A Simple Starter System

I heard music, and I liked it.

So, at the 2005 Home Entertainment Show in New York last April, I didn't need to be told to visit the DeVore Fidelity room. It was one of my first stops. This time I brought a stack of my own music. And friends, too. We listened happily to Sonic Youth and the Magnetic Fields and TV on the Radio.

And, again, music is what I heard. As a matter of fact, I had just seen Sonic Youth perform live at Maxwell's, so I had an excellent reference. Immediately, with the first shimmering guitar riffs and blistering hi-hat hits produced by the DeVore speakers, I was taken back to that show.

The experience certainly increased my interest in hi-end audio. I began to imagine how nice it might be to recreate this little bit of magic in my own living room. However, after the Home Entertainment Show — aside from hauling equipment in and out of the office and reading about it in our pages — I pretty much lost all contact with hi-end gear. Similarly, aside from contacting manufacturers for images to run along with their reviews, I pretty much lost all contact with the folks I'd met at the shows, including John DeVore.

So, I was very happy when, back on September 21st — five days into the blog — I received an e-mail from John. He wrote:

I'm shocked that, after your boom-box admission, you haven't been deluged by offers of cheap or free hi-fi gear. Maybe you have. I'm certainly willing to send you a pair of my little gibbon 3s for awhile. A sort of non-reviewer exploration of a simple starter system. They could be paired with a cool entry-level piece like the Arcam Solo or something.

Yeah, I was pretty shocked about that, too, John.

Actually, I'm still shocked: John DeVore's still the only guy who's offered. I mean, seriously, hi-fi dudes, I'm a powerful tool around here. Feel free to use me.

Till you use me up.

Funny, too, that John mentioned the Arcam Solo because I had had my eyes set on it ever since reading Art Dudley's review in our July issue. Art wrote:

Arcam's new solo is the rare audiophile product that swims with, rather than against, the flow of mainstream consumerism — toward simplicity, convergence, and relative smallness. Now you can have a mobile phone that doubles as a camera, a laptop computer that doubles as a movie player — and a perfectionist-quality integrated amplifier that doubles as a CD player and a tuner.

And that sounded right up my alley.
Literally: Monmouth Street in Jersey City is narrow.

So, near the end of my time at Wes', I sent an e-mail to Kyla Wells, Marketing Coordinator for Audiophile Systems, the people who handle distribution for Arcam, and asked for a loan. I received a prompt response:

It just so happens, a Solo is on its way back from a reviewer and is expected to arrive this Thursday, the 27th.

Sometimes, I do get lucky. The Arcam, as you know, was in my hands on Monday, the 31st.

This weekend, John DeVore will be coming over with a pair of his Gibbon 3s. Yes, we'll be setting up a simple starter system.

By the way, I was lying when I said John was the only guy who'd offered any gear. Just this afternoon, Antony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity — yes, that Musical Fidelity — stopped by for a quick visit.

Heh heh heh. I laugh Sam Tellig's evil laugh.

Billy Malieckal's picture

You guys seem to be too chummy with Anthony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity.So many reviews of his products,all rated very high,he visits you,he visits Sam Tellig in London,takes him to fancy restaurant,hum, I wonder how objective you can be.Do you give level playing ground to all manufacturers or are you like the British reviewers of Popular Hifi,Hifi Answers and to some extent Hifi News in their worship of Ivor and Linn? And by the way no need to mention the complexion of the girl sitting opposite you reading a book ,on the subway.Why such qualification by an audiophile? That too by a New Yorker, a Brooklyn guy?

Stephen Mejias's picture

>You guys seem to be too chummy with Anthony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity...I've only met Antony on a couple of occassions. This was actually his first time in our Madison Avenue office. I do like him, however; he gives a good handshake and has a pleasant smile. I think he gets so many positive reviews in our magazine because he's an intelligent businessman who makes good, attractive products.I have no problem with being objective. I don't know anything about those other magazines you mentioned.I'm not an audiophile or a New Yorker. I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. I was the only white kid in my school. I grew up calling black people black. It's really no big deal.

Wes Phillips's picture

Billy Malieckal asks: >Do you give level playing ground to all manufacturers ... ?Actually, yeah we do. You'd be surprised how many manufacturers don't return phone calls, deliver review gear, or even let us know when they have a new product. Yes, it's our job to persevere and track all this stuff down—and we do. Michaelson makes a point of actually following through on all of that stuff though, and, as a result, he gets coverage. Any other manufacturer that did so would too.There are products I'd love to review—and have requested—from companies like Classé and B&W (for example) where I'm still waiting for action almost a year after my initial inquiries.I could be wrong, but a lot of the time I interpret an inability to deal with such basic bits of business as symptomatic of how a company operates on all levels, and I assume that a manufacturer that doesn't return phone calls to me won't do a better job responding to customers. That puts a damper on my desire to cover them.

Ward's picture

I hope you have a lot to say about your starter system when Monday rolls around. Funny you mention Sonic Youth and using their live show as a basis of comparison for the equipment you were listening to. I've had a thought roolling around in my head for a while. Just about all indie music is amplified. And most of the venues I got to--maybe it's not like this in Manhattan?--don't seem to put much money into their PAs. The result is that the music almost always sounds better on my (modest) system than it does live. It's so rare to get a good live reference point. But it happens sometimes. I saw the Hackensaw Boys do their mountain folk thing opening for Camper Van Beethoven last year. For their last song, they came down off the stage, had the audience come in close, and played unplugged. It was gorgeous.

Wes Phillips's picture

I 'm not sure NYC is any better than anywhere else. My wife and I are always amazed at how $100 theater tickets entitle you to PA sound no better than that at most fraternity parties—and that in theaters [I]designed[/I] for vocal projection. Clubs can be just as bad, although I've been impressed with the sound at Joe's Pub and the Mercury Lounge.The last time I was at the Webster Hall, the sound was first rate, too, although I'm embarrassed to realize that was so long ago, it was to hear Jeff Buckley.Geeze, I really do need to get out more.

newbilong's picture

there's still the atmosphere at live gigs, no matter how bad the sound system. but if you've paid $$ and gone to see one of your favourite bands, it's hard not to be really disillusioned. and if the atmosphere consists of beer-sticky floor, deafening noise and sweat, then . . .and it's not just the sound system -- it can be the sound guy. cranking up the volume until there's nothing left but distortion and shreds of woofer on the dance floor. let's hear about the gibbons and the solo, Stephen. and then let's hear about room acoustics, cables, cones, hifi racks, and all the other things that make the real difference!

Ward's picture

You're right, of course, it can often be the sound guy, which explains why sometimes the sound is awful at a venue," wheras other times it's simply mediocre. I wouldn't mind ""excellent"" for a change", though.

Stephen Mejias's picture

The sound on the floor at Maxwell's is sometimes excellent, sometimes awful (and almost always awful, in my experience, on stage). But, Sonic Youth has always amazed me by their ability to capture the sound of their albums in a live show. (Or is it the other way around - capture their live sound on album? I'm not sure with them anymore.) I was particularly impressed with the sound at Maxwell's that night. It was exceptional, and I think it has something to do with Sonic Youth's personal sound technician.

john devore's picture

Another live venue with reliably great sound is the new Living room on Ludlow St.Stage sound however is always horrible. Everywhere. It

Stephen Mejias's picture

> It

andrew's picture

I will have to check out the new Living Room. One of these days...thanks for the recommendation.