Channa Vithana / The audiophile heroes – and villains

A point of view

Heroes – and Villains

The majority of people I have met and encountered so far in this hi-fi industry (manufacturers, PR people, retailers & dealers, journalists, customers and readers) are really nice individuals. There is however a small minority of ‘villains’ who can spoil our enjoyment, and for obvious legal reasons I cannot mention their names.

These villainous folks are crippled with paranoia and run their affairs exhibiting symptoms of massive inferiority-complexes inclusive of fear, gross ignorance, rank amateurism and a level of delusional grandeur that would make even a genuine emperor like Napoleon turn in his grave when observing such a load of overambitious underachievers. You can easily spot a ‘grand delusionalist’ because they have to shout the loudest while knowing the least; they are the cancerous know-it-all ‘London Taxi Drivers’ of the industry.

Unfortunately some hi-fi magazine readers …

and hi-fi customers are unwitting victims of this carcinogenic fallout. I recently talked to a hi-fi marketing friend and asked him why do some readers and customers feel so bitter when they read about their newly purchased products only getting four globes instead of five, or only 77% instead of 93%? I added that if I bought a hi-fi component, it doesn’t matter what others say because if I really liked something, then peer-pressure validation is immaterial.

My marketing friend said that this is because as a reviewer I have greater access to products than most people. This is of course true, but after a little consideration I realised that I had the same attitude before I was a reviewer; and with one exception, I sensibly used reviews only as a guide, and like most of us purchased simply after listening. In fact if an interesting review didn’t carry the maximum five stars or A+ grading, but if it was properly informative and not full of pointlessly political b/s, I would usually be intrigued to check it out regardless.

To the readers and customers …

however angry and including the ones that hate me - with your various experiences (through letter, websites or if I casually eavesdrop); you are mostly really good people compared to the minority of rampantly overbearing EGOS that pervade the inner machinery of the hi-fi industry. To use a cliché, ‘if only you knew what I knew’ then your perception of ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ would be the actual opposite. That’s enough of my villainy for now and time for a few heroes...

In future posts, I will …

expand on really great people in the industry, and without any order of preference. For this one I shall look briefly on three individuals who I know qualify as heroic personas and even more so because they would be the first to dispel the very notion of hero status I place upon them.

“Twenty Years Of Moving Sound And Vision”

Nigel Finn from The Chord Company is someone I could literally talk to for hours about music…if we both had the chance that is. Nigel has turned me onto some wonderful new musical delights such as Explosions In The Sky and lately we have been discussing at length the esoteric charms of Scott Walker’s three recent solo records – which I hope to do for a future post. He is the main designer at The Chord Company and also a bass playing musician.

A tall, very personable character, Nigel is totally at ease and is able to discuss almost anything, including any form of music that might be of interest. He is not someone who is a pushover either, so don’t assume this incorrectly by way of his sociability. Like anyone who is consistently successful in the hi-fi industry (a very difficult task), Nigel has the highest standards of quality and performance and absolutely will not stop until he feels the product has reached the aims set out, and is also well priced - which is an incredibly difficult set of criteria to achieve.

I have been to see Nigel a few times now at Chord Company HQ and it is a good excuse to talk about music as well as the discipline of learning and testing myself with a different system (and some of their advanced prototypes) in their reference listening room. It is a first-class exercise to do actually and I discover a lot from it.

The hi-fi cable industry is one that is rife with overpriced, glossily-packaged ‘crap’. Nigel is absolutely not a ‘voodoo preacher’. Rather he is serious but soulful member of a successful and value-driven company and his deep love of music makes him as easy to like, as he is to be respected. You can go to www.chord.co.uk for more details.

“Life Is Too Short For Boring Hi-Fi”

Thomas Sillesen, the Danish ‘Head Honcho’ of Densen is someone who I share a lot of musical tastes with, and like Nigel, I can talk with him at length about music. Whenever we have met or talked on the phone, our conversations invariably turn away from hi-fi very quickly into music. He is a wonderful character, one that is self-effacing about his products but who fearlessly demonstrates his philosophy of more ‘music’ and less ‘hi-fi’ against often much costlier components.

He has a cunning and brilliant sense of humour as well. I was told a story about Thomas when he spotted a very famous amplifier designer at a hi-fi show in America, he went up to him and introduced himself and then proceeded to say that this guy’s company made the very best amplifiers in the world (then short pause)….after Densen!

Apparently this ‘mighty’ amplifier designer - who was expecting the usual adulation but instead, was now on the receiving end of an amazing hit-and-run by Thomas apparently went white as a sheet with rage and Thomas had to be hastily ushered away by a sniggering friend. Joking aside, Thomas has a great eye for visual design as well as superb ears for voicing his products - and doesn’t need to make ridiculous boasts about Densen, unlike some hi-fi companies. Have a look at www.densen.com as there is a wealth of design philosophies.

“The Link Between Technique And Emotion”

I recently attended the London Park Inn Hi-Fi Show. I met up with my friend, and finest digital journalist, Patrick Cleasby. As we were walking in the lobby area, I noticed a certain Mr. A. J. Van den Hul. I went up to him and introduced myself and even though we were strangers, he greeted me with the warmest smile and a steady handshake. He then asked me who my assistant (Patrick) was (!) and we all started laughing.

Much later around midnight, some of us were talking in the bar when A. J walked over and started a wonderful conversation about Buddhism and eastern philosophy. I asked A. J what kind of music he liked and he said mainly classical. Usually when I meet someone who likes classical I ask them two questions: (1) “do you like Ligeti?” and (2) “do you like Stockhausen”. These questions, to those whose classical experience goes beyond Nigel Kennedy, typically generate howls of derision, hatred and condescending finger-wagging - but with A. J he said the most interesting things in reply.

Firstly that he didn’t like Ligeti, not because he thought he was rubbish, but rather something along the lines that Ligeti’s music was very unhappily constructed and composed for unhappy people, with a lot of darkness and that he didn’t believe this to be beneficial and secondly, interestingly, that he rather liked Stockhausen’s early work but not the latter stuff.

This was great to hear as I think he could work out that I rather liked these two infamous composers and instead of being aghast, he gave thoughtful, intelligent answers at greater length, depth and perception than I can remember to mentioned here. As we talked further about music, Van den Hul turntable oil and the positive benefits of carbon (!), I sincerely got the impression that A. J was an ebullient, highly intellectual person without a hint of ego for a being of his experience and stature in this industry. And consequently he is truly at one with himself, fully confident in his ability to not have to shout about it. A click towards www.vandenhul.com will reveal more.

Nigel, Thomas and A. J are three completely different characters linked, in my opinion, by being extremely friendly and nice people who are deeply ingrained with experience and hugely talented but without the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth egotism of some individuals in the hi-fi industry.

And finally, they all love music of course - which may sound obvious, but not all hi-fi manufactures still listen to music, let alone have the ability to hear it.

I will post again in the future in a continuing series on Heroes & Villains.

CV 29th September 2006.


CV writes regular and extensively for Hi-Fi World. Check it out HERE