Old School Listening, One Disc at a Time

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.

Photo Feb 14, 1 26 52 PM

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.




  1. What a great trip down memory lane…wonderful write up, AND The Mach Five!!!

    This years x-mas present to myself was new Yamaha Receiver after 5 years of earbuds, headphones, phones, and bluetooth (blueteeth?) speakers…happiest I’ve been in years!

    5.1…man this is where I’m stuck…I’ve asked a lot of my friends who know music “So is a 5.1 Bluray surround sound disc really that good” and I get the same response 100% of the time…YES, but with the right setup (that’s not me…yet!)

    ….So as much as I love the L and R, technology today as well as the technique producers use to master these “surround sounds” have (apparently) taken the listening experience to that next level of full envelopment for those albums that have that ability (all the work Steven Wilson’s been doing in this format are the most recommended for obvious reasons).

    It’s a great time to be rebuilding a stereo system…enjoy the journey and keep us updated…(Hand Cannot Erase?…in 5.1 Bluray surround sound??…DO IT!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never had the equipment to fully enjoy 5.1 mixes. I could probably be swayed, given the right opportunity. But two channels will always be plenty. Steven Wilson’s mixes are AMAZING. I’ll listen in any way I can. (P.S. I have a larger Mach 5 and a Shooting Star — Racer X’s car — on the shelf above that one.)


  2. I am with you, at least in theory. For years I had these humongous speakers that dominated the room like pretty much everybody else in my generation. Then we decided to retire them to another room. Then portable music came along, streaming, etc. Now I’m at that point where I listen to most of my music either on earbuds or one lonely Jambox Bluetooth speaker. (Or in the car.)

    So recently, I went downstairs and popped “Sticky Fingers” on the stereo and boy did it sound great. Cranked it up. (BTW, these are not the same speakers. They’re smaller. But still.) But “recently” was, like, three weeks ago. And so I have to make the effort to go do that and that’s probably what’s stopping me. But thanks for the reminder, I’ll try to make it more of a habit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. CB is old school. The majority of my listening is on the old system (I’m sure I could use an upgrade but it still sounds good to me). I go for a lot of walks and still use a disc-man. I have too much good music not to. My daughter put a bunch of tunes on an Mp3 player. I use that when i get my lazy ass out for a run. I’m a one album/disc guy also. I listen to full albums. A habit I’ve had since I was a kid. Good piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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