In the beginning of the (current) pandemic, Kara and I decided to fundamentally change our living room. We decided to put away “the play room,” an ever expanding set of toys that were shoved into a 8 x 4 Kallax. This was an acknowledgement that our children were no longer playing with blocks or puzzles or klip klops. It was also an acceptance that we were ill-equipped to actually spend a significant time in our home that wasn’t about entertaining children. Up until 2020, most of the independent “adulting” we accomplished was outside of the home. We would go for a night out, a dinner or happy hour, sans children. It didn’t require us to change our home. It didn’t challenge the status quo that our house was focused upon the important work of parenting.
But in those first months of staying home, we knew that marble runs or manga tiles were not the only possibilities in our home. So, what should we do with our living room? What kind of “living” should we be doing in this newly re-found space? Listening to vinyl and sitting in mid-century modern chairs, of course!
So, I threw myself into researching the best record players, amps, speakers and wireless listening solutions that we could afford (which, as you might imagine, did not mean getting the best that money can buy). After a few weeks of waffling, I decided on the following:
- U-turn Audio’s Orbit Custom turntable – Blue – Cue lever, Acrylic platter, Ortofon 2M Red
- Magni Headphone Amp
- Mani Phono Preamp
- Maze 99 Classics Headphones
- Unison Wireless Pre-amp (DTS Play-Fi and Airplay 1)
- Crescendo X (Wireless Speaker)
All of this new equipment promised to provide hours of blissful music listening. This was my endgame, the best options that could completely redefine the front room of our home to feel as though adults lived here. These choices would usher in a space filled with music, a shared space for all kinds of relaxation, contemplation, and conversation.
As you might imagine, it didn’t quite pan out that way.
I thought that my exhaustive research into all of the various tools for bringing vinyl listening into the 2020s. Alas, it did not. As it turns out, synchronous wireless playback of analog audio to multiple speakers around my house is not as easy as dropping the needle. Multiple times, Kara tried to put on a record and gave up because getting the speakers to “wake up” became nearly impossible. Sure, I could come in and fix the issue (wifi, audio syncing, power, etc.), but that didn’t mean that it was any easier to use the next time around.
I thought that buying all of the vinyl I had coveted for years, including a large foray into collecting Vinyl Moon music discovery records, would make me want to play that music more than just streaming any song on Apple Music directly into my brain via AirPods Pro. As it turns out, looking at the beautiful cover art is not a decent substitute for having the release that came out a few hours ago ready and waiting for your eager ears.
I thought that getting “the best” equipment would lead to the best experience for my family. But a year and a half later, the headphones are downstairs with my work setup, the headphone amp having only been used a handful of times. After guaranteeing that Play-fi would be the most universal wireless protocol (across multiple different vendors), I am left fiddling with routers and add/removing speakers every time I want to enjoy those sweet scratches and pops of a spinning record.
The thing I promised my family, a room for listening, was based upon the promises that I was making to myself that I could simplify things enough to make them easy to use. And, I was basing those promises upon the promises of Meze, SCHIIT, Martin Logan, and U-turn Audio that their equipment would come together into a single cohesive system. Those promises didn’t pan out, and neither did the ones I made to myself.
I could never make things simple, because things aren’t simple.
Saying that you want a space for doing great things is not the same as actually making great things. Instead of a space built exclusively for listening, we have made a space for working from home, unwrapping presents, making art, making important Pokemon trades, having deep and enduring conversations, and dozens of other purposes that never would have fit into a “room for adults.” While we were clearly ready to get rid of the “play room” with its chunky puzzles and hundreds of matchbox cars, we were not ready to give up on putting together puzzles of our own design.
Sometimes the most important promises that I have made are the ones that I cannot possibly keep. It is only in my failure to do so that I have found the real promise of what is possible.