It’s the time of year for saving money!
I write for The Absolute Sound. I’m always on the lookout for High End audio news that could be of interest to readers. So, I sat up and took notice when a consensus developed online late last fall that one particular audiophile in central New Jersey had one of the finest stereo systems on earth.
I was familiar with audiodeathstar, as he is known on online forums, from the thread he started titled “MQA Causes Cancer.” As of this writing, “MQA Causes Cancer” runs to 823 pages with 14,450 posts, of which at least 150 are not from audiodeathstar or even one of the eleven other like-minded enthusiasts who contributed. They have names such as cranko, AudioBully, contrarian666, not_taking_meds , and IHateHarley.
I was surprised to learn that audiodeathstar was not, by training or workplace experience, a musician, electrical engineer or recording professional. He was a periodontist–though he was quick to point out that he had performed a root canal procedure on a guy who assisted in the mastering of an early Springsteen album.
After some back-and-forth on the forum where he playfully referred to me as “a lying shill” and “a low-IQ con man hostile to the laws of physics,” I felt we had the beginnings of a relationship and, as I was just an hour down the New Jersey Turnpike in Philadelphia, I PM’d audiodeathstar to ask if I could visit and experience his legendary audio rig. To my surprise, he agreed.
In person, audiodeathstar was not the fire-breathing warrior I’d imagined but, instead, a genial middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a strong smell of Listerine. His real name was Phil, but I had to promise to call him “deathstar” in the presence of other audiophiles. Over lunch, we discussed music–his tastes were remarkably broad, ranging from The Moody Blues to King Crimson to Jethro Tull–and his unalterable belief that the 1969 moon landing was faked.
But he hadn’t forgotten why I’d come and led me to a basement room, to his system…
It was, to say the least, an interesting sight. A substantial portion of Phil’s suburban rancher’s basement had been turned into an anechoic chamber. The décor was spare–there were a few framed Jethro Tull album covers on the wall, a lava lamp, and an artificial tree that seemed to be dying–and seating for one. (When I asked what his wife thought of his room, he looked at me blankly.)
Because Phil had sworn several years ago never to purchase a component recommended by an audio magazine, the gear was unfamiliar to me. I can’t remember all the specifics, but I do recall that the power amps were of Uzbekistani manufacture and his digital source was a circa 2005 Dell OptiPlex GX280 desktop, modified according to instructions provided online by a “genius” named Michelangelo. His speakers were enormous DIY affairs, with 11 drivers per side–different ones for the right and left channels.
My expectations were…I don’t know whatmy expectations were but I had to hear this thing. “What do you want to play for me?” I asked, preparing to settle in for “Knights in White Satin”. Phil stopped in his tracks. He turned to me: “Oh, I don’t listen to music down here,” he said. “I put together this system based entirely on spectral analysis plots and rigorous double blind testing. We learned this from the MQA debacle: It doesn’t matter how people think it sounds. Any competent electrical engineer can tell you that MQA-processed masters can’t possibly sound better than regular files.” Phil continued. “When this system was new, I had some guys over to hear it and nobody seemed to enjoy themselves much. Me neither. But when I told Michelangelo how I’d assembled it, he told me I had a world-class stereo, a dream system.” He beamed. “I come down to look at it a few times a week.”
His demeanor changed suddenly and Phil turned towards me, his Listerine-scented face inches from mine. “You guys–you subjectivists,” he sputtered, returning to his audiodeathstar persona. “You spew out that flowery language about ‘air’ and ‘continuity’ and ‘grain’ and ‘soundstage depth’–Phil was making so many air quotes I was starting to get dizzy–“and it’s all bullshit. Snake oil. Confirmation bias. Voodoo science…P.T. Barnum…Rich idiots….” Phil’s voice, rising in pitch and volume, increasingly became a harsh blur and at some point, I stopped listening. These were familiar tropes.
Fifteen minutes later, heading south on the Turnpike, it occurred to me that this hobby of ours is actually several hobbies. Some of us got started as kids building rudimentary amplifiers from kits and are forever intrigued with the correlation between circuit design, parts quality, and sound. Others are music-lovers who wonder why listening to recorded music at home invariably falls short of the concert hall or club experience and set out to close the gap.
The audiophiles I’m most comfortable with are those interested in that point of intersection between art and technology.
But there are other motivations for declaring yourself an audiophile. It can be an expression of conspicuous consumption.
Though a Maserati is probably a better choice, you will turn at least a few heads with 500-pound loudspeakers sporting a one-of-a-kind Urushi lacquer finish, driven by a pair of monoblocks that go for roughly the cost of a Calibre de Cartier Flying Tourbillon.
Some, generally online and anonymous, love controversy and their goal is simply to stir up trouble, attack popular ideas, and personages associated with an avocation that’s supposed to be fun. They use terms like audiofools…
For me, the antidote to my afternoon with audiodeathstar came a few days later, the monthly meeting of my local audio society–50 guys taking turns listening to the host’s system and, mostly, hanging out over sandwiches and beer to share their enthusiasms. If I ever do see Phil again, it will be for gum disease and not for anything audio-related.
But I have started flossing twice a day…
You could have made like an anonymous troll and saved the time and the bandwidth and just distilled this down to its base point… Phil the objectivist is wrong and his system sucks. Doesn’t make you look as smart or as kind when you use troll speak, but it’s much more to the point.
But Andy’s take on it is more entertaining…IMHO…
Andrew I have to imagine that was an interesting afternoon. Just goes to show you “audiophiles” come in all types!
Andrew, there are a lot of reasons to visit New Jersey. For me here’s the best one Rock, Ribs and Ridges. I will get on plane and go this year. Great event, music, food and a chance to catch up with friends.
MQA causes cancer? Good to know my opposition to MQA is really the middle ground because I’ve certainly enjoyed the crazy folks supporting it.
It should come as no surprise that no one is enjoying this guy’s system. If the system uses different drivers for the left and right channels, it’s not designed according to established scientific and acoustical principles. While the fact that there’s a wall to which a Jethro Tull poster can be affixed shows that his room is a long ways from being anechoic, the description suggests that he’s using an excessive amount of absorptive acoustical treatment — a practice that scientific research warns against. Presenting this guy as representative of so-called “objectivists” is a straw man. If the representation presented here is accurate, he’s someone who claims scientific justification for his positions and equipment choices without actually having read the science. If you visit a true “objectivist” who’s taken the trouble to familiarize him/herself with the research (even just by reading a few chapters of Floyd Toole’s book), you’d probably find they have an affordable system that outperforms most of the much costlier systems you hear at audio shows.
So, a fake objectivist using “science” to make themselves feel better…gee, that never happens… 🙂 Like most areas of conflict, the center (a mix of objectivist info and listening) is the point of greatest validity…IMHO…
Satire. It’s not for everyone.
Brent, I consider this satire. I consider myself very fortunate because I was taught audio by engineers who cared about sound. And I’ve met all the people who designed the components of my home and office systems including Paul Klipsch and Roy Allison. I want two sounds the office and home are voiced differently. They have made me happy for a time span measured in decades.
People are always surprised at the low cost of the systems and that they are unobtrusive.
Andrew, this article is one of the funniest that I’ve read in a long time! I laughed so hard. Thank you.
This was my favorite line: ” I felt we had the beginnings of a relationship…” 🙂
Wait… am I the only one who assumed this was fiction? Kind of like Herb Reichert’s “Mr. O” in his review of an Emotiva amplifier in Stereophile about a year ago? I assumed this was a clever “fuck you” to objectivists.
Not objectivists who are legit, but those who use the term as a way to trash other’s opinions and practices from the comfort of their keyboards…and the antidote is face to face communication…
Audiodeathstar has found himself in a Kafkaesque trap. His pursuit of audio perfection has led him to a place absent of audio. Read Kafka’s “The burrow” to fully embrace deathstar’s dilemma. Absurdist tragedy of a high order.