Audiophilia Nervosa:

    Audiophilia nervosa describes the anxiety resulting from the never-ending quest to obtain the ultimate performance from one's stereo system by means of employing state-of-the-art components, cables, and the use of certain "tweaks."

    Although the goal is supposedly to achieve maximum appreciation of the music, those afflicted with this condition are merely obsessed with their electronics.

    Todd had spent well over $100,000 in speakers, monoblock amplifiers, fiber optic cables, Shakti stones, pre-amolifiers, and other equipment and tweaks. And yet he still wasn't convinced that Diana Krall's voice sounded "silky" enough.

For those unaware, I do sound for a living. For those aware, there is a point of diminishing returns in pursuit of audio quality that is hit long before you leave Best Buy. Not only have I experienced a double-blind A/B test between $80 Monster Cables and a pair of RCAs soldered to coat hangers, I've seen the data. If you think your stereo is good enough, congratulations! It is! If you think it isn't, the solution is to spend the lesser of (A) what makes you comfortable to spend (B) what your significant other is comfortable with you spending and then enjoy your rippin' stereo.

So why, given the tirade above, would I venture forth...

...with two good buddies...

...for the second time...

...and pay $15 admission each...

...for the purpose of evaluating bleeding-edge hi-fi gear?

SCHADENFREUDE, BITCH. Pure, unbridled mockery. Fuckin' best entertainment value in Orange County, I tell you what. Strap in 'cuz this shit's a hoot.

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In pursuit of statistically-insignificant search terms, The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society has named their convention/trade show/circlejerk T.H.E. Show (which stands for "The Home Entertainment" thereby starting you off auspiciously with not only a nested acronym, but a teeth-grindingly vague masthead). It's worth noting that the "Audio Society" is not at all the same thing as the Audio Engineering Society, which I have been a member of, and which generally professes a belief in and endorsement of physics. But hey. You know what you're looking for. You're looking for sweaty 60-year-old fat men in Hawaiian shirts seriously contemplating the purchase of $13k speaker cables. Well come on down to Irvine, bitch, where there is no greater concentration of speakers that look like Daleks in North America. Let's begin!

Not shown in this picture is the five rows of chairs filled with sweaty men. They weren't stinky yet because we were still on the ground floor (the show takes about half the floors of the 14-floor Irvine Somethingorother Hotel and there aren't enough elevators to make that work, so a whole bunch of out-of-shape old dudes end up climbing 28 flights of stairs unexpectedly which makes the top floor pretty ripe). Also not shown is the audio source. It's almost always a computer running iTunes. RIGHT? I suppose it's running FLAC or WAV or some shit and of course there's a USB DAC worth eleven gajillion dollars (to someone) and in between there's an eleven hundred dollar audiophile USB cable which, by the way, was a door prize that I didn't win because I forgot because I was too busy making fun on the sly.

Because this shit has oodles of front to back layering, baby. It's a $1500 USB cable, by the way.

It's interesting because these guys spend a shit-ton on their cables:

which, often, are bigger around than a garden hose... but neck down to the exact same 12-gage spade lug connectors you would buy at Autozone if you cared enough to do more than just twist the ends together on your 30-cents-a-foot lamp cord. Yet they buy these... things and those amplifiers? The ones on the floor? Sitting there like the goddamn Rosetta Stone? They put out like 35W.

This is because in the land of audio purity, you have to find the buzziest, most distortion-friendly amplification source you can. So everybody runs tubes. Tubes that are a minuscule percentage as efficient as a modern Class D (or even Class A) amplifier. Which leads to the chicken-egg question of audiophilia:

Do they listen to nothing but smooth jazz because it's all their gear can take? Or do they buy the gear because all they listen to is smooth jazz?

Here's a picture of a dalek speaker.

Well, here's a picture of two dalek speakers with a dude walking in front of them. Google tells me they are MBL 101s and that they cost $70k a pair. I know this because I google image searched "high end omnidirectional audiophile loudspeaker". Try it. It's fucking hilarious. More Daleks than a Dr. Who convention. BUT HOW DO THEY SOUND?!??!??!? You ask. No, you don't, because you don't really care either. Well, here's the funny thing. They sound kind of tinny and kind of like shit. Probably because they are a violation of most known electroacoustic principles and they're powered by these shit little vacuum tube monoblock amps soldered together in some German dude's basement. And while last year these crazy fucking things were being driven by a Kronos Turntable ($80k - before you buy the tone arm - look it up)

This year:

Yup. Twelve thousand dollars worth of 1/4" reel-to-reel tape. You need to click that link, by the way. The web design is something else. But I digress - the awesome thing is that someone had a James Taylor song, in some form, and then recorded it on fucking tape to make it sound more magically better. Obviously, the portability, random access and general ease of use went way the fuck up, too. Let's head upstairs, shall we?

OH FUCK MAYBE NOT. I don't remember what these people were selling. We were in there long enough to notice they had wine, our retinas were being scarred, and that the whole place smelled like your uncle's armpit. Walking in was sort of like stumbling into a swingers' club before the clothes came off. With more lasers. It was super-sketchy. But that happens a lot.

You see, the act of visiting T.H.E.Show is effectively the act of bumbling through two hundred closed hotel doors to see how weird the occupants are and how bad they smell. The fact that the doors are held open with washcloths wrapped in duct tape (which heavily reminds you of the sock on the door knob from your dorm years), that the lights are all dim, and that the music all sounds like Sade but not quite as good does not put you in the frame of mind to critically evaluate some fuckin' $20k dalek powered by surplus soviet vacuum tubes. It puts you in a frame of mind to evaluate every room as a bizarre cross of Eyes Wide Shut and Honey Boo Boo. And then sometimes there are lasers. Lots of lasers.

I should also mention that it's not good enough to have incredibly expensive speaker cables between your incredibly expensive speakers and your incredibly expensive amplifiers and components. You also need incredibly expensive power cables. Behold, Voltron's tapeworm:

It's the Verastarr Grand Illusion Statement, beyotch. Yes. Leather. Most of them had carbon fiber. When we asked someone what, exactly, is a poor audiophile supposed to do about the fact that his outlets come from Home Depot? we were shown audiophile-grade wall plugs. They had white LEDs in them. They were awesome. We did not ask about price. And to be fair, I asked no questions at this entire show. It's like the porn-slappers in Vegas - if you let them touch you, you have to take a brochure. And all of these guys are sweaty, wear hawaiian shirts and have halitosis. They'll also say things like "that's not distortion, you just flattened the speaker" when you turn their Dave Brubeck up to 4. That's what friends are for. To turn Dave Brubeck up to 4 and ask questions that lead to great quotes like "because it has carbon nanoparticles that absorb the acoustic vibrations of the electrical energy." In case you wanted to know why you'd pay $12k for a power cable.

Awesome things I didn't take pictures of: the prolapsed anus speaker company.

The brochure is a trip. Fuckin' speakers weigh 600kg each and are recommended to be driven with 18 watts. They're also $240k a pair.

Hey, how 'bout a portable tube headphone amp?

We listened to these and looked at each other. They didn't just sound bad, they sounded bad. They're $1800 each, unless you want the gold one, in which case it's an extra $100. Bonus points because one of them was powered by a Sony walkman-thing, and another was powered by an I-shit-you-not Zune. They're made by a company called "Woo." Yes. "Woo."

Although to be honest, this year wasn't quite as spectacular as last year. A lot of the dalek speakers didn't show up. There were legitimate companies like Pioneer and Onkyo, who appear to have showed up because they've learned that millenial twitchfucks will pay way too much for a pocket preamp for their headphones but figured out too late that the only millenials at this show were the ones dragged by their parents (the manufacturers of prolapsed anus speakers). JBL Synthesis showed up, and basically laid waste to everyone; most audiophile companies serve the "I have more dollars than sense but a feverish desire to get my hands dirty with this shit" crowd while JBL Synthesis is the company you call when your client says "I want the most expensive sound system I can buy, also it has to sound good." I would say the Synthesis rig was probably the 2nd or 3rd best sound system I've ever heard, it cost $120k per side, and didn't look like much. But then, that's what you buy (or, in my case, spec) JBL Synthesis for - silencing dissent. The people who buy it don't want metal flake sphincters in their living room. And most disappointingly, there were at least five girls there. When you remove the daughters of three vendors, that leaves two women who came of their own volition... and I saw one that was actually hawt. She had a badge like the rest of us. I'm not sure what she was doing there.

Nonetheless, it was a hoot. We jammed before close, hit my buddy's parents' house in Laguna and got plastered on scotch. If you ever find yourself around Newport Beach in June, and can put up with the smell of 5,000 rich republicans with no sense of scale when it comes to stereo systems, I wholeheartedly recommend you get your fill of



steve:

This post..... makes me so happy. Thanks for the write up.. and so weird that I was in Laguna like... a day before you.

For a short time while at university, I worked for these guys. Don't get me wrong, they make a helluva nice sounding speaker, and I learned a bunch while working there... but they suffer from some serious crazy. Because, you know, if you're going to spend $250,000 on a pair of speakers, you have to spend at least as much on a pair of monoblocks, and like $30k on cables.

They did all kinds of things to convince themselves their speakers are worth the price of admission. They'd build the cabinets out of weird things like Corian. They'd get high end drivers and then glue an extra magnet on the back. When we were finished building and testing the crossovers, we'd fill them in with "potting solution" which was some kind of hardening resin/epoxy (you know - to keep the spies out).

I love some good audio... but my 1993 Pioneer and Infinity reference speakers using radioshack copper are JUST fine.


posted by kleinbl00: 530 days ago