Hi-fi ownership and the ego


A few years ago now I was shooting the shit with a friend of a friend over a few beers. That day, the jukebox was getting hit hard with Red Hot Chilli Peppers and I went off into a mini, semi-humorous (or so I thought) rant about how they were overrated. Rather than engage in debate/discussion, my drinking buddy simply got offended.  It transpired that RHCP were his favourite band of all time.  Fair enough. Worryingly though, he then behaved as if I had cast aspersions on his mother’s honesty or called his dog a communist. This chap was clearly offended.

I tried to empathise with his position: what if he had poured scorn upon the work of David Byrne and/or Talking Heads (my favourite band of all time)? Would I have been offended or upset? I’d like to think neither. I then arrived at this question: how can you be offended by criticism of something you played no part in creating?

Some months later I was tested. A hi-fi buddy laid into Byrne’s voice: ‘awful’ and ‘painful’ were two distinct adjectives he used. I felt not a jot of annoyance. Yes, David Byrne’s music is an extension of my identity BUT – and here’s the crucial part – it isn’t an extension of my ego. (Other things probably are but we won’t go into that here).

I suspect this criticism/ego-blow dynamic plays out all too often with hi-fi ownership. Just like cars or TVs (or any consumer good), some folk buy audio equipment to impress their mates – when said mates are suitably impressed their ego is bolstered.  It helps them to feel validated.

Unfortunately, the downside is when said mates aren’t impressed or (worse) when they read of fellow hi-fi forum members not being so enamoured with their latest DAC or loudspeakers, they feel that most egregious of irritations: the ego blow. This is often the root cause of a forum thread heading south into flame war territory: Person A says they bought Product X, Person B says they auditioned Product X and didn’t like it, Person A then begins to defend Product X….and so it tumbles downhill.  I’m sure you’ve seen this play out many times on your favourite forum.  I know I have.

Again: why would you be offended by someone criticising something that you played no part in designing or making? If you find yourself experiencing ego-pinch, it could be that you have unwittingly attempted to extend your ego with your hi-fi. If someone doesn’t like your choices don’t get annoyed – you need to let go of that feeling or minor outrage. It should be sufficient that you enjoy it.  After all, that’s why you bought it…right?

Don’t buy stuff to impress others.  You do not need the approval of others.  You are fine just as you are.

You are not your hi-fi.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Meh, I dunno…

    People can be passionate about anything and particularly the arts. I’d defend something I was passionate about whether or not I created it. I’d not necessarily take it personally but I don’t mind a good intellectually challenging argument within bounds, and good taste.

    If I had a car that I polished every sunday and loved, and someone started insulting my car, I’d tell them to piss off and thing twice about it.

    I guess you just have to stick with the Art of War or Dale Carnegie and admit that you’ve already lost if it becomes an argument.

    • If my neighbour started yelling insults about my car, yeah I’d be pissed too. Mainly because I’d not solicited a discussion about it. And because he/she was being rude. But that’s a subtly different scenario.

      Defending with passion is one thing. I was talking about people who get *offended* by a someone else not liking their choice of car/band/hifi during a discussion of the same.

      • True about that’s usually how it goes down on the interwebz forums.

        Tell ya’ what we can discuss this further over Blood Sugar Sex Magic and a Fosters at THE Show in Newport!

      • You gots to admit that the Flea is a pretty bad ass bassist though.

        And John Frusciante is generally considered an excellent guitarist as well (#42 according to wikipedia). You should check out the HD live recording of a relatively recent concert in Milan. Untethered from RHCP, that guy is really amazing.


      • I think the part of the essence of a real conversation, especially with your good friend, and especially about music, is that you can agree to disagree on something like that! It’s art for heavens sake.

        I bring passion to everything I do. Sometimes people offer me advice that I didn’t ask for, because I can be a bit reactionary. Honestly though, I never mind anybody criticizing my tastes, whether it come to Hifi, music, or my car, because I’m comfortable with what I like.

        My friends laugh because I drive the Mini and my wife drives the BMW. But I LOVE it!

        LOVE the last sentence of the essay John

  2. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers ARE overrated, Talking Heads rule, Fosters suck BUT – seriously, you STILL have those ugly mofo red filled speaker stands? (as per above pic – If you I filled ’em, you made ’em – ego crusher!!)

  3. I’m wondering to what extent the issue of ego-involvement and hi-fi in particular is a gender issue?

  4. Both great bands in their own right. So much talent for us to enjoy. Its all about the music!

  5. This hysteria about John’s “Emotiva” new DAC was a good example of how people get defensive on their beloved gear…yeah,it’s a gender and deeply a sexual thing, in a wrong way,of course…as for RHCP, I have to say I liked them very much, but in few latter albums they became gradually over-main-streamed and kinda ordinary repeating very few bored patterns in most of their songs. It’s not on their technical or professional music and artistic level, or their performance neither- it’s just that they are consumed and bored for some ten years already, but media praise them as they’re better then ever- yes, it’s more then “over-rating” issue, I agree..:)

  6. I suggest, that the issue was that you tacitly, although unknowingly, questioned your friend’s artistic judgment. I suspect that his feelings of offense had not as much to do with the issue of creative contribution, as it did with the implied criticism of his taste, values, and discernment.

  7. I really don’t care now a days, to much to worry about that something audio. People whom reside like pack dogs on the internet looking for a fresh kill need to get real and join the real world and accept people are not alike and 99% really don’t care if you have an opinion or not. So much macho internet voodoo it just gets rather silly reading these back and forth confrontations like they were fighting to prevent cancer or world hunger. Humor in audio, always.