My first audio review, which detailed my experience with the Wisdom Audio Adrenaline Dipole 75 loudspeaker system, was published in October of 1998 on SoundStage.com—at the time, the equivalent of SoundStage! Hi-Fi. I’ve written hundreds of product reviews since then, along with a bazillion opinion articles, show reports, and features of all sorts. SoundStage!—the network that now includes ten sites, a YouTube channel, busy social media platforms, and measurement and photography labs—has been my professional home for about 25 years. Since this is the last article I’ll be writing for SoundStage!, I thought it fitting to share some of my favorite memories from my career as a SoundStager.
At High End 1999 holding an extremely long Nordost speaker cable
One of my earliest recollections of traveling for SoundStage! was the first High End show I attended. It was in 1999. At the time, the High End show was held at the Hotel Kempinski in Frankfurt, Germany. I was 31 years old—I’m 55 now—and I was as green as you can imagine when it came to the global nature of high-end audio. This particular show was where I first met Flemming Rasmussen of Gryphon Audio Designs, a hulking figure dressed in a black overcoat who fronted a line of monstrous components the likes of which I could never have imagined even existing. This is where I first saw the Gryphon Antileon amplifier, which would become an audio obsession of mine for, well . . . actually, it kind of still is, if I’m honest. I would go on to review every iteration of the stereo version of the Antileon from then until now. Flemming’s presence at Gryphon was legendary, just like the products he designed—both the man and the gear he created have had an impact on me. Frankfurt was also the spot where SoundStage! publisher and founder Doug Schneider and I got into our first of many epic arguments, um, debates. More on that later.
Flemming Rasmussen at High End in 2016
Through the years, I also made numerous trips to Wilson Audio Specialties, located in Provo, Utah. I had a number of opportunities to listen to David Wilson’s speaker creations in the listening room at his home up in the hills in the early 2000s. Dave liked bringing reviewers to his home to showcase his newest speakers because he knew the acoustics of his room inside and out, and he always chose the associated components personally. This is where his speakers shone best, I’d say. These listening sessions were always educational and inspirational—I would come away from them knowing what sonic and musical priorities mattered to Dave, and this knowledge influenced my understanding of how music in the home was supposed to sound. Dave was a great listener and host.
In Dave Wilson’s listening room in 2009
While on the subject of trips I’ve made on behalf of SoundStage!, my first trip to Rockport Technologies was paradigm shifting. It happened around 2007, and my visit included the first effective demonstration I’d experienced illustrating how measurements in the design process influenced the eventual sound of a loudspeaker. Founder Andy Payor showed me how he acoustically measured speakers during the crossover-tuning phase of finishing a Rockport speaker, then proceeded to play music over another speaker on which he’d done the same exact work. I could hear aspects of sound reproduction that had escaped me before those sessions, and Andy explained the correlations between specific engineering solutions and the revealing sounds I was hearing from his speakers. This was a watershed moment that influenced my thinking on the importance of measurements.
Listening to Rockport Technologies speakers in Maine in the late 2000s
The annual CES show in Las Vegas was home to many of my favorite memories. I’ve probably attended around 20 of these shows through the years representing SoundStage! On the opening day, for many years, fellow writer Roger Kanno and I would go out to dinner together just to catch up. Roger always had the inside scoop on hole-in-the-wall restaurants he thought we’d enjoy, and it was always a great time to hang out with a friend I’d only see once a year. For at least a few of those meetups, we ended up at the Hash House A Go Go restaurant, where I’d order freshly squeezed tangerine juice with my dinner, which was usually chicken and waffles. Roger and I would talk about all the new gear we wanted to see and hear, and what we wanted to upgrade in our audio systems. Roger almost always had a coupon for wherever we ate, so dinner was typically cheap. Perhaps it’s those dinners with Roger that I’ve missed most of all since CES abandoned high-end audio.
At CES 2014 in Las Vegas with (left to right): Aron Garrecht, Hans Wetzel, and Roger Kanno
Many of the actual audio experiences I had in Vegas were fantastic as well. Perhaps none was as mind-bending as the first Magico speaker I ever heard. It was the M5 loudspeaker, which was shown for the first time at the 2009 CES. I recall company founder and CEO Alon Wolf explaining the technology and design features and then . . . bam, he played the speakers. I’d never heard detail in the lower frequencies comparable to what I experienced from the M5 on that occasion. That experience forever changed the way I perceive bass reproduction. The rest of the frequency band was equally compelling, of course. I knew right then that Magico would be a force to be reckoned with in high-end audio.
Interviewing Magico’s Alon Wolf at CES over a decade ago
Ranking very high on my list of fondest SoundStage! memories were the TWBAS events—short for The World’s Best Audio System—that I held in my home in 2004, 2009, and 2012. The idea was concocted at a Denny’s diner in Colorado on a factory-tour trip I made with then SoundStage! editor-in-chief Marc Mickelson in the summer of 2003. I recall us discussing the equipment we’d just seen and heard at Boulder Amplifiers and Ayre Acoustics, and wondering what kind of supersystem we’d each assemble if we had no limitations. I can’t remember which one of us said, “Well, let’s just do it,” but that mediocre-at-best Denny’s meal was the launching point for a series of events that will always stand out as high points of my time as a SoundStager.
Listening at the TWBAS 2012 event in my former home in Hampstead, North Carolina
The experiences I’ve mentioned here were all stops along my audio journey that I’ll never forget. There are hundreds more that I could tell you about, but I’ll just end my trip down memory lane with this last one: Doug Schneider and I have covered High End for SoundStage!, first in Frankfurt and then in Munich, for over 20 years. I missed only one edition of High End because the birth of my son fell within weeks of the show. These audio events in Germany all had one thing in common: Doug and me walking many, many miles together and finding things to argue about the whole way. These exchanges—let’s call them friendly debates—were not confined to audio-related subjects, though there were plenty of those. They spanned every subject under the sun, from politics to working out to speaker design. The conversations we had were actually productive, though. I’d say that many of the decisions and future directions that impacted SoundStage! were formulated on the streets of Munich. For instance—and I’m sure Doug will debate this too, which is only natural—I came up with the names “SoundStage! Hi-Fi” and “SoundStage! Global” while we were walking down Leopoldstraße heading to Marienplatz for coffee. One thing is for sure: Doug always made me think. I credit him with giving me my start with SoundStage! and letting me develop my career in the audio industry. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that—no debate there.
At High End 2022 with (left to right): Jonathan Gorse, Doug Schneider, and Edgar Kramer
And so my time at SoundStage! is coming to an end. As I said at the outset, this is my last article. New doors and adventures in the audio industry await. I’ll miss working day to day with the folks mentioned above, along with Joseph Taylor, Karen Fanas, Wes Marshall, Hans Wetzel, Thom Moon, Jonathan Gorse, Jason Thorpe, S. Andrea Sundaram, Garrett Hongo, Philip Beaudette, Peter Roth, Edgar Kramer, and Aron Garrecht, among others. I would also like to thank ex-SoundStagers Randall Smith, Anthony Di Marco, Vade Forrester, Kevin East, Howard Kneller, Richard Lehnert, and anyone I’m forgetting to mention for their support along the way.
My career reviewing and writing about high-end audio equipment for SoundStage! has shaped a large portion of my life—it’s part of who I am. I couldn’t be more thankful for every bit of it.
. . . Jeff Fritz