I love music. I listen to a lot of music. New music, old music, normal music, weird music, rap music, country music, happy music, sad music, good music, and yes, even bad music. Don’t give me that look, you like bad music too.

I love experiencing music. I’ve had unforgettable experiences at live shows. Every festival I go to is more fun than the last.

I love owning music. I have a modest vinyl record collection, with some really cool gems (my autographed copy of RTJ3 is my favorite).

I love listening to music. I have a big pair of tower speakers in my living room, placed carefully so that they sound good. I spent a silly amount of money on a pair of high-impedance headphones that sound amazing. I still use an Android phone from 2017 because LG didn’t just keep the headphone jack around, they made theirs powerful enough to drive those hungry hi-fi headphones.

I hate audiophiles.

An insufferable cohort of mostly middle-aged-and-older men have developed the delusion that the “only true way” to listen to music is with a vinyl record, a tube amp, and speakers the size of a car. If you’ve come into contact with upper-class America (or upper-class anywhere, really) there’s a good chance you’ve met one of these people.

I’m fine with rich dudes spending their money on things they like. A lot of those folks share my appreciation for good craftsmanship, and they proudly support domestic manufacturers. Rich people buying nice things means that I can buy their used things later. That’s all great.

Here’s the problem: this pride turns into disdain for anything that isn’t their own way of listening to music. This insanity has somehow permeated a lot of popular music culture. I have met plenty of people who have inherited these delusions from their more “educated” (read: pretentious) peers. People who dissent from the analog narrative get gaslit and what-aboutted:

“oh what kind of turntable do you have? oh that’s not good enough, there’s your problem right there.”

“what speakers do you have? what about your phono + power amps? oh that’s not good enough, there’s your problem right there.”

“how did you place your speakers? oh, you should have them at 45 degrees, not 60.”

“is it a re-pressing? from whom? oh, there’s your problem right there.”

The end result is a bunch of nerds ruining their credit scores because someone told them they need gold-plated hydraulic bearings in their tonearm to properly listen to their mom’s copy of Led Zeppelin IV.

Here’s the thing: unless you have rich-guy money, you can’t afford to make vinyl sound amazing. You can make it sound pretty good, arguably as good as a digital recording… until pop this crackle crackle starts happening hisssss.

The assumption that an analog recording can sound better than a digital recording relies on this idea: An analog recording has effectively infinite resolution, because there is no digitization. No bits. This is true, in a sense: in the ideal world of physics, a vinyl record ought to sound best. But the ideal world of physics isn’t where we live. We exist in a world where gravity, dust, electromagnetic noise, and friction exist. All of these things affect turntables and vinyl records. No amount of crazy electronics and heavyweight record pressings can change that.

It is very possible to wear out a vinyl record if you play it enough. This is why records that used to be owned by radio stations sell for so cheap - most of them are clapped out. You can’t wear out an MP3 (same goes for lossless files).

Then, consider that the vast majority of recorded music in the 21st century is made using digital recording equipment, and mixed with digital production software. Even in the ideal world of physics, an analog cut of a digital recording can’t sound better than a digital medium, because both formats are working with the same amount of data.

Don’t even get me started on tube amps. The best tube amps on earth are good because they provide a linear response once they get up to operating temperature. In other words, they’re doing what transistors do, except transistors are cheaper, smaller, more power-efficient, and still objectively better.

Does vinyl sound different? Do vacuum tube amps sound different? Yes. Do they sound better? Not unless you can throw virtually infinite money at all of the inherent limitations that come with vacuum tubes and a spinning piece of plastic imbued with sound waves.

It’s okay to appreciate audio equipment, and there are plenty of ways to love hi-fi without getting your head stuck in your ass. Here’s an alternative: buy an old turntable from the 1970s or 1980s that needs some TLC. Get out a soldering iron and give it the love it deserves. Take apart a trashed set of speakers, re-foam them, and put them back together. Develop a relationship with your gear that extends beyond the price tag.

Most importantly, use the equipment. Vinyl is great because you aren’t just listening to music. The medium demands something from you. It’s tactile. The album artwork is a complete ensemble, rather than a little icon on your phone. Instead of getting sucked into a black hole of progressively more expensive gadgets, you’ll begin to learn what you personally like about your equipment. What kind of music sounds good through it? What doesn’t? Hack it until you like it more. By deepening your relationship with the equipment, you can deepen your relationship with the music you love.

My first set of hi-fi equipment was a hodgepodge of free stuff handed down to me by family friends when I was a kid. That crusty outdoor Bose speaker set and old home theater unit got me through college, along with some speaker wire fished out of a dumpster in Keller Hall. I remember how it sounded (good, given the circumstances), and I remember how temperamental the receiver was until I replaced a few capacitors. I remember the first time I listened to Close to The Edge through that system, and realized I loved a genre almost as pretentious as the audiophiles I’m complaining about here. But, the thing I remember most vividly is the time spent with friends, with that equipment jamming away dutifully in the background.

Money can’t buy taste.