Tribute – Gerhard van Rooyen

Written by on 10/28/2019 in News - No comments

Gerhard van Rooyen 

“Oom Gerhard van NAD” 

 7 September 1944 – 24 March 2019

The Last twelve months have not been my greatest despite some magnificent highlights that may still prove to remain as such at least for the foreseeable future. The emotional roller coasting has been somewhat unnerving at best as life events swung from low to high and low to high again. The highs deserve a post in their own right and for this reason I believe one must distinguish firmly between the good and the not so good. Perhaps more so for the not so good since these events often require deeper reflection to fully comprehend and process in order to go on and emerge a stronger person on the other side of it all.

My father’s passing in March this year probably signaled the lowest of lows I’ve ever experienced. I’ve lost other close friends that were very dear to me before and thoughts of them often surface through everyday life. Losing my dad is on a completely different level though and today I understand the wisdom in the saying that to become a parent and to lose one is absolutely and exclusively reserved for those in the know.

Nothing can truly prepare one for the emotions superseding these events. I consider myself a lucky one to have had the father that I was blessed with in this life. We spent an enormous amount of time together through our business and the industry of sound reproduction we both live and lived for. I learnt just about everything about how to listen to reproduced sound and specifically music from my father. He was talented musically by having had a voice that stood out from the crowd. He could sing and in his younger years travelled the country with a small men’s choir when and where they were invited to come sing or compete. He had a very keen ear and one who instantly knew when something sounded right or wrong.

In modern reproduced sound and music there appear to be a universal disorder merging through it and as the industry evolved it seemed to have become more and more of a frustration for people like my father. It’s quite the cliché because it can be successfully argued that progress only carried the industry the wrong way. Most systems we hear today and a great number of newly released music suffer from an almost common emphasis in the lower midrange often reaching further down into the upper bass region. My father often just said that doesn’t sound like music or he would say that doesn’t sound like a human voice and then I would instantly know he’s referring to the congestion in that critical area. Congestion in lower mids/upper bass causes an obscuring of the middle and upper middle frequencies which by its overpowering significance causes a great deal of inner detail to be lost to the listener.

It has been surprising for me to learn how great a many individuals, audiophiles, recording engineers and industry stalwarts are completely oblivious to this fundamental error. Listening to the majority of older analogue recordings from the fifties, sixties and earlier seventies reveal very little if not any thickening of the lower midrange and upper bass. Billy Joel sounded his best on Piano Man, one of my dad’s favourites, and Elvis Presley always sounded open and natural despite perhaps in later recordings having been processed with too much reverb on especially his voice.

I fondly recall one of the gentlemen who used to manage the Johannesburg office of then, Hi-Fi Specialists, responsible for the distribution of our much loved (especially in those earlier years) NAD brand, once telling me when I was still a young boy helping out in my holidays and spare time that he only knew one person who could setup a single pair of loudspeakers where the stereo image could be observed and enjoyed along all three positions of a three-seater couch. Indeed my dad could do just that. He made 3020’s and AR18’s sing and was perhaps the most critical Linn Sondek setup guru of his time. He loved the work and loved getting the absolute maximum from any setup no matter how simplistic. In the years before his death he often admitted that selling Hi-Fi was very difficult for him at times. It was a constant battle of odds. One of having to make a sale, because sales is business and business is livelihood and the other of knowing that the big sale didn’t always imply the better sound for the client.

My dad was perhaps too honest for his own wellbeing. His conscience always remained his barometer as honesty his true north. He hated digital and often said it sounded no different to glass breaking. A favourite thing he also said when and if a particular pair of speakers had too much emphasis in the lower mid/upper bass was that there were big dogs in those boxes (groot honde in daai kaste) meaning the cabinets and the design were flawed because the heaviness of the woof(er)-sound spoilt the essential midrange where the real magic of music nestled. We had great times and huge laughs along the way, but in the end what I learnt about sound is that most systems are fundamentally flawed and that it’s not about how impressive this aspect or the next could be as it is about the entire spectrum of the sound and the essential message the music and thus the artist attempted to convey through his/her recorded creations.

Those who knew my dad well will also remember him often just getting up and walking aside or even away for a bit.  When something sounded so bloody awful no one with a pinch of musical knowledge could withstand it, my dad would merely get up and come back when calm was restored. Often these sounds were presented to him by fellow audiophiles or individuals who thought they knew it all and perhaps thought they made the greatest discovery only to have my father teach them about a single essential aspect that caused that presentation to fail dismally. Reproduced sound is only right when the fundamentals are right. As a boy of six or seven I fondly remember the ESL57’s and Dynaco valve amplifiers in our living room. They had little bass and even less treble, but essentially sounded so right it could never ever be wrong.

My father left a huge vacancy. His knowledge and comprehension of music and the reproduction thereof was beyond that of us mortals. He never allowed to be influenced by hype in any facet of life and always chose to react with and after some consideration. I can’t remember ever seeing him lose composure. He always remained calm and always allowed himself the luxury of self-possession to respond with dignity and in such a way that the feelings of others were considered first and foremost.    

I have a huge pair of shoes to fill and as such I will strive to be as impartial towards any and every product as long as it has merit for the clients we serve and assist in helping to build truly inspiring music systems.  May the memory of this wonderful person that was Gerhard van Rooyen remain with all who knew him.

Listen with high quality headphones

Those who knew my father will know the passion he had for music and sharing this love through his business of importing and distribution of high quality audio and video equipment into South-Africa most notably of which is NAD Electronics and in the earlier years, Acoustic Research (AR) loudspeakers. He instilled a love for music reproduction into all who came into contact with him through this soul enriching hobby. 

For his funeral I decided to play tribute to some of the songs our family grew up with in our home by setting up a high quality reproduction system made up of some of the components that stood the test of time for him. 

In this video I’m doing final sound checks the day prior to his service. Mickey Newbury was one of my dad’s favorites and here “I came to hear the music” can be heard playing through two pairs of restored AR18LS loudspeakers from the early ’80’s stacked in a miniature array setup, left and right of the podium. The loudspeakers were driven by a pair of Dynaco MkIII mono block vacuum tube amplifiers rated at (only) 60W per channel. My father owned these little gems since the late sixties and over the years we kept maintaining them for peak performance. For low-end reinforcement I added a Mission subwoofer from the early 2000’s, one of the best models ever made by this company. 

The playback source consisted of my laptop computer playing high resolution music files using the Audacity application and connected to a Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC via a Skogrand USB interlink. The Aeris also served as the preamp driving the Dynaco amplifiers and Mission subwoofer directly since its digital volume control is one of the best in the business. 

The music files were created from some of my dad’s favorite records. Notably I recorded the tracks through my sophisticated archiving rig consisting of highly optimized Linn LP12 record player with Shelter 9000 cartridge, Conrad-Johnson Premier 15 vacuum tube phono preamp with Jensen step-up transformers, a professional audio Apogee analogue to digital converter, Genesis Digital Lens and Tascam digital recorder/capturing device. 

The amount of analogue ambiance in the captured music files is quite astounding and made for a musical experience in the large church building in my dad’s hometown of Wellington in the Western Cape an emotional and very memorable one for all in attendance. 

About the Author

Audio Engineer, Critic & Retailer twenty-seven years in the making.

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