My Experience of High-End Audio:
jayöh would be remiss if he did not offer a few comments to support his earlier assertion of the adjective ‘loopy’. hahaha I came to this industry quite naïve. I didn’t know the essential nature of the politics here. That can be easily summed up as a manipulation of the facts, so as to change the purchasing perception of the public. Sure, I knew about the overt form of politics with government and corporations in bed with each other, utilizing the revolving door. But there was a revolving door of manufacturers here too. Mostly American, but if you paid your dues, meaning you advertised in the magazines, took part in the consumer and dealer shows, and gave a hefty point spread of 40—60% margin to dealers, you were among the in-crowd. As well, if you played the game of constant improvement, regardless of the reality; recall this was/is a perceptual play, then, you were welcome too.
A former owner/dealer of Whitby Audio in ON, Dave Johann, who gladly stocked my speaker on consignment, once told me; “John, I like you. I really like your speaker. But, it’s not important that I sell it. It’s only important that I sell someone’s speaker.”
This is no rant. It’s simply my personal recollections of what I observed and experienced. In the early days of CD from 1983 onwards, it became clear that the all DDD standard was infinitely preferable although not always to ADD or even AAD. The latter was far too early to be digitally edited and was simply released as is. Those discs should have cost less. These were the SPARS code derivations for the provenance of how the recordings were made. In 1985, Dire Straits released the album Brothers in Arms, to the pop/rock world. To all of us who followed as early adopters, we soon realized how superior a DDD CD was to an ADD; for that matter, even an LP. The LP quickly became an also-ran to the scientific cognoscenti. It was akin to the ongoing debate about GMO labeling. If savvy consumers knew the ingredients, they would avoid any Roundup ready foods. Many CD’s never published their SPARS code. This applies to CD’s not sporting the full SPARS code derivation. There was even a slight kafuffle about LP’s being transferred to the CD format and only providing 25 — 40 minutes of playback time relative to the 75+ minutes CD was capable of. A rip-off? Your decision.
Obviously, Waveform and John Ötvös did not play along, at least not fully. I associated with the CDN company Bryston, as I’ve already stated, because they made great gear and supplied me with electronic crossovers. Waveform was an authorized Bryston dealer. At the time, Bryston had the longest warrantee in the bus @ 20 years. High-end was riddled with fake news of wire having sound, discrete components missing the sound associated with IC’s or integrated circuits and, therefore, sporting a more clear sound. THD Total Harmonic Distortion and a spectacular linear frequency response well beyond the bounds of human hearing acuity were pushed for sales I suppose, I dunno. There will be those who disagree. Noticeably, they are the same dudes who refuse to take part in controlled verifiable double blind tests. Interesting eh? If you could only pay more, you could buy better high fidelity, sometimes amounting not just to tens of thousands of dollars, but, yeah mon, hundreds of thousands of dollars!
The entire American and some British high-end magazines hated the idea that a design protocol had been established for the engineering of a transducer. And no, even though that protocol was used by other countries such as Kef in the UK, it was distinctly Canadian in origin; most Americans remain unaware that Canada is the USA’s largest trading partner. Larry Archibald told me frankly on the phone that even if my first attempt had been the perfect loudspeaker, his magazine would not print that, because what else would they have to say about other product offerings? The journalists wrote at length about how sound was so individually perceived. Maybe. These characters were the self appointed judge, jury and executioners. It was later in this 16 year odyssey that I fully learned the industry was more smoke than mirrors. The phrase high-fidelity, originally meant faithfulness to the source. In olden days that was exclusively LP. Then in 1983, when CD came along, no one could mess with it as they had been able to with turntables, and cartridges. They could barely fondle the tiny 120 mm SQ liner notes. Poor buggers. hahaha That soon changed when after a few years, some smart manipulators figured out how to change things in a CD player and made the less then spectacular results sell for 10X & more, than the originals. Tubes in a CD player, claiming improved sound. Neil, really. You decide.
In late 1996 when demonstrating the Mach 17, I met Gabe Wiener of PGM [PGM — Pro Gloria Musicae] Recordings. He had just purchased exorbitantly priced Wilson speakers, setting up a recording studio. He came back again and again into our demo hotel suite with his jaw hanging down. I always allowed room listeners to play their own discs, even though I had been cautioned to not let attendees control the demo. Gabe had a fistful of his own discs telling me in an aside, that these were so superior to his Wilson’s that he was unsure how to proceed. Gabe passed away the following year, just weeks shy of his 27th birthday. What a lovely young man.
In 1997, while demoing at the Montréal consumer show, the CDN lady distributor for the same brand came in and out of our suite, displaying similar if not identical expressions of wonder and dismay, although not simultaneously. She had never heard any other speakers that were superior to her Wilson brand, until then.
That’s enough of that unenthusiastic reminiscing. hahaha
Closing Waveform, the company:
In early spring of 2000, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, SGHT asked to review the Waveform MC System. I shipped them a full package. Later Tom Norton phoned and told me that they wanted to ship it back. They liked the sound so much that it was to grace the cover for the July-August edition, which it did. I was ecstatic! Not only was a CDN manufacturer being honoured, but, one who had taken many knocks and was left to only sell through the Internet, direct to consumers. I never mentioned this to anyone other than family. Even Bryston was unaware. After the copy hit the streets I did not receive any orders for equipment for more than 3 months. Yeah, I knew that hifi was primarily a man’s hobby, that through the summer months, cottages, motorcycles and boats trumped speaker systems. Hifi was mostly a man’s winter pursuit.
At the family supper table on a Wednesday evening, in late Sept of 2000, I announced the closing of Waveform Inc. and my retirement from actively soliciting work to live. I was 52. I had zero idea what I would do next. For nearly 30 years, my regular work week was a devastating 60hrs./wk, from 8 AM — 6PM, Saturdays included. In the months leading up to this personal decision if became far more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings and get back at what was left undone in the shop and or office. I could sense the life force or chi, leaving my body, coming close to a spiritual death. Our children were youngish. My then spouse gave me a look of: “How dare you when I still have to work?” Oh well.
The other defining aspect of this decision, was the development of OA, or as some may know, osteoarthritis. I could no longer tighten the clamps during gluing. My fingers were stiff and the strength in my hands was fleeing fast. Little did I know that my high animal food protein habit, was fuelling this OA, creating a terrible acidic inflammatory condition in my body. Later, I will pen the story of my experience with prostate cancer and recovery, which was the final result of this turbulent lifestyle and diet. I’ve been vegan or whole plant food based these past 6 years. I have for some time, not suffered with any symptoms of OA.
I advertised a 50% off sale based on all the cast aluminum eggs that remained in their respective model range. All gear was going out the door at cost. I kept the Bryston and Kenwood orders at full regular prices since that was what I was asked to do in order to remain a bona fide dealer. Waveform took orders for all remaining potential stock within 3 weeks, which was over 100 systems. I did not ask for down payments this time. Only a few potential customers baled. My customer base was music lovers, not the audiophile who mostly bought & sold their equipment, as their hobby was using the same recordings to audition their equipment purchases, — not the universal pleasure that sheer listening to music brings. The last system was palletized and shrink-wrapped, leaving my facility in June of 2001.
I have continued to service the requests of former customers as well as second & third hand people who have purchased used products through the Net or through trade-ins at audio stores or pawn shops. If I can give help, I do. Usually, it’s a simple re-direction for replacement drivers or how to refoam older woofers, whose rolled foam surround has perished due to UV light penetration. I made speakers for each of my 3 children and gave them away as a lasting legacy. I’ve since realized that nothing is permanent.
I learned early on that I alone, was incapable of building all the components, as well as being head of the design team, manufacturing, shipping, quality control and marketing. To that end many companies were employed through contract work to produce the bits and pieces needed for a world class series of loudspeakers. Our family home was often the site for personal demonstrations to a purposeful traveler. Since stores had long ago shut me out, I did what any savvy businessman would do and that was to keep the costs low, selling directly to the consumer and professionals interested in our designs.
The American and British audio and video industries did not want any organization to set or enforce standards of playback, recording etc. Now you know why all your recordings sound so dissimilar, one from t’other. I was waging a losing battle for recognition in the mind of the consumer within an industry that loathed any form of standards. It was this standard of development that Waveform attempted to circulate. Even Floyd after many years waged a losing war about getting the recording industry to employ speakers for editing and monitoring that reflected the listening conditions of how most people set up their rooms. That attitude is what continues to afflict and characterize American gangster capitalism at the end of 2017. It’s where American exceptionalism originates. No one will tell them what to do. Sadly, today all are paying the price and not just stateside. Not all Americans think like this but they who are free thinkers and imaginal creatives are in a small minority. I mate some and they became my USA customer base. In the end, when Waveform was finally accepted, I had already decided to leave and close Waveform Inc.
Yes, I developed a new design in mid 2004, having an aluminum tweeter faceplate machined on a CNC milling machine, that perfectly fit the uppermost curvature of the egg casting. When I measured it with my rudimentary LMS Loudspeaker Measurement System housed in a Pentium 286 chassis, the output was a straight line all the way from 0° — 35° both vertically and horizontally! When I told this to Claude, he said he would have predicted that. To go beyond what Waveform had already done would have meant the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars which I had no access to. At this time, my midlife crisis of divorce settlement remained aloof.
Attempts to interest Bryston in buying Waveform or develop a partnership as distributor for the line went nowhere with the 3 principles of that company. Today, they have their own active system, but in a tower as do all others. I guess it is predicated on the theme that a speaker should be heard but not seen. So many high-end home installs that I’ve seen depicted in mags and on the net, have very good speakers in closets with added doors in front and secondary grilles. So sad, what installers and stores will do to make sales. As my friend Jim Hayward, and former audio journalist commented: “It’s the same old whore dressed up in different clothes.”
To this day, as I stand to be corrected, no other company did what Waveform accomplished. Not Harmon’s Revel, of which Floyd was the VP for Engineering, not PSB, nor any of the British or American high-end companies. No one used the egg as we designed and engineered it, nor included active electronics and elementary room correction, which the custom designed Bryston X-over expressly for Waveform incorporated, as an all-in-one package. This is not bragging. Neither is it fake news. It is what I know to be factual.
By announcing the closure of Waveform, I had finally listened to my gut instinct for preservation of the Self, the soul’s method for ceasing to be in wrestling mode stress. I had finally found myself witnessing that jayöh was participating most reluctantly, in a quasi poker match that had a stacked deck. I was one of many goodwill companies, that increasingly as the middle class became dumbed down and real wage/salary earnings were decreasing, found themselves without customers. Do you believe that SGHT closed in 2005 for any other reason?
The costs through my direct years were reckoned at 2 X cost. Most manufacturers in this line of work used a ratio of 4 X cost, since distributors thence dealers required their pound of flesh. Selling direct meant that one absolutely had to offer a 30-day money back guarantee including freight, both ways! In 16 years, I only had to send a cheque once. An American Bolder amplifier went into overload and blew up a speaker in San Diego. While both were eventually repaired, the customer, a well known dermatologist was upset, requesting a refund. We later became good friends and remain so, even though he opted for another brand. hahaha I really have to laugh, because over the years I have known friends who have both bought and sold Waveforms. Others who have chosen competitive speakers, but much later told me how much they regretted those premature buying choices. As dear ole dad would say: “Such is life!”
There were many product magazine and E-zine reviews. Some are still present on the Net and there are links supplied below.
My personal integrity has maintained its grace which I am thankful for, as all final bills were paid in full with no supplier being left in the lurch. That’s the benefit of personal integrity, since over the ensuing 17 + years, I still see nothing written or posted on the Net in a negative manner about the company or my personhood in which I conducted my company’s business dealings. There is questioning of my business acumen and I accept those comments graciously. Making money to become rich was never a life calling. Like the personal homes I’ve built and let go of, I entered audio to make a difference. I can hold my head high despite being raked across the coals early on by a former Sony Canada executive, who chastised me for going into “a business peopled by whoremasters and motherfu&#ers”. His words exactly. hahaha
It is my belief that the excellence of the Waveform brand of speakers was wholly determined by all those who saw my passionate dedication to its entirety, thus deciding to bestow theirs. I was not Waveform, the team was. As don Juan teaches Carlos, looking comes early, seeing arrives later.
There were many times when I had no personal contact with potential clients, not even telephone calls, just emails. They would simply send me either personal or certified cheques for *the full* amount in advance. I was trusted. That’s what the early Internet conferred. Our biggest sale using the only method open to us, was to a former VP for Intel who sent me a cashier’s cheque for $57,000.00 US! Nowadays, you can literally buy just about any product direct if you’ve climbed the ropes, knowing the ins. I’ve heard it said and seen it written that Waveform’s business model was ahead of its time. In actuality, it was a business model by default, because we were left with no other option.
Over that 16 year period, from 1985 — 2001, I personally oversaw the production of slightly more than 530 loudspeakers sporting a Waveform badge affixed to the products. My 3 children always worked for the company, never having to look outside for work to earn spending money while in public, high school, community college or University. They were never asked to do a job that I didn’t personally want to perform. I paid them far more than the then current ON minimum age, increasing their take every year on their birthday until a maximum limit was reached of $10 CDN/hr. Yes, the work taught skills, but, it also demonstrated disciple in that they knew they had to show up for work on the given day and hour. The nature of the things we fashioned was of the highest caliber for both performance and cosmetic appearance, worthy of recording studios, gracing some of the finest homes in both Canada & The United States. I remain a craftsman to this day pursuing excellence leaving behind any predilection to perfection. We were able to sell some speaker systems overseas to Japan, Hong Kong, Bermuda and Britain, but not many. We even had a few women music lovers as customers, as that was highly unusual in a field so dominated by the patriarchal mindset.
Wisdom, does indeed come later to many.
Waveform Inc. was dissolved as an Ontario incorporated company in February of 2006.
There are literally hundreds of lesser comments within forums, letters to editors from audiophile societies I demonstrated for, publications, as well as e-zines. There were numerous show reports, mostly of the consumer variety that I have not included. I’ve chosen to let the diligent reader execute their own search for those additions.
1] The 1989 Stereophile review by Larry Archibald, publisher.
2] The manufacturer comment from the 1989 Stereophile review.
3] The 1996 partial first Waveform website, no longer hosted, but, displayed here with thanks to Wayne Larmon, a booster.
4] The 1996 Stereophile review of the Waveform Mach 17 by Larry Greenhill.
5] A search on Google produces a multitude of images, although not all from our manufacture.
6] The 2000 Soundstage review of the Mach MC by Doug Schneider.
7] The 2000 Stereo Times review of the Mach Solo by Rich Harkness.
8] Some independent owner reviews with customer names, I recognize from past sales.
9] 1996 Boston Audio Society demonstration. Francis Vale comments on the Mach 17 after the visit.
10] Issue #19 of Peter Aczel’s The Audio Critic magazine, has an early review of the old chassis Waveform. A free download.
11] 2000, Andrew Marshall’s CDN Audio Ideas Guide published a review of the Mach Solo.
12] Issue #24 of The Audio Critic magazine has a review of the Mach 17 Waveform. For free download.
13] 2001 The Sensible Sound “A fond Farewell to Waveform and John Otvos
14] There were other reviews of the speakers we manufactured; two from this magazine that I no longer possess. I searched their site, but, the archives do not go past 1999.
15] 2000 The audiophiles have their say about the company closing and about me.
16] Below are the the pdf files I scanned for the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater magazine review from July/August 2000.
Dec. 31st, 2017 Epilogue:
The audio asylum dialogue above, continues the often seen phenomenon we see today 17 years later, where too many are afraid to announce who they are, by choosing to participate with a pseudonym. So much anger extant, so heavy the feelings of being overwhelmed, alone, even isolated under the keyboard. Sad huh?
There are too many auds who realize little re: the intense politics=$$$ behind this industry, both in high-end and midfi. As the battle lines became drawn, there was more moolah at stake, so peeps involved became quiet! Or, as Jim Carrey now teaches, their essential Self becomes invisible when they refuse to take a stand. I didn’t understand the concept of OPM. The Line of Credit I used was guaranteed by the equity we owned from our 12A property. I maxed that out on many an occasion and paid it all off. This continual money borrowing put a mental and emotional burden upon my then spouse.
Canada’s Leonard Cohen sings, Leaving The Table from 2016’s: You Want it Darker.
I don’t need a reason
For what I became
I’ve got these excuses
They’re old and they’re lame
I don’t need a pardon
There’s no one left to blame
I’m leaving the table
I’m out of the game
I exited the industry with Waveform, a still sought after brand, having zero debts remaining unpaid. It was on this 12A chunk of dirt near Brighton, ON-Terrible [I can say that, since I’m a 9-yr. resident of NS and now an ON expat :-)] that supported both the house we lived in and the workshop from which Waveform speakers were created, manufactured and shipped.
Ponder this published ditty by the stateside, Bulgarian born, Maria Popova who pens brainpickings:
“To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.”
The Wisdom of Insecurity [written by Alan Watts in 1951] is immeasurably wonderful — existentially necessary, even — in its entirety, and one of those books bound to stay with you for a lifetime.
The approaching status as septuagenarian affords me the comfort of hindsight, my personal values of authenticity, being genuine, being real, dependable, holding to honesty no matter what, haunts only that small element of ego that whispers: ‘Hey jayöh, you could’ve monetized the whole ball of wax and left with a bundle.’ Did I overvalue the direction and validity of the marque just to see it solely monetized? No regrets and no second guessing allowed. No one stepped up to the plate, so in early 2005, I sold everything for a little coin of the realm and never looked backwards, lest I too, be turned to stone. hahaha
blessed is anyone
who knows who
he or she really is
and builds a place
to live there
A few hard hitting final comments about audio are in order. Yes, it’s possible to engineer a slightly better speaker than the Mach 17. But, why? The incremental improvement would be swamped by the customer’s room interface. Most importantly, the recording, specifically the DVD, which has the superior DD algorithm, is the determining factor. How many soundtracks, whether music or film I have switched off due to the unintelligible sounds of the human voice speaking I cannot say. This is what happens when ‘Empire’ decides unilaterally, that standards are counterproductive to sales, anathema to their profits. What do you the reader believe, is the reason for the dumbing down of our cultural standards, such that young people and old alike, have settled for rear firing laptop sounds, single channel Bose speakers or simply earbuds from an iphone, to hear what others have spent hundreds of thousands of $$$ upon to deliver? I have dear friends who depend entirely upon their cellphone output for news, views and entertainment. This is what happens when we live within a culture that celebrates core competence. We have entire universities devoted to teaching single subject career disciples, where the grads know little if anything about how their choice is related to the greater whole in the field of materialism, let alone the interdependent, entangled, quantum field of life, of consciousness, whether its non-local or other . . .
As I finish penning this historical reflection, it is the last day of 2017, the current American president has the lowest polled support of any modern POTUS. The old US of EH is being torn apart, looted, shredded and severed from reality, yet few Americans have taken to the streets. It’s so easy to go along to get along. So-called high-end audio remains little removed from a similar tragedy. No one had to spend those ginormous sums of money to obtain real high fidelity. The retailers, journalists and ignorant** [did not know, nor care to] consumers, with more money than brains, fed into a self-serving system that still exists. I have written this as my chronological account of those times, ones with which I am happy to no longer be party too. The issue has always been capitalism, not the personalities, the celebs that populate the swivel chairs of stardom. Recall Mike Kay telling me; “the best speaker was a sold speaker”. I was once told that: “John, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.” My soul softly whispered: “Not your cuppa jayöh.”
I AM John Ötvös, aka jayöh.