Favorite part about Headphones/Hifi as a hobby

So I was listening to Deadmau5’s “where’s the drop?” and started to think about how well my new Elegia was resolving detail, what I liked about the sound, and what I didn’t like, and think I realized why I keep coming back to Headphones/Hifi as a hobby. As many of you probably know, it can be a pretty lonely hobby, expensive, time consuming and there’s a lot of misleading stuff out there that will drive you down a path you probably don’t want to go down.

But with all those downsides, I think the excitement of discovery is what really keeps me in. Headphones and speakers all have objective attributes that can be measured and standardized, but there’s no way to actually hear a headphone without hearing it for yourself. There’s no way to know what you think of one without really using it, and that keeps it interesting for me.

I’ve gone in and out of this hobby for the better part of my life so far and the thing driving me back in every single time seems to be the promise of a new experience, or something to make me look at part of the world and experience art in a different way. I don’t really believe in endgame because there are always new experiences worth living, and I think that’s really neat.

I was wondering if any of you guys’ have a thing that keeps pulling you back into this rabbit hole, and what it is. I think it would be interesting to hear what people appreciate most about this wonderful/terrible hobby.

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Awesome little writeup you did there! I think this is an interesting concept and I think my favorite part of the hobby/what keeps me in is quite multifaceted. I enjoy the music, always have. I listen to music 24/7 and have since I got my first IPod back in middle school. I used to buy the latest “trendy” headphones ranging from Beats and VModa to “niche” like Monster Turbines.

As time went on I found higher end audio and now the passion to find and perfect the sound I am listening to is what drives this hobby for me. I want to find what fits my preferences, and I won’t lie there is a hardware aspect. I love the way ZMF headphones sound, but I also love the way they look. I almost view my headphones, tube amps, DACS as art pieces. Things that are beautiful and I love looking at everyday.

I think the part where you talk about it being a lonely hobby is interesting. I used to feel the same way, and while difficult in the current moment, I would highly recommend trying to find friends in your area that are also into the hobby. Whether that is through this forum, or just going to the local hifi shop. I found that this hobby can introduce you to some great people who wanna find other like minded individuals. If there are no meets in your area atm, try and organize one. While listening can be lonely, it doesn’t have to be a lonely hobby. Online forums and discords are also great to have a place to talk with others about your passions.

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I have to say the hardware aspect is up there for me too. Hifi companies can make some pretty beautiful objects, functionally and aesthetically. Once you’re done enjoying how they sound, you can take your headphones off, put them on a stand and enjoy how they look.

It really used to be lonely for me, and can still be that way sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it’s much of a problem anymore. I’ve found forums like this one and a couple of my friends are getting into it, but it can still be difficult to find like minded people, I’d argue more-so than finding car people for example.

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Tough question to answer, I think.

In golf (definition; a good walk spoiled), hackers like me would say, “it’s that one really good drive, approach, putt, or played hole that drags me back again and again.

As an audiophile it certainly starts with the music, an experience or experiences that’s not necessarily describable but that makes me want to come back to the music again and again.

In a search to recapture the “magic” of those first experiences we quest for it in hardware and wires, unless we go live or make music ourselves.

It’s always instructive to look back and remember what some people said in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s about how “real” the music sounded to them on the reproducing equipment of the day. I wonder what they would think about today’s state of the art in sound?

Accumulating shiny things is a human trait, crows do it too. Some part of the fun / satisfaction could be in the hardware itself for its own sake, technology for its own sake. Some people collect books, antiques, stamps, coins, art, some like working with their hands to build or create something, some like growing things. And on and on.

Maybe there’s a more compelling force at work here. Alignment of the planets? Hardware in harmony with the rhythm of the sub-atomic particles of the cosmos. The challenge of a quest for the, possibly, unattainable? A desire to re-experience something? What? When? How?

Maybe it’s just an inevitable process and a part of being Homo sapiens.

Maybe it’s enough to say we like and enjoy our involvement and get something in return, a satisfaction of some sort, even if we can’t state specifically what.

And there are probably many different answers for many different listeners when it comes to this hobby.

I never give a thought to why my immediate friends I’m in contact with for decades have no audiophile leanings. They appreciate good sound but focus their energies and resources into other endeavors. They all do, however, like their music, whatever the type / genre. But as I think about each one they all have at least one area of focus that makes them do this or do that in a highly intensive manner.

I think humans like, and have to be challenged. Especially when it’s something they have interest in or that comes with benefit of some sort, whatever it might be and whether we can clearly identify that benefit or not. If challenges hadn’t been put in front of our ancestors 100 to 125 million years ago (by one current estimate) would there have been reason to ever leave the continent of Africa? I think a quest for something beyond just water, food, and safety is hardcoded into out DNA.

Like I said, tough question to answer.

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I’ve been into high-end audio since I was in college in the late 60s and early 70s (I can still remember my junior year, waiting impatiently at the door every day in my junior year for the UPS truck to bring my AR turntable–a great piece of equipment).

For me, it’s all about the music. I’m a musician, and I live and breathe music of all kinds. And in that regard, I’m unusual: most musicians I’ve ever known couldn’t care less about sound quality in their stereos, a situation that completely baffles me. A guitar-player friend will obsess for days over a minuscule sound difference in his amplifier setting, but he’s perfectly happy listening to a recording of himself playing his guitar through that amp on his computer speakers. Go figure.

These days, I listen exclusively on headphones because I had a virus that took much of the hearing in my right ear, so I can’t hear stereo on speakers in a room. Headphones let me use the balance control on my PS Audio Gain Cell Dac to compensate for the loss. I’ve got Etymotic ER4s, Sennheiser HD 580s, Hifiman Sundaras, and I just got a pair of Audeze EL8 closed backs, which I’m really loving.

I keep getting new things for two reasons: my existing gear is annoying me by getting in the way of my music, or I sense that there’s more to get somewhere else. For me, it’s all about tonal and dynamic accuracy and getting out of the way. I need to feel the music, to get caught up in it, to find my feet tapping involuntarily, to find tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms. For me, instruments need to sound like what I hear on the stage. And over the years, that has included classical ensembles, roadhouse blues bands, rock, jazz, country, and a dozen other styles. Whether it’s a cello, a banjo, or a '59 Telecaster, I can’t be satisfied with an approximation.

In terms of this being a lonely hobby, I can see how someone would feel that way. But, for me, the whole point of music is connecting with another person–the musician–about something we share as humans but that’s too deep for ordinary communication. That’s what keeps me performing music with others and what keeps me on this endless quest for pure reproduction: to experience that most human of connections. One of my classical music professors in college was listening to a jazz recording I brought in, and he couldn’t understand what it was about. He asked me, “What is this guy trying to say with his playing?” and I replied, “If you could put it into words, he wouldn’t need the horn.”

So for me, listening to great music on a great system is the opposite of lonely.

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Wow, its like reading something I would have written. Pretty much a mirror of thoughts and almost like experiences, down to the ear,

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This I can totally relate to, and is one of the reasons why “as the artist intended” doesn’t really appeal to me.

I have been working in the music and audio industry for many years (almost 25 now, damn I’m getting old) and the great majority of musicians that I have met and worked with over the years are not willing to spend more than is absolutely necessary on something to listen to music on, but are happy to spend $50 on a set of strings and change them regularly :smile:

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It always makes me crazy when I hear that phrase in relation to equipment reviews. How the hell does the writer know what the artist intended?

The only thing you know is what the artist actually created. It seems reasonable to reproduce as best you can the sound that the artist created. But even that can be an illusion.

If you’re after “0 distortion” then why do you even need to listen to the recording. You could just sit there and stare at a chart with a straight line through the zero axis that shows the output exactly matched the input.

But we don’t just stare at the chart. We actually listen to the music. Why?

We are looking to create an experience. What goes into making a meaningful experience varies by person.

I would submit it’s not just “sound quality” that contributes to the experience. How many fond memories do you have where the music source barely qualified as a stereo?

While not a perfect analogy I saw an interview with an artist who creates large outdoor displays. When asked what the display means he replied “Everyone sees something different”. You might say that “what the artist intended” didn’t even exist.

Not sure what brought on this rant. Maybe two months of being inside is getting to me.

Time to put the headphones on and see if I can generate some 0-distortion sine waves.

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First off, this is a great thread concept. Thanks to O.P.!

I’ve known & hung out with a number of jazz musicians. Without exception they are/were numb to the whole idea of audiophile gear & the idea of refined music reproduction. But that’s totally understandable: these are the olympic athletes of music, able to jump off a cliff (solo) on a moment’s notice & absolutely kill it. They’re not just uninterested in audio gear–they’re interested in playback of their own music only to check audibility/suitability, not out of any love for what they’ve played (they live to play today/tomorrow–not yesterday).

Of course, these players also listen to a great deal of other music with varying degrees of interest/passion. But again, there’s little interest shown in elevated reproduction gear–a simple boombox would suffice.

As for me, I loved music w/great passion since early childhood. I chased all kinds of music all my life. Starting in my late 30s, when I had sustainable income, I began chasing high-end audio…because my curse was the ability to immediately hear (and articulate) subtle qualitative differences in audio. But the whole time, the real joy came from hearing music on these systems.

I haven’t had a true high-end audio system (speakers, amps, etc) for decades. For the last 20 years, all my listening has been in my home office’s desktop audio system–and there, just as in big living systems years ago, I steadily improved & refined the system. About 5 years ago this included headphones, a whole new journey.

I feel childlike joy at the prospect of using one of my favorite headphones (I’m a big ZMF fanboy) to hear new or old music. Lately I’ve had fun comparing the ZMF Ori & Aeolus…both headphones sound lovely yet present music somewhat differently.

In the end, it’s all about music. Always was, always will be…

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Music is a sensory experience, music is enjoyment, music is entertainment, music is memories, music as sanctuary, music as escape, music is emotion, music can be ecstasy.

Do humans exist to facilitate technology, or does technology exist to facilitate humanity.

Listening to gear, versus gear serving as a tool/instrument/conduit/transport to experience/connect with the music/performance/memories/friends/family.

The implication of science and art.

Consumptions of the ear are healthier than consumptions of the palate. Bottles and meals have quicker transients/depletion.

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Thanks, CPP. Nice to find a fellow traveler.

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This really is a great topic, I’d also like to thank you @Panzer_Applehusky for starting it and for your compelling observations.

There may be a danger in over-analyzing some things; I don’t want to scrutinize the irrational pleasure of this hobby too closely and ruin it! But there is something inherently interesting about why people have hobbies. I wonder what psychologists make of it? It’s not just about killing time, after all. And I wonder how “hobbies” as a thing have changed across history. The concept of “leisure time” is, in fact, something that historians have studied (i.e. it can be distinct to certain places and times, and it changes over time). There’s a great line by a sociologist about boring societies, like Britain and the United States, having organized sports. We’re all exciting, dangerous people, though, right?!

I’m also interested in why we’re drawn to specific hobbies, individually, especially because my love of personal audio seemed to come out of nowhere back in 2015. Or not, perhaps. Still, I have a hard time appreciating what it was, explicitly, that drew me to this new hobby and why, subsequently or separately, I lost interest in other things.

Wikipedia has a list of hobbies which are classified as “general,” “educational,” “collection,” “competitive,” and “observational.” It’s fun to see what human beings have come up with as enriching, recreational activities: hacking (not in the golf sense @FLTWS), soap making, herping (that’s a new one to me), and axe throwing, to name just a few. In case you were wondering, audiophile is an “indoor observation” hobby. That makes sense. But surely it also has to to do with collecting and learning, as well as making things (for those into DIY) and aesthetics?

So why headphones? Largely, I think, because unlike some of you here, I’m completely useless as a musician. Tone-deaf, ham-fisted, unable to keep time, no sense of rhythm (shockingly, I can’t dance, either)—I can’t even clap very well. Audio equipment thus lets me indulge and delve deeper into my love of music. Then again, my father was an audiophile, so I probably got the bug from him, even if it lay dormant for many years (because I was too poor or mobile to get my own gear). I thus relied on an iPod and a pair of Sennheiser PX-100 headphones for many years. And then, for some unclear reason, I got hooked five years ago and haven’t looked back.

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Yep, it’s a great topic for discussion, so many ways to come at it.

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The photography part :wink:

honestly for me its the end of the day grabbing a whiskey and grabbing my favorite headphone and plugging into an amp and hitting random on my music… and just chilling…floating on the music and booze before heading off to bed :wink:

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Dude, it’s the Deadmau5s. Always a treat that makes you happy for your headphones.

I wrote the above before reading all the great serious replies. And yes, this is a good topic.

Truth is, as I have gotten older, I’m just not able to indulge in the speaker stereo side of things the way I used to. I don’t have the friends I had in college. Like Music Maven, I had the Campus Stereo guy deliver my AR turntable to the dorm room, and it was a great piece of equipment. At Penn State in the mid 70s, there was a lot to listen to. Friends would go from room to room auditioning other’s equipment, usually with a towel stuck under the door to mute the noise. (right).

As I grew up, got my own house, I could indulge that hobby, and my wife said she married me for my speakers. (Rectilinear III highboy, modified, still got both the speakers and the wife). But there are neighbors, and pets, and you can’t always play loud and rock out.

Local botique stereo store - they existed in the 80s - turned me on to STAX headphones, and the rest is sort of history. Another friend was into the hobby, and he coaxed me into buying my first Sennheiser HD-580. I read TAS and Stereo Review. Tried some headphone amps eventually.

In 2012, I had a serious accident (I got better - no, I wasn’t turned into a newt). Pretty much had to use headphones - ones that I could listen while in a halo. That got me poking around the headphone world occasionally, but didn’t get serious until I joined up here.

What keeps me coming back? It’s the price-performance ratio. I can afford to do headphones. I don’t CHOOSE to afford some of the TOTL, but there is really no reason I couldn’t just order some. With speaker audio, it’s gotten so expensive. And the chain gets so expensive. My wife married me for those Rec III’s. What would happen if I dropped $30G on a pair of Wilson Audio DAWs? And then had to upgrade my amp section by at least another $12K? She might leave me. And take the Rec III’s with her.

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I think what pulled me in was the sound, but that isn’t where it stopped. As I took time to listen and learn I found this hobby has so many moving parts that it can be difficult for someone new to settle in. Going down the chain I discovered at each step you had experts in each field focused on performance.

Personally I loved the sense of rediscovering sound. Even new sounds that I never knew existed brought me joy. The feeling that you are hearing something again with improved tools, and depth. The ability to listen deep on some recordings, and understand previous tracks that did not have that ability is fascinating to me.

I love how I can share music with other people and experience something with them and talk about the sensation of what the music feels like. For something non-visual it sure is fun to explain an nearly auditory experience in terms of visual cues.

When ever I can see solely through listening it is always an experience I want to share with others.

Recently as I progressed I look more and more for those “Sonic Holograms” A rabbit within it self where we may never be satisfied.

Other than the experts and experience others have have of rediscovery of music, the community and excitement is what keeps me coming back. I have meet many people with a lot of experience directly in the industry or as a hobbyist that I have found more and more people who are rediscovering their passion of music.

Cheers everyone, I noticed we all appreciate different things in this hobby.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: General purchase advice: Ask your questions/for advice here!

I actually entered into the headphone world because I had to. Until a few years ago, headphones were only a tool for me.

Here is the long version (or just skip to the TLDR at the bottom)…

I have always been a music lover, since a very early age when I would spend hours and hours a day doing through hundreds of cassettes that my parents had in a box (that also gave me a lot of love for 60’s and 70’s music). I remember the first Christmas (or maybe birthday) present that I went on an on about for months before I got it, it was a small “hifi” system with double cassette deck and turntable. I was either 4 or 5 at the time and it was the best present ever!!

Fast forwarding through the years, I had multiple “hifi” systems from the typical brands like Sony, Phillips etc. (anyone remember Aiwa?).

At 14 I started getting into rap, ended up joining a group and started performing on stage no too long after. I also started messing around helping set up small concerts and parties whenever possible. So I started to move away from typical home systems and more towards live sound systems, on the very cheap end of the scale. Learning how to set up a concert with a 0€ budget teaches you a lot about sound :wink:

At 18 I was lucky enough to join a large AV install company and start actually making money from audio, while still performing as a side job. This allowed me to start spending money on audio equipment, but again, it was all invested in live sound gear. At some point I started playing bass as well, which gave me yet another thing to pour money into. I also invested in building a cheapish studio set up over the years together with a friend, another black hole.

Anyways, fast forward a few (ok, a bit more than a few) years until about 6 or 7 years ago when I moved from a countryside home, with no neighbours, to an apartment in town.

At the time, my “home stereo” was a 10.000w PA system, with a few 18" subs, a few 15" subs and some small line arrays. For some reason this didn’t fit well in the new apartment :laughing:

So, I made a small step down to studio monitors, having a spare bedroom dedicated to music, while still sharing a studio space with a friend.

Then came my second son (who is 16 years younger than my first), meaning I was relegated from spare room to corner of the living room. This meant another step smaller, from monitors to headphones.

My first time looking for headphones for listening to music, along with bass rehearsal and music production.

I was obviously in the typical Reddit camp: “I want great bass, great mids, great highs, excellent detail and comfort, for $25” :laughing:

After trying a few models, I settled on the M40x, which became the first headphone I had really used for extended periods of time since my days of the Discman. I actually ended up with at least 3 pairs of M40x in different places (work, home, studio space etc).

Then came the forum… :wink:

After diving deeper into the headphone world, I found how easy it is to try out different sound signatures an performance levels without the need for a lot of space (and relatively low amounts of cash, at least in the areas I play in).

While I really enjoy headphones that I have found, I enjoy listening to new stuff just as much and also actually enjoy sitting down and writing my thoughts (although they don’t always make sense).

I am sort of in two different fields, one is finding the set up that I really enjoy (both at home and at work) but the other is trying out new stuff, even though most of it is a the ultra-budget level, and seeing how different brands address different issues.

TLDR

I think this is a long long way of saying that the thing I love about the headphone world is that it is something you can enjoy without needing dedicated space and still have excellent sounding results.

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had the 3 CD changer mini hifi thing by AIWA in my teenager room and loved it!

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Haha! It’s so true though, at least for me. I know EDM isn’t the most super serious audiophile material, but there’s just something about Deadmau5 in particular that sounds great, especially the orchestral stuff.

Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?

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