Minimalist painter-turned-amplifier designer Don Garber will not only blow you away with the sonic experience of his brand, Fi, but his amps are sure to please the eye as well.
It was in college that Don Garber heard a homemade audio system that changed everything for him. It was quite simple, he says. “It sounded like real music.”
Many years later, having tried for a long time to make a life as a painter, Garber realized he had to make a change. “I was going to have to do something, but wasn’t really fit for anything,” he says. “I couldn’t get away with doing nothing and I wasn’t selling any paintings.” So he started a shop called Fi on the corner of Watts and Thompson streets in New York’s Soho to fix up stereos and eventually started building his own.
Garber prefers the single-ended Class-A amplifier, which only uses one tube with a low wattage. Matched with very efficient speakers, it produces a “real” sound which pretty much makes you feel like you are standing in the recording room with the low end largely present, even at a very low volume. To get extreme volumes, you need more power—and as a result the quality suffers. But as Garber puts it, “Good music sounds good on anything. A great, well-recorded piece of music will sound good on a fifty-dollar plastic boombox.” But good is one thing; great is another.
Because they sound great, look fantastic, and are reasonably-priced in comparison to other amps on the high-end market, there is currently a waiting list of over two years for Garber’s pieces. Nonetheless, Garber prefers to work by himself in his live/work setup in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and has no plans of expanding—mainly because he wants to have the freedom to do whatever he wants to. “I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else. I want to be able to walk out that door anytime I want to.” If you are lucky enough, you could get your “X” or “Y” amp before he decides to do just that.
Magnus Berger is the editor-in-chief of The Last Magazine. He is also the creative director of WSJ.: The Wall Street Journal Magazine and the cofounder of Berger & Wild.