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Interview with Bill Louey

Equipment rackEvery audiophile’s dream, is to craft the perfect system for their musical interests and sonic tastes. John Vandyke talks to an enthusiast who has achieved this dream through painstaking research, critical listening and attention to detail. The result is breathtaking.

This interview by John Vandyke was originally published in Sound Travels (reprinted with permission of nextmedia Pty Ltd).

John Vandyke: How did your passion for music get started?

Bill Louey: I think it was when I was in grade two or three, I was about 10 years old, living in China. One day I was walking in the street and I heard some music coming from a loudspeaker somewhere. It was something very different to my other experience. I had been to music lessons before, and the singing was wonderful, but this was a very emotional experience, something I cannot describe in words. I was deeply moved, and I actually stood there until the piece of music was completed.

JV: Was there a particular point in time where you realized that sound was an important part of the musical experience for you?

BL: Even before I emigrated to Australia, I liked more accurate reproduction of the sound because it got me more into the illusion of the real thing. In the last two years before I came to Australia, I had a friend who worked with a speaker manufacturer. She recommended some very cheap loudspeaker kits, which I screwed together - that was my first Hi Fi system. But I really got into audio as a hobby in about 1994 when I bought my first real Hi Fi – a very musical system with Rogers LS6a’s, a Musical Fidelity amp and Marantz CD player.

JV: What kind of music do you listen to most often, and who are some of your favorite artists and composers?

BL: I guess that 75% would be classical, the rest a mix like jazz, some world music or other stuff, and Chinese music. For a long time I thought Chinese music was very poor. I thought that western music was far more advanced. But China, since 1980 opened up to the world and people have a lot more freedom. Now they actually combine eastern and western music together and there’s some excellent work. I like many western composers - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, really too many.

JV: So in what ways does music affect your life and the way you feel?

BL: It’s hard to describe the feeling, but I can tell you an example. I remember about ten years ago, I had a disk, I think it was conducted by Bernstein, it was actually Mendelssohn’s violin concerto number 1. When I heard that Mendelssohn I liked it so much that I actually bought four or five albums by different performers and conductors. After that, for about one month, I could not stop humming from my heart, you know, just from inside, the tune of the violin concerto. That music gave me so much inspiration, like some force that gave me joy, happiness, support and encouragement. That’s an example that expresses my feelings.

SpeakerJV: Is your system in a stable state or are you still planning major enhancements to it?

BL: When you have the experience to build it yourself, whatever circuit or component you change you hear the difference in sound. Eventually, through years of practice, you really know what is good sound.  I guess at this stage if I’m going to actually enjoy a Hi Fi system it has to be absolutely top class. I don’t think that I’m happy to pay the sort of money to better my design, so I’ve possibly reached the end of my journey.

JV: What’s your favorite piece of equipment at the moment?

BL: It’s very difficult to say, because I built this as a system. I was making the assumption that I am going to actually build a system based on this and that I’m not going to upgrade.

JV: Is there any piece of equipment that you’ve owned in the past that you regret selling?

BL: Yes, there are, because I don’t think it makes sense to sell something like the Musical Fidelity A120, that classic power amp, because you only sell it for a few hundred dollars. Also the Rogers speakers - if you sell these things for two or three hundred dollars, you might as well just keep them.

JV: I think that your system is one of the most memorable systems I’ve ever heard, but is there another system that you’ve heard that was very memorable?

BL: I have heard good systems that are not always the most expensive ones. And I have heard some very expensive systems. But I personally prefer my own system.

JV: Do you use the same music for comparing components as you do for sitting down and listening for fun?

BL: Yes. Just for comparison, because I’m used to that piece of music so I can tell the difference easily. But the whole process of Hi Fi can be a very subjective experience. That means that, for example, I establish a certain kind of expectation of sound, even though it’s not true. So sometimes it’s a good idea to get a CD which I’m not so familiar with and then listen to it, and then I can actually find differences in the system.

JV: Thinking about the Hi Fi industry broadly, where do you think it is heading in the future?

BL: I guess that a lot of people have a very pessimistic view on this, but I think that Hi Fi is not going to die. There will be music lovers, there will be Hi Fi lovers, and as long as those people are there, there will be a market. Technology is still improving, like loudspeakers and especially digital technology. One day if you can actually achieve true digital crossover rather than an analog crossover I think we will have another level of performance upgrade, and it will be a massive upgrade.

JV: Where would you like to see the audio industry going?

BL: For me to listen to music, if the Hi Fi doesn’t sound good or real, I don’t get emotionally involved. People are missing a lot listening to poor sound, and the industry could help to educate them on what is possible.

Marantz SACD playerEquipment List:

  • Marantz SA-11S1 SACD Player, modified by Bill Louey
  • Bill Louey designed preamp and electronic crossover
  • Bill Louey designed power amps in tri-amped configuration
  • Bill Louey designed three way open baffle loudspeakers
  • Custom cables and racks