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Jonathan Weiss’ quest to build the finest sound amplification system ever

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Jonathan Weiss produces some of the world's finest sound gear with materials that are far from high-tech. Jeff Glor sat down with Weiss to talk about his passion for sound and his quest to build the most refined sound amplification system ever.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JEFF GLOR: This morning we are focusing on the next step in the world of sound, which is actually a step back to a better version of sound. Technology can make a lot of things better, but that's not the case with recorded music, the quality of which has suffered as we move to iPods and now streaming. But there is hope, as more and more people are finding. Just watch and listen.

[JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]

JONATHAN WEISS: This is the most sensual fun you will have that will not end you up in a 12-step program.

JEFF GLOR: Our journey to the unveiling of what might be the best record player in the world in Brooklyn, New York began in an old clothing factory in rural Pennsylvania.

Fleetwood, PA is a lot different than Brooklyn.

JONATHAN WEISS: Here is where the things get made.

JEFF GLOR: Jonathan Weiss is the founder and CEO of Oswald Mills Audio and Fleetwood Sound. After majoring in international relations at Princeton, he pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker until he realized his true passion was sound, and set off on a quest to build the finest sound amplification system ever. The kind of personal craftsmanship you see here is almost unheard of, and everything is made by locals using local products.

JONATHAN WEISS: The slate's from here. The wood's from here. Our welding shop is right over there. The people who do waterjet cutting-- this is cut on on a 5-axis waterjet machine by Mennonites. You're sitting here on a treasure trove of both materials and human know-how and abilities.

JEFF GLOR: The quality of this work is almost as impressive as the sound it produces.

[JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]

Why is it needed? Because Weiss says over the past several decades, the quality of recorded music around the world has entered a very dark place.

JONATHAN WEISS: The problem is that in technology, the idea that things get better, cheaper, smaller-- that works with things like computers. But it doesn't work with sound, because sound waves-- they're our size. What we hear is actually our size. And you want to miniaturize it, you screw it up.

JEFF GLOR: When most of us listen to music these days, we hear mp3s. Introduced in 1993, they took off with Napster and became ubiquitous.

Why are mp3s so bad?

JONATHAN WEISS: 95% of the sound is gone. Can you imagine watching a television set where 95% of the pixels are dark? You wouldn't watch that at all. But your brain and your ears are so much more sophisticated with sound.

JEFF GLOR: When you say some of these, we're missing 95% of the sound, what does that mean? Because people say, what do you mean? I'm listening to it.

JONATHAN WEISS: The algorithms for mp3s-- the reason that you can have 10,000 songs on an iPod is because 95% of the information in the music is gone. It's compressed away. It doesn't come back on the other end.

[CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING]

JEFF GLOR: That is where these giant cone-shaped horns come in. Weiss says their size and shape make them the best way to amplify and direct sound without any distortion. The idea isn't new. The design dates back to some of the earliest phonographs, which required a way to amplify sound without electricity. Those original players used wax cylinders, which later evolved to vinyl records, which many argue is the purest way to listen to recorded music.

[JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]

And people seem to be getting the message. Last year for the first time since 1986, sales of vinyl outstripped CDs. Turntables can cost between hundreds of dollars or $300,000, the brand new player Weiss unveiled for us inside his Brooklyn showroom.

[CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING]

It's great. It just-- it consumes you.

JONATHAN WEISS: We're making stuff it's really a throwback to when sound really mattered, and when it was really the best that it ever was.

JEFF GLOR: For most people these days, music is-- it's background music.

JONATHAN WEISS: So that's tragic. All these records over here-- none of these artists made those things to be background music.

JEFF GLOR: You hate talking about the prices.

JONATHAN WEISS: I do.

JEFF GLOR: Why?

JONATHAN WEISS: Because, you know, we're in a culture where price is the product, where people go like, it's an X hundreds of thousands of dollars thing, and then that's what it is. I don't want that for this. I want people to look at this and go like, wow, that's cool-looking. I wonder what it sounds like?

JEFF GLOR: Does it bug you that the vast majority of people will never be able to afford this?

JONATHAN WEISS: I'm working on that, by the way.

JEFF GLOR: Fleetwood Sound is intended to be a lower cost option to the Oswald Mills brand-- thousands of dollars for equipment instead of hundreds of thousands of for equipment. For Weiss, music is a spiritual experience he hopes the next generation is willing to invest in.

[JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]

JONATHAN WEISS: What art is more intrinsic to the human condition than music? Everyone listens to music and makes music everywhere. But what we've done because of our culture is we've reduced music to something that is really just a pale shadow of what it was.

JEFF GLOR: What do you want your musical legacy to be?

JONATHAN WEISS: I just want people to realize what is possible.

[JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING]

JEFF GLOR: Some of these cone-shaped horns are so powerful, if they're really turned up, they can actually put cracks in buildings.

- Really?

JEFF GLOR: Because of the sound, waves because the sound waves are that powerful. Now normally, you don't have to do that. We didn't do that. But sitting there in the showroom at Oswald Mills and listening to it, you have to be there, and you have to experience it, because it's something else.

- You looked like you enjoyed that.

- Yeah, yeah.