We Asked Henry Rollins to Walk Us Through His Impressive Home Audio Setup

We Asked Henry Rollins to Walk Us Through His Impressive Home Audio Setup

To say Henry Rollins is serious about his music would be something of an understatement. A self-described audiophile, it’d be fair to say that it’s the driving force of the former Rollins Band and Black Flag frontman’s life.

His spoken word shows are peppered with stories, whether it’s getting into furious eBay bidding wars, blasting Slayer at slow drivers or meeting David Bowie. There’s also his recent series of books, Stay Fanatic!!!, a passionate love letter to the world of record collecting (in particular, Rollins’ extensive collection).

Just take a look at any playlist for his long-running radio show on KCRW, where he curates an eclectic mix of music that he’s currently listening to, both new and old. When listening to it, it’s hard to not get caught up in his sheer passion. I can guarantee you’ll come away from any show with a new album or artist to dive into.

With all that in mind, I was curious – for someone who is so deeply obsessed with music, what is he listening to all of this on? Ahead of his upcoming Good to See You tour in Australia, we spoke with Rollins about his impressive home audio set-up, the gear he uses when travelling and what he thinks about the resurgence of vinyl.

Do you remember what your first record player was? Do you remember the first record you purchased? 

Rollins: I believe it was a General Electric. It closed like a suitcase. When the arm would get to the end of the record, it would go back and start again. I’d sometimes let one side of a record play over and over. I think the first record I bought was a reissue of Sergeant Peppers’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was different than the one I had, which I had scratched up. I remember it was warped and the vinyl was really thin. I didn’t know anything about records in those days but it seemed cheap.

Could you walk me through your audio setup at home? What record player and speakers are you currently using? How long have you had them?

Rollins: I have a few different systems but the one I use the most is a pair of Wilson Alexandria XLFs, powered by VTL Siegfried monoblocks with a VTL preamp. The turntable is a Grand Prix Monaco 1.5 with a Triplanar tonearm. I forget what the cartridge is. I’ve had that set up since 2012.

When I tested the Wilson XLF speakers, I listened to the first Stooges album. If the record doesn’t sound good, it’s not the record’s fault.

Are you using dedicated hi-fi systems for other formats, like CDs or even cassettes?

Rollins: I don’t. I have all those formats plugged in so I can listen to whatever I need to.

What’s your testing process when picking new gear? Are there any particular albums or songs you’ll play to make sure everything sounds right?

Rollins: When I tested the Wilson XLF speakers, I listened to the first Stooges album. If the record doesn’t sound good, it’s not the record’s fault.

Outside of the gear itself, is there anything else that’s gone into setting up your music listening space?

Rollins: The room the set-up is in was built for sound and has commercial-grade electricity wired to it so the amps get all they need.

henry rollins interview
Image: Wilson Audio

Do you remember when you first started using more high-end hi-fi equipment? Was there a particular moment or piece of gear that made you realise the difference in sound quality?

Rollins: My first foray into high-end gear was around 2010. I got a pair of Wilson Sophia speakers with McIntosh amps and pre. I had a Rega P3 turntable hooked up.

Is there a particular piece of audio equipment that you’ve hung onto for years, despite knowing it maybe isn’t as top of the line as newer versions? If so, why?

Rollins: I don’t think so. I have a few pieces of gear I don’t use much but it’s just because it still works and I’ve been dragging it with me as I move from place to place. I have a CD player, a Technics that I got in 1989 that refuses to die, which I had plugged in on my desk a few years ago.

As they say, “I got into vinyl for the expense and inconvenience.”

You’re a prolific traveller, so I was curious about what you use when hopping around countries. Do you have a dedicated music player, or do you just use a phone? What kind of headphones do you use when travelling?

Rollins: It depends on the travel. If it’s touring stateside, I use a hard drive plugged into a laptop going into a Shure SHA900 amp into a Soundmatters Dash 7 speaker system. For earphones, I use Shure SE846-CL model.

We’ve seen a massive uptick in vinyl sales over the last decade – why do you think that is?

Rollins: I think there’s probably a lot of reasons but I think analog sound is a natural thing, so humans gravitate to it, also vinyl is fun, all the things you can do with it. For some, maybe it’s a niche thing. For me, it’s always been about the sound, the scarcity, how easily destroyed a record can be so you have to be careful. I like all that stuff. As they say, “I got into vinyl for the expense and inconvenience.”

Image: Ross Halfin

How do you think this increased interest in physical media squares with digital streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music? What does a physical version of an album offer that a digital one doesn’t?

Rollins: I think the streaming medium has potentially cheapened the currency of music. It seems free so you don’t have to take it all that seriously and never have to consider the people who make the music might want to eat, etc. It just becomes a thing on your phone. I moved my record collection a few years ago. It was an incredible amount of careful work. I guess if you subscribe to a streaming service, you have it all in your phone. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily. I don’t think streamed music sounds all that good but for some people, that doesn’t matter.

On streaming services, 15 years ago the thought of having access to almost every song in the world seemed absurd but now it’s an excepted norm. You’ve been collecting music for years, so you’ve seen trends shift and change – where do you think (or hope) things go from here?

Rollins: If there’s so much music available, it would be great if young people actually explored what’s available. I think sometimes when you offer someone a lot, they tend to pull away. I hope that’s not what happens.

I know you’re a fan of Australian music, so are there any local acts that you’ve been listening to a lot recently?

Rollins: The new Civic and Gee Tee albums are really good, Cable Ties, the new Terry album is great. There’s a ton of good music always coming out of Australia.

Henry Rollins will be taking his Good To See You tour across Australia from June 5 to July 3 – tickets are on sale now via Frontier Touring.