On the Road to Becoming an Audiophile, Part I

Over the past several months, I have been on the road to becoming an audiophile. The saying says something about the journey being more important than the destination. In this case, I totally agree. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I don’t even want to become an audiophile. But taking the first few steps towards improving the quality of my audio experience has increased my appreciation and enjoyment of the music I listen to.

Of course, appreciation and enjoyment are very subjective things. I can say for sure that during the times of my life when I was most into music, the quality of audio equipment I was using was often pretty poor. That didn’t matter. Simply having better equipment and media doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy it more. But in my case, diving into this subject has been the impetus for me to listen to way more music and get more into it than I have been in quite some years.

The way I see it, high quality music playback is made up of three points:

  1. High quality playback equipment (players, amplifiers, converters).
  2. High quality media (music files).
  3. High quality output devices (speakers, headphones).

Any one of these can be a weak link in the chain. If you have a crappy player, it doesn’t matter what your media is or what you’re listening to it on. If you have crappy, low quality mp3 files, your hardware can’t make up for that. And you can have perfect media on a perfect system, but if you have crappy headphones, it’s gonna sound like crap.

In the past few months, I’ve put attention on all three of these areas, trying out new playback equipment, upgrading my digital music library, and learning and trying different headphones (in ear monitors to be exact).

Actually, I went into this, not with the thought of becoming an audiophile, but just wanting a better way of organizing and accessing my existing music library. Of course, this led to a cycle of improving one of the above three points, and then seeing the shortcomings in the other two and upgrading those. This has definite potential to become one of those continuous loops of sinking more and more money into the next thing to get that extra 0.01% improvement in quality. I haven’t gone too far down this path and I’m pretty much happy with where I’m at and what I have at this point… though I can’t rule out one or two more purchases in the coming months. But after that, I’ll be totally happy. Really. Yeah… I might be in a tiny bit of denial.

Anyway, I plan on discussing each of the above points in future posts, defining some basic terminology, describing the paths I went down and pointing out what’s further on down the roads I have not traveled yet (yeah, “yet”). Again, I’m not an audiophile, and if I ever start referring to myself as such, someone please do an intervention. But learning more about this technology has been a lot of fun and I think I know enough to point out some practical basics to any newcomers.

Next up, I’ll talk about playback equipment – DACs and DAPs, etc. How I got into it, what I looked at, what I got, what else is out there, and what I’d think about getting in the future.

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