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Boy Finds Music Again, Part 1 of a Story of Sorts

12-26-2016 | By Justin Weber | Issue 89

boy finds music

I began this story to share the "joy of boy finds music again," but quickly realized that it's a story with more hats than that simple narrative could support. As a first time contributor to audio discussions not made via posts to forums; an introduction is appropriate. I am Justin Weber of ampsandsound, a certified audiophile of the tube and horn persuasion. When not listening to music, or tinkering with new and old ideas, I run my small audio company in which we attempt to realize the promise of tubes, amps, and horn loaded speakers. That is to say, I value an older approach to music reproduction; depending heavily on quality components, physics being on my side, and simplicity of implementation. Horns provide for efficiency, low distortion, and wide frequency response, many of the sonic glories we all seek, but they frequently necessitate large cabinets, sophisticated  crossovers, and higher quality components. By choosing high efficiency speakers, I'm free to promote designs in which output power is secondary to sonic truth. Low output tube designs have a euphonic nature to them, but must be paired with efficient speaker choices as to allow real world use. Despite my steadfast belief in tubes and horns, my interest frequently wanders into the areas of vintage tube amplifiers, single-ended SS designs, and open baffle speakers. Though I run ampsandsound, my full time work is as a mental health therapist in the public sector.

This Thanksgiving I was faced with a few audiophile realities. It had been nearly six months since I was truly satisfied with the sound coming from my personal system. I love to experiment with it, as it serves as my truest test bed, but lately I was not in love with the sound and I was frustrated. We have been developing a mid-tier horn loaded speaker system. As a result I've been making changes to the voicing of the speaker, including attention to the drivers; especially the tweeter and internal wring choices. These adjustments and listening evaluations distracted me from musicality. This was further complicated by my fiddling with cable options for the whole system which prevented me from sitting back and just listening for enjoyment. On Thanksgiving night, all my recent work (hours of dressing cable and completion of the new speaker) began to bear dividends.

I sat with three close friends that had joined my family for dinner. All present were certified audiophiles with their own value set and clear ideas of sonic glory. As we finished installing my new cartridge, Ortofon 2M Bronze, and cued a record, we suspended analysis and just enjoyed the music. This was especially surprising as this group always has opinions, critiques, and suggestions. The net result of these observations and suggestions included me slapping my head in frustration; as they included part truth and part audiophile whimsy. For my part, I knew the sound was right, going through my mental checklist the experience hit all the points well enough that I could again just hear the music, not the system.

As a music lover, the transformative nature of the experience of hi-fi listening is my goal. Music moves me between states of being, and earmarks our lives, including moments of pain, validation, triumph, and other major life events. I have a playlist from my life, songs that have become so closely tied to the events that I can no longer distinguish between them. Bruce Springsteen's "Devils Arcade," Paul Simon's "Under African Skies," and Jimmy Eat World's "Coffee and Cigarettes," each signify a moment in my life, and never include evaluation of sonics or composition of the system playing them. Springsteen's "Devils Arcade" was a song I chose for a memorial to my brother. It said the thing I couldn't at the time, but felt nonetheless. The music lover is me doesn't seek correctness, but feeling.

springsteen

As a manufacturer, I'm confronted with differing realities than as an audiophile. I don't just concern myself with the sonics and musicality, but rather I think of implementation, market positioning, and value propositions. As a manufacturer I assess and value audio equipment differently, rarely allowing for the enjoyment of music; but the consideration of reproduction.

As an audiophile I'd like to describe myself as one seeking musicality, able to enjoy the music, and not pay attention to the sound. In reality this is not true. Flat uninvolving systems bring less joy to me than silence, and as such I more often than not turn off the radio in my car or listen to NPR. I espouse the virtues of imperfection, with systems sounding incredibly musical despite their obvious sonic flaws. Likewise, I've encountered systems which sounded faultless but did not allow the music to move me.  

That Thanksgiving night, I did the analysis passively and quickly, concluding it was right, my system was right, and I was free to just enjoy the music. I was content again. A new level reached, and no imitate desire to lose that feeling or searching for more.  We audiophiles are a strange bunch. Where most people can enjoy music, even as a background task, we make the enjoyment of music the active task, bringing to it our truest selves. I desire a system that is "correct enough" that it's possible to enjoy music, but not so forced or contrived that the enjoyment is lost.  

Following my 6 hours of bliss, a slight hangover of music, liquor, and stuffing, I started my post-Thanksgiving shopping on eBay. Though I found sonic glory, I was thirsty to rediscover it anew and embarked on a different path. Several hours later, I had a beat-up Dynaco MKIV chassis and 15" Audio Nirvana driver heads on the way. ampsandsound is the thought out and tested approach, but eBay, and my personal attempts, are the whimsy that still exists in our hobby today. There are many paths to sonic glory, so it's time to go exploring. 

Justin Weber is the owner of ampandsound.

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