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I wasn't surprised that the vibe at Monkeyhaus II mirrored that of Monkeyhaus I mainly in the good music, good company and good food & drink departments. I also wasn't surprised that the 20-watt Komuro 845 SET stereo amplifier drove the Silverbacks with more authority than the 8-watt Audio Note P3 we listened through during Monkeyhaus I. Captain Obvious would like to point to the difference in output power between the two amplifiers and I agree that has something to do with it. However, something Herb Reichert said keeps sticking in my mind when I listen to Komuro's amps:

"His design goals are always clean, clear, wide-band, low dynamic distortion, direct-coupled, stable, durable, and oh yeah, did I mention clean and clear? Totally unflappable. Not wet, not dry, not warm, not cool, not big or small, not front or back ... like clean, clear, running water!"

Now you may think that 'clean and clear' would be on the top of every amplifier designer's check list. But I'd suggest it isn't. Even in the simplest of circuits, designers are left with choices. If we were to lock 3 or even 30 amplifier designers in a room filled with all the fixings for an amplifier, I'm suggesting they'd each come out with a very different sounding amplifier. And these differences would be caused by each designer's ideas and intentions about how they believe music should sound when played through a hifi. When these ideas and intentions match up with your own listening preferences - voilà!

Further, some of our most experienced designers produce a family of products that share a sonic signature, a voice. And this voice isn't based on some generic ideal. Hifi is not governed by generally accepted aural accounting principles. As they say in the IRS, no two returns sound alike. If anything, I find following a designer to be
much more fluid than following a particular tube or topology; sort of like following a director as opposed to an actor when looking for what to order next from Netflix.

For those people who believe hardware and software "listen" better than people do and all competently designed amplifiers sound the same, my only comment is that you are most certainly sensually constipated. It's time to unplug your orifices and enjoy the truly exceptional apparatus you've got hanging off your noggin. I've never, in all my years, seen a machine enjoy. Indulge, use your imagination (it may hurt a little at first), live a little and love a lot. Have a listening party of your own and leave the test tones on the test bench. I don't believe it's my imagination. Rather, it is simply an observation gained through countless (more or less wasted) hours of reading hifi forums. This observation tells me that the people who rely most heavily on objective criteria rarely if ever talk about music. And they will never ever talk about what music means to them beyond the fact that it's comprised of bits and pieces they can measure. Kinda like the difference between a lover and a coroner.

Monkeyhaus III
The crowd at Monkeyhaus III expanded to include Steve Guttenberg, artist and author of The Audiophiliac Blog on CNET; Jennifer DeVore, John's sister and professional cellist; Lynn Bechtold a violinist and the other half of the duo Zentripetal with Jennifer; Dan Cooper, a bass player/composer; Adam Wexler of Stereo Buyers; Mike Denny, a friend of Jonathan Halpern; and some Monkeyhaus regulars including Jonathan, John DeVore, Stephen Mejias, Andrew Klein, Ken Micallef and Anthony Abbate.

When I first sat next to Steve Guttenberg, he asked "So, are you an audiophile?" I hesitated, did the hands-up double-shoulder shrug (I give up, I'm guilty) and said "yes". Steve commented about this reluctance among audiophiles to freely fess up and my only comment was, "there are audiophiles and there are audiophiles". What I meant by this but didn't explain at the time was that there appear to be two main audiophile camps: complainers and enjoyers. I've never understood nor been part of the complainers' camp. Frankly, I just don't know why you'd choose to participate in a hobby that caused you so much grief. Listening to music on a hifi is meant to be enjoyed and that includes the process of deciding what hifi you want to buy. It also seems that the more you obsess over hifi, the unhappier you are. As opposed to, the more you obsess over music the happier you are. So yes, I'm a music-obsessed happy audiophile.

It struck me as I read Stephen Mejias' excellent retelling of Monkeyhaus III that I haven't really got to the heart of the matter. It's not exactly that these Monkeyhaus events are about friends, music and hifi (which they are). It's more about the actual experience that listening to music on a hifi among friends engenders - an appreciation for what music is and what it does to us. Music is a bottomless well; a watering hole for the soul. And while it can be a wonderfully fulfilling solitary experience, our time at the Monkeyhaus reminds us that music is not about solitary things. Music helps place us in a filled-up world. It makes room for us and allows us to seek out like-minded souls. It makes us feel welcome. It makes us feel inside and outside ourselves simultaneously.

While a necessary ingredient in this mix, hifi can become a solitary event. It can distance and remove us from music's societal flow. You can step out of music's river into the desert of self-obsessed listening finesse. If you've ever attended a hifi show, you've passed such possessed people in the halls and sat next to them in the rooms. They're the ones who don't smile and leave a small pile of sand on their vacated chairs. They're the ones who never laugh because their kind of listening is serious and the stuff they're listening for isn't easy to hear. You have to concentrate. Focus. You also have to find source material that makes it easy to pay attention to what a hifi does; reference tracks that refer to everything but music. These are the people who can't bear listening to vinyl because it's noisy. These are the people who have lots of logic and very little sense.