Written by 3:52 pm Reference Speakers

How I Went American Picking for an Audiophile Classic

Everyone has that one special product. One they have an unconditional love for. This is the story of how Andrew Robinson journeyed far from home to rescue that special product and got more that he bargained for.


AR-AMERICAN-PICKERS-IMAGE.jpgAnyone
who has followed me or my writings over the years knows that I have an affinity
for one, classic, audiophile loudspeaker and that is Martin Logan’s CLS
full-range electrostatic. I love this speaker and find them to be striking,
both visually and aurally. Since being forced to sell my pair some eight years
ago (that story for another post) I’ve been on the hunt for another -coming
close a few times but never able to close the deal. Or as Charlie Sheen would
say, I wasn’t WINNING.

Fast
forward to this past weekend when I was contacted by a local, Southern
California resident, who mentioned, via email, that he had a pair of original
CLS loudspeakers in fair to good condition that he would be willing to part
with. Well color me interested. I immediately wrote the man back and setup a
time this past Monday to meet and demo the speakers.

The
gentleman lived an hour and a half away from my humble abode in the mountains
of Acton, California. So, after borrowing my wife’s F-150 (better to be
prepared I always say) and driving the 100 plus miles to the gentleman’s home I
was a little miffed when I arrived to an empty house. 10 minutes later the
homeowner arrived, apologized profusely and then wouldn’t let me into his home
because he had to “tidy up.” So I popped a squat on his porch for 15 minutes
before he reappeared and welcomed me in.

Upon
entry I wasn’t able to tell if he understood what “tidy up” meant for the house
appeared as if a bomb of duty free trinkets and cat pee had exploded
everywhere. We entered his living room, which I quickly learned was NOT a
living room at all but the gentleman’s SHOWROOM-yes my friends he was a dealer.
He carried only two lines, but he was a dealer nonetheless. He even took the
time to try and sell me an entire system-one that didn’t include the CLS
loudspeakers I was there to see. 

Speaking
of my beloved CLS loudspeakers he had them propped up in the front corners of
his “showroom” acting like makeshift bass traps because, and now I’m quoting,
“his customers like to see a lot of speakers in the room and the CLS’s are
perfect for that and for smoothening bass response.” I immediately wanted
nothing more than to rescue my beloved CLS’s from this horrible fate they had
been forced to endure but I cooled my jets and began thinking rationally-which
was hard to do for their was a clear and present funk wafting through the house
that made it difficult to think let alone focus. We gingerly maneuvered the
pair of CLS’s out of the corners and into the middle of the room setting them
down on carpet that appeared ripped straight out of an old movie theater,
complete with squishing sounds and sticky feet. The gentleman the proceeded to
connect the CLS’s to his system and demo them for me.

After
a few minutes of the most generic smooth jazz album ever, seriously it
should’ve been called Ode to Hotel Lobby, the gentleman left the room to return
phone calls. I examined the speakers carefully, noticing several scratches,
cracks and imperfections in the wood frames, not to mention the panels were
100-percent original and needed to be replaced for there was as much as a 10dB
difference in their output when using an SPL meter, which I happened to have on
me. While I waited for the gentleman to return I called MartinLogan to find out
how much repairs were going to cost me should I decide to purchase the CLS’s.

And
then things took a turn.

While
the gentleman was still on the phone an older woman entered the house, shuffled
around aimlessly for a moment, had a seat and then left. At this point I began
identifying my exits for it’s always good to have an exit strategy should
things go awry, which seemed very possible at this point. The gentleman
returned and asked me what I thought, to which I replied the speakers were
going to require a ground up restoration, one that was going to be costly for
me but that I was still interested. I offered the gentleman $500 for the pair
to which he replied, “they’re worth at least $800.”

At
$800 the total cost of the CLS’s, after restoration, was going to be somewhere
in the vicinity of $3,000 or $500 more than what they sold for brand new in the
early 80’s. No deal. I told him that even doing the restoration over time and
pinching every penny that I could I was still going to be into the speakers for
$2,000, which despite my love for the CLS’s wasn’t a good deal at his asking
price of $800 since CLS IIz’s regularly trade on Audiogon for $1,000 – $2,000 a
pair and are newer, better designs. He didn’t seem to understand my point but
then I didn’t understand him, especially the bomb he dropped on me next. 

“Well,
I have other pairs if you’re looking for one that will require less
maintenance.”

“What
do you mean you have other pairs?” I
exclaimed.

The
gentleman took me to his storeroom (i.e. master bedroom), where a mountain of
boxes and audiophile crap stacked floor to ceiling greeted us. Seriously, he
removed the hanging light fixtures in the room to make more space for his junk.
To the producers of A&E’s Horders I have your next subject-call me. With
makeshift flashlights in hand we maneuvered through the piles until we came
face to face with yet another pair of CLS’s leaning, surprise, surprise,
against the corners of his room.

The
newly unearthed pair of CLS’s were in a Light Oak finish and the frames were in
much better shape though the panels were going to have to be replaced and the
previous owner, who fancied himself a mechanic, re-mounted the electronics box
to the back of the frames more to his liking. Never mind the fact that it was
at this point the gentleman told me that he had “updated” both sets of
electronics himself.

The
hits just kept on coming.

He
offered me the Light Oak pair for $1,000 for they would save me money over the
darker, Walnut, colored pair in the showroom.
I disagreed with his conclusion for the bulk of the cost was going to reside in
new panels, which both speakers needed. Finally, I offered the gentleman $600
for the showroom pair hoping the
extra hundred bucks would put an end to this madness and get me the hell out of
there, but he was dead set on his $800 figure. He even raised the price at one
point to $900 but brought it back down in an effort to appear as if he was
negotiating.

Ultimately,
I declined his offer and left but before I could he tried, once again, to sell
me on a new system from one of his two lines to which I graciously replied-no
thanks. 

My search
continues…

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