The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the term audiophile was coined in 1951 by High Fidelity magazine. The suffix ‘phile’ is derived from French, Latin, and Greek, related to ‘loving.’
In this case, audio lover with a passion for music.
Let’s begin by answering the question in the title of this blog.
Mocking the audiophile is a sport.
It’s played by many in print, social media, and on-the-street skeptics.
I get it. Exotic, lavishly priced, and sometimes zany devices make for an easy target.
Audiophile reviewers who speak in an alien language plus salon-type retailers reinforce an eccentric sometimes loony image.
However, in my opinion, the mocking is unfairly-reserved for the audiophile.
Other specialty endeavors as classic cars, fine wine, baseball cards, rare books, and fine art, appear to have been given a pass. And they’re often held in high regard.
The mocking caricatures do not recognize the brightest minds on the playing field of audio reproduction.
For clarity, let’s lay out the difference between audiophile and mainstream high-fidelity audio.
Although pricing leads our mocking list, it is not the core difference. The difference lies in a professional
and personal musical passion rooted in countless hours of listening and modifying/re-tuning systems and prototypes. In a nutshell, the audiophile cares.
A Look into the Way-back-machine
A historical review offers insight into the ancestry of the audiophile.
An introduction to audio reproduction commonly begins with the Edison phonograph.
Although, some may insist that the player piano is the better choice.
Ironically Edison’s initial vision did not include audio or music. Edison sought a machine that could transcribe telegraph messages through indentations on paper tape and recast them over the telegraph repeatedly.
In any case, Edison’s machine did evolve into his legendary phonograph.
Then Emile Berliner led the transition from Edison’s cylinders to flat discs. Alexander Graham Bell, Columbia Records, and others further advanced the technology of early audio reproduction.
And the public’s demand and hunger for music drove sales success.
Improvements followed: Bell Labs tube amplifier, the Altec horn loudspeaker, Peter Jensen’s dynamic loudspeaker, the LP record, the Ampex tape recorder, McIntosh’s 60-watt tube amplifier, Edgar Villchur’s acoustic suspension AR-1 loudspeaker, the solid-state amplifier, Peter Walker’s Quad ESL 57 electrostatic loudspeaker, Sony/Phillips’ compact disc, high-resolution audio, Internet streaming, plus much more.
But those prices are outrageous!
Now let’s add more perspective via price.
The price in 1916 of an Edison phonograph ranged from $150 to $250.
That’s about $4,000 to $6900 in 2023 dollars.
Luxury French and Italian cabinet models priced from $1000 to $6000 – $27,000 to $166,000 in 2023. Ultimately the price of a more affordable Edison phonograph, via trickle-down improvement in production and performance, fell to $60.
Keep in mind, that’s still $1661 in 2023 dollars.
In comparison, this makes the price of a contemporary high-fidelity audio product seem cheap.
I suspect the early Edisons and their price also drew skeptical, mocking stares.
So give them a pat on the back
The point is, the audiophile’s passion for audio and music has always been a prime motivator.
Their efforts have and will continue to trickle down to mainstream audio.
Compared to early 20th Century dollars, we pay pennies for exceptional high-fidelity audio.
For that reason alone, the mockers should offer their appreciation.
Or at least cut the audiophile some slack.
Yet, I have a hunch that the sport of audiophile mocking will in fact continue.
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Another blog on this subject by Captain Ed.
In the Defence of Snake Oil & Audio/Video Cable