Why do we do this?

Alternative title: Struts’s philosophical brain droppings.

Reading many of the threads here I reflect on questions I have asked myself many times over the years, many of which boil down to one central one. What is it that drives me to pursue this hobby, devote so much of my time, intellectual capacity (such as it is) and economic resources in pursuit of the unattainable goal of experiencing live musical event in the comfort of my living room?

I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s definition of (fox-) hunting “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” which Edwin Hayward conflated onto Brexit “The incapable in pursuit of the unobtainable”. That kind of summarises where I feel I am in audio.

I tried to float this question on a meta level over on the Roon forum a few years ago. Unfortunately the thread pretty much crashed and burned with folks engaging in ritual duels armed only with their dogmas. Maybe I was naïve. It is a pretty large and heterogeneous group and tough to police. It is a huge and diverse society rather than a small and tightly knit club. And the question I asked “Do you identify as an audiophile?” while kicking off a lively debate there would be pretty superfluous here. This is the dCS forum after all!

However, having participated here over the last couple of months I think I have found something I have not found, at least not to this degree, in over 40 years in the hobby - including participation in tens of online audio forums going back to the earliest days of BBSs. Although I have seen occasional flare-ups I find the debate here more curious (people tend to ask questions because they are interested in learning the answers, not just to prove they already do or to incite others), more informed (I have learned lots and learn more the further back into the archives that I delve) and more civil (most folks seem to be as graceful when they are agreed with or are right as they are when they are disagreed with or are wrong) than I have seen anywhere other than a very small specific corner of the Stereophile forum about 10-20 years ago. Maybe my lack of history here (I have to date read back, a little bit selectively, about a year) is making me look foolish and all the long time members are all chuckling and saying to themselves “Haha, n00b! He doesn’t remember that time when…”. Maybe so, but the folks I have interacted here seem that way to me at least…

So, if you want to, feel free to sit yourself down on the psychologist’s couch and ask yourself what it really is that drives your interest in this hobby.

For me at least some of the main factors are:

  • I love music. Some think that is the most or only important thing but I actually disagree. Keep reading to understand what I mean.
  • I love technology, particularly electronics and particularly digital electronics. I studied it in my youth but my career ended up taking a different path so maybe I am suffering a bit of withdrawal.
  • I love new stuff. Whether it is generative AI, quantum cryptography, sodium batteries or streaming audio. I am a self-confessed neophile. I love understanding how it works, exploring the possibilities and testing the boundaries. I started using streaming as my main source 17 years ago when Sonos and Squeeze were the only delivery mechanisms. See here, I had one of each feeding my Boulder and Soulution DACs!
  • I love learning. My father was a professor so I got the nature and the nurture on that one (not so much of the brains alas)
  • And last but by no means least (and in fact maybe most!) I have a fairly obvious cast iron OCD. My obsession is the unobtainable goal of audio perfection and my compulsion is to upgrade/sidegrade. Reading many of the posts here I harbour a sneaky suspicion I might not be alone… Mrs Struts often kindly points out that musical enjoyment is simply a way to channel my compulsions. She contends it is my means and not my end.

So I am interested if any of you recognise yourselves in any of this or are prepared to jump on the couch and indulge in a little self reflection.

Further on I am thinking we might want to explore questions like:

  • Is this the real life or is this just fantasy? (Did I like it because I heard it or did I hear it because I liked it?)
  • The emperor’s new clothes (Innovation vs snake oil in a space where we think or know we hear a difference but don’t know why. Or what if anything we could measure to understand or explain it and how this vacuum is filled by both innovators and charlatans and how to distinguish the two)
  • That’s a bad painting and I can prove it (Folks who try to refute observations with opinions, logic with belief, and vice versa)
  • An entire industry built on confirmation bias? (Self explanatory!)

…and other such fun topics. I am not interested in trying to decide any of these debates here, or prove anyone right or wrong. Just have a philosophical meta-debate that might teach us a little bit more about ourselves and why we do what we do. I hope and believe we can actually make this work here, especially if we all bear in mind the forum rules and promise to be on our best behaviour. No “my dogma is bigger/better than yours”, no insults, no ad hominem attacks, etc.

Admins, stand by with your fire extinguishers but hold off, hopefully you won’t need them.

Or maybe nobody will care or dare. In which case thank you for reading this far and enjoy the rest of your day!


This is very interesting. I think about these topics frequently and ask myself why we find it feasible or even necessary to spend £100K to play an £8 CD. I wonder every time I hear my friend’s part vintage system with a cost a fraction of mine yet which I find equally enjoyable.

Is audiophilia anti-music? It is a perennial l subject in general that musicians frequently seem not to care about reproduced sound quality. How often are topics here not concerned with music but the adherence to terms often coined ( or at least organised into a lexicon) by the late Harry Pearson? Why do we do this ( aside from more than a degree of showing off)?


I do it because after each listen, I walk away with a contentment that no other activity provides. And the good thing is that when you come back, you are guaranteed to have same level of quality that you left your system with.

With the opening of streaming, exploring all sort of music is just at the tip of my fingers.

One of the several reasons why most of us never settle is because of number of brands in this field which I think, no other hobby has. And why do we have so many brands, can be another topic of debate.


Exactly. In my more sceptical moments I wonder if the is a 1:1 ratio between audio brands and enthusiasts.

I have been in this hobby for nearly 55 years and try to keep up with what is going on , subscribing to UK and USA magazines and reading most of the daily postings of articles or press releases via Daily Audiophile. Yet every day I find many brands that I have never heard of before. For example from the lead page of today’s Mono & Stereo alone I learn of 12 brands never encountered before. Anyone familiar with Carbide, Audiostrum, Marco Serie, Xquisite, Atomica, Neo, VATaudio, Zafino, Admie Audio, Sorance, Somner or Eviscreation? Never hear of any of them. This occurs regularly. How do they stay in business?


Actually I think it is >1:1

I suspect that this modest little community supports at least half of them!

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First and foremost I love music. Always have. It’s an important part of who I am. (I don’t play any instruments.) I love hearing well produced music.

Secondly, I’ve always been visual and always loved the industrial design of audio gear. I started buying my own audio gear when I was a young teenager after receiving a “boom box” for my 13th birthday. Buying has ebbed and flowed over the years, but there has been a fairly consistent path of upgrades, sidegrades, downgrades and experiments.

I love to tinker.

Oh, and I love music.


I like your question and I do believe this forum is a better place than most to discuss it, i.e. I really appreciate the atmosphere here. What drives me to this hobby is something I ask myself frequently. Let me just state some things that could matter for me. I will come back to this question in more detail but think of this as the beginning of my answer:

  • I have a keen interest in science and technology, as such these audio devices interest me;
  • I like to soak up information, learn from it, and then use it for my own growth;
  • I enjoy music as an art form, enjoyment/relaxation, and a form of emotional communication;
  • there is no limit to making improvements;
  • there is an aspect of science but also of art, and perhaps mysticism involved;
  • there are many roads to Rome making this also a way of self-expression;
  • I like to do things differently than most, take my own path and search for what works for me, this hobby gives me plenty of opportunity (having very many brands and doing research, talking to others and trying out different things enhances the adventurous quest-nature of self-fulfillment navigating this terrain successfully and quite individually ).

It ticks a lot of my boxes, i.e. it fulfils a lot of my innate needs. It is a peaceful hobby, as long as you stay friendly with the neighbours and have a good relationship with your spouse giving you the space to do this.
I could also mention some slightly negative aspects:

  • it is very solitary in enjoyment / I am having me-time when I listen, closing myself off from the world;
  • in this way it is somewhat of an escape from everyday life (but healthier than some other options);
  • there is an aspect of capitalism/consumption, it is about things costing silly amounts of money or at least it can be but hopefully this is the conduit for the music and not for bragging rights;
  • you can get lost in the sea of products, brands and opinions, down ‘rabbit-holes’ chasing your own tail or an illusion;
  • the mysticism / marketing / psychological part can be rather nasty;
  • most people don’t really care or understand;
  • not having any limitations means you have to decide for yourself when you are satisfied with what you have.

Great points every single one and I failed to consider any of these in my post. Thank you, this is exactly the sort of reflection I hoped to provoke! :pray:

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Great question!

For me, I think this is simply that what pushes me on is that I don’t feel I’m at a live performance level in the home yet - and this is important as:

  1. I get immense joy from music
  2. I want to get as close to the live experience as I can whenever I want to feel like I’m in heaven!
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I grew up with a mom and dad who loved to go out dancing. They didnt often because they had 4 kids and a small income provided by my dads 3 jobs. They had a mono record player and some 78s when i was small but i dont remember it ever being used until i discovered it in the basement maybe around 5 or 6. Seems it had a tonearm with a rotating head to change the needle i think. I remember trying to make it work and discovering a small manila envelope with a stacked silver needle that was held in place with a set screw. Maybe 20 records. I remember blueberry hill and kids record little black sambo. Although dad wasnt really gifted as a fixer, i loved tearing stuff apart to try to see how it worked or didnt. ( i think this is clue one). Mom raised kids and kept house. Im guessing it was about 7th or 8th grade when dad got a better job (s) and my older brother graduated college that she got a real stereo. It was probably like ge or philco with two hinged speakers that came loose if desired and a flip down table. She loved crooners like martino and como and especially loved streisand and ELLA. I never got that. It was old people music. Mom and dad about 30 years my senior. Grandma bought the kids beatles help for Christmas one year and that started the music bug. Clue 2. My older sister lived in her bedroom and listened to “different” music. Dad really loved most music but out in the middle of nowhere PA we got the local radio … a variety of bad pop and mostly 40’s music with a dash of 40s and 50s country. He really loved baseball. Wls in chicago came in at night with rock music Of course we watched laurence welk and ed sullivan. I know this is long. Taking sister to school maybe im 14 she asked dad if she could hear her station ( underground radio in pittsburgh 50 miles away). Believe me the local station would never play spill the wine. Fm was still a future thing here. This ungodly racket came on the radio and my ears went up. Clue 3. I woke up this morning by ten years after. I was hooked! I started to pursue “real music”. I taught myself to install real speakers and an fm converter in a car. Then switching to upgrading the head unit. Between my first concert, the allman brothers w duane in pittsburgh and when i graduated college i was collecting albums by contemporary blues artists and everyone they listened to like muddy, albert, freddy, bb, son house, and miles. Listening on my college roommates 8track combo unit. He lived in the library. I graduated a year or so of my wife and camped out at dads house and made “ good money” for a small town. I went out and spent an ungodly amount on a stereo jbl100s at 666 dollars of course rears large advents around 300, garrard 0100sb and sure v15 type 4. The head unit was marantz 2270 around 650. I pre determined that i would get jbl l100s or bose 901s before ever going in a store in pgh by reading hifi magazine. I walked in with cash and heard music. I knew immediately that those speakers were to ones. I went into the listening room and confirmed the jbls. Of course i later bought the girl a nice yamaha direct drive and cobbled together a head scrapped from a friends seconds and bookshelf speakers from a yard sale. Wasnt long i had akai reel to reel and was recording concerts from king biscuit. The stereo was in my bedroom with the jbls and the rears in the basement 2 floors down where my grandfather placed a pool table from the local y. What else could a guy want. Oh yeah. About 5000 lps prior to getting married and moving to arizona. We had no money and no job but i was good. Years went by and work progressively takes priority.

I was a hard convert to cds. They sounded horrible. 20 yrs of corporate employment and a few years self employment and i moved to the country. I started to disassemble my childhood system (grown to carver, noise reduction, graphic equalizer blah blah you get the picture). All of a sudden i had room for a dedicated space and a little more time and money. First step was adcom amp and krell pre and sacd player. Then wilson maxx speakers. It was unbelievable. Never heard something that sounded kinda live. Clue 4 I set up everything myself so it took a lot of experimentation and reading. It lit the fuse again and that entire system was upgraded over a couple years to todays system. There are plenty of more expensive components but none that have made me think it would make a substantial difference in what i hear in my space. I amuse myself moving my speakers an eighth of an inch and listen to differences in attack and sensitivity. Real. I try to find ways to get rid of electronic or mechanical noise or further drop noise floor in the space. All in the name of possible moments of realism.
I do play a little guitar and played drums as a kid and did chase tone on magnetic pickups and tube amplifiers for quite some time. For me its tubes for guitar (the sound that i like) and ss for stereo.

I married a girl who has been a paid singer since her teens although not her vocation. She was raised on classical and opera and plays piano. I shunned most classical for many years as listening to it in a car it has very little personality to my ear. I accidentally rediscovered ecm records after maybe 40 years of only a few in my collection. All of a sudden it became clear to me. Classical music (and much of ecm catalog) is a true composition and listening to it on a poorly set up or car like stereo was like looking at a spectacular painting in a book… flat and enticing but lacking real emotion. The new gear and each tweak brought more life to it. Like looking at a painting for real. Not in a book. Almost like you could touch it. It was suddenly more interesting than much of my earlier collection with real life. Yes i really like classical now, of course it is style dependent just like any music.

And Son House is coughing and gagging in my room like its a private show. Remarkable. Not real… but remarkable

So the hobby is listening to the music i seek, with a secondary side hobby trying to get that tympani to sound real, and pepe romero to sound 3 dimensional without getting son house back on the recording. I still read a hifi magazine and check stuff online. Its a great thinking exercise and alvin lee sounds better than the first day i heard him.


My Humble answer is this. Music can be and is enjoyed on “AirPods” That said if you ever get to hear a really good recording on really revealing quality equipment. It is an experience you become spoiled to and more often than not something you will always seek if you can, Its like a great meal, you can have a very satisfying steak many places. If you have a steak from a top steakhouse you will appreciate the next level experience. There is a lot of “Hot Air” in high end products in many industries. A car is a car all get you there . If you love driving and get to drive a Porsche , you will appreciate the difference in experience and if you can afford one you will want it IMHO


I’m listening to head-fi for the chills and because there was a promo on the Focal Utopia 2022 with 1,000 € off.

If we stick to the car analogies, listening to my favorite tracks with AirPods on Apple Music is like driving a BMW 3-series. Listening to the Utopia22 on the V590 Mk2 Pro is like driving a BMW 5-series. Using the Cardas Clear Beyond headphone cable with it is like the 5-series with the Adaptive M Suspension Professional. Adding the Lina DAC to the combo is hopefully like the i5 M60. I will find out this Sunday.


Haha, good analogy which I suspect works for more than a few of the folks here on the forum. Although with 3 strutslets I’m more at the SUV end of the market. :wink:

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Thanks, enjoy should be fun

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I posted my impressions under Audio Systems in the interconnect cable thread I had started.


My answer may just seem odd: I think I was born this way. My brain seems wired for a meta approach to examining who I am. I tend to analyze why I analyze the way I do. And as I’ve evolved my accumulated experiences have altered how I perceive things.

And sensitivity and interest in sounds must have always been there. Apart from the natural world, it seems that humanity’s talent for creating new sounds in all its forms caught my attention. And that’s never abated.

I think our sense of “hearing” is far more complex than any of our other senses - though our senses of smell and taste can certainly conjure up many a memory, these do not offer the kind of physical experience that sounds bring about. As for the visual, that one is of lesser impact against the sonic. I’ll wager that when we watch a film, we’re actually affected quite a bit more by the quality of the sonic presentation than the visual. And our sense of touch is typically elevated if we put it into use in new ways and on a regular basis. Think walking or running bare foot or sculpting and rock climbing.

For me this seemingly never ending journey of home audio is not a quest I ever expect to diminish. Much of what I seem to do with my audio reproduction involves stripping away any artificiality that intrudes. If my head, via my ears and body, tell me something is getting closer to artistic expression, and some sense of “being there”, I know I’m getting closer, even if it’s only an illusion.


Great stuff Steve. Lots of food for thought there!

Interesting reading about this topic


Loved that book, Franco!

Another good one is David Byrne’s “How Music Works” if you’ve not read that one.


Somehow managed to miss these. Thanks both, now ordered!

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