I, Audiophile

— by Stas Burgiel

Sometimes I wonder if others share this experience… I’m the generic mid-career professional with a 40+ hour week, long commute, house with its requisite responsibilities, wonderful wife and overly active kids engaged in dance, sports and their friends. So when the day is done, the kids are asleep and the house is at peace, I tiptoe into my listening room around 10 in the evening, warm up the rig, maybe pour a glass of aged rum with ice and make the critical listening choices for the evening (CD, download, vinyl??). This is the quintessential image that comes to mind when I hear the word audiophile. 

The irony here is that I am only able to fulfill my ideal of the audiophile for 15-20 minutes before I fall asleep. I envy those that maintain marathon listening sessions late into the night. And I should say that my situation is not from a system lacking engagement, but pure and simply from my being really tired at that point in the day. This ongoing internal tension between my ideal and my reality has led to a slight disdain or resentment for the term “audiophile.”

By contrast, yesterday family friends came over for dinner. This friendship stems partially from being kindred spirits with common interests, but also from the fact that our two kids get along fabulously with their girls. After dinner my precocious five-year old son asks his four-year old compatriot if she wants to “go upstairs and rock.” Fortunately, he asked me to chaperone and to put the most rockingest album on the record player. For him, this is ELO’s Out of the Blue. Truth to tell, he has only ever listened to two of my garage-sale salvaged albums, but has spent significant time poring over the starship depicted on the ELO record jacket.

The two young-uns proceeded to dance and I hummed along merrily to the tune. Then, the elder girls joined in and soon there was a dance party of four- to eight-year olds with me engaged on air guitar and air drums. Two albums later all the adults were also jumping around like monkeys, the scene was fab and the music glorious. This went on far later than it should have (at least for the composure of over-tired kids who hoped the party would never end) but was well worth it.

I would hardly consider this an “audiophile” experience, yet I can’t deny that it was. It wasn’t just me in isolation enjoying the stereo and the music, but a whole group, young and old, most of whom had no clue what they were listening to, let alone the difference between solid state and valves. In the past I’ve had similar experiences, which I’ve tried to use as teachable moments (“okay, son, let’s do some tube-rolling on this single-ended triode amp”) with limited success. This was the first time that I just gave in, letting the technology be damned and the music flow.

So now I’m revisiting my preconception of what it means to be an “audiophile” and any pretensions that it might hold. In the interim, when my son asks me if he can rock out with his four-year old sweetie, I’ll happily oblige.