A Conversation

Written by Dan Schwartz

Well, conversation might not be the word.

I was going to write a bit about my bedroom system. But on Sunday I had an encounter so bizarre that I have to write a bit about it. Eventually, I’ll get to the bedroom set-up.

On Sunday I went late to a party for my pals’ collective birthday, born a few weeks apart and together since college: a nice event, though burdened by the oppressive heat wave we’ve been enduring in LA. At the party, I set up shop, so to speak, on the piano bench that was in the direct path of the air conditioning, and arriving late as I did, I had no competition for the Seat of Privilege. Said seat was also in the path from the kitchen to the living rom, so anybody passing was handy to say hello. No complaints.

And there he found me. I assume he didn’t know anything about me and I forgot his name instantly (I do that, though — he’s not unique in that).  But the talk we had will last in my memory for quite a while.

In the last month or so, our Glorious Leader, Paul M., wrote in his daily blog about all the hysteria his postings to YouTube seem to stir up.  “Who”, thought I (and probably you, too), “would bother?”

Well, folks, I met one.

I told him nothing about me, what I’ve done or do, and it wouldn’t have been irrelevant to a conversation about like subjects with another person. But it was here. Once he figured out that I knew a little about the subject (I was familiar with an amp he wants to sell, an old B&K), he was off. (By the way, I’m not a complete idiot — I would have avoided him at all costs had I known. But once done, it was a brief glimpse behind the curtain.)

Our conversation started innocuously enough, with the B&K, although I’m not sure why he even brought it up. I was able to praise it, which made him happy. But then it took a turn south. He got into talking about Hypex modules, and how the amp he built with them is undoubtedly one of the best amps there is or could be under $10,000. He was surprised I knew what they were, of course. I made the mistake of bringing up the PS website on my telephone and showing him the Stellar line, by way of example that I was familiar with the concept of a Class D amp — and that was it.

A tirade began, and took me a few minutes to understand he was talking about Paul McGowan, and how he was one of the people who argue with Paul on YouTube — he was quite proud of that, of his being argumentative. He informed me that Paul (and Arnie Nudell, of course) knew nothing about speaker design. His proof was the IRS V, on which one can see the heads of screws around each tweeter ribbon. (Everybody knows that wave-guides are de rigieur for a functional speaker, said he.)

So I asked if he’d ever heard a pair. And of course he hadn’t. I asked if he’d ever heard a line source — no. I asked if he’d ever heard the Dead’s mighty Wall of Sound. Oh yeah, dozens of times. Where? I asked. Turns out he didn’t see them til long after the Wall.

“So you don’t really have any experience with listening to that kind of speaker?”

He didn’t need it — his dirt cheap Genelecs were good enough. And here is where the rubber hit the road, so speak: “Anybody can get used to anything, even mp3s,” was his ultimate statement. So why were we talking? And what about?

I saw my moment — a chair had opened up in the living room next to an old college friend, and I seized the moment and that chair.


I wouldn’t say I exactly dodged a bullet — I certainly didn’t dodge it. But having survived the experience, I got some distance and spent the rest of the time chatting with my pal about his astronomy images.

It’d be easy to say, “The guy’s an idiot.” And yeah, maybe — but how many times has one of us struggled to communicate how something sounds using only words? We rely on the most imperfect medium to communicate, and so often it falls short — or we fall short.

I have Copper as a platform, which I earned by virtue of my having had The Absolute Sound as a platform, which I earned by, I don’t know — impressing Harry and Sally? [The late Harry Pearson and Sally Reynolds, of course—not Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan—Ed.] Something like that. What I’m getting at is this: Harry and Gordon Holt developed a language — how, I don’t know. From stone knives and bearskins, I think. All of us, as writers and as listeners, are walking in their shoes. We try to learn the language and use it as best as we can to communicate with each other. It’s the wrong medium, although it’s the only one we have.

Occasionally we encounter someone like this guy at the party who didn’t speak the language and thus we didn’t have the ability to communicate — him with me, or me with him. He assumes that we all hear the same thing. I argued momentarily that this wasn’t the case, until I saw his lack of receptiveness to that idea. A couple more attempts, and I perceived it as hopeless. It seems to me that we occupy, not rarified air, but an exclusive club — one that anyone is welcome to join. They only have to be willing.

Next time, I’ll struggle with the language to describe my bedroom system….

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