Newsletter #02

This is the August 06 newsletter. You didn’t miss the July 06 issue - because there wasn’t one. There should have been – but I didn’t quite get around to it.

Recent music in VERY heavy rotation here in the past few weeks include:

Nils Lofgren: “Acoustic Live” (and not just for the plaintive ‘Keith don’t go’ either! Do try to get to hear the track ‘Black Books’)

Jan Garbarek: “Officium”

Jan Garbarek: “In Praise of Dreams”

Joni Mitchel: “Hejira” – primarily for the extraordinary Jaco the bass player (same as last month)

JS Bach: “Transcriptions of Concertos after Vivaldi and others” – Ivo Janssen (same as last month)

Supertramp: “Crime of The Century” (Okay okay, I'm on a nostalgia trip. But the sheer wonder of the performances, the extraordinary musicianship and the wit and intelligence of the lyrics still set this way ahead of most of their peers)

The Byrds: “Fifth Dimension” (see above)

Iain Mathews: “Sparkle”

Elgar Violin Concerto: “Hilary Hahn.” (Same as last month)

The Silos: “Hasta La Victoria!”

Joseph Haydn – The Last Piano Sonatas: Glen Gould.

Arne Domnerus: “Antiphone Blues” (grateful thanks to Robin Tausig for this one)

ELP: “Emerson Lake & Palmer.” (I’ve no taken leave of my senses. A prog rock revival is due any day now. No seriously!)

Bootlegs:

I'm not endorsing the practice. I'm just telling you what I’ve come across and I'm listening to!

Suzanne Vega: “Little Big Woman”. The live version of Tom’s Dinner is a killer. It really is.

Richard Thompson “Live at the Union Chapel, Islington”

This month’s “brought a tear to my jaded eye” award are split between:

Richard Thompson & Christine Collister: “Here without you” from the ‘More Guitar’ CD

The Jayhawks: “I’d Run away” from their superb ‘Tomorrow The Green Grass” (no change from last month)

Barb Jungr’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel” off the magnificent, stark, compelling and highly accomplished ‘Love Me Tender’ (no change from last month)

I tried – and I failed

I just couldn’t get on with these:

Jacques Loussier: “The Very Best of Play Bach”

John Eddie: “Who The Hell Is John Eddie?”

The John Doe Thing “Freedom Is”

So here’s the deal folks ….

I will to swap any of the above for ANY rock or Blues CD!

The only conditions are that the CD you wish to swap must be unmarked, an original i.e. not a CD-R. and with the insert and jewel case in good condition.

Please email at info@simplystax.co.uk with what you have to swap.

You send me yours and I’ll send you mine. A done deal. No comebacks in either direction.

This will now be a regular feature on the blog. Take a look HERE and then bookmark it if you feel inclined

Christopher Breunig, this blog and Rudolph Kempe (who regretfully isn’t writing for the blog):

CB will shortly be writing for the blog. This is terrific news for anyone interested in informed commentary on classic music.

Read more HERE

Hi-Fi News – opinions differ.

Like so many of us, I’ve been reading Hi-Fi News for years now. I no longer advertise with them, but I do read it – or rather I read the bits that interest me. Sadly, I'm finding fewer of those bits these days. It’s a tough commercial world out there and magazines have no time for sentiment, nostalgia or indeed overt risk taking. Fair enough I suppose, given the apparently static readership in general and arguably an oversupply of written material too for UK audiophiles. There’s only so much news to go around and given how thin it’s being spread through all the magazines, it’s not surprising that the release of yet another new mains fuse or seventeenth upgrade to a ‘venerable’ integrated amplifier is hailed as being just south to the second coming.

I like the new layout of Hi-Fi News. I think it’s an overdue and bold attempt to look modern. Or at least look like it’s keeping up with the others. Opinions vary though – as you’d expect. Some feel it looks too much like Hi-Fi Choice and some feel that the revised editorial policy seems to be driving the publication downmarket in terms of the intellectual rigour of the articles. More on this in a moment.

What does sadden me is that the space devoted to music as distinct from hardware is declining. Compare an issue from say 18 months ago and the most recent one. Less and less space is devoted to music. Clearly not accidental. I wonder what the game plan is? Is there a prevailing view that Hi-Fi News can’t properly cover music, or is it that it just isn’t profitable? Possibly the latter.

Have you ever noticed the curious fact that music labels never advertise in Hi-Fi News? I’ve looked through many past issues and can’t find even one example. I don’t think this can be accidental.

Possibly then, ‘the suits’ who squat behind the magazine have taken the view that accelerating profitability is the order of the day and that as record labels cannot/will not advertise then there is little reason – other than sentiment and nostalgia – to continue to devote unprofitable editorial pages to music. This is all speculation of course. I had hoped, for nothing more than curiosity and interest, to discuss this face-to-face with the new editor Steve Fairclough. However despite phone calls to his voice mail and emails too, as yet nothing has transpired.

At the end of the day though, does any of this matter re Hi-Fi News? In isolation, I suppose not. Maybe in its determined quest to establish a new identity, it will happily shed its ‘traditional’ readership – sometimes cynically described as ‘QUAD owners’ and/or ‘the pipe and slippers brigade’ and might prove a profitable alternative to What Hi-Fi and Hi-Fi Choice. Part of me says to myself “well, that’s evolution. The past is gone” – but I still have hundreds of past copies and I do refer to them from time to time.

Another observation is regarding the extraordinary amount of writing that Ken Kessler is doing for Hi-Fi News. To me he seems right now to be the mainstay of the equipment reviewing section. Not an unpleasant task, but hardly a lucrative one. I know this from experience as an occasional writer for Hi-Fi News . Apart from Ken’s monthly column for this blog, he writes extensively and knowledgably about watches and fountain pens for magazines who have a production quality and readership that puts our audiophile press in the shade. Over lunch I’ve often asked Ken why he continues re his audio writing given the poor word rate.

Depending on his mood, the answers will vary. However hacking through his exhortations and powerfully presented irritations, it remains clear to me that above all, KK loves MUSIC. Moreover he has an innate appreciation of the audio tools that allow all of us to hear music in our homes.

He and I share a child-like wonder of the sheer ingenuity that allows us and people like us to hear music in the home.

Ken Kessler of course has his detractors – and some of them are unbelievably spiteful too. Fortunately he seems to thrive on this. For my part, I find (or will this now devolve to found?) his writing on music to be incisive, cogent, entreating and invaluable. If editor Fairclough is reading this, I urge you to seriously reconsider the decline in music reviews in general and what seems to be the marginalisation of Ken Kessler in this respect. You might be surprised at just how many readers, irrespective of their views of Ken Kessler felt that his contributions to the music pages were a primary reason for buying the mag.

So, according to many of my readers and certainly colleague retailers and suppliers, the jury is still out regarding the changes at Hi-Fi News. For my part, I’ll make one prediction. I think we’ll notice a progressive reduction in the number of features that require readers to think beyond the superficial. Not so long ago, I used to read and more importantly try to understand some of the more technical articles. Those written by Keith Howard for example. Frankly, I only intermittently understood them. And even then, only partly. Nevertheless I persisted. Possibly I was a little better informed afterwards. I do know that some of my customers truly grasped what was being said there, and others not.

The point is this though. It’s my belief that magazines in all hobby areas should to some extent educate those like me who want to confound their ignorance. I'm informed by the magazines I buy on digital photography, on cars, on self-build housing and so on. Hi-Fi+ preaches to it’s audience and to me it just a tad condescending and a touch too patronising for my taste. HF Choice tries to educate. What Hi-Fi? Makes a reasonable attempt, but to me seems more preoccupied by boys-toys and defending its position as the ‘lads mag’ of the entertainment world. Which leaves Hi-Fi World.

If you care to take a look, you’ll notice how quietly and without fuss or bravado, editor Price and his colleagues are offering education to those that want it. A recent feature on the technology, the pros and the cons of Class “A” amplification design being a case in point. Currently I can’t see Hi-Fi News being remotely interested in offering that type of service.

Valve upgrades to STAX energisers

Overview:

During July 18 I heard the outcome of a long-term experiment re upgraded valves for the 006t and by implication for the 007t which shares the same valves. The outcome was extraordinary.

Details:

To cut a long story short, these are pairs of very carefully selected valves (Philips 6FQ7) which are matched for balance and batch-selected for minimum distortion and minimum noise. The pins are gold plated. The tubes are cryogenically treated. These are new old stock.

What you can expect to hear:

The improvement in speed, bass depth and tightness and ambience is astonishing. I kid you not in that an 006t modified in this way through 404 earspeakers sounded almost as good as my 007t with standard valves. I’m very keen to hear this effect on the 007t. it may well be that I will offer this on 006t II and 007t II models at some point if there is sufficient availability.

The upgrade is very significant. However an 006t so modified cannot (on initial listening) quite equal the dynamics of a 717. This is the essential difference between tubes and Class “A”. Nevertheless, based on that audition, I reiterate that a modified 006t is almost as good as an unmodified 007t.

This is not a DIY job!

The improvement is partly because the tubes are carefully biased via new equipment recently purchased by the UK STAX service agent

Costs:

On the face of it, the upgrades seem quite modest in cost, taking into account shipping from owner to UK and return. No clear figures yet though but I envisage under £200 for the 006t upgrade and under £300 for the 007 upgrade. When prices are confirmed, I’ll post them on the blog.

Availability:

The UK service agent has only been able to locate 50 pairs of these valves which will be shared between the 006t (2 valves per unit) and 007t (4 valves per unit). He is of course searching for more.

The procedure – once prices are confirmed:

1. You contact me with details of the STAX energiser you wish to have upgraded

2. I quote you a price to include the full upgrade plus return carriage to you.

3. If you agree, then after I receive payment I send you the mailing address of the UK STAX engineer.

4. At your expense you send by Royal Mail insured delivery your STAX item and after the work is carried out, the unit is returned to you. Anticipated time away from you including carriage is around 10 working days.

Notes:

STAX energisers should only be returned to the STAX engineer in their original packaging. If you don’t have this packaging I can supply replacement packaging at modest cost.

Equipment the horizon #1

During the past couple of years I’ve been listening on an off to various prototype loudspeakers built in north London. The most interesting point, other than the very engaging and wonderfully tuneful sounds are that all the bass and midrange drivers are in dipole configuration – which means in simple terms that one of the pair faces forward and the other one rearwards. The rears of both drivers in a pair are coupled together in a highly innovative way.

A consequence of this that the cabinet requires no damping and so can be built of an ultra lightweight material never previously used in loudspeaker design. The entire construction is in comparison to monsters currently available elsewhere, easily moveable. Anyway over the years the makers have experimented with some intriguing prototypes. Some using 16 drivers per cabinet, others using just two and most recently one using a ribbon tweeter.

All the prototypes, baring this very latest one were purchased by amazed and delighted music lovers around the UK. This was done through word-of-mouth i.e. with zero advertising and no reviews.

Anyway, I'm going to try a pair here. I’ll be auditioning the ribbon version. On first hearing at the maker’s listening room, these were the most musically satisfying loudspeakers under £4k I’ve heard to date.

Believe it or not, the trading name might well become Certayn Bummerville. I kid you not. The final spelling has yet to be determined. I’ll be posting my next set of thoughts on this blog in due course.

Equipment on the horizon #2

I’ve seen a new tonearm which uses an innovative damping system and with a headshell design so brilliant that I wonder why no-one has ever thought of it before. Patents pending. It should retail at under £900.

Equipment the horizon #3

I'm in the final stages of negotiation with a very successful UK maker of amplification, tuners and digital sources – heading up by a charismatic and yet controversial owner. Clearly not Arcam then! Once I know, I’ll post on the blog.

A few changes at Listen Carefully #1

The loudspeakers mentioned previously were designed and voiced using LFD amplification. A number of my friends use LFD and to date I have not been successful in selling against it – such is the musicality of it. For these two reasons, I'm now an LFD specialist retailer – or I will be once my demonstration stock arrives.

A few changes at Listen Carefully #2

I’ve been an enthusiast of active loudspeakers since 1976. I sold serious quantities of Meridian ones from 1976 to 1988 and I was for a while at Subjective Audio the largest domestic retailer of ATC SA50 and SA100 models. I still use my Meridian M1 actives with a modified 101b preamp.

However since Listen Carefully started one year ago (simply STAX started 2 years ago) I’ve not had any actives to sell. I do now though.

I have on demonstration a remarkable tiny cube active loudspeaker built from 10mm thick solid aluminium plates. The 2 way system has dual concentric drivers. The sound has to be heard to be believed. An active sub-woofer to partner it is in the final stages of development. These were originally designed as state-of-the-art lightweight location monitors for BBC use. The makers, to my astonishment, have selected me as their exclusive UK retailer. Price is well under £900 inc vat per pair

From the same maker, I have their conventionally sized domestic monitor too. the presentation in terms of spaciousness truly is astonishing. The ability to portray music information in the correct height dimension is amazing. These also demand a thorough audition. Just phone me on 0208 447 8485.

Blog metrics.

The blog is just one month old. The first week attracted a few hundred visitors. The subsequent three weeks have attracted an average of 1,466 per week. I find it interesting to monitor which postings attract the most readers. Accordingly the blog contents are going to evolve to reflect the primary interests of visitors.

That’s it for now. I'm pretty sure I missed something out here, but it’ll have to wait. Yawn.

Bye for now.

Howard.

E&OE