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The Editors Series 30 - Dave Clark of Positive Feedback

11-03-2020 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 112

Positive Feedback is an American audio magazine. From 1990 to 2002 it had been printed, but then it started to be published online only; it is one of the oldest and largest online audio magazines in the world. We are talking to one of its founders, Dave Clark.

Dave and Carol Clark in their listening room.

When I interviewed David Robinson, Editor in Chief of Positive Feedbackback in 2012 for an article as part of "The Editors" cycle (№ 9), the magazine's title was still Positive Feedback Online, which made it clear that it belonged to the online domain and was different from printed publications. Let me just remind you that High Fidelity also began as High Fidelity Online. So, it would be hard to conceal the fact that the American magazine was one of my points of reference when I was redesigning HF. Who would have thought that several years later I would become its Senior Associate Editor (more HERE).

However, the magazine originated much earlier than one might think where David and his wife Lila Ritsema were the driving force and owners of Positive Feedback when it was in print. Today, with the current iteration of Positive Feedback,there is the addition of current partners, Dave and Carol Clark, working with the backend of the magazine, where they deal with stuff that readers needn't know about, all guaranteeing the magazine can be read. They are the ones who edit my (and not only my) reviews, and prepare them for publication. What is more, it is thanks to them that PF looks and functions as it does.

Dave Clark, an artist, music lover, audiophile, cultural animator, and one of the founders of the defunct print publication audioMusings, and a co-founder of Positive Feedback in its current iteration, is being interviewed by Wojciech Pacula.

Tell us something about yourself.

Gee, where to begin? Well, I am 65 years old, where one starts to think about mortality more than when one is younger. You know, "How many more days do I have here?" or "I need to make each day special." But with the pandemic, making the most of those days is not how we envisioned spending our retirement. (We were both educators for the Public School system, have been retired four years now, and while we miss the interactions with our students, we do not miss the amount of bureaucracy and crap we had to put up with.)

So, with our retirement, we had thoughts of traveling pretty much anywhere and everywhere, though I hate sitting on a plane for more than a few hours, but yeah… let's go and see the world which would be the opposite of our usual vacations. Those involve the wine county here in California and various audio shows in the US. We love spending weeks in several of the wine regions, sampling reds and eating well at the local restaurants. We do have a decent "inventory" here of wines we like, as well as beers from the US. We also love to eat well and know a handful of the local chefs who own the better establishments here in Long Beach.

Carol Clark and Dave Clark at the Long Beach Museum of Art's past exhibition where one of his pieces was on display.

But now we have been staying in for the past 10 months… limiting our excursions due to our age and possible health issues. We spend our time listening to music, hanging around the house doing projects and making improvements, gardening, dealing with art, and keeping PF up and running. We miss hanging out with friends, eating out, visiting local breweries and the like… but the US is pretty much screwed with our current leadership. (As this is being published, the Election is imminent, so maybe there is a better tomorrow.)

And traveling to audio shows is not happening either; they are either canceled, on hold, or simply dead. Though even if they were happening, they have grown for us from needing to see the latest and greatest, to now just wanting to see our friends that we only see at shows.

The previous excitement of wanting to see all the gear has evaporated and been replaced with us now thinking, "Oh wow, another black box with knobs" or "Gee, who in their right mind would buy that gigantic robot-in-disguise speaker?" Yeah, audio shows are just not that interesting anymore… other than as I said, seeing old friends while staying up way too late, drinking and eating too much, and then paying for it the next day as we cover the show for PF.

But I sort of jumped too far into the present here. Let's regress a bit. Where did this all start?

So, where did it all start?

When I was about 13, my dad fronted me the cash to buy my first "all-in-one" stereo system, with the promise I would pay him back—which I did. A simple, though I am not sure if I recall this right, Magnavox AM/FM receiver/amplifier with a turntable on the top part, plus separate "two-way" smallish speakers that one could place elsewhere off to the sides. It served its purpose for my music and listening. I recall it even having a headphone jack that I would use late at night, so as to not bother the family. Bought a fair number of LPs back then, with my tastes running from rock to progressive, to eventually punk.

What was your first "serious" system?

By the time I was moving out (around when I was 18 or so), my system had progressed to an entry Marantz receiver, the basic AR turntable, and some house brand two-way loudspeakers. I had a few friends who had way better systems. One was all top-of-the-line AR pieces, where we would get quite stoned while blasting King Crimson, while another owned a top Pioneer receiver and big three-way loudspeakers (his father was a DJ for one of the larger radio stations and so he was able to "get" stuff), where Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper would take the stage.

All through this, I was a music junky, buying whatever I could find and afford that fit my musical tastes at the time—which was more of the "progressive rock genre" than anything else, though hard rock was a part as well. Actually, all of it was sort of "the weirder, the better." And then I heard Iggy Pop and that was it! This opened me up to music that I had never imagined and led me to Roxy Music, Bowie and so on, down the rabbit hole of more alternative artists.

Carol's and Dave's current audio system.

What did you expect from an audio system?

I just wanted music—the louder, the better. I didn't really care that much about the bits and pieces. Music was filling the room, and I was immersing myself in the sound of whatever was spinning on the turntable or playing on the local "underground college radio station!" Or whatever was blasting from the 8-track or cassette player while driving in the car.

I also listened to what I would hear at shows and concerts… or at the club I worked for free, doing their graphics. Loud. Presence. Engagement. Immersive. Live. Did I say loud? (Working there, I was lucky to see any and all of the punk/alternative acts traveling through SoCal, and for free.)

After college, I met my future wife. We had pretty much the same LPs, loved the same bands, and wanted to get as much from the music as we could. We married in 1981 and, with her first paycheck, after moving to a new city, she said we needed a better stereo system. At the time, it was a basic Pioneer receiver, some mismatched stacked generic speakers, a cassette deck and the same tried and true AR turntable.

Well, I had been reading various audio magazines and the LA Times classifieds section contained several pages of audio dealers in LA, as well as people selling whatever… So, I had a few thoughts on what was affordable and would work for us.

Their system circa 1981. The DCM Time Windows are out of the frame at the far end of the room.

Off to Los Angeles the following Saturday with our list to buy ADS 810 loudspeakers with NAD electronics. After a few stores, we realized the ADS 810 were not for us… so, while we ended up with the NAD 3140 amplifier, we came home with DCM Time Windows instead of the ADS. We were in heaven. Heck, the electrical technician that worked with our department at the University hooked me up with silver platted copper wire to connect it all together.

Over the years, the turntable went from the AR to a top-of-the-line Sony, then to a Linn, and to a Transrotor, to our current Fern & Roby. The electronics went from NAD to Adcom/Muse, then to Blue Circle/Clayton, to our current PS Audio. Electronics (sources) went from Adcom to EAD to custom stuff to PS Audio. Loudspeakers went from DCM to Apogees, then to Reimers, to our current Vandersteens Quatro Carbons. I will say that we prefer full range over anything else. The music we listen to possesses deep bass, so the system had better go to the low 20s while playing loud.

Apogee Caliper Signatures being driven by a Muse 150 monoblock amplifiers. Cabling was all Cardas. Some of Dave's earlier works are in the background.

Carol has been part of the journey from the beginning. The Apogees were her thing so much that when our son, while learning to walk, put a remote control through one of the woofer panels, she called Apogee as quickly as she could, spoke with Jason, explained what had happened and he arranged not only to fix the panel, but said that if we paid some more cash, he would upgrade both speakers to the latest and greatest Signatures—and make them child-proof! I could only say: Yes, please.

Which is why we hate and refuse to use the term WAF (wife acceptance factor). Sorry, my wife, my partner, has as much say into what we buy and how we set things up as I do. This is why we have been happily married for 40 years this coming February. We are both into design, looks and sound… and still more or less the same music. Today, Carol prefers to listen to the Notwist, Gary Numan, New Order, Joy Division, Mogwai, the Cure and so on.

While I am right there with her, I also like quirkier bands like Lambchop or Low and more experimental noise or ambient artists. And I am a big fan of Brian Eno. You won't find much jazz or classical music here—it is not our thing, unless it is more different than normal. We had season tickets to the Symphony here for a few years, but it grew boring. But we did try. Same with female jazz vocals or what is considered or labeled "audiophile music." People like what they like and that is what it is all about.

We would never ridicule or criticize what others like to listen to, it is just not our thing. But if you play "Keith Don't Go" at a show, Carol and I both will go, but in a nice way. Another reason audio shows have grown so tiresome: the same old music all over again. That is why we will more or less black list a room if they refuse to play our music, or if they agree to play it, but say something that is more or less insulting about what it is… no room for that in the world. Respect others and be polite to them.

The Vandersteen Quatro Carbon loudspeakers and more art. 

And all along on this journey, we have gone from wanting the bits and pieces (as reviewers), the soundstage and whatnot, to just wanting the music as a whole (as listeners) and not really wanting to put out the energy to listen hard. We are more about engagement through the system playing our music the way we want it to sound, the whole experience heard as a single entity. A sum of the parts, for sure… though having to listen to the parts has grown rather tiresome.

What is your favorite format; LP, CD, SACD or files, perhaps?

We listen to a lot of files, though we do buy a lot of vinyl as well. Using the AURALiC Aries G2 to select a track from our Certon Systems Integrita C4 server is simple and easy. So, we most often opt for files (FLAC, WAV, etc.), though vinyl is still loved for sure. We do have Tidal and Qobuz accounts where we can access playlists or stream music we like outside on our patio, or out to my studio.

I never really got into DSD or SACD, as the artists we like are simply not being recorded in that format or resolution. Yeah, we own a few DSD and SACD titles, same for PCM 24/192, but I would say that it is perhaps 2% of what we own. The other 98% are simply 16/44 files which, when done right, work for us. While we do own a fair amount of poorly recorded music, it is the music we are after and not necessarily the sound… though having that too is great.

Do you believe that streaming is the future of audio?

It certainly makes things easier and opens up the window to new music. The only thing holding it back is access via bandwidth and the number of artists/albums. Once that is sorted out (we are on a 1GB download here, so bandwidth is not an issue) and the catalogs are really fleshed out, I can see that as the way to go.

But the issues of paying artists are paramount in making it viable for their livelihood. Even so, is streaming equal to what we get from playing back directly from our own library? Have yet to test that out.

Do you know any new, promising audio technology?

This is a difficult one to answer. For Carol and me… well, we have grown tired of reviewing, of having to swap this in and that out, of having to listen critically while playing the same track over and over again. So, in the past few years, that distance between wanting to hear the latest and greatest to just listening to music has widened. Today, we prefer to just put on music and listen, and enjoy what we like. And buy more and more music to listen to!

With that in mind, our system is pretty much set. We have little, if any interest in changing things, in updating, or whatever. That means we are scaling back our reviewing to a product or two a year. So, what is new? What is different? What will dramatically change our music to more than it is? Not sure. I really don't read audio magazines, so while there might be some breakthrough technology on the horizon, what I have experienced over the years is more of a refinement or evolution.

Will there be something dramatic that changes everything? Perhaps data storage? Perhaps transmission from A to B? Perhaps speaker technology? Some day for sure, but not soon enough for it to matter to either of us.

I would like to add that we have no idea what any of our music should sound like. We only know what it sounds like to us and how we want it to sound. So, we have a system that does that… for us. We really have zero interest in what our system sounds to anyone who comes here and listens. If you like it—great! If you don't—great! It really doesn't matter. Not trying to be an ass or anything, but for us it is personal. There is no "absolute sound," as we all hear differently, interpret differently, and value things differently. For each person, it is their own absolute. One man's music is another man's noise. And vice versa.

Electronics with a PS Audio amplifier, the AURALiC Aries G2, etc.

We have built a system for us that makes our music engaging and fun to listen to. So, to repeat myself here… yeah, the bits and pieces are there—all the audiophile stuff people strive to create in their home—but for us it is more about the whole. We just aren't listening to the bits anymore.

Tell us something about yourself as an artist. What is your main concern? What do you want to show people via your artistic activity? Is an artist responsible for current problems, or is it something for politicians only?

And then there is me as an artist…

When we married, my art (outside of my job) was working in sculptural constructions consisting of metal, wood, paint, tape… and so on. Clearly mixed media. I had a handful of shows in SoCal and even had an agent. Then we moved away from the University where I had access to all the shops to be a public school teacher in Los Angeles. Without access to the tools I needed to work in metal, I started building furniture that was influenced by the Memphis movement out of Italy. I got myself into a couple of design centers for the trade (one here is SoCal and its sister store in Miami) where I did sell enough to make it rewarding—both financially and as an artist—while establishing myself as an educator and raising our only son.

Of course, the shocker with this was when I found out that the piece I was paid $200 for was then sold to a designer for $400, who then sold it to a client for $800. Uh, yeah, the world of art. This sort of soured me, along with the request for making four more pieces identical to the one they just bought. Sorry, not a factory, but a father, husband, educator, and co-founder of the Greater South Bay Audiophile Society (more on that later), and so I did not have the time or ambition to assume that role of cranking our art. With all the demands of life at the time, I put my art on the back burner and I took 29 years off till I retired, where I found that instead of doing whatever, I wanted to return to my art.

So, where to start? How about meeting as many artists as I could—here, in Long Beach? All the artists we hung around with back then had moved away like us, so I was alone in the art world with no one to turn to. Now, Long Beach is an extremely diverse city and is home to more artists per capita than anywhere else in SoCal, so we became very active in the art community, attending openings, hosting events, meeting new people and eventually collaborating with other artists, as well as buying as much art as we can afford from local artists, while eventually becoming a co-founder in Art Clout LB.

And so here I am as an artist (you can find his work HERE). Upon returning to my art, the first pieces were simply to see if I could re-create a few of those I had done 29 years prior. That would be works 5 and 6. Since then, my art has evolved into less "furniture" or "functional," but more sculptural stuff and just recently, to "paintings" that use various dyes on paper. I like to say that "Dave constructs sculptural things that might tell a story, cause one to think of a story, serve some practical purpose, or maybe none of these."

The Fern & Roby Montrose turntable with the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC cartridge... and more art.

All the pieces are mixed media, and, for sure, I like to play with materials, colors, etc.. I am not out to make a statement or to create controversy. What I make is what I make. If the piece speaks to you, great. If you see things in it, nice. But, in most cases, they are what they are. Inspiration comes from seeing shapes and patterns, materials, and colors… and what can I do with these? I like to play with things and see what happens. Sometimes it ends up in the trash, sometimes it is repurposed, most times it ends up as something I was not expecting—oh, this worked!

And while I know a number of artists whose work does make a statement to make change in the world, or make you reflect on events… that is not me. Having never taken an art class other than in the 7th grade, perhaps not graduating from art school has allowed them to create art on a different level—with a purpose, whether it be political or whatever.

My garage is now my studio and with some 120 pieces, I now require a storage place to keep them safe (www.daverclarkdesigns.com). I do have an audio system in the studio, one that harkens back to my beginnings—a simple integrated amplifier and loudspeakers. I can also stream music to an Audioengine DAC from my phone or iPad (an AURALiC Mini is also in service), so that the music follows me whether working inside or outside the studio.

I will note that the art world is not what it was 30 some years ago when shows were rather easy to come by and having an agent was a combination of a phone call and here is my portfolio. Today it is pay to play and agents expecting you to pay them upfront… Well, unless you are one of the bigger players, which I am not. While I see myself as "upcoming," I also see myself having enough years and shows under my belt making me perhaps less so. Established? Maybe, people tend to know me and I have had a piece in a show at the Long Beach Museum of Art. But I am what I am and my art is what it is… I have no pretense or ambitions where I am thinking "Look at me, I am an artist!"

I want to go back to something that I pretty much skipped over, but did hint at. Back in the late 1980s, Carol and I started an audiophile society named the Greater South Bay Audiophile Society with a neighbor couple who lived on our street.

Our meeting sort of went like this…
- Hey, you are selling some cool audio gear in this garage sale.
- I have cool audio gear too.
- Want to be friends?
- Okay.
- Hey, there has to be other people like us, want to start an audiophile society?
- Sure, I know several dealers who will help.
- Oh, let's run an ad in Stereophile.
- Okay.

And that was the beginning. Phone ringing off the hook with people wanting to know how soon we will meet and where. Within a few years, we had over 140 members with a monthly "newsletter magazine" of 16 pages, a table at various Stereophile shows and recognition within the industry. But then our partners moved to the East Coast for work and we soured running the Society by ourselves.

And so we left to start the publication of the audioMusings (aM) magazine with a few like-minded members. I mean, why not? We were publishing a 16-page newsletter every month, why not a proper magazine? The Society floundered for a few years until it was taken over by Bob Levi who rebranded it into the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society.

Well, after a few years of publishing the aM print journal (I was responsible for the layout, design and so on via PageMaker), all the while being an educator, father and husband… Yeah, that was not going to last. We had published 14 issues in three years and while we were very well respected, in all respects we were just a blip on the radar of audio magazines. Sure, you could find us in various Tower Records (the one in Tokyo was our biggest seller) and, yeah, we had subscribers and most people in the industry knew us… but we really were not going to go anywhere. And the candle was burning out.

While I found a creative outlet in publishing, it simply could not last—just so much work for no return. We never made a dollar, as we always broke even, nor did we ever lose a dollar… other than our initial collective investments to get it rolling.

Carol's and Dave's listening room, a view of the CD shelf surrounded with art from friends, as well as a  few of his own.

Over the years of doing aM, we had met David and Lila (our partners now in PF) at various shows and learned that they felt much the same about publishing the print version of Positive Feedback. So, after working out an LLC and whatnot to join David and Lila with PF, ending its print days and going online, we approached our partners in aM with our plans (they wanted to continue in print, as the web did not interest them), and severed our part in the magazine which ultimately closed up shop.

I mean, who was going to take over our roles? It was quite amicable with the aM partners joining us here in the web version of PF (actually, it was initially the merging of Positive Feedback and audioMusings, whereas today it is just PF, as it has evolved over the years). At the time, Carol and I handled the backend of the webzine (html via FrontPage), but over time we saw the need to go from Web 1 to Web 3 and switched to a dynamic site via WordPress. And here we are today some 15 years later. Carol and I still handle the overall look and feel of the site, as well as editing and managing certain duties, but as for the heavy lifting in terms of the backend and coding, uh… we have a guy.

Tell us a few words about your audio system.

Our system that we see ourselves living with forever forward…

LOUDSPEAKERS: Vandersteen Quatro Wood Carbon
ELECTRONICS: PS Audio BHK 250 power amplifier, PS Audio BHK Signature line preamplifier, Heed Thesis phono stage.
DIGITAL SOURCE: PS Audio DirectStream DAC and DirectStream Memory Player file transport
ANALOG SOURCE: Fern & Roby Montrose turntable, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC cartridge
COMPUTER SOURCE: Integrita C4 NAS from Certon, AURALiC Aries G2, SOtM Switch, SBooster power supply (Netgear WiFi extender)
HEADPHONES: Sennheiser HD600, Focal Elears, Audeze LCD 3 | Heed Audio Canamp headphone amplifier
CABLES: Interconnects (all balanced): Black Cat 3020 (primary), Purist Audio Neptune, Skogrand Beethovens, and Kubala-Sosna. Loudspeaker cables: Black Cat 3020 (primary), Purist Audio Neptune, WyWire Diamond, Skogrand Beethoven, and Kubala-Sosna. Power cables: Purist Audio Digital, Sablon Panatela, Triode Wire American and Silver Statement, Kubala-Sosna, and Luminous Audio Power Lynx Megas. USB cables: JPlay, WyWires, Skogrand, Dynamic Designs, Kubala-Sosna, Audience, Cardas, Purist Audio, Black Cat (primary), Sablon Audio, Furutech. Network cables: JPlay, Audioquest, Cardas (primary), WireWorld and Sablon Audio. 
ACCESSORIES: PS Audio P20 Regenerator, Entreq Poseidon Ground unit, TELOS Ground Conditioner, Nordost Qv2, Qx2 and Qx4, Furutech RD-2 demagnetizer, Audio Prism QuietLines (throughout the house). Two dedicated 20 AC circuits. Various Marigo VTS Dots used extensively throughout the room (window behind the listening seat). GIK acoustical treatments and Shakti Hallographs. Black Raviolis and Fern & Roby Rack. Clever Little Clock. Olympia Record Crates.

Carol's and Dave's listening room, a view of one of the LP racks and even more art. 

Could you tell us what 10 records my readers should listen to right away and why?

That is a tough one… Here are 11. Can't say why, but try these as most sound great and have a place somewhere. PF also has a Playlist on Qobuz that Carol and I curate (Positive Feedback – Dave and Carol Clark's Songs), try that too.

  • Joy Division, Closer
  • Low, The Curtain Hits the Cast
  • Lambchop, What Another Man Spills
  • Morphine, Cure for Pain
  • Iggy and the Stooges, Raw Power
  • Brian Eno, Another Green World
  • My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
  • James Chance and the Contortions, Contort Yourself
  • Mogwai, Come on Die Young
  • Swans, Leaving Meaning
  • UNKLE, The Road Part 1.

Thank you for the interview!

Thank you, too! Greetings for Poland!

Interviewer: Wojciech Pacuła

Images: David Clark


|29| ERIC TEH, "Eric's Hi-Fi Blog", Editor-in-chief / Publisher | SINGAPORE
|28| PANAGIOTIS KARAVITIS, "Part-Time Audiophile", Editor | GREECE
|27| MARC PHILLIPS | "The Occasional Magazine", Editor | USA
|26| KARI NEVALAINEN  | "INNER", Editor-in-chief | FINLAND
|25| JOHN E. JOHNSON, Jr., Ph.D. | "Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity", Editor-in-chief | USA
|24| YOSUKE ASADA, "Net Audio" | "Analog", Editor-in-chief | JAPAN
|23| DANIEL BŘEZINA, hifi-voice.com, Editor-in-chief | THE CZECH REPUBLIC
|22| EDGAR KRAMER | "Audio Esoterica", Editor-in-chief | AUSTRALIA
|21| MICHAEL LAVORGNA | "AudioStream", Editor-in-chief | USA
|20| MICHAEL LANG | "Stereo", Managing Editor | GERMANY
|19| SRIDHAR VOOTLA | Hifitoday.com, Editor-in-chief | INDIA
|18| STUART SMITH | HIFIPIG.com, Editor-in-chief | FRANCE
|17| SCOT HULL | Part-TimeAudiophile.com, Editor-in-chief / Publisher | USA
|16| JOHN MARKS | "Stereophile", Senior Contributing Editor and Columnist | USA
|15| ART DUDLEY | "Stereophile", Editor-at-large | USA
|14| HELMUT HACK | "Image Hi-Fi", Managing Editor | GERMANY
|13| CHRIS CONNAKER | ComputerAudiophile.com, Editor-in-chief / Founder | USA
|12| DIRK SOMMER | hifistatement.net, Editor-in-chief | GREECE
|11| MARJA & HENK | 6moons.com, Journalists | SWITZERLAND
|10| MATEJ ISAK | "Mono & Stereo", Editor-in-chief / Owner | SLOVENIA/AUSTRIA
|9| DR. DAVID W. ROBINSON | "Positive Feedback Online", Editor-in-chief / Co-owner | USA
|8| JEFF DORGAY | "TONEAudio", Publisher | USA
|7| CAI BROCKMANN | "FIDELITY", GERMANY, Editor-in-chief
|6| STEVEN R. ROCHLIN | "EnjoyTheMusic.com", Editor-in-chief | USA
|5| STEPHEN MEJIAS | "Stereophile", Assistant Editor | USA
|3| KEN KESSLER | "Hi-Fi News & Record Review", Senior Contributing Editor | GREAT BRITAIN
|2| MICHAEL FREMER | "Stereophile", Senior Contributing Editor | USA
|1| SRAJAN EBAEN | 6moons.com, Editor-in-chief / Owner | SWITZERLAND

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