Something’s Coming

So, what’s “this thing of ours”? I’m only half-kidding. High-end audio is deadly serious for many passionate audiophiles. Some measurement types defend their turf without thought—without mercy—and often deride subjectivists, like me, who believe if you like what you hear, then that’s what counts, enjoy. Objectivists say if you can’t measure it, then it doesn’t exist. Well, goes the retort, you don’t know what to measure, your instruments aren’t refined enough, and on and on.

The struggle continues to this day for some reason, and boy-howdy is it ferocious, especially regarding cables.

People, please, you want to grow our industry? This isn’t productive. It drives music lovers away from a potential joy of a lifetime. Which, given the circumstances, is a crying shame, as now you can buy so much quality for so little money. Check out Herb Reichert’s Gramophone Dreams column, or Steve Guttenberg’s Audiophiliac YouTube channel, for reviews of affordable systems that make music the high-end way. Dealers, retailers, please realize that these people are out there and need their music, especially as we’re all still suffering from the pandemic. Be imaginative and find ways to reach them in this new environment.

What drives normally sane people (loosely speaking) to such extremes of emotion? Why is it so damn personal? I made the mistake of telling one audiophile what I thought of his system, and he nearly killed me. Even his wife insulted me, saying that my system sounded too big. Never again—you learn to keep it to yourself. I’ve come to realize that people usually build audio systems that perfectly reflect their own tastes. It’s who they are, and when you tread on their toes, they squawk. And if a reviewer dares to criticize a manufacturer’s perfect baby by calling it limp as white asparagus, it’s like calling their child ugly, and there’s usually hell to pay. Hey, not everything’s perfect, that’s the point.

But, see, there’s that thing again: Mark your turf, defend at all costs, us against them, never even listen to those on the other side (that’s so ridiculous). Sound familiar? It would be great if objectivists would just withhold prejudgment and listen to a high-end system built with sound in mind. And vice versa. Then think about what they heard without immediate dismissal. Then maybe even talk about it. How radical!

Why does music exist after all? For pleasure. No matter your taste, there’s music that’s perfect for you at any particular moment, there to give you the pleasure you deserve 24/7. Speakers or headphones, LP, CD, HD streaming, whatever your pleasure, you can have it today and inexpensively to boot. Let the music engage you and take you places you’ve never been before.

Many audiophiles go crazy getting their systems up on their toes to achieve a certain blissful state of satori, a oneness with the music’s energy so you feel it affecting you emotionally as it washes over you. You might suddenly find yourself falling into the music, experiencing it, totally involved, listening with more than your ears, letting the essential sound surround you for an almost transcendent experience. You “see” performers on an airy soundstage, and they seem almost real. That soundstage isn’t attached to the speakers but surrounds them to the back, front, and sides. You’ll no doubt find yourself leaning into the sound for pure pleasure. Man, you could listen to that all day, as the music provokes one emotional response after another. That’s the point of it all. Audiophiles take what’s there and make it better. Then they take it to heart.

Now look, let’s face it, everyday life is radically changed now. We have to deal with the pandemic and the aftershocks sure to come. Visiting a dealer, even if there’s one in your area, isn’t going to be easy. And they could do better. I know a customer who told me, no, he wasn’t going to call the grouchy dealer he’d just bought an expensive system from, because he wouldn’t be able to answer his question and would just get mad because he wouldn’t know the answer. I’m just shaking my head.

The shows are gone, at least for now. Some canceled with integrity by returning deposits, others doing themselves no favors by withholding those funds as next year’s deposits. So, what the heck will replace audio shows? I’ve heard lots of ideas; the one that appeals to me most is manufacturers taking large rooms in a hotel, setting up their equipment and making sure it sounds great no matter how long it takes. Invite the press one day, and then the public, and sell some equipment—everyone’s happy. Seems to me to be a natural (footnote 1).

In the meantime, angsty audiophiles must open up and share their passion. Play your kid’s music and see if he has an ear for the difference. Some people hear it and bang, they want it right away. Others like it quiet; best not to force them. But, as I already mentioned, super performance is available at superlow prices these days, and I’m talking quality components.

Be proud to be an audiophile as well as a music lover. Admit it to yourself and the world. Enjoy your music, and do it any way that pleases you.

Footnote 1: Except for the press-day suggestion, this sounds a lot like the show put on by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania–based dealer Now Listen Here in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in late September.—Editor

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