This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
JC Morrison and Noriyasu Komuro
I met with Nori Komuro and JC Morrison on separate occasions to talk about Fi. While both meetings took place in the East Village (on the same street), their tone and tempo could not have been more different. Nori Komuro is quiet, gentle and modest. His demeanor is lighthearted, laughing heartily and often. Over water in a non-descript deli, Nori talked to me about audio tubes, SETs, direct-coupled circuits and Fi. His friend Uchida introduced Nori to the store at 30 Watts Street. Nori and Uchida knew each other since high school days in Japan and they were both living in NYC in 1993. Uchida lived in a storefront in the East Village, which was a roughly 800 square ft long narrow rectangle. More than three quarters of that space were filled with classic audio gear. Yes, over 600 sq ft stacked 4 deep on both long sidewalls, piled up to the ceiling with Macintosh, Altec, Western Electric, Garrard and more. It was all there and Uchida and Nori dug into this stash and its sound and came out the other end with some ideas of their own.

Uchida had to convince Nori to enter the Fi store. Nori was trying to avoid "the craziness". Nori and Uchida's first visit ran well past Fi's closing time and the threesome including JC Morrison ended up at Uchida's listening to music, drinking and talking (and drinking). The system at Uchida's according to JC "I remember it being Altec Valencias, a Garrard 301 with an SME 3012 and a Denon 103, homemade phono pre (6SL7 based), Tamura MC step up tranny, transformer-coupled stereo 45 amp (the Asano circuit) with probably 3 or 4 watts per channel (because of the interstage trannies), Radio Shack cables and zip cord speaker wire from some local source (maybe the Ace hardware down the street). It sounded sweet and musical. Delicious is a good word to describe it. And also kind of nostalgic. And because of the Valencias, much more dynamic than the typical little high-end monitors popular at the time."

Within a short time, Nori was 'living' in the basement at 30 Watts Street, the craziness in full swing. Nori picked up some of the tools of his trade in Japan where he repaired TVs and radios between high school and college. After graduating from Tokyo Electric Engineering College with a Bachelor of Engineering degree followed by an engineering job at the Nippon Mining Co., he came to the US and discovered vast store rooms within going-out-of businesses filled with NOS tubes. He bought box loads. Another discovery of greater impact was Nori's direct-coupled circuit, an epiphany of sorts and one he holds dear to this day. I asked Nori if he spent much time in the basement at Fi drilling and soldering. "Yes, a lot." Was it fun? He laughed. Nori's audio path was interrupted when family matters led him back to Japan. I am happy to report he's been back in NYC working on a bunch of new designs including his direct-coupled WE212e SET amplifier.

JC Morrison is a boundlessly energized, walking, talking, generous, passionate encyclopedia of Hi-Fi history, circuit design, tube design, construction and implementation (among many other things but my focus was Fi). An engineer and award-winning designer of professional audio gear by day, JC is also a band member for two different bands by night and a flying trapeze instructor on weekends (and some week nights). The concept of taking notes when talking to JC is like trying to report on the Indy 500 by doing an artist's sketch while running alongside the cars during the race. So from memory and the few scribbles masquerading as sense, JC and Don Garber worked together in high-rise construction in NYC in the 1980s and were jointly laid off right before Christmas. Having had enough of the construction business and having heard Herb Reichert's rig, JC was turned on.

"...Herb lived in a firehouse and had some space. The early insane system was big. He had a heavily modded Voice of the Theatre system with the A7 cab, early rebuilt "A" cone 515 woofers and the 288 compression drivers. I believe he had both the phenalic and the aluminum diaphragms at different times. I heard both but don't remember the differences. He had the ten cell tar-filled mid horns. He added an Audax horn super tweeter. I don't remember the model but it was good.

He spent a lot of time with the crossover and the time alignment. Every time he really messed with it, it got better. I remember Bob Cummings coming over once and doing something small that had the effect of slightly focusing a lens. It was big and fun. The most impressive thing about the speakers were the dynamics. It was very close to real. We were all used to little speakers that compressed everything. The amp was a push-pull 6B4G (6-volt 2A3) amp based on Arthur Loesch's work. Herb had rearranged little things in the amps many times so I don't know exactly what it was when I first heard it. The phono pre was Arthur's design.

We all built it because none of us had ever heard anything that could touch it. Herb used a Thorens TD124, modded of course with an SME3009 and a Shure V15. The best bass of any cartridge - better than the Koetsus we had access to in any case. Herb's system wasn't perfect but it was fucking spectacular! The strongest aspect was the big "live" sound. You were sitting in the audience with that system no doubt. And when the orchestra hit a peak, your hair stood up on end - even if it was played at a quiet listening level. That system taught me that contemporary Hi-Fi had forgotten or given up on dynamic performance. There exists no small box speaker that can realistically match the dynamics of real music. They all compress like crazy and we had all become used to it."

This first visit to Herb's was 1986-1987 and Don had been audio-enlightened as well. Don found and financed the opening of 30 Watts Street five years later. The rest is our living Hi-Fi history. In the beginning, JC was the circuit designer and Don the craftsman. More importantly, he had what JC called "a wonderful aesthetic". Don's love of nuanced detail touched every aspect of Fi at 30 Watts Street right down to the lights, which were DIY minimalist form and function fixtures. The first products offered by Fi included a push-pull 6B4G amp, a phono preamp (the Siren), speakers and then an 845 amp, a few other preamps and JC's DC 50/10 amp. Fi was also the first in the US to show the EAR Yoshino designed by Tim de Paravicini from England, and Gordon Rankin's first commercial amp, an 845-based design using dual 5R4GY rectifiers with 5691 input tubes, with 300Bs driving the 845s.

When Nori joined the crew, he brought his own set of skills and unique and inspired designs. This included his first amp built at Fi, a DC 300B, and the development of his legendary direct-coupled 845 amps. With Herb Reichert adding his Flesh & Blood SET 300B in addition to his informed and well-versed opinions, the store at 30 Watts Street was a hot bed for creativity, passion, good times and good tunes. The Fi focus was intimacy and simplicity. This was Hi-Fi for apartment dwellers, city people where space was at a premium and high volume was just rude. Think of Fi as a blend of a modern sensibility with a love and deep knowledge of classic audio gear (nostalgia) plus a touch of Japanese audio discipline thrown in - a wholly new and wholly American vibe.

The thing that struck me about our conversations was the idea of Fi at 30 Watts Street acting as a catalyst for creativity. Don began working on his 2A3 circuit during the days at 30 Watts, which cast the seeds of Fi as it exists today. My hunch? If we followed the Fi thread, we'd learn that it has branched out into many places and enchanted many a designer, manufacturer and Hi-Fi enthusiast. One other piece of the Fi thread that I did pick up led me to two of our fellow moonies.

Les Turoczi
I had the pleasure of visiting Fi about three or four times during its heyday at 30 Watts Street in NYC. Don Garber was a cordial, welcoming and informative host, always willing and patient in his approach and demeanor. Having no direct experience with SETs or other amplifier designs of the sort he favored at that point in my audio life, it was a steep but exciting learning curve for me to witness what Fi had to offer. A further adventure involved meeting JC Morrison at the shop also. He was fine-tuning an exotic horn-loaded prototype one-off speaker system in partially finished form. JC offered an energetic and exciting zing to things during two of my visits and I was truly transported back to fond memories of my teen years when my best friend -- Chris 'the solder sniffer' D. -- undertook several amplifier construction projects.

Mind you, those were mono days so we are talking almost pre-Cambrian times! The audio DIY crowd I would meet in those shopping sessions at Radio Row on Cortlandt Street not far from Watts Street brought tremendous enthusiasm to HiFi as a hobby in that era. The Fi experiences I was fortunate enough to witness had that same flavor and attraction. I still regret passing up an opportunity to buy a very old Altec tube amp, extracted from some defunct movie house that Don kindly showed and demoed for me. The amp model and tube configuration escape me now but the sound did have the right kind of magic that is only rarely heard in today's gear. The fact that Don Garber still designs and creates his own magical audio pieces today says much about that excitement, enthusiasm and happiness that an effective hobby can convey. May it live long and prosper. And finally, thanks Don.

Steve Marsh
"A friend of mine bought what was supposedly the first amp Komuro sold out of Fi. It was a modified Dynaco ST35. I acquired it from my friend. The major modification to the amp was converting it to direct coupling. It also had added capacitance in the power supply, which was typical of most vintage amp mods. The workmanship was very good, except one wire was making contact and shorted out to the chassis in the rewiring work Nori did underneath. I dated a woman on the Upper East Side at the time and Nori actually came over to her apartment to diagnose this problem with the amp. We hooked it up to a pair of 1980's Boston Acoustics A100s I got for her and we sat in awe of the beautiful sound coming from these bargain speakers.

However, the amp required regular monitoring of the AC balance for the output tubes and while the amp sounded sublime, it was just too fussy for me at the time and I sold it. In my visits to Fi, I remember seeing an early version of the Fi preamp and also listening to their Voigt pipe speakers, the Pipedreams. It was a high-water mark in the tube renaissance and one that may never be duplicated again in a high-rent city like New York."