It is with a sad and heavy heart that I have to report that Victor Goldstein, long-time owner of Fanfare International, his high-end audio distribution business, and one of the iconic figures in the American audio scene for more than 30 years, has this week passed away in New York City, another victim of the horrible Covid-19 pandemic that is still sweeping the globe. He was, I believe, 75 years old, but still brimming with intellect, a zest for life, and the enduring love of music that were his hallmarks for as long as I knew (and for a few lucky years worked for) him.
An immigrant who fled from Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist Romania to NYC in the mid-1970s, he was both respected and (sometimes) feared for his incredible hearing and infallible judgment of musicality in audio products from preamps and DACs to amplifiers and loudspeakers. A couple of years ago I remember talking with him about his latest visit to his audiologist, where his puzzled doctor told him after his hearing test that he amazingly had the hearing ability of a healthy 17 year-old! Next only to Harry Pearson, he was widely acknowledged as having the best hearing acuity in the business. Manufacturers and distributors alike routinely asked for his opinion of their latest and greatest creations—inquiries that more than a few times resulted in flustered designers going back to the drawing table to make changes after hearing what Victor had to say. He was always polite and a true gentleman, but he never spared anyone’s feelings when he evaluated a component or a system.
After the closing of Fanfare in 2007 and his seeming retirement from the business, Victor continued dabbling behind the scenes in audio sales; he simply could not resist working with select audio manufacturers in Europe, particularly those from France and Italy (he was fluent in both languages). He continued to carry the torch for the finest audio components until his passing. His love of music and its reproduction by the best equipment were his abiding passions for most of his life.
I first met Victor in early 1992, when I had only recently started working as Harry Pearson’s set-up man. He and Frank Garbie, his one-time business partner, had come to HP’s to install a new set of tubes in a Jadis JP-80MC full-feature preamp he had loaned to Harry both for a review and as a reference. Having never before experienced an episode of the hilarious Victor and Frank traveling road show—something that took place almost every time they were together at an audio event or a reviewer’s home—for me, it was an eye- and ear-opening experience (to say the least). Virtually everything that Victor said to Harry Frank would loudly contradict; after a lot of bickering and waving of arms that afternoon, Harry finally stepped in and made it stop, of course adding his HP touch so that he could both diffuse the situation with humor and ensure that the Jadis preamp was there to stay for a long time.
As I worked side-by-side with Victor that day (he would not allow Frank to touch the new, hand-picked and tested tubes), I made a new friend. That first meeting quickly turned into a lasting and wonderful friendship that never wavered right up the moment I was speaking with him on the phone on April 2, when he was literally gasping for breath. He was, to me, obviously already suffering from symptoms of coronavirus, and I begged him to go to the hospital—something he said that he was quite loath to do. Later that afternoon, however, he sent me a text saying that he was in the ER. It was the last communication I had from him, as he became so sick so fast that he was soon hooked up to a ventilator in a medically induced coma. In the last week of April, his eldest daughter called me and let me know that he had been on the ventilator for almost a month with no signs of improvement. I knew then that the likelihood of my best friend in life coming out of this ordeal alive was very small—to the point of already feeling he was doomed. Several days later he was gone.
Victor was never much of a businessman—the main reason that Fanfare always struggled just to stay alive all those years. But by-God he knew music and what it sounded like in real life. A long-time adherent of and proud flag-waver for HP’s original “absolute sound” definition and philosophy, his judgment of which audio equipment sounded most like real music was unwavering and true. His real passion was for classical orchestral music, and over the years he spent a lot of time in Carnegie Hall, as well as making many visits to the Metropolitan Opera and other concert halls in and around NYC.
As a person who shared HP’s audio predilections with Victor, I always found solace when listening with him. Though he was quick and sharp with criticisms to my systems at audio shows, he was also just as quick to gently suggest remedies. Sadly, since I left New York in 2004 to go to California, the only times I ever saw him face-to-face were at audio shows like CES in Las Vegas or the AXPONA Show in Chicago. We did talk on the phone a lot, however, and the conversations were invariably wonderful.
He was always quick with a bad or dirty joke, and he was also a master flirt. His extra-long eyelashes and devilish smile were routinely a start to conversations with pretty ladies. Waitresses at shared dinners at audio shows in particular seemed to find his Old World charm and Romanian accent impossible to resist, as did almost anyone who spent any time with him. He was a kind and unassuming man whose depth of knowledge of music and of the fine-tuning of audio systems was second to none. I cannot imagine I will ever find a better person and friend to share music listening with, except for my wife, who loves music and audio systems (I am a very lucky man in that respect).
Victor Goldstein was a true singularity, and I am going to miss him terribly for the rest of my days.