In defense of U2 and in praise of magnificent sound systems

Prologue*. A colleague that had bought 700-euro headphones about four years ago said this was his only way to really listen to music because he couldn’t afford proper speakers. Coming from someone driving a brand new Audi A6 and living in a design apartment in the centre of Tallinn, that felt like showing off to me.

I’m writing this post as I’m listening to the new U2 album through the 25-euro Sennheiser headphones. It sounds exactly like the 6 out of 10 review I just finished reading gave it. And yet the new album may actually be worthy of a 8 or 9 out of 10 review, if listened right.

By “listening right” I don’t mean opening the right kind of wine before putting on the CD nor staring out the window expressionless in a semi-trance state while listening. You have to have the necessary short circuits, lamps and kilowatts for something like U2.

I learned that about a month ago when listening to music at a friend’s place through his state-of-the-art sound system that probably costs about as much as a German family car. A vinyl player that weights 70 kilos to ensure smooth rotation of the disc, voltage stabilizer, three amplifiers and speakers the size of an overweight 12-year old kid surely look impressive. But it’s the sound these boxes are capable of producing that blew my mind. I put on a CD and was surprised to learn this was the first time I heard these tunes, though I had listened to a disc with exactly the same name and album art before. Music sounded completely different, especially U2 (which I have never really been a huge fan of, by the way). I’ve rarely felt more out of words than I am now, trying to explain how exactly this sounded. Maybe 3D soundstream that filled the room with armor-penetrating waves of pleasure sounds about right. Or that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the closest manifestation of flames expressed through music I have ever felt.

Anyway, you don’t really have to have a sound system that costs the price of a car to listen to No Line On The Horizon. But if it costs less than a Vespa scooter you have every right to believe the critics and not buy it. And if you are one of the unfortunate with a stereo that costs less than a bicycle (as is the case in the rental flat of yours truly) I recommend sticking to electronic music and in addition turning down every offer to comment on music.

I have no idea what the music critic mentioned in the beginning of this post used to listen to U2. He was perhaps using the bestest audioporn technology out there and he just didn’t like the album. I am merely recommending here to give it ago on a Vespa- or BMW-class sound system before declaring an album average.

* Thanks for pointing the mistake out, Jaanus. Copied this from the end to the beginning and didn’t change the word.

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