A new neurosis has been discovered: audiophilia, or the excessive passion for hi-fi sound and equipment. The discoverer: Dr. Henry Angus Bowes, clinical director in psychiatry at Ste. Anne’s Hospital for veterans at Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., himself an audio fan. Tweet by tweet and woof by woof, at a research meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Psychiatrist Bowes spelled out how audiophiliacs behave.
Most of them are middle aged, male and intelligent, drawn largely from professions requiring highly conscientious performance (the church, accountancy, medicine, especially psychiatry). They are often single (or if married, childless). They rarely play any musical instrument well themselves. The hi-fi devotee, Dr. Bowes found, “is very frequently of compulsive personality, and tends to go through rituals in the playing of his recordings.”
What distinguishes the psychopathological addict from the enthusiastic followers of this (or any other) hobby? Dr. Bowes answered: “His tendency to become preoccupied with, and dependent upon, the bizarre recorded sounds . . . combined with the urgency of the need and the final insufficiency of all attempts to satisfy it … The sound is turned up and up until it reaches the physical level of pain . . . One addict told me he would not be satisfied until he could hear the drop of saliva from the French horns.”
Those who are not well organized emotionally, said Dr. Bowes, “will treat their hi-fi set as the emotionally immature treat a car—as an expression of aggression, as a power symbol.” To many it has a sexual connotation: addicts may be seeking a “sterile reproduction without biological bother,” and in extreme cases, a record collection becomes a “symbolic harem.” Significantly, says Psychiatrist Bowes (married, no children), an addict’s wife almost always demands that the volume be turned down: “Perhaps in the male’s interest in hi-fi she senses a rival, as shrill and discordant as herself.”
An unconscious motive for buying expensive equipment is often a desire for revenge, said Dr. Bowes. “One very compulsive patient, who found the sexual side of matrimony completely nauseating,” he recalled, “was financially ruining his fairly wealthy wife by his extravagant purchases . . . while she obtained instinctual gratification elsewhere. As he somewhat ruefully remarked: ‘She’s interested in low fidelity and high frequency.’ ”