"Isn't Our Hobby the Greatest?"

As per our ritual, Karim and Dan arrived at my door in late afternoon, bearing our ritual's customary offerings: dark beer, wine, cold pork sandwiches, fruit and chocolate tarts, good music on well-recorded CDs, and audio hardware to try out on the host's hi-fi—on this particular Friday, my hi-fi. It's what we did: break bread while gabbing like regular folk about regular things, then bolt for the listening room for an evening of hi-fi fun.

It was that evening, during our fun, that I was struck by the specialness of the moment, and of us. We had gotten together no more than a handful of times over a span of six weeks, knew little of each other's personal lives, yet already our event felt traditional, like we'd been doing it for years. Because of audio, we'd become instant best friends, to the point that I knew in my gut that I could count on either of them to bail me out of a sticky situation.

But . . . why? Our hobby isn't exactly a social activity—it's not bowling or line dancing. Most of the action happens in our minds. It's a selfish business, conducted mainly in isolation, to better immerse ourselves in our music. That's how we like it, obviously, or else we wouldn't be audiophiles.

And yet, as antisocial as our hobby fundamentally is, something about it had super-glued Karim, Dan, and me together.

But what? Curious, I replayed our story from the beginning, to that winter day when I received an email from a Karim. I'd never heard of him. Attached was a photo of a man with an enormous smile, possibly explained by the even more enormous Dunlavy SC-V speakers in the background. The thrust of his text: Would I bring my $5000 Audible Illusions L3A preamp so that he could audition it in his home?

"As if!" I thought. "It's a trick! I'm going to get bonked on the head and be out a decent preamp." That's when the audiophile angel who sits on the pinna of my right ear whispered: "He just wants to evaluate the L3A's sound where it counts most: in his own system." It was a convincing argument. I related, totally. I wrote back, saying I would grant Karim his wish and might even lend him my preamp for the night if it would help.

As it turned out, Karim was his real name, and I didn't get bonked on the head for my preamp. But if I did, I would've chalked it up to karmic reckoning. That's because my decision to help out Karim wasn't entirely selfless. As much as I appreciate the private nature of our hobby, the audiophile in me was lonely and craved contact with other hobbyists.

So, with preamp in hand, I GPSed my way to Karim's house. There, I was greeted by Karim and his new friend Dan, who I didn't expect, along with a kitchen table crammed with food and drink, also unexpected. Five minutes into our chat, I saw in them the audiophile that exists in me. It felt almost like a homecoming.

In the days after, I was introduced to music and audio gear I had never come across on my own, and I learned, at age 53, that female vocals appeal to me more than I'd led myself to believe. I was also reminded of basic truths I seem to forget and remember in cycles: that despite personal preferences, every audiophile seeks a variation on the musical truth; that A/B testing is untrustworthy when it comes to deciding what I can live with; that system synergy is what we spend our lives trying to perfect; and that as much as I enjoy the intimate, vibrant presentation served up by my stand-mount speakers, big monitors like the Dunlavy SC-V's are kings of scale, sweep, and bass tones that seem to shake the very fabric of the space-time continuum. There is a pot of gold at both ends of the rainbow.

At last year's Montreal Audiofest, Karim called me just as I was preparing to rush home, 20 miles away, to complete my show report—and I discovered that I'd lost my car key. I was panicking. "Don't worry," Karim said calmly. "I'll drive you home to get your second key and bring you back to your car." That we hardly knew each other made Karim's offer seem incredible to me.

So . . . how come? I suggest the answer to that question starts with the music: its timelessness, universality, humanity, power to unite—its link to our collective and personal pasts and our refusal to live without it. Then comes our reverence for audio gear that holds the promise of making our favorite music sound new again.

Most important, I think—what makes the superglue super—is what happens when the three of us get together. It is celebratory. Liberating. Suppressed thoughts leap out of our mouths, and we scamper in the half-light placing gear and recordings in their proper place. When the music begins to fill the room, I can feel my gratitude swell to triple its normal level, commensurate with the number of us collectively reveling in life's most essential pairing: of music and high-fidelity audio.

Or, as Dan put it to me after a particularly memorable listening experience: "Isn't our hobby the greatest?"

michaelavorgna's picture

Thank you, Robert, for this piece that had me smiling and shaking my head "yes" in agreement.


JHL's picture

I've done this many times, although far more often in the early years than lately - life gets in the way. The most fascinating experiences I think I've had were in the company of crazy-good gear and those gifted life-long influences who put it together.

It's worth supporting and evangelizing. It is rare and it can be downright illuminating...

volvic's picture

Always yearned for fellow audiophiles to talk about music and gear. Before moving to NYC and lived in Montreal there was my favorite shop Opus Audio, where I was free to walk in talk music (shoutout to David Blumer), try gear and stay as long as I wanted. When that store closed, I lost all contact with that group and none of my friends except for one in Mtl, had any interest in gear or listening to music as intensely as I did. Since moving to NYC that yearning to connect with fellow audiophiles has been even tougher, I did meet someone at my local tennis league, but he streams Tidal and listens to rock music, not classical or jazz through vinyl. Thankfully there is one audiophile at Academy Records that I frequent and do get to catch up and chat with him when he's in.

Years ago when I moved to the big city I went to Innovative Audio to meet and greet Ivor Tiefenbrun, at the time I had just taken the Linn chip out of my head and sold my LP12, when Ivor asked if I had an LP12, I lied and said yes, didn't have the heart to lie to the man; I've since acquired two and back in the fold. After the event ended I met someone who was in the same situation as I was; did not want to lie to Ivor and said he too still had his Linn. He told me afterwards that he purchased a Spiral Groove SPG2. We got to chatting and we both left a the same time, I could tell he wanted to continue the conversation but I had to meet my wife and told him so. He was disappointed. Reading your article makes me think of that evening and how I should have taken down his coordinates, we are a rare bunch.

These days there are hi-fi Facebook pages of which I belong to and have met great people from around the world who share my passion for Linn and Naim gear, but there is no substitute for meeting people-face-to-face and sharing musical suggestions and equipment tweaks over what consumes us on a daily basis. You're lucky Robert! Enjoyed this.

jimtavegia's picture

It is a lesson for all of us that it would be great to share times with other audiophiles and exchange ideas and music while enjoying listening to someone else's gear. Had to be a fun time.

Anton's picture

Now we call it "social signaling," but back in the day, seeing someone with a copy of Stereophile was a gift from life that told me, "Introduce yourself to this person."

1) On July, 1, 1991, I was working in a giant university complex and traveled to another part of my building to meet a friend for lunch. The cubicle next to his was newly occupied and whoever the new person was, I knew I was going to meet a friend when I spied several issues of Stereophile sitting on his desk. The first thing he moved into his cubicle was a small array of Stereophiles! I refused to go to lunch until this new person returned and we struck up a fast friendship that has lasted for coming up on 29 years. If I hadn't seen those issues of Stereophile, who knows if I'd have ever met Big Mike and shared all of our subsequent adventures.

2) November, 2000, I went to an ice skating birthday party for a kid in my son's pre-school. I took my copy of Stereophile and sat down in the parents' zone and planned on a leisurely reading session while the kids skated and ate cake. Sitting next to me was another guy....reading Stereophile! Enter into my life my friend, Craig.

3) At a beer tasting, I saw a guy with an audiophile T-shirt who happened to be carrying a rolled up copy of Stereophile. (Yes, I can recognize Stereophile even when it's rolled up.) I went over to say hello and met Paul, who was a member of our local audiophile club (of which I had no knowledge!) Stereophile even delivered me to my current fantastic group of club friends.

We've all met up for shows, listening parties, club meetings, trips, and all because we had the good fortune to have had Stereophile in common. Serendipity meets synchronicity!

This past weekend I went to Genoa and Virginia City, Nevada to hang with Big Mike and Craig for Super Bowl weekend and some Hi Fi chat. Still crazy after all these years. No Stereophile, no hanging out together in a 150 year old mine shaft after drinking Picon Punch at The Bucket of Blood Saloon.

To mangle Thomas Friedman, the audio world is flat, and Stereophile has been a MAJOR flattener.

Friends connect friends and things build from small beginnings.

Thank you, Robert, for another fantastic illustration of how this hobby is infinitely bigger than any sweet spot.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile is the glue, the connective tissue that holds us together :-) ........

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
Stereophile is the glue, the connective tissue that holds us together :-)

Amen to that thought, Bogolu.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

funambulistic's picture

Thanks Anton!

Ortofan's picture

...apparently reside in (or in the general vicinity of) New York City, how often - if at all - do you gather at each other's homes to listen to music as a group?

Also, are the rooms in which your audio systems are installed able to accommodate more than, say, two listeners?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be ML could host such audiophile/audio reviewers get together parties in his 'barn'? ....... That barn could possibly accommodate at least 4 listeners ........ All this assuming ML still has that 'barn' :-) ........

volvic's picture

I would love to have people over for listening sessions but I could probably only accommodate two people max! Also sharing the apt with a six-year-old is also a logistical nightmare. Sometimes I wish I had an attic.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You could have somewhat similar experience with your friends at places like 'Retroclub' in Manhattan ..... You could choose several other similar music/dance/night clubs in Manhattan :-) ........