What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
It came from the music side. My family has always been music-oriented, so it was natural for me to gravitate in that direction. I got my first record at about 7 or 8. I vividly recall my introduction to hi-fi...I was ten years old at a grocery store magazine stand and found High Fidelity, long since defunct.
I read every word on every page. I immediately got subscriptions to Stereo Review, High Fidelity, and Audio. That lasted about three years, until I picked up my first copy of Stereophile (sorry!). At that point, I stopped reading the “big three” and focused solely on TAS and Stereophile. I was fourteen and read them voraciously. The actual descriptions of how components altered the musical experience blew my mind, and solidified my purpose in life of designing audio equipment to enrich the home-audio experience.
How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
Hi-fi lets you enjoy music but doesn’t transport you to the true musical experience; it is an alteration of reality that can result in short-term pleasure. High-end audio seeks to re-create the actual musical event, whether it is in the concert hall, nightclub, or recording studio, with greater accuracy and attention to subtle information. High-end audio creates long- term pleasure and that “goosebump” experience of live music.
Do you recall your first high-end system?
Yes! The first system I would call “high end” comprised an Oracle Delphi MkII turntable, ARC SP8 preamp, Berning amplifier, and a pair of old Electro-Voice speakers. I was working at a high-end store in Los Angeles at the time; I took about half of my pay in equipment.
What kind of education did you receive?
When I was in college, I was interested in learning as much as I could to advance me toward the goal of designing audio equipment. I primarily took math and physics classes. My first interest was vacuum-tube technology, which was not directly taught in our education system. So from my math and physics background, I am self-taught in electronics. I got a job working at Theta Digital in 1990. Through the time I worked there I was mentored by three key engineers: Mike Moffat, Dave Kerstetter, and Tom Lippiatt. Without their benevolence, Aesthetix would not be what it is today.
Analog or digital? Do you have a preference, and why?
My first love is analog. As good as digital systems have become, including our own Romulus, there are still significant improvements to be made.
Are you surprised at the resiliency of analog in a digital world? How do you account for its staying power?
I’m not surprised at all. When I designed the original Io phonostage in 1993, new LPs were almost non-existent. However, the music lovers who were still listening to analog had vast libraries, much of which would never be “digitized,” and great knowledge of music. I cannot say that I saw vinyl coming back as far as it has, but I am proud to have contributed to its renaissance.
What do you see for the future of physical storage media?
I believe future music will be in three significant forms: vinyl, local storage e.g. hard drives, and streaming. I believe the CD and other “hard” digital formats are done.
Is the industry doing enough to promote high-resolution music?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of our customers who are interested in using their Aesthetix Pandora or Romulus for high-resolution computer audio. While it is important for our industry to differentiate between MP3 and higher-resolution files, it is damaging to chase new formats that overcomplicate computer audio for the end user.
Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
There is a lot of pessimism about an aging audiophile population, but more people are listening to more music than at any other time in our history. This naturally leads to more interest in high-performance audio, and exposure to higher-quality music reproduction is one catalyst in expanding the high end. We need to be more inclusive of all types of music being played back through high-end systems, as I’ve never met a single person who does not appreciate the difference in presentation regardless of the kind of music being played.
Outside of audio, what do you do for fun?
I love spending time with my family, music events, sporting events, skiing, and playing basketball.