A Hi-Fi Widow's Search For The True 'Audiofilly'

The day the new iPhone6 went on sale, a photo depicting the scene outside Apple’s Covent Garden store made the rounds on social media. Its caption: “There is literally not a single woman in this iPhone6 queue”. I remember thinking at the time, that’s nothing compared to the wall-to-wall ‘Y-fronts’ you get at a Bristol Show. I’d say it’s an eye-opener for any female who’s never had a close encounter of the nerd kind before.

But as the next show approaches, I do wonder why it is so male-dominated. You do see women there if you stare hard enough in a Where’s Wally? kind of way, although it’s often a wife or girlfriend wearing a far-away expression which comes from hours spent traipsing around hi-fi shops with their blokes.

It’s not that we girls don’t love music. A quick Google search suggests we buy CDs, attend concerts and listen to music in roughly equal measures. And considering women are supposed to have a better hearing range than men, you’d think we’d be the ones scrabbling, Dawn of the Dead style, through the doors of the Bristol Marriott on Sound and Vision weekend.

Hi-fi has featured strongly throughout my life, from the years I flat-shared with a fellow student who blew almost his entire grant on a top range system, to the two decades I’ve been married to an audiophile. Yet when my husband goes all geek on me about his latest Audio T purchase, my general response (after wondering whether we need to take out a second mortgage to pay for it), is still: “Er. It doesn’t sound all that different from your old one.”


‘Holy grail’
While it would be easy to put it down to the differences in the sexes, I don’t count myself as a typical girly-girl. I have a degree in chemistry, I know my way around a bass guitar rig pretty well and shoes and handbags leave me cold.

But I feel sure there are true ‘audiofillies’ out there, women whose knees go weak at the roundness of a sub-woofer and who can reel off its specs as efficiently as any male enthusiast. And in my quest to find one, I meet Serena Lesley. Serena has spent serious money building the sound she wants.

“Open, but forgiving,” she says. “Relaxed and not too much detail, or else it’s too spiky and brittle.” It’s like hearing a fine wine being described.Serena doesn’t have a technical or musical background. Her understanding has been racked up by trial and error, reading and learning from reviews, acquiring a knowledge which has taught her how to make tweaks for the best sound using blobs of blu tack or halved squash balls under the hardware.

“You understand from experience the importance of everything that your music needs to go through before it hits your ears,” she says, “and your 'holy grail' is a completely transparent-sounding interconnect, though you know that they're like unicorns, so you end up with one which colours the sound in a way which compliments your room, your stands and your separates and which allows you to feel more, rather than less, connected to the music.” 
Her explanations sound fascinating, well-informed and rather poetic and I’m beginning to understand why she devotes so much energy to her hi-fi.

“It’s a quality of life thing,” Serena tells me. “It inspires emotion, evokes memory, changes your mood. You can’t get this kind of emotional response from the clock radio in your bedroom.” And there’s another peculiarity. We women are meant, by nature, to be emotional creatures, so why aren’t we spending more time, money and effort building systems of our own?

‘Marketed differently’

"Serena has spent serious money building the sound she wants."Serena admits she’s never met another female audiophile quite like herself, but she believes there are many more women who appreciate good hi-fi than is evident.

“Perhaps if the perception of hi-fi as a hobby becomes less gender-specific, less driven by the technicalities and is marketed slightly differently, then society will stop assuming that it is generally not a 'female' interest,” she says. “And the women who love listening to high-quality music reproduction in their homes will become more visible, driving further female interest in this area.

“After all, the driving force of hi-fi as a passion is to get closer to the art which is music. Badly-reproduced art cannot inspire emotion, cannot draw you in, cannot fill you with wonder, cannot fully communicate what the artist means to convey. Good hi-fi brings you that experience as fully as is possible. And there's absolutely nothing gender-specific about that.”

Experts have been telling us for years that we’re wired up differently. There’s plenty of documentation and debate about the fundamental differences between the genders, some of it informative, some quite laughable (Anyone remember John Gray’s Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus?)

I can’t deny that my husband disappears into his listening cave from time to time just to sit and enjoy his music, while I’m more likely to treat my tranny as audial wallpaper while multi-tasking at several other things.

Perhaps ‘WAGS’ like me are a lost cause, but I think there are many other women out there who merely need to be ‘shown a starting point from which to grow an interest’, as Serena puts it.

And let’s face it, from the retailer’s point of view, we are a huge untapped market, so maybe marketeers need to take a deeper look into our psyche, find out how to hook us, press our buttons without getting too tech-ey about the buttons themselves. Maybe then, we’ll see many more women enthusing about the finer points of a high-end amp or speaker and eventually, a greater gender balance at future Bristol Shows.

Guest Author Journalist & Blogger: Clare Banks