Audio Show

A Non-Audiophile Investigates an Audio Show

Whether you are an audiophile or just know one, you will agree audiophiles are a special breed.  They eat, sleep and breath the quest for the ultimate tone.  It is a passion and obsession that is hard to explain as most people just don’t get it.  I recently stumbled across an article written by   from Esquire that I can’t help but share with you.  He documents his trip to the 2015 HiFi Wigwam Show from his perspective as a newbie to the audiophile world.  Newbie may be a bit of a stretch actually as you will discover he has no idea what he has ventured into, describing the guide book and ads as being written in an “impenetrable language”.  He goes on his own quest to try and understand the audiophile phenomenon by infiltrating the audio show and going on to interview several audiophiles including Peter Qvortrup from Audio Note.

It’s a long read so I will start you off with the beginning but I encourage you to visit their site for the full version.  It’s sure to give you some laughs and remind us all that we are not alone in our quest for the ultimate tone, there are many suffering along with us. The full article is available here on Esquire.

Audiophiles: Are They Hearing Something We’re Not?

Beneath the most unremarkable houses lurk the most remarkable sound systems. Alexis Petridis investigates.

It’s a wet Sunday afternoon and I’ve discovered an alternate universe in a hotel outside Melton Mowbray. At least I’ve got a guidebook, although the leaflet headlined “2015 HiFi Wigwam Show” might as well be in Biblical Aramaic for all the sense it makes. “Home-built passive pre-amp feeding very unusual VRR monoblock power amps and rounded off with Tannoy Cheviots.” “Software-based room correction and linear phase crossovers feeding six Hypex amps powering DIY sealed box three-way speakers.” “Tri-amped with classic Pye HF25, PF91 and HF 5/8, stacked Quad ESL57s with lonophone plasma supertweeters.”

But if the guidebook seems odd, it’s nothing compared to what’s actually happening in the hotel. The HiFi Wigwam Show — one of the premier annual gatherings for Britain’s audiophiles — has taken over the whole building. Every guest room contains a man — it’s always a man — with a hi-fi system he’s brought from home. People go from room to room, listening. Pinned to the walls of the corridors, you occasionally see a small ad written in the same impenetrable language as the guidebook. “Wanted: Nordost Valhalla speaker cables spades both ends,” reads one. “Please call.”

You may think of yourself as someone with an interest in hi-fi, who believes that the music you love deserves to be heard in decent sound quality. Perhaps you spent a few hundred quid on an amp and speakers, or a Sonos system. Perhaps you upgraded the earbuds that came with your phone for a pair of Beats headphones. Or perhaps you’ve junked your CDs and turned your nose up at digital downloads in favour of a return to vinyl, confident that it sounds “so much warmer”.

But you’re not an audiophile. By the standards of the exhibitors at HiFi Wigwam, you’re a part-timer, a dilettante, you’re one step away from the dog on the HMV logo, your idiot brain transfixed by the muffled sound coming from a wax cylinder. There’s a guy in one room who’s eschewed hi-fi equipment altogether in favour of playing music off the huge reel-to-reel tape machines you get in recording studios. There are people here who build their own speakers and CD players. There are “modders”, men whose immediate impulse upon buying a £3,000 amplifier is to rip off the back and set about it with a soldering iron, confident they can make it better.

In a room off the hotel lobby, I find Steve, a building contractor from Essex, who has devoted his spare time to assembling the most deranged-looking hi-fi system I’ve ever seen.

The speakers have something resembling the horn from an old gramophone on top of them: they’re called Acapella High Violons and you have to play music through them continually for 14 days to “break them in”. They sell for £40,000 a pair. (This makes them Acapella’s entry-level model: its top-of-the-range speaker costs around £350,000, looks like someone nailed two tubas to a mid-Eighties Habitat shelving unit and can only be used in rooms over 131sq ft.)

His turntable has two platters, one on top of the other. The bottom one spins round in the opposite direction to the one on top: apparently it’s designed on the same engineering principle as the counter-rotating blade of a helicopter. There are only two in the UK, possibly because its recommended retail price is £30,000. It’s sitting on top of something that looks remarkably like a Black & Decker Workmate bench. It turns out that this is because it is a Black & Decker Workmate bench.

Someone hands Steve an album and he puts it on, and it becomes apparent that, however crazy his system looks, that’s nothing compared to how it sounds.

The old line about great hi-fi making it feel like the band’s in the room with you isn’t quite right. It doesn’t sound like live music: it sounds better. Clearer, more pure. The weirdest thing is that the music doesn’t appear to be coming out of the speakers: it seems to be happening in a space just in front of you. It feels like it’s in 3D: you could walk around it, you could reach out and touch it. It’s astonishing.

And that’s the thing about audiophiles. You can, if you’re so inclined, mock their nerdiness; if that’s your wont, then there are plenty of people here from geek central casting, including a man wearing a T-shirt that reads: “THERE’S A NAME FOR PEOPLE WITHOUT BEARDS: WOMEN”.

You can look askance at the kind of things that get them riled up – if you want to start a massive row among high-end hi-fi buffs, if you want to turn the HiFi Wigwam Show’s atmosphere of beery bonhomie into one of murderous fury, get them on the subject of whether the cables used to connect hi-fi components make a difference to the sound. You can wonder aloud whether some of them aren’t more interested in sound waves and lonophone plasma supertweeters and shiny boxes from Japan and Germany than they are in music.

And you can stand there with your mouth hanging open and your finger twirling by your temple when you find out how much they’ll pay for a CD player or a pair of speakers – however much they tell you that good sound is not about how much you spend, but how carefully you match your components, you never seem to meet an audiophile who hasn’t lavished thousands of pounds on their obsession.

But if you’ve got functioning ears and a love of music, you can’t help but boggle at the sound their equipment can make…

To continue reading the full article and get some good laughs visit Esquire, Audiophiles: Are They Hearing Something We’re Not?

2 Responses

  1. Eric Dumas
    Eric Dumas at |

    Excellent article ! It is a very good description of these people and it’s done with great respect. I’m a part time audiophile as you may say (and I have a “part time budget” too) but I have a couple of close friends who are maniacs ! And when you ask whether or not they love “music” (or gear) is a good one for which I have no answer… Thank you so much !

    Reply
  2. Manuel
    Manuel at |

    Great article Sandra!

    Favorite part: “a T-shirt that reads: “THERE’S A NAME FOR PEOPLE WITHOUT BEARDS: WOMEN”.”

    Reply

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