In a classic bit of stand up comedy, Steve Martin described his obsessive search for the best stereo system of the day. He kept adding more and more speakers until he finally reached the "google-phonic" stereo with the closest number of speakers to infinity, which, like all the rest, sounded like shit. Then, he thought, "maybe it's the needle."
Audiophiles must love that joke because, despite the fact that vinyl hasn't been in mass production for over 20 years, they still think it is the only option for listening to music well. They are the hardest of hardcore music nerds. They live for vinyl re-issues, die at the thought of MP3 compression, drool over speaker systems that cost about as much as a down payment on a luxury automobile and believe we're all idiots for thinking the stereos we bought on sale at Best Buy "sound fine."
If you have one of these folks in your life, first, we're very, very sorry. Second, we offer you a little help on what to get the man or woman who craves the purest of audio.
While we tool around in our cars with our factory stereo system and listen to our crappy earbuds, audiophiles are adjusting the acoustics of their media rooms with the precision of a professional recording studio. They are dead ass serious about sound.
Young musicians pray for the day when they can afford acoustic foam to cover the walls of their garage rehearsal room because it deadens the sound and doesn't destroy eardrums quite as quickly. Audiophiles use them to tweak the sound of their listening area, often with the benefit of sonic analyzers. Of course they look like shit hanging on the wall, but it's a small price to pay for auditory perfection. While you can grab these from Amazon, why not stay local and try The Foam Store.
I'll fully admit that while I'm certainly not an audiophile, this has been on my list for some time now. I have a few of the remastered records and they sound absolutely phenomenal. Of course, true purists would probably demand the mono box set. If you are a REALLY good friend, get them both.
If The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy were to describe the Grado brand of headphones, he would probably say, "Best headphones ever!" Simply put, these are the Rolls Royce of headphones, with prices ranging into the thousands... seriously. I've never heard a pair, but then again, I've never considered spending a grand on headphones with wooden exteriors and lamb's wool ear cups.
Not only do the Sonos sound systems sound beautiful, but their technology allows them to be placed throughout your house and stream music from your computer or iPhone. Using a device that ties all the speakers in various rooms into wi-fi called a "bridge," you can crank your tunes in the yard, the bedroom and, naturally, the bathroom.
Vinyl junkies are obsessive about the cleanliness of their records. It makes sense considering how delicate the plastic discs can be. There are all sorts of concoctions out there designed to help clean records, but the Spin Record Washer seems to have the ability to gently de-grunge vinyl, but do it simply and without much effort. They need a late-night infomercial for this thing.
Speaking of vinyl, as much as record nerds are loathe to listen to music on the computer, having a way to protect those recordings indefinitely and listen to them conveniently means finding a way to get them from the plastic to the hard drive. Enter Channel D's Pure Vinyl software, which archives the music from records onto a music "server," with the highest audio quality available. It combines computers and music geekery into one giant nerdgasm.
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Don't tell me you use earbuds you bought at Target or, God no, the ones that came with the phone! You peon! If you want amazing sound quality in the form of a rubber ball jammed into your ear, the Phiaton PS 200's are about as good as it gets. For $200 a pair, though, we recommend you clean them often because you don't want ear wax destroying something that could feed a family of four for a week.