"You love your audio more than you love me!"

The blowout happened as I climbed the stairs from the basement, where I'd just spent two hours listening to musi on my hi-fi. Standing rigidly in the archway, a wet sheen of hurt trembling in her eyes, my wife shouted: "You love your audio more than you love me!"

It erupted with such raw emotional force that I knew exactly what she meant, and that she was right: I spent more quality time with my audio than I did with her—or, for that matter, with either of my two homebound teenagers. It was nothing personal; my listening room is my private safe place, conceived and realized in my own image. It's where I regularly go to escape everything—my routine away from my routine. It may not seem like much to the untrained outsider, but my listening room is about as close to an earthly paradise as I've got. It just so happens that it's a paradise whose optimized vantage point is a sweet spot reserved for one: me.

This didn't mean that I love my audio more than I love my wife and kids. It did mean that, in absolute terms, I felt more in my natural element around it than around them—a fact of life I decided not to use in my own defense during my wife's blowout.

Yet, as depressing and debilitating as were the days following that episode—forget my being able to listen to my hi-fi without guilt for a week—it did start me down a path of self-reflection: Was I too much into audio? Was my relationship with audio impinging on my other relationships—on my marriage? More to the point: Was I an addict?

I checked the Internet for the telltale signs of addiction, and recognized a few:

I was sneaky. Behind my wife's back, I smuggled newly bought audio goods into my house, or had them delivered to my office address. It's why I liked ordering gear in small packages: easier to fit into the back of my pants, or bolt down the stairs undetected into my listening room.

I was paranoid. If anyone, including someone I'd risk my life for, came within three inches of my stereo, I would, like a mama bird protecting her nest, let loose a barrage of menacing shrieks, arms flapping wildly until the stunned trespasser had fully exited the Forbidden Zone. I would examine the dust on my speaker cabinets for signs of human passage, such as a fingerprint.

I spent money on audio gear that should have been spent on necessities. Audio can be an expensive pursuit. This was why, at the turn of most seasons, and with brazen insistence, I would reject my kids' pleas for new clothes with the most implausible excuses. A recent one: Like a sociopath, I unblinkingly assured them that The Pee-wee Herman look of too-short shirtsleeves and pant legs is in. "It's retro-cool!"

It's not cool, retro or otherwise. Telling my kids such things is wrong. It's something an addict might do.

Which was why, following the blowout, I sought the expert advice of Dr. Alyson, the bandana'd, straight-shooting bartender who works the afternoon shift at one of my favorite Montreal pubs. While Dr. Alyson isn't a real doctor, such is the quality of the wisdom she serves up with drinks that, among regulars, she's earned the designation Honorary Shrink.

After I'd apprised her of my situation, Dr. Alyson said, as she stuck lime wedges on the rims of two shots of tequila, "You're not addicted to your audio. You just need to invite your loved ones into your world more."

I took a swig of my beer. "They're lost causes," I told her.

"Is that so?" she asked.

I raised one finger "One minute. That's how long they can listen to my system before they start yapping over the music," I said. "They don't care about my hi-fi."

She chuckled hoarsely. "This isn't about your hi-fi. It's about creating family moments around your hi-fi. To do so, you have to follow three rules."

She slid the tequila shots toward a giggling couple at the far end of the bar.

"The first rule: You do not talk about the sound. Second rule: You let your family decide what music to play. Third rule: You let them do and say whatever they want while they're there. If any of it is meant to take root and flourish, it will."

I followed the Three Rules of Dr. Alyson and things did flourish, both inside and outside my listening room. I washed LPs with my daughter. I took my son to record shops on Record Store Day. I danced with my wife to 1990s pop recordings, as we used to do when we paid more attention to each other. Amid all this, I find I'm acting less like an addict. I've also become more sharing.

Which was another point Dr. Alyson made that fateful afternoon: My main audio rig may be sheltered in a private safe place in the basement, but music itself is too universal and powerful to be restrained—it's meant to be shared. To that, I'll add only that music is best shared when the quality of reproduced sound is high.

After all, what better way to show how much we care for someone than by sharing with that person those things we love?—Robert Schryer

COMMENTS
jeffhenning's picture

Because it’s worth it!

Don’t look at it as losing your wife, but gaining the freedom you lost after the nuptials.

As Mick Jagger sang, “Girls are just like streetcars...”

donlin's picture

There’s a lot of truth to this. After quite a few years of being divorced I still don’t take the freedom for granted.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Q: What should you say to your single friends on Valentine's day?

A: Happy Independence Day :-) ............

Anton's picture

I loved your piece, it's all too easy to slip into the "solipsism of audiophilia."

My approach:

1) If I need to get away from it all and slip into an audio man cave for some serious listening to the sound of a recording, to revel in the carnal quality of the imaging, to compare pressings in depth and with an eye toward focusing on innermost detail...I grab a sixer or bottle of wine and head over to one of my audio addict buddies' place and listen in their 'dedicated rooms.' Works great and they are happy for the chat and shared analysis of the sound. I like "different" more than I like "better," so the variety keeps me happy, as well...for free!

2) My wife and kids are hands on for any and all audio gear in the house. I love to come home and find them listening! As some wise audiophile once said, "I know this gear is already broken, so I enjoy it all the more." Us audiophiles have to remember to live improvised lives, eh?

3) My wife's favorite pair of speakers (Lowther based) shall never be swapped out unless she fell in love with something new. I get to fiddle with other parts of that system. Nice compromise!

4) We talk about how things sound all the time, but I make sure I am asking what they think, foremost.

5) Sometimes, audiophiles have to settle for "live, in the next room" as our best gauge of sound on a given day...as we prepare the evening repast and sometimes talk over the music.

6) There is great audiophile joy in creating quality sound where none is expected. I get some leeway for making music sound good on the deck or in the back yard. (Helps satisfy the gear addiction, and it's positive!)

Thanks again for your great post!

rschryer's picture

...and nice approach. You're obviously a great dad/hubby/audiophile/stereophile. :-)

Robin Landseadel's picture

I'm keen on audio. The Mrs. is keen on Binge Watching the Big-Screen TV. We do not share hobbies all that much, but we really don't have a problem with that. She goes her way, I go mine, we meet in the center a lot. We do share some music and some video. In the end, it's not an issue.

jimtavegia's picture

now that I am recording more and she sees a box from Sweetwater.com she knows I've been up to no good. We could be in bars chasing wild women, so this is all a good thing and I use my gear for others and to help others, often at no cost to them. I have no guilt, well, maybe some, but it only lasts a few days.

John Atkinson's picture
jimtavegia wrote:
now that I am recording more and she sees a box from Sweetwater.com she knows I've been up to no good.

I crept up the stairs to the bedroom in the early hours of the morning one night last week

"Where have you been?" my wife asked.

"I cannot lie," I said. "I have been with another woman."

"Don't give me that BS!" she replied. "You've bought another audio product and have been listening to it!"

John Atkinson (on his 3rd marriage)
Editor, Stereophile (and a fellow Sweetwater customer)

vclements's picture

Between work, that pesky irritating thing called "life", the dearly beloved spouse and the blessed sanctity of audio...well the balancing act can be difficult to say the least.
Well, that thing called "life", I am afraid there is little we can do about that.
Work co-exists with "life" and thus is a necessary evil to allow the blessed sanctity of audio to happen and to keep the spouse happy (or at least somewhat happy).

So how are to proceed?

Reverse psychology my friend, reverse psychology!

Start by sadly lamenting to said spouse that "audio is such a lonely hobby" (sad puppy dog eyes help here), and continue by saying "I really really wish I could share the joy of audio with you so we can both share in the wonders"...and (very important) SADLY stroll back to the listening room as though this is a chore.

If all goes well, said spouse will joining you within 15 minutes.
Joyously accept said spouse's interest in your world and heap praise upon praise ...but don't take it too far..there is a careful thin razors edge here where too much praise can become incentive.
At this point, if all goes well, said spouse will be bored to tears in 15 minutes and will say "I have no idea how you do this boring stuff..you have fun".

Ha! Phase one completed!

Time to initiate Phase 2 of our devious plan!

Wait until said spouse is busy, but in a shared location (in front of TV with notebook, front porch working etc etc), then ….and this is exceedingly important and at the same time a HUGE gamble....say to said spouse "Ohh….rats...you're busy...I wanted to spend some time with you"... now be careful, this can very easily backfire and you are stuck spending time with said spouse with now way out, however if timed VERY VERY carefully, said spouse will say "Sorry, I am really busy, can we take a rain check. Why dont you go listen to audio"
WOW!!
"Why dont you go listen to audio"...now also VERY IMPORTANT...say to said spouse sadly "Are you sure. I really wanted to spend some time, but I understand if you are busy"
BINGO..the ball is now in the court of said spouse, so when the spouse is standing at the top of the stair...you can now say "I'm sorry, I offered, but you were too busy..remember?"
BAM...you are in the clear!!!
PLEASE NOTE:
While this did work for me, results may vary..USE CAUTION

Bogolu Haranath's picture

A woman was in bed with her husband's best friend when the phone rang.
After answering and hanging up the phone, she says "that was Harry, but don't worry he won't be home for a while ........ he is playing cards with you".

Anton's picture

But "I" shows up twice.

:-D

Has anybody actually tried the, "Baby, you're lucky I'm not out chasing tail at bars" and had it work?

Allen Fant's picture

Awesome responses to RS dilema.
As a young man, I bartended for my college years. The bartender is an aristocrat work the working class. We gain real-world knowledge and wisdom very quickly or on-the-job training.

Now, to address "you love your audio more than you love me".
I certainly hope so-

Allen Fant's picture

Corrected: The bartender is an aristocrat for the working class.

tonykaz's picture

We Music people need a bit of Magnificence in our Music Delivery for the Family and pre-dinner socializing.

We need Gear that anyone can turn on, select a Song and then turn up the Volume to agreed on levels. A centralized Volume Control like Emotiva offer is the Go-To little tool for everyone to express themselves.

An Audiophile ( stereophile if you're Steve G. looking for another name ) Jukebox for the entire Family and even those guests that stop by to hear lovely music.

The Family system can be Magnapans and Tube Gear as long as everyone/anyone can select the Tune and play to their selected vol.

People stopping by early for Dinner becomes a celebration, who else can build a family system like an Audiophile? ( Stereophile )

Music is an Addiction ( dopamine release ) not a Love ( an emotional dependency ) .

This is the first time in Human History that the average person can realistically hope to own "Everything"! It's possible to be Jay Leno and own every collectable Car ever produced.

Annnnnnnndddddd, it's quite possible to be like some of the Audio Reviewers that own Closets & Apartments filled to brimming with 33.3 Vinyl Records and all the Audio Gear ever sold.

Very few individuals have owned as much gear as I've owned and lived with ( including all the Stereophile staff writing today ) .

Tony in Michigan

SpinMark3313's picture

Robert:
I showed her your essay and she chuckled and nodded knowingly all the way through...
She is the greatest wife an audiophile can have. Though I'm not in the 5 figure stratosphere for components, I've spent more than my fair share on 4 figure pieces.
I don't drink (much), don't chase women (other than her :-)), don't gamble, don't smoke, and don't even watch a lot of sports on TV.
But, my audiophile addiction runs awfully deep. One rule: once the space on our record shelving is exhausted, time to stop, or thin the herd.
Working hard to get off the component merry-go-round (which of course in and of itself takes a good deal of time, attention, and money) and, God bless her, her patience seems inexhaustable.
Not to brag but, OK bragging just a little, I am a blessed man...

rschryer's picture

Not all spouses are as understanding as yours when it comes to our audio obsession.

But I doubt your wife's inexhaustible amount of patience with audio is entirely due to good fortune. I'm willing to bet that a good part of the reason why your wife "is the greatest wife an audiophile can have" is because you include her in your audio world, such as by inviting her to read an article published in Stereophile.

Anton's picture

Plenty of joy to had in all aspects!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Hopelessly Devoted to You" ........... Olivia Newton-John (Grease) :-) .............

rt66indierock's picture

You are an addict. The key thing is how much is your judgement impaired by your addiction? Your listening room has a sweet spot of one. Yet you went to Arkansas in 2017 on a Klipsch Pilgrimage and learned nothing about Paul’s beliefs about why a room shouldn’t have a sweet spot.

You would argue you went there for adequate reasons. I would argue your judgement was impaired and you missed important things that would have prevented your wife’s outburst.

rschryer's picture

I never went to Arkansas for the Klipsch Pilgrimage. The article you're referring to, published in Positive Feedback, came about when a Stereophile letter writer who commented on one of my essays subsequently emailed me personally to ask if I'd help him write a "photo journal" of his Klipsch Pilgrimage experience, an invitation I accepted.

As for the sweet spot in my basement, my orange listening couch has three sweet spots. It's just that the one in the middle, where I normally sit, is that much sweeter than the others.

loudisbeautiful's picture

My solution is to combine my home theater system with my two channel system. My wife loves movies but not so much dedicated music listening. So we are 50/50 movies and music listening. Just bought a pair of Klipsch LaScala II's that Sam was so fond of. Amazing dynamics for movies and they just happen to be fantastic for two channel. :) So I get her involved with the system via home theater. It works for my relationship.

PeterMusic's picture

My hifi is in the living room. I gave up floor standers for B&W 805s and a sub. She gave up a living room without a hifi. I think we're both happier

Doctor Fine's picture

OUR stereo system has been integrated into the fabric of our lives.
It is NOT in a separate room.
It is not hiding in my man cave.
My wife insists on having classical music (RadioSuisseClassique.com) on with coffee as she wakes up in the morning.
We have been known to turn off the TV and go sit in the living room and listen for hours at night.
I DID have to experiment with acoustic treatments and experiment with installation to "tune" the install for the room.
Afterwards I removed a lot of "test" sonex panels until the perfect compromise between "looks" and "performance" was reached.
The idea was to NOT ruin the looks of the room if possible while still using every acoustic setup trick possible.
Nobody can notice the sonex glued to the underside of our coffee table.
The new drapes used to replace Sonex panels seem to fit in perfectly.
The Stereo is OURS.
We USE it all day and all night.
It is frequently more fun than Television.
End of rant.

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