The Entry Level #8
"I'm going to have my birthday party here!"
We were at Lucky 7, our favorite little bar in downtown Jersey City, and Natalie was shouting above the loud music.
"Cool!" I shouted back.
"Would you want to DJ?"
"WOULD YOU BE THE DJ AT MY BIRTHDAY PARTY?" She smiled brightly.
"Are you SERIOUS?"
A million wild thoughts raced through my vodka-soaked mindquestions and fears, desires and insecurities, all tangled up like the strings of lights haphazardly hung from the ceiling above our heads. I imagined myself as Rob, in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, and almost started to sulk. How dare she give me the opportunity to do exactly what I would love to do?!
Suddenly, I was sober: I'd never DJ'd in public before. Natalie's birthday was only two weeks away. I thought about the records I would play; I wondered where I would find the necessary turntables, mixer, and headphones; I pictured beautiful women, possessed by the sounds of my music, dancing like mad; I imagined envious men, wishing they could be me; I saw myself spilling beer all over my turntable, the stylus leaping from the record's groove, the party coming to a tragic, horrible halt . . .
Natalie waited for my response, eyes wide and sparkling.
Searching for a way out, I finally replied: "Well, I don't know if I'd want to do it. I'm scared! What if I screwed up? What if I ruined your party?"
She gave me a look.
"I would be doing it for you," I continued. "I wouldn't be doing it for myself."
She was unmoved. "Will you? Do it for me?" she asked sweetly, without hesitation.
The place seemed to go strangely silent. Everyone in the bar stood still as Natalie's words echoed through my mind. Something inside me quivered. Aw, fuck, I thought. "Yes," I sighed. "I'll do it for you."
She squeezed my arm, dropped her head onto my lucky shoulder, and laughed. That was it: I could have died then and there, a happy man.
A call for help
A few days later, immediately after work, I raced to my favorite record store, Other Music, on East Fourth Street in Manhattan, and approached Daniel, the staff member on duty. "Hey, man, I need your help."
"Sure. What's up?"
"So, a good friend of mine is having a birthday party, and she wants me to DJ. It's going to be at a bar on a Saturday night. The place will be packed, and I've never done this before. I'm sort of freaking out."
Daniel smiled sympathetically. "What sort of stuff does she like?"
"She likes Cut/Copy, LCD Soundsystem, Yeasayer, stuff like that."
He nodded. "Alright."
"I'll definitely play that stuff, but this girl is beautiful and she's got a lot of hot friends, and I need some seriously badassheavyharddeep dance tracks." I punctuated each adjective by pounding my right fist into my left palm. "You know what I'm sayin'? We gotta make it sexy, Daniel."
Daniel got the picture. He set aside an enormous stack of CDs and led me over to the electronic section of the vinyl racks. "Let's see what we've got . . ."
He flipped thoughtfully through the racks, pulling out certain titles and briefly describing each. About 30 minutes later, I had a heavy stack of records tucked under one arm, and my questions and fears were beginning to fade. "Thank you so much, Daniel. I think you've just turned this party into a success."
"No problem," he smiled. "Good luck."
Though now armed, I was hardly ready: I'd have to somehow digest all this new music in time for the party. And back at home, I had a bunch of interconnects to evaluatethe perfect opportunity to become familiar with some dance tracks.
The forgotten component
Damned by exceptionally high prices (for some fine examples, see Henry Rollins's "As We See It" in this issue, and Michael Fremer's "Analog Corner" in June), inexplicable or incredible technologies, and plain bad looks, cables and interconnects are probably the least sexy of all hi-fi components. Most people would rather dismiss or forget them altogether. "How important are cables, really?"
The question is understandable but silly. How important is your neck? How important are your forearms? Your calves? As Wes Phillips explained in the 2004 edition of the Stereophile Buyer's Guide, "No matter how good your speakers are, or how perfectly your source component extracts the music from your chosen software, or how powerful your amplifier might be, if the components aren't connected to one another, you won't hear any music."
When we started "The Entry Level," I decided to use the cheapest RadioShack cables I could find, simply because I figured most people would choose something similar for their own first systems. But I soon tired of themnot because the sound was especially bad, or anything else as rational, but because it felt so uncool, so unsexy, to have RadioShack cables in my hi-fi.
It wasn't until I'd made direct comparisons between the RadioShacks and other cables that I realized what I'd really been missing.
AudioQuest Alpha-Snake and G-Snake interconnects
The Alpha-Snake ($22.50/0.5m pair) is AudioQuest's simplest and most affordable interconnect. Relatively thin and flexible, it has common, unfussy RCA terminations very much like those used on my cheap RadioShack interconnects (catalog #42-487, $6.99/3' pair). The Alpha-Snakes are easy to installwhereas some cables force their users to break into a sweat just to make a connection, the Alpha-Snakes seem to almost glide into their terminals. Both the Alpha-Snake and G-Snake ($34/0.5m pair) have conductors of 24AWG solid long-grain copper (LGC), PVC insulation, and gold-plated plugs. (Those plugs, AudioQuest's Bill Low admitted over dinner during the Munich High End Show, are "pure eye-candy." They have more of an effect on the user than they do on sound quality.) According to AQ, their LGC provides a smoother, clearer sound than the oxygen-free, high-conductivity (OFHC) copper commonly found in other interconnects. While the Alpha-Snake wears a simple gray PVC jacket, the G-Snake is better dressed in a black-and-blue nylon braid that recalls guitar straps from the 1970s.