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February 17, 2009

Gitzo Ball Heads for Photography

Gitzo Ball Heads for Photography

Having chosen a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod the next step was to choose a suitable head for it. This was no easy task as Gitzo do a large range of ball heads ranging from around £30 to well over £200. I  made a basic mistake when choosing and didn't check out the weight of the heads. Seduced by a spcial offer I ordered the head below which turned out to be not far short of a kilo in weight. As I had ordered a carbon fibre tripod in order to reduce weight this meant a rethink.


The Gitzo G1377M weighs in at nearly a kilo

I decided to go for a G1077M which is far more portable and claims some good anti-vibration features.

Gitzmo G1077M

The Gitzo G1077M. A good head for 35mm/D SLRs

February 16, 2009

Gitzo Carbon Fibre Tripod

Gitzo Carbon Fibre Tripod

Plans for the day had included searching for a high quality tripod and head to go with a Nikon  D80. The current tripod in use is a lightweight Veblon which is fine for compact cameras and probably the lighter weight  "bridge" cameras such as Fuji Finepix S100. The tripod proved wanting when trying to take precision shots of architectural models and we ended up borrowing a friend's birdspotting tripod which is used to support my old Kowa ED 77mm spotting scope which is pretty heavy. So with birthday time coming around it was time to upgrade the tripod.

Gitzo Mountaineer 531

Gitzo Mountaineer 531 Carbon Fibre Tripod

My plan was to go for a Manfrotto. They have a good reputation and I had been purchasing Manfrotto systems for the college. However, I discovered some interesting clearance deals with Gitzo. I had vaguely heard of them but had no real familiarity so I investigated the company and its products a little more closely:

Gitzo was founded in France in 1917 by Arsène Gitzhoven, who produced cameras, cable releases, shutters (at a rate of 750 per day) and filmpack frames for the photographic industry until 1942, when the World War led to the company being temporarily dismantled. Production started again in 1944 and tripods were introduced to the Gitzo’s product range in the 1950’s.

The company is now ownd by Vitec:

Vitec companies are primarily focused on the broadcast live event and photography markets. Our premium brands have unique characters and are organised in clusters by market served, so as to maximise synergies. We share ideas, infrastructure, and technology across our decentralised Group.

General Gitzo Tripod Features

The company is highly innovative in both the materials used and the actual designs.


G-lock is the innovative evolution of the original twist-lock system: completely redesigned to be faster, stronger and more rigid than its predecessor. Unwanted gaps in between lock parts have been removed to give a rock solid structure to the leg sections, resulting in more clarity and sharpness to your pictures.

Gitzo G Lock 2

Gitzo Ground Level System

For low angle shooting, the center column can be removed and the upper disc fitted directly to the tripod top casting. the disc is locked into position using the retrsctible column hook. The ground level configuration can be achieved in a few seconds without tools or extra components, and only the column need be removed.

gitzo ground level 2

Gitzo Mountaineer 531

The smallest and lightest tripod in the Gitzo range, Series 00 offers surprisingly good rigidity. Ideal for spotting scopes, binoculars, compact cameras and DSLR with lenses up to 175mm. Convenient for use on top of tables, car bonnets and walls or when working at ground level.

Gitzo 6Xtube

The Gitzo Carbon Fibre Tube Structure

When Gitzo launched the Mountaineer tripods in 1994, they were the World’s first carbon fiber tripods. Ever since then they’ve set the standard for performance and quality. The main feature of the range is the new 6X carbon fiber tube, made of a unique structure of 6 crossed layers that maximises rigidity, vibration absorption and lightweight performance. 6X tube has a high density structure made of top quality ultra-thin carbon fibers (7?m or 0.007 mm). Built-in Anti Leg Rotation is now a feature of the whole carbon fiber range. Mountaineer tripods have been further improved with features and details that increase performance, versatility and quality.

Well this is the tripod I went for not that mountains are on the agenda but it is light enough to be carried around over a day without sacrificing stability. I'm looking forward to it's arrival and shall comment further once it is in situ. There is also a ball head arriving as well which will be subjct to a separate posting.

New Nikon Cameras on Ebay: Beware Void Warranties

"New" Nikon Cameras on Ebay: Beware Void Warranties

Nikon D90 1

Whilst rooting through Ebay in search of a second-hand tripod  I decided to check out Nikon cameras out of idle interest.  I came across a very useful warning about the risks of buying "New" camera equipment such as lenses and bodies (Ebay buyer guide). With many Ebay traders being secondary traders who have got hold of camera equipment at trade prices they are not considered by Nikon - and probably other leading makes - as primary dealers who are authorised to provide warranties on the equipment sold.

There are a number on ebay that are retailers as they run photographic shops and use ebay to increase sales - but there are also many that are simply selling items they have bought. Unless you can provide Nikon with a photographic
retailers invoice with your repair request to show where it was bought, when it was bought (to determine if the warranty is still valid) and its cost - there is not a lot of chance of getting your item fixed within its warranty cover -

Nikon Lens 3

For the poor ebay buyer cited above he had bought a lens from ebay via a secondary buyer rather than a proper camera dealer and although it had a warranty card Nikon refused to validate it.  The cost of repair was more than the lens cost. As a result all the buyer's money was lost !

It should also be noted that the same conditions would apply if you buy from an individual seller who is selling with a warranty in small ads in camera magazines for example.

January 29, 2009

iPod Nano 4th Generation Review

iPod Nano 4th Generation Review

iNano Pod

I am well pleased with my iPod Nano which was a birthday Xmas present. It is a luxury 8gb model and it's worth paying out the extra for doubling the memory. They clearly aren't hi-fi although they do offer very good quality. The iPod is better as the AAC compression is a higher bit rate than MP3 players. That they don't off the last word in high fidelity is besides the point. Where they are going to be listened to on trains / coaches etc is an ideal listening environment.

The key thing for quality improvement is a good pair of headphones. I have a pair of Audio Technica EC7s the forerunner to th EC 700s pictured here. I got them for an excellent end-of line price. The EC700s are around £130.

Audio Technica EC 700

Audio Technica EC700

Here is the blurb if you are interested

Incredible lightweight ear-fitting headphones designed to offer both style and high quality sound. Audio-Technica has improved the EC7 earphones to bring you the EC700 GM's. With an increased driver unit and a reduction in weight to 11g, you'll get earphones with superlative sound and a lightweight fit, for total listening comfort.

The earphones feature an all aluminum body and unique, unobtrusive stylish design. Easy to clip on and designed to offer long hours of listening without them becoming uncomfortable, they come with a convenient protective carrying pouch.

Key Features

  • Type: Dynamic type
  • Driver: 15.5mm, neodymium magnet
  • Output overpressure value: 100dB/mW
  • Playback frequency zone: 10 - 24,000Hz
  • Largest input: 50mW
  • Impedance: 16 Ohms
  • Plug: 3.5mm gold plated stereo mini- plugs
  • Cord/code length: 1.2m (Y type)

My EC7s are superb but there is a problem when travelling that a lot of surrounding noise can be heard. Wearing them for a long time if you are a glasses wearer can also be uncomfortable. This means that I would be tempted towards good quality in-ear headphones such as the ones shown underneath if you plan to us them on public transport.

AT in ear headphones

Audio Technica CK9 In-ear headphones. Seem to retail for around £160

Audio-Technica presents the all new CK9 black earphones. These stunning earphone

s feature an advanced balanced armature system that has been precision factory tuned for sound quality across the full frequency. An acoustic seal improves noise isolation and an 11mm diameter driver delivers deeper bass, extended treble and higher fidelity. Yet these earphones are small enough to fit inside your ear and their size and fit means they passively block out a lot of unwanted background noise, too, so you can immerse yourself in sound.

Half the weight of the CK7 eaprhones at just 5g, neodymium magnets mean maximum energy in minimum size - far more powerful than conventional Samarium Cobalt or aluminum magnets. The CK9 BK earphones are designed for a simple and classic look and are great for outdoor pursuits such as running or at the gym. 

Key Features

  • Type: Balanced armature
  • Maximum Input Power: 3mW
  • Output Sound Level: 104dB/mW
  • Impedance: 30 ohms
  • Weight: 5g
  • Cable: 1.2m/Y-type
  • Connector: 3.5mm gold-plated stereo mini plug
  • Colour: Black or White
  • Accessories: Protective pouch

Sennheiser IE8

Top of the Range Sennheiser IE8 in ear headphones recommended price £250

The IE 8 are optimised for professional monitoring use and ideal for portable AV devices like MP3, DVD and CD players, iPods, iPhones, or any other mobile phone with a 3.5mm stereo jack.
Features :

- Dynamic drivers with powerful neodymium magnets ensure outstanding sonic accuracy and clarity.
- Excellent attenuation of ambient noise.
- Durable housing and rugged, interchangeable Kevlar®-reinforced cable.
- Unique, manual bass response tuning function.
- Sleek ergonomic design and various types and sizes (S/M/L) of ear adapters ensure a comfortable, secure fit and excellent attenuation of ambient noise.
- Optimised for MP3, iPod, iPhone, DVD and CD players, and mobile phones (3.5mm stereo plug).


- Frequency response : 10 Hz – 20 kHz.
- Cable length : 1.2 m, symmetrical (earphone to separator: 0.4 m; separator to plug: 0.8 m).
- Impedance : 16 ohm.
- THD, total harmonic distortion : < 0.1%.
- Sound pressure level (SPL) : 125 dB (1 kHz, 1 Vrms).
- Attenuation (passive) : up to 26 dB (95%).
- Connector : 3.5 mm, angled.
- Ear coupling : intra-aural (ear-canal fit).
- Transducer principle : dynamic.
- Weight : 5 g.

Supplied Accessories:

- 1 IE 8
- 1 protective case
- 1 set of ear adapters (S/M/L)
- 1 cleaning tool
- 1 cable clip

Unsurprisingly the Sennheisers got an excellent write-up in the Feb 2009 BBC Music Magazine although paying this kind of price just to use with an iPod seems a little excessive.  It is worth using on a full audio system but be sure to get an adaptor to fit the standard headphone sockets. One thing for certain is that the audio experience of an iPod can be considerably improved.  There are plenty of mid-priced in-ear headphones coming onto the market and they will offer a very good listening experience.

January 27, 2009

Ben Nicholson (1894–1982)

Ben Nicholson: Artist (1894-1982)

Ben Nicholson by Humphrey Spender

Ben Nicholson by Humphrey Spender


I have been excited that on of Britain's most important 20th painters Ben Nicholson has got a retrospective exhibition. "A Continuous Line" has opened earlier this month at the Tate St. Ives - a gallery I love.  The exhibition continues until the first week of May and offers an excellent opportunity to develop ones knowledge and ideas about the enormously influential St. Ives artists. Take a drive into the surrounding countryside afterwards to discover what influenced the abstract landscapes.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson was born in 1894, in Eight Bells, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England. Ben Nicholson's father was the artist William Nicholson, and his mother was the Scottish painter Mabel Pryde. He studied, for a short time, at the Slade School 1910-11. His first solo show was held at the Adelphi Gallery in London in 1922. Nicholson spent several years in Cumbria with his first wife, the painter Winifred Nicholson. The couple bought in 1923 Banks Head, a 17th-century farmhouse built over a mile castle on Hadrian's Wall. In 1939 he moved to Cornwall:

"Despite the geographical distance between Cornwall and Cumberland, both locations shared certain characteristics that were attractive to Nicholson at this time, to his taste and disposition and to the development of his painting...Both possessed a distinct quality of remoteness, an important sense of distance, far from the excessively cultivated and commercial metropolitan centre and from the predictably picturesque 'guidebook' imagery of the countryside popular in the years following the end of the Great War." (Ysanne Holt catalogue essay 2008)

Nicholson Coldfell 1922

Ben Nicholson: Coldfell (1922). Painted during his time in Cumbria with Winifred

From the early 1930s his work became increasingly abstract, geometrical and austere. In 1937 he was editor of Circle An International Survey of Constructivist Art.   From 1939 to 1958 lived in Cornwall. In 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Nicholson and his family moved from London to St. Ives where they stayed initially with Adrian Stokes in Little Park Owles in Carbis Bay. Nicholson became a mentor and advocate for many of the younger artists living in the area, particularly Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and John Wells. In 1943 he joined the St. Ives Society of Artists. He left it to found the Penwith Society in 1949, with Herbert Read as president.

Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth

Ben Nicholson & Barbara Hepworth

It wasn't until the 1950s that Nicholson won international attention. In 1952 he took first prize at the Carnegie International Art Exhibition in Pittsburgh. In 1954 he won the Ulissi Prize at the Venice Biennale. The next year he won the Governor of Tokyo's Award and was honored by the Belgian Art Critics in Paris. In 1956 he won the Guggenheim International Award.

In 1968 he received the British Order of Merit (OM).

Nicholson was married three times: firstly to Winnifred Roberts (married 5 November 1920 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London; divorced 1938) with whom he had two children, a daughter Kate in July 1929 (who later became an artist herself) and a son Andrew in September 1931. His second marriage was to fellow artist Barbara Hepworth (married 17 November 1938 at Hampstead Register Office; divorced 1951) with whom he had a son Simon in 1934 and third to Felicitas Vogler, a German photographer (married July 1957; divorced 1977).

Nicholson Painted Relief

Nicholson Painted Relief: Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art owns a fine collection of paintings and prints by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), one of the leading British artists of the twentieth century. That collection has now improved and expanded dramatically, thanks to an extraordinary bequest made by Felicitas Vogler, Nicholson's third wife. Vogler was a celebrated photographer, holding a major exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006. Following her death later that year, she left the Gallery a superb collection of Nicholson's work, including ten paintings and carved reliefs and twenty prints and drawings. These works now join the works already belonging to the Gallery to form an outstanding collection of Nicholson's art, ranging from the early 1920s to the 1980s. The whole collection is on show in this new display, occupying the top floor of the Dean Gallery.

Nicholson Green Goblet blue square

Nicholson: Green Goblet Blue Square (1961). One of earliest paintings after moving to Switzerland

Ben Nicholson Retrospective Exhibition Tour

Abbot Hall is the opening venue of the first major exhibition of Ben Nicholson in the UK for over fourteen years. Curated by Chris Stephens, Head of Displays at Tate Britain and a leading expert on the art of St Ives from the 1940s-60s, the show focuses on the artist’s years in Britain from 1922 to 1958. This new exhibition highlights those periods that earlier exhibitions have marginalised and reveals a view of Ben Nicholson quite different from the established one.

The exhibition looks at the landscapes of the 1920s, including works painted in Cumberland where he lived with his first wife, Winifred. It includes his time in St Ives, Cornwall during World War II, when his abstract and landscape works became central to the establishment of the modernist art community, alongside his second wife, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The final section of the show focuses on the Cubist still-lifes made by Nicholson between 1945 and 1958.

nicholson Still Life 1945

Nicholson: Still Life 1945 in the Continuous Line Exhibition

This project has evolved through a unique collaboration between Abbot Hall, De La Warr Pavillion ,Tate St Ives and draws on the Tate collection and the Ben Nicholson archive, as well as loans from major public institutions in the UK. Many of Nicholson’s finest works are still in private collections, and a number of these rarely seen pieces are included. There will not be a London venue. One of the central ideas behind the project is to link the works to be shown in a different context where each of the venues has a particular relevance.


Ben Nicholson at Kettle's Yard Cambridge

Guardian 2008: Another Look at Ben Nicholson

Abbot Hall: Nicholson Retrospective

Independent review of the retrospective

Tate Collection of Ben Nicholson

Further Reading

Norbert Lynton: Ben Nicholson, Phaidon Press

Chris Stephenson: Ben Nicholson, Tate Publishing

Peter Khoroche: Ben Nicholson, Drawings and Painted Reliefs, Lund Humphries

Buying Titian for the Nation: Diana and Actaeon

Buying Titian for the Nation: Diana and Actaeon

Emin delivers titian Petition

Tracey Emin delivers a petition to save Titian masterpieces for the nation

Diana and Actaeon 1

The sale of Diana and Actaeon by Titian for £50 million is being negotiated with the Duke of Sutherland Here the painting is at the National Gallery in London being shown for 4 weeks as a part of the fund raising exercise. The visit was later extended as it was so successful.

Late August 2008 the Duke of Sutherland declared to the National Gallery of Scotland that he wished to sell Diana and Actaeon as well as another Titian Diana and Callisto at a later date. The Duke of Sutherland was prepared to accept £50 million for each of them. It is likely that they could fetch three times the amount on the open market. now if this sounds like a financial bargain for the nation one must remember that the tax payable on an open market sale would run into tns of millions of pounds.

As argued elsewhere the financial concerns should be set to one side, the key issue here is the dvelopment of cultural citizenship within the nation which requires high quality cultural products and services in order to achive this. Clearly the opportunity to acquire some 'Old Masters' by a canonical painter is extremely rare. The reason the Damien Hirsts can command such high prices is because there is a shortage of older work available for collectors. Any painting like this must be considered as an investment in lots of different ways. It is an investment in education for a start so that spurious argument about spending the money on schools is vitiated.

Having high quality art by canonical artists gnerates long-term wealth creation through tourism as anybody going around the main London galleries could hardly fail to notice. These visitors create a lot of tax as well as create a lot of employment. Nevertheless there are a lot of retrograde attitudes out there with many coming from those who ought to know better:

"Very few people will ever have heard of Titian, many will have thought he was an Italian football player. What is the point of wasting this money in this way?"(Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Davidson, the member for Glasgow South West)

Davidson's comment is both patronising and at the same time a strong indictment of the educational system!

Diana and Actaeon 2

Diana and Actaeon by Titian

The Scottish National Gallery

Scot Nat Gall Complex

The Scottish National Gallery Complex

Scot Nat Gall

The Scottish National Gallery

At time of writing it sems that the deal is going through there are just some loose ends to be tied up so fingers crossed! This acquisition can only be of long-term benefit to the nations and their citizens.


BBC News Story on Sales of Titian

The Art Fund gives £1 million to Titian Fund

Scottish Executive gives £17.5 million towards Titian. The Independent

Lubbock in Independent: Is Titian's Painting Worth Saving?

Andrew Graham-Dixon on keeping the Titians

Titian Fundaraising Sparks Political Row - BBC

Tracey Emin on Saving the Titians -BBC Interview

The Fight for Turner's Blue Rigi

January 26, 2009

Blu–ray Audio: The New Hi–fi Audio Format?

Blu-ray Audio: The New Hi-Df Audio Format?

The talk about new formats and players is clearly being taken over by the release of higher nd Blu-ray players which will be able to give an excellent audio as well as video experience. Currently for those interested primarily in audio quality the lack of available software is going to hamper take up of the format in audio installations. The Trondheim soloists Divertimenti is the first blu-ray audio disc to be released. It won a Gramophone Choice in Nov 2008 and was well received by the BBC Music reviewer of the Denon  3800BD Feb 2009. The disc is actually a package of two one being SACD and the other Blu-ray as the formats are (of course) incompatible.

Bluray audio disc

There are now a number of high-nd Blu-ray players bginning to enter the market place however they will be of little us to the audiophile until companies commit to recording in this format. Presumably there will be a load of "remastered" ons coming available although it is questionable how good these are likley to be.Sony could well do this as it own music catalogues spreading across a wide range of genres

Denon Bluray 3800BD

The Denon Bluray player 3800BD for a cool £1700. Players like this will soon be replacing high-end DVD playrs in expensive AV installations

We can expct a plethora of Blu-ray players that will play CDs as well coming to the market from the likes of Pioeer, Marantz & Yamaha. These will probably people who are mainly focused upon the film reproduction aspects very happy however if this isn't a main priority I would hold fire on any purchase of on of these until there is some audio material to play. Th problem is that companies like BIS and Harmonia Mundi who have made a big investment in SACD may well be reluctant to invest in the facilities required for recording blu-ray audio.Hi-fi comapnies such as Linn are prioritising the high quality download market.

Marantz Blueray BD7003

Marantz Blu-ray BD7003 at the mor affordable end of the market

Perhaps the market will be pushed from the popular end? Oasis in 10 channels anybody?

January 24, 2009

The Future of the (Classical ) Record Shop

The Future of the  (Classical ) Record Shop

The January issue of BBC Music had an editorial bemoaning the fate of the classical record shop noting the collapse of Zavvi and with a minor swipe at downloads. There was a touch of nostalgia in the article which thought that 'buying music shouldn't be a solitary affair'. The article suggested that a return to the listening booth and listening posts might be the way forward.

This all seems remarkably unrealistic and is mere tinkering at the edges of what seems to be a much deeper problem that was also alluded to. This is the fact that pop and rock accounts for 90% of all music sales! Assuming that this figure is right this means that Jazz, Classical, Folk, World and a couple of other genres are sharing a mere 10% of music sales. The issue here is not listening booths in the shrinking number of record shops but examining how it is that the populist / popular genre has come to dominate the marketplace despite / because of the unchallenging simplistic nature of popular music. A form which relies upon spectacle, celebrityand desire to self generate - A perfect example of Adorno's "culture industry"!!

A core issue surrounding classical music, in Britain at least, is that of class and the sociologist / social anthropologist Pirre Bourdieu puts a strong case for the concept of 'Cultural Capital' which effectively outlines what is important knowledge to have for power and status. For working class people to become enthusisatic about classical music requires shifts at the level of social structure. This means ownership of the music and a valuing of the music. This can only come through education and with the current dreadful skills based discourse driving the worst sort of ineffective education system there hasn't been much hope of change here to date.

That classical music doesn't have to be class-based was shown under the old Soviet system where many working class people could attend local conservatoires in the evenings after school. Currently the best model going is "El Systema" in Brazil which seems to be remarkably effective. Stirling Council and now I believe others in Scotland are moving towards it. Apparently Boris Johnson has asked for it to be considered in London as well. There are plenty of links below explaining the system and describing its successess so I won't go over this at present.


Gustavo Dudamel came through "El Systma" and now conducts the Los Angles Symphony Orchestra

What has this got to do with record shops you might well ask? Well, I think the issue is developing audiences in depth with a wide range of people who have knowledge. These people may well be performers, concert-goers and of course music buyers. With a much wider discourse of non-pop music within the culture I think outlets will start to look after themselves. The issue is to get to the roots of the problem in the first place. 

There are other things which need to be considered which could develop new audiences. The built environment could be changed with a range of small venues properly designed for acoustics. These concert halls would be suitable for chamber music and would have the benfit of building audiences.With a cultural milieu recreated which has a broadbased audience it will matter less how and where people purchase their music but that they discuss the pros and cons of various recordings.

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at 2007 Proms

[media] [/media]

Gustavo Dudamel and Venezuelan Brass Ensemble 

[media] [/media]


WNYC Discussion of 'El Systema'

Stirling Council Report on 'El Systema'

Stirling Council news on introducing 'El Systema'

Axis of Logic. Article on Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

NEC Today on Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

Instruments of Peace on Bolivar Youth Orchestra

January 23, 2009

ECM Records 40th Anniversary Year

ECM Artwork 1ecm_artwork_1.gifRava New York Days

ECM Records 2009 40th Anniversary Year

I only recently realised that 2009 was the 40th anniversary of my all time favourite record label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music ) which was founded by Manfred Eicher in Munich in the autumn of 1969. I didn't discover them until some years later in the later part of the 1970s.  The range of interesting jazz musicians from The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, John Abercrombie, Jack de Johnette, Don Cherry,Gary Peacock,Jan Garbarek and many others was fantastic. There was a well-known committment to the highest possible standards of recording. The vinyl was top quality and the art work for the covers was both modernist but tremendously artistic making the whole package a work of art.

Much of the music was ethereal and more contemplative what many described as "chamber jazz". Over the years the catalogue and number of artists has continuously developed. The Wikipdia entry associates some ECM artists with the rise of "World Music" but this is to ignore the cross-cultural links positively sought by many Afro-American jazz musicians from at least the 1960s. Africa was inspirational to musicians such as Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders who are just 2 examples. Nana Vasconcelas, Don Cherry and later Shankar are good examples of cross-cultural fusions on th label. I love them and have seen many in concert over the years. These musicians are explorative and on the whole I wouldn't describe the works as "World Music" as this term often seems to double as folk musics. No, these were cutting edge musicians out on the edge! One can also add Steve Reich to this as he too was strongly influenced by rhythmic patterns from Africa and Bali for example.

Thirty years later, it remains the most uncompromised and distinctive entity of its kind. Eicher still goes entirely his own way, beholden to no major corporation and allied with different companies only for the purposes of distribution. Jazz was his original impetus, but his catalogue now boasts a plethora of recordings from numerous other disciplines. (Richard Cook New Statesman on 30th ECM Anniversary)

Weeping Meadow

Eicher has supported unusual composers such as Eleni Karaindrou well known for providing the music for the films of Theo Angelopoulos.

Eicher and Reich

Manfred Eicher with Steve Reich (Right) from booklet of Reich's Octet 1980

ECM New Series

Beethoven cello sonatas

February 2009 BBC Music Magazine Building a Library recommends this ECM version of Beethoven's complete music for Cello and Piano

In some of the finest Beethoven playing I've heard from Schiff, he combines a melting piano sound with crystalline articulation. (Helen Wallace, BBC Music Feb 09)

ECM has engaged some of the world's leading classical musicians to play well known works but they also took an early lead in commissioning works by musicians who were at the time relatively unheard of such as Arvo Pärt from Estonia along with the work of another Estonian, Tüür:

tuur crysallisatio

Taking advantage of the breakup of the old Soviet Union ECM was also able to promote the work of Georgian composer Giya Kancheli.


ECM official website

Wikipedia ECM entry

ECM Forum Record Corner

Richard Cook in New Statesman on ECM 30th Anniversary

Jazz.com with Manfred Eicher

Below: Audio interview with Manfred Eicher from 1985

January 22, 2009

Fraudulent Designer Bags: Modalee.com

Designer Bags

Modalee.com the Fraudulent Bejing Based So-Called "Designer" Bag Company

modalee logo


Well it was the Xmas period and people slip up and make buying mistakes in the general excitement. A friend of mine was recently telling me how she was suckered by a fraudulent internet shop called Modalee.com which sells "Designer" bags Chloë, Balencagia, Hermes, Mulberry etc. at large discounts.

In reality these "discounts" are entirely unrealistic and things follow the old adage: "If it's too good to be true it probably is!"

Nevertheless the site is very convincing. Photographs of the bags are genuine ones presumably culled from the web. A potential customer can quickly convince themselves that these are overstocks bcause of recession, or slight seconds etc. As can be seen from the internet traffic measurement company Alexa below Modalee gains a lot of visitors.

The visitor numbers are hardly surprising as lots of people are bound to check out the possibility of saving considerable amounts of money on what they percieve to be top-quality products however if you search very carefully through the packaging and returns policy you will finally find a disclaimer about the actual products they send out to you:

Note: The products in Modalee.com are are produced by the dedicated manufacturer based in Hong Kong and they are not genuine. They were tested and inspected strictly and attain relevant quality standard. The products customer bought are the same quality with that in our website which customer intent to buy. Please contact customer service at service@modalee.com if there is quality problem in product that customer bought from Modalee.com.

These are some of the images drawn from the Modalee website:


The Modalee Image of a Bottega Veneta basket weave bag. RRP $3,540 but "discounted" to $531!

Hermes Birkin Bag

A so-called Hermes Birkin bag from Modalee

Here is a link to the real Bottega Veneta site . What appears to be the same bag is on page 109.

A Not Balencagia Bag..........

My friend had finally been tempted to a so called "Balencagia" bag. When the thing turned up it was immediately clear that it was nothing to do with a Baelncagia.  The matrial dosn't ven seem like leather and the quality of everything is pathetic even down to the pretend storage bag which says Balencagia on the outside!

This company is clearly trying to mislead potential customers as much as possible. You can see that the returns policies are very bad and there are no real points of contact beyond an email address. One has no idea where the company is actually based - always a bad sign!

My friend is trying to get her money back but so far to no avail. What is particualrly disappointing is that Modalee is legitimised by the number of credit and debit cards it takes.Clearly these companies do not monitor whether the company they are dealing with is legit. Don't be fooled!!!!

I have suggsted complaining to her credit card company and possibly trying to claim insurance on the grounds of being defrauded - we will see.

In the meantime please pass on the message to avoid this site like the plague. Buyers will recieve a rotten product and they will have given credit card details to a very dodgy company. For all legitimate users of the Web every rotten apple like this reduces trust as well as citizenship rights. As can be seen from the figures below the prospcts on offer tempt many and undoubtedly many people get ripped off.

I have also noticed that there is a site called Kaboodle.com which appars to run a "community" which dals with various companies. They have one for Modalee and there are bag adverts on this page. Please beware as it is clearly an uncritical site.

The Alexa Web Information Site gives the following figures using the Modalee website

Modalee.com users come from these countries:

Other countries24.0%
Other countries24.0%


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January 21, 2009

Handel In Italy: Solo Cantatas – Emma Kirkby London Baroque SACD

Handel In Italy: Solo Cantatas - Emma Kirkby London Baroque SACD

Handel in Italy Kirby

The 2008 SACD (Hybrid) of Handel in Italy from BIS sung by Emma Kirby

The Arcadian influnced baroque painting by Claude Lorraine is the Landscape with Egeria and Numa which can be found in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples. (Wikipedia list of works available in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte)

I must confess that I'm no expert on Handel at all, however, as 2009 is a significant anniversary for the great composer (250 years since his death) this is a good year to find out more and I enjoy the Baroque period. I've always liked the singing of Emma Kirkby since I first heard her on various recordings from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music in the early 1980s. There is an airiness and lightness of touch in her tone and timbre which fits the Baroque period very well. 

Emma Kirkby 1

Emma Kirky specialist Baroque soprano

There are 4 Cantatas in all on this SACD and just over 67 minutes of music. Emma Kirkby is accompanied by The London Baroque who have been playing Baroque chamber music for ovr 30 years. 

Handel In Italy - Solo Cantatas

Notte placida e cheta, HWV142 (1707)

Un’ alma innamorata, HWV173 (1707)

Figlio d’alte speranze, HWV113 (1706)

Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV110 (1709)

Concerto a Quattro in D major

The first two cantatas are about unhappy love whilst the last two are about the loss of authority and claims to power.

Handel the Man and his music

Keates is illuminating on Handel's early journey to Italy as a keyboard virtuoso and budding composer. In Venice, he was sought out by an admiring Scarlatti, while in Rome he fell under Corelli's benign influence; he was ravished by the pifferari music played in the street by Abruzzi shepherds, which he later reproduced in his Messiah. In Rome, he encountered the cantata, a form he quickly made his own. (Independent)

Cambridge Companion to Handel

For those new to Handel the Cambridge Companion to Handel is most useful

January 13, 2009

Is The Future of Recorded Music Downloading?

Is The Future of Recorded Music Downloading?

Linn rcords


Call me a cynic, sceptic, neo-luddite if you like but so far I have not been impressed by the possibilities of music downloading. Perhaps surprisingly it is companies such as Linn Records and their larger Linn HI-Fi brother that have taken something of a lead in this area and they will be looked at as a leading model later. I say surprisingly because of the anti-digital stance originally taken by Linn in the early days of CD. Apart from the fact that you have no hard copy to back you up, unless you make them yourself, there is a lack of nice booklets which can tell you about the music and musicians of whatever musical genre. I do admit though that there is probably something of a generational thing here and as a student I would be aspiring to a music server.

Arcam Music Srver

Arcam FMJ Music Server MS250

On thing I have noticed as the internet has developed is the increasing ability of companies and institutions to pass expenses and time consuming jobs onto the customer. Skimpy little instruction books tell you to go online and print the full off for example. Adorno and Horkheimer discussed how people would work hard at their leisure time in their well known article on the Culture Industry. It seems to me that there is a danger of this happening here.

I do put most of my CDs onto iTunes which can be downloaded to my iPod but this isn't meant for high quality listening although investing in good headphones can dramatically improve the listening experience. If you want to listen to computerised music files in higher quality then they can be saved as FLAC files. However, even this loses out against a full surround sound SACD although Linn Records provide "Studiomaster FLAC" which is full surround sound. One might as well get the SACD and put it on some sort of music server if you want some convenience. The other thing is you can always sell the CD/SACD secondhand or give them to Oxfam etc. Second-hand CDs can be fun!

Advantages of Downloads

Linn Records give a list of advantages for downloading although I'm still happier to go for 'the real thing'. Here is a link to the FLAC website for those interested. I have to say I can see the commercial advantages for Linn records as much easier access to global markets could make a significant difference for them and/or other small record companies.

Being able to download invididual tracks is a big advantage if you just want to trial something. For the classical fan Classics Online run by Naxos records provides large numbers of CDs in downloadable versions. This gives smaller recording companies like BIS and Hyperion global distribution, however, there is currently only the option of downloading at 320 kbps which is the equivalent of CD quality. The downloads have the distinct advantage of being DRM (Digital Rights Management) free so you can put thm all your computers iPods etc.


For the Classics Online list of recording companies please click here

You can find BIS for example on a number of other download sites howver these are only available as MP3 files which aren't suitable for high quality reproduction of classical music. Here I strongly recommend you buy the CDs.

Problem of slow internet connections

With CD file sizes being compressed to around 300mb and presumably with full surround ones being significantly larger the future of music downloading is very much dependent upon the installation of high speed broadband services. Currently in the UK many people are struggling to get fast connectivity unless they are near an exchange. Another issue is that downloading masses of large files might incur extra charges from your ISP depending on your contract.


Well on the resarch done so far Linn is well ahead of the game as far as downloading is concerned. They appar to be the only company that can offer full surround SACD. This fits with the company Hi-Fi vision that the future is going to b downloads via high quality digital stream players. Accordingly they have produced a range of these players which go from relatively inxpensive to "high end".

Linn DS Majik

The Linn DS (Digital Stream) Majik

As far as I'm concerned having back up is vital. Who wants to lose what could turn into terrabytes of music data? Perhaps companies like Linn will provide a back up on-line service for its customers? Despite my current scepticism I think that Linn is probably way ahead of the game as this will undoubtedly become the way in which people newer to hi-fi normally buy, store and play their music as so many people are used to downloading often pirated versions as quality and finance becomes available. But success  on a global scale in the long-term is dependent upon hi-speed broadband.

January 10, 2009

Greening Hi–Fi Reviews & Magazines

Greening Hi-Fi Reviews & Magazines

Audia flight 50 power

"The Audia Flight Pure Class A creates a 30kg radiator when it's idling" Hi-Fi News Review Jan 2009

As the posting on moving towards greener hi-fi focusing upon digital amplification is gaining good readership this has stimulated me to consider wider aspects of the construction of the whole discourse around "Hi-Fi" and consider how it could be changed towards a greener way of thinking and doing.

I have noticed that for somtime Hi-Fi News has been delivering a pie chart at the end of its reviews which includes an evaluation of the power which the particular product uses. This for Hi-Fi News is its "greenwash" as far as I can see. The magazine explains its pie charts as follows:

Plus, and here's an important consideration in our era of Global Warming, power consumption is indicated by a final green segment.

Well the Audia Flight 50 power amplifier illustrated above scored a dreadful 42% for the green segment of the review verdict of the Hi-Fi News verdict! Well it is clear that pure class 'A' is extraordinarily inefficient. It uses huge amounts of electricity and weighing in at 30 kg this is a huge amount of resources required to give 50watts per channel. The review even mentions that it can run out of steam if a loud listening session is required. Of course everybody who knows anything about electronic engineering knows this, so why continue to design products with this antiquated technology when there are a plethora of other solutions? Quad's famous current dumping invented many years ago and still going strong is just on such example. Here a low powered class A amp provides the quality and the power is class B.

Quad 909

The current power amp in the Quad range the 909 which uses current dumoing and can produce 140 watts per channel

Just as is happening in the field of motoring designers need to come up with better solutions than producing behemoths. Of course, those of us who like good quality sound don't want to compromise that. Class A can produce good sound but it is past its sell by date. Amplifiers will need to be treated like overpowered sports cars and taxed heavily. Those who are already happy paying £4,000 for their Audio Flight and the electricity bill shouldn't whinge at a green tax on their exotic and anti-social artefacts.

There is more to being Green than just considerations of power consumption

High end audio design can make good use of new materials. The Wilson Benesch "Curve" speakers being a good example.These speakers could also be ordered with real wood veneers sustainably sourced.

Wilson Benesch Curve

The Wilson Benesch Curve Speakers. Carbon fibre construction
can be combined with real wood sustainably sourced veneers

Clearly deforestation is part of the overall threat to global environmental catastrophe as the world approaches the tipping point for irreversable global warming. It is clear that a responsible attitude to the creation of products made to last and made in as environmentally a sensitive way as possible is essential. This relates to hifFi and home entertainments as much as any other industry.

Products which can be upgraded and with repairs supported by the manufacturer even for discontinued ones is a responsible way to proceed. Of course Quad was always famous for its quality of aftercare service. Built in obsolesence needs to stop. In many ways the big Japanese mid and lo-fi manufacturers are more guilty of this than high end companies nevertheless all companies must take responsibility.

Conditions of Labour

Another issue which must be taken into consideration is conditions of labour. For many workers in China conditions are appalling yet it is in this country where considerable amounts of home entertainments products are produced on wages which are a pittance. Another issue is the toxicity of many of the products going into electronic goods. These substances can effect workers health as well as pollute the land and water supplies.

Hi-Fi Consumers

One good thing about high quality proper Hi-Fi is that there is a thriving second-hand market. Well made products should last for years if treated properly.  Good secondhand markets mean good recycling practices. There can be a problem though. I bought a scond hand Pink Triangle DAC from my local dealers which was fine for a couple of years however when something went wrong with it there were no parts available and it had to be junked which was a waste. This is why a re-emphasis on aftercare following the Quad example is good business and good environmental as well! 


Primare could be forming a new model for ethically and environmntally aware hi-fi companies


Good Hi-Fi can mean good environmental and green practices. The February Hi-Fi News has a feature on the Swedish based hi-fi company Primare. Many of the ideas which they are following seem redolent of a contempory Quad. There is rigorous quality testing, there is continuous research to try and produce very high performance products at a realistic price and a real concern with customer aftercare.

The new Primare SP22 integrated AV Preamp is a digital one claiming audiophile quality:

Primare SPA Integrated AV

The new SPA22 combines the advanced control flexibility and upgradable topology of the SP32 with five discrete channels of amplification rated at 120W each. The amplifiers are of a new type of purified Class D/switch-mode design, dubbed UFPD (Ultra Fast Power Device), which delivers a natural dynamic quality of sound across the entire audible spectrum while retaining an amazing energy-saving efficiency. (Primare website)

Combining a committment to providing high quality in a good value way and developing new tchnologies such as digital amplification to provide for new consumr desires without 'costing the earth' in both senses of the term thus making high audio available to far greater numbers of people is a far cry from the craft elitism displayed by by the gorgeous looking but antediluvian Audia Flight. Well done to Hi-Fi News for carrying this article.

January 07, 2009

Do Hi–Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Do Hi-Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Nordost Valhalla Mains cable

Magic or Myth?

Can Nordost Power Cable at around £1,000 per metre transform your Hi-Fi?

Cable companies are offering a range of power cables to the market place with prices seeming to go from about £35 for a QED one with Nordost Valhalla 2 metre mains cable coming in at just under £2,000!!! Here I've researched the Web to try and find out whther there are any reasonably objctive comments out there because I'm sceptical of such highly priced products. Added togther they would buy some expensive kit with presumably much better results in terms of improved sound quality. For my own system I would expect a much better return on investment by buying better amplification over my Quad 77 than by splashing out on several mains cables at over £100 each say.

The Case Against

The webliography contains several links to Guardian correspondent Dr. Goldacre and his column "Bad Science" which launches a lot of sceptical arguments and includes challenges to th hi-fi community around th issue of double blind testing. Below The KZone makes the following point:

The music you listen to will probably have been created in a recording studio. Even if it hasn't -- it's a live performance perhaps -- by definition it will have been recorded using electrical equipment of some sort. This equipment will have been mains powered. Now, I've spent time in recording studios, and I can't say that I ever saw one that used `audiophile mains cable' to power its mixing and amplification equipment. In fact, I've seen mains leads scavenged from kettles and toasters to power the mixing desk. As a matter of principle, your sound reproduction can never be any more accurate than the original recording. So if you spend more on your cables (mains or otherwise) than the studio does, you're wasting your money.

The Case For

The January 2009 issue carries a story about Paul undr its "Readers Systems" series. Paul has a system worth many thousands of pounds including MF amplification and SACD player as well as a Townshend TA565 Univrsal Player and a highly modifid Linn turntable. He comments that he preferred different types of music on the different digital players however when he discovered the Silvermann Clarity 3 mains cable at around £150 this improved the Townshend even with its separate power supply.

Townshend Universal Player

Apparently a £150 Silverman mains cable improved the sound of this nearly £3,500 player

Paul in Hi News said:

It was one of those fortunate moments when, for a comparatively small outlay, a real improvement in sound was obtained. The Townshend lost none of its strengths, but became much more involving . Indeed Max later said that he had noticed the same effect - due to interference from other parts of the system affecting the player. A very worthwhile upgrade then. (Hi Fi News Jan 2009 p94)


Van den Hul lower amperage mains cable

Chord power cable

Chord is another cable company with a power chord in their portfolio

Overall I still maintain a strong feling of scepticism. I guess if your system already cost many thousands of pounds then the odd couple of hundred quid as an experimnt is fine, however, for those of us in more real world situations I think getting better equipment after careful auditioning is the most sensible route to improved sound quality.


As you will see in the comments box a correspondent has (possibly) got a Kimber PK14 mains cable which he feels does the business.

Kimber PK Palladian

Kimber PK14 Palladian Mains Cable


Guardian article on the Russ Andrews Power Cable

Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Blog on Kettle Leads

Follow Up Guardian Article on Hi-Fi Power Cables

Original Russ Andrews article from Guardian in blog format with many comments

The KZone: Snake Oil and Hi-Fi Mains Cables

This I Like Jam Blog entry on "Audiophile" products in general including some fine comments on cables

Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?

Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?

I really don't understand this vinyl rvival business which seems to be strong in both the world of expensive hi-fi as well as making a come-back in the 7 inch single market. Records operate at a severe disadvantage to digital media. They are prone to dust, scratchs and other general wear and tear. The record decks are frequently like thoroughbred horses - difficult to predict. The set up needs constant attention and getting good isolation from people walking past was often very difficult. Trying to find specific tracks on records was tricky, with a danger of dropping the tone-arm down too hard. Records themslves had to be turned over half way through - a pain when listening to longer classical pieces. There seems to be more than a touch of romance involved in all this. Below I have looked at the review of the Avid Diva II turntable reviewed in the January Hi-FI News and then compared it with a review of the latest Arcam CD / SACD player along with an integrated amplifier.

Avid Diva II Turntable Review: Hi-Fi News Jan 2009

Avid Diva II

The Avid Diva II Turntable

The Diva II is an 'entry levl' model for around £1,000. On top of that you need to buy a tonearm and cartridge. The Hi-News review had a tone-arm and cartridge combination for £840. On top of that there is an isolation mat on offer for £190 which I would have thought essential. Keeping the dust off is essential and this will cost a further £70 or £350 for a full acrylic cover. With the necssary 'accessories' we are talking a minumum of £2,100. Not exactly 'entry level' to my mind.

When it came to assessing the sound of the Avid the reviewer pointed out that there was a weakness in the deep bass:

But to complain about the lack of very low bass would be churlish, given that the Diva II cost £1,000 and as such is designed to be partnered with modest amplification and speakers. (John Bamford Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 76)

Well hang on a second I don't expect a functioning front end of a hi-fi costing over £2,000 to be partnered with weak amplification and tiny little stand mounted speakers with no bass extension. The review doesn't mention the amplification in the review set up although the speakers were Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanders.

Revel Studio 2 speakers

Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanding Speakers

Well I get deep bass out of my cheap Denon DVD player and the one before as well as the Teac VDRS 10 CD player feeding a pair of Monitor Audio Studio 12 Floorstanders. This seems to me a significant weakness in the Avid Diva so I don't know how the sound scored an 82% on the Hi-Fi News Pie-Chart. By comparison over the page there was a review of the latest Arcam CD/SACD and integrated amp which come in at £2,100 for both!

Arcam CD37 CD Player / Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier

Arcam CD 37

The Arcam CD37 - It is also an SACD Player

The CD37 is now the flagship CD player in the Arcam stable replacing the CD36. Not only is it significantly cheaper than the CD36 it has the important capability to play SACDs. Here I repeat the Steve Harris comments on the bass quality of the player which one can compare with the Avid Diva record deck:

With Easy Money from Rickie Lee Jones the CD37 produced a bass sound that was big and warm... (Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 80)

When it came to SACD replay the machine gaind very favourable comments:

...the player clearly showed the finer detail available from the SACD layer...The whole stage seemed much bigger and everything became a little more relaxed. (Ibid)

Listening to the player and the amplifier in combination elicited the comment that:

...the player really did have an exceptional ability to extract detail and space from CD recordings....(Ibid)

The SACD sounded even better although little was said about this sadly! This is because I'm a recent convert to SACD. It seems to me weighing up both reviews that the Arcam SACD /CD player easily beats the Avid deck plus one gets a free amplifier thrown in for the same money as the AVID if you want to look at it like that.

QArcam A38 integrated

Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier

Choice between pair of Arcams or the Avid: A No-Brainer!

Well guess how I would spend my £2,200 on the basis of these reviews? I should say here that the review didn't mention what speakers were being used.

January 05, 2009

Towards A Greener Hi–Fi?

Towards A Greener Hi-Fi?

beoleb 5

Beolab 5 an ecologogical hi-fi solution?

I found a forum on Green Hi-fi on the Gramophone site recently. I must say I was disturbed by the rather cavalier and selfish attitude of many of the contributors. The fact of the matter is that domestic power consumption is growing at a rapid rate and a lot of this is due to the rapidly growing numbers of various entertainment systems. A TV in each room, large numbers of teenage stereos and increasingly, budget surround systems etc. The replacement of old light bulbs with nergy efficient ones simply isn't going to ease the situation. Better design of buildings to incorporate energy gathring devices as well as better buildings can help reverse the ever increasing power demands. But better design and more thoughtful use of tens of millions of domestic entrtainment systems must be a part of adapting to the mounting global crisis of energy shortages and overproduction of CO2. Now this isn't to take a hair shirt attitude to one's listening pleasures, it does point to the need for an awareness of how energy demanding certain products are and in this respect a similar guide found on Fridges to be placed on AV equipment would make a good start. Plasma screens are far more power hungry than LCD ones for example.

The Ethical Consumer has a green guide to Hi-Fi which deals with the ethics of a wide range of companies such as sourcing wood for example.The following comments most hi-fi enthusiasts would probably agree with on grounds of quality of product anyway:

Buying a hi-fi
For readers concerned about environmental issues, the best advice is to choose separates. This approach allows consumers to obtain or replace only the functions they really want (CD, Tuner, speakers etc) and leave behind the unnecessary features (remote controls, lots of flashing lights). Generally speaking, separates are easier to repair and longer lasting. They are also of course, more expensive.

On the 22nd May their table was last updated with Arcam coming out as the company with the bst ethical rating. With the likes of Samsung and Panasonic near the bottom of the pile many buyers of Quality British Audio products can feel pleased. Given that I'm getting and Arcam tuner I could feel a bit smug xcept that I didn't know about this league table when I did it, however it will inform future buying policies.

For the niche market this Blog on the ecological upgrading of old Quad and Revox equipment is fascinating...Quad Spot . Here are the basic points in their ethical mission statement:

  • Print less documents. Invoices, manuals, documentation... will be sent in pdf format.
  • Only use 100% recycled unbleached paper for those documents (like address-labels) that need to be printed.
  • Only use 100% recycled packaging-material.
  • Only use ROHS-compliant electronics components
  • Only use lead-free solder
  • Only use 100% "Green" electricity
  • Make the ecological aspect an essential negotiation-point with our suppliers
  • Advise our customers about ecological solutions

Another Hi-Fi company with a clear set of ethics is Van den Hul. I did know about this and it has influnced me in my decision to order a pair of The Integration interconnects. Here is an extract from their general information:

Other important criteria with the design of our products are: the durability of our products, an optimal protection against environmental influences and the application of environmentally friendly raw materials in all aspects.

A J VdHul

AJ Van den Hul founder of the Dutch cable and cartridge company

More Efficient Amplification: Going D Class

It is clear that amplification is the big power user and here digital amplification which is still in its early days has to be viewed as the future. Here a Stereophile article on a more upmarket digital amplifier from Yamaha shows what can be done. 500 watts and running cool is here compared to an MF behemoth.

Yamaha 500 watt digi amp

The Yamaha MX-D1 500 watt per channel digital amplifier from 2005

Musical fidelity 1Kw monoblocks

Musical Fidelity's  1KW monoblocks. A small power station is needed for this lot!

The MFs are clearly a case of total excess and signify an ecological disaster trail. This seems to be a case of male alphas doing a bit of the 'mine is bigger than yours' stuff. There is no doubt that excllent sound systems can be produced without going to such extremes as this comment on ICE Power a form of class D amplification shows:

ICEpower is a radical improvement. Even super-high-end audiophile companies like Jeff Rowland and Bel Canto are using it in amplifiers that cost factors more than Rotel charges for this little honey. (See link to Rotel article in webliography)

Beolab 1 ice powered

The elegant Beolab 1 which is ICE powered

The fact is the designs are already out there the will to buy them and allow them to develop is another matter!


B & O ICE amplification.  Perhaps this is the best route?

Rotel's use of ICE power from B&O

Direct Digital Amplification Improves Efficiency.......

STMicroelectronics Digital Amplifation 2008

Onkyo Digital Amplifier

Discovering SACD with the Denon 1940 DVD

Discovering SACD with the Denon 1940 DVD


The key point however is that aside from the attractions of otherwise of multichannel audio reproduction, a really fine SACD, of which I have many in my personal collection, has a quality that can be profoundly, moving, that can truly cause the hairs on the back of the neck to rise. For anyone who loves the sound of music, rather than being interested only in the rate at which cash registers ring, this is an absolutely peerless attribute, and the day they lay SACD to rest - if it happens - will be a black one for music lovers, and for the recorded music industry, whose priorities in recent years have become increasingly muddled. (Alvin Gold AV Review)


My old Denon DVD player finally broke down just before Xmas. As I only use it for playing back films on a Sony CRT set I was after something which had some basic build quality but I wasn't after anything special. CD replay is through a TEAC VDRS 10 driving a TAG McLaren DAC both of which I had got ex-demo for under £1,000 for both. The combination gives fine quality replay.

For a DVD I quickly decided upon another Denon the 1940 which had received some good reviews. I hadn't realised it was half-price. This is clearly because of the onset of BluRay. Not only does it have component video output - which matched my Ixos cable - but it plays SACDs. I did have a couple of hybrids to test out and quickly ordered some more.  I was amazed at how good the reproduction was. The sound was fresh and lively as well as revealing plenty of detail. I haven't carried out a comparison between the SACD and CD layers but I have heard enough to recognise just how good SACD can be.At £126-00 this has turned out to be a revelatory bargain. This Wikipedia entry on SACD is very informative on the more technical issues.

Why SACD didn't take off

The key problem for SACD seems to have been the format war with DVD-Audio. With CD there came into existence a universal replay system which worked anywhere in the world. Consumers were assured that their investments in both hardware and software would be protcted for a considerable length of time. Few people wanted a replay of the VHS / Betamax fiasco where the inferior system gained the market. Certainly I was one of those people. With a relativly large investment in CD replay equipment a low risk strategy seemed sensible especially as very few discs were coming out on SACD. A sceptical comment in a 2006 review of a high end Marantz player said a lot:

Speaking of which, are there any actual SACD users out there? Given the price of this player, one would expect the SACD market to skew only toward people with large amounts of petrodollars at their disposal. Any opinions in the house?

Marantz SACD Player

A $6,000 2006 Marantz SACD Player

Has Surround Sound Capability Confused the Marketplace?

I held off from the new format for years, until recently I realised that I should just go for a stereo only SACD player (a Sony XB940 off eBay fitted the bill) and not worry about surround. I don 't doubt that having the extra channels may be a nice-to-have, but since classical recordings are always "in front of the players" all you 're going to get from the back is mainly ambience, something you will also have from the front. (From the Gramophone Forum)

I think this is a good point. For those struggling to gradually upgrade expensive stereo systems were often horrified by the potential extra costs which would be to go multi-channel whilst keping the required quality, plus the issue that one's CDS wouldn't benefit from all this potential spending. Certainly I have no intrst in going multi-channel at present.

Who is Producing SACDs?

As far as I can tell the companies which decided to make a long-term investment in the necssary recording equipment have been small dedicated recording companies like the Swedish based BIS. The Wikipedia article comments that the vast majority of SACD releases have been classical, followed by Jazz and acoustic music.Companies like Linn are producing replay equipment as well as its own record label. Tghhere is problem that many music lovers are very sceptical about th high cost of entry into the realm of SACD as this article from the online Musical Pointers shows.

One big advantage of SACDs which are not Hybrids is the normous amount of musical data which can be stored. BIS, for example, has the Complete Organ Works of Bach on a 5 SACD set.

Now is a Good Time to Enter the Market

With the onset of Bluray which can playback SACD there are some good bargains coming up as manufacturers are licensing the Blueray system. The format war has been won and the market will be driven by films. My Denon DVD-1940 at £126-00 is a bargain with the SACD being a fortuitous accident:

Denon DVD 1940 1

The Denon DVD 1940 with SACD Playback

Denon DVD 1940 Rear

Rearview of the Denon 1940. The component video outputs can clearly be seen

Currently the machine is available from Hi-Fix mail order part of Frank Harvey Hi-Fi

I won't be buying a straight CD player again once the TEAC VDRS 10 gives up the ghost - mind you its built like a tank!


MDT Mail Order music company guide to SACD

DVD-A versus SACD Ambisonic

Here is a recent discussion thread from Gramophone Magazine on whether there is a Fading Future for SACD

An enthusiastic Gramophone forum on SACD reissues from RCA

A technical explanation on the SACD recording process from Sound on Sound

January 04, 2009

Chord, Van den Hul or Nordost Hi–fi Interconnects

Chord, Van den Hul or Nordost Hi-fi Interconnects?

In a previous posting I discussed my decision to choose an Arcam FMJ T21 FM tuner over a DAB model. As I pointed out there this has left me with a subsidiary issue of what intrconnects to use which I will run to my Quad 77 Integrated Amp. Choosing cables seems very boring compared with choosing nice bright new components which can give a sense of pride of ownership but cables are only seen by you and rarely at that. Yet trialling a few rapidly shows up differences in fine musical detail and soundstaging. Another problem is finding cables right for your current set up.

Currently my best analogue interconnects are Chord Chameleon IIs which are now no longer available. Chord do an updated Chord Chamelon Silver Plus. They seem to be much cheaper from this supplier who happens to be my local dealer than most internet prices. 

Chord Chamelon Silver Plus

Chord Chamelon Silver Plus Interconnects

Another couple of candidates for the short list include the Van den Hul Integration. I was particularly attracted towards these as a review available through the Van den Hul website from Hi-Fi News had compared these cables very favourably with the reviewers own Chord Signatures which are approximatly three times the price and well out of my price range.

VdH Integration cable

Van den Hul Integration Interconnects

Another cable which came up in the course of research was from the Nordost company whose prices go into the stratospere and are not for th like of normal mortals who struggle to put together th bst systems they can on very limited budgets. One does need to b able to purchase music and go to live events as well after all. Anyway Nordost do a budget cable which is in the budget of about £120. Going through a couple of fora and review sites is changing my mind about ths cables. I listen to mainly classical / contmporary classical as well as a good range of Jazz and crossover types of music. These are often delicate and detailed and have a wide dynamic range. reports are signifying that the Nordost is rather lean and whilst 'fast' sacrificees the sublety.


Nordost Blue Heaven Interconncts

I thought I would check out Kimber cables next. I quickly noted in one review that the insulation wasn't great. Even though it didn't seem to create a problem why leave yourself open to the risk? following that I checked out Ixos but nothing attractive there. I have Ixos video cabling but my gear isn't good and isn't a major intrest from the upgrade perspective. I thn chckd out Audioqeust as I have Indigo + biwire speaker cables. It was difficult to get good information and pricing and I could find no useful reports at the affordabl end of the market.  I trawled around BADA dealers on the web to see whether there wereany other makes worth considering within the price range. I discovered Atlantic cables but some discussion fora comments gave them bad comparisons with Chord Chamelon Silver + which is on my shortlist.Of more interest is the .Ecosse Maestro MA2 but at around £160 it breaks the budget and I would be comparing it with the next upgrade in the Chord line the Chord Chorus. This is an interesting independent review of those cables from the TNT site which is a good discovery if you are into audio.


Well it has taken me a considerable part of the day tracking down information, going through fora etc. however is was quite fun. I know that the Chord Chamelon Silver + would be a safe bet and a cheaper option than the Van den Hul Integration. Some would argue that having th sam cable throughout the system in a 'loom' would bring about system synergies but it ain't going to happen. Money would better spent on cleaning up the mains more efficiently. Pure inquisitiveness has dcided me upon The Integration in fact apart from the Chord Van den Hul's own products seem to provide the closest competition. This link to The Van den Hul blurb also has several influential reviews.  I'll report back when all the gear is in place and do a bit of cable comparison.

Arcam FMJ T21: FM/AM Tuner

Arcam FMJ T21: FM/AM Tuner

Arcam FMJ T21

Introduction FM or DAB?

I have been wanting to get another tuner for my hi-fi for a while ever since my old beloved Trio finally broke down. I had already installed a good aerial for analogue which seemed rather a waste. I have been surviving by running a signal from my Nokia Freeview box to my TAG-Mclaren DAC. The trouble is that the signal is ropey and the TAG spends most of its time muting the signal.  A key question for anyone purchasing a tuner at the moment is should it be a digital one? There is crtainly a lot of pressure to go this way as continuous ads on the BBC for pople to get them as presents indicates. However glancing through various mags from Hi-Fi News through Gramophone and BBC Music shows that most afficionados prefer high quality analogue broadcasts such as BBC live concerts on Radio 3. As I only listen to the BBC anyway that has been one reason  for keeping an eye out for end of line high quality analogue tuners. Another thing is that is is by no means certain when analogue switch-off for radio will occur. There are simply too many car radios that are analogue to make this easy. There is certainly no rush to go for DAB unless you want a myriad of not very good commercial stations broadcasting on a low bit-rate. As DAB chips are also very power hungry there is an ecological issue as well here.

Trawling for Bargains

Of course a big advantagane of the internet is that one can easily check out hi-fi shops around the country to see if they are getting rid of their analogue tuners.  I found one Midlands shop with an Arcam FMJ T21 demo model now half-price. This seemed preferable to another ARCAM bargain FM tuner the DiVA T61 which can be found around half-price in a few places right now. The FMJ is part of their premium range with better specifications and sound circuitry. Usefully the ARCAM site provides information on discontinued products and info about the FMJ T21 is readily available.

Arcam T61 tuner

Arcam T61 Tuner

Naturally I'm looking forward to the arrival of the equipment however it creates another consumer problem which is what interconncts to use. My current interconnects are Chord Chameleon IIs which are now no longer made. This has led to research some other potential cables within an affordable category but which go well beyond the nominal 10% which som suggest should be allotted to cabling. My ruminations on this are contained in another posting but suffice it to say I have become convinced that cabling is important in terms of resolving fine detail etc.

Do remember that a good quality aerial is essential if you want to get good quality radio broadcasts whether in analogue or in digital.

January 03, 2009

The Dust of Time: Trilogy 2 by Theo Angelopoulos

The Dust of Time: Trilogy 2 by Theo Angelopoulos

Return to Angelopoulos Information Page

November 2008 saw the long-awaited release of The Dust of Time the second part of Angelopoulos' Trilogy of which the first was the impressive Weeping Meadow. The film was premiered at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.

Dust of Time 1

Synopsis taken from the official Angelopoulos website:

Through references to the Thebaid cycle the three films that make up TRILOGY follow the destiny of Hellenism as recorded in the relationship of two people who first meet as children in 1919 during the flight of the Greeks from Odessa only to lose each other and find each other again in different time periods in different parts of the world, living through the great historic events of the 20th century and the turn of the 21st.

The second film is entitled "THE DUST OF TIME" (THE THIRD WING) and unfolds in the former Soviet Union, the Austrian-Hungarian borders, Italy and New York between 1953 and 1974, from the eve of Stalin's death to Nixon's resignation in the United States and the fall of the Greek junta.

dust of Time 2

Eleni Kairandrou unreleased theme for Dust in Time

Screen Daily report on The Dust of Time