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Itís a day and this is another start to another day. It doesnít really mean anything. It is preparation. It is preface. It is the clearing of the pipes, the dust and soot belched into the air. It swirls there, suspended, and then slowly drifts to the ground. Fingers pause over the keyboard. There is a subtle volume of increased air pressure between the fingers and the keys. It is enough to hold the fingers in place for a while. They will drop on their own, eventually, as all things do. Even this, the gravity drop, in time will disappear.
The sunlight racing through the window behind me etches a square on the floor. It moves across the floor during the morning, over to my chair, climbing up the side and onto the padded arm. It moves over my keyboard and across my fingers. I can feel its heat on the backs of my fingers as I type. I can feel the heat stored in the keys against my fingertips. I can see the reflection of my fingers in the screen, moving, clearly lit. The gnarled, muscled, hairy digits dance in the light like proud performers on a brightly-lit stage.
The sky is starting to ripen over the hedge of trees along the horizon. It is May 3, and it seems like just a couple minutes ago it was still April, waiting for May. This whole business of the passage of time, of human awareness, of memory itself can be daunting to consider. The sky is a study in blue, gray, and reds. I remember other morning skies. There seems to be an archetype in my memory that clouds out most others. Itís not a real morning; it is a picture of what a morning is supposed to look like.
It is my motherís birthday, and it seems I remember her not in any real memory but in two imagined ones manufactured from other memories. One is taken from a poem I had written about her, hoeing in the garden late in her pregnancy with me. It doesnít fit, of course because that was a difficult pregnancy for her and she would not have been out hoeing beans just a couple weeks before delivery. At least I think not. The other memory is actually a picture of her my father took. She is under a flowered tree in late spring.
It is early morning again, too early really. Some part of me wants to go back to sleep but the part that pulls me into the day is too strong. I do this, it seems. I go through periods of uncommon strength and activity interspersed with long slow sleepy times. Just now the windows are rectangular black panes and the house is filled with the sound of air rushing through furnace ducts and ticking and chiming clocks. I am thinking today I may play my piano again. It has been going through a long slow sleepy time of its own.
I wonder how far out of control our lives are going to get with this Corona virus thing. Will we continue to be able to get food? The supply of food isnít the problem. The problem is the delivery systems. Those seem to be breaking down. Does Mr. President think he can get re-elected if American can no longer feed her people? He seems to be fixated on the economy. Doesnít he realize that the falling DOW is merely a symptom of a pandemic that he is refusing to address? Fix the pandemic and the economy will follow, Mr. President.
My Fitbit now cheers for me daily. I have actually lost weight during the pandemic so far. I can no longer do the healthy things I used to do. The pool is closed. The gym is closed. Even the barn is closed to visitors. And I donít seem to be so hungry anymore. I walk. I walk around the park outside my window, around and around. I listen to recorded books and watch the birds and squirrels. I admire the various shapes of the dandelions in the grass. I dodge roller skaters and small children on bicycles. The sun shines.
Itís a Friday night, but itís Saturday morning in Korea. In Korea they are getting up. They are still sleeping. They are frying pancakes and serving them up with chocolate sauce. In Korea they have had something like 240 deaths from Covid-19. In Michigan we have had about 4,000. Korea and Michigan are about the same size. South Korea, however, has five times the population of Michigan. This gives South Korea a much greater population density. A greater population density makes an epidemic harder to control Korea has apparently reacted appropriately to the pandemic. Apparently the United States has not.
The wood had stopped rotting. There was no decomposition. No way to tell how old the building was from looking at it. The air inside was devoid of any odors. Something had wiped out any hint of bacteria or fungus. It was all gone. It was a giant clean room with cracks between the sheeting. The world was a giant clean room. The green had been wiped from the landscape. There were no trees, grass or weeds. There were bodies, but they had not begun to decompose. They had not been picked at by predators. Everything was frozen in time.
You rolled over and asked me if I was up. Without looking up from the screen of my phone I assured you that you were dreaming. You protested, ďThe light is on.Ē I said I would turn it off and went out of the room, closing the door quietly. My body was telling that it might be sleepy, but I was definitely awake. I went to the kitchen and tripped the timer for the coffee so it would come on at 5:20. It was Sunday and last night there hadnít seemed to be any need to set the coffee timer.
The windows are open. I just hope a widget doesnít fly in. I should be OK though. Itís a little early in the year for widgets. There is a gouge on the wall over by the bookcase where one got in last summer. Itís a little early to have the windows open in any case, but up here on the second floor it gets warm. Heat rises. Well, either that, or cold air falls. Or Cold air is denser and ďfeelsĒ the pull of gravity more than the less-dense cold air? It has more mass per cubic foot, I suppose.
Itís a dark and pale day and I wonder how it can be both at the same time. Is it the dark hue the grass takes on as I skim over it? It is almost blue, as if the sun were hidden from view. It is pale as if the sky were slightly out of focus. I canít quite make out any of the clouds; yet Iím quite sure they are there. Is there an odor? Is it the smell of old ashes re-kindled? Is it the smell of burning orange peels and other garbage? Did I mention the sound?
A cool breeze sifts through open windows. It is perfect temperature today. The basketball court in the park is full of teenage boys and no one is thinking about social distancing over there. My fingers are a little sticky from the ketchup that leaked out of the burger I just ate. I cooked it on the little gas grill on the deck. It started out as a frozen burger. Well, actually it started life as a steer. Maybe it started as a zygote. It could be said to have started much longer ago than that. It was still very tasty.
A young couple was walking the railroad track. The female was balancing on the rail. She wore a long lanky pony tail down her back. She seemed to balance herself with the pony tail much like a squirrel would. She was wearing a black tank top, with a thin double horizontal stripe, jeans, and tennis shoes with no socks. The male walked between the rails, a yellow jacket tied around his waist. His arms swung loose as he walked, seemingly unaware of the breaks between the ties. The ties were worn along this stretch, the spaces between them filled in.
A young couple was walking the railroad. It was winter, and the snow was deep enough that they left footprints in the snow filling the space between the rails. They walked shoulder to shoulder, heads down, watching their footing. The girl wore her hair around her ears beneath the hood of a white quilted parka. Her arms were folded across her chest. The boyís hands were deep in his pockets pushing the lower part of his varsity jacket out before him like the prow of a boat. The jacket was a crimson red with white trim. The sleeves were leather.
It is summer again. I think it is marvelous that it is any time of year I say it is. I can change it any time I want. It is winter. There! What did I tell you? Just like that! It is summer in a small town. The sun is baking the sidewalk and the shop windows are curiously clean. About a half a block to our right a large pair of cranes is walking down this sidewalk, side by side. They are in no hurry, planting their feet firmly with each step, watching their reflection in the shop window.
Somebody glued the rocks down here. It makes the surface harder, like peanut brittle. Crack your teeth down on that one. It is a good surface for standing on. You get good traction, unless it is winter and there is a sheet of ice. Then you just slip more quickly and hit your head harder when you go down. The doctor says my mother will live to be 105 if she doesnít fall down. I think she has lived so long because she fell in love a lot. Falling in love makes you youngeróif it doesnít kill you first.
Well, Iím back to my tube amplifier today, The Primaluna. Itís not my only tube amplifier, and certainly Itís not the only one Iíve ever owned. Tube amplifiers are not something Iíd recommend for everyone. They sound ďrightĒ to me most of the time, good ones. The Primaluna is a ďgoodĒ one. Itís Chinese, but they make a good amplifier. This one was designed in Scandinavia, however. The Chinese just manufacture them. The Primalunaís hold up their resale value too. You can buy one and sell it for a couple years later for the same money you bought it for.
Now, why, you may ask, would I say that tube amplifiers are not something Iíd recommend for everyone? First, there is the matter of the tubes. Tubes start to wear out the minute you turn them on. They have a live span measured in hours. That may be 3,000, but you certainly canít just turn them on and leave them. The replacement costs are kind of high. Even a moderate tube amplifier like my Prologue is wearing about $300 worth of tubes, and itís not unthinkable for a good tube amplifier to take tubes costing five times that, or more.
Another problem with tube amplifiers is heat. They generate lots of heat. A power tube puts out the heat of an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb. The average stereo tube amplifier has four of these. It is not unusual at all for audio freaks to have two sets of amplifiersÖtubes for the winter and something else for the summer. It is that much heat. I had a girlfriend once burn down her apartment with a tube amplifier I once lent her, a lovely old Harman Kardon. She left it on, and left to go shopping. The curtains blew across it. Whoosh!
Tube amplifiers are also often heavy. The transformer is generally the heaviest part of an amplifier (and probably the largest). Your typical solid-state amplifier has one of these. Your typical tube amplifier has three of them, and they are often larger. That means your tube amplifier is a lot heavier, and probably it is more expensive because these transformers are not cheap. Your tube amplifier is also going to be a lot larger. It will also probably not put out as much power for the same money, so you are left prowling online used market places for more efficient speakers.
There are, of course, solid-state amplifiers that are also heavy, expensive, and large. I have owned some of them. They can weigh fifty to one hundred pounds, or more. They throw off so much heat they need fans to cool themselves off. They make your electric meter run so fast it careens off your house and races off down the street. But these are not the rule for solid-state amps. They are generally owned by the lunatic-fringe audiophile. There is really not much I have to tell these people that they donít already know. They generally know who they are.
Thatís not all the problems with tube amplifiers. They have horrendous voltages racing around in their cases. They can literally kill the careless hobbyist. As the tubes wear they need their bias voltage adjusted, if you have an amplifier that even gives you the capability to do this. It is hard to find people who can work on them, and when you do find someone, they are likely to sneer at your choice of tubes, tell you this design could never have worked, and charge you two hundred bucks for a repair job that leaves you with a non-working amp.
I remember once considering a purchase of an Audio Research power amplifier in excess of three thousand dollars. I was looking at a VT100, I think, and I was also looking at a 100.2. The VT100 was a tube monster. The 100.2 was solid state. I was using a tubed pre-amp at the time, also an Audio Research, their LS16. After living with both amplifiers for three months I determined that I couldnít hear a SIGNIFICANT difference between them. The tube amp, weighed a ton, had a fan, and was so big I had no shelf large enough for it.
In the end, the owner of the shop who owned the equipment called and said I could keep whichever one I wanted for the same price, but that I needed to bring one of them back. There was nothing the tube amp could do that the solid state amp couldnít do with the right source material. The solid state amp, however, could do things at the bottom end that the tubes couldnít do. A couple years later I sold the 100.2 and bought a Jolida tube amp. Which goes to show that one amp is never enough for any audiophile.
The Jolida is gone now. I actually had two of them for a while, bi-amping a pair of Magnepans. I had other adventures along the way, including a Rogue Cronus, a lovely-sounding amp, but the remote control drove me nuts. It was either too loud or too soft. You could never get the volume just right. Somewhere I settled on a Moon integrated amp with a pair of Vandersteens. It was perfect for me and I was happy for many years. Recently I have gotten the bug again, but I have not molested the Moon/Vandersteen coupling in the living room.
This time I went to work on the ďOffice System.Ē I already had a bedroom system and, like the living room system, I was very happy with it. It was simple, an older B&O hooked up to a Logitech music streamer. When the Logitech died, I replaced it with an Echo. Like the Logitech Squeeze the Echo fit nicely atop the B&O, and it had a sleep timer, very important for the bedroom system. The B&O was terribly over-priced but had fantastic WAF and has now lasted seemingly forever. So the only thing I could do was the ďOffice System.Ē
Perhaps I should take time here to explain the term, WAF. WAF is an audiophile acronym for Wife Acceptance Factor. In my case, perhaps this should be G/FAF or SOAF. The system still has great SOAF. As you can imagine if you think about it for just a bit an audio systemís SOAF is THE most important thing about it. There are unicorns, SOís who are as freaky about audio systems as some men are, but donít kid yourself. I didnít use the word ďunicornĒ lightly. Itís interesting too because women are supposed to hear better than men. Go figure.
It was time to build the office system. I had a pair of PSB Alpha B speakers I had bought in a storage locker sale. I also had a single-ended pentode tube amplifier I had built with my grandson, and to be honest, they sounded fantastic together. I went with that for awhile. Then I bought a Fleawatt class D amp, followed quickly by the PrimaLuna. I really like the PrimaLuna. Itís tubes of course, but it has an auto-bias circuit so I donít have to do the bias adjustments manually. And I got it for a very reasonable price.
But I was being distracted by alternatives. I bought this pre-amp. And I wanted to get something else. I struggled for weeks and finally sprang for a pair of KEFís. Then it was back and forth between the amplifiers I had. I was enjoying the PrimaLuna still, but was unsure that I really liked the KEFís better than the PSBís. So I resolved the issue by buying another amplifier. It was a solid state, and while I think I still like the tubes better, I feel good now because I have both and I can listen to whatever I want.
So now Iíve moved the office into the basement, and Iíve taken the ďOffice StereoĒ with me. I saw a pair of speakers for sale today on the net. It was a really good deal too and for a moment I was tempted. But I paused, listening to my ďOffice Stereo.Ē I liked what I heard. And there was no place to put the new speakers. I think I am finally cured. Iíve got my tubes, and they fit on the desk. Iíve got a SS amp for when I want to listen to that. Can I hear the difference?
The Tip Jar