enjoy it..., share it, it's fun...

Regards
The advice to listen to live music frequently and critically is foundational.   The second observation I will make is that I learned more in the first 4 months of reading the audiogon forum than I learned in 40 years of reading the magazines and visiting brick and mortar stores.  The third observation is that no one "gets is right" at first.   So, buy used, and buy items that hold their resale value.  That allows you to gain a sense of what you like without spending a fortune.  Final advice is don't ignore gaining an understanding of acoustics.  Unless you get lucky, even the best  system won't approach near its potential without attention to the listening room. 
Develop your secrecy skills if you have a spouse. Always claim that a particular piece of equipment costs much less than you actually paid for it. Phrases like, "I got a great deal on Audiogon!" or "It was actually way less than I expected because I traded in my old piece!" work well -- whether you actually did such trading is immaterial.

Learn how much recognizability factor your spouse has in terms of any new equipment. Speakers are the most identifiable new component. However, new phono pre’s and DAC’s can be easily tucked away and blended in with other little metal boxes you have on your audio shelf. WARNING: Tube equipment with exposed tubes is highly recognizable! However, once you've established the presence of tubed equipment, upgrading and/or swapping out existing pieces for new ones becomes easier as long as it's not a radical new design.

Keep a record of how much your equipment is actually worth so, in the event your spouse outlives you, they won’t sell if for what you claimed to have paid for it.
You start when your 4 years old and marry the right woman.
Post removed 
mijostyn, for most folks I think it is probably easier, and certainly cheaper, to put together a great high end system, than to find the 'right' woman.
 
Try getting rid of a 'wrong' woman!  And no one wants to take them as trade in's. :-) 
What a wonderful question- hopefully you are madly in love with music and where it can take you....
One fast track path is to buy a gently used copy of Jim Smiths book - Get Better Sound

btw, I have a nearly 40 year old NAD 3020A that is still a fantastic amp... running some Dynaco A-25 off a Nak deck.... lovely 
Many great posts here. First of all know what instruments sound like .Go to a small jazz/folk bar/symphony/opera at the Met. as much live acoustic music as possible, might have to wait until 2021? Know that you can never recreate a live performance regardless of your gear The most difficult(for me) to accept is as audiophiles we are "prisoners" to the recording quality. This may sound like doom and gloom but it"s reality many artists have subpar recordings and we just have to accept this. On the positive side learn as much as possible about each company and then listen to the equipment, you will know what you like(you won't need a sales pitch). Also take extreme care of your gear because in this hobby upgrading is a natural, dont be the guy with the beat up amp that's complaining why he's getting lowball offers. Most importantly don't rush into a purchase take your time and enjoy the music!!!
+1 for Jim Smith's book Get Better Sound.
If you follow his guidance, it will save you years of trial and error frustration...
When I started out 30+ years ago I relied a lot on dealers, and I bought my gear as demo, consignment, and later model pieces. I was a chintzy, budget audiophile. I have learned much, and spent much time and money on the hobby over the years.  :) 

Sites such as this are confusing to newbies, as the budget, experience, preferences and motivations of forum participants is unknown. 

I am a reviewer of 14 years and invite you to read my work at Dagogo.com 

You have a big advantage in having dealers nearby to hear gear. Get to shows if you can - God willing they will start up again soon! 

Give up on the idea of making a "perfect" rig. Think of it as a cross-country journey with a lot of scenery (systems, performance changes, musical experiences) rather than a destination (perfection). 

Decide which gives the most pleasure; saving money, socializing with music, media collecting, or system building - or a particular mix of them. 

Just start with a rig. You won't be remotely near state-of-the-art, even if you spend $20K. There is a shockingly HUGE spectrum of performance, and unless you want to drop $100K for starters, you have lots of room to roam in systems. 

I have no interest in debating my advice. :)




There's a science or art to just about anything.  Including multiple levels of performance.  There is typically a low end, mid level and high end to almost anything.

Somethings are an acquired taste like beer.  Some are just a matter of education and trial.  Some people have opinions about certain things that they have really never tried or (more importantly) put appreciable time into.  So their opinions are just that, and pretty worthless also.

Take wine for instance.  In my youth I grew up in an environment where people were drinking hard alcohol.  Wine was drank at family events and weddings and I really didn't like alcohol or wine.  It wasn't until I went to Napa/Sonoma for the first time and really tasted wine with a good friend that I understood that I really never had a good glass of wine before.  Learning what to taste for in wine, what do I smell, taste in the wine, etc.

Same for music and audio equipment. I consider myself fortunate.  I grew up playing classical violin, sax, oboe, clarinet, etc.  First chair violinist.  I know what instruments actually sound like.  not electronic recreations of them.  So, when listening to recordings and playback equipment, I can tell when something is off.  If it doesn't sound accurate, it drives me out of the room. 

So, my advice to anyone just getting started into the audiophile community is to know what you like first.  Second, know what instruments are supposed to sound like.  Don't fall for the hype.  Look out for and understand the scams and marketing that are intended to separate you from your money.

Based on what you like and what is accurate to you, establish a budget.  Listen intently to equipment within your budget and also listen to equipment well outside (on the higher end) your budget.  If the equipment within your budget gets you "there", then you are good.  If not, well, it's time to make/save up and go through the long upgrade path.  

Used equipment is the best way to do that.  When manufacturers come out with the newest, latest and greatest equipment, that means that many people that are in the amp of the month club have to have the newest equipment and will sell at substantial discounts that piece of equipment that you can now afford that you were waiting for.

I'm an Electrical/Electronics Engineers and also a High School Track and Field Coach.  Been a coach since the early 1980's.  I've leaned long ago and tell my student/athletes that there will always be someone that is faster, can jump further/higher than you.  Don't assume you are the best, because on a particular day, you will run into that person that is better than you. Your goal is the be the best you can be and perform at your best.

Same for audio equipment.  no matter what level you are at, there will be equipment that is more expensive and better than what you have.  But, when you are "there" with regards to the sound quality you want, that is the goal.  Upgrading after that can be fun, but you quickly learn about diminishing returns on the value/sound quality of high end equipment.

My experience, is that when you get to a certain level of being "there", there really isn't jaw dropping differences in sound quality of audio equipment.  differences, yes, but not jaw dropping.

Don't purchase with the mindset of whether equipment retains it value.  purchase based on your own criteria.  Mine, is 1) sound quality (does it improve my listening experience, am I closer to "there"?), 2) costs, 3) manufacturer and difficulty/ease of getting it repaired close to where I live.  Shipping items from the West coast of the USA to the East coast for repair is really a PITA.

Take your time, be open with your significant other.  It does not pay to lie.  Have fun and enjoy the journey and especially the music.

enjoy

Visit (when you can) Brooklyn

Stereobuyers, 481 Van Brunt St. Brooklyn, NY 11231 stereobuyers.com, highendaudioauctions.com

Visit (when you can) New Jersey

https://www.audioconnect.com/

I was introduced to separates by a friend at university.

Later I read the UK domestic audio press which mislead me for decades.

I would have done better reading the pro audio press but stupidly kept believing that domestic audio was superior.

One day whilst working in a local broadcasting studio I was surprised (and annoyed) to find myself to be enjoying the Technics turntable more that the Linn LP12 I had at home.

This anomaly remained in my head until eventually the penny dropped - the Technics was the better deck!

Shock, horror, anger and paranoia followed. Okay, slightly exaggerating, but you know what I mean. I realised that I had been continually duped for years and years.

My eyes were finally opened and I gave up resistance (or was it just laziness?) against those wise words I kept ignoring for years -

You must listen for yourself.

As you say, dealers are getting thin on the ground so you need to get to shows, or find some local audiophile friends.

Don't expect to be floored by what you hear, in all my years I've only heard about a dozen wow products. These were mainly speakers - ProAc pyramids, Avantgarde Trios, some Italian bookshelves I've forgotten the name of, Kerr K320s, and Monopulse Actives. However it's almost always great fun attending.

Keep in mind also the world of used products since the high end of 1960 and after can match more or less anything of today.

It's only the budget end where things have dramatically improved I think. A $1000 system of today beats a $1000 system of 1960 if you adjust for inflation.

After all these years I begin to wonder whether experience generally tends to move you from the subjective to the objective camp in the same way politically you may move from the left to the right.

Idealism tempered by wisdom?
There has been a lot of good advice give...here is another 2 cents worth.

Take some time with the system you have now and over the next couple weeks, make some notes for yourself...what are the things you like and what don't you like....and use maybe no more than 10 songs to help you develop the list.  And while listening, use a phone app to check the loudness.


Examples:  tone, dynamics, spaciousness, punch, low end, detail or brightness, sibalance, harshness.

The idea is to get familiar with what your system sounds like and get familiar with what the songs sound like on your system...what do you like and what would you like to improve.

Now when you go elsewhere to listen, bring your list, bring your songs and you will now have a legitimate reference for comparison...and listen at the same loudness level that you do at home.  And make some notes again about what you hear and how it compares.


One final thing...don't be afraid of the internet direct companies...most have liberal listening and return policies and they make some fantastic gear...ok, you may have to pay some return shipping but except for big speakers it won't be that much money.

Good luck

Read reviews and, especially with speakers, listen before you buy. I made that mistake a couple of years ago when I talked myself into a pair of well regarded relatively high efficiency speakers that couldn't cut the mustard when compared to the less efficient speakers I already owned...being driven by a 12wpc little tube amp (why I wanted higher efficiency). Sold the new speakers, and listened to a pair of Klipsch Heresy IIIs...bought 'em and really like those...99db efficiency. 

To live the "audiophile life" you must own a smoking jacket and those Gucci loafers, at least two sporty cars, a stash of various whiskeys, and be prepared to spend hours alone admiring your belongings and understanding what Estoril Blue is.
The quality of the question you ask, determines the quality of the answer you receive. Quality question, Quality answers...

Bingo!

Also, do you hang around and act interested, or post some spur of the moment random thoughts and bail?


Feet proped up, black Russian in hand, brownie on the side, spinning vinyl. Thanks for asking. Enjoy the music
Actual video of millercarbon living the audiophile life.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo11SqLmuGc
Lots of interesting responses. Great to read the variety of viewpoints. Thank you.

(Notably Stereobuyers in Brooklyn. Do they sell? Their site seems to be all about buying. I love a deal. Got the NAD stuff refurbished and couldn't have been happier.)

There was a bit of misunderstanding about my question. I don't have audiophile ambitions. I'm thrilled where I am. I can't believe how much the equipment has improved for the money. Those KEF Q150s were $500. The last time I went shopping, 10-12 years ago, I believe that level of sound quality would be $5,000 in a much bigger box.

I'm more interested in the mechanics of the high-end life. I want to peek behind the velvet curtain. I've got 20K to drop on an amp. Where do I go, what do I see?

Someone above mentioned Kerr and Monopulse in the same post. I never heard of either one. Granted, if I did enough reading, I would know all about them. But finding them must be like finding a rare jewel. How do I listen to them? Do companies with high prices and low turnover send their private plane to pick me up? 

Let me add one more point that may be of interest. Maybe this should be a separate discussion. I run with a fairly fast lane, yuppie-ish, New York crowd. (Albeit, one that has been slowed down by the arrival of children.) I'm the only person I know with a serious set-up. Everyone else listens to Alexa or plugs their phone into something. If these people aren't buying stereos, who is? Whither good sound?
I found Robert Harley's book helpful.
I also joined the Colorado Audio Society. There is advice in the group and, when not social distancing, monthly get togethers to hear different member's systems. This is a great way to hear gear in a home at different levels and environments and talk with people who have been doing this for years. 
Try: https://www.stereophile.com/audiophilesocieties/index.html
and see which one is near you.
Someone above mentioned Kerr and Monopulse in the same post. I never heard of either one. Granted, if I did enough reading, I would know all about them. But finding them must be like finding a rare jewel. How do I listen to them? Do companies with high prices and low turnover send their private plane to pick me up?


Very funny. No. What companies with high prices and low volume do is plow 110% of their talent and ability together with almost all of their meager profits into making something so good people who care go to great lengths to search it out. Because it is indeed a rare jewel. And just like a rare jewel no matter what anyone says its all words and you never will understand until you experience it for yourself. Maybe not even then.

This is 30, 40 years of "living the life". Probably not one thing here you will recognize by name. Most of this stuff took a good long time to search out and get my hands on. Its not something you do in an afternoon. Its not even something you can just go out and buy. It really is "living the life." https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367
Lots of great advice here.  When you are reading about this stuff, put less emphasis on what is subjectively "best" and more on what types of gear/speakers suit your musical preferences, budget, and listening space best.
Once you assemble a system that makes you happy with your music, pause for awhile or even stop.  There is something to be said for being happy with the music and not sweating the direction of your fuses or whether your cables are the latest model.  I often enjoy listening to CDs in my car or playing Tidal on my outdoor system as much as listening to my main rig.
Wow! All I can say is Wow! MillerCarbon, you have a tape eraser from Radio Shack but, as you predicted, the rest was foreign to me. I can’t help but be impressed by the commitment it must have taken to build The System. Nor can I help but wonder about the man who possesses such commitment. I like the capitalization of The System throughout to distinguish it from the dross possessed by lesser mortals.
1. Read, Read and then Read. This helped to gain the knowledge to understand what I was listening for.
2. Listen, Listen and Listen. Practicing by listening to tracks that have been described in detailed reviews helped me become a better listener...even though I played music for years as a young man.
3. Purchase quality used gear that has been well treated. This enables you to punch far above budget.
4. For me, waiting until after the divorce to buy quality gear. Best system protection available. ;)


wolf_garcia,

"To live the "audiophile life" you must own a smoking jacket and those Gucci loafers, at least two sporty cars, a stash of various whiskeys, and be prepared to spend hours alone admiring your belongings and understanding what Estoril Blue is."


Yes, and you will find plenty of good examples at most shows. There's normally also an impressive turnout in the car park.

Still, you get a good social mix of people, ok mostly men, all coming from different backgrounds, converging for a common purpose.

The hardest part is often breaking the ice with people, but each one will have a story.
Do you have to show the dealers the loafers before they will sell to you?

What is Estoril Blue?
Do you bargain? I mean, if you're spending 20K on something, you'd usually bargain. That's a car and you would certainly bargain over that price. If the sticker price of the amp is 20K, can you offer 18K? Or is that gauche beyond all imagination?
Watch this. Pay attention to the details. Down to varying the amount of silver in the solder from point to point in the component. The point is not to push Raven. The point is to drive home just how very different things have to be in order to make a product and have it compete on its own merits without mass market advertising. At the same time notice that while not cheap this level of quality is real world affordable. This is the real world. Just a different one than you're used to.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gcd76DZmbdY&t=300s
I’m giving up the audiophile life. 
It’s a Pirate’s life for me......


Iwin

Precisely. Well stated.

Happy Listening!
I don't have audiophile ambitions. I'm thrilled where I am.
Not sure why you’re here then, but if this is true then just stop — stop right now and enjoy what you have because if you actually care about good sound, once you hear what better systems can offer there’s no going back for you and you’ll become one of “us,” forever.  Because it never goes away, like herpes.

If you doubt the veracity of my words, take a trip out to Verona, NJ with some of your favorite music and go see Johnny Rutan at Audio Connection.  There you can listen to some Vandersteen or ProAc, etc. speakers driven by some Quicksilver, Audio Research, Belles, or other nice electronics.  Then you’ll go home and listen to the same music on your system and “thrilled” will likely no longer apply ever again.  Or you can just stop now and live a happy and content life in a blissful musical ignorance.  If you do decide to ruin your life forever and hit Audio Connection — whenever conditions permit of course — I may meet you there as I’m in Jersey and it’s been almost a decade so I’m well overdue for a visit.  Cheers.
Pirate bucket list item #1:

GK walks the plank....backwards.  
I have friends that are audiophiles more interested in "sound" than they are music. For them, music is a means to an end, the end being improvements in the quality of the sound.

I am more interested in the music. I am an audiophile as a means to the end, the end being getting closer to the music. There are a lot of audiophile "qualities" of the sound that make the music more enjoyable, but the end-game is the music, not the sound.

So my suggestion is to find the equipment that meets your needs and don’t worry about scaling the mountain path of constant upgrades. If it’s sound, you will never reach the top. If it’s music, find what gives you the most enjoyment and enjoy the music.


Like one response said" enjoy the music' 
I think many audiophiles/ audiofools think or believe they have achieved the ability to reproduce the "Holy Grail' of fidelity.
Look up the definition of high fidelity. It is impossible to achieve that no matter how much you spend.

Mark
"If these people aren't buying stereos, who is?"
Malaysians? Japanese? They seem to be involved.
"What is Estoril Blue?"
Metallic (ish) blue color on some cars. I think BMW has it the most.
"To live the "audiophile life" you must own a smoking jacket and those Gucci loafers, at least two sporty cars, a stash of various whiskeys, and be prepared to spend hours alone admiring your belongings and understanding what Estoril Blue is."
Time for me to move to Better Home and Gardens forum.

How many here qualify at least partially and with how many entries? For me, I only know Estoril Blue but I doubt I have deeper understanding of it.
What is Estoril Blue?
Search and find out.
I did.
It's the BMW M sports car color. Dark sky blue. 

Counterpoint to the music much more important than sound is if just music you’re after then you can do that with mp3, iPod and earbuds, or a 1980s cassette Walkman.
The former is what 95% of population does, but nobody here probably okay with that level of quality.
Both important but I think most here need the sound quality to even be able to enjoy the music. What level of sq beyond mp3/iPhone each needs on that regard will vary of course
Back to the question at hand: If the budget is limited and you would classify yourself as entry level but are looking to progress in the hobby I would recommend the following approach:
1. As stated earlier get subscriptions to The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. 2. Watch the free YouTube Audio Channels for reviews and info. Good ones include John Darko’s and Steve Gutttenberg’s. There are others. 3. Take a look at Schiit.com. Their stuff is very good bang for the buck for those entering the hobby. 4. If budget is limited you will likely do best on the secondary markets like here at Audiogon, and others.  5. Because of number 4 above, you may want to invest in an Audiogon membership that gives you access to the Bluebook. Also look at completed sales for equipment you are interested in on eBay. This way you will begin to have a feel for the secondary market and what items are worth. What’s a good deal and what isn’t. 6. One thing that needs to be said, depending on your living situation and taste, you can have a very top line Headphone and portable audio system for a LOT less money than an equivalent Loudspeaker based home system. Something to think about.
7. When the world opens up again and if AXPONA and the Rocky Mountain shows survive, attend one of them with a plan of how you are going to see what you need or want to see efficiently. This will broaden your audio education. 8. Last this is all about enhancing music appreciation. Get subscriptions to Qobuz Studio and or Tidal Hifi. Finally: Roon. One of the best music discovery and appreciation tools around. It will integrate your above Tidal and Qobuz subscriptions and provide you with tons of information, new music and enjoyment. Welcome Fellow Audiophile!