Matt and I first met on the shuttle going from Denver International to the Marriot Tech Center for the first RMAF in 2005. Aside from listening to music, it turned out he was an avid musician who plays bass, drums, guitar, piano and whatever else necessary to keep his band moving forward. He had just flown in from Minnesota, spoke of a love of classic rock and claimed to be an inveterate vinyl hound. And, he was seriously stoked because the very first RMAF was to be his very first audio show.
Matt was 13 years old when I took this photo at RMAF 2005.
Here he is, again, one year later. Again, I met Matt and his father Paul for lunch.
And, here's the shot from RMAF 2007. This year Paul's wife,Rhonda joined the guys on their journey and all of us for lunch. As we get settled in I give the trio the same pop quiz I had been administering to the exhibitors: What was the first album you purchased and what year was it?
What was the most recent album you purchased?
Write legibly, pu-leeeze!
As Matt fills out his section, I catch up with his dad. Paul tells me about a wealthy guy who is ready to get out of the hobby. He'll be unloading heavily (as in thousands of dollars each) modded ST70s and donate the proceeds to benefit charities selected by Minnesota Audio Society.
Paul also shared how much he learned in Roy Gegory's analogue set-up seminar. He's so Tony Blair, with that accent and all!" Paul was especially interested in the notion of manufacturers skirting/walking around/tweaking the RIAA curve to 'tune' their product. Of such behavior he was not previously aware. Apparently, Mr. Gregory demonstrated the effect with some newer and older albums, changing their sound dramatically by fiddling with his demo unit.
Rhonda: I haven't purchased an album in many, many years. Can my answer be a CD?
æ: Sure, I'm just looking for a title - could be LP, CD, R2R - any recording.
Paul goes on to describe a very cool vendor he ran into last year at the show. They hit it off talking about music Paul likes and "Now the guy sends me stuff, out of the blue. He's says if I like to buy it and if not to send it back. I've been getting introduced to some recordings I would not otherwise have considered. On the other hand, I've noticed that my stacks of purchases are actually getting smaller, more selective. I think I may be getting full, and am just looking for highlights, now."
Pete Riggle shows up at our table and introduces himself. "I had lunch with these guys last year." I invite Pete to join us, even though we just had breakfast together a mere hour ago. To Rhonda, I introduce him as my partner in audio-related DIY crime and all-round troublemaker. Truth is, he's just one of the nicest people you could hope to meet and I do feel blessed to be counted among his friends.
Paul: Pete's the one you saw running around with the Burger King® crown, Rhonda. (Pete's crown is much more creative though; it's a bunch of his business cards stapled together.)
Pete threatens to have it cryoed. "Bill Allen offered to do it," Pete swears.
Paul: Everyone needs an angle, even if it doesn't change the basics. The fact that you have one will alone be an attraction to people.
Pete: Well, you get a lot of eye contact and that helps because I can't afford to advertise, much less get a room here. Even if I could get a room, I sure wouldn't want to sit in it all weekend long.
Paul: Or do the set-up. I went to a few rooms before the official opening on Friday, and some of the guys were really sweating and swearing in their efforts to be ready on time.
æ: What's standing out for you at this year's show, Matt?
Matt: ACI is a contender. Incredible speakers for the price.
æ: Yes, indeed. Had one of their subs in for review a few years back.
Pete: What did you think of the Teres/Cogent room?
Matt: It was good, I definitely liked it, but I didn't see what the big hype was about it. We listened to the whole second side of Dark Side of the Moon. That was a good experience .. it was, well, listening to it ... it was all around you. It was good, it was out there, but not too extreme.
æ: Not enough wow for you?
Matt: It was wow ... it just didn't make it into my top five.
Paul: I think that's an album better suited to an intimate space, not the ballroom where that system was set up.
æ: That's possible, plus the time required to do auditory recalibrations as you go from room to room at a show like this is simply too short.
Matt: I also really liked the Audio Unlimited room with the Kuzma table. And the Airtight PC-1 phono cart was excellent. I was definitely stuck to my seat, through an Elton John record, no less.
Duke LeJeune with his Dream Makers.
Matt: The AudioKinesis set-up was great, too. You just gotta love that guy [Duke LeJeune]. The Stormbringers that he had playing last year are the speaker for me. They were the best speaker of that show. But I don't have space for them, unless I take the bed out of my room.
Pete: Well, you could get a set-up like the Navy had back in the day - just a rope hammock and you'd be good to go.
Matt: And the there's Sjöfn, the Scandinavian room with the Gurus, the little ones [the GURU QM10 retail for $1,995] - I think that's my vote for the best speakers of the show.
æ: Hmmm ... you and Art Dudley are on the same page; I believe he heard them at the Home Entertainment show and dubbed them "amazing". The story is that they were designed by an underground legend in Sweden and have had a cult following for some 20 years, already!
Matt: Hands down. Even with solid state and ceedee ... we didn't get to hear them with vinyl but considering the price they were going for, it was just amazing.
æ: There's that word, again.
Matt: It was more than a consideration on my part. I would take those home.
Paul: As I understand, the company makes much bigger speakers [the GURU QM40 loudspeakers retail for $9,9995] that are so love. they put them in clubs and dance halls. Even these small ones that Matt is crazy about do big bass - I don't know how he does it.
æ: Well, I guess that covers the best of show angle.What else is cooking? How's the turntable project going?
Matt: Finished! And, we're rocking and rolling.
Paul: Yeah, the Empire project, we finished it last summer, and it's up and spinnin'.
Matt: Oh yeah!
æ: In your system?
Matt: Yes! It's actually up in my room. And now, when we get a new record, we can play it on my 'table first. One of the first records we threw on was Love [a soundtrack compilation album by The Beatles released in November 2006].
Oh-oh. We all get sidetracked into a discussion of the two camps that have dug their heels in around that album. Paul launches into a description of how the Vinyl Asylum pretty much erupted with debate when the album was released.
Matt: Yeah, it was like the whole "Pink Floyd died after Syd Barrett left" thing.
Paul: Yeah, but that's your opinion; you're in that camp.
Matt: I actually am in that camp. But it's pretty basic - there are two Pink Floyds, Pink Floyd A and Pink Floyd B. I love 'em both, but Pink Floyd A was there first.
Paul: I remember when we saw Roger Waters on the Dark Side tour. It was outstanding.
Matt: Roger Waters was great. I've been to a lot of concerts that people told me I just had to attend, but I can't think of any others, past or future, that will live up that show. The visuals were spectacular.
æ: Like a reverse soundtrack?
Matt: Yup. Perfectly integrated.
æ: Okay Matt. The pressure is on about the turntable project, which we were discussing early. I say that because Heidi Lloyd has been following our conversations and she expects a complete update.
Matt: Heidi who?
æ: Heidi Lloyd. She's married to Alvin Lloyd and together, they run Grand Prix Audio. Over the years, Alvin's been making high-performance vibration isolation devices. In January of 2006, GPA introduced a no-holds-barred, carbon-fiber plinthed turntable. Anyway, Heidi has been following your Empire saga and asked me to make sure we got an update.
Paul: Well, that's actually interesting because there were ideas incorporated that Paul Speltz provided. Everybody helped Matt so much. Ralph Karsten did a lot. They gave Matt some tricks.
æ: Uh-oh. Is tricks spelled "non-disclosure"?
Paul: In the end I asked if they prefer we not disclose, and the gist of the response was that they prefer we not broadcast what we did. However, we and they are happy take questions from folks and talk about our and their current thinking with respect to turntable arts and sciences. I will say that Matt's 'table won in a recent shoot out at the club. He's got a Tri-Planar arm. Tri Mai has been so generous and really involved with Matt on the project. Sometimes, when he gets arms in for rebuilding or upgrading he keeps extra pieces. As the Empire got close to being finished Tri told Matt that if Matt would buy the bearings, Tri would use the pieces and build him an arm. So, he's got the Model 5 head shell, Model 6 arm wand...
Pete: That might be the best Tri-Planar ever.
Matt: Yup. And when we put the table back together, it started right up and played on speed so we didn't have to do any re-work on it.
æ: How'd it feel when you fired it up, Matt?
Matt: Great. I think that led up to the longest listening session I ever had! It must have gone on for six hours.
æ: What was the first thing you played?
æ: Pink Floyd ... I shoulda seen that coming. Have you made it into Ray Kimber's room this year?
Matt: No, actually I didn't. Not yet, but I will.
æ: Guess what his first album purchased was.
Matt: Something classical.
æ: Actually, no, but that's what I was expecting from him, too.
æ: Not so much. It was The Who - Tommy. Back to you, Matt: Since there aren't any surprises about your first albums anymore, what are you liking this year?
Matt: Beck. Sea Change. I learned to play the whole album on my guitar.
æ: Quite an accomplishment!
Matt: Not really. It was the middle of summer and I had nothing else to do. Alright, track one, let's start. It's not like it was really simple, but it wasn't very hard. It's really chordy and between that and the vocals, the rest is sound effects and atmosphere. The music is actually very down to earth - E-A-G...
Paul: It's also emotionally very real. Beck's bleeding all over that album.
Matt: Yes, it's very dark and depressing. I really like Odelay, too. His newest, The Information, is pretty good, but I'm definitely into Guero. He is able to do a wide variety of music. I call his style 'random'.
We learn that Matt started at a new school this year. Andlook out He's got a license to drive. The school is arts-intensive, so he gets to keep music in his core studies. Paul is very happy about this ... the school part.
Matt: My school is so cool because everything in my core is art-influenced. Science can take the shape of learning how speakers work. The acoustics -- nodes, anti-nodes -- they're teaching me math and science and language arts through something I care about.
The talk shifts to progress on Stephæn and Pete's 604 speaker project. We've been playing with various oil-filled caps (Ronken, ASC and Obbligato) this month after previously making other significant changes in the crossovers. This leads to some discussion of the Feastrex drivers that were a popular topic during the show. I mention that the paper used in the Feastrex drivers is totally unique and share a bit about the story that you can find here dear readers, should you have an interest. It's 100% mulberry paper made by traditional methods featuring a buckwheat husk ash alkali bath, hand-beaten fibers, running cold-water wash, and female gingko tree drying boards.
Pete: Very impressive, what the Japanese can bring to most any venture ... sword-making, paper making - they create some unusual vocations for themselves. Hey Matt, do you have any sense of where your educational experiences might lead you in the future?
Matt: I think they may or might not.
Pete: So you don't have any path in mind?
Matt: I really want to be a musician ... and maybe something like audio engineering.
æ: You already are a musician, Matt. When you say you want to be one down the road, what does that look like?
Matt: I want to continue to do gigs, but also expand my horizons with respect to performing. You can be really good, but if you don't take it seriously, you can't make much of it.
Paul: Fortunately, Matt is surrounded by his guitar teacher, local musicians, people in the industry ... all these adults that he trusts, and they're all reminding him that he needs to get a good education.
Matt: Actually, I'd really like to be a studio musician.
Paul: Yup. Go get yourself a day job with benefits, and do what you love with the rest of the time, until you get to a place where you can survive. When I graduated college, my uncle gave me a crisp two-dollar bill. I looked at him, and he said, "Here's your graduation present: Don't be like anyone else." And that truly was a gift, because as I fast-forward 25 years, I'm involved with companies that are doing things that nobody else does. By the way, I think Matt could also make a great living in computer sciences. He's a whiz on that front.
Matt Blizel - musician, turntable re-builder, audio engineer, computer scientist: a true renaissance man in the making. Remember? He's only 16.
æ: Once again you get the last word, Matt. What advice do you have for audiophiles this year?
Matt: Buy local. It supports your community's economy and you get to know people. I'd rather buy from the guy down the street, develop a relationship ... tap into local people's knowledge.
æ: Anything else?
Matt: Oh, yeah, a seriously honorable mention to Zu Audio for the live performances they sponsored!
Adam and Sean, from Zu Audio
æ: Amen to that. Thanks, guys!.