Our dear ole publisher asked us to write a short article about “The Joy of High-end Audio.” I’m more than glad to do this, but I must say that I don’t like the term “High-End Audio”; I much prefer the concept of “High Fidelity.” I feel that you can put together audio systems at all different price points that can truly reproduce music in high fidelity. I also want to point out that I have heard lots of high-end systems that I did not find very true to the fidelity of the music.
I fell in love with music as a child. The only live music I heard was at church and marching bands at football games. Truth is I need music and I think most people need music too. Some people become too busy, too serious, too macho, or maybe somehow come to think of music listening as frivolous. Still, most people love music, but most people are not even aware that there is such a thing as “High-End Audio.”
As I said, I fell in love with music as a child. My parents had a black and white TV that had a little record changer in the cabinet with the TV. My warped taste in music probably comes from the weird LP collection I was exposed to as a child. It consisted of Christmas albums they would get as free promotions from gas stations. Then my mother had LPs by George Beverly Shea, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Mahalia Jackson, while my father had Pete Fountain and Al Hurt albums. I listened to these LPs for untold hours. Then I got a transistor radio that was just slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. On this little gem I could pull in the “Big Bam” and listen to the “Devil’s Music” Rock and Roll. It was on this little wonder that I first listened to the Beatles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, many other early rock and roll bands, and untold hours of St. Louis Cardinals baseball as described by Harry Cary.
My parent sent me to a college prep boarding school where my musical taste begin to include Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and many others; then I met Jeff. He wasn’t listening to music over a portable record player. He had an Allied Radio amp, a pair of homemade bookshelf speakers and a cheap Garrard turntable. I noticed that I gravitated to his room to listen to music, even though he wasn’t in my group of friends. I just enjoyed the music more in his room than I did on my own little Panasonic record player.
A few years latter I’m a freshman at Baylor, and I thought I finally had a pretty great stereo. It consisted of a Kenwood receiver, a Pioneer turntable, and a pair of KLH 17s. Then Ken Askew showed up with his Quad 57s, Marantz electronics, and an AR turntable. After hearing Ken’s system, the way I listened to recorded music would never be the same. It was also during my college days that I discovered the writings of J. Gordon Holt in his little rag called Stereophile, and then HP and The Absolute Sound. At the time these were very irregularly published and I would devour them when they showed up two or three times a year.
I wish we could educate the public about how much more enjoyable recorded music can sound without coming across as just being plain weird. People can understand that you can enjoy music more if you spend a little more, but we often make them feel like you can’t have a truly “High-End System” without spending a lot of money and buying a lot of hard-to-understand accessories. I know Itzhak Perlman or Yo Yo Ma are going to play the best instrument they can find. Still there are many musicians who play beautiful music and really enjoy it on far less expensive instruments, but instrument that sound good nonetheless.
I recently helped a friend set up a system built around a rebuilt Peachtree Audio Decco integrated amp and DAC. He purchased a used pair of B&W speakers, and is using his computer as a source. This system cost less than $1,500 if you don’t count the computer he already had. The sound is true to the fidelity of music. He knows there is better, but it’s not where his priorities are. Every time I see him or his wife they talk about how much more they are enjoying music than they had ever dreamed.
Why do some of us spend what sometimes sound like ridiculous amounts of money on our system? The answer is simple. Over the years the sound of reproduced music has become a high priority in our lives, and the great news is with a little work and help we can all find a system that will bring the joy of music into our homes.
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