Mike Kay 1923–2012

Michael Kakadelis, known professionally as Mike Kay, the New York retailer who owned and ran Lyric for 45 years, died on Saturday, July 14 at age 89.

He was born in Greece on April 5, 1923, served in a World War II commando unit fighting Hitler’s forces while still in his teens, then earned an engineering degree, and helped build the Radio Station of Athens before emigrating to Canada in 1955. Mike learned English while laboring in a brickyard, and washing dishes in a Montreal restaurant, then went to work in an electronics store where, after a few months, he was rewarded with a 25% share of the business.

He subsequently moved to the US, which he felt offered more opportunity, and in 1959 acquired Lyric, where he was working as a salesman. It was then a small, second-floor hi-fi shop a few blocks down Lexington Avenue from its current Manhattan location.

Mike’s wife, Catherine, whom he had married the prior year, worked alongside him as Lyric’s head of office operations for decades. She died in February at age 85. They are survived by a son, Stratis Kakadelis, his wife, Regina, whom he met while both were enrolled in a post-graduate aerospace engineering program, and two granddaughters, Michelle and Christina.

From the outset, Lyric maintained a cabinet shop, which in its early days built credenzas to house many customers’ systems, making Mike Kay one of audio’s earliest custom installers. His woodworkers also fabricated enclosures that Saul Marantz sold with some of his company’s electronics components.

The wood shop provided OEM bases for turntables produced by Sherman Fairchild, the aviation, photography, and semiconductor inventor and entrepreneur, a hi-fi hobbyist who wanted a role in the business. Its four cabinetmakers quickly turned sets of Bozak drivers into imposing speaker systems for Lyric’s audiophile clientele.

As the high-end audio segment crystallized, Mike Kay was at its vanguard, championing products that included the earliest Magneplanars and Mark Levinson models to consumers while helping manufacturers and designers with marketing advice—and occasionally with financing.

For a time, he maintained a small importing company to provide select overseas lines to Lyric and other US dealerships. When Yosiaki Sugano, the former Toyota executive who founded Koetsu and named it after an artist ancestor, was crafting his own phono cartridges, Mike secured a substantial portion of them for the American market.

Mike Kay spent his time on the sales floor, not in an office, and he disdained browsers who saw Lyric as a playpen brimming with toys. Early on, he acquired a reputation for ordering such visitors out.

He was a consummate salesman, yet I once watched him talk a serious prospect out of a purchase. After Mike convinced him that the upgrade Tandberg receiver he coveted would make no audible difference in his system, he left empty handed, disappointed but enlightened.

Thirty years ago, Mike opened four acoustically unique demonstration rooms in his Lexington Avenue store. They cost him more than a half-million dollars—1982 dollars, mind you—plus whatever he forfeited by turning the premises into a construction site for nine months, but they’re still in use.

Their intricacies include flooring with a 2.5” base layer of heavy-impact fiberglass under a 3.5”-thick reinforced concrete slab that doesn't touch the walls (to silence the subway beneath). Reflective walls of irregularly-shaped, used bricks (which scatter sound randomly) were treated with cork sealant (to render them airtight) while the walls that face them were constructed of fiberglass behind wooden slats separated by a mathematically calculated distance (to absorb sound and damp bass). To avoid standing waves, there are no parallel surfaces. Doors are massive and gasketed. Windows have double-glass layers. Et cetera.

Mike was nearly 60 when he opened those rooms, and many in his position would have been planning retirement. Not Mike Kay. Instead, he continued to guide customers through Lyric for nearly three more decades, savoring the successive generations of top-echelon components on display, and trumpeting the gear’s merits to customers old and new. In 2004, when he was in his 80s, he sold the business to Leonard Bellezza and Dan Mondoro, his key employees, but continued to work part-time.

Though multichannel movie sound had by then eroded stereo’s appeal for many high-end component customers, Mike’s allegiance to two-channel music reproduction remained steadfast. Shortly after he had shelled out a hefty sum to refurbish Lyric’s White Plains, New York, satellite store, I was watching a James Bond film in its spacious new theater when he appeared in the doorway.

Altogether indifferent to its sonic effects, he briefly pondered the brave new world, and asked a rhetorical question: “How can I sell this?”

Kent D Loughlin's picture

If you never met Mike, you missed something very special. Yes, he could be a bit "brash" at times and yes, he did throw a few people out of the store, but they really needed to go! He knew what he was doing.

Mike was a great person to show new products to, because you could always rely on him to speak his mind. Mike had an opinion on everything and was not afraid to share any of them with you, warts and all.  Rest in Peace Mike, you will be missed.

Kent Loughlin

VP MIT Cables

Rocklin CA, USA

Glotz's picture

He sounds like a character, and a great champion of great audio.   What a life!

technilen's picture

As a junior member of a metro NY area rep firm, I got all the good jobs.  One of them was taking Amanda McBroom around to see some of the retail establishments selling Sheffield Labs recordings.  At the end of a long afternoon, Amanda and I ended up at Lyric and it was then that I learned what an incredible salesman Mike Kay was. 

Knowing that Amanda was on her way to the store, Mike orchestrated a demonstration to end all demonstrations.  The system he assembled included the Infinity IRS columns.  The turntable, cartridge, and electronics?  Ask someone else, I certainly don't remember.  Nor do I have to.  But I will never forget the incredible graciousness Mike showed to Amanda, his low-key but authoritative explanation of why he chose these components for the demo, why he wanted her to hear her voice singing her song "The Rose."  Amanda's jaw dropped as the last notes faded.  

I was transfixed.  I heard nuances from those speakers I had never heard before.  And I had played that song on many, many other systems, some of them world-class in their time. 

It was my first introduction to the full force of "the Mike Kay difference" and it was then that I saw his contribution to our industry.   I had just been exposed to the smoothest, most cosmopolitan presentation of technology in the service of music I could then imagine. Nothing I have seen or heard since has surpassed that afternoon. 

Granted, Mike could be a real pain in the butt to a junior rep.  (He had once told another manufacturer that I needn't call on the store because I couldn't do anything for him.)  And I knew all the legends of his inviting the "unworthy" to leave his establishment. 

But that afternoon, I saw genius.  I know some will scoff at this description.  To them, I say only "You weren't there." 

Davos's picture

I met Mike Kay only once, probably 25 years ago, when I was on a work junket to Manhattan. I had to see Lyric Hi Fi. 

Fate was with me that afternoon because the shop wasn't busy, and it was Mike who greeted me at the door. I'm sure he could tell I was an out-of-towner who wouldn't be dropping any coin that day. But once I saw all the gear he'd assembled -- gear I'd only read about and seen pictures of -- I was talking a mile a minute.

At one point he says, "Come with me."

He pulls out a key and unlocks a door in the back of the shop. Suddenly I'm in the presence of Infinity IRS towers, a Goldmund Studio turntable, and I don't even remember what the amps were. I was too busy yammering and drooling to turn around and see if he was getting any kind of charge out of my reaction to all of this. But I bet he was smiling ear to ear.

I will never forget that visit to Oz, nor the hospitality I was shown that day.




planzity's picture

Not a great loss. His nastiness towards potential buyers has to this day  infected much of the industry.  Retail audio is the only known field (OK, the only supposedly "honest" one) where VISIBLE contempt of /ignoring  potential buyers is a salesman's attitude.  Drives many of us away, I have not bought anything from local dealers near me because of it and must resort to mail order. Not alone here by any means. .

Panayotis_Melas's picture

Being from the same country with M.K., I had the opportunity to talk with him in N.Y. once, while I was in New Orleans in 1991. Initially I didn't know whom I was speaking to, but I realised that this was a Greek fellow. Then, I asked him humbly if he speaks Greek. I actually "felt" his smile over the phone as the most affirmative answer.

We talked about speakers and he introduced me to the magic world of the Infinity Kappa series. At the end of our discussion I asked him if I could buy a pair of the IRS 9Kappa from him. He offered me a pair at a really attractive price. But it was really difficult and probably really expensive to ship them to Greece. However, it was that discussion that made me decide to buy that pair.

I have never regreted.