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The Passing of Jonathan Tinn:  a Photo-Essay in Melancholy

06-18-2023 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 128

Ye Olde Editor on the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, Israel, 2022 (photograph by John Robinson)

Friendships are the only unregulated relationships.

There are legal requirements for marriages, the having of children, and the treatment thereof. Business relationships and financial institutions are subject to laws, claims, suits, and the legal system of this country. Relationships with the elderly, the handicapped, parents, and siblings, are all more or less regulated.

But friendships are truly free. They may deepen and mature, lasting long stretches of time, or they might wither and desiccate, having lost their connection to the vine that brought them into existence in the first place.

And then there's our own mortality…the long slide of this body of death into decay, and cessation in this age of the world.

But the joy of real friendship is one of the great treasures of this life.

Jonathan Tinn in better times:  a portrait. Happy Valley, OR, 2011

And so it was with my good audio friend, Jonathan Tinn. I had known him since the very early 2000s…some twenty plus years.

At the LAAS Show, 2017

I still remember the very early 2000s…right at the turn of the millennium. A Saturday, if I recall correctly, middle of the day. An unexpected knock of our front door.

When I opened it, there was a person I had never seen before.

"Hey! Is this Positive Feedback?!"

I admitted that it was, for sure.

"My name is Jonathan! I love your magazine! Can I come in?"

Turns out that he was a high-end audio distributor and dealer, as well as an audio entrepreneur. His ex- lived in the next street over, as it turned out. When he checked out PF's address, he realized that we were a biscuit toss from where he and his ex-er traded their son back and forth for visitation..

"Can you believe that?!"

Pretty amazing. Providential, I would say.

And so our friendship began. And grew.

Jonathan Tinn, Lila Ritsema, Business Manager at PF, and Andreas Koch of Playback Designs:  a moment back in the day at some audio show, 2012

As I came to know his line card and assorted enterprises over a number of years, I could see that Jonathan was ambitious, knowledgeable, and quite willing to bring new companies into existence to accomplish his vision for the audio arts. He was a warm and caring person, but that didn't mean that he didn't have an edge. New York City was stamped all over him, and he could be quite a stubborn and combative person when he thought it necessary. I know of some people who apparently have bad memories of some of his business dealings, but those folks are outnumbered in my experience by those folks who really liked and enjoyed him.

Now, there were certainly times that we disagreed with one another…when things would get a bit chippy…but we always resolved any tensions by the end of the phone call or conversation.

He was a good man that way.

Tensions sometimes came because he was an entrepreneur and a distributor/dealer; I am an Editor-in-Chief of an audiophile magazine of longtime publication. We had a common passion, but also had completely different missions and goals in the domain of high-end audio.

As the years went by, so did the growth in the number of products and companies that Jonathan was involved with or launching. These are all a part of his legacy.

Jonathan Tinn at his music server at a high-end audio show, 2011

At the end, Jonathan's line card would focus on a handful of superior products/enterprises.

Evolution Acoustics…

Lead Designer Kevin Malmgren with the Evolution Acoustics MM3, T.H.E. Show, 2016.

The Evolution Acoustics MM2's with the EXACT external crossovers (the large columns to the inside of each loudspeaker)

Kevin Malmgren with the Evolution Acoustics MicroOne monitor loudspeaker with dedicated stand

Next-Gen Evolution Acoustics Maestoso Loudspeakers, Wave Kinetics NVS Reference Turntable, darTZeel electronics in gold, and the Merging Technologies DAC/Clock/Power Supply stack in silver to the right…the year was 2019.

…Wave Kinetics…

The Wave Kinetics NVS Reference Turntable with Durand Tosca Tonearm and DS Audio DS Master1 Optical Cartridge, set up in my stereo listening room in 2019 by Jonathan, Din Johnson, and Joel Durand.

Jonathan and his close friend Din Johnson in the midst of setting up a VPI Titan turntable in Ye Olde Editor's stereo listening room, 2018.

The results were always top o' the heap sweet!

The NVS plus Durand Tonearm (the Tosca was the final sample sent to me) is a stellar turntable. I hope that its production continues in his absence.


Jonathan gives an audio smack to his very good friend Hervé Delétraz of darTZeel!

It is my belief, based on experience over the years, that the darTZeel line of designs by Hervé Delétraz is one of the very finest in the world. Jonathan was strongly of that opinion, as well.

I owned the CTH-8550 Integrated Amp for a number of years, using it in conjunction with the Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Turntable System. The combination was killer!

Through Jonathan, I was able to review a number of darTZeel components, especially the NHB-18NS Reference Preamp and NHB-108 Reference Stereo Amplifier. Both were brilliant designs, and massive adds to his line card.

…Durand Tonearms…

Joel Durand in Dry Brush adjusting a cartridge on one of his tonearms on the Wave Kinetics NVS reference turntable.

Joel Durand is a fascinating person. A doctorate in music, a professor at the University of Washington, a classical music composer…and the CEO of an audiophile tonearm company. Quite the profile!

Joel Durand adjusting a cartridge on his Tosca Tonearm on the Wave Kinetics NVS Turntable in my listening room 1. It's very meticulous that Joel is…

Joel was a very good audio friend of Jonathan's, and I saw him whenever a cartridge needed to be installed on the NVS, or a tonearm swapped out.

A very rare moment:  Joel Durand of Durand Tonearms making the connection with Hervé Delétraz of darTZeel at the LAAS Show back in 2017.

Some photographic moments with Jonathan…

Yes, Jonathan really did love his ATR Services Ampex ATR-102 RTR machine.

Wes Bender and Jonathan Tinn:  a portrait. T.H.E. Show 2016

Jonathan Tinn with our great mutual friend, Din Johnson, of Ristretto Roasters, T.H.E. Show 2016. Din provided all of the free coffee that we used in the Positive Feedback Hospitality Suite that year…and for several years around that.

Jonathan with our very good audiobro Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds and Analogue Productions, at a show (probably AXPONA) in 2019.


Jonathan snuggling up with one of Hervé Delétraz's darTZeel NHB-458 Monoblocks, back in 2016 at T.H.E. Show.

Jonathan really did love high-end audio, amigos.

Deep memories:  Jonathan and Din Johnson sitting in my stereo reference room #1 and digging the Evolution Acoustics MM2EXACT loudspeakers with the superb PASS Labs XS 150 amplifiers and the NVS turntable (not pictured).

The slow slide downhill...

Jonathan's health began to turn for the worse years ago. Some seven or eight years back, he told me that he had been diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. It was controllable, and he was careful to follow his doctor's advice, but he no longer felt 100%. As a result of medical advice, Jonathan began cutting back on long flights to audio shows. His appearances became fewer over time, and having good dealers stand in for him became an easier solution. I missed him at these events, because his room was always a lot of fun to visit, the music was great, and the quality of his components could not be gainsaid.

The COVID years caused Jonathan to go into a pretty fierce lockdown. His underlying health condition meant that this was not obsessive or paranoid behavior. No more would he drive the 30 minutes to my place and visit for hours. Instead, a member of his ex's family would shuttle gear back and forth. From time to time I might drop off a turntable and tonearm for setup, but that was exceedingly rare. The gear would be left on his front porch; he and his son would retrieve it while I waited to make sure they had it.

A brief wave and greetings across the driveway, no closer than 50 feet, and then done.

But the final chapter didn't come until late this winter and early this spring, when Jonathan was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He kept the news almost entirely to himself; I didn't find out until later.

By the spring, he got the terrible word:  the cancer had metastasized to his liver and pancreas with lightning speed. Inoperable. He had a few weeks, and would end up in a hospice. 

It turned out that the doctors were right; Jonathan passed away shortly after entering hospice care, dying on Thursday, April 27, 2023. His would be one of three deaths among family and friends that happened in two days:  April 26 and 27. I had never experienced such a slew of losses in only 48 hours in my whole life. And another friend would die a few weeks later.

Sad days, these.

What else can I say?

Jonathan Tinn was a good audio friend of mine. Our 20+ years together started out in the last days of Positive Feedback's print ‘n ink days, and went all the way through just a few weeks ago. We both got a kick out of our long conversations…via phone, or face to face…setup sessions that would last for hours, and listening sessions that were always enjoyable.

He was one of the very few people that I would allow to handle my LPs…that says a lot. Audiophiles know what I mean.

My last conversations with him over the phone were heartbreaking. He was dying, he knew it, and he was going quickly. I could hardly recognize his voice.

I knew that it was bad, bad, bad.

And then he was gone….

"Flying." Painting by Dan Zimmerman

All photographs and image processing by David W. Robinson. Painting by Dan Zimmerman.