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BOOK ⸜ passage

High-end. Why we need perfection


ISBN: 978-83-240-8820-1 | EAN: 9788324088201
No. of pages: 336
Publishing house: Znak Horyzont
Year of publishing: 2023

POLSKA ⸜ Cracow


foreword Wojciech Pacuła | translation Ewa Muszczynko
images “High Fidelity” | Znak

No 227

April 1, 2023

˻1 ˺
a) intended for people who want very good quality products and who do not mind how much they cost,
b) wanting very good quality products, and willing to pay a lot of money for them.
Cambridge Dictionary, →, accessed: 16.02.2023.
˻ 2 ˺
»high-end« – denoting the most expensive of a range of products.
Oxford Languages, →, accessed: 16.02.2023.

N MARCH 22, THE PUBLISHING HOUSE Znak Horyzont is going to release a book by BARTOSZ PACUŁA, entitled High-end. Dlaczego potrzebujemy doskonałości (Eng. High-end. Why we need perfection). In his publication, the author focuses on the phenomenon of high-quality products and services from all over the world – from Japanese swords and Chinese tea to Swedish photo cameras and Swiss fire engines.

The book is not limited, however, to a dry listing of the industries in which one strives for excellence every day. The author of High-end ponders what the phenomenon under discussion is and what constitutes it, reaches for non-obvious examples, and tries to answer the question of what the existence of high-end entails in general. In the course of work on the publication, the author had an opportunity to talk to a lot of experts representing various industries, thus exploring the world of niche perfumes, high-performance road bikes and firearms, among other things.

Due to his professional experience, BARTOSZ PACUŁA also reached for examples from the audio world. Below you will find, exclusively, a pre-release excerpt from the book, specifically dealing with audio or, more precisely, about public reception of audiophiles. The title of the subchapter where the excerpt comes from speaks for itself: Are audiophiles rapists and murderers? (Pol.: Czy audiofile to gwałciciele i mordercy?). WP


INTEREST IN HIGH CLASS AUDIO EQUIPMENT is not well perceived by the general public. Movies and TV series portray audiophiles either as losers, or murderers and rapists, and no other industry has such problems in this regard. Let us take, for example, the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from 2011. I remembered the American remake of the Swedish production, starring Daniel Craig, primarily for one reason: at the end, the murderer just happened to be an audiophile. What is more, his love for tube amplifiers and reel-to-reel tapes was clearly emphasized. "The main bad guy" equipped his torture chamber, located in the basement of his mansion, with an expensive audio system.

⸜ SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (High Fidelity version) • 15th Anniversary Edition, with a lacquerware casing decorated by a Japanese artist with golden paint

The whole scene, in fact, is representative of the theater of the absurd, at least from the point of view of a person who cares about good sound and the equipment to obtain it. After a brief interrogation of the chained main character of the movie, the psychopath audiophile turns on a a reel-to-reel tape recorder to play Orinoco Flow, one of Enya's most beautiful pieces, often used during audio shows owing to the quality of the recording.

The madman then proceeds unhurriedly to the torture, savoring every second of the macabre spectacle he has directed. Soothing music is still being played from loudspeakers. “From Peru to Cebu hear the power of Babylon / From Bali to Cali, far beneath the Coral Sea” – sings Enya with her angelic voice, while the character played by Craig hangs chained to the ceiling and suffocates. It just so happens that in between stanzas of the song, the mad audiophile manages to put a plastic bag over his head.

We can also see top-class equipment in A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film's main character, Alex DeLarge, who is no stranger to life's "pleasures" such as murder and rape, is the proud owner of several interesting devices, including the iconic Transcriptors Hydraulic Reference turntable. Bang & Olufsen's artful equipment, on the other hand, was chosen by Christian Trevelyan Grey, the protagonist of 50 Shades of Grey. It is a known fact that nothing stimulates the appetite for listening to music more than whipping someone's ass several times. A nice audio system also belongs to one of the characters in the movie Kler (Eng. The Clergy) by Wojciech Smarzowski. In the final scene, it turns out that it is he, the audiophile priest, who likes to spend time with children in unconventional ways. On the other hand, audiophiles in the Swedish series Lust Stories from the year 2022 are presented in a slightly more favorable way. There, their fondness for good sound is "merely" meant to emphasize their life failures.

Identifying an audiophile with a murderer and rapist goes beyond the worlds presented on the big or small screen, as illustrated by the story of Robert J. In 2017 he was arrested by police officers from the Krakow X-Files department for a brutal murder committed in 1998. In an article presenting Robert J.'s profile, published on the website of Radio Krakow, a certain piece of information caught my attention. The authors of the text, in addition to describing the crime itself, found time to mention one interesting fact:

Neighbors and colleagues call him a "freak." However, they praise his above-average intelligence. As a child, he was known for his penchant for tormenting cats and dogs. [...] He was also an audiophile. His favorite thing were amplifiers, speakers, loudspeakers, and other musical equipment, which he assembled himself. He also trained martial arts at one of the schools in Olsza.

The text was written in a way that seems to suggest that the passion for high-end audio equipment (implicitly: an unusual hobby) was an an important element of the twisted mind of Robert J., capable of, let me remind you, murdering a young woman. Being an audiophile can be understood here as a kind of a harbinger of things to come. Since he used to torture dogs and cats and, on top of that, his "favourite thing were amplifiers," it should be anyone's guess that one day he would grab a knife and put it to decent work on a cooling body.

Sometimes it happens that silence says more about our approach to a phenomenon than actually articulated or written words – and audiophile products are a very good example of this. There is usually a lack of amplifiers, speakers or DACs where they could successfully appear. I'm mainly referring to all sorts of interior design and design books and magazines from all over the world, from periodicals like "Vogue Poland Living", "Salon" (a magazine about interior design and architecture published by "Polityka") or the no longer published high-end quarterly "2+3D", to albums of the coffee-table type published by Taschen or Thames & Hudson. All of them, as one, are silent about audio, although, it would seem, it is such a graceful and interesting topic.

⸜ A house owned by Claude Nobs, founder and long-time director of the Montreux Jazz Festival

The schizophrenic climate surrounding music reproduction equipment is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that audio gear was featured some time ago in the Klan (Eng. Clan) TV series (a Polish soap opera). Two pairs of very expensive loudspeakers by the Polish brand Zeta Zero were available to Bożenka from Klan (the daughter of Rysio from Klan, so widely loved by the Polish audience) in a house she and her husband rented. To the best of my knowledge, in none of the numerous episodes of the series did she turn the audio system on to wind down after a long day of work – unfortunately, she was not an audiophile. Where such equipment came from on the set of the series in the first place – it's hard for me to say.

Good music playback equipment is also not talked about in the context of famous people who use it, and there are some – for example, John Tu, co-founder of the Kingston Technology company, with a pretty hefty wallet (according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as of May 2022, we’re talking about over 8 billion US dollars). He is a wealthy man and philanthropist who has achieved everything on his own, valuing privacy and family life, plus an amateur drummer. Audio equipment, so readily identified with madmen, doesn't fit this set at all, does it? Yet, the businessman owns an exorbitantly expensive audio system made by the Cracow Ancient Audio company (a curiosity for readers born in the country located on the Vistula River). So, there is no rule that only degenerates reach for loudspeakers and the rest of audio gear. Positive examples are just just not mentioned.

At the same time, one must admit that people's views on expensive audio equipment have significantly improved in recent years. The source of this change is the current fashion for vinyl records and turntables, appearing in different media – movies and TV series, the press and social media, as well as computer games. Talking about the first releases of black records or cartridges and turntable arms is no longer a taboo subject in our society. A nicely displayed turntable during a movie scene could say more than one thing about its owner – and it often denotes something positive! Audio equipment (or at least some of it) ceased to clearly indicate cruelty, and became a symbol of sophistication, social status and wealth.

⸜ King Crimson debut on the Platinum SHM-CD 7”

A turntable is featured in, for example Star Trek Into Darkness (it belongs to Captain James T. Kirk), Suits (the owner here is the outstanding lawyer Harvey Specter) or Spider-Man: Miles Morales (a computer game for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5; the plot even includes one minor task to perform related to vinyl records).

A turntable (and, generally, the whole ritual connected with enjoying music in this way) is beautifully presented in the series And Just Like That…, i.e., continuation of the iconic Sex and the City. The main characters, Carrie and Mr. Big, pay a lot of attention to vinyl records, own costly audio gear, and listening to the albums they love together constitutes true entertainment for them – something that helped them get through the hardships of the pandemic and lockdowns. Although the series has received a lot of criticism, as a person interested in the subject of audio equipment, I can't help but look at it with some tenderness: finally someone has shown the audio industry the way I and many other people see it.

I have devoted so much text to audiophile equipment because it is, from my experience, treated unfairly and roughly by the public. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a much more complex phenomenon here: the high-end frequently evokes distrust and resentment in people, or possibly pity and derisive laughter. Browsing through various online forums, reading daily and specialized press, or watching TV reports, every now and then we come across the difficult emotions that high-end objects can arouse in us. Why do we find it so difficult to believe that high-quality products really aren't supposed to drain your pockets, be a decoy for idiots or constitute a modernized belief in magical phenomena?

About the Author

BARTOSZ PACUŁA is a history anthropologist and member of the Krakow Sonic Society. The excerpt above is from his book entitled High-end. Dlaczego potrzebujemy doskonałości (Eng. High-end. Why we need perfection), published by the Cracow publishing house, Znak Horyzont, on March 23rd, 2023.

Author: Bartosz Pacuła
Title: High-end. Dlaczego potrzebujemy doskonałości (Eng. High-end. Why we need perfection)
ISBN: 978-83-240-8820-1
EAN: 9788324088201
No. of pages: 336
Publishing house: Znak Horyzont
Year of publishing: 2023

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