SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIFeatures Archives

September 1, 2002


[When she heard I was reviewing her Music Pumps and Music Purse, my wife said, "Do you want me to write about what I think about them?"

My mama didn't raise no fools. I said, "Of course!"]

These Amps Were Made for Walking
by Joan Manes

"Guess what Wes got me for my birthday!"
"A pair of 4" heels in fire-engine red."
Hysterical laughter is heard at the other end of the phone.

I knew exactly what my dear friend Jezra was thinking: Joan? Miss "I don’t care how great it looks, I won't wear it -- it’s not comfortable"? In 4" heels? In fact, I haven’t worn anything other than flat walking shoes (sandals in summer, oxfords in winter, sneakers at the gym) for years, and I never wore really high heels.

"They're really cool," I told her.
"Right!" came the response, dripping with sarcasm.
"And they're 25 watts per channel."
Dead silence.

I gave in and explained that this particular pair of heels was, in fact, a pair of monoblock amplifiers. Not that I know exactly what monoblocks are -- although the name certainly doesn’t lead one to imagine high-heeled low-cut pumps.

Each shoe is stuffed with the makings of an amp: There’s a doughnut-shaped piece of electronics encased in what looks like plastic wrap in the toe; then, toward the back, there's a small, open, box-like black metal structure, which could easily pass for a piece of modern sculpture; and finally there's a bunch of wires connecting the box and the doughnut and trailing away from the back of the shoe to whatever it is amps are connected to. (You guessed it! I’m not an audiophile. But if you want to know what all that stuff is, look at Wes’s review. I’m sure he explains it in all its gory detail.)

Each element of my description brought forth more giggles -- as for me, I was grinning ear to ear, admiring my newest possession and sharing my fun.

"They must sound kinda funky," she speculated.

"Actually, they’re pretty good," I shot back, defending my new toy. "Wes has them hooked up to these big-ass speakers, and they’re doing just fine." (Again, I’ll leave it to the expert to tell you how the pumps sound, and how they compare with more pedestrian, as it were, amps.)

"But I can't believe Wes got you audio equipment for your birthday!"

It is sort of surprising. Think about it -- would your wife (or husband or significant other) be pleased by the gift of an amp, CD player, or pair of speakers? Not hardly! Unless they'd specifically asked for it, as in "Could you get me something for the guest room, so I don't have to listen to that junk you're always playing in the living room?"

And who among you would be foolish enough to get your nearest and dearest a piece of audio equipment as a surprise? (You did? I apologize -- and offer my condolences. How do you like being single again?)

My own typical reaction to any new piece of equipment that appears in the house is, "Oh -- just what we need, more audio stuff." (Wes's only defense is that it's just here for review -- I'm much more enthusiastic when he tells me that the boxes in the living room are just waiting to be shipped back.) Furthermore, as Wes knows very well, I hate surprises. My idea of a perfect gift is a book whose title, author, and ISBN number I've told him.

So, when I walked in the door and Wes said, "I've got something for you," he was being incredibly brave -- or foolish. It's true that I'd seen and admired a pair of the Music Pumps at the Montreal Festival du Son & Image, but still -- what a risk!

But he was right! I took one look and, instead of my usual negative (or, if I'm in an exceptionally good mood, non-committal) response to new audio gear in my living room, I burst out laughing. "They're great! I love them!"

And, a few months later, I still love them. Why? Because they're FUN!!!

It seems to me that audiophiles -- like any other group of people who are totally committed to some hobby, career, or set of beliefs, which means most of us -- could benefit from a greater sense of humor regarding their particular obsession. There's a difference between making fun of something and having fun with it. The "Music Pumps" are a perfect example of the latter. And when you have fun with something, it’s a lot easier to share it with an outsider -- a friend, wife, significant other, or colleague.

The shoes look really cool, sitting on the equipment rack with the CD player, between the speakers. They change the whole atmosphere in the living room. After all, no matter how elegant and well-designed a CD player, amp, or speaker may be, it still looks like equipment or, in some cases, like furniture. These look like, well, a pair of high-heeled pumps.

And what the hell is a pair of pumps doing on a shelf at the far end of the living room? Every time someone walks in, Wes and I wait for the inevitable, "What's that?" It's such a gas to answer, "Oh, our new monoblock amps."

Even when I'm not showing them off, I get a real kick out of them. (Pun intended -- but it's the truth, nevertheless.) I grin every time I notice them -- and, as you can imagine, they're pretty noticeable. Even in the dark. "There's this really cool green light in the center of the doughnut piece," I raved to Jezra. "So the shoes give off this warm, friendly, slightly other-worldly glow."

Of course, they’ll look even better in my office, when Wes finishes his review and they become mine for real.

"They sound cool," she conceded, "but I still can't believe Wes got you amps for your birthday!"

"Well," I admitted, "he did get me something else as well."

I knew she was waiting to hear about my lovely earrings, or a silk blouse, or maybe a dinner out at a really great restaurant.

"He got me the preamp -- in a matching handbag!"

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