|My parents may be the only 82 year-olds at the Church breakfast who know all the words to "Day Tripper". Oh, how I tortured that little 45rpm disc and mom with it. Sunday driver, yeah.
I had (and still have) distant cousins in England who would send their young yank relatives their Beano comic books when they'd finished with them, along with exotic sweets with names like Cadbury Flake and crunchy things that for some reason were called biscuits yet bore no semblance to the biscuits I knew and regularly used to dam Sunday night's flow of stewed chicken with. No, these biscuits were cookies, man. These Brit kids knew how to live. And no, of course it wasn't my juvenile counterparts across the pond doing the actual shipping of these sundry treasures - it was their mom, a woman whom I would meet many years later but at the time only knew by the enchantingly Dickensonian appellation of Auntie Lil'.
Soon after The Four Themselves landed in New York to catch a motorcade to Ed Sullivan's stage, another aunt who lived Stateside returned from a family visit overseas with the best care package of all: A real pair of stovepipe pants, with matching paisley shirt from the real Carnaby Street in the actual town of London in honest-to-Gosh England. Beeb-beeb, beep-beep, yeah baby!
|I've never thought about it before, really. But as it turns out, my early indoctrination as an Anglophile was in some ways my larval stage in becoming an audiophile. The Beatles were my musical tectonic event after all. Because all that wanting to hold one's hand and the newly declared eight-day week was my bridge from Tubby The Tuba to the soundtrack of adolescent anguish. And while that was one very crowded bridge, my tenuous familial link to that scepter'd isle made me sure that John, Paul, George and Ringo were playing just -- well maybe just mainly -- for Jim.
One, two, skip a few and I'm playing in my own bands. Guitar, drums, any Woolworth's-quality 3/4-sized instruments my friends and I could insult. We'd even pass the chores around under the heading of "my turn, you had the guitar last week." The Dave Clark Five, Gary Louis and The Playboys were big on the scene and my buddy from up the street, Dave Clark was his name, took one look at my drum kit -- note that this was my drum kit -- and enthroned himself as "leader of the band" because the bass skin of my kit was emblazoned with The Dave Clark Five logo. Jeesh. I just remembered that. And I'm still pissed.
From then up through high school and even for a bit after, I was usually in some band or another. Whether it was a lack of talent or a lack of patience or both, I was always a far better vocalist than instrumentalist and, to be honest, the role of lead signer was fine by me. Not only did front men get the best position in group photos (take that, Dicky Clark), I was the only guy at the gig who didn't have to schlep anything. Furthermore, my body's short natural supply of human growth hormone meant that those boyhood stovepipes still fit and were well back in style by the time I was squealing out Sex Pistols covers in them dank and pissy taverns of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Several of my former comrades have since gone on to live rewarding lives as professional musicians. And a couple of those have gone further still to make records that may even be in your collection. Me? My limited musical acumen combined with unlimited greed steered me in other professional directions not so beholding to the fickle whims of fame or the ready availability of stovepipe pants.Today I am husband to a woman too smart to have even agreed to date me and father to an irrepressible murder of young males. The kids play keyboards, strings, reeds. Dad, on the other hand, plays the stereo.
A few words on my listening bias may be in order - that is to say my philosophy regarding the reproduction of music in the home: You do what you like and I'll do what I like. There. Doesn't full disclosure feel good? There are details if you insist; and even some amazing, you-are-there type photographs. So fasten your harness and put on your 3-D glasses (yours to keep after the bio) now.
I'm willing to put a lot into audio - a lot of anything except money. Far be it from me to suggest that because I find the prices of cost-no-object high end HiFi objectionable, you should too [see handy wallet-sized version of listening bias/philosophy above]. I'm fortunate to make a good living and enjoy a comfortable life. I'm neither blessed with nor tortured by a hyperactive social conscience and, ask anybody, "sweet guy" might be the last two words uttered to describe me. Nonetheless, I'm not at all sure I could fiddle around with the settings on a preamp that out-cost a good car unless I had first outfitted at least two remote villages with schoolhouses and maybe a teacher or two to ring the bell in the morning.
I also liken the hunt for fine components to the seduction of a beautiful woman: If all you have to do to get over is pay full retail, where's the sport?
Now, the biggest joke about all that huff and bluster is my audiophile perspective on value. In other words, my twisted perspective. For that little sermon was brought to you by someone who owns a phono cartridge (or two) that cost the better part of a thousand dollars and, by all accounts, that's roughly eight-hundred and fifty quid more than most civilians are willing to pay for their whole freaking sound system. As a famous parliamentarian once said, "Madame, we've already established that you're a whore. Now we're merely haggling over price".
I've been a budding, a frustrated, a wannabe, a half-hearted and a full-tilt audiophile on any given week since the first time I noticed some people's systems sounded better than the one my family had at home. That was at least thirty years ago. For pockets of that time, I've been more around the hobby than in it. And it just so happens that a new wave of Old School was on the ascendant just as I was emerging from my last hiatus about four years ago.
Ironically, it was the buzz about the new high resolution digital formats that had me pushing creakily against my coffin lid. (Wait a second, the buzz - like the buzz the high-rez gangs-that-couldn't-shoot-straight are still failing to generate in the mass market? Guess I wasn't too far away from base camp after all). But while it was the faint, whispered promise of space-age formats that disturbed my slumber, it was the SET movement that ultimately got my attention. The sounds I heard stole my heart and perhaps best of all, the whole gestalt captured my imagination. I felt like that small town kid haunting Radio Shack again. The discovery of it all. The experimentation. The fun. And as it happens, the Keep It Simple Stupid approach fit this stupid audiophile to a tee. Minimal signal paths. No crossovers. The musical magicks of the vacuum tube and the vinyl disc.
Does this mean I can't, don't or won't enjoy music as reproduced on my solid-state, digital format, muscle amp, multi-channel system? Hell no. I can, I do and I will when I'm in the mood or the situation suggests. It's just that for me, this hobby has become a tactile thing, a participation sport that tweaking, tube rolling and even those dreaded VTA adjustments have become a (mostly) welcome part of. Not surprisingly given all that, the pirate nation of DIY beckons and, if I could only stop holding the wrong end of the soldering iron, I might even answer the call one day. I need the modern system for the boom and sizzle of the home theater experience, to listen to the odd DVD-A in surround and to pump zero-maintenance music throughout the house for gatherings or everyday background. But the finicky, slightly fragile two-channel rig, not unlike the Rock bands of my youth, needs me to perform at its best or -- also just like then --at least have me think so. And that feels good. And to me, that's what music's all about.
Since I've just gone and used the words "music" and "all" and "about" in the same sentence, let me say that it is my well- considered opinion that this hobby is (1) a hobby after all and (2) most certainly not "all about the music". It was all about the music when we were rocking to the 8-track in our high school buddy's van. It's still all about the music when a song I love comes on my tinny car radio at the commuter lot and I miss a train just to hear it through. Audiophilia on the other hand sources its many joys and agonies from a set of stimuli far more complex than simple music appreciation.
But maybe that's just me. I'm an unapologetic sonic hedonist who regularly attends live music events and, worthy goal though it may be, being raised on amplified music I don't quite buy into the Holy Grail of a sound absolute. Lastly, if the audio Jeanie puffed out from a blown tube to offer me one wish (and that wish had to be within the audio Jeanie's audio jurisdiction), I wouldn't wish for more and better equipment or even a container load of mint Mercurys and Dogs. What I'd wish for is more listening time. Here's wishing you the same.
My current 2-channel system:
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