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Doug Schroeder’s Audiophile Law #3: Thou Shalt Not Quit

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My mind brims with thoughts about enduring, not pertaining to involvement in the audio hobby, but to the habit of finding new gear, putting systems together in an effort to achieve that “work of art”, the realization of a rig that brings us as close as we can to our ideal HiFi experience. This article may push you to determine how important the gear is in your audiophile experience.If it is of extremely high importance, as important as the media it plays, then you cannot quit.
For me the gear has alwaysbeen every bit as important, and in some waysmore important,than the music.In my young years I was directed toward musicianship, but the lure of the technological always redirected me. I had to be forced to practice guitar, but would seek out electronic devices to investigate. I gravitated toward audio systems and from early on I recall spending free time adjusting stereos, radios, televisions, anything with audio, in an attempt to achieve better sound. I can’t begin to count the hours I spent dubbing tapes onto my Nakamichi CR-1A tape deck. Getting the sound correctwas not just an enjoyable pastime, but an obsession.

At one point when I was purchasing second hand HiFi gear I was given a piece of advice. Though it may have been sound counsel for many, I declined to act upon it.I was at a local high-end dealer’s showroom, and was churning about the potential purchase of a component, a “cast off” piece jettisoned by someone with deeper pockets. I asked many questions, was quite indecisive, and sometimes mildly irritated the owner and employees. I was not a source of much revenue for them. In applauding their patience I developed a self-effacing moniker to deflect some of their frustration. I called myself the “Bottom Feeder,” (a term denoting fish which eats from the floor of the ocean/aquarium) and they had so much fun with the name that they joked about it when I appeared there, “Hey! It’s the Bottom Feeder!” They also put up with me since I sent them a couple of Whales(big spenders).

As I was in angst over the purchase, the advice I received was: Let us put together your system. The opinion was that I did not have the competency to assemble the best system for the money. Looking back now, I see they were right. At the time, they did have superior experience. However, had I taken that advice, I doubt that I would be an audiophile reviewer today. I knew that if I handed away the experience of assembling stereo systems I would also hand away the knowledgegained from struggling to assemble them!I was not about to shortchange my growth experiences in audio; I wanted to work my way up to knowing as much as possible about putting together a HiFi system. If I had quit, and stopped developing the rig through trial and error, comparisons of components, and bumping up my budget to reach new consumer ground, the game would have been over. I see systems as challenges, “riddles” to be solved. I would plateau as an audiophile, at least in terms of the equipment. For some that may be a fitting solution to frustration, but for me it would have been the death of my journey as an audiophile passionately involved with the gear.

Instead, I forged ahead, and went through a prodigious amount of components, speakers and cables, so much that I struggle to remember them all. The result? It matured me, expanded my experiences, and gave me a rock solid concept of what I consider to be superb sound. I developed a sense what can (and cannot) be achieved given certain technologies, where the real world boundaries of performance to price lay, what my preferences are in terms of selection of gear, how to make a less-than-stellar system “come alive”, and what types of systems truly satisfy me. For instance, I vacillated for years between dynamic and planar speakers; now I keep them both on hand to enjoy. I would be frustratedif I did not have one or the other. Only though the experience of “longing” for the sound of each technology as I flipped speakers did I realize how important they both were to me. Had I quit my exploring with gear I would have a gaping hole in my enjoyment of the music, and I likely would not know why.

I am currently involved with the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, which asserts that the “exceptional” people we thinkare preternatural are in reality individuals with an extreme amount of experience. They have been given opportunities to exercise talents or abilities in such an extreme fashion that they have become exceptional. The figure of 10,000 hours is used to denote the quota of experience which seems to separate the average from the exceptional in everything from computer programming (Bill Joy) to musicianship (the Beatles). One of the most profound variables in being exceptional is simply how much practice, how much proficiency one develops in their expertise.

I found that to be an enlightening, freeing thought. For most of my life I have thought that some rare people “have it all” in terms of their abilities. Maybe you thought that as well. Rather, there are some people who have been, typically starting at very young age, so immersed in their area of interest that they completely outstrip the mainstream and even the majority of their peers. Their notable skills or abilities are not as much innate, but are what they have lived, a wildly disproportionate amount of their lives devoted to their passion.

This confirms the conclusion that those with “golden ears” are not so much gifted with exceptional hearing, as they are extremely well trained, highly experienced ears. Similarly, reviewers are not people with super-human hearing; some even have tinnitus. What reviewers do have in abundance is experience with systems, dozens upon dozens of systems, hundreds upon hundreds of components, thousands of listening hours, decades of mixing and matching components, countless moments of stereophonic music. The bottom line is that experience is an indispensable element of being an extreme audiophile.

While that may seem self-evident, in the real world everyone needs to decide if and when they will stop. If you are an avid component-ophile overspending, addicted to buying gear, you need to stop. If you are running short on sleep due to extreme listening sessions, neglecting your family or chores, you need to stop. If you no longer have room to store the thousands of discs and albums you keep buying but don’t even listen to, you need to stop (Mediaphilia run amok). If you do not stop the habit altogether, develop a method of accountability so that it is curtailed.

As adults any hobby which is dominating our lives is unhealthy and unproductive. A critical key to my deep involvement in audio is not dueto spending inordinate hours on it daily now, but how much time I have spent on it since I was a young boy. When I was a youth on into single adulthood, components and music dominated my free time. Now, though it is a significant part of my life, it does not overrun other aspects of living. It is not healthy to attempt to “catch up” by neglecting important things now to try and “replace” the time lost.

There is good news, however. Pursuit of your personal ultimate stereo is not unattainable. It is not something, supposing you are mid-life and have only five years of experience, you are damned to never achieve. It will take time, as it took me two decades to gain the experience, find components, research and build a listening room, set standards of extreme performance, and fund the gear. Assuming you are moderating your passion for audio, then do not stop the pursuit of “perfect” systems. (I say “systems” since experience has taught that the skills developed allow one to assemble a variety of great rigs; it’s the growth as an audiophile which coaxes the best out of assembling rigs.) Yes, you can walk away and return later, but face steep expenditures at reentry. There were times when I was “burned out”, tired of churning gear within my price bracket, frustrated with the performance ceiling at the price point. But I kept on, and on, and on… I am extremely thankful today that I did not stop, but continued reaching, growing, learning, pushing to develop myself and the rigs I assemble.

As an audiophile, in terms of the hardware, if you dream of developing the skills to assemble fantastic audio systems, you cannot quit. You canachieve it if, and only if you put in the time and effort necessary. If you quit, it will be almost impossible to accomplish that ultimate objective, creating a system which carries your “musical DNA”, which you find fully satisfying.

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One Response to Doug Schroeder’s Audiophile Law #3: Thou Shalt Not Quit

  1. mansoorkhan says:

    Excellent article, especially the logic on hearing becoming golden through experience more than anything else. May I also add that in addition to remaining sensible in the pursuit of audio nirvana, also know the limits of how much to spend on this hobby as over-leveraging oneself will only detract from the enjoyment that can be had.

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