“IMO, the absolute connoisseur of audiophile reproduction is not just the guy who picks out the ‘best,’ often very expensive, DAC, amplifier, speakers, audiophile cables, and all the right tweaks; but the one who also knows which is the best release of their favorite music!”
Three years ago, Chris ( @The Computer Audiophile) put out a request for new writers for what was then Computer Audiophile. On a whim, I sent him an email expressing interest.
A decade earlier, I’d gone to college for journalism with an eye towards being a music journalist. As an undergrad, I’d written for various indie music magazines, and I loved it. I ultimately moved into writing about politics and policy, before going on to get a PhD in that area. Comparatively, writing about music seemed, well, frivolous. But I never stopped being a music nerd, and lots of time in front of the computer writing a dissertation gave me an excuse to begin investing in audio.
Little did I know when I emailed Chris back in 2018 that I’d still be writing for Audiophile Style in 2022 and that doing so would bring me new friends, new opportunities, an immense amount of joy. In Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer wrote, “vocation begins not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy.” In short, while I’m proud to write and teach about more weighty topics, I can’t deny that writing about music and audio is more fun. These days, we could all use a little more of that.
Music brings beauty into an often-ugly world, and (at its best) being an audiophile is about making sure that beauty doesn’t get obscured.
As @Archimago put it so well recently, the audiophile pursuit begins with finding the best sounding release of their favorite albums. That’s why the first thing I wrote for Computer Audiophile was the first installment of my “The Best Version Of…” column and why now, over a dozen installments later, I have no plans to stop. I love to help people get closer to great albums by learning about how they were recorded and which release sounds best.
As loyal Audiophile Style readers know, my columns have become longer and more ambitious as time has passed. What started as a short background on the album based on readily available sources plus a brief analysis of its digital releases has morphed into nearly 33 1/3-length explorations of each album’s recording (often based on original interviews), plus extensive table- and graph-heavy vetting of each digital version.
This growth is a reflection of my passion for TBVO. I love bringing people closer to great music, both by learning more about how it was made and by listening to it in its best form. It also why I’ve been thinking about how to expand TBVO in ways that don’t involve longer word counts.
There are great albums that, for one reason or another, aren’t great candidates for a full-length TBVO. There might be little published information about their recording and few living people to interview. Or there might not be many digital versions. However, I’d still like to write short appreciations of these albums and analyses of the existing digital releases. I also always have a handful (or more) TBVOs in various states of completion. In this preliminary research, I often discover information that I’d like to share right away, whether they make it into the finished TBVO or not.
Writing TBVO also has reignited the joy of collecting. Just figuring out how many unique digital masterings exist of an album can be an adventure — one involving lots of detective work and Discogs CD purchases. While I need to rip those CDs to analyze them in Audacity, Har-Bal, and MusicScope, it’s made me think a lot about the fun of collecting physical media in a streaming world. I don’t know if, as Rob Sheffield wrote last year, “the CD revival is finally here” for the general public. But it sure is for me. While streaming promises to place every release at your fingertips, that’s often not the case. The best version of an album may very well be floating out there in the cloud, available at the click of a button, but it may just as likely be trapped in what David Fricke called “this dopey little disc.” In a world of audiophile labels, deluxe reissues, Japanese-only releases, and the like, there’s still an excitement to tracking down those dopey little discs, and I’d like to write about that, too.
There are, of course, places on the interwebs where such things are talked about. There’s plenty of discussion of various masterings over at Steve Hoffman Forums, for example. But it’s not always clear what’s fact and what’s fiction. Likewise, SuperDeluxeEdition provides excellent coverage of new releases. But releases from years (or decades) ago receive scant attention.
That’s why I’ve decided to start Club TBVO. A sort-of Consumer Reports for the digital audiophile, Club TBVO will look at out-of-print CDs as often as the latest digital releases, revel in the fun of collecting, and try to separate myth from fact when it comes to tracking down the best digital versions of beloved music.
After much thought, I decided that a Patreon- or Substack-style subscription model is the best format for Club TBVO. I wouldn’t feel right asking Chris to pay me the same for short posts as he does for full-length TBVOs or gear reviews. Moreover, while Chris pays better than any political newspaper or magazine I’ve written for, including many prestigious rags, the cost of buying all of the digital versions of a given album have sometimes put me in the red for a given TBVO. While this is a side gig for me — and mainly about fun, not money — I do hope (and think) my writing provides some value to readers and would appreciate your support if you agree.
That said, unlike a paywalled newsletter, I’m starting Club TBVO with a voluntary contribution model. Click the button below to contribute:
Since the Club is just getting started, I don’t want to lock you (or me) into any particular donation amount or content promise. But, regardless of how much you do (or don’t) contribute, I hope to create something worthwhile for donors and readers. In addition to the “mini TBVOs” and posts about collecting mentioned above, I also plan to offer donors the ability to send me audio files so I can tell them which version of a release they have and to post level-matched samples of albums to let readers compare versions for themselves.
Beyond contributing to Club TBVO, you can support TBVO with a TBVO shirt*. The design is based on two pieces of early-CD era promotional ephemera. (The first donor to identify both items in the comments below will get a free shirt.)
While I don’t expect TBVO to ever become my main gig, my hope is that Club TBVO will make it easier to sustain and explain TBVO while giving readers more of what (I hope) is valuable information for the discerning digital audiophile.
*￼ If a Club TBVO shirt isn’t your style, designing music and pop culture shirts has become a pandemic hobby for me. Other designs can be found at my wife’s and my site.
Editor's Note: Josh and I have brainstormed for several months on how to best to do this. We've had a test Club up for a while and kicked around few different options. As we enter new territory, we are always open to constructive criticism and input from those who love his articles a much as I do. Please give the new Club TBVO look. Josh has dedicated sections for just about anything he wants, including a sub-forum, downloads, and specific activity stream.