Sound Practices Magazine Online!
W.A.F. By Joyce
When friends call they often ask, "So what kind of system are you listening to these days?" Recently I've been a little hesitant to answer. I wonder, shall I make them terribly envious as I describe the wonderful system we had last week, or must I stick with the facts as they stand? "A boom box," I end up answering honestly, because the truth is that we are currently listening to a $69 Hitachi boom box. Invariably, our friends respond in shock, "But I thought you guys had a world-class system." That's right, I’m thinking, world-class system, which means that right now our system is all over the world. "Our system," I explain, "is currently in transit."
Audio equipment, I've discovered, is always in transit. Even when it's sitting solidly, right there in your living room, seemingly immobile on its sharp little tippy-toes, it's actually already on its way somewhere else. It doesn't matter if it's perfectly matched to your system, or if you've been listening to it for years. Whether it's solid state or vacuum tube, single-ended or push-pull, the one thing all audio has in common is that it's on the move.
It took me a while to catch on, but now that I'm aware of it, a lot of audio behavior makes more sense than it ever did before. Realizing that, for the rest of your married life, your audio system will be in a constant state of flux is an important step in understanding your audiophile mate, and the hobby in general. (It may also explain why I can never seem to get a hang of our system, but you've already heard that story).
Before living with an audiophile, I naively thought that audio equipment was principally intended for listening to music. I now know that there are plenty of other fun things one can do with it. Chief among these is setting up a Complicated Audio Deal. Take a good look at your husband the next time he's in front of the stereo. I t may seem like he's innocently listening to music as he happily taps his fingers on the couch, but believe me, what he's really doing is mentally working out the details of the intricate audio deal he's just thought up.
All you can do is watch and wait. Is he about to sell the turntable or is it the speakers that are going? Did he get your favorite amp tied up in another impossible trade or is he just about to lend the tuner to someone in Massachusetts?
If your goal is to get rid of a particular component in your current audio system, all you really have to do is wait. (Complain a little, too, it helps speed what is a natural process). . Remember, whatever it is may be here disgracing your living room right now, but it's just in transit. Seek comfort in the fact that before too long, at least temporarily, someone else's wife will be stuck with it. If, on the other hand, you should for any reason wish to hold on to a component, I can tell you now, you're going to have to fight for its life. We have this REL Precedent FM tuner that I've grown very fond of.
It is a cool piece of equipment, the kind guys just have to look at once and they're already thinking up a way to make a deal for it. I've had to rescue it several times from the "greatest audio trade ever." My husband's friends don't understand, "Is it because the REL looks so cool with the rest of your system, or is it because of that super smooth tuning knob, or is it ..." "Because," I mutter, so low they can't hear me, "I know how to use it and it hasn't electrocuted me yet." Since change is such an integral part of the audio hobby, it's often only when our system essentially consists of 300 yards of speaker cable and a tuner that I realize something is wrong. I sometimes think the audio deals my man works out are so complicated, so full of logistical intricacies and nuances, that not even he can fully comprehend them. This, I suspect, is how we wound up listening to a boom box. "How can it be," I ask, "that we have all this great equipment and yet we rarely have a complete system to play!"
Let us see, if I can remember this correctly: our favorite amps are currently "out on loan" to a friend. We have his amps, which need to be fixed, and when his amps get fixed, we can get our amps back. The way I interpret all this is, our amps aren't really out on loan, they are being held hostage. Try explaining it like this to a guy and he'll look at you like you're crazy. "They're on loan," he’ll insist. Mind you, this has been going on for two years now - I know I'll never see those amps again.
Since audiophiles are usually eager to lend each other stuff, your understanding of their ways can be often put to good use. For instance, we all know that true audiomaniacs cannot resist the urge to improve on or "tweak equipment, whether it belongs to them or not. So the next time your husband builds a truly awful amp, encourage him to lend it to the most out-of-control modifier you know. He'll either break it beyond repair or tweak it up until it sounds so good he'll never part with it, either way it's out of your life for good.
The rest of our system is being "traded" or "upgraded," which are both euphemisms for "gone". For many audiophiles, trading is a compulsive behavior and cannot be helped. I t is also highly contagious, which is why the average audio trade eventually winds up involving at least four or five people in a frenzy of exchange. I don't pretend to understand the laws of this wild bartering, but I can tell you there's rarely such a thing as a simple, two-way trade in audio. They inevitably get complicated, so don't be surprised to find that the amount of time a certain piece of equipment actually stays in your system is often less than the time it took to set up the deal in the first place. Just learn never to throw away any boxes.
Now you'd think I'd despair as I sit here listening to my boom box, but all this audio wheeling and dealing makes me hopeful of someday actually finding that world class system. I just know it's out there. I imagine a guy in New Jersey has the speakers, and right now he's adding just a little more damping material to the box. The nearly perfect amp is making the tweak rounds somewhere in the Midwest and, along the way, someone will put in a part that will make all the world of difference. And in Spain, a mad scientist type is auditioning various rare and wondrous caps in my future preamp.
My perfect, world-class audio system is already in motion and all the parts are coming together beautifully. Before long, UPS will be delivering it right to my door. With all that speaker cable in-house and my trusty REL tuner, you might say I'm ready for it. And this time, with any luck, I'm going to figure out a way to bolt it down to the floor before I let it out of my sight.