And Into These Boxes

"Up for another?" asked the e-mail.

It was from Michael Lavorgna. I opened it. He wrote:

I heard from Patrick Amory and it's looking like we are going over his place this Friday for a Road Tour. Patrick, besides working for Matador Records, has a huge collection of rare classical recordings and knows a boatload about them. His system: original refurbished Quad 57s, Leak or Radford amps, a Shindo Monbrison preamp, and a Garrard 301 in a new LignoLab plinth. We'll be doing stereo and mono.

I had other plans, but how could I pass up such an offer? My other plans would have to wait.

And, besides, Patrick's place is only a couple of blocks from our office. I walked from here to there, passing brownstones and office buildings, parking garages, banks, and delis—the usual Murray Hill scenery. I walked along the same few streets I've walked along time and time again, expecting nothing.

You know how it is to look up from the sidewalk and into someone's home? If you live in the suburbs, this is something you might not know. But here, in New York City, where apartments open out onto busy streets, you almost can't avoid it. You walk along and wonder about people and their lives. We claim these boxes and into these boxes, eternities are crammed. Sometimes, after a long day, your eyes are drawn to the warm lights of candles or chandeliers, and you wonder what bodies ignite these things. You walk along and wonder. What are they doing in there? How long have they been here? What's it like inside?

Can you imagine the stories, the music, the views?

I got to where I was going, and gave Michael a call.

"Hey, man. I'm downstairs."

"Oh, you made it!"

"Yeah, do you guys need beer or anything?"

"No, I think we're good."

There was something in his voice.

"Alright, cool. I'll be right up."

You walk by these buildings all the time, and you think nothing much about them. From the outside, they're almost all the same—tall and ugly and gray. One blurs into the next until you make it to your destination. But what's inside?

Inside, a doorman directed me to an elevator. He even pushed the buttons for me. White walls and a short corridor to Patrick's place. The door was open, and that says so much. I let myself in. Patrick was talking with the others and had a big smile on his face. He set down his glass.

Patrick greeted me and so did his home and so did all of New York City. Vintage furniture decorates the room in red and white and walnut. To the left are shelves bursting with compact discs, while the right holds all the vinyl. Along the adjacent wall, you'll find volumes and volumes of lovely books, spines of green and blue and gold, reaching up to the ceiling and searching for space. More books are piled high upon a glass coffee table, more vinyl rests against the table's legs. The turntable, the Quads, the tubes. The Radford amps look like something you'd find in an old computer lab. We walk onto a thick, white rug, and I wonder if I should remove my shoes.

Near the kitchen, there's a small dining table, bottles of wine, mixed nuts, cheese, crackers. A wall of windows looking out onto the impossible city. Another open door leads into the sky. Patrick's wrap-around terrace offers a special view of the Chrysler Building at one end and the Empire State Building at the other. And you see the tops of the buildings for the very first time. And you look down to the shapes and you wonder where they're off to tonight.

Inside, I'll sink into a chair and listen to Brahms, and all of the noise from outside will be taken away. We'll listen for hours while the sky turns from blue to gray and the tall buildings begin to glow.

"The atmosphere," I'll later write to Michael, "and the selection of music—those incredible 78s and the other early pressings—and Patrick's encyclopedic knowledge of all he shared with us, overshadowed the sound by far."

But don't for a second think that I didn't enjoy the sound. The sound was utterly intoxicating—coherent and involving and addictive. The more I listen to tubes, the more I feel that my own solid-state-based system is missing something. It was my first time listening to Quads and, while it became clear that they have their certain musical preferences, it was also obvious that they are special. The system, as a whole, was as open and inviting as its owner.

Patrick selects an album, holds it out for us to see, and begins to tell a story.

More than anything, I'm now thrilled to know that inside this otherwise ordinary building lives a very extraordinary individual, one who owns an outstanding collection of music and a desire to share his passion for it. It makes me wonder what treasures are kept behind all these other walls and windows and doors. Hi-fi can be anywhere. Can you imagine the stories, the music, the views? Michael Lavorgna's Road Tours are so important because they provide looks into these personal things. For many more excellent photos and another view of the evening, visit Michael's "Road Tour: Exit 17."

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Doug Bowker's picture

One of your best posts Stephen! Seemed to mirror my exact thought as I walked through NYC the other day. Hope next time we get to meet in person.

selfdivider's picture

A great addendum to Michael's Road Tour, Stephen. Loved that Road Tour Exit 17 & I emailed Michael right after I read it. Sounds like it was a special experience. And dude. Rega P3-24 + tubes + killer records = ? I'll let you finish the equation.

Christian's picture

Great post. I really enjoyed reading this. Quads are wonderful aren't they? I have heard them once before and was absolutely taken aback at how open the sound was. I also love the tubes, they sound great and I love the romance of them. I recently re-tubed my little Synthesis (I love that little amp). Like vinyl, I feel more of a physical connection with my tube amp. Hitting the switch and watching the tubes wake from their slumber and come alive. The turntable is the perfect accompaniment to the tube amp.

rvance's picture

Stephen, You lucky effer! I am miles away from my first QUAD 57 epiphany. They are still at my friend Ron's house in Lakewood, CA.He had a used set from Jonas Miller Stereo of Beverly Hills in 1975. Mike Moffatt was the audio guru who acquired and helped Ron repair them. Ron also built a Moffatt designed SET amp and modded Karmon Kardon Citation IV pre. Philips 212 TT (I still own one)and various cartridges were played to great sonic truth, eventually settling on a cheap Grado- because it was so good for the $. Mike had a profound impact on the arc of our audio journey with his sly grin, potent Late Harvest Ridge Zins and various other mind- freshening substances that seemed to accompany his engineering excursions.Those were just fantastic times of youthful exuberance, revolutionary changes in the air and great music.One of these days I'm going to return to my QUAD youth- whether the spouse likes it or not. Life is too short.

Jack C.'s picture

Don't go too far down the tubes vs ss route, SM; it'll drive you crazy. My current Quad 33/303 ss combo makes me as happy as any system I've ever had, far happier than my ringing, microphonic vintage Fisher el84 monoblocs. ALso, one December my wife and I noted that our elec bill was absurdly through the roof even tho' our electrical habits had not changed at all: the blame lay directly on my Class A tube system, which I'd been listening to non-stop since going on my vacation in the beginning of December. No joke. If one has any inkling of conserving energy I think one has to look at ss very, very seriously. Carbon footprint and all...

Al Marcy's picture

It is fun to visit people who are doing whatever they feel like doing. Especially if you feel like doing it, too. Tubes ain't perfect. Music ain't perfect. But, my Alan Blumlein (conceptually) modded HeathKit AA-161 EL84 monoblocks are neither microphonic nor do they ring. And the Klipsch heresy with fresh midrange diaphragms and Llambda woofers are very happy to let the Music be whatever it wants to be :) And you rock ... I snooze. Soon it will be August, Ren-and-Stimpy-oir. Listening is not as easy as it looks ... but, it is well worth the effort.

Robert Deutsch's picture

Speaking of Quad 57s...I spent a year in Southern California back in 1979, and was an occasional visitor to Jonas Miller Sound, which was the most "elite" of the audio shops in Los Angeles. One time I was in the store, they told me that Burt Reynolds had been in the week before with his girl friend, Sally Field, and bought a system. I asked them what speakers he bought, and they said it was the Quads. He was already high in my estimation for having Sally Field as his girl friend, and his choice of Quads made me think even more highly of him. Too bad he later abandoned Sally for that blonde from WKRP in Cincinnati. For all I know he also traded his Quads for Cerwin Vegas.

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