What can a psychologist from the 1940s called Abraham Maslow tell us about our Hi-Fi hobby?

Maslow suggested that there are five sets of goals, which may be called basic needs. He arranged these into a series of different levels, based on the order of importance of these basic needs.  

Maslow argued that the lowest-level needs must be met before a person will try to satisfy needs higher up in the hierarchy, such as self-esteem needs. According to the theory, the lowest level of unmet needs in the hierarchy is the prime motivator of behaviour. 

Only when this level is satisfied, needs at the next level in the hierarchy will begin to motivate behaviour.

Maslow defined his levels thus:

  • Self-actualisation: complete personal fulfilment: achievement of potential in emotional and spiritual spheres.   
  • Esteem: satisfaction of ego through personal achievement, recognition, status, prestige    
  • Social/belonging: Friendship; affection; intimacy; a sense of belonging to a group    
  • Safety: physical security; safety from threats or danger; stability rather than temporary safety    
  • Physiological: basic needs for food, shelter and immediate physical protection  

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still widely used in business, so what can it tell us about our hifi hobby?

Physiological needs  

Physiological needs are the most basic needs of all; the need to provide food, water, rest and shelter from the elements. For an individual to survive, these needs must be met.  

For those with a passion for music, access to music is as basic a need as any traditional physiological need.

Security needs  

Once an individual’s physiological needs are satisfied, he/she is motivated by the need for security, in other words for his/her physiological needs not to be put at risk.

 There are many things that may put our access to music at risk. At its most basic, it is the need for access to power and the internet in order to access music. At a more subtle and traditional level, surface noise and clicks interfere with the listening experience, so keeping vinyl records clean and safe is also a security need.

Social needs  

Humans are social animals. We feel the need to belong; to give and receive friendship and affection.

The social element of listening to music is a key part of listening to live music at gigs and concerts. Often, listening to music at home is a more solitary experience, but even then there is joy in sharing our experiences with others either at the time or by telling them about it later.

However, other people’s social needs may get in the way and present a risk to the more fundamental need for security. Family members or friends talking over music or worse treating it as background music can be a very negative experience.

Ego needs  

There are two types of ego need: the need for self-esteem, and the need to receive the esteem of others. These two needs are closely linked. Usually a person’s feelings about themselves are influenced by the opinions of others. And the opinions of others often reflect the way people feel about themselves. Maslow said that esteem includes the desire for prestige, status, recognition and appreciation.  

If you think your system is doing a great job of reproducing your music, then your ego needs will drive you to seek affirmation from others, hoping they will compliment you on the quality of your system, or even better telling you that it is better than their own!

A response such as “That’s nice but I can’t hear the difference between this system and your old one!” can be a crushing blow to your ego needs.


The need for self-fulfilment is top of Maslow’s hierarchy. This is the need that motivates people to be the best they possibly can, to fulfil their human potential. For some people, the desire might be to paint, race cars or climb mountains. In the work environment, people satisfy their need for self-fulfilment by creating and working towards meaningful challenges.  

For those of us dedicated to our hi-fi hobby, the goal is to have a listening experience that stops us in our tracks and enables us to hear a whole new aspect of a favourite piece of music.

These moments aspect of self-actualisation are what Maslow notes as ‘peak experiences’. These are the rare moments of highest happiness and fulfilment, associated with a sense of wonder and awe that we have rarely in our lifetimes. By reaching a sense of self-actualisation, we will have more frequent peak experiences – and essentially, life becomes more meaningful. And the seeking after these experiences is very familiar to the Hi-Fi hobbyist!

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