All of us at The Absolute Sound were shocked and saddened to learn that Basis Audio founder Armando (A.J.) Conti died suddenly last Saturday from a heart attack. He was 59. He is survived by his wife Jolanta, two daughters, one son, three siblings, and other extended family.
It’s a terrible loss for me personally as well as for Basis customers and the entire industry. I’ve used Basis turntables for the past 12 years, and have always considered A.J. the exemplar of everything that’s great about high-end audio. He combined serious engineering chops, an inquisitive mind, great listening skills, and above all, an unbridled passion for improving the quality of LP playback. Conti has made an enormous contribution over the past 30 years to turntable and tonearm design. He eschewed bling and marketing hype in favor of research, physics, and precision engineering.
I’ll share with you a couple of stories that will give you an idea of Conti’s fanatical dedication to his craft. Basis at one time outsourced its turntables’ rubber drive belts to a company that specialized in such products. After Conti discovered that even tiny variations in belt thickness degraded the sound, and the belt company refused to make belts to such an unattainable (in its view) standard, Conti bought the machinery to make the belts himself and began producing them in-house. Not only that, but he personally measured each belt’s thickness along its entire length before it was packed with a turntable. If you own a Basis turntable, every millimeter of its drive belt passed through Conti’s hands.
Just three weeks ago, A.J. called me to share his realization of a long-held dream—to create an LP playback system that was virtually transparent to the analog mastertape used to cut the LP. Conti had invested in two professional-grade two-track analog tape machines, had the electronics modified, and gained access to second-generation tapes recently recorded by audiophile labels. He could thus compare the tape playback against the LP reproduction. His goal was, as he called it, “The Truth.” That is, the LP playback system’s goal was to transparently convey exactly what was on the record with no editorializing. He excitedly told me about how surprised he was that his latest LP playback system was far closer to the sound of mastertape than he ever thought he would achieve. Even after more than 30 years of designing turntables, his enthusiasm and passion never flagged.
A.J. Conti was a giant of the industry, a man of great integrity, and a friend. He will be missed.
After learning the news of A.J.’s passing, his brother, Anthony, called me to say that Basis Audio would continue. Below is a statement from the company.
Statement from Basis Audio
It is with deepest regret that we inform the audio community of Armando (A.J.) Conti’s unexpected passing. A.J.’s lifelong passion was designing and manufacturing precision audio products in pursuit of “The Truth,” as he called it, for the most accurate sound reproduction.
We first want the industry to know that A.J. has left Basis on extremely strong financial ground as confirmed by the company’s CPA. We are deeply grateful to Basis’ long-term employees, both present and past, who are committed to the company’s continued success. As many of you know, Basis is an industry leading organization, but also a close ‘family.’
There will be little to no delay in fulfilling all of the company’s obligations to customers, suppliers, and business partners, although there may be some interruptions over the next few weeks. Please do not hesitate to contact Basis senior management for any pressing matters, specifically, Jolanta Conti, A.J.’s wife, and Anthony Conti, A.J.’s brother, at Basis. They will be assisted by A.J.’s longtime engineering colleague, Jim McAndrew, who has deep knowledge of Basis technology and products.
Jolanta’s professional experience includes practicing commercial and corporate law for 10 years in both the United Kingdom and Australia. Jolanta has expertise in complex commercial matters including contract negotiations, business development, and patent and intellectual property. Jolanta has worked with global companies including Morgan Stanley, Shell, BP, BHP, and many others. Prior to meeting A.J., she was carefully evaluated and selected to be Bristol-Myers Squibb’s lead attorney for all of Eastern Europe.
Anthony, like A.J., is an engineer educated at both Georgia Tech and Northeastern University. He has extensive experience managing and scaling technology companies for over 30 years. Anthony’s experience has included Managing Director of European Operations based in London, England, and senior executive positions in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Boston, where he now resides.
We are excited to continue A.J.’s pursuit of the most ‘truthful’ and accurate sound reproduction, extreme precision, and uncompromising commitment to quality in all Basis products.
Further, A.J. has a number of products in the company’s pipeline that are ready for release. All design, testing, and prototyping work is finished with completed units and parts already in inventory.
We are so grateful to the many industry friends who have already reached out to Basis and the management team to support the company and its continued success. Please refer to http://www.davisfuneralhomenh.com/book-of-memories/2724856/Conti-Armando/obituary.php for details about funeral arrangements.
Paul Seydor on A.J. Conti
I cannot improve upon what Robert Harley has written by way of tribute to A.J. Conti on the occasion of his truly shocking sudden death yesterday. I concur with Robert’s assessment of A.J.’s high achievement and all but peerless contribution to the world of high-end audio. One of things I liked most about A.J. as man and as designer is that he was so refreshingly free from any sort of technical babble and, well, bullsh*t when it came to his designs and products. When I reviewed the 2200/Vector 4 setup some years ago—my reference ever since—I had several questions about aspects of the designs. Why did he advocate using a blank LP to set anti-skating force when there are no grooves, hence no groove velocity, which affects skating force? He granted this was true and then gave me a clear and patient explanation as to the strengths and weaknesses of using a blank disc versus one with grooves on it, pointing out that each has its advantages. Why did he switch from DC to AC motors? They’re both valid, but they yield different results, and he was leaning toward AC at the time while granting that equally valid but different results would be obtained with DC. I asked him about the counterweight: Isn’t it better to have the counterweight as close to the bearing housing as possible? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Again, different pickups yield unpredictable and inconsistent results.
These examples were typical of A.J.’s approach. He knew the science, the engineering, and the theory inside out, yet he always looked to the results, the performance, for validation, and when the results were inconclusive, he didn’t paper it over or insist upon his way to the exclusion of others. He was similarly generous to his peers. Though he himself was, as he once told me, temperamentally unable to make so-called budget products, he had a great respect for those who could and do. He especially admired the SOTA turntables—“There’s a lot of really good ideas and thinking in them,” he once told me—and was in turn greatly pleased when SOTA auteur David Fletcher, designer of the fabled The Arm, told A.J. that the solution he had devised in the Vector 4 for solving the inherent instability of unipivots was essentially “flawless”.
As a consequence of reviewing the 2200/Vector 4 setup, AJ and I got to be friends—or at least as much as one can be friends living at either ends of the country and meeting only relatively rarely at audio shows. But we shared a great passion for photography and he always found time out of his busy show schedule for a drink or a meal. The last one was a lunch at this past spring’s Newport Show, where AJ was as ebullient, animated, enthusiastic, and energetic ever, which makes his sudden passing all the more incomprehensible. Hemingway by way of Donne once said that any man’s death diminishes the world: this is certainly true of AJ’s death in the world of high-end audio. His combination of formidable expertise, fanatical dedication, and intense passion advanced the art and science of turntable and tonearm design, while his personality and character made an indelible impression on those of us lucky enough to have experienced him personally.