OccupyHifi readers know it's been a trying year for me. Ok, that's puttin' it rather mildly. Pardon my French, but it's been a clusterfuck of a year: Divorce after 20-yrs of partnership (as if that isn't difficult enough) while I was trying to walk-through many years of shared memories with my former partner, dodging the shrapnel that break-up left all over the place, surrounding its vast blast radius; I ended-up hearin' about all sorts of rumors and innuendo making their rounds through-out the high-end and personal audio communities . The rumors ranged from questions about my physical health, to substance abuse issues. It seemed, at least to me at the time, that perhaps I radiated a sort of untouchable, larger-than-life aura or something. It's really difficult to describe, but it felt like some people were looking at who I am as a mere characatuer of myself: Or, perhaps more directly: I felt like I was being gossiped about like a character in a soap opera. Maybe these lil' bitches thought I was impervious to feelings - that the hi-fi community didn't mean all that much to me. Unfortunately, they had no freakin' clue just how much that would affect me personally, and professionally. I ended up losing friendships over this bullshit: Some new, some old. Now, obviously I mistakenly assumed those relationships were stronger than another persons word. Lesson crystalized! I even lost a couple of my highest-paying freelance gigs due to these rumors. That hurt beyond my ability to encapsulate it here - as I put my all into those gigs, and I thought everything was running smoothly. Again: Assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups right? I mean, I'm a devotee of The Four Agreements! And as ridiculous as that may sound, it's actually one of the last great gifts Harry Pearson (my dearly departed friend, mentor, and Founder of The Absolute Sound magazine) gave to me. He insisted that I read the book. A book? Really? I had no idea you could fill an entire book based on four basic principles. Nonetheless, one of them is Make No Assumptions! So I should probably work on that one a bit more. I'm not trying to act like a victim here folks. I'm just flowin'. Admittedly, at last years T.H.E Show Newport, I was in very bad shape. I had just walked-out on my then-beloved partner of 20-years, and the wheels were comin' off. To be honest I would've stayed away if T.H.E Headphonium wasn't in fact my headphone show! I Co-Founded T.H.E Headphonium with Richard Beers back in 2013. I enlisted the help of my dear friend Warren Chi the next year, and the following, right up to the last Headphonium event at Newport in 2015. People were noticably worried about me. Even Warren was worried about me. They had good reason to be! I spent half my life with my former domestic partner. That's some serious shit! So I also assumed people would cut me a lil' slack. Boy, was I mistaken! I felt like judgement was reigning down from the heavens. But it also fueled the fire to pick myself back off the ground and work towards re-building the life I wanted. It didn't make any of those wicked rumors hurt any less. But I didn't have a choice, and maybe that's what I needed. It wasn't the kinda nudge I would've liked, but it worked. It's been hell, actually its been worse if that's even possible, but on the flipside: I've also experienced moments of sheer joy like never before. I realized some of the things I took for granted, and how can that ever be a bad thing?
So, as crazy as it may sound: I'm grateful for those inconsiderate lil' bitches. I'm still here, and more driven than I've been in a long time, too damn long. One of the reasons, and also, much to my own surprise, one of the things I felt I took for granted was the music: The very thing that drew me into high-fidelity in the first place! I'm a lucky guy. I get to write about music - the thing that moves me the most. My friends move me, any artform that I feel deep down in my soul moves me, but nothing touches me inside quite like the way music takes ahold of me. Whether I'm at a bangin' warehouse party, just kickin'in with friends on a porch or a room somewhere, or listening to my cans back home in the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab: Music has always had the power to enhance my feelings, or completely transform them! Music can make my day or break it, especially if I pick the depressing shit that many of us picked when, well, when we're fuckin' depressed! But, no matter what, whether I'm up and flying high, or deep into my darkest hours, in my most frightened moments, when I really felt like throwing in the towel and nobody was there to talk to: The Music has ALWAYS been there. It never leaves me. I need music like a heroin junkie needs a fix, and I know more about that than I'll ever admit to on this blog. When I feel like the world is collapsing, and my thoughts are racing, and I can't seem to find relief I can always seek solace in music. That's a constant that, believe it or not, has probably saved my life once or twice (at least) this year. That's no exaggeration.
I don't know where I'd be without music, and that's a scary thought. But I also have to admit, as much as I hate classifications and I don't like to pigeon-hole myself: Yeah, I'm a freakin' audiophile. I want my music to enrapture me. I wanna feel it, and be able to close my eyes and lose myself to it in seconds. I realized just how much I love streaming music this year. TIDAL is great, and Spotify is too. I mean, I walked outta my home of many years with no discs of any kind. Just a couple years ago I'd be totally fucked! But not today. I had most of my favorite albums with me at all times, and Jesus is that something to be grateful for! If I needed to hear Radiohead they were always there. If my situation called for some slammin' underground tech-house Mr. C was only a few clicks away. I did a series last Summer here at OccupyHifi called OccupyHifi On-The-Road - where I tested how it felt to travel without a single piece of physical media! OK, I have to say first-and-foremost: I miss physical media, and I still believe there's a time and place for that. But - straight-up? I was totally happy with the music in my DAPs (digital audio players) from Astell-n-Kern and Questyle. If I needed to stream music while on-the-road, crossing the country last Summer, I had the wonderful Sony ZX7 (special thanks to David Solomon for lending it to me, and I'm sorry again for getting it back to you so late). The Sony? Think of it as a 21st-Century walkman. It streams music via apps, and it also has a hard-drive and can handle high-resolution and compressed file-formats. I always had a music library with me that dwarfed our rather impressive music collection! If ever there was a right time for my personal life to implode, believe me I don't wanna consider what might've happened without having music with me. The funny thing is: I think about it now, in retro-spect, and I even wrote a couple of music reviews that I'm pretty proud of during that tumultuous time: Like the one on Mumford & Sons Wilder Mind that I did here at OccupyHifi. But I didn't realize just how important that was: Having almost all of the music I love on me at all times. It was a survival tool, and it continues to be so. I'm going to make a TIDAL Playlist soon with some of the songs that've carried me through. It's amazing, this is occurring to me in this very moment: But music truly was my sonic soul salve! I've said that in a few columns, and either I was beginning to burn-out on the phrase, or someone said something to me I can't remember which. Both are plausible! But in the meantime the new James Blake album The Colour in Anything, Adele's 25 (reviewed this for HiFi+ Mag), Mumford & Sons Wilder Mind, and The Chemical Brothers Born in the Echoes are all LPs that get consistent play on my sound systems these days.
While the rate of technological advancements scare the shit outta me, I'm going to say it: Thank God for technology! When it coms to music playback - we livin' in some amazing times my friends. The gear that I've been using over the last 9-12 months have played equally important roles in maintaining at least a good portion of my sanity! I'm going to be writing about those components over the coming weeks as well. A most-welcome surprising stunner has been Acoustic Research's AR-M2 DAP. It's large, beautiful screen (responsive), sturdy and sleek build, and its powerfully musical headphone amp make this DAP the one I'd buy if I could afford it right now. This would be the DAP I'd take with me if I only had room for one on a trip. It streams TIDAL, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Music, plus handles hi-rez files. It's got a smooth volume knob that makes dialing the sound-in a breeze, and a straight-forward dedicated 3.5mm line-out for use as a player anywhere. I didn't even know AR was in the DAP game. But they've produced a magnificent package in the AR-M2. Audeze brought forth another game-changer: Their on-ear planar-magnetic SINE headphones. Their newer Titanium EL-8s are also quite an improvement over the originals which I enjoyed! But the SINE are incredible, especially when fitted with Double Helix Cables! They're so dynamically alive, their transient attack is lightning fast. Their staging is also spectacular, and I believe much of that depends on having the right fit with these headphones. I'm going to go over that in-depth in my column about them. It's simply amazing; what Audeze managed to squeeze outta those small planar-magnetic diaphrams! They are my new #1 FAVE travel cans - and it feels great to have Audezes that I can carry on a plane! Or take over to a friends place and not look like Mighty Mouse when I'm rockin' em! I didn't give a shit about that before - but its nice having a set of Audezes that fit in my backpack.
When it comes to the top-reference at home, it's still MrSpeakers. My beloved ETHER (open-back) and ETHER-C (closed) continue to surprise me and keep me glued to the music. I love electronic dance music through my ETHER-Cs, especially when paired with my Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon or LAu balanced amps: With Double Helix Cables on the cans, Kimber, Nordost and Skogrand elsewhere in the system... Yeah, I realize I've got alot to be grateful for, and most of it is directly related to having music in my life as often as possible. These days, because of its meteoric rise and the innovation lighting high end personal audio ablaze; I can have listening experiences that are profoundly moving, no matter where I am. The depth of that connection, this type of listening was, at one time not too long ago, reserved for my large-scale two-channel system at home. Sure, I've had music with me since I was a kid. I had a stereo cassette walkman, and then the Sony Discman. But they were clunky, and I didn't carry them around to lose myself in the music. I used those devices merely to have music with me. Sure, I remember a few times when I found myself lost in a song or two - but it was mostly background noise - a soundtrack to my daily-life. Music is still that to this day: A forever spinning soundtrack to my life, and thanks to the proliferation of high end personal audio I'm sitting here at the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Desk, it's a lil' past 3AM, and I'm rockin' Fluxion's Vibrant Forms, feeling the music like I'm standing in the club or sitting next to Hp in Room #3 in Sea Cliff (Harry Pearson's well-known Victorian home on Long Island - the soul of The Absolute Sound at one point). I heard stereo systems do things in that house that I didn't deem possible. That crazy-amazing man - he knew how to get great sound, and he loved music. Years later, here I am thinkin': If only he could experience what I'm hearing right now through my cans! The enormity of the sound, the immediacy and how immersive it all is. Sure, it's been a trying year, but I'm also finally able to say fuck it. I got the music, and I got my true friends and family. I also got my mojo back, So I think my dear friend Warren Chi was right. He told me: "Mercer, the world just aint' prepared for you like this." Damn fuckin' straight my man. The time for excuses is over. Stick around peeps: It's about to get interesting around here!
Plus: Every OccupyHifi reader that sent messages of support: It's meant the world to me. I don't know how to express how much your messages meant to me. Thanks! You'll catch some new music reviews at HiFi+ Magazine, here and at Positive-Feedback.com in the coming weeks. In the meantime: Keep it movin' - Keep it groovin'