Right from the very first audio-industry show I attended with SoundStage!, the 2001 Son et Image show in Montreal (now called Montreal Audiofest), I found myself extremely dissatisfied with the music at these events, both in terms of what exhibitors would play and showgoers would request. How can you possibly gauge a system by listening to a solo flute? And why would anyone wish to inflict it on a room full of strangers?
“When I’m too old and feeble to stop you, you’re probably gonna sell my record collection, right?”
“You need to harden up,” SoundStage! editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz told me a few years back. At the time I was complaining about the rigors of reviewing. My complaint at the time possibly centered on having to move a heavy amp. Or maybe it was because I had to actually visit the post office to mail a component. I forget the exact scenario.
I don’t visit stereo stores very often. As a reviewer, gear ships to me, so I don’t need to scratch the itch to visit stores to see new stuff. Another reason is that, when I do walk into a store, I feel vaguely guilty. The salesman is trying to earn a living—he’s trying to sell product, and I’m most definitely not buying, so it seems wrong for me to take up his time.
It’s a cruel joke. It’s the gods laughing at us. The lovers of LPs—I hesitate to call us record collectors—are the most tightly wound subcategory of audiophiles. We fuss and obsess over the tiniest variations in cartridge alignment, hundredths of a gram in tracking force, single degrees of VTA. And the irony of it is we’re subject to—at the mercy of—the smallest, invisible particles of dirt lodged into record grooves. We can clearly hear dirt and contaminants that we can’t even see.
Just recently, I received two fairly large boxes courtesy of FedEx. In and of itself, this is not a newsworthy happenstance, as non-Amazon packages arrive at the Thorpe residence with some frequency. Frequent deliveries are the blessing and the curse of the reviewer. Being a fairly materialistic male—or a gear whore, as my friend Neil calls me—the blessing part is obvious. I just loves me some box opening. The curse? Well, each component that arrives also has to leave, so I can’t just rip everything open like my daughter does on Christmas morning. No, I have to note the orientation of each bag, document, piece of foam and wire, and remember how everything fits together. I learned my lesson years ago, and now I take photos of each step of the unboxing so I can reassemble it all when it’s time to return the product to the manufacturer or distributor.
My neighbor and fellow audiophile, Ron, let slip that he had a busted Shelter 901 cartridge sitting in a box. Seems that the cleaning lady was dusting his turntable a bunch of years ago, and she got a little too aggressive with the cloth. Ripped the cantilever clean off.
About 40 years ago, I used to hang out at the Harkness house after school. It was the kind of place I want my daughter to be able to hang out in when she gets into her teenage years—a house full of creativity, music, art, and positive energy. There were five siblings, one of whom is still an extremely close friend and another who is now the musician known as Harkness.
My neighbor Rob is a vinyl guy. He’s always been a music guy, but over the past few years, the vinyl resurgence has really energized his love of physical media, and he’s enthusiastic and happy to chat about the format—both about LPs and the means by which to store, clean, and play them.
During the long, grinding lockdown here in Canada, so many have had and still have it way worse than our family. All four of us (including the dog) are healthy, and Marcia and I remain gainfully employed. I thank our lucky stars that we’ve been, so far, unaffected by anything other than boredom and monotony. All I have to gripe about are the first-world problems of the affluent.
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