I like to joke that it’s the Virgo in me (actually, a triple joke at that—as this magazine’s late founder and astrology buff Harry Pearson once needled me about), meaning that I’ve always been the type to dive deeply into subjects that grab hold of me by both lapels and won’t let go. Even when, maybe even especially when, the subject is one where the rewards are mighty but frequently elusive.
This may explain my long-term love/hate affair with the music dramas of Wagner—so many passages of the most sublime beauty wedded to equally long stretches of—well, let’s just say it—yawning tedium.
It also speaks to my fascination with the wines of Burgundy—a lifelong study in which, at their best, these wines are unlike any other (ethereal, magical, memorable), and yet they so often fall short of such transcendence, cruelly teasing us with what might have been, sort of like a fickle lover.
There’s equally compelling evidence that another affliction—audiophilia—springs from the same well. But let’s face it, this disorder, like everything I just mentioned before, has less to do with one’s astrological sign than it does with something much more basic: the luck—or misfortune, depending on your point of view—of exposure to things that burrow under your skin and at the end of the day bring an inexplicable joy and deep satisfaction to your life.
It is this quest that drives audiophiles like us to spend absurd amounts of time doing what no “normal” person would: tweaking barely measurable changes to speaker placement or to tonearm VTA; obsessively searching for and then cleaning treasured LPs, all the while fretting over the fluids, brushes, and machines employed; toying with accessories that cause laughter (or horror) among our friends; and investing what to most people would seem likewise absurd sums of money in pursuit of sonic nirvana.
And yet…for those who choose to follow Alice down this particular rabbit hole, the musical rewards can be extraordinary—worth every moment and dollar spent—despite the times when things don’t go exactly as planned. Indeed, like many pursuits of pleasure, the audio hobby, too, can be a harsh mistress.
And yet…when things click, when our systems have been tuned to the levels they’re capable of and then pushed to the next level, it’s arguable that a fine audio system is not only deeply gratifying for the aural and intellectual senses, but also a kind of mental and emotional health insurance policy in our current age of global anxiety.