MUSICAL FIDELITY: The amplifier designer hall of fame?

Editor McCauley in conversation with Howard Popeck in 2008

Can we return to the mercurial Mr. Michaelson at some point today?

Possibly. Possibly ..... not. Depends on what your questions are. Some matters are strictly off limits. He is though a bit of a hero for me frankly. (HP makes direct eye contact as if expecting a challenge to his statement)

I'm getting to think that in some respects, the title of this interview is a bit ..... well ..... ironic.


Well … The amplifier designer hall of fame. I'm thinking that hall of fame should be in quote marks and italics. Am I right?

In a way, yes.

Because ….. ?

As I alluded to earlier today, not everyone who claims to be a designer is necessarily a designer in the generally accepted sense of the word. What’s claimed, and what is the reality don’t always overlap.

So from your perspective, looking at Mr. Michaelson, what sort of hero is he to you?

Entrepreneurial hero – primarily.

More so than, say .... electronically?

Yes – but that’s based on impressions. I don’t have the ability to make a judgment re his or anyone else's electronic prowess.

But many do!

Ah, the armchair generals; the online critics. Those that draw erroneous conclusions based on the public face, personality of the public face of the company. This failing is understandable, but is neither rational nor objective.

Back to Mr. Michaelson re this?

No, I'm thinking here of Steve Jobs. Some might conclude, without delving deeper is that he is the designer of my new I-Phone 4. I very much doubt these days he fiddles about with components and soldering irons. He’s a concepualiser as I perceive it. Many but by no means all of the amp designer heroes ….. yes, I agree that heroes should be in italics and quote marks …. do not in many minds conform to the norm.

You resigned and yet you still it seems have a regard for him. Why?

Because I knew him in the very early days. He really did start from nothing. He had nothing. Well … I say that but of course I’m talking about financial resources. What he did have was burning ambition, drive, vision, focus and a deep love of both music and money – although not necessarily in that order.

And you supported him I believe.

I was his first retailer.

Why you? I heard it was because nobody else would deal with him after the TVA / Michaelson Austin debacle.

In his 25th anniversary brochure he did say something along the lines of me giving him a helping hand when many others wouldn't – or something to that effect – which was nice. I'd been a very successful TVA retailer; less so with M&A. I knew what I was dealing with. I was in those days as abrasive as he was. Dialogues were, to say the least, interesting. We certainly caught each other's attention. No doubt about that.

The era of 'The Preamp' then?

From memory, built in his garage in Finchley. The thing was .... that the first two batches sounded terrific, as good as anything I'd heard at that time. Well, almost.

Looked like crap though


So what happened then?

I became, so he told me, his most successful UK retailer and remained so for some while apparently.

And then you resigned

And then I resigned


Neil, Neil .... that's confidential, uninteresting and irrelevant. That's a closed book.

And now?

Let’s move on shall we? (HP slightly irritable, but keeps it under control) He and I haven't been in sustained contact for some years. Through these years though and no doubt will again. He's multi-faceted. I can make time for some of those facets.

But can we come back to him. There’s a fascinating story there isn’t there?

Maybe. I’ll discuss more if there’s time and I’m not going to break any confidences.

Continues next tomorrow

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