My guess is that initially an audiophile may be doing just that, buying stuff because it impresses his friends more than his having a developed/refined appreciation for what these 'finer components' can bring.
Gives him bragging rights especially on the internet. Absent any feedback from friends and neighbors, who would probably think he is nuts anyway, it minimally gives him some bragging rights over the internet. This disease, if it be so, seems to decline as experience and education increases, until the audiophile is cured and resists posting his opinions any longer without using the caveat IMHO or IME.
Interesting question. It is sometimes thought that big boats, expensive and fast cars, even high power amplifiers are the owners way of making up for an inadequacy in another "area". I myself listen to 45 SET's. I would rather not disclose the cost of my system to one not in the know, albeit, I purchased used here @ roughly 1/3 retail. That of course, is IMHO or at least, IME.
It is a fine line. I think it is fair to say that "pride of ownership" is something many of us share. We are passionate about our music, our systems and proud of what we have assembled with our systems. Fair play.
At what point does pride of ownership become vanity purchases then? Fine line. Clearly crossed when someone massively overpays for something that does not delivery anything close to value for money, but comes with an enormous price tag. But there is a huge space in between...when one of us will say...that is a rare piece worth paying over the odds...and another one of us will say "vanity purchase".
Face it folks, most people think we are out of our minds, and that anyone who buys anything more expensive or esoteric than an ipod is a an elitist snob, hopeless sucker for scam artists or a candidate for institutionalization. Rather than using my audiophilia as a boastful show of ostentation, I furtively practice my fetish behind closed doors, like someone who derives erotic pleasure from watching film of women crushing insects beneath their high heels. I specify that my purchases from Audiogon be delivered in unmarked boxes or better yet, labeled with something more societally acceptable like "Exploding Koran". I never visit my local hi-fi emporia without my London Fog raincoat, snap-brim hat pulled over my eyes and Groucho-style fake mustache and glasses hiding my face.
Like the Christians under Pilate, we suffer for our beliefs, but I remain unswayed.
Conspicuous consumption, my ass. Unless your dealing with someone who bears the tell-tell signs of the affliction - the look of constant distraction from listening to the music in their head, the chronic tinnitus, the careless insertion of phrases like "soundstaging" or "pace, rhythm and timing" into conversations - keep your proclivities under your hat. Ignore this advice at your peril.
I would say that if a person is trying to be conspicuous in that way, (impressing friends and visitors to his/her home)than an expensive audio system is one of the worst ways to do it. Most people that I know are barely aware, if at all of high end audo, and either don't understand the size and perceived complexity of the system, or they simply don't have any interest in it at all. Most visitors to my house think it's odd and takes up yoo much space.
Too few people if any would be impressed with my system, simply because they really don't care or understand and my system is not bad. However, pride of ownership is a factor with myself. I appreciate good sound coming from components that are well made. I can enjoy my system just from looking at it. Which is one reason I enjoy viewing others posted systems, which I will never be able to listen too. The joy of my system is for me alone.
I just looked at my last post, and I think that I need to start proofing them again. Sorry. Anyway, I agree with Elizabeth in part. I would have multiple systems if funds were unlimited, but it would be for my own satisfaction, not to impess others who probably wouldn't know or care what they were looking at anyway.
I had 4 complete systems worth of components in a 15' X13' room at one time. The last thing I wanted was someone to see that mess. Conspicuous? I think not. I worked hard to keep people out of that room....
In the past thirty years I've had many different systems. People from work would come by and tell me how great my system sounded. But I think only one or two people over so many years actually became audiophiles/fools?
About 5 years ago I started doing my own builds and not just modding other equipment. When people do come by, they don't care about my pricey CD player or where my speakers come from. But when they learn that I actually built my preamp. They are really impressed. Next-up tube mono blocks.
Do I do it for them? No! But it's nice to finally get some genuine appreciation for something I have loved for so long.
However, quite often high-end audio represents less, not more. That being the case, I find a lot of people not involved in this hobby, come away impressed in the worst of ways. Think about trying to explain phono cartridges, under ten watt per channel amplifiers, minimonitors, and wire, all with four and five digit price tags to the average person.
But, conspicuous consumption? Yes, absolutely. Far more audiophiles are engaged in that then they would admit or even believe.
i think cosmetics/appearances of the components, especially a "big" tube amp when on may impress some people. perhaps, a shiny chrome preamp, with a lot of buttons and large speakers are impressive as well.
finally, telling someone that the stereo system cost over 6 figures, may also impress some people.
Never! Not for me. Every purchase has been an important piece of the puzzle working towards a perfectly (for me) satisfying sound. If I could get that from an ugly $35 boom box I'd get it and have lots of $$ to spend otherwise.
It happens all the time. This can apply to someone with a huge ego as well as someone with a deflated ego. Both want to impress, one feels inferior, one feels superior, both hide in the material world. Maybe they will get bored and sell the stuff to one of us at a deep dicount!!