Cholera in the time of love

After all this time, I think I finally get it.


I was recently reunited with an old friend from high school. My best friend from high school, in fact. Our families got together, everyone got along, and as the dust of conversation settled toward the rug of companionable silence, talk turned to work. And when the inevitable happened, and my old friend and his wife—classical-music lovers both—asked how much a person had to spend these days in order to get a good music system, I answered their question with a question—a question that, crazily enough, just popped into my head:

"Do you want an appliance that'll get the job done, or do you have faith that a good system can transform listening into something special?"

My friend looked at me as if I'd just asked, "Shall we play Trivial Pursuit, or would it be more fun to shoot up and have tantric sex with each other's wives?" (The reader is free to answer that rhetorical question for himself.) He cleared his throat and gave me his answer, variations on which all Stereophile readers have heard in such situations:

"I don't need anything that good. I just want to hear my CDs."

Heroin sounds better and better, doesn't it?


That evening was when I finally put my finger on the quality that separates me from the non-audiophile: faith. I believe. Like Frankie Laine and the Buzzcocks and Saint Anthony, I believe. For no good reason, I believe.

Some audiophiles say they got that way because, at a crucial point in their young lives, they heard their father's, neighbor's, or uncle's hi-fi system, and then always wanted to re-create that experience. That's cool. That might even be enviable. But that wasn't my trip. I simply had faith that there must be a better way to listen to records than on a Webcor record player—just as some people come away from their first trip to the theater or their first cigar or their first glass of wine and think: That was all right, but there must be something better.

I'm a person of faith in the more traditional sense, and sometimes I'm called on to defend that, too. As a non-evangelistic Catholic who shares the concern of many that the governors of my religion have a lot to answer for in terms of hoarding obscene wealth, covering up obscene crimes, and wearing ridiculous outfits (footnote 1), I don't bring a great deal of vigor to those debates. Rather, when asked by nonbelievers how an intelligent, well-educated person could possibly believe in something that is not demonstrably true, I quietly and calmly and happily reply: "That's why it's called faith: If I could prove any of this shit, it would be no more mysterious than driver's ed."

Faith, of course, comes with a degree of ritual. I criticize my church's stewards, but I also love them—and their silly hats—because they give me the ritual that I need. So it goes with audio. Is it foolish to spend $10,000 on an amplifier, or to stay up until 2am adjusting speaker toe-in, or to waste a day comparing three different brands of the same vacuum tube, or to own five different pressings of the same record? Of course it is. And I love those things the way I love the smell of the incense or the feel of well-worn pews or the look of stained glass or that silly sit-stand-kneel routine, about which no sane God could possibly care. But that's okay, because those are all rituals that I love and I need.

Here's my definition of a ritual: It's merely a splint to which one binds the fragile bones of one's life. It doesn't matter what the splint is made of or what it looks like or even how little or (especially) how much it costs. To be effective, a ritual need only be loved.

When you get right down to it, and in spite of all my carping to the contrary, I love being an audiophile.

It used to be like this: Someone and his wife would ask how much a person had to spend these days to get a good music system, and I would say: "Let me tell you about the Rega Planar 3 turntable . . . " Now I suspect that the best any of us can do is to let the world see, at every opportunity, how recorded music has made us happy in an otherwise unhappy world: not choleric, not unsatisfied, not acquisitive, and not covetous. Just happy, and at peace with the things we've chosen to enrich our lives.

Can faith be contagious? Damned if I know.

Footnote 1: I feel no more charitable about other religions, and distinctly less so about one or two.

Vade Forrester's picture

Art, I have friends who are certain my faith in hifi's ability to make my life better is sheer insanity. But they really don't care much about music. If you don't care about music, it's unlikely that you'll ever have faith in hifi's ability to improve your life.


Vade Forrester

es347's picture

It seems with Tantric sex one would always be fearful of getting sand in unintended crevices.  That is of course, unless the camel was of adequate height.

jokeka's picture

Well said.  I still question my own sanity sometimes and I'm only up to mid-fi so far ... but then the "The Maker" on Spyboy comes on ... 

pepotter1955's picture

I can see having faith that there is something better, in the present, without having heard that there is. But then at what cost?

The Friend's Query has nothing to do with faith. A boombox will "get the job done." He was asking about "good music system,"  something that was truly musical. Can he get a good system for $1000? Then you tell what more money will get.

 Is it foolish to spend $10,000 on an amplifier? Not if you have the money.  Not if YOU hear a difference compared to a less expensive amp AND that difference is worth the extra money to YOU. You don't spend $10,000 on an amp on faith.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

A little faith seems to be involved, at least initially...

If someone don't view a Hifi kit as a long term investment,

with life long rewarding benefits,

even faith may not be enough.

For those who have, and do, will be gifted.

Again Art, a pure pleasure.

Happy Listening! ;^)>

Et Quelle's picture

I love being an audiophile. I have always love electronics although never learned of products beyond Crutchfield and radioshack. Now I am running a paypal account just for electronics, mainly a preamp like Prima Luna or Micromega. Anything that plugs into the wall and contributes to video or audio. I have my favorite wires. I cherished the hi-end cassettes the most, remember the ones $4 and up; metal, etc. I hate cassettes are nearly dead. Junior high rerecording with a double cassette recorder that's the magic to reborn!

EVOnix's picture




That's about what it'd take to buy used a pair of large Dunlavys, a Theta Dreadnaught, and the dCS P8i SACD player JA reviewed in 2006. Feed the player directly to the amp with its 4 outputs, and you have a bi-amped, bi-wired setup that takes advantage of the 4 ohm impedance, giving you something like 600 watts per side. Amazing resolution from the dCS, tubelike warmth with authority from the Theta, and time and phase coherence from the Dunlavys.