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Audiophiles: Who are these people and why do their hi-fis cost as much as a nice car?

The Audiophiliac visits fellow fiend, Richard D.

I met Richard D at the Home Entertainment Show in NYC in May and we immediately connected. The guy's a really intense audiophile, equally passionate about sound and music. He's a Final Cut video editor and producer by trade, so sure, he's a total tech geek. Just like me.

Richard cues up a record Steve Guttenberg

Last week I dropped by his Manhattan apartment to check out his hi-fi, and I have to say, it's pretty unusual. I didn't recognize any of his components, except the Atma-Sphere vacuum tube power amplifiers. The tubes illuminated the room with a lovely warm orange glow, so I felt right at home.

The monitor speakers' sides are covered with an exotic knitted weave, and Richard explained his speaker cabinets are made out of the sort of "ballistic ceramic" material used to make body armor. His speakers are, in fact, two-of-a-kind prototypes that were never put into production, probably because they would have been too expensive to manufacture in significant numbers. Oh, and there was a cool looking Raven turntable on a shelf under the amplifiers.

Richard has around 4,000 LPs, and when he played a Louis Armstrong recording from the '50s or '60s the system sounded amazingly good. Pops' vocal and trumpet were three dimensionally present and the sound was extremely precise. I loved the way the speakers communicated Armstrong's energy and rhythm--he sounded absolutely "live." And the band's acoustic stand up bass' percussive pluck and "woody" resonance were exceptionally realistic. The sound was oh-so high-fidelity, it was truly great.

Aah, the golden glow of tubes! Richard D

Richard's drawn to gear that pushes the technology envelope, like his Liquid Ceramic Composite Conductor Audio Cables that are as thick as garden hoses. This level of exotica is really expensive, so Richard buys most of his gear second hand from Audiogon, a great source for used audio. Even so the system is worth about as much as "a nice car." He also prefers to buy from folks who allow him to try the gear at home, so he knows if he's really going to like it.

Richard loves turning people onto the pleasures of great sound, "I recently played a friend some Pink Floyd tracks on my new turntable. It was a real treat for him to discover instruments and musical details in songs he had heard hundreds of times before." Richard also gets a kick out of knowing that in all likelihood he's hearing better and more realistic sound than the engineers who made the recordings. I'm sure he is.

Richard D's hi-fi: Raven One turntable fitted with a Graham Phantom tonearm, and Sumiko Celebration cartridge. H-Cat preamplifier. Tron Seven phono stage. Atma-Sphere MA-1 tube power amplifiers. Cerious Technologies Too/Bass ceramic cabinet speakers. PS Audio Powerplant Premier power regenerator. Apple MacBook for iTunes and CD playback.