It would seem that I am one of about a dozen people on the planet still using a home stereo system. Okay … I know that number may be a bit exaggerated. But it can’t be that far off.
I base this theory on the conversations I have with people (usually under 35) every day. I tell them I’m headed to my favorite record store to add to my ever-growing collection, and they seem perplexed. “Are you telling me you still buy music?” they ask. Of course, I reply. “You actually buy CDs?” they ask. And LPs from time to time, I reply. “Well, what do you play them on?” they ask. I play them on my home stereo, I reply incredulously. What else would I use?
The concept fails to sink in. “You know you can just download the music to your computer, right?” Yes, I tell them. But I don’t like the sound as much. “You can download the music to your phone, too,” they remind me. Yes, I know that too! But neither format gives me the satisfaction I get from the output of my 280-watt Cerwin-Vega speakers. There is nothing I love more than turning on my stereo receiver, loading a CD into the player, and listening to the sound coming through those two ridiculously heavy speakers. They’ve been with me for more than 20 years. Barring incident, they’ll be with me for 20 more.
I also run my video sound through those speakers with enormous satisfaction. Yes, it’s only two channels (left and right). But the sound I get makes me pretty happy all the same. Still, it would seem I am a very analog man in a very digital world.
In a perfect world (which I continue to strive for), I would have a seven-channel surround sound speaker system. But it would be for my movies and video games. I prefer my music in front of me, in stereo. I appreciate the effort that goes into the 5.1 surround mixes so many bands are releasing. But my musical thought process is this: when I go to see/hear a band play live, they are in front of me. I’m not on the stage, surrounded by musicians. The bands amplifiers and PA speakers are in front of (and sometimes above) me. Some of the sound is processed by the left speaker. Some of the sound is processed by the right speaker. That’s all I really need!
I’ve had some kind of home stereo system since I was 12 years old. My first system lasted me well into my military years in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I had a stereo receiver (which contained an AM/FM radio), a turntable, a cassette deck, and ultimately, a CD player. Then, for some reason, I thought it would be better of I got a smaller, one-piece unit, since LPs were becoming passe. It was a stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid-stupid move. By the mid ’90s, I was back into a full-blown home stereo system. But by then, things were changing.
I don’t listen to music the same way most people do. Most people want their stereo to not only provide them with quality sound, they want it to be convenient and relatively hands-free. Because of this, manufacturers built and sold multiple-CD players. The first CD player I ever bought accommodated exactly one CD at a time. The “new” models allowed the consumer to load anywhere from six to 100 discs. As is, my player handles five discs at a time.
Like everyone else, I thought this was remarkable, and very convenient. I could load five CDs into the player, press “play,” and forget about it. The stereo system was on auto-pilot for as long as five hours. For casual listening, this was just fine. But over time, something got lost.
Music became little more than background noise. I lost track of what I was playing from one moment to the next. I wasn’t taking the time to savor what was coming out of my speakers. Music is, after all, more than mere entertainment to me. It is a genuine, visceral experience. With one CD blending in to the next, I was no longer achieving the level of musical Nirvana I so sought.
Now that I’ve rebuilt my collection from the brain fart that was The Great Digital Purge of 2006 (you can read about that in my book), I find I must institute the same rule for CDs I have for LPs. One of the reasons I enjoy records is because I am forced to focus on one LP at a time. I drop the needle, absorb the liner notes, make the most of the music, and flip the record over 20 or so minutes later. Then I repeat the process. This enables me to stay in the musical moment, and not just listen to the band, but really, truly hear them. It finally dawned on me that just because I can load five CDs at a time, it doesn’t mean I have to! And so, I now enjoy my CDs individually, giving each disc the same treatment I do my LPs, without having to flip the disc every 20 minutes.
And just like that, the joy has fully returned.
I know I’m not alone. Every month, I get a magazine called Stereophile, which features articles and reviews of some seriously high-end home stereo equipment. Maybe one of these days, I’ll have the good fortune to learn what a $10,000 pair of speakers or a $4,000 pair of headphones sound like. In the meantime, I’ve begun to seek out new (but more reasonably priced) stereo equipment, which will eventually replace what I have now. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, I’m sure it will be worth the effort.
Because my home stereo isn’t going anywhere.