By Jess Rothenburger
As a home technologist, a large part of what I do is deploying audio systems in people’s homes. In the past years I have learned more than I thought possible about audio, and I know enough to know how much I still don’t know. It’s fascinating, actually, but learning about audio can be a bit of rabbit hole. Without knowledge, discerning which audio product is the best solution for an application can be a real challenge. So, an important part of my job is matching the solution to the needs of my customers and, in so doing, the first thing I ask is: What kind of music listener are you?
In my experience, people can generally be categorized into three music listener categories:
1) AUDIOPHILE 2) LOW-FI LISTENER 3) DISCERNING LISTENER.
Let’s dissect these people a little bit, shall we?
AUDIOPHILE: If you haven’t heard this term before, there is a good chance you are not an Audiophile. If you don’t own FLAC or MQA files, have a Dragonfly or know what a DAC is, you are not an Audiophile. Audiophile – it sounds like a bad word, doesn’t it? On the contrary, Audiophiles are, in my view, to be respected. Simply put, Audiophiles LOVE music and, importantly, they love finding the best ways to play recorded music as close to its original and purest form as possible. Quality over quantity. You can usually tell Audiophiles, because they will not only have high quality equipment, but they embrace any opportunity to show it off. They can have large music collections that include CD’s, Vinyl and 24bit/192khz digital music files. Audiophiles often also like to talk about music… the best mastering of albums, the virtues of vinyl vs. digital, types of speakers, etc. I guess, in a way, it’s a subculture. Personally, I am not a self-described ‘Audiophile’ but I do think Audiophiles are cool, and I enjoy speaking their language. I dig their enthusiasm and passion for music.
LOW-FI LISTENER: Low-Fi Listeners basically doesn’t care how music sounds, because convenience is paramount. If the music is free, great. Low-Fi Listeners are willing to compromise on performance to achieve shape or colour or gimmick. Quantity over quality. MP3’s, free streaming music services, crappy headphones and cheap Bluetooth speakers come to mind here. Low-Fi Listeners want the beats fast and dirty, sometimes loud but most always cheap. Definitely not my style, but hey, I get it. To stereotype, the quintessential Low-Fi Listener is… a teenager, or pathologically cheap (sorry, it’s true). As a side note, there are many adults who self-describe as Low-fi Listeners who are actually NOT – they just haven’t had a chance to discover who they really are…. like the dude who “only drives standard” until he has driven an automatic for a week never to go back to the tedium of shifting gears all the time.
DISCERNING LISTENER: The discerning listener is probably you…. which means you are a healthy mix of the Audiophile and the Low-Fi Listener. If this is you, welcome to the club! We Discerning Listeners value convenience, form factor AND quality sounding music. We don’t obsess over the tech specs of how the music is being played, we just know if it sounds good or not. We can tell the difference between CD quality and low-fi streaming audio, but it may be hard for us to tell the difference between a CD and a 24bit/192kHz Flac file. When we listen to background music for more than 10 minutes our ears get tired when the sound is bad, but we turn it up when the sound is good. Generally, we prefer high quality audio if it’s convenient and we can afford it; that said, we are not going to break the bank either, because there are many other things we can spend our hard- earned money on. We want quality, quantity and excellent value.
Whoever you are and whichever imaginary category you may fit into, there is no judgment here. Respect all around. If you are a Low-Fi Listener, there isn’t much people like me can help you with. If you are an Audiophile – let’s play!
If you are a Discerning Listener who wants high quality but doesn’t want to pay too much, please don’t be daunted by the gazillion offerings out there. There is an ideal solution for you, and people like me are here to help. Knowing what kind of listener you are is the first most important step.