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Now Hear This
COVID reawakens my audiophile sensibilities.
Here’s the short story: I just plunked down a few ducats to make my home life more comfortable. If you are anything into audiophilia, you’ll understand the next few short paragraphs.
I started this trek by replacing the cheesy $20 DAC I have been using on my TV. The Modi made such a stunning difference in the clarity of the midrange and highs as well as the stereo imaging and bass tightness that it sounded like I had new speakers.
So I committed to getting the Schiit. Now it was just a question of headphones. I thought long and hard about going with some Grados but they were never very comfortable. I also considered the Massdrop, but since I was confident that I wanted the Magni, I went with the planars.
With this big step up in listening quality, a whole lot of music I couldn't be bothered with sounds much more interesting. So happy.
The Rest of the Story
I have been working from home for almost 10 years now. I absolutely love that cloud computing, in which I am a data engineer, allows me to do this. I learned long ago, however, that it accentuates my need to get out and about. Living in Los Angeles gives me plenty of opportunities to do so, well it used to. After over 130 days in quarantine, I have turned inward towards things I do well at home, and things I could do better at home. One of those things involves mixing elaborate cocktails, the non-exclusive other is listening to good music.
Long ago, I sold stereo in Los Angeles. My friend Phil and I could tell all kinds of stories about the golden age of the audiophile in the late 70s and early 80s. There was literally a guy who became a celebrity as the character of Fred Rated. I became fluent in all of the arcane details of sound reproduction as well as the art of selling the high tech of the day, microphones, speakers, turntables, tonearms and blank cassettes. This was almost as fun as turning up the knobs, adjusting the EQ and blasting Closing Statement from Stanley Clarke’s Modern Man on the Soundcraftsmen + JBL setup. I actually took the entrance exam at a renowned studio engineering school in Hollywood. Ultimately, computer programming tugged at more of my heartstrings than professional studio mixing, but they they do still resonate when people talk about total harmonic distortion. Recently, rethinking my listening got my heart doing some wow and flutter.
At the beginning of this year I didn’t know Schiit, but as an engineer there was something about their attitude that caught my attention. I was in the middle of a near perfect deal that had me shopping in anticipation of a big payday that became another tragedy of this pandemic. I was considering the possibility at long last of getting The System I always dreamed of back in my 20s. Things have gotten very digital since then, and although I still have a stack of vinyl, most of my library has been ripped from CDs or purchased directly from Amazon and Apple. The Shiit catalog as well as a particular subreddit told me that I need to consider a DAC. I hadn’t long considered that electronics to convert digital to analog were subject to more than the smallest bit of electronic genius. It made perfect sense however that slower and cheaper components in simple circuitry would not only be noisy but make transcription errors that degrade fidelity.
What I did know was that my appetite for new music had been severely constrained by the commercial realities of the streaming audio business. I still cringe when I think about the time I asked Pandora for some jazz and it gave me Adele, twice. Rdio, a previously sophisticated streaming service out of the UK went out of business and that left me with my own rather large library, but no good way to get into new music that would interest me. It helps to know that I am an overthinker, and also a massive content ingestor. I’m the kind of person who, having discovered a new author I find interesting, is likely to go back read their entire body of work. Nobody gets away with fewer than three books. So I spoil myself on the best stuff I can find, which reminds me that I have to get more William Manchester. But it also means I hate wasting my time going through the vast digital wastelands. Amazon Music bears too much resemblance to Costco. Apple Music to NPR. Then one day, having decided I want to try FLAC and hifi streaming audio, I found Qobuz.
It didn’t take long once I decided to seriously hike the audiophile trail, and what a revelation. Qobuz actually has music critics that write with nuance, sophistication and experience. They’ve been around for 13 years and I really like what they’ve done. I highly recommend their music service.
To be continued…