At Moon Audio, we love to hear from our customers about how music can be therapy for body, mind, and soul. When they find the audio gear that brings out the very best in their music, they discover (or remember) that music can help them bring out the very best in them. Sounds like therapy to us!
Music Facilitates Journey Toward Mindfulness and Healing
Marc's decision to upgrade his equipment last year was about much more than simply appeasing the audiophile in him. Not only had he recently lost his wife to cancer, but he was dealing with a cancer diagnosis of his own. The decision to make the most of his music collection has been an integral part of his journey toward healing through simplifying and stripping down to what matters. And music really matters to Marc.
Like many people, music started to matter to Marc in adolescence. Around age 12, he fell in love with the sounds of the 1960s, with much of his musical
preferences ingrained a few years later at Woodstock. By then, he had developed a taste for "good music and good recordings." His first system in 1973 included a Garrard turntable and a Marantz integrated receiver. During the '80s, he ditched vinyl in favor of cassettes (and later CDs). He began investing in better equipment like ADCOM and Dahlquist.
Fast forward to 2006, and Marc entered the digital music domain; today his lossless library has grown to about 32,000 songs. His lossless music files are stored on a QNAP TS-453 Pro NAS, and he uses JRiver Media Center as his library manager and playback source/DLNA server.
Downsizing for Life on the Road
In 2013, Marc and his wife Sara began making plans to live full time in an RV. The move would involve purging many of their possessions, as only so much can fit in a home on wheels.
Among those possessions was a massive pair of floor speakers that Marc had designed and built. In the scheme of things, that was a small disappointment. "We were focused on where we were moving to rather than what we were leaving behind," he said.
Headphones, it turned out, would be a good solution for on-the-road music. Marc found Moon Audio while conducting some online research. He ended up buying refurbished headphones and amps directly from a manufacturer, but he had been impressed with Moon Audio's depth of offerings and product presentation and kept the company in mind for future purchases.
In mid-2016, Marc and Sara began living full time in their RV. They remained in their home state and grew accustomed to their new arrangement. For entertaining in the RV, they ran music through the onboard 5.1 surround sound system, which Marc said was "pretty mediocre for two-channel stereo" For personal listening, they used OPPO PM1 planar magnetic headphones powered with OPPO HA-2 headphone amps. They used the OPPO gear with their iPhones running JRemote with a wired connection to the amps.
Life on the road was good, but they were about to hit some significant bumps. In late 2017, Sara was diagnosed with cancer. She began treatment, and by mid-2018 was well enough that the couple headed to Arizona. Sara resumed treatment in September. Two months later, Marc received a cancer diagnosis of his own. The couple continued to live in their RV full time while undergoing treatment together. Sadly, Sara lost her battle in May 2019.
Music, Minimalism & Mindfulness
"I believe, as humans we strive to have emotional attachments and expressions in our lives. Now more than ever, our lives are becoming increasingly stressful, busy, and confusing. The arts allow us to recognize our emotional state and channel our emotions, hopefully to the benefit of ourselves and others and our goal to live more fulfilled lives. For me, achieving a mindful, focused state can be found in the arts; it makes my world a better place in which to live. The arts, being in nature and having meaningful relationships serve to keep my grounded and in the moment and consequently happier and more fulfilled."
Health challenges and uncertain outcomes take their toll. During this period, Marc began to focus on what he instinctively felt to be the healing power of music.
"It was a high-stress and all-consuming period in our lives," he said. "Treatment side effects, worsening health conditions, and an uncertain future could only be confronted with a positive attitude, gratitude, diet, exercise (when energy levels could match the need), and what I choose to call active mindfulness."
What that meant for Marc was trying to stay focused on the moment, avoiding thoughts about the future or his fears. And music turned out to be a huge part of that.
"I really only had control over the moment I was in," Marc said, "(with) no ability to change outcomes beyond taking care of each other and our bodies. Listening to music gave me that grounding. If I was transported by the music, it was only to a contemplative, peaceful place -- but still in the moment."
He used "targeted listening sessions" with soundtracks compiled by a JRiver Media Center feature called Play Doctor that help him stay focused on his emotional well-being and his desired state of mind.
"When I'm enjoying a listening session, I stay very grounded, he said. "One note gives way to the next, and collectively, the notes and the space between the notes keep me focused moment to moment."
While one might assume familiar favorites are the way to go, he found that music he doesn't know is better suited for focusing on the present. Rather than get caught up in nostalgia and expectations, he is "in the now," creating new memories through new musical experiences.
"If I was experiencing low energy, I'd choose some high-energy tracks. Angst? Then I'd gravitate to new age, acoustical instrumental, some vocals, and smooth jazz. Anger about our circumstances? Some Sex Pistols or punk rock. Since I'm a longtime used of JRiver Media, I would often pick a song, album, or artist and use their Play Doctor that matches beats per minute, intensity, genre, or period of time to automatically create a playlist. This always hit the mark for me."
Mindfulness, for Marc, is rooted in not thinking about the past or the future; it's a conscious decision to live in the moment. Listening to and getting lost in music is a way for him to empty his mind -- a de-cluttering, if you will. Just like he has downsized the material possessions in his life, he is letting go and downsizing extraneous thoughts, worries, and anxieties.
After his wife died, Marc wanted to upgrade his audio system, and he knew that Moon Audio was the place to go. He also knew the importance of articulating what he was looking for.
"As an audiophile, I'm often too acutely aware of deficiencies in what I'm hearing," he said. "Of course, there's nothing I can do about a poor recording, but I've come to recognize and verbalize what I want to hear."
He had recently seen Drew's reviews of Chord Electronics' Hugo M Scaler and Hugo TT 2 DAC/headphone amplifier. He purchased those along with some Silver Dragon Digital cables, which formed the bedrock of his system.
Unlike analog cables, digital cables do not provide any sound coloration. You can think of this like cleaning your eyeglasses -- the cleaner the lens, the better you will see. Well, the better the digital cable, the more resolute the sound. The Silver Dragon Digital Cable is a wonderful "sound cleaner." It is also more flexible than the Black Dragon Digital Cable, which allowed Moon Audio to do a perfect form-fit length of the Silver Dragon Digital Cable with BNCs that allow the M Scaler and the TT 2 to stack perfectly.
He had also queried Drew about choosing between a couple of Audeze headphones, and Drew countered with a third option, the LCD-MX4, which Marc loves. A pair of Focal Utopia headphones and a Black Dragon Premium headphone cable rounded (things) out.
"Not having the opportunity to audition headphones, I relied on reviews and other user opinions; and always spot-on counsel from Moon Audio," he said.
The Black Dragon is a mostly natural-sounding cable that adds just a bit of fullness and warmth. It's a nice complement to the analytical/detailed signature of the Focal Utopia headphones. The Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones, on the other hand, straddle bright and warm, meaning you could go with either a Black Dragon or Silver Dragon. Because the M Scaler and TT 2 have a rather detailed and analytical signature, Marc opted for the Black Dragon cable -- again, to provide a bit of warmth.
The level of detail Marc now hears in his music has turned out to be quite exciting.
"Adding the M Scaler and Hugo TT 2 has opened up a whole new world to explore my lossless or high-res digital music collection. The Chord M Scaler exposed elements of my collection never before recognized. It's exposed hidden excellence in my digital collection," he said, adding that he's enjoying sound that's as good as -- if not better than -- analog recordings.
As he's added even more components to his chain during the last year, he's returned to Moon Audio for additional Dragon cables.
Marc concluded treatment earlier this year, and his cancer is now in remission.
And something wonderful happened: He met someone, Connie, and the two moved in together over the summer. They plan to be married in 2021, after which time they will resume full-time RV living along with Connie's two greyhounds.
Connie enjoys music -- she sang in her younger days and enjoys playing piano. But Marc's setup has opened new doors for her ears.
"Listening through my system is a new experience for her," he said. "She's learning my descriptors for what we are hearing like transparency, soundstage, detail, etc. When we do listen through headphones, she prefers the Focal Utopia over the Audeze LCD-MX4, mainly for the lighter weight and different sound signature."
As far as musical tastes, there is some overlap. "For instance, I like some country music, like Willie Nelson, and she cringes," Marc said. "She admires female vocalists that are 'throaty,' as she calls it -- Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, Adele, etc. I love those too, but I like female
Fun Facts about Marc:
Song that makes you happy to be alive: "Buckets of Rain" - Bob Dylan
Song that moves you to tears: "Late for the Sky" or "Before the Deluge" - Jackson Browne
First audio system: Garrard turntable, Marantz integrated receiver, and "some three-way speakers"
Audio bucket list: KEF Blade speakers, Hegel H30 amplifier
vocalists like A Fine Frenzy, The Chromatics, and Diana Krall. With over 2,700 albums we can usually find something we both like."
"Although I still grieve," he said, "music has been my friend and companion on my journey, and into the future."
And while a minimalist lifestyle is something Marc has found to be indispensable on his music-mindfulness journey, there are some things worth holding on to.
"Cancer has taught me that I can live without any material things," he said, "but I'd miss my Chord Hugo M Scaler significantly."