Audio Beginnings Page 2

So John, my parents, and I cobbled together $7500 and Illuminati was born. Our first marketing idea was a truly hideous direct-mail brochure—I saw one when I moved some boxes recently and I was so embarrassed. We bought 6000 addresses from Stereophile and we stuffed envelopes for days. We got 25 checks and I felt on top of the world.

That first connector design failed, on a physical level, so I had to replace every one of 'em. That whole time, I was working other jobs and doing Illuminati stuff at night. The turning point occurred around two years in, when we finally got 20 dealers, which is right about the time Ray Kimber noticed us and we merged Illuminati's digital cable line into Kimber's analog line.

Later, I sold Illuminati to Ray and I moved back to Georgia and just took some time off. I'd always had ideas about analog cables, but let's face it, Ray Kimber didn't need me for that, so I had to wait until I was on my own.

I spent two to three years doing R&D and making recordings with my business partner, Tony de Almeida. That was during a very healthy economic climate, so it really made sense to design a no-holds-barred product and trickle down the technology later. Lo and behold, when we released our Stereovox SEI interconnects in 2000, the stock-market bubble burst and we sold practically nothing. That nearly killed us.

So here we are five years later and we're finally offering our affordable cables [the Studio series]. What's interesting is that the Studio series placed design constraints on me that forced me into a mode of thought that I might not have achieved if I'd started with the idea of creating an economical product first. Having the SEI cables as a benchmark meant I had to shoot for a certain level of performance—and I'm not sure I would have wound up in the same place if I'd designed the Studios purely from the point of view of reaching a particular price point.

John DeVore explains how DeVore Fidelity came to be
DeVore Fidelity is a young company, but at Home Entertainment Shows and CESes over the last half decade, its products have pulled down critical kudos and consumer raves that more established companies would kill for. I asked John DeVore how he came to be in the biz.

John Devore: My whole family is musical, and I grew up in a household where my mother and my sister were always performing chamber music. Unfortunately, all of the instruments I gravitated towards were a little too annoying for my mom—I was a drummer and trumpeter. My mom wasn't going to dissuade me from being a musician, but her discomfort when I practiced was pretty obvious. I got the hint and developed my art more than my music, but it was always around.

I was into hi-fi in junior high—more into how cool it was than how it sounded, really. However, by the time I went to college, I had begun to realize that you could get pretty good sound out of a stereo system, so I started spending a lot of time in hi-fi shops, where I came to two realizations: 1) I could never afford the stuff that came close to sounding like live, and 2) that even the stuff that came close didn't come that close.

I went to an art college, so, around 1986, it occurred to me that I could build a loudspeaker and receive credit for it at the same time. Being an obsessive perfectionist, I designed an over-the-top, isobaric, push-pull, cylindrical-enclosure loudspeaker with a complex crossover. It taught me a lot, and it even did some things better than the speakers I had heard in stores—and some things a lot worse, because I did tackle so many issues in one project.

After graduating, I lived in L.A., and then I came to New York and was constantly, constantly building loudspeakers. I got a reputation in my circle as a builder, which allowed me to sell my projects to friends and friends of friends. I didn't actually make a profit, but it meant I could experiment without it costing me too much. I became more serious about it and began building some custom studio monitors, and I was commissioned to build some studio systems, which was fun, but also somewhat frustrating.

In 1995, I built a speaker that encapsulated all the work that had come before it—or perhaps I should say I came up with the crossover circuit that I had been evolving. It was a small two-way, but it was the first use of my Gibbon crossover and I recognized that it was something quite different from all of the speakers I had previously heard. That's when I began to seriously think about the models I would have to develop if I wanted to start my own company.

That first Gibbon evolved into the Gibbon 3 bookshelf. It was 1999 before I built the first version of the Gibbon 8, but once I had those two models, I could go into stores and be taken seriously. I was able to give up my day job earlier than I might otherwise have done because my wife was working and had an open mind. I'm paying for it now because she's writing her book, but that's fair.

Dusty Vawter of Channel Islands Audio
Dusty Vawter is the classic American tinkerer. When Supreme Court Justice Souter referred to "the guy in the garage" during the oral arguments of the recent Grokster case, the image the phrase evoked in my head was of Dusty Vawter, soldering iron in hand. When I asked Vawter how he'd come to the audio industry, he couldn't recall a time when he wasn't already involved in it. But he did have some advice for anyone considering it as a career.

Dusty Vawter: You better love what you do. I'm a music nut and I love this stuff, but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody looking for a business where they can make a lot of money. The way I think about it is that I sacrifice the money part of it for being able to do what I love. I feel lucky that I'm able to make my house payment and my car payment and that my wife puts up with stereo equipment strewn all through my house, but you know, when somebody buys one of my products and then calls me up and tells me that they've never heard their music sound so good, that makes everything okay.