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Speakers

Can a musician be a hardcore audiophile?

The Audiophiliac's close encounter with jazz musician Billy Drummond, he has a houseful of great hi-fi gear.

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Billy Drummond's drums share space with his hi-fis Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Musicians are, for the most part, not all that interested in the sound of music. Most don't notice the difference a great pair of headphones can make; instead they listen to how well the music is being played. They catch mistakes that sail right past me. When I listen to music I focus on clarity, stereo soundstage, bass extension, and low distortion, but most musicians are perfectly satisfied with the sound of a boom box or car radio.

I'm not claiming that's true for all musicians. Jazz great Keith Jarrett is known to be a pretty serious audiophile, and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has an awesome set of ears. I'm sure there are many others, but most musicians, rich or poor, don't give a hoot about sound quality.

Not only does Jazz drummer Billy Drummond "get it," he's amassed an awesome collection of audio goodies. I've known Billy for years, but never visited his home until just a few weeks ago. He has impressive gear stashed in nearly every room! True, the hi-fis share the spaces with drums, there were drums in nearly every room too! He's been a drummer all his life, the fascination with hi-fi started 20 years ago.

Billy knows better than anyone that no hi-fi, no matter the price, can ever come close to faithfully reproducing the sound of his instrument. Forget about accuracy, or which format is better than another, that's not the point. Recorded music is very different than the real thing, but the satisfactions derived from owning a killer audio system, even for a man who intimately knows what live music sounds like, are immense.

Drummond says there's a huge gap in power and dynamics between the sound of just a single snare drum and what speakers can do. Listening to recorded music is something else; some of the time he listens as a musician, focusing on the music, other times when he's not studying his attention swings over to sound. Drummond points out there are lots of recordings of great but poorly recorded music. For those recordings he can turn-off his inner audiophile and focus on the music.


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Billy Drummond Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I had a great time hanging with Drummond. He unabashedly loves audio, so he's always looking for ways to improve his sound. He craves more transparency and clarity, and he's setting his sights on a pair of Quad electrostatic speakers, to see if they'll take his sound to the next level. Drummond says, "This audio stuff is very addictive."

As it stands, all of his stereos are fun to listen to. The best sounding one has a pair of big Vandersteen Model 3 speakers that filled his room with the full force of music. There was a terrific sense of body and solidity to the sound. As we switched between vinyl and digital recordings both sounded great.

I can't begin to list all of the gear in Drummond's home, but he has DCM, Klipsch, Magnepan, Snell, and Vandersteen speakers, for electronics I spotted Audio Research, Audible Illusions, Bryston, Counterpoint, Hafler, McIntosh, Museatex, NAD, Red Dragon, Pioneer, PS Audio, Quicksilver Audio and lots more.

Drummond has had a long recording career, here's a selected list of his best stuff.

I'd love to hear from other musicians who are audiophiles, tell us about your systems in the comments section.