A Visit to The VOICE THAT IS
On a recent business trip to Philadelphia, I set aside some time on a Sunday afternoon to visit with Doug White, owner of The Voice That Is, a high-end audio shop in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, about 20 minutes outside of Philly. Now to call The Voice That Is an audio shop is a bit of a misnomer. There aren’t racks and racks of new and pre-owned components with price tags on them. There’s no glass counter with a cash register and credit card machine on top, and a bunch of phono cartridges and audio tweaks inside. That’s because The Voice That Is resides within Doug’s actual home. No, there are no kids toys or kitchen tables and chairs to navigate. The Voice That Is, is in a spacious and elegantly styled room that is actually a converted garage.
Though he could probably have built an addition and employed some very costly construction techniques Doug felt that the sound he could achieve in his room would be a closer representation of what most people could achieve in their home. Customers are welcome by appointment only so that Doug can give them his absolute attention. “Its important for me to not just show off my equipment but also to take the time to also listen to my customers so that I can understand their likes and dislikes,” said White. It’s important to know what kind of music they listen to and whether they have a preference for large scale orchestral music or more intimate sounding jazz trios.” Understanding his customers wants and needs helps Doug to guide them to products that will allow them to get the most enjoyment out of their music.
The room is approximately 20’ x 20’, w/8’ high ceilings. Doug used doubled drywall panels to give the walls added density. The floors are a gorgeous Brazilian Cherry hardwood and in the middle of the floor is an amazing 12’ x 15’ handmade Afghan rug. There are four strategically placed ASC IsoTraps in the corners of the front walls and two SpringTraps in the rear corners. The only other room treatments were StillPoints Aperture Panels at the first reflection points. The carefully positioned seating is as comfortable as anything I’ve experienced at any show or in any showroom. In short, this listening room does have a homey feel and does promote the ideal environment for getting into music. It is a room that you can enjoy in your home. Now on to the equipment.
Doug White’s pedigree in high-end audio is extensive. He studied Computer Technology and Electronics in college and then worked for several Fortune 500 corporations where he learned the value of professionalism and the need to give clients a satisfactory experience. He then began working at several retail audio stores where he sold equipment from companies such as Krell, Levinson, Spectral, Lamm, Wilson and many others. It was during his time in retail that he honed his ability to sell high-end equipment, not to mention his considerable system set up skills. And they are considerable. In all my years of attending audio shows I have yet to visit a room that Doug had setup that didn’t sound fantastic.
Though Doug could sell any audio gear that he wanted (and believe me, many a company has asked), he has cultivated a particular affinity for only a small group of product lines that he carries. Doug will only wholeheartedly get behind products that exemplify his ideals of quality craftsmanship, intelligence of design, exceptional sound and lastly, the “coolness” of the people behind the products. The most notable of the products that Doug carries is from German audio manufacturer, TIDAL.
On the day I visited, the demo system that was in place consisted of the following TIDAL Audio componets:
· Contriva G2 loudpeaker w/Ebony Macassar veneer
· Presencio Reference Preamplifier
· Ferios Mono Amplifiers
· Camira DMC (DAC)
· Full suite of TIDAL Audio cables
Other components that were a part of this demo system were:
· Antipodes DX Gen 3 Music Server
· Skogrand Beethoven USB Cable
· Dynamic Design Neutron SW16 Digital Powercord
· TW-Acustic Raven Anniversary Turntable w/ Copper Top 3-motor drive
· TW-Acustic 10.5 Tonearm
· Transfiguration Proteus Diamond Cartridge
· HRS VXR Audio Stands
The Voice That Is was designed to maximize the listener’s comfort and ability to be immersed in wonderful music. And speaking of wonderful music, let’s face it more than a few high-end audio system demos have been completely undone by bad music. I remember going to visit the 47 Labs room at CES years ago with my good friend and former Stereo Timer, Constantine Soo when he handed the gentleman conducting the demo a CD to play. Out from the speakers came some of the loudest, bass-heavy techno-house music I’d ever heard. Needless to say, I couldn’t get out of that room fast enough. Thankfully, Doug is well aware of the importance of good music for an audio system demonstration and has one of the most diverse libraries of music I’ve seen. Being a musician (drummer) himself he comes by his love of all musical genres honestly.
Whether you’re a vinyl fan or enjoy the simplicity of carrying your entire music library around on a tablet, there is a lot to love at The Voice That Is including… The Voice That Is!, as in the title album from the legendary Johnny Hartman, that the store is named after. “This album is a favorite of my wife, Celeste and I, so of course, when I started the store, I decided to name it as a way of honoring her,” said White. Doug was kind enough to play a couple of tracks from the album for me and it was easy to hear why he and his wife loved it so much. The music was unaffected by any room anomalies and of course the TIDAL electronics and speakers will render anything put through them with absolute honesty and accuracy. This means that you can focus solely on the performance, and enjoy it.
Enjoy it I did. Luckily Doug had many of my favorite recordings on his tablet including pianist Taylor Eigsti’s Daylight at Midnight. The second track on this recording is called “Magnolia” and features the lovely vocals of Becca Stevens. Hearing it through this system was a goose bump raising experience for me. Stevens’ mellifluous voice seemed to hang in the space where her body should be and creates the kind of listening experience that a system of this caliber should create. I didn’t tell Doug this, of course because I tend to get more charge out of complaining to him about the high cost of audio gear. But what this system does to recorded music is why you pay that kind of money, not to mention the fact that everything in this showroom is frigging gorgeous!
The best part of my time at The Voice That Is was just sitting with Doug and talking with him about his experiences as a musician, retailer and now paragon of high-end audio. I admitted to him that I had sort of “lost my way” in my appreciation of what it means to be an audiophile. For some time I had found it increasingly difficult to rationalize the cost of high-end equipment when the quality of the sound did not seem to increase with the price tag for it. But my time at Doug’s brought things back to a proper perspective. Frankly, spending an afternoon ogling TIDAL equipment, especially those stunning Contriva G2 loudspeakers with their Ebony Maccasar veneer had a lot to do with that.
Being a man of unparalleled style and grace, Doug and his lovely wife of nearly 40 years, insisted that we top the evening off with a delicious meal. So they took me to a quaint little family styled Italian restaurant called Trattoria Giuseppe. Doug’s proclivity for the finer things in life carries over into his taste in restaurants as well because the food at this place was phenominal.
I wholeheartedly recommend that all audiophiles seek out and spend time with retailers like Doug White and places like The Voice That Is. Whether it’s in the comfort of their showroom or at one of the many audio shows that they expertly show their wares, a good high-end audio retailer can help you to get the true value out of your system and music. Doug White is a great one.
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