March 2009

Jim and Joe

Over the past couple of months I've been trading e-mail with a reader about two subjects near and dear to me: music and audio equipment. Every few weeks, Jim, as I'll call him, has written to ask me a question. First, he was interested in digital front-ends, then amplifiers. Now he's moved on to cables – interconnects, speaker cables, and a power cord for his new universal player. Amidst this back-and-forth, Jim and I have traded e-mail about a kind of music he's becoming interested in and one I know pretty well: jazz. We've discussed pianists and trumpeters, with recommendations for recordings along with way. We're now moving on to guitarists. Jim knows that I'm a classicist -- that I prefer music from jazz's heydays in the 1950s and 1960s -- over much of what's produced today, with some notable exceptions that I've told him about. I've been unguarded with Jim, telling him what I like and why I like it. He has reciprocated with some feedback on recordings he purchased and enjoyed, and this has helped me see them in a different light.

Through our interactions, I've learned a few things about Jim, especially when he told me which electronics and speakers he uses, and he in turn has learned some things about me, including that I'm a curmudgeon about certain things related to music. I enjoy this give and take, the sense that although we are, in fact, strangers, Jim and I are honest with each other in order to reach some higher plane of knowledge and understanding.

The essence of the interaction I've had with Jim is at the center of writing about audio equipment, though not everyone realizes this. During the time I've been trading e-mail with Jim, I also traded e-mail with a person within the audio industry -- much less cordial e-mail. Aside from not liking something I wrote, this fellow, whom I'll call Joe, has implied that I have some deep, dark agenda involving, I surmise from reading and rereading his messages, the systematic propping up of a competitor's products at the expense of what he makes. He overlooks the fact that I've praised his products, choosing to see conspiracy in honest commentary.

My feelings about this are many, but most of all I am saddened by what's lost because of such contentiousness: the simple fact that listening to music reproduced well is a joyous thing. This is the beating heart of high-end audio -- a meaningful experience with music, and one that can be repeated over and over again. In these tough economic times, people are taking stock of their lives, trying to figure out what's essential and what's not. For me, listening to music is essential. It's not just background noise or entertainment but a way of feeding the creative spirit, which is something we all possess to some degree.

I think both Jim and Joe would agree with me, so there's a bit of common ground amongst us all. Perhaps someday we'll meet, trade notes about music and audio gear, and revel in each other's experience and expertise. I know Jim and I would be up for that.

...Marc Mickelson