Twenty years ago, with the first few heady paycheques from my first salaried job stashed in my bank account, I enlisted the help of my friend and neighbor and went on the prowl for a home stereo. Stereo salesmen saw a dewy-skinned, nattily dressed kid of 20 walking through their front door, and salivated. I was greeted with wine and cheese; I was ushered into "The Sound Chamber"; I was the recipient of hour-length lectures on Watts-Per-Channel, OHMs and "Rate of Impedance" (when I wittily referred to it as the Rate of Im-PU-dence, I could see this High Priest of Stereophonics literally restrain himself from throwing me out -- I came bearing money, after all).
When all was said and done, I must have burned a month's worth of daylight hours in my quest for the perfect sound system. I probably heard a working day's worth of Dire Straits' "Telegraph Road", a full days' worth of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car", two days' worth of Sting's "Englishman In New York" and three days' worth of Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down That Crazy River" (to this day, I can't imagine any of these songs played at a volume level short of 11, the better to maximize their fibrillation-inducing bass line). One salesman was exceedingly fond of The Judds' "Cow Cow Boogie" and played it over and over and over again. It was a change of pace at least, and I bought my stereo from him.
A couple of grand, a trunkful of boxes, and I was set for life -- or 20 years, with good behavior. And so it was. This winter my receiver finally crapped out on me. Our local tekkie fiddled with it for four months before finally admitting defeat, so I shook hands with him yesterday, then drove to the nearest stereo outlet.
This time I received no wine and cheese -- just the skunk-eye. I got right to the point and told the stereo salesman what I wanted. He asked me if I would be using said receiver for SurroundSound, and I said no. The man hadn't looked especially happy to see me to begin with, but now he looked downright peeved. He ushered me to their stock, pointed at my few options. Twenty minutes and $250 later, I walked out of the store with a receiver I hadn't bothered listening to.
There was a time when I structured a room around my stereo, when I placed my Ikea/Eames knock-off in a strategic spot between the two speakers and simply ... listened. That time has come and gone. I do like a house full of music -- music makes the dreariest tasks just a little easier -- but our television isn't large enough for me to say the words "Home Theatre" without sniggering. And even if it were, I'm still not sold on the vertigo-inducing "virtues" of SurroundSound.
I needed a receiver that worked, and I didn't need to spend a lot of time and money considering which one to take home. And I certainly didn't need a reintroduction to the world of the stereophile.