Musicology Begins at Home

When I was growing up, calling Dad to dinner required a trip down carpeted stairs to the basement, an audiophile man cave in a time before the term had been invented. I'd open the door from the kitchen, and a great wall of sound would emerge—and nearly blow me back before I descended the stairs.

Next, I'd gauge how best to make contact, which depended upon his degree of musical immersion. I hated to jolt him out of the experience. Most times he'd be relaxed, eyes closed, head gently nodding or fingers or a foot tapping to the beat. Or he might be reading LP liner notes. Once in a while, he'd be fully under the musical spell, and I'd have no choice but to tap him on the shoulder or yell, "Dad! Dinner!" It felt like such a banal chore to interrupt the thrilling strains of a spectacular Wagnerian aria from Das Rheingold, for instance. Once, I found him standing and conducting an orchestral piece, which left him startled and embarrassed. Sorry, Dad.

Sometimes after dinner we'd listen together. He'd introduce me to Robert Johnson, or a particularly dynamic operatic passage. When CDs came out, he'd have me stand in the sweet spot and close my eyes, and he'd play a song on both vinyl and CD to see if I could tell one from the other. The differences were clear (footnote 1).

Housed in the main room, his floor-to-ceiling, nearly wall-to-wall classical and opera LP collection was meticulously organized by recording label in a system that was lost on me. Why would anyone need or want to have the same opera or ballet or classical piece of music on Decca and EMI and Deutsche Grammophon? Years later, my father told me about RCA Living Stereo recordings, how some of these classics were incredibly well recorded, but it took decades for analog gear and technology to "catch up" to where a recording's playback potential could be fully realized. Take the Fritz Reiner/CSO recording of Respighi's Pines of Rome (RCA LSC-2436), which famously, or infamously, caused vintage systems to crumble under its weighty dynamic demands. Even today I still find it amazing what one can extract from a record's tiny grooves (but I do love streaming, too!).

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My dad taught me how and in what order to switch on the components. I was curious to gain at least a rudimentary understanding of how they worked their magic. Even in my earliest memories as a wide-eyed, chubby-faced innocent, I was intrigued by the fact that those majestically glowing tubes had plenty to do with the gorgeous, exciting sounds coming through the speakers. I knew not to touch them but was fascinated by the apparent energy in the tubes. I'd stare at them, transfixed, and marvel at the electricity I could see—and hear. I handled each step—each flip of a switch, each turn of a knob—with care and reverence. Placing the stylus into the record groove—that final moment always made me a little nervous: I'd hold my breath as the tonearm made its slow, delicate descent. Maybe a pop or tick, then silence, superseded by glorious sound.

When I was 10, at Christmas, my father gave me a system of my own: Advent 300 receiver, Audio-Technica turntable, and Infinity two-way bookshelf speakers. Before we were old enough to drive, my best friend and I would take two buses from the 'burbs to shop at record stores near the University of Cincinnati, known for its College-Conservatory of Music. Day and night, we'd listen to records and watch MTV. My father and I would go to record shows together, and when my family took vacations to larger cities, he and I split off and hit Wax Trax in Chicago, Bleecker Bob's in NYC, and Recycled Records in San Fran's Haight-Ashbury. He'd hunt for vintage R&B and classic film soundtracks while I crate-dug for '80s whatnot, particularly 12" British pop singles (New Order, the Smiths, too much Duran Duran) and what would later be dubbed Alternative, New Wave, or Post-Punk: the Pixies, Talking Heads, Blondie, etc.

As adolescence shifted into full-blown teenagerhood, more pressing matters were at hand—rigorous ballet and oboe lessons, academic team, and, yeah, boys—and my time spent with dad sharing music waned. But I still listened to LPs in my room constantly, with certain records in heavy rotation.

Time marches on. My dad—yes, he's still around—has started going to audio shows again, and once in a while, usually on a holiday, we find time to listen together.

Today, ensconced in my own listening room, which is also my main living space, I'm grateful for the adventures I've had so far in music and audio, and I'm looking forward to more. Stay tuned.


Footnote 1: Back then, he had Rogers LS3/5a speakers atop Rogers's chunky subwoofers, driven by an Audio Research SP8 preamp and a Dynaco ST-70 amp. Records spun on a Linn Sondek LP12. Today, the BBC speakers have been replaced by Magnepans, the Linn by a VPI. Newer ARC and McIntosh amplification.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Looking forward to reading audio equipment reviews by JM, in Stereophile :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If AirPods were available back then, the story might have been different, may be :-) .......

volvic's picture

I believe this is being played out in every audiophile household. While my six-year-old doesn't appreciate the music I listen to he has started to notice the turntables that spin the music and has gravitated towards the rosewood LP-12. He says it is his favorite and can't wait for the day when it becomes his (I can!!). He also wants all of my records. I do hope my love for the gear and music will rub off on him and keep him hooked further, as this is the only way to ensure the survival of two-channel hifi.

Jack L's picture

Hi

I just can't help envying you guys got an "audiophile household"!

Why? My family is not that audiophile-oriented. Sad to say, my wife is pretty indifferent to HiFi music, which apparently she finds too noisy to her ears.

That said, it was she who enrolled my 2 sons in classical piano tuition
when they were only 5 & 3 respectively. They were too short to sit on the piano bench by themselves without help!

My younger son showed no interest in music & quitted in 2 months. My elder son managed to carry & got graduated in our city's Royal Conservatory of Music in theory & practice of classical piano with first class honour when he was 18 before entering university actuary study.

But so what with his formal music training? Till today he still never owns any HiFi, & enjoys earbud music from his iPhone & laptop.

That being the situation, I built my audio den down my house basement in order not to disturb my wife & my family since day one we moved into our house 30 years back!!!!

So home sweet home upstairs & music sweet music in my own music paradise downstairs.

Listening is believing

Jack L
Canada

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you could start playing some Rap/Hip-Hop music ....... It could sound great with your subwoofers ....... Your sons may like that music :-) .......

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sorry, 'm too for me & too hippy for my family!

Jack L

Peter K123's picture

Thanks Julie Mullins for the wonderful and touching article

Anton's picture

Your dad is the bomb!

I passed on the disease to one of my kids, but the other one is content with whatever happens to be playing wherever he is.

Interestingly, they both love music equally.

My spouse is an enthusiastic and energetic music lover. She knows how to work the dad-hi-fis, but is content with her iPhone and ear buds or a boombox as she does stuff.

Our local club has a fantastic member who does not have a hi fi at home, nada, but likes our meetings because every system sounds different. He simply doesn't get compelled to join the audio rat race, so to speak. He prefers variety over commitment. We have planar only members, digital only analog only, wire worshippers and wire atheists, etc...

Musicology comes in all flavors, for sure!

Thanks for a great piece!

CKKeung's picture

Thanks JM!

This is definitely one of the best essays on Stereophile!

I have forwarded it to my two kids at once!

Charles E Flynn's picture

https://elusivedisc.com/fritz-reiner-respighi-pines-of-rome-fountains-of-rome-200g-45rpm-2lp/

Also on Hybrid SACD:

https://elusivedisc.com/fritz-reiner-respighi-pines-of-rome-fountains-of-rome-hybrid-multi-channel-stereo-sacd/

Jack L's picture

Hi

For sure I don't want to spend big on "Pines of Rome" & the like LPs as I somehow don't like the music melody.

That said, I still got the same LP title of 2 different labels dirt cheap from a thrift store. Wouldn't complain for such dirt cheap price!

In digital disc, thanks but no thanks. LP sounds much better !

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

See, JM's reviews of Monitor Audio Platinum PL500 II and KEF LS-50 Nocturnes in TAS, as examples ...... JM is a great reviewer :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

This account brings a happy tear to my eye.

My Mother was the Audiophile in our household, I was her technical assistant that kept her Magnavox singing.

My mother was an Operatic performer in the 1930's that owned are rather large 78 collection that continued & advanced well into the 33.3 Vinyl era. ( I have her entire collection ).

Back in those days, we didn't realize we were Audiophiles even thought my mom adored the Rogers LS3/5a system that I purchased for her in England.

Reading this story took me right back to 1950s, after installing a Benjamin Miracord Changer and Phono PU in mom's System and then Playing a New Erica Morini Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Album and falling in a love that remains to this day.

Thank you for helping me with these memories.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JM is 'like father, like daughter' ....... Tony is 'like mother, like son' :-) .......

Jack L's picture

...... for her in England" quoted Tony

Yes, so you both had good musical ears. The original Rogers BBC Monitor was famed as a best sounding bookshelves back then. I still like its sound very much.

Sadly, the new 'Rogers' alike in the marketplace today, IMO, would not be as same good sounding as the original tweeter & woofers were no longer available from KEF, the origianl OEM.

The original old Rogers sounded superb when mounted on its designated heavy duty tall steel stands. Strangely enough, it would not as fine if not mounted on something else. FYI, never play the Rogers on shelf or table. It won't sound as good!

Like any small bookshelvers, the Rogers lacks realistic bass while it performs superb on high, low & mid low in terms of soundstaging, precise pin-pointing imaging, airy & dynamically alive.

So it needs an active subwoofer to supplement its lacking deep bass.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Bookshelf speakers generally could sound good, if they use isoAcoustics Aperta series speaker stands, even if they are placed on desk-tops ....... isoAcoustics isolation devices are highly rated by many pro and consumer audio magazines, including Stereophile ......... isoAcoustics even won EISA awards :-) .........

John from Toronto's picture

So nice to see you over at Stereophile. What a charming story. I also have a daughter named Julie. She is 27 and is an actor in Toronto. She also plays the piano. I would like to think I have had an influence on her as I love movies and music. My wife is a musician, so she gets most of the credit. I have always enjoyed your writing. So nice to have a woman writing about audio! When you first started writing for TAS, I wanted to give you this advice; Don't become jaded! I stopped reading Valin because he usually began his show reports by complaining about having to attend another show with poor sounding rooms etc. etc. Poor me. You always seemed to enjoy yourself at the shows, and why wouldn't you? You were doing something you loved.
I know your Dad is very proud of you!

SpinMark3313's picture

I sent this to my 27 year old daughter, my youngest, who, along with her brother, is my favorite audio buddy.
She took a jazz class at UCLA and the professor stopped calling on her because she was the only one who would raise her hand to answer questions or give insights.
She's a terrific musician and knows theory, but credits me for her jazz knowledge as well as the time the prof, exasperated, looked at her with her hand up, and sighed: "Anybody else?"
Awesome you are on board the Stereophile team.

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