In Memory of A.J. Conti

October 16, 2016

In Memory of Armando (A.J.) Conti by Ron Resnick

My friendship with A.J. Conti began in 2012 when I wrote to him a question about cables — a topic boring to me, but fascinating to A.J. because of the science underlying his Basis Audio cables. To A.J. at that point I was merely a random product inquiry e-mail. Nonetheless A.J.’s responses were informative and detailed. In the high-end audio industry, where the customers sometimes become personally acquainted with the manufacturers and retailers of the equipment they acquire, it was a very nice beginning. It showed me that A.J. appreciates every single inquiry, every single possibly interested customer, and that he treats everyone seriously and respectfully. I began to understand how smart, dedicated and passionate A.J. was, and how genuine, sweet and honest was his character.

In 2015 I wrote to A.J. in advance of T.H.E. Show Newport in the hope of making an appointment to meet him for the first time in person. I found A.J. in a great-sounding demonstration room with Richard Vandersteen and Randall Cooley, the Master of Ceremonies for the Basis Audio/Audio Research/Vandersteen room. Randy is the proprietor of the wonderful Optima Enchantment store in Santa Monica, CA, and one of A.J.’s closest friends for the last twenty-five years.

Despite being very busy in the demo room A.J. was generous with me with his time, and we talked quite a bit about the Inspiration turntable which I had auditioned at Randy’s shop a couple of years earlier. A.J.’s warm genuineness and tremendous enthusiasm and love for the high-end industry and for music was very obvious, and it made me like him straightaway. It was a rare instance in which I felt that I had just made a connection with a person who was somehow going to become important in my life. I hoped A.J. felt the same way.

I wrote to A.J. shortly after the show, and I thanked him for the opportunity to meet him. In that e-mail I described my father’s career in the business side of the record industry; my musical preferences; my current audio system; and how I was researching and planning for the last and ultimate two channel, vinyl-based audio system of my life.

I think A.J. felt that he had made a connection with me because A.J.’s reply delved deeply into his love of music; how his internal design process functions; and how his passion for both engineering and music drives his skills and interests in both endeavors. A.J. wrote:

Music led me into the industry. Half of my brain gravitates heavily to the arts, the other half to the sciences, and neither dominates the other. I’m ambidextrous, something I like and am proud of. Half of the time I write lefty, half the time righty, and that reflects Basis, and I think a big strength of Basis: I can design based on physics, test using test gear in a very scientific way, but I listen “right-handed,” going right into the “arts mode.” Rather than saying that one or the other is the way to go, I state that I am sure that engineering, designing, living in the physics and measurements is important, but equally important is judging the work based on the music that comes from the product. . . . all of this reflects my passions in both the scientific as well as music worlds.

This correspondence prompted me to call A.J. on the telephone. We spent many hours on the telephone and in long e-mails learning about each other, explaining how our childhood hobbies and interests drove our adult passions and objectives. We had common interests in automobiles. We had common philosophies of about delayed gratification — relentlessly pursuing one’s goals over long periods of times — and about theoretical perfection.

A.J. loved motorcycles as well as cars. He described a racing motorcycle model, called a Norton Manx, which he loved as a kid, as “poetry in motion, or even standing still; sculpture,” the same way I would describe my dream sports car from when I was 17 years old. My interest in this car enticed me to achieve “As” in college so I could get a good job to be able someday — 10 or 15 years later — to acquire this car of my dreams. A.J. completely understood this kind of long-range thinking. He thought the same way.

A.J. was extremely excited that he had recently found and purchased a very rare original Norton Manx, with matching numbers for engine and frame. A.J.’s interest in, and enthusiasm for, extremely particular, specific things was intelligible to me, because I have always thought the same way about my interests and hobby desires.

From our conversations and e-mails I enjoyed learning about, and I admired greatly, A.J.’s fascinating blend of hard-core scientist/engineer combined with a musician’s artistic sensibility. After learning so much about A.J. and coming to respect him in so many ways I decide that I wanted a Basis Audio Inspiration to be my final and ultimate turntable. I called A.J. to discuss placing the order with Randy.

When A.J. heard I wanted an Inspiration he was excited, but then he became quiet, obviously pondering something on the other end of the telephone. After a pause he said: “Ron, I have come to know you and like you very much, and I want to do something very special for you. Let me make you a Work of Art.”

I could not believe my ears! Imagine an exotic car aficionado has fantasized all of his life of someday, maybe, hopefully, if everything goes well, having a standard-issue eight cylinder Ferrari to call his own. He has seen in photos and read about and heard about rare, ultra-expensive, limited-edition Ferraris, but something like an F50 is obviously an impossible dream – too rare, too expensive — literally a machine to imagine but never to touch. So he calls Enzo Ferrari to place the order for a standard production eight cylinder Ferrari and Enzo says “no, let me build you a La Ferrari.”

Still not completely believing my ears I thanked A.J. for the suggestion about the Work of Art and I immediately said “yes!” My only request was that A.J. himself come to my house to set up the Work of Art. He readily agreed.

A.J. asked me about my time-frame and I said that because my house is undergoing a year and a half or more of repairs I would not be able to take delivery of the turntable until 2017. A.J. said that that worked well for him because he could build my Work of Art (his thirty-eighth example) leisurely, at his convenience, and take his time selecting each part and laboring over “matching components perfectly.”

In later correspondence I wrote to A.J. that “You certainly are making my dream come true with the Work of Art! When I first saw the photos of it years ago I was awestruck. It is as beautiful as any exotic automobile!” A.J. replied:

As an adult, it has been a burning drive to get my most important dreams, I think in large part due to my young years. It is so important to me, and I am talking about real dreams, things I truly dream about at night, that I somehow transfer that drive and want, the longing feeling, to others . . . assuming everyone burns as much as I do for certain things. Knowing how that feels, I really try to “blow someone away” if that someone is the rare person I really connect with and like. I do so by providing something that is above and beyond. This is what I tried to do with you.

This all came to mind as I was working with my daughter on math. After I wrote exercises and she was busy on them I was flipping through a magazine and saw a model that I was in love with for years and years. I bought the model earlier this year [the Norton Manx]. When I saw the picture and remembered the longing process I thought “I remember the longing, and I had to make that dream come true . . .” And immediately after, I thought “and helping dreams come true for those close to me is so much a part of my life”. That made me think of your Work of Art and you. You are going to be comfortable when you think: “I have the best record player in the world.”

Knowing that A.J. himself was going to build my Work of Art, and knowing what an engineer, a craftsman, a musician and a perfectionist he is, thrilled me and filled me with joy because I knew that he would be building for me a machine whose metal and acrylic components would be imbued with A.J.’s soul and essence. The man was building my turntable lovingly with his own hands. Some of his genius and passion would be transferred to my Work of Art. Knowing that A.J. was building it with so much dedication and spirit made me feel like he was truly bestowing upon me something valuable and important of himself.

A.J. was a perfectionist. He said he could not promise that my Work of Art would be literally perfect, but that he was very comfortable promising that he would make my Work of Art “as perfect as human hands could allow.”

A.J. and I made plans to get together a few days prior to T.H.E. Show Newport 2016. I picked A.J. up at the hotel in Santa Monica at which he was staying. I brought him back to my house for drinks and to show him the area in the equipment room adjacent to our listening room where the Work of Art would be located.

I had an absolutely wonderful afternoon and evening with A.J., learning seemingly almost everything about him, and telling A.J. seemingly almost everything about me. I liked hearing in great detail about how A.J. devised to have a second chance to meet his future wife, Jolanta, while A.J. was on vacation in Venice, Italy, after he blew his first chance encounter with her after spying her for the first time. I have not met or spoken with Jolanta but A.J. told me so much about how they met and about their early courtship and later life together that I feel that I know her a little bit. I told A.J. about how my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved to London, England to stay together amid the difficulty and time required to secure her visa to the USA.

Several months later when I wrote to A.J. that my wife’s visa had been approved he wrote us an e-mail which was so heartfelt and moving and beautiful it literally brought tears to my wife’s eyes. He also called us on the telephone in London to congratulate us. Prior to then my wife thought of A.J. as just one of my overly fanatical audio buddies. But after reading A.J.’s e-mail and talking to him on the telephone she realized what a uniquely compassionate and warm and caring man is A.J. A.J.’s e-mail concluded with: “All my love, all my best wishes for you and Tinka. JOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

My wife and I were planning a trip in November to visit an audiophile friend in Boston and then drive up to Hollis, New Hampshire to visit A.J. and to introduce my wife to him. I spoke with A.J. in early October to set a date to get together with him. That was the last time I spoke with A.J.

It is heartbreaking and tragic that A.J. was taken from us at this point in his life when he was still filled completely with enthusiasm and passion for life, his family, high-audio and his other interests. A.J., your passing has left an empty spot in our hearts which will never be filled. We will remember always your genius, your passion, your love.

Ron Resnick – Senior Contributing Writer