‘I could power the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest pretty easily’: An audiophile’s Garden District home

‘I could power the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest pretty easily’: An audiophile’s Garden District home

The audio room with MBL Xtreme speakers, which look like sculptural artworks, for an optimum music experience. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

This article first appeared in The Times-Picayune. Republished with permission.

At first sight, the multiple 6-foot speakers of John Gish’s home sound system have a retro-futuristic appearance, like something out of “Star Trek.” Gish readily points out that most people have never seen the likes of such large, high-end, German-made pieces and immediately think they’ll 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 clear and enveloping that the notion is quickly dispelled. Welcome to the world of high-end audio.

“The speakers radiate sound in a 360-degree pattern like a sound stage,” Gish said. “It’s like what you would be hearing if you were hearing in person, live, with a good seat. That’s the purpose, to make it immersive.”

The audio room with MBL Xtreme speakers, which look like sculptural artworks, for an optimum music experience. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)
High-end headphones each offer a top listening experience. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

For more than 60 years, Gish, an economist by vocation and a connoisseur of electronics, acoustics and movies by avocation, 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 Theatre and are part owners of the Prytania Theatres at Canal Place, boasts the kind of top-tier audio system and movie theater rarely seen in a residential setting.

 John Gish holds a set of carbon fiber headphones in his sound room. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

There are 20,000 movies stored for viewing and 30,000 records ready for listening at the touch of an iPad. Even the couple’s 1,250-square-foot gym is wired into the elaborate system, which Gish uses daily and understands inside and out.

Gish sails through explanations of how his high-grade components work — using words like woofer, amplifier, playback and terabyte. According to the audiophile, the sound room’s speaker system takes a year to make, weighs 3,600 pounds, and comprises four speaker towers. The entire audio system uses six separate amplifiers and turns out 5,000 to 6,000 watts of power. The one-liners with which he peppers the conversation are helpful for the uninitiated.

“I could power the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest pretty easily,” he said. 

A native of New York City, Gish became enthralled with electronics at the age of 12 when his parents gave him a multiplex decoder kit to build so that he could listen to radio in FM stereo. His career as an economist (which includes executive positions with Fortune 500 companies and serving as a member of the Grace Commission during the Reagan presidency) afforded him the success to be able to indulge his passion. He reads avidly on the subject and continues to learn in a hands-on way, he said, with the help of experts like those at Uptown Audio Video.

A collection of high-end headphones sits above another collection of music. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

“It’s been a lifelong passion,” said Gish. “For the first 30 years we were together, Gayle never had a living room because I always took the largest room for the equipment.”

Today, he said, his current stable of gear, housed neatly in rooms renovated specifically to accommodate it, features enough storage to hold five times the amount of all the 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 commanding part of the sound room is the quartet of human-height speakers. The room is also home to a wall of components stacked on specially crafted built-in shelves, rotating racks with hundreds of CDs, a signed period photograph of the Beatles, RCA memorabilia featuring Nipper the dog, complete collections of Stereophile and Absolute Sound (the top magazines in the field of high-performance audio and music), and a collection of top-of-the-line headphones.

Gish enhances the content of his music library with a playback software called Roon that catalogs information, so that he can read about artists while listening to them. The software even tells you where a given artist is appearing in concert.

The cabinet custom made to house all the components for John Gish’s audio room. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

He also subscribes to music streaming services Qobuz and Tidal Masters, which offer cutting-edge, high-resolution (the best quality sound) formats. A self-professed “rock guy,” Gish said his tastes span 60 years and innumerable artists from Peter Paul & Mary to Eminem. Yet, unlike those who like the nostalgia and what some describe as the “warm” sound of vinyl, he said today’s improved digital formats are by far the superior form of sound.

Just across the hall, the intimate home theater has six comfortable seats, a 4K laser projector, an 8-foot diagonal screen, movie theater collectibles and art by George Rodrigue (there is also a second 10-foot screen in the home gym). The up-close-and-personal experience of watching the hip-hop opera “Hamilton” is akin to being front row center in 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 the movie business. In 2003, at the behest of Gayle, a New Orleans native, the Gishes bought the Prytania, which is beloved by locals but was being sold and considered for non-theater uses.

“Gayle said ‘you can’t let this happen,’” Gish said. “She is the reason we have the Prytania today.”

The custom cabinets housing the stereo are of zebra-striped wood. (photo: Jeff Strout 2022)

After buying the theater, which today is managed by Robert Brunet, following in the footsteps of his father, René Brunet, the Gishes brought in state-of-the-art technology. Currently, they are upgrading once again, as the theater was badly damaged by Hurricane Ida.

Seats, sound system, projector and all interior items harmed by the storm are being replaced. The theater, now protected in trust for future generations, was scheduled to reopen at the end of February, though Gish expects that supply chain delays, labor shortages and insurance issues will mean that the improvements will have to be introduced in phases.

He also is considering replacing one of the sound systems at Canal Place with equipment he no longer uses at home, including the 2,000-pound Martin Logan Statement speaker.

“Some people bob and weave from interest to interest, but for me, this has been lifelong,” Gish said. “It’s been tremendously rewarding. It’s provided motivation and education, and I’ve met so many interesting people.”


John Gish offered these tips on audio equipment:

1. Almost 90% of what you hear is reflected sound, so your room is always the most important component of your sound system. In general, speakers work best when placed away from the walls and corners. If you have some flexibility in speaker placement, you can dramatically improve your listening experience. 

2. Remove your speaker grills — they never help.

3. Don’t cross signal cables and AC power cords. If this is unavoidable, cross them at right angles. Do not coil excess cable. These can cause hum in your system.

4. A good starting point for speaker placement is the “rule of thirds”: Place the speakers one-third of the room’s length from the rear wall; a third of the room’s width from the side walls, with the listener forming the point of an equilateral triangle.

5. Bookshelf speakers sound better on speaker stands.

6. Wire is important — speaker cable, interface 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 inexpensively improve your system. Audiogon.com and usedcable.com are reliable sources for used equipment. Electronic components and cables benefit from a break-in period so used components may sound better than their new counterparts.

This article first appeared in The Times-Picayune. Republished with permission.

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