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Stephen Mejias
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The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Recently, in the blog, I tried to write a little bit about the differences between listening to gear and listening to music. We come to this hobby from a love of music, but sometimes, it seems, that love becomes directed more towards the gear.

This, I find, is weird.

Later, talking about this with John Atkinson, I began to wonder if this transfer of love, this redirection of priorities from music to gear and back again, is an inherent struggle of our hobby, one that can never truly be balanced.

Monty said it best in his comment:

Quote:

When I have one of those moments, I usually end up running through several discs trying to quantify the differences to be filed in my memory for later use. Then, I start playing tracks that I think will play toward the strengths and weaknesses. After anywhere from several hours to several days, I get back to listening for enjoyment only.

It's a disease.


So, I'm wondering: What's up with this? Is it a disease? And, if so, is there a cure for it? I'm guess I'm asking what we've asked several times before: Can we find happiness in this hobby? And, if we do: Then what?

I think commsysman might have achieved hi-fi happiness. And maybe that's why he hasn't been posting much lately.

Elk
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I am also impressed with Monty's description of the process - nicely done.

I think that it is impossible to find ultimate happiness in this hobby. The search is for the best reproduction possible - a moving target. The quest continues as long as our system does not sound exactly as does live music and/or we do not connect as completely with the music coming our of our speakers as we do with live musicians.

Those that have found complete happiness with their systems usually have modest equipment: the iPod user listening to MP3's, the boom box user, etc. Their systems are reproducing music well enough that they are satisfied in the reproduction and are listening only to the music itself.

Like the drag racer that must always have more horsepower, audiophiles are, by definition, dissatisfied.

Monty
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Our salvation is in having certain music that will not allow us to remain in the analytical mode. I can put on KD Lang and equipment listening goes out the window. Some music is just so good that it sucks you in like a vortex and the next thing you know it's 2:00 in the morning.

I think a lot of us realize at some point that the limiting factor in having top-notch sound is as much the software, room and space availability, spousal considerations and that sort of thing and so we work around these limitations with equipment that has limitations of its own. Money, of course, is always a consideration, but even that can't fix some limiting factors.

For most people, I think, getting that ultimate combination is down the road from where they are now and they know it. Meanwhile, we continue to play around with what we have to work with and every once in awhile we learn something.

The next house I buy will have a rather large room in it earmarked for a pair of Wilson speakers and a chair. My wife can have the rest of the house.

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Do we love the music or the gear? Can we be happy if we're not always sure of the answer? That you would be the one to raise these questions, Stephen, brings a smile to me for a number of reasons, as I suspect it might to others who have read your blog from its inception.

Your postings have revealed your love of music, particularly making music with your friends and listening to live music. Your involvement, not so long ago, with reproduced music was, however, something else entirely. You were content to accept your boom-box. Now you've enjoyed the pleasures of hearing your music on some very nice gear for a period of time, and you see yourself as one of "us" facing this dilemma with our hobby/addiction/disease.

For most of us the internal struggle you point to isn't a very dramatic event and it is easy to deal with. Clearly, music is the driver. Without it, the gear has no purpose. We listen to the gear in two situations: when it isn't performing properly and when we have the yen and the ability (budget, spousal acceptance, etc.) to contemplate the acquisition of a wonderful new toy. Apart from those situations, the gear is in the "set it and forget it" mode and we buy more music to feed it and ourselves.

Your personal situation is somewhat different. You might not have even considered this "struggle" if you had chosen to sell your writing and organizational skills to Road and Track, but you didn't. You don't have to seek out hi-fi distributers to ignite your desire for new toys - the toys arrive where you work all the time, and you're in constant contact with highly respected equipment reviewers. You might enjoy and profit from working as an equipment reviewer. What you do now is certainly a leg up if you want to go that way. Not so for most of us addicts. Mike Fremer is more likely to invite you than the rest of us to hear how good his stratospheric system sounds. And so on.

For me, at the level I've come to after many years of upgrades and tweaks, set it and forget it is easy - and lots of fun. For you, I'm sure it's harder, but you'll handle it.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

It is the devil that make us unsatisfied with "what we have at the moment". It is no different than lusting after a beautiful woman...you will never have even a brief conversation with, let alone... That subscription to Playboy is doing you absolutely no good.

The devil makes us aware of what we don't have through advertising, reading equipment reviews, the dreaded recommended components list on gear that we will never and can't own. The devil keeps reminding us that "we are not hearing it all" and that you are always a few dollors short of the MMF 9 so buy the 5 or 7, and later you kick your self for what you have just compromised on. Ah, the wicked buyer's remorse kicks in! The trade up/upgrade cycle begins.

Getting off "The Gear Fix" habit is hard. We need a Betty Ford clinic for Audiophiles. Don't worry. After your stay you will be back. There is no cure. Just like Hotel California..."You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".

The only way you can break free is truly start caring more about the MUSIC. As this "love of software" increases your equipment dependency will decrease. But, be careful here. If you find yourself saying, " a Bose Wave Radio might not be too bad" or want to "audition a pair of Bose 901s" you must call your "life-link audiophile partner" imediately and get them to talk you off the "ledge" before you jump.

I have been doing quite well recently. Not to worry, the next issue of Stereophile shows up. The Music Direct hits my mailbox and the VPI page magically opens. I swear as it does I can hear Sam Tellig's evil laugh. Then for me the Sweetwater pro audio catalog show up and right there on the front page is the AKG C414 LTD multipattern mic in Anniversary nickel finish with a gold grill. Then the devil reminds me how stupid I am to think I can do what JA does with my "cheap" $200 mics when I REALLY NEED these at a cool grand a piece. I know, I know, and he keeps reminding me every chance he gets. Then he reminds me of how those $5K a piece tube Neumann's are really the ticket.

Well, gotta go as my nurses are here. If I am really good they let me have 30 minutes in the B & W 801 room with Halcro amps and the Ed Meitner DSD set up.

gkc
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Stephen, you love the gear because it makes the music possible. I doubt if even the most gear-fixated among us could look very long at a static display. Sooner or later, it has to play tunes . Or out it goes.

I read your blog about sleep and not dreaming. Stephen, as an old-timer, I can tell you REM sleep is the luxury of the deprived. You're, er, getting too much, m'boy. Starve yourself for a month, and you'll dream in 3-D and technicolor.

Cheers.

Monty
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Hey Clifton! Man, am I glad to see you back! (((((((man-hug)))))

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

So Flip Wilson had the answer long ago, eh Jim. Maybe so, but I have to disagree with your following: "...start caring more about the MUSIC. As this "love of software" increases your equipment dependency will decrease."

We all listen to our car systems and to the little Tivoli PALs that we schlep down to the workshop or out to the deck because music through that single little speaker beats none at all. The addiction to great gear, once you're hooked, is permanent. You don't break free. You just accept it and sing along.

gkc
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Thanks, Monty. I can't wait to hear about your latest droolware. Happy tunes, and I'm off to me bottle.

Yiangos
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Clifton buddy,long time no see!Glad you're back.
I don't know about you guys but if i had a $100,000 pre/power and had to sell it and a get a $500 one,i'd adjust
in seconds and begin enjoying music the same way as i did with the expensive one.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Our salvation is in having certain music that will not allow us to remain in the analytical mode.

Part of me thinks that this is exactly what I want. I want to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.

Then, I think again: The Exposure gear does this for me. It allows me to sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. But when the Exposure gear is in the system, I actually listen to less music. When the Exposure gear is in the system, I don't find myself in the middle of proofreading or shopping for groceries or on the subway or whatever, thinking about being home and playing CDs.

When the Musical Fidelity gear is in the system, however...
Yikes.

Art Dudley is always talking about gear being "musical." This musicality is something he craves. It's what makes a component great. The Exposure gear, I think, is more musical than the MF gear, and I love it for that. But, I'm left to wonder: Is that what I want?

I'm not sure. It doesn't seem so.

Speakers are different. When I listened to the DeVore Fidelity speakers, I found they held a great respect for the music. They seemed powerful and controlled. And... sober. And sure. They seemed to know what the music was all about, and allowed the music to be itself. That's why I loved them.

But I'm wondering if, with the electronics, I want something else. The Exposure gear, like the DeVore speakers, is in love with the music. The MF gear seems to love itself more than it loves anything else, it seems to love itself even more the most beautiful song. It loves the sounds. And I respect it for that. It's exciting and addictive.

What am I talking about? System synergy? Maybe. But I think I'm also trying to ask whether, as an audiophile, personally - and maybe for others, in general - am I, are we, fooling ourselves into thinking we're in this for the music?

I read this interview with Jonathan Lethem where he's talking about realism in art. And he says that he's completely uninterested in the question of realism, that, in terms of art, realism is actually beside the point. "When you admire, say, a song by the Talking Heads," he asks, "is it because, in some way, it's realistic?"

This made a lot of sense to me. But we do this all the time in hi-fi. We say, "It sounds so real!"

Who are we shitting? It doesn't sound real. It sounds really cool, it sounds really fake. It sounds so fake, we almost think it's in the room with us.

Or am I wrong? Missing something, confusing things? I'm searching here, guys. This is all kinda fascinating to me, and silly, and troubling.

Are listening to music and listening to the hi-fi two entirely different activities, incomparable and incompatible? Right now, for me, they seem to be.

What the hell?

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Perhaps if I swapped out gear more frequently I'd find myself better able to appreciate the distraction from the music you're describing. The closest I get is attributable to another link in the chain which is there for all of us, and which may be adding another element of complexity to what you're dealing with - the contribution to the whole made by the engineers and production people.

I listen mostly to acoustic stuff - classical and jazz - and it is there that I sometimes get distracted by sonic characteristics. When I listen to rock, I have different expectations and awareness. The sonics, electronic from the get-go, are what they are and all I hear and enjoy is what the musicians are doing. The occasional distractions come in for me on some of John's stuff, some Mapleshade CD's, and, now and then on some good vinyl reissues from a variety of sources. I find myself focussing on how well the sound of the venue was captured and how precise the imaging has become.

"Blood Count" on "His Mother Called Him Bill" is a beautiful, encompassing piece of music. In thinking of it now, I have no recollection of what hall sound there may be. On the Mapleshade "Big, Sweet and Blue" I'm aware, as I listen, of the size and shape of the studio and where Turney and the others are in relationship to one another. Hodges' solo, though I've heard it many times, always threatens to bring tears. Turney, not so much, being veiled somewhat by my awareness of how "good" the recording job was.

Then, like you, I might wonder if that is "good".

Time for me to quit on this ramble. It doesn't seem to be helping with what you're searching for.

Happy listening - whatever you may be listening to.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Time for me to quit on this ramble. It doesn't seem to be helping with what you're searching for.

Happy listening - whatever you may be listening to.

I enjoy your rambles, Clay! And I think you are helping - have been helping - lots. Thank you.

And when you wrote

Quote:
Do we love the music or the gear? Can we be happy if we're not always sure of the answer? That you would be the one to raise these questions, Stephen, brings a smile to me for a number of reasons, as I suspect it might to others who have read your blog from its inception.

All of that brought a smile to my face. Thank you, again.

But you nailed it, completely, when you offered:

Quote:
Happy listening - whatever you may be listening to.

That's the key: happiness - finding happiness, and allowing myself to be comfortable with whatever it is that makes me happy. I think that's what I've been struggling with.

I'm beginning to think that I don't want my system to sound musical. I want it to sound hi-fi-ical.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Stephen, you love the gear because it makes the music possible.

You see, I'm not so sure about this. I hear myself disagree: Anything can make the music possible. I've got tons of music already in my head, and in my fingers. Plus: the old Magnavox boombox still works just fine.

I'm just wondering: Maybe I'm starting to get an idea of how I want my hi-fi to sound. And it doesn't have as much to do with music as I might have imagined.

I think what I'm getting at with all these floating fragments is that I can be a music-lover and an audiophile, and one doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with the other.

I'm assuming this realization is no big news to a lot of you, but it's pretty fascinating to me. Maybe I'm scratching the surface of some deeper insight, or maybe there is nothing deeper here. Either way. There it is. I raise my hands, shrug my shoulders, grunt.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Stephen,

You have just defined the MP3 Phenomenon. I would not ever say people who thrive on downloads do not love music. Quite the contrary.

What mystifies us is why they are not driven to hear their favorite artists in the greatest detail possible? I have tapped my toe to some awful recordings, not the performance, but that has only led me to find out why and how can I fix it. I think to most if they get 70% of the performance it is enough for them, even if they are tricked into thinking they are hearing it all.

It is clear this effect does not hold true in video where non-audiophiles are driven to spend great sums on HD TVs. We also understand that it is also true that the prettiest woman or the most handsome man does not always make the perfect mate, yet we remain mainly visual animals.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
You have just defined the MP3 Phenomenon. I would not ever say people who thrive on downloads do not love music. Quite the contrary.

Again, though, the really hardcore downloaders are a different breed. I question their love of music just as I'm questioning that of the audiophile. There's something else - I'm just theorizing - going on within the mind of the voracious downloader just as there's something else going on within the mind of the audiophile - something else that has little to do with the music.

For the downloader, it has more to do with using the medium (the thrill of technology), trumping the system (giving the finger to record companies), and being first (Wes sent around this piece on The Life of a First Poster, and, while it's not exactly the same thing, it's certainly related. Downloaders want to get to that music before anyone else. The fact that it is music is secondary.)

Monty
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I know exactly where you are coming from. The luckiest people are those who have very narrow tastes in music. It's a whole lot easier to put together a system devoted toward one style of music. Say, acoustic jazz, for example. It's all-together different when you are asking for a system that can satisfy you with Robert Palmer and his synthesizers and Art Pepper or Bill Evans.

As you have indicated, at some point you begin to wonder if you actually prefer a certain amount of distortion. (GASP!)

Speaking only for myself, I obviously prefer a certain amount of distortion, or sonic signature in my system because I want it to work well with the kind of music that I enjoy listening to. And trust me, I enjoy listening to some really funky stuff that is about as far from the audiophile stamp of approval as you can get.

There is simply no way of getting around the Pink Elephant in the room...the software or recording. Many people might suggest the use of tone controls or equalization within the electronics, but they do things of their own that subtracts in several other subtle, but important reproduction areas to ALL of the recordings. Others seem to gravitate toward only recordings of the highest quality and begin placing limits on what they can tolerate listening to.

If Stereophile were to survey their readers regarding musicality vs accuracy, I think you would find that those readers who tend to appreciate Classical and Acoustic music primarily would overwhelmingly land in the accuracy camp and those who have an eclectic taste in music would be overwhelmingly in the musicality camp.

It's OK to prefer a certain amount of distortion. Just don't try to fool yourself that it's also more accurate. I don't mean you, but rather all of us.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Others seem to gravitate toward only recordings of the highest quality and begin placing limits on what they can tolerate listening to.

Ah! You've captured it again, Monty. This is exactly what's been happening to me. And I don't like it. And that's what's causing me all the trouble.

I find myself listening to the same three of four albums, over and over again, and looking forward to the release of albums that I know are going to sound good on the hi-fi. Because I can't stand to listen to so much of the rest of my collection, which sounds so awful in comparison.

I want my system to offer those audiophilic things that I'm growing so fond of - imaging, jump factor - but also allow me to enjoy my entire collection. Or, dammit, at least most of it.


Quote:
If Stereophile were to survey their readers regarding musicality vs accuracy, I think you would find that those readers who tend to appreciate Classical and Acoustic music primarily would overwhelmingly land in the accuracy camp and those who have an eclectic taste in music would be overwhelmingly in the musicality camp.

But are those the only options: musicality and accuracy? I ask because, while I consider the Exposure gear to be "musical," I don't really consider the MF gear to be "accurate." I consider it to sound like "hi-fi."

Ah, wait. I know what my problem is with this last particular question: I'm thinking like a musician, considering "musical" and "accurate" to be synonymous, when I should really be aligning "accuracy" with "hi-fidelity."

Duh.

jazzfan
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I haven't weighted in on this very interest topic yet but after reading the comments and responses of many of my fellow forum members I think that I may have something useful to add but then I always think that I have something useful to say and I almost never do

One way that I've been able to help keep my audiophile need to constantly upgrade my equipment in check is by putting together several different stereo and home theater systems. By having several systems there's always something in at least one of the systems that seems to be in need of improvement or tweaking. For example my recent purchase of the Slim Devices Transporter has led me to 1) buy another pair of XLR cables 2) buy a Squeezebox for my bedroom system 3) buy a Squeezebox for my home theater system 4) to buy a different power supply for the bedroom Squeezebox and finally 5) to start thinking about getting an outboard DAC for the bedroom Squeezebox. Keeps my audiophile jones quite happy.

The way I handle audiophile versus non-audiophile recording is that I don't think of recordings in that way, rather I like to think that when I play any recording on my "big rig" it's going to sound just about as good as it can possibly sound. So even an old Louie Armstrong Hot Seven recording is going to be played with the highest possible fidelity just as the newest Chesky jazz release will. Therefore I will get to hear everything that is on the recording, good or bad.

Regarding the issue of downloading I tend to think of my downloading of music as the new radio. Basically these days (and for quite some time now) radio in America sucks, therefore one of the only ways to hear the music that I'm interested in is to download it. Sure it's a form of stealing and I should not be doing it but then again I have discovered lots of good music via downloading and I have gone on to support those artists in several different ways either by buying more of their music or by going to see them perform. Plus I download but I don't share or upload. Streaming music from the internet via the so called saviors of music like Pandora or Rhapsody just doesn't cut it since I've found that their catalogs are very limited. For example, Cecil Taylor managed to make more than just one recording but not if you listen to him on one of these very limited services.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Quote:
There's something else - I'm just theorizing - going on within the mind of the voracious downloader just as there's something else going on within the mind of the audiophile - something else that has little to do with the music. End Quote

I would disagree. It is the music that drives all of this. No one buys an Ayre C7 or any other high end cd player...just because he can. I feel safe in saying that Cheapskate did not buy his 2 high-end Marantz pieces to impress anyone. I think I can tell he is way to involved and classy for that. For him and most audiophiles it is "what it does, not what it is!"

The downloader is not usually caring about the quailty of the experience, and that his his choice. He would think that spending $5K on an audio system is pure foolishness.

I do not think that most into highend audio are the same as someone who spends $40K on a BMW, Mercedes, et.al. People may appreciate the engineering, but there is more going on within the ego that just "really nice transportation" that you want to be seen in. I know folks who spend thousands on watch collections and it is not about the time, but it makes little sense when you will only wear one at a time. This is about vanity.

I doubt that most buy high end audio out of ego. It performs a purpose that takes the owner/listener deper into a musical performance than you might think possible. As Monty said it is not always about accuracy, even for AD.

I do not know of any audiophiles who own highend systems that it is not the centerpiece of their leisure time. How else can you define the resurgence of turntable sales? This surely isn't about convenience, which must be the most inconvenient audio medium of all time, foregoing the wax cylinder.

If I am wrong, so be it, but I think what we have is a generation of under-achieving music lovers who will spend their time, energies, and money on other things that define who they are. If I was totally engrossed in the pop music scene today, I am not sure I would waste money being an audiophile wanting to hear more of often poorly recorded, overly compressed music tracks.

The day I spend $40 on a pair of bluejeans rather than on 2 SACDs would be a sad day for me. That is not how this younger generation thinks. There is nothing wrong with that. I will not be snobish about it. He who pays decides.

jazzfan
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
The downloader is not usually caring about the quailty of the experience, and that his his choice. He would think that spending $5K on an audio system is pure foolishness.

I beg to differ. Having been involved in downloading music via newsgroups and from archive.org for quite some time I can safely say that there are a great many people who quite a bit about the sound quality of their uploads and downloads. I only download music that has been losslessly compressed, usually as either FLAC of APE files. Not only is there great care taken in ripping the CD (most of the people use EAC) but the vast majority of the uploaders even take the time to proper tag the files.

Granted the people who upload and download via newsgroups are only a very tiny percentage of the entire music download scene but these people do care a great deal about sound quality and many of them abhor any lossy compression.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I would bet that the number of people like you who really care about download quality is the same percentage as involved in highend audio. You are to be commended for the steps you have taken to get the most out of the experience and convenience.

One well known label is working on a truly highend download system that will require you install their player. When more than 1% of all downloaders take advantage of this system I might believe a large percentage of downloaders care about quality.

This system is where the audiophile community might sit up and take notice with the plastic in their wallets. The fact that it is only one label is more problematic.

I think we are talking about a paradigm shift in how younger people view the issue of quality in their audio. That percentage is still very low. If someone can show me numbers of a huge increase of FLAC downloads, or even offers of FLAC downloads, I might believe it.

Even the Philly Orchestra does not offer all their downloads in FLAC, which I have truly enjoyed based on your advise. To me there is a huge diff in Flac and MP3, as you know. It makes it hard for me to go there and buy MP3 performances. That is not what the market is showing. The masses embrace MP3s.

With Columbia and others joining in things might change in a hurry if labels use quality as a competitive tool. I hope it happens. As retailers shrink this will be important. Mailorder and downloads will be the future. The format preferences will decide which becomes bigger if download/playback quality ultimately matters to the masses.

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

<< "Granted the people who upload and download via newsgroups are only a very tiny percentage of the entire music download scene but these people do care a great deal about sound quality and many of them abhor any lossy compression. " >>

So, Ralph, if I follow you, you're saying that as far as you can tell downloaders are a lot like music buyers overall - only a tiny minority cares about sound quality. That would seem to support Jim's view wouldn't it?

bifcake
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Most audiophiles I know are not music lovers. They are into sound. They like to listen to sound and play with their equipment to get different types of sound to come out of it. Then, they change equipment as they get tired of certain elements stressed within the sound towards certain other elements. They have debates, sometimes very heated ones over what constitutes the best sound, but they never really listen to music. Music is only a conduit to sound. What really matters is the prestige of certain gear, the furniture polish of the speakers, the exotic collecting, the amount of money spent on whatever gear it is they buy and how exclusive it is. I find that many of them buy records/cd's from particular labels not because they enjoy the music the artists from these labels produce, but because they like the sound.

Music lovers, on the other hand, listen to music on almost anything. They can listen to music on Bose radio and enjoy it just as much as they would on a 100k stereo. This is not to say that they wouldn't hear the quality difference or appreciate it, but that would be secondary to them. They're more concerned with the performance, the joy they get from a particular piece of music and the bliss they experience from listening to music. These folks will generally spend more money on cd's and concerts than playback gear. They tend to get out much more often and socialize rather than tinker with their equipment.

This is not a knock on audiophiles. I just don't think that generally audiophiles are music lovers. They're not even gear lovers per se, although it's part of it. They're interested in getting different sounds coming out of various gear. To make an analogy, I wouldn't compare audiophiles to gun collectors vs. hunters. I would compare them to gun tweakers. They try to get the biggest bang and get the bullets flying faster, and further. That in and of itself is the purpose rather than to get the bullets flying faster and further in order to hunt bigger game from a greater distance.

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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
So, Ralph, if I follow you, you're saying that as far as you can tell downloaders are a lot like music buyers overall - only a tiny minority cares about sound quality. That would seem to support Jim's view wouldn't it?

Hi all,

In response to the above statement I would have to say yes, downloaders reflect the overall music listening public in that only a small percentage of them care about sound quality.

As for Jim's comment about the dearth of music available for download in FLAC or some other non-DRMed form of lossless compression I can only say that things are slowly getting better. As the demand for these types of formats increases, and the demand will increase, so will their availability, just make sure that you support, as in buy, what's presently available. Remember that as devices like the Transporter and the Squeezebox become more widespread people will start to use their computers as sources of their main music collection and not just as a way to get music onto their iPods.

Lastly, I think that Alex paints to bleak a picture of an audiophile. Sure there are definitely those audiophiles who fit that profile but it is by no means all of us. Over in the Head-Fi forum there are many members who get totally into the technology side of things and can rattle off the specs for a number of opamps and DAC chips. Does that mean that they don't care about the music? It may or it may not, depends on the individual. Plus Head-Fi has a large number of heavy metal music fans, does one dismiss them too because heavy metal music is not audiophile quality?

I'm not a big fan of audiophile approved recordings but I do understand why many audiophiles enjoy them. Many of these recordings are produced using purist and minimalist recording techniques, something that major label are severely lacking.

As for the one's lack of attendance at live concerts, that's another gray area. I attend much less live music now that I'm in my 50's then I did whe I was in my 20's. Why? The costs of concerts has skyrocketed up to insane levels and I'm unwilling to pay $500, that is if I can even get a ticket, to see a 60 year old Mick Jagger dance around on stage. I'm also not always able to attend a show because it occurs on a weeknight and I have to get up at 5:30am to go to work. Coming home at midnight and getting up at 5:30am does not make for a happy Jazzfan. Sure there a jazz clubs that offer lots of good music for a reasonable price and I try to go to them as often as I can but quite frankly, my present circumstances just don't allow me to attend as often as I'd like.

Again, I'm speaking only for myself but I suspect that my situation is not all that unique and many other music lovers and audiophile are dealing with similar issues.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I agree with much of what you have said. I think Alex paints a bleak picture and is not representative of the audiophiles I know. We sure differ on the choices of gear. But, if one chooses any combination of grear that could land in "Phile" class A or B you would be achieving much.

Now at 59 I am making more of an effort to attend concerts and listen to live music. What I have found amazing if the lack of attendence at Emroy for their Free concerts and recitals. This makes no sense to me as I drive 1 hour each way to go. For less than 50 people to attend these spectacular performances in a metro area of 3 million people is totally lost on me. I also agree at the price of concerts is out of control. I wanted to go see and hear Diana Krall but $400 will buy losts of SACDs. Yes, I am happy for her as she sold out her concert. I also would have loved to have gone to see Geoege Benson and Al Jarreau together last night, but issues of price and parking ruled it out.

I do believe that downloading will be the future and for audiophiles it will be important we get involved and buy quality downloads when available to show our support. It is why I have bought from the Milwaukee Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. Even though I want more than MP3 quality the Milwaukee download at $5.99 is a good value. I cannot knock that. I would just like to set the bar at FLAC and higher.

The future will be interesting and I think if downloading is the future more and more audiophile preamps and integrated amps will have built-in high quality DACs with firewire inputs. That will signify a paradigm shift from the gear manufacturers. I'll bet Roy Hall is on it already. He is a very gentleman.

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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Two things wrong with us HI Fi geeks that make Hi FI happiness hard to come by:

1) Us audiophiles have a listening disorder. Civilians, especially the womens, are more readily able to completely enjoy the sound of music played on any medium than we are.

We need all this extra crap to get us where "normal" people can go with an AM radio and a cerveza.

Call it an auditory fetish - we can't get off as easily as those shiny happy innocents.

2) We "accomodate" very quickly.

After the initial "goosebumps" BS, we almost instantly lose that effect from a sytem and it starts to sound like what it is, a system.

Wanting those goosebumps to come back, we go in search of new experiences

Hi Fi is meth for the ears. We get off, then we want it to happen again, but at some point we start needing something more...

We have auditory wanderlust.

___________________________

King Missile summed it up nicely...

Just substitute Hi Fi references and gear for the sex parts and that song describes the lives of audiophiles with eerie accuracy.

(Disclaimer: The following lyrics contain adult content, including psychological nudity. Proceed at your own risk. The lyrics do not represent the opinions of Stereophile, nor does Stereophile have any affiliation with the artist or his content. But, as long as we are allowing nappy headed ho jokes, it should be OK.)

Gary and Melissa, by King Missile

Gary and Melissa
Loved to make love
Loved to make love
Loved to make love to each other
Over and over and over again
For the first few weeks of their relationship
They made love four or five times a night
They were really turned on for awhile.

Then to enhance their passion
They bought sex books
The Joy of Sex
The Sensous Couple
The Joy of Sex Part 2
The Kama Sutra
Even Yet More Still Joy of Sex
Popular Mechanics
Betty Crocker
Anything
They tried as many positions as they were capable of
Physically
Physically
Physically
They were really turned on for awhile.

Then to heighten their passion
They bought sex toys
Ben-wa balls
French ticklers
Nipple clamps
[censored] rings
Whips and chains and bondage gear
Bowling balls
Dildos
Vibrators
Watermelons
Commemorative Statuettes of Liberty
Anything
They were really turned on for awhile.

They set up a video camera
And taped themselves having sex
Then they watched it on the VCR
While having more sex
Then to heighten their passion
Gary taped Melissa having sex with some of his friends
And Melissa taped Gary having sex with some of her friends
Then they watched it on the VCR
While having more sex
They were really turned on

As the years went by
Gary and Melissa became fine upstanding members of their community
Although they never married
Their relationship outlasted all the marriages on their block
And they never fought
Except to heighten their passion

They had made an agreement
That when one of them died
The other would continue to live with and make love to the corpse
But as luck would have it
They were both killed in a freak accident
And died at the exact same moment
Holding hands

___________________________
___________________________

If that doesn't sum up Hi Fi, I don't know WHAT could!

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

<< "Most audiophiles I know are not music lovers." >>

With all due respect, Alex, have you considered that you might want to find some new friends?

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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
<< "Most audiophiles I know are not music lovers." >>

With all due respect, Alex, have you considered that you might want to find some new friends?

He didn't say they were his friends.

bifcake
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

That's exactly right. Most of my friends are music lovers.

absolutepitch
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Stephen,

Great thread/question. I find that good gear improved with tweaks, or great gear that doesn't need tweaking (because it's built-in already), both get me to hear the nuances of the musical performance that the artist elicits from instruments. The better the gear does that, the better the music sounds, leading to greater enjoyment of the illusion of live sound. It's gotten good enough that I can enjoy listening for long periods of time without 'listening fatigue'.

The search for better gear is never ending, and can become the end in itself if one is not careful to always go back to the performance to be heard. It's good enough now that I have not had to buy new equipment for a long time. Every few years, I keep checking. If things improve enough over what I have, I start looking again.

Unfortunately, I don't get to hear live concerts from professional musicians much anymore. But, I do get to hear live music from my kids' school performances, so that gives me an occasional live references.

RGibran
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Great post/thread. Interesting and spot on comments from most everyone. I would just add that I think it takes a long, perhaps very long time of sampling numerous flavors of gear for one to begin to formulate what is important to them to achieve "Musical". Once one is able to live comfortably within their own skin with this definition, it becomes easier to assemble the system that's "right" for you. Unfortunatly, once this is achieved, many of those go around debunking everything else!

RG

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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
I would disagree. It is the music that drives all of this.

I would like to believe this were true, but I think our motives - or at least my motives - are a bit more complicated.


Quote:
No one buys an Ayre C7 or any other high end cd player...just because he can.

I bet there are at least a few who would.


Quote:
For him and most audiophiles it is "what it does, not what it is!"

Are you saying that, for most audiophiles, a system is music? Again, I would love to believe this, but I can't. For me, the truth is somewhere between what I think you're saying and AlexO's idea that "Music is only a conduit to sound." (If that were the case, we'd listen to more recordings of sirens, ocean waves, glass breaking, etc.)

What seems closest to the truth for me right now is Michael Lavorgna's idea, which, interestingly, seems to almost directly contradict your statement: "Listening to music on a hi-fi is what it is [my italics]. It

Jeff Wong
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

The love of gear is probably a disease, but, a disease in search of a cure. I spend a fair amount of time (and unfortunately some money) trying to massage and coax the most out of my system(s). My goal is to tune things so that I can suffer as little listener fatigue as possible, while maintaining a relatively neutral balance. The more nuances I can distinguish, the better, in my book. If I can get my system to reproduce sublime recordings, that's great. But, it also means I'm going to get the lo-fi stuff I love as accurately as possible, which is equally important. The Go! Team is sonic dogmeat by audiophile standards, but, I sure do feel good when I listen to it.

ohfourohnine
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
The love of gear is probably a disease, but, a disease in search of a cure....
Quote:

I've called it a disease too, and an addiction, but perhaps we're wrong. Perhaps "religion" is a better label. I'm going to mull that one over for a while.

Jeff Wong
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

There are a number of analogous labels that could be applied that would be fitting. One look at a forum thread about cables or DBT, and you'd get no arguments about the religious appellation. But, ultimately, I still think it's a hobby that people get passionate about, and about the music in the end.

quadlover
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

As an audiophile for 30+ years, I have yet to hear the holy grail. The best systems in the best rooms with the best recordings are incredible. But the micro dynamics that causes the db increases with touch/pressure/air at normal live performance levels still aren't quite there yet. Perhaps it is a good thing because if that "perfect" system existed, what would we audiphiles live for? On the other hand performances recorded in analog or digital formats bring the psyschological plessure of the performance to the listener. Perhaps this is why we frequently see musicians with equipment that audiophiles would turn their noses at. This psychoacoustical effect is different with virtually all individuals. We all can appreciate the differences in recorded music but how it affects us is what seperates the music lover from the audiophile. The music lover loves the performance whereas the audiophile loves the way the performance is reproduced in their own setting.

bifcake
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
As an audiophile for 30+ years, I have yet to hear the holy grail. The best systems in the best rooms with the best recordings are incredible. But the micro dynamics that causes the db increases with touch/pressure/air at normal live performance levels still aren't quite there yet. Perhaps it is a good thing because if that "perfect" system existed, what would we audiphiles live for?...

That's exactly the point that I made in my post The audiophiles like the equipment chase. I think they care less about the music or even about the reproduction. I think perfection in sound reproduction would kill them because it would kill the hobby of equipment chasing and endless upgrades (which I think are mostly lateral equipment changes rather than upgrades for most audiophiles). If audiophiles were into MUSIC, then they would find the system that "speaks" to them and that would be the end of equipment upgrades and tweaks. They would sit down and just immerse themselves in music. Alas, that's not what audiophylia is all about.


Quote:
...We all can appreciate the differences in recorded music but how it affects us is what seperates the music lover from the audiophile. The music lover loves the performance whereas the audiophile loves the way the performance is reproduced in their own setting.

I think the music lover loves the performance and the audiophile likes the sound of the performance.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I think we need to properly define live music. For me there are two types.

One is the pure acoustic performance like the ones I have been attending at Emerson Hall at Emory Univ. Whether the Jaeckel OP45 Pipe Organ or the violin and piano recitals in free acoustic space with no amplification, or what most people call live as "in person" but amplified through some sound system of variable quality venue to venue.

In the studio and what most audiophiles seek is some sound quality, but it is more control of what they hear. They are the final abitor of how something "sounds". This is no different than someone with a closet full of clothes or shoes striving to make some fashion statement or someone who changes their hair style like some change out amps or speakers. We each pick our poison.

Guitar player are similar as many have multiple acoustic or electric models trying to find "that" sound. They'll try different strings and pick-ups on their quest. It is still a material world. Equipment manufacturers are so glad.

Monty
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Appreciating quality doesn't really require a justification or a defense. Some might even consider it a virtue. Perhaps?

Denny B
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Recently, in the blog, I tried to write a little bit about the differences between listening to gear and listening to music. We come to this hobby from a love of music, but sometimes, it seems, that love becomes directed more towards the gear.

This, I find, is weird.

Later, talking about this with John Atkinson, I began to wonder if this transfer of love, this redirection of priorities from music to gear and back again, is an inherent struggle of our hobby, one that can never truly be balanced.

Monty said it best in his comment:

Quote:
When I have one of those moments, I usually end up running through several discs trying to quantify the differences to be filed in my memory for later use. Then, I start playing tracks that I think will play toward the strengths and weaknesses. After anywhere from several hours to several days, I get back to listening for enjoyment only.

It's a disease.

So, I'm wondering: What's up with this? Is it a disease? And, if so, is there a cure for it? I'm guess I'm asking what we've asked several times before: Can we find happiness in this hobby? And, if we do: Then what?

I think commsysman might have achieved hi-fi happiness. And maybe that's why he hasn't been posting much lately.

I've found Hi-Fi happiness and it didn't cost me thousands,and even if I had all the money in the world,I still wouldn't spend the kind of money people spend on gear that could be obtained at a fraction of the cost.

bifcake
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Appreciating quality doesn't really require a justification or a defense. Some might even consider it a virtue. Perhaps?

Sure, but if that's all there is, then you may as well collect handmade blankets, rugs or antique furniture.

As far as D Brown's comment, I can see him being more of a music lover who appreciates quality reproduction than an "audiophile". He found what he liked, he bought it and now he's able to actually sit back and enjoy the music rather than worry about endless equipment purchases.

Elk
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
I've found Hi-Fi happiness and it didn't cost me thousands,and even if I had all the money in the world,I still wouldn't spend the kind of money people spend on gear that could be obtained at a fraction of the cost.


I am always skeptical of comments such as "I would never buy expensive product X even if I could easily afford it."

Let's wait until when you can easily afford expensive goodies and then see what ludicrous purchasing decisions you make.

So what do you have that provides audio nirvana? We are all ears! Spill!

quadlover
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I think we are all in basic agreement. to use an analogy...if I go library and look at a picture of a rhino or a gazelle (strength or speed) I can appreciate them both. If I were to see them live my respect would be intensified by the immediacy of the live moment which no photograph can recreate. If I were to photograph those animals, the photographs I took may be grainy, off-centered, wrong lighting, but the emotion of the moment is recreated in my mind. That is what the music lover is after. The hi-fi lover is out to find the absolute closest recreation of the actual moment and is not happy until it is found. Under present limitations both photographic and audio reproduction can be very rewarding and emotional, but it is not absolute.

Monty
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I just don't see why they have to be mutually exclusive. I'm an audiophile, a music lover, an equipment admirer. I enjoy sound, I enjoy really good sound more than I enjoy mediocre sound. I have favorite genres of music, favorite artists, favorite gear manufacturers, favorite audio writers, favorite audio magazines and so on.

There are far more resources available that are devoted strictly to music than there are devoted to reproduction quality and hi fidelity playback.

bifcake
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I guess the question is whether the pursuit of perfection in sound reproduction interferes with your musical enjoyment.

absolutepitch
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Pretty much agree with your observations.

I've been through several rounds of equipment changes, or chases if that better describes it. At the level I'm at now, it's not critical that I get something that's better, it's got to be better enough for me to make the jump.

I think several of us members have made live recordings and listened to them through our systems. Those live recordings have an imnmediacy and presence that I find it hard to get from LPs or even CDs. Since I know the live sound, and then listen to it on my system, I will know what the system can or cannot do. When CDs and LPs sound really good, I don't have the same live reference to compare to, so any conclusions as to the "goodness" of any system could be flawed.

Perhaps the audiophile 'disease' has something to do with some of us having impressions of sound quality without knowning the "same" live reference, then recorded, and played back, not just any live reference. Otherwise, it's a fun hobby; we get to correspond with others in this forum on common interest; we get to improve our equipment and sound in the process. In the end, sit back and enjoy the performance.

Jeff Wong
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

Over the years, I have been careful and patient with regard to the hi-fi merry-go-round as far as equipment goes. Yes, I've upgraded, and I do spend a bit more time tweaking and modding than the average bear, but, it is always in pursuit of higher musical enjoyment. Does it get in the way of enjoying music? Sometimes, yes. Hearing a glimpse of higher performance can make one wonder how much better the system could get, and the thought of some sort of upgrade nags. But, I think many of us got into this madness precisely because we are music lovers first and foremost and demand and expect its reproduction to be of the highest fidelity knowing that more info can be extracted off of our discs, be it polycarbonate, polyvinyl chloride, or magneto-optical. I have several upgrades for my system in mind once funds allow, but, my present system makes me grin with delight often enough that I can afford to wait.

smejias
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness


Quote:
Over the years, I have been careful and patient with regard to the hi-fi merry-go-round as far as equipment goes. Yes, I've upgraded, and I do spend a bit more time tweaking and modding than the average bear, but, it is always in pursuit of higher musical enjoyment. Does it get in the way of enjoying music? Sometimes, yes.

Well said, Jeff. This, along with Jim's post, got me thinking:

Was there ever a time when I, as a guitarist, altered some aspect of my playing style or gear that resulted in a distraction from the music?

The answer came quickly: Hell yes.
So many times. A new effect pedal that I hadn't really mastered, or a new chord progression that was too difficult to play quickly, or a different practice space, an unfamiliar plectrum, new strings, the wrong earplugs... so many things can take away from the joy of music. But all of these things - all of these changes or tweaks - were made in the pursuit, as you've put it, of higher musical enjoyment.

I think this musician/audiophile comparison is a fair one. Thinking of it all in this way, the gear becomes the audiophile's instrument. And we're just trying to master it.

And there's nothing wrong with that at all. Right?

DLWyattjr
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I could have a better system than I do, I suppose. But while I love music through a great system, it isn't my life. There are books, sports car races, museums, concerts, my girlfriend (not necessarily in that order).

If I'm out auditioning because I have some money in my pocket and want something new, I don't listen the same way as I do at home with what I have. Out there I'm trying to get the most bang for my very finite buck. So I pick specific audition cuts for specific colors I'm trying to isolate. At home, I listen because I like this piece of music and want to hear it.

Do I hear things I think could be improved? Sure. But I'll tell you a story. My Dad and I once went to a demonstration David Wilson did at a local audio store. Wilson X-1s, big Krell Amp, Audio Research pre-amp, don't remember the CD player. I walked out of there wishing I was truly rich. So we went to dinner then headed back to my house and put on some music. And it still sounded darned good.

I have no reason to complain.

Colnmary
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Re: The Pursuit of Hi-Fi Happiness

I enjoy listening to music on my Philips GoGear with Earbuds on as much as my dedicated stereo. Well almost as much. It still captures me with its excitement and beauty as I walk and sometimes I stop and just listen amazed. I said to my wife yesterday on our walk, if we had iPods in the 70's, I would have been a hermit.

No, it doesn't have the bass, or highs of my stereo, or midrange beauty and warmth, if I analize what I am hearing, but I am often too busy enjoying the music to bother examining what I am missing.

But, in the last 8 years, I have purchased new or second hand, 8 pairs of speakers, 5 CDP's, 7 integratged amps, one pre amp, 2 power amps, 3 DVD universal players.(6MP3 players) And thats just for my own use. Most has been passed on, or is still in use at home today or with various children.

So, I am a music/gear head. In 8 years, I have upgraded my computer box 6 times, so technology freaks shouldn't scoff.

I still rate myself as a music fanatic, who uses the gear only as the means to the end, of high fidelity reproduction of the music.

The desire to replay music at LIVE levels, undistorted has fueled my purchses. ergo, my love of music fuels my thirst for gear that will satisfy my love of music.

the circle of life continues...

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