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For most of my life, whenever people see my audio setup, I get a fairly predictable reaction. First is silence, followed by an uncomfortable smile to indicate that I am somewhat off the deep end. I quickly attempt to put visitors at ease by announcing that it is quite alright to laugh. I let them clearly know that I, Michael Malinowski, am a member in good standing of the audio lunatic fringe and have been there pretty much since birth.

My earliest childhood recollection at age two is of my grandmother’s Philco radio. Compared to a toddler, this thing was enormous. Lying in front of the radio and periodically peering into the back at the multitude of voluminous tubes transfixed this child in wonderment as to how music actually came out of such a monstrous beast. When it broke, my uncle (a TV repairman) pulled out a magical box filled with an assortment of tubes. Aside from my delight in their beautiful orange glow, I understood that they somehow magically made the music.

Momentous events are often snapshots fixed in time. We all can remember exactly where we were and what was happening in our lives at times such as when the US landed on the moon, during the Challenger disaster, or more recently, what we experienced during the 9/11 tragedy (more on that later). All of these are frozen in one’s memory. Many such events in my life tie into audio.

Just as people remember where they were during momentous events, I have vivid memories of audio-related events such as the day I bought my first speakers.

Certainly to a preschooler, music coming out of a box might as well be magic. At seven or eight, an older friend of mine was building a small HeathKit. He connected two wires from the radio to the speaker and out came music - a revelation! The concept that radio + wires to speaker = music was profound. This five-minute demo was a life-altering experience and the beginning of my obsession. At age 10, while rummaging around the musty basement of a relative's, I stumbled upon an old suitcase record player. It was covered with years' worth of grime but it was beautiful and they let me play with it! (I guess it kept me quiet while the adults visited.)

I plugged it in, turned it on, dropped the needle on an old 78 and sound came out! As we were leaving, I was given this heavy piece of equipment and told, "it's yours." My God, I couldn't believe this - an adult record player! I was in heaven! I cleaned it, polished it, and stapled the speaker grilles on the front, giving it all the loving care deserving of such a momentous piece. This was the official beginning of my love of music and equipment. I began to look for work, cutting lawns for $10, focused on only one goal - to continue feeding my budding audio appetite.

At thirteen, I bought a reel-to-reel recorder; by age sixteen, a pair of AR3as graced my bedroom. When did I go off the deep end? I suppose that would have been during my senior year in high school. While living at home, going to school and working virtually full time, I poured every dollar into building a "state of the art" system in my parents' basement. Even to this day, I am amazed that my parents allowed me to construct my dream room – hammering, drilling and wiring to my heart's content. By graduation time, I became a middle class college kid with Bose 901s, Crown DC300, IC150 preamp, quadraphonic surround sound and Shure's best cartridge. Talk about being the envy of your peers! I knew it was the best because Stereo Review and High Fidelity said so.

My finished project was a 600 sq. ft. entertainment room. All my equipment was built into the back wall with everything controlled by relays, and with pocket doors that electronically closed to conceal the equipment. This was a complete and total labor of love for a young kid making less than $2 per hour and it took over a year to build in my spare time after school and work. All of my disposable income and free time had gone into this project. It was irrational and impractical - I knew I would abandon it upon college graduation yet I was driven. Yes, I know - Bose speakers and the folly of youth. To be honest, connected to a DC300 playing exclusively rock, the system could knock your socks off with clear, clean, driving sound.

I could have been forever lost in mid-fi hell, except for another defining moment. While working at the college radio station as an engineer, a friend came running in and exclaimed that there was a new 'underground' magazine. No ads and total honesty! If the component sounded like shit, they said so. Literally! As a charter subscriber to The Absolute Sound, my audiophile life began.

Times change. Post college, a friend and mentor suggested that I forgo the apartment route and invest in a home. The fact that I couldn't afford it didn't seem
relevant at the time. As a single young man looking for his first home, the only thing that mattered was the appropriately sized room for the stereo. Land, location, school district? All meaningless. Sound was all that mattered. (Come to think of it, maybe times haven't changed as much as I thought - an appropriately sized area for the stereo is still extremely high on the list of priorities for any potential new home!)

Fast forward to the late 70s and a chance meeting in Philadelphia at a small high-end audio boutique -- Chestnut Hill -- with proprietor Jack Rubison who offered some of the elite in high-end: Quad, Acoustat and other brands whose names have long since faded from my memory. Aside from a few reviews in The Absolute Sound, these pieces were foreign to me. But Jack let me hang out and listen. He taught me the difference between hi-fi and hi-end sound. Loud and detailed did not equal musical. Although I had no money, Jack treated me as potential customer. When I did save money, I became an exclusive customer. My first purchase was a used pair of Dahlquist DQ10s, followed by a Linn turntable. This was my first step into high end. From that point forward, my life in audio became an ever increasing snowball rushing down a mountainside.

People often assume that I must be rich to indulge in this hobby. Far from it, I am a workaholic small business manager who has steadfastly maintained a focus. While my peers partied, traveled and indulged in new cars, boats and other luxuries, my wife and I would at times go vacationless for years in order to feed our audio habit. Lots of sacrifice for my passion. It's a matter differing priorities.

My wife (and listening partner for 25 years) shares my passion. Actually, her listening ability is superior to mine because she is unfettered by the preconceived knowledge of the industry. Her listening experiences are pure and unprejudiced by what tubes should or should not sound like, or the differences between silver and copper cable - or any such baggage from our universe. She keeps me straight and we share both the music and the system.

Our system slowly and inexorably evolved up to September 11, 2001 (yes, that 9/11) which for me took on profound personal significance. While playing a regular pickup game of basketball at the local YMCA, early that morning I died - literally. Almost exactly at the same time that the world trade towers were hit, I dropped dead while playing ball. One second I was running down the court and the next, I simply collapsed. My heart and respiration had completely stopped. Through Divine Intervention, Fate or a combination of both, the YMCA had just recently installed a cardiac defibrillator. By further chance, a trained operator was on site early that day. With a success window of less than 3 minutes left, I was miraculously brought back. Yes, 9/11 has profound meaning for many. For me, it was the day of my rebirth. Now, what does this have to do with audio and reviewing?

Actually, quite a lot. After this type of event, one views life differently. My audio progression was always one of incremental growth. According to the family budget, a new piece every year or two as the finances would allow. But after 9/11, my perspective changed. Long discussions with my wife resulted in changed priorities. Slow and patient building of one's dream might not be the right choice for us any longer. Life is tenuous. The times that my wife and I listen together are among my most prized. We decided that something that brings us both so much happiness and enjoyment and which we both share so passionately - why not go for it? We re-mortgaged the house and during a period of four years, the system now stands as my ultimate dream. It is the culmination of many years of dreams, passion and hard work. While others traveled, accumulating boats, new cars or pursued other vices, mine was a steadfast journey in audio. For all of you with non-audiophile wives - eat your heart out. Having been reborn from the dead, living with a beautiful wife that shares my audio insanity, I'm now also the proud owner of a pair of Wilson Audio X-2 speakers and Walker Audio Proscenium Gold Reference turntable. What more can you want? All in all, I figure I'm the luckiest guy on the planet.

I rarely listen casually. Most often it is an event , with the door closed, lights off and sometimes just a touch of cognac for gentle relaxation. My wife and I listen together and share the experience. (Our friends all know not to even bother calling us on Saturday nights – we won’t hear the phone.) We listen and then discuss the sound and the equipment. It’s a wonderful experience! Over the years and with age, time and perspective, my focus has shifted from equipment to music. Although I appreciate the technology of the equipment, in talking to the designers, I find their vision and passion to be more important than the elegance of the design. In my youth, I viewed audio as a singular event. Today I realize that it is a never-ending process. My audio philosophy is to keep an open mind, remember that it’s a hobby and most importantly, to have fun.