Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travel Wednesdays #2: Remedies for the Globe-trotting Audiophile

The audiophile is constantly on the pursuit of what the uber-audiophile Harry Pearson calls "The Absolute Sound". "The Absolute Sound" is a recreation of a live musical event as transcribed by the recording engineer on his master tape. Current technologies make this an impossible pursuit. Unless there is a real Scotty that will beam us back in time on the Starship Enterprise's teleporter to the Village Vanguard to hear John Coltrane play his sax or to the CBGB to hear Joey Ramone sing "1-2-3-4...", it is an expensive exercise in futility.

However, this does not stop me and lots of like-minded people to buy recordings and equipment that is as close to this ideal as possible. Until recently, the only way for the serious audiophile to enjoy music will be on a listening chair through a two-channel primarily vinyl record-based home setup. For audiophiles constantly on the move whether doing chores around the house or traveling around the globe, this was a major inconvenience.

With the advances in digital compression and electronics miniaturization, there is now hope. The new audiophile movement called Head-Fi espouses headphones and portable media players as viable alternatives to traditional audiophile home systems. Unlike the traditional home systems, the recreation of the musical event happens in and around your head and not in front of it. It is quite an unusual feeling at first but it can be quite an intoxicating experience because there is more musical detail usually present when listening to headphones.

The Apple iPod can now store hundreds of high-quality recordings without any audible loss of fidelity from the original digital source using FLAC or apple lossless coding. Some purist fans even record their vinyl records to get the best sound. These recordings are then amplified through a portable amplifier the size of a pack of cigarettes that bypasses the low quality internal amplifier of the iPod. An audio line out adapter cable is used to bypass the internal amplifier. Finally, there are premium in-ear earphones and headphones in the market whose prices can rival some home speaker systems.

Aside from Head-Fi, there are also other remedies to the traveling audiophile. The audiophile can search for records at small, hidden specialist vinyl record shops in big cities. It is always a pleasant surprise to find a great album that you have been looking for everywhere in a stack of records at the discount bin. It will make you want to come home faster and spin them on your turntable. Below are a couple of stores I highly recommend. However, these aren't strictly for audiophiles but more really for music lovers because most of the shops listed don't sell "audiophile-grade" vinyl.

NEW YORK - Subterranean Records in Greenwich Village - Limited but great selection of classic rock and jazz vinyl. Downside is the condition of the records aren't that great.

LONDON - Sister Ray in Soho - Wide selection of re-issues and original pressings for alternative music.

TOKYO - Disk Union in Shinjuku - Awesome but sometimes pricey selection. They have separate shops for each genre.

BERLIN - Mr Dead and Mrs Free - Lots of indie records that I've never heard of but the shopkeeper gave great recommendations.

HONGKONG - Shun Cheong in Mongkok - They stock the latest audiophile reissues of classical and jazz masterpieces. Not the place if you are a rock fan.

Finally, go and watch live concerts! Try to find out if there any great artists performing in the city you are in. You can finally see and (more importantly) hear them in the flesh. Audiophiles can be so self-absorbed in how something should sound like that we may not know what the real deal sounds like anymore.

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1 comment:

Rickious said...

Killer post, Miguel Aranez!

You are real audiophile!