Paul McGowan writes: The summer of 1977 found my partner Stan and I looking to increase our sales of phono stages and we thought we would try and entice a few dealers to carry the product. Up until this day we were 100% direct-to-customer, something you see more of today in high-end audio, but back then we were pretty much alone in our direct sales approach.
We were as confident as all 30-something-year-old entrepreneurs are – quite certain our phono stage kicked everyone else’s butts – although we knew the Audio Research SP3A was much better than ours – and we were sticking to our story.
There were two big dealers we were interested in, Jonas Miller and Absolute Audio, both well known high-end audio dealers of the day in Los Angeles. Jonas Miller was a bit of a stuffed shirt and when it came to auditioning new products from unknown people like us, he wanted nothing to do with it. ”Make a name for yourselves and come see me”.
Absolute Audio was the exact opposite. Located off the 5 freeway in Santa Ana California, it was owned by Neil Sinclair and managed by Mike Moffat. Neil eventually sold the shop and went into business with Mike – starting what became Theta Digital – but at the time he was the second most important dealer in the LA basin. He and Mike agreed to give us an audition to see if we passed muster.
Stan and I hopped in my 1969 Dodge and drove the 3.5 hours from Santa Maria to Santa Ana. During those days the freeways were made from concrete slabs with expansion joints between the pours and my old Dodge didn’t have much of a suspension left as I had tried to put lifters on the car – so I have a very distinct memory of bouncing down the road with much noise and discomfort – but then we arrived.
Neal wasn’t there but Mike was. We spent a few hours demonstrating the little phono stage and he was mightily impressed – Mike, the engineer, had to take it apart and see what was inside – so taken with its ability to best anything else they had in the shop at the time.
As we were packing up, Mike asked if we wanted to hear something new in audio – something that made no sense whatsoever but was guaranteed to “blow us away”. Sure. Heck yeah!
We sat back down in the main demo room where the Quads were installed and played a record – I am pretty sure it was off the Fleetwood Mac Rumors album which was just released and the hot Audiophile ticket of the day. We listened, noted what we heard and were ready for Mike to insert the new piece of kit that would blow us away. Mike went behind the loudspeakers, then disappeared behind the equipment stack and set to play the same track again. Our collective jaws dropped. What sort of madness was this?
Gone was the rather flat sound coming from the small electrostats and in its place a three dimensionality I never knew the Quads were capable of. Stunning was the change we heard. Dubious, at best, we asked for the original piece of gear to be put back on – Mike complied – and the dimensionality collapsed. We all stepped outside and smoked a cigarette (yeah, I can’t believe I smoked back then – but we all did).
After a break we went back to try once again – same thing. ”OK Mike, what gives?” ”Well, you won’t believe me if I told you so come have a look.” We walked behind the speakers and there on the floor lay the standard lamp cable speaker wire of the day and connected to the Quads was a set of round, thick, Christmas colored wire – the likes of which we’d never seen before.
Mike looked at us with a straight face and said “Yeah, the only difference is the speaker cables. I changed from what everything in the store is wired with to this new stuff from Japan called Cobra Cable.” (This cable was made of many strands of very fine wire called Litz wire and was later marketed by Polk Audio as Polk Sound Cable, but it started life as an import to a few cognoscenti like Mike)
That was my first experience with wire and it’s stuck with me to this day. It wasn’t long after that an entire industry grew out of this discovery. Monster, Vampire, Polk, AudioQuest, you name them – everyone wanted into this new game – and it was a game changer to be sure.
Absolute Audio was our first dealer, Jonas Miller never considered us worthy enough for his store, and the cable industry just exploded after all that. What an interesting time to be a part of the history of high-end audio.