Persons far more learned than myself have written extensively over the last day or so about the impact and legacy of the just-departed Lou Reed, and while there’s extensive documentation of Reed’s prowess as a lyricist, guitarist, journalist-baiter, tai chi enthusiast, scooter pitchman, occasional thespian and enduring symbol of all-things-NYC-demi-monde, there’s one side of Lou that’s not received nearly as much coverage ; The Consumerist Gadget Hound.
Reed interviews over the years are certain peppered with references to the technological innovations of the day, but if you’re like me, you’ve sometimes wondered how great one of Al Goldstein’s “Midnight Blue” tirades directed at Hammacher Schlemmer or 47th St. Photo might’ve turned out had they been written and narrated instead by Lou. The closest we’re likely to come is a July 2004, WSJ/Marketwatch piece by Ryan Malkin in which Reed — described as “a sonic perfectionist” — is invited to test out some of the era’s more high-end audio speakers. While Reed wasn’t without praise for some of the products on offer (“those Klipsch are fucking unbelievable; these things can do anything,”), the listening session got off to a rather rough start.
“So what’s the first one?” asks Reed, clad in jeans and a trim brown leather jacket. We turn up the volume on the Bose Acoustimass 5 Series III system ($500), which includes two tiny speakers — just 6.2-inches high — and a subwoofer. Bose is the No. 1 selling speaker brand in the country, likely due to the company’s hundred or so retail stores. But it’s certainly not this audiophile’s speaker of choice. “No, no!” Reed yells, not even a minute into “Rock Minuet,” furiously waving his hands back and forth for us to stop. His complaint? The speakers deliver high- and low-end sound, but no middle. Plus, they display a “harsh high end,” and although the subwoofer adds nice bass, “it makes the guitar sound thin.” A Bose spokesperson says that the speakers are balanced and designed to reproduce low and mid-to-high frequencies “according to the artist’s original performance.” But this artist, for one, disagrees. Still, we give the Bose another shot, this time playing hip-hop artist Mos Def, to test how the speakers handle heavy bass. “Oh no, oh no,” Reed groans, sitting up to pet Lola, his Jack Russell terrier, who’s curled up on a pillow next to him. “I’d pay money not to hear that.”
“Next,” Reed demands. “Rock Minuet” once again begins to pump, this time through the B&W 704s ($2,200). B&W is the bestselling high-end speaker on the market. The company’s press release claims the 704s “redefine the overall level of loudspeaker performance that rational audio consumers can demand.” Maybe so, but Reed was never accused of being completely rational. “Whoa, ugly,” he shakes his head. “I found that unpleasant, the voice sounds sibilant, it’s just not clear.” B&W says the problem could be a number of things, from electronics to placement. “Speakers are very subjective, and I’m sorry Mr. Reed didn’t care for these,” says Chris Browder, B&W’s executive vice president.