The Entry Level #30

A small subset of audiophiles (always men—the especially old and joyless ones, I suspect) are sick of reading about my adventures in domesticity: They've been there, done that, and managed to do it far better than I. Good for them. Really, I'm glad they're so wise, mature, and experienced that they would spend their free time pounding out frenzied letters to the editor, caps firmly locked, disparaging my taste in music, my relationships with women, my choice of loudspeaker.

But I do wonder whether their energies could be better spent in sharing their experiences and wisdom, in humbly passing along to younger generations—their children, their grandchildren, possibly even me—their enthusiasm for music, sound, and quality, so that we might actually learn from our missteps and move on to more beautiful things. It almost seems they'd rather tread the same well-trampled ground (tubes vs solid-state, musicality vs accuracy, analog vs digital, love vs lust), forever taking only the smallest sideways steps, until the hi-fi hobby finally does die, nothing to show for its sufferings but an obsolete source component, a test CD, and eight linty balls of Blu-Tack. I wonder, again, whether these are the same fathers who, even after several scathing letters to the editor, remain baffled by their sons' and daughters' indifference to hi-fi, who blame that indifference on MP3s or Facebook, and who've turned their listening rooms into torture chambers complete with head vise, hot seat, and blinding blue lights.

Those, at least, were disciplinary measures my father never employed. He wasn't around much when I was a child, and when he was, his behavior was unpredictable and often frightening, like that of a hungry dog. It wasn't until fairly recently that I overcame my fear of the sound of a man's raised voice. He was too young to know how to be a good dad—it took him 34 years to confess that to me, over rice and beans one Sunday afternoon—and so I grew up fast and mostly alone. For comfort, he turned to alcohol and strange women; I closed my bedroom door, turned on the radio, and idolized my mother. There was nothing in the world my father could have shared with me then except embarrassment, anger, and regret. Hi-fi didn't exist. I never heard the word audiophile until, in August 2000, I took the job as Stereophile's editorial assistant. I lucked out. Every day is like the first day of school: I have plenty of catching up to do—as an audiophile and as a son.

Nevertheless, I can't blame anyone for a lack of interest in cats—they're a thankless species—and I know that my stories of Natalie and Nicole are often painfully awkward, and at times have been downright icky. This, too, is sort of old ground. Stereophile once ran a column, "Astor Place," whose author, a more or less normal woman, detailed domestic life with an obsessive-compulsive audiophile—in theory, a subject that should fascinate our readers. But did you ever read it? At least this is not that.

I kid. This is totally that, albeit somewhat skewed, inverted, revised for the 21st century. I live in an apartment building filled with beautiful women and their crazy animals—an inescapable circumstance of my present life that greatly influences my listening habits and priorities. Ms. Little and I are on the first floor with our two cats, Avon and Stringer. Yes, our cats: Along with Ms. Little's flat-screen TV, high-speed Internet connection, and lump-free mattress—wonderful luxuries, all—I guess I'm finally accepting co-ownership of the stinking hairballs. (Ms. Little will be as thrilled to read this as I am reluctant to write it.) Natalie and Nicole share an apartment on the second floor with a dog and two cats. Beth and Kristen occupy adjacent apartments on the third floor, Beth with two cats and Kristen with a dog. And on the fourth floor lives KB, with an apparently charming but actually vicious and psychopathic cat-monster named Oliver. I rarely go up there.

Anyway, the girls have abandoned me. They're vacationing in Buenos Aires for an entire week. I was invited to join them, but, out of a sense of obligation to this magazine's production schedule or something similarly ridiculous, I declined. That's right. Asked to spend a week in subtropical paradise with six beautiful women, I said no. Actually, Kristen, too, has stayed behind, but she's in a new relationship, and I suspect she and her guy will be busy doing new-relationship things: sitting primly on Kristen's velvety blue couch, discussing current events as Ra Ra Riot's The Orchard spins on her Music Hall USB-1 turntable. (Interestingly, her new guy, like me, is ginger-haired, favors plaid shirts, and is into hi-fi. Hmm. The mind drifts . . . ) Nevertheless, I could be strolling through magnificently landscaped gardens; admiring gorgeous, neo-gothic architecture; watching impossibly attractive people dance the seductive tango; stuffing my belly with lovingly fried milanesas, perfectly baked empanadas, and moist cakes slathered with dulce de leche. Instead, I'm enduring another week of winter in New Jersey. Alone.

Thanks to all the practice I got when I was a kid, I have no problem with being alone now, nor do I mind being the only guy at a party full of women. But I figured it'd be good for the girls to do their own thing. Plus, I'd already spent all my disposable income on records. (Among other things for which my father is known, some more admirable than others, his propensity for addiction has manifested in me, albeit in gentler, mostly safer forms.) In the weeks leading up to their trip, I was almost looking forward to being on my own again, to freely indulge in the sorts of things I typically spare my dear girlfriend: endless bouts of Ultimate Fighting Championship, obscene amounts of Scotch, long nights spent listening to experimental music, hours whiled away in the subtleties of speaker placement. Guy stuff. My stuff.

But now that the girls are gone, I can't wait to have them back. This has been the longest week of my life, each day passing as if it were three.

"Oh, Stephen! Now's your chance to move their furniture around!" John Atkinson keeps telling me. "Enjoy your freedom!"

Freedom? Ha. Most of my free time has been spent scooping kitty litter. I, too, am sick of this shit.

Fortunately, I've had the Music Hall Marimba loudspeakers to keep me occupied (footnote 1).

The love of a lifetime
Get excited, grumpy old audiophiles: I'm going to write about hi-fi now.

Late last year, when I first heard of the Marimba, I was happily surprised: One of my favorite hi-fi manufacturers had finally introduced its first and (so far) only loudspeaker—and it was seriously affordable at $349/pair. I wanted to review the Marimbas right away, but grumpy old Sam Tellig beat me to them (see our December 2012 issue). My first chance to hear the Marimbas came last October, at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where they highlighted a refreshingly small and simple system comprising Music Hall's MMF-5.1SE turntable with Cruise Control 2.0 power supply, and a Creek Evolution 50A integrated amplifier. The cost of the entire rig, including cables and accessories, was around $3500—modest by most audiophiles' standards—and it sounded awesome: big, lively, detailed, and, most of all, fun.

While I was entirely impressed by the system's sound, I was slightly disappointed by the Marimba's appearance: Its boxy, black cabinet gives it an undeniably humble, completely unpretentious look, and though I can appreciate that, I want a little more style—something to set the Marimba apart from the countless hi-fi phonies lining the shelves of big-box stores and plastered all over Amazon.com. In terms of appearance, the Marimba is only slightly more attractive than the Dayton Audio B652, which I reviewed in January; and, while the Dayton, too, has a rather anonymous, generic look, that's something I can more easily accept in a speaker that costs only $40/pair.

Whatever. One evening, while Ms. Little was out, I replaced my beloved PSB Alpha B1s ($299/pair) with the Music Hall Marimbas, setting them exactly where the PSBs had been. After Ms. Little had gotten home, I asked her if she'd noticed the new speakers. Her eyes went wide. Her gaze drew an arc from left speaker to right. Her face expressed complete bewilderment, as if to say, "What new speakers?" As far as she was concerned, the Marimbas were the Alpha B1s; so while the PSBs strike me as being far more attractive, it stands to reason that most normal people wouldn't notice a difference.

Roy Hall, Music Hall's founder and "president for life," is responsible for both the Marimba's visual and acoustic designs—a fact that will keep certain audiophiles (those especially old and joyless ones again) from ever listening to the thing. Hall's got a reputation for being a bit of a potty-mouth. And he likes Scotch. Audiophiles who are afraid of obscenities and alcohol are therefore afraid of Roy Hall, but I've had the pleasure of speaking with the man on a number of occasions, and he strikes me as warm, intelligent, and reasonable—frank when it comes to business, and rather romantic when it comes to life.



Footnote 1: Music Hall, 108 Station Road, Great Neck, NY 11023. Tel: (516) 487-3663. Web: www.musichallaudio.com
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Comments
Long-time listener's picture
Old, joyless, grumpy audiophile strikes back

Since you encourage older audiophiles to share their experience and wisdom, here's mine: No reader, old or young, wants to slog through endless amounts of prose about someone else's life while trying to find the actual subject of the column. Also, criticizing your target audience in unpleasant terms isn't generally a good idea.These things just make you seem like a bad, self-absorbed writer--typical of the young, I guess. Sorry if I'm joyless for not sharing your self-absorbed joy in writing endlessly about yourself (1,102 words), but that's me--a joyless old audiophile who doesn't want his time wasted. A line or two, or a paragraph or two, is plenty. I don't enjoy this any more than I enjoy Tyll Hertsen writing endlessly about his travels to audio shows on the Inner Fidelity website while hoping someday he'll actually review one of the many pieces of gear he's mentioned seeing there. I write this sentence just so I can use "young and self-absorbed" as often as you use "old and joyless." As I think you know, I enjoy your columns and always read them. I'm just afraid that next you'll start describing your sex life graphically online, like young people do these days.

JIGF's picture
And it is not just the old and grumpy

I am young and quite happy (as of now), and I do feel you should save the most of your life for an autobiograhy. As Long-time listener said, couple of paragraphs should be enough if you really need to write about your meanderings. Don't make a resource out of "if you don't like it, don't read it", improve man, make it worthwhile, if you want to share experiences, do so, but make it about them, not you.

JIGF's picture
Oh, and...

... good report ont he Marimbas, I am very intrigued by them. Have you come accross Tekton Audio? I would like you get your hands on the M-Lore and know what you think about them, its seems there is nothing but rave reviews out in the web.

Stephen Mejias's picture
yes, but . . .

Have you come accross Tekton Audio?

I've heard of the brand thanks to Steve Guttenberg's CNET reports on the Enzo and M-Lore. I'm not sure I can review these speakers, though, without talking too much about myself.

JIGF's picture
Yeah, that's where I fisrt

Yeah, that's where I fisrt heard about them as well.

Thanks for the joke, it sure made me laugh!

PS: Am I the only one who has go through the verification process for every post?

iListen's picture
Great read

I feel like I should have caps lock on. Maybe next time. 

Great article. I will call myself an audio enthusiast rather than an audiophile.

Audiophiles need to have bottomless pocket books. Enthusiasts just want good sound for however much they can spend at the time. 

I have to agree with Roy Hall on 2 way speakers. There is just something about them that, to my ear, just sounds "right".  I have had Maggies 2.7, Paradigm Sudio 20's and studio 60's and a few other speakers over the years. 

Currently, the Studio 60's reside in my living room. The maggies were wonderful, but required more of system behind them that I have. After years of going through speakers, I find there is something about a stand mounted 2 way speaker that drawls me like a moth to a flame. 

I will find that magical stand speaker someday. For now, I am looking at NAD integrated amps. I need simple, not bad sounding, small and clean enough to make decent sound. That is why I appreciate Stereophile reviewing inexpensive things like these little speakers that cost a mere $350. 

I remember reading an article ( on Stereophile.com) about the RS-6 ($1000 floorstanding speakers) and he had them hooked to a Creek integrated, the whole system costing less than $3000. Just goes to show, You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy music. 

Blu's picture
An oldie who likes your writing

Thank you Stephen, I always enjoy your articles, and find your stories of life, the girls and cats, interesting, please don't listen to the grumpy one's, just continue with your refreshing writing style.

Blu,

Australia

Stephen Mejias's picture
thanks

Thank you, Blu! Hope all's well in Australia.

Ariel Bitran's picture
OUR cats?

Cats are owned by no man.

JohnnyR's picture
This is Stereophile NOT English Lit 101

I hardly believe that you write for the younger generation, because you take forever to get to the point that most young people would have given up and gone on to another article (attention span, rememeber that word next time you are tempted to thrill us with your meandering thoughts)

A speaker designed in the USA but built in China isn't going to be consisitant in quality. Voicing the final design by ear is only as good as the designer's ears plus I'm very doubtful that every driver made in China is going to meet the original specs over the lifetime of the speraker's run. Only by testing each speaker's response with measurements on the production line and compensating for it by varying the crossover component values will insure quality and it's not that hard or expensive to implement that. Mr Snell managed to do that ages ago in the age of clunky slow computers or by using none at all.

Claiming a cabinet is well braced then still hearing a hollow sound when struck with a knuckle isn't a good sign that it really is well braced. I would be curious to see some measurements by Atlinson on these "wonders" just for s**** and giggles.

Oh and also cats are very loving and show it to those that really care about them. I have seven of them myself.

Ariel Bitran's picture
Is that you JohnnyR?

Stephen Mejias's picture
Marimba measurements

I would be curious to see some measurements by Atlinson on these "wonders" just for s**** and giggles.

John Atkinson's measurements of the Music Hall Marimba appear in our July issue, on stands now. I hope they make you shit and giggle.

JohnnyR's picture
Meh It's Adequate

Looks like what to expect from a mass production China based speaker. As usual Atkinson has trouble showing the low end response without the near field rise bump because of baffle diffraction compensation built into the design. It should be the same level as around the 300-400 Hz level, I am presuming that Mr Hall suggests it be placed on stands and well away from walls because of this.

The upper midrange has a 4dB rise at 1000Hz then it's got the BBC dip around 3-4 KHz. 5Khz to 12Khz looks sizzly from 4dB to 6dB higher than the  300Hz level.  Not exactly great. I would think some tweeking of the crossover would have made that flatter but then again we have no individual response of each driver so maybe that's not possible.

Since we also have no view inside the cabinet, the bracing question is moot also. Any cabinet that small should have good damping if the wall thickness or bracing is well employed.

All in all it's okay but better can be found online for those willing to do some DYI for the same price. At $349 per pair it's a bit pricey $275 would be better. I am guessing that it's costing Mr Hall $35 to $50 in parts and assembly cost ( maybe $10 per day per worker in China?)per pair.

 Just my 2 cents and I did giggle not so much shitting.

Alion's picture
New Here

This is the first article I've ever read from Stereophile, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed your personable writing and meshing of experience and analysis. 

I can tell you first hand, as a member of the 'younger generation', I have an attention span longer than a 30 second YouTube video and appreciate you taking the time to guide us through the meanders of your thoughts.

I think I'll stick around - thanks for the read.

Stephen Mejias's picture
awesome

Thanks so much. It's great to have you here.

jcbenten's picture
Write what you want..

...The editors will let you know when to change.

Personally I like your personal side as it gives context.  And I like the equipment you review; $20K amps and $100K speakers are probably nice but, really, how big is the audience that can afford that kind of equipment?

I have enjoyed your journey into vinyl and I occasionally check out the music you list.  Most of it is not my taste (I am older than you and drift to classic rock) but I keep checking.  I am wating for you to delve into compter audio and music streaming.  Perhaps I missed it?

I look forward to your next column.

Stephen Mejias's picture
not yet

Thanks very much.

I am wating for you to delve into compter audio and music streaming.  Perhaps I missed it?

I haven't gotten there yet. I'm moving in that direction—not entirely, of course, but slowly and surely.

partain's picture
Grumpy

    If all that don't appreciate your blathering are grumpy, I gladly join the ranks.

    I am most interested in the affordable gear, please turn covering these products over to someone competent to evaluate them.

Long-time listener's picture
More grumpy at Stereophile than Stephen

Actually I think Stephen is one of the bright spots in the Stereophile lineup, and as I said, I like his columns. If I'm grumpy its because of the magazine itself. Why? The writers seem to be writing for themselves and for the manufacturers, but not for the readers.

Take a look at the Dynaudio Excite x12 review. Nothing but superlatives: "perfect verisimilitude" and "no tradeoffs" despite its size and price. Yet it ends up in Class B. Obviously, there must have been tradeoffs, and its verisimilitude somewhat less than perfect. But Stereophile, the most authoritative stereo magazine on the planet, isn't going to tell its readers what they are so that they can make an informed choice.

Or the A+ rated NAD m51 DAC. It's not until you buy it that you realize its bass has none of the speed, punch, and definition of the merely A-list Benchmark DAC1. But Stereophile doesn't tell you that, you have to spend your money first.

Or the T+A Power Plant amplifier. Powerful, controlled basss and smooth, detailed highs. What about the midrange? Stereophile won't say a word about it; you have to read between the lines and realize that Stereophile's omission tells you something is wrong there. Why can't we get an honest review?

Who is Stereophile for? The writers and manufacturers, or the readers? Can't we get some better information?

Claude's picture
I love it

Hi Stephen

I love the Way you write. Its fun interesting and mirrors so many experiences and thoughts i have/ had/ would have liked to have. Definetly the best prose in the audiophile world. AND: the only prose which will likely apeal to those people we need for the future of our hobby.

this 44 Year old from Berlin Germany loves you!

Dont stop!

claudius

Stephen Mejias's picture
thank you

Thanks so much, Claudius. It's great to hear that the column resonates with you.

Research2012's picture
The New Generation

As a young audiophile I can relate more to your writing than others. That sense of being and relating to your really life makes it a crossover experience. To me the Old Grumpies of the audiophile world hold on to the experience of recreating the live event in their living room. I think the New Generation wants an experience. Something different but yet the same as a live experience.

It is funny because I think but subsets of the audiophile group want the same thing they are just expressing it in different terms. The Old Grumpies take the status quo and try to make it fit. The New Generation does not want the status quo and is looking for that experience to shine down on them to know that what they have is special.

Being young and living in this world I have a belief that one day I might be able to own a system that costs more than most people spend on a house or a really nice car. The reality is, that even if I don't, I enough every moment I have with the gear I love and the people I get to share it with.

Music is entertainment and to me entertainment is life.To call on something you wrote before; some of us just like to sing, dance and laugh. It makes us happy.

JohnnyR's picture
Why?

"Being young and living in this world I have a belief that one day I might be able to own a system that costs more than most people spend on a house or a really nice car."

You don't have to spend that much for really good sound, that's the myth that has been spread for ages by those wanting your money. It's more of a status thing than improving the sound. Unless you have a great paying job, you aren't going to be able to afford that much less a house.

acawaigmail's picture
Testing

Please ignore.

mink70's picture
Hey Stephen— Loved

Hey Stephen—

Loved your column; great writing!

Kudos for bringing so much personality to a shopworn format. It ain't easy, and so nice  when someone pulls it off. Keep writing and don't listen to the cranks.

Best,

Alex Halberstadt

desperaudio's picture
Really????

I'm over 60yo. Am I 'old'? Maybe my body is suffering the ravages of a life of hockey, softball, football, three decades of bartending and another of hauling and installing satellite dishes and ballast on to the roofs of buildings all over the Canadian Prairies. But my mind isn't old. After I read Dudley's prose in every Stereophile I head straight to the "Entry Level" - and I enjoy the tales therein.

 Much of my time is spent repairing and selling vintage stereo gear. Much of it goes to the young audio enthusiasts. I also admin the local audio group (150+ members).

I have no children (that I know of).

 How can I talk to the the 20somethings without any perspective of what it is to be young in this century?

  The 'Entry Level' tales help me along that path.

 

Stephen - just you keep those stories coming.

niuguy's picture
Cool ones

You are one of those cool old guys. ;)

catachresis's picture
*Wisdom* from an Earlier Curmudgeonly Reviewer

Stephen, it's funny how our explicit atitudes can suggest the presence of other distinct, different feelings. Plenty of people would bash this textual psychoanalizing -- this abuse of the 'intentional fallacy' -- as pure hogwash. "I mean what I mean -- nothing more or less." they'll aver. But I read in your explicit irritation with critics of your tendency to illustrate your hifi observations with domestic anecdotes an underlying genuine whistfulness that they'd get over their pontificating about absolute truths born out by  expertise and offer something 'personal' to educate or entertain the young pundit, as well as readers interested in "The Entry-level." Tell me if I'm wrong. Maybe it's mostly aggro you're feeling.

But your young-man's 'curmudgeonlyness' reminded me of another more-or-less famous bit of reviewer's spleen, mixed in with something like urgent longing. It's striking especially as it comes from a writer who's famous for saying in different ways, "Take my writing for what it is and don't presume to question how it relates to me." Yet I'd argue that for all his defensive proclamations, Philip Larkin's passionate contempts and their entanglement in griefs and longings are what most attract fans of his poetry. Most, though not all, of Larkin's poetry fans know that he was a prolific professional jazz reviewer for almost thirty years. It often strikes me that his wild enthuasiasms for classic jazz are the ultimate remedy for the disaffection that's caused by his persistent cynicism about nearly everything else in modern life.

Here's the final paragraph from his Introduction to All What Jazz, the first major collection of his reviews and essays on the genre. it's good to note that the insidious youngsters he's condemning are the same generation as many of your older contempuous critics.

"My readers…sometimes I wonder whether they really exist. Truly they are remarkably tolerant, manifesting themselves only by the occasional query as to where they can buy records: just once or twice I was clobbered by a Miles Davis, or taken to task by the press agent of a visiting celebrity. Sometimes I imagine them, sullen fleshy inarticulate men, stockbrokers, sellers of goods, living in 30-year-old detached houses amongst the golf courses of Outer London, husbands of ageing bitter wives they first seduced to Artie Shaw’s ‘Begin the Beguine’ or the Squadronaire’s ‘The Nearness of You’; fathers of cold-eyed lascivious daughters on the pill, to whom Ramsay MacDonald is coeval with Rameses II, and cannabis-smoking jeans-and-bearded Stuart-haired sons whose oriental contempt for ‘bread’ is equalled only by their insatiable demand for it;  men in whom a pile of scratched coverless 78s in the attic can awaken memories of vomiting blindly from small tudor windows to Muggsy Spanier’s ‘Sister Kate’, or winding up a gramophone in a punt to play Armstrong’s ‘Body and Soul’; men whose first coronary is coming like Christmas; who drift loaded helplessly with commitments and obligations and necessary observances, into the darkening avenues of age and incapacity, deserted by everything that once made life sweet. These I have tried to remind of the exitement of jazz, and tell where it may still be found."

Source: <http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/larkins-jazz-and-mine/>

Stephen Mejias's picture
Gin & Jazz

Tell me if I'm wrong.

No. I think you've got it right. Thank you.

And thanks for the comparison to Philip Larkin. I can relate to a lot of that, but Larkin expressed himself better than I could.

I also enjoyed the linked article. If there isn't one already, there should be a cocktail called Gin & Jazz. One would taste great right about now, I'm sure.  

catachresis's picture
Indeed! --Just so long as the

Indeed! --Just so long as the "jazz" in a G+J doesn't relate to any bodily fluids. It can't be a variant of the 'White Russian'.  ;P

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