Written by 4:15 am Audiophile

How an Audio System Is Like a Restaurant

Paul Wilson looks at the process of listening and how it relates to eating…

My hometown, the place of my birth, was by any practical admission emblematic of small town America. Up until the late 1970’s the chief industry was textiles. Cotton mills produced everything from yarn to finished, dyed fabric used to be sewn into clothing, draperies or other similar products. There was a small regional college and life was basically the same as in most any location of similar size.

AR-Fast-Food.jpgDining in my hometown had numerous possibilities, up to a certain point. There were fast food establishments in abundance. No surprise there. There were diners, or restaurants I love to classify as a “meat and three.” You know the place, your friendly waitress knows how you take your coffee and tells you about the specials of the day – usually involving a meat selection and a variety of vegetables. And perhaps lastly, there were the “neighborhood” family style places – those big corporate entities you see advertised on TV all the time. At various times, I’ve eaten at any of the three different types and honestly, I enjoy them all.

Someone once asked a very good family friend about the dining availability in my hometown. Her reply was, I thought, pretty interesting. She said “we have lots of places to eat, but no place to dine.”  Think about it, the difference lies in the experience. If your goal is to stop your stomach from growling, fast food can make that happen. If you want a dining experience with gourmet, exquisitely prepared meals, ambiance and incredible service, you need to look beyond a fast food place or a meat and three.  

AR-Sub-Cpmpact.jpgIf I need to go from point A to point B, sure, I can do so in a sub compact car. Hop in the driver’s seat, turn the key, and drive away. Really simple. I can also do the same thing in a Ferrari. Technically, a sub compact and a Ferrari are both cars, however I highly doubt anyone would consider them as necessarily being the same.

Anyone whose expressed mission is to get from point A to point B can most assuredly do so in a sub compact. Anyone who buys a Ferrari is not solely looking for a vehicle to travel between destinations. They want, crave even, an automobile that provides a memorable driving experience. Its not so much the act of getting from one place to another that’s predominately important for a high performance sports car owner – its how they get there that’s the thing. Just as the restaurant example, it is all about the experience.

AR-iPod.jpgA few weeks ago, while out to dinner with friends, someone asked me, “Paul, what’s with all this stereo stuff? What’s the big deal? She told me that if all she wanted to do was hear a song, that could be done with an iPod and some cheap ear buds. One certainly doesn’t need to spend a ton of money on some expensive, overblown stereo system.

I’ve, well, we’ve ALL heard this argument before. That enduring justification of why an audiophile is an audiophile. What is it about hearing a song that is so special that it requires all this effort, determination, exotic equipment and most importantly, money? It’s not a question easily answered to the uninformed, nor will it ever be one.

So when my friend asked me what was the big deal, everyone’s eyes sort of turned my way. Well, let’s say that’s how it appeared to me. My explanation was simple. My friend and her husband, like myself, enjoys a gourmet restaurant from time to time. So she knows the difference between grabbing a bite to eat and going out for a “dining experience.”

AR-Gourmet-Restaurant.jpgI told my friend that sure, if all I wanted was to hear a song, I could accomplish that with an iPod and some cheap earbuds. Shoot, I could probably do so with fifty bucks and a visit to a Wall Mart  to purchase a cheap Mp3 player. My goal was not about hearing a song. My goal, much like attending a live concert, was about the experience AND listening to music. It’s the emotional connection that the sound system creates and how magnificent the music sounds. THAT’S what I’m after. I’m not looking for someplace to eat; I’m looking for someplace to dine.

High performance audio is not, in my opinion, chiefly about the simple task of hearing a song. It is about the act, perhaps even the art of listening to music, and all that process entails. It is also about the equipment and how it relates to that listening experience. And just as fast food will never be a gourmet dining experience, hearing a song on an iPod and cheap earbuds will never replace listening to music on a high performance audio system.


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