I had the opportunity to hog tie the infamous J10 for a little question and answer session. Getting to know him is getting to love him. Turns out we have some of the same passions. Formula One racing is probably at the top, as well as a general love for fine automobiles. Jonathan is most familiar to all of us for his years as a reviewer for both The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. Lately he is the head of Scull Communications and handles the PR for a number of lines not the least of which are Furutech, XLO cables, Crystal Acoustics and Bel Canto, just to name a few. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with J10 ( I just can’t break the habit of calling him that even though he says that is past and not present) and will continue to communicate with him as he is a wealth of knowledge. He was very obliging and I thank him for that as I know how busy he is. He rarely stands still for two minutes let alone for an hour!
GL – How long have you been involved with HIFI on a serious level?
JS- Professionally since 1991 when I started writing for TAS, then switched to Stereophile eighteen months later.
GL – What got you started?
JS – Don’t get me started… My old man had a Rek-O-Kut ‘table/transcription arm setup in a custom cabinet, Leak and Bogen tube amps, woofers in the closet door… Stanton, Ampex, Fisher, Electro-Voice… and, the last tick on my audio c.v., big daddy worshipped Mozart.
GL – When did it become a true passion?
JS- I’ve always been passionate about music and sound. “I only went to college to get a better stereo!” It saved my life during really hard times when all I had to cling to was my system and music. In boarding school I’d listen to Bach organ works on a Wollensack deck to sooth the savage breast. When things are quiet I instinctively turn to music.
GL – At which point did you realize a desire to make it a profession?
JS – I was posting on TAN, The Audiophile Network, and used to report on system demos, like Arnie Nudell unveiling a speaker at Lyric. TAN: Three-hundred baud and we had to manually attach each reply. We all wanted to be there and a lot of great talent developed from that gene pool. Corey Greenberg used to kid me about the way Kathleen says my name – Jon-a-ten – and it stuck like glue. One day I bumped into Michael Fremer and he suggested I send writing samples to Harry Pearson. Nothing happened so I sent them to John Atkinson. Heard back from Harry shortly thereafter, John a bit later, but I’d already sealed my fate with TAS. For eighteen months, anyway, strangely enough, the exact time I spent at Monster Cable learning the business! Then, when I felt I was getting the business, I bailed on Noel and opened Scull Communications. It’s five years now.
GL – What is it that you like best about what you are doing now?
JS – I love my work and I’m making a living. My system still gives me the chills, I’m challenged every day, I work my ass off, and I’m happy to be alive. I see the continuing potential of high performance audio and I’m dealing myself in.
GL – Boxers / Briefs?
JS – You just want to see if I’m paying attention! Different strokes, as they say. 6550s, EL34s, 845s, or MOSFETS! Whatever floats your boat. It’s personal, what do you like? What kind of sound turns you on? Go for it and enjoy, that’s what it’s for! And that includes choice of underwear, my good man.
GL – Who influenced you along the way to do what you are doing? Mentors?
JS – I read Stereophile and TAS for years, then when I had the opportunity to express myself I suddenly found my voice. And there I was… I tried to convey the feeling of what it was like spending time with the many remarkable components I reviewed. Four and six-chassis preamps, power amps from the petite to audio super colliders and beyond.
GL – Any regrets about the business along the way? If so What?
JS – Regrets… let’s see, selling my PV-5, and modifying the phono stage in a perfectly fine early CAT preamp. Tragic on both counts.
GL – What is your favorite item that you have designed, sold, or written about?
JS – Probably the Jadis JA-200s I owned for so long. An accomplished pianist has them now.
GL – Why is that? What makes it so special and above the rest?
JS – They tipped me over into that special place where you connect with the music like audiophiles love – and need – to do. Those were great amps.
GL – What do you do better than most anyone you know?
JS – Represent my clients (with a straight face), Furutech, Bel Canto and Ultralink/XLO.
GL – What piece of equipment, that you have not designed, sold, or wrote about, captivates you?
JS – It’s always the music that captivates me, if you’ll forgive me for sidestepping your question. The equipment gets me there, a well-adjusted attitude!
GL – Do you have a holy grail within audio do you find yourself still searching for?
JS – A little story. Kathleen’s niece, Judith (Jude-eet) who spends more time here than in Paris, came over to our place with her husband and another couple for Thanksgiving. Cheese, of course, lots of that, some of it odiferous, we made a goose and enjoyed a few different wines. I’d absent-mindedly fired up the system and spun up the Forsell before they arrived. Now Judith talks up a storm and I usually spin some vinyl to… allow myself to drift away from the effort of understanding maybe 80, 85% of her charming, rapid-fire French. They arrive, everyone’s comfortable, I check the speed and drop my rebuilt vdH ‘Hopper GLA IV into the groove, and… Oh man, that’s what I’m talkin’ about! I half-understood Judith’s latest adventure, but even on the couch I’m following the beat, into the music, the midrange seductive over tight bass, and dig those horns! It brings me peace.
So… that’s the grail for me, I really dig my system and it sounds great whether I’m sitting in the Ribbon Chair or performing intercontinental family diplomacy.
GL – If you were not doing this what do you think you would be doing?
JS – Writing the book that occasionally looms up behind me grumbling for attention.
GL – What have you not done that you really want to do before you check out?
JS – Goodwood Speed Week carousing with Alain de Cadenet, the man with arguably the best job in the world. (Amen brother. De Cadenet does not have a job he gets paid to be a little kid driving exotic toys and telling people about it. Sound familiar? – GL)
GL – What pushes your buttons? Pet peeve so to speak.
JS – Shysters.
GL – Favorite color? What does it emote for you?
JS – BRG, British Racing Green. Hawthorn, Collins, Moss, Clark, Hill…
GL – What are your hobbies since audio is your vocation?
JS – Kathleen and I go to museums and galleries in nearby Chelsea. I came from a Pop Art collecting family and Kathleen’s an artist through and through.
GL – Beatles or Stones?
JS – Beatles early on, Stones later. White light, baby.
GL – Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen?
JS – Gary, let me ask you something… are you experienced? (I have been! Not necessarily stoned but uh, beautiful – GL)
GL – Do you own an iPod? Thoughts?
JS – No, but that’s because I’m welded to my desk all day long so I listen mostly to my desktop system. Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 (a great piece of gear!) converting USB to SPDIF into a Benchmark DAC. Output goes to a 250wpc Flatte 50 amp; you may recall it was designed for under-monitor placement as part of Evett & Shaw’s Elan desktop speaker system. I use Crystal Acoustics speakers with sub, and a pair of AKG ‘phones. Have to get my Senn’s fixed up, the connectors are a mess.
An iPod is fine for non-lossless files, and it speaks volumes about the seduction of convenience while pointing the way to what seems the inevitable move to music servers. As always, audiophiles take what’s out there and make it better.
GL – What do you listen to when you are listening purely for pleasure? Recommendations?
JS – The Intimate Ellington, play the first cut “Moon Maiden”, what a knockout, Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit, Duke Ellington, Jazz Party in stereo, Duke Ellington, Such Sweet Thunder, a total wonder, Duke Ellington and Ray Brown, This One’s for Blanton, Count Basie Trio, For the First time, Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery, Bags Meets Wes, and my favorite… Count Basie & Oscar Peterson, The Timekeepers, Rent Party.
GL – What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JS – If you believe in yourself and you’re passionate about what you do or make, then get out there and don’t stop telling the world about it until they listen.
GL – Words of wisdom for the masses
JS – Relax, participate, share, enjoy.
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