What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
I’m no musician, but I’ve loved listening to music for as long as I can remember, so the music came first. I remember hearing a Pioneer system with an open-reel tape machine in 1975 (playing the Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway”) at a local dealer, and from that instant I was absolutely hooked.
What was your first high-end system? What year was this?
I had a Hafler amp and preamp with M&K satellites and subwoofer circa 1981—call it a starter high-end system. Within a few years I managed to upgrade to Magnepan MG-3s, a Levinson ML-11/ML12a, and a Linn LP12.
When did audio evolve from a hobby to a career?
While in college I needed a way to support my audio habit, so I worked at Glenn Poor’s Audio Video in Champaign, Illinois. It was there that I learned from and was inspired by the owner Geoff Poor and his manager Mike Wesley. When I graduated in 1985, Mike, who’d gone on to join Madrigal Audio Labs, brought me aboard at Madrigal. I remained there until recruited by Joe Atkins and Mike Viglas to join Classé and the B&W Group in 2002.
What education did you receive?
I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in General Engineering and an Electrical Engineering secondary field.
How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
High-end products are valued according to their performance, quality, and exclusivity, and derived from passion, discovery, experience, and technical exploration. They are more than the sum of their parts.
Analog or digital—which is your preference and why? Do you still enjoy LPs?
Done properly, both can honestly serve the music. But I’ll admit to being seduced by the access to music stored on my computer. Accessing music from my iPad, I routinely see all the album covers in my library and find myself listening to more of my collection because it’s so easy to play. Having said that, turntables are the coolest objets d’art our industry produces. Everyone should have one and enjoy a record with a good single malt nightly.
Are you surprised at the resiliency of high-end two-channel? Weren’t we all supposed to have multichannel systems by now?
I had concerns, but I can’t say I’m really surprised. Virtually all of our music recordings are stereo. If you care more about music than movies, a high-quality stereo system doesn’t dilute your budget with extra channels. If you have enough money, you can have it all, but I know lots of music lovers with a TV between their speakers, happy to listen to movies and television through a great-sounding stereo system. It makes sense to me.
Looking towards the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years or so?
Sorry, no crystal ball here, but we will probably see simpler systems grow in popularity. It’s possible to have a reference-quality audio system today with a preamp/processor, amplifier, and speakers, and maybe a turntable as well, but no other audio components in the room. Stacks of gear may appeal to equipment lovers, but in a digital world it’s not the highest-fidelity way to handle signals. Separate DACs with analog preamps, for example, are relics that no longer make sense on a performance or technical level.
Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
I am most concerned about viable distribution. People are introduced to high-end things through personal experience. Audio dealers who invest in a showroom where products may be seen and heard, recommendations made, and after-sale installation and service provided are essential to a vibrant high-end audio marketplace. To remain viable, dealers must continue to demonstrate their value in a changing world. It’s a challenge, with many specialty dealers nearing retirement age and looking for an exit strategy rather than investing in their businesses. I am hopeful but concerned.
Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? What (still) inspires you about your work?
I love to sail. My wife Kathy and I have a Frers 33 that we race and spend weekends sailing, on and around Long Island Sound. If you want to sail as fast as possible, you find yourself constantly tweaking, adjusting, and reevaluating performance—just like you do with high-end audio. And like music, the journey is its own reward. I am inspired by the people I work with and how far we have yet to travel together. If you hear piano music coming from down the hall, you instantly know if it’s a real piano or a recording. We do, indeed, still have a long way to go.