Ever since I was twelve years old and first heard real bass from a pipe organ played on a (yes, just one) Bozak B-310a speaker and a "Mac 60" amplifier at Emmons Audio in Studio City, California, I've been a Hi-Fi Crazy.
Until those mono days of 1954, when my head was
crushed and my soul was stirred by the thrilling sounds -- maybe of George
Wright playing the Mighty Wurlitzer or maybe E. Power Biggs tickling the pedals
of some other behemoth -- I'd probably never really heard bass at all, and
probably not much of the rest of the audible spectrum, either: As a kid of
twelve, I'd certainly never been to a concert, and the only sources of music
generally available to me were just AM radio; black and white television (with "black
and white" sound quality, to match); records played on my family's Sears
Silvertone record player; and the movies (where the sound at most theaters was
still mono and pretty awful, and the sound coming out of the little box you
hooked in your car window at the "drive-in" was even worse). Even "Fantasia", as
played at the movie theaters I
went to, was more notable for the 1940 ticks and scratches in its optical
soundtrack than for its six channel original stereo recording, which no theater
I knew of could even try to reproduce.
When I first heard good sound, I was hooked forever, and it was the sound, not the music that got me.
And that's why, when I eventually heard stereo (on two-channel, pre-recorded quarter-inch tape) I, like so many others, could spend hours listening to ping pong games, or steam locomotives, or jet plane noises -- things that bore no resemblance at all to music – and why, even after 1957, when I was fifteen and (at least in my own mind) vastly more musically sophisticated, I was still just as likely to buy one of the then-new stereo records for its sound as for its musical content.
The Dukes of Dixieland; Mohammed-El-Bakkar and
his Oriental Ensemble (both on Sid Frey's Audio Fidelity Records); whichever
version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture had the loudest real cannons (probably
Westminster, then, and certainly TELARC, later); were all bought by me, not
because I was a Dixieland Jazz fan, or that I liked Middle Eastern music (or
even Nejla Ates' boobs, covered only by pasties on the cover of the "Port Said"
album), but because, like the cannons on the 1812 Overture, they were
great-sounding! (If I dared to say I wanted the most BANG for my buck, would you
still keep reading?)
That's the way it remains even today. Even though
I've grown up enough that I now love virtually all forms of music, from
Bluegrass to Baroque; from Pink Floyd to Prokofiev; and from Albinoni to Zappa,
I'm still more likely to be moved by bad music in great sound than by great
music in a bad recording. I'm open-minded, too, about the gear I Iisten on: As
long as the sound is realistic and thrilling and it images and soundstages with
the best of them, I don't really care whether it's analog or digital; whether
the electronics are tube or solid state; or whether my speakers are cones,
planars, horns, or something else, entirely.
Although I still privately think of myself as a "Hi-Fi
Crazy", that kind of love of sound for its own sake seems to make me exactly
what High Fidelity Magazine first
called an "audiophile" way back in 1951. The problem is that there are all kinds
of other people out there who also consider themselves audiophiles and yet
approach the hobby from entirely different perspectives.
You know who they are; you may even be one –
especially since they seem to fall into a whole broad range of different
One kind is the guy (whichever sort of audiophile
a person may be, the overwhelming majority of us do seem to be guys) who
apparently loves to talk about
Hi-Fi as much or more than he loves to actually listen to it. Audiophiles like
this tend to read reviews, go to shows, and collect spec sheets not so much for
purposes of making a buying decision as to provide subject matter for endless
debates at a club meeting, a Starbucks's or on the Internet – anywhere there's
no music playing to interfere with their conversation.
Another is the pure out-and-out gear-head. When I
had my cable company, one of my dealers was one of those. To my amazement, he
once told me that he actually disliked music and that the only reason he was in
the business was that it let him spend his days surrounded by wonderful and
One more kind is the guy who doesn't really care
about any of it at all, but has simply gotten into audio the same way and for
the same reason that some other people get into golf: They've reached a certain
level of social or financial standing and want to tell other people about it in
any way that they can – preferably spending as much money in the process as
possible, as ostentatiously as possible. (Some of these guys will buy
practically anything if it's expensive enough, which may be why there's so much
$100 Grand-and-up stuff out there!)
Exactly the opposite are the guys who will only
buy it if it's a bargain or if they can build it, assemble it, modify it ("tube-rolling"
counts here), or even design it themselves. Whatever their love for the music,
the sound, or the equipment that produces it, I suspect that, for them, as much
of the fun of having a system may come from how they got it, how little they
paid for it, or how much of a hand they had in creating or perfecting it, as
from their actual listening.
There are also the "team players" (digital vs. analog; tubes vs. sold state; rock vs. classical; "Whatever it is, my kind, or brand, or genre rules!") and the Mystics and Anti-Mystics, perpetually declaring each other either deaf or foolish over such, as they see them, either essentials or voodoo as cables and cable lifters, AC power treatments, Mpingo discs, magical brass bowls, and on and on and on...
The list of people who have come to our hobby and
consider themselves audiophiles goes on and on, too, even including, against
their will, some guys who don't
think of themselves as audiophiles and simply regard their system as the thing
they need to play their music, much as their kitchen stove is the thing they
need for cooking their food.
It might be easy to regard all this diversity and even, sometimes, outright confrontation, as not just confusing, but a weakness, and to use it as a basis for fear for our hobby's future. I don't think so. Instead, I see it as something more akin to a great potluck banquet where every audiophile of every stripe brings something for the enjoyment of all. All of the different goals, viewpoints and orientations – even the shrieking and hair-pulling – make for a richer feast and, by encouraging all aspects of a vigorous marketplace of things and ideas, help us all to...
Enjoy the music!