SFAS Cited in Audiophile Aesthetics paper


One of our club’s surveys was cited in the American Philosophical Quarterly Volume 54, Number 2, April 2017:  “A 2014 survey by the San Francisco Audiophile Society characterized a mid-level system at $10,000 for the amp and speakers, and a high-priced system at $50,000 for amp and speakers.  Above that is cost-no-object.”

What little work has been done on high fidelity/audiophile aesthetics uniformly agrees that the aesthetic aim of high fidelity is to achieve maximum transparency—the degree to which the listening
experience is qualitatively identical to hearing the live instruments. The present paper argues that
due to modern recording techniques, transparency is often impossible and may not be the proper
aesthetic goal even in cases of documentary recordings. Instead, audiophilia should be understood
as a broadly pluralist artistic endeavor that aims at an idealized generation of a musical event. This
positive conception serves to explain away certain debates among audiophiles themselves.

The Possibility of an Audiophile Aesthetic One audio journalist recently wrote that “all that separates audiophiles from everybody else is we care about what our music sounds like” (Guttenberg 2015). And audiophiles are willing to spend considerable money to pursue this sound. A 2014 survey by the San Francisco Audiophile Society characterized a mid-level system at $10,000 for the amp and speakers, and a high-priced system at $50,000 for amp and speakers.  Above that is cost-no-object.1 In that category
are things like the Goldmund Telos 5000 monoblock amplifiers ($375,000), Genesis Dragon speakers ($360,000 per pair), and the Audio Note M10 preamp ($140,000). What is it that audiophiles are aiming to achieve with their expensive hobby? What is (or are) the aesthetic aim(s) of audiophilia? There has been next to zero philosophical investigation into these issues.

One might suspect that audiophilia is merely a form of status-seeking, and that owning expensive gear is no different from possessing designer dresses or Swiss watches. There is no doubt that some audio equipment is elegant and stylish; turntables and preamps from the Danish firm Bang & Olufsen have been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and are part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. However, for the most part, audio equipment is either
unobtrusive (there is one dimly lit meter on the front of a Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier, but otherwise it is a black box) or just plain bizarre (the Gradient Helsinki speaker looks like a toilet for extraterrestrials). Owning a Rolex may raise one’s social status—Rolexes are well known, recognizably expensive, and handsome—but no one besides audio cognoscenti will be impressed to learn that one has an M&K Sound X-12 subwoofer stashed behind one’s couch. If audiophiles are simply interested in enhancing their social standing, they are going about it very poorly.

Link to the complete paper:  Audiophile Aesthetics

2 thoughts on “SFAS Cited in Audiophile Aesthetics paper

  1. Hopefully the full article is more coherent than the abstract which cannot seem to focus on what aesthetic of audiophilia the paper is about, audio quality (transparency) or glamorous/esoteric looking equipment. I think that most everyone can agree that, at the root, we are after a certain sound quality with some preferring to extract the best performance achievable from sometimes dated or perhaps even antique media and equipment while others are pursuing sound through much more modern technologies. There is no getting around the fact that many in the community like to show off their equipment building what amounts to temples of the stuff front and center. I for one have lusted after too many different pieces of high priced equipment to count, though almost none of it stands up well against the parade of technology advancements that has blessed us over the last several decades in delivering increased performance quality. It is only by changing things that things can get better. Most audiophiles I know are on a personal journey of change always striving to get closer to the music.

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San Francisco Audiophile Society

San Francisco Audiophile Society