I was about ten pages into the new book from Garrett Hongo, The Perfect Sound, when I realized this was going to be unlike any other hi-fi book I’ve read. Sure, there are tips on how to get better sound like all the other books, and there’s a modicum of audio history and generous explanations about how things work and yes, there’s plenty about music. But The Perfect Sound is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a story about a man, a complex and accomplished one, and how much of his life has been dedicated to achieving the goals stated clearly in the book’s title.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Colleen and I have known Garrett Hongo for a number of years–he actually wrote an article for Soundstage! Ultra about us when we first started Colleen Cardas Imports. That was when we still lived in Texas, and Garrett was visiting Austin. We all ventured down to SoCo (South Congress), just over the Bat Bridge, and he and I smoked cigars while hanging out with Bob Clarke (of Profundo) and his wife Stacy, Garrett’s wife and daughter, and finally Colleen. I even remember the cigar I smoked–a Padron 1926 No. 35.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Yes, Garrett Hongo is a fellow audio writer. As the years went by, I learned more about this very interesting man. He’s a poet, of course, with several volumes of his works already published, and he is a poetry professor at Oregon State University. One of his volumes of poetry, 1988’s The River of Heaven, won the Lamont Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Garrett is not your run-of-the-mill audio reviewer.
The Perfect Sound is a memoir, which is why it’s so comprehensive about a single life that is still being lived to its fullest. It’s fascinating to read so extensively about someone I know–the next time I see Garrett Hongo, we’ll have so much more to talk about than we did the last time. I did know that Garrett grew up in Hawaii, and like me he also spent a big chunk of his younger years in Los Angeles. That’s how the book begins, at the beginning, but it doesn’t take long for the structure of his story to evolve into a labyrinth of themes and feelings and subjects that seem almost random at first.
But that is Garrett Hongo, the poet at work, exercising a fluid and yet purposeful way of explaining what he sees and hears and feels. His gift for the written word is clearly evident when he describes music that most of us know–I was endlessly thrilled when he told the story of hearing Cream’s “White Room” for the first time–every word of his matched indelibly to a note in the song. Writing about music can be needlessly abstract at times, but Garrett taps into the thoughts and feelings most of us had when we experienced the same exact things as he did.
Within each chapter there is a theme, but sub-chapter headings allow Garrett Hongo to leap back and forth between subjects with grace and depth. You want to know how vacuum tubes work and how they are made? Garrett explains it all for you. You want to know how attending an opera at La Scala can influence your musical tastes for the rest of your life? Listen to Garrett. You want to hear personal stories about some of the biggest personalities in high-end audio such as Kevin Hayes, Kevin Deal, Jonathan Halpern, Randy Bankert, Kara Chaffee and many more, coming and going as if they were characters in a novel? Seasoned audiophiles will enjoy the feeling of continual recognition when Garrett discusses a product or a person without giving names, only to confirm suspicions a few paragraphs later.
That’s what makes The Perfect Sound such an amazing book about high-end audio. You can skip to any chapter in the book and learn something about our hobby, or bask in Garrett’s lush descriptions of music, or find solace in the fact that there are others who think as deeply about music reproduction as we do. If you’re in this hobby and you don’t already know about Garrett Hongo, this is your chance to meet the Most Interesting Audiophile in the World–in extraordinary detail.