Random Noise 8: You Are an Audiophile

[A version of this piece appeared first in OnSoundandMusic.com. As ever, we thank the publisher and editor for their kind permission to post it in La Folia. M.S.]

Mike Silverton

[September 2004.]

You are an audiophile. And there’s nothing to apologize for. Nothing!

But what does it mean, “You are an audiophile”? The world! For a start! It means that you have gone to extraordinary lengths — extraordinary, I say! — to achieve perfection. You’re not there. One never is. It’s the striving that counts. That sets one apart. That deeply and truly matters.

And what would it be, exactly, this striving? A deceptively innocent question obliges you to sit back, strike a thinking man’s posture, and ponder. Where to start? At the basics would be good.

You have spent what your peculiarly judgmental psychiatrist would consider an indecent amount of money on a front end, amplification and speaker system. Which is why you never mention it. She’s not an audiophile. She wouldn’t understand. You have committed yet another indecency on cabling: enough to buy a perfectly serviceable used car. And not only that, you’ve instructed your electrician to provide dedicated lines for the electronic components.

You have even entertained the possibility of those silver-plated copper grounding spikes a profoundly audiophilic acquaintance recommends that you plant in your cellar floor. Never mind that the electric service coming into the house is already on its own grounding line. Never mind how the electrician pointed out that the audiophile outlets you had him install don’t really offer floating grounds. “See here where the ground strap connects?” Yes, my good fellow, I see how that operates in your universe. Permit me to dwell in my own.

No one’s a saint. You relish those moments of one-upmanship. In discussing your discrete, audiophile-outletted power lines with an audiophile friend, you smile your smug smile, to yourself, quietly, as he explains how, in his old, electrically challenged apartment building, installing dedicated lines would be impossible. Well, impractical anyway. Life, which is good, just got better.

But you decide withal against the silver-plated copper grounding spikes. In order for them to do their clearly superior thing, your profoundly audiophilic chum mentions how they require moistening about as often as Best Beloved sprays the indoor ferns. There’s a line you want not to cross. Yes, even you. No electricity involved. Purely figurative.

But you do apply that highly recommended silver contact paste to every possible termination, including your audiophile power cords’ prongs. And you have positioned those gelatinous pads under the speaker cables in order to get them off the floor. And you’ve set your electronic components, including the line conditioner — of course there’s a line conditioner! what were you thinking? — on the finest, most effective isolation platforms money can buy. And you’ve seen to it that the listening room, in point of prideful fact your home’s front parlor, is amply provisioned with furnishings, along with as many acoustic-friendly flourishes as good taste permits. Does it get any better than this, you ask.

Were it not for Best Beloved with whom you share your bed, it’s entirely possible that lovely audiophile groupies would be queueing up at the door, willing to do anything for a few minutes in the sweet spot. Anything. Something to run back and forth through the imagination, anyway. In the buff.

Best Beloved’s monogamous standards account for the groupie drought. But the dinner guests, and the folks who drop in, and the passersby.… Have you somehow irked Providence? Has Destiny dictated that no one should care about the contact enhancer, about the isolation platforms, about the power cords…? About how the goddamn system sounds?!

Well, there are the odd questions. “What are those things?” Power amplifiers. Monophonic. One for the left side, the other for the right. “Two amps. Far out. They look like radiators. And those things that look like robots. I guess they’re the speakers.” Radiators and robots. Eighty-six this idiot! “I bet those speaker cables could jump-start a tank.”

And there, for the most part, is where curiosity trails away. You’ve yet to hear anyone say, “That’s an amazing collection. Have you Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs? Really?! Would you mind playing it?” Your response to a request for a few tracks of Paul Anka’s Top Twenty is twofold. You don’t have it, and if you did, it would probably sound like shit. You actually do say shit. Your patience has worn that thin. You don’t care if these bozos never come back.

The unkindest cut of all: when a guest, and this happens mostly at the dinner table, asks you to put on something nice and quiet for background. Choking back the bile, you mention as off-handedly as your homicidal rage permits that once upon a time the nobility and wealthy burghers called this kind of thing Tafelmusik. One wants to stay a step ahead.

Shall I join you in a lengthy sigh?