Audiophilia, explained like you’re thirteen

In 1986, when I was 13, I spent the summer working as a paperboy for a local afternoon newspaper. One monday, a new shop had opened along my route which caught the interest of a 13-year-old computer geek. In big bold words over the door were the word “Hi-fi”, so I walked in to the store.

When I walked inside, along the left side of the room, there were rows of weird and wonderful electronics. “KEF”, “Harman Kardon”, “Mark Levinson” and a bunch of other names I had never ever seen before. Grey and black boxes, all about 19 inches wide, and loudspeakers all along the floor. Brands I had never heard of before – all I knew was Japanese and European consumer brands like Kenwood and Philips. And the somewhat rich, or snobby, neighbour had a Bang and Olufsen music system.

In the inner half right of the room were a huge pair of panels, semi-translucent with a light wooden frame around them, and a gigantic black wooden box situated mid-way between the panels. Music was coming from them.

Wonderful music.

Not that I remember which tune was playing – what I remember was that the speakers gave a sense of the musicians being there. In the room. There was a stage. People were on it. The drummer was sitting at the back, and the bass player was in front of him, and off to the side. The guitarist was in front of him. And centre stage, there was a singer.

I was mesmerized. Up until now, my primary experience with music had mostly been through a mono cassette deck, or when I visited my older brother, through a Kenwood turntable and amp, and a pair of small speakers, placed on the floor, about twenty inches apart. I was awestruck. I had no words. I had absolutely no idea that a stereo system could even do this.

The owner, in his mid to late 30′s, was, given the fairly new status of his shop, quite happy to satisfy my curiosity, would play record after records. Jazz. Rock. Pop. 60′s, 70′s and 80′s music.

He told me to go sit on the big black box between the speakers. I had sort of understood the purpose of the box, but I still wasn’t quite prepared. The big black box was, as the more observant reader will have noted, was a subwoofer. Fifteen inches in a sealed enclosure. I wasn’t quite prepared. He turned up the volume, and my entire body would shake with the rhythm of the kick drum and the bass.

Geir gave me a hobby for life.

In retrospect, his shop was doomed to failure. I grew up in a municipality of 12-13 000 people, mostly consisting of industrial workers – which wasn’t particularily well paid. My paperboy route never allowed me to actually purchase any of his gear, and by the time I had the money, the store was bankrupted and gone.

But, Geir gave me a hobby for life. He taught me that music could be represented in a realistic and engaging way.

At least, he got a free newspaper day for the few years his shop survived.

If you’re wondering what the big translucent speakers were. Martin Logan CLS were their name, and I still long for them.

4 thoughts on “Audiophilia, explained like you’re thirteen

  1. I was in my early 20s and stationed overseas, and I wiled away many an hour with “Stereo Review” and “Audio.” I bought a pair of Polks at the Navy Exchange, but what I really wanted, based just on reviews and the pictures — those lovely lovely pictures — where a pair of Magneplanars.

    When recently asked (jokingly) why buy a set of Magnepans if I could listen to music on my iPhone, my answer was “they were on my bucket list.” Only took me 27 years to get those Maggies! Sadly, Acoustic Research is out of my reach. ;-)

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