I Was an Expert Witness in The Quincy Jones vs. The Estate of Michael Jackson Lawsuit

2017 has been an amazing year for vinyl and an equally amazing one for AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer. He attended a Direct to Disc recording session at London's famous AIR Studios and during the same trip interviewed recording engineer Phill Brown and toured Rega Research. In a second London trip he visited SME and interviewed Pink Floyd's "The Wall" illustrator and balloon designer Gerald Scarfe. Later in the year after the Munich High End show he visited Pro-Ject's new Czech Republic factory and over the summer attended audio shows in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo. But the most exciting adventure was being an expert witness in the recently concluded Quincy Jones vs. The Estate of Michael Jackson lawsuit won by Quincy Jones.

In this video Fremer recounts the six month adventure that began with a phone call from the lead lawyer in the case, who's been reading Fremer's audio writing since his days at The Absolute Sound and ended with him taking the witness stand in the trial that took place over the summer in Los Angeles.

Fremer hatched a plan that involved bringing into the courtroom a high end audio system and teaching the jury all of the vernacular used in audio and music reviews on this site. The photo is of the court room after the trial had ended (Quincy sued for $30,000,000 and was awarded by the jury $9.4 million).

You can see one of the Wilson Sabrina speakers used in the audio demo. The speaker was not placed there for the demo. Getting permission to bring the system into the court room was not easy. The judge was skeptical but ended up allowing it. When the team from Santa Monica's The Audio Salon came to retrieve it, the judge happened to be in the court room. He said to them "Great sounding system!" And it was.

COMMENTS
whereisclayton's picture

Listening to MF tell the story, I sat on the edge of my seat like I was listening to Tom Cruise question Jack Nicholson. Brilliant!

AndreC.'s picture

... absolutly stunning video! Thanks for sharing!

Ohjoy50's picture

Great story Michael very exciting. Took a big chance not demoing the system before you played it at the court hearing but glad it sounded good. Did you fairly match levels between the two demo tracks ? So was the first track on vinyl or both tracks on digital ? Im guessing both were digital tracks. But yes once in a life time experience for sure, very cool !

Michael Fremer's picture
I proposed digitized vinyl but they preferred original CD
Daniel Emerson's picture

Fascinating to hear this story, and entertaining too.

jon9091's picture

What a great story. This was the best movie I’ve seen in a while.

fetuso's picture

That was such a great story. Mike, I've said this before, but you are such a great On-camera host. Funny and informative. I wish there was someone I could sue for ruining recorded music with dynamically crushed reissues and new releases. Such a shame. There's been a heated debate over at stereophile.com regarding MQA that completely ignores this much more destructive aspect of digital music.

vmartell's picture

I think that was the whole point of expunging Michael's testimony from the record.They realized that if it stayed it would have set precedent and then every artist, producer and engineer who's records have been ruined by these idiots could sue. And I am sure other kind of precedents that escape me right now could have been set. By expunging the testimony from the record, artists, engineers and producers suing for this will have to argue the point again. And I am sure many of those artists, engineers and producers cannot afford to hire a Century City Plaza lawyer and high caliber expert witness as Michael.

Ugh... major labels...

v

Dorian Workman's picture

Great story! I just ordered a US original Epic pressing of Bad. Can't wait to hear it!

stephsrecords's picture

as My Cousin Vinny. Thanks for sharing the tale.

anomaly7's picture

John Grisham of the Audiophile World- Michael Fremer!

grey17's picture

Great story and well told! Too bad it couldn't be kept in the legal record. I am sure the MJ estate didn't want it to impact current and future sales.

TooCooL4's picture

Nicely told Michael, you know you have condemned the members of the jury to start chasing the audiophile setup like the rest of us.

I dug out the original Bad vinyl album after watching that I have not listened to it in a while.

sdecker's picture

Your story is the fantasy many of us old-school lifelong audiophiles would love to live out:

successfully educating a dozen commoners about how well-recorded music sounds over good playback gear;

having trusted advisers set up a high-end system in a courtroom;

making verbally and clearly demonstrating a strong case against the most troubling trend in the industry, the smooshing of music's dynamics;

using your decades of listening, writing, stand-up, and lecturing as the underdog for good sound as the underpinnings for presentation in a very different environment;

correctly predicting how the commoners would hear unknown music on an unknown system;

and winning the case!

Nice!

And this is even when I thought I heard you say the source was a computer (and its sound card?)!

All the many thousands of words you've produced, written and spoken on these subjects have done you (and us) well. Congratulations.

sdecker's picture

As a follow-up question, how many hours did you spend 'educating' the jury about the terminology and specifics of playing back recorded music as well as the recording techniques used in the studio and how they're captured and reproduced? Clearly it helped that you had a well-recorded piece of music and a playback system sufficient to illustrate your lecture. More than a full day?

Even though yours was specific to this court case, I would think someone could work from your 'syllabus' to offer crash courses in why good sound matters, and the chain of events from studio to living room. Ideally taught at a brick and mortar store with a good stereo for illustration (and subsequent sales!).

bkinthebk's picture

@sdecker

Great point.

Michael, you're an evangelist, a video of this (along with the other audiophile patois used in Stereophile) could be really scalable. A glossary buried who-knows-where and without music or visuals to accompany descriptions are barely helpful.

People think a beautiful watch or a fancy car is worth the $$$ because they can see it, but we are creatures that have evolved an outsized reliance on sight. Our ears and the ear-to-brain connection is something that needs to be learned (re-learned). When i'm with my 7 mo. old daughter, i'll notice her stop what she's doing and perk up her ears -- only then do i hear the bird sitting on our front porch or the train whistle a few miles away. And i'm an "audiophile."

This is why people either "don't get it" or "scoff" re: high end audio. They often really can't tell an appreciable difference. So how does a guy in a store talk to a walk-in or a dude with a good system talk to his pals? You helped the average Joes/Janes "get it" in that court room. Give the already converted the same tools. If 2,500 people watched a youtube video of your day in court, you have to think a decent percentage would be much more likely to help others see the light. I can see a video that takes parts of good & bad recorded popular music from diff genres and says, "these are the 5 things to listen for in this type of music ... these are the 5 things to listen for in this type of music, etc. As @sdecker said ... a syllabus for a crash course. A Dummies Guide.

As an aside, why did Quincy Jones's lawyer agree to have your testimony thrown out? Your telling of the story was awesome, but that's the only part I didn't get (i'm not a lawyer). Well, that and the Darden-esque risk your lawyer took by having the jury watch the defendant try on the glove ... er ... listen to the record.

vmartell's picture

As to why the testimony was expunged, I speculated about that above - let me repeat, because I am curious if everyone else thinks (including Michael) suspects or agrees that makes sense. If the testimony was left in the record, it would have set a precedent for artists/engineers/producers whose records were ruined in subsequent remasters, making it easier to sue. With the testimony out and not on record along with the decision, artists/engineers/producers have to argue the point again. And that would be more expensive than with a precedent to support the argument... therefore to the benefit of the idiots at the major labels (who I think are the most guilty - allegedly - of ruining records)

v

nagysaudio's picture

Even though it's digital, it's probably the best sounding line of amplifiers of all time. It really is a revolution!

abelb1's picture

Thoroughly enjoyed the story. Thanks Mike!

John G's picture

What a great story for a movie!

airdronian's picture

Great story. Since you were well paid I think you should treat yourself to a new cartridge.

Mile High Music's picture

A wonderful music story told very well. Very nformative and entertaining too! Thank you!

richiep's picture

how else would the dinner hour story end, suspense and controversy from the digital domain?

Wimbo's picture

respect for decades Michael.
Once again, respect to you.

Superfuzz's picture

Best story I've read on this site all year. Congrats!

Chemguy's picture

You acquitted yourself well, Michael...in a sense, for all of us analogue people!

jrhud's picture

Congratulations!

SeagoatLeo's picture

I told my wife who loves law and order type shows that this is what I did as an expert witness in commercial property trials as an expert witness. She thought your story was captivating. She passes whenever I mention one of your great manufacturer tours. I am also a phonophile with more than 37,000 LPs/78s as well as an audiophile so I really enjoyed hearing that you were permitted an actual audio demonstration and teaching lesson to the jury. Just great! Hopefully, you'll be called upon again. It is financially rewarding to be called as an expert witness. I would have had great trepidation though about using an unheard system for trial.

myheroiscoltrane's picture

It would be really interesting to follow up with your friends at the stereo shop in Santa Monica to see if any of the jury or defense lawyers dropped by to purchase any equipment...

scirica's picture

You certainly have a flair for the dramatic, and kept me watching to the last frame! So glad the imaging worked out given the crappy placement and suboptimal room. That could have been a disaster!

JohnnyCanuck's picture

Great story, Michael. I enjoyed it immensely.

JohnG's picture

A great yarn, very well told. It's great that you could educate even a few people about how music can and should sound.

fredbro44's picture

What a great story. The jury went out to buy that sound system. Like your lawyer said, they will never forget the sound!

arquint's picture

This 20 minutes of 200-proof, unadulterated Fremer capsulizes why Michael is among the very best public faces this hobby has ever had. He reflects the obsessiveness, single-mindedness, and passion we all recognize in ourselves, yet a civilian tuning in never has any doubt that this isn't just another instance of male techno-nerdiness, that it's all in the service of music. As a writer, I am in awe of MF's ability that so few have — Alex Ross is one on the classical music side — which is to manage to speak at once to listeners/readers at all levels of sophistication, interest and experience, and to be engaging and entertaining to all.

Rudy's picture

It was interesting to hear this account and how it played out in the courtroom. In hindsight, actually hearing the original versus the poor quality later release was the only thing that really could have driven the point home. (As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.) Excellent!

And I agree with others here that a similar presentation, with all of the terminology and musical samples demonstrating the points, would be a fantastic educational tool.

When it was first released, I did not follow the technical details on how Bad was recorded, so it was interesting to learn that they used a Blumlein pair for recording the voices. I haven't played the album in years--it's time I give it another listen.

DangerousKitchen's picture

I remember reading a story about Michael sitting with Quincy as they played back (I think it was Thriller) the album on vinyl for the first time and Michael cried as the record fidelity got crushed near the inner grooves. Might have been a test pressing. This story appeared in the Beatleology magazine, the issue featuring the butcher cover. I think it was Q's story. Do you know if it was ever recut?

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