When I was 14 years old, I spent my life’s savings on the kind of home stereo system kids my age weren’t buying. I remember the day vividly. I made the purchase at Nobody Beats The Wiz, a now-defunct electronics store in the Northeast United States. The system included a 460-watt Yamaha amplifier/receiver with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, front right and left Polk Audio speakers, and when I could later afford the additions, center channel and rear surround speakers, too. It was a major investment in quality. The way I experienced music mattered to me.
Music was an integral part of my childhood from my earliest memories. My grandparents had an eight-track on which they played classical, Edith Piaf, and Italian-American favorites like Lou Monte. We had an LP record player, and then a cassette deck. My first tapes were classical pieces composed by the likes of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Like any good boy of my generation, I eventually also added must-have 80s rock bands like Poison and Guns N’ Roses to the mix. Then came the CDs, whose number has grown steadily in the ensuing decades in our collection.
That stereo system served me, and then us, for 22 long years. But the forward-marching progress of technology began to render it obsolete. The Polk Audio speakers weren’t as crisp after more than two decades as their sound originally was. And the Yamaha amp and our antiquated CD player proved incompatible with modern file types like MP3s. Sigh.
And then, to my utter surprise, Kelli surprised me this year with a combined anniversary-birthday-Christmas present of a new, upgraded system. New Polk Audio speakers that are bigger and better than I could afford when I was 14 years old. An Onkyo amp/receiver that seemingly does everything but launch the space shuttle. And a Yamaha player that covers CD, DVD, BluRay, and other formats. The fact that Polk Audio and Yamaha both contribute components to the new system, just as they did to the old, is awesome. But even more awesome is the sound.
This runs precisely counter to trends in modern-day music listening. Speakers and systems have gotten smaller and smaller, not bigger. Home audio systems like the one we have are becoming the minority exception, rather than the norm. And though I’m sure some will disagree, I believe this fundamentally changes the way we experience music, and the quality of experience we ultimately consider acceptable. We get sold on the idea that we’re not sacrificing anything, but we are. The cannon booms of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture don’t sound nearly the same coming from the tinny little speakers of an iPhone docking station. Feeling those cannon booms reverberate in your chest, on the other hand, is a whole other thing.
I see this difference, not just in myself when the hair stands up on my arms when I’m bathed in a glorious piece of music, but also in the way our girls cannot help but hop down from the dinner table and do ballet in front of the TV when Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, or another piece of passionate music comes on. Or the way they jump up and down like cannonballs when the 1812 Overture reaches its crescendo.
I think the modern-day food culture in America has gone a similar route. Just as I argue we’ve lost the leisure in our cooking, so too do I think we’ve often lost the quality. Again it’s frequently in the name of convenience. We accept a sub-standard frozen, already prepared, or store-bought food because it’s “easy,” and eventually sub-standard becomes the norm.
But the beauty with food is that we’re free at any time to invest in quality. It just takes a little time and effort.
As I’ve grown older, I find I enjoy eating out at restaurants less and less. I know this will risk sounding like a food snob, but a major reason for my change in attitude is this: Kelli and I can and do make food as good or better than we can get at most restaurants right here at home. That’s not because we’re “professionals,” or “cookbook authors,” or “food bloggers.” It’s simply because we make it happen.
You can, too. And I hope you do. The quality experience is worth it.
So true! I always love the challenge of cooking at home something that would have cost me triple in a restaurant.
I had to laugh because I remember “Nobody Beats the Wiz”, growing up in CT and going to NY frequently to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn. Haven’t heard that name in years.
Peter Bronski says
That’s another great point! You could go to a restaurant and spend $$$$ for a meal. Or buy the ingredients and make it yourself for $$. That lets you either save money or eat more of the food for the same price! =)
My particular Nobody Beats the Wiz was on Long Island in NY. I have fond memories of that place. I was bummed when it shut its doors.
I love this post. We also prefer to eat at home. It’s cheaper and it tastes better. More to the point, we also have what my son-in-law dubs “dead technology” dominating the living room. Speakers, receivers, and yes, a HUGE CD collection. Music you can feel 🙂
Peter Bronski says
I’m with you on the huge CD collection! I don’t know that I’ll ever make the migration to streaming music services. I love scanning the shelves and choosing an album. Plus, each album transports me to a specific place and time.
I think part of the reason for this miniaturisation in home audio systems is the increasing trend toward apartment/condo living in many of the high-density urban centres of today’s North American society. Space can be at a premium in some of these shoebox-like accommodations. Not only that, but a large system is probably more likely to upset close neighbours who don’t share one’s musical tastes and/or maintain different sleep schedules due to career demands or other factors.
Having said that I agree with your comments about modern food culture in this post. All in keeping with the food-as-fuel comments I offered to your initial round of discussion on this a week or so ago. And I’ve stopped eating at restaurants altogether since my DX last year (not that I ate out all that often before this, anyway). Mainly because I would find it too self-defeating.
For me, the whole point of eating out is that it’s supposed to be a chance to escape the work of food prep/cleanup. To let someone else worry about all that stuff for a change and just enjoy a leisurely meal. But I’d have to ask the restaurant staff so many questions about how they plan to keep me safe, and then wonder with every bite if they accidentally did something wrong to the point that it would just defeat the whole leisurely angle altogether. I feel better off just doing it all myself.
Maybe at some point I will return to dining out occasionally but I’m by no means in any rush to do so. I’m still too busy discovered new foods, and new meals I can make on my own and probably won’t run out of things to experiment with for a long time to come.
I know it’s a little gauche to reply to one’s own comment, but it seems my paragraphs are getting crammed together, which is kind of a shame as the blank lines I add between them to improve readability get axed. I see it in others’ comments as well; not sure if anything can be done about this.
Peter Bronski says
I see that problem with the spaces between lines getting pulled when the comment posts. I’m looking into it to see if there’s an easy fix. Definitely hurts the readability!
Peter Bronski says
That’s an interesting point about downsizing audio units to accommodate smaller, denser urban living. Interesting thought, though I don’t think that alone can account for such a pendulum swing toward tiny speakers.
Nick would agree with you on restaurants. Of course he also knows the short cuts that even expensive places use to make a profit on their food. The only reason we go out is because we are too tired to cook or we are more interested in the beer we are getting than the food.
I would LOVE to have a sound system like that again! My kids laugh at me when I complain that the sound just doesn’t seem to have any depth anymore. I was delighted read an article not long ago about the return of the record albums for exactly that reason ~ there are no layers of sound on cds. Though I will admit, they are much nicer to tote along in the car! Now let’s hope for the return of the home-cooked meal so we can have depth and layers there, too.
I so agree with you both from a music and food prospective. I love great music that has the booms and crescendos that you can feel! And the food – there is nothing like a well prepared home cooked dish even for one alone. People forget that we eat with our eyes first and it is so easy to make fresh, well prepared food look as good as it tastes. I live in the northeast US as far north & east as you can get in Maine. Local fresh food is hard to come by here during our long winters. Frozen and home preserved foods can be made to taste just as good as fresh with a little care. There is nothing like it especially for a gluten free person.
Thank you for reminding me of this both the food and especially the music!
Veronica (Roni) says
Hey there, we love eating at home too, & all that comes with that…family, friends, learning, giving…
Love your approach :)) Thankyou for sharing.…
Just thought you may like a heads-up that I have mentioned your blog on mine. http://foodthatsings.com/gluten-free-food/
Here’s to a happy new year for all of us :))
cheers, Roni xx