It was around 7pm on Tuesday evening when I bumped into Nicole and Ms. Little on Newark Avenue, in downtown Jersey City. The girls were on their way to Kristen's shop, Kanibal Home, for their weekly book-club meeting. (Or was it Writing Club? Knitting? Screen printing? Butterfly pinning? I can never keep track.) I was on my way home, not to read, write, or listen to music, but . . .
"Hi, honey," Ms. Little said. "Going home to play with your cartridge?"
I made a face, nodded, sighed. Sensing some sharp-witted remark forming in Nicole's filthy mind, I beat her to the punch: "Yup, that's what I call it."
There I was, sitting on the orange couch, with just a few hours to kill before my scheduled departure to Denver, ColoradoI'd been invited to the eighth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where surely I'd be moved to tears by some of the greatest, most advanced, most expensive hi-fi systems known to manand I could not believe the awesome sound coming from my modest little stereo.
I couldn't have known it at the time, but Swans' "Lunacy" (see last month's column) would be the very last song I'd ever enjoy in my cozy listening room. Last timeswhether with things, people, places, or, I suppose, especially with ideascan be difficult to accept, tending to overshadow all other times, their lingering memories leading to remorse and games of "what if."
If there's an audio company that has it all, it's Jade Design, parent of Emotiva, Emotiva Pro, and Sherbourn. Before my visit to the company headquarters, in Franklin, Tennessee, I had invariably seen in the company's founder, Dan Laufman, a special kind of contentment, an ease, a happiness. Or was he merely arrogant? I couldn't be sure.
In March 2008, when I bought my PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers, I decided that I should also buy PSB's matching SubSeries 1 subwoofer (footnote 1). It seems odd to me now that I would have considered the $449 subwoofer a necessary complement to speakers that sold for $279/pair. What was I thinking? Was I rolling in money? Certainly not. Was I merely young and fancy free? Yes and no. Was I sex-starved? Quite possibly.
It wasn't very long ago that I boasted, in my casual, self-effacing way, that I didn't really like headphonesthat I didn't need headphones. Because most people in the New York metropolitan area would rather die than communicate with each other, they use headphones as a sort of fortress of solitude, shielding themselves not only from their physical environment but from all other living creatures. I, however, claimed to enjoy listening to the sounds of the world around meeven screeching tires, blaring sirens, and the drone of air ducts could be musical. La-di-da.
As sleep slowly withdrew from my coiled body, I noticed the strange words Don't disturb me while I'm dreaming playing over and over in my mind. Where had these words come from? I wondered. I had little time to ponder their origin before they were gone with the retreating night, and I was left with the sudden sting of loneliness. There are days when I feel a million miles away from everyone I've ever cared about or loved. My younger brothers and sisters, ex-girlfriends, teachers, old classmates, roommates, bandmates, even casual acquaintancesI miss and long for them all. This, a cold, gray Saturday, promised to be one of those days, perfect for steeping in melancholy. But I had too much work to do and could not allow myself to dwell on silly inner things. A vacant pillow laid pointlessly beside me coerced me from bed.
A small subset of audiophiles (always menthe 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.
When I lived entirely alone, with neither girlfriend nor pets, and had the luxury of a dedicated listening room, I felt no obligation to store away unused hi-fi equipment. Why should I? Life is so much simpler when everything one needs, or might potentially need, remains in plain sight, within arm's reach. Pairs of loudspeakers, then, took residence beside bookshelves, speaker cables found homes atop throw pillows, assorted electronics posed as coffee tables. And, if on a whim I decided it was time to swap my NAD C316 BEE integrated amplifier with my Exposure 2010S, I'd simply pull the latter from beneath my feet and do it.
Even before I'd really listened to PSB's Alpha PS1 powered desktop speakers (see last month's column), I suspected that I'd like them: They're affordable, attractive, small enough to actually fit on my desktop, and designed and manufactured by a true high-end audio company. Besides all that, the PS1s had been highly recommended by a friend, AudioStream.com's Michael Lavorgna. I only needed the speakers to sound good in my home. And they didclean, clear, detailed, and dynamic, with a surprisingly big and bold overall sound.
Two of the five loudspeakers reviewed in our July issue were designed by Andrew Jones: the $29,800/pair TAD Evolution One and the $129.99/pair Pioneer SP-BS22-LR (footnote 1). I did the math. You can buy 229 pairs of the Pioneer for the price of a single pair of the TAD. Which is the better deal? Which would result in more happiness? Imagine keeping one pair of the Pioneers, and delivering the other 228 pairs to friends and family. Or donating them to schools. The possibilities are great. How much fun can you have with just a single pair of speakers, anyway?
Last month, I'd intended to compare the overachieving Pioneer SP-BS22-LR stand-mounted loudspeaker ($129.99/pair) with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($349/pair). In fact, I was deep into the processsurrounded by pages and pages of scribbled notes, thumbs swollen and sticky with Blu-Tackwhen it occurred to me that something was wrong with the Wharfedales.
In the mornings, just before I leave for work, I power up the system, turn the volume down low, and set the CD player to Repeat. I like to think that if I play calm, soothing music while Ms. Little and I are away, the cats will feel less alone and more relaxed. It's also nice, on returning home from work, to walk into a room filled with music. One evening a few weeks ago, I stepped into the apartment, dropped my bags to the floor, settled down into the couch with my iPhone, and began scrolling through text messages. I'd been seated for only a moment before I had to turn my attention entirely to the sound of the system, which, even at a very low volume, sounded warm, detailed, and unusually goodunbelievably, almost unbearably engaging.
Dinner with Natalie and Nicole was still three hours away and, thanks to the Okki Nokki record-cleaning machine that I wrote about last month, I had a half-dozen newly cleaned LPs begging to be played. A gray and listless day had somehow blossomed into a clear, brilliant night filled with promise and anticipation. Outside, tattooed against the dark violet sky, a strange, enormous moon hovered over Jersey City, and flooded my listening room with enchanting white light. It was time to enjoy my new records and better acquaint myself with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers ($350/pair), and the only way to do that would be to compare the latter to a known quantity: the PSB Alpha B1 ($279/pair). John Atkinson had reviewed the PSBs in our May 2007 issue, and admired their naturally balanced treble and superb midrange. Soon after, the PSBs won our "Budget Product of the Year" award, and I could not resist the urge to buy a pair. I've lived happily with them ever since, most appreciating their ability to make sense of the densely arranged, sometimes poorly recorded noise- and psych-rock albums I tend to lust after. How would the Wharfedales compare?