Friday, December 30, 2005

Leisure, Amplified

Some months back (toward the end of summer, I think) I was given the gift of two beautiful hand-built loudspeakers. These were examples of the true craftsmanship of the art. Just one problem: I didn’t have anything to drive them. So they’ve sat against the wall in my living room doing nothing.
Not nothing, exactly—one of them has been holding up my ancient Underwood manual very nicely.
But I assured the giver (whom I have the honor of calling one of my dearest friends) that my lack of an amplifier would be no problem. I’d get one.

My word is now fulfilled.

You know how it goes, one decides to get an amp but then one chooses to just keep an eye on the classifieds instead, maybe peek into a few pawn shops… One must get a good deal, right?
Well, that angle wasn’t working. So, I figured I’d get this very nice $100 40-watt from Radio Shack. But what the heck—why not save a C? So I built one.

I admit the hundred-dollar option would be a lot more aesthetic. That sleek case gleaming with beautifully-displayed controls. In contrast, my contraption is housed in the casing of a junked karaoke of prehistoric origin. But it comes with what the other would not: a great sense of accomplishment.

I took scraps of a broken karaoke, a powered computer speaker from 1990, the tail of an old keyboard (for spare wire), and various other bits of trash and forged in solder a piece of equipment that delivers such deep, rich, low and high crystalline sound as is seldom heard outside a movie theater. And then only in the forty seats that compromise the sweet spot. (And minus some of the high tones, even.)

My rig comes complete with my own free version of a balance control (made absolutely necessary by the quirks of the central control board) and more than enough power to pulp most speakers. Actually, I can’t figure out how I got such power out of it. The components just don’t tally up to that much.
Maybe I’m an accidental genius, or maybe something put together with so much heart is inevitably greater than the sum of its parts. (A sarcastic “yeah right” to both.)

After getting the amp together in its present form, I replaced the tweeter in the top of the left speaker case (it had been missing its entire diaphragm), and checked over the other. My work is not done yet, however.
I need to give Radio Shack some business after all, in the form of [1] a resistor for routing high-notes to the right-hand tweeter, [2] some doo-hickey or other for fine-tuning my monster’s massive amplitude a little more, [3] a cable for feeding DVD audio signals to it (the one I’m using now is borrowed from my videography rig), and [4] a pair of jacks for the speaker outlets.
That last one is so I don’t habitually have bare wire twisted into bare wire, as is set up now. I’m thinking RCAs for convenience, as I have a couple of dog-chewed plugs lying around.

But these tiny details that still need to be attended to do not diminish the facts: That, after the work of three partial days and an elected budget of zero cents, I have a working stereo amplifier hooked into magnificent speakers and delivering some of the best audio I have heard in my entire life. Made by my own hand (the amp, that is).
The entire room has the potential to have marvelous two-track variable sound filling it, and I have availed myself of that opportunity. First, I listened to the rolling thunder of an oncoming storm in Sense and Sensibility. Then, the jazz-scored “Bullet for Bullock” (an episode of 1992's “Batman: The Animated Series”). The tremendous openers to The Rainmaker and Conspiracy Theory. “Tradition” and a few other bits from the incomparable Fiddler on the Roof. All wonderful, with the kind of careful mixing that can showcase a good stereo delivery system.

I also watched a graciously-lent copy of the original Sabrina. O.K, so the sound wasn’t very climactic for the purpose of my new amplifier, but it was nice to see such an entertaining movie for the first time.

But then, then— I put in Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. I let it play all the way through, my visiting brother watching it and myself listening while at work in another room.
The sweetest spot of all is found by sitting on the living room’s central sofa with one’s left leg resting where the two cushions join. But the “sweet spot” as generally defined (that is, the wider area in which stereo sound is good enough to thrill one with the illusion of being in the events of the film) is so wide as to protrude into three-and-a-half adjacent rooms.

And Master and Commander has a really nice soundtrack.

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