The realtor we’d hired arrived promptly at 9:00. We opened the door to find a caricature. She appeared to be about sixty with hair that was dyed red but with obvious gray roots. She spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. When I opened the door, she was taken aback as she’d obviously been expecting a young-adult couple and not teenagers. She asked, “Good morning, young man. Are your parents in?”
“Good morning, Ms. Epstein, I presume,” I replied. “I’m Dr. J.J. Jeffries and this is my partner, Henry Gonzalez. Won’t you come in?”
“Forgive me for asking for your parents, Dr. Jeffries,” she replied. “I just wasn’t expecting someone so young.”
“Please feel free to call me J.J.,” I responded. “It could end up being a long day if you call me Dr. Jeffries all day. In answer to your unanswered question, I’m nineteen years old, and Henry will be sixteen in September. You’re probably wondering if you heard me correctly when I said Henry was my partner, and if so, if our relationship is legal. Not that we’re admitting to a sexual relationship, but we’re gay and very much in love, and our relationship is legal in New York so long as I’m under 21 and we’re less than four years apart.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” she replied. “You don’t make it in this business unless you learn not to stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked. “The hotel coffee is pretty damn good.”
“I would expect no less, but if I drink coffee now, I’ll be going to the bathroom all morning,” she replied.
Sitting down in the living room, I asked, “I take it you got my emails?”
“I did, but I have to tell you that what you want may not exist. Not all of it,” she responded. “You may have heard that the housing market is tight right now, nationwide. You can’t find any inventory on the market in the sub-two-million-dollar range, in any decent neighborhood in any of the five boroughs. It all gets snapped right up! At above the asking price, no less. Even five-million-dollar brownstones in Brooklyn that need a lot of work are causing bidding wars.
“The good news is that it’s still a buyer’s market when it comes to luxury condominiums. There was a lot of new inventory that was slow to move to begin with, even before the pandemic. Frankly, the city made it too easy to rezone, and the developers responded by building too much luxury housing. Unfortunately, very little of it has any outdoor space. They long ago discovered they could make a lot more money by shoving in more units, and larger units. Yet they left large voids so they could make the buildings taller and charge more without exceeding the restrictions, which are based on the number of stories rather than height. They spent a small fortune buying up air rights of adjacent properties, so they could build so-called supertalls, yet they don’t build terraces or even balconies because outdoor space offers a much more limited return on their investment. A terrace still counts when it comes to air rights, even if there’s nothing below it. As a result, luxury units with outdoor space sell at a premium. It’s a matter of supply and demand.
“When the pandemic hit, a lot of those who didn’t need to be in the city simply left, and a lot of them never returned. The tourist industry has been slow to recover, so there’s a lot of inventory. The one bright spot is with the tech sector, which I understand is the reason you’re moving here.”
“Yes, I’ve been hired to head up Applazon’s New York division of artificial intelligence, and I’ll also be working towards a second Ph.D. at Columbia in artificial intelligence to complement the general computer-science Ph.D. I already have. Henry will be working on his Ph.D. in computational mathematics at NYU.
“Neither of us is averse to taking public transportation. In fact, convenience to a subway station would be a major plus. Alternatively, access to a bike path would work as well. I have a Tesla and will need a place to keep it that has at least a level 2 charger available. Of course, Henry will have to wait another year before he can get his license, so while we might want space for a second electric vehicle in the future, we don’t need it now.”
“J.J., it occurred to me that I’m still a full-time student,” Henry observed. “Why can’t I keep my permanent address in Bellevue for now? I could get my license back in Omaha when I turn sixteen in September, and through reciprocity, I could then drive here.”
“That’s an interesting thought,” I replied. I’ll have to check with our attorney to make sure there isn’t something in the New York law that would preclude that. Otherwise, we should do that.
“Ms. Epstein —”
“Please call me Flora, J.J.,” she interrupted.
“Okay, Flora, just to be clear, Henry and I can afford anything in Manhattan,” I began, “but that doesn’t mean we want to buy a twenty-thousand-square-foot penthouse. As you can see, we’re a couple of young guys – teenagers, no less – who’ve profited handsomely from the pandemic. I hate to put it so bluntly, but had it not been for the sharp increase in demand for Applazon’s services, I doubt that we’d have the resources at hand that we have now.”
“Oh, that’s not really true, J.J.,” Henry countered. “Yes, the pandemic was a factor, but you profited because of your genius. You built a better mousetrap, and Applazon was quick to recognize the potential and to exploit it. Pandemic or no pandemic, however, you would have designed your servers and made hundreds of millions if not billions anyway, although perhaps not so quickly. You could still have afforded to buy most anything in New York, though.”
“Out of curiosity, and please tell me if it’s none of my business, but what do you guys do?” Flora asked.
“There’s nothing secret about it,” I replied with a snort. “Do you know what a server is or understand why it’s important to Applazon’s business?” I asked.
“A server is someone who brings you your food in a restaurant, right?” she responded.
I would have laughed at what I assumed was her joke, except it was clear that she was serious. I therefore began my explanation in such a way as to avoid any hint of being condescending. With a disarming laugh, I replied, “It’s not that kind of server. Applazon sells food, but we’re not in the restaurant business yet, unless you count the food bar at Applazon Organic Markets and except when it comes to food delivery.
“No, what I’m talking about is a type of computer that serves data: a data server. Most people don’t think about what happens when they go looking for a gift to buy on Applazon, but from the moment you click on a link, computers that may be halfway around the world go to work, looking for the perfect gift, based on how you search for it. When you think about all the things Applazon sells, there are millions of pages of information that customers expect to be available on demand, 24/7, without any delays. Add to that Applazon’s many video offerings and their online music services, not to mention their digital books, and you get some idea of how much data that has to be ready for anyone who requests it anywhere around the world.
“When Jeff Barlow was just getting started with Applazon, he could get by with a single computer and a database of books. The most important thing he did was to hire the absolute best talent in the world to design a killer website. He didn’t know squat about web design, but he could recognize what worked and what didn’t, and he hired the best. That’s really his best talent: recognizing the kind of talent that usually goes unsung and putting it to work for him. The people who make Applazon’s magic happen are treated very well, and they tend to be loyal.
“So, business at Applazon took off, and his original server was quickly overwhelmed. Recognizing the potential, he again hired the best people and developed his own network of data servers. People expect pages to load instantly when they click on a link, so the typical data center has tens of thousands of servers now, employs hundreds of people and uses several megawatts of power. In fact, worldwide, data servers account for the bulk of electricity usage today, and they have become a huge contributor to climate change.
“Applazon Cloud Resources, or ACR, has become a substantial part of Applazon’s business, and they serve up not only their own web data, but they serve up websites from some of the best-known corporations in the world. Needless to say, anything that could reduce the energy used or the number of people needed to run a data center could save them billions of dollars. The ability to manufacture ready-made data centers could also result in a new, major source of income. That’s basically what I did. I reduced energy utilization per server from about 500 watts down to under a hundred watts, and my newest designs have reduced that down to less than a half-a-watt. In the process, I dramatically improved the reliability of the servers, so that they can be maintained with a staff of only a few people rather than hundreds. Not only that, but the units are entirely self-contained, with about eight thousand servers in a cylinder about the size of a large refrigerator. We can ship about three of them all over the world in a standard shipping container, and all the user has to do to set them up is basically to plug them in.”
“What my boyfriend didn’t tell you,” Henry interjected, “is that with so much raw computing power in so little space, the U.S. government has taken a major interest in purchasing his data servers. A single data center of his design, for example, can track every airborne object in the United States. By placing one of them at all of the major airports in the air-traffic-control system, every air-traffic controller can have all the data on every flight, every drone, every cloud and just about every bird flying over the continental U.S., and it costs pennies compared to what something like that used to cost. The military in particular has purchased a large number of them from Applazon, as I’m sure you can imagine. They’ve also purchased several of the newest units that use almost no power, but those cost upwards of a quarter-billion dollars each. That’s why we can afford anything in Manhattan. Hell, my boyfriend could buy an entire building if he wanted to, but down deep, he’s still the same boy he’s always been, who grew up in a tiny shack in Southern Indiana.”
“That’s quite a story,” Flora said. “They should make a movie about you, J.J.”
“Ah no, they shouldn’t,” I replied. “So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
“What I have planned,” she began, “is to show you a wide variety of properties so you can get an idea of what’s on the market. Then tomorrow, we can hone in on looking at a larger number of buildings and maybe find one you love. Sound reasonable?”
“Let’s get started,” I suggested.
We started out right next to the hotel in one of the newer buildings to have been built in the last several years. It was a super-tall, super-narrow skyscraper with only 14,400 square feet on each floor. The top floors were all penthouses with single apartments occupying two floors each and occupying close to 30,000 square feet; they were considerably larger than what we needed. Further down, even the apartments that took up a single floor or half a floor were still too large. It was only when we got down to a much-less-exciting level with four apartments per floor, that the designs became more interesting to us. Unfortunately, there were no terraces, and although the large floor-to-ceiling windows helped to bring the outdoors inside, they didn’t come close to the feel of a real outdoor space similar to the terrace we had at the hotel. We moved on.
Before breaking for lunch, we looked at a couple of new buildings on New York’s famed ‘billionaire’s row’, and although both of them were spectacular, and one even had a terrace overlooking Central Park, they looked like what they were: second homes for the very rich. The owners lived elsewhere and merely wanted a place to call their own when they visited the City. If we chose one of those, we wouldn’t need to worry about the neighbors because, effectively, there wouldn’t be any neighbors, but should they ever deign to show up, they could be hell. We also looked at a brand-new condo in the Hudson Yards development, and although it was exceptionally convenient and right by the High Line, it didn’t have an outdoor terrace. It was beautiful, but again it was a second home for the very rich. Henry and I wanted to live in a real neighborhood.
Besides which, Hudson Yards was like a ghost town. Most of the restaurants and shops had gone bankrupt during the pandemic, and as was typical, the developers seemed to prefer cutting their losses rather than doing what it took to attract tenants. Unfortunately, the city was on the hook for a portion of the development costs, and with all the tax breaks, much of the cost was being borne by the taxpayers. Tax law that favored vacant units over letting the market set the prices was absurd. How could the politicians and developers justify vacant units in vacant buildings when there was a critical shortage of affordable housing? Rather than spending absurd amounts for luxury hotels to house the homeless, why not build mixed-income housing in the first place – real mixed-income housing and not buildings with a ‘poor door’ with units that were still too expensive for most? Shouldn’t property taxes be higher for those who didn’t even live in New York and left their apartments vacant most of the year? They could afford a pied-à-terre tax, yet many of them paid no tax at all, while the people who actually lived in their apartments paid for providing services to the super rich, who often paid nothing.
After lunch, we looked at a couple of penthouse apartments on Central Park West, and Flora told us that there were several apartments to choose from like it, both on Central Park West and on Fifth Avenue on the other side of Central Park. Both buildings were older and not very tall, but they had been updated and were large, with wrap-around terraces that offered spectacular views of the park. The people who lived in those buildings lived in their apartments year-round. The only problem was that the only residents around our age would be the teenage children of the owners. In any case, the apartments were much more what we had in mind, although the views were only of the park, being too short to see past the wall of buildings on Central Park South.
After a nice lunch at a deli on the Upper West Side, Flora took us to Lower Manhattan. She explained, “There are a lot of nice apartment buildings in the Financial District, in Battery Park City and right on the water, but they’re mostly rentals, and the entire area is overrun by young couples with kids. Perhaps someday it’ll be appropriate for you, but I suspect you’re not ready to have kids just yet.” We both shook our heads.
“This next place I’d like to show you is a much older building in Chelsea,” she continued. “The Walker Tower was built in 1929, just before the stock-market crash, and it fell into disrepair over the years. Then about ten years ago, it was bought by a developer and completely restored to its original Art Deco elegance and converted to fifty condos. The penthouse made the news in 2014 when it sold for nearly fifty million, making it one of the most expensive penthouse apartments in the city. The owners live in California, however, which means it sits empty most of the year. It would be far more condo than you want in any case.
“The unit I’m going to show you is also a pied-à-terre, but for the most part the building’s otherwise occupied. The owners took a major hit during the pandemic, and they’re still in bankruptcy court. They’ve had the place on the market for some three years now but have refused to come down on their price even though it’s about two million above the appraised value. They seem to feel they need to recoup their original investment.”
The moment we entered the building, I knew this was going to be it. Henry, for his part, looked at me and nodded. The lobby was elegant and in-period, with all of the little touches that made Art Deco so attractive to me. We took the elevator only to the fifteenth floor, which was a bit of a disappointment, but that quickly vanished when we entered the apartment. First of all, when we entered the front door, there was an immediate stairway leading up to a second floor. Cool. just in front of us, however, was an enormous, bright and airy living room and dining room wrapped around an open, eat-in kitchen. There was even a small family room or den and a small home-office tucked off of that. The living room and dining room had wrap-around windows with unobstructed south- and west-facing windows, showing all of Lower Manhattan, the Hudson and New Jersey. The family room had both south- and north-facing windows, providing an unobstructed view of upper Manhattan, too. It was incredible, and that wasn’t the half of it. Wrapped around the living room and dining room was an enormous terrace that looked to be several hundred square feet just by itself. It literally added half-again as much space to the living room and dining room. Wow!
Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a central home theater, billed as a media room. The master bedroom was above the family room and had both north- and south-facing windows. It had the largest walk-in closet I’d ever seen, and the master bath was enormous and suffused with light from multiple windows. There were double sinks, an elegant freestanding tub and a shower large enough for two. There were no window treatments in the bathroom, and none were needed. With no other buildings as tall, one would need a telescope to see inside our apartment. Each of the other bedrooms had an en-suite bathroom, too. It was billed as a four-bedroom unit, but that obviously counted the so-called family room as a bedroom. In any case, my preference would be to make the family room into a dedicated media room and home theater, and to turn the current media room into a library. The family-room furniture was dreadful, but otherwise the apartment was very attractively furnished. Some of the pendant light fixtures were a bit more mid-century modern than Art Deco and not to my taste, but they worked well with the other furnishings. The kitchen was ultra-modern and any cook’s dream.
Realizing that it could take years to acquire custom-made furniture as tasteful as what was already in place, I asked, “Are they willing to sell the furnishings?”
“That’s part of the problem, I’m afraid,” Flora explained. “They want to sell the place fully furnished, and that’s why the asking price is so high. Many of the designer items are extremely valuable, but they have no other need for them, and they expect anyone who buys the apartment to be thrilled to have them. Most people want to bring their own furnishings and don’t want to have to pay someone to take the original stuff off their hands. There have been offers as high as their original asking price but with the expectation that the owners would remove all their furnishings, which they refused to do. The buyers could’ve easily afforded to have someone haul the stuff away as junk, but they were unwilling to do so on principle.”
Looking again at Henry, he nodded at me, and I turned back to Flora and said, “We’d like to make an offer. We’ll pay the asking price in cash if they cover all the closing costs and pay the full real-estate commission. We’ll keep the furnishings, although we’ll want to replace most of the artwork, which is more a matter of personal taste, and we’ll deal with that issue ourselves. Actually, you can tell that they didn’t really live here, as most of the walls are completely bare. Henry and I will have to talk about what kind of art we want.”
Flora seemed shocked, but finally managed to say, “Are you sure you don’t want to look at other apartments first? There’s so much I’ve lined up for you to see. There’s so much to choose from.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I replied. “This place is perfect. Absolutely perfect. I’m already familiar with the neighborhood, and although it may not have the cachet of the Upper East Side, Chelsea has come into its own, and along with the Village, it’s one of the most gay-friendly sections of New York. It’s a good place to find like-minded friends, and that’s worth everything. On top of that, it’s only a bit over a mile from where Henry will be going to school, which means he can walk there. Perhaps we’ll buy a pair of bicycles, and he can ride his bike to his classes, particularly in inclement weather. I’ll of course drive to work, but I do have the option of taking a one-, two- or three-train to Times Square and then taking a seven-train to Bryant Park. I can also take the subway to Columbia University.” I checked my phone and added, “There are five parking garages around here that have Level 2 charging stations for my Tesla, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
“I think we’d be hard-pressed to find furnishings that looked better in here with the exception of the family-room furniture, which is pretty dreadful. We may want to gut that room and convert it to a home theater. It’s a much better location for one, being that it’s right by the kitchen, and I know my boyfriend will want to furnish it with the best audiophile sound system money can buy.” However, Henry looked panicked when I suggested it.
“All we need is a TV, a decent amp and a pair of good speakers,” He protested, probably thinking of the cost. “The furniture will be fine for that as it is,” he added.
“Henry, we’re going to be spending millions to buy this place,” I tried to explain, but he just shook his head.
“That’s bad enough, but there’s no way I can ask you to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art home theater, particularly when there’s already a media room upstairs.”
“And I’m not planning to,” I replied. “I know from what Shaun had in his home that a decent home-theater setup costs well over a hundred thousand dollars, and that’s just for the electronics. You have to figure in at least as much for the renovations —”
“A basic gut renovation for a home theater room this size will run you at least a quarter-million, at Manhattan prices,” Flora interrupted.
“So we're already up to three-fifty, minimum, and that’s just for a basic setup. I’ve no intention of treating this place like the previous owners did. It won’t be a pied-à-terre – we’re going to live here. Not that we shouldn’t enjoy going out to see a movie or a concert, but why not demand the same sound quality when we kick back and relax at home?
“Imagine for just a moment that you won the lottery and could spend any amount at all on a home theater. What could you do with a million dollars? Let your imagination run wild.”
“But we already have a media room upstairs,” he started to argue.
“Yes, and we can keep it as a separate place to watch TV, maybe for someday when we have kids. Or perhaps we could turn it into a library. The problem with having our only home theater upstairs is that the kitchen is down here. If you have to traipse downstairs every time you want a snack while watching TV, you’ll quickly realize you need to have a second kitchen upstairs, and that wouldn't be cheap either.”
“Not if I make you run downstairs,” Henry argued, but then his features softened a bit and he actually laughed, and then continued, “I guess we can put a TV and sound system down there too, but it doesn’t need to be over the top. The fact is, I didn’t win the lottery and I’m not about to spend that kind of money on a home theater.”
“But I did win the lottery,” I said as I pulled my Henry close and put my arms around him. “And I won something far more valuable than a million dollars. Most people spend a lifetime looking for the kind of love we share and never finding it. What we have is priceless.” Then having another thought, I continued, “What if I were to give you a million-dollar budget for a home theater as a graduation present? You’re going to graduate both high school and college at the same time. How many people do that?”
“But a million dollars?” Henry practically shouted. “Not that I think it’s right for you to give me that much, even if you can afford it, but I don’t think I could spend that kind of money if I tried.”
“Oh, I’m more than willing to bet that you can. You know your equipment and how much it costs.” Henry’s blush made me realize what I'd said, but undeterred, I continued. “I’m willing to bet that you can spend a million dollars on a state-of-the-art home theater and sound system for the apartment. I’ll tell you what – we’ll hire a home theater specialist, and you can design your dream home theater and sound system for the apartment. If it costs more than $500k, you have to keep it. If not and you insist, we’ll traipse up and down the stairs to the existing media room.”
“You’re on,” Henry replied, “and I intend to win that bet.”
“I have a feeling we’ll both win the bet and that you’ll agree with me, once you see what a home-theater specialist can do with a half-million- to a million-dollar budget.” Then turning my attention back to Flora, I apologized. “Sorry about all the drama. My boyfriend isn’t used to being rich – not that I am either.”
“Some things are worth spending a little money on if you have it, J.J.,” Flora chimed in. “Buying your dream apartment is a perfect example.”
“Oh, one more thing. It will be my corporation that will actually be buying the apartment. It’ll save us paying a shitload of taxes.”
Turning back to Flora, I said, “You’ll need to use the name Gonzalez-Jeffries Enterprises as the purchaser of the condo and to specify in the contract that the unit will be sublet to the corporate shareholders. We’ll specify that we’ll make payments equivalent to the maintenance, taxes and any utilities not covered by the maintenance.”
“Gonzalez?” Henry asked in obvious surprise.
“Like I said, I want us to share equally,” I replied. “One of the things I’m going to ask our attorney to do is to set up the corporation in both our names, with you as an equal partner. We just need to be sure we make it all kosher, given your status as a minor.”
“Are you serious?” Henry asked. “That’s too much. I can’t possibly contribute my fair share.”
“I told you I was,” I replied, “and you already have,” which earned me a long and deep kiss.
Clearing her throat, Flora responded, “None of that should be an obstacle. If you wish, I can draw up the contract right now and we can present it to the owners at their earliest convenience.”
Everything happened surprisingly quickly. Flora drew up the contract on her laptop and sent it electronically to the sellers’ agent. The contract was accepted within minutes, not surprisingly since we offered their asking price, and a deposit was wired to the sellers’ agent by bank transfer. The closing date was set for just after the Fourth of July; in the meantime, a rental agreement was drawn up and signed so that we could have immediate access to the apartment to begin making plans for the renovations. Paperwork was filed with the condo management to make all of the arrangements legal, and we were given the keys. Obviously, a locksmith would be among the arrangements we’d need to make. After getting recommendations from Flora, we scheduled three contractors to interview the next day.
At our request, Flora left us in the apartment. We could find our way on our own back to the hotel, where I intended to check out as soon as we could do so without penalty. After Flora left, Henry exclaimed, “I can’t believe you’re making me a full partner in your corporation.”
“Of course, I am,” I replied. “As soon as I realized just how much I loved you and that you loved me, too, I knew that we would never be apart again. You are absolutely the one for me, Señor Enrique Gonzalez.”
Laughing hysterically, he responded, “God, I haven’t heard my formal name in so long, I almost didn’t realize you were talking about me. And señor? Are you fuckin’ kidding me?”
“Speaking of fucking, you know what I want to do right now?” I asked seductively.
“We don’t have any lube,” Henry pointed out.
Producing a small tube from my pocket, I responded, “Like a boy scout, I’m always prepared.” After shedding our clothes and extensively making out, after much nibbling, licking and sucking, I lowered myself onto my baby and rode him for all he was worth. Afterwards, we showered but didn’t have any towels, so we sunned ourselves in our underwear on the terrace until we were dry, and then donned the rest of our clothes. Getting hungry, we decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood to see what was available.
There were actually a ton of restaurants of every variety nearby as well as such conveniences as a Container Store, an Applazon Organic Market and a Home Depot. A few blocks away, Fourteenth Street was a major thoroughfare, but as the city’s first busway, car traffic was restricted. We found a large YMCA and immediately took out memberships. Our new building had its own health club but not a pool. After that, I kept hearing the Village People singing YMCA in my head. Although this one was in Chelsea, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the ‘Y’ they had actually been referring to in their song as it was right on the boundary with the Village. We ate at a Cuban restaurant on Fourteenth Street at Seventh Avenue called Coppelia that had excellent reviews on Yelp. The food was wonderful.
After dinner, we boarded an F-Train, which brought us practically door-to-door, right to the hotel. After taking a few minutes to freshen up, we headed to the first of the Broadway musicals for which I’d bought tickets. We had third-row orchestra seats for The Lion King at the Minskoff Theater. I guess we were still kids at heart. The music was excellent, and the choreography was outstanding. Afterwards, I took Henry to Juniors for a slice of cheesecake and coffee, reminiscent of my time there with Shaun. I told Henry I’d taken Shaun there, and it didn’t bother him in the least. He knew just what it was like to lose someone you loved. Now I had the love of my life with whom to share a slice of cheesecake. What a great way to end the day.
<> <> <>
“Are you sure you want floor-standing speakers?” Alton asked as he surveyed the family room, which we hoped to turn into a home theater. “Most people want in-wall speakers these days.” Alton was the third contractor we’d had out to look at the place, and although all of them were home-theater specialists, Alton was actually talking about the electronics first rather than as an afterthought.
“Back home in Omaha, I have a pair of KEF LSX speakers with a matching sub. I think you know how much that set me back. Most kids would spend that kind of money on video games or girls. I’m not interested in either,” Henry added with a grin.
“If you like KEF, they make some outstanding home-theater gear,” Alton responded. “They’ve managed to shrink their Uni-Q driver into a thickness that fits within the wall, but don’t expect to hide them away, as they stick out about an inch. You can fit them with a grill, but if I were you, I’d go grill-less and show them off.”
But wouldn’t floor-standing speakers sound better?” Henry asked. “Wouldn’t you get more bang for the buck that way?”
“Although you might get better sound, they won’t save you any money. Floor-standing speakers cater to a different market – a more demanding one. Speaker manufacturers know that and they price their speakers accordingly.
“Perhaps we could use in-wall speakers in here, but use a pair of Muons out in the living room, just for listening to music,” I suggested, innocently enough.
“What the fuck do you know about Muons?” Henry practically shouted.
“Do you have any idea how much a pair of Muons cost?” Alton asked.
“Last time I checked, they ran close to a quarter-million dollars,” I responded. I’d done my research and was shocked to find that that kind of money for a pair of speakers was even possible.
“I can get you a better price as part of a package,” Alton replied, “but you still need to spend six figures on amplifiers to power those things. Frankly, if it were me, I’d rather buy a Ferrari. If you really want high-end sound, consider electrostats from the likes of Martin-Logan or get a pair of KEF Blades. Those’ll get you 99.9% of the way there at a five-figure price. This place could use a lot more color, so perhaps you’d like to get them in bright red. Have you given any thought to using an analog source?”
“You mean like vinyl?” I asked.
“A lot of people are going back to it,” Alton replied, “but unless you’re interested in classical recordings made before the advent of digital recording, most vinyl was digitally mastered anyway. You’re better off streaming high-resolution digital music from Tidal or Qobuz, or from your own server, but even so, you’ll probably want the option of adding a turntable later.”
“J.J. is the new head of A.I. for Applazon, and he designed their new generation of data servers,” Henry explained. “A really good digital sound system can match or beat vinyl any day. We’ll go with all-digital.”
“Nothing sounds like a live performance the way a true analog recording does,” Alton countered. “By that, I mean a live performance in a real venue and not in a recording studio, with original condenser mikes, tube pre-amps and a multi-track Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder. It has to be mixed and mastered with an all-analog tube-based setup and cut directly to vinyl, and then played back in your home on a linear turntable with a moving coil pickup and tube-based pre-amps and amps, through high-end speakers.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that,” Henry said. “I’ve read up on it, and the old condenser mikes were nonlinear and had issues with resonance, pentode vacuum tubes have inherent background hiss, and the transducers used to cut vinyl have inherent hysteresis. Original recordings that were directly mastered to vinyl actually sound pretty bad today, and most of those have been digitally remastered, as only digital filters can truly compensate for the irregularities in the way they were cut.
“Most analog-mastered vinyl recordings today are made from original Ampex tape, which has it’s own issues, not the least of which being that the original tape deteriorates over time. It loses its elasticity and stretches, and the magnetic signal becomes noisy. Not that there aren’t excellent original vinyl albums to be had, nor new vinyl reproductions from original analog masters, but they’re far more doctored than most audiophiles realize. Perhaps the best way to preserve analog music is with direct stream digital – DSD – the format used in recording super-audio CDs. It's still a digital format, but unlike with the PCM format used to digitize music for CDs and for streaming, DSD is asynchronous, and at the higher bit-rates of DSD-128, 256 and even 512, there’s very little quantization error.”
“Like you said, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. The only thing that matters is how the music sounds, and to me, nothing can match the sound of vintage vinyl, period. By the way do you know what kind of broadband you have?”
“The building has FiOS, and the ONT is on the second floor, in an electrical closet next to the stairway.” I wasn’t aware that Henry had checked, as I hadn't even considered what kind of broadband we had. He continued, “There’s already a cable router in there, so I’d like to put our server in there too and stream content throughout the apartment. The router appears to be an old model, though, so we’ll definitely want to upgrade it, so we can have gigabit bandwidth at least. We’ll want to explore our options from the various providers too, but regardless, you can count on having wired gigabit Ethernet throughout, I think. That way, if we use amplified speakers, each one with its own DAC and amp, we could have all-digital pathways and control the whole thing using our phones.”
“I’d like to include Blu-Ray,” I added.
“We can do all of that, but I’d be reluctant to put even a Class AB amplifier inside the wall, let alone a Class A,” Alton answered. “A lot of audiophiles turn up their noses at Class D amplifiers or anything that doesn’t have tubes —”
“My LSX speakers use Class D amps,” Henry interrupted, “as does my sub. Of course, many audiophiles turn up their noses at subwoofers, too. If Class D amps are good enough for the likes of KEF and Bryson, they should be good enough for us, and they’re way more efficient.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“Class A amps are linear, but inefficient and generate a lot of heat,” Henry replied. “Class B amps are much more efficient but suffer from crossover distortion. Class AB amps are hybrids, operating as Class A amps except during loud passages when the Class B section kicks in.”
“And Class D?” I asked.
“Instead of using a DAC and power amp, they use the digital signal itself with pulse-width or pulse-frequency modulation and a low-pass filter to drive the speakers. The best ones compensate for the nonlinearity of the load, but that can be done digitally” Henry concluded.
Then in a sudden flash of inspiration, I suggested, “Why not use a superconducting ceramic chip? The efficiency would be nearly 100%. It’d make a great side project for a graduate student, but then again, I’d like to have it before next year, and it’s something I could design in my sleep. I doubt I’d get any resistance from Jitendra to fabricating a series of prototypes.”
“At least, let me use Class AB amps to power the Blades,” Alton interjected, “so at least you’ll have a set of stereo speakers capable of being used with an analog source. Someday, you might actually want to listen to vinyl, after all.”
“I doubt it,” I replied, “But I’ll humor you. It does sound like a good idea for multiple reasons.”
“You know, instead of getting rid of those bookcases, why don’t you keep them as they are and just add a motorized drop-down movie screen,” Alton continued. “We can mount a 4K projector, recessed into the ceiling; the new models are quite good. They use lasers to project a brilliant picture that rivals any OLED display. I can get you an 8K projector if you want, but it costs around a quarter million, and, frankly, it’s not worth it. Besides, there isn’t much 8K content available just yet. I’d stick with 4K and upgrade to 8K later on, once it’s ready for prime time. The cost of a 4K projector would be on a par with that of a 75-inch OLED display, and significantly less than that of a display that’s comparably sized to the screen. We’ll add blackout curtains in front of the windows to reduce the level of ambient light.
“While you’re at it, you might want to consider having built-in bookcases all around, including on the side walls and in back, too. The exterior walls are plaster over concrete. I’d planned to use, sound-absorbing drywall over them, but books are an excellent acoustic absorber, and they look a lot better. Then, we could use bookshelf speakers like a pair of KEF Reference 1s and a Reference 4C in front, with R3 surround and elevation speakers, together with a pair of 8b subs, front and back. I think that’s a much better plan, and except for the cost of the books, it’ll actually give you better sound for a bit less money.”
“What do you think, J.J.?” Henry asked me.
“I think that’s an excellent idea, and by keeping this room as a library, there’d be no point to gutting the media room upstairs,” I noted. “In fact, maybe we can upgrade the electronics and take out all the furniture, replacing it with exercise equipment. That way, we can have a fantastic home gym to better keep in shape.”
“That, boyfriend, is an outstanding idea,” Henry agreed. “The only problem is that we’d have to fill the bookshelves with books.”
“There are companies that will sell you an entire library of leather-bound classics,” Alton suggested.
“And everyone knows that those are just for show,” I countered. “If I’m going to have a library, I want to fill it with books we’ve actually read or with an eclectic collection that leaves guest thinking, ‘Wow, where’d you find this?’”
“Most libraries have to dispose of older books to make room for the new ones,” Alton suggested. “Of course, those books usually have seen heavy use and aren’t exactly pretty. You can pick up a room full of books at an estate sale, but If you want vintage books, be prepared to compete with serious book collectors.” I had a vision of going to auctions all over and bidding thousands of dollars for rare first editions. Perhaps we could check into some private university libraries. With books and journals moving online, we might be able to grab an entire collection of decent books or hardbound journals in return for a donation.
Alton continued, “I’ll put together a formal proposal for you, itemizing out all the equipment that’ll be needed and the labor costs, but you can figure on spending in the mid-six figures for the gut and renovations, as well as for the electronics, exclusive of the amps, which you’ll supply. You can add another one or two hundred k if you change your mind and want us to supply the DACs and power-amps.” I think Henry just about had a heart attack, but I wasn’t fazed in the least, as I was clearly going to win the bet. I was beginning to think that maybe I was even more excited about the home theater than Henry was.
“The bookcases and seating will run you another one or two hundred k, depending on your selection of the wood, the fabric or leather for the seating and the number of seats desired. Since there are so many options, I’ll leave you some catalogs and point you to some websites and quote you a price based on your selections. You’ll be on your own for the exercise equipment. The interactive stuff can be quite expensive, but we don’t deal with anything like that ourselves. I can give you some recommendations if you’re interested. Now, let’s go take a look at what you have upstairs, so I can give you a price for the upgrades you’ll need up there.” Alton suggested.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.