Responses to music: drug-like versus spacing out

While at RMAF 2012 I noticed I had 3 possible responses to the sound in a room:

1. Got to be some way out of here
2. Piles of troubles – Major Tom spacing-out until the song is over
3. Not so bad, interesting in its own way. Then more Major Tom spacing-out

In case #2, I was spacing out because I did not want to listen to the sound anymore.

In case #3 I was spacing out because I found the music nice and relaxing. Kind of a lot different than finding the music ‘engaging’ – but I found nothing engaging at RMAF but I will be, was, very happy with just ‘relaxing’ in those circumstances.

But one of the things I was spacing out about, if you can stand the recursion, is how ‘spacing out’ is related to responses to drug-like sound.

I think that pure drug-like sound pushes us around like a hurricane blows dead leaves around – that we have almost no conscious choice in the matter whether we are spacing out, sometimes to the point of hallucinating, or forced to focus on the subtleties of the music like our lives depended on it.

If this is so, then spacing out to a relaxing sound is just a response to a very, very mild drug-like sound, and that we are all kind of sailing the waters between this and an ultimate music experience every time we listen to music that sounds good enough to be in the range of ‘relaxing’ to ‘drug-like’.

This is great news for people who have built a decent sounding system – that decent and relaxing is on the path the drug-like.

But the sad thing is that 90% of the people we correspond with or visit – their systems are by composition and construction abrasive and obnoxious. They kind of know this about their system – but they think that all systems are like this, and that the rest of us are just making stuff up about drug-likeness and engagement and relaxation.

To the point that, from my observations of both audiophiles and reviewers, they refuse to believe what they hear when they walk into a room with non-abrasive sound. That they think something is ‘wrong’ when the sound is NOT atonal, sharp, uneven and emphasizing random frequencies and dynamics while completely obliterating others, collapsing all frequencies around various frequencies into one slap-in-the-face spike in hardness, etc. etc. etc.

To me, this is like wearing a watch that periodically pokes you with something sharp to the point of almost drawing blood from your wrist, or a bicycle that has a seat so ill designed that you can only ride it for 10 minutes without getting sore, or a car that has several things that start to rattle when you go over 30 mph.

People, you can do better than this. Music can, at a minimum, sound relaxing. Seriously. This is important. :-) [ I think this inability to grasp the relative quality of things is a real problem with people being able to fathom and enjoy our hobby… and our world]

RMAF 2012 – Report

A report – of sorts.

There was nothing really ambitious at the show. As Neli might [does :-)] put it, there is always “some piece of crap” in an otherwise interesting system. This a) prevents the system from sounding good and b) makes it impossible to really hear what the good pieces are doing.

Oh well.

My focus was therefore a) what sounded good at the price and, more difficult, b) what goes into a sound that not only sounds good but, for me personally, one that I could live with for 6 months, a year, 5 years.

We didn’t exhibit this year, so maybe people did not know how to find us, but it seems a lot of the people we know were unable to make it. The consensus was that overall traffic was down, though I thought Friday it was quite crowded.

Those manufacturers who didn’t make it this year but who have exhibited recently here are: Magico, Avantgarde, Hansen,Joe Roberts and Silbatone, Acapella, Revel, BAT …

The headphones part of the show is continuing to grow – up to maybe about 30 booths now.

Best of Show

This best-of-show is according to my taste which consists of, in priority order: correct timbre, good control and separation, good resolving of the subtleties of the music, and good midi-dynamics and otherwise NO extremely bad distracting behavior. Soundstage and imaging, powerful bass, room pressurization etc. are less important to me, although I do enjoy them [and do use them as indicators of overall quality].

This year my BOS is the Estalon, Vitus room. The Estalon speaker rooms have also been consistently good for the last several shows.

I enjoyed many other rooms: Audio Note, the PranaFidelity and Musical Design room, Studio Electric, Rthem, the Gershman and VAC room, the Acoustic Zen and Tri room, the Nola and ARC room, the YG Acoustics and Veloce room, the Von Schweikert VR 22 room, Odyssey Audio, the Von Schweikert and McIntosh room.

All these room have real issues, but I could have spent the entire show in any of them and not run screaming. The ultimate test for all of us I guess :-)

Our Show Reports

We took over 1000 photos and we will be posting photos of each room soon.


I am no longer going to write Show Reports that describe and analyze the sound in any kind of detail.

My point to these show reports has been to describe the sound in detail, describing why and how each system is not perfect. How we must each choose our poison as well as our needs and preferences. How each system is a compromise.

But I feel that such an intellectual approach is not all that welcome by many for whom high-end audio is an emotional endeavor or exploration of possibilities… or a business… instead of what, for me, is a pursuit of the ultimate musical experience.

I tried using many different ‘voices’ to the reports, some of which pissed EVERYBODY off [:-)], and some of which just annoyed those who think their particular thing is The One, that will lead all of humanity to the golden age of enlightenment and joy… [until the next better version is released anyway :-)].

We will still do Show Reports with just tons of photos, and we have a few ideas :-) that, when we get the time, we think will make EVERYBODY happy, including those like me who have a real, deep abiding hunger to know what EVERYTHING sounds like – the good, the bad, and the ugly… and the beautiful.

RMAF 2012 – Day 3

A few odds and bits – mostly of the last day.

The smaller [compared to previous years] Nola speakers were in room 2021. Always a nice big relaxed clear sound in this large room.

Acoustic Zen in room 1009. Also always reliable providing us all a musical and engaging sound.

Audio Limits with the big Venture speakers on FM Acoustics filled, FILLED, this large room with loud authoritative rock and roll

An attempt to capture what the Audio Power Labs amps on the Leonardo speakers really looked like in person in the Pikes Peak room on the Mezzanine

Ray Kimber and the Bronco’s marching band. Ray arranged for these folks to play at the end of the show. They later played some rousing music to help people pack by both in the area by the tower elevators and in the atrium. I was up on the 5th floor packing and when they played in the atrium, it was quite loud. A reminder that real acoustic music is often louder than how most of us play it at home.

Neli and Bob Neill of Amherst Audio

Neli and Dave Cope of Audio Note

Mike Marko previous of Audiophile Systems now with Nordost – perhaps just a wee bit little slower on the draw than yours truly :-)

Klaus Bunge of Odyssey Audio demonstrating another possible use for a piece of his massive $1000 4-shelf rack

Goodbye RMAF, until next year.