Interview: Con Lucas, Telos Distribution. Written by Peter Xeni.Three men gathered at Con’s place on the coast to listen to an audio system aspiring to Jay Gatsby’s ideal—‘the unattainable dream’ of perfection—the ideal system in their case, cost no object.
The green dock light in the Scott Fitzgerald novella is said to represent that unattainable dream, the ‘dream so close that one could hardly fail to grasp it.’ The light on the pier near Con’s home blinked in the wind between the tea trees as he placed the stylus on the opening groove. In the opinion of those seated in the room, the night air was charged with arguably the finest ‘life-like’ audio they were ever likely to hear.
They nodded in agreement about the detail beginning with the Helix turntable and MySonics Labs cartridge and ending with the Apogees. Each of these men had more than 40 years of audio experience and each of them had not heard those recordings so clearly. The cabling alone was worth more than a year’s salary; the power supply was isolated from the mains to the house—every detail examined—and from that pure source the rest of this über system fired into Riders on the Storm.
Audiophiles know that this famous Doors recording has rain falling from the very beginning of the song to the very end—but most systems aren’t sophisticated enough to resolve this level of detail. For those privileged to be invited, it was a remarkable experience to hear layers of woolly audio stripped back, revealing the crystalline clarity of the original recording.
That night, Riders on the Storm had physicality to the sound: you could nearly grasp it. The rain pounding on the windows was virtually indiscernible from the rain in the recording.
The quality of the equipment is the result of Con Lucas re-channelling his business acumen into his love of audio. Telos is his audio distribution company. He imports the Ypsilon Hyperion monoblocs that produced the scintillating sound via the Apogee Scintillas (no pun intended)—in a specially sound treated room.
‘I have been interested in audio since I was about ten,’ he said, reclining back. ‘My interest really took a step when I built a Klipschorn from blueprints at school with a whiz kid classmate of mine. At sixteen, I purchased a Harman-Kardon Rabco ST-7. Vinyl was still the way I mostly listened to music through the CD era. I first had a pair of Altec Lansings, then Celestion Dittons, plus a Benchmark, a Meridian CD player—I bought the best George Secher had in his shop. I had spent too much time working and I was yearning to return to my childhood interest. By this stage, the importance of cables was noted and a whole new ball-game in hi-fi had to be learnt (points to his audio wiring).’
In 2010 Lucas established Telos with Mark (Dohmann), an IT and aviation engineering expert and a Melbourne Audio Club member. ‘We both understood sound in the same way and we really knew what good sound was—our goals were the same,’ says Con. ‘Mark and I both thought audio could be done better. For many people, it’s an education when they hear something like this. You Peter, will now have a different perspective on sound. What you’ve heard is something that you won’t ‘un-hear; it’s something that will stick with you. [Sure did!] As for the business, Mark does the technical and installation work. But I am not so well physically and so I do the other stuff… the planning—not the leg work.’
Con said that Mark Dohmann had established an international reputation with his first turntable (owned by renowned reviewer, Michael Fremer). ‘Early on we had engineer Alan Perkins (Spiral Groove) and his family over here for a barbecue. That night alone we learnt a lot. We had sudden access to specialist audio knowledge. When we established Telos, we sourced and curated everything in great detail using that expertise. We brought in Ypsilon amps (Fremer owns these amps), Kaiser Acoustics Speakers (Con’s personal fave), Brodmanns, Thrax (from Bulgaria), Kubala, EnKlein, AirTight and many more hi-end products.’
‘We chose the word Telos, which in Greek means “the end” because we wanted to sell destination products,’ says Con. ‘People had read about these products in magazines, but it wasn’t until we went to the shows and played this gear that many were stunned. They’d only heard the typical polished hi-fi boxes lined with cones—which most times emit sounds unrelated to real-world acoustics. If you like that sound, you may be missing the point. It’s easy to do because really good sound is not readily accessible. We’re not interested in selling a particular sound per se. With customer’s systems we can locate the weak link, using measuring tools if needed, and advise people to update only that part of the system. Understanding expectations and psychoacoustics is central to a true understanding of audio.’
Con says most people prefer a distortion of 0.5 per cent rather than distortion of 0.0001 per cent: ‘God made you analogue, he didn’t make you digital. People like distortion and decay… it’s the evolutionary factors in human physiology that makes us think it’s live.’
For the record, Con is an anthropologist and an economist… a true polymath with broad interests who made his living in the building industry before turning his mind to audio. ‘It is undeniable that there is a correlation between good sound and good specifications but there’s a black art to producing good sound. Demetris Backlavas of Ypsilon understands it, Rumen Artarski of Thrax understands it, Dave Enklein of Enklein understands it. My good friend Michael Barabacz from Lorantz has taught me and continues to teach me a lot too. These are really smart and special people.’
‘At hi-fi shows, we want people to experience the ultimate. We’re saying to the public “this is what you can achieve in audio”. Some people are gear junkies. They change stuff for the sake of it. Poor souls, they are on a treadmill of buyer remorse. Most don’t know that the best stuff is now coming out of Eastern Europe; it’s been concealed—so to speak—by the Iron Curtain.’
So what is the future of music reproduction? Con asserts that how music is consumed is becoming a novelty but also very personal. ‘I imagine that more than 80 per cent of music is now consumed through headpieces. Cassette tapes are coming back, for example... turntables... but vinyl is here to stay. Analogue tape is the next big thing.
It’s really a political or social statement by the public. They are saying: “we don’t like the way you sound”, “your MP3s sound lousy” and “we want a deeper interaction with the musicians.” Something tangible, tactile, not a download file. What is Sgt Pepper’s without the cover? We read the covers in my day. Later on, bands such as Kraftwerk and CAN expanded the audio soundscape. “There’s danger at the edge of town,” said Jim Morrison. These bands were on the edge. They produced the most revolutionary stuff; they were the non-compliant ones. Then reggae came along, and then the electronic sounds of the Fairlight synthesiser, and what about those Nigerian brass bands?
Music is the most pervasive human art form. The music industry has been trying all types of tricks to further commodify the music, that is, remove us from its source and repackage it into cash. But music is a black art and music lovers are most interested in—and resonate with—the art form.’
‘The best equipment now is capable of reproducing what’s hidden in those grooves authentically and accurately,’ says Con. ‘But it still has a way to go in making us feel that the music is alive. This was the original intent of binaural spatial surround sound, which has only got as far as the stereo era. It is still evolving.’
Con sat on the couch in silence. What was the future of audio? The Doors played on as the rain came down in daisy teardrops on the window. Peter Xeni