Watch “Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum,” a Short Satirical Film About the Invention of the Audiophile (1959)

Some­time in the mid-1990s, my father gave me his hi-end, hi-fi stereo sys­tem from the mid-1970s: a vac­u­um tube-pow­ered ampli­fi­er, pair of stereo speak­ers in wal­nut cab­i­nets, and a turntable. Heavy, bulky, and built with hard­ly an ounce of plas­tic between them, these com­po­nents lacked all of the func­tion­al­i­ty we look for in con­sumer audio today: no 4K HDMI, no Blue­tooth, no sur­round sound of any kind. As such fea­tures became de rigeur, my stereo migrat­ed to the clos­et, piece by piece, then out the door, to make room for new, shiny black plas­tic box­es.

Now, a search for that same equip­ment turns up auc­tions for hun­dreds more than its worth ten, twen­ty, fifty years ago. Why does obso­lete audio tech­nol­o­gy fetch such high prices, when there are appli­ance grave­yards filled with CRT TVs and oth­er relics of the ana­logue past? Blame the audio­phile, a very spe­cif­ic kind of nerd who spends their days obsess­ing over fre­quen­cy response curves, speak­er place­ment, and the opti­mal track­ing force of a sty­lus, immersed in mag­a­zine arti­cles, online forums, and prod­uct reviews.

While the rest of the world con­tents itself with stream­ing MP3s and tin­ny com­put­er speak­ers, audio­philes buy and restore old ana­logue stereo equip­ment, pair it with the lat­est in high-tech engi­neer­ing, wire it togeth­er with con­nec­tors that cost more than your TV, and build spe­cial­ized lis­ten­ing envi­ron­ments more like bou­tique show­rooms than any run-of-the-mill man- or woman-cave. In short, they tend to ori­ent their lives, as much pos­si­ble, around the pur­suit of per­fect sound repro­duc­tion.

Audio­phil­ia has trick­led down, some­what, in the renewed con­sumer love for vinyl records, but to com­pare the big box-store sys­tems on which most peo­ple lis­ten to LPs to the gear of the well-heeled cognoscen­ti is to spit upon the very name of Audio. The snob­bery and end­less dis­sat­is­fac­tion of the audio­phile are noth­ing new, as the 1959 BBC short film above shows, address­ing the ques­tion asked of audio­philes every­where, at all times: “Do they like music? Or are they in love with equip­ment?”

The charm­ing, satir­i­cal BBC por­trait brings this char­ac­ter to life for non-audio­philes, who tend to find the audiophile’s obses­sions unbear­ably tedious. But if appre­ci­a­tion for such things makes audio­philes just slight­ly bet­ter than ordi­nary lis­ten­ers, so be it. What­ev­er the dis­agree­ments, and they are numer­ous, among them, all audio­philes “agree on the fun­da­men­tal facts in life,” writes Lucio Caded­du in a “Survivor’s Guide on Audio­phile Behav­ior.”

Enjoy­ment of rhyth­mic, orga­nized sound may be uni­ver­sal­ly human, but for the audio­phile, that pedes­tri­an plea­sure is sec­ondary to “hav­ing a wide fre­quen­cy response and get­ting a real­is­tic vir­tu­al image, what­ev­er that means.” Audio­phil­ia, for all its priv­i­leged invest­ment in equip­ment the aver­age per­son can’t afford, can be seen as no more than an advanced form of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. Or it can be seen as a life “devot­ed,” Caded­du writes, “to for­mal per­fec­tion.”

via Ted Gioia 

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

An 82-Year-Old Japan­ese Audio­phile Search­es for the Best Sound by Installing His Own Elec­tric Util­i­ty Pole in His Yard

How Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956

How Old School Records Were Made, From Start to Fin­ish: A 1937 Video Fea­tur­ing Duke Elling­ton

Con­serve the Sound, an Online Muse­um Pre­serves the Sounds of Past Technologies–from Type­writ­ers, Elec­tric Shavers and Cas­sette Recorders, to Cam­eras & Clas­sic Nin­ten­do

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.