Ooooh.

So, today’s blog entry is about HiFi. Not High – End with its speakers for £200,000 and cables for € 5000, but High Fidelity. Pieces of technology – new and old – that make music sound like the listener likes it and are a step up from sound bars, transistor radios and sodcasting with your mobile. A part of my personal setup until recently was a magnificent power amp, the mighty Marantz SM-80. I always wanted to own a big piece of solid state eighties hifi, as much for sheer power (150w per channel) as for the aesthetics. Just look at it. Isn’t it gorgeous in its monolithic beauty with it’s magnificent layout?

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This magnificent beast has been sitting amicably next to the universal disc player and the audio/video receiver. It’s main purpose is to create enough power to make the speakers sound good, both when played loud or on low volumes. There are some speakers who need that much wattage to perform at their best, but here’s the rub: my don’t. My horn based Klipsch speakers only need a fraction of the power of what the SM-80 has to offer and so it has been bit like a rugby player in charge of tackling a gaggle of ducklings and just wasted a huge amount of energy for not doing much at all. I looked around for an alternative piece of of technology that could take over the role of the Marantz, still sound as brilliant as the monster but with a fraction of the energy usage. Turns out there is such a thing, and it even sounds darn good. So good in fact, that the people of 6Moons (who usually don’t review anything that’s not hand soldered by a farmer in Styria, costs less than 500,000 Swiss Franks and has been made with the blood of a virgin goat) gave it a prize. Yes, it’s that obscure (and good).

And small.

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Yes, that’s it. It’s tiny. So if your stereo is all about the looks, this probably won’t do.

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What is it ? It’s something called a Class – T amplifier designed with a pretty nifty chip by Tripath (no, me neither), made by Hong Kong outfit Trends Audio and has been reviewed to death by every hi-end website out there (always positive). It costs about as much as 1 cm of high end cable and was with me 3 days after the order, all the way from the Pearl River Estuary.

And it works. Really well. I knew that it wouldn’t have a problem with my highly efficient Klipschs but I wasn’t expecting it to beat the sound of the chunky Marantz, but suck me sideways, it does. I used the work related absence of the best girlfriend ever to crank up the volume and threw it a volley of my favourite tracks, be it Coltrane, Mahler or Matt Bianco: it dealt with all of them beautifully, produced a crisp and competent deep bass and outperformed the Marantz in clarity of the upper registers.

The best girlfriend ever loves it already as it managed to eradicate one big black metal box from her living room, as the Marantz is now in storage and the TA-10.2p (that’s it’s name, though I’m thinking of calling it Tarquin) is hidden by the Calvin and Hobbes collections.

A perfect metaphor.

I rest my case.

 

 

The CD Collection Has Shrunk

Being old, I still buy CDs. Well, I have since 1985 (Level 42’s ‘World Machine”), so why stop now. Unfortunately there’s now about 440 of them,  and the living room Expedits started to fill up.

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So this had to change. Enter Space Saving Sleeves, thin, clear plastic covers for your and mine CDs that make the crystal cases unnecessary and reduce the size your CD collection needs significantly. So for one Saturday afternoon I sat on the sofa and removed 440 CDs from their cases and -together with their CD booklets- files them alphabetically. The result is pretty impressive, I am sure you will agree.

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P1030239The Matt Bianco section is still about half a meter thick, though.

Ronson scores

Looking through my itunes collection sorted by purchase date, it is moderately obvious that I don’t buy a lot of music by contemporary ’new’ artists. There is Metronomy, Daft Punk, Bluey, Wickford’s own ‘The Milk’, The Submotion Orchestra and a few other stragglers, but the vast majority of new music is by old favourites such as Donald Fagen, Matt Bianco, Swing Out Sister, Prefab Sprout or Incognito. All gracefully ageing survivors of the seventies or eighties, they fill my ipod with comfort music – the equivalent of Friday’s SpagBol. So it comes with moderate surprise that for the last few days I have been listening constantly to Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Special’. Actually, this is no surprise, as it pretty much sounds like a pastiche of some of the most successful seventies and eighties styles. I have no idea how he came up with up the idea of making a seventies/eighties homage album, but it’s all there: James Brown’s rare grooves mixed with old school rap, Alan Parson’s soft rock, Steely Dan chords, Moogish bass lines with synth licks that sound like they come straight out a Juno and there’s even the real Steve Wonder making an appearance. This oevre was bought on the reputation of ‘Uptown Funk’ which must have been the first single that excited me since – wait a minute, I’ll get there in a minute – sorry can’t remember. This bastard child (the single, not Mark Ronson) of Cool and the Gang, Prince and Bootsy Collins is such a joy to listen to that even on the way to work one does a bit whistling (or even throwing in the odd dance step on arrival, severely upsetting the staff). Apparently Ronson is the stepson of Foreigner’s Mick Jones – a man with a knack for the odd million seller – who made Ronson listen to his newest records in the middle of the night, so maybe this is some sort of psychological workup of his involuntary exposure to eighties pop in the middle of the night, but It’s a long time since I had so much fun listen to new music, so I couldn’t care less: I am happy to have paid my dues to support Ronson’s apparently fabulous lifestyle a bit longer, and long may he exploit the previous decades a bit further.

Wibblers Delivers

Wibblers Brewery in in Maylandsea has a firm fanbase in this house. The best girlfriend ever is a fan of their award winning ‘Apprentice’, while I am partial to their ‘Dengie Best’. We usually pick up a few bottles from our local independent supermarket, adding value to the weekend. A few weeks ago some of the bottles that were purchased turned out to be summer, necessitating a switch to an indescript lager to survive Dunton Abbey. I took a picture of the barcode on the offending bottle and gave the brewery a heads up that there were some rogue bottles out there.

Not only did I get a lovely email back from their lovely back office lady, but a day later their assistant brewer dropped by a whole case of Apprentice at our house.

It doesn’t get much better than that: not only is their beer top notch, but their service is as impressive as their brewing.P1020966