There were a lot of things that shocked me during the pandemic. Having sold HomeTheaterReview.com and AudiophileReview.com about 100 days before the shit hit the fan with a global pandemic, I was trying to figure out at nearly 47 years old what I wanted to do with the rest of my professional life. Abruptly canceled was the family trip to Tuscany scheduled for April 2020 and in moved my mother-in-law (not as bad a thing as it sounds, by the way). The front door was pretty much locked to anybody not already inside of our home that we knew was COVID-19 free as we waited for a much-needed series of then-pending vaccines. My wife left Amazon Studios, where she was a Level 7 (sort of a VP in other business circles) in the marketing department, to go back to work in a more-tech-than-entertainment job at a cyber security company based in San Francisco (thank God for Zoom, right?) but the biggest surprise came on a very COVID-careful trip we made later in the pandemic to a new resort perched high above the beach in gorgeous North County San Diego. Well, the surprise was reported to me a few weeks later when I learned that my 43-year-old wife was pregnant! To be clear, we were told by her doctors if this were to happen that there would need to be some medical intervention. That wasn’t true. We just needed a good 45 to 60 seconds (OK maybe it was longer than that) in a hotel room alone, it turns out.
Roll the tape forward to today and Giovanni is close to 18 months old. He’s as cute as can be – a yappy, always smiling, little toddler who is always looking to explore whatever part of the house he’s currently cruising through. He’s been walking for a few months now, which makes keeping an eye on him a bit more of a struggle. With an 11-year-old also at home, I can safely tell you that I forgot about how much energy and attention it takes to chase a little one around.
Thankfully, my current living-room sound system was very baby friendly from the get-go, in that it was designed around a pair of Nakymatone ECTH invisible speakers installed behind the drywall in the ceiling and paired with both an Anthem MRX-8 amp (with ARC room correction) and an in-ceiling Gray Sound S-80 subwoofer.
While my invisible audiophile system sounds far better than I ever dreamed possible, the editorial needs of FutureAudiophile.com made it so that I really needed a more traditional-form-factor two-channel system. I procured a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 802 floorstanding speakers in white, a Classé DAC-preamp, a Classé Delta ampm as well as a Pass Labs Class-A XA-25 power amp in pretty short order ,and I was back in the traditional two-channel business but I wasn’t anywhere close to done with my challenges, namely: how could I make this system safe for Giovanni? This wasn’t going to be easy, but very much doable with a little professional help from a bonded and insured baby proofer. Here’s how I’m going about it.
Step One: Running Cables in the Walls (Not on the Floor)
Cables that aren’t correctly managed can be very dangerous, not to mention butt ugly. My goal was to run them from my mechanical room (a converted coat closet) via a pretty accessible crawl space and down the already drywall-covered walls to locations for speaker wires and even an extra pair of long XLR cables in the event that I wanted to run a secondary amp for my system. My contractor found some skinny helpers to go up there and help run the cables. I found some cool double-wide wall outlets (complete with plastic bristles to help hide the cables) and ran my Monoprice cables into position. Was it a pain in the ass? Yes, it absolutely was. Does it limit cable clutter in my room? That it does too, and that helps with safety.
Step Two: Call the Electrician
When we moved into this house, which was about 25 years old at the time, we upgraded its electrical systems. We did a Crestron lighting system, which I like the control of but I am not happy with the LED lights, specifically their lack of dimmability as compared to more traditional MR-19s bulbs, which aren’t as new-school, long-lasting, and energy-efficient as LED bulbs. One of the main things that we did was to replace all of the electrical outlets in the house. The new ones, which are up to modern code, are made in a way that if someone was to stick something foreign into the outlet, they wouldn’t get electrocuted. The cost on these new outlets wasn’t too high and we were able to get some outlets that included USB-A (female) options for charging devices like phones, iPads, etc., in key parts of the house. I also really like the look of the screw-less faceplates as compared to the older outlets. In a few areas (living room and media room) where Giovanni hangs out the most, we installed removable plastic fences as well as some outlet covers that have a kid-proof lock on a plastic box that prevents a kid from getting at the plugs. Sadly, the fences don’t keep the little guy from getting at my Panasonic cordless phones or the very-hard-to-get-your-hands-on (even after COVID) Crestron handheld remotes. Those simply can’t get broken, so they are stashed in even trickier locations as the LED screen is a baby magnet at this stage but won’t remain that way for ever.
Step Three: Getting Into a Little Bondage with My Floorstanding Speakers
My floorstanding Revel speakers were purchased for my media room long before we knew Giovanni was on his way, but we quickly learned that we he loved to play with the magnetic speaker grills. Originally, that led to more of these stunningly ugly, gray, plastic fences placed around the speakers. Later on, we consulted with the baby proofer who came up with an idea to use white straps that literally bolt to the wall so that the speakers simply can’t fall over. Believe it or not, this isn’t nearly as hard to look at as it sounds. Will I remove them from both pair of speakers once it’s safe to do so? You are damn right I will, but that’s going to be a few years from now.
I spoke to Andy Kerr, the head designer at Bowers & Wilkins, at recent event at Masimo’s new digs in Carlsbad, California (not too far from that hotel that I spoke of earlier), and asked him about the design thoughts that go into a speaker like one in the company’s 800 Series speakers. He mentioned that, especially in Europe, there are tilt standards that require a speaker to tip back to square from a specific angle. Bowers & Wilkins go farther with the now-mandatory bottom plinth, which makes the speakers even more stable. On top of that, there are four spikes as well as two outrigger pins that keep the speaker from falling over. I likely could have left the Bowers & Wilkins 802s unstrapped, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Step Four: Rack-Mounting Your Gear Like a Good Custom Installer Not an Old-School Audiophile
I have always been a fan of professionally rack mounting audiophile gear. It allows for better heat control and cable management, not to mention that it’s safer. One element that our very conscientious baby-proofer came up with was these curtain-like poles that somehow lock the hardware-less front doors. And I hate them as they lock me out of my system with equal effectiveness as the baby.
There were other things that we did, though, like adding plastic internal locks on all sorts of drawers and lower doors that a toddler could get into easily. We added metal fences in the living room as well as retractable, soft plastic fences that allow us to open the house up a little bit when it’s bedtime for Giovanni. Again, I can’t wait to uninstall of this gear, which all-in cost us about $750, including pretty pricey labor. By all means, you can purchase these parts on say Amazon or Home Depot, but having a professional come up with these ideas as well as installing said items made making our home safer, especially my audiophile gear, pretty painless.
One of the premises of FutureAudiophile.com, when I decided to get back into the AV publishing business, was to make the hobby more attractive to younger and more diverse audiophiles. Many of them might end up having children at some point. Older audiophiles might be lucky enough to have grandchildren. I just saw photos of my old boss Joe Cali’s four grandchildren. His kids might have been in middle school when I last saw them. Now they have multiple kids of their own. How time flies.
There is a lot of joy that comes from even the most modest of audiophile systems. For all of that joy, a modicum of precaution will keep your little loved ones safe and sound when they are in their most curious ages.
Have you baby proofed your audiophile system? If so, what techniques did you use? Anything different than what we used? Would you have a tube amp? Would you have speakers on stands? Share with us your thoughts below in our moderated comments.