I slowly came to consciousness as the smell of bacon and sausage permeated my bedroom. Dad must be home, and he was making me a wonderful Cajun breakfast. I had a raging hard-on, though, and my bladder felt like it was about to burst. Something felt like it was in the way, however, and I couldn’t quite get into position to climb out of bed.
Then I felt something soft and smooth squirm under me, and then a blurry pair of deep green eyes under an unruly mop of golden curls was staring at me, right in front of my face.
Now I remembered. Seth had spent the night. It had been our first time and although we’d decided to take things slow, what we did felt incredible. For the first time outside of gym class, we saw each other naked and felt free to explore each other thoroughly. We’d crawled into bed almost as soon as we got home and made out for hours, discovering just how much fun it was to kiss and be kissed on places other than our mouths. The friction of our bodies against each other, and with our hands, we brought each other to climax more times than I could remember.
“What’s that wonderful smell?” my boyfriend asked as he nuzzled against me.
“My dad’s cooking,” I answered.
“It smells wonderful,” Seth responded, “but if your dad’s out in the kitchen, how are we ever gonna get up and go to the bathroom without him seeing us? And I really need to go.”
“Me too,” I answered. “Usually I just wear my underwear in the morning. Mom’s already at work, doing the morning shopping for the restaurant, so it’s just Dad and us, and he knows what we look like.”
“You’re Mom’s already at work, this early in the morning?”
Laughing, I replied, “She starts her day as soon as the fish markets open in Chinatown, usually around six. When she finishes, she’ll get the soups going and start preparing all the ingredients, chopping everything up and storing it in the refrigerator for the lunch crowd. Then she’ll come home and take a nap while Dad takes care of the lunch crowd, which isn’t nearly as large as the dinner crowd. She’ll then join Dad at dinnertime and they’ll both come home after midnight.”
“Man, I can’t imagine livin’ like that,” Seth stated.
“They’ve been doin’ it that way ever since I can remember,” I answered. “It’s the only life I know.”
Then I yanked off the covers, exposing both of us to the cold air in my bedroom, and Seth yelped, “What the fuck?”
“Time to get up, darlin’,” I replied. “There isn’t much room in the bathroom, so we’ll hafta take turns in the shower. You get into the shower while I make the bed. It can take a while to get hot water, especially on a Saturday. While you’re in the shower, I’ll come in and shave, and then I’ll shower when you’re out.”
“Why don’t you skip shaving?” Seth suggested. “You’d look sexy with a beard.”
“Perhaps I’ll try growin’ one when I’m in college,” I replied, “but my dad said if he ever caught me with facial hair, he’d shave off half of it and make me go to school that way. So for now, it’s not an option. It’s been three days since I last shaved and it’s startin’ to show.”
Seth looked around and, spotting his boxers from yesterday on the floor, pulled them on. Then pulling open one of my drawers, he got out one of the old pairs I kept for him, so he could put it on after his shower. He slipped out the door, and then I heard the unmistakable sound of piss hitting the toilet bowl. I dutifully made the bed as I heard the sound of the shower starting up. When I heard the sound of Seth getting into the shower, I pulled on my own pair of boxers and grabbed a fresh pair to take with me.
When I opened my door and started to head to the bathroom, I heard my dad call out, “You sleep OK, Asher?”
“I slept great, Dad, but how did you know that it wasn’t me the first time the door opened?”
“That was easy,” Dad said. “I know you, and you’d have never left your guest alone in your room. You’re too polite for that.”
I hadn’t really thought about it, but he was right. It was just instinctual to stay behind and straighten up, giving first rights for the bathroom to Seth. Opening the bathroom door just enough for me to slip inside, Seth looked so sexy through the foggy glass of the shower. Popping up the toilet seat, I let loose into the toilet, then closed the lid and flushed.
“Holy fuck, that’s hot,” Seth yelped. “You coulda warned me you were gonna flush,” Seth admonished me.
Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “I’ve never been in here when someone else was showering, or vice versa. I didn’t know that would happen.”
Getting out my shaving kit, I made quick work of the light stubble that was on my face. Unfortunately, although my hair was as black as both of my parents’, my skin was a very light brown – coffee and cream as they say. That meant that virtually any facial hair at all was apparent, so I couldn’t let shaving go for more than two or three days. I was only fourteen and most kids I knew at school weren’t even shaving yet. Of course, most kids I knew at school were Asian and probably wouldn’t shave for years if ever, and Seth was such a light blond that he might well never need to shave.
As I contemplated this, the water turned off and Seth opened the shower door grabbed his towel and began to dry himself off. There wasn’t a lot of room for the two of us to maneuver in the tiny bathroom, so he stayed in the tub as he dried himself, trading places with me when he was ready. I turned on the water and began my shower as he put on his deodorant, blow-dried his curly blond hair, and brushed his teeth.
When I was done washing, I dried myself in the tub, and had Seth sit down on the toilet while I put on my deodorant, brushed my wavy black hair and brushed my teeth. Donning our clean boxers and making our way back to my bedroom, we quickly dressed in t-shirts and jeans, and then joined my dad in the kitchen. He was just dishing up Cajun omelets as we sat down.
“That smells wonderful, Mr. White,” Seth began.
“Seth, I’ve told you before,” my father replied. “Mr. White was my father. Please call me Gary.”
“Well, it does smell wonderful, Gary,” responded my boyfriend. “What is it, and what’s in it?”
“It’s just a Cajun omelet,” Dad replied. “Nothing special. It’s three eggs apiece, some spicy sausage… turkey sausage, at the insistence of my doctor. There’s cut up green peppers, red peppers, onions, chilis, paprika, chili powder, cumin and ground black pepper. The bacon is turkey bacon, by the way.” Then pointing to the bottles, he added, “There’s ketchup and salsa for the omelet and the potatoes if you wish.”
Being used to spicy foods all my life, I reached straight for the salsa, but when Seth started to do the same, I shook my head, and he instead reached for the ketchup.
After taking a bite of the omelet, Seth moaned, and said, “Wow, that’s good! Like I was tellin’ Ashe, you guys should open up a Cajun restaurant.”
Laughing, Dad replied, “One restaurant at a time is more than enough for the two of us, with the emphasis on more.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got all of Chinatown nearby,” Seth countered. “There’s nothing else like this food anywhere else in Manhattan. You’d clean up!
“What you need are investors,” Seth went on. “With investors, it’ll be their money on the line… not yours. With investors, you could hire more help for the Asian restaurant, rent space nearby, perhaps north of Delancey or in the East Village, fully outfit your new place in a New Orleans theme, hire and train new staff and put together a menu of your best dishes.”
“And I suppose you’re going to find me these investors?” Dad asked my boyfriend.
“Actually, yeah. I know people, Gary. Actually, it’s my dad who knows people, and he can get you a solid group of people who won’t take advantage of you.”
Shaking his head at my boyfriend’s brashness, Dad replied, “Seth, your father’s our state assemblyman. He’s a politician. Don’t you think it would look a little funny if his son’s boyfriend’s father suddenly opens a new restaurant using funds from your dad’s associates. There’d be allegations of kick-backs and corruption that your father can’t afford.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Seth answered as he cleaned his plate. “I’ll have to ask my dad about it. There must be a way of setting it up in a way that he has nothing to do with it. If he can come up with a legal and legitimate way of funding your Cajun restaurant, would you open it?”
Chuckling, Dad answered, “I won’t say ‘no’, but I won’t say ‘yes’. Something tells me you won’t let me say ‘no’, but I’m not going to hold my breath.”
As Seth and I cleared the table and put the dishes in the dish washr, Dad asked, “So, do you boys have any plans today?”
Whoever said that it’s easier to seek forgiveness than permission, didn’t know my father. He’d blow his stack if he came home to find that our stereo had been completely replaced by something new. We needed to tell him now, but in the right way.
As me and Seth had discussed, we began with Seth telling my dad, “I just bought some new stereo equipment, and it’s gonna be delivered and installed today. That means I’ll have a bunch of equipment that I don’t need anymore. I was talking to Ashe, and what I thought I’d do is to give it to you guys. It’s much nicer and newer than what you have now, and I could set everything up after the guys finish installing the equipment in my place.”
Taking a deep breath, Dad asked, “If the old equipment is still any good, why are you getting new stuff?”
“Because I’m a hopeless audiophile, Gary,” Seth replied without missing a beat. “I’m always looking for ways to improve the sound of my stereo equipment. I often buy new equipment, hoping to improve the realism of the sound, and then I sell the old stuff, but why sell it when you guys could get so much enjoyment out of it?”
“If you were going to sell it, then Asher should pay you what you could have gotten for it, out of his allowance,” Dad answered. Oops. I shoulda known he’d say that.
“Gary, there’s no need for that,” Seth replied. “I’m doing this as much for selfish reasons as I am for Ashe. Like you and Ashe, I love the jazz classics, and you have a phenomenal record collection. But listening to any of it on your old stereo is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. The tonearm on your turntable resonates at around 600 hertz, the platter wobbles, the speaker cones have gotten stiff and there’s horrible feedback between the speakers and the turntable.”
“Yes, and there’s an intermittent problem with static if you adjust the treble on the left channel,” Dad added, “and I knew the Bose speakers were a mistake from the moment I got them home. I thought the direct-reflection technology would make them sound more open in a tiny apartment, but it only served to annoy the neighbors, and the sound isn’t very good.
“I should have replaced the stereo years ago, but I was just too busy with the restaurant and once Asher came along, it was no longer a priority.”
“It doesn’t do your record collection justice,” Seth continued. “Do you have any idea how much that record collection is worth?”
“About a quarter of a million dollars,” Dad replied, utterly shocking me to the core. I guess I showed my shock, as dad said, “What, you think I didn’t know that? One thing I’m not is stupid. I’ve had the collection appraised every few years, and it’s fully insured. If things ever became desperate, I’d sell it in an instant to fund your education, but that would only be as a last resort.
“Did you ever stop to think what it took me to put that collection together?” Dad asked. “I know… to you, I’ve always had it, but you have to remember that those records were cut decades before I was born. I started collecting them when I was about your age, Asher, but I could have never afforded to buy them from collectors and dealers. No, I had to resort to buying from garage and estate sales. Once I got my license and could drive, I scoured the countryside, looking for yard sales and people getting rid of their parents’ and grandparents’ old junk, not really knowing its worth.
“The best thing that ever happened to me was when the record stores stopped selling vinyl. Everyone was switching over to CDs, not fully appreciating what they were losing in the process, but their loss was my gain. I went through hundreds of people’s old record collections, looking for hidden gems. That original pressing of Kind of Blue was something I picked up at a yard sale in Picayune for five dollars along with 24 other records… not just that one record. The people who sold it to me didn’t know what they had.”
“Didn’t you feel like you were taking advantage of them?” I asked.
“Son, I could have never afforded to pay market value for my collection,” Dad answered. “Besides which, it really isn’t the buyer’s responsibility to inform the seller of an object’s worth. If a seller misrepresents something, then yes, that’s fraud. But if they correctly identify an item for sale but fail to appraise it’s worth, then it’s their problem. The Internet may not have been around back then, but the woman who sold me Kind of Blue could easily have looked up its worth at the library if she’d only taken the time. She assumed that her father’s old collection of vinyl records was worthless and priced it accordingly.
“So, you see, with as much time and effort as it took me to build my collection, it’s not for sale at any price. Someday it’ll be yours. I had hoped that you’d eventually pass it on to your children, but at least it’ll be there for your retirement, if you need it.”
“Gary,” my boyfriend said as he came up to my dad, “We’re gonna have children. We’ve discussed it and we both want them. When we’re ready, we’ll probably adopt. We have every intention of passing the collection on to our children and maybe eventually to our grandchildren.”
Wiping away the tears in his eyes, Dad said, “You don’t know how happy that makes me feel.” Then turning back to Seth, he asked, “so tell me about this stereo system you’ve bought for my son, and don’t give me any malarkey about giving him your old stereo equipment. I don’t miss much, and I distinctly remember Asher talking about how fantastic your stereo system is, but lamenting how he couldn’t play any records on it, because it was all digital and you didn’t even have a turntable. So, spill it.”
Sheepishly, I admitted, “Busted!”
“What the two of you didn’t realize,” Dad continued, “is that I’d already planned to buy a new stereo as a Christmas present for the family and particularly for Seth. I’d already priced a pair of LS50W amplified speakers and a Debut Carbon Esprit turntable. I hadn’t bought them yet, hoping I might find something for a better price on sale this Friday.” I was flabbergasted, and ecstatic. I flung myself into my father’s arms and hugged him for dear life.
Seth, however, recognized that there was unfinished business. “The LS50 is a phenomenal speaker for the money, but the amplified version is a bit underpowered for your living room. And they really don’t have much of a low end, so you’d need to add a sub. The Debut is an excellent turntable, but for a hundred more, the LP7 is significantly better. Audio-Technica is known for making high-quality components at an affordable price. To beat the LP7, you’d hafta spend more than twice as much.
“Gary, you were gonna spend a bit under three thousand, not counting the cost of the cables, setup and tax. For $3000, including cables, setup and tax, I got you a much better system. Further, it’s expandable, to meet your future needs. Expanding the LS50Ws would mean buying a lot more equipment.”
“What exactly did you buy,” Dad asked, “and how in heck did you get it for less than I was going to spend?”
“Well, I know of a great stereo place on Canal Street and have been buying from them for years,” my boyfriend answered. “They sell a lot of used equipment and if you know what you’re looking for, you can save a fortune. The only thing we’re getting you guys that’s used, however, is the amp, a Nova 300, which is still the current model and is less than a year old. The only reason it was returned is that, like with so many audiophiles, the buyer found something they liked better and was willing to take a loss. For speakers, we got a pair of R500s as a close-out floor model, for a steal. They’d just been put on display when the model was discontinued, so they’re essentially brand new.
“The store provides a lifetime warranty on everything they sell, so if anything ever goes wrong, they’ll fix it, free of charge for as long as you own it.”
“That’s all top-shelf stuff,” Dad noted. “Well, maybe bottom-shelf for you, but excellent quality at an amazing price. But of course, I must pay you back for it. It’s almost exactly what I was gonna pay anyway and I could never let you spend so much money on a gift for my son.”
“But I want to get it for Ashe,” Seth lamented, and then he put his foot in it by saying, “Besides, it’s not a gift.”
“What do you mean it’s not a gift?” Dad asked.
Of course, we ended up having to explain the nature of our bet. When we’d finished, Dad responded with, “Well, I don’t approve of such a bet, nor can I allow it, particularly when it’s so grossly unfair.”
“What do you mean it’s unfair?” Seth asked.
“I mean there’s no way my son can lose, and so it’s not really a bet… it’s a gift,” Dad answered.
“You really think Ashe will be able to tell the difference between vinyl and a high-resolution digital version?” Seth asked.
“Of course he will, just as I would,” Dad responded.
“Frankly, Gary, I don’t think you realize just how good digital audio has become,” my boyfriend admonished my father. “The digital signal processor that used to cost ten grand, can now be had on a tiny chip for under a hundred bucks. A high-end DAC such as the one in the Nova 300 can outperform the best analog circuitry from a few years ago. That’s one of the reasons I chose to go with an all-digital system. It significantly simplifies the wiring, reduces the cost and improves the sound quality.
“I have to laugh when I see a kid shopping for vinyl in Barnes and Nobel at Union Square,” my boyfriend continued. “They’ll pick out and buy the latest LP from their favorite band. They’ll spend thirty or even fifty dollars for a record that was recorded digitally, edited, sliced, diced, and processed the hell out of digitally, and then converted to analog and pressed onto a vinyl disc. Not that I’d want the same album, mind you, but I can go online with HDtracks, purchase a copy of the original digital master for about twenty-five dollars, upload it to VOX and listen to it using my phone and my Dragonfly DAC, anywhere in the world in master quality audio. What really gets me, though, is when that kid uses a cheap turntable with a USB cable… a USB cable of all things, to play it through their laptop using a cheap pair of computer speakers or worse, a stock pair of earbuds.”
“Today’s vinyl is crap… I’ll grant you that,” Dad agreed, “but nothing can touch a vintage vinyl record from the jazz masters.”
“But with digital, you can take a bunch of vintage vinyl records of the same original recording, or you can take the original master, recorded using a reel-to-reel Apex tape recorder, and you can completely eliminate the effects of tape hiss, scratches, general wear and even original imperfections. You can recover recordings that were previously unlistenable,” Seth pointed out.
“And I’m telling you, son, none of that can compare to a vintage vinyl record that’s been taken care of.”
“Are you willing to bet on that?” Seth asked and my dad nodded his head.
“OK, once my new turntable and your new stereo are set up, you choose the date and time, just so long as it’s not during school. You send me the names of five vintage vinyl jazz albums you have in your collection. I’ll make sure I have hi-res digital downloads of all of them. You select two tracks from each of them. The three of us will listen to each track in its entirety, first from one source and the the other, but in random order.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to use an A-B design?” I asked.
“No babe, ’cause you might pick up on clues as to which was which from switching artifacts rather than the music itself. It would introduce unfair bias,” Seth explained.
“So,” he continued, “the three of us will listen to a total of ten tracks from five albums on two stereo systems. An independent party will switch the sources at random and record the order out of sight. Each of us will record our answers as to which source was which on paper. Each of us will be scored on accuracy. A score of 50% would indicate random chance and hence failure. 67% is one standard deviation from chance, so a successful test has to be at minimum better than that. I propose that we designate eight out of ten correct responses on either system to be definitive for the ability to differentiate vinyl from digital. Conversely, six or fewer correct answers would indicate chance and hence a negative result.”
“Are you sure he’s a thirteen-year-old kid?” Dad asked, turning to look at me.
“He was home schooled,” I answered.
“Ah, I see,” said Dad. “So if we accept your…”
“Metrics?” I suggested.
“So if we accept your metrics, Seth, what should be the bet?” Dad asked.
“You want me to make a wager with you?” My boyfriend asked, obviously as incredulous as was I that Dad would propose something so preposterous.
“I can’t let something as absurd as your ideas on the superiority of digital music go unchallenged,” Dad explained. You proposed a bet in the first place and now you should stand by it. A friendly bet if you will. But I can’t let you give my son a new stereo system in any case. I’d already planned to give him one for Christmas and you mustn’t take that away from me. Either you take yours back or you let me pay for it.”
With a smile, Seth responded, “That’s the second time in the last 24 hours I’ve been accused of taking away someone’s right to give, just because I can.” Then looking my father right in the eyes, he continued, “The last thing I want to do is to come between my boyfriend and his family. I think I got a great deal on stereo equipment and frankly much better than you could’ve gotten. Since the cost was virtually the same as you’d planned to spend, the best thing would be for you to simply pay me back for it. That’s fair.
“Regarding the bet, I believe I have four separate bets with each of you… that each of you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on your stereo and on mine, and that I can tell the difference on your system and on mine. Four bets between me and each of you. And no matter what the outcome, it should be fair and even the loser should have fun…
“How about this,” he continued. “For each bet I win with you, Gary, using my metric, you will cook breakfast for me for a month…”
“But I usually do that anyway for Asher,” Dad protested. “How would that change things?”
“Like I said,” Seth explained, “even for the loser, it should be fun. So, for each bet I win with you, I’ll get to have a month of sleepovers with my boyfriend, complete with one of your fantastic breakfasts… served in bed if I wish.”
“What if I win?” Dad asked.
“If you win, I’ll make deliveries for your restaurant for a month. I’ll need to buy a bike, so I’ll keep the tips, but I’ll work for tips only, and of course dinner.”
Nodding his head, Dad replied, “Monday through Thursday, six to eight, during the dinner rush. I already have enough weekend staff.” Dad extended his hand and he and my boyfriend shook on it.
Then Seth turned to face me and said, “Our deal will be the same as before. For each bet I win, you’ll make me dinner for a month. For each bet you win, I’ll make you dinner for a month. ’Course you’ll have to teach me how. Deal?”
Comically, he extended his hand as if we were businessmen. I grabbed his hand, gave it a quick shake and then pulled him in for a kiss.
“Hey, no fraternizing with your adversary,” Dad admonished me. Had it been anyone else, I’d have given him the finger and kept on kissing Seth, but I couldn’t exactly do that with Dad, so I just ignored him and kept on kissing my boyfriend until Dad left the room.
“I can’t believe something that small costs five hundred dollars,” I exclaimed as I watched the guy from the stereo store plug a device that looked like a USB thumb drive into the back of one of Seth’s speakers.
Laughing, the guy – I think he’d introduced himself as Tyrone – replied, “You should see some of the high-end in-ear monitors we sell. The only thing smaller would be if it was implanted directly into your brain.”
That prompted Seth to say, “I am Locutus of Borg…”
“From this day forward…” I joined in.
“You will service… us.” Tyrone added, then we all high-fived each other. Tyrone, evidently, was also a Star Trek fan.
“So, what I’m doing, gentlemen,” Tyrone explained, “is I’m plugging in an external DSP into the USB jack on the back of each speaker. The external DSP gets its power through the USB port, so it’s truly plug-and-play. That’s all there is to it,” Tyrone continued. “These DSPs are interchangeable too, so if you ever have a problem with one, you can try swapping it with another to see if that fixes it.”
He then proceeded to move around the room, repeating the procedure with each of Seth’s seven speakers and two subwoofers. After he’d finished, he turned to Seth and asked, “OK, where are we going to put the turntable?”
“Shit, I hadn’t thought about that,” Seth replied. “I guess I just assumed I’d work it in with the other stereo components somehow.
“If I could make a suggestion,” Tyrone said, “there’s a lot of cabinet space under the TV. If you could talk your parents into moving their liquor someplace else, we could put the turntable there.”
“That’s an excellent idea, Ty,” Seth replied. “If need be, I’ll buy them a separate liquor cabinet for Christmas.”
Tyrone then proceeded to remove the liquor from the cabinet under the TV, and then slid the new turntable into place along with some electronic equipment. He connected several cables and then put a marked-up rubbery disc on the turntable and made some adjustments.
“Now, we just have to reprogram your CPU to take advantage of the external DSPs,” he said as he got out a laptop and plugged it into another piece of electrical equipment, located under the TV. I wouldn’t have even known it was there, but Tyrone knew exactly what to look for. In no time Tyrone’s fingers were flying across the keys of his laptop.
“The first thing I’ve gotta do is to upgrade your firmware,” he relayed. “This’ll take a few minutes.” After a few key-presses, he just stared at his computer screen. I couldn’t tell that anything was happening at all, but apparently Tyrone could. After a while, he said, “There, now that that’s done, I’m going to log onto your CPU and upgrade the software to the latest version.” This time I could tell he was on some kind of website, as he had a browser window open. “OK, the new software’s ready to install. This could take a while.” And then he punched some more keys, and the browser window went blank.
Standing up and stretching, he said, “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for some water or something to drink.”
“We don’t keep soda in the house,” Seth replied, “but I do have some natural juices, including cranberry juice, cranberry mango, cranberry peach, tomato juice, V-8, and aloe juice.”
“Aloe juice?” Tyrone asked. “That sounds intriguing.”
“Would you like to try some?” Seth asked.
“Sure, why not?” Tyrone replied.
My boyfriend poured each of us a glass, which we proceeded to sip.
“Mmm… sweet, but not too sweet,” Tyler commented, and then he asked, “So, I hear you guys go to Stuyvesant. No offense, Seth, but you look way too young to be in high school.”
“He was home schooled and he’s a year ahead of the rest of us,” I replied with evident pride. “He’s thirteen, but his dad’s a politician, so he’s much wiser to the ways of the world than the rest of us.”
“You’re fourteen?” Tyrone asked, and I nodded my head. “I know you must get this all the time, but did you know you look exactly…”
“Like Tiger Woods,” I interrupted. “Yes, I know. My mother’s Chinese and grew up in Flushing. My father’s African American and grew up in New Orleans. They met in Poughkeepsie, at the Culinary Institute of America. They own a take-out place on Grand Street.”
“And Seth,” Tyrone asked, “With your last name and all, is your father THE Frank Moore?”
“One and the same,” Seth answered.
“He’s one of the most powerful men in Albany.”
“Probably the next speaker,” Seth responded, “and then maybe he’ll try for Congress or the Senate. He’s kinda got his eyes on Schumer’s spot for when he retires.”
“Hopefully not until you’re in college,” Tyrone commented. “It’d be hard on your relationship if you had to move away.”
Realizing that he was talking about the two of us, I asked, “How in the world did you know?”
“It’s pretty obvious from the way you two interact. And besides, Paul mentioned it before I left the store this morning.”
“And here I thought you had gaydar,” I said.
“My girlfriend would be surprised at that,” he replied. Then glancing over at his computer screen, he said, “Excellent… the new software’s up and running.” Then getting back on his laptop, he said, “all of the new DSP’s have been recognized and incorporated into the network, so I just have to reprogram the CPU to take advantage of their capabilities.” That actually seemed to take a lot of time as he kept tapping on his keyboard.
“Now, it’s time to balance all the speakers.” He got out what looked like an array of fancy microphones – maybe nine microphones mounted on a square grid – and set it up on a tri-pod directly opposite the TV, just behind the sofa. There was a long cable coming off of the grid, and he plugged it into his laptop. “Please be quiet while the system tests the impulse response curve for each speaker.” Then there was what sounded like loud static coming from one speaker at time. Then he said, “Excellent. The curves are flat for all speakers across the listening area.” He then dismantled all of his equipment, including the laptop, and put it all away.
“You are set, my friend,” he said to Seth. “Would you like to try out your new turntable?”
“Of course,” Seth replied.
I retrieved a small stack of records I’d brought with me from Dad’s collection, and selected the same Sarah Vaughan album we’d listened to the other night.
Tyrone took it from me and showed Seth the ‘proper’ way to handle a vinyl record album, which of course he already knew. “Vinyl must be handled only by the edges, and by the center hole. The playing surface must never be touched by human hands. Now if you go to the main menu on your TV, you’ll see that there’s a new selection for ‘Turntable’, but you don’t need to select it for it to work. Simply putting on a record will cause the pre-amp to turn on and the CPU to switch to it.”
Tyrone set the album on the platter and started it up. “This is a strictly manual turntable,” Tyrone continued. “That means that you have to set the needle into the groove by hand at the start of the record, and to lift it off the record at the end.” Tyrone then used the damped cueing lever to lift the tonearm, he moved it to where it was just hovering over the start of the record, and then he released the lever, letting the needle find the outside groove. Within seconds, the sound of Sarah Vaughn’s stellar voice was filling the room.
I couldn’t believe how fantastic the music sounded on Seth’s new turntable. It was just sooo much better than on my old one. There was no way in hell that digital could sound this good.
Echoing my thoughts, Seth said, “Let’s see how that compares to my digital copy.” Then turning on the TV, Seth maneuvered through a series of menus until he had the same album cover displayed, and then he pressed a button to start playing the digital version. I had to admit, it sounded pretty good – definitely better than it did on my turntable at home – but to me there was no comparison. The original vinyl recording from my Dad’s collection sounded like a true live performance. I could have sworn she was right behind the TV, and that Seth’s living room was a real jazz club. Even though the original recording was only in stereo, I could have sworn that the sounds of clanking glasses and silverware on plates were coming from all around me. This was what a live performance was supposed to sound like. The digital version was good, but it sounded flat in comparison.
“Out of curiosity,” Seth said, “lets see how that compares to the DSD version I downloaded over the Internet a few days ago.” Seth then maneuvered through another series of menus on his TV, and pretty soon the same track was playing. Damned if I could tell the difference between it and my Dad’s vinyl, though. The same sense of realism was there. Perhaps not quite as vibrant, but it was much the same.
“Of course, you wouldn’t expect there to be much difference between the vinyl version and the DSD. The vinyl recording is being converted into a DSD on the fly, after all. The only difference between the two is that the DSD you downloaded is DSD 128 and the version generated by your phono pre-amp is DSD 256, so the vinyl version is represented by twice as much data, but as you can hear, the effect is pretty much negligible.”
“Our bet doesn’t include DSD downloads, does it?” I asked.
“Perhaps it should, now that I have the option to download DSDs when available, but I wouldn’t do that to you. It wouldn’t be fair. No, the bet is between digital and vinyl. DSD is a hybrid and it shouldn’t count.”
“Wow, I can’t believe this equipment,” Tyrone exclaimed when we got to my apartment. “This stuff is from the dark ages. And Bose speakers? Eew!”
“They were considered state-of-the-art when my dad bought them,” I countered.
“So was the eight-track tape player,” Tyrone responded, “but I wouldn’t want to listen to one of those either. Once we get the new stuff set up, you’re in for a treat.”
Pulling the speakers off the shelf, he set them aside and said, “These go right into electronics recycling, as does the rest of your old stuff. No one would want them.” He seemed to look in horror as he pulled away the surge suppressor that was plugged into the wall. “This thing’s well past its prime. What you really need is a power line conditioner. It not only protects against surges, but evens out the flakey voltage fluctuations that are typical in older buildings like this one. Fortunately, I happen to have one with me. Paul figured you’d need one and told me to throw it in at no charge.” He then proceeded to plug it into our wall outlet, and immediately a series of lights lit up on the front of it. Then, he set the Nova 300 on top of it and plugged it in. Next came the LP7 turntable, which he set down next to the amplifier. He went through the same calibration procedure he had with Seth’s turntable before going on.
Tyrone set one R500 speaker down on each side of the television, and got out several cables and some weird-looking wires and hooked everything up, including a fiberoptic cable from the TV to the amp. Once he was finished, he showed me the remote and said, “The only source buttons you’ll use are Opt-2 and Aux-2. Opt-2 is for the TV and Aux-2 is, of course, for your turntable. Your turntable is fully manual, just like Seth’s, and you’ll need to handle it the same way, but then so was your old one, so nothing has really changed there.
“We need to set-up your TV to output sound only to the stereo.” Grabbing the TV remote from the coffee table, he turned the TV and cable box on, and then went through a series of menus on the TV until the sound was indeed only coming through the new speakers. I couldn’t get over how different the TV sounded. It actually sounded good. I hadn’t realized how terrible it sounded through the built-in speakers.
“So, how would you like to try out your new turntable?”
“I’d love to,” I replied.
Seth handed the Sarah Vaughn album back to me and I immediately put it on the turntable and set the tonearm into the outer groove, but no sound came out.
“You do have to remember to switch inputs,” Tyler pointed out as he pushed the Aux-2 button on the remote. Soon, the sound of her voice filled the room. No, it didn’t sound as rich as it did on Seth’s stereo. He had simulated surround sound, after all, which brought out the natural ambience of a live recording in a way the Bose speakers never did, but compared to the only way I’d ever heard the music before in my living room, it was incredible. It was the next best thing to a live performance.
Tyrone was kind enough to take away all the boxes and old components when he finished. Seth paid up the balance in cash, and then slipped him an additional fifty-dollar bill as a generous tip for all the time he spent with us. It was nearly five o’clock when he left, and he’d been at it for hours.
I showed my appreciation to Seth for buying me a new stereo by cooking dinner. We didn’t have time to go shopping, so I made a simple meal using ingredients I had on hand. I prepared a Cajun chicken and vegetable stir-fri, which he said was fantastic. Afterwards, we showed our appreciation for each other as we soiled another set of sheets. Doing laundry was definitely on the agenda for tomorrow.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.