People are always telling me that I should blog about things everyone wants to read about.
So, I thought about it and I came up with the subject of microphonics, so-called cable microphonics specifically. Those of you who read (over and over, I’m sure) Wires, Baby! know I’ve recently slipped the bounds of the 21st century and gone back to wired earbuds because for the most part they simply sound better.
Now, oddly, inexplicably I’ve found that a good number of wired earbuds suffer from what’s been called in many corners microphonics.
When people say this they referring to hearing extraneous bass coming through their earbuds, such as the sound of their own footsteps, as they walk.
It can be damned annoying and some decent buds are let down by this. The problem is that it’s not actually microphonics. As pretty much all of you know, microphonics are when a mechanical/acoustic object generates an unintended electrical signal that’s amplified and heard during playback.
The oldest example of this is in relatively high gain small signal phono tubes. The 12AU7/ECC82 was notorious for this, but any small-signal tube that is part of a circuit with enough gain could suffer from this effect. And, as an aside to you tube guys, the 12AU7 is really not appropriate for use in a phono circuit when there are so many dandy 12X7 and 6922s laying around.
A more recent example is the stylus/cartridge assembly of a turntable being excited by in-room low frequencies that looped those frequencies right back through the system with predictable non-musical results.
In contemporary parlance the word microphonics has been applied to the cables of IEMs and earbuds but that’s not truly what’s going on.
The thud effect is induced by at least these factors:
1 The profile of the cable, with so-called tangle-free cables (often those with a roughly rectangular cross sections) being especially likely to exacerbate the problem.
2) The durometer of the cable’s exterior jacket and to a lesser degree its dielectric (if it’s separate from the jacket, which it usually isn’t). Harder and stiffer make it worse where usually they make things better.
3) The degree of the acoustic seal that the earbud tips create within the ear and/or ear canal.
What this means is that what is heard is a simple drum effect, not actual microphonics. This can be proven quite easily. Simply tap on your earbud’s cables with your device on mute, or even turned off.
Yup, thud, thud, thud.
What’s interesting is that some brands (Apple) figured this out years ago. The cables on their modestly priced buds don’t suffer this kind of annoying drum effect at all. Other brands like Beats (one wonders why didn’t they just ring up their cousins over at Apple for help with this) and Skullcandy can’t be bothered to eliminate such a simple mechanical problem.
I also understand that Etymotic Research is plagued with this in their $300 ER4SR IEMs.
Come on, folks. You have the word research right in your name so go do some!
Look, personal audio has come very far very fast and we’re all loving it. But let’s not be so focused on making the world a better place that we miss fixing easy problems that ruin the music.
I really regret not keeping up with progress reports on Cottonwood over the time I’ve been working on it. The funny thing is that I until I checked I couldn’t even remember how long I’ve been working on the book. Now that I have checked I see it’s been a good long time since my first novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open came out in April of 2019.
Cottonwood is a sequel of sorts. No, I guess it’s just a plain old sequel. It takes the lives of the two main characters from the early 1970s in Pennsylvania all the way to the desert of California and the late 1970s. I didn’t really have another book with the same characters, or at least some of them, in mind when I was putting the finishing touches on JJM. But suddenly, when I was totally done with it, I realized that I wasn’t totally done with it.
I imagined the book continuing into the future, the future being nearly a decade later. I saw the book continuing into my own time and closer to some of my own places. So much of the first book was an educated guess. Oh sure, I’d been to Pennsylvania when I was a kid but I didn’t have any real memories of it, other than staying with my mom’s cousin in an ancient row house in Reading, Pennsylvania one summer when I was about 12. Worse, I’d never been to Wales or anywhere in Europe for that matter (still haven’t, in fact). That was a huge problem. I spent hours looking at maps, imagining how the sun rose and set in various parts of the country. I read about how much it cost to take a ship from New York to Wales and how long the voyage took. I came to know some of that stuff, as we know facts that are printed on the page, but I couldn’t know them as experiences.
They say to write what you know. It makes a kind of intuitive sense but the need to know breaks down quickly when you start to write. The important thing for me has been to know and understand my characters. From there, my book is only a measure of how well I can bring my imagination and my relationship with my characters together. I think that Cottonwood will be a better book than JJM, or at least I hope it will be. It’s certainly a longer one and it’s not quite done yet. I wanted Cottonwood to have a more leisurely quality than JJM but life over the last two and a half years got in the way, both for me and the main characters. Life up and took away some of the meandering feel that I had hoped for the book and replaced it with something more intense, and I guess that’s Ok. We all write, partly, to make a character come to life. I hope that Cottonwood will do more than keep the characters from JJM alive. I hope it will show them as they change and meet challenges in the world they exist in much as I try to do in my own.
Anyway, it’s been a long effort and I happy to have made as much progress as I have. I can see the end of Cottonwood coming and also the beginning that will follow it close behind.
I know, it’s been a good long while. The good news is that Cottonwood, the sequel to my first novel now tips the scales at over 150,000 words. The pandemic initially quickened my productivity but in the end slowed it down significantly. Oh well, it’s only time and we all have plenty of that (he writes sardonically).
Even less interesting is the fact that I managed to lose my Apple AirPod Pros. Actually, they weren’t exactly lost. After all, the Find My app showed their last position (laying helpless and pitifull in a parking planter) but they were unable to find their way home. So, I tried other Bluetooth buds from Skullcandy, Sennheiser and Jabra but was disappointed badly each time. The AirPods were disappointing, too, I never did like the way they sounded though their feature set was impressive.
So, I’ve gone wired. I’ve decided that it’s better to battle a wire than it is to have marginal sound. I use a pair of now-discontinued Beats urbeats3 and a pair of Flares Jet2. The Beat’s rather enthusiastic bass is tamed nicely and easily via my iPhone’s EQ while their native midband and treble is surprisingly good out of the box. The Flares are more balanced overall if a little less musical (and less fun) than the Beats. Both of them whip the pants off of any of the expensive Bluetooth buds I’ve tried. I also keep a couple pair of old-school Apple buds for emergencies. Someday I may go wireless but not today. Why switch when you can fight?
I’ve followed Tom Slighter of Slighter Golf for a long time, all the way back to the days when I consulted to Jim Von Lossow of Von’s Golf. Back then, I was very impressed by the purposeful look of Slighter’s early putters.
A while back, while researching new putter companies, I happened across the Slighter Golf website again and realized that the guy who had been a relative newcomer way back when had become one of the stallworts of the independent putter craft.
And here I emphasize the word craft. CNC and 3D printing are amazing and I am glad I live in a world where they exist and help make our lives easier. But, craft is as important as programing. Tom Slighter is a man with the rare ability to take an idea and make it real and to give it a kind of soul.
The putters Slighter Golf makes are more than mere tools or products. Rather, they’re invested with something of the man himself and that’s what appeals to me about Slighter Golf. I want to thank Tom and his entire team for being so generous with their time.
Paul Cervantes Back when you started out there weren’t many small putter companies in the US or anywhere for that matter. What made you decide to make your own putters?
Tom Slighter I first began changing grips and shafts on my own clubs in 1990. Later that year I began repairing golf clubs for local clubs in Salem, Oregon for several years. I was able to repair golf clubs for pay and free golf. I was working for State Farm insurance at the time and in 1998, I transferred to Seattle, WA. The golf courses in that area already had golf club repair shops so I did not pursue club repair. I had about 30 putters of my own that I decided to sell and pay off some debt from the move. I used eBay to sell my putters and after selling all of them I realized there might be a market to refinish putters and sell them on eBay.
I began refinishing putters in 1999 and used eBay to sell the putters I had refinished. I didn’t notice any one else refinishing putters at that time so I received numerous requests for refinishing work. After working on hundreds of putters and slowly building up my shop with equipment I decided to design my own putter. I looked all over the Seattle area for a machinist to help me make my putter. After being turned down multiple times, I found a machinist who had a small machine shop in Arlington, Washington who was willing to assist me.
I spent a year prototyping a design and after many attempts we made my first putter I named the Seattle. I manufactured twenty-seven Seattle putters and listed one on eBay in September 2002. I was very nervous that it would not sell and be embarrassed. To my surprise it did sell and in fact I sold out of the rest of the Seattle putters shortly thereafter. I then designed the Tacoma, Bellevue, etc. I purchased my first knee mill and started to learn how to use it. I watched my machinist and practiced frequently. I continued to develop my skills on the milling machine and became fairly proficient. I began building a good size shop with all the necessary equipment to specifically work on putters. I had become nearly a completely self-sufficient machine shop that strictly was for building putters. I could see that building and refinishing putters was beginning to be fairly lucrative. I applied for my business license under Slighter Golf, developed a website and was off and running.
Paul Cervantes These days there are a whole slew of New Kids on the Block making putters, companies like Brandon Matthew, Logan Olson’s Olson Manufacturing & Tyson Lamb are a few that come to mind. In some ways, it seems like it must have gotten easier for a new company to get started (because of CNC, 3D printing and the like). Are you glad you got your start when you did or would you rather get a putter company off the ground today (assuming you were twenty years younger)?
Tom Slighter I have noticed over the last 10 years there have been quite a few new and very talented putter designers. Some are very gifted and may very well be the leaders in the industry. The CNC process is pretty much the same, but the machines have more memory, newer programs and capabilities. I never did learn to program however I wish that I had. I was too busy making putters to really dive into that aspect. There are many great programmers, but I believe they should learn how to build a putter from the bottom up by hand. Very few of those individuals are still around. In my opinion, watching a craftsman build a putter from a solid block of steel using a knee mill is fun to see. I am very proud to have started when I did many years ago, when there were only a few of us putter makers. Even then, it was a very difficult market to break into with so many trusted putter makers already on the market.
Paul Cervantes I mentioned earier that I consulted to Jim Von Lossow (founder of Von’s Golf) when he was still making putters back in the 90s. At the time keeping up with production was an ongoing challenge for his company. As back order and lead times got longer customers got impatient. What are lead times like for a new Slighter putter? Is it a challenge to keep up or do you and your team have it down?
Tom Slighter Jim Von Lossow is a pioneer in his own right. I remember meeting him in the early 2000s. He was very well known in the Seattle area for club repair, fitting and putter design. I, unfortunately, did not chat much with Jim about his line of putters but I am sure he struggled with keeping up with demand and dealing with the reliability of machinists. My early years, I was always backed up with orders. I remember being ninety putters behind and fulfilling orders as quickly and efficiently as I could. I was always up front with my customers on lead-time and followed up with progress updates. I would not sell a putter to anyone who paid more for a rush order. It was not fair to my other customers. I have a wonderful team today that can typically produce a custom putter in two weeks or less.
Paul Cervantes What’s your favorite material to work with? And, I mean both from an ease of production perspective and from the perspective of the quality of the resulting putter?
Tom Slighter I enjoy milling carbon steel as it is very soft and cuts like butter; not a fan of welding on carbon because it is so dirty. I love to weld on stainless steel because it so clean to work with. The harder stainless steel metals like 15-5, 17-4, nitronic are difficult to mill and hard on cutters. Copper is like milling gum but easy to stamp. Brass will throw some fine chips and is also easy to stamp but both are just too soft for hosels and do not really offer the best feel. Aluminum is good for larger putters like mallets to keep the weight reasonable; good for inserts and easy to mill.
Paul Cervantes Beyond appearance do you think there’s an actual difference in feel (or sound) between a one-piece head and a putter with a welded hosel? I have a hunch about your answer but I’m very interested to learn what you think.
Tom Slighter I have not noticed any difference in sound or feel between a putter with a welded neck to that of a one-piece putter. If a weld is done correctly, it is very solid.
Paul Cervantes How has your machining equipment and technique evolved over the last couple decades? Do you have any old equipment that you remain dedicated to even though there are newer & better machines out there?
Tom Slighter That is a great question. I have a Sharp TMV-50 Knee mill I purchased new in 2006. I have made countless putters with it and modified hundreds of other putters. I know every inch of that machine and it is definitely my go-to mill. I was lucky to purchase a 1970 Grazziano SAG 12 lathe from a shop that was closing down. The owner had purchased his Grazziano brand new when he started his business in his garage. When I purchased it in 2011 I was the second owner. I have completely enjoyed this lathe ever since. It is an awesome piece of equipment and knowing it’s past makes it all that much more special. We do have multiple CNC machines for production runs.
Paul Cervantes Tom, this is just me being me and getting in the way of my own interview. I think every putter maker on the planet who makes a Ping Anser variant ought to get out of bed every morning and be thankful that Karsten Solheim was so damn smart. Isn’t it amazing that the essential head shape of the Anser is still as viable as it is? It’s so ubiquitous that putter makers really have to make one, even the young guns and so-called innovators pretty much bow to Redwood City and Phoenix. As an aside I’m always surprised that even though Ping invented the dang thing they’ve nearly forgotten how to make a good one. Sorry, I’m not sure there’s even a question in there but maybe you can help me and tell me your thoughts about Karsten and the Ping Anser and Slighter Golf’s unique spin on it.
Tom Slighter Paul, you have a great understanding of the putter market. I could not agree with you more. PING’s design of the Anser was iconic and in turn was developed into the Anser 2 and Anser 4. Cameron completely redesigned the Anserputters into works of art. He redesigned most of the PING line into works of art. PING had a dynasty in the putter market and in my opinion missed the boat by resting on their laurels. I admire Cameron’s ability to re-invent the wheel so to speak. Genius. When I started out I was intrigued by the old school TaylorMade T.P.A. series. I loved the TaylorMade T.P.A. 8 of the 1980s. I was influenced by their design and incorporated my spin to develop my line.
I did not want to steal an idea but rather take what was already known and make it better. If I could dab into the market that way and gain the trust of my customers anything else I design would be hopefully be accepted. I understood that I was not going to ‘storm’ into the market, but rather work my way in the back door. With that said, it is clear to me that the PING style putters are here to stay in one way shape or form. You can always design a crazy new putter that may flood the market for a while (Cameron Detour is a great example) and then slowly ride off into the sunset. However, I have noticed over the years that customers will fall back on the old classic putters. Re-making them will always be a solid market. PING just hasn’t been able to match anything Cameron has made with respect to the Anser.
Paul Cervantes What’s next for you and your company? Do you want Slighter Golf to evolve into something new over the next decade or are you just happy to keep on keeping on?
Tom Slighter We are steady as she goes at this time. We are looking to expand more in the next year or so. This situation with the pandemic has been interesting to say the least and hopefully when it has settled down more we will begin to develop in areas we have planned. I would also like to say that I don’t do all of this alone and with that in mind I’d like to recognize the rest of my team, Jason Smith, Mike Place & Will Borg.
I was fooling around looking at the word count of my novel the other day and I stumbled across a number of amusing articles contending that 120,000 words is some kind of magic number that one was unwise to exceed, especially as a first or second novel writer.
My favorite quote so far is:
“Word count limits can seem like they stifle artistic flow, but they exist for a reason.”
Uh, not really.
This is 2020. There are front list books. There are back list books. There long and short list books. But, there is no inherent relationship between word count and quality and I don’t care if the author is a newbie or Dostoyevsky.
The fact is that duration or word count might well be inextricably bound to the depth and complexity of the writer’s vision. If ebooks and contemporary printing technology has brought us anything it should be freedom from arbitrary limits respective to word count and the like.
So, if some stodgy old editor tells you differently, feel free to ignore what they say.
Only the author (and his or her trusted editor) can say whether a book has too many words (or too few).
To say otherwise would be to go back to the 20th or 19th century.
I know, I’ve been gone a long time. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. In fact I’m making significant progress on the sequel to my first novel. A friend of mine (to whom I text an occasional daily word count) told me I had written over 25,000 words in a week and that’s in addition to the 300,000 that were already on the digital page.
But, that’s not the point of this post.
I’m not sure why this is so much more appealing than a bucket list but it is. The devil’s in the details…
If you knew you would die peacefully in your sleep fifty days from now what would you do with the fifty days?
Sure, it’s an old idea but still worth thinking about. One of the first questions is how much of your time would be spent with a focus on other people like family and significant others. It’s not likely you’d be able to force the sense of special into the next fifty days just because you knew on the fifty-first day it would be lights out for you. You would get just as tired of other folks (and they of you) as ever. I’m thinking I might save the hanging with loved ones deal for the last five days, or maybe seven. That seems like plenty when I think about it.
Still, what to do with the rest of the time?
I am a tad disappointed with what I’ve come up with, but here’s what I have. I think I might rent a really nice car and drive to Arizona and play golf at some good golf courses, the type of course I’d ordinarily scratch off the list because of their cost. I’d stay at good hotels, probably nothing overly pricey but places with decent spas and well-stocked bars, that’s for sure. I’m thinking those last fifty days should each end with a damn good massage followed by equally damn good cocktails.
After Arizona, I’d spend a couple days driving to the California coast. I’m not sure I’d play Pebble. It’s never seemed like the kind of golf-course experience I would enjoy though the location is something I would love to see again, especially this time of year. No, I think I’d drive north from there and look for out of the way courses that I’ve never heard of. The weather would determine how far north I’d go. Remember, this is fifty days from now so I’m confining myself to warm weather fun and that means golf.
I’ve got a bud in Bend, Oregon and another one in Portland. I’m not thinking I’d tell them about the fifty days but I would try to make the time fun and to say some things that are true and to soak in everything that’s made them both so special to me for so many years. At some point I would probably work my way east, maybe to Coeur d’Alene. I’ve spent a quite a bit of time on the west coast but not so much time in the slightly east of the west coast. The last time I spent time with my buddy in Bend I was happily surprised by how right that region felt to me. It’s another kind of high desert, one with forests and rivers. Anyway, I understand there are some damn good golf courses there and I’d like to see if it’s true.
Then, it’s back to the west and a few days in Reno and a few more in Sacramento with another good friend. By the way, there are some fine golf courses in Sacramento and I would br looking to play some of the tracks I didn’t want to spend the cash on before the fifty days thing came along. I’m thinking especially of Del Paso CC. Hey if it was good enough for the 1957 U.S. Women’s Amateur it should be good enough for me, right? I guess I should start looking for a member who will invite me. From there it would be east to Truckee and Tahoe and there I’d be thinking of Lake Tahoe Golf Course, Northstar and then back to reality at the delightful looking Carson Valley Golf Course. From, there it would be down US 395 to Mammoth where I’d hit Snowcreek and Sierra Star, two courses I’ve played dozens of times and always enjoyed.
Driving south on 395 might be difficult, especially at that stage of the trip. There would be so many memories flitting about and the lingering realization that all trips, especially this one, come to an end. But, that ending would be something special and I think it would feel special, too. There is something otherworldly about the Eastern Sierra, something suggestive of something, many things really, beyond what is seen or known. It would be the road that would take me home for that last time.
If there was any time left and I rather think there would be, I’d roll back to Palm Springs and Palm Desert for some early morning and late afternoon golf. I’d need more than fifty days just to get started on all of the desert’s good golf courses but I know where I’d play.
And that makes me wonder, how would you think about they way you play, if you knew you’re playing the last rounds of your life?
Would you care about how you played? Would you be happy with whatever game you got from the gods of golf or might the experience end up leaving you with with the banal wish that you’d played better? Perhaps knowing with certainty how genuinely finite the number of your days on a golf course truly are might bring to sharp focus the answer to the question of why you play.
What is it you enjoy?
My last thing is this. I did a rough tally of how much those fifty days would cost me (money wise), and it’s a lot, but not so much that it would break me. I could do it and not have to resort to a mac & cheese diet after my last round. And that, of course, makes me wonder why I don’t just do it? Why save those fifty days for when I’m older, less fit, less able to walk a golf course carrying my own bag? Why wait until very likely never?
Because there will never be a better fifty days than the next, no matter how long you’re lucky enough to be swinging the club.
We know very little about talent. When I saw, we I mean the entirety of folks who have ever asked themselves what talent is. Everyone is pretty sure they can recognize it when they see it. But isn’t there something more? I had a music teacher when I was kid who said: “A lot of people have talent and a lot of people have discipline and tenacity. What you’ll find in most professional musicians is a combination of the two, and it can’t be beat.”
I agree, but there’s another question: Are discipline and tenacity simply additional manifestations of talent or are they qualities that all of us have access to and thereby not a function of innate ability?
Because if discipline and tenacity are innate talents aspiring to develop them may be like aspiring to be taller. I think this is one of the most ignored questions in all of creativedom. My belief is that you cannot readily divide talent from drive. And, there’s a good chance that the combination of what we call talent and drive are different sides of the same coin that help our betters to attain artistic heights that are hard for we mere mortals to imagine, let alone realize in our work.
Bummer, I say.
If all a given writer has on me is that he’ll outwork me, and for whatever reason I do not have what it takes to work at the same level, is he truly the more talented? We’re now likely on the cusp of trying to come up with another better descriptor like capable but every new word you or I come up with will take us right back to the same unanswerable question.
I am a believer is the search for small improvements. I believe that if I can affect an improvement in my drive as a writer, not to the level of someone who can crank out 50,000 words in a couple months, but just an improvement of a couple thousand words a month I’ll be really happy. And, the sequel to may first book will be done sooner.
But, I won’t be any more talented. I guess that will have to be good enough for me.
Why have I always found it so pleasant to drink while I sit in the sun?
I’m sure I can’t explain it. But, in these days of Social Isolation it still has its pleasures even though for now outside is a front yard rather than one of my local bars or brew pubs.
Plus, I’m dodging some clouds. Still, you know what they say about beggars and their lack of choices.
Now, the thing is I find outside & alcohol mentally provocative. Many times I will find myself enjoying a good IPA (like this one: Santa Monica Brewing Inclined IPA) and about halfway through I’ll get an idea and have to mosey on home to put it down. It’s not true every time but the reaction, or effect, always surprises me when it happens.
And, I do wonder why.
Is it the sun or the IPA or more likely a symbiotic combination? I vote for a symbiotic combination that flows from the sun’s gathering warmth and the mental softening effect of the IPA.
But, there’s something else and again it works in concert with both solar radiation and a good IPA; the lack of hurry, the feeling of easy contemplation, the sense that one is where one should be for that moment.
It’s often hard to create a lack of hurry sense, but that’s what I need.
Anyway, it’s a hard balance to strike and it’s all to easy to take it too far (IPA wise) and to become insensitive (idea wise). The key is to create a combination of balance & opportunity. If I can achieve that balance perhaps I can make some inroads on my book while staying safe. I’m well over halfway through but it’s still a little hard to see the end of tunnel.
I encourage all of you to do the same while being safe.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted and it’s not because I’ve been busy, at least not in the usual sense. I had a little drama toward the end of 2019 that caused me to reorient myself in a number of ways. Rest assured that it’s all good and 2020 is off to a good start, with the notable exception of this whole COVID-19 deal.
Still, socially isolated or not, life goes on. Sameness is always an illusion but having change foisted on our society will be an ongoing challenge for a lot of reasons. The word society, the thing in addition to life that’s worth saving, is all about people with other people. Society, as in a face to face society, cannot be replaced by telephones or the internet. People need more than Facebook to experience a connection to others that’s meaningful and fulfilling. Without that, society loses something it cannot afford to lose.
It seems now that some of the initial shopping panic has subsided. Does the guy who raided the produce department have a good way to store perishables in a way that prevents perishing? I’m dubious. I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday for a loaf of bread and some almond milk and it was actually quite pleasant. There was an orderly line of about ten people outside and once inside I found the store to be quite well stocked. Best of all, folks were friendly and civil to each other.
I wrestled with myself about writing this, I really did. I have known and worked and fought with Roger Modjeski since the 1990s. He has been an immense influence on my life as I know I was on his.
He was brilliant.
He was generous.
He was greedy.
He was visionary.
He was shortsighted.
He was my friend & I’m truly sorry he left this world so soon.
This is not an attempt to tell Roger’s life story. It’s more of stream of consciousness obituary. If any dates or the timeline of events are incorrect, I’m not really bothered. And, I’m not telling anything that I wouldn’t have said in Roger’s presence. We had an occasionally difficult relationship but an honest one and we were always civil toward one another during our battles.
Roger grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of the dean of the dental school at UVA, Peter Modjeski. I mention Roger’s father because it was he who got Roger interested in electronics, tubes and circuit design when Roger was little more than five years old. When Audio Advisor wanted a photo of Roger to include in their catalog, Roger wanted to use the photo of him at six, sitting in his pajamas with the first tube amplifier he ever designed, a single-ended triode, of course. He was a surprisingly outdoorsy kid, loving to fish the local rivers and streams. Roger spoke many times of grilling fresh fish and making hush puppies out in the woods near his family’s home.
Roger experienced a very strong push & pull toward the last of the 1970s that ended with him in California, first working at IBM and later at his then dream job with Harold Beveridge. Bev used Roger’s abilities wisely (for the most part) and Roger developed the RM-1/2 preamp and power supply while he was at the company but soon thereafter Roger felt the push and pull, again that only going into business for oneself can satisfy.
RAM Labs came first, followed by RAM Tube works and finally Music Reference. I heard my first Music Reference product at Brooks Berdans’ store in Monrovia way back when. A few years later I was publishing The Audio Observatory. Being an admirer of his designs, I always sent an issue to Roger. At some point, he wrote me a letter, inviting me to meet with him in Santa Barbara.
Really, though, the real Roger came through in the bit of verse he included on a separate page.
I say the real Roger, but I really meant that this was Roger as he could be, and as I know he strove to be. But, it was hard for him to sustain this kind of sensitivity and reflectiveness, especially when it came to his business.
RAM Labs was born at the perfect time. Had it started a decade later few would have valued his properly tested tubes and engineering rigor. But, in the early 80s folks were just beginning to yearn for it and the attraction to his tubes, once established, continues to this day. Music Reference was founded on Roger’s personal investment of $4,000. That cash built the first run of RM-4 pre-pres and the rest is history.
One of the reasons I sold The Audio Observatory was to go to work for Roger. I’m not sorry I did it though nothing turned out like I expected (does it ever?). Roger detested the processes of building gear as much as he loved designing and prototyping it. The RM-10 was born of his desire to build both an eco-friendly amp and one that got way more power out of a humble pair of EL84 output tubes. Given the right speakers, it sounded (and sounds) spectacular. Its small size kept it from being as respected as it should have been but to those who know there’s no amp anything like it designed or built anywhere.
The RM-200 was my idea. I waxed lyrical to Roger about my Audio Research D-70 MkII and what I regarded (and still regard) as the magic of two 6550s in a hard-driven circuit. Roger listened to me, and he listened to the D-70 MkII. Still, the ARC offended his sensibilities. The driver and input stage were overly complex and the 6550s were simply driven too hard. One day, Roger asked me if a reverse hybrid, one with a balanced solid-state input driving (you guessed it…a pair of 6550s) would have any appeal. I asked him how much it would cost and he said we could sell it for $1850. That number fit nicely with the RM-9 MkII so I loved the idea. Well, by the time the RM-200 hit the market it cost nearly $3000.
Why? Because Roger hated the process so much that he kept raising the price, even before the amp was available and even though out best dealers and distributors had placed cash deposits based on the old price. The truth was that building the RM-200 was fairly easy (especially compared to the RM-9 MkII). Still, it nearly killed Roger and I do not exaggerate. His doctor advised him no fewer than twice to abandon the project and sell the company if he wanted to preserve his health. The RM-200 was everything it was designed to be though a lot of people just didn’t get it. It broke too many rules, spoiled too many assumptions about hybrids, and feeding tubes with transistors. Though we knew selling it would be an uphill battle, the reception (save for Stereophile’s Class A Recommendation) was hurtful to both of us. The price increase simply killed that amp and prevented it from being the unusual classic it could have easily been.
By the time I moved on from RAM Labs we were basically out of the equipment game. There was nothing being built. We had RM-9 SEs on hand and a smattering of RM-4 but that was it. The RM-5, the RM-10 and the RM-200 were all in suspended animation at that point. I had grown tired of making promises to dealers and especially our distributor in Singapore who had made a sizable investment in our gear and tubes. As Roger admitted to me one day, “It’s hard not having anything in your cart to sell.”
I visited Roger a few times while he was still in Santa Barbara and we always had fun hanging out and chatting, never about business. By then, he was building his custom SE stuff. That had been a kind of dream for him for a long time; build one, sell one. You see for Roger, the joy was in The Study as he called it. That was his process of going from inspiration to finished circuit. That was the part he loved and it had nothing whatever to do with business. Most high end companies are the opposite. The designs fly together, be they good or not so good, and then move on to production. It’s time to sell the damn thing is the collective battle cry of the high end.
Roger was caught between those two desires. He believed his real value was as a designer and, of course, it was. He used to say, “Why can’t I just design it and someone else build it?” That made sense, but in the end it was always his company and the idea of prototyping something let alone moving it on toward manufacture without him was unsound. Still, the glory of his designs do and will endure. The RM-10, the RM-9, the RM-5 and the Counterpoint SA-4 are among the most enduring high end products ever; and for good reason.
This Christmas card from way back when will always be how I remember Roger Modjeski. Working alongside him was many things, including fun. I will always wish that we could have accomplished more, with Music Reference especially. But, in the end, we did what we could and we did it our way. I know all of the owners of Music Reference gear will treasure their gear all the more now that he has slipped away from us. For myself, I wish only for one more sunny day in Santa Barbara with him, sitting outside one of our favorite restaurants, talking about the high end and music and life.