The Pursuit Of Musical Excellence
Every few years, the same tale is told, just with a slightly different spin. This year, it came from yet another team of neuroscientists; the secret to happiness, it seems, is to set low expectations. Those who set themselves lofty goals are rarely fully satisfied, and those who set their sights to more attainable and realistic aspirations are more likely to have longer, happier and more fulfilling lives. This doesn't sit right with the pursuit of musical excellence, but might explain the ever-shifting sands of 'audiophilia nervosa'.
Let's be honest here; it's in the very nature of enthusiasm to have at least one eye on the next big thing in your hobby, be it that high-tech derailleur, the next 'must have' camera lens, or the latest kitchen gizmo. And there is nothing wrong with a spot of aspirational dreaming; even if you'll never own that new Ferrari, it's part of the dream and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that at all.
However, the notion of setting lower expectations is also worth exploring. We all know people who have become so absorbed by their hobby and passion that they become obsessed by it and the last 18 months haven't helped such conditions. In the audio world, while Mr. '£50,000 worth of cables and three recordings' is more myth than reality, we all know people who are perpetually restless, always changing something in their system and never quite happy with how it sounds. Some even spend less time listening to music, and more time tweaking their system to make it sound as good as it's possible to get. The satisfaction of sitting back and listening to an album becomes impossible.
In such cases, saying 'set your standards lower' is about as worthless as telling someone with an anxiety disorder to 'pull yourself together.' The usual advice for audio obsessives is to step away from the audio system for a while, but I am not convinced this is merely a delay tactic, and the issue will return.
It's going to sound controversial but perhaps, the secret is to have an easy side-project. I used to live near an amateur car-restorer who got so obsessed by rebuilding the perfect MGB, the project came to a halt as he spiralled on the minutiae. His way out of that quicksand of his own making? He bought a low-maintenance runabout to enjoy driving again. It worked, and the MGB was finished to a high – but not crazily high – standard soon after.
Who knows? Maybe a small, easy second system everyone can enjoy is your way out of audio obsessiveness.