How my audio hobby made me a better dad

How my audio hobby made me a better dad

acoustic treatment, hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Robert Schryer, PMA Magazine
Jonson with his son and much-appreciated helper, Michael, along with a few panels of homemade acoustic treatment

When I told my son, Michael, that I was going to write about the role he’s played in my audio hobby, he said: “So you’re going to write about child labor?”

acoustic treatment, hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Robert Schryer, PMA Magazine
a heavy amp

Now, before you start imagining things, I want to clarify that I didn’t make Michael work on my audio stuff when he was a toddler or preteen. I started “asking” for his help when he was in high school. He is, like me, pretty skinny, with no visible muscles, yet he can lift an 80lb power amp with relative ease. So, although he never showed any interest in audio, by dint of his strength, Michael became a companion in my audio journey. I told him that it was an honour, for him.

Can you blame me? I went through a lot of gear in the past decade, including 21 pairs of speakers and 48 amps, and many of them were back-breaking heavy. To make matters worse, my listening space is in the third floor attic. So what would you do if you were me? That’s right, you would probably enlist your strong son’s help in lugging those heavy objects, accompanied with a warning, of course, to bend the knees and be careful of any sharp edges to avoid cutting himself and bleeding out. I mean, you don’t want the help to be out of service, plus blood stains.

“You’re abusing the poor boy!” I hear some of you saying. “He’s not even into audio. Just let him grow and be happy, not force him to serve your selfish hobby needs!”To which I’ll respond by saying that is exactly what I’ve been doing, letting him grow and be happy.

acoustic treatment, hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Robert Schryer, PMA Magazine
Fighting gravity with homemade acoustic panels

I recently had him help me build and install acoustic panels on my slanted ceilings. It wasn’t easy, because we were constantly fighting gravity. Neither of us is naturally handy and the whole project took three months to accomplish. That included dozens of trips to Home Depot and many frustrating incidents of redoing the same tasks we botched because of our lack of planning and skills. Together, we learned how to use an electric drill, how to choose the right type of screws, and how to not drive the hammer onto our finger when all gravity wants to do is knock your swing off balance. We learned how not to give up, but even more important than that, we learned how to work together. In fact, while we bonded panels to the ceiling and walls, we bonded. We shared father-son moments in which we struggled then succeeded, together. If that’s not growing, I don’t know what is. We both grew!

“Okay, fine”, you might say. “You both grew, but how about the ‘be happy’ part? What teenager is happy inhaling sawdust and lifting heavy objects simply to satisfy dad engaging in his weird hobby?”

That’s where dad diplomacy comes in. Each time he helps me, I thank him. And each time he helps me in a way that brings about an upgrade in the sound quality of my system, I thank him effusively. I let him know how important his contribution was to bringing me those satisfying musical listening moments, because I feel he deserves credit for them, just as the electronics in my system do. In turn, he sees that my gratitude is genuine, which makes him happy.

acoustic treatment, hi-fi, high-end, audio, audiophile, Robert Schryer, PMA Magazine
An acoustic panel courtesy of Home Depot

Michael’s help doesn’t end with heavy lifting or handyman chores. He also helps me with actual music and sound stuff, such as with blind tests, one of my favorite parts of this hobby. One of his roles was to play for me two different digital formats of the same recording (e.g., 16 bit vs. 24 bit, WAV vs. FLAC, etc.) while I was “blind” to what file was playing so I could discover the unbiased truth of my impressions. For me, one of the most fascinating things in audio playback is how the stages before digital-to-analogue conversion affect the sound quality, and I was able to discover a few important things about what does and doesn’t matter thanks to my son’s help. These discoveries helped my system get to the great-sounding level it’s at today.

I also believe that there are lifelong lessons our kids can learn from watching us partake in our passions, whatever they are. My son sees that, when it comes to sound quality, my pursuit is relentless and my curiosity is endless, and that knowledge and skills gained throughout the journey are what makes me achieve better things and become a better person. I want my kids to be relentless in their passions and for their curiosity to be endless, too. When Michael opened his PC and replaced its soundcard to improve his computer’s performance, I looked at this moment as a sign of personal growth and a desire to not settle for mediocrity. This doesn’t mean that passions should always be taken seriously. I enjoy sharing my audio hobby with Michael in its entirety, not just its serious aspects, but its silly ones, too. There has to be both. Seriousness and silliness are the two wheels that make the bicycle of fulfillment and happiness going, and involving him in my audio hobby lets him see that first hand.

Some of you might be wondering how to get your own kids involved in your audio hobby. Here are some ideas: get them to help you unbox equipment or film you while you’re doing it so you know how to box it back up if the time comes to let go of it. Ask them to adjust the position of your speakers, or switch different cables in and out, while you’re sitting in the sweet spot listening for differences. Then there are listening tests, AB or done in the listening chair. Teach your child how and what to listen for, to spot variations in sound. Once your child’s hearing is better, it’ll help confirm what you hear yourself.

Then there’s the aforementioned acoustic treatment, of which I’m a big proponent, and having your kids help you with that. In my experience, treating your room can bring about a more dramatic improvement in sound quality than any other upgrade. But if you don’t know where to start, treating your room may seem intimidating. If that’s the case, I urge you to check out PMA Magazine’s new series on acoustic treatment, “Treating Your Room Right”.

Or, if you’re pressed for time and want to save as much money as possible on acoustic treatment, just plop your kids in the corners of the room to eliminate bass nodes or set them up in sweaters behind you to absorb reflections. And if they complain about the job, just tell them it’s for their own good.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.

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