Listening #190: Experience Music

Those concerned that audio engineers on the whole are a meek lot, drawn to our hobby for its lack of physical mayhem, have clearly never met Jeffrey Jackson. The last time I saw him, he was wielding a rock the size of a small gravestone, applying it to the lock on a recalcitrant door in a series of blows that made me fear for the very fabric of reality. That this happened in glinty daylight in an industrial park with a steady stream of cars going by merely added to the sense of danger. Those concerned that motorists on the whole are lacking in vigilance would have had their fears confirmed: no one intervened, and Jackson succeeded in gaining entrance to his warehouse and auxiliary listening space.

The story didn't start there. It started on a sunny morning in May, when I accepted an invitation from Jackson to visit his home and workshop in Rhinebeck, New York, a colorful village in the Hudson Valley. I made reference to Jeffrey Jackson in the August 2017 Stereophile, when I wrote about the musically accomplished Emia phono step-up transformer, designed by Dave Slagle: Emia is a collaboration between the two men, the brand name an acronym derived from Jackson's company Experience Music and Slagle's company Intact Audio (see It was time for me to experience Experience Music, which Jackson runs with his wife, Lisa Malone Jackson (footnote 1).

I rolled into Rhinebeck on Route 9—known as the King's Highway when it was created, in the early 1700s—and was charmed by one after another tree-shaded house. The place reminded me of similarly rural Cherry Valley, New York, where I lived for 15 years—but here the homes were a little nicer, the vibe a little artsier, and the downtown, such as it is, a lot busier. Jackson, whom I'd never before met, noticed my arrival when I pulled into the driveway of his ranch-style house. He came out to greet me, then led me through the front door.

The instigators
The house was neat and nicely decorated, but I didn't notice that at first. I was in sensory overload from the three things that greeted me just beyond the foyer: an Elac-Miracord idler-drive turntable (I sold a few of those in my college years, when I worked at a hi-fi store owned by an especially troubled Christian fundamentalist); a wall of shelving that functioned as both a room divider and as storage for 1000-odd LPs; and, in the living room, a pair of gorgeous loudspeakers, perhaps 6' tall, built around very large, LeCleac’h-flare midrange horns apparently made from solid wood. As it turned out, not only were the horns designed and hand-built by Jackson, so were the compression drivers that drove them. This man actually forms his own diaphragms and winds his own voice-coils and field coils.


The driver stage for an amplifier that Jeffrey Jackson brought to the 2018 European Triode Festival. The rectifier tubes are Western Electric 249Bs.

Jackson introduced me to Lisa, who also works as the director of advancement for the Shaker Museum, in nearby Mount Lebanon, and they gave me a condensed version of their life story. They both graduated from the University of Virginia in 1995, then married, and moved to Memphis—although during the early years of their marriage they spent a lot of time in a minivan, following the jam band Phish from concert to concert. Jeffrey took a job designing sorting systems for Memphis-based Federal Express, where he spent nearly seven years, and during that time began a two-pronged approach in educating himself in the finer points of audio design. He studied every textbook he could find on the subject—two favorites were Fundamentals of Electronics, by E. Norman Lurch, and Elements of Acoustical Engineering, by the legendary RCA engineer Harry F. Olson. He found an old Heathkit AA-151 amplifier in a junk shop and set about modifying it, "mostly by taking things out."

His studies, experiences, and tastes led Jackson in a decidedly vintage-friendly direction. As he followed this path, he met more like-minded adventurers, and had more opportunities to experience for himself the great Western Electric, RCA, Siemens, and Altec products that defined the earliest golden age of playback gear. Eventually, the same thing happened to Jackson that's been described to me by a handful of other vintage-audio devotees: those products—such as a new-old-stock, mesh-back Western Electric 555 compression driver, in its original wooden crate—began to find him. How cool is that?


The directly heated triode driver tube for the same amp, made by Elektromekano of Denmark. Jackson: "What else could I bring? And what a rad name!"

Unlike those fledgling designers who are put off by the high voltages at which vacuum tubes operate, Jackson jumped into the world of tubes with both feet. He also nurtured an interest in designing horn loudspeakers, which requires a thorough understanding of the relevant math, a high level of comfort with woodworking, and a good ear, in more or less equal measure. In 2001, intent on designing and building commercial products in both categories, Jeffrey and Lisa founded Experience Music. At first, he kept his job at Federal Express, but within a year EM was a full-time job. By then, the Jacksons had three young children—a point Lisa makes to underscore their youthful optimism. In 2013, the Jacksons and Experience Music moved from Memphis to upstate New York, and EM has stayed afloat primarily through custom work, with a focus on designing and building complete domestic playback systems.

Something in the air
As morning turned to early afternoon, Lisa attended to some work while Jeffrey led me downstairs to his electronics workshop and listening room. In the greater context of Designers I Have Known, the workshop was unusually clean and well ordered; it was also filled with enough well-pedigreed parts and interesting-looking projects to hold my attention all day, those projects including portions of a power amplifier that Jackson wound up bringing to this year's invitation-only European Triode Festival, in Denmark.


Jackson: "This is my happy spot—my cozy construction and testing bench. This is where the quiet tasks of layout, mounting, and wiring of many of the custom projects take place. Objects in photo: a roll of Jupiter silver wire; an amplifier mounting board with filament-supply parts; Tektronic 'scope; H-P voltmeter with logarithmic scale and signal generator; a bag of Teflon tube sockets."

The listening room, like seemingly every other part of the house, contained so much cool gear that my eyes could scarcely gain any traction, they were moving so fast. The system was built around a reproduction of the coveted Western Electric 16-A metal horn, a 1929 design intended to be driven by two 555 compression drivers, in an arrangement that makes possible a single-point stereo system. (A version for use with four compression drivers was also made.) Jackson's 16-A was driven by two original WE 555 compression drivers, and supplemented by a pair of reproductions of WE's 597A tweeter (footnote 2) made by G.I.P. Laboratories, of Japan, and a pair of 15", compression-loaded Altec woofers that fire into the room via openings in the combined infinite baffle and room boundary, aka wall. As Jeffrey put it, "Lisa lets me cut holes in the wall when I need to."

Footnote 1: Experience Music. Email: Web:

Footnote 2: For more about the Western Electric 597A tweeter, see the November 2016 edition of this column.


dalethorn's picture

A major interest of mine, but unfortunately one that I haven't committed real money to, is analog sound. If I had a billion dollars (not 10 or 100 billion, just one), and I don't think 100 million would be enough to fund it, I'd like to sponsor a project to build a state-of-the-art cost-no-object mechanical-acoustical recording system, just to see how much fidelity could be captured without electronics but with the most advanced materials in 2018.

That aside, I think of analogies between photography and audio when it comes to the intrusion of digital processing. At the risk that my analogy might be too simple, I see many photographers shooting film today, only to scan their films digitally and print them digitally. Printing the films with analog 'enlargers' produces a different result, and I'd imagine what this article describes is somehow analogous to my photo example - bypassing digital processing altogether.

chuckles304's picture

You drove right by my house to get to Rhinebeck (I'm from Ghent in Columbia county).

If you ever feel the need for a chauffeur......

Just kidding.

John in Ghent

Mrubey's picture

Almost as much as I wish I had studied music from a young age. I would like to have developed Jackson and Slagle's skill set. As it is, these guys are the American Yirohasu Kondo. I'm just glad they are in the world.
Thank you Art

Herb Reichert's picture

am glad they are in the world.
Thank you Art

ChrisS's picture

...were reproduced very poorly in the printed mag! Fortunately, they are much better here.

herman's picture

Having known Jeffrey for over 20 years, listened to many of his concoctions in Memphis and owned several, sat with him in the front row to see Charles Lloyd, had him help me design my own 16 foot DIY bass horns, all I can say is with Jeffrey it is all about the music. As Art said, he has it to the point now where it is so real it is almost unsettling. An amazing accomplishment. He has gotten out of my price range, but when you consider others are getting upwards of a million dollars for speakers that can't approach how alive Jeffrey's are they are a bargain. Glad to see him get the accolades he (and Dave Slagle) deserve