Memories: Best of, Vol.1

It happened 30 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday: My best friend's brother's friend showed me his record player—an AR turntable equipped with an SME 3009 Mk.III tonearm and a Shure V15 Type V-MR cartridge—and offered to sell it to me at a price that, until that moment, I would never have considered spending for a complete system. "It's audiophile gear," he said with a knowing smile.

Audiophile? The word sounded exotic—and grown-up.

It was love at first sight, even before I'd heard a single note played on this nonconformist record player—a product category, I would soon learn, that audiophiles tribally refer to as a source, another exotic term that immediately appealed to me. The fact that this wondrously pragmatic-looking source, assembled from audio components built by perfectionist manufacturers, also made music that sounded better than everything else I'd heard from its mainstream-market counterparts—more detailed, more bold, more fruitful— made me an instant disliker of mainstream audio. On the spot, I bought that AR setup and never looked back.

It's a favorite audio memory that also serves as a profound reminder that I was fated to be an audiophile. We all have them: memories of audio events that stand above the rest, whose impact on us remains so strong that we feel compelled to share them with complete strangers:

"Ray Charles's studio, November 15, 1988," begins the favorite memory of award-winning mastering engineer Steve Hoffman. "It was the first time I heard Ray's [recording of Hoagy Carmichael's] 'Georgia On My Mind'—a song I had listened to for years on my little 45 record—from the actual stereo master tape. Hearing that tape, made in 1961 by recording engineer Robert Arnold on a vacuum-tube Ampex 300-3 recorder, through big Rogers studio monitors powered by 1963 McIntosh MC60 vacuum-tube electronics, in the presence of Brother Ray himself, was a glorious moment in my high-end awakening. It's when I realized that there was so much more to the music than what I was hearing at home on my old record. That day, I vowed to reproduce that exact same sound in my recordings."

As befitting his past as a standup comedian, our very own analog guru to the world, Michael Fremer, chose a favorite memory imbued with humor: "It's 2017. I am on a Japan-bound Boeing 777 to attend the Tokyo International Audio Show. Before the plane leaves the airport gate, the pilot exits the cockpit to do some pre-flight business. It looks serious. Then the pilot turns around, locks eyes with mine, and comes running down the aisle, exclaiming loudly and excitedly, 'You are on this flight?' At first I thought he'd mistaken me for someone else, someone famous. Brad Pitt, maybe. But no! He says, 'I have some serious turntable issues I need to talk with you about.' To which I respond, 'I'd be happy to, but why don't we do this at baggage claim in Tokyo? I don't want you to be thinking about turntable adjustments while you're flying the plane!'"

I asked Michael why, of all his favorite memories, he chose this one: "It was so surprising, that this pilot would get sidetracked by a concern for his audio!"

At the root of the favorite audio memory of Fabio—ex-supermodel, actor, and pop icon—is veteran amp designer Dan D'Agostino, and a crush Fabio had on a pair of D'Agostino's crushingly heavy amps: "Dan introduced me to his Krell NMA monoblocks. Each weighed over 1000 lb! But the clarity and purity of their presentation was unlike anything I'd experienced before. Songs I had played thousands of times suddenly sounded lusher, fuller, and more nuanced. This started me on a decades-long pursuit for the best sound I could achieve at home. Until recently, I didn't think my sound could get any better, but then I heard Dan's Relentless monoblocks at his house in Arizona. Stunning. It's my new favorite memory. I think it might be time to upgrade again!"

Henry Rollins—punk-rock royalty, actor, radio host, Netflix comedian, and two-time contributor to this Stereophile column—offered a different spin on "a" favorite memory: "I have a recurrent one. I'm a vinyl and analog guy, but I spend months a year on the road, when I'm restricted to listening to music from a laptop to a Shure SHA900 amp to a Soundmatters Foxl Dash 7 speaker system. Don't get me wrong; it's a great setup. But after several days of listening to it, my brain seems to remap itself and completely forget my analog system at my house. Then, after weeks or months, I'm back home. As soon as I can I get the amps warmed up and put on a record. A few minutes into listening, a fascinating thing happens. It's as if everything in me goes from digital to analog, and every sense collectively says, 'Oh, that's right. This is music.' It's at this time I realize that, on the road, I've been listening to the sound of music but not to music itself. It's a favorite memory: returning home after a long trip and spinning vinyl again."

Testimonials to the lure of our hobby, these memories now belong to us all. They underscore the notion that beyond any differences between us is kinship: We are brothers and sisters on the audio family tree. Our memories are the stars that shine on that tree. There are billions of stars. A billion audio memories.

To rejig a popular credit-card slogan: "What's in your head?"—Robert Schryer

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Memory" ......... Barbra Streisand :-) ...........

"Memories" ........... Elvis Presley :-) ...............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Give Life Back to Music" .......... Daft Punk :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Photographs & Memories ........... Jim Croce :-) ..........

"Time in a Bottle" :-) .............

Anton's picture

I am fomenting upon the question.

So far, the answer includes a girl, a Rolling Stones album, a fortuitous birthday party, and her father's stereo system.

I couldn't decide which was more interesting, being alone with a real girl, or listening to the newest Stones album on her father's Hi Fi.

Yup, transformative.

rschryer's picture

I love birthday parties!

(Along with hi-fi and girls, of course.) :-)

supamark's picture

I have a memory in 2 parts.

1. in the 80's I was looking to replace a NAD 1130 preamp (which I still own, and still works). One I listened to in my system was a used Tandberg 3002a. It sounded a LOT different (and better) than my NAD. The sound was more dynamic and faster with more texture. Two things kept me from buying it - no remote (one of the reasons I wanted to upgrade), and a flimsy RCA jack that came off when I pulled a plug (what else would break - it was used). I've since purchased a (more reliable, improved) Tandberg 3008a that I need to have restored by SoundSmith when I can free up the cash.

2. a few years later, I was sitting in on the mastering of an album I'd mixed and the mastering engineer ran the mix through a GML8200 EQ. That's a parametric EQ designed/built by George Massenberg (the GM in GML - L is for labs - ). Not only is he known for recording/mixing such gems as Lyle Lovett's "Joshua Judges Ruth", but he essentially wrote the paper on parametric EQ. That's the AES paper, btw. That EQ did to my mix what the Tandberg did to music, and thus began my love really high quality discrete electronics (preferably class A). the sound I'm talkin' about is all over "Joshua Judges Ruth".

rschryer's picture

Now we're getting somewhere.

Thanks for diving in, supamark. (And I remembered only that Tandberg made excellent cassette decks, not preamps.)

volvic's picture

Tandberg for me was the first brand that brought me into the audiophile fold. Saw them at a hifi store in Athens, Greece in 1981 and fell in love with them and the Lecson products. Back home to Montreal and a store called Audioshop used to sell them, but their high quality was matched by their high prices. Fast forward to 2012, and I got too cheap to buy a mint pre-amp and power-amp that was being sold at Audio D'Occasion in Montreal, when I visited my old city. Still kicking myself over that. I do own one of their receivers and dang is that FM tuner section good, I keep it in Mtl when I visit my parents, as I love to listen to CBC and Radio Canada in the evenings. That Tandberg receiver is my connection to my youth, when I became an audiophile. Leaving it in Montreal seems to allow me to come back home, visit my parents, but also connect with it and the great music stores that I used to frequent as a young lad. Sadly, most of them are now gone. These days when I visit, I usually go to the second hand CD stores and vinyl stores and go back home and play them through two Sony CDP-111's and that great Tandberg receiver that I still fawn over after all these years.

After Tandberg I would say Linn changed my life forever, things haven't changed since the mid 80's, still use their gear. Used to spend my summers at a local store called Opus Audio (sadly no longer around) in Montreal, great people, great service and where my love for vinyl just grew and grew while listening to LP-12's, Oracles, Roskan Xerxes and Alphason turntables.

A shout out also to another great store Audioclub (sadly, also no longer around), that taught me how to listen and become critical as to what I heard. When the first CD players came out I walked into this store and by chance the retailer was comparing a Beethoven violin concerto on vinyl vs CD. He was happy I walked in so that we could both compare the two formats. He played both tracks and they all sounded the same to me, he said listen to the violin and how it sings through the turntable and how veiled and cold it is on the CD. Good gosh he was so right. Never looked back, fell in love with vinyl, now own an SME, LP12 (with another on the way) and a Technics 1200.

Good times. Thanks for allowing me to share, ramble and reminisce through your great read.

rschryer's picture

...Audioshop and Opus Audio. Only Audio d'Occasion remains of the audio shops you mention.

Funny how much of your memory lane runs parallel to mine. :-)

volvic's picture

Montreal back in the 70's and 80's was chock full of great stores to just walk in and peruse and talk audio, SonIdeal (RIP Claude, you were the best), AudioShop and Filtronique still offer great service and products. Thankfully there are still a few great ones left, but not as many as there used to be. The same applies to record stores; A&M, Discus, Phantasmagoria and Sam The Record Man had such great classical and jazz sections, I must have spent a fortune in $$ and time there. Hand in hand, the dealers and the record stores in that great city, was a great mix for a youngster like myself, and from the sounds of it, you too Mr. Schryer. Any wonder why the HiFi show in Montreal was always such a success.

rschryer's picture

My favorite store ever - to this day! I remember how increasingly excited I'd feel the closer I got to its doors, and of being in awe every time at the sight of those endless walls and bins filled with records.

I also remember feeling increasingly disheartened as CDs took up more and more real estate once occupied by LPs, and how I knew in the pit of my sinking heart that this gradual extinction of the LP was the beginning of the end for Sam the Record Man.

BTW, you can call me Robert. :-)

volvic's picture

So true, by 1989 when I was still at McGill I was able to buy a bunch they hung on the wall and that was it, vinyl was gone. Didn’t go into Sam until 1997, just to look (did not own a CD player). I did score HUGE by going to Marche du Disque when it was at Berri right across from the bus depot. All the sealed records were sold there, the manager would tell me when the next batch of sealed DG, Telarc and London records would come. I bought a lot until competition became fierce with record aficionados showing up. Met lots of people who owned Well Tempered tables and Oracles who like me lamented the loss of vinyl choices. So glad most of us stuck with our vinyl rigs and never gave up.

dc_bruce's picture

Thanks for this. I think Mikey's story is the most interesting, not only because it captures an audiophile's intensity but because it also reflects his association in so many people's minds with the "vinyl revival."

In my own case, the madness began when i was 13 (1962) when I started fiddling with my parents old Magnavox console radio/record player in the basement. It had a 12" field coil speaker in an open backed enclosure. i found a tweeter somewhere and wired it in parallel with the woofer, using a capacitor in series. Then I closed up the box, cut a slot in the front panel and stuffed the whole thing with fiberglass. Voila! Hi-fi!

Stereo came years later when I bought a pair of used AR 2ax speakers, built some Dynaco electronics and got an AR turntable. What I wanted people to experience was the "intensity" of music that one heard in live sound. Not loudness, but saturation, dynamics. Compared to typical music reproduction, it was the lushness of hifi - in the sense of detail and realism -- that I found captivating. And still do.

TNtransplant's picture

Okay, long post but your column inspired me to capture some thoughts...

I'm guessing that most of us reading this website can think back to remembrances or "stories" generally involving memorable musical listening experiences or, especially for the designers/manufacturers in the audience, instilling technical curiosity. My challenge to those wishing to broaden the appeal and appreciation of good sound is how to tap into these memories, or enable them for potential future customers.

From my perspective, as a longtime market researcher for major global consumer brands, the "high end audio" industry for the most part lacks marketing skills and/or understanding of consumers, and those that might do not have the scale to make any inroads, instead increasingly dependent upon business models based on selling fewer more expensive/high margin items to an audience of deep pocket retirees (boomers who are shrinking in number) or the very highest upper income strata (for which audio is competing against a wider array of conspicuous consumption tech). Not an especially sustainable proposition which has been made painfully clear by this past week's Audio @ CES obituaries.

Think about more recent generations who have never experienced listening to recorded music via a truly great sounding platform that might enable these kinds of stories:
-listening to cassettes via a Walkman?
-listening to a CD via a boombox (or anything for that matter...)?
-listening to a downloaded mp3 with desktop or laptop speakers or an iPod (or anything)?
Or even attending a live concert which might have included at least one acoustic/non-electric instrument on stage (sorry, electronically programmed drums, pre-recorded music backing or auto-tuned vocals do not count); and if I included the condition that it could not primarily have been via an amplified sound or PA system I'm not so sure anyone would qualify?

In this context not all that surprising that the only areas of the business that seem to be growing in numbers of participants are:
1. "personal" listening via headphones: because the notion of a shared passive experience "just listening" to music has been replaced by video (broadcast/cable TV>VHS>DVD>blu-ray>streaming and even this is becoming less often the "shared" home theatre experience it used to be) or more interactive experiences like video games, etc.
2. Vinyl, or a more general macro analog vs. digital counter-trend to above, which restores the "ritual" of shopping/listening to music, and I suspect provides for some younger consumers greater possibility of social connection. (What, you think stories involving two former acquaintances re-establishing a relationship because of a chance meeting at a train station one of them had a few American blues records under his arm leads only to forming rock bands? Don't tell her, but I may have married my wife because she had Patti Smith's original Piss Factory single. Well, not really but I remember at least one relationship ending when I discovered she had Barbra Streisand CD's and knew this wasn't going to work. Not going to happen with mp3 or even a high-resolution PCM/DSD files. I'm not sure about MQA though.)

In fairness, I think a few manufacturers/retailers are beginning to "get it" and that it goes beyond so-called "life-style" offerings. They're the ones who might survive the next 5, 10 years or so, maintaining a level of quality and success beyond lifetime of their initial founder(s). But unfortunately it's very few and most disappear or possibly survive/revived as a brand label acquired years after former glories.

BTW - my stories include a childhood friend, who had in his home what I now know was McIntosh gear that we were forbidden to go anywhere near >>> as this friend's father managed the Harvey Sound on Manhattan's 45th St, and sold to my grandfather a Garrard/Fisher/KLH system in the 60's >>> which I inherited and traded in to my friend now working at that Harvey Sound, so went off to college with a Pioneer TT/Kenwood/JBL system (hey, it was the 70's and I wasn't going to futz w/tubes or record changers).

But I think my real "aha" listening experience involved hearing Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers in the mid-70's (which I now have no memory of actual location or circumstances) but was brought back from memory when I heard Vandersteen 2 speakers demo'd at a 1989 NYC audio show. Thirty years later I'm still listening to Vandersteen speakers, and more recently trying to learn how to futz with tubes...

misterc59's picture

Back in small town high school in the 70's, my first attempt at cobbling together some sort of music system (after figuring I could do better that my parents very small console stereo), I purchased a new Akai AA 1010 14w/channel (I believe) at an auction for $40, a JVC turntable from the local music store, and DIY speakers. Not the best sound, but I loved it. I took my stereo wherever anyone would let me play it. I had a number of albums plus a whack of 45's. Fun times! Fortunately, my passion continues.


rschryer's picture

Seems that for many of us, consoles were a gateway to better stuff. As a preteen, I also had a console: a space-age-looking, silver-colored Radio Shack Realistic. (No, it didn't sound realistic.) If I remember correctly, it had both a turntable and an 8-track tape slot.

CLemaire's picture

There are so many to cherish, it is daunting just to name a few; but here goes.

From five to ten years old–the early 1970s–like many from my generation, the old Viking wooden stereo console-cabinet set the stage for a lifetime love affair with music and sounds, spinning the sole three LPs my parents kept inside its closed lid: a relaxing Ray Anthony; an exotic Xavier Cugat; and a stirring Stan Kenton.

By age ten, summer 1975 was a defining year as I switched for good the AM dial from MOR CJAD to TOP 40 CKGM–programming three times a day KC's "That's the Way". Kiss came knocking down my door via their captivating gatefold Alive! double-LP cover plus visually shocking posters accompanied by Cooper, Led Zep, and early Sabbath from my best friend's older brother collection. First 45rpm seven-inch single was Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" from my godmother for my eleven-year-old birthday.

Summer 1976 would unleash the future audiophile in me when my next door neighbour acquired his first sound system: a Philips 212 turntable with its floating subchassis and feather-light touch; a Queon receiver–which at the time, thought was perhaps made in QUEbec and ONtario–and a pair of home-made 3-way speakers. As porn star turned singer Andrea True chanted "More, More, More", Candi Staton sang "Young Hearts Run Free", and The Ritchie Family's "The Best Disco in Town" from the lush-sounding Arabian Nights escaped through the window, I was lured like a 300B to an Alnico magnet to his bedroom, where to this day, remains the most beautiful sound I subjectively ever encountered. Of course if I were to give it a second listen today I would without doubt find plenty to criticize with these matured experienced nit-picking ears but back then–just shy of turning twelve–it was so overwhelmingly better than the old Viking and even what would become my very first sound system–Pro Linear AT-1200 belt-drive turntable with pre-installed Jelco MM cart; Akai AA-1010 receiver; and a pair of 'no-name' 2-ways with non-removable foam grill–that it remains my forever pleasure reference, which let's face it, will never be surpassed–just like any First Moment.

Claude Lemaire
Editor of

tonykaz's picture

In the mid-1980s, Monster Cable was my Esoteric Audio's best selling Product Line ( by far !), we carried every single SKU Monster and Noel Lee offered, one half of our Store's walls were covered with a peg-boards holding Monster Accessories. Monster themselves said that we were their biggest stocking Dealer.
One day, along comes Karen Sumner, our Electrocompaniet Rep ( a Wonderful Person ) with a 6 foot pair of Brisson MIT 750 Speaker Cables priced at $500 Retail, 50 points. Hmm. , an outrageous price for such a thing, we balked.

But we bit

We skeptically auditioned the wire, all staff were amazed, our Audio Clubs in Detroit Area were amazed. We offered home Auditions secured with a Credit Card, all home auditions became Sales, No MIT 750 was ever returned, we never pressured anyone, we were always hesitant about the possibility of sonic improvements but we could ( and would ) do AB ( featuring Monster Reference Cable vs Brisson MIT 750 ).

Esoteric Audio's highest performing Products were:

Elecrocompaniet Electronics
Audible Illusion Pre-amps
Monster Cabling parts, accessories, wire products.
Thiel Loudspeaker CS3,
Koetsu Phono Cartridges,
Pro-Ac Tablette Loudspeaker ( a LS3/5a sized British Loudspeaker still in Production and still superb )

Today, I'd swap out:

Elecrocompaniet with/for Schiit & PS Audio. The Asgard 2 is Superb!!!
Koetsu with Roon ( wondering how I got so dam lucky? )


I'd support a 12 Man Cable Jury to properly evaluate interconnect/speaker cable value for money relationships.

I'd bring fun back to being an Audiophile, I hope.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Karen Sumner is still Transparent in Maine with Steve G. being the last person to have seen her. ( I think ) Hello Karen if you're reading this.

Kathy Gornik is living on a small Farm in Kentucky, Silent & retired I'm told.
Tom Thiel escaped to Vermont, Tom was the Cabinet Maker producing those gorgeous enclosures, a wonderful person.

Tony in Michigan

rschryer's picture

...centered around an audio cable, that segues into a "Where are They Now" epilogue.

A+, Tony!

rschryer's picture all those who shared a special audio memory of theirs for this AWSI.

Thank you for opening up and allowing us in.

tonykaz's picture

Jan 23rd., YouTube, Steve Guttenberg Audiophiliac

takes us into the high noise of Cars, contending that low rez. is fine ( maybe ideal ) for lesser Audio Systems and High Noise Environments.

Which helps explain the dam Loudness Wars.

My GM Cars are horrible for listening to music. ( I tend to wear ear protection if I have to spend time in a Car or AirPlane )

All this is about to change for the better because Electric Cars are Quiet! Are they quiet enough to justify a high quality/high Rez. music system?, I think so.

Loudness Wars were all about Drive Time Attention Grabbing in 75db. + ambient Noise Floor Environments.

Get rid of the throbbing Gas Engine ( ICE ) and most of the dam noise is gone!!! NVH = Noise, Vibration, Harshness is what you get more of when you spend more money for a Car.

Electric Cars ( Tesla, for example ) feature extraordinarily LOW NVH numbers.

Electric Cars + High End Audio = a whole new market segment populated by.... hmmm.

Are we about to see LINN LP12 Auto Audio Systems featuring LS3/5a sound quality levels? I'm thinking; probably!

Right Now, Tesla is Building & Selling over 1,000 high end listening rooms per day.

Tesla -- pretty much 100% Made in U.S.A. , 3rd Largest Automaker behind Toyota and VW.

Brace yourself, everything has changed and is about to change all-over-again.

Tony in Michigan

rschryer's picture much value one, as a driver, puts on car audio. In my case, car audio exists on a plane slightly higher than that of background music, so as long as the sound is able to make me bob my head and follow musical lines while I'm skidding between banks of snow, I'm good.

I can't get too nit-picky about all my audio sources; I can't afford it.