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Interview with Tom Waters

Gryphon Mikado Signature CDTom Waters has a passion for the real sound of instruments and voices. His quest for perfection has led him through a range of equipment from some of the biggest names in high end audio – Krell, Dunlavy, Wilson to name a few. Now, a revealing but musical system based on Mark Levinson and Gryphon components finds Tom at peace … for the moment.

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.

Tom Watres: I was a young boy of 12 or 13 when the Beatles overwhelmed the world with their music and charisma. I was quite taken with it all – my first record was an LP of the Beatles, can’t remember which one.

JV: Was there a defining moment when you first realised that sound was an important part of the musical experience?

TW: It was over a few years that I realized the benefits of good sound. I suppose what initially jarred my uneducated ears was listening to a system at Audio Excellence in Drummoyne many years ago. Ceto and Philip had this system setup wonderfully with large Thiel speakers driven by Audio Research gear – the choral music sounded truly phenomenal.

JV: What kinds of music do you listen to mostly and who are some of your favourite artists/composers?

TW: I listen to about 50% jazz, 40% classical and the balance includes World music, blues, country, etc.. Some of my favourites are Ray Brown, Gene Harris, Miles Davis, Anouar Brahem, John Surman, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

JV: In what ways does music affect your life, and the way you feel?

TW: I get withdrawal pains if I don’t get my regular slice of music! I find it relaxing and a form of meditation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exceptionally well recorded or even on a good system – I can usually hear through the faults and hear the music. In a good system though, I find it easier to suspend disbelief – even small faults in the components, the component isolation or the room can destroy the illusion. But I still enjoy it.

JV: What’s your most memorable Hi Fi experience?

TW: I can’t remember just one outstanding moment, other than that day at Audio Excellence. Someday I would like to get to the show in Munich, Montreal or Denver though – I think it would be a real eye and ear opener.

Martin Levinson 33H monoblock amplifierJV: Is your system in a stable state, or are you planning major enhancements?

TW: I’m occasionally tweaking something in my system, lately its things like footers and shelves – I experiment to see what sounds best and to understand why. I read Hi-Fi magazines a lot but it really sinks through when you experience the effects of system changes. I have no plans for any major enhancement in the immediate future, but that may change!

JV: What will be your next hi-fi purchase or upgrade?

TW: Probably better amp stands and a good separate DAC or music server. I think it’s fair to say that digital rules the commodity market, and will continue to do so, although it will continue to improve. Vinyl has much to offer and I’ve heard some excellent turntables, but one probably isn’t going to find its way into my system.

JV: What’s your favourite piece of equipment at the moment - the component that you would not sell?

TW: Tough question. I’ve spent years building up my system – everything works together quite harmoniously. I really like the Mark Levinson 33H power amps – they are exceptional amps. I suppose I would have to find something extraordinary before I’d let them go. I don’t think amplifiers have progressed at the same pace as say CD players and speakers, so the Levinsons probably have many years in my system yet!

JV: Is there any component that you regret selling?

TW: Years ago I had a Luxman L505 receiver. It was beautifully sweet sounding, and had its top, sides and bottom finished in gorgeous rosewood.

JV: If you had to identify one attribute that you look for in a system above all else, what would it be?

TW: I want it all, really! But if forced to choose, continuity of timbre and realistic instrument and vocal sound are very important to me.

JV: Do you use the same music for comparing components as you do for listening pleasure?

TW: I do have a few discs I regularly turn to when evaluating something, but I listen to them for pleasure too. Sometimes it’s difficult to listen critically for long periods of time – the mind starts to fabricate all sorts of things. When I sense that coming on I take a short break and then try to just simply listen without analysing. Over time you’ll always know what you like and don’t like.

JV: Where would you like the audio industry to go in the future?

Gryphon Atlantis speakerTW: I like the physical disc format due to its tactile nature and its longevity. But I think the current trend towards music servers is probably a good thing. I know a lot of people that will be dismayed at that thought. I think music servers offer potentially very good sound with high-res music, but heartache too unless you take precautions and backup your files.

JV: Where do you think the industry will actually go?

TW: I think the masses are more interested in quantity of music rather than quality, more interested in simplicity and ease than exceptional sound. The high-end market is different – sound quality is the defining requirement. Nelson Pass said that he believes the high-end is where components have transformed from being merely good sounding boxes into a technological art form. Many naysayers claim that the high-end will disappear – I think it will just transform and mature into something else. At least, that’s my hope!

System components:

  • Gryphon Mikado Signature CD player (32 bit)
  • Mark Levinson 326S preamp
  • Mark Levinson 33H monoblocks
  • Gryphon Atlantis speakers
  • AudioQuest WEL Signature IC (CD to preamp)
  • Synergistic Research Tesla Precision Reference IC (pre to power)
  • Synergistic Research Tesla Apex speaker cables
  • Synergistic Research Hologram PCs (CD and preamp)
  • Quantum Resonant Technology QX-4 Power Purifier (for CD and Preamp only)
  • Quantum Resonant Technology PC
  • Symposium Acoustics shelves, RollerBlocks
  • StillPoints
  • Homemade cable risers and amp stands
  • Schroers rack
  • 3 dedicated 20A lines - one for CD and Preamp, one for each power amp