[SoundStage!]Paradise with James Saxon
Back Issue Article
February 1998

The Shirt

Scene I: A storefront at dusk—"Jim’s Audio Curiosities." The camera pans inside where a man in reading glasses enters numbers in a ledger. The doorbell rings. The man opens the door and finds a soft package on the doorstep. He looks around. No one is there. He takes the package into the store, cuts the string and discovers—a blue denim shirt. He examines it at arm’s length.

Suddenly, the shirt wraps itself around him and the man’s glasses fall to the floor. His chest pops out, his eyeballs bulge and he roars at the top of his lungs, "Ticking awa-a-ay the moments that make up a dull day." Madly, he strums an air guitar and chicken-struts around the room. Finally, he stops in front of the camera, smoothes the logo on the shirt, and says, "SsssssssoundStage!"

* *

Scene II: A guest checks into a seedy motel. He is formally attired in black suit, black shoes, white shirt, Snoopy tie. He picks up his key and heads for the room when out of the shadows steps a demented dwarf. "Did you get the shirt?" rasps the dwarf. The guest flinches. "Doug, is that you?" asks the guest. "Shh, not so loud," says the diminutive madman.

"I didn’t recognize you without your beard," says the guest.

"The shirt, the shirt?" says Doug.

"It’s here," says the man in black, hefting his carry-on.

"Will you wear it?" says Doug.

"Do I have to?" asks the man. "It makes me feel out of character."

"Don’t worry," says Doug. "You’re the only one who has the official SoundStage! shirt. Before the Show is over, you’re going to be famous."

"That’s what I’m afraid of, " says the man.

* *

The foregoing scenes are dramatizations but, they set the tone for the reality I suffered at CES ’98. I attribute my travails to the denim shirt with SoundStage! logo I wore at the behest of management. As a foreign importer, I am entitled to attend CES in suit and tie, clean-shaven and well-groomed. Instead, this year I tried to portray myself as a member of the Soundstage! reviewer team, and for my hubris, paid the price. Except for Terry Dorn of Audio Research, none of the manufacturers I represent would talk to me. I blame it on my reporter get-up, consisting of denim, scruffy beard and lapel-length hair. It seemed as if I was a stranger to all but hirsute people from the frozen North.

The reason I went for the cowboy look was because I had met Doug Schneider and three other SoundStage! participants in ’97. All had facial hair and lumberjack shirts, and made me feel citified. This year, facing the prospect of meeting eight more SoundStage! calf ropers, I decided to blend in. When Doug offered me a prototype SoundStage! shirt to wear, I accepted in self-defense. I also forswore shaving for a week. Imagine my surprise at CES ’98 when only one other SoundStage! writer, Todd Warnke, appeared as a cowboy. (Since Todd’s from Colorado, his bearded and be-denimed appearance is authentic.) Doug Schneider and the rest of the team were clean shaven and wore sport jackets! Not counting Steven Rochlin, who wears earrings and such, I was the principal non-conformist in the group--quite a turnabout for SoundStage’s elder statesman.

Worse than my appearance was the hyper-kinetic personality I displayed as a walking SoundStage! billboard. In the status of non-reviewer, I could only spread good will on behalf of our cyberzine (Jim shown above-right in full SoundStage! cap and shirt attire with Mark Schifter of Genesis). This I did with a vengeance. On the first day of the Show, I visited 72 exhibits, passed out 96 business cards, and solicited 104 products for review by someone at SoundStage! ( "who will be along shortly"). By the time the Show ended, I had promised 235 manufacturers in-depth reviews during the next three months. I considered it a job well done. SsssssssoundStage!

This was not appreciated by my confreres. Each morning over breakfast, I would gently ask, "Would someone please go to the X room and listen to the X-Y speakers. I promised them a review." This was greeted by mutterings such as, "Who died and left you king?"; "X this. I got enough work to do;" or my favorite, "They hate us at the X room, thanks to you."

My energy on behalf of SoundStage! was boundless. At one point, John Stafford ("Mr. Charm") jogged along with me from room to room, helping to spread good will. "From the way you write, I expected you to be more laid back," he puffed. "In Paradise maybe, but not here" I replied, charging like Teddy Roosevelt up another set of stairs. My motto for three days was "Good Will or Death". At one point, I think I passed myself on a second-floor landing.

This manic behavior carried over to the streets of Las Vegas. Todd and I manned a two-car caravan down to the Golden Nugget. In the lead car, I missed every turn by twenty yards, but still managed to recover by frighteningly illegal behavior. This style of driving, which I learned in Paradise, scared everyone but Todd, who duplicated my maneuvers to a T. At one point, Todd shouted at me, "Where did you learn to drive?" I only sneered in reply, "SsssssssoundStage!"

Finally, on Saturday night at the Stereophile party, I was so keyed up I could no longer laugh. I got inebriated without relaxing. A group of us were in the bar at the Flamingo Hilton when I realized that I was about to bust up the place out of good will. I turned to Bobby Palkovic of Merlin loudspeaker fame. "I want to give you something," I said. I was wearing the Shirt over a turtleneck and suddenly popped open the buttons and ripped the shirt off. "Here, take this, the shirt off my back," I said drunkenly. A surprised Bobby P. did not budge. I draped the shirt over his shoulders, slid off the stool and departed.

The next day, I donned my black suit and went to manufacturer meetings where I was warmly received as the Audio Dealer from Paradise, rather than the guy in the denim shirt. By late afternoon, I was back in character. Then, I hit a wall of exhaustion.. I have not felt so tired in years. For three days, the Shirt had propelled me onward, using up reserves of energy until even involuntary muscles stopped twitching.

After the Show closed, Doug questioned my Saturday night antics. "And also, why did you give away the shirt?" he asked. I had no answer. But intuitively, I knew if hadn’t taken off the Shirt off when I did, I would have left Las Vegas in a basket. As Muhammad Ali responded about fighting Joe Frazier for the third time, it was like death. Next year, I propose that someone younger, stronger, and faster don the SoundStage! shirt. I’m going to wear a suit and tie and keep the good will to a minimum. But for auld lang syne, strike up the heartbeat and let me say it one last time, "SsssssssoundStage!"

...James Saxon
jimsax@soundstage.com

After this was written, I learned that Bobby Palkovic has had the SoundStage! shirt drycleaned (an exorcism?) and is sending it back to me. Dare I wear it to the Stereophile Show in June?

* *

CES 1998--The Jimmy Awards

Although I visited many, many rooms at CES, I am not permitted to review any of them on behalf of SoundStage! Nevertheless, I have a few personal opinions which I would like to share with the several people who read my monthly articles. Therefore, at the risk of forfeiting the family jewels to a disgruntled manufacturer, I invite my pen pals to peruse a list of the products that impressed me at CES ’98. Upon these efforts, I hereby bestow the First Annual Jimmy Awards for good sound at the Show.

Loudspeakers

Loudspeaker under $1,000---Living up to its reviews, the Meadowlark Kestrel was a brilliant overachiever.

Loudspeaker under $2.000---The Speaker Art Super Clef doesn’t perform audiophilio but it plays music.

Loudspeaker under $3,000---Diablo Acoustics Model 6 are housed in cabinets that start off as liquid and finish as rock solid.

Loudspeaker under $4,000---The Aerial 7B, driven by Mark Levinson amplification, was the Loudspeaker Value of the Show.

Loudspeaker under $5,000---InnerSound debuted it’s Eros, an electrostatic with transmission line bass powered by a 400 watt amplifier included in the price ($4,500).

Loudspeaker under $6,000---The mighty Merlin VSM-SE was one of the most frequently used speakers at the show and signified excellence in three different set-ups.

Loudspeaker under $8,000---The Genesis APM-1, with 500-watt woofer amp included, gave a scintillating rendition of Fanfare for the Common Man.

Loudspeaker under $9,000---Dunlavy’s new Sigma extends the frequency extremes and promises to force a lot of SC-IV trade-ups.

Loudspeaker under $10,000--Motivated by Krell electronics, the Egglestonworks Rosa gave great piano.

Loudspeaker under $12,000--Von Schweikert’s VR-6 offered the widest listening position at the Show.

Loudspeaker under $15,000--Pear Products’ Bartlett with Stump II subwoofer was an aural/visual delight.

Loudspeaker under $19,000--The Nova USA Rendition rendered an excellent imitation of players in the room.

Loudspeaker under $20,000--Avalon Acoustics Eidolon, driven by Classe’s 400-watt Omega amplifier, was the BEST of SHOW.

Loudspeaker under the price of a new house--Martin-Logan’s Statement was room-filling to say the least.

Amplifiers

Amplifier under $600---Would you like a class A amplifier that fits in your purse? Call Monarchy Audio.

Amplifier under $3,000---A sweet-sounding solid-stater, the Clayton S-40
drove the Merlin TSMs atop Osiris Audionics stands in one of the best "small" systems at the Show.

Amplifier under $4,000---The Bel Canto SET40 is a single-ended stereo tube amplifier with guts to match its superb tonality (on Dunlavy IIIs).

Amplifier under $6,000---Chord’s SPM 1200C uses 200volt/300-watt Mosfets to produce effortless sound.

Amplifier under $9,000---The Audio Research VT200 had the most "slam "of any tube amplifier I have ever heard under show conditions.

Amplifier under $20,000—Lamm Industries’ ML1 monoblocks sounded a lot sweeter than they looked.

Amplifier under $1,000,000-The Krell Master Reference wins the BEST of SHOW for 1998 and probably 1999, as well.

Preamplifiers

Preamplifiers---I’m bestowing a Pasadena on this category until next year. That is, if I’m allowed to perpetuate the coveted Jimmy Awards again next year.

Digital Playback Components

Digital under $1,500---G&D Transforms’ UDT-1 transport made several processors sound their best.

Digital under $2,500---G&D Transforms’ UDC-1 CD player is not yet ready for prime time, but the prototype had a few of us breathing heavily.

Digital under $5,000---The digital transport, designed by Muse Electronics and Resolution Audio at the instigation of a consortium of software producers who will press 24-bit/96Khz compact discs playable on said transport , is a must-audition when available.

Digital under $13,506--Theta’s Casablanca surround-sound processor has every option imaginable and then adds a few more. BEST of SHOW for multi-channel playback.

Digital at five times the median income in Paradise---Krell actually played measly little $16 compact discs through the KPS 25s, an electronic tour de force which makes one wonder, why? BEST of SHOW for two-channel playback, laying waste to everything else I heard.

Accessories

As an accessory after the fact, I am honor-bound to serve Jimmy Awards to TG Audio’s HSR-I power cord, VanEvers’ "The Unlimiter" power amp line conditioner, JPSLabs Superconductor 2 interconnect, Transparent Audio’s Digital Reference cable, Townshend Audio’s Seismic Sink equipment stand, Zoethecus’ wooden equipment racks, Polycrystal’s amp stand, and Aedon Audio’s Audio Carpet, which is made in Italy of designer fabrics from the Missoni Furnishings collection (I kid you not.).

Winning BEST of SHOW were the foam ear plugs given to me by SoundStage! Technical Editor Doug Blackburn to wear on the airplane. I will never again leave home without them.

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