Like many of us I grew up with music as a central part of my childhood. My dad was a real jazz lover and every Sunday afternoon our house was filled with the sounds of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Monk, et al. Thanks to my dad, as a kid I was lucky enough to experience live performances from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. In grammar school, it kind of seemed natural to start playing trumpet and I continued to play on through my college years. Sitting in a full orchestra or a big jazz band is an amazing feeling, and those experiences have left an indelible mark on what music is to me, my sense of what it actually sounds like – but also how it is experienced. Be it a live, un-amplified event or a rock concert, there are crucial aspects of that experience that make it unmistakably live – aspects that are missing from the home audio discussion and are certainly missing from most home audio systems, because they are hard to measure and even harder to recreate. There are no manufacturers' specifications for these things, but they are at the very heart of the music I grew up with – and how I envision and work with a home audio system.
I am grateful to have been mentored by some very bright people during my career, not only technically, but also in terms of understanding how to recreate the almost tactile immediacy and presence of the live experience at home. I think my most profound lesson was back in the mid 1980’s from Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio Specialties. Using his WAMM speaker system and UltraMaster tape machine, Dave demonstrated to me just how fundamentally important low frequency pressure could be to music. Astonishingly, he gave me this lesson using a solo flute recording. That experience underpins the very foundation of how I approach and set up a home audio system today – but it also helped to explain an important event from years earlier.
Back in college I had gone to see The Moody Blues in a big enclosed auditorium. The opening act was none other than the great Stevie Ray Vaughn. But on this night, the house gave Stevie the “small sound system”. The experience was deficient and uninspiring, the audience almost fell asleep. Imagine, Stevie sounding that way? Then The Moody Blues came on using the “big system” the band travels with, and the place came alive. With the big rig, the venue was fully and uniformly pressurized from the lowest frequency to the highest and the performance of was heard (and felt) the way the musicians intended. Suddenly, the audience was on its feet, responding, and we had a rock concert.
What I learned from these two experiences was that it was pressure that matters, not just low bass response. Or, in other words, how to best maximize and use the bass your speakers are capable of in your room to recreate that pressure. It’s typical of the cumulative experiences that have contributed to my ability in achieving a sense of "live like" communication and performance from a simple two-channel music system. Collectively, they have allowed me to create a skill set for and appreciation of what really matters when it comes to audio system set up and optimization, allowing them to deliver the sort of musical performance their owners seek and they really are capable of.