There’s a quote I got from Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK which I brought up a number of times over the weekend in Chicago at AXPONA, and it goes like this: “There’s far too little focus on music, and far too much focus on equipment in this industry. It never ceases to baffle me how badly the industry looks at music, it’s like it’s actually an annoyance… because why can’t we just focus on the equipment?”
The reason I was reminded of it, and kept inserting it into conversations was because a number of the audiophile press I spoke with kept complaining about how boring, predictable, and painful the bulk of the music being played at high fidelity shows is. I think I got lucky in Chicago because most of the rooms I spent time in were practicing diversity in their music choices, and a couple in particular had me photographing LP covers because after hearing them I needed to buy a copy for myself.
There’s no doubt that there is a very thin veneer of music that seems to get played at audiophile shows, and they are invariably audiophile pressings, or digital masters, and anyone who’s attended a show can rattle off titles, and artists who are in heavy rotation pretty quickly. As I said in my previous post it’s become expected, and unfortunately it’s also become demanded by show goers. How many rooms clear out immediately as soon as anything electronic gets put on? How many people ask to hear “female vocals” or “something with piano” ad nauseam? And, the biggest thing I notice in rooms is that the ones requesting all this music barely seem to be listening to it. They will talk over the entire track they requested asking questions about this amp or that CD player or turntable.
Rarely have I ever heard discussions about the material being played. Except for one room where the music is almost always being talked about: The High Water Sound room run by Jeffrey Catalano out of New York. This is the room I always go to because I want to visit with Catalano – he’s an amazing man, with impeccable taste in music – and hear albums that I’ve never heard before. Without fail his LP picks blow me away, and I’ll always end up ordering two or thee from a single listening session. I joke that Catalano costs me a small fortune every time I see him because not only are the albums musical masterpieces, they’re usually ubër rare, and pricey – but worth it.
Catalano usually doesn’t fuss too much with the gear he brings to shows, it’s almost always a variation on Hörning Hybrid loudspeakers (This time the Aristotle Ellipse, $16,000 USD, $21,450 CAN), New Audio Frontiers amplification (Ultimate 211 SE Stereo Amplifier $13,500 USD, Stradivari Line Stage $10,000 USD, Stradivari Phono Stage $11,500 USD) Tron-Electric (Seven GT Mono Phono $15,000 USD), and TW-Acustic (Black Knight turntable $40,000 USD with two 10.5-inch tonearms, $5,500 each, Ortofon PW-Winfield stereo cartridge $4,100 USD, and Cadenza Mono $1,280 USD). His set-ups are always one of the very best sounding rooms at every show I attend, and are a beauty to behold.
The next time you’re at a high-fidelity show I recommend you take the time to seek out Catalano, not only will you be treated to a room that is built upon a foundation of emotional connection to music through some of the finest sounding equipment I’ve been exposed to, but you’ll most definitely hear artists, and albums you’ve never heard of.
Who knows, you might even talk about the albums you’re listening to and not the gear it’s being played on.