What were the personal inspirations that kick-started your interest in the audio hardware field?
I’m here today thanks to good, dumb luck. I began my career in August 2000, as an editorial assistant at Stereophile magazine, one of the most well-known and respected hi-fi enthusiast publications in the world. That description might make the magazine seem like it’s a big deal, and while I always considered my situation a special honor and privilege, the hi-fi industry, in general, is relatively small — as are most perfectionist industries.
When I got the job at Stereophile, I knew absolutely nothing about hi-fi. In fact, I didn’t know that the high-end audio industry existed. I had never even heard the word “audiophile.”
I mention this for a few reasons:
1. The high-end audio industry is always asking itself, “How can we attract a wider, younger audience?” I think the first thing we, as an industry, need to realize and accept is that our biggest obstacle is a total lack of exposure. Most people do not realize that this industry exists.
2. In my early and complete ignorance of hi-fi, I was in no way unusual or special. I suspect that, in 2000, very few people my age knew anything at all about hi-fi.
3. Today, things are different: We have communities like Vinyl Me, Please and Classic Album Sundays that are helping to nurture a growing interest in high-quality experiences and the love of vinyl playback. The term “audiophile-quality” is (sometimes misleadingly) stamped on our LP packages and consumer audio products, and has become a topic of interest for non-audiophile publications and websites.
4. Obviously, point 3 above presents a great opportunity to make an impact on point 1. We are long overdue to stop asking the question, “How can we attract a wider, younger audience,” and simply start acting like a community that actually wants to achieve the goal. I’m tired of hearing the question. I’m also tired of the hi-fi industry talking about itself and everything that’s wrong with it. I realize that, with these words, I’m pretty much doing exactly that, but rather than talk about what’s wrong with this industry, we — manufacturers, dealers, distributors, reviewers, and enthusiasts — need to talk about what’s right with it. We should embrace the fact that high-fidelity is no longer completely obscure. Be kinder and more welcoming to young people and newcomers. Design and manufacture products that young people actually want to own and can afford. Share the fun with family and friends. Present it as the beautiful, happy, enriching thing that it can often be.
In your opinion, which are the key characteristics and qualities that define truly excellent sound?
An audio system can be so detailed and resolving that it uncovers entirely new aspects of familiar recordings, or presents those same recordings in completely new ways, revealing deeper or different meaning. I like that. That is, I like detail and resolution in an audio system. But I also value qualities of warmth, smoothness, liquidity, and coherence — things that can sometimes be at odds with detail and resolution.
My favorite audio systems combine detail and warmth in such a way that I forget about sound quality altogether and simply get lost in the music. Similarly, the very best audio systems in my experience — those that have excelled in their special combination of warmth and detail — have fueled my passion for music discovery, launching me on an almost delirious search for new and old recordings.
I like to say that the best hi-fi components and systems are the ones that send the listener running from the listening room and into the record shop.
How do you feel your brand is unique and what are you trying to achieve through your products?
I should first explain that I continued with Stereophile through March 2014, and then began my current role as AudioQuest’s VP, Communications — a title that I haven’t fully grown into or adequately defined. When people ask me what I do for a living, I might first respond by saying that I work in advertising and marketing communications, before adding that, basically, I am a writer.
I can say with absolute confidence, however, that I would not have left Stereophile, or even considered such a thing, for any other audio manufacturer. AudioQuest and the company’s products are unique in their ability to successfully represent outstanding performance and value. Other brands will make similar claims, but few in my experience achieve them as well.
And it’s exactly that quality of AudioQuest — our ability to design and manufacture products that represent outstanding performance and value, regardless of price — that attracted me to the company in the first place. As an audio enthusiast who actually strives for high-value products — that is to say I am far more attracted to affordable quality than price-no-object perfection — there is, in my mind, no company better capable than AudioQuest of satisfying my desires.
So, again, to answer your question more concisely: AudioQuest delivers products that truly represent outstanding performance and exceptional value — at all price points: If you’re interested in hi-fi and you have a budget of $25, AudioQuest can hook you up right. If you’re interested in hi-fi and you have a budget of $25,000, AudioQuest can hook you up right.
Why do you think sound quality is still such an integral part of the modern listening experience?
For me, quality has always come second to access. Once I’ve discovered and acquired the sound, I want to hear it as clearly and completely as possible.
For others, quality is also cool. It defines a community to which we aspire to belong or with which we’d like to be identified.
Describe your musical tastes, and how you think they may have shaped your ideas surrounding the role of high quality playback
Like a lot of music nerds and hard-core audiophiles, I have a passion for music that is often entirely irrational. It might be something like an addiction or a compulsion or a possession. I want to hear everything. I want to know the sounds that are hidden within every single groove of every single record in every single record store and thrift shop and garage sale on the planet. I want to hear them all.
Further, if I had to pick just one format to have and to hold from this day forward, it would definitely be the LP — not because of the way vinyl sounds, but because, for various reasons, vinyl encourages me to form a deeper, more committed relationship with music. It also inspires me to hunt for more (and more diverse) music.
Describe your top five albums, and why they remain so important to you
I’ll cheat a little bit with this one and refer readers to a list of “101 Albums” that I created for the Stereophile.com blog back in 2012:
The albums on that list and my reasons for selecting them all remain valid and true.
Here are my top-five albums for right now:
Sonny Sharrock: As the Ages
John Fahey: America
Sonic Youth: Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
The Multi-Purpose Solution: the mps
I feel that each of these records contains a very important time and place of my life — times and places that I wouldn’t want to be without.
Is there a specific instance you can recall where the quality of sound elevated your listening experience to another level?
Very many instances, yes, most notably in my job as a music reviewer for Stereophile. For instance, there were dozens and dozens of times when I’d listen to a recording in my old cubicle, through a cheap pair of plastic computer speakers, and feel woefully uninspired and untouched by the music. Later, upon listening to that same recording at home through a high-quality audio system, the experience changed completely, revealing nuance, depth, color, emotion, and more that the computer speakers simply could not possibly approach.
With that in mind, I am terrified by the thought of music reviewers who use as their tools of the trade plastic computer speakers or cheap earbuds. They are not hearing the recordings under review — an absolute shame and in my opinion a crime against music, musicians, engineers, music criticism, and music lovers.
Do you consider the needs of any specific genres and their typical listening environments whilst designing and marketing your products?
Yes. I think that any successful manufacturer or designer of audio products considers their audience as well as the environment in which a product will be applied. The customer of a highly sophisticated ethernet cable, for instance, isn’t necessarily the customer of a portable USB digital-to-analog converter. When speaking, writing, or communicating in any way, we try to recognize and understand our audience as well as possible. That way, we stand a better chance of delivering a clear and effective message.
I don’t think that our designers put too much weight on genre. They’re all ravenous music lovers who want to create products that honor music, in general.
How do you think the listener’s expectation of an audio system has changed over the years?
AudioQuest’s founder Bill Low often reminds us that music was once a “destination activity,” meaning that people decided to spend time listening to music as an event in and of itself. They gathered round a turntable or table radio or whatever, with the sole purpose of listening to music — which is exactly the sort of pastime that Classic Album Sundays is helping to revitalize.
In general, however, I think that music has largely become something that takes place in addition to some other activity: exercising, commuting, working, studying, whatever. As such, people expect more from their audio components: more versatility, more convenience, more accessibility — all good things, but potentially counterproductive if and when quality — quality of sound and quality of experience overall — is compromised.
As new technology continues to expand horizons, how do you see our experience of sound developing in the future ?
Fortunately, quality and convenience aren’t necessarily at odds.
Advances in technology have helped to restore quality to the experience of listening to music. When it was introduced in 2007, the Sooloos digital music server did a better job than anything at recreating the tactile experience of browsing through LP shelves and playing vinyl, reminding users that music is art and language and more than ones and zeros. And it was fun and easy!
Today, the same fellows who founded Sooloos have removed the hardware from the equation with their newest venture, Roon — a beautiful, intuitive music player application unapologetically designed for the hardcore music nerd. Roon locates your digital music files — wherever they exist in your system — organizes them and optimizes them for simple, high-performance playback. Beyond that, it is filthy rich with all that yummy stuff that music lovers love: the album metadata — recording venues, producers, session players, and general obscurities that fuel the search for more great music.
In this way, Roon is rebuilding our relationship with music. The same can be said of innovative streaming services such as Tidal, which are inspiring artists to rethink the album format while inspiring listeners to explore more music.
I’m not good at predicting the future, but I’m hopeful that as music becomes more accessible and the world becomes a (virtually) smaller place, people will feel inspired to listen more closely and deeply — to music and to one another — eventually becoming happier, more loving and compassionate.