Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty meets Viren Bakhshi, a music fan who engineers home audio systems with tubes for connoisseurs

Driven by a passion. And blissfully steering on. If you come across this Delhiite, you just can’t think otherwise.

A soft spoken Viren Bakhshi, a chemical engineer from BITS — Pilani, nowhere during an hour-long conversation, comes to state plainly that he just loves music. May be such simple words can’t fully envelop what he feels, especially for the verve of live music. But Viren’s life and career, you discern, have long been propelled by this love. So much so that he got into designing his own audio system one fine day to experience it the way he wants.

That moment of bliss for him happened some 15 years ago, in faraway America, where he was working then. At his apartment in south Delhi, Viren rewinds to the times, “It began as a hobby. I always had interest in music and lived for a number of years in Chicago, known for its live music scene. I began attending shows but when I would play the same music at home, I would fail to capture the essence of live music. Whatever was commercially available then, and even now, really doesn’t bring us close to live music. So my attempt began to try and recapture some of that feeling in home audio systems.” He looks back at this journey as one of discovery, “of what type of audio systems can convey better the emotions in music.” Interestingly, he notes, “It took me back to the designs of the 1940s and the ’50s, the technology of tubes, which somehow portrays the recorded music much better than today’s systems. In fact, we are going back in the evolvement of audio systems to recapture some of the emotions in music that is lost.”

So Viren, a trained chemical engineer, stumbled and succeeded to become a self-taught electronic pro who has now turned this into a business. “I cater to a small section of people who are disillusioned with the current music systems, they seek me out, that’s how I work,” he says.

Viren considers himself a do-it-yourself guy. “It is a cottage industry. Internet has helped me hugely in this. I could get in touch with like-minded people, small manufacturers from across the world, check out sites, join forums, learn about people’s disillusionment with hi-fi systems.”

A room in Viren’s DDA flat displays his designs. “I have three designs. People come and listen, if they like, they order.” With the help of a local carpenter, he takes about three weeks to craft a system. Teak wood is used for the chassis, the speaker cabinets are of veneer plywood, the amps look like twinkling little bulbs. “I import the drivers, use very little metal, more of wood. Wood has always been used for musical instruments for certain tonal qualities which we perceive as natural, enticing, warm and welcoming. So when we use similar material in the reproduction instrument, we get a sense of the same quality of tone,” he says.

He installs the systems at clients’ home himself. “Till they are satisfied in their homes, it is not a deal,” he says.

Serious listening to music, Viren underlines, “is subjective, no social event.” It involves one’s perspective of music; what one has come up to understand music. He believes, “If a music system helps you bring those out, draws you into it, the purpose is achieved.” The current hi-fi systems have more features “but they have lost something in the bargain, which a very few people who are music lovers only perceive. The rest of the public is taken in by the marketing of the new systems, which are only for good background listening.” The hi-fi technology offers more storage in limited space but “to do that, the resolutions are reduced. The low level details, the nuances, are gone. They sound artificial, so your involvement recedes after some time, becomes another form of mass entertainment.”

The tubes and valves that he uses are current generation production. “They are still being made but the designs are not.”

His tall and bulky systems boom when he plays an assortment of genres to show what he was “trying to get at.” He particularly plays some African beats which have a range of percussion instruments, and also Indian classical music “to feel the sense of rhythm.”

Viren, however, cautions, “The source of music has to be good to sound good in this system. It has no gimmicks; it is not for the MP3 kind of music.”

(Viren Bakshshi can be contacted on www.lyrita-audio.in)