Perfect Sound Forever

The Vinyl Anachronist

by Marc Phillips
Part XCIV: Good Music = Good Health
(October 2013)

In the mid-nineties I bought a copy of Dr. Andrew Weil's 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, and I actually stuck to the plan for a few months. It worked--I lost 25 pounds and started feeling fit for the first time since college. For those of you familiar with Dr. Weil, he's a big bear of a man, not quite a svelte poster child for fitness like Jack La Lanne, but he does understand that there's more to being fit and happy than just eating good food and exercising. He really stresses the importance of the good old mind-body-spirit triumvirate, and he's made a lot of money doing it (which was probably very good for Dr. Weil's mind, body and spirit). While following this plan, you'll engage in a number of unorthodox activities such as performing breathing exercises every day and taking regular breaks from all those horrible Chicken Little-ish news stories on TV and the Internet--an especially important and potentially lifesaving practice in 2013. It's not your normal diet plan.

One of the activities in the plan was a slam-dunk for me: you had to listen to music for pleasure for at least one hour every week. Dr. Weil was very specific about this--you needed to sit down and do nothing other than concentrate on the music. You weren't allowed to do crossword puzzles, you weren't allowed to fix a peanut butter sandwich and eat it, and you weren't allowed to watch TV out of the corner of your eye (I know many people who do this, much to my consternation). You needed to do what we audiophiles do nearly every day of our lives, for hours at a time.

While the stereotype of a modern audiophile--a geeky, overweight middle-aged man--seems at odds with this concept of listening to music for optimum health, it's pretty hard to argue with the fact that listening to music is relaxing, and it makes you happy and content. Listening to music on an excellent audio system is even more effective, because it can approximate the feel of a live event, and we all know how invigorating and energizing live music can be. But can music really help you achieve better health? Can it lower your blood pressure? Can it reduce the risk of a heart attack? Can any of this be measured and confirmed scientifically?

One group of audiophiles is making an effort to connect these dots. PAtH, which stands for Pure Audio to Health, is a collection of people in and out of the audio industry who are determined to take a more holistic approach to enjoying music. Started by Craig Allison, an audio dealer in the Wine Country of California, PAtH had a somewhat humble beginning as a group on Facebook but it has steadily grown in membership. PAtH now has a website, a mission statement and much more.

According to PAtH, there are numerous "known wellness benefits" to listening to music:

From there, PAtH embraces even more controversial ideas, especially when it comes to the listening habits of the younger generations (i.e. MP3, iPods and earbuds). Over the last year or so, I've devoted this column to interviews of people in the audio and music industries, and two general philosophies have emerged among my interview subjects. First, we need to stop worrying about getting younger generations of music lovers interested in things like turntables and LP's. They're already interested, and they did it without our constant prodding. Second, people in general don't listen to music the same way as they used to. Music has been relegated to the background, which is why sonically inferior formats such as MP3 have become so popular in the first place.

The members of PAtH have focused on this as well. They're not just content to say that MP3s and digital portable players such as the iPod are inferior. They're going after headphones listeners as well. "Good headphones can take you deep into the music, but only fine loudspeakers vibrate every molecule in your body!" it says on the PAtH website. That's a fairly risky statement in today's audio industry--headphones and headphone amplifiers are possibly the hottest market segment in the industry. Significant advances have been made in both product categories in the last few years to the point where a $500-$1000 pair of headphones can rival a pair of $100,000 loudspeakers when it comes to retrieving every last bit of detail from recordings. Headphones from established companies such as Sennheiser, Grado and AKG and relatively new companies such as Hi-Fi Man, Audeze and Ultrasone are crazy good these days. But when it comes to reproducing the illusion of live musicians in your listening room, as opposed to smaller versions dancing inside your head, nothing beats a pair of loudspeakers. That's an important distinction, one that does need to be reinforced to the so-called younger generations of music lovers.

PAtH also stresses the importance of buying hi-fi through reputable dealers, as opposed to online vendors--something that's always been near and dear to my heart. Most high-end audio dealers perform services you can't get anywhere else, like coming over to your home and setting everything up for you. They're usually fountains of useful information as well. In most cases, these dealers can only survive in the marketplace by developing long-term relationships with clients, and the best strategy for accomplishing this is to avoid sales-oriented bullshit at all costs. Trustworthiness beats deep discounts every time.

Speaking of salesmanship, you might have already noticed a chip in the PAtH armor. This organization is devoted to spreading the word about the health benefits of listening to music on high-quality playback systems, and it's made up of people who sell and promote high-quality playback systems. Hmmmm. Even I'm one of those guys--I import and distribute five brands of high-end audio equipment, and now you're reading an article written by me telling you that you need to buy high-end audio equipment in order to improve your health. It's all just a sales pitch, right?

If you believe that, then just go back to Dr. Weil and take that first step. You don't even need to spend five bucks on a used paperback version of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Just make the commitment to spend one hour per week listening to music for pleasure. Don't do anything else. Don't surf the Internet. Don't play Angry Birds on your iPhone (you'll notice, in fact, that the PAtH website explicit states that you need to turn off your cell phone while listening to music--a very useful hint.) Don't worry about looking stupid in front of your friends and family--I remember ending a brief relationship with a woman shortly after she asked me, "What, you just sit here and listen to music? You don't do anything else? Don't you think that's kind of weird?" Just listen to music.

C'mon, it's good for you.

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