Sasha Frere-Jones is best known as a critic, but he’s a music lover at heart, as is clear in this reported essay about the maddening, seductive world of audiophilia. On one side, the many of us who are satisfied with cheap earbuds; on the other, the seeming fetishism of what he calls the “triode horn mafia.” Triangulating between those extremes isn’t a given, but he does so with aplomb.
I am heartbroken that the masters of John Coltrane’s Impulse! recordings were lost in a 2008 fire at Universal Studios. But I still think the existing analog and digital copies of those recordings are good enough to spread the message. An obsession with the quality of recordings is, on some level, antithetical to the spirit of mindful listening. The constant, beautiful, churning production of music in the present moment reminds us that fetishizing the past, rather than simply learning from it, is a non-musical obsession. You can love the texture and living power of recordings—I absolutely do—without losing your goddamn mind. In their back-and-forth manner, all technologies have been improving, even if the peristalsis of history is hard to follow. The necessary gear will be there, somewhere, and even bad gear is good enough for great music.