Mistakes

If you’re human, you make mistakes. Sometimes they are driven by emotion, sometimes by ignorance. But you’re never going to escape them, and you’ll always be sorry you didn’t, or couldn’t, correct them. Making mistakes and being sorry is  part of the human condition. If you focus on them, it’s easy to see your entire life as one long series of mistakes. That’s a mistake.

Some mistakes you can correct, most you can’t. This makes you as liable as the rest of humanity, unless you feel you can act with impunity — which is another mistake.

It’s easy to see a mistake someone else makes as incredibly stupid, but we are often blind to our own deficiencies, and make mistakes that are equally stupid — only different. So the kindest thing you can do for the people around you is to accept your own mistakes and fallibility. Once you’ve done that, you can accept the mistakes of others, even if they are directed towards you. That’s the real meaning of understanding and forgiveness. We’re all flawed, just in different ways.

So it is with audio systems. They’re all flawed too, just in different ways. Nevertheless, we still believe, like Don Quixote, that perfection is possible, and go to great lengths and expense to achieve it. A new system, like a new sweetheart, seems perfect …………. for a time.  But when the honeymoon is over, the truth comes out, and you discover that your new acquisition is as flawed as the last. Good thing ex-audio equipment doesn’t demand alimony.

Back in the last century, I ran into my ex at the home of the guy I sold it to. It sounded much better than I remembered.  Now I’m thinking I might want the system back, but there’s no way Larry’s letting go. Mistakes suck.

Larry tells me he’s taken the trouble to cultivate a relationship with his system. I knew to do that, I just  didn’t bother when it was mine. He moved the speakers around the room till they sounded right and rearranged the furniture accordingly, glued some foam around the tweeter to minimize diffraction, replaced the tired midrange drivers with those recommended by a parts house, braced the interior of the cabinets and experimented with different damping materials, added some acoustic panels at reflective points on the walls and behind the listener, and he created a 4′ X 8′ piece of artwork from wood scraps to provide diffraction between the speakers.

How’d his wife feel about all this? Fortunately, he cultivated a relationship with her as well. He asked her what she thought of the sound as he moved his speakers around the family room. When they found the ideal spot and it was necessary to rearrange the furniture, he asked for her input. When they couldn’t come to an agreement, he bargained and agreed to let her rearrange the furniture in the living room. As it turned out, she demanded new furniture for the living room, but that was less expensive than most audiophile toys.

Larry also made her part of the creative process. She got to chose the color and design of the material on the acoustic panels.  She was flattered when he bought several pints of enamel and asked her to paint the wooden artwork in any way she wanted. He even offered to change the finish on the loudspeakers to a veneer of her preference. As a result, she’s happy and he’s happy — all for much less than the price of the system I bought to replace the one he now owns.

Rather than replace my system again, I took a lesson from Larry and developed a relationship with my system. I moved things around, learned about box alignments, diffraction and room acoustics, and applied some digital signal processing. Turns out my system had much more potential than I thought. I also got my wife involved in the project, and discovered she had much more potential for understanding than I thought.

The beauty of audio, unlike much of life, is that you can always correct your mistakes — even years later.