You make an excellent point about the term being viewed negatively. My circle of friends view me as an "audiophile" and as having "golden ears", and do not understand my hobby. As you mention, they have their own hobbies, and I sometimes do not quite get them! But, we accept and do so willingly without ill will.
I have always viewed "audio" as a hobby, and attempted to get as close to realism with the pieces in my systems. If that meant looking at alternate/different views on technology, than I would do so with guarded optimism. I have a scientific background by nature and profession, but still believe in my ears to a certain point. If you have the means to purchase more expensive equipment, and that is what you choose to do believing that you are closer to your promised land (and I am sure we all have different end goals), then that is wonderful.
However, the mind does not always remain open when something conflicts with our views. THAT is a shame, as even if you cannot/do not share the views, it can only broaden your experience level when attempting to judge. Too often there is a war of words over differing viewpoints. These are caused by many things, but I read them all and try and gain something from them. I may not agree with all the points, but that is by choice, experience and done with an open mind.
Anyway, I have and do own an array of equipment, some of which has been mentioned in this thread. I attempt to remain realistic in my pursuit, and do not "wear it under anyone's nose".
Ok, enough rambling!!!!