The Covid Caveat

My family and I have been holed up at the house since March 12th. Everything has slowed down. Our mornings, our days, our meals, our walks outside. The only thing that seems to have sped up is the time available to listen to music and read books.

The audiophile and vinyl communities make a brave face about finally having the time to stay at home and listen to music on their beautiful speakers and glowing tube-amps. I’ve done that myself and will probably do it again. Hi-fi porn has never felt so justified and – edentulous.

Because the reality of things is very different.

My wife (who now works from home, still full-time) and I are fortunate to have two kids aged 3 and 6 and I’m here to tell you that any semi-serious vinyl listening is impossible. There is no way, even, to sneak off to my hastily arranged seperate listening room and stream music for any meaningful length of time. This Covid-19 crisis means that families – like my own – now spend an inordinate amount of time together. Inordinate? Yes! My kids would like nothing better than to soar off to kindergarten or at the very least to hang out with their friends. Likewise, my wife and I would love to have a few moments alone. I go for a run or ride my bike, yes, but hanging out alone with my stereo is not really happening.

This crisis, in a nutshell, forces me to stay home and look at my gear. Not listen to it. If you’ve been around kids (mine at least) aged 3 and 6, you’ll know that going off by yourself for even a couple of hours, regularly – and of course demanding relative silence in the rest of the humble abode – is not happening.

So why don’t I listen to gear and music when the kids are in bed? Oh, I do, I do. But my eldest gets up at 5.30 and our youngest sleeps at around 9 pm. To say that my wife and I are tired as our daughter settles in and drifts off, is putting it mildly. Most evenings we manage to crawl across the room to the couch and passively absorb an hour of some unknown Netflix-show before oblivion takes us.

But I do get some listening done; it’s just the same kind of listening people who don’t have to review a component do: with other stuff going on around me. Sometimes it’s just listening to vinyl with the kids – which is always wonderful. And sometimes it’s settling down for half an hour behind headphones – also wonderful. But that extended time on the couch listening to a full album or five is simply gone.

Which brings me to the Covid Caveat. The coming reviews on Green Audio Review will have been conducted in a household where kids roam free (as kids should) and we are all together (as families should be). That is another kind of review process. It is a process I’ve found that I like. I like listening to music with my family and, I guess, listen more casually. It’s much more fun and rewarding on a level that has less to do with timbre and tonality and more to do with the ambience, the feeling in the music and how it makes all of us feel. Maybe it just has more to do with music and less to do with gear.

They say that audiophilia is a lonely pursuit. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe preschoolers should dance to techno; maybe it’s OK to twist and shout when the music is playing. Maybe that is even how amplifiers and speakers are most frequently used anyway. You know, out of the audiophile echo chamber…

Maybe those minute differences that audiophiles care about aren’t that important when you’re having fun? Maybe us audiophiles are characters in The Emperor’s New Clothes and it took a pandemic to show us the truth in front of us: there’s nothing there!

Going forward I will do my best to convey how a given piece of gear works in the natural habitat of a family with two young kids and two adults who now work from home; and cook, clean, exercise, talk, watch TV, read books, etc. Assessing gear with me sequestered alone in front of two speakers for hours is over for the time being. And maybe that’s not all bad…

Take care.

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