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Christmas Gift Guide
Speakers

Are you now or will you ever be an audiophile?

The Audiophiliac believes that anyone who occasionally listens to music without multitasking is either an audiophile or will eventually become one.

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A man and his hi-fi: Ohm Acoustics designer and owner John Strohbeen. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

It's funny -- a lot of audiophiles never admit to being audiophiles. Not me -- I've always been fascinated by sound, especially the sound that comes out of speakers or headphones. Twenty years ago I went to a party that just happened to have a large number of audiophiles attending, and for some strange reason I asked each one if they were an audiophile. Most responded with something like, "No, I like music!" Fair enough, but if you asked a Ferrari owner if they're really into cars, I doubt they would ever say, "No, it's just transportation." But ask a guy who owns a $500 turntable if he's an audiophile and he'll get defensive, even when the guy asking the question is himself an audiophile.

I bought my first hi-fi when I was 16 with the money I earned working at a local grocery store. I bought a Garrard turntable, a department store brand integrated amp and large bookshelf speakers. The price? One hundred and seven dollars, not an insignificant sum for a teenager in 1965.

Rock and roll rocked harder, thanks to my little hi-fi. I quickly learned that one turntable, amp, or speaker can -- get this -- sound different and possibly better than another turntable, amp, or speaker! I was, at last, an audiophile!

I started to notice the way John Lennon double-tracked his vocals, and that reverberation was a distinct part of the mix, because my Grado phono cartridge decoded more stuff in the grooves than whatever piece-of-crap cartridge came with the turntable. A couple of months later I went back to buy a sweet-looking Harman Kardon amplifier, and that thing took me to the next level.

Years later, I heard a pair of JBL L100 Century speakers, and the heavens parted. The sound was revelatory, there was more bass, more treble, they were more fun to listen to! And the big, white 12-inch woofers looked so cool, and the brilliant orange foam grille got my heartbeat up! There was a big "but," however: they sold for $546 a pair -- that was way out of my league, but I spent a lot of time pestering hi-fi salesmen to get 15 minutes alone in a room with the L100s. I wound up with a set of Bose 501 floor-standing speakers, and I lived happily with them for a few years.

Share your memories about your first audio system in the comments section.