What Does Reference Really Mean?

Audiogon Member, Michaelkingdom, recently asked for some ideas regarding his new audio room.  This time, he’s wondering what you think “Reference” really means since we hear it so often.  Here are some responses:


It is simply something that you accept as a standard against which other items are compared. One might infer that such a standard is superior to all else but the term does not directly imply that.
However, many do use that inference in using the term and, of course, many manufacturers attach the term to a product with the intention of implying the superiority of the product.

Well said.

An extra 10 grand!

Thanks for the clarification. It seems like reference would refer to an established common standard but I suppose it is confined to one’s own established standard.

It is what you use as a “reference” to judge other things: speakers or other equipment, recordings, cables or anything else. Exactly what the name implies.

Basically it’s a marketing term that may or may not have any real meaning. Anyone can stick “reference” on their product as there are no rules, regulations or criteria (that I’m aware of) for its use or meaning.
However, I believe most audiophiles would agree that true “reference” products have existed in the past and currently exist. But I think what was once a reference product, say in 1965 or 1980 is probably not one today.

the term reference means a product that exceeds any previous standard w/in the same category.


It can also imply to consumers that a particular product, or line of products, are the manufacturers best efforts.

Right On! Nonoise.

09-09-13: Roscoeiii
It seems like reviewers also use the term “reference” to refer to their own gear and the system into which any item under reviewed is being inserted.

For some reviewers, this reference system is designed to be as neutral and transparent as possible, to better aid in evaluating the equipment under review. Some reviewers also choose to have versatile equipment as their reference (for example, both XLR and RCA inputs and outputs). I have also read reviewers write about choosing well-known brands and gear for their reference system, so that experienced listeners might have an idea of the potential influence of the rest of the system.

On the other hand, some reviewers buy what they love, regardless of obscurity or potential coloration, limitations etc.

Joman: at least that much. I would have gone higher.

What Webster’s Dictionary says the word means, and the meaning it has in popular usage, is one thing. What it is implied to mean in high-end audio, is an entirely different matter.

What do you think, Audiogoners? Comment below!

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