The cottage industry that is High-End audio is not only small and endowed with a well-greased internal grape vine of information exchange, but on-line forums like Audio Asylum and AudiogoN add much instantaneous exchange of additional information that often benefits from a large 'activist group' with endless connections. The challenge with much on-line information is the ability (or lack thereof) of the average reader to verify its veracity. It's child's play to post rumors disguised as fact or to get carried away by emotions. Now add that whenever two people are involved in any kind of dispute, there are always a minimum of two sides to a story. The moment lawyers enter, this becomes more complex still. Additionally, the moment lawyers enter the picture, parties engaged in any kind of dispute are usually under advice or actual legal restraint to not talk about pending matters with outsiders until such matters are settled and some form of official statement can be made or a judgment has been awarded.

That said, it's nearly a truism that the deeper pockets nearly always enjoy an unfair advantage when it comes to litigation. Regardless of right or wrong, the sheer time that can be bought to stall or delay proceedings can put a party less financially endowed out of business or under grave duress well before legal proceedings ever get formally under way.

Now consider the following formal press release, copied verbatim from the Atma-Sphere website today, October 17, 2004:

Contact: Harry Blazer
200 Bowdish Road, Kalispell MT 59901
406 257-0145


Existing Management Team, Employees and Co-Owners to Carry on Karsten Legacy

Kalispell MT - SEPTEMBER 16, 2004 - Atma-Sphere Music Systems, Inc. announces a transition in this company's proud tradition of innovation and excellence. For some years, founder Ralph Karsten has been searching for an opportunity to disengage from the day-to-day management to pursue other interests and explore other ways to use his creative talents. After 25 years, Karsten is stepping down as CEO and has decided to sell his remaining interest to the existing management team and co-owners with whom he has had a relationship for a number of years.

Under the buyout agreement, Karsten will have a license to use Atma-Sphere's existing intellectual property to develop a line of preamps and amps under the "Karsten Signature" brand for distribution through Atma-Sphere. These offerings will be limited editions, hand-made exclusively by Mr. Karsten and will undoubtedly be highly regarded and coveted. Details will be forthcoming on Atma-Sphere's website (

"For some years now, I have been hoping that an opportunity would present itself that would allow me to step down as the President and CEO of Atma-Sphere Music Systems, Inc.," offered Karsten, "yet still be involved in some way in an industry that has meant a lot to me." He went on to say, "this opportunity has finally presented itself through the efforts of my friends and business associates at Gilmore Audio and Glacier Audio - Mark Gilmore and Harry Blazer, respectively, who have been co-owners of Atma-Sphere and have been actively involved in making it a success."

Karsten added, "I'm excited about the new line of 'Karsten Signature' components that I'll be developing and building myself. There are also exciting product innovations on the horizon at Atma-Sphere that will continue our long, distinguished tradition of industry leadership. After many years of hard work, I am looking forward to having time to pursue other interests that have also brought me joy through the years. Time to have even more fun."

Karsten finished by saying, "I want to thank the loyal customers who have and will continue to make Atma-Sphere one of the most respected and decorated manufacturers of best-of-class components in the high-end audio industry."

Mr. Blazer said, "Mark Gilmore, I and the Atma-Sphere team are grateful for this opportunity to continue the great legacy of Atma-Sphere's founder, Ralph Karsten. We are glad that Ralph appreciates our commitment to make sure Atma-Sphere remains one of the most respected names in the high-end audio business. We wish Ralph well and much joy and look forward to participating in future projects together."

To this press release, now add the following post on Audio Asylum, captured verbatim on this same day, October 17, 2004 and
posted by HStraub (A) on October 16, 2004 at 20:36:36:

As many of you know, Ralph Karsten, the previous owner of AtmaSphere is having legal issues. Many customers/friends and dealers have offered assistance and wondered how they could help. Several members of the OTL user group have decided to put together the "Ralph Karsten Legal Fund" in order to raise some money to help Ralph through this tough time.

Ralph has helped many of us over the years and now he needs your help. If you would like to help Ralph out we have set up an account to collect money for his defense fund. All money donated will be used to help pay Ralph's legal fees and help him get his feet back on the ground.

I am not in the audio industry, I am just a long time friend of Ralph's who lives locally in St Paul. Member of the OTL User Group asked if I could administrate the fund since I am local, and I was glad to help out. He is aware of the effort and appreciative of the support.

There are two donation options, you can send a check or MO made out to:

"Ralph Karsten Legal Fund" and send it to:

Ralph Karsten Legal Fund
CO Harry Straub
1144 Silverwood Rd
Woodbury, MN 55125
or you can use Paypal, and I will deposit your donation into the fund. My Paypal is:

If you would prefer to keep your donation anonymous, please state that in your note or on Paypal and I will be the only one that knows that you contributed.

Please pass this information on to your local audio groups and anyone else that Ralph has helped over the years. This is a chance for us to help someone who has given a lot to this hobby that we love.

Harry Straub

It doesn't take a golden ear to detect the shrill shriek of odd-order distortions and ambivalence between the first impression of an amicable transfer of ownership indicated by the public statement (which also implies that said transfer has been accomplished) and the rallying call of support for Mr. Karsten's legal defense, which suggests anything but an amicable settlement or that such a settlement has in fact even been reached yet.

Needless to say, perception alone can be a very damaging thing regardless of the actual facts. It takes a long time to build up a good reputation and barely any at all to destroy it. Anyone interested in seeing the carefully cultivated brand that was Atma-Sphere continue to prosper -- and regardless under whose ownership -- can only hope that all parties involved will quickly reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion to this transitional phase. It's been hard enough to watch the mighty Mark Levinson brand lose significant momentum during the reorganization of this Harman-Kardon devision. Compared to those entities, Atma-Sphere is positively puny. It surely cannot afford any ill perceptions of internal hostilities if it hopes to successfully continue or re-commence operations. Best wishes to all.