Letting my mind go with music…

I have a long and wonderful history with music. It really started while I was growing up listening to whatever my dad was playing on his HiFi. The “whatever” portion is important, as my father listens to a huge variety of music. I won’t go so far as to call him a fan of everything, but he is the ultimate musical experimenter. He’d read HiFi magazines with reviews of newly released music, compiling a list that then results in a shopping trip. I am too young to remember my Dad buying vinyl, but the CD shopping trips are the stuff of legend for me. My father owned a retail pharmacy and Mom worked with him in the business. The hours were long, leaving only Sundays for any real family time. So, once in a while, my Dad would get all four of us (me, my sister, Mom and him) in his gloriously metallic blue Jaguar XJ6 and drive to his favourite CD shop in Rosebank. We’d spend the morning, browsing for new music, tracking down stuff from his lists and ultimately end up going home with a ton of CD’s. The next few weeks would then be spent listening to all the new stuff. The genres included pop, classical, rock, female vocals etc. As I grew up, we’d spend hours discussing music and all other matters, with music on the HiFi. As I grew older, I’d also get to taste the red wine my Dad loved (resulting in my huge love for red wine today), all in front of the HiFi. This set the scene for my ongoing love affair with music, wine, electronics and cars. My dad is also a firm believer in owning a “proper” HiFi. He selected an amplifier, CD player, record player and speakers after endless reviews and auditions. The result is a system that sounds bloody brilliant, to this day.

I grew up playing piano and classical guitar as instruments. I sang in a regional youth choir, resulting in my first trip overseas when I was 17. Music and its associated equipment and activities shaped my life in a big way. When in love, I’d spend hours on the thick carpet in the HiFi room, on my back, Sennheiser headphones on while listening to soppy love songs. In times of turmoil, Nirvana would be in the CD tray. To this day, my mood can be expressed or set by music. While a man of mediocre playing and vocal talent, my love for music never faded. As I sit here, I am in front of my own HiFi, listening to a variety of classical music on the Deutsche Grammophon label, all conducted by Herbert von Karajan. My dual 10″ Tannoy’s are singing, driven by a bi-amped and bi-wired setup.

Today my love for music is as strong as ever. My instrument playing is limited to the occasional tickle of my Stratocaster guitar, and I rarely sing these days. But listening to music while thinking, writing, reading etc consumes vast amounts of my time. The way my brain can make all sorts of weird and wonderful connections, stimulated by music, is amazing. I use this to stimulate the creative side of my day job. Music transports me to a place where my mind roams freely, unencumbered by the constraints of daily life, accessing the deep regions where weird and wonderful things happen.

The way I access music has certainly changed too. With a background in electronic/computer systems engineering, I love the electronics as much as the music reproduced with them. My vinyl collection has grown at a steady pace, especially after I took over my dad’s turntable and vinyl collection. The NAD 533 turntable (an OEM version of the famous Rega Planar 2) was serviced, fitted with a new motor, cartridge and properly set-up on a heavy plinth. A Rega Phono stage connects the turntable to the rest of my HiFi. Because of the ease of access with digital music, I bought a dedicated headphone amplifier with built in Digital to Analogue converter, driven through a vintage vacuum tube (to soften the hard digital edge a bit). This is used at my desk, powering a variety of Sennheiser, Grado and JBL headphones (selected based on what I am listening too). Spotify, iTunes, Linn Records and HDTracks.com are all places where I buy my digital, high-resolution music. Finally, bringing the music to lif at home, is a set of Tannoy Saturn S10 Dual Concentric speakers. Their ability to reach low and deep is amazing. You need that ability when you listen to Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Organ and Strings in G minor, else the bottom registers of the organ simply disappear.

Today I lament the state of live music in South Africa. It seems to me that the days of being able to go and listen to a full scale, live symphony orchestra are gone. I cannot even remember the last time that I saw a symphonic orchestra live, playing pieces by Dvorak, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven and Mozart. Luckily I have vivid memories of doing that with my parents. I’ll never forget my first time, hearing the full orchestra in full cry, experiencing the full stereophonic effect with the strings and percussion bringing the music to life.

My own musical journey has brought me closer to certain types of music. As I started listening to older, classic rock bands, I moved closer and closer to Blues. As I moved closer to Blues, I started discovering Jazz (still not a favourite) and other genres. Today I firmly believe that the best stuff is not what plays to mainstream audiences via mainstream media. There is a world of music far removed from the mainstream, where true art lives and thrives. But to experience this world you need an open mind, the drive to discover and the ability to open yourself completely to new experiences. Do that and a wonderful journey of musical discovery awaits!

Thank you dad, for introducing me to this amazing world.

I have a vinyl fetish…

Not the handcuffs and boots type, the 33 1/3 rpm type.

I remember listening to records at home as a youngster, and spending my pocket money on records in the 80’s. Oh, I was so quick to jump ship to CD, and then of course to buy digital music online (my favourite sites are HDtracks.com and LinnRecords.com). My online purchases really started adding up when I bought a Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1 Plus edition standalone digital-to-analogue converter with a high-end valve powered headphone amp. Listening to music in 24 Bit, 96KHz format just took digital to the next level for me. Finally being able to drive my various sets of Sennheiser, Grado and Beyerdynamic headphones was magical. Of course, hooking the Maverick up to my Yamaha RX-A2010 amplifier and Tannoy speakers just showed how nicely a vacuum tube plays with digital formats. But, the magic of vinyl was awakened when I visited my father, and was presented with his almost brand new (but 20 years old) NAD 533 (Rega P2 OEM version) turntable. I listened to it on his Tannoy/Onkyo setup and was amazed. Not only was I given the turntable, but also around 80 great condition vinyl albums. These all made the trek back to centurion with me.

The turntable was serviced, and a new motor and belts fitted. The old unknown cartridge was dumped, and a brand new Audio Technica AT-95e fitted. The Rega RB-250 arm had its tracking and anti-skate set properly, and the table was mounted on a super heavy, isolated stand. Finally, the table was leveled and is being kept level. I marveled at the sounds from my speakers! I happen to now own the same recordings on vinyl and digital, and the difference is amazing. I own a copy of an Andres Segovia classical guitar record, and have the same recording, bought via iTunes. With the iPad connected to the Maverick for decode duties, the digital 256 kbps AAC file sounds dull and lifeless. Play the same recording from vinyl, and Andres Segovia is in my living room, playing the guitar. I was hooked!

Of course, this was only the beginning. My table is a decent entry level system, well maintained and fitted with components to bring our the best in it. But, it is far from top end. So, a purchase was made, and I bought two Lenco L75 turntables (1968 and 1969 models) to have them restored in heavy plinths, a la Jean Nantais. I bought 10 layer Birch plywood, and a brilliant Jelco SA-250ST tonearm to replace the busted standard Lenco item. During the process, I bought more vinyl, so a dedicated, 450 LP rack was designed, built and fitted by my mate Charles Theron. For the second Lenco, I have my eye on a 12″ transcriptor specification SME tonearm…drool…

I realized that a home theater amp will not do such a setup justice, so I have set out building a derivative of the now iconic 47 Labs Gaincard amplifier. Powered by LM3886 chips, it sounds wonderful. Mine is fronted by an AD815 based pre-amplifier, and finally, there is the dedicated Moving Magnet Phono Stage that I built, to augment the Rega Phono Mini USB that I use to rip my vinyls to high definition FLAC files to preserve them.

Next up is the vinyl cleaner I have to build, and following that, as set of speakers based of 12″ or 15″ tannoy dual concentric drivers…It just goes on and on… The investment in tools (Dremel etc), material and components have been substantial, but so is the fun i have been having with my records.

To say that the bug has bitten me, is a complete understatement. I am lucky, that I can be as passionate about my hobbies, as I am about my high tech business.

Peace and love.

A 5 minute excersize

The time has come for me to admit to a seriously receding hairline. While the loss of my hair is regrettable, the time saved on quick haircuts is useful. I am not quite at the point where I can place a call on hold and get a quick haircut, but I did reduce from a 7 minute task to a 5 minute task. Words like “short” and “style” have lost all haircut meaning for me. I now primarily worry about my hair being “neat”. How things have changed…If you have a lovely head full of hair, get yourself styled properly, because age will take that simple pleasure from you… On the flip side I now have more time on hand to enjoy other things. Such as the new limited edition Jack White – Lazaretto album that arrived as part of my Third Man Records Vault #20 package.

Who needs hair when your record player can spin awesome tunes?