How I Went American Picking for an Audiophile Classic

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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