became a music-lover at an early age; possibly by immersion; certainly by
example: My parents had radio KFAC, then Los Angeles' classical music station,
on at what seemed like all times, day or night and, by the time I hit my 'teens,
I could whistle or hum along with just about anything on the station's playlist.
In most cases, of course, I didn't know what I was listening to or joining-in
with, because the station didn't always introduce what it would be playing or
name it or its performers after it was over. And even if they would have, there
was – because, after all, I did have other things to do than just keep
my ear glued to the radio – no guarantee that I would have heard it. I might
simply not have been listening to hear what was playing, or I might have
tuned-in between announcements and tuned-out again, to attend to whatever else I
had to do, before whatever was playing was over. For whatever reason, I
loved what I was hearing, but – as it is, even more, with "pop"
radio stations today (which sometimes string together multiple songs with no
identification whatsoever) – I might have no idea at all as to what it was
that I was enjoying.
For all those earliest years, what I heard music on was either a table radio, a "portable" radio, or the radio in my father's car. Do you remember what those pre-transistor portable radios were like? Essentially a small suitcase full of tubes and batteries of different voltages, with – because they were so large – fairly good-sized speakers and perfectly decent sound. (As, I think it might have been Mort Sahl who said, when describing his ancient Olivetti typewriter; "...it weighed eighty pounds, but you knew it was a portable because it had a handle.") Of course, I also heard background music, commercials, and even live musical performances (Do you remember "Your Hit Parade"?) on our small-screen Emerson, but that was only a minor part of the then-still-new-and-exciting television experience.
What happened when I was twelve was a total game
changer: I was exposed for the first time to "Hi-Fi" played on the
very best equipment of the time (McIntosh amplifier, Bozak speaker, the rest
unknown or unremembered) and, from that point on, I was hooked on not just the
music, but the sound!
Not only was the music better and clearer
(Remember that this was the mid-1950s so stereo was still mostly unknown) but
there was BASS – something that I had never heard before, and that I fell in
love with immediately.
Once I heard it, I knew that I had to have it, and the result
was that over the following years, I was able to put together, from
hand-me-downs, from used stuff, and from what little I could scrape together the
money to actually buy, a tolerable system and a group of equally Hi-Fi Crazy
friends, of mostly my own age, who shared my interest.
We started out with, as I said, either used stuff, things that
we could scrounge, or kits that we bought and assembled to make our own new
equipment. And each new addition to our systems rewarded us with an improvement
to the sound we were hearing and a greater enjoyment of the music.
That was then, of course, and, frankly, looking back, I can
see that what we had was no big deal at all. But to us, starting from nothing,
everything was a step forward toward the goal of perfect sound in service to the
music that was our driving force.
Those were the days when, although, we mostly couldn't afford to buy anything really good, we could at least learn about it and share its magic from afar. That's why we became magazine-readers and literature collectors and, when we weren't listening to our systems, we were talking about them – each of us trying to impress the others with what we had been able to glean from the literature, the magazines, and the Hi-Fi Crazy "grapevine".
Those were fun and formative days, and, because our industry
was nearly as young as we were, and huge improvements remained still to be made,
we had not only the excitement of trying to improve what we had, but the regular
thrill of success. Nowadays, things seem to have changed: Like the guy who, back
around the turn of the last century, said that the U.S. Patent Office should be
shut down because everything possible had already been invented, I find that
real improvements in the state of our art are becoming ever scarcer and harder
And that gets me to the title of this article: "The Man Who Didn't Like Music".
As you may already know, I was not only a kid Hi-Fi Crazy, but
stayed that way and grew up to be an actual member of the Hi-Fi Industry; first
as a reviewer for one of the magazines; then as the designer and manufacturer of
a line of cables that was recognized everywhere as "The Best In The
World", and now, finally, as a writer for a number of fine industry
publications like this one. Back in my manufacturing days, I had the truly
remarkable experience of talking with one of our biggest U.S. dealers and
learning from him that – to my genuinely huge surprise – he didn't like
music, and listened to it only seldom, and almost never all the way through any
When he did listen to music, he said, it was for purposes of setting up a system or "dialing-in" a particular piece of gear. That was what he was in love with – the equipment; and it was that that gave him the greatest satisfaction. He loved to be around and to use and sell beautifully-designed, beautifully-manufactured gear that could perform the astonishing task of transporting listeners sonically to another venue, to share the music with the musicians. The music, itself, though, was never what turned him on.
Thinking about him got me, eventually, to thinking about where
our industry currently is, in terms of the bits and boxes that make the sound
that makes the music that makes the magic that so many of us experience. And,
frankly, I find myself wondering about its future. As I found recently, when my
old CD player died, unless one can afford to pay a truly great deal of money to
buy one, "audiophile-grade" CD players are no longer available except
on the used market (Hmmm, just like when I was a kid!) What seems to have
happened without my ever noticing was that (except for the resurgent, but still
only in relatively small quantities, LP record), "physical media" like
CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and whatever else, are becoming scarcer than hen's teeth, and
so is the equipment for playing them.
The new thing is all computer-based and revolves around renting or buying "downloads" of music instead of any kind of physical recording. With the recordings and the things to play them on going away, can there be a future ahead where – except for those few of us who, like my dealer, love our gear as much or more than what we play on it – no one will actually own a home audio system? Will it all be some kind of "Buck Rogers-ish" built-in (or even pocket-size) addition to our home communication and computing system? Will there still be Hi-Fi Crazies collecting literature and arguing about whether cables, power conditioners, green permanent markers, or (name your favorite "tweak") actually work?
Will the fun and feeling of accomplishment still be there? I don't know, but I hope so. In the meantime, I'm going to go to my sound room; put on a disc; sit back; close my eyes; and, as I have for all these years...
Enjoy the music.