That one incident cemented what was to become a longtime friendship between me and Tony, and set us off on an extended search for the perfect cable or, at the very least, the best cable available. The theory was simple: Now that we both knew for sure that cables could make a difference, if one cable could make a system sound worse, there must be others that would make it sound better, and one that would make it sound best of all, and we set out to find it.
From that point on, we both kept on the alert for news of any great new cable, and when we heard of one, Tony would use his influence or industry discount to borrow or buy a pair for us to audition. The first cables I heard that I liked well enough to actually buy were some very good (even today) skinny brown ones from Straightwire. The next was the “Cobalt” series from AudioQuest, which I tried but was hesitant to buy because they would have cost me (even in 1985 or thereabouts) some $2800 to re-do my entire system.
Before I bought them, however, something crucial happened that would change things forever: In the course of our friendship, Tony had introduced me to Judy Davidson, along with Enid Lumley one of the two women reviewers for The Absolute Sound. (Possibly the only women reviewers in audio at the time.) Judy lived just a few miles from me and had a system using all-British Naim electronics. Because Naim gear takes DIN connectors instead of RCAs, when someone asked her to review some cables that he had made, which, following the American practice, were terminated with RCAs, she was unable to do so, and called me and asked me to listen to them and give him my report.
I did listen to them, and I did call the designer to tell him that for $69 a pair, their selling price, they were quite a bargain, but that, of course, at that price they weren’t (as they couldn’t be) “world beaters.” He must have expected better, because when I told him this, he sounded thoroughly crestfallen and, to try to jolly him out of it, I told him that I had been trying quite a lot of cables lately and reading all their technical “white papers,” and that I had found very little consistency in the design theories they had set forth. This being the case, I asked him what his design theory was, and he told me that he didn’t have one, but just “dicked with” his cables until they sounded good.
Well, here I was, wanting new AudioQuest cables, but not wanting to pay the $2800 they would cost. What should I do? It seemed, to my even-then near-infinite arrogance, that if the guy I’d talked to could just “dick with” cables until they sounded good, then I must certainly be able to dick with them until they sounded even better—and I wouldn’t have to spend all that money to buy the AudioQuest Cobalts.
And that’s what I did, except that, being me and being an economist, I had both the drive and sufficient math so that—after years of study, nearly five thousand pages of reading, and more than $70,000 (so much for saving that $2800) spent on having custom wires drawn and insulated for me to fabricate by hand into cables to test my theories—I was actually able to figure out how cables work and to build the new interconnects and speaker cables that I wanted for my system. (If you’re curious, you can find write-ups on what I learned about “field-balanced” geometry, “capacitive discharge effects,” and other XLO features in XLO’s “White Papers.”)
Just shortly after that, as I settled back to enjoy my music and the impressed “oohs” and “aahs” of my audiophile friends, Mike Detmer, then President of Stax-Kogyo, USA, the U.S. branch of the company that made the world-class Stax electrostatic speakers and headphones (whom I had also met through Tony DiChiro), called to ask if I would be interested in writing for a new audio magazine called Sounds Like… that was being published by Jeff Goggin, formerly a staffer at The Absolute Sound.
When I said I would, Mike arranged for a telephone interview, followed by a sample article, which resulted in me being offered the job. As part of joining the Sounds Like… team, however, there was one small stumbling block: I was asked to provide a brief bio (no problem) and to describe my reference system (potentially, I thought, a big problem).
The problem was my cables: They were handmade home-brew, and, after I had heard some negative comments from audiophile friends about Dick Olsher being “unprofessional” for using his homemade “Black Dahlia” speakers as his reference while writing his reviews for Stereophile, I didn’t want the same thing said about me. To find a way around this, I called Mike Detmer, told him of my concerns, and asked what he thought. His suggestion was brilliant and proved to be a major turning-point in my career. As President of the U.S. division of a Japanese company, Mike had, over time, picked-up some knowledge of the Japanese language. With brands like Koetsu and others being both prestigious and hugely popular, he said that a Japanese-sounding name should certainly be acceptable, and suggested that I declare the cables in my system to be “Tezukuri” Reference. Because “tezukuri” means “handmade” in Japanese, this should, he told me, be both well-received and absolutely true.
That was what I did in my system write-up, but when Jeff Goggin, coming across a new “brand name” he had never heard of, called me to find out more about it, I couldn’t keep up the pretense: I broke up laughing and had to tell him the truth about my concern over using homemade cables as a reviewing tool. To my relief (and truthfully, surprise) he not only accepted the Tezukuri name, but promised to never tell anyone a word about the cables’ real origin.