Real Cavemen Need HD, cable, amps

2013-01-20T00:01:00Z 2014-08-20T09:59:56Z Real Cavemen Need HD, cable, ampsDan Sorenson Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

"Man cave" is a relatively new name for an old concept. Then again, "garage," "workshop" and "den" just don't fully describe some of the latest takes on the modern version of these mainly male domains.

Kenny Hansen is a fireman with the Tucson Fire Department, and like many of his cohorts, he has a side job as a remodeler and small project builder. His off-duty skills have come in handy for converting what was a 750-square foot garage and storage space at one end of his and wife Angela's Northwest-side ranch-style home.

It was Angela's use of the garage, more than his, that got the project rolling. "Angela would come out here to work out," Kenny said. "It was hot, so I put in a ceiling fan. Then a swamp cooler. Then the wall furnace."

Soon it was a drywall job with wide, rounded corner bead to give it the look of thick adobe walls, a partition between the double-bay garage space and a cozy side room. The side room has a desk, an overstuffed leather chair and ottoman, an electric fireplace with fake flames but a real buffalo head mounted above, and - best of all, says Kenny - his own bathroom. "I don't think I've been in another bathroom in the house since I built this."

The adjacent space still sometimes serves as shelter for Angela's Mercedes and Kenny's modified golf cart, with raised suspension, two reupholstered bench seats, and a more powerful two-cylinder snowmobile engine.

But a big expanse of indoor-outdoor carpeting allows the space to work as both garage and man cave. The room is dominated by a 60-inch, rear projection TV, comfortable couch, a well-stocked double-door black refrigerator with a giant model fire engine in a display case on top. There are trophies, a computer desk, modern western art prints on the wall, and a gun safe bolted to the slab.

"I sit in here watching football," Kenny says, "and pour myself a Crown and water."

•••

Frank Alles' didn't settle for a one-room man cave. He has high-fidelity audio gear spread out over two rooms in his well-secured Tucson home.

The mission is both work and pleasure, says the Stereo Times magazine senior editor. But he says love of music "is my real motivation." And music sounds better on great gear.

He demonstrates. Park in the middle of the living room couch, shut your eyes and his system - some borrowed test gear he's writing about and some of his favorite personal gear - puts actor-musician-singer Hugh Laurie's voice and piano dead center between a 5-foot 6-inch tall pair of VMPS Ribbon Monitors. And as the "House" star's CD spins further into the cut, the areas to the left and right are filled with top-notch New Orleans musicians.

Alles insists there are subtle, and some not-so-subtle, differences in the sound when he substitutes different components - amps, pre-amps, turntables and cartridges that cost as much as a new car, even connecting cables. Hooking an iPod up to a boom box or some other audio gadget just wouldn't do it for this audiophile and music lover.

A room is always a factor in the sound, Alles says, and this is a good one, acoustically. The high ceilings and carpeted floors in the home allow for a reasonable sound level that lets the powerful amplifier and big speakers flex their muscles without being oppressive. A mysteriously simple-looking silver box called a Lyngdorf Room Perfect also helps, adjusting the sound to compensate for the audio color of the components and room and seating position.

But Alles' prime listening cave is upstairs in a smaller room dedicated solely to audio.

The first thing you see is a pair of Tekton Design floor speakers, the drivers bared and set in cabinets made of wildly figured bubinga wood.

Alles says they sound "magnificent with tubes," meaning glowing vacuum tube-powered components rather than solid state pre-amps and amplifiers. It's hard to argue when he puts on one of Johnny Cash's recordings with just the late country singer-songwriter's weathered voice and an acoustic guitar. It's not the kind of music that would typically be used to show off high-end audio gear, but the warmth of the recording comes through as if The Man in Black was right there sitting on a stool with his guitar.

It's here that Alles does a lot of his evaluation work, though it's tough to think of it as hard labor.

He substitutes pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers, cables, CD players and turntables and speaker systems and notes the differences they make while listening. He has an old pair of Magneapan speakers, massive flat towers that were the audio rage years ago, that he says still sound good. But now, Alles says he keeps them here more for the acoustic effect they have on the room while other, more modern, speakers are in use.

Sometimes the listening work gets down to intangibles, listening for the slight difference in sound made by putting a turntable on a special vibration isolating platform, or using insulating cables to connect a component to a pre-amplifier.

Work or pleasure, it's Alles' audio paradise.

•••

Peter Levine's take on the man cave combines work - he's a civilian Department of Navy electrical engineer who occasionally works from home - and pleasure _ he's an avid motorcyclist and owns a number of Italian road bikes.

The perimeter walls of the building he designed and had constructed to meet those needs a few years ago are of Rastra, a combination of foam block and concrete with a high insulation value.

The foot-thick walls work so well that the building takes very little energy to heat and cool.

In one corner of the 30- by 25-foot building he framed up an 8- by 9-foot office space where he holes up in an ergonomically perfect Aeron chair in front of a 6-foot roll-top oak desk, at least when he's in work mode.

The whole place is wired for phone and fast Internet access with Cat 6 ethernet cable.

The big room can accommodate his and wife Maryellen's motorcycles, as well as at least one car, and still have plenty of room to work in the shop.

The shop area's centerpiece is a massive (about a ton) green, Bridgeport milling machine - a device that, in theory and in the hands of a master machinist, could replicate itself. Nearby are a metal lathe, drill press, welding rig and plenty of other power and hand tools for metal work. Levine said he mainly uses the shop to fabricate or modify parts for his motorcycles.

The building has a 200-amp service including two 220-volt circuits for the big machinery and regular 120-volt outlets every place imaginable.

The space still functions as a garage, sometimes for the couple's four-wheelers, but mainly for the motorcycles. The "his" bikes are MotoGuzzis - two modern dual-purpose bikes and a 1979s G5 road bike with a sidecar. The "hers" bike is a red Ducati GT1000.

His latest improvement to the space isn't another motorcycle or more machinery, but a pair of old school JBL speakers that are big enough to rock the cave. And, thanks to the building's dense Rastra walls, he should be able to crank up the sound without bothering the neighbors.

One of those neighbors, by the way, is wife Maryellen, who has her own space just a few steps away from Peter's. It's another large, freestanding building, but dedicated to her cabinet and carpentry, with a large table saw, drill press, joiner and more. You could call it a "woman cave."

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