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    The Audiophile's Cat

    Issue 153

    A few days ago, Hobbes, our creamsicle-colored fur-ball of 12 years was eaten by a hungry coyote. I’m trying my best not to be angry at the coyote (bastard!) that took away a huge part of our family. Forgive me if I have not been able to muster up enough Zen to be wholly successful in that endeavor.

    Animals abound here in the wilds of our suburbia, which is nestled between a bay and the wilderness of a state park. Being this close to nature is something we love about our home, and yes, I do realize that these opportunistic predators, who often howl their dark choruses mere steps from our doors, are just doing what they do – unemotionally hunting down prey to feed their own families and survive the cold nights in this valley… They likely never had the thought that what they are killing is anything more than their next meal (bastards bastards bastards!).

    My wife, whose heart is also shattered, pointed out that Hobbes, regardless of all the fancy food we fed him, was also a skilled predator and did much damage in his career…“yeah, but he was our predator!” I heard myself saying.

    I feel compelled to write this not only as memorial to a beloved pet, the loss of which I’m sure most of us have experienced in our lives, but as testament to the clear, honest and usually unrestrained communication our domesticated animals can convey to us about our lives – even the quality of sound emanating from our elaborate audio systems.

    There. I said it.

    For over a decade, just about every time I set myself up for a listening session in my comfy chair smack dab in the room’s sweet spot, Hobbes would show up, insisting on lap privileges.

    I realize that as cute as that is, it in itself does not seem very remarkable – but what did surprise me at first was the real-time feedback he offered on the fidelity of music reproduction, as well as his preferences of style, loudness and genre. His omni-directional ears were the key. Once I understood the meaning of their movement, or lack thereof, I knew I had a fellow aficionado in position, relaxed and ready to pass judgement on the sounds swirling around us.

    When I’m auditioning or reviewing a component, speakers, tweak, or music selection, I listen at realistic acoustic concert levels, or at least with enough sonic pressure to load the room. So, here is how my cat shared his experience with me through the coded language of his ears (this could give new meaning to the term “fuzzy logic!”):

    Both ears back, or both twitching rapidly: “Turn it off! Turn it off!” This verdict was usually the result of listening to a sloppy, compressed mass-market recording or an ill-conceived component that simply sounded terrible in my revealing system. If I didn’t act fast, Hobbes would immediately leap off my lap, his sharp claws engaged –– which I also imagine left that wild dog licking his wounds and sorry he picked my boy as a target! Although the feral canine eventually prevailed, it was likely with the unfair assistance of an extended pack of howling cohorts.

    One ear stretching forward, one back: “Give me a minute, I’m evaluating…stand by for feedback.” I eventually learned that most challenging for my fur-clad assistant, regardless of musical genre or the effect of a foreign component inserted into a system he knew and counted on, was stridency. He was fine with any system changes, or music selections as long as they netted a rich, effortless and pleasing musical soundscape.

    Both ears in neutral position: “OK, this is acceptable, you have my permission to buy this component, or continue listening to this music. I’ll be purring from this point on…”

    For me, this was the coveted holy grail of inter-species collaboration.

    I miss my furry orange companion and keep expecting him to waltz into my listening room at any a given moment and claim his rightful post on my lap, ears ready to render unembellished feedback on my varied audiophile adventures.

    If you have (or had) an audiophile pet of your own, please share your favorite anecdotes with our extended community by leaving a comment. Thanks for reading!

    Alón Sagee is Chairman and Chief Troublemaker of the San Francisco Audiophile Society. Alón’s writings for Copper can be found in the following issues:

    25 comments on “The Audiophile's Cat”

    1. Always a tough time losing a family member but don’t worry about it suffering as coyotes don’t usually play with their prey, like a cat routinely does.

    2. So sorry for the loss of your kitty. Maddy, my six-year-old tabby, is always sleeping on my lap as I listen to music that must seem like chaos to her, yet she does not pass judgment. She has never even balked at things like Yes or King Crimson. One could reasonably infer that she might be going deaf, but she can hear the refrigerator door being opened from the farthest room in the house, no matter how gently I open it.

    3. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Been there, done that too many times myself. I had a cat many years ago that was a certified Deadhead. Whenever I put on some Dead tunes, she would immediately emerge from her nap and sit directly in front of one speaker. Every time! My current feline companion is more disposed to electronica (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ian Boddy, et al.) and ambient, with some jazz being deemed worthwhile too.

    4. Losing a furry listening companion is the worst. I know from my own prior experiences with the most recent being August 29th. Listening to music helped me get through the loss, if only by helping to distract my thoughts while time passed. Thanks for sharing your post.

    5. Aww, Hobbes sounds like he was the best boy! My condolences to you.

      My felines definitely enjoy listening with me. They prefer piano music, Mozart's piano concertos in particular. Especially his #20 in D minor, K466, 2. Romance. They have superb taste: In my opinion, that is the most utterly sublime piece of music ever written.

      And Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance of K466 with the Philharmonia Orchestra... ahhh. My two cats always crowd around when I play it. I need to be sure everything is within easy reach, because they are taking over my lap!

      As for enlisting their assistance with my system, they helped with determining whether or not my speakers could produce the 30-something KHz "noise" that's made by DSD 64. My amplifier's output meters register it in no uncertain terms. Of course, I can't hear it regardless of whether or not it is coming out of the speakers. But I wondered if my speakers could even reproduce what the amp was obviously sending them.

      So, I cued up a silent section, muted the output, and turned up the volume knob. As I hit the unmute switch, I watched their ears (cats can hear well beyond 30K) (and like dogs they can smell in stereo, but that's another story).

      Nothing. Not a twitch, no ear movement at all.

      That settled that.

    6. I've had three cats killed by coyotes over the years. So sad. Years ago here in the U.S. the coyotes were not east of the Mississippi River, but now they have spread all over. My cat George was an orange and white tabby and he loved to listen to music when I played it. He had a special place on the couch, actually closer to the "sweet spot" than I sat.

      As cats have hearing far better than ours, I always took note of what music he approved of.

      Sorry for your loss.

    7. My big buddy Cruzer is 13 and I'm sure that if a coyote ate him, I would get some dead mice, soak them in rat poison, and "feed" that coyote mice. I sure would. Then I would play Miles Davis and laugh.

    8. My deepest condolences, Alón: I've had to deal with this sort of loss, but nothing quite this sudden.

      Tapper, our Tuxedo cat, is a *very* frequent listening companion. Interestingly enough, rather than sit in my lap, he places himself on the livingroom rug, damned-near precisely between both tower speakers, calmly taking the music in. His tastes vary, but any time *Kind of Blue* hits the turntable, I swear he shows up from wherever else he was to sit in and bliss out.

    9. Sorry for your loss, it's always painful to lose one regardless of your tastes in companions.
      When I first knew my pet was an audiophile was when she was about a year old. Drift Away by Dobie Gray came on while my wife and I were preparing dinner, she came flying by, slide to stop in front of my speaker, cocked her head and started howling away. Since then she's shown her own taste in music by trying to sing along. I can't be critical because my singing voice isn't much worse. She loves Don Henley, Al Stewart, Kansas and a few others - so much so that I've created a couple of playlists for her. She refuses to go out at night before bed unless she hears a song she likes, Talking to the Moon by Don Henley usually works. lol. And...she's a coyote hybrid, know as an American Dingo or sometimes Carolina dog. Ours was born wild and rescued along with her brother from in front of a riding mower by one of our neighbors. Presumably her mother was moving them to a new den and was scared away by the mower. Where I live we no longer have "true" coyotes, what we hear howling in the woods at night are my dogs relatives. Because of her I figured out why coyotes and wolves howl, it's not for hunting as that would scare away prey. It's because they enjoy it!

      OHT

    10. Our cat Agate never showed much interest in the hi-fi, though she definitely had opinions about my musical instruments. When I played my acoustic guitar she would climb up and try to fit herself between me and the instrument. When I plated my banjo, she would leave the room as quickly as possible.

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