You may remember the type: Laid-back in an easy chair, soaking in Rachmaninoff, Reinhardt or the Rolling Stones, enveloped by the very best, primo, top-of-the-line stereo equipment an aficionado could afford.
In robot-like, 1980s cadence, the audiophile could rattle off favorite components, which might include an all-tube Premier One power amp by conrad-johnson, a Sota Sapphire turntable, an Ortofon MC-2000 cartridge and a pair of Magneplanar speakers.
Geeky? Mos def.
But the audiophile was a symbol of the Golden Age of Audiophonics, a time when certain people worshiped at the altar of expensive high-fidelity, two-channel stereo equipment. They were knights errant on an eternal quest for audio perfection — the exact replication of an original performance.
Here is the way one New York Times writer described a Holy Grail system in 1980: "There is a greater transparency of orchestral textures, giving each instrument an almost tactile presence." The theological debates pitted vacuum-tube amplification advocates against those preferring solid state, or transistorized, amplification. The sacred texts were magazines such as Stereo Review and High Fidelity. Stereo stores were the holy shrines.
Then came the barbaric revolution. The boombox, the Walkman and other hand-held devices made music more portable. Digital sound enabled listeners to store scads of compressed, easy-to-download music files — first on computers, then on miniature devices and cell phones. Quality in recordings was sacrificed for speed and convenience. Loudness became more important than clarity. The richness and warmth of a recording was replaced by tinniness and splash.
Now it's 2011. And amid all the earbudded iPods, smart phones and MP3 players, one can't help but wonder: Whatever happened to the audiophile?