It’s life Jim but not as we know it………

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So, following on from the initial Blog post…….

I returned home after work on a Friday afternoon to find a large box with Wharfedale and 80th Anniversary emblazoned on the side. The Denton’s had arrived.

I was naturally, eager to set them up and within no time at all had them had them connected to the new Yamaha A-S700 amplifier (where’s the Rega you may ask – that may be the subject of a separate post!).

But to back track I must mention the packaging. This is superb. The speakers were packed in their own cotton bag which was in turn packaged in heavy duty plastic bags. They were nestled firmly in Styrofoam inside a very well made cardboard box. There was also a plastic wallet in the box which contained a pair of cotton gloves, manual and a booklet detailing the history of Wharfedale. It may not sound like much but the way that a company cares for their products says a lot about their quality.

And in terms of build quality I was not disappointed. Every element from the veneer, to the binding posts and the way the 80th anniversary stickers are applied to the rear of the speakers oozed quality. They feel solid and have a reassuring heft to them. Very impressive.

And, so it was with hopes raised that I switched on the amplifier and started to put the speakers through their paces with some tracks that I am very familiar with. I didn’t have the Harbeth’s on hand for a direct comparison but their sound signature is so unmistakable to me differences in sound quality and presentation are straightforward to evaluate.

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The first song that I listened to was Broken Wings by Dougie Maclean from his Marching Mystery album. I must have listened to this song a hundred times or more over the years and never tire of it.

It is a simple track dominated by a bodrhan, acoustic guitar and Dougie Maclean’s voice. Even the most straightforward of tracks are easy to get wrong on some systems and this one is no exception.

Each of the instruments has their own part to play in moving the track forward. If the rhythmic, almost hypnotic drumming of the bodrhan becomes overblown or lost in the mix it loses it’s ability to act as the drive behind the song. The acoustic guitar needs to be clear and resonant, the chords should stand out from the mix with Dougie’s voice sounding plaintive with the burr of his beautiful Scottish accent coming through.

Needless to say the Harbeth’s get all of these elements to me perfectly balanced. The Denton’s offer a slightly different version of the truth so to speak. The first thing I noticed was that the bass response was deeper but this should be expected as the this is a ported design with a slightly bigger cabinet and bass driver.

The Bodrahn seemed bigger with more of a bass thud. It was also slightly “muddier” if that is a decent term to use and lost a little of it’s rhythm.

The acoustic guitar sounded warmer too with slightly less ring and resonance to the strings than I am used to. The Harbeths seem to hold onto the notes a little longer and the guitar comes across a little smaller but more akin to how a real acoustic guitar would sound. The Dentons offered a presentation where the guitar sounds slightly larger than life.

And so to the vocals. They came across with the Dentons as slightly more recessed. They didn’t get lost in the mix as I have heard them on some speakers but Dougie’s diction was slightly less clear. Not unpleasant. Just not as real as through the P3ESRs.

Denton rear

There’s a couple of things with the above – firstly I am comparing a speaker in the Denton’s that is a third of the price of the Harbeth’s. I am also comparing a “home” speaker with one that is essentially a “domesticated” studio monitor speaker which has to sound clear, precise and totally natural or it would be missing the designer’s brief by a wide margin.

Taken in isolation away from the “studio” presentation of the Harbeth and for the money the Dentons sound superb and are a wonderful loudspeaker.

I have tried them out on a wide range of material and at no time did they offend. They presentation of music is warm and graceful allowing the message of the music to come through.

Are they as good as the Harbeths? No – the Harbeth’s are significantly better and I cannot wait to be in a position to get my hands back on a pair of the P3ESRS. For other people though they could be just what they are looking for as you can listen to music for hours with no fatigue or irritation. If you listen to rock music then I would steer clear of them but then again I would say the same with the Harbeth’s.

To me the Harbeth’s present the truth albeit a smaller scale version. The Dentons are slightly bigger and warmer version of that truth that I can live with and not be constantly looking over my shoulder to a time when the Harbeth’s were in place which, to be honest, I never thought I would find at this price level. Throw in the fact that they are beautifully veneered and made and you have a speaker that you would struggle to significantly better for less than £1,000.

wharfedale 80th

Superspikes by Soundcare – Bargain Isolation

The Soundcare Superspikes 

I was having a clear out last weekend sorting through a box of old cables, cones and audiophile accessories when I came across two sets of these.

I had completely forgotten that I had them. The last time I recall using them was under a pair of Living Voice OBX’s and I have owned a several pairs of speakers since these went to their new owner.

The spikes are manufactured by Soundcare a company based in Norway. The packaging boldly suggests that they provide the some of the best isolation that money can buy. Quite a claim if a little pointless in light of the subjective nature of audiophile opinion.

In any case I was curious to hear what they could bring to my system. What I can say is that before I inserted these into the base plates of the Custom Design Reference stands I was more than happy with the systems balance and sound quality. I hadn’t, since installing the system in the lounge, thought about adding anything to try and improve what I had. The musical balance was just right to my ears and needed no tweaking.

So, spikes installed, I put one of my favourite CD’s in the Mini-Droplet: The Dougie Maclean Collection on the Putamayo label. As you might have guessed from the title this is a  compilation of some of Dougie’s best work from his first 5 or 6 solo albums.

One of the tracks I usually use for evaluating anything new in my system is called Broken Wings – a very simple track but easy for a system to get wrong. The song starts with an acoustic guitar and bodhran. So many systems gloss over the importance of the bodhran’s impact in moving the song forward.

Before I installed the spikes the deep thud of this musical instrument was clear and precise. What the spikes did was take things to a new level. The bass became even deeper and slightly more thunderous and insistent. Each bang upon the skin of the instrument was more defined and apparent. Very, very impressive.

The improvements continued with the greater vocal separation and projection and the timbre and tone of the acoustic guitar was more realistic.

I have alluded to the fact before that this not a system that is easy to sit and dissect. It sounds so right as to make specific, audiophile evaluation difficult as you are drawn into the music.

It says something then that the improvements wrought by the spikes were so apparent and positive that I could appreciate immediately the benefits of having them in under the Dulcets.

I have had them under the speaker stands for a few weeks now and feel that they are an essential and integral part of the system and highly recommended.

They can be bought here if anyone wants a set: http://www.bkelec.com/HiFi/Sub_Woofers/Accessories.htm

I am tempted to try some of their other products out. They all seem to be reasonably priced and worth a shot.

Julie Fowlis – Live at Perthshire Amber

Julie Fowlis – Live at Perthshire Amber

If you are looking for an exceptional live album in terms of musical content and sound quality then this is certainly the album for you – depending naturally on the genre being to your taste!

I have always believed that as far as your hi-fi will allow a live album should give you a feeling of being there, transported to the venue. So many albums are badly mixed with an inordinate amount of overdubbing and manipulation.

Perthshire Amber is a festival that has been running for a few years now and is organised by the legendary Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie Maclean.

As the title would suggest Live at Perthshire Amber was recorded at the festival and is truly an exception to the usual live albums churned by the major labels. It has a supremely natural acoustic placing Julie centre stage with her vocals clear and full of emotion. Her band of top quality Scottish musicians offer a perfect, atmospheric backdrop.

The last track is a superb rendition of Pabay Mor with Dougie Maclean joining Julie on vocals and guitar. It is the perfect finale to a marvellous album. It would be fantastic if Dougie could produce a live album of his own offering similar production values.

For now though I am happy to sit back and imagine that I was lucky enough to attend this concert in the comfort of my living room.

Linn Davaar – My Thoughts

Screenshot of Davaar on my Macbook Pro

Sounds like a character from Star Trek but it is in fact the latest version of Kinsky Desktop control point on my Mac. I finally got round to downloading it and have been listening to lots of different types of music since.

So what are the differences? Well operationally none as far as I can see. It certainly looks prettier than the last Cara version but in terms of ergonomics it would appear to be very similar.

As far as sound quality is concerned there are some subtle differences. To me the soundstage appears a little more holographic with instruments placed wider and deeper. Also music is presented cleaner and more, I am sorry, accurately without losing the organic qualities of Cara.

As I say though differences are subtle and nothing earth shattering. Just a small evolutionary step from Cara that seems to me well worth downloading. At least it is free and would appear to be reversible if one doesn’t take to it.

I would be really interested in the the thoughts of those that have “upgraded”.

Incidentally the Will Young album is the wife’s. Some other dodgy ones in there but that one is definitely not mine.

Jon Allen – Sweet Defeat

This is a quick blog post. I have recently discovered this guys music and I have to say he is superb. Heard him singing live on Radio 2 a week or so ago and I was impressed enough to go out and buy his latest album the next day.

Great voice, reminiscent of an early Rod Stewart before he took a wrong turn, with wonderful music and lyrics to match. I have been playing Sweet Defeat on repeat for almost a week and not tired of it once.

His first album is supposed to to be just as good and my order went into Amazon today. I suggest that if you like well written, superbly sung folk/folk rock type music then you should seek this guy out too.

I cannot imagine you would be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Playlist #1 – Being a Parent

I have always loved songwriters who use their children or children in general for inspiration. Being a Father to three I am constantly touched by the thoughts and sentiments of songwriters. The fact that some go on the call their kids Moon Unit, Fifi Trixibell or Apple is an entirely different matter!

The playlist runs the gamut of emotions from grief to elation. Do some investigating and enjoy.

1. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton suffered the worst nightmare of any parent: the loss of their child. Clapton’s son, Conor, plunged to his death from the window in an apartment block and this song was his way of dealing with the devastating grief.

2. Danny’s Song – Kenny Loggins

A wonderfully uplifting song from brilliant songwriter Kenny Loggins. It tells the tale of meeting his wife and how their world was made complete when their first child came along.

3. The Things We’ve Handed Down – Marc Cohn

Marc Cohn is a brilliant songwriter. Looking a little deeper than Walking In Memphis you can find some gems. We have all wondered, prior to the birth of our child, what traits they have inherited from Mum or Dad. This song encapsulates those feelings and thoughts beautifully.

4. This Is Home – Lucy Kaplansky

Lucy tells the story of the adoption of her baby from an orphanage in China better than I could here. This song was her way of telling the story. The lyrics a moving especially when she sings of her adopted baby to be lying, alone, in an orphanage “getting used to being left behind”. A simple but powerful song.

5. Over There – John Gorka

Lyrically a brilliant song about how being in a family with his wife and two children keeps him grounded. “And the little but that I give up/It’s all coming back a hundredfold/It’s not lost if it goes to love/It rounds you out so you can roll”.

6. Father and Son – Cat Stevens

A fantastic song about a father who wants the best for his child and the son who wants to make it in his own way….

7. Teach Your Children – Crosby Stills and Nash

A great song about looking to the future and wanting the best for your children and that how it was done before might not be the best way. Second part of the songs speaks directly to children of parents fears and hang ups.

8. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) – John Lennon

Lennons stunning , brilliantly written song to his son Sean.

9. Sarah Maria – James Taylor

Sarah Maria was James’ first child with Carly Simon and this a sweet song about his little girl.

10. Taking You Home – Don Henley

As one half of the main writing partnership in the Eagles you can expect great quality. Henley’s solo albums have a more of a personal touch to them which makes for a more in depth listen.

Sometimes the joy of parenthood comes when you least expect it and this is true of Don Henley. This is his song relating his feelings when he first saw his newborn and wanted to simply take her “home”.

11. Speaking With The Angel – Cry Cry Cry

Lucy Kaplansky sings here on a collaborative album she did with Richard Shindell and Dar Williams. The album is made up of songs by their favourite artists. This is their brilliant version of Ron Sexsmith’s song.

Well, that’s it. I hope you do seek out and enjoy this music and it speaks to you in the way it does me.

Perfect Playlists – Philosophy

I am going to begin a series of Blogs of what I consider to be perfect playlists around certain themes.

Each will contain 10 to 12 songs and will contain music from familiar and unfamiliar artists. I have tried to focus more on those artists and songs that are a little less known – there is a wonderfully rich vein of music that simply goes umissed.

I will provide some commentary on each song where appropriate. I have always been a sucker for a good lyric and so the songs chosen will hopefully draw you into the songwriters world……

I hope that you find them interesting and they lead you to discover some new artists and music. Please feel free to make comments and suggestions to add to the playlists to makethem even more “perfect”.

The first of these will be on the emotions of being a parent and will follow shortly……