From the archives: The amplifier designer hall of fame (part #9) – Bob Stuart (again), Madrigal and Mr. Sandford (Sandy) Berlin

Go one, just one please

(Long pause) He and I were on a trip to the USA to help launch the Meridian Pro CD. The then head of Mark Levinson systems – ML having been ousted – was Mr. Sandy Berlin who talent-spotted Bob at the show. Mr. Berlin was not an easy man. Not easy at all. You gotta read the John Atkinson obituary in Stereophile to get just a glimpse. Anyway Berlin’s team of talented designers has a hitherto intractable mechanical hum problem with one of their monster mono power amps. No way, in their then current condition could these be sold into Europe. Anyway, we didn’t know this.

Berlin made Bob an offer than being reminiscent to me of that scene in The Godfather was one that he could not refuse. And so instead of going back home we got diverted to New Haven. Without any preamble we got bundled off the plane and straight to the production plant. I was just along for the ride. Fearing for my physical well-being I kept quite and observed.

You jest of course

Nope. I don’t. My safety. Well, I felt it under threat.

In our industry?

Yup, in our industry

Did Bob feel this?

My lips are sealed on that bit. You ask him!

And what did you observe?

You gotta bear in mind that the Bob I knew back them was a bit of a showman. Not a show-off but a showman, a bit, when the time was right. Here’s what he did, and I love him today because of it. We were in the reception area and Berlin explained the problem. Talked to us like we were vaguely idiots.

So Bob, bless him, pulled out of his battered brown attaché case an envelope. A conveniently empty envelope. I swear to God he kept these handy, just for a time like that. Off the top of his head he wrote out a circuit with the values and gave it to Berlin there and then on the back of the envelope. Somewhere around 5 minutes – start to finish. Just . . . like . . . that. Bear in mind that we hadn’t even seen the amp let alone heard the hum. It was sight unseen.

Berlin was capable of the most mobile facial expressions. The look he gave at that point was a combination of contempt, disbelief and stunned admiration. All at the same time. Bob was on the outside at least totally non-plussed and suggest that some of the ‘chaps’ built it and test it while we had a much needed coffee.

Chaps?

Yes. Spoken in an impeccable Eton-like tone. The irony was lost on the Levinson team. Either that or Berlin was a damn fine actor . . . which is entirely possible. (Long pause) I didn't like the situation. Not all. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. We both felt it. Bob and I. I truly felt that my physical well-being was in question.

You're kidding - of course?

Not at all. Not one iota. You had to be there. Then you'd know. Berlin’s presence was everywhere. All pervading. Menacing I thought. Still do . . . even after all these years. I kept feeling that I was on a film set . . . . . except that it was for real. I believed it and couldn’t believe it all at the same time. I kept telling myself that it was only bloody hi-fi after all. But back then, up market hi-fi meant big money. As Dylan said . . . Money doesn’t talk, it swears

Did Mr Stuart feel the same way?

Nice try ….. again. Pass. Let's move on shall we?

Continued tomorrow