If it costs a lot, then it's an audiophile recording. Just kidding. You can't assume that just because it says "audiophile" that it will sound great. I have found this out the hard way. Even if it was recorded using the original master tape, it does not guarantee great sound. I think some of the people that were engineering LP's had hearing problems. I have many great recordings that were recorded from original masters, but there are some bad ones out there to. As for asking sales people at record stores about recordings, forget it. Most of these people know nothing about what they are selling. I have found some to be knowledgeable (Music Direct, Acoustic Sounds, etc), but the kids that are clerks in records shops don't even know what a record is!
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In the old days, the joke was that an "audiophile recording" was one of an obscure orchestra playing and conducted wretchedly but recorded in the most glorious, natural sound that you ever heard. This was one of J. Gordon Holt's golden rules of audio--the better the sound, the worse the performance. Nowadays I think, in the case of records, it really only refers to the weight of the vinyl or if it is a 45 rpm version of a record normally distributed as a 33-1/3 rpm LP, and given the limited number of these records made, I don't think stampings are necessarily as much of an issue as they were in the golden age of stereo. It certainly does not refer to the use of master tapes in my view, although some companies, such as Classic Records, do make the effort to get the original masters rather than copies.
In the case of vinyl there are a number of things which are usually done in the production of regular LPs (that must play on non-audiophile equipment) which can be omitted for "audiophile" recordings.
Groove spacing can be wider so as to minimize "pre-echo". This reduces playing time.
Mixing of LF signal to Mono can be minimized. The resulting vertical groove modulation may cause problems with non-audiophile pickups.
Quality of the vinyl can be improved. Reduced surface noise permits greater dynamic range.
Greater dynamic range is also possible by using higher peak stylus velocity which non-audiophile pickups can't track.
The use of 45rpm instead of 33rpm avoids degraded sound near the end of the record where velocity of the vinyl past the stylus is too slow for a 33 rpm disc.
There are various recording techniques that result in better master tapes. These improvements benefit both digital and analog products.
Eldartford, wonderful clear list of what it takes for vinyl, thank you very much.
I can truly relate to JGH and all those who as much as say that the word as applied to recordings may be appropriate, but when applied to music it groans.
As for digital, I like what I find on this page, where I have not found the word "audiophile" :
It includes descriptions of the sound of great digital recordings with notes on how they were made that way.
IMO it's a nebulous term used all too often as a marketing tool. All of Eldartford's points are well taken but there is no guarantee that the end product, for lack of a better description, "sounds good". I have some contemporary "audiophile" pressings that are quite mediocre. A good example is the 200 gram pressing of Peter Gabriel's "So". The original Geffen release smokes the "audiophile" version. There are many releases from the 60's and 70's that are far superior to their current audiophile counterparts. The first release A&M brown label pressings of Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman" and "Teaser and the Firecat" are without question superior to the current re-masters.
Ultimately and again IMO, audiophile recordings are those special pieces of vinyl that play with clarity, transparency, depth, and minimal dynamic compression.
An AUDIOPHILE recording was one "audiophiles' loved to play to show off the system or to reach the highest level of audio heaven.
The "HP LIST" was a good selection of audiophile recordings.
Then the word became a commodity.
Slap on a label with the magic word on your commercial product and the seller can charge double or triple the usual cost.
Thus "Audiophile" labeling was born.
To find real audiophile music is still an arcane and laborous work. To read a bunch of labels and believe you have it easily (but, alas, not cheap) is the fools path to audio-nirvana.