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My Journey Into Audio

07-08-2019 | By Carol Clark | Issue 104

I heard an interesting theory last year at the California Audio Show. Basically, I was informed that women aren't audiophiles because they're not wired that way. It seems boys spend time with their fathers working on cars, taking things apart and putting them back together, and are thus programmed to be gear heads. Girls, on the other hand, spend time with other girls painting their nails, and gushing over boys, and are not at all inclined to listen to stereos. In situations like these, instead of striking back with angry denials, I strive to acknowledge that people are entitled to their own opinions. I may disagree, but I'm not an argumentative type. I will admit, though, that this conversation left me stewing. It seemed very black and white, and it didn't fit with my memories of my youth.

This is not a treatise on how women should be included and recognized as audiophiles. I classify myself as one, but I feel like I started on this journey a long time ago. Merriam-Webster defines audiophile as: a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. Granted, as you will find out, I didn't start with a high-fidelity system, but I was conditioned at an early age to appreciate music, and as time passed, I realized that the better the system, the better the music sounded.

My Journey Into Audio

Christmas 1964, Louisville, KY.

Behold, my first record player, a Show'N Tell, made by General Electric. Also notice the cute coin purse I received that year for Christmas, I was obsessed with both. My dad worked for General Electric for many years, and all of my original record players were from GE. This one, as you can see, was meant specifically to play these record / filmstrip combinations. Both my sister and I were fascinated with them. There was a hard film strip you pushed down inside, and the record and strip were synchronized. Pictures appeared on the screen; it was pretty cool. My favorite was The Prince and the Pauper. After a while I discovered I could play my parents' Beatles 45s on it too. Then, I picked up a broom and played guitar along with the music! In fact, those 45s are on the floor under the Show'N Tell.

Eventually I got a few LPs (see my article HERE about them), and the Show'N Tell couldn't handle them. Back in the 60s people didn't take pictures of anything and everything, so I don't have a picture of the portable record player I received. A random Google search located some pictures on Pinterest with the model GE V636, that looks close enough. The best part was, it was my record player, and I could listen to records in my room whenever I wanted.

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My parents' stereo, Moraga, CA, 1972

Getting back to that whole idea of girls and boys being wired differently, my whole family really loved music. Usually on Sunday afternoons we'd all gather in the living room and listen to music while having a grown-up cheese and crackers snack. My parents had wine, my sister and I had soft drinks. My dad loved jazz, so we listened to Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderly, and lots of Dave Brubeck. My mom loved classical, so sometimes we'd listen to classical records. As you can see, it wasn't a HiFi so much as a fancy stereo. It sounded good though!

The very first concert I ever went to was at the legendary Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I felt very grown up accompanying my mom and dad to see Mongo Santamaria. My parents went to many concerts there, and at Shelly's Manne-Hole in L.A. When I was older, we went to see Brubeck a few times.

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The GE Stereo I received for my 16th birthday.

For my sixteenth birthday my dad excitedly presented me with my first stereo. I have this perfect memory of the day, but sadly no one took a picture. Again, it was a General Electric, turntable on top of a receiver and two speakers. The box was too big to wrap, so he put a blanket over it, and they coaxed our dog Toby up on top as the decoration. I was elated! The main stereo system in our house at the time was in the living room. It had been upgraded from the picture above somewhat, but I thought it was very cool that I could listen to records in my own room, and that they sounded way better than they had on the old record player.

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Christmas 1974, Dallas, TX

As you can see, perhaps I wasn't a typical girl. My sister was thrilled with her curling iron for Christmas that year, but I got records and headphones! Probably because everyone was tired of me playing music so loud.

In the 70s I went to college and worked full time at a department store. Eventually I got to the point where I indulged in "two for Tuesday." Every Tuesday I bought myself two new records. I loved going to the Wherehouse, or Licorice Pizza, and browsing through the bins. One day my sister told me, "Dad thinks you're spending too much money on records." I shrugged and said, "Tell him he should be glad I'm not spending it on drugs."

Eventually there was a confrontation. I'd discovered Chicago, with their album VI, shortly before I got that first stereo when I was sixteen. I liked them so much that I went back and bought I, II, III, IV, and V, and then continued to buy them as they released them after that. My dad approached me and said I had too many albums by one band, and I needed to branch out. I shrugged, went out to the living room and counted his Dave Brubeck records.

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My dad's Brubeck collection.

At the time he had thirteen! I calmly went back to him and announced I was allowed to buy thirteen Chicago records! (The above picture is one I took late last year, he ended up with fourteen altogether.)

Dave and I met in 1979, and started dating in 1980. One of the things that drew us together in the first place was our love of music. Seventeen Seconds came out around the time we started dating. At home I would listen to it on that all-in-one GE stereo with those wacky gray headphones. At his place I was floored with how much better it sounded. Wow! Enter the "high-fidelity system" in the audiophile definition. I longed for that kind of sound too, but I was saving money to buy a car, and couldn't afford a cool stereo system.

When we got married, I quit my job at the department store and moved to Riverside where he lived. We spent the nest egg I'd been saving on furniture for our apartment since he already had a car. It took some time for me to find a job, but I finally did. I came home excitedly with my first paycheck; it was a lot more than I'd ever been paid before. Dave asked what I wanted to spend it on, and I excitedly proclaimed, "Some new stereo gear!" We bought DCM Time Windows, and an NAD 3140 integrated amplifier!

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I thought I should sit by the new turntable as it broke in, Riverside, CA, 1981.

Over the years we lovingly built our system, always together.  It didn't occur to me that stereos were only for men, mostly because I wasn't raised that way. Sure, when I was young, we never had a high-end system, but we always had something. Music was always a central part of my life, and that continued into my life with Dave. There was one memorable occasion when Dave bought gear without me. CD players were all the rage, and he really wanted one. I wasn't convinced, for the silly reason that I really liked my LPs. There was something about the ritual of running your thumb down the edge to release it from its shrinkwrap, the smell of the vinyl, and the full-sized liner notes. I didn't think it would be the same with a CD. One afternoon he tried again to convince me, and I finally caved. It turned out he had bought a player that afternoon. I was more disappointed that I hadn't been there for the purchase than I was that I had caved into the idea.

My Journey Into Audio

The Apogee Caliper loudspeakers were my favorite.

The rest, as they say, is history. Dave and I started our audiophile society in 1993, then launched our magazine audioMusings in 1998. We merged with David Robinson and Positive Feedback in 2002. At the Stereophile audio shows we attended in the 90s in Los Angeles, I remember attending a "Women in Audio" panel, and feeling both impressed, and included. Maybe things were different then, I'm not sure how high-end audio turned into a boy's club, but in the last few years it has certainly felt that way.

In conclusion, this article wasn't meant to be a treatise on letting women claim themselves as audiophiles, it was a history of my journey. I wasn't the typical girl, which is not to say I didn't gush over boys, but for me and my friends, we were more likely to gush over music. I am not the kind to rail at men for excluding women from audio, I'm more the kind to snicker at how silly the notion is. I will always be more interested in the music than the gear, but that is not at all to say that I don't know what all the parts in our system are, or that I won't swoon over our new turntable (HERE). I guess I am the kind of woman who likes to sit in the living / listening room, in the dark, with The Soft Moon Criminal at full blast, relishing not only the music, but the synergy of the components in the system.

If there are others out there who would like to share their journey into audio, especially women, feel free to send them to me here at Positive Feedback ([email protected]) and we will do our best to publish them.