The Entry Level #1: The First Time Page 2
I've gone from futile attempts at maintaining order in my living room to futile attempts at reconfiguring my listening room to accommodate all my new vinyl. The television is long gone. The turntable is Rega's P3-24, in high-gloss white, the latest iteration of a timeless design. Although Art Dudley's classic Denon DL-103 moving-coil cartridge is waiting patiently to be installed, my current cartridge is Rega's Elys 2 in Rega's RB-301 tonearm, the latest version of a similarly enduring piece of art. John Atkinson has loaned me a DB Systems DBP-10 phono alignment protractor, an indispensable tool and winner of our 2010 "Accessory of the Year" award. The 'table is tricked out with Boston Audio Design's Mat 1 graphite platter mat and Rega's own drive-belt upgrade, which I discussed in November 2010. I own an Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier, the one Art liked so much, with a moving-magnet phono card, but also on hand is NAD's budget-priced PP 3 phono preamp. I own Exposure's 2010S CD player, an overlooked gem, but it doesn't see much action these days. A Sony PlayStation 1 is on the way.
The speakers, believe it or not, are a pair of a one-off version of John DeVore's Gibbon 3, with pretty bamboo cabinets and cherry baffles, sitting happily on 24" Target standssome things, thankfully, haven't changed very much at all. John says I fall in love too easily. He could be talking about women or loudspeakers. I just think I know what I like. All of this stuff is tied together by Furutech Evolution cables and interconnects and plugged in to a Furutech e-TP60 power distributor. My components sit on a Polycrystal equipment rack given me by our erstwhile senior contributing editor, Scull Communication's Jonathan Scull.
I sit exactly 7' from the speakers, on the same orange couch, almost always alone. Still, every now and then I imagine a pretty, compassionate woman sitting beside me. When I'm not imagining her, I like to invite friends over for informal listening sessions.
So let's listen together. Gemini is over, and I'm now playing Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's recent reissue of the Pixies' Surfer Rosa (LP, 4AD/Elektra/Rough Trade/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-296), one of the greatest albums of all time. I've listened to this record hundreds of times, but it has never sounded this good and alive. I first heard it during a memorable summer vacation in Isabella, Puerto Rico. I was sitting beside a couple of strangers in the back seat of a beat-up white Nissan. My cousin was in the driver's seat, taking us along some violent roads that would, he promised, eventually lead to a beach. We raced along, branches from low-hanging trees and tall blades of wild grass relentlessly sweeping against the car's side panels, creating percussive sounds that seemed to play along with the tape. And when Black Francis sang, in his strange way, "Vamos a jugar por la playa," we all sang along. Suddenly we were friends, forever united by this moment. You know how it is.
I had never heard music quite like it: David Lovering's charging drums locked in tight embrace with Kim Deal's thumping bass; Joey Santiago's guitar, screeching like some possessed power tool; and Black Francis's signature yelp painting circles on top of it all. For a while, there in that white Nissan, I wondered what the hell was going on. What kind of music is this? But my new friends loved it, and I loved it, too, and nothing else mattered.
Back home in New Jersey, I spent many late nights committing Surfer Rosa to memory, as if its songs were an ex-girlfriend's dazzling blue eyes, or the sunlight running its fingers through the Caribbean Sea. I was 17, still five years away from becoming Stereophile's editorial assistant, and I had never heard the word audiophile.
I'm a long way from that time. Listening to Surfer Rosa again now, on the hi-fi, is not the same as hearing it in the back seat of my cousin's car. It's better now, because I can be both here and there at once. As my friend Michael Lavorgna wrote in his provocative "As We See It" in the October 2010 issue, part of the power and beauty of hi-fi is that it enables us to listen to whatever we want whenever we want. With hi-fi, we are time travelers who are never really alone.
We have to start somewhereeveryone doesand "The Entry Level" will focus on beginnings. I want to hear about your first times. How and why did you get into hi-fi? What components made up your first system? Do you remember the first album you played? The first song? Who were you with? This is intended to be a conversation, a journey, a listening party. We'll share music and stories, we'll discover truly affordable pieces of gear, we'll remain open to change, and with fingers poised above Play and Record, we'll grow, separately and together.