High on Fidelity

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Courtesy of Richard Burwen

Ask any audiophile and, if you can get him to take off his $1,600 Grado headphones, he’ll tell you the quest for sonic perfection is not just an obsession, it’s a lifestyle. Take Richard Burwen, a retired engineer profiled in IEEE Spectrum (Jan. 2011), who in 1962 started designing his house around what has become a $500,000, 20,000-watt hi-fi system. Decked out with disco balls that reflect the light tossed off by racks of carefully calibrated computers and audio components of “varying vintage,” the ultimate man cave is, according to IEEE, an “enormous resonant chamber with an Alice-in-Wonderland feel.”

The space, which contains strategically placed snare drums to accentuate reverb, is also a digital laboratory. Since CDs hit the mass market in the mid-’80s, musicians and listeners like Burwen have complained about the format’s sound, variously called static, screechy, and small. The technology, they argue, wasn’t ready and its development has since stagnated.

In an effort to simultaneously enliven and warm up the listening experience, Burwen recently started using his sound studio to develop a CD-remastering software suite (yours for just $14,000) that Rob Fraboni, who produced Bob Dylan and paid Burwen a consulting fee, says finally makes “music listenable again.”

This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

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