Jeffrey Catalano, High Water Sound

Tubed power amplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Jeffrey Catalano, High Water Sound

What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
No question about it, the music side, as it still does.

What was your first high-end system? What year was this?
This may seem a bit strange, but my first high-end system was a turquoise-and-white Zenith suitcase player my parents gave my brother and me in the early 60s. Having our own hi-fi/record player in our bedroom was totally liberating. I now could explore and experiment with music on a much more personal level, and not be concerned about what my parents thought. I bought records for whatever reason they spoke to me—a name, a cover, a label, etc. I discovered an inner life that now was just mine. For me, this is the very definition of the high end, discovering what is yours and not caring what others think.

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
Sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. I felt my hand was a bit forced. Regardless of money, I knew no one or place I could turn to that would be able to put together a system that I could live with. Therefore, I went out and discovered amazing manufacturers around the globe who quietly created musical transducers that provided the magic I was looking for.

What education did you receive?
Besides music school, gigging musician, record fanatic, living at the local Lafayette Store as a kid? I would have to say being dissatisfied with a lifetime of dealings with audio dealers that were clueless about music, or just uninterested in guiding me toward creating a musical system based on what I wanted and not on what made them the most profit. I don’t think anyone on the planet has wasted more money on audio equipment than I have. That said, it has been one hell of an education, if for no other reason than finding out what I didn’t want. I started High Water Sound with two very simple goals: First, treat people the way I want to be treated; and second, only offer products that I truly love and enjoy.

Are we in another golden age of analog, or is this just a temporary trend borne of nostalgia?
Analog never did go away. Sure, record companies wanted to kill it for the more profitable “perfect sound forever,” and equipment manufacturers wanted to sell more and more widgets designed with planned obsolescence. Think of the wasteland of home-theater and digital debris littering the landfills. Now think of the premium prices paid for vintage turntables, tube amps, and records. I think maybe analog was drugged into submission but, once re-awakened, it has spun with more conviction than whatever had come before.

Tubes and turntables are your primary focus. Do you have a bone to pick with solid-state?
Not at all. I just don’t “feel it.” If I am not moved emotionally, I move on. S.S. seems to only resonate with my intellect, and as far as I am concerned, the intellect has nothing to do with the art of listening.

Would you call yourself resistant to digital?
Resistant, no. I just don’t get it. When I listen to most digital, my intellect is engaged; I listen totally with my conscious mind, eyes open. I can’t seem to internalize the digital program. Emotionally, I equate listening to digital to the way my vision perceives fluorescent lighting. There is a lack of continuity—no flow, no soul.

Are you surprised at the resiliency of high-end two-channel? Weren’t we all supposed to have multichannel systems by now? 
No, I find it a reaffirmation of the human spirit. There is hope.

Looking towards the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years or so?
I am not sure, but I’d bet not to my liking. I would hope the industry embraces music and not just the next useless technologies.

Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
Clarity. As it stands, there are so many competing technologies that many who think about getting into the high end just get confused and walk away. There also has to be a prevailing feeling of inclusion, no matter the type of music or the budget at hand. People need to feel like they belong to the cool people’s club, where you can rock whatever kind of music still makes you feel like a kid or the adult you want to be.

Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? What (still) inspires you about your work?
I ride and work on vintage motorcycles. When a customer calls me up after he gets his system and tells me how I just changed his life for the better, I don’t know what can be more inspiring than that. 

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