Bill Firebaugh's first product, the outrageous-looking Well-Tempered (tone) Arm, established him as one of audio's most innovative designers. At the 1985 Winter CES, he showed a prototype companion product—the Well-Tempered Turntable—and was producing production units by January 1987. He discusses here the WTT's unusual design features. (Readers should note that, since we have not yet tested the new turntable, this interview is not to be interpreted as an endorsement of the product.)
Bo Christensen, who was the guiding light behind, first, Primare, then Bow Technologies, graduated as an architectnot surprising, considering his products' drop-dead-gorgeous looks. I talked with Bo while preparing my review of his Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player (see Stereophile, August 1998, Vol.21 No.8), and started by asking him if his knowledge of electronics was self-taught.
Although it was Thomas Edison who set the tone for technological development in the 20th century, with his intellectual sweatshop in New Jersey, it is the lone inventor who has always had a special place in the heart of the American public. Since the days of Samuel Colt, Eli Whitney, and Nikola Tesla, fortune and fame have awaited the genius tinkerer who emerges from his back yard with a better mousetrap, cotton gin, etc., etc.
There are many colorful characters, many high-profile movers and shakers, in high-end audio, but there are only a few whose influence extends far beyond the promotion of their own brands. One of this exalted and mighty handful is Robert Stuart, chairman and technical director of the UK's Meridian Audio.
Even though she calls her new band, 4x4, a "small" group, it's a big band—almost too big for the stage of the Knitting Factory on the night of October 11, 2000, as it makes its first American appearance. Bley's piano is so far to stage left, she has to lean against the wall and stoop under a hanging monitor speaker to address the audience. Four music stands dominate the rest of the apron—her front line of tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, trumpet, and trombone stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the audience's view of Larry Goldings and his Hammond B3, drummer Billy Drummond, and bassist Steve Swallow, who stands 15' back and on a riser. If she'd showed up with her 17-piece band, they'd have had to have hung the horn sections from the rafters, like the sound system.
While I was working on my review of the K-1 preamplifier, I telephonically corralled Ayre's Research Director Charlie Hansen for a midwinter afternoon's gabfest. I started by asking Charlie how he became an audiophile.
Label heads—those at the very highest positions of power at music companies. To anyone who's spent time near the record business, they're a mythical breed. Like gnomes. Or dragons. Often, it's their vision that spells success or failure for the label they run. And what they say goes. Over the years, many a legendary creature has assumed the title: Goddard Lieberson, Clive Davis, Mo Ostin, to name just a few of those who have survived and prospered. The list of those who did not is at least twice as long.
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.
David Chesky, whose company has been making superior recordings for nearly 20 years now, isn't from the engineering side of the business. He's talent—a pianist who sometimes performs on his label, a composer of classical and jazz selections integral to its catalog, and an arranger as well.
As founder of California-based Vacuum Tube Logic of America, David Manley is at the forefront of the current renaissance in vacuum-tube audio equipment. In addition to manufacturing some highly regarded audiophile components, VTL has introduced a line of tubed professional equipment that is finding its way into recording studios. David has a lifetime of experience in tube electronics, recording studio design, disc cutting, music recording, and most recently, analog/digital and digital/analog converter design.
The French have a phrase for it: plus ça change, plus la même chose, which can be roughly translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I was reminded of this when recently reading through the December 1980 issue of The Absolute Sound. There on p.368 was the statement that "Dave Wilson (Virgo) has joined the staff...to construct a testing program that will allow us to determine if some of the peculiarities and anomalies we hear in evaluating equipment can indeed be numerically measured."
Ed Meitner is one of those rare individuals who charts his own course in audio product design. From his platterless turntable of the mid-1980s to his new Intelligent Digital Audio Translator (IDAT, reviewed elsewhere in this issue), Ed Meitner's products have been distinguished by original thinking and innovative engineering. Although not all his designs have been commercially successful, in each he has attempted to advance the state of the art by rethinking fundamental principles.
Ed is also pursuing an ambitious project that would radically change the way recordings are made. It began when he recorded an electric guitar through a 10" guitar-amp loudspeaker and was dismayed that it was impossible to even come close to capturing and realistically reproducing this apparently simple sound through another 10" speaker. This experience launched his investigation into why reproduced sound is never mistaken for live music, a quest that may result in a radically new recording technique.
"So where did it all go wrong, George? When did the major-label record business begin slipping away?"
Before he can answer, I recall something George Avakian once told me over the phone. "Goddard Lieberson [former president of Columbia Records] said, 'I'm tired of sitting in A&R meetings with record guys. Get me some lawyers and accountants who don't want to argue about music.'"
"I don't remember saying that, but that's very interesting," Avakian says with a mischievous smile of recognition.