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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
The Tannoy Mercury V1 loudspeakers ($320/pair; see last month's column) were already carefully packed in their box, pushed into a corner of my messy kitchen, ready to go to John Atkinson for a Follow-Upbut I couldn't stop thinking about them. Their delicate, graceful highs and tight, properly balanced bass had entranced me, and, now, as I listened over and over to a recent reissue of Bill Dixon's amazing Intents and Purposes (CD, International Phonograph LSP-3844), I felt a strange urge to unpack the Tannoys and return them to my listening room. I had to know how Intents and Purposes would sound through the Tannoys.
John Cage, Indeterminacy, C.F. Peters No.68142. Copyright 2009, by Henmar Press, Inc. Reprinted by agreement with Wesleyan University Press and the John Cage Trust.
When I began my junior year at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, New Jersey, I'd already fulfilled the main requirements for graduation, but still had a number of credits to put toward elective studies. The courses in yoga and bowling were already closed, so I devised an independent course in experimental music. Thinking about it now, it seems a strange miracle that the university allowed me to come up with such a thing. Fairleigh's music department had long been abandoned, forgotten, traded in for the money that comes with well-publicized investments in business, economics, and a fast-growing foreign-exchange program. To me, however, FDU's decision to neglect the arts was a blessing: There, in the quietest corridors of Weiner Library, was a world full of LPs, turntables, music journals, and moreall a bit dusty, perhaps, but nonetheless beautiful, and all seemingly reserved for me.
It was another flawlessly beautiful spring morning, and I was in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to help John Atkinson pack up the Lansche Audio 5.1 loudspeakers ($41,000/pair). John had only just completed his listening and bench tests (see his review in the July issue), and was not ready to let go of the lovely Lanschesbut the speakers would be picked up by a trucking company that afternoon and sent to our cover photographer, Eric Swanson, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each Lansche measures 40.9" tall by 10.1" W by 19.3" D and weighs 167.5 lbspacking them and securing them to a shipping pallet is definitely a two-man job. In our case, that job required a lot of wheezing, a little bleeding, and just the right amount of cursing. And because it was only 11am when we met, we were obliged to accomplish the task without the aid of beera crying shame, if you ask mebut we handled it in our usual, manly fashion.
It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling lightfar too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"
"Marvins Room," the second track on side two of Drake's platinum-selling Take Care (LP, Cash Money/Universal Republic B0016280-01), is a veiled but nonetheless intriguing confession from a sensitive young man whose addictions to alcohol, sex, and fame have prevented him from developing any sort of healthy relationship. I've come to this conclusion after several happy hours of listening to the song from beginning to end, over and over again, while swapping between two very different interconnects: AudioQuest's Sidewinder ($65/1m pair, now discontinued) and Kimber Kable's time-honored PBJ ($110/1m pair).
The Milty Zerostat: Sold for prevention of disease. And other things.
Before dropping the needle onto Christine's copy of Sold for Prevention of Disease Only, I shot the record a few times with the Milty Zerostat 3 ($100), a blue, gun-shaped gadget that helps eliminate static. Squeezing the Zerostat's thin black trigger releases positive ions; relaxing the trigger produces negative ions. A complete squeeze cycle results in a neutral static conditionone perfectly in balance, neither too heavy nor too lightand my LPs play quietly. This step in my LP-playing routine grew out of necessity and has become a habit. The process is especially important in the cold winter months, when the air in my small apartment is dry, and debris stubbornly clings to my LPs and my cartridge's stylus.
"How many new records did you buy today, Stephen?"
It was New Year's Eve, and our large group of friends occupied the entire ground floor of our favorite restaurant, Jersey City's Satis Bistro. We had already been presented with a beautiful buffet of meats, cheeses, and breads, and now more appetizers were being served. A waiter placed before me the world's most delicious date, stuffed with gorgonzola, wrapped in bacon, and baked to perfection. I immediately stabbed it with my fork and popped it in my happy mouth. I chewed, savored, silently wished that I could make this moment last forever, and contemplated a way to answer Nicole's question. From her tone, I knew that she was only looking for an opportunity to mock my weakness for buying new LPs. I've grown used to it. Nicole is nothing if not a ballbuster. I decided to go with the truth.
Parasound introduced their affordable Z series in 1996, the year Lisa Marie Presley filed for divorce from Michael Jackson. I was 19 years old and could have used a good stereo in my dorm room, but I didn't then know anything about hi-fi. If you're reading this in your dorm room, you're way ahead of where I was at your age. If you're reading this in your mansion, you're way ahead of where I am now.