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What is a Music-First Audiophile?

The Music-First Audiophile is not like other audiophiles.

The Music-First Audiophile buys an audio system to elevate the sound quality of music s/he likes.

The Music-First Audiophile understands that this might not be what others like.

The Music-First Audiophile compiles an audio system for his/her own enjoyment, not to impress others.

The Music-First Audiophile does not tell others that their preferences are ‘wrong’; that their findings require double-blind test confirmation; that their understanding of theory negates another’s direct experience.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that subjectively good sound can vary from genre to genre.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that there are many music genres, not just those that s/he enjoys.

The Music-First Audiophile isn’t trying to bring the live experience home. S/he understands that playback is its own art form.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that dynamic range compression can affect the quality of the listening experience but also sees it as an artistic decision made by the label, artist or mastering engineer.

The Music-First Audiophile doesn’t choose or refuse an album on the basis of its dynamic range compression.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that hi-res audio can enhance the listening experience but doesn’t choose or refuse an album on the basis of its sample-rate or bit-depth.

The Music-First Audiophile enjoys the benefits of vinyl playback but doesn’t choose or refuse an album based upon its availability in the format.

The Music-First Audiophile has heard the benefits of MQA first hand but doesn’t choose or refuse an album based upon its availability in the ‘format’.

The Music-First Audiophile has heard the benefits of DSD first hand but takes one look at the titles available for download and asks “Is that it?”. (S/he understands DSD’s potential for up-samplers at home).

The Music-First Audiophile thinks: music first, hardware second, format third.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that it’s not all about the music”. If it were, s/he’d be content listening to laptop speakers and tiny white earbuds.

The Music-First Audiophile isn’t an audiophile 24/7. S/he listens to Bluetooth streams, in the car, or as background music at home and/or when friends drop by.

The Music-First Audiophile knows pragmatism: that the convenience of Spotify or Apple Music outweighs its lossy encoding, especially when out and about. Or that a high-end audio system isn’t required for every room of the house.

The Music-First Audiophile understands that software’s user interface and/or hardware’s aesthetics and/or ergonomics each have their parts to play in the subjective enjoyment of the listening experience.

The Music-First Audiophile is transducer agnostic. S/he listens via loudspeakers and headphones because headphones don’t suffer room-induced colouration.

The Music-First Audiophile understands that sound quality is more dependent on the listening room’s acoustic make-up than the audio hardware that resides within. That spending more money on larger loudspeakers has the potential to make your favourite album of all time sound worse.

The Music-First Audiophile hears the law of diminishing returns as s/he spends more money on hifi gear.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that being an audiophile is but one part of life. That the pursuit of subjectively better sound must end somewhere.

The Music-First Audiophile admits that s/he is an audiophile and that being an audiophile is, by definition, concerned with the hardware and software that brings music to life.

The Music-First Audiophile knows that music and sound quality are important but music will always be the most important.

Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

59 Comments

  1. I would add: The Music-First Audiophile ignores all audio myths and finally loves a XXXXXXX from XXXXXXXX, UK. 🙂

      • In all seriousness, I do agree with this.

        The challenge now is creating more MFA™s. Or to be more accurate, introducing more “Bluetooth and earbud” people to the world of the MFA™. Maybe there’s an argument that in the introduction, sound quality must come first, for the music to take over again at a later time? To show the experience that better sound quality can help to create? Or at least be at equal footing.

  2. Absolutely, count me in.

    And maybe add in somewhere the word civil (as in, to others). As exemplified by the Roon Forum for example. 🙂

  3. `I partially disagree with your statement about volume compression.
    I think it is often an automatic, completely commercial decision, with no thought at all given to art and sound
    Lots of times the artist and producer have no say in the matter, someone behind a desk who doesn’t have art or sound in mind at all decides.

  4. The Music-First Audiophile™ gets confused/depressed when he sees someone fully enjoying their MP3s on a Bose bluetooth speaker while he still continues to spend countless hours on audio forums and in audio shops searching for the holy grail. (must be that damn room)

    Fortunately he does get some relief/satisfaction when he compares himself to the The Music-Last Audiophile™ demoing his new $2000 cable while playing Diana Krall – Temptation to his non-audiophile buddies. Trying to convince them that this is ”where it’s at”.

  5. So what if I “pass” in many of those categories, but “fail” in others? For instance, I will forgo purchasing an album if I know it’s been hyper DRC’d. Experience tells me I don’t enjoy listening to music in that state. Can I still join the club?

    • If you reject an album that you like because of its poor sound/mastering quality, are you not putting the latter ahead of the former? In other words, you’re being SQ-first.

      • Simple – he needs to downgrade his system to allow those recordings to be palatable. That’s why I’ve moved away from a highly revealing audiophile system to a more musical one.
        That being said – I still find some recordings just unlistenable. That’s where my cheap car system comes in.
        It’s all about compromises.

      • That’s true, but is it fair to label a person as a this or that based on one, or even just a few elements, of his/her life? Am i a “music last” audiophile because I don’t want to subject myself to physical discomfort when i listen to music? As you said in a comment above, we can’t control what happens in the studio, but I can control where my dollars go.

        • Indeed. But have you noticed the number of audiophiles who refuse to identify as such? Could it be they see the importance of the gear but can’t identify with those who put gear ahead of the music?

          • Yes, I hear what you’re saying. I enjoy the gear too, which is one of the reasons I visit this site (the other being spiritual sustenance), but I have invested way more $$ in music purchases in my life than gear. Although I do have preferences regarding formats, etc., I consider myself a music -first audiophile.

        • MFAs also control where their dollars go. It’s just that they don’t let the tail wag the dog: let the hardware determine which music does or doesn’t get played on it. Personally, I just can’t relate to this way of thinking.

          This isn’t about labels. It’s a tongue-in-cheek manifesto to stand behind for audiophiles who don’t let the tail wag the dog. A way to help them not shy away from identifying as an audiophile.

  6. Christ, if i judged all my music on SQ, three quarters of it would get lashed! I reckon half the gear fetish issue is purely down to blokes competing with each other. I used to be a gear freak right up to my mid thirties, and regularly purchased mags such as hifi+, but now i would rather spend the money on music. I have had the same core system for the last 7 years or so, interrupted only by the purchase of a dac, in order to access hi res formats and a sub, cos I moved house, and the new room meant the system needed a little help in that respect. If mp3 is the only format available then – while I would prefer CD or lossless formats – that isnt going to stop me buying a piece of music that I like. I will continue to look out for better formats if they become available though. Finally, having been a drummer for many years, let me assure you that you really don’t want the illusion of a band playing live in your living room! Hifi for me, is about emotional truth and connection to the music, and if a Dansette does that for you, then that’s fine by me.

  7. Outstanding list JD, I reckon you nailed it.
    I now feel comfortable enough to stand up and say, “hello, my name is Richard, and I’m a Music-First Audiphile”

    • Then my work here is done, Richard. My intent is for people to identify with this position so that they can be happy calling themselves an audiophile.

  8. Great article, John. Your first 3 or 4 “credos” are the key. From a purist audiophile standpoint, you may have to take a step backward in order to take two steps forward. Chasing audiophile upgrades and worrying about DR on digital releases is tiresome and expensive.

    My system now plays Spoon’s Hot Thoughts CD (DR 5) just as well as vinyl, SACD or audiophile CDs. It took blind luck and experimentation, but more importantly it also took realizing what sound qualities I value the most in my setup given my music tastes.

  9. Guess this begs for a Venn diagram of sorts. Maybe coordinates on “music importance in my life” (eating, sex, etc.) and “how I like to listen to it” (live, in my car, isolation chamber, etc.). You pick the X/Y or other measures. As you’ve brought up “ease of use/access” that might be an interesting one (iPod/DAP vs. vinyl, reel-to-reel, etc.). A nice test for allowing people to sign up for this forum? Even with only marginal sources, I’ll listen to Pop’s “West End Blues” or Caruso, just to get that kick in the pants thrill.

  10. The MFA doesn’t sit by the mailbox waiting for the new (insert favorite mail order house here) catalog to be delivered so he/she can decide what music to buy yet again in the new format of the month.

  11. I’ve said for decades I’m more a hobbyist than audiophile but I’d happily classify myself a “Music-First Audiophile”. A 1940’s recording of a great performance is more satisfying in my car as is a DSD by (fill in your least favorite orchestra here) ________.

    Great article! Keep em coming!!

  12. A music-first audiophile is just the common sense about audio I was taught in the 1970’s. This person in the 1970’s would not be associated with the term audiophile. The most important piece of music that shaped my music tastes “All American Music” was only released as an 8 track. Or my best audio experience of 2015 was driving up Highway 1 in California listening to my all-time favorite radio station on its southern stick.

  13. Sound quality is why I have spent the time and money I have so I can enjoy the music. Sometimes, I’d rather hear a Great recording than a specific Artist…because I want to hear really well recorded music…but yet I’m still enjoying the music…..One of the biggest examples is Stevie Wonder. His music is some of the finest music I have ever heard but MoTown offers crappy compressed recordings that really detract from his music ….sometimes I’m willing to hear the poor recordings because I really enjoy Stevie’s Music….however other times I want to hear all that my system can deliver with my best recordings….either way is not incorrect….IMHO…

  14. Thank you for the list and for making the overall point. I grew up doing my math homework while my sister practised the piano. Now, she is a classical pianist and I am a DSP research engneer. Yes, I am an audiophile, but the music matters before the audio quality.

    Also, I grew up Down Under. I like reading your site and I am proud of Australia’s contributions to music and audio. Keep up the good work

  15. Audiophiles consider my music crap, while musicphiles consider my equipment crap. I transcend stereotypes. I do like bacon though.

  16. And he opened The Can and The Can was found to contain worms and, verily, the worms emerged from The Can and he was unable to put the worms back in The Can, forsooth.

  17. Enjoyed the article.

    The only issue I can find is, while 99% of the time I am a MFA, but on some days, I can switch gears and become an Equipment First Audiophile.

    I see nothing wrong with getting in that mode from time to time.

    • Not at all audiophiles are the same. I simply cannot relate to those who enter an audio show room to enquire “Can you play something in hi-res?” or those who ensure that audio societies around the globe subsist on a very, very narrow diet of musical options or those who own more amplifiers than CDs.

      I suspect that many audiophiles now refuse to identify as such because of the format/hardware-first approach to listening seen elsewhere. In other words, they don’t see themselves in the behaviour of others. They cannot identify.

      I am trying to give these reluctant audiophiles something slightly different to identify with: that it’s not “ALL about the music”, that sound matters almost as much but it is never more important than the music. [And I did so without resorting to cheap shots about socks and sandals. 😉 ]

      If this is you, why complain about labels?

      • It is me! I am reluctant to call myself an audiophile, so I’m really don’t want to be seen as complaining. I’m just not a fan of labels full stop. I love music. I enjoy fooling around with the kit it’s played on. That should be enough. 🙂

  18. You could have just began and ended with this:

    “The Music-First Audiophile thinks: music first, hardware second, format third.”

  19. pfff… the moment you started talking about MQA & DSD, you went back to the audiophool territory. :/

  20. Well put, I can relate to this!

    Then again, I’m somewhat puzzled by the very fact that such manifestos can be relevant in audiophilia.

    I love cycling. Now cycling and hi-fi has quite a lot in common.
    In essence any rideable bike will take you form A to B, just like little white earbuds will make sound. If you put a bit more care/time/money in your bike, your ride can become a genuine source of joy – just like investing in your hi-fi. You could spend thousands of Euros on bike _components_, and encounter the effect of diminishing returns unexpectedly soon – just like in case of hi-fi. We also have the tweakers, the novice, the know-it-alls, the fanboys, those who got hooked by a piece of “common wisdom” 35 years ago and still believes that fitting an Italian road bike with Shimano groupset will instantly cause nausea, headache or in severe cases: death. Not mentioning the plethora of different bikes and their very different riders.
    One thing that is remarkably un-hifi though is that I have never ever met/talked to any type of cyclist for whom it was not first and foremost about the ride. The daily commute, the century at the weekend, the downhill, whatever, it’s about the ride and the thrill/joy it provides. I’ve also never met any bike loving person who could not appreciate the aesthetics/craftsmanship/engineering of a nice bike just because it isn’t her/his type of ride and accept the fact that said bike might as well prove to be ideal for someone else.

    I don’t know the moral of the story either. 🙂

  21. While I have never considered myself any kind of Audiophile, I definitely don’t consider myself your definition of an MFA or whatever you are calling yourself. I am content with just being a record collector. I spend money on my gear because there is value in improving the SQ of the music I personally own. I just don’t look first at gear to improve my listening experience. If a re-issue or even a older pressing sounds better than what I have personally, I tend to go that route.

    I don’t listen to Music Services. Not that they aren’t convenient. But they just sound awful. I don’t tell people not to use them. Do as you please. But when I notice a song I love is less than what I am accustomed to hearing, even when I am pre-occupied with doing something other than just listening, it becomes the distraction to that endeavor. It’s just not that hard to set up a server of your own music to your personal device. I would assert that creating a playlist is requires the same effort as downloading a file from a server to your phone.

    You in particular lost me with DR statement. The Loudness War is real. The RHCP Stadium Arcadium is better on vinyl the its CD counterpart. Not because it’s on vinyl, but because it’s better mastered. This isn’t an artistic decision, it poor crafting. Skill is involved, not art. And it’s just plain appalling that you have to bootleg Californication to get a decent sounding digital recording. (Re)mastering is supposed to be done by trained Engineers. How do they not notice clipping?

    I get what is mostly suggested in this article. It comes down to this, don’t forget why you are pulling out your wallet to buy gear. What I don’t like about your article is that it fails to recognize that some of your suggestions don’t actually support the Artists themselves. I expect a good portion of what I pay for a recording should go the Artists and the Artisans to allow them to continue making further releases. The current state of music business is awful. The Beatles quit touring to focus on producing great albums. If we had the current music distribution model in the 60s, they would never have progressed from making Single oriented releases to making Rubber Soul, Sgt. Peppers, the White Album, Abbey Road and Revolver. They would have had to go on tour to actually make money. Don’t get me wrong, I love live shows. But forking out hundreds of dollars to see my favorite band is ludicrous. The fact is bands don’t make money from recordings anymore, if you want to make money, you tour. The Rolling Stones have made 1 great album in 25 years, but they tour every 4 or 5 years. There just isn’t any financial justification to make great recordings. And Music Services like Spotify are a huge reason for this. Not only do they try to not pay their Artists, what they do pay is piddlings. Give me the good old days when Artist toured to support their releases. Then recordings actually made the Artists money and concert tickets didn’t cost a paycheck.

    Every aspect of your article only asserts a being called the Music-First Audiophile. Everything else mentioned are “things.” Your final statement is “The Music-First Audiophile knows that music and sound quality are important but music will always be the most important.” I am appalled by this. The most important thing is that we are supporting the artists. We have a relationship with the artists. Artists aren’t things that make other things to which we listen. The music is only an extension of artists themselves. Without the artist there is no music. You sir, are entitled to assertion in this MFA being who focuses on technology as means to self gratification. However, your article seems only to shame those who solely focus is technology. Your only distinction seems to be the self gratification aspect. The pot is calling the kettle black.

    • You seem to have quite a bit to say about artists and artists being paid. Artist support is implicit in being a MFA. You buy music therefore you support the artist. (A discussion on licensing deals cut between artist and label or label and streaming service sits beyond the scope of this article).

      The intent of this piece, as stated many times in this comments section, is to provide a platform from which being an audiophile can be a point of pride, not shame as is often the case with those of us who don’t identify with the gear obsessives. I mean, how many more times do we need to hear people say, “I’m not an audiophile, I’m a music lover” to know that the stigma of being a gear-first audiophile is real? Perhaps for these reluctant audiophiles, the gear provides a large degree of satisfaction, yes, but it’s never more important than the music itself. Never.

      As for DR and RHCP. “Poor crafting” is still artistry. By definition, any decision made by the label, artist or studio boffin is still an artistic call, no? Yes the loudness war *is* real and my library contains many examples of it but I don’t baulk at playing them because their DR is limited. I just know them for what they are, sometimes silently wish they’d sound better, but enjoy them nonetheless.

  22. Not me, man – I wear my ‘Gear Queer’ black wife-beater with pride. When I’m not lusting after the gear itself (Sennheiser Orpheus 2, omfg drool slobber), I’m reading reports from people who claim to have actually *heard* the gear. Bastards.

    McLovin, swimming against the tide of hypocrisy in this comments section

  23. An article like this, is the reason this is my first choice audio blog!

    I’m trying to become Music-First Audiophile but still fail sometimes.
    But if you keep up the good work with entries like this a have a chance to get there on day.

    Keep on John!

  24. I didn’t even know I was an Audiophile until my friends and family declared it so. I await their decision on my sub classification. I just love music.

  25. Oh man, you hit the nail só hard with this, right on the head!

    I’m still undecided between admiration and jalousy for you coining this

    Also good to know that I’m a #musicfirstaudiophile too, apparently…

  26. In other words, the music-first audiophile does not suffer from narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or Asperger’s, or at least is able to keep such issues in check and lead a well-adjusted life.

    • While I understand the attempt at humor, I generally have a problem with the generous distribution of the psychiatric labels. Are you a mental health professional by any chance?

  27. Some great points you make John and an enjoyable piece.

    With DR I think it’s worth pointing out some genres don’t sound as bad as others – lot of electronics is still listenable for example. However given the choice I do prefer higher DR in a recording as I don’t get listeners fatigue as much so I tend to listen for longer compared to listening to compressed DR recordings. Which makes me a MFA audiophile right???
    Tim

    • I agree. I find I can tolerate much higher dynamic range compression with techno than from, say, The Hold Steady.

Music/response: Radiohead OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017

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