What My Treasured Watch and Audio Have in Common

I was late to class that morning. So I was a bit over the speed limit, astride my trusty BMW R50/2 motorcycle, heading into town and onto campus. I spotted something shiny lying in the middle of the highway. No time to explore — I was late.

But on the way home that night, my weak (6-volt, you know) headlight saw that glimmer again, now on the side of the highway. I braked and circled back. Lying in the gravel was a Seiko wristwatch, a considerable find for a starving student. Boy, it was beat up, but it was still ticking. I wore that watch throughout college, then put it in a box, preferring other, more modern watches instead.

Forty years slipped by. I opened the box and took out the watch. It was stopped, of course. But it was a self-winder, so I gently rocked it, and it began to tick. Seconds, minutes, hours, and calendar days. Welcome back, old friend. Except that it was slow, ridiculously slow. Hmm, was that the reason why I was always chronically late to class? As a timekeeping device, it was pretty much useless. But I bought a watchmaker’s wrench and screwed open the back plate. There was a small lever for adjusting speed. After some trial and error, I got its accuracy exactly dialed in. But this highway watch is an all analog device. In a sense, that makes it timeless. After some tweaking, it seems to run as well as it did when it left the Japanese factory probably some 50 years ago. Same thing is true with my analog audio gear. With periodic maintenance, and due respect for its age, it works extremely well. I’m not sure I can think of many digital devices — even ones of much younger vintage — that I can say the same about. They tend to be either broken or obsolete to the point of being unusable.

Sometimes the “best” product isn’t the one that performs the best. That’s the thing about analog audio gear.

Yes, objectively speaking, neither my old wristwatch nor my analog audio gear can hold a candle to the modern digital stuff. Analog audiophiles will deny it, and I respect their opinion in that regard, but I fully trust analytical measurements that clearly show that good analog audio gear is sonically inferior to good digital audio gear. And anyone who believes that an analog wristwatch is more accurate than a digital one needs to get their head examined.

And one more point. I have a couple of wristwatches, all of them newer than that one. They are electric and digital and very accurate. They don’t have deep scratches in the case and cracks in the crystal where cars ran over them. But I’ll let you guess which one is my favorite. And if any of them is still around a hundred years from now, I can guess which one will be of greater interest to collectors. That’s not because my analog watch is better at keeping time than my digital watches, it’s because it is a better watch. You see, sometimes the “best” product isn’t the one that performs the best. That’s the thing about analog audio gear: I love it not because it performs the best, but because it gives me the greatest satisfaction. And that makes it better.

Anyway, if you lost a self-winding Seiko on a rural Illinois highway in the ’70s, let me know. I have your watch. It keeps really good time.