This story is for the few that understand my addiction.
The room is nearly shrouded in darkness, tiny LED’s give off a soft glow indicating the equipment is powered on, in the ready and awaiting action. Leaning back in my chair, I shut my eyes in order to focus and increase my other senses. Clearing my mind of all thoughts on work, family, budgets or expectations, I feel the space around me growing. A few minutes pass as I acclimate myself. The air is still, no shuffling, no ambient distractions, only an awareness of my shallow breathing, my pulse and the anticipation of consuming my drug of choice…
On cue, my chest is hit by the first note, sound waves pummeling my body, rhythmic mayhem send goose bumps down my arms, the tiny hairs on my legs stiffening against my khakis, I am already in the moment. Two sets of guitar strings are ferociously plucked at by two masters executing their craft. A hand slapping the hollow body of the instrument registers a deep wooden thump, such energy released transfers through the floor and up into the ceiling. The textures are thick, fingers sliding across steel strings between notes, each chord fully developing and reverberating in an overlapping effort. Loud passages ring true as intended, bombastic, explosive, exciting and even startling. The softer transitions to the intimate, extra care is given to accentuate pace, lighter plucking announces the use of a plastic pic mingling with strings. Even though this is an instrumental only song, faint, deep inhaling is transmitted through the mic. I can sense how close the players are, one to my left the other moving around to my right. Rodrigo y Gabriella gives us their all, they become their music, devoted and faithful, these two musicians and their wall of sound hold me in awe. I push my remote in search of another favorite track.
You see, my stereo is my travel agent. There are no lines to contend with. No extortion fees paid to downtown parking attendants, and certainly no rude inebriated patrons attempting to talk over the din of the concert. Depending on the care and mating of your own components, your stereo mileage may vary. For me the cost of diminishing returns have yet to factor in. The more I have invested into my music equipment, the greater the pleasure I have received in sound reproduction and with that a greater appreciation for broader range of music genres. Let me start from what I remember as a beginning…
On second thought, I don’t want to go back that far…why is the first song I remember liking happen to be George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”? He is playing on my little white mono speaker alarm clock. It’s 1984 and I am five years old. Let us speed this up to my teens, shall we? Growing up I knew what I liked and what I thought were great performing bands. I was more concerned about the stereo in my car than what I played at home (Fisher integrated turntable with little box speakers). I was stuck on progressive bands which to this day still serve as my foundation; YES, Rush, Styx and Jethro Tull. However, maturing with the “home theater in a box” generation, I remained doomed to choose convenience over quality. With my “Good Guys” (So. Cal circa 1999) bought Yamaha AV receiver and my Circuit City bought 5.1 Sony speakers, my tastes lay dormant for several more years.
Rodgrigo y Gabriela playing "Hanuman"
My Evolving System
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A few years later another job opportunity brought my family up to Seattle and I had more discretionary cash for equipment. In my book, I went big; I splurged for one of those new direct energy ICE amp elite AV receivers Pioneer put out. All of a sudden my Klipsch speakers played smoother and deeper, no more shout, no more grating highs from Geddy Lee, “holy crap” I thought. An appetite was forming and I didn’t see it. I had spent months researching for the right AV amp and I thought I had arrived. Then I walked into a stand-alone Magnolia audio store on Roosevelt in Seattle, HELLO! I was used to radio shack speaker wire, plain black rca cables and $5 Home Depot power strips. Seattle actually had several brick and mortar stereo shops and I felt a deep hunger growing within me. Next thing I know I am buying speaker cables that cost more than my old 5.1 channel set up. I am adding power cords the size of garden hoses and greater details are being released in my music. Ambient noises on Pink Floyd tracks have become audibly clearer. Now I am hooked like a dime a day addict.
Being a practical business manager, I am used to writing out business plans and developing forecasts with Microsoft Excel. Now I am keeping track of a stereo budget and planning upgrade options three years out in Excel. I join stereo forums and read through thousands of pages of opinions, tests and brochures. Oh is this habit hard to feed.
Looks bleak doesn’t it? As a former wannabe car enthusiast, this habit is a paltry fee compared to so many other hobbies practiced. The money I spent tweaking my stereo system for the past four years still doesn’t come close to that of an average monthly car payment. The next best part of this hobby is I take great care of my equipment and therefore I am able to recoup 50% or better of my funds through reselling on eBay before the next splurge. I actually recouped 64% of the money I spent on my loudspeakers after three years of use, try that with a new car!
Talking about audio quality, there are artists and songs I know I couldn’t stand listening to for 30 seconds in my car. I have a hard time believing that my tastes in music has changed given I listen to my favorite progressive bands as much as ever, yet now I have Nora Jones, Michele Mclaughlin, Lindsey Sterling and Joe Bonamassa in my rotation. Three years ago I never would have had these playing in my car, let alone on my stereo. Why, because I wasn’t drawn to hear a wider range of artists until maturing into this hobby. If my old standby’s sounded so much better, what would others I am unfamiliar with be like and what have I been missing out on – apparently a whole worlds worth. It is in essence an endless game of chasing new sounds, discovering new music and appreciating artists for their efforts. The periphery benefits of relaxing, unloading my stress and lowering my blood pressure are perks. I am addicted to this hobby and I had to share this with you.
5.25.2014 – Update
I had to come back and add a few more musical choices that are excellent finds and I do not see on the internet save for Lindi Ortega. I have very broad tastes in music thanks to this new found appreciation, but I do love certain genre’s much better. I wanted to give some addition press to a few I happen to like cranked up:
- Lindi Ortega from Canada: awesome vocals, she brings a fusion of hillbilly rock and folk country. Her fame is increasing with time. Pick up Cigarettes and Truck Stops, Little Red Boots and Tin Star. If you love 60’s and 70’s country, you will like her modern twist.
- John Kline is a bit more of a progressive musician, while he is a clinical psychologist by day, he is a smooth guitar player by night. He does a few jazz and classical cover songs via guitar that are worth listening to. http://johnnykline.com/bio.html
- Ocoai (Oh-koh-eye) these guys are more for the hard core progressive rock bunch, they describe themselves as more of a ‘post rock’ for which I would agree when compared to the band Explosions in the Sky. This band is out of Tennessee and their sound is a blood pumping, axe dragging on concrete, eerie march to an underground science laboratory…you can find their records on www.missingwords.com
Music Tastes Vary: What is your flavor?
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