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My Audio Journey / The Casual "Audiophile"
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I first got involved in moderately high-end audio gear back in the mid 70's. Some of the gear I purchased was used and some of it was new. It impressed me, along with everyone else who heard it, and that journey continues to this day. Back around 2001, I spent $20K on new amps, speakers, preamp, subwoofers, cables, etc., and it was THE best sounding system I'd ever heard, at the time.
Faced with a divorce, that system didn't stick around for long and after the divorce, there just wasn't enough money anymore to justify spending much at all on audio gear. Slowly though, over the years, I drifted back and forth between new and used gear, never finding anything that actually 'tripped my trigger' but occasionally I learned something that I DIDN'T know about audio gear.
About one and a half years ago, I took the plunge into studio quality gear for the first time. My son is an audio engineer, so I had plenty of guidance on the subject. I've played guitar since I was 12 years old (I'm retired and in my 60's now) and I've always wanted to do some recording, just so my two sons have something audible to remember me by when I leave this world for whatever waits on the other side. All my gear now uses balanced XLR connections, which if you don't already know provides a pitch black background for audio. There is ZERO noise floor and the music literally jumps out of the speakers and into your face like a splash of very cold water on a hot day. To say that it's quiet is an understatement in the extreme and, compared to 'old school' RCA interfaces, it's like night and day.
Since all my gear is of 'pro audio' quality and everything uses XLR connections, when you cue up a track, but don't start it, and crank the volume knob to 100%, there's absolute silence coming from the speakers. Nothing, nada, zip. That also applies when I'm listening thru my AKG K712 Pro headphones, which are some of the most revealing cans I've ever listened through. Obviously, I don't leave the volume knob turned up all the way and keep it between 9:00 and 10:00 (10:30 if I REALLY want to get my neighbor's attention!). ALL the gear is so revealing that, with a few exceptions, recorded tracks by well known artists reveal issues with the engineering that have REALLY surprised me. And that, to me, is the downside of Pro Audio and listening to music through extremely revealing gear.
That didn't happen overnight, by the way. My $20K system wasn't nearly as revealing as what I have now, which only set me back around $4K. I think it's the total absence of noise being generated by the hardware that makes the music, along with all its flaws, stand out in MUCH greater detail than it ever did when I owned and listened through 'home' (conventional) audio gear.
I'm not sure I even know what the true definition of an 'audiophile' really is, but I certainly don't consider myself to be one. I've had standards over the years and have had plenty of gear to compare to other more and/or less expensive gear. In the end, I don't think price has as much to do with the end result as the INTERFACES do. For me, XLR removed any and all coloration from the signal path, and no, I did NOT spend a fortune on cables. I don't think you can buy a 'bad' XLR cable, regardless of price since the interface itself effectively eliminates line or otherwise induced noise.
What I THINK is the case is that standard/home audio gear has issues that are inherent to the design. Unbalanced cables and interfaces just make noise, where balanced XLR cables and interfaces do NOT. I didn't know that until my son explained it all to me, but that was after he let me discover it on my own. I had one of those 'jaw-dropping' moments.
To me, what GOOD audio gear provides is a clear and clean representation of what and how an artist was feeling when a track was recorded. The interaction between the musicians and their placement within the soundfield, the tonal character of the vocalist, the pluck of guitar strings or the pounding of a kickdrum ... all of it ... when faithfully recorded and engineered properly will reveal things you never heard before, with a precision and clarity that can sometimes be ... well ... jaw-dropping. All that takes is reasonably good hearing, an expectation of excellence and faith that your gear WILL reproduce what the engineer and, more importantly, the artist intended for you to hear.
That's not being an audiophile. That's just being a GOOD LISTENER.