Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Confessions of a Former Would-Be Stereophile

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.


DarkoV said...

I am Curious Yellow. Or maybe some other colour; I'm not sure, I'm just curious.

You mentioned that the Stereo-For-Life receiver broke down. Are you keeping it..somewhere in hopes that, like Ted Williams' head, there will be a cure in the future to fix that receiver?

I ask because, well, because I'm hoping I have a comrade-in-arms as regards the resurrection of Kaput Stereo Equipment. SOmewhere in the bowels of my house, I have sequestered:
1 Carver amplifier that amplifies, uhmm, one channel, that being the right.
1 Onkyo receiver that has three inout jacks, one of which works. Oh, and the dials don't ligth so a flashlight is needed at night when changing stations.
1 Kenwood Tuner in 100% working condition but filed away since modern receivers have great tuner sections within them.
1 Panasonic 5 cd changer that plays if slots 1 through 3 are used. #4 and #5 are as unpredictable as a 16 yr old.
1 A/R turntable, manual model, with the "rubber band" style disc-turning methodology and the turntable plate that's heavy enough to double as a 25 lb weight plate.

My wife wonders if I'll ever get rid of this "junk" (her cruel words, not mine). She's pulled a fast one on me and threatened NOT to bury them with me when I blow out my last speaker in the sky.

WP, Tell me it's not just me!??!

DarkoV said...

...oh and that Home Theatre stuff? Those 2 words, Home and Theatre, should never have been put together. It's like Home Whorehouse.
When I think of theatre, I think of:
1) Tub-O-Popcorn
2) Vat-O-Coke
3) Sticky floors
4) Uncomfortable chairs..and you'd neer think of spreading yourself out on the floor!
5) Mentally challenged and attitude overloaded employees who do not resemble in any shape or form your own kids.
6) Blaring sound from the adjacent room.
7) Commercials before the show. Oh, wait a minute, I do have that at home. Why would I pay $9.00 to sit in a smello mysterioso chair to see loud commercials.
8) Speaking of loud, theatres remind me that I have no control over anything happenning there, except for my departure.

So, no Home and Theatre combo for this guy.

Whisky Prajer said...

You've struck close to the nerve, DV. Truth be told, I haven't psyched myself up to taking it out of the car's trunk. But when I do, it'll go straight into the garbage can. Mr. Tekkie was nothing if not communicative, and the picture he painted of my receiver's internal woes was graphic enough to persuade me of its total demise. There are piece of "junk" in our basement, though, make no mistake. In fact, one of them is my old 286 - my very first PC. Nothing's wrong with it, except it's old, too slow for words and can't run any of the word-processor software I like to use. Also, I've got my original tape-deck - odd, since the original CD player was the first thing to disappear when I finally bought a DVD player.

As for Home and Theatre, I'm afraid that's the sort of technology that actually does stand a chance of enticing me back to those former haunts and their "Sound Chambers", which must be "theatres" by now. That's IF we stumble across an unexpected pocket of extra cash, after we've moved to a different house.... Nope. Not in my cards.

F.C. Bearded said...

"Home Theater" in my house is all of those things Darko mentions... I even have to visit Real Theater on occasion to buy my beloved a bucket o' best,extra butter, and consequent liquid accessories. Or she'll make some in the microwave, stink the whole house out.

And I must disagree: "mentally challenged overloaded employees" very much do resemble in shape and form my offspring.

But bugger me if my surround sound isn't a thing of the past here: since the refurbishment it's been ixnay on wires across the floor. So we're back to stereo.

DarkoV said...

WP's "Car trunk". It is in the off the cuff details of descriptive inconsequence that one finds the secrets of another person's daily life as transformed to secret life.
I like, no, love my car trunk. I especially love it in the fall and winter. I keep a case of 1 liter H2O bottles there, a welcome chilly refreshment when doing errands. Spare bottles motor oil jostle with stacks of magazines not read and thrown out of the house by the ever-loving wife, like guests long past their welcome. Some old clothes as well are tucked into the corners of the trunk. Favorite denim shirts, hole-y and stained, but oh, so comfortable. A slew of LL Bean pullovers, given as gifts and of dubious colours...but I refuse to donate them as they're too pilly to have someone else where and..
...well all of these clothes are good for working on the car, albeit I have enough of them to outfit a troop of mechanics.
Tool boxes (yes, plural) are there, along with a box of books I'd promised to throw away/donate but still can't seem to let go.

Yes, a packrat with wheels. I confess.

Whisky Prajer said...

Egad, DV - how large is this car of yours? We must be talking a 70s-era Imperial or somesuch if it's able to contain that much booty!

DarkoV said...

While I'd love to say that I am driving around in one of those land yachts you mentioned, it is actually a '99 Camry. Amazing trunk size, although the bulges in the back seats may be explained by the family heirlooms in the trunk.