Category Archives: Philosophy

The Audiolog Philosophy

Why Audio is not all that good, but it’s great

When the era of Audio recording began, it changed the face of music. Just the fact that one can hear the great music of mankind’s creation when and (especially nowadays) wherever we want is miraculous, whatever the playback quality.

But, for many of us, getting the sound as good as we can is a most worthy objective. It’s why I am typing this and why you are reading. What can be frustrating to folks like us is that there is seemingly no end to the trail, even as sound keeps getting better it seems the goal keeps moving away from us. Sometimes, it can even seem doubtful that progress is even being made as listening to vintage gear that can sometimes seem in certain ways closer to the goal can show. The crux of the problem, as I see it, is that even in principle, perfect reproduction is not possible. Facsimile reproduction would be the end of the line, but it’s nowhere near.

I liken home audio to a blind man in a shooting gallery firing at a moving target. It seems every steps of even the recording/playback process has it’s shortcomings. Start even before the hardware, with recording techniques. So which combination of recording and playback techniques are “best”? Well, we all can have our own personal takes but really, even among professional recording engineers, there seems to not be any kind of true, absolute consensus, no perfect way to record. Where there is no perfect technique, there can only be differing compromises. Over time, some have ben employed and largely discarded, at least sonically. For example, you just don’t see many Classical extreme multi-track recordings any more, though it must be said that the best recording engineers that employed that technique could sometimes produce quite credible recordings. On the other hand, you don’t see many completely purist 2 mic recordings or indeed, even true Blumlein recordings (despite their oft-touted technical desirability). The reasons? Some are economic. The fewer the mics used in a recording, the harder it is to find their optimum placement. This placement requires expensive orchestra time to attain, so having a few more mics allows you to cover your bases better.

You could say that using the “best” mics (whichever ones that might be) with “proper” placement (wherever in the hall (hell?) that might be) and employing the proper recording technique (Blumlein?) would result in as good a recording as is possible to produce. Maybe that’s true. But if at least if one technique (whatever it was) had been settled upon at the beginning, one could arrange their playback system as a compliment to whatever had been chosen. But the reality is that recordings are wildly different, so we have a problem in reproduction right off the top.

Moreover, whatever the sonic truth of the original recording technique, complete faithfulness to that is not, even in principle, (at least with today’s technology) attainable. Mics are far from perfect. Our digital recording systems are quite good these days (not so much earlier on) and the old reel to reel master tapes, if in good shape, are pretty credible, too. But Records are imperfect, CD’s are variable and limited technically in their ways, SACD’s can be good but are limited in availability and depth of catalogue and downloads of less that lossless formats mediocre (true hi-rez files are probably the best we have). And there’s nothing to say that a particular format will be “transferred” well from the masters.

Then we get to Turntables, Cartridges, Tonearms, CD players, SACD players, D/A converters, Preamps, Amplifiers, Speakers and our listening rooms. All have at least potential problems. It seems like all hope is lost. But…

Let’s go back to the opening paragraph; “Just the fact that one can hear the great music of mankind’s creation when and (especially nowadays) wherever we want is miraculous, whatever the playback quality.” This is why we try and slog through all this and what’s amazing is that somehow, with all that is working against us at times the sound is good enough to take us virtually to (pre “renovation”) Symphony Hall or Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall or any of the (scandalously) now gone venerated rock venues or Abbey Road studios or wherever.

And that’s why we keep typing and reading and listening.

Advertisements

Dumbed down audio

It’s interesting to me that when you look at what’s behind the accusation (often heard on certain partisan news networks) that people are in any way “dumbing down”, what they usually mean is that the people accused don’t know or aren’t interested in what the accuser thinks they should be interested in.

In the meantime, people are busy learning what THEY think is important. Most people really are not dumb, they are smart enough to know what skills the society REALLY wants, which it indicates through how it rewards people who acquire them. Business, Sports, Politics, Entertainment and Financials are where the rewards pretty much are. Science and Mathematics are mostly for the “nerds”, who rarely get paid (I say rarely because there is the intersection between Finance/Business and mathematics where the nerds do manage to get paid. But those are the exceptions). One pundit (me) observed that if we paid Teachers and Scientists even five percent of what we pay athletes, actors, bankers and politicians, we would be scientifically unstoppable. But when the rubber meets the road, we just don’t do it.

Subjective testing of audio gear is often cited as dumbed down audio. But really, you don’t have to understand graphs and mathematics to listen to audio equipment and decide which of it you think more evocative of real, live music. The technically inclined may think one is going about it from a position of ignorance, but the non-technically inclined think they are doing just fine, Jack. And they are. You don’t need to study meteorology to know it’s cold in the winter so bring a coat, or to check out the Weather Channel for the forecast. But knowing how Twitter and Facebook work and how to text on your iPhone can lead to “enriching social interaction”, so that’s technology worth knowing…

Now, understand that I am not saying there is no value in the charts and graphs. I work in a technical field and understand them fairly well and like to see them as a checkup of sorts on what I hear. But if, ultimately, what matters in music is the emotional/intellectual state it induces in the listener, then what better test than listening to see if a particular piece of equipment does that job?

It’s kind of hubris that some people think people should buy what is determined “objectively” best rather than what they think is best through their own aural evidence. To paraphrase Chico Marx, “Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own ears?” I could argue that charts and graphs are most interesting out of intellectual curiosity (at least to those not actively engaged in the actual design of components, speakers, etc.).

All this does put a premium on the listening/evaluation process. I am always suspicious (keeping in mind I can only conjecture about other people’s actual abilities) of someone who listens to a piece of equipment for ten minutes and has definite, unshakable opinions. Personally, I can tell something I probably won’t like fairly quickly, but once it has passed that test of being at least adequate, it takes me a while to formulate a useful opinion.

In fact, in some ways, the most useful information comes in those “ah ha” moments of just listening for pleasure when it hits you how good (or not) a particular piece of music sounds through the equipment in use. In combination with your familiarity with live music and the time you spend listening analytically to recordings you know, this gives you the best chance I know of to make a sound (ahem) evaluation.

Spendor BC1/SP1: tonality uber alles

The Spendor BC1/SP1 were outgrowths of the BBC’s research to create monitors that could be relied upon to make reasonable judgements on the audio quality of their broadcasts. They were, in fact, pretty much identical to the BBC approved LS 3/6, themselves reissued by Sterling Audio recently with modernized drivers (and reviewed well by REG in The Absolute Sound recently).

The BC-1’s, like the original Quad ESL, were one of those brilliant designs that more or less fulfilled exactly what the designer intended. When they hit the market in the late 1960’s, they were widely considered one of the few “box” speakers able to compete with the original Quad on its own terms, that is tonal refinement and relative lack of coloration. Though like the Quads, the bass and treble were less outstanding than the midrange, while still quite serviceable (this was somewhat improved in the later SP-1).

Even today, listening tests show the BC-1 to be outstanding in the areas of its strengths. They are smooth, free of obvious tonal problems and, yes, beautiful to listen to. And, considering it’s hard to spend over $1000 for a pair on the used market, an outstanding value. So that’s it, game over, right?

Not exactly. In order to enjoy the BC-1’s (easy to do, BTW) you have to forget the literal sound presence of the concert hall. The BC-1’s give you a tonally sophisticated sound but much less of the scale, power and presence of the concert hall experience. To be fair, most relatively small box speakers do this. The scale of a concert hall just cannot be reproduced by a speaker of this type, partly because it is a speaker of this type (with a relatively point source nature) and partly that recordings (which are VERY different from reality) just don’t contain enough of this information. Unfortunately, microphone/recorder does not equal ear/ brain.

In my view, the only way to even try and approximate the scale and power of concert hall sound is to employ speakers that augment the recordings in this aspect, line sources, planars and the like. Now let’s be clear.  Speakers like this involve more of the characteristics of the listening room and of their specific radiation patterns which mix with the (limited) spatial cues present in the recording and it’s fair to say that this is not an accurate reproduction of the recording. But it results (at least to me) in a sound more accurate to the gestalt of the concert hall experience, though in a somewhat generalized way due to the leveling effect of the unchanging nature of your room acoustics.

Whether this is for better or not is a subjective decision. Some would say the recording is what it is and all we can do is to try to reproduce that limited reality as well as we can. Others would say the original sound as experienced in the hall is the only arbiter (which is BTW, the original “Absolute Sound” philosophy), whatever gives more of that impression is right even if it somewhat compromises the limited reality present in the recording. Me, I waver. Sometimes I like the let it all hang out concert hall approach and sometimes the limited but tonally truer impression of something like the BC-1. If I had to choose one, I like the idea of the concert hall impression. But I don’t have to choose, so I can have Magnepan 3.7 in one room and KEF LS-50 in the other. Hey, some people like Chocolate AND Vanilla, it’s OK, relax…

There is another issue here. The lively BC-1 speaker cabinets, though their effect is figured in and integral to the final sonic result, still produce their own sound artifacts that cloud and obscure the sound somewhat. Here the heroic efforts of the KEF LS-50 to deaden the cabinets pay dividends in terms of clarity and the concentric drivers more fully approximate a point source type of radiation pattern, resulting in a more accurate to the recording sense of the placement of images in its limited-in-scale soundstage. Though the extra warmth of the BC-1 is certainly welcome.

It must be said that the Magnepan 3.7 (reviewed earlier) planar, while not quite as tonally accurate as the BC-1, do provide a more convincing sense of scale and presence and overall convey a more realistic impression of an orchestra in a concert hall. But if tonality is all to you, the Spendor BC-1’s are hard to beat and are one of the true classics in stereo era audio.

London…is a little bit of all right

In a few hours, I will be getting on a flight to London UK for a week’s vacation. This is one of my favorite places to go, as an audiophile I can hear live music at the concert halls there, shop for records (especially Decca’s) and just drink in the atmosphere where the music of my early teens was produced.

I have two must-shop record stores there. The first is the Classical Music exchange on Notting Hill Gate. This is a quiet, somewhat studious place with a deep stock of records. There are unsorted bargain records for 1 pound or less downstairs (in varying condition) and more expensive stock sorted in Composer order upstairs. There is also a section of “collectables” priced as such and usually a couple of rows of new arrivals. One interesting feature is that non-collectable stock that doesn’t sell at its original price will eventually be marked down until it does sell, sometimes you can find a bargain this way. Of course, a lot of these records are old hat to the British collector, but from across the pond these look most alluring! Down the street are affiliated stores for Rock, Soundtracks and the like if you are so inclined.

The other is sometimes less productive, but always more fun! That’s Gramex, near Waterloo Station on Lower Marsh. Roger, the owner, is a great guy. An eccentric, but knowledgable guy in his 80’s, who seems more interested in talking to you about whatever comes up than selling product. I have been to his store about 6 times and he always seems genuinely happy to see you. These days, the store leans more to used CD’s but there is usually a nice stock of records in the basement area. Classical, Opera and Jazz can be found here. As I type this, I am thinking how cool it will be to see Roger again…

There is Harold Moores on Great Marlborough Street, but I usually don’t waste my time. At least when I have been there, high prices on even common LP’s. Maybe a bit better on CD’s.

On Portobello road there are a few Rock shops for vinyl and you might also want to check out Oxfam’s. This is sort of like a Salvation Army type of used goods store with outlets all over the city, but only some of them have records so you will have to do some research. In past years, I found some stuff here, but recently its been a bit fallow.

I have three concerts on tap this time, so that’s exciting, two at the Barbican and one at Cadogan Hall. Other times of the year find a busier concerts schedule, if you go to London, you might want to time it for the “Proms” which is a month or so of non-stop concert activity in August (it coincided with the Olympics this year, so not for me). The Southbank Center has concert halls (including the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall) and is also a cool place to hang out with stores and small restaurants right on the banks of the Thames. I went to the Meltdown Festival there one year (that particular year featured groups picked by Ray Davies) and saw a great concert featuring The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the Legendary Pink Dots, one of the best concerts I have attended, so there is lots of action here. Check out http://meltdown.southbankcentre.co.uk/archives/ And don’t forget the Royal Albert Hall (of which we now know how many holes it takes to fill), Wigmore Hall etc. Lots of musical fun to be had in London.

This year, I will be in town the week of the National Audio Show, sponsored by the Chester Group, which I will be covering for http://www.avshowrooms.com/ . Looks like 40 plus room featuring UK manufacturers, distributors and retailers, so it should be fun.

But what I really like is to walk around in the evening listening to early Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and the like on my mp3 player on the streets that were the cradle of this music. Evocative of another era and my youth…

AudioNote AN-E/Lexus Speakers, the gateway drug?

One of the roads less traveled in quality audio is the world of vintage and vintage-based-technology equipment. Usually tube based, often very low power mated with high-efficiency loudspeaker designs, it generally makes the more mainstream audio community go right into grid current (a little tube joke for the ham operators out there).

It’s also characterized by a seeming disregard for technical measurements (by the retro-audiophiles and sometimes even the designers) and for decent, moral regard for the sacredness of accuracy and neutrality. These musically horny tarts are so depraved as to…oops, lapsed into a Monty Python bit. Sorry.

All seriousness aside, the retro-phile (as it were) prizes emotional response and musical satisfaction over the usual concerns about accuracy (to whatever one thinks playback should be accurate to, I guess). Dissecting music into pieces for analysis is anathema to them, akin to testing wines through chemical analysis. One thing I admire is their insistence on assessing audio gear without the reassuring recourse to measurements to back their opinions up. That’s a tightrope with no net and, for many audiophiles, really just to dangerous.

For the most part, this equipment is not seen that often in mainstream print audio (remember when they were called the “underground audio press”? Meet the new boss…), except for the past writings of Peter Breuninger for TAS and Stereophile and currently by Art Dudley of Stereophile, who have, I am sure, suffered slings and arrows from the establishment for their apostasy.  But it WAS championed in print by “Sound Practices” and “Positive Feedback” back in the day and in print and later on line by the late Harvey Rosenberg, who the grim-faced arbiters of audio morality loved to hate. BTW, go check out Harvey’s legacy website http://www.meta-gizmo.net/. Now THERE was a dude who loved to write, especially about his beloved audio interests. And with a sense of humor, which was a big reason why “the grim-faced arbiters of audio morality” (is it OK to quote yourself, especially in the same paragraph?) were so outraged.

But once the seeds are sown, like forbidden fruit, this subculture beckons. Is it for you? Is it for me? I certainly don’t think it’s for everyone. But you’ll never know till you dip your toe in the water and find out for yourself. One way to ease into this is with Audio Note speakers. The AN-E/Lexus is not representative of the very latest or even the very best Audio Note has to offer, but it can give a healthy bite of the AN sound. And, although it has more in common with the audio hedonists rather than the traditionalists, it’s not too scary to the uninitiated as this speaker derives from the Snell E designed back in the early 1980’s by the late Peter Snell (who was firmly in the audio mainstream).

The AN-E/Lexus is a fairly large 2 way, designed to be elevated on a short stand. It’s also a bit unique, in that it is designed with corner placement as an option. In fact, corner placement is how Audio Note shows the speakers at audio shows and really, the design appears to be more optimum for this placement, the anechoic response starts to shelve down in the midbass and the reenforcement the corner placement provides brings the bass up closer to the midrange in level.

I tried the speaker both ways, in my den system, an approximately 12 X 14 foot room in the corners and out in the room in my main room which is larger, but has no realistic way to employ corner placement. I did prefer the corner placement as the tonal balance was indeed better this way, the midbass especially thinning out under these circumstances. But what I really liked was that, in a small room where speakers placed out in the room can seem physically (and sonically) in your face, the corner placement made the room look much less cluttered and created an expansive, if more distant than typical, soundfield. Maybe corner placement should come back into vogue a bit, for both sonic and esthetic considerations.

Overall, the tonal balance tends to the mid-centric and if your ideal is Harbeth/Spendor flatness of response, you won’t find it here. Not that it’s wildly bizarre, though. This is a sound that emphasizes a somewhat more “organic” sound at the cost of what some may consider accuracy. But in many ways, it does tend to bring an alluring sound to a great number of recordings, not requiring the best recordings for musical enjoyment and helping to ensure that relatively poor recordings are not heard at their worst, either.

To really hear all of what Audio Note can do would require exposure to their currently manufactured more costly designs which I have only heard at shows. You can spend anywhere from $6000 to $20,000 on what’s basically the same speaker with tweaks as you go up the line, the top models employ Alnico magnets, hemp cones, silver voice coils and external crossovers with higher quality components. The Audio Note show systems I have heard have sounded quite fine. I can’t tell you where the optimum cost/benefit line is, but I will say that if you don’t dig what you hear from the lower levels of this model, I doubt that going for the throat will make the difference. On the other hand, if you do like the basic design, I suspect that as you move up you do get more, Audio Note has stayed steadfast to this design over the years so they should have a pretty good idea what’s going on with it at this point.

Audio Note speakers make a persuasive argument that classic “neutrality” (whatever that really is) as aspired to by more mainstream designs may not be the only way to musical satisfaction. Certainly, this road can exist in parallel with the currently more established paradigms, I think.

The “Back Seat” system

I just “celebrated” my 60th birthday (BTW, it’s popular to say “60 is today’s 50”, but forget it, 60 is still 60). It’s a time for contemplation about life, love and, yes, audio and how it all fits into one’s future. Retirement looms with the life-style changes that follow along, often meaning moving into smaller quarters or even frequent moves to follow the weather, etc. So I thought it would be interesting to work on what I call a “back seat” system.

I define a back seat system as a system of very high quality all of whose components will fit on the back seat of a car. This rules out 6 foot tall speakers, 200 pound amplifiers, 4 chassis preamps and the like. Not necessarily cheap, but thrifty with regards to size, weight and complexity without sacrificing performance as much as possible.

And this may come to the fore even more as time goes on for people not of retirement age as tight economic conditions enforce smaller living spaces and may require more “following the sun” from place to place to stay employed. Not to mention that some people just prefer a less obtrusive stereo or to have music in family shared spaces where big, hot and complex systems just would not be appropriate.

So I am going to try to investigate this as time goes by. I hope, besides satisfying my own personal curiosity, this will be of interest and use to readers of this log. Equipment that is part of this survey will be tagged with “Back seat stereo”.

Floor Bounce and the messy world of home audio

The late John Dunlavy was castigated on another site for a) being concerned with phase response in his speakers (which I won’t deal with here) and b) not compensating for the “usual” floor bounce (by introducing deviations from anachoically flat in his speakers through the affected range). The purpose here is not to defend Dunlavy particularly, but to look at just one of the many phenomena that affect home music reproduction.

Floor bounce is caused by the sound that bounces off the floor between the listener and the speakers being out of phase at certain frequencies (usually between 100 and 300 Hz.) and partially canceling the direct sound, causing a dip in the frequency response at those frequencies.

Dunlavy’s argument here was that the floor bounce is present in the concert hall so it should be at home, the counter argument was made that the floor bounce is already present on a “properly made recording”, so the floor bounce at home would be double compensation. Sounds reasonable but…

Let’s look at how recordings ARE made rather than how we might WISH they were made. Generally, they employ a) a few mics high in the air and fairly close to the orchestra or b) a bunch of mics quite close to the musicians or c) direct feeds off of musical instrument amplifiers. So they are either far from hall boundaries or very close to the musicians. Given this, it’s safe to say that not much floor bounce is actually caught by the recording mics.

So, if “concert hall realism” is our goal, leaving the bounce in could be seen as necessary to compensate for the missing bounce (as related to a listener’s experience in a hall) in most recordings. So Dunlavy, in that sense, might have been right!

Of course, when we invoke “concert hall realism”, the can is open and the worms are crawling all over the room. Where in the concert hall? Some people like to sit mid hall, some in the back, some in the balcony and some in the first few rows. The sound is quite different, though that is partially compensated for by the fact that it is a live concert and wherever you sit, that comes through. And, on point with floor bounce, that also changes at different location in the hall. How do you compensate for a moving target?

Recording engineers (for various reasons) generally give us a quite close perspective on the orchestra. If the goal, rather than “concert hall realism” is to “reproduce what’s on the recording”, the close perspective is what you should hear, except on those relatively few recordings made from a more distant perspective. Interesting that many who espouse the “reproduce what’s on the recording” philosophy select and set up their speakers to eliminate the room as much as possible, buy a room compensation unit, but set that to a “target curve” rather than flat (now that flat at the listener is something we can accomplish). I know why they do it, and I don’t think it’s the wrong thing to do, but that’s not reproducing what’s on the recording, is it…

The point is that music reproduction in the home is a bit of a messy business and not as simple and obvious as we might like. We will look further into this as time goes on.

Bill L. and my AR3A’s

Two of my favorite people are Bill and Loretta Legall of MillerSound. Bill is one of the best when it comes to repairing and refoaming loudspeakers and is a knowledgeable and unassuming guy in general. One day I brought a pair of drivers for Bill to do his magic on when he excitedly told me that I had to hear a speaker he had acquired. But first, the story…

Bill and Loretta were driving around one day and cut into a neighborhood to escape some heavy traffic. In front of a house intended for the trash man was a pair of speakers. They looked rough and forlorn, but like seeing a bird with a broken wing or a wet, disheveled cat in the cold, Bill had to take them in.

Testing showed that, while the woofer foam had rotted out, the drivers were functional. But the rough cabinets were a problem, until Loretta remembered some matching veneer she had stashed away. Well, the woofers were re-foamed, the cabinets sanded and re-veneered, the crossover tested and capacitors replaced and a few other tweaks applied and it was time to listen to the new-old speaker.

“Kevin, you have to hear this, you won’t believe it”. So I entered Bill’s listening room to behold a speaker seemingly out of a time warp, a mint pair of Acoustic Research AR3A’s. And Bill wasn’t kidding, I didn’t believe it. Rich, beautiful music from a pair of speakers manufactured between 1967 and 1975 and rescued from the scrap heap. I realized immediately that this was a speaker that, like the Quad 57, Spendor BC-1, BBC LS3/5A and their ilk, ones’ knowledge of vintage speakers was incomplete without. So I asked Bill to look around for a pair for me (and I would look for myself).

A few days later, I got a call. “Hey Kevin, your AR3A’s are in” Bill had done it again, and I made arrangements to come by after work. When I got there, craftsman Bill had not only re-foamed the woofers, but refinished the cabinets and cleaned up the badges and, while they were not quite the thing of beauty that Bill’s pair are, they looked great!

Acoustic Research pioneered the use of the Acoustic Suspension loudspeaker which traded efficiency for deep bass from a small box and, in its day, the AR3 series was the biggest selling and arguably most successful speaker of its kind. The ascent of the Acoustic Suspension loudspeaker was helped by the ascent of the high power amplifier (a development necessary due to the lower efficiency of the newer design), which, depending on your point of view, led to a bright new future or consigned audio to a modern hell of inefficient speakers and high-powered solid state amplifiers. But that’s another story for another time…

So I have chosen the AR3A’s as my first speaker musing on Audiolog because a) I wanted to tell you a story about Bill and b) they are a classic and historic speaker that augured big changes in the audio marketplace in their day. There’s a pair on permanent display at the Smithsonian and not for nothing!

How do the AR3A’s stand up today? Well, certainly it’s a different kind of sound than we are used to. The treble is not exactly extended and the speakers do not have the level of detail we expect these days. The imaging doesn’t “do tricks” and there is a bit of residual roughness. You can hear the cabinets (not as bad as it sounds, they used ply rather than MDF back then). But there is plenty of bass compared to the typical bookshelf today and a generally warm, rounded sound that is simply more that the sum of its parts. You can hear what’s wrong, but the enveloping sound on classical is like a bath in warm Caribbean waters and the punchy sound on Rock and Roll gives you the feeling that this is how the musicians expected it to sound.

It feels almost wrong to pick the sound apart since it obviously wasn’t designed to cater to prevailing expectations, so I won’t. In my view, it was designed as a holistic unity and is unique to itself, I doubt anyone would design a speaker that sounds like this today and much is the pity. There is more than one way to skin the musical cat, and this is the current path less chosen.

But a music lover who is not a “hi end audiophile” could buy these, refurbish them and live happily ever after. Many did, back between 1967 and 1975…

The one that got away or how I learned to live without the Sony R-10’s

This is a story about the “one that got away”. Do you have an audio related product that has always just managed to elude your grasp? Here’s my story. It’s about the Bo Derek, the perfect 10 of headphones, the Sony R-10.

Back around 1994, the availability of good portable CD players stoked my interest in portable hi-fi. I had a Denon walkman-type CD player and a pair of Beyer DT-990’s and that system worked pretty well. But as always, audiophiles want to see what’s better around the corner.

As it happened, I was doing some part-time audio tech work at that time and one of my clients was an early importer of the Sony R-10 and CD-XXXX phones into the country. There were models at about $300 and $600 and, of course, the $4000 R-10.

On one of my visits I decided to audition the non-R-10 Sony’s as an improvement over the DT-990. The $300 seemed to be a lateral move but the $600 CD-3000 had potential. But the R-10 beckoned like Bo running on the beach from their perch on the shelf. I had to listen and the rest was history. I was smitten!

I left with no new headphones. The others seemed irrelevant after the R-10, but they were $4000! What kind of idiot would spend 4000 (1994) bucks on a headphone!

I told my audio buddy John about my discovery and rather than calling me crazy, he opined that if I sold this and this and this, devoted all my part-time job money and put it all in a shoe-box, eventually I would have the money. Idiocy turned into scheming.

The DT-990’s sold along with a few other items and my efforts filled the box up to $2000 pretty quickly, so I called the importer to let him know my intentions. He had two pairs in stock, so I was covered!

Finally the day came and the shoe-box was full so I called to pick up my treasure. Only he had just sold the last of his remaining stock. But don’t worry, he said, more are on order. Arrrggghhh! Months went by. The importer said they are on back order, be patient! I have a better idea, sell me your demo pair! He declined…

Of course, no R-10’s would be forthcoming. A year or so went by and I gave up, though they remained in my mind.

One evening during a trip to John’s place, headphones came up and I told my sad story. Oh, I have a pair said John. He had bought a pair based on my enthusiasm (I didn’t know). From my friend, the importer. One of his last two. MY PAIR!!!! Arrrggghhh again!

The Sennheiser Orpheus seemed a good alternative, but would have required two more shoe-boxes and was hardly portable. I bought a pair of Grado HP-1000, good, but not the same. Eventually, I called the importer on the off-chance that he would sell his demo R-10’s since they were by then officially discontinued. Oops, he had already sold them.

We fast forward to about two years ago. Thoughts of my old flame were far from my mind, but looking around on Audiogon one morning, my heart skipped a beat. There it was; SONY R-10 FS! Gulp! I quickly clicked off the ‘Gon, shut off the computer and went to work. Would Bo have aged gracefully in the ensuing years? Should I spend the money?

Upon returning home from work I knew what I had to do. I went to Audiogon and found the ad only to be greeted by an ominous red SOLD! No, it can’t be! Not again! My eye then caught the zip code. Could it be? Yep, John had finally decided to sell his Sony’s. I swung and missed again.

Sometimes the fates have their own agenda and we have to learn to accept that. We all have our R-10s, our old girlfriends, the car we should have bought and so forth. The R-10 is my audio product that got away. And like old girlfriends and cars, the art is in knowing when to give up and get over it…