Live from Casa Saxon

January 1997

Audio Dealer in Paradise - Part Two

Given that Paradise is so near to Coconut Grove, I have been toying with the idea of joining the South Florida Audio Society. Unfortunately, one has to fill out an application, a debilitating task, and actually send in money, which is beyond me, since I don't plan to drink punch or eat cookies at meetings I won't be attending. I just want to belong. So, in devious audiophile fashion, I contacted a founding member of the SFAS, Ray Seda, and attempted to brown-nose my way into a complementary life-time membership. Ray's response was a gracious no thank you, but he mentioned he had read an article of mine in Soundstage!, that he travelled to Paradise on business and that he would look me up next time in town. Wow, maybe I could impress my way into a courtesy membership after all.

The highly anticipated day came two weeks ago. I woke at six to fire up the old system and have it cooking for our 9:00 a.m. get together. Not wanting to seem overly anxious to impress, I used the junior reference system, consisting of Krell KPS20i/l, used as a compact disc player, bypassing the preamp stage, Pass Aleph P line stage, Muse Signature 160 stereo amplifier ($1900 retail, the poor man's Pass Aleph 2s) and Aerial Acoustics 10T loudspeakers on Sound Anchors stands. Balanced interconnect and loudspeaker cable were the shielded JPSLabs, which have won my affections. I stuck a Shakti stone on top of the Muse amp for good luck and lo! for the first time heard an improvement with the piedra in my system. In all, it was your basic, everyday $24,000 system. Bring on Sugar Ray, I thought shadow-boxing to the beat of Queen's "Another One Bite's the Dust."

I arrived at Ray's hotel in suburban Paradise an obsequious thirty minutes early. He was an intimidating 30 minutes late. "Right this way, sir. May I help with your carry-on?" Ray looked to be in his mid-thirties, fifteen years younger than I, which meant I probably had five to ten years of audio experience on him. The old gray eagle's confidence perked up.

After pleasantries, I prodded. "So, Ray, how long have you been involved in hi-fi?"

"When I was 12 I built my first tube amplifier from a Dynakit, but I had been listening critically for some years prior to that."

"Oh, yeah? What years were those?"

"Second grade, I think. I remember listening to "Light My Fire" on a McIntosh 240 system, and admiring the ambience retrieval. That would have been 1968." 1968.

This kid had been honing his ear over Dick and Jane while I was dodging the draft.

"My dad had a decent system when I was in kindergarten, so I may have had an interest in hi-fi even earlier. I do remember having only one speaker. My dad wasn't convinced that thirty-three and a third recordings were better than his mono 78s. For a long time, I agreed."

Gadzooks, I was driving home with the audiophile equivalent of young Mozart. For my part, I didn't know hi-fi existed until I turned 35 in 1980. I had never heard a mono 78. I tried to rally.

"I don't imagine there were many stereo shops in South Florida in the late 60's, early 70's. You were probably stuck with the Dynakit for a long time."

"No, we lived in northern New Jersey then. My dad used to take me to Harvey Radio in Manhattan to check out the new stuff, mostly Fisher and Marantz amplifiers and Advent and AR loudspeakers. I moved up to a Marantz transistor amp in 1970. Some move. The thing was so fatiguiging I changed to Audio Research about the day William Johnson hit the streets with it. That was '73, I've been a tube lover ever since."

Sorry, Mozart.. No tubes at La Casa Saxon at the moment. Just "tube-like" transistor amps.

We pulled up to the house at ten o'clock. Richard, my assistant had already begun baking. If I fail to give Richard a stereo assignment first thing in the morning, he immediately turns to his own business which is cooking things to sell. He keeps the profits. Since I buy most of his output to give to friends and I also keep the books, he seldom sees a dime of earnings.

Ray showed a good nose right off. "What's that smell?" he asked, not perceiving the plastic, wood and steel aroma of a typical hi-fi emporium..

"That's a bake-smell. We make cupcakes when business is slow." I replied.

"No, the hippy-boutique smell, like flowers."

"Patchoulie. My Canadian house-boy's cologne."

"You have a Canadian house-boy?"

"I just demoted him from 'assistant'."

"But why Canadian?"

I shrugged. "I guess if I lived in Canada, I'd have a Paradisian house-boy."

"Good point, " said Ray.

Ray took a quick look around and slapped his hands together. Did he like something?

"Pretty bad slap echo," he said. I agreed. "Pretty bad. I'm planning to move."

"When?" asked Ray. "I can come back."

"No, please," I said motioning to the chair in the "sweet spot." "It goes away after awhile. You won't even notice."

Ray, ever the gentleman, took the chair.

"Anything special you'd like to listen to, " I fawned, trying to imitate an American hi-fi store owner.

"Jazz, classical, rock, pop, reggae, new age, anything would be all right."

Thanks for narrowing it down, Ray, I thought. I reached for Michel Jonasz' "Fabulous History of Mr. Swing".

"Anything but Michel Jonasz," said Ray, smoothing his necktie. "I'm tired of that one."

Like a snake, Mr. Swing slipped surreptitiously out of my hand. "How about an oldie, Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle?"

"Great," said Ray. Just as ol' Steve broke into the title song, Ray looked at me, quizzically. "Say, isn't that the remastered gold disc version?"

"Er, yes, it is," I acknowledged. "How can you tell."

"Greater clarity, snap, the guitar has more presence. Actually, though, the original vinyl creams the gold disc."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Too bad I don't own a turntable. Of course, wouldn't do much good. since I don't have any records. Maybe for your next visit. . . ." I drooled on.

Just then, Richard motioned for me to come into the kitchen. An executive decision was needed on how many chocolate cupcakes to bake that day. "I don't know, Richard. As many as you like, I guess."

Like a pit bull smelling fear, Richard leapt to the attack.

"I was thinkin' maybe mmmph dozen would be okay," he said, his earrings glistening smartly against his shaved skull.

"How many?"

"About mmmph dozen."

Anxious to get back to impressing Ray, I assented weakly. "Okay, just make sure we have enough flour and stuff."

"Oh, we do," Richard assured me.

Meanwhile, Ray had left the sweet spot and wandered over to the table where a supply of new discs were on display. Like most dealers, I also stock a few compact discs for sale. They often provide the only daily income. It's a slave's job, trying to sell hi-fi in Paradise. I'm considering a small stock of t-shirts, as well. Richard recommends megadeath Tees. Most of my customer's are middle-aged family men. Would they really buy megadeath Tees? I wonder.

"How much are the jazz discs?" Ray asked.

"Fifteen dollars, U.S." I replied.

"I'll take a couple," he said. "And a copy of the Absolute Sound to read on the airplane."

Say, Ray is all right, I thought to myself. Now, if I can just swing that courtesy membership, this day will have panned out.

"That'll be fifty-three dollars and ninety-five cents," I responded, adding with a magnanimous wave, "Let's call it fifty-four even."

Ray leafed through his wallet. "Sorry, I only have fifty-five." He held out two bills.

"That'll be fine," I replied, stuffing them into my shirt pocket. "Now, let me show you something neat."

It turns out that Ray and I have a mutual friend, Dr. Mario Diaz, who lives in Miami. Several months ago I auditioned Mario's incredibly dynamic Cary-Sonic Frontiers-Sonus Faber system and could not believe the quality of his digital sound. Mario had told me his secret was to record compact discs through his computer and use the new discs for playback. According to Mario, the recorded discs sounded better than the originals. He had sent me a sampler of cuts I new to prove his contentions. He was right. "Let's play the sampler Mario Diaz recorded on his computer," I said. "Do you know Pat Metheny's 'Long Train Home' from the live album?"

I prodded the Krell and we were treated to more ambience, dimensionality and detail than the original disc has (Pat Metheny Group, "The Road to You," GEFD-24601). I could tell Ray liked the sound. His eyes were moving to the recording's directional cues. From there we segued into Holly Cole's version of "I Can See Clearly Now" (Holly Cole Trio, "Don't Smoke in Bed," CCAP 81198).

Ray's eyes stopped moving. Like Mighty Casey at the bat, he held up a hand for silence. "I hear a problem. I don't know if it's the room or the equipment, but I suspect it's the room. You are getting a peak at about 60 to 80 cycles."

"I know," I replied. "It's Holly's bass player. He's overmiked."

Ray was not to be bluffed. "In my room, on my equipment, I don't get that peak."

"Ah, but do you have the computer-recorded version, like this one?"

"No. . . ."

"Well, there you go." I said, suavely.

"Maybe you have a point. I'll ask Mario to make me a copy so I can compare." Ray added, "But I doubt its the problem."

A few cuts later, Ray began looking at his watch. "Whoops, I see my flight leaves in three hours. How long does it take to get to the airport from here?"

"About thirty minutes."

"Gee, I better get going. Thanks for the demo."

On the drive out to the airport, I decided to press for a free membership. "You mentioned that the South Florida Audio Society will be holding elections soon," I began. "I'd vote for you for president, if I could."

Ray had mentioned he was thinking of running for president of the club. "First, you'd have to fill out an application and send it in, along with the dues."

"I didn't mean the club, I meant President of the United States. I think it's about time an audiophile ran the country."

Ray seemed to like that. "Maybe we'd see American-made receivers and walkmen if we had a few audiophiles in government."

"So, isn't there any way we can waive the application fee for an off-shore member? Maybe a courtesy membership by acclamation or something like that."

Ray gave me a grand smile. "Nope," he said. "Rules are rules."

At the airport, we exchanged business cards and promised to keep in touch. As Ray faded into the crowd, I knew we would never meet again because of my 60 cycle peak. At least he hadn't said anything negative about the system, just the room. I vowed to smooth out the room response as soon as I funds permitted, some time in the next century.

I was feeling whistful as I pulled up to La Casa Saxon. Then, I noticed something odd—a chocolate cupcake in the driveway. As I opened the door, I noticed a few more cupcakes on the stone floor. I followed their trail into the kitchen. Good grief! I had never seen so many cupcakes in one place at one time.

"Richard, what's going on here? How many cupcakes did you bake?"

"Uhh, about eighteen dozen."

"Eighteen dozen! Why, that's over. . . two hundred. What are you going to do with all those cupcakes."

"I was hopin' to sell 'em to you. You know, to give as gifts and such for Christmas."

"How much is this going to cost me?" I groaned.

Richard shook his chocolatey fingers. "At fifty-five colones each, about 11, 880 colones."

By the current dollar-exchange rate that equaled, $54.95. I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out the the money Ray had given me for the compact discs, a fifty and a five-spot. "Here take this," I said, glumly. "It's $55. Keep the change."

Richard licked his fingers. Another day in Paradise had bitten the dust.

Jim Saxon