The Audio Cynic

Believing Our Ears

There are times when I regret having named this column “The Audio Cynic”. Some days, “Skeptic” would be more appropriate. Other days, my younger coworkers would likely vote for “The Audio Crank”: “Hey you kids, turn that crap music down!”

Today, I’d think it terms of “The Audio Evangelist”. When you get down to it, that’s what my career in the biz has been, and that’s what all diehard music-lovers and audiophiles are: evangelists. As with all the evangelists I’ve known—hey, I lived in Memphis for 25 years, and evangelists are tough to avoid there— there are times of diminished enthusiasm and vigor. And with luck, those are counterbalanced by Damascus Road moments where the scales fall off, and it hits:

THAT’S why I do this. NOW I remember.

I’ve heard just about every type and configuration of audio gear that has ever been made, dating from the time of Edison to today. I may occasionally hear something and think, “that ain’t bad”—-but very, very rarely do I hear something that  gives me one of those scales-fall-off  moments.

Well—I had one of those moments the other day.

My colleagues are aware that I’m almost impossible to impress. The benefit to that  is that when I am impressed, it has real meaning. They know my reaction is not lip-service.

So when I walked into a demo the other day, my expectations were low. I stepped in the door and heard a familiar piece of music on a familiar system, but heard it in a most unfamiliar way. It hit me in the chest the way it never had before.

Involuntarily I blurted out, “did you add more woofers??”

Heads swiveled around and I was met by looks of astonishment. Nope, no more woofers. Something else.

After everyone else had gone, I sat by myself for an hour, just listening to music. Sadly, that’s a luxury I rarely allow myself. Sure, I have a decent desktop rig with Tidal, but to hide out in the main listening room—and really listen?

It happens way too infrequently.

Fill in the audiophile cliches here: “I heard familiar music as though for the first time”; “I heard things I never heard before”; “the music touched me like it never had”; “it reached my SOUL”.

Pathetic, perhaps—but all true.

When these all-too-rare moments occur, when a genuine breakthrough is heard, my reaction is, “if everyone could hear THIS, they’d get it.” They’d understand why we fuss and obsess and putz around. They’d understand that music has emotional weight and importance, that it’s more than just a background thrum competing against the clang of a cacophonous  world. It is the opposite of a distraction, it is an attraction, something to be focused upon.

So what do we do about that? What should I do about that?