I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones over the last three and a half years, and I’ve been interested in audio for most of my life.
But the community has some challenges that make being an “audiophile” a…complicated thing. To the point where I don’t like to call myself one.
I take occasional random flak for the type of headphones I’ve chosen to review, and in that process, I’ve missed a lot of the “big” ones. Most of the Shure models. Pretty much every IEM. All of the “kilobuck” stuff like the HD800. Anything with a planar magnetic driver.
The list goes on.
Why have I not deigned to review all of these “objective greats” that people send me unsolicited messages about?
A) I’m not personally interested in them. Since I buy every product I review, I want to actually be interested in something before taking the plunge. My time, money, and scope are limited. You might feel like my personal tastes need to reflect yours, so you want to spam suggest your favorites to me…but I want my personal tastes to reflect my personal tastes. Although I appreciate hearing about new products in a polite manner, the internet is not my arbiter.
B) I don’t always want to cover something that’s covered to death online by other respected people. While it’s sometimes fun to weigh-in on one of the “classics,” like the love-it-or-hate-it M50X…it’s also often boring for readers to see the hundredth review of something.
C) This is the big one. The hardcore headphone/audiophile community is frequently hostile and overly… emphatic, and sometimes the tone of a recommendation or message makes the spiteful part of my brain kick in and not want to look at a product just because. It’s weird to feel defensive just because someone asked me a question, but in audio, it happens all the time.
I’m not really catering to a hardcore audio community reader. I started this because I wanted to cover things I wanted to cover and was going to be buying and using anyway, not because I wanted to “break in” to the community. I’m not going to change that no matter how many comments I get asking me to start a YouTube channel or review the latest $500 Massdrop product that everyone else got for free.
I do get plenty of good suggestions and friendly comments, and I’m grateful for that. It keeps me sane in the nightmare that is the audiophile desert. I’ve met a fair number of nice people who, like me, have a passion for audio and don’t care what the audiophile flavor-of-the-month is. I’ve had some great discussions here on Medium and also over on Twitter, and they go a long way towards erasing the rougher experiences.
But I also pick up readers who come in from one of the bigger sites or reviewers and insist I should be covering everything they’re covering, or that I need to be interested in whatever head-fi users are raving about today.
Head-fi is a problem that the audiophile community will someday have to deal with if it wants to keep growing. Every shiny new product develops a ravenous following there, which then creates an echo chamber where they all talk about how it’s the greatest thing ever released in the history of the universe.
A user named tKO over on reddit has excellently summarized the debacle that head-fi currently is.
It’s one thing to celebrate a product with other fans. That can be fun! But I dare you to step in there and criticize one of these golden statues of audio even a little bit. Criticism, even the most logical, calm, and sound criticism, is often shouted down. And then threads turn into nightmare trainwrecks where you see the true underbelly come out.
I use Head-fi as an example because I have a personal example I can link for you, but it’s not always limited to that site.
One time, I gave the Takstar Pro 82, a great little budget headphone, a positive review. But the ardent fans of this product on Head-Fi weren’t having it, and one staunch defender of them said that among other things, I was spreading false information about their personal favorite headphone…in my incredibly positive review.
You’ll notice there’s no mention of what the misinformation is, exactly, just a passive dismissal of my incorrect opinion. The passivity helps assert the apparent “right-ness” of the poster. If you speak with authority then you exude authority.
This happens in audiophile-land all the time.
My opinions didn’t fully line up with theirs even though I loved the headphone, so I was shunned.
I got a different length cable than some other people were getting and I must have “made that up” even though I measured the freaking cable(I always do), and Takstar is an OEM known for just using whatever they have on hand, but sure I’m spreading misinformation about a “perfect” product.
Also clearly cable length is the sole hallmark of quality.
This is the sort of “discussion” that happens over an $80 headphone, every minute of every day. Just imagine how it goes for the more expensive stuff.
It’s not always a welcoming community.
Again, that’s not at all everyone. But it’s an alarming percentage. The thread I linked above is a textbook example and if you spend a little time you’ll find all kinds of other moments of this vitriol within just that discussion alone.
It’s a little bit like the gate-keeping/entitlement that goes on in the gaming community…but ten times worse. The audio community is smaller, and the percentage of hate is higher.
They want everyone to get into the hobby and spend money, only to then yell at them for not liking the same things that the community has “accepted as the best.” Don’t like the new favorite? Get out!
It’s gross, disgusting, silly, and often discouraging, and if I wasn’t doing this for fun and hadn’t met some like-minded people I love talking with…I would have shut it all down about two years ago.
It’s okay for people to like entertainment products, and I’m going to keep liking what I like. You don’t have to read it or agree! It would be silly of me to expect that. But you don’t have to shout down other people either. Headphones/audio/music are supposed to be fun. And if you’re doing professional audio work, you’re probably too busy to yell at people on forums.
Shout outs to Metal571, Gamesky, Rafael Lino, Timothy Garcia, and absolutely everyone who has ever had a good discussion with me here or asked a thoughtful question in a polite manner. I’m forever grateful to you. You’re fine examples for others to follow, and give me hope that some day the audio community won’t be as much of a mess.