My girlfriend (Holli) comes from a fairly large family. She has her immediate family but also aunts, uncles, cousins and they all basically live in the same town. They are all really good people and I like each one very much.
Recently, her Aunt Pam celebrated her 65th birthday. And they decided, or Holli suggested – I’m not sure which – they all come to Charlotte and celebrate the occasion at one of Charlotte’s oldest, and in my opinion best steak houses, the Beef & Bottle. It went, however, one step beyond that. Someone, and I’m not naming names, suggested the whole group of ten people come first to my house for “hors d’oeuvres” and to hear my audio system. Not only did I agree to have everyone over, I looked forward to the idea. Why? I love to see the reaction on non audiophiles faces when they hear a world class audio system. I never seem to tire of that look of disbelief when hearing music performed on a high performance system when an iPod is likely the norm.
For so many people, and really anyone never exposed to high-performance audio, they don’t really know what to expect. Tell someone not familiar with our little hobby something like “it sounds amazing!” or, “you won’t believe it!” simply doesn’t do the system all that much justice. Before the first time I took the controls of my friend’s airplane I had no idea how exciting it would be, or how much I would enjoy the experience of flying a plane through a blue hole in the clouds. Such is the basic reaction to seeing the faces of someone listen to a song as they never have heard one before.
First came a few celebratory drinks and some delicacies, followed by the house tour and lastly, the audio room. When they saw my audio room, I realized, like most, they had not known what to expect. Most confusing to them were all of these “things” hanging on the walls and even on the ceiling. “What are all these things on the wall?” someone asked. “Those, I replied, are acoustical panels.” I told them they work towards managing reflected sound in the room. Deciding to skip anything technical, after all, they just wanted to hear a song, I did ask several of them to go out into the hallway and say something, then come back in the room and do the same. “Oh, I hear the difference!” was the general consensus of opinion. I told them the panels help make the music more lifelike. That seemed to be a sufficient answer.
I got a particular kick out of the discussion on who first got the listening position. That particular honor went to Pam, since it was her birthday. When the music started, as is my custom, I did not tell anyone what to expect or what they might hear. I took a few requests for music, told everyone what I was playing, and pushed the “play” button on the iPad.
As tempted as I was to crank up the volume and really let the system do its thing, I didn’t. The youngest in the group was 49 and the oldest just over 80. So I wanted to be a little cautious if not respectful. Much to my surprise, it was the oldest person in the room that first asked for more volume. Okay, 80db it is. When that didn’t do the trick, I went a little louder.
We played a wide variety of music that afternoon – classical, rock and roll, country, R&B (in the form of my new “The Very Best of the O’Jays“), and for those of you that may have heard of the term, Beach Music (music to which one might shag, a dance popularized on the South Carolina coast, namely North Myrtle Beach, SC. The “shag” is a form of an older dance, the “Jitterbug.”). I had them change seating positions so each could get a turn in the sweet spot. I had particular fun explaining why they heard music centrally located between both speakers despite the fact there were not any speakers actually in the middle. We talked about hearing music all over the room. Any number of questions. Any number of answers. I’m sure I was sitting there with a big Cheshire Cat grin on my face.
Like many times before, everyone was smiling, laughing, yelling out requests, asking things like “do you have any…” and generally having a good time. We had such a good time we were almost late leaving for the restaurant to make our dinner reservations. Basically, it was a very positive experience for everyone. Without question, especially myself.
To be sure, no one in my audio room that afternoon is going to start assembling a high-performance audio system. In fact, I seriously doubt any of them will ever again hear such a system unless they come back to my house. While they might love what they heard, it is simply not something on their radar. I have not suddenly created ten converts. But that’s fine with me. Such was never my intention in the first place. I’m happy knowing they all now have a better understanding of what is possible and why I have such a passion for my hobby.
Additionally, that afternoon reminded me why I became an audiophile way back in my teenaged years. I helped me to remember why I have now enjoyed this hobby for over forty-five years. It helps explain, if I even needed such an explanation, why I have devoted so much time, effort and most importantly money into the audiophile hobby. I, we all I suppose, do this for one simple reason. For a song.