RIP: Arnie Nudell 1937 -2017

This business wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Arnie Nudell. It all started with an old pair of Infinity Kappa 9 speakers - the “Amp Killers”.  

Arnie Nudell passed away this week at the age of 80. He was truly one of the founding fathers of high-end audio. News of his passing led me to reflect on how he has inspired me over the years. I’ve never had a lot of audio “idols”, but my audiophile journey was definitely inspired by Arnie.

My very first set of speakers was a hand-me-down pair of Bose “Roommate” speakers. They were self-powered bookshelf speakers with a 1/8 inch headphone jack which I proudly connected to my battery-powered Sony Discman. I was quite pleased with their performance, and they played the soundtrack for my early teen years. In college, I wired up my dorm room with 4 Radio Shack speakers (Realistic Minimus 7). They did the job and were far superior to the boombox style shelf systems that most of my peers were using. I always had an interest in sound quality, but I didn’t really know how to get it. Even if I had known what to buy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

That all changed one afternoon in my late 20’s as I was surfing Craigslist trying to pass the time at what was a monotonous inside-sales job that brought me very little joy. I didn’t know a lot about high-end audio, but I knew a bargain when I saw one. And what I saw that afternoon was a poorly and hastily constructed advertisement for a well-aged pair of Infinity Kappa 9 speakers. I surmised from the ad that the original owners were downsizing for retirement and couldn’t take their beloved speakers with them to Utah. Because the foam surrounds on the woofers were completely deteriorated, they were offering these “old” speakers at the unbelievable price of just $100. I took an early lunch break and went straight to the nearest ATM. With a little bit of research and $40 worth of parts I was able to repair the woofers. Once the glue was dry, I hooked them up to my old Sony receiver and put on my favorite track. They did sound wonderful for a moment or two, and then I quickly learned why they were dubbed the “amp killers”. Doing a little web research, I learned that the speakers were going to need a lot more power. In fact, they were some of the most difficult speakers to drive properly due to their tendency to dip into seriously low impedances (below 1 ohm in the LF and MR region). I would need a very high-current amplifier. During my reading on the topic, I came across the name of the original designer – Mr. Arnie Nudell. He seemed to have a cult-like following. There were entire websites dedicated to all of his designs. Until that moment, I never realized that there were “superstars” behind some of these audio products. The more I read about Arnie, the more interested I became in the world of high-end audio as a whole. I never had a set of speakers in my main system for the next 10 years that wasn’t designed by Arnie.

My search for capable amplification on a budget led me down a road of perpetual flipping, bargain-hunting, and upgrading. The set of four Adcom GFA-565 mono-blocks were the end of my search as far as optimizing the Kappa 9’s, but it was the beginning of a much greater journey that would eventually lead to the birth of TMR Audio - my little one-car garage eBay business that would become the largest online retailer of pre-owned audio gear in the world. Years later I walked away from a “dream” job opportunity in downtown Boulder Colorado to pursue my entrepreneurial passions. “The Music Room” would be a place where everyone could experience the joys of used audio without all of the trials, errors and tribulations that I had suffered through in my search for the ultimate used system - Sifting through online classifieds, paying cash for hot deals in shady parking lots, white van scams, buying nasty broken stuff on eBay. The pitfalls were numerous.

In the early days of the business, I continued to keep an eye out for some of the legendary Infinity products that I had read about. I had the opportunity to own and enjoy all of his Reference Standard series speakers (RS-1.5, RS-2.5, RS-4.5); all of the original Kappa series (6,7,8 & 9’s) and many more fantastic Infinity and Genesis speakers. I eventually traded up from my Kappa 9's to some Infinity IRS Gamma. That’s when I learned about the joys and agonies of high-resolution speakers and the upgrade obsession that comes from being aware of the “weakest link” principle. Later on, I would have the chance to upgrade further to the IRS Beta. Getting a demo of the flagship IRS V’s from Paul McGowan in PS Audio’s custom-built sound room was a thrill of a lifetime for sure. Personally, I’ve never had a room large enough to accommodate such grandiose speakers, but they are truly world-class.

Speaking of Paul McGowan, he was the one who introduced me to Arnie Nudell around the time that my business was just getting off the ground - a gesture for which I remain grateful. I got the opportunity to go to Arnie’s home in Vail and load up a set of high-powered Audio Research tube amplifiers that he wanted to consign with us. He told me that they had very low hours as they were mostly used in his old lab in the final voicing stage for some of his flagship speaker designs. Arnie became a regular consignment client, and he was someone that wouldn’t hesitate to answer the phone if I had technical questions on any of the products we were selling for him. I’ll never forget a phone call that I had with him while troubleshooting a set of Genesis VI speakers in which he elaborated to me in great detail about the importance of the scientific method. He asserted with a bit of thinly-veiled frustration that most people in the audio business have no idea how to apply it. That made me smile. Arnie was a true engineer. In fact, prior to his foray into the audio industry he was trained as a nuclear physicist. He had a unique vision for how things should work, but for him it was just sound logic and the application of the scientific method that led him to create some of the most ground-breaking and influential audio products in history. His pursuit of audio perfection was all driven by his love and appreciation for music, and his famously gifted ears that allowed him to recall exactly how the music should sound.

Arnie Nudell will be missed. For me personally, he left a lasting legacy. I’ll remember him fondly every time we package and ship one of the products he created. There are so many. RIP Arnie!