Those Obscure Objects of Desire

In the course of human endeavors, we make choices. Lots of choices most days, and we use any number of internal criteria to inform these decisions.

When it comes to deciding what hifi to buy, the criteria we bring to the decision making process is, unsurprisingly, deeply personal. Unsurprising because hifi is not a necessity like water or shelter, so factors beyond the strictly utilitarian come into play.

These truths are self evident to most reasonable people. After all, most people make choices that are not limited to the strictly utilitarian all the time including where to live, what to wear, what to eat, what to drink, what to hang on our walls, what to sit on, what to wash with, and so on. Again, obvious stuff that hardly needs saying.

But it does need saying because there are people, lots of people, who would argue that in hifi, our choices should be dictated by objective measures, with every other consideration coming further down the line of importance. When it comes to a choice between A and B, pick the one that measures best. Simple. What’s more, some people love to be told what to do because choices based on personal preference can be scary and there’s no way to know what’s best! And some people want to own the best at the lowest price possible. Logical, no?

The trouble with this line of thinking is twofold—there is no such thing as a “best” when it comes to discretionary spending for pleasure and on a interrelated note, people’s criteria for selecting hifi, and a world of other things, are deeply personal (that bears repeating).

Factors beyond the utilitarian are common in many areas of interest:

Here’s another:

I could go on with more images and comparisons, but its not necessary. I’ve made my point. What? OK, one more. Let’s say you’re looking for a home to buy and decide that a beachfront property in North Carolina is just the thing. Hold on chief! If you buy a beachfront home, you’ll be paying much more than if you pick something a block away. Hell, the further you get from the beach the less you pay, so why not buy a mobile home in a trailer park in Tennessee?

Extreme examples can drive a point home and it’s painfully obvious that no one is in a position to tell other people what to value. Yet some people do. Just look at any hifi forum or comments section and you will see statements like this:

“Obscenely overpriced gear. Only someone with far more money than brains would buy this kind of gear. They would do better to donate 99% of the cost of this system to charity and spend the remaining 1% on an audio system.”

Or this:

“Grotesque and obscene in more ways than one.”

Some believe how much money we spend on a hifi is governed by some universal moral code, where spending anything over X is obscene. 99 times out of 10, these same people believe they know the magic moral number X and are themselves spending well within the bounds of reason. No one points a finger inward when they’re being self-righteous. Others take great pleasure in the idea that they have spent much less for something better. Suckers. By the way, schadenfreude’s mother called to say there’s no harm in joy.

I’m here to say, it’s OK. When it comes to hifi, you can buy whatever you want and you don’t answer to anyone other than the people who also rely on your income to survive. Spend away using that discretionary income you work so hard to free up. Buy what makes you happy, what you enjoy listening through, looking at, touching, or whatever. It’s OK. If you want to buy the cheapest DAC with the best SINAD, have at it! There’s no wrong reason, only insecurity.

The real moral of this story is there’s no universal goal when it comes to listening to music on the hifi, so it follows that there’s no single all-important governing factor when it comes to picking the right gear for ourselves. Unless you want to count enjoyment, but that may be too divisive.