At first glance, the multiple 6-foot speakers in John Gish’s home audio system look retro-futuristic, like something out of “Star Trek.” Gish readily points out that most people have never seen such large, high-end German-made pieces and immediately think they will be overwhelmed by the sound they produce. But when Gish turns on the music — first, Vanessa Fernandez’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” then Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” — the sound is so crystalline and enveloping that the idea is quickly dispelled. Welcome to the world of premium audio.
“The speakers emit 360-degree sound like a soundstage,” Gish said. “It’s like what you would hear if you heard in person, live, with a good seat. That’s the goal, to make it immersive.
For more than 60 years, Gish, an economist by vocation and connoisseur of electronics, acoustics and cinema by passion, has been upping his game in audio and video equipment. Today, the 6,700 square foot Garden District home of Gish and his wife, Gayle, who own the historic Prytania Theater and are co-owners of the Prytania Theaters at Canal Place, has the kind of high-end sound system and cinema rarely seen in a residential setting.
There are 20,000 movies stored for viewing and 30,000 recordings ready to listen to at the touch of an iPad. Even the couple’s 1,250 square foot gym is hooked up to the elaborate system, which Gish uses daily and understands from top to bottom.
Gish navigates through explanations of how its high-quality components work – using words like woofer, amplifier, playback and terabyte. According to the audiophile, the sound room speaker system takes a year to manufacture, weighs 3,600 pounds and includes four speaker towers. The entire audio system uses six separate amplifiers and produces 5,000 to 6,000 watts of power. The one-liners he peppers the conversation with are helpful for the uninitiated.
“I could fuel the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest pretty easily,” he said.
Originally from New York, Gish fell in love with electronics at the age of 12 when his parents gave him a buildable multiplex decoder kit so he could listen to FM stereo radio. His career as an economist (which includes senior positions in Fortune 500 companies and as a member of the Grace Commission during the Reagan presidency) allowed him to successfully pursue his passion. He reads avidly on the subject and continues to learn hands-on, he said, with help from experts like those at Uptown Audio Video.
“It’s a lifelong passion,” Gish said. “For the first 30 years we were together, Gayle never had a living room because I always took the biggest room for gear.”
Today, he said, his current stable of hardware, neatly housed in specially renovated rooms, has enough storage to hold five times the amount of all files stored in the Library of Congress. , enough power to run a small factory and speakers that cost more than a Lamborghini.
The most visually imposing part of the sound room is the quartet of floor-to-ceiling speakers. The room also houses a wall of components stacked on specially designed built-in shelves, rotating shelves with hundreds of CDs, a signed vintage photograph of the Beatles, RCA memorabilia featuring Nipper the dog, comprehensive collections of stereo files et de son absolu (the best magazines in the field of high performance audio and music) and a collection of high-end headphones.
Gish enhances the contents of his music library with playback software called Roon that catalogs the information, so he can read about artists while listening to them. The software even tells you where a given artist is performing live.
He also subscribes to music streaming services Qobuz and Tidal Masters, which offer state-of-the-art formats in high resolution (the best sound quality). A self-proclaimed “rock guy”, Gish said his tastes spanned 60 years and countless artists, from Peter Paul & Mary to Eminem. Yet unlike those who love nostalgia and what some describe as the “warm” sound of vinyl, he said today’s enhanced digital formats are by far the superior form of sound.
Just across the hall, the intimate home theater features six comfortable seats, a 4K laser projector, an 8-foot-diagonal screen, movie theater collectibles, and artwork by George Rodrigue (there is also a second 10ft screen in the home gym). The intimate and personal experience of watching the hip-hop opera “Hamilton” is akin to being front row at a Broadway theater, albeit with a bigger seat.
Gish himself prefers horror films – a genre he first enjoyed with his mother when he was growing up – and has collected thousands of them.
“I have terrible taste in movies,” he added.
Tastes aside, Gish knows a thing or two about movies. In 2003, at the behest of New Orleans native Gayle, the Gishs purchased the Prytania, which is popular with locals but was being sold and considered for non-theatrical uses.
“Gayle said ‘you can’t let this happen,'” Gish said. “She’s the reason we have the Prytania today.”
After buying the theatre, now run by Robert Brunet, following his father, René Brunet, the Gish brought cutting-edge technology to it. Currently they are upgrading again, as the theater was badly damaged by Hurricane Ida.
Seats, sound system, projector and all interior elements damaged by the storm are replaced. The theatre, now protected in trust for future generations, was due to reopen at the end of February, although Gish expects supply chain delays, labor shortages and insurance issues to mean that improvements will have to be introduced in phases.
He’s also considering replacing one of Canal Place’s audio systems with equipment he no longer uses at home, including the 2,000-pound Martin Logan Statement speaker.
“Some people dance and weave from interest to interest, but for me, it’s been a lifetime,” Gish said. “It has been extremely gratifying. It gave me motivation and education, and I met so many interesting people.
John Gish offered these tips on audio equipment:
1. Nearly 90% of what you hear is reflected sound, so your room is still the most important component of your audio system. In general, speakers work best when placed away from walls and corners. If you have some flexibility in speaker placement, you can dramatically improve your listening experience.
2. Remove the grilles from your speakers – they never help.
3. Do not cross signal cables and AC power cords. If this is unavoidable, cross them at right angles. Do not coil excess cable. These can cause a buzz in your system.
4. A good starting point for speaker placement is the “rule of thirds”: place the speakers one-third the length of the room from the back wall; one-third the width of the room from the side walls, the listener forming the point of an equilateral Triangle.
5. Bookshelf speakers sound best on speaker stands.
6. Wire matters – speaker wire, signal cables, and power cables all affect what you hear. Upgrading your wire can improve your sound.
7. Used components can be a good way to upgrade your system inexpensively. Audiogon.com and usedcable.com are reliable sources for used equipment. Electronic components and cables benefit from a break-in period, so used components can sound better than their new counterparts.