I’ve always been curious about audiophiles ever since I started reading hilarious posts mocking them on the internet 15 years ago. Audiophiles are people who take listening to music to the X-Treme. How can any sane person even consider 10,000 dollar record players, stereo wire that costs more than it’s weight in gold, and a 500 dollar wooden volume knob. From the outside their world makes no sense.
Last month I came across an old Pioneer SX-980 Stereo reciever at a Goodwill store. I knew it was probably worth something, but I had no idea that an excellent condition one would bring 800 dollars on ebay. Unfortunately mine is far from excellent, it doesn’t even work. But still it’s worth about ten times what I paid just just for parts. Part of the charm of this particular stereo is the fact that they just don’t make them like they used to, the damn thing weighs 40 pounds, besides that its got the classic vintage sound that some audiophiles love. Other’s of course wouldn’t consider this relic good enough for their “casual listening” system. What the hell is casual listening, isn’t listening to music a pretty casual activity.
Anyway…. Thinking about restoring this stereo, got me thinking about audiophiles, and then it occurred to me, people from the outside looking in probably find the cyclist’s world insane. They may say, Isn’t riding a bike just a fun casual activity.”
“NO IT”S LIFE!” I scream back. Seriously though, we are little better than audiophiles. My bike saddle costs more then two complete adult bicycles from Wal-Mart. My 250 gram bike tires cost the same a cheap passenger car tire from Wal-Mart. Lets not even get into bike shorts that cost more than a suit. Now of course anyone who has ridden a bike “for real” knows that a 70 dollar Wal-Mart bike is a joke. Just try keeping a 17 mph pace on a 30 pound piece of rolling crap, its impossible. Try riding 100 miles on a spongy rubber plastic covered Wal-Mart bike saddle. Good luck.
So if our insane world is completely sane from the inside, maybe the audiophile world is too. Maybe there is something to it. I’m not a huge music fan, I like music. I like music that sounds good, music that sounds multi dimensional, not flat and dead. Take my wife’s Memorex boombox radio for instance. I hate this thing, it has to be one of the worst sounding audio devices I’ve ever heard. Even though it is labeled as 2-XTRME and has two relatively big speakers a cell phone has better sound quality. Music coming from this thing sounds like it’s in bubble wrap, then packaged in a box, which is then packed into another box. Yet my wife plays it all day and says it sounds fine. In some ways it really is fine, in fact perfect, the sound is so horrible from this thing that you barely notice it’s there, it’s like background elevator music for your house.
The worst sounding “boombox” I’ve ever heard.
The first time I realized that there may be something not completely insane to audiophilism occurred to me a few years ago when listening to Florence and the Machine’s excellent song, “Shake it Out.” I think I had first seen her on Saturday Night Live and in a rare occurrence we actually sat and listened to the musical guest. In fact we liked it so much I downloaded the album. The song begins with the most churchy sounding organ you can imagine and builds up into a maelstrom of sound. I had been listening to it on my computer where all my mp3s are, but I thought it might sound good on my Dad’s old Sony Stereo system which now graces my front room. I heard something amazing.
The first second of the song there is this noise that is like the organ player opening baffles, pulling slide switches, working pedals or something. As the organ breathes and comes to life it’s as if you can hear the air begin to swell up and then become forced through a machine that turns it into music. Listening to the song on a high quality stereo feels so real that that the song comes to life, it feels like you’ve just sat down at a pew in church to hear the group perform. You’ll never notice in your car driving the down road, or on wimpy little speakers, you also can’t notice it with ear buds, they just don’t move enough air.
Floor speakers make great plant holders.
But lets not kid ourselves here, that old Sony Stereo system is far from Audiophile, it’s just the receiver from a lower end component Stereo system, but it does have 50 watts per channel and it’s pushing speakers that stand 3 feet tall, oh and I have a 15 inch powered subwolfer back there behind it all. Of course an audiophile would have more in wires and connectors then I have in the whole system.
Not sure if this is a record player or a device to send messages back and forth through the space time continuum.
Audiophiles have their own internal conflicts just like cyclists, there are purists who think digital media is horrible, and only listen to vinyl records. There are vintage junkies who want mint condition 50 year old hi-fi equipment. There are modern digital audiphiles who download lossless FLAC files at ultra high sampling rates and play them through cutting edge computer controlled systems. As you can imagine these guys don’t always see eye to eye on who has the right ideas. Just like cyclists who can’t agree if steel, carbon or titanium is the ultimate frame material or if electric shifting is a boon or a bust.
I’d love to sit down in an audiophiles “listening room” and enjoy the sound of a 25,000 dollar stereo system, though I really doubt I’d notice a huge difference from my 250 dollar stereo system. Just like I doubt I’d notice a big difference if I rode someone’s 10,000 dollar bike over my modest Cannondale Six13.