Obsessed With Stereo

Written by Dan Schwartz

I think about my system too much. I mean, really too much.

As I’ve written many times, it was stable for more than 20 years. That’s a really long while in anybody’s reckoning. In those years, I don’t remember thinking about it so much. Of course, I also played on a bunch of records and was raising my daughter, and having a good stable system that I didn’t have to think about was a real blessing. I feel like I’ve only now just cracked the beginning of getting it to another version of stability.

I’m listening to David Sedaris talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. To hear him talk about it, no, this is not that bad (though my daughter might insist otherwise.). I may not like trash by the side of the road, but I don’t have a compulsion to pick it all up. And certainly, most of my musician pals thinks I’m either crazy, or wealthy, or… well, they don’t know what. I guess the missing word is obsessed. I mean, who has a studio monitor system in their living room? (I feel like Rowan Atkinson’s character in Love, Actually: “But this is so much more than a monitor system…”)

When I wake up, I flick on the preamp (which after 20 seconds turns on the amps) so that it’s fully cooked by the time I put music on. I usually start with something relatively quiet). Just the fact that it’s become routine says something about my days — aside from never-ending yard- and pool-work and caring for ten rabbits (count ‘em! Ten!), I mostly try to figure out how to move this damn television project forward. So I have the mental space for this obsession.

It’s not that I think about it to the exclusion of other things. But when I’m home, the fact that I’m aware of it needing something plagues me. Wondering if it would have similarly needled me for the aforementioned twenty years is pointless — but I don’t think so. For the last month, I’ve had a BHK preamp (I put in a pair of 7dj8 tubes a couple days ago), which went a long way to resolving what bothered me about what I was hearing. I feel like it’s back where it was with the EAR G88 preamp, more-or-less. (As I’ve written, if I had to point to one thing, it turns out, surprisingly, to have been the low-end). OK, so… what? What is this obsession about? Maybe my daughter is more right than I’ll admit.

It’s a mystery to me why she doesn’t care. Ten years ago we were at Brooks Berdan’s shop, I made some crack about her not wanting anything of mine, and she said the only thing she wanted was my Moog synth (how things change). She listens on her computer, or to ear buds, and would be perfectly happy to hear the teevee coming out its completely inadequate speakers if that moved my system out of our living room.

So now it’s the amps: BEL 1001s. There is nothing wrong with the amps. In fact, they’re extraordinary. They were when I got them, 26 years ago, enough to convince me to give up VTL 500s. Since then, they’ve been through everything but the last bit of upgrade (one of the benefits of being a writer for TAS, which made a point, from ’92 on, of championing Richard Brown’s work before he died). I put on a spacious, beautifully-imaged recording and it’s all there, well beyond the edges of the speakers, everything in proper proportion when the playback level is correctly set.

So I think it’s the story I tell myself, about my system all being made by my friends, or the story we tell ourselves: a need to chase the current state-of-the-art. I think I won’t really be happy until I replace them. But…

Maybe it’s just some damned obsessive acquisitiveness.

Maybe it’ll take just one more fix….

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