The Trouble with Hobbies

Have you ever suddenly been inspired to embark on a brand new hobby?

Maybe you’ve never owned a boat before, but having seen one chug by on the river you have thought “I’d love to do that!”. A quick browse in the classified ads shows lots of boats that look fine, and they don’t cost all that much. Basically any boat would be great, and you could gradually do it up, even if it is a bit shabby now. In your mind’s eye, your family will love you when you are able to take them on spur-of-the-moment, cheap weekends messing about on the water, starting in a few weeks’ time.

From this high point where the world is your oyster, you begin to take the advice of the magazines and other experienced hobbyists. Before you have even owned a boat, you become aware of the hierarchy of boat owners, and the boats that would render you a laughing stock if you owned them. You become aware of the general consensus on different types of bilge pump – not something you ever wanted to know. You begin to form an idea of the boat you should really go for – and it is not one of the bargain basement jobs you first saw. You might just about be able to stretch to a boat that would put you in the lower echelons of boat ownership but, importantly, not on the very lowest rung. You could always, perhaps, move up from there over time.

It now turns into an all-consuming hobby with the goal of having a boat on the river at the end of the year. In the end it costs thousands, and your children have grown up and left home before your boat finally takes to the water. You hit a bridge and rip the top off your boat the first time you take it out. You feel sick and abandon the whole hobby (a true story).

That’s the nature of male hobbies. They start out as wonderful, spontaneous ideas, but can turn into nightmares – mainly due to the existence of other hobbyists! Audio is one of those hobbies, I think. Ridiculously, the prices paid for bits of audio knickknackery rival the costs of boats.

A person could be seized one day by the idea of hi-fi as a way to improve their life, buy an amp and some secondhand speakers off Gumtree for £100, and plug their tablet or laptop headphone socket into the amp using a £2 cable. Hey presto, a hi-fi system that will sound much better than what they had before, and which has tinker-ability via the buying and selling of speakers and the audio streaming/library software options; there is no urgency in changing the amp and tablet hardware as they are pretty much perfect in what they do. The speakers are almost like pieces of furniture, so the person can indulge their tastes in how they look as well as how they sound, and they can be restored using standard DIY skills – a nice mini-hobby.

But what if the person does the natural male thing, and starts to read the magazines and forums? Immediately they will realise that their tablet’s headphone output is a joke in the audio world. They need to spend at least a few hundred pounds on a half-decent ‘DAC’, plus a couple of hundred on a budget cable. And of course, this is only for convenience: real audio quality can only be had if they own a decent turntable and a special vibration-free shelf to put it on. Where do they go from there? They need to make a decision on which turntable and which cartridge to go for. They need to take a view on cables, power conditioners, valve or solid state amps, accessories like cable lifters and record cleaning machines. Each decision, they are assured by their fellow hobbyists, will result in “night and day” differences in the sound.

After some months agonising over it, they assemble a beginner’s system for about £3,000 – they will upgrade as budget allows. It sounds OK, but they know that even though the brand is a highly recommended one, the particular model of valve amplifier they could afford has “hints of a slightly reticent mid range” – one of the magazines said so – and if they listen carefully, perhaps they can hear that… But the more powerful 18 Watt model cost £800 more and they decided against it. Perhaps they made the wrong decision. The nightmare unfolds…

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3 thoughts on “The Trouble with Hobbies

  1. I’m glad that I never experienced something like that.

    When I was a kid, I saw somebody performing magic and I suddenly became interested with magic. At first, I only bought playing cards, then books, then some magic props. However, someone told me that having lots of awesome props doesn’t mean anything if I don’t have the chops and I can’t entertain the audience.

    So, I focused on improving my skills instead of mindlessly buying more stuff. At some point, I even became a full time pro. The only reason I retired was to return to my first hobby: mathematics. While I’m a mathematician now, I still perform sometimes, but as an amateur.

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  2. I have several hobbies and they complement each other, I do read some magazines but avoid forums like the plague. I was a very strong critic about some stuff in audiophile hobby, but after a nice talk with some enthusiast pals I arrived to the conclusion that an hobby should make you feel happy and not upset with the lack of objectivity of other enthusiasts and thus these days I’m still point my finger at some stuff I find wrong in the hobby but try to understand the other side of the fence.

    People are often competitive and thus they enjoy comparing stuff with other enthusiasts to the point it makes them sulk in really pointless stuff. In a consumer world people will consume.
    The same “problems” the audio enthusiasts have are also present in other hobbies, carpenters debate about tools, in electronics some debate the many way of building a circuit. The gregarious nature of enthusiast makes it easy to disagree with other hobbyists.

    If an hobby makes one upset it’s probably a bad hobby, the idea is to have some fun.
    I agree with all that you wrote above, but also note that females have the same problems in their hobbies as males do. Looking at my wife I would say it’s exactly the same with them.

    My hobbies never turned in nightmares mostly because I have a strong personality and wont change my point of view just because the “pack” says so, and also because I set up some heavy limits on the money I spend on my many hobbies.
    Often nightmares come from enthusiasts going overboard with their spending without any type of goal.
    The audiophile hobby doesn’t necessarily mean expensive cables or gear but if that brings some amount of happiness without turning the life of the hobbyist in a nightmare, I’m happy for him or her.

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  3. The slippery slope I decide to get off of. I have rotated a bit of equipment over the years. Within the past two years I had a Sansui 5000a and a Yamaha ax700 both well regarded. Speakers, I have had Polk R40 mini towers for the last three and am happy with them. I got back into records for five years or so using a Technics Sl D-3/Shure V15 combo and this is what I ultimately down sized to and it may make some of you shake your heads in disbelief. My current set up is the Mini Watt N3 amplifier with Sovtek 12ax7lps and JJ 6Bq5’s. My pre-amp is the kit version of the Little Bear 6j1 with all upgraded Vishay/Dale Resistors and Nichicon Capacitors and a real 12volt 2amp transformer running NOS GE JAN 5654W tubes. The same Polk R40 speakers at 90db at 1 watt they work great with the Mini Watt and a Onkyo C7030 CD player. I have sold everything else including my record collection turntable (I also had a Miracord and a pioneer tt also). I kept my Sansui A80 amp as a back up and a Technics cd player for a back up. The sound of this combo sounds really good and my friend who is into Mac Tube gear can’t believe the sound I’m getting out of this set up. Myself it has the sound I have been trying to get for years and have been quite happy with it. I do have my eye on a SET kit using 6BQ5’s for under two Hundred for down the road. But for now I am just listening to my music and enjoying it as is my wife because I am not looking for that next upgrade score anymore.

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