Musicians as Audiophiles: John Escreet

Even newbie audiophiles can be smitten with the vintage hi-fi bug. Keyboardist and composer John Escreet was once a streaming kind of guy. Then he heard the Fisher 500-C/Falcon LS3/5a-endowed system of bassist Matt Brewer, partner of former Stereophile editorial coordinator Jana Dagdagan.

"Their system sounded so realistic," Escreet recalled from his Brooklyn apartment, where he lives with his girlfriend, vocalist Teresa Lee. "It gave a lot more clarity to the recordings. When I'd go around to Matt and Jana's apartment, music through their system sounded focused and warm. It sounded like a live performance. Sounded so much better and more real. And considering music is my life pretty much, it made sense to go in this direction."

And since Escreet's comfy living room is home to vinyl from Michael Jackson to Hamiet Bluiett, the black shiny discs were foremost in his mind.

"I liked Matt and Jana's setup with the Technics SL1200 turntable (modded by KAB), so I knew I wanted a similar situation to really listen to vinyl," the 34-year-old added. "The vinyl process is different, you're not flicking around and jumping around, being so schizophrenic. I just want to want to sit down and treat it with the respect it deserves. I put a record on then I have to get my ass up to change the thing. You have to be more invested. It's not such a casual thing, it's about listening properly."

Escreet's Discreet System

Escreet's relatively new system, purchased in late 2017, draws on high-fidelity machines old and new. From his sparkling clean Rega P3 turntable and Dynavector 10x5 cartridge, to the 1960s tube-powered Fisher 500-C receiver and the comparatively modern (1977) Vandersteen Model 2 loudspeakers, Escreet has chosen wisely and well.

The Fisher 500-C is one of the all-time classic receivers, introduced in 1964 for $369.

Peter Breuninger reviewed the 500-C for Stereophile back in 2005: "The Fisher 500-C stereo receiver was the pinnacle of high-fidelity reproduction in 1964. A conservative estimate of the number of 500-Cs built runs to more than 100,000 units. It was a technological tour de force that combined a full-function control center (preamp) with a 35Wpc power amplifier and a stereo multiplex FM tuner that offered the highest sensitivity rating of the time. It's interesting to note that FM tuners from those days continue to offer outstanding performance—witness the $2000-plus resale prices of Marantz 10Bs on the Internet. There is a reason for this, and it's not just nostalgia."

One of the most beloved loudspeakers, and a frequent starting point of audio discovery for newbies, the Vandersteen Model 2 provides easy entryway into the hi-fi way of life.

Steve Guttenberg wrote of the Vandersteen 2 loudspeakers in 2012 for Sound & Vision: ". . . Vandersteen's speakers bore little resemblance to what other home brew entrepreneurs cooked up. Most guys start with a box and fool around with drivers. Vandersteen made recordings of everyday sounds and musical instruments and used the recordings to guide his progress for his prototype designs, and quickly discovered that as he reduced the size of the front baffle the sound was more realistic. He knew from the get-go he wasn't going to make a box speaker."

Even today, all "Vannies" look and sound unique. The Model 2 is a three-way design, the driver array stacked within the cabinet's box- and baffle-less frame. The 2's innards consist of an 8" die-cast basket and curvilinear polycone woofer,4 ½" die-cast basket with linear surround and curvilinear polycone midrange unit, and a 1" damped metal-alloy dome tweeter. A removable foam grill wraps the Vannie's frame like a cozy fall sweater. Rated at 87dB with a nominal 7-ohm impedance, the Model 2s present a less-than-easy load, but the 35Wpc Fisher 500-C drove them respectably well in Escreet's large listening/living room.

"In terms of listening to music this system makes me appreciate the subtleties and details and the quality of a recording," the Brit-born Escreet explained. "Not just in terms of the gear but how an album was recorded, the different recording techniques from different eras, all of that has become more apparent. I've always been an astute listener, I always try to have a keen ear on sound in general. That's why I love piano players who have wonderful tone."

Learn to Live, Learn to Listen
Escreet's latest release, Learn To Live (Blue Room Music), brings together some of the finest musicians in jazz to blow, cavort, and improvise on 10 fantastic compositions. Escreet gets exceptional performances from saxophonist Greg Osby, trumpeter Nicolas Payton, bassist Matt Brewer, and the extremely rare double drumming duo of masters Eric Harland and Justin Brown. This unusual combination of musicians play with excitement, cohesion and inspiration.

"I'm really happy with the new album and how the music turned out," Escreet said. "It's a special project to me. It's got two drummers, Eric Harland and Justin Brown, playing together at once most of the time. Hearing the two together is pretty wild. They're very different but alike in kind. They have similar qualities that I like. Justin being slightly younger is very respectful of Harland, but Harland has huge respect for Justin. And being drummers they've never had the chance to hit together before so like I just had this idea to put them together."

Learn to Live is one of 2018's most compositionally dense, funk-futuristic, freely improvisational jazz albums. Basically, it's entertaining music free of borders. Steered by Escreet's exquisite acoustic piano and exhilarating synthesizer work, his ensemble blasts through purely improvisational and through-composed pieces, scaling myriad dynamics with challenging solos and rapt group improvisations. Imagine an all-electric version of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi, with fiery synthesizer solos by Hancock, George Duke and Jan Hammer. Learn to Live cuts a wide swath of stylistic variation, from high-flying Pat Metheny-esque opener "Opening," cosmically-deranged "Broken Justice (Kalief)," sleek funk in "Lady T's Vibe," freak Moog soloing and over-the-top improvisation in the title track, and the serpentine melodies of through-composed maze, "Contradictions."

Escreet's animal-like synth textures, acoustic piano and Rhodes work is the center piece of an ensemble that includes brilliant soloists in Osby and Payton, and the luminous double-drumming of Harland and Brown, gifted players who bring frenetic joy to every tune (double drums on roughly half of the album's 10 tracks). Good vibes and daring musicianship elevate every song.

"I'm known for a kind of intricate through-composed music," Escreet noted. "I'm very much back in that realm here. There are obvious compositions, obvious written things, but balanced with a more open approach because I wanted to allow the cast to be themselves, I wanted everyone a chance to stretch out and be their own personality. I wanted Nicolas to sound like himself and I focused on pieces I thought he would sound great on. I know Osby's strengths and weaknesses. I wrote with the musicians in mind."

A long-time member of Antonio Sanchez's Migration, Escreet is also a member of trumpeter Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra, and he's led various configurations with such musicians as bassist John Hébert and drummer and Wesleyan professor Tyshawn Sorey.

Escreet's previous releases include Consequences (Posi-Tone), Don't Fight the Inevitable (Mythology), The Age We Live In (Mythology), Exception to the Rule (Criss Cross), Sabotage and Celebration (Whirlwind), Sound, Space and Structures (Sunnyside), and "The Unknown" (Sunnyside).

"The album is heavily electronic," Escreet explained. "I'm using the Prophet-6 extensively which is something I've been exploring more the past year or two. I love that instrument. Then the TR8 Rhythm Performer Drum Machine, which is modeled after the old TR-808. Both of these are on the album as well as acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. And pedals: Strymon El Capistan DTape Echo, Zvex Suer Duper Vexter, MXR Phase 90. (His home studio consists of Tannoy Reveal 601a monitors, Apogee Duet 2 interface, Prophet-6 and Roland TR8). It's all over the place sonically, it's a big sonic collage. We recorded at Sear Sound."

Learning to Buy
Escreet's system came together at the end of 2017. Buying his vintage gear off Ebay and the Rega P3 from In Living Stereo in New York's West Village, he had it all shipped home before he knew how to connect A to B.

"I found the Fisher 500-C online," Escreet said. "The guy said 'it's in really great condition,' and the price was reasonable. I paid $800. This thing showed up, I don't even know how to put it together. Matt said bring it over to his place to we'll put it together. We A/Bed his with mine. We had a total nerd out. Not only did it work, it sounded great."

Then the Vandersteen Model 2 purchase.

"Harish Raghavan, the bass player, recommended the Vandersteens," Escreet recalled. "He said 'they're not that expensive, and they're really great.' And that the V2 version were much better on the wallet. eBay came to the rescue. I saw these online from Jackson Heights, Queens. The seller was an artist. She'd kept them in pristine condition, they're immaculate. I paid 600 bucks, with the stands and the Nordost speaker cables."

Audiophiles: Made or Born?
"The only thing that inhibited me from being an audiophile was money," Escreet reflected regarding his newbie status. "But now I care more about the recorded sound in the studio and when I'm playing on a live gig."

Spinning sides from Miles Davis (Nefertiti), Muhal Richard Abrams (Lifea Blinec), and Herbie Hancock (Sunlight), Escreet's system sounded clean, smooth, present, dynamic.

"I'm a pretty young audiophile and I always wanted to be one, but it's been impractical time-wise or financially," Escreet said. "Ultimately, I dig the difference the system creates in how you approach listening to music. It gives the music the respect it deserves. Rather than just casually putting on some MP3—and what the fuck is streaming? It should be abolished. It's degrading. I get it, and I understand that it's here to stay, and I do stream myself, but music should have the respect it deserves.

"Having a proper setup to reflect that respect is what it's all about," he concluded. "It's an investment in your time, and it's an investment in your money for which you are rewarded by superior quality."

tonykaz's picture

Those little BBC Monitors were probably the Gateway Drug for an entire Generation of Audiophiles. ( me included )

Vandersteen's go deeper but don't have the addictive magic of the Small Monitor Class of LS3/5a, Linn Kann, JR149, Pro-Ac Tablets ( best of Class ), KEF R101, Spica PC-50 ( that blow-up easy ).

Seems like John is well on his path, 100 vinyls and a High-output dynavector.

Next comes a pricy set of RCA cables, pricy tonearm Cable, $500 + Speaker Cables ( eBay Music Hose MH-750 directionals with arrows ).

Those Vand.2Cs will need tons more "Real" Power than that miserly Fisher.

A Linn LP12 would probably be next, except walking around on that wood floor will make the Linn Skip sooooo, an elderly VPI ( with superb bass ) would make sense .

Then some vintage Threshold, Krell or Electrocompaniet electronics.

I imagine this lad falling in love with Dave Wasserman's Stereo Exchange.

Welcome aboard Mr. Escreet, Stereophile Loves you, everyone loves you and will probably buy your music annnnnnddddd there is literally SCADS of Superb Used Gear collecting dust in Grampa's Closets everywhere , patiently waiting for your warm, loving embrace & appreciation.

Tony in Michigan

Ps. Mr. Escreet, don't let those Crazy Planet People scare you off with thier outrageously priced Analog Gear Pronouncements, they're doing serious harm to beginning innocents like yourself. Of course, you're inches away from a Schiit Bifrost DAC connecting your iMac to that AUX. ( then you'll need serious Power for those Woofers. Phew.

ken mac's picture

In Living Stereo!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Planet people? .......... Are you talking about 'Superman' who came from 'Krypton'? :-) ..............

JoeinNC's picture

+1 for mentioning the Linn KAN.

A pair of KANs and an NAD 3120 wowed me at a local retailer, ca. 1984. I took them home, and kept them for over twenty years. I so wish I had held onto both of them.

JimAustin's picture

They sounded good, but somehow I never loved them. Surprised they can be driven with 35 W.

I enjoy these articles. Keep it up, Ken!

ken mac's picture

I'll trade you 3 MAAs for a tidbit of your MQA knowledge...

TNtransplant's picture

I was captivated by a Vandersteen demo at a circa 1989 NY Audio show (if memory serves me perhaps sponsored by Stereophile?) and 4 upgrades almost 20 years later listening to Quatro CT's. Given Richard Vandersteen's comments on bass being the foundation of music perhaps no surprise where the reco came from.

And agree these musician's home system visits are pretty cool, especially trying to understand what they tend to be listening for in the music.

BTW - your Phil Schaap story is great. Though suspect few other candidates, Ira Gitler and Dan Morganstern are two that come to mind, with a considerable head start on him in terms of live concerts..

volvic's picture

Love this, great read. A request, I know I’ve asked this before, but how great would it be if you could visit Phil Schaap’s set up at his apt. I’ve run into him several times on the subway; both on our way to work and he loves to talk jazz, I think he’d be great to read about.

ken mac's picture

But not sure Phil fits the basic premise, "Musicians as Audiophiles." I'll ask the boss! Any idea what's in his rig volvic?

volvic's picture

Was just logging in to add that qualifier, so I totally get it, but I do love listening to how he’s loaned his Clifford Brown records to famous musicians and never gets them back, so I figured he might have something interesting to say . No clue about his setup, always talks fondly about the LP on the radio. The extent of our conversations have revolved around Chu Berry and my son learning about jazz through classes at JALC.

JimAustin's picture

For fun Phil Schaap anecdotes, check out my review of the Alta Audio Titanium Hestias.

volvic's picture

Thanks JM.

volvic's picture

He owns Alta audio speakers. Nice, wonder what his front end is like. Thanks for letting me know JM.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If JCA owns Alta Hestias, may be JCA could review the new Technics top of the line floor-standers, SB-R1E ($27,000)? .......... They are in the same price range ........... They use similar type of co-axial, midrange-tweeter configuration as their bookshelf speakers, which are in the Stereophile Class-A, limited LF ........... HR said that, SB-R1E sounded very good in the recent NYAS :-) ........

Some of the other speakers which use co-axial midrange-tweeter configuration include KEF, TAD and Elac ............. Some of those models are in the Stereophile Class-A recommended components :-) .........

JimAustin's picture

I do not own the Hestias. But ... I too heard the Technics speakers at the New York Audio Show, and was impressed.


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Great ......... I am eagerly waiting for JCA's review of Technics SB-R1E floor-standers to appear in Stereophile may be within next 6 months?:-) ............

Fstein's picture

It's my experience, living in the summer home of the Boston Symphony, that musicians are NOT audiophiles, in fact that they have the absolute worst stereos. I believe that they hear the music cortically, not with their ears. The story is that because of WAF Szell kept his AR3's UNDER the sofa.
This story with a N=1 is nice but proves very little.

JimAustin's picture

With respect, I'm sure there was no intention to "prove" anything about musicians as audiophiles. For a while now, Ken has been finding some musicians--mostly jazz musicians--who ARE audiophiles and writing about them and their systems. You can find them on his author page:

I certainly have met plenty of musicians and music experts (i.e., college music profs) who not only have bad systems but look down on those of us who care about sound. Which makes no sense to me; surely they would agree that while music has mathematical/formal underpinnings, ultimately music IS sound.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

A lot of rock musicians have gone deaf ............. So, not much luck there :-) ............

ken mac's picture

We've racked up close to 9 of these MAA stories, and have many more waiting in the wings. I can't even keep up. And we're about to tap into a classical player, who will lead to even more MAAs. Cheers.

Jason P Jackson's picture

10x5 on Rega. Tube amp through Vandersteens. Excellent.

mrkaic's picture

Read JA's review of this guy's receiver -- JA directly argues against using this receiver's phono stage. See this:

Metalhead's picture

The phono circuit can be modified and when so sounds excellent. I have a Leben RS28CX hooked up and can directly compare and contrast with in the same room.

I appreciated JA's specifications reporting as that brought about my inquiring about a mod to the circuit and very happy with what AEA did to the circuit. Quiet, tuneful and at just a couple of hundred dollars for the mod not too bad.

The fisher is a gem and a blast to listen to. I would go with horns but the musician is young so I will give him time.

mrkaic's picture

JA rejected the said phono stage based on measurements. Do you have measurements to support the claim that the modified phono stage is a good performer? If you do, please let me know, because I might be interested in one of such modified receivers.

Metalhead's picture

Yes-you receive an individual report on your specific Fisher if you proceed. I was leery of a 500 after reading JA's review as phono is crucial to my needs. I have an Electrical Engineer buddy and he was looking over my responses after I contacted AEA to make sure I wasn't getting boned.

I went ahead and ordered the 500C with phono upgrade and individual bias option. It was and is a total delight. The phono circuit is quiet with no hum and I can detect no overload or tube rush when pushing it (big Caveat MM-ONLY) I have a step-up on my Leben with mc's and it is more refined but the Fisher is not embarrassed.

I do not know if it is allowed but I am going to put in the link for AEA. They were a pleasure to deal with, honest, and run by dedicated and experienced techs. I have had the Fisher since 2016 and it has been reliable and a blast to listen to with no issues. They rock my modded LaScala's not SET mind you but very warm, tuneful and fun. I do not know where you are located but you are welcome to listen to mine if your around upstate New York.

I would recommend you go to this site and the folks will respond quickly and address any questions and describe what they do to the phono circuit. Lloyd the engineer I dealt with was well aware of JA's tests.

Good luck and happy spinning. If you go ahead let me know how you make out.

Allen Fant's picture

Great article as always- KM.
Another +vote for this series. Looking forward to the next installment.

ken mac's picture

and thanks for reading. Greatly appreciated

rl1856's picture

Another convert to audiophile-nervosa. Condition can be treated with periodic upgrades. But condition is ultimately incurable......

I am a fan of Fisher tube equipment, and the 500c. The c2005 review was of an unit that was serviced, but not fully restored. Coupling caps, rectifier and power supply caps were changed, and not much else. The phono stage was not updated or restored- parts were all original and around 40yrs old at the time of testing. I don't recall if the FM section was restored an aligned. This information is important in understanding the context of the review, and JA's comments. While JA determined the phono stage to be unsuitable- his comments were based upon an unrestored phono section ! JA damned with faint praise the line level and amplifier performance of the unit. I would wager that a 500c, fully restored to at least operating specifications, would be a significant improvement over what JA tested, and sound very nice indeed on its own merit. There is a reason why it has become among the most coveted of vintage component.