It’s Too Late to Stop Now: The Quest for Better Sound

Feb 21st, 2017 | By | Category: Deep Thoughts

I got bitten by a few bugs early in my adulthood. One of them was a passion for great sound at home. I would have likely led a normal life, satisfied with my Lafayette speakers and receiver and Garrard record player, but for the fact that a block away from my undergrad college was the local “hi-fi” shop. It took just a few minutes there to realize that the products they were selling came much closer to the sound of live music than my system did. And they weren’t even all that expensive: Advent speakers for $102 a pair (and the Baby Advents for $69), for example.

But then I heard the Audio Research SP-3 tube preamplifier … and the first moving coil phono cartridge … and the Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers (I became the youngest owner of the original run, serial numbers 112 and 127, if I recall correctly). And on and on it went. Even when I was generally happy with my stereo, there was always one piece that could be improved upon (or needed to be replaced due to age). It didn’t help that around the same time I came across Stereophile magazine and became a charter subscriber of The Absolute Sound (which I still read nearly 45 years later) and got swept into the “high end” movement.

Fortunately, my current stereo — which includes pieces dating back more than 15 years — is still hard to beat. It literally has brought tears to the eyes of more than one listener. And yet even as I get swept away in the music it reproduces, I can’t help but wonder whether there might be a way to eke a little more magic from it (at least a way I can afford — top audio equipment is now priced way beyond the means of all but the 1 percenters).

I know others who are afflicted with this same disorder, but most music lovers I have met over the years have had much more modest stereos. I’m not talking about casual music listeners who will never see the need for anything more than cheap earbuds (or expensive Beats headphones that are not much of a sonic upgrade). No, these are people who really love music. In some cases, it’s a matter of financial priorities. As someone who has never had children or other expensive hobbies, it’s been much easier to find disposable income for my stereo — especially when combined with some discounts I got while working in the audio industry and my propensity to buy equipment that has just fallen out of fashion. For others, the disposable income is put into acquiring more music rather than hardware to play it on. Whatever their reasons, these — ostensibly more balanced — folks can hear the differences between their systems and mine. But they just don’t find they need anything more to enjoy their music.

In some ways, I have to say that I envy them. It would be nice to step up for upgrade-go-round and never have thoughts of “what if” interfere with my listening enjoyment. And I know some people who have successfully made that step. But I doubt I will be one of them. A few weeks back I was talking with a local dealer about a new pair of speakers I have an interest in auditioning. He mentioned that one of his customers might be selling a barely used pair due to health issues. That music and audio lover is 90; he bought the speakers at the age of 88, but can’t take them with him to the senior living center he is now headed off to. I’m not sure if that tells me I should stop now or keep playing the game as long as I can …

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3 Comments to “It’s Too Late to Stop Now: The Quest for Better Sound”

  1. Rage, rage against the dying of the ear drums. Buy the speakers, Thom!

    Enjoyed this report/confession a lot.
    As someone firmly in the Software Acquisition category, I often think along the lines of… Now, I sorted the turntable last year; the amp is still pretty good; so the speakers are the weak link. Hmm… But how many records could I buy for the price of a new (improved) pair of speakers? (ANS: LOTS).

    • Thom Lieb says:

      Funny comment, Bruce! I totally understand your stance, but then I remind myself that even if I pulled out an album a day it would take me 10 years plus just to listen to each one once — not counting the many newcomers during that period! Back in my college days, a few friends and I (including our contributor Jim) launched a record-buying coop, and I averaged a purchase a day for a few years! Sounds like you would still do that if you could.

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