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Not The Same, Without Stewart Ono

Here on Audio Asylum, the late Stewart Ono was known as "Uncle Stu 52." I'm not sure how many of you actually got to meet him in person. He was the proprietor of Honolulu's Audio Direction Ltd. I believe he opened ADL in the late-80s.

So let's go back to the summer of 1990. My grandmother's house was just off of the UH Manoa campus. Down Waialae, across from Times, and just a block or two west of the Palolo McDonald's was ADL. The little driveway split up and down: in the basement was ADL, and upstairs may have been a restaurant.

Let's not forget. 1990 was the time when high-end audio stores were snooty, exclusive, and arrogant. It was a time before high-end audio reached the middle class (yes, there actually was a middle class).

That summer of 1990 was before the grunge and rap revolution. The rock anthem was Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell," which was mere months before Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Testament came out with landmark albums.

I was 18-years-old, barely old enough to vote, and about to enter my sophomore year of college (UC Santa Cruz). I was taking some economics class at HPU, and, damn, it was difficult not to be distracted by the attractive girls, some of whom came from overseas. They made me want to quit UCSC, ditch all its wannabe hippie girls, and transfer to Hawaii.

Armed with Forbidden's Twisted Into Form and Vio-Lence's Oppressing The Masses CDs, I had a hard time getting my fragile Sony D-10 Discman to shake off environmental vibrations, and to play without skipping or going into Pause.

Stewart Ono could plainly see that, as a college student, I wasn't going to buy the CJ, Oracle, Quicksilver (the amps, not the surf gear!), Vandersteen, and VPI brands he carried. But unlike all the other audio salesmen of the era, Stewart was welcoming, patient, and educational. He would state his personal bias, gauge what the customer wanted, and then offer an alternative. Stewart was never pushy.

Understand that, in those days, audio stores only played Audiopihle Pap CDs. So when I clearly stated that I was into rock and thrash, he thought for a moment, and wondered where he had placed some rock LPs. A moment later, he emerged with Judas Priest's Screaming For Vengeance and Skid Row's eponymous album. Even today, audio stores can be shy or just plain unknowing about such music. But that visit to ADL was in 1990, my friends. Stewart was way ahead of the times.

Unlike "corporate-type" stores, ADL featured vertical equipment racks, and stuff all over the place. ADL even had vacuum tubes lying around. Man, I hadn't seen tubes since I was a little kid in the 1970s. You almost expected to hear small fighter planes of the 50s and 60s, to motor overhead. Anyway, Stewart took the time to demonstrate the effects of various anti-vibration devices to me and few other customers, who happened to be there. My parents were in a state of disbelief, when they heard what the Simply Physics Tonecones did under speakers. So yeah, if non-audiophiles like my parents could hear the differences, why couldn't the audiophiles?

No, as a college kid, I couldn't afford new equipment. But I did buy from ADL AQ Sorbothane sheet and CD Feet. Both worked well under my Discmen, and even made the D-10 sound less harsh. And everyone, including non-audiophiles, heard the footers' effects. When I returned to UCSC, my little dorm room had no space for audio. I had one free shelf, which could hold that D-10 Discman, plus the AR Powered Partners speakers. With those speakers causing the shelf to vibrate, the poor Discman needed some isolation. Yup, the AQ CD Feet prevented skipping. And I kept telling my dormmates, "If it hadn't been for this guy, Stewart Ono in Honolulu, I never would have thought about such things as CD footers."

Thank goodness, 'cuz then my next door neighbor Andrea, the curly blonde, could hear A-Ha's East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon and Prefab Sprout's Jordan: The Comeback all the way through.

A trip to Stewart's ADL always gave me food for thought. Remember, those were the days before email and the Internet. You couldn't just "look things up." Even though there usually was no surf (it was always flat to a foot), I would lie on my bodyboard, and let the Hawaiian heat and warm water shape my thoughts. You have to understand that that weather puts you into a different musical mood than, for example, my Bay Area home. It was one of the few instances, where I could set aside thoughts of girls (I'd only come across a few female surfers) and concentrate on audio.

I could gather my thoughts, swim to shore, and know what to ask Stewart next. You could tell from his body language and phrasings, if he didn't think something was concomitant with Stereotypical Audiophile thought. But again, he never forced you to adhere to SA dogma. He never made you feel pressured. He allowed you to go back, organize your thoughts, and weigh what was important to you. By not rushing, Stewart understood that high-end audio was a journey, not a one-and-done phenomenon. And, Stewart would accommodate you, regardless of where you were on that journey.

Which brings me to today. I am currently on Oahu. And without ADL and Stewart to visit, it just isn't the same. When he sadly passed away, we lost not just his audio knowledge, but his calm and reasoned Hawaiian persona.

As I drive along Waialae or Algaroba (sometime in the mid-90s, ADL moved near the McCully Library), I miss Stewart's role and presence within high-end audio. But I also have long known that he was responsible for getting many of us 99%ers, especially in those late-80s/early-90s dark ages, into this hobby. When I'd return to Honolulu throughout the rest of the 90s, Stewart would recognize me as the guy "from the Mainland." He had no qualms, talking about the thrash metal I loved. When was the last time you could say that, about your audio dealers?

As I was driving out to the Leeward side of Oahu, some rock radio station played "Cowboys From Hell." Yeah, there's no replacing Stewart Ono, but somehow, I felt him smiling down on us. I'm sure that, if we asked the brands ADL carried about Stewart, they'd remember him fondly, miss him even more as a person, than as a dealer. It's too bad more of the Inmates did not meet him in person. As I came in from bodyboarding [yes, I still have a Mike Stewart (no relation to Uncle Stu) bodyboard from the mid-90s], it just wasn't the same, not having ADL and Stewart, to get my audiophile bearings straight.

I'd like to end this, by sharing a story about Stewart. I think it was the summer of 2002. I was at ADL, then on Algaroba. Kenny Loggins' "For The First Time" was playing, and Stewart was with another customer. Stewart said that Hokule'a, though known for the canoe, is actually the star, Arcturus. And of course, the customer, presumably a long-time audiophile, associated Arcturus with vacuum tubes. Uncle Stu just grinned and laughed, and joked that it'd be easier for light to travel to Arcturus, than to find NOS Arcturus 2A3s.

-Lummy The Loch Monster

Edits: 06/14/16

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Topic - Not The Same, Without Stewart Ono - Luminator 02:17:51 06/14/16 (10)


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