The audio world lost one of its most pre-eminent, wonderful, colorful, passionate people with the passing of Victor Goldstein on May 5. I got to know him well over the decades and his loss at age 75 (age unconfirmed as of this writing) hits especially hard, since he’s the first friend of mine to lose their life from COVID-19.
At various times Victor and his high-end audio distribution/importing company Fanfare International handled Bowers & Wilkins speakers, Jadis and Audiovalve tubed electronics, Harmonix system-enhancement devices and others.
Victor was unmistakable – well-dressed, cultured, exuding old-world charm. He spoke seven languages fluently. He had masters degrees in nuclear science and mechanical engineering. Of Romanian descent, he had a distinctive accent that Stereophile/Analog Planet editor Michael Fremer and I could not (and still can’t) resist imitating, especially since Victor would often preface his sentences with, “I must tell you!” followed by his expressions of unbridled enthusiasm for whatever audio component, recording, concert or restaurant he’d just experienced. “I must tell you! You will not believe the sweetness, the exquisite tone of this amplifier!” “I must tell you – listen to the violin when I play this track – simply magnificent!”
Michael and I got to the point where we could not have a conversation with each other without prefacing it with, “I must tell you!” in Victor’s accent. At one audio show Victor approached Michael and it went something like, “Michael Fremer! I understand you’ve been impersonating me! May I hear it?” in that Bela Lugosian manner. Michael couldn’t resist – and not only did Victor take it in typical good humor, they had a “dueling Victors” conversation which cracked up everyone around them. This became a ritual at shows and industry events.
Victor was a perfectionist when it came to audio system setup. As former right hand man Scot Markwell notes in his moving tribute in The Absolute Sound, Victor was known to have exceptional hearing. It could be intimidating – when it came to aural judgments, you could not bulls*it the man but if he approved of a setup, you knew it was right. As our Jay Jay French notes, “I met Victor when [owner] Mike Kay introduced us when working at Lyric HiFi in 1995. He was always excited to talk audio.”
The first time Michael Fremer and I visited him in his Upper East Side Manhattan apartment (we were both working for TAS at the time), I was intimidated by the elegant neighborhood and the apartment’s furnishings. Victor and his pediatrician wife Judy weren’t scuffling. But Victor put us immediately at ease before ushering us into his listening room, which was immaculate and featured B & W speakers and, if I remember correctly, Jadis electronics.
He carefully selected a record and lovingly (there’s no other way to describe it) placed the record onto the turntable. He went through a ritual of cleaning the record and the stylus. “You must excuse me. I have to do this for every record. I am a perfectionist about these things. I cannot do it any other way.” He carefully cued up the record – and it was magnificent. Beautiful, sumptuous, inviting sound, yet checking all the audiophile boxes – imaging, soundstaging, detail resolution, dynamics.
At one point he played a Decca LP (DL710106) of Ruggiero Ricci playing the Paganini Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 7 (“La Campanella”) with Max Rudolf and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Victor was passionate and deeply knowledgeable about classical. But before he did, he gave a little speech, something like, “I want you to listen to the beauty, the tone, the exquisiteness of his violin playing. You have never anything like the sweetness – this is an amazing recording.”
He was right. We were dumbfounded. The playing and sound were heart-stopping. Years later I found a copy of that record. I never look at it without thinking of Victor.
Back in the mid-1980s when I first met Victor, hi-fi journalists were not exactly models of sartorial splendor. Stereophile founder Gordon Holt would attend shows in ripped jeans, old sneakers and thrift-shop shirts. Reviewers would go to shows wearing sweat pants, T-shirts that had seen better days and shoes that wouldn’t be fit to donate to a thrift shop. Not Victor. He always looked elegant, often wearing jackets and suits, beautifully tailored. You’d never see him in ratty attire, even when he and his assistant Frank Garbie would come out to The Absolute Sound to set up heavy amplifiers.
He was a bon vivant in the true sense – he knew his restaurants, food and wine. One night he took myself and TAS staffers Michael and Sallie Reynolds, then managing editor, to dinner at Le Cirque in Manhattan. This middle-class Long Island boy had never been to anything like it. Sitting at the next table was Robin Leach of the then-hit TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous! Naturally I had no knowledge of the wine and the food was an exotic adventure. Seeing I was out of my league (my culinary tastes ran more to Jack in the Box), Victor was so kind and gracious in guiding my choices.
As you can imagine, the food, the entire experience, was sensational. After the wine started flowing, Michael, a very fine and funny impressionist, started impersonating Leach – an easy target considering his pompous over-the-top delivery on the show. The more Leach made a show of not paying attention, the louder Michael got, to the amusement, then chagrin of the rest of us. (Leach never did acknowledge us.) I’m laughing out loud remembering this. Good times, Victor!
I saw Victor many times over the decades at audio shows and events, and every time he had a warm welcome. Once, after we’d lost touch for a number of years, he saw me and said, “you look great!” I shook the lapels of my jacket and replied, “Men’s Wearhouse! $24.95!” Last year at the New York Audio Show we both happened to be in the Andover Audio room at the same time. Andover was showing their Model One, a compact, all-in-one audio system with turntable and I was amazed at the sound coming from this modest rig. I looked at Victor and tentatively asked, “Does that sound as good as I think it does?” He replied, “This is a fantastic little system! This would be perfect for someone who wanted good sound that would fit into a small space!” Even after decades of hearing hundreds of systems, I still looked to Victor for validation.
The last time I saw Victor, at CanJam NYC 2020, was, in retrospect, bittersweet. By coincidence we would up having exhibitor booths right next to each other, so we got to spend an entire two days together, more time than I had had to talk to him in decades. We both commented on how nice that was, and as you can imagine, spent a lot of time reminiscing about the Good Old Days. As usual, Victor was representing some top-notch-sounding gear, in this case Audiovalve. At one point, completely unprovoked, Victor stuck out his arm, pointed to his upper arm and said, “feel that!” Taken aback, I said, “What?” “Feel that!” So I did. His upper arm was like a rock. “Holy crap! How do you stay in such good shape?” “I work out!”
It’s hard to believe that someone so vigorous, so passionate, so thoughtful is no longer with us. We will miss you Victor. And I hope you don’t mind if we do an impression of you every now and then. You certainly left an impression on us.
Postscript: Our Robert Heiblim also knew Victor and shares his memories here.
My dear friend and advertising agency owner Mike Racz was also a good friend with Victor. Together, we often had a dining “club,” as we worked expense account dinners in plying the audio press to review and cover our goods. At that time I was with Denon.
We had many fine and memorable meals and conversations over the period, and we often compared meals in the same way we compared audio components, all in fun and admiration. Victor had invited us to a restaurant I believe was called something like Vienna 1873 (though I may have this wrong) an Austrian spot. Very fine food and an excellent veal as I recall.
As we were considering the meal and the service, Victor declared that we simply could not compare fine Italian restaurants (and we had dined at many and I remain friends with some of the proprietors) due to the fact that it was simply “unfair.” As he put it, “what they can do with just a chicken and sauce is too hard to compete with,” so he insisted they had to have a separate ratings scale.
Too funny really, and he was quite sincere, as he was with all his beliefs. He was also generous in his views and respectful of all other opinions, even when he did not share them. A marvelous man.
Header image courtesy of Stereo Times.