Roger Alan Modjeski (RAM) 1951 - 2019


It is with great sadness that I announce Roger A. Modjeski passed away peacefully in his home in San Pablo, CA after an 12 month battle with cancer. Roger started Music Reference in 1981 and later RAM Tubes, The Tube Audio Store, and The Berkeley HiFi School. For more than 38 years he tirelessly ran his business and designed some of the most unique and well received audio components in the industry. Right until the near end Roger was working, designing, and teaching until he physically was unable to continue.

The link below will take you my playground where I have posted my tribute to Roger (click ENTER after the page loads):

http://www.electrafidelity.com/

Fare thee well my friend.
clio09

Showing 19 responses by clio09

@soundcheck6, sorry I missed your post. Yes the Cervantes obituary was very touching and was referenced earlier in this thread.

Given the current state of affairs things are running slowly right now on the manufacturing side, but yes, we will be making more of Roger's designs in the future. The RAM online tube store is open 24 x7 though.
Thank you @bdp24 for providing that information. While we mourn the loss of our founder and friend I will only add at this time Roger did make plans for the future of Music Reference/RAM Tubes. For now, tube sales will continue as normal and can be ordered via the Tube Audio Store website. Prior to his death Roger identified a couple additional vendors to provide service while the company transitioned. He settled on the following:

Scott Frankland Associates in San Jose, CA
Audio Classics in Vestal, NY

Scott has already been performing service work for us and has all relevant schematics and access to parts to do repairs. Audio Classics was referred to Roger by one of his loyal customers who lives in the area. They are quite a busy shop and as such you can expect a lengthy wait time, but Roger was very pleased with how they run their operation and the level of expertise their techs have.

As mentioned Tom at Brooks Berdan performs repair work in an expert and timely manner. We refer most of our SoCal customers there. Roger and Brooks were very good friends and both Sheila and Brian Berdan were shocked and saddened at the news of Roger's passing.
@tomic601 for his service Roger specifically requested Lyle Lovett and Linda Ronstadt songs be performed. He was also a big fan of Billie Holliday, Willie Neslon, Emmy Lou Harris, and Keith Jarrett. He also listened to classical programming on KQED while working.

Here is an interesting story. Roger receives a call from someone who asks him why he made the fuses so hard to access on the RM-9 MkI. Turns out this guy had a couple of them and he had to change the fuse in one and found it to be a pain to have to remove the bottom plate to do so. During the conversation it turns out that it was Keith Jarrett who owned the amps and per Roger he was the influence behind the decision to mount the fuses on the top plate in the MkII edition of the amp.
@bdp24 and @ndevamp, I think Roger would be a bit miffed with both of you right now. He designed the "new" RM-10 circuit to be cathode bias, the correct term from his perspective versus self-bias.

As far a his equipment, schematics, and other company details Roger took care of all that. The details will be made public at an appropriate time, which is not now.
@tomic601 Roger didn't really specify any charitable foundations for donations, but I know he was very fond of KQED, the music department at Santa Barbara City College, and Jelly's Place Animal Rescue and Adoption in San Pablo.

For a little more history on Roger, he met Harold Beveridge at Stanford where Roger was going for his Masters and teaching there. He left after a year and went back home to Richmond, VA where he opened Audio Art, his high end store. He became a dealer for Beveridge among other well known brands and a couple years later Harold Beveridge hired him as his Chief Engineer. So Roger picked up and moved to Santa Barbara where he lived for 37 years. The photo on my website is from 1985 at his condo. Ironically the photo was taken at his half-life when he was 34 years old and 4 years into Music Reference.

The Beveridge RM-1/RM-2 is indeed a masterpiece. Direct coupled with a servo, 12 tubes, two MM phono inputs, and a slew of other features. Roger told me he pulled out all the stops in that design. The RM-2 power supply was built with four outlets on the back and designed to have the RM-1 preamp, RM-3 active crossover, and the OTL amps plugged into it. While assumed by many, Roger told me that he did not design the OTLs, but tested all of them and did put his signature on the ones that passed his requirements. To Roger's dismay and against the best efforts to convince him otherwise, Beveridge was not a stickler for quality control and parts reliability. This ultimately led to their separation.
The San Francisco Audio Society that awarded Roger with their lifetime achievement award recently received a note from Michael Fremer when he heard the news of Roger’s passing:

"I knew Roger for many years, at first only through phone calls and emails. I was fortunate to have met him years later through the San Francisco Audiophile Society and so happy to have shared that time with him. He was always a reluctant manufacturer, as I point out in my review of the RM200 MKII that I own and use as a tube reference, but so generous with his time and knowledge (https://www.stereophile.com/content/music-reference-rm-200-mkii-power-amplifier). Not surprisingly, the amp measures as well as it sounds, or as John Atkinson concluded: ’As did the original version of the Music Reference RM-200 amplifier, the Mk.II edition offers superb measured performance for a tubed design, particularly in terms of midband distortion and the ability to drive low impedances. And I remain impressed by the quality of its output transformers.’ We all knew he had a terminal illness and he talked about it with me when I last visited in the fall. I just didn’t think he’d pass this quickly. He will be missed by all. What a lovely man."
@augwest Roger stopped reading emails a couple months ago. I actually monitor the same email inbox and saw your message and read it to him. He was quite pleased and asked me to share it with all his visitors that day. Thanks for such kind words about the little amp that could. It has always been my favorite Music Reference amp.
The notion that the RM-10 is an amp that can't play rock music is just plain silly.
It was late 2018 when Roger suffered symptoms and was diagnosed so in early 2018 he had no idea he was ill. Roger's first foray into direct drive amps was to modify the Acoustat model by designing a tube input stage for it. Following that he designed his version of the direct drive amp (his personal one sits in my living room as I write this) which was initially done for some Acoustat speaker owners. As those familiar know the amp puts 5000 volts on the panels. Following that Roger used the same design for his ESL speakers, which in some ways are modeled after the Acoustat but with a number of improvements especially with dispersion. Roger always said that Jim Strickland himself was on the same path to improving dispersion in Acoustat designs, but never got to finish the process.

If I recall correctly my conversations with Roger about using the direct drive amp for my Quad ESL had more to do with adjusting the voltage the amp put out than anything else. I could be wrong but I believe he said the Quad ESL needed 1800 volts on the panels. So for the Sound Lab speakers the process might be similar. We do have the circuit and it is not inconceivable @gallassero might see an amp for his Sound Labs in the future.
@ndevamp, Roger kept getting requests for a more powerful amp. Although he tried hard to educate people on the concept of power and specifically RMS ratings most of what he said fell on deaf ears. Roger always preferred to use tone bursts to gauge power, he played the RMS game because he had to. So as per his methods, Roger wanted to see how far he could push the RM9 and found the 6L6 tube to be the perfect tube to get more power out of it. However, as he was prone to do on occasion, Roger got distracted and forgot about this project for quite some time. It wasn't until we found the box in one of the moves that it jarred his memory.

However, another project that did not materialize to the extent of the 6L6 RM9 was a suped up RM-200 that was a monoblock design using the same frame as the RM-200 and a modified top plate. In this design there would be 3 KT88s per side and I think another pair of drivers. We actually brought one of the models to the Newport show a few years back. The design was intended to be the RM-300, 300 watts per side, and it garnered a lot of interest. We have the schematic and it is definitely something we might revisit.

As for those other 17 RM9 SEs they made it into the hands of happy customers. Three left and no more after that.
That would be the RM9 SE. It does use 6 x 6BQ7 for the driver tubes. Like the MkII the amp had the fuses mounted on the top plate with LED indicators that lit up and indicated which output tube triggered the fuse to blow. There were also a number of test points on the amp to allow one to see the status of the tubes, but you needed to be comfortable using a voltmeter to run the tests. There was also a bias and balance adjustment. Roger made 20 of these amps and only 3 remain including his personal RM9 SE (Roger kept one piece of every amp he made).

What most people know about the RM9 is the amp can be used with EL34, KT66, 77, 88, and 6550 tubes. What most people don't know is Roger made a one off that used the 6L6 which pushed the power output past 250 watts per channel (stock RM9s cannot use this tube). It also featured a gloss piano black frame. Sadly it has sat in its box in the shop for quite some time.
Sorry, for the RM-300 it was 6 KT88s per monoblock.
Roger definitely appreciated vintage, just not drum sets :) He does have quite a collection of vintage radios (table top and floor models) that he was always proud of. He was particularly fond of the Brunswick and has several of those in the shop. All operational of course.
I had the pleasure of connecting with one of Roger's old friends and someone that worked with him at one point in time He wrote a very touching obituary for Roger on his blog I thought I would share:

https://paulcervantes.com/
Roger's service was held yesterday at St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo, CA. We had quite a nice turn out for the event. Among the items interned with Roger were his trusty voltmeter and an EML 45 mesh plate tube. A number of friends from Southern California showed up to pay their respects. One in particular recounted the story of when he and Roger toured the Ei Factory in Yugoslavia when they were negotiating a large tube purchase. At one point during the trip they were taken by a local to an island which had a church on it. In the church was a 600 year old pipe organ and of course, after receiving permission, Roger just had to play a Bach piece on it. A number of musical selections were played, all selected by Roger, including a beautiful instrumental of Pancho and Left and an amazing version of Blue Bayou. At the end of the service all the attendees rose and gave Roger a rousing standing ovation. I think that king of shocked the funeral folks a bit.

I also want to offer thanks to the San Francisco Audio Society for providing us with the usage of their event room for for the reception. A few of the members of the group were also very instrumental in making the event a success, so thanks to them as well and you know who you are. There was food and drink aplenty (the RAM branded cookies were especially a big hit) and they had one of Roger's lectures streaming on the projection screen. More Roger stories were told and we reminisced for a few more hours. A sad, but really great day.
@rpeluso you are quite welcome. That amp should provide you with many years of enjoyable listening.
I can picture Roger is reminiscing with Saul Marantz and Sid Smith, sidling up to Julius Futterman to tell him all about the new OTL, or perhaps getting into another argument about tubes with David Manley. Wherever he is just became a much more interesting place to be now that Roger is there.
@bdp24 well one of the two RM-9 SEs left is a 240V version and as @ndevamp alluded to in his post that one has his name on it. The last one is Roger's personal unit.
Thanks @jamesgarvin for a nice remembrance of Roger and testimonial of the RM-200. It’s a much misunderstood and maligned amplifier, but Roger was very proud of it and listened to it more than any of his other amplifiers during the time I worked with him. Oh and oddly enough Stereophile contacted me today to let me know that it is still going to be included in their recommended components list.