If we’re lucky, every blue moon or so, we meet someone who instantly earns our respect – not necessarily for what they do, but for who they are. Dan Rubin is one such person. I look back at the early days of the formation of the SFAS Executive Team and my asking Dan to come on board. I barely knew him, and even after a few conversations, neither of us were sure to what advantage we could tap his skills and experience and whether he even wanted to take a place of prominence and involvement with the society. But I had a hunch, and I followed it. I’m so glad he decided to join us. The integrity and authenticity with which he lives his life as an audiophile has made his opinions, questions and positions on issues a very important voice, both as a board member, as well as SFAS Director of Membership Development. Here’s his story. Enjoy! ~Alón
Like many an audiophile, I came to love both music and sound at an early age. I recall tinkering with my one-box record player at an early age, removing its tiny speaker and locating it elsewhere to try to improve the sound. My early musical tastes leaned to film scores, later shifting to sixties folk and then jumping on the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and the Dead. Although my parents favored classical music and would take me to performances, with the exception of a few seminal pieces, I didn’t regularly listen to classical music until much later. My tastes today are genuinely eclectic, encompassing rock, classical (I favor 20th Century works), jazz, Americana, folk, world music, percussion, electronic, ambient, and so on. I like to listen to college radio stations; they play some of the best stuff.
I love music, but I also love sound, the glorious, thrilling, sensual experience of sound. And I like different flavors of sound – components and systems that are “musical” and, on the other hand, those that tick all the audiophile sonic boxes. Give me a system that makes all my favorite music enjoyable. But then I miss the detail and resolution and neutrality that different components bring. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. If only I had the room and budget for multiple systems.
I purchased my first component system at age 15. In hindsight, most of my choices for that system were the wrong ones given what was available in1968, thus beginning a pattern of poor decision-making that continues to this day. By now, I’m quite good at it.
Whenever I’d visit friends whose dads had good stereos, I always wanted to have a listen, even if my friends were not interested. I loved the sound and lusted after the gear, which was so cool looking. In department stores or the occasional hifi shop, I’d head to the stereo section and drool, trying to figure how I could swing a purchase. Some things never change.
Although there were bursts of audiophilia nervosa earlier in my life, I clearly remember when I dove into the abyss of the hobby. I had just graduated college and wanted to upgrade the 20 wpc Pioneer integrated I was using to drive my EPI 150 speakers. I chose a beefy Pioneer receiver, which the store had to order. They gave me a less powerful and less expensive Sony as a loaner. Gosh, the Sony sure sounded amazing with my EPIs. The Pioneer will be even better, right? When the Pioneer finally came in, I hated it. It sounded dry and washed out compared to the gloriously rich, liquid, colorful Sony. Granted, we didn’t know about break in back then, but I doubt it would have made any difference; I did not like the Pioneer sound. Oh, but the Pioneer’s tuner was better. BFD. So I asked instead to get a higher-end model from the Sony line. The store tried but could never get it for me and so I started a neurotic journey of trying this and that, then buying new speakers, and on and on, trying to get back to the sound of the Sony and the EPIs. If this sounds familiar to you, you have my sympathies. Had I just kept that loaner Sony…
A few years later, I saw a classified ad in the back of Audio magazine for The Absolute Sound. I took a chance, subscribed and was blown away: they were talking about the sound of components in ways that matched what I was hearing! There were people just like me out there. I later subscribed to the short-lived Sound Advice and actually worked on that magazine’s final issue. Through some of people I met at Sound Advice – who later became very well known manufacturers in the high-end – I got fixed up with old Quads and an LP-12, with which I lived happily for a very long time before foolishly jumping back on the merry-go-round about 25 years ago.
Among the more cringeworthy moments in my audiophile obsession:
During sophomore year in college, I connected my speakers to my roommate’s, creating a 4-cornered stereo. I was so thrilled by the results that I skipped a class the next day to come home and listen.
I hope this memory is wrong, but I seem to recall phoning my stereo dealer on my wedding day (first marriage, I was very young). If true, that’s some pretty twisted stuff. Get some professional help, Dan, before it’s too late.
In the March 2015 Stereophile, Herb Reichert wrote:
When a group of audio aficionados…start comparing this component to that and listening in that judgmental audiophile way, the results are only marginally valid. The best way for me to evaluate audio gear is to listen long and lovingly – until I get the itch to change something. Even though I keep doing it, I believe that listening critically to how something ‘sounds’ is a nonmusical act that, in terms of ‘Will this component make me happy?’ is nearly always irrelevant.
I agree with Herb.
Over the last few years, I find myself questioning the hobby and my perceptions more than I used to. I am uncomfortable with supernatural explanations for anything in the physical world and, painful as it might be, I need to hold to that standard in my beloved hobby. I’ve also learned that we can’t always trust our ears no matter what we think.
I am now mostly retired after a career of management consulting, industry analysis and marketing research, mostly in high tech.