How to Be an Audioquasiphile

Audiophilia in action

Apologies for the lousy coinage, mixing two Greek stems (audio and -phile) with one Latin (quasi), but there didn't seem to be any way around it; we don't use the Greek oios- all that much, and besides, "audiooiophile" looks like a word describing a guy who collects grass skirts and tiki torches.

Morphological mavening aside, one may ask the following two questions:

1 - so what's an audioquasiphile?

2 - why would I want to be one?

Question #1: Audioquasiphile - somebody who cares enough about good recorded sound to shun boomboxes and other such crimes against humanity, but has never, and will never, succumb to the self-deluded wackiness of dropping $5000 on an AC power cord.

Hardcore audiophiles of the 5K-power-cord variety strike me as suffering from the same basic hardware malfunction as outer-limit sexual perverts, in that both struggle to flip an ever-more resistant switch to the "on" position — whether the sought-after satisfaction is erotic or aural doesn't make a lot of difference.

A frugal little kink for, say, Beach House Barbie evolves gradually until only ruinously chic mannequins in the Saks Fifth Avenue window will do the trick; homey pleasure from a nice, decent Yamaha amp/cd combo with Klipsch speakers undergoes a parallel evolution and by-and-by one is willing slave to dominatrix Wilson Audio, accessorized in leather by a spike-heeled Mark Levinson.

Now, not all audiophiles are plagued by overpriced bats in their belfries. But the general drift of the audiophile world heads more in the direction of the loony bin rather than the concert hall.

Thus the audioquasiphile, one who appreciates cultivated sound but is immune to the blandishments of sonic Sodom and Gomorrah.

As for question #2 (why would you want to be one), here's the skinny on a confirmed, card-carrying audioquasiphile, namely me.

I can easily distinguish a $4000 stereo from a $40,000 one, but the differences impress me as being more of flavor rather than quality. Neither sounds like the 'real' thing. On the other hand, that bass-blasting tin-thrashing raucous pandemonium that suffocates trash emporia like BestBuy can leave me distinctly nauseated or itching to punch the lights out of the first little old lady I encounter.

I have two stereo systems in my house plus a smattering of iPods.

In my home office, the Mac Pro is connected with optical cables to a Yamaha home-theater receiver, itself in turn pushing out electrons to a pair of big black rectangular speakers from Rogers, a now-defunct British outfit. Digital connections are a definite must when playing audio from a computer, otherwise one is bombarded by the 100-million-plus boops, beeps, and screeches emanating from the computer's buzzy insides. (Home-theater receivers usually offer digital optical inputs, while standard stereo amps rarely do.)

It's a nice-sounding system, not the slightest bit offensive. I'm geek enough to rip my entire CD collection to the computer, and audiophile enough to rip in Apple Lossless format. Overcompression stinks and hard drive space is cheap.

The living room hosts the 'good' stereo, consisting of a Rotel CD player, a trim and buff Arcam integrated amp, a Klipsch subwoofer, an iPod dock, and a pair of exquisite Bowers & Wilkins 805s speakers, all stapled together by decent-quality but sensibly-priced cables.

I selected these components after careful auditioning at my neighborhood high-end stereo store, having first established a firm ceiling as to price, and specifying that I wanted natural, uncomplicated sound. No gee-whiz techie trends, no tubes, no vinyl, no cables made of beryllium centrifuged from the Sea of Galilee, nothing requiring a forklift to deliver.

So I bought myself elegant, refined clarity, but also enough balls to punch Le Sacre du Printemps through the roof. Think Sean Connery rather than Sylvester Stallone. A true audiophile would have spent more on cabling alone than I spent on the entire system, but then again, I still have most of my marbles.

That isn't to say that it was in the impulse-purchase category. In fact, it cost about the same as a quality upright piano.

But you know what? I absolutely love my living room stereo, as does anyone else who hears it. I don't expect my living room to sound like a concert hall — it's my living room, right? — but I do want to enjoy the sound coming out of the stereo system and not have my ears offended by false harmonics, frequency dropouts, icky clippy crunches from overloads, etc. It meets that requirement and then some, and sounds great with movies, too.

I also have two pairs of headphones. The Grado RC1's really do qualify as full-court-press audiophile hyper-luxuries. (Hey, I said most of my marbles, remember...) Gorgeous things as long as I limit their use to either the living-room stereo or my digital piano. They're lousy for iPods or the office stereo, ruthlessly exposing as they do the slightest shortcoming in the original sound source. And they're far too delicate to haul around in a backpack.

So for the workhorse pair, as recent replacements for my Bose QuietComforts, I use Monster/Dr. Dre Beats, which despite being designed for hip-hop or rock perform admirably well with my inevitably longhair selections. Plus, they're great with iPods, and are sturdy as all get-out. They are reasonably priced only relative to the Grado RC1's, but well worth it, I think.

So if you, too, would like to join the sensible-yet-discerning ranks of audioquasiphilia, here are a few tips:

  • Spend most of your money on the speakers.
  • Shy away from the trendy tube-powered stuff.
  • Don't let them talk you into high-priced cables.
  • Stick with two channels.
  • Go to a store that will set you up an audition; bring your favorite CDs, and don't forget your iPod.

And most importantly —

  • If the store is full of turntables that look like lucite wedding cakes, get out of there fast.


Coming up: my previously promised article on Herbert Blomstedt's recordings with the SFSO; I'm still too busy luxuriating in all those utterly groovy performances to write about them.