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From the beginning…
I’m not really sure where I should begin, just as I am not really sure when it all began. It may have been all the time spent with the family “Stereo” playing Beatles 45’s and Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, and Iron Butterfly LP’s until the copies wore out. Perhaps it first emerged when I saw Jascha Heifetz play his Stradivarius from the fifth row at age fifteen. It might have been while photographing rock bands “Uriah Heep” or “The Edgar Winter Group” in a small War Memorial at age seventeen, or maybe even the time I caught Miles Davis, completely by chance, in a small club at age nineteen; it’s hard to say. But it started early on, and its hold is deeply rooted.
All I know is that I have a passion for this thing we call music. It has taken me on many wondrous and rewarding adventures. Not the least of which caused me to cut up my car doors in 1972 to allow for the installation of a rather unorthodox car stereo system. After dissecting a pair of EPI Standards (the model 100), I placed a one-inch inverted dome tweeter into each door panel and the pair of eight-inch woofers into the back deck, all fed from the required crossover buried in the kick panels. It’s not that this was a perfect solution; nor was I an innovator. I was simply unsatisfied with the sound of speakers offered for the automotive environment at that time. I mean, how could I be blamed after hearing a pair of AR 3A’s driven by a Heath Kit receiver and fronted by a Rabco ST-7 linear tracking turntable while visiting at a friend’s house? It just seemed, given the only other alternatives, to be the only logical thing to do! This apparent insanity, combined with my Craig PowerPlayTM 8 Track player/AM/FM Receiver (cassette players with Dolby noise reduction were nowhere in sight yet), made me the most popular kid in the school, at least among the music lovers! If only I had known then what I know now, I could have started the 12-volt audio revolution some decade earlier than it began!
Peter Clark at RMAF 2007 with a banner sporting a quote from my review…
This was to be only the beginning of a lifelong love of music and the subsequent quest to be able to reproduce recorded music as realistically as possible, with all the power, nuance and emotion of the live event. It’s been a thrilling trip, one that inevitably brought me closer to the equipment used to reproduce my beloved music. My first real experience was with the family’s Motorola Stereo. It was an odd beast, not unlike a small suitcase, with one oval shaped speaker mounted in front of the base that also housed the record changer and amplifier. A second speaker was located in the detachable top of the cabinet that could be placed up to ten feet away from the base unit for stereo.
The next logical step took me to all the audio retailers I could find, both in department stores and in the dedicated stereo shops. I naturally wanted to pick the brains of all the salespeople to learn more about electronics and electrical applications. I became terribly fascinated with the loudspeaker and undertook learning all I could about their design. I researched the effects of loading, the differences in drivers, the effects of the cabinet and its construction, the mysterious yet crucial crossovers, and everything that affected a loudspeaker’s resultant sound. This began an ongoing electronics education, covering DC to digital.
the absolute Sound’s Harry Pearson hamming it up with
me at CES 2008 after breakfast at the Alexis Park
About 1973 I discovered two magazines that were really out there! These were of course J. Gordon Holt’sStereophile and Harry Pearson’s fairly new the abso!lute sound. Some of the things they were saying were outrageous and highly provocative to this then seventeen-year-old hobbyist. Nevertheless, they only served to fuel the fire.
Over the years, I had the good fortune to come to know and become friends with Harry Pearson (hp), and we corresponded and spoke on the phone regularly. In February of 2011, he was gracious enough to sign the first copy of the abso!ute soundI ever purchased, volume 1, number 2.
We had even discussed my contributing to, and providing photography for, his solo web venture, HP Soundings after he left TAS. I did submit an article to him, my review of the Stealth Audio Śakra Interconnects, a work that was subsequently published at PFO. Unfortunately, Harry was not terribly computer literate, and he completely overlooked the attachment with the review.
Robert Harley book signing in Chicago
His sudden passing on November 4th, 2014 came as a total surprise. It was a bitter-sweet date, as it coincided with the digital publication of the December 2014 Issue of TAS, issue 248. That was to be the very first issue of TAS with an article authored by yours truly (my induction of Henry Kloss into the TAS High-End Audio Hall of Fame). Talk about a bizarre irony!
But back in ’70’s, I had some friends who had bucks to spend on nice toys and they went nuts on “stereo gear.” What a joy I found at friend John’s. He had a BIC 980 belt driven ‘table fitted with the latest Shure V15 Type III cartridge (which had just come out) along with Bob Carver’s then game changing Phase Linear 700B amplifier and 4000 preamplifier combination, driving hisEPI 400 Mini Towers. What power, what authority, what dynamics!
And there was friend Gregg who had gone off into the ten-inch open-reel tape machine world, with dbx Noise Reduction, at seven-and-a-half or even fifteen inches per second. Wow!
And yet another friend John who opted for McIntosh power and preamplification to drive his Dahlquist DQ 10’s. So that was what imaging and staging were all about! What resolution, what detail, what a revelation!
And how could I forget Jeff, with the Transcriptors Saturn Turntable fitted with the Vestigial arm and Supex Cart feeding Quad electronics and driving a double larger Advent system?
From left to right, Albert Von Schweikert, me, and Hollis Audio Labs Rich Hollis, at Gordon Birsch Brewery during CES 2001
The next step in my voyage required me to become a successful salesman on the electronics store floor, and for two distinct reasons. First, I had acquired all the information I could gather from the people in the business. After only a few visits it became apparent that I wasn’t there to buy ANY of these enchanting and expensive toyas. I simply wanted to play with/listen to/learn about these high priced and magical items. Second, working in the business gave me access to either dealer cost, or better yet, something called Industry Accommodation pricing. now I could begin to afford some of these wondrous toys! Oh yes, there was also the added bonus of being able to call the manufacturer and speak directly with the technicians and engineers who could really answer my questions
Because of my hobbyist knowledge and love of music, I was soon quite proficient. By that, I mean that I regularly outsold the other salespeople with whom I worked. I firmly believe that it was because I sold people a means to enjoy their music, not merely this month’s special. It wasn’t long before I started taking components and speakers home for evaluation. I was astounded with the differences I was able to identify.
About this time, at least among my peers, I had become the acknowledged expert. No one I was acquainted with made a purchase without first finding out how I felt about the piece or pieces in question.
By this time, my overwhelming fascination with the loudspeaker lead to what must almost be seen as the inevitable; experimentation with designing and building my own creations. Over the years I have built dozens of loudspeaker systems for some very diverse applications, including some very forward thinking car components, some unique home two-channel and theater products, background systems for large stores and fitness centers, even some reinforcement speakers to provide the drive on the dance floor of several dance clubs and pubs. I used a number of different methods when I was designing buying drivers and crossover components from places like Audio Concepts, (LONG before Mike Dzurko started building his own products), SpeakerLab, and Madisound. I even wrote my own computer software in the late ’80s to help assist with the number crunching associated with crossover design. What is surprising to me is that I have recently learned through social media connections that MANY of those systems, designed and built starting in the early 1970’s through the late 1980’s, are STILL IN SERVICE!
My career in audio progressed quite nicely, from salesman to sales manager to general manager. From mass merchant to high-end salon. At one point, in 1992, I was one of only four candidate’s considered nation wide for the proposed National Product Trainer’s position with Onkyo, USA. Even though the position was never filled because of budgetary constraints, Ted Green, Onkyo USA’s director, informed me that the job would have been mine had it been created.
In the early eighties, I decided to formalize my electronics education by enrolling in Control Data Institute’s Digital Electronics Program. In 1984, I graduated with a certificate in Digital Electronics (with honors) and was then much more comfortable dealing with all things electronic, from simple DC circuits through AC circuits, to microprocessors.
In the late eighties, while still working in the business, I also partnered a small electronics repair shop. As owner/operator, I repaired consumer electronic products, computers, coin operated video games and pinball’s. While my partner, Ron Parker, did most of the real repair work, I did service on the “personal” and “gaming” computers which began to emerge in that era, like the Commodore C64.
Some of my more enjoyable duties in those days came doing upgrades and mods to the amplifiers, preamplifiers, and especially the CD players of the day, mostly for the Magnavox CDB series and several others.
I have no idea how many Magnavox CDB model CD players I modded in those days, but the results were so overwhelming for the money that the users kept sending their friends…
I even designed a point “Knock Off” circuit for the Video Poker machines the local “Mob” guys were running in our area by installing a quad NAND gate on the board! Holding down buttons on the play area, in just the right sequence, would then reset the game to zero points.
One of my more enjoyable tasks associated with owning RGB Electronics was the installation of 12-volt audio and security systems. I did contract work for several of the local automotive electronics shops as well as OEM work for a number of local car dealerships. It got to the point that I could complete the installation of a head unit and two speakers into Honda’s in 25 minutes – from garage door opening to closing!
I also built a couple of competition sound systems for IASCA car audio competition events. My association with car audio throughout the eighties and nineties included being a Sound Quality Judge for Region 2, IASCA, often being asked to assume the role of head judge. I regularly enjoyed inviting other SQ judges to my listening room to hear the virtues of vinyl and eight-foot tall electrostatic loudspeakers. It was an eye (or should I say ear) opening event for many a judge!
Albert Von Schweikert, and yours truly at a sushi bar
somewhere near Carlsbad, CA circa May 12, 2003
That limited venture proved fairly successful in that one of my articles, “Loudspeaker Cables: Why Do They Sound Different”, (now updated and appearing on SoundStage! after being reprinted in Positive Feedback) was used as in-house training material by Marketing Firms has elicited compliments from some of today’s true cable Guru’s Like Serguei Timachev of Stealth and Joe Reynolds of Nordost, both of who stated publicly that it is a reference work on the subject. Robert Lee, the designer of the original Harmonic Technology cables and now Acoustic Zen Technologies, Albert Von Schweikert of Von Schweikert Audio, and many others have been kind enough to say publicly that they find it to be the most comprehensive single work ever written on the subject.
Visiting with Albert Von Schweikert at his Factory in May of 2003. That’s a Von Schweikert Research VR-6 between us…
Me, Jim Merod, Michael Silver and the late Hank Jones in San
Francisco.. to launch On Sound and Music in 2003.
Then, in late April of 2003, my colleague and dear friend, Jim Merod of BluePort Jazz posed a serious question; why not start our own journal? Well, within just a few weeks, and with the contributions of Audio High owner Michael Silver, the concept had been fleshed out and we had made the decision to breathe life into that idea. We aspired to create a new journal that would be the first in any medium to cover all three related areas of our industry: music, the recording process and the equipment. We really wanted to cover the equipment and techniques used to make recordings, a long-overlooked area of the industry to our way of thinking. And we very much wanted to deal with the music itself, in all its aspects, from its creation, the live event, to its playback in your home, and all stages in between. Thus, on 17 June, 2003, On Sound and Music was born.
Something that might be seen as almost inevitable when there are multiple chefs preparing just one dish, there were some differences of opinion that could not be completely resolved, at least to my satisfaction. I am unquestionably difficult about some things. For my failings, I accept full responsibility. But it was time to move on… So in mid-August 2004, I resigned and my work moved to a new, or more aptly, returned to an old, home, Positive Feedback Online. As mentioned elsewhere on this page, I first joined the staff of the paper iteration of Positive Feedback in 1996, and this turn of events was nothing if not a warm homecoming. On January 25, 2005, after conversations at the PFO Staff Party held Saturday, January 8th during CES in Las Vegas, I was promoted to Senior Editor.
Further, I have been repeatedly chosen to sit on the prestigious international judging panel to preside over the Innovations & Engineering Awards presented in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and then again in 2016, 2017, and 2018, by the International Consumer Electronics Association. I have been responsible for judging in the High-Performance Audio category, as well as in the Audio Components, Audio Accessories and Portable Media Player categories.
“And, second, these sound better!” Nicholas Cage as Agent Stanley Goodspeed in Hollywood Picture’s The Rock, 1996.
I think it only fair that you know that I am a staunch analog adherent. “LPs Rule”, as the saying goes. It is even the basis for one of my online names! If you are someone who thinks an “old fashioned” turntable, tonearm and cartridge couldn’t possibly sound as good as a CD player, just make arrangements to drop by.
“A high-quality, properly set-up LP playback system…will sound better than any CD.”
Robert Harley – The Complete Guide to High-End Audio
You will be allowed to develop a more correct understanding of the world of the 12″ Long Playing vinyl record. To this date, no one who has undergone this head to head comparison has ever departed anything less than thoroughly convinced of vinyl’s ability to render music in a more lifelike, realistic and spacious manner than the compact disc. “Perfect sound forever,” my eye!
In memory of Katana
one of the world’s few true audiophile felines….
From the time he was 8 weeks old until a year and a half after taking my position with the Office of Information Technology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, I shared my listening room with one of the worlds few true audiophile felines. Katana was a twelve-year-old Siamese/tabby who offered me subtle clues in my search for new ways to wring the most from my system. He died on February 2, 2001.