True audio stories! Do you have any?

Story #1 1976 Milwaukee, WI

I was just out of college looking to buy some audio equipment and went into a store called Wacks Electronics. It was high end for the times. On the outside they claimed they had over 100 tape decks for sale. Well I don’t know about that, but they had lots of stuff I had never seen before.

After chatting with the owner, he knew, I knew, brand name stuff. I said what is your best setup?
He took me to the back of the store, up a flight of stairs, to a locked room. This room was for special customers only! Not the typical “riff-raff” off the street.

In the not too large room were speakers made up of three big 6’ tall flat panels on each side, that I had never seen before (Audio Research Tympani IIIc), an Audio Research SP-3a preamp, and an Audio Research D150 power amp. I do not remember the turntable.

The power amp was huge and weighed almost 200 pounds. Three big meters, a large knob in the center, and many switches. It looked like something out of a 1950s science fiction movie. With this in your listening room, everyone knew you were either dead serious about sound quality, or totally crazy! Only about 125 of these monsters were ever made.

The owner flipped the on off switch and the meters lit up. Then slowly turned the big center knob, which gently turned up the voltage with the built in variac! Cool! Then he played a record. For the first time ever, I heard realistic music coming out of the speakers! Not just sound! I was “blown away”, but could not afford this equipment.

A few months later I bought a pair of Magnepan IIa speakers, Great American Sound (GAS) Thoebe preamp, and GAS Son of Ampzilla power amp. I thrilled many listeners with that setup for many years. Nobody ever said I had less than great sound!

Story #2 1988 Twin Cities, MN

I was talking to an audio friend at work about an ad in the paper for an older pair of Magnepan Tympani speakers. The Tympani line was no longer made. He knew I owned Magnepans, and asked if they were any good. I told him to not think twice, and buy them! Then I told him story #1. He was skeptical, but thought if he did not like them, he could resell without a loss.

The seller said he did not have the boxes, but could deliver. To his amazement, a long stretch limo rolled up to his house with the speakers in the back. The driver who helped move them in said the seller was the recording engineer for the “artist formerly known as prince”!

He temporarily set them up in his bed room, and was unimpressed with the bass. I asked him how far were they were away from the rear wall? He said one foot. I told him, move them four feet away from the wall! The next day, he said the bass was “unbelievable”! I have never heard more realist bass, and “life sized” sound! These were an absolute steal!

Story #3 2004 Plymouth, MN

I was waiting in the Audio Research lobby to pick up a preamp they repaired. The receptionist/secretary/phone operator was sitting at her desk ignoring me. A good looking middle aged brunet. A photograph of a huge M300 mono block amp was hanging on the wall. I asked her if that was a Bill Johnson design? She curtly said, “they are all Johnson’s designs”! Then she turned away.

I started to tell her story #1. She continued to ignore me. When I got to the Tympani part, she turned, and pointed her finger directly at me, and said “Timpani IIIc……..I have those in my living room”! Time seemed to freeze! For what seemed like several seconds, we gazed into each others eyes in silence. We had a “cosmic connection” and my jaw dropped! Wow! A female with Tympani’s in her living room, how rare was that! She looked embarrassed, and immediately turned away, returning to ignore me. Later found out he lady receptionist /secretary / phone operator’s name is Ruth Gustafson, the wife of Leonard the service manager.

The Tympani IIIc was distributed by Audio Research, with “Audio Research” on the connector plate, not Magnepan. After Bill Johnson retired, and sold the company, there was no longer anyone in the lobby.

More Stories:

In the 90’s I met a person that worked for many years at Magnepan. He had fond memories from afternoons listening to speakers for evaluation (like other employees) in the lab. He remembers that Jim Winey had tight control over decisions, and caused lots of delays because he could not be found for sign offs, and was at home studying (not drinking) wine. He recalls the worst ever speakers returned for rebuild, was a set of badly beat up Tympani’s owned by country singer Willie Nelson.

A story from the internet: there was an employee at ARC that had a baby born premature and after insurance, left him with a $30,000 bill. Bill Johnson felt sorry for him, and wrote him a personal check for $30,000. What a kind man! The employee was Jim Smith.

I also met Frank VanAlstine at Macintosh user groups, and the local audio club. He was a little boisterous and opinionated, but nice. He modified Dynaco audio, the ARC SP3a, and Magnepans by putting clay globs on strategic spots, to improve the sound ( LOL). He also was a car racer. Made good audio products for not high dollars.

Met Ralph Karsten of Atma-Sphere also. Posts all over the internet, and is an expert in audio. Has been around a long time, with fanatic followers of his tube amps. A great person.

Also talked to James Bongiorno over the phone several times, when I bought a Son of Ampzilla 2000 in 2006. Liked his designs (Great American Sound (GAS), Sumo Electric, and Spread Spectrum Technologies). At times he was abrasive and opinionated. Tried to order another Son of Ampzilla 2000, and he said he was having tests for a lung transplant, and had not sold anything for months. I had sent a check for $3500 (he cut me a deal). Two days later he called, and told me he would change my order, and hold my money for a new amp, to be called Ampzilla Forever. I was suspicious, and figured he would be dead, and it would be forever before I received it. The next day I called the bank and put a BLOCK on the check! Several days later, he left me a voicemail with many swear words. A few weeks later he died.

My all time favorite store was The Audiophile Sound Studio in Middleton, WI, several miles west of Madison. The store was a large house with seven listening rooms. They had many, many, super audio products around the late 70's early 80's.

I heard the full blown official Mark Levinson HQD system. Stacked Quads, Decca tweeter, 30" Hartly bass, eight Levinson JC2 Class A amps, Levinson crossovers, and driven by a giant John Curl modified Studer tape deck. The tape deck used 2" wide, two track tape, running at 30 in per second, and they played second generation Mark Levinson Jazz recordings made by Mark.

They also had the giant Dayton -Wright X10 gas filled electrostatics, and Harold Beverage 8’ tall coffin electrostatics, with tube amp in the bottom, speakers.

The store went under in the 80's

Several years ago when I was away at an audio show, my wife was awakened in the middle of night by violent shaking and rumbling all through the house. The police were summoned. After scanning the outside perimeter with flashlights for intruders and finding nothing, they traced the disturbance to my Velodyne DD-15 subwoofer that had spontaneously entered its cyclical frequency sweep at high volume. Scary!
The 'Ampzilla'. Wow, that was a while back. Thanks for the trip through memory lane.
Awhile back, I tried to go one brand and sold my Meridian 808.2 CDP.  The replacement I really wanted to like and did quite a bit of tweaking to no avail.  As an added insult my late BFF Buster would only lay behind my chair or off to the side. That was enough for me!  Sold the unit and replaced it with another Meridian.  Buster then returned to his spot. 
If dogs have such good hearing why do they often lie down and sleep right in front of a loud speaker. Not the quietest place in the room!
Very true!  I think in my case it was the glare and odd harmonics which offended as I'm not much of a high volume listener anymore.  But when I do crank it the dogs could care less. 
In 1989 I was at long last finally getting around to building my first "serious" system (at least in terms of what I could spring for in those days). Everything back then was pretty much brick and mortar, but I had spent some time over the prior 3 yrs driving to nearby states to put my ears on various speakers in the $2k or less range...a lot of money for me at the time. As a baseline of performance I was comparing them to a pair of floorstanders that I had already discovered in my own hometown that I truly loved at only $1k a pair, but wanted to see what else was out there. By about the end of ’89, and after exhausting all the hifi shops in a 500 mile radius, it had become clear to me that my hometown speakers for the money were the real thing - Magnat MSP 120’s that were being made in West Germany.

But, right around the time I could scrape up the cash amount (about $1050 with tax), the Berlin Wall was coming down. The sense of a new era was in the air at the time that a lot of people, including myself, were caught up in.

The only problem for me was that reunification meant essentially a total collapse of German bureaucracy...costs of shipping overseas in and out of Germany for example skyrocketed send a screw to there, as I would find out through the store owner, would have cost $50...a tweeter, more than $200...Let alone a whole speaker (70 lbs each)??...the Pair???...would’ve cost thousands! And as much for them to send out.

I had been flirting with buying these speakers for almost 3 years now, but when the time had actually come for me to close the deal, the owner then informed me that there were only 2 North American distributors, the other in Boston and that the only pairs left in either location were the floor models and that no new stock was forthcoming...and that his price had just gone up by 450 bucks. It was 450 bucks I didn’t have.

Ok, alright, I could tell straight away when he told me all that, that I was being screwed. It was a bit too much for me to take...all that time and effort to arrive at the best solution for me, and one that I was ecstatic about at that, only for it to blow up in my face. I was disgusted with the owner and the whole deal. As soon as he told me that, I just looked at him sternly and walked out...after that, I didn’t think I’d ever have another reason to walk back in there again.

So, I did the only thing I could think to do...go down to my local billiard bar with my friends and do my level best to drink the whole damn thing off my mind. While there, as they frequently did, they were raffling off tickets to a pool cue. I still had the $1050 in my wallet, so I sprang for a ticket for 5 bucks. To my shock and amazement, I won...had been buying those things on and off for several years without any luck...and then suddenly that night - out of all nights. The cue was worth $600. I turned around and sold it immediately to another patron that night for...450 bucks!

I went back to that store the very next day and asked the guy point blank "Has your price on those speakers gone up again?!?" After a second, he said "No..." I plunked the total amount in cash down on the counter, shoved it in his direction and, without a hint of a smile, I simply said "Here..." That was that.

A few days after getting them home successfully, I learned that Magnat had been forced to nullify all their warranties in North America (out of self protection, really), since they would be contractually obligated to pay return shipping, as horrendous as that would’ve been had anyone managed to cover the costs of getting their speakers back to the company. But, even so, it didn’t matter...the speakers never had a hiccup in the 20 yrs I owned them before moving on, and they were the first speakers I ever fell stone in love with their sound. Soon after the purchase I powered them with some Luxman amps and the sound was great!

One of my better purchases, that very nearly wasn’t to be.
(don_c55, your stories are AMAZING!)

It was 1987. I had audiophile fever, a bad case. No one I knew could help; there wasn't a dealer or hi-end store of any consequence w/in 60 miles. Of course no Internet then, but there were classified ads, and so it came to pass that I purchased a used pair of Vandersteen IV's. Bear in mind that I'd never seen or heard any Vandy speakers, but I just sorta knew they'd do the trick--and I'd somehow gotten my hands on the manual for the IV's and it was love at first sight.

I paid $3K for these beasts (BIG speakers); that was monster money in my world back then. They had be shipped via semi-trailer, the really big, long trucks you see X 1 million on every highway (shipping cost me an extra $600, if memory serves).

So one day this colossal truck pulls up in front of my house. We had a 200+ ft. driveway, so the driver & I had to wrestle these whoppers down the driveway on a dolly while my neighbors watched in amazement (each speaker was in a box the size of a medium-sized refrigerator). The driver was a real big guy, built like a pro wrestler. I had a bunch of stairs going up to the front door and I said to him, kind of joking, "I don't think I can lift this f***er" into the house by myself." He said, "Oh, I can!" and he grabs one of the boxes in a bear-hug and dead-lifts it into the house while I have an infarct. Later I would marvel that those 4 round wooden posts that form the outside of the speaker (under the sock) didn't just snap under his grip...

So while my neighbors snickered ("that boy is NUTS!"), I got those beasts into the house. Later, when everything was all hooked up (Adcom 555 amp on the bottom, tube amps on top, VPI TT + Grado MM cartridge on the front), it was HEAVEN. Those Vandy IV's are still the best speakers I've ever had in my home. Sadly, they've been in storage ever since we moved to this house in '90.
Does anyone from Chicago remember a guy named Basil, or know anything about him? Back in the ’70s he used to sell high end audio out of a bunch of condos. You’d tell him what you wanted to audition and he would set up an appointment at the appropriate condo.I was looking for a pair of JBL L100s. He auditioned a pair of Hill Plasmatronics for me too.

He also introduced me to Nina Simone and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Sure, Basil was a very cool cat.  Purchased a number of things from him.
A friend of mine from Chicago introduced us. He acquired some pretty interesting equipment.
The year was when Richard Vandersteen released the original Model 3s. I went with an audio buddy on a 2 hour trek to The Stereo Shoppe in Selinsgrove, PA be introduced to the 3s by none other than RV himself.  The date was October 31. Relevant.  We went up to the top (3rd) floor to listen to an LP released by T.A.S's own Harry Pearson.  The record was entitled "The Sounds of Space" or such.  We were listening through electrostatics, well regarded for their high frequency prowess. Boy did that LP have high high frequencies in spades.  After about 10 minutes listening to the minute, we were rudely interrupted by a bat flying out of the chimney behind the speakers right at our heads. Never moved that fast before or since, slamming the door to the room behind us.  We came downstairs to congratulate the proprietor, Dale (great guy) at going to such lengths to recognize Halloween.  After trudging upstairs, tennis racket in hand, he managed to swat the ugly bugger, triumphantly descending the steps with his trophy.  As memory serves Richard and the rest of us knew that moment was staying with us forever.  At least it has with me.

PS As we exited to go to our car we saw several bats swirling around that same chimney where the LP was playing yet again.  Bats liked the highs as presented by those speakers!!
Back in the mid-70's, I was hanging out one evening with my friend Tom Tutay, who now does a lot of tube amp work.  He'd just gotten in a Dyna ST150 solid state amp, and as was his practice back then, he went about beefing up the power supply.  He put in much larger caps.  I came over to his place to check it out and he had the cover off so I could see his work.  He flipped the power switch on and walked away.   A few minutes later flames, about 15 inches high as I recall, came shooting out of the top!  Tom quickly rushed over and powered it off.  

As it turned out, one of the caps was labeled backwards and got wired in backwards, which was a dead short.  As it turned out all it did was burn out some resistors.  The output devices were unharmed.  A new cap and replacement resistors went in and the amp worked fine.

So THIS is what they mean by the "smoke test"!
A lo-fi tale:  In the fall of 1982, as a college student, I got a part-time job at Lafayette Radio on 45th St. in Manhattan (which was wholly owned by Circuit City at the time).  These were the days of cheaply made mid-fi from Sansui, Technics, JVC and others.  On one particularly busy day, a familiar face motioned me over to a stereo receiver on display.  There was no doubt, it was the actor Jack Warden.  He pointed to the entry level Technics receiver, priced at $109.95, and asked if it was the one that had been on sales for $99.95 the prior week.  Indeed it was, I replied, but the sale was over.  "That's okay," he said, "I'll wait until it goes on sale again."  He then turned and left the store.  I thought it was pretty funny.
I have LOTS of stories, but here is one:

It was the 2003 Stereophile Show in San Francisco. I had voiced the system as I always did. However, this time I needed to meet a certain technical requirement (we had a particularly nasty bass problem in the room), but I was ultimately unsatisfied with its musical impact.

This was initially addressed by bringing in a friend/technical expert (Richard Rives-Bird) who proceeded to equalize the bass system with his Rives PARC so that it was exceptionally flat – no more peak at 50 Hz. Unfortunately, that’s how I felt after listening to this amazing technical achievement – flat.

After deciding that I had to make sure that I properly addressed both aspects (technical & musical – meaning that I had some listening and adjusting to do), we went on to receive a level of universal acclaim that – honestly speaking - I didn’t expect.

Two well-known reviewers (Robert Harley of TAS and Srajan Ebaen of commented in their publications about this acclaim. They were amazed to see the audience stand up and applaud (!) at the end of each demo session, something that they had never seen.

Twelve years later (!), Robert again wrote of this phenomenon, in a recent issue of TAS: The same system at a San Francisco show elicited a standing ovation with wild applause at the conclusion of Pink Floyd’s The Wall—the only instance of such a reaction to a show demo in memory. —RH]

If I had simply settled for technically excellent sound, we would still have had a good show. But we had lines of expectant listeners down the hall, waiting to hear our demo, because it was the musical impact that brought the listeners to their feet with applause.

The implication for me was/is that it’s not enough to achieve technical excellence when voicing a system to a room - we shouldn’t leave it at that. We then need to apply the technical excellence to achieve musical involvement, IMO.