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Positive Feedback ISSUE 7
june/july 2003


The Real World Audiophile: Essay Number One
by Gary L. Beard


Anyone who has paid attention to either my reviews or my Audio Discourse articles knows that, although I have been a music lover/collector for most of my life, my serious foray into high end audio only began in 1999. I am a babe in the woods when it comes to reviewing, but I take its duties seriously, and believe that my ears are sound and my opinions valid. Anyone who thinks longtime reviewers haven't earned their stripes has never tried to take a collection of thoughts and feelings about an audio component and put them into words. It is a tough job, my friends—fun (sometimes) but tough. I tip my hat to the senior reviewers.

I began my association with PFO out of a love for writing more than anything else. I have always loved writing, but never had an outlet for it until the Internet gave a voice to the frustrated amateur writers of the world. I even tried my hand at my own audio website for a while, complete with editorials and music and equipment reviews. Jeeze, what a lot of work! I had 650-some-odd hits before I wore myself out. I have learned quite a lot since, and the "articles" I wrote in those nave days make me chuckle when I read them now. I suspect that that will always be the case. I hope you will find some commonality in my introspection, as I struggle to meld my love for the insanely expensive, always entertaining world of high end audio with the rest of the world in which I live. Hopefully you'll find a few laughs and perhaps a scathing barb or two along the way, so without further ado, welcome to Essay Number One of The Real World Audiophile.

The Sublime and the Ridiculous—Audio in the Real World

Audiophile tastes run the gamut from do-it-yourself speakers and components costing little more than the cost of their materials to out-of-this-world exotica built to the standards of a Ferrari, with prices to match. Without any evidence to back me up, I'd guess that most of us fall somewhere between those two points. I will go out on a limb far enough to say that most of us have spent far more money on audio than we intended to, and perhaps should have. My desire for improving my system has at times overshadowed my listening, but I have recently tried to temper that desire by reminding myself that, in audio, as in everything else in life, there is always something I want that I can't have, and something that I have that someone else would love to own. This is the nature of consumerism.

One night, after a particularly ugly bout of "wanna, needa," I showed my wife a picture of the living room of one particular PFO team, saying, "See, honey, they have lots of gear on nice racks and mondo speakers in their living room. So whadya think, can I do that, too?" A deadly silence permeated the air for what seemed like an eternity. My decidedly non-audiophile spousal unit, a woman of uncommonly good nature, the mother of my children, and my life partner for 22 years, said, "No freakin' way, dipstick! Be happy with what you've got!" With that, my last hope of a dedicated listening room faded. One of my duties as a loving husband, father, and male role model for my son is to desire toys I can never have. It's my job, and I take it seriously.

As I have noted in other musings here at PFO, my listening room is not particularly special. My house is small, and unearthing a space dedicated for audio has been a challenge. The good news is that my aforementioned spousal unit has been as accommodating to my audio anality as any normal human could. She even allowed me to take over the lion's share of our master bedroom's sitting area to set up my two-channel system. The room is now a maze of homebrew racks, cables, and the odd subwoofer, and don't forget my Merlin TSM-Ms sitting atop a pair of black Osiris supports like sentinels in the middle of the floor. After many hours of study and contemplation, I have learned to use these items to their fullest, audiophile-approved, snake oil best. Ingenuity is the mother of all audio invention.

First, there is the laundry list of vibration control and sound absorption tweaks. Subwoofer vibration control is achieved by the "SOB" (Stacks of Bills) method. When properly positioned, the SOB method provides tighter, more focused bass response. First-reflection anomalies on the closed side of the room are damped by a cutting edge innovation you may have seen on a certain Sunday afternoon infomercial. The "TG" Sound Wave Damping Module works wonders, and when not in use, it doubles as an effective exercise device! I've been told that Christy and Chuck swear by it.

Invisibility of a tweak is usually a good thing. Non-audiophile spouses enjoy that approach as well, and to that end, on the side of the room that is open to the bedroom, I have found an innovation that draws on an old speaker design, the folded horn, for inspiration. It's called the Tri-Folded Partition, and while not a horn (or a speaker), it is big and made of wood. Primarily utilized for component and cable shielding, it makes most of my rack "invisible" by hiding it.

The most visually imposing tweak in my listening room is the vaunted Dis-array Reflection Echo Sound Stability Enhancement Renderer (aka the DRESSER). Poised against the back wall, smack between the speakers, the looming presence of the DRESSER really makes the sound of my system come alive. (Actually, I was told that if I tried to get rid of it, I'd be dead.) It's a great tweak, particularly with the Reflection Control Panel (a bed pillow in front of the mirror, for you non-techies) installed for increased image depth.

Lastly, my lovely wife came up with a very useful and beautiful way to protect the dust cover of my MMF-7 turntable from scratches and dust (in audio, redundancy rules). It's been christened the "GROSS" Cover (Grandma's Rose Silk Scarf), and is not only a great, cheap tweak, but also honors the matriarch of the family, who for many years wore this scarf to protect her delicate top from damage. As a side note, I owe my dear departed grandma a thank you for my good ears. One Sunday, while eating Sunday dinner at my grandparents' house, I distinctly remember Grandpa mumbling something about the pot roast being tough, when suddenly, out of the noisy kitchen, Grandma's voice blurted out, "I heard that, you old poop!" Okay, maybe not…

Since taking my system to such lofty heights, I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment I've spent listening to it. I have attempted to make my little corner of the sandbox a place where my wife also feels comfortable. So far she prefers the living room, but I continue my attempts at conversion. All in all, things have worked out marvelously. I am very happy, and she is proud of her involvement in the transformation of our room into a sanctuary for musical enjoyment. Every audiophile spouse should be so lucky.