As many of you already know, I became a Hi-Fi Crazy at age twelve, all because of one single experience: My father took me with him to Emmons Audio, in Studio City, California, to “help” (meaning mostly watch, admire, and lend silent moral support to) his friend Mitch Rose as he bought his very first Hi-Fi set. That was back in the days before stereo records, so what we listened to was in mono, and Dick Emmons, the dealer, because Mitch could afford and had expressed a desire to hear “the very best”, played a selection of various kinds of music for us on state-of-the-art-gear, including a McIntosh amp (I don’t remember whether it was an MC 30 or MC 60) and a Bozak B310 “Concert Grand” speaker.
Truthfully, most of what he played was either too “high-brow” or too “low-brow” for my twelve-year-tastes and, as I remember, I was pretty well bored for much of the time. That all ended – MANY things all ended — when he put on a pipe organ record.
I wish I could tell you what he played. Unfortunately, I can’t, although I keep having thoughts that it might either have been something like E. Power Biggs (surely a man well-named) playing Bach (perhaps the Toccata and Fugue in D-minor) or George Wright taking a turn at the “Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ”, and truly slaughtering Tenth Avenue. Whatever it was, whoever was playing had a massive instrument before him and wasn’t afraid to STAND ON its pedals and, with the big Bozak even then capable of real-live 24 Hertz bass, the result was mind-boggling, head-crushing, room shaking, world-destroying, BASS, and, in its power and its glory and its simple gut-shaking REALISM, it changed my life completely and forever.
That was back in the mid-’50s, and I was a kid who had never heard bass before. Really; not once, not ever! Our only music sources at home were a table radio and our television set which, with its small driver in a cabinet with an open pegboard back, wasn’t about to make anything like real bass. The radio in my father’s car was no better, nor was the sound at the local movie theaters and, as a twelve-year-old, I had certainly never been taken to a concert – not even at a venue like The Hollywood Bowl or The Greek Theater, which, being outdoors, probably wouldn’t have had much bass, anyway.
Bass was a whole new thing to me, and on that fateful occasion when I was first exposed to it, the result was a kind of EXCITEMENT that I had never experienced before and that made me a Hi-Fi Crazy even to this very day!
I found no such excitement at the recent T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, California. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the Show, itself, or of its sponsors or organizers; they did a magnificent job of creating an environment and a format for great things to happen. Everything that could have been done to make for a great show and to attract (as it certainly seemed to do) a record crowd was done, and done professionally and well, with innovations and attractions galore! Neither did it seem to be the fault of the show-goers; there were LOTS of them, and they were as committed a group of enthusiasts as I have ever seen.
What it was, at least for me, was the equipment, itself. Please don’t get me wrong, there was certainly a lot of good stuff there, but with only rare exception, almost none of it was as exciting as it was expensive. There were a great many systems, and even a few single products (mostly speaker systems and turntable setups) that were over US$100,000. There were a number of products or systems at the price of a house, and even one single product at the price of a NICE house, while the demo systems that cost, in total, less than the price of a new car, seemed to be few and far between. Given all that, the number of products or systems that I was sufficiently excited by that I would have willingly bought them instead of a car or a house was precisely ZERO.
Most importantly, if I were, today, a twelve-year-old and I listened, now, to what I heard at the Show, I would NOT be a Hi-Fi Crazy tomorrow: NOTHING kicked me in the ears like the pipe organ did on the big Bozak at Emmons Audio all those many years ago; nothing even hinted at changing my life.
There’s been lots of talk and concerned speculation about the future of our hobby and our industry, and any number of us have issued any number of suggestions and more or less informed prognostications about its future – ranging all the way from a coming new audio renaissance ushered in by the headphone revolution to, at the opposite extreme, a future where our industry shares the fate of the electric train industry and is reduced to just a very few dealers selling – at great profit and to their undoubted satisfaction – small quantities of viciously expensive systems to a small, but seemingly enduring, cadre of very wealthy and very committed fans.
Maybe just making it more exciting could forfend all that. Maybe not.
I’ll be writing on this subject again, and offering some thoughts on what we can do – at Shows, at dealer showrooms, and elsewhere — to make our stuff more exciting; more likely to curl some toes; more likely to pry money out of people’s pockets; and more likely to warp twelve-year-olds forever.