Tin Ear Reports

Tin Ear Reports
Bob “Tin Ear” Guthrie
18 February 2002

The Joy of Man’s Listening

Our esteemed editor, the audio analyst©, is annoyed with me yet again. That is, in and of itself, nothing unusual, as he has been more-or-less continuously annoyed with me for over twenty years. It started when he assigned me the “Tin Ear” pseudonym over my alleged inability to discern some subtle dynamic change made in a crossover in a pair of his DIY loudspeakers circa 1978 — but that is another story. The source of his current case of heartburn is that my listening room is too lively. At least I finally have a dedicated listening room, something that came about only last year.

I recently replaced the carpet in several rooms with hardwood floors, which has resulted in my listening room becoming an echo chamber. OK, I know that I need to tame the floor with a throw rug and the walls with some hangings, but enough already. Greg has managed to sustain his heartburn for several months now by explaining in great detail all the improvements I might have made on the system had I only elected to spend the money that way instead of on a footling thing like replacing worn out carpet. Moreover, he was serious!

I also received a New Year’s Eve lecture from the highly annoyed editor about my listening chair being six inches too far distant and at least an inch too far to the left. Rose, the heir as audiophile cat, is responsible for this movement when she repeatedly launches into the chair after attaining full speed barreling down the adjoining hallway. The new floors are slick. It is a simple validation of Newtonian physics.

My feeling is that we audiophiles enjoy the fanaticism of our listening, even to the detriment of our overall enjoyment. We spend hours attempting to discern flaws in our systems. We spend additional hours with tape measure, flashlight, and mirrors getting the components and furniture precisely aligned. That, my friends, is tragic when it overshadows simple pleasure of listening and causes us to forget what it was that drew us to the hobby in the first place.

Even our delight in newly re-mastered versions of favorite recordings quickly gives way to finding weaknesses. A week ago, the audio analyst© and I dined on Mexican food and I endured nearly a full hour of rapturous praise for the re-mastered Dire Straits CDs (Editors note: It was five minutes. I have a digital watch – and “Tin Ear” does embellish.), unable to get a word in edgewise concerning current events, family or other matters of minor passing interest. Later I listened to the remasteredBrothers In Arms [Warner Brothers 9 47773] on Greg’s reference system and found myself almost disliking a superb re-mastering job because the percussion was so forward. Greg launched into an involved explanation of the engineer pushing percussion on the master tapes during the recording of the album, and for what it is worth I have no reason to doubt that he was absolutely on the money. However, I found that I was not enjoying music I truly love because of an automatic and nearly unconscious faultfinding reaction.

The audio demon possesses every one of us. The audio analyst© landed from CES with his eyes ablaze, ready to hook up the latest new gizmo for a review. This is fine, but it was past midnight when I picked him up at the airport, South Bend had already rolled up the sidewalks, and Greg was running on pure audio adrenaline. When was the last time you came home from getting a fix at your local audio pusher, all ready to torture your family and friends with your new digital doodad coated in single-crystal unobtainium? I’ll bet it wasn’t very long ago! Our acoustic addiction is a terrible thing to behold. What can we do about this audio-nervosa? Should we start a twelve-step program for recovery? Hmmm, that may not be a bad idea, now that I think about it. It might be a moneymaker and then I could afford those new preamp tweaks.

In reality, I believe that all audiophiles should regularly make time to kick back and enjoy the music. As I write, a light snow is coating South Bend. I’m listening to Branford Marsalis’ 1986 Romance for Saxophone [CBS MK42122] and have three fingers of Remy Martin to sip on. Marsalis plays the soprano sax with an elegant musicality that combines with the aroma of fine cognac to hold a cold winter night at bay. Civilization is dancing attendance here and one needs only Miss January, or in my case, the Lovely Lynn, to dip into true decadence.

Those of you who know of my baroque tendencies will understand how I can throw on Handel’s Water Music [Telarc CD-80279], close my eyes and relax. I can carry myself away and cruise on a Thames river barge with the court musicians performing for my enjoyment. In fact, I can almost hear the gentle sound of the water lapping against the sides of the barge; one imagines that travel on the original Erie Canal would be the similar American experience. This is a ten-year-old DDD recording, and it is possessed of all the faults commonly found therein. In addition, like many Telarc offerings, the timings seem to be just a bit fast for each movement. I ignore all of that to allow the glory of Handel’s composition to shine through and carry away the petty cares of the day.

Of course, the pursuit of finer accuracy and closer-to-live sound is what allows those moments of pure enjoyment. Moreover, were it not for the audio analyst©periodically becoming annoyed with me, I’d probably still be listening on my 1973 all-in-one-unit “stereo.” However, let us not forget the pure joy of simple listening without searching for faults or problems; it is why we became audiophiles in the first place. Take the time to simply listen to the music! And, uh, Greg, I’m taking Lovely Lynn rug shopping tomorrow.

Our editor has graciously allowed me, one does hope with permission of the esteemed publisher, to submit an occasional opinion column. I plan to use these opportunities to examine the humorous and sometimes egregious aspects of being an audiophile, and I certainly welcome observations and suggestions!

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