My own “profound” experiences with audio playback (where I was moved by the sound) have always been related to acoustics/room. Sometimes it all comes together, and equipment that have no right to sound much better than a table radio can sound magical. Actually there was a time when a table radio in my father in-law’s study sounded so good I wanted to smash it (lol); it made me feel like a fool for having spent tens of thousands of dollars on stuff (yes, I am a fool). I have been astounded by sound blasting out of speakers hanging in open spaces in amusement parks, and sound in musical theater venues, where every piece of equipment would probably not fit the traditional audio-snob definition (cheap cables, tone controls, mixers, conventional ported box speakers in multi-arrays). And electricity….I dare not go there but I recall a Wall Street Journal article on Japanese audiophiles who install their own utility poles (August 2016 Japanese Audiophiles Are Going To Extremes).
John, this is quite serious subject and I spent some time to think about it as well. Let me to share how I feel about it.
Over 17 years back, I was visiting one of the Boston’s stores that sell used CD/records and in the store, I had some sort of the argument about music with the store owner. The store had old and very bad sounding loudspeaker siting behind the shelf, the flea market level loudspeaker and it was powered by 5-cd changer with built in 25W amplifier. You get the picture. So, during the argument with the store owner (who was incredible asswhole but who knew music very well) we were listening some music fragments to illustrate our points. One day I was listening home (and I had already a nice playback then) the same music as we were listening in the store during argument and I sensed that the expressivity of musical impressions in the store was more prominent. I thought that it was because the attention to that music in that store during the argument was more contextual but soon I learned, after consecutive visits to the store, that it was not the case. For sure the sound I was getting home was much more sophisticated from any single point of view but at the very same time, the sound I was getting in the store was very perfectly sufficient to stimulate my responsiveness at very high level. I have a lot to say on this topic but it is not the subject of my post.
Anyhow, I was thinking a lot about it and I, very much like you, at that time I was wondering if my time and money investment into audio was some kind of self-delusion. So, I am very much familiar with what you felt after visiting your father in-law’s study, I can tell you even more. My story in that music store and my arguing with myself about the worth of my involvement in audio is to the great degree serves as a base of my general overview about high-end audio. So, here is what I learned about myself.
Yes, I have a few regrets for many steps I took in audio but generally I do not feel that my audio-involvement was foolish. As a retrospect, I feel that foolish part in my audio journey took place when my motivations did not brew with me. Any single time I was listening recommendation or solicitation from any external party I unavoidably ended up with waste of time, money and NEVER got satisfaction. To me, a pleasure in audio starts when I declared all audio-involving humanity as dead and then I use my audio solely for satisfaction of my own interest, curiosity, objectives and sensations. When I look at my past and see how much money and how much time I wasted I never feel apologetic about the waste if it was my own original motivation. On other hand, when I look at the projects that I was involved that were inspired by advise of others (and, trust me, there were plenty of these in my audio live) then I do feel incredible regrets for the time and the resources spent.