Robin Williams famously once said that “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you're making too much money!”
Well...the same could be said about really expensive toys whether they be cars, watches or….audio gear
How and why someone buys a big ticket item, especially in high- end audio, probably has more to do with the salesman then the buyer. Case in point:
I came to work one morning and was told that there was to be a big delivery that day. An “all hands on deck delivery”.
Four of us in two vehicles had to deliver a massive four piece speaker system as well as the then crown jewels of solid-state high-end audio, three pieces of Mark Levinson gear (pre-amp, cd player, D to A processor).
This was a near 100k purchaser. The house in which we were deliver this was on the North Shore of Long Island: a beautiful neighborhood, of course.
The purchaser met us in the driveway. He resembled an extra in the Sopranos (a smaller version of Big Pussy) . A bit overweight, wearing a tracksuit and holding a cigar.
As we were about to unload the equipment, he was actually kinda beaming at his latest acquisition.
What happened next is just the kind of thing one would come to expect.
When asked which room he wanted it in his reply was: “I want you to put it in my bedroom, on the second floor”
This was a monster system.
Was his bedroom that big??
In fact, his bedroom was easily half the square footage of the entire first floor and could easily contain this system.
The speakers weighed a ton and maneuvering the columns up the rather small staircase was really hard but they were expertly wrapped and we did it with no scratches..anywhere!
Once in the bedroom I also noticed something that struck me as odd. This person must have had some kind of big system before because sitting on platforms at the end of the bedroom where the speakers were to be installed were a pair of Crown DC300 amps.
A word about Crowns first.
Crown amps had, for years, been the standard high power amps for big PA systems used for sound reinforcement in almost every concert I performed in or witnessed, for many years. They are built like battleships and they have a great reputation for dependability.
One day, in the late 70’s, I was curious as to how it would sound in my hifi system. I took one of ours that powered our band’s PA system home and replaced my current amp (A Phase Linear 400) with the Crown.
Sadly the Crown was one of the worst sounding amps I had ever heard (as it regards the specific needs for home audio). The sound was harsh, brittle and lacking any “air”. Furthermore, it made my Phase Linear sound like a “Mac!”
I remember thinking at the time that this was the worst sounding amp made in a non-communist country!
So here I am, standing in this huge bedroom in NJ and about to hook up one of the world’s greatest (and most expensive) speaker systems...to Crown amps??
I had never seen Crowns in home use by anyone and I was taken aback by the sight of them especially in light of the great gear that we just delivered.
As the installation continued, we set up the 3 pieces of Levinson gear which were also among the sexiest pieces of hifi jewelry available at the time. The room was appointed nicely and the Levinson gear did look great next to each other. At this point, the owner started talking to me and volunteered that he was a “professional insurance witness”. For some reason he also told me how much one makes in that profession (it was impressive and it explained a lot!).
I asked him why he bought the equipment he did and he said that he just went into the store to buy a new CD player and, after hearing the speakers, bought most of the items in the audio chain at the salesman’s suggestions. That my friends, is how that kind of sale is done.
At this point we were about to finish the installation and fire up the system when the buyer left the room and came back with what looked like a $99 Yamaha cassette deck and said this to me:
“Before we turn all this stuff on, Can you please install and hook up my cassette deck”. Looking at this cheap piece of crap, I thought to myself “why would you even want this sitting on a shelf next to this really expensive and aesthetically stunning Levinson gear”. Well I didn’t say that out loud but I did ask why he wanted the deck in first and his reply was one of the greatest responses I ever heard. He said “because I mostly listen to bootleg Grateful dead tapes”...
WTF, I thought. This guy just dropped 100K on a system so he could listen to crappy cassette recordings of “China Cat Sunflower”? Robin Williams was right!
I did what he asked and, once everything was up and running, that’s exactly how we first heard the system.
I then asked if he had a favorite CD so we could also make sure that that was also working. He said “Yeah wait a minute. I’ll get one”.
What CD he gave to to reference knocked me over.
No Dark Side of the Moon or Cat Stevens' Tea For The Tillerman or any other audiophile reference that one would think one would use (that is, if you a reader of The Absolute Sound or Stereophile!
None of that was in this house. Of course not. Those readers don’t buy this kind of gear.
I couldn’t wait to hear what CD was about to play in this 100K system.
He put in his ‘reference’ CD.
As we were preparing to leave, he just stood in the center of his bedroom with his cigar in hand and looking at his purchase.
The CD he put in was yet another bootleg Dead concert on a self burned CD.
I’m sure, to his ears, “St. Stephen” never sounded better…
More to come...