Extremely negative perceptions (and often derogatory remarks) about Audiophiles and their choices are often bandied about on the Internet as “click baits". These discussions always dominate hifi discussions on the net, generate a lot of hits, and likely creating increased revenues (or popularity) for the click-bait providers.
Unfortunately most audiophiles don’t have the insecurity (or time) to mass debate with these people and the negative perceptions simply get reinforced and further reinforced and become public opinion.
“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth".
At least one generation of people have grown up being fed these negative perceptions. It is now a cool thing to verbally abuse Audiophiles on the Internet.
I was one of these people until I realised I got it wrong. I thought I was an audiophile, I realised I am a simple critic in a sea of critics. A real audiophile is enjoying a hobby from a completely different perspective. My old negativities and prejudices against the audiophile were stemmed because I was using my own set of rules and principles to question another person’s decision. I am merely projecting myself and judge somebody whom I do not know or will ever meet in real life. In short I have dehumanised the audiophile by failng to appreciate or understand their point of view. It satisifies a strange need to dimiss others to make myself superior.
The category Audiophile Folklore is a series of thoughts about addressing these negative (and often toxic) aspects of the hobby. They are based on my journey of sorts. Sharp minds will no doubt find a endless list of ironies contained within these posts, perfectly ok as the transition from “arm-chair critic” to a real “audiophile” will no doubt be a big struggle for me. Feel free to share your ironies in the comments sections so we all know how superior you are when comparing to a common person like me.
This series is not to defend the audiophile. I am merely presenting this new perspective I’m slowly discovering. Perhaps it will be of interest to you, but most likely not.
We begin this series by introducing this website’s namesake - snakeoil. Why do people grade certain products snakeoil, why would audiophiles pay significant amount of money to own them, and what the real issue is all about.
First up we need to define what snakeoil in general means. From wikipedia, snakeoil is described as,
“…refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.”
People, myself included, tend to think in terms of causality, i.e. cause & effect. This is an extremely efficient method of dealing with the many things that bombard us in our daily lives.
You can look at the effect and work backwards to derive a cause; or investigate the cause and work forwards to predict an effect. e.g., you are feeling cold, so you decide to wear a jumper because you know a jumper will keep you warm. The old chestnut of “one thing leads to another". Our brains perform short cuts like this all the time and it will be a comfort zone for the brains to instictictly fall back to. In essense this decision making method is deep in our DNA for it’s the quickest way to decide between fight or flight.
So then what is audiophile snakeoil? My definition is
a product that is sold,often at a high price on the premise it will "improve” a certain aspect of the sound system. The reason for that improvement or the improvement itself is so ridiculous it simply cannot be true.
This defnition is important. Because if we assert the two statements above as axioms1, we can go ahead and derive additional ones:
- The claims simply cannot be true, ergo the claims are false.
- The claims are false, ergo the “improvement” is impossible.
- The “improvement” is impossible, ergo the product is not working
- The product is not working, therefore nobody would buy it
Not everybody will derive the same exact axioms above (I’m guessing you would come up with better ones). Suffice to say this train of thought will ultimately lead to this:
- Nobody is going to buy it, ergo nobody in their right minds will buy it.
All seems reasonable so far, on paper. But what of reality itself? As of this writing, according to the world population clock we have approximately 7.4 billion humans living on planet earth right now. This is a big number in relative terms, that is 74, with 8 additional numbers behind it.
In our minds we usually associate nobody as 0. Given this big number of 7.4 billion, zero is actually an improbable number to attain. i.e. if you visualise each number as a ball all of equal size and weight (including the ball 0), considering every ball has the same exact probability of being drawn, your odds of getting the zero ball is 1 in 7.4 billion. That is very small odds indeed. And the real world isn’t fair, we have various factors like different levels of disposible incomes, perception of values, life priorities, etc that is specific to each individual (all 7.4 billion of ‘em!) and these factors will skew the odds one way or another. The odds are even smaller in the real world!
While axiom 5 is toally logical, intelligent and unfaslable. Due to the huge population and the variables, the collapse of this axiom is inevitable - eventually somebody will buy this thing, and pay good money to do so. To frame this probability in a smaller scale - if you try enough products, eventually you will end up buy something.
This inevitability certainty is the cat amongst the pigeons. If you see somebody actually buying a useless product, based on public opinion you’d end up with this axiom:
- Nobody in their right minds will buy these products. Therefore if they do, they must not be of sound mind.
This is a natural response as it’s the “one thing leads to another” train of thought we are so comfortable with. And this is far easier to accept as it generates minimal conflicts when tested against our long held beliefs. To the layman, audiophiles must:
- have “golden ears",
- be gullible fools that parts their money easily,
- believe in mysitism and supernatural behaviours,
- easily suspectible to placebo effects,
- climate deniers,
- the list goes on depending on how imaginative you are.
It is never about “right” vs “wrong". Just the usage of amplifying minor differences and disagreements and make it a life commitment to crush the other side. Over time, public opinion has turned the Audiophile into that unpopular guy that everybody can gang up on. Geeks who are bullied at school found somebody they can bully on.
Everybody is happy to kick the Audiophile, with examples:
I have something (X) that costs next to nothing that I can sell to the silly audiophile at a ridiculous markup.
This comment, of all the negative commands I have read and hurled as an arm-chair critic is the one that set me thinknig - mainly because it makes no sense at all. Just how many actually tried doing the above and constantly succeed at it? If it’s that easy to sell, why isn’t it sold already? How grounded in reality is this (and other) off the cuff remarks?
If one man’s music is another man’s noise, is it possible one man’s snakeoil be another man’s charm?
Obviously there are companies out there who is guilty of conning audiophiles out of their hard earn. But if it is this easy, wouldn’t common sense says there will be a lot more people joining in this bandwagon? Are there any evidence showing the manufacture or sale of snakeoil products dominating any country’s GDP. In reality this is a niche market at best. So why all the fuss on the Internet? The answer to this storm in the teacup is simple - Audiophiles are easy targets. And there is nothing anybody can do to change that.
Snakeoil in audiophilla for the foreseeable future will continue to be a minefield, and the negativies of it will cast a big shadow over this hobby. But I so no reason to shun in. I’m adopting this new rule for myself:
Instead of focusing on the product itself and accepting/dimissing it on the merits, I’m shifting my focus to the owner of the product. Asking him questions so I can try to appreciate his reasons for having desires to fork money to buy the said product.
This new rule is easier said than done as it involves talking to people face to face and trying to understand them. You know, a essential lifeskill that I never learnt as I grow up communicating faceless via the Internet.
As we begin to delve deeper into audiophile folklore, we would eventually talk about specific snake oil items, and the perspective of them from the arm chair critic point of view vs the Audiophile’s. Maybe along the way some the long held axioms I have will be broken, maybe not. But if does, it may well go back to the first axiom - that snakeoil products don’t work. By the way, I base these topics not on facts or science, but merely my powers of persuation (gift of the gab). You’d be kidding yourself otherwise if you think people use facts/science in all the discussions held so far. If you think they do, it’s time you know this, they don’t.
Make no mistake - audiophiles are not fools. If you believe an audiophile spends money nonchalantly, challenge that belief and actually try and sell them something, at any price, let alone an inflated price.
This is a tough market to crack! Consider yourself a successful person if you can make yourself a good living out of this. Many has tried and there are not a lot of success stories to share out there!
1: An axiom is a mathatical term for stating something is accepted without need for proof. Read the wikipedia entry if you’re interested to know more.