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How A Pandemic Changed High Performance Audio

Paul Wilson looks back at audio during the pandemic of 2020… and beyond…

When history looks back on 2020 and however much longer Covid 19 occupies our minds in 2021, I suspect remembrances will encompass the fear arising from the spread of a virus. I’m guessing there will be mention of how we shut down most of our entire economy for more months than many would have ever imagined. Maybe there will be reference how city streets, highways and interstates were mostly devoid of cars. And of course, it will talk about people getting sick and those who tragically passed away. 

I seriously doubt any mention whatsoever about how audio changed will occur. 

When pretty much everything was closed, and very likely out of boredom, I visited my local Lowes and Home Depot about once a week – sometimes more. I wasn’t really looking for anything, not usually anyway, I was just passing time in one of the few places open. I looked at appliances, lighting, hand tools, power tools (a few of which I did buy) and did so not with any intent of an immediate purchase. Call it planning for the future – planning for the day the washing machine actually did kick the bucket. What amazed me most was every time I went to either store, the parking lot was almost full, and the place was packed with people whom I imagine were doing the same thing I was doing. Killing time. 

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with my audio system. Listening sessions, just several months before, lasting only an hour or two suddenly lasted three or four. On days starting out with no real impetus to leave the house, I found myself in the audio room, no shower, unshaven, listening to music I ordinarily wouldn’t because the day before I already played all my favorite songs. It was, generally speaking, on those days I eventually took a shower and went to Lowes. I got to know the store better than the stock boy. 

I would call my circle of audiophile friends and talk about the hobby, anything new they had tried, anything new I had tried, and passed music recommendations back and forth. Trucks left packages with CD’s and LPs on my doorstep more times than I can count. I went through my music library on Roon and made sure everything was correct – things like artist and album name, artwork, anything I felt was wrong. I experimented with different settings on my DAC and phonostage. I checked my cartridge with my Fozgometer. I rearranged how I store my LPs, twice even. Moving speakers and subs around almost became a pastime and not a search for an optimized position. All were an effort to obviate boredom. 

In talking with several dealers, I was told 2020 was one of their best years ever in terms of equipment sales. I suppose our hobby is one that is, to a point anyway, pandemic proof – as such, many audiophiles could afford new equipment even though the pandemic had brought about economic upheaval. All of a sudden that legacy amp no longer sufficed.  A replacement was in order. I myself made hardware upgrades to my music server, brought in a new set of speakers, and moved things around so often I almost got dizzy in the effort. And I consider what I did as very minor. Some almost completely replaced their entire system. 

I have talked with people who have categorically informed me that they simply do not have the time to sit in a chair in a room and listen to music. They are too much on the go and if music is played and listened to at all, in any respect, it will be by means of a portable player. Those with such resolute opinions will hardly be convinced to try a home-based system. They are best left to their own devices. Audiophiles, it would seem, have a differing posture on how music is best enjoyed. We listen at home. How likely is it that Covid based boredom provided a catalyst for new equipment? 

Eventually, as pandemics throughout history have all done, Covid-19 will hopefully come to an end.  While some states and areas of the country still suffer, others are doing very well. My home state of North Carolina, and the neighboring state of South Carolina have both returned to normal operation. Stores, restaurants shops, stadiums, sports venues are all open to full capacity. Mask mandates have ended. Only busses, trains and planes, as mandated federally, still require a mask. Basically, NC is back to life before Covid. Finally. At long last. About time!

So how will the Covid 19 pandemic be judged by audiophiles? How will those who chose to comply with shelter in place mandates view this time from an audio system standpoint? Will Covid be remembered as “that year” when my system got a complete transformation? Or will it be remembered as the year I spent a lot of time looking at washing machines I didn’t need? 

How Covid may be remembered will be very different to many people. Some will judge more harshly than others. For me, it did have its moments, like the early mornings during shelter in place I took my Maserati out on empty highways and interstates and had an absolute blast. Or the days I spent discovering new music. Or that new, better sounding speaker position I found. Or the sub placement that sounded positively horrible. Oh well, it was an experiment and not all of them work. 

Covid-19 will be remembered in many ways. For audiophiles, I suspect it will be remembered as the “year I really got to know my system” – however and to whatever extent that occurred. For a hobby all about music and its accompanying equipment, you can’t go wrong there. 

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