Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Adventures in Geekdom

I am, uncharacteristically, presently screaming with joy; alternately dancing and weeping and generally making a scene in the thankful privacy of my home office/studio. What – pray tell – should have inspired such a broad and sustained outburst of emotion? Have I won the Lottery? Been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Grant? Finally binge-watched “The Complete Gilligan’s Island” DVDs (complete with secretly filmed NC-17 outtakes of the Professor and Mary Ann playing doctor)?

As you have no doubt guessed, my present euphoria cannot – sadly – be attributed to any of the above (boy, I’d love to see those outtakes). Rather, it has been caused by a new (and incredibly inexpensive) music playback system I installed on my computer last month, a system that has already changed my life.

Before I spill the beans and tell you about this miracle app, I would reveal some unbelievably geeky autobiographical info. A thousand apologies if I bore the living daylights out of you, but it’s important that you get a sense of my hi-fi bona fides before I offer up this week’s prescription.

I would confess that from a young age I have had pretentions to audiophilia. (No; that is not a dermatological disease, one best treated with an anti-fungal. Rather, it is a sonic disease: the desire to hear music reproduced with a maximum of fidelity to the original; “high-fidelity” in every sense of the phrase.)

Garrard Turntable, ca. 1965
Garrard Turntable, ca. 1965

When I was about 10 (1964), my father purchased a modest, monaural rig, consisting of a Dynaco tube amplifier and preamplifier; a Garrard turntable; and a single, AR (Acoustic Research) 2 speaker. Yes: exceedingly modest. But compared to the primitive record player we had before, this system was orders of magnitude better, and I couldn’t listen to it enough. 

When I turned 13 and presumably became a “man” (my favorite Jewish Haiku, referencing the Bar Mitzvah: 

Today I am a man.
On Monday I return
to the seventh grade.)
Panasonic RS-760 Tape Deck, ca. 1967
Panasonic RS-760 Tape Deck, ca. 1967

I received as a gift a 7” open reel tape deck made by Panasonic. OMG, how I loved that thing! I ordered pre-recorded, open-reel tapes from a shop in Washington D.C. called “Saxotone”, and for all the tape hiss, I quickly fell in love with a medium that did not feature the pops, tics, clicks and skips characteristic of records (yes kids, records; not vinyl, records). I mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and spent my hard-earned dollars on more equipment, and by the time I was 15 I had a fairly decent set up: I bought and assembled a Heathkit Stereo Receiver; bought an AR turntable with a Stanton cartridge; and my pride and joy: two AR-2ax speakers, which were to serve me well for some 15 years.

AR-2ax speakers, ca. 1969
AR-2ax speakers, ca. 1969

Over the years I kept improving the system a piece at a time. I bought thousands of records but was never into the Zen ritual of cleaning them and stroking them and demagnetizing them and talking to them and holding them like premature babies. I will admit to having become a digital-freak early on. From the time I scraped together the money and bought a first generation CD player in the fall of 1983 (a Denon), I have preferred CDs to LPs. Yes: a perfectly pressed record played on a Goldmund Reference II turntable ($300,000 without a cartridge) or on an AV Design Haus’ Dereneville VPM 2010-1 ($650,000 without a cartridge) will sound great, but generally speaking, I still and will always find the noise floor of records a tremendous distraction. Besides, digital recording and remastering has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, so I am a perfectly satisfied digi-dude. I sold my records twenty years ago and have never looked back.

By 1992, having survived (though just barely) a brief and problematic flirtation with tube equipment (New York Audio Lab and Conrad Johnson; I had to order the tubes from Bulgaria, where they were repurposed from obsolete Soviet military equipment; three out of every four did not work, and those that did work pinged like aluminum bat striking a baseball), I had the best setup I would ever have: a Marantz CD transport and separate digital converter; Krell electronics (including a massive KDA-250 stereo amplifier that required its own 20-amp line and behaved like a room heater); a Systemdek (correct spelling; made in Scotland) turntable; Shahinian Diapason speakers (made in Brooklyn, NY); and Cello speaker cables.

Robert Greenberg Audio Gear: SONY SACD deck; Klark Technik Equalizer; Krell KSP-7B preamplifier
From the top: SONY SACD deck; Klark Technik Equalizer; Krell KSP-7B preamplifier

When I moved into my present house in 2003, it was heartbreak hotel: none of this stuff fit in my studio. So with the exception of the Krell preamplifier, it was hasta la vista, baby. In 2005 I installed a studio monitor system consisting of my old Krell preamplifier, Dynaudio Acoustic self-powered satellite speakers and subwoofer, a Sony Super Audio CD (SACD) player, and a Klark Technik Equalizer. I was satisfied (if not inspired by) this system until Monday, November 16, 2018.…

Find out what happened – and the app that has me screaming for joy on Patreon!

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