As some of you may know, I had to move in the middle of our glorious COVID-19 disease pandemic. As much of a hassle as moving is in general it was made worse by the supply chain problems which prohibited me from getting a number of things that I needed for my new place. The result of this was that I couldn’t get my system set up for a couple of months resulting in my music source being reduced to (gasp) a soundbar. Less than ideal, I know, but it was practical at the time. It is also pretty amazing how you can get used to a low-fidelity system.
Words cannot express how grateful I was for the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and the resulting ability to visit others and hear a real system. Upon vaccination, I was able to visit a couple of friends and listen to their systems. The first visit was to Larry Deniston’s house where I heard his open baffle Spatial Audio speakers that beautifully presented an LP of outtakes from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-so much so that I was compelled to go out and purchase a copy the next day, as I couldn’t get the sound out of my head. The next visit I made was to Stephen Scharf’s place where I heard his wonderful Harbeth 30.2’s driven by a First Sound Preamp and Conrad Johnson amplifier with its insanely low noise floor producing perhaps the blackest background I think I’ve ever heard. The last person I visited was Anthony Chipelo and I heard his wonderful David Berning amplifiers driving a pair Quad 57’s with an AudioKinesis Swarm Bass array was truly outstanding. While most speakers emit music, Quad 57’s breathe music – there’s no other way to describe it. While each of these systems was very different in its presentation of music, each of these systems truly put me in the presence of the great musicians being played across space and time. Having listened to a soundbar for a couple of months, listing to real stereos was, suffice it to say, simply amazing.
As I’ve thought about the experiences I had listening to the stereo systems of others, I have come to the realization that these experiences are best described as epiphanies. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists the second definition of Epiphany as “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” If that doesn’t describe moments along the audiophile experience, I don’t know what does. As audiophiles, I think that we are always looking for these epiphany moments. We are looking for those moments that make us re-think what is possible in music playback. We, in essence, are looking for the next level toward further perfection. These moments become touchstones as systems improve and progress. There are many epiphany moments that I have had across my own audio journey. These moments include the first tube amplifier I heard and how I had an almost flashback to my parents’ RCA console I grew up listening to and the “rightness” of tubes. They include a pair of Radio Shack speakers with Linaeum-tweeters that were the first to present a top-end openness that is lacking in most box designs, and the Radio Shack speakers did so at a true bargain price. I remember the first Koetsu phono cartridge I heard and how its warm lush sound made just about every cartridge I had heard up that point sound almost broken. I remember the first pair of Quads I heard (the 63’s) and their open presentation. The experiences I had more recently at the homes of Larry, Stephen, and Anthony are very much part of these epiphany moments.
So where do these epiphany moments come from? These moments can come at audio shows, audio stores, or other people’s houses. Each of us travels the road to audio nirvana differently, in terms of budget, priorities, and musical taste. While all of us are looking for our own audio bliss, there are many different roads to achieving this goal. Sometimes, just hearing how someone else has chosen to carve out their path can be an incredibly enlightening experience. Oftentimes, hearing a system outside your own will provide ideas for speaker placement, set-up, power conditioning, or room treatments that can be applied within your own system.
I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to not have my system up and running immediately after my move. Nonetheless, I have come to see it as a gift. The experience of having only a soundbar to listen to forced on me, has given me a much greater appreciation of better audio systems, including my own, that I had either simply become accustomed to or simply forgotten over time. If you want to gain an appreciation for what you currently have in ways you probably have forgotten, listen to nothing but a soundbar for a month and a half straight. When you return to your system, your mind will be blown.
Lastly, I would love to hear from members to find out what they consider to be epiphany moments in their respective audio journeys. What are the moments that started you down the road of the audiophile journey? What are the milestone products or tweaks which leveled-up the performance of your audio systems in meaningful ways? What are the moments that made you re-think what is possible in audio reproduction?