The first thing you notice about Walter Sear's legendary Manhattan studio is that it feels so darn comfortable. Sear Sound doesn't have a wall of gold records, gleaming million-dollar consoles, or the latest high-resolution digital workstations, but a quick stroll around the three studios reveals a treasure trove of tube and analog professional gear: a pair of Sgt. Pepper–era Studer recorders plucked from EMI's Abbey Road studios; an early Modular Moog synthesizer Sear built with Bob Moog; and a collection of 250 new and classic microphones.
Although the term "professional" is often used as part of model designations in consumer electronics, the actual overlap between the audiophile consumer market and the real pro market is quite small. There are speakers in common use as studio monitors that no self-respecting audiophile would want to be caught dead listening to, and the typical audiophile loudspeaker would go up in smoke if asked to pump out the kind of volume that pro application routinely demands. To a lesser extent, the same applies to amplifiers: pro is pro and consumer is consumer, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
Editor's Note: In 1954, a New York writer and teacher reinvented the world of audio with the modest-looking Acoustic Research AR-1 loudspeaker. A small fraction of the size of the behemoths that were then de rigeur for the reproduction of bass frequencies, Edgar Villchur's loudspeaker went as low with less distortion. Perhaps more importantly, the AR-1 pioneered both the science of speaker design and the idea that a low-frequency drive-unit could not be successfully engineered without the properties of the enclosure being taken into account.
Jim Fosgate fits the category of Classic American Inventor to a T. This softspoken, quietly intense man has earned 18 patents and founded three successful electronics companies. In the late 1970s, he pulled out of the car audio business to follow his quadraphonic bliss, and designed the Fosgate Tate 101, arguably the finest quad decoder of the era. He also created the best-selling matrix surround processor of all time, Dolby's Pro Logic II, and in 2003 won an Emmy for the Development of Surround Sound for Television. He now serves as a senior executive consultant for Fosgate Audionics, a division of the Rockford Corporation.
Kathleen (K-10) and I first met Jack Renner—Telarc's Chairman, CEO, and Chief Recording Engineer—at Iridium, a tony jazz club here in New York. He was recording Benny Golson and the Jazz Messengers doing a rousing a tribute to Art Blakey. Now what would you think a guy who's won 31 Grammys over 21 years would be doing, exactly? Maybe feet up, a cigar languidly tracing curlicues in the air while directing his minions?
Tom Jung's career has been dotted with numbers. In 1969, he and a partner founded Sound 80, a Minneapolis recording studio named by an advertising wizard who had previously conjured up the appellation Cure 81 for a Hormel ham, supposedly while sipping Vat 69 scotch. Some years later, engineers from another Midwestern company with a numeral in its name, 3M, stopped by with an experimental tape recorder that also employed digits. Those zeros and ones proved critical to the recordings Jung went on to engineer and produce at his next company, Digital Music Products, better known as DMP.
Meeting Englishman Tim de Paravicini for the first time, you start to wonder if your mind has slipped a gear, whether premature brain fade has cut in. The conversation seems not only to be racing by unexpectedly quickly, but also subjects you hadn't even realized were subjects are being examined in knowledgeable depth. It was at the end of the 1970s that I bumped into Tim at a trade show in the UK; having wanted to ask his opinion of tube-amp design, knowing that the gangling, wispy-bearded, Nigeria-born, one-time resident of South Africa and Japan, ex-Lux engineer (footnote 1) had cast a magic wand over the Michaelson & Austin product line, I found myself instead being treated to an exposition of color phosphor problems in TV monitors. For Tim is a true polymath, his mind seemingly capable of running at high speed along several sets of tracks simultaneously.
The Pennsylvania Gazette documented an early connection between music and an American named Winey when, in 1759, it listed for sale as part of an estate "a middle sized organ, having eight stops." Interested parties were directed to one Jacob Winey, a Philadelphia merchant.
Consider the fate of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century astronomer who challenged Ptolemy's notion of Earth being the center of a finite universe—and in doing so went head to head with the church of Rome. Bruno's scholarly diligence and fearlessness were rewarded not with fame, riches, or accolades from his colleagues, but with a hot-lead enema, after which he was burned at the stake. Next heretic in line, step right up, please.
Maybe Dan D'Agostino was destined to develop and build a line of products distinguished by their sheer might. After all, he grew up just blocks from a natural phenomenon synonymous with power: Niagara Falls. Even today, when the 56-year-old D'Agostino returns to his boyhood home to visit his parents, he enjoys pulling on a pair of shorts and going for a long run in the adjacent park, which resounds with the Falls' unrelenting thunder.
In July 1877, Thomas Edison wrote that he was sure he would "be able to store up & reproduce at any future time the human voice perfectly," and the word phonograph soon began showing up in his lab notes. By the time Ivor Tiefenbrun stepped onto the audio industry soundstage, nearly a century had passed, and even discriminating listeners took the record player for granted. But Tiefenbrun had discerned sonic differences among players, and he knew that his LP12—he had built a prototype for personal use—was a superior performer. When people told him that turntables do no more than go 'round and 'round, he would rebut them by pointing out that speakers merely go in and out.
We all know that women generally have better hearing than men and enjoy music at least as much as men do, but women are conspicuously absent from every segment of the high-end audio scene. The vast majority of high-end companies are owned by men, and any head count of female designers, retailers, reviewers, or consumers will yield a pitifully small number. High-end audio is a man's, man's, man's world.
There's one phrase a Ferrari dealer never hears from a potential customer: "Ferrari? What's a Ferrari?" Marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are so embedded in mainstream culture that their dealers never have to introduce an unfamiliar but exorbitantly expensive set of wheels to their prospects.