Audiophiles I know: Zach Cowie Part One – Page 2

NOS tube hoard.

RA: You recently got involved with the 'slow music' scene (aka 'active listening') that has been gaining traction for a number of years in places like Japan, Europe and the UK, with your participation in the opening of Los Angeles lounge In Sheep's Clothing. It seems to be a Left Coast take on the traditional jazz kissaten (coffee bar, or beer and whisky lounge scene – no dancing) that thrived in Japan following WWII and has been in steady decline for years as the original owners retire or pass away and their family wants nothing to do with it. Places like Spiritland in London seemed to also be trying to channel this disappearing Japanese jazz music scene... what's your take on this phenomenon and how important is it for people to get off their phones to look up at who they're with and hear the music? Tell me what happens at In Sheep's Clothing when you're playing an album or educating people on the cultural impact of particular albums or artists?

ZC: This is exactly right. The Kissa scene of Japan first hit my radar when my friends Devendra and Andy went to JBS (kissaten), probably about 10 years ago. This was also the time in my life when i was starting to take sound way more seriously: I find it interesting that this also lines up with when I quit drinking. With the 10 year+ booze haze removed, I heard my first properly insane sound system at Joel Bernstein’s place in Oakland. I was destroyed and totally embarrassed that I’d been playing a pretty massive record collection on just whatever gear I’d come across. From that moment on I became obsessed with chasing that sound and gravitated towards the vintage stuff, a lot of which was often hiding in these Japanese kissas.

Shindo Monbrison preamplifier.

Also around this time my DJ style was starting to change dramatically as I began discovering people like David Mancuso. This was the first time words like Koetsu and Klipschorn crossed my eyes and I simply had to know what these things sounded like, so I found them. While my DJ style was changing, I was lucky enough to start getting booked into rooms which took sound more seriously and I befriended owners of spots like Brilliant Corners in London and we soon started exchanging system building tips and tricks. Fast forward to Bryan Ling giving me the opportunity to collaborate on a space in Los Angeles and without really being conscious of it, I’d built up eight years of gear research, working on my own systems, building systems for friends, going to clubs with great sound and hitting bars/cafes around Japan. Like just about everything illustrated in the questions above, my curiosity alone had prepared me for this next big step. We opened In Sheep’s Clothing just about six months ago (as of June 2019), and yes, you’re exactly right, this is “our version” of the Japanese style. 

RA: Let’s discuss your hi-fi system, you’re currently in deep with Shindo, which seems to be the end of a long road of gear and house sounds for you, talk to me about that and some of the other gear that’s spoken to you over the years.

Current System

  • Turntables: EMT 930st w/929 tonearm + EMT TSD15 cart (stereo) AND 12-inch Ortofon tonearm + EMT OFD15 cart (mono) w/a23 EMT SUT. Grease bearing Garrard 301 in Vinylista plinth w/12” Schick tonearm & Denon 103 cart w/Altec peerless SUT.
  • Preamplifier: Shindo Monbrison (the new one, just got it after many years w/a Masseto).
  • Amplifier: Shindo Cortese 300b (also new after many years with the F2A model).
  • Speakers: DeVore Fidelity 0/96 or Altec 604E’s w/custom cabinets and crossovers.
  • Other stuff: All interconnects and speaker wire is Auditorium 23, power conditioning is a Shindo Mr.T and EMT power supply is custom by Hanze Hifi.

NO DIGITAL (which we’ll touch on later). I went through a TON of gear before I discovered SHINDO. I used to be a big McIntosh guy and had/sold an MX110Z, C20, C22, MC30s, MC225, MC2505, MA230… I also was speaker crazy for a while before finally throwing down on DeVores – Klipschorns, Cornwalls, Altec Valencias, Omega single drivers, Tannoy golds, etc.

The Cowie hi-fi time machine.

ZC: My first turntable was a Thorens TD160 w/SME 3009 arm. I got it in high school and used it (plus my 1200’s for DJ’ing) until my ‘hi-fi revelation’ about 10 years ago. I’m very into design and headed straight to Michell. I got a Gyrodec and one of the old transcriptors. It wasn’t long before I started to catch wind of the idler-drive sound and was lucky enough to find a grease bearing Garrard 301 on the cheap. I built it out and it was love at first listen. I’m hooked on the idler sound and have no desire to own anything else. My other ’table – the 930 gives me even MORE of that sound that’s in the 301. I dream of a 927 but even my crazy ass has to draw the line somewhere... My cartridge journey was kinda wild too – started w/Grado Ref 1, then over to mod’d Denon 103s (which I still keep around to play with), over to Koetsu's, over to SPU’s, and then I got my first EMT cart and sold everything else. It gives me all I’ve ever been wanting to hear. Mono is another story – I love my EMT mono cart but still keep a Miyajima Zero around too because it’s soooooo good.

Thomas Schick tonearm on Garrard 301.

I first started reading about Shindo via Art Dudley’s Stereophile column. I finally said ‘I gotta hear this stuff’ and found Matt Rotunda of Pitch Perfect Audio just as he’d moved to LA. My best friend/DJ partner and I scheduled a listen and we both had Masseto/Cortese combos a couple months later! Fast forward a handful of years and Matt’s become a good friend and hi-fi mentor of sorts. I’m also a massive Audio Note UK fan. We use an M5 preamplifier and Jinro Shochu amplifier at the bar (In Sheep’s Clothing). It sounds insane. Peter Qvortrup has also become a friend… he actually offered to take me on the same trip you went on to the Munich show this year, but I don’t think it’s going to be possible w/my crazy TV/movie schedule right now. I’m still in denial about that because I wanna go soooo bad. He’s always trying to get me to ditch the Shindo and go Audio Note at home but I just can’t do it. There’s something in Shindo I haven’t heard anywhere else and you’ll have to bury me with this stuff.

Shindo Cortese 300B power amplifier.

MC30’s are great but my fave tube McIntosh I ever owned was the 225 by a long shot. It’s one of the only things I’ve sold that I occasionally miss, but I visit it every once in a while because it’s in James Mangold’s office on the FOX lot…haha. If you DO go MC30’s, a big thumbs up for Yves work at Vintage Vacuum. he did my old 225 and 30’s.I love my (Altec) 604’s and will always keep them around, but they really lack in the low end department which (as you know), the 0/96’s just CRUSH.

Check back next week for Part Two of my interview with Zach and listen in then to our podcast with him.


blang11's picture

Interesting perspective on music, gear, and modern attitudes about music appreciation (for better or worse). KILLER room and HiFi!

volvic's picture

Very enjoyable!

Rafe Arnott's picture
Appreciate the good vibes
ceynon's picture

Looking forward to part two. Wonderful questions and photos (as always).

Rafe Arnott's picture
Too kind! Merci!
foresttireBB's picture

wonderful! i love this guy...can't wait for part 2...thanks for the great interview

Rafe Arnott's picture