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A Personal History of Audiophilia

In the long summer days around high school, we used to get stoned and wander into the local hi-fi stereo showroom. Without a car, it was the closest thing we had to a record store. We’d stroll through, pretending that we might actually purchase a $10,000 quadrophonic laserdisk player, but our cover was blown when we’d stare at a giant Blaupunkt amp pulsate on and off for far too long. Eventually, once the store cleared out of other shoppers, the pony-tailed salesman would feel generous and let us sit in the demonstration room and give us a bit of the hi-fi spiel. “Multi watt channel, surround system, banana leaf speaker cones…blah blah blah…” These are all great things, but in the store they had a total of four albums to listen to all of this on (Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Tubular Bells, a Beethoven collection, and that ‘70s album with the waitress on the cover). They wouldn’t listen to anything that couldn’t be produced on gold cds because the oxidation could affect sound quality.

When we returned another time to see if they would play a CD we brought—I think it was something uncontroversial like A Love Supreme—they let us in, but seemed to roll their eyes at the music as if to say “why would you listen to anything that hasn’t been remastered to death?” They then kicked us out under the pretense that paying customers were waiting to hear The Great Gig in the Sky one more time. It seemed a sad, expensive, little corner they had painted themselves into, and we never went back.

» Listen to Pharoah Overlord—Slow City

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I’ve lost track with the world of hi-fi audophilia. I imagine at this point the new generation vinyl fetishists who appreciate good fuzz and grit can afford ridiculously overpriced sound systems to play Shellac records at full blast with no hiss, pop, or flutter. Personally, there’s a whole world of animistic ur-drone that I’d love to hear through a good sound system; there’s an opportunity for somebody to open up a hi-fi store that caters to that musical segment. It will go bankrupt within a week, but the precedent will be set.

» Listen to Shellac—Kittypants

* * *

About 10 years ago, I went to see the Flaming Lips’ audio experiment called Zaireeka. It’s the one where four people sit in a circle with their own boombox playing a giant swirling cacophonic blend of sound that builds on top of the others until everybody vomits in unison. A great idea, but it was an overdose of effect. At the end of the night, all I wanted to hear was the smallest, quietest music possible as some sort of counterbalance.

» Listen to Look Blue Go Purple—Safety in Crosswords

* * *

The whole concept of stadium rock concerts really seems so foreign to me nowadays. I still remember them being fun at times, but the idea of somebody getting on stage to emote or sing nonsensical lyrics to thousands of screaming fans becomes ludicrous from a distance. That plus the sound was always terrible. Gigantic speakers echoing against bleacher seats, watery bass, and completely inaudible vocals. I sometimes wonder if maybe it was all intentional to confuse and distract everybody from realizing that there was no chance the lead singer was going to emote onstage in front of 50,000 people no matter how much he or she made off ticket prices. If only they could get their echo on a better level they could effect a better stadium-level acoustic reverberation.

» Listen to Panda Bear—Comfy in Nautica at The Yellow Stereo

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