Although XLO Electric, the high-end audio cable company that I founded, will just be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, I’ve actually been building hi-fi cables since I was a kid. As I’ve said in print many times before, I became a Hi-fi Crazy at just twelve years old, when my father and I went with one of my father’s friends to Emmons Audio in Studio City, California, one night in 1964 to help him pick out a new “component hi-fi set” (which was what such things were called in those days.)
That was the first time I ever actually heard good sound—especially bass (not just deep bass, but bass of any kind from any source), and, as you can tell, that experience and good sound in general have had an important influence on the rest of my life.
Those cables that I built back then weren’t made because I had any pretensions as a cable designer. The two principal facts behind them were: First, as near as I can remember there weren’t any commercially made audio cables available at that time, and I needed some for my system; and, second, even if there had been cables available, as a teenager and not a wealthy one, I couldn’t have afforded to buy them, anyway. Kids then, just as now, had no money, so, like everyone else—and certainly like all of us kid audiophiles of the day—I built my own out of nickel-a-foot Belden microphone cable and two-for-a-nickel cardboard-dielectric “tulip” RCA connectors. I was perfectly happy to do so because, like a great many people even today, I thought that “wires is wires,” and believed that any other claim could, at best, be only fantasy or wishful thinking.
I continued as a boy Hi-fi Crazy all through high school and into college, where other interests (girls, motorcycles, and my studies, although not necessarily in that order) pushed my hi-fi hobby into the background, and I proceeded on into the business world, where, for a while, it disappeared entirely. Finally, though, in the mid-1980s, I had been successful in business, gotten married, bought a house in a nice community, and was ready to get back into hi-fi with a fine new system.
As part of my shopping for that, my wife and I went to Jonas Miller Hi-Fi in Santa Monica, California, where I ran into my old friend Skip Weshner, a radio broadcaster who may very well have been the man who single-handedly started the entire folk music craze that swept the United States years earlier, and who had, in the process discovered or popularized more new stars (people like Joan Baez, Hoyt Axton, Van Dyke Parks, Bob Dylan, the Gateway Singers, Theodore Bikel, Randy Newman, and many, many more) than you can imagine, in the folk, pop, jazz, and other musical genres. Skip and I had become friends in the late 1950s or very early 60s, when he moved his nationally syndicated, hi-fi-sponsored radio program from New York to Los Angeles, and I, a devoted young fan, had gone to the studios of Radio KRHM, his local station, to meet him.
By the time we encountered him in Santa Monica, however, I had long ago lost contact with Skip, and he and I were both surprised and delighted to meet again. My wife liked him, too, so, after a long conversation followed by a good dinner, we invited him to come to our home for a home-cooked meal, more friendly conversation, and to see and hear my new system.
When he eventually got there, his only comments about the system were that it lacked bass and that he knew of the perfect subwoofer for me, which he would arrange for me to get. That was how I met Tony DiChiro, president of Kinergetics Research, and one of the very sharpest designers in the entire audio industry.
Tony, just a few days after Skip’s visit, came out to deliver an early pre-production pair of Kinergetics subwoofers (still, IMHO, among the very best ever made) and, in the process of hooking them up, noticed that I was still using my ancient nickel-a-foot Belden cables and, saying that he “just wanted to show me something,” went out to his car and brought back a pair of the cables that Harry Pearson had long been touting as the supreme “hot setup” that he used in his own personal system.
When he wanted to plug the new cables in, I told Tony that he could, but said, outright, that I expected nothing and thought that fancy cables were nonsense and a pure waste of money.
Imagine my surprise when just changing that one pair of wires made an immediate, clear, and obvious difference that we both heard and agreed on: The system sounded quite noticeably worse in a number of important ways.