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Jimmy Lam of Audio Land hosted an enjoyable show on Saturday 24 July

 



Jimmy Lam of Audio Land hosted an enjoyable show on Saturday 24 July. More than sixty people attended, and the quality of sound reproduction, by any standard (i.e. even notoriously difficult show conditions!) was fabulous.

The equipment list was :-

Show 1

Loth-X Troubadour speaker

Loth-X JI-300 integrated amplifier

Loth-X speaker cable and interconnect

Audio Research CD3 Mark II CD player

Show 2

Kondo M77 pre-amplifier

Kondo ONGAKU 211 integrated amplifier

Kondo KSL-SFz step up transformer

Kondo IO-j cartridge

Kondo speaker cable and interconnect

DPS turntable

Ikeda tonearm

ANTI-HI FI, THE OLD FASHIONED HORN

 
As promised, I am going to write this month enthusiastically about just how good horn speakers can sound, but before I do let me recommend a new singing artist. The artist in question is called Jolie Holland, and I am delighted to be able to recommend her work. It is frankly so rare nowadays for me to find a new artist that lights up my candle. Too many "modern" artists seem to reflect modern life, that is they serve up an instant and disposable pallet of music, delivered without much character. Happily, Jolie Holland is not in that category at all and her new album (unfortunately only on CD format) is just wonderful. It is entitled "Escondida" and is a delicious blend of folk and country with overlays of blues. It is simply and delightfully delivered, and the lyrics (underneath the thick southern drawl) are always interesting. I have been playing the CD all week again and again, in a way that I have not replayed a "record" since my youth. I recommend you go out immediately and purchase this piece of music.

Now, back to the question of audio equipment and the issue of how to make Jolie Holland, and others, sound as good as possible in the home.
Last week I spoke of my dismay at the concept of "audio cinema", and the whole concept of audiophiles and their love for Hi Fi.

I would like to share some ideas which have helped me enjoy music in the home. I have discovered over the last few years that music played using SET amplification (and preferably records rather than CDs) allows for a much more satisfying listening experience. I discovered this after selling my last solid-state system some years ago and since then I have never really been able to enjoy music so much if played using a transistorised amplifier. It sounds cold and electronic to me.

Of course, I have heard SET equipment which simply does not do a very good job at reproducing music as well, and so was with everything in life, careful selection of the best of its kind is important.

I have had to find speakers with high sensitivity to be able to use SET amplification to good effect. Obviously, the low power SET amplifier requires a speaker with sensitivity. The problem of finding such a speaker has led to many hours (if not years) of trying and discarding unsuitable speakers. There are a few good high efficient reflex box speakers out there, but not many, and of course the very best are expensive. About 5 years ago, I first started experimenting with horns, and, ironically, the trick to a good horn speaker seems to be to make it sound not too "horny"! In other words, a "bad" horn can shout, but set up right it will not. Instead a good horn speaker has an uncanny capability of capturing the flow and the rhythm of the music ... and the very best horns can deliver pure music magic!
For my taste a really well set up horn speaker can deliver the music more realistically than a box reflex speaker, and, as a bonus, very often the cost is much lower than a better "box" speaker.

Recently I have been using a pair of Lowther based horns with a retail value of about HK$30,000. I can say, hand on heart, that I very much prefer them over speakers that would set me back many times that amount. So for those of you who enjoy listening to music with low power SET amplification (or those of you who would like to try) do not despair, go out and find a reputable retailer who has good horn speakers and the results can be wonderful. By the way, I do think that the use of horn speakers requires very careful component matching, more so than with an "ordinary" system. I think this is something to do with the extraordinary transparency and speed of a good horn speaker, which shows up every nuance and requires the electronics and cables to be "spot on" with regard to matching.
There are obviously many different types of horn speakers out there, many of them vintage, and do not be put off because they are not using "brand new technology". Some of these old horn speakers, to my ear at least, can be immensely satisfying.

At the moment I am using a 1965 Lowther PM2A drive unit and I find it wonderful. I have also previously used the Living Voice, Airscouts, and they were enormous fun. An interesting company specialising in horn speakers is Loth-X and they have a new enclosure called the Grandeur. I have not heard the Grandeur yet, and when I do will report, but I like the company, and those of you interested in researching horn speakers should check them out.
The article that I wrote last month examined the idea of categories of hobbyists. I suggested that audiophiles, who listen to Hi Fi are a breed of listener often has little interest in the music but is more interested in the equipment and sound effects that the equipment can produce. Some of you may wonder what category you fall into; are you a genuine music enthusiast or are you more of an audiophile who just loves "Hi Fi"?

Somebody asked me the other day how to determine which category a person falls into! A simple test I suggest is this; if you spend most of your time listening to spectacular drum recordings, and demonstrate your system to your friends by playing these recordings, you are probably an audiophile who enjoys Hi Fi. That is you enjoy the sound effects rather than the music. However, if your friends come round and you listen to either your or your friend's favourite music, you are probably a music lover.

The "trouble" with being a pure audiophile is that the hobby can be extremely frustrating! It entails a never-ending search for "perfect equipment" and because it is never ending, frustration can often be the result. For those of you on the audiophile never ending road I suggest it worthwhile you trying out a horn speakers with a good SET amplifier, it may be the start of some sort of audio relief! SET and horns are not typical audiophile products, but I do believe, done right, they can deliver music free of electronic haze and processed sounding highs and lows, and can make listening to music fun again.

Say No to Hi Fi!

 

When I was asked to write an article, by Jimmy, I gave some thoughts to the theme. As it is possible that I shall be asked to write this article monthly for a while, I thought I had better start by explaining my overall philosophy on this hobby of ours, which involves enjoying music and enjoying audio equipment as well.

First of all, let me get off my chest one or two pet hates! I really dislike the expressions "audiophiles" and "Hi Fi" and I will only use these terms in a pejorative way. I know they are used frequently in "our hobby" but I dislike the expressions, and I will explain why :

I believe that music is really important, and I believe that in the last 20 years or so the way in which music is reproduced in the home has been responsible for a lot of people being "turned off". Of course, there is a lot of competition from all sorts of other home entertainment nowadays, computers, play stations, surround sound DVDs, etc., and have taken their toll on two channel audio. However, some of the awful "Hi Fi" equipment available coupled with the mostly American "visual" approach to music has created "audiophiles". Instead of music lovers, and the very meaning of Hi Fi spells trouble to my mind. Hi Fi is created by manufacturers who are more interested in "effect" than the music and audiophiles are the users of such equipment. Again, there are people more interested in "effect" than the music, epitomized by an exaggerated appreciations and endless discussions of the highs, base response sound staging etc.

Let me elaborate, I do believe that there is a North American philosophy which is not shared universally, and I think the way in which the American audio (Hi Fi) magazines talk about the reproduction of music can create a problem and a kind of audio neurosis in the readers' mind. It was these magazines that created the idea of "visual images" when talking about music. The awful "sound stage" concept has become paramount; if you can create a sound stage, the battle is won! I beg to disagree! Now I am not suggesting that some sort of visual impression of a performer on stage or in the studio is not quite fun; however, to make it the big deal that some magazines have made it, has been a disservice to the cause of better music. Sound staging has outstripped the importance of correct tonal balance, and timber reproduction, and a sense of energy and life which is what is surely to essence of good music. Hi Fi equipment, salesmen and magazines have become responsible for engendering a sterile exercise in trying to pinpoint musicians' position, to recreate them visually, even to the point where, I understand incredibly, some listeners are concerned about the size of a musician, or the size of the singer's mouth!!

Frankly, I think most systems were more fun (I will avoid the word "better") in the 1950's. This was at the time before some magazines had pushed the idea of "visual audio" and valve equipment still ruled the roost, little cold transistors were still not utilized for the reproduction of music. In the old days, people used to turn on a piece of music, enjoy the performance and enjoy a nice big rich juicy sound.

So what I believe magazines (like this one) should be trying to engender is a sense of enjoying the equipment yes, enjoying the music certainly, and getting away from the concept of "Hi Fi" and "audiophiles", and looking instead to encourage a quality in audio equipment which speaks of delivering the music in a more enjoyable, rich and vibrant way. The music should have a flow and emotional impact, and "imaging" can be relegated to and relatively distant position. After all, at a concert how much time do you spend considering imaging, highs and lows of the performance!?
So that is my overview of how I see this hobby. In the next issue I would like to suggest how old fashioned horn speakers, may succeed in the sort of musical reproduction I appreciate better than most box speakers. In fact, I am going to suggest that a 30,000 spent on a horn speaker can "out play" (in the way I have outlined above) a $1 million pair of box re-flex speakers. New there is a thought.

Finally, I would be delighted to have your feedback about ideas that I express, because I recognize that your ideas are just as valuable as mine, and I would be delighted to get a debate going, so do write in if you want to be heard!

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