In a telephone conversation back nearly two decades ago, when I was still a Hi-Fi manufacturer (XLO), one of my dealers left me dumbfounded when he told me that that he didn't like music ― not just some particular kind of music, you understand, but music in general. When, after a moment of sheer amazement, I regained my power of speech, I asked him, if that was so, how in the world did he ever become a Hi-Fi dealer? And not just any Hi-Fi dealer, mind you, but one of the biggest and most successful Hi-Fi dealers in his part of the country? His response ― which I should have anticipated ― was that, while he had no feeling at all for the music, he did have a great love for the equipment that produced it, and that surrounding himself with some of the world's greatest technology, expressed in some of the world's greatest industrial and esthetic design, gave him great pleasure which made it all worthwhile.
The reason I say I should have (or at least could have) anticipated his response was because, not just as a Hi-Fi manufacturer (at that time; I'm retired now) but as a near life-long audiophile (I started at age twelve), I, to a very great degree, shared his feelings. Not about the music, of course, but certainly about great equipment.
Starting as early as my pre-teen years, I became and still remain a music lover and developed a collection of recordings, both analog and digital and in nearly every recording medium, as eclectic and far-ranging as any I've ever heard of. At the same time, though, I was also and still remain, a genuine Hi-Fi Crazy, with a love of the equipment and of the near-magical things that it can accomplish for me that, together, have kept me in our hobby and kept me spending more time in my listening room than in any concert hall or other live music venue for more than sixty years.
I don't think I'm alone in this; I think there are probably a great many of us who feel the same way. What makes it most interesting to me, though, is that, instead of just that one thing, I could have said practically anything at all about our hobby and still been able to truthfully claim a strong audiophile following.
Audiophillia isn’t what it seems to be, either to the outside world or even to all of its devotees: Yes, certainly it's about music, but it's – to those just discovering it – also about a ping-pong game or a steam locomotive roaring through your listening room, or a recording of a summer storm so real-sounding that the only thing you don't get is wet! It's also about the equipment and the rooms we listen to it in and the friends we listen to it with, and the arguments we have with them and others about it and the music and seemingly everything else: "Tubes are better", "Horns are better"; "The Bernard Haitink Shostakovich 15 is better than the Neemi Jarvi Shostakovich 15" "No, it's not"; "This "tweak" works great; no it doesn't, it's all Hi-Fi voodoo". And sometimes it's even about WAF ("Wife Acceptance Factor") and such questions as "What do you mean I can't put the speakers there; that's where they're supposed to be!"
The fact of it is that there's very little that our hobby isn't about, and because of that, it's not really a hobby at all, but something very much greater: Years ago, in the pages of The Absolute Sound, Anthony H. Cordesman (AHC) described Hi-Fi not as a hobby, but as a "sport", and I think that what he wrote may actually have gotten pretty close to the truth: Like most other sports, Hi-Fi has its teams such as, but not limited to:
Tubes versus Solid-State
It has its players plus manufacturers and the legions of enthusiastic Do-It-Yourselfers who actually make or design the stuff we all listen to. It also has umpires and commentators (reviewers, bloggers, and every audiophile who, like most of us, has ever donned the cloak of expertise and battled-out, in a bar, in a listening room, at a show, or anywhere else, why "Thing A" is a wonder and a glory and "Thing B" is dog meat.
Hi-Fi has not only all of those, but, as with virtually every other sport, for some of its most devoted fans, learning or talking about it can be just as much fun as actually playing. And that's why, as with baseball, football (both kinds, American and what we Americans call "Soccer"), and horse racing, to name just a few, we have people who memorize and build whole conversations around statistics (In audio, we call 'em "specs") either just for their own enjoyment; to quote and display them to their friends as a show of brilliance or participation; or to counter other specs which may, like gauntlets, be thrown out either by enthusiasts of another opinion or by trolls who (as we all know) will attack absolutely anything, just for the fun of it.
AHC's description certainly got close, yet even more than just being a sport, I think audiophilia is a full-blown lifestyle – one that can fill and fulfill almost every aspect of a person's being. This includes who his/her friends are, to which house s/he buys (hey, you gotta have a good listening room), to where he goes for entertainment or a vacation, to how he spends his time and money, to how he earns his living, and to what he does or talks about after work.
That's certainly what it's been for me, and I couldn't possibly be more pleased. I even get to write about it, and when I'm finished (As I nearly am at this very moment), I get to go to my sound room, admire my gear, think how "someday" I'm going to make it even better, and then put on a record, a tape, or a CD, lean back in my favorite chair, close my eyes, and...
Enjoy the music!