While most people are snapping up cyber-Monday electronics to give their loved ones, we, too, are taking possession of a high-tech gift. It may not be for the holiday, but there's a man in my living room right now, connecting thick cables to two new sentries sternly standing on either side of my hearth. The man is my husband setting up his Chanuka, birthday and worked-hard-to-earn-it gifts, the culmination of a decade of longing and research, of comparison and pondering. My husband is an audiophile, and he just got new speakers.
An audiophile cares deeply about the fidelity of music. Classical music, in this case.
In the old days of vinyl records, the machine that used to play them was called the hi-fi, as in high fidelity. Fidelity, or faithfulness of what one hears on a CD or record to the original sounds, is the Holy Grail, the great pursuit. Audiophiles seek sound-quality perfection, the strings balanced with the bass just so, in the way some chefs are said to insist on the exacting flavors of a char-striped salmon fillet perched on a melange of sauteed vegetables.
My husband adds a twist to his quest for the most realistic reproduction of concerts that may have occurred decades before, now "re-mastered" and released on CD--he's excruciatingly thrifty. He cannot conscience spending unrequired money for a slight fillip of nuance, knowing full well that his Holy Grail speakers must exist somewhere at a reasonable price. Hence, he has not actually acquired any stereo equipment in ten full years, an eon in tech advancement. Throughout that time, he merely salivated at the rectangular forms posed like pin-ups in his monthly fix of Stereophile Magazine and catalogs from MusicDirect. He looks lovingly and longingly at Bobinga enlargements, internet pop-ups magnifying the strange African wood used as the finish on certain loudspeakers.
And we're talking wattage. And connectors that join together the amplifier and CD player and speaker in an electrical snake-cord that looks like it could dock a cruise ship. Some weekends his sound-hunger leads him to stereo stores, which line a two-block stretch in northerly Seattle. Each has a living-room-like equipment-testing area to compare their wares. My husband brings along his favorite CDs with the classical pieces that best show off specific capabilities of a sound system. While the rest of us waste time on Hulu, he's surfing clandestinely between stereo sales sites.
Admittedly, he's incredibly self-disciplined, and only allows himself this guilty pleasure after writing several columns, reading books and newspapers, screening a new movie and writing its review. But still, sometimes his last waking moment, as he slides into the dreamland of amplifiers, pre-amps, sub-woofers and of course the Big-Daddy of fidelity, speakers themselves, is filled with a few slurred words of adoration for a particular model.
His collection of classical CDs sit at the ready, shelf after shelf of jewel boxes arranged by composer. He can tell you the key and opus number of any piece in the repertory, plus a bio of its creator. When he listens, he is not in contemplative reverie, but prancing and singing, arms raised in active conducting. It is now becoming known that as an adolescent, instead of carrying a wallet-ful of photos of family or girlfriends, his plastic pouches were lined with the stern faces of Brahms, Prokofiev, Elgar and Sibelius.
He has plotted and revised, considered and mulled until he finally found the proper combination of artistic quality and cyber-Monday bargain mentality. And so, tonight, while others anticipate their new big-screen TVs, he has been connecting and arranging, testing and listening... and glowing like a new father in a maternity ward.
I must admit, it gives me the delight of a parent watching a squealing child unwrap a cherished toy to see him finally complete the integration of machines and, as the drums of Sibelius pound with new-found bass, to see him so thrilled with shades of sounds.
It's been said that fine music is the interplay of spirituality and physicality, and if some pieces of wood and metal can enhance that for my husband, then we can both be in heaven.