There’s an incredible difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a passive experience. We “hear” muzak on an elevator or in a department store. Listening, on the other hand, is an active, cognitive process. We “listen” to a symphony in a music hall. True audio fans have been able to make this transition. They are able to listen in such a way that every note, every beat, every nuance of sound enters their soul and fills them with an otherworldly joy. It’s a gift we all can experience, we just need to have that passion, that love and the discipline to become engaged with the music around us. And for those that are full-on audio aficionados, this passion and love is often taken to another level, where no measure is too grand to get them to achieve that perfect sound. Building an audio system that takes them to this world is their dream. Here’s how Magnolia helped one such audio aficionado achieve that dream.
“Ultimately, the goal is to get to a place where the stereo disappears...”
It all starts with a relationship
When you’re looking to build one of the finest two- channel audio systems anyone will ever hear, you can’t go at it half way. It takes time, patience, passion and an incredible amount of knowledge. Nothing can be overlooked. Finding someone to go on this journey with you is as important as finding the gear itself. For Houston resident and audio aficionado Dave, finding a company like Magnolia, along with two people as passionate about audio as he is in Magnolia System Designers Corey Harrell and Isaac Markowitz, was imperative in getting his dream system just right. Together, the three of them went on a two-year journey to build an unmatched, once-in-a- lifetime system.
“The advice and counsel I’ve gotten from Corey, Isaac and Magnolia have been wonderful,” Dave told us. “Even the guys who deliver the stuff, they’ve all been great. They’ve become almost part of our family. I know that may sound weird, but that says something to me about how Magnolia selects and develops its people. That’s part of my business, so I’m sensitive to that. It’s been an enjoyable experience doing this.”
Isaac added, ”It’s not every day that you get to build a time machine like this. This is my dream job. The reality is, in my entire career, I have three systems that are magic, and this is in a different league. It was just such a privilege to be able to build something so special, so unique and so personal for somebody. If I could build one system, Dave already has it, he owns my dream system.”
It was a system built piece by piece, day by day, over a nearly two-year span of time. “We built a little and listened, then built some more and listened. It’s been a long relationship,” Dave noted. And it’s that step-by- step process that got Dave the exact system he was searching for.
PIECE BY PIECE:
The perfect speakers
Inside Magnolia’s flagship Design Centers, you can demo some of the finest speakers the industry has to offer. It’s the listening that makes the difference. Specs, photos and reviews are great, but for a speaker, you have to hear it to know if it’s right for you. So when Corey Harrell showed Dave one of Magnolia’s premier floorstanding speakers, he was impressed, but was looking for something else. Based on Dave’s preferences and feedback, Isaac strongly suggested that he look at Sonus faber and, specifically, the Aidas. But there was an issue: Magnolia doesn’t carry the Aidas in store, but they do carry the Olympica IIIs. To ensure Sonus faber was the right brand for Dave, Corey gave him a demo. “These were much more natural-sounding to me,” Dave told us. Yet he was still looking for a bit more, so Corey set up a meeting in Minneapolis for Dave to hear the Aidas for himself.
Dave and Corey, along with Magnolia Audio Merchant Sara Klarstrom, met at the Audio Research facility in Minneapolis. Audio Research is part of the Fine Sounds group, the parent company of Sonus faber, and at their headquarters they had a pair of Aidas ready for demo. With a suitcase full of music, Dave sat down and quickly fell in love. His long journey for the perfect speaker was over, but the search for the perfect sound had just begun.
The right amps and subs
These speakers needed power, the right power, and while Dave had spent a significant amount of time searching for the perfect speakers, once he heard the Audio Research Reference 750 amplifiers plugged into the Aidas, he was sold. “When they plugged in those amps, that was it. It took all of 10 seconds to hear that natural, open voice and instruments and I knew that these were right.”
Coming home from Minneapolis, Dave had his foundation, now he needed bass. They found that there wasn’t enough control in the bass or bottom end, so they started building on a pair of RELs. “I remember talking to John Hunter at REL,” Isaac told us. “He suggested using 6 of these subs, and I thought, wow, that seems like too much. So we came in with 4.” But the more they listened, the more they realized 6 might be just right. With the sixth sub in place, the room had all the bass it needed. “With that sixth sub, we only added about 50% more woofer in power, but the difference is way more than 50%,” Isaac told us.
“Once I heard it, there was no question,” Dave added. “The speaker is the right speaker, the tonality is the right tonality, the amplification is the right amplification.”
Cables, the unsung hero
Often an afterthought, Isaac has always put great importance on cabling in completing audio systems. “Cabling was a huge part of this job,” Isaac told us. “We demo’d power cables right in Dave’s home. Dave and his wife, Nancy, sat in the listening position and we had them listen to AudioQuest’s WEL Signature Series power cables. I’m not exaggerating: it wasn’t 3 seconds into that demo and Nancy said, ‘This makes all the difference.’ It’s that difference that takes a system like this from almost right to absolutely spectacular. It was now like nothing I’d ever heard before.”
“My engineer’s brain couldn’t come to grips with the fact that the power cable could make such a difference,” Dave told us. “But it’s extremely obvious. The cabling for this system is substantial and Isaac advocated a careful and critical evaluation of the cables. Because of our relationship, I never looked at him as the sales guy pushing something and that let me trust it was worth my time and effort to hear these differences. In a system that is able to resolve as well as this one does, you hear these differences, so we ultimately went full on WEL everywhere, from power, to every interconnect.”
So what does it sound like?
“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to articulate the sound of this system in words,” Isaac told us. “This is what I settled on: Would you ask a grain of sand what it’s like to be washed over by the gestalt of the ocean – to have the whole ocean’s pressure over you? That’s what it’s like to listen to this system. To be overwhelmed by space and air and presence in a way that you’re not even part of. You’re just in awe of this experience. That’s the only way I know how to describe music from a system of this caliber. It’s so effortless, lifelike and natural. It does it a disservice to call it a stereo.”
Isaac went on to say, “Ultimately, the goal is to get to a place where the stereo disappears, where you are not listening to speakers with drivers firing in a particular orientation. Where you have a semblance of space that exists in front of you, and people just populate that space.”
And for Dave? “It sounds hokey to say, but it’s different than listening to a system; it’s not listening to a stereo, you just don’t hear the speakers. It’s music, it’s performance, and it doesn’t matter the genre: it’s just existing there. I’ve never had a system that did it so well. It’s pure enjoyment.”
Magnolia System Designer and audio aficionado Isaac Markowitz.