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Mastering Engineers are not Audiophiles

People often ask me about posh HIFIs out of the blue in the pub or on social media. Presumably this is because I post all about electronic music boxes and talk about frequencies and stuff. It took me years to work out why I was associated with people who spend money endlessly tweaking audio players and talking about new fancy streamers (I didn’t know what one of these was until two months ago when I finally bought myself a new HIFI, mostly because I wanted to listen to BBC 6 Music downstairs and it came with one!). Recently it dawned on me: because I care about good sounding audio professionally I must be on a personal quest for audio perfection at home. I guess it makes sense in a way; I do get paid to care more about audio playback than anyone else essentially, right?

It’s true; my job is to care about audio. But that’s not what being an audiophile is. My aim here isn’t to insult people who are into their HIFIs as a hobby or to cast aspersions on the people who do, but to draw a line between those who seek to make audio work for everyone and those who seek to make audio work for themselves.

When I master a piece of audio I have one aim in mind: To make this audio as enjoyable and accessible to those who chose to listen to it.

I am not interested in the audiophile listening rigs unless my client has briefed me that they are aiming to sell to that market.

I don’t ask why the end user is listening on the format they are, whether this be ear buds, MP3, just in the car etc, I just accept that they do.

Music is so important to a human’s happiness, I wouldn’t for a second prejudge how and why people chose to engage with it. I’m just so happy they do and I’m happy I get to play a role in that. Furthermore I find the idea that people who can’t afford good systems should have their experience de-legitimised so offensive. If all you have is a phone, ear buds and Spotify I want you to feel as much of the emotion the composer intended as possible.

The language sometimes used by audio engineers to patronise listeners who don’t spend their time and money on systems to enjoy music on is not only problematic politically it is also self defeating. This is exemplified by how small incremental changes in audio format standards are sold as monumental revolutions in the audio industry and rely on cynical marketing techniques and “emperors new clothes” story telling.

I want to democratise good audio. I can do this in my daily work by being open minded and listening to my clients (and their consumers) needs, not by lobbying audio companies or paying lip service to corporations redesigning the wheel. Good audio playback is great, but then again so is a weekly deep tissue massage and fine wine, this doesn’t mean everyone has ac
cess to them, and they should not be benchmarks for a “good life”.

If you want to be part of the push for better audio standards be my guest as it will make my job easier and make the music I purchase more enjoyable, but it’s not my role.

Joe Caithness – Owner / Head Mastering Engineer – Subsequent Mastering

© Joe Caithness Mastering 2018
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