I drifted away from our writers group discussion about people hearing things differently. Not physically, of course, but I may as well have been on Mars. Memory rudely inserted anxiety I felt when I impulsively spent eight hundred dollars on stereo equipment. Some oral trigger I heard failed to clear my translation registers connected to my ears and I was suddenly in my own world, my mind vividly filled with apprehension. Memory has a way of being kind and the excitement of having two close friends stop by after work to listen to my new, expensive, pride and joy speakers slipped in to displace the anxiety. Our stereos were the pinnacle of home entertainment back when direct-drive turntables, cobra-style tonearms and Shure V-15 type 3 cartridges were the mark of excellence in personal taste and audiophile distinction.
The unexpected financial windfall was the benefit from a brutal stretch of overtime work that upset our family routine and even affected our relationship. I was rarely home during that miserable period, working sixteen hour days and even once spent twenty-four hours, without interruption – not even for food – on one service call. With the cash in hand, I splurged on a set of stereo components I had dreamed of for years; JBL Century 100 speakers! My wife supported my desire to buy the speakers as a just reward for both of us enduring the tumultuous time.
I carefully “balanced” the new speakers per the instructions I saved from Stereo Magazine, measuring the distance between the speakers, taking into consideration the drapes and carpet, and listening to professionally mastered records that carefully reproduced the exotic sounds required to adjust my Marantz 200 watt stereo receiver to the new, space dominating speakers.
Paul stopped by first, parking his custom-turbocharged Datsun 280Z in the driveway. Money was no object to Paul in his quest for perfection, and his taste in stereo sound was impeccable.
“Hmm,” he said, standing dead center between the speakers. “Try Allan Parson’s Pyramid. That’s a great one to test with.”
I carefully played the first cut on the “A” side, then waited for Paul’s profound analysis.
“They sound really, really good, George, but you need to crank up the bass a little. The sound just isn’t full enough.”
After Paul left, my wife – who thought the settings were perfect – asked if I was going to change the bass settings.
“No,” I replied. “I think it sounds great the way it is.”
Not twenty minutes after Paul left, Bob pulled up. Bob was another single friend who was also a renowned audiophile. His LP collection was stunning in its own right. I respected Bob’s opinion as highly as I regarded Paul’s.
Standing in the very same spot Paul had stood an hour earlier, listening to the same Alan Parson’s album, at exactly the same volume and adjustment, Bob quietly pondered the music.
“Well, George, they really, really sound great, but there’s way too much bass. They sound ‘boomy’.”
I carefully glanced around the room once again. The subject of critiquing someone’s writing was still being discussed. The moderator was telling a new group member to take critiques with a grain of salt as everyone hears things differently.
I couldn’t help think how true. And not with just writing.