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Tearing it all apart: Reference recordings

Led Zeppelin Physical GraffitiWhen CD first came about alongside the hails of crackle free and clarity you could also hear the moans of how the sound is just too bright or too harsh. Often this was due to the poor process of the transfer from an analogue master to a digital medium or simply poor early day digital mastering which was often more forgiven when played through analogue media such as vinyl and tape. One could argue, however, that in many cases it was simply down to the fact that the reproduction equipment was not up to the task. The dynamic range source material hitherto hadn’t had so much width and so far less taxing of so called high fidelity equipment. This brings me to a couple of recording reproductions on CD that often bring Audiophile equipment to their knees.

Back in the early 90’s Led Zeppelin re-released their back catalogue, Jimmy Page having spent some time remastering the original recordings digitally.There were many in the Audiophile world who really did not like what had been done. To many listening to an album through was a painful, ear aching experience. When we, as Sonneteer, first started proper referencing our source material was recent, well recorded, highly dynamic and due to these qualities, a challenge to anything that claims high fidelity. The ‘Led Zeppelin problem’ really only surfaced as an issue when we were developing our first CD player, the Mark One Byron, as it is now known. We were comparing and referencing some CD players of the time that were either very popular or that we were particularly impressed with. Results were mixed, but there was strong evidence that the recordings might be just fine. We also assumed that they couldn’t have possibly have sounded so harsh in the mastering suite. I mean Jimmy Page was getting on but his ears can’t be that shot surely?

Doubt set in and development continued using the material that had served us well so far and the results are part of Sonneteer history. The Byron was universally received as a natural sounding CD player that takes the ‘digital’ out of the sound. Some even said it was the Vinyl like player, but (and we have evidence) with all the dynamics and without the crackle and pops. It was only one day when I decided to blow away the cobwebs with one of my favourite albums which I hadn’t heard for quite a while, the aforementioned Led Zeppelins’s Physical Graffiti, that it dawned. I had the CD lying around, so I popped it in to a Byron and pumped it up loud. Before I knew it, I was air guitaring and jumping around the office. It hadn’t crossed my mind that it might sound harsh of over bright. In fact it was perfect. Then it did occur to me and I realised that it sounded very real and very good. So one after the other I listened to more of the remastered albums with no onset of fatigue and a very high level of listening pleasure. This was good, very good.

A couple of years on and The Jam released their 25th anniversary Greatest Hit Album, The Sound of The Jam. It was a collection of all their hits and included a, what can only be described as a, remix of ‘That’s Entertainment’. If there was a remastering of a song that could or even today can tear apart a high fidelity system then this is the one. It’s a stripped down version of the original recording with Bass and drum overdubs left out. The guitars are given a lot of space to breath. Reproduced well and this is a recording that brings you as presently as you ever will be to the artist in the studio. Do it badly and it will tear your ears (and equipment) to bits. This will have gone unnoticed on the radio as radio stations compression will have warmed things up, but many a hi-fi will have been deemed not suited and moved on to something more mellow.

Needless to say, alongside our standard set of reference recordings, these two above mentioned are now part of the set. Alone they serve as a critical test. With the others and many new they allow us to critically evaluate every listened to step of a new product in development. It’s not enough for us to say an amplifier is great for Jazz or good for Classical. It needs to be good for everything or it’s not good at all. So if I come over armed with either of these CDs please be prepared for tears. Tears in despair or ones of joy.

Reference listening: Mosley Shoals on a Sonneteer.

Moseley_ShoalsIt was a few years back on a beautiful sunny weekend in Guildford. Amongst 24 thousand people we, my partner Vicky and I ( pre-children), were enjoying the full three days of Guilfest, our local summer music festival. That year probably had one of the best line ups ever with the likes of Simple Minds, UB40, Blondie, The Stranglers (formerly known as the Guildford Stranglers of course) to name but a few, but not forgetting my favourite of the weekend, Ocean Colour Scene. As they made their introductions doing the hello Guildford stuff they yelled out,”We can tell we ‘re in Surrey. Everyone’s clean”. Welcome to the land of the great washed.  There then followed the perfect accompaniment to a sunny Surrey Summers’ afternoon. Which brings me to a journeyman album which has featured in the testing of just about every product I have ever designed or been involved in the design of; Mosley Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene. As with most of my references, this is truly an album that one can listen all the way through as opposed to a collection of songs with a couple of good ones amongst a host of dreary fillers.

The Riverboat Song is how I and many others were first introduced to this band of men and their instruments. Probably not the fairest of comparisons but to me it was like Jimi Hendrix on a roller-coaster. As a fan of the latter, to me this was just brilliant.There was energy, there was melody and as moreish to listen to as eating Humus and warm pita bread. As the crowd goes “oh oah la la, oh oah la la” we are well into (as Jimi Heard) The Day we caught The Train. This tune is signature ‘Colour Scene. “When you find that things are getting wild don’t you need days like these?”. Oh yes indeed as it fades into the third song, The Circle, which plays like a breeze through the leafing trees. Captivating guitar riffs and a bass-line that caries you along like the wind were your carriage carrying you effortlessly into the melancholy Lining your Pockets and laid back Fleeting Mind. Bones are tingling with every riff which tease as much as they deliver. A promise that is delivered at the end of every line.

Just before the halfway mark, the mood changes a little more than before. Suddenly we have hints of the Stones (Rolling kind), but as a band this is ever so much tighter than Keith, Mick and the gang ever could be, bless them. 40 Past Midnight, though, certainly has its hat tipped their way. One for the Road that follows invites us to “get up and dance”, but there is a lot of heart felt sorrow in this one as they “drink to the ones that are gone….I sing my sorrow” but what a song. Seven songs in and there is no way you could be bored. Even as the tempo slows down (just a little bit)with It’s My Shadow the listen-ability doesn’t stop. Guitars as has been the case so far carry both the melody and rhythm with ease.

Policemen and Pirates picks us right up only for Downstream to bring us into to true ballad mode “How does it feel when the world comes on so real and true?” (sounds like a good hifi system). Well You’ve got it bad changes all that and brings us right back to Roller-coaster territory and if the clues weren’t there already the final track Getaway really tells us they should have been children of the sixties. Well may be their parents were.

It may not be a Cheskyesque perfect recording and its certainly not the cleanest of productions in technical terms, but I imagine any of that would simply have ruined what is ultimately an extremely enjoyable shake of the speaker cones. For that very reason it is the essence of what I am looking for when testing our products in development. I expect every tingle and buzz in my bones to repeat or better itself. I want every emotion spilled over me and to anticipate every pluck and strum to crescendo. I don’t look for perfect high hats, if the essence of the performance is not there. This album allows me that. Oh and I love it.

Haider Bahrani is the Managing Director and co founder at Sonneteer.
Hand made in Britain since 1994

New spin on an old romance: Latest Sonneteer creation lets you print your own records in your own home!

This gallery contains 3 photos.

  • Latest stereolithography 3D printer technology lets music lovers to recreate their favourite LPs.
  • LP Creation Software available for free, but you still have to buy the music!

We are back to the old with the latest 3-D printing technology created by the amazing chaps at Sonneteer allowing you to produce your own records at home. You can 3D print anything from the Beatle’s 1st Album to your own version of “Now that’s what I called…” compilation LPs to your heart’s content.

vinyl comeback

Vinyl’s coming back but not as we know it

Vinyl’s coming back, but not as we know it!

Sonneteer, writing on their website said: ‘We recently revisited our old record collection and sadly we have found that some of the older LPs were in a bit of a bad state! With LP’s there are no ways to repair them, and with so many of them being out of print there are no ways to replace them ether!… Or is there? We wondered. “We could use a laser cutting machine to…” but apart from Sonneteer’s (ever so slightly eccentric) co-founder Remo Casadei, who else would be dreaming of having such a machine in their own home? We then looked at some other manufacturing processes available and thought, why not just print it?

We had long considered using 3D printing technology in the past to create some of our products like the Bard Wireless audio system, whereby the technology requires the cases to be made in polymer to allow wireless transmission. However, all the earlier “3D” AM (Additive Manufacturing) machines weren’t actually true 3D, they were in fact 2-D printing machines, capable of printing one layer on top of another and the results were refined enough. So we set out in search of a better way to achieve the results we wanted.

 

laser cut vinyl

Once formed, the second laser “cuts” the music “grooves” and you can then play it on your record player like a normal record – via the Sonneteer Sedley phono stage of course!
Insert: 3DDS in action (note twin laser tubes)

Once formed, the second laser “cuts” the music “grooves” and you can then play it on your record player like a normal record – via the Sonneteer Sedley phono stage of course!

Insert: 3DDS in action (note twin laser tubes)

After spending several months discussing with 3-D printer makers around the world, we pinned down a two-tier process called “3-D-D Stereolithography”, or “Three-Double-D”. This new twin laser process would basically construct the main object body via the first guided laser beams to quickly solidify the liquid polymer into the basic shape (i.e. the record body), and then use the second ultra-fine laser beam to create the details (i.e. the sound tracks grooves) at a precision far greater than any gas-laser cutter can ever achieve. Also, as all the shaping and cutting are done at room temperature the final object will not suffer from temperature related distortion issues, and for the same reason, no annealing process is required to prevent future crazing either.

What about the software? Well, it is surprisingly simple as the open-sourced free software basically loads a music file just like any computer music player but with a difference: You also get a PRINT button! So now not only can you press PLAY to listen or preview your creation, you can also press PRINT which sends the file to the printer to, literally, print yourself a hard copy! The free to download software accepts most popular audio formats such as MP3, WMA etc., and the Pro version accepts high resolution formats such as WAV, DVD-A, DSD etc. Being open source means any developer can also incorporate their own ideas offering additional features for the future too!

One thing most curious, even though the files are digital, the output grooves are actually analogue as they are carved by a continuously moving single laser beam, and then mechanically low-pass filtered in the solidifying polymer. After hundreds of hours of listening by our panel of judges, they all agreed that the playback sounded distinctively analogue too!

So, are the printed records black in colour too? Sadly not yet as the highest resolution polymer currently comes only in indigo, but who says the technology will stop here? This is the only beginning and Sonneteer believe apart from printing black LPs, we will soon be printing picture discs too!

 

3DDs software in operation. You can set different LP thickness too… 180g Vinyl here we come!

3DDs software in operation. You can set different LP thickness too… 180g Vinyl here we come!

3DDs software in operation. You can set different LP thickness too… 180g Vinyl here we come!

We’d like to thank Remo Casadei, Technical Director and one of the Sonneteer founders for help with this article.

Weight for it. Kitchen amp from Sonneteer measures your pasta too.

Salter scalesHere at Sonneteer we have noted how there has been a trend of designing amplifiers or hifi components that look a little like chic kitchen appliances. More particularly, flat, food weighing scales. Similar to the ones Salter have made their mark with. We are not overly surprised as kitchen gadgets and cookers etc. have been adopting the looks of stylish electronics from other parts of our lives for a while now. It was only reasonable to expect some designers to claim the look back for the living room. So we thought we would get on the bandwagon, sort of.

It all started with a chance meeting in a bar. After a heavy days designing, the Sonneteer founders, Haider Bahrani and Remo Casadei while downing a swift merlot in central Guildford they chanced upon a one Avril Loof who over heard their conversation about a new product. Now Avril had claimed to be a former designer at Salter and had an interesting suggestion. As the kitchen has been a place where a lot of us like to listen to music (I certainly like to dice carrots to a beat) it has too been poorly served with quality music playback equipment. The other problem of course is, space is often at a premium. So the suggestion was, why not combine two products, the music player and a food scales?knapkin AF1 Sonneteer weighing scale

Ms Loof, at this point, had placed two more battles of wine on the table, some paper napkins and a pen. So they set about drawing. The new product is said to be near completion and is said to be an all singing all dancing ‘Salter-esque’ looking music player, amplifier and scales. There have also been rumours of an app that links to your music and recipes in the cloud.draft AF1 scales

We have managed to get someone to leak a couple of images of the work in progress, as seen here. We also tried to get a couple of words from the chaps, particularly about that evening and Ms Loof, but Haider and Remo said it was all a bit of a haze. We also contacted Salter to ask about Avril Loof, but they seemed to deny all knowledge.

The Evangelists: Part 1

Over black coffeeWe all live or die in business by our reputation. Here at Sonneteer we are certainly no different. We are human and will always have the odd off day. We all know the day when sleep didn’t visit us much the night before and breakfast was left behind as the kids chased us out of the door. So staring into a large cup of black coffee the best remedy is to dig out some of the responses and comments we have had over the years from our customers and the odd reviewer. The Sonneteer evangelists, as they may be called, always remind us why we really do all of the Sonneteer things we do. Here are a few typical  recent examples:

“In this age of very dubious value, service and standards from big and impersonal retailers Sonneteer is a gem
emitting a much welcomed ray of sunshine. I am looking forward to adding more of your products to my system.”
Tony Melhuish, End user,Customer June 2011
“Your posting of December 9/10, 2010 in Ecoustics.com to Art shows you’re a great designer willing to come down to customer level, hold their hand and show them the way.”
Philippe Hing, End user,Customer June 2011

“I was lucky enough to hear some Sonneteer amps with my Harbeth C7 ES3’s a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to give a report since I was so impressed. There have been a few people recommending Sonneteer recently, and Adam Wyskonski has recommended the Orton with Harbeths in particular, so I was keen to hear it….. What I heard with the Orton, from the first moments really, was that it was extraordinarily clean and clear at the same time as it was expansive, dynamic and fast…. I would say this is the most impressive integrated amp I’ve heard up to this point; a really fine achievement made with great care.”
Pink Fish Media by an End User April 2011

“Orton is a very great amp.  It has a very clear, transparency and refind sound like your description on the website. I am so surprised that the amp with only 33w can drive the speakers well in sensativity 85db. ”

Shih-Chang, End User November 2012

And of course there’s the press who have done their fair share of work to cheer us up on  cloudy day:

“[On the Campion amplifier and Bronte CD player]..these machines are the objects of craftwork. Comparable to drinking single malt whisky, straight. You can enjoy the high quality sound without colouration. A person who like this is one who is a considerable lover of music and sound.” Translation. Audio Basic(Japan), Spring 2012.

“…The Morpheus Music Centre [from Sonneteer] will move you from the very first instant. This is not just a high technology laden piece of equipment, but clearly one created to bring music to life.”
Winson Ng, HiFi Review, August 2010

“…..Right away I sensed there was something special happening. While some of the preamplifiers I auditioned were (as Goldilocks would say) too hot or too cold, the Sedley was just right. It was quiet, had good sense of space, nice top end without hiss or excessive sizzle, and images were appropriately sized and didn’t sound congested or obviously colored in any way. Soundstage wasn’t too wide or too narrow and image location was excellent as evidenced by the track ”Home At Last.” This is the first preamp that I’ve had under review that I could honestly consider using for the long term. This is not to say it’s perfect and there is nothing better, but only that it doesn’t have any egregious flaws. I felt comfortable sitting and just listening (and without the feeling I was missing something or the music was being edited by the equipment).
…Tonally this preamp gets it right. I have to say that I had to be reminded I was working on a review and try to critically listen as I continually lapsed into just enjoying the music–as it should be! The other thing I noticed was that although the LP wasn’t in perfect shape the imperfections became less noticeable when the music was this engrossing.”
Brian Bloom(Yes the actor), Audiophile Audition, June 2009, USA

“…a digital amplifier of audiophile quality”
“…it’s reproduction [of music] demonstrates an incontestable transparency in the true spirit of digital
amplification”.
Translated from Diapason Magazine July-August 2009, France.
“…And if you’re feeling really flush, look around for Soneteer’s Bard system, a USB dongle that plugs into your
laptop and transmits to a receiver jacked into your stereo. The result is very high-quality sound that’s highly
recommended by audioheads. However, it does cost around £240″
Bobbie Johnson, The Guardian, Saturday 21 June 2008

“in fact, it comfortably compares with a variety of integrated amps and receivers in its price range.” [About theAmplifier that fits in the palm of your hand]
The Absolute Sound, December 2006

“Simple but highly effective …the quality is excellent “ ….“The Bard Audio system is recommended without
hesitation.”Gramophone June 2005
“Bard is a stroke of genius”
What Hi Fi? September 2005.

Now where are my chocolate biscuits?

Image courtesy of www.stockfreeimages.com

Ear Ache: Listener fatigue and other mythology.Part 1.

Eye care by SonneteerIt was about 20 years or so ago and I was sitting in front of a brand new hifi system my Girlfriends’ flat mate had just bought. He was a young man, in his mid twenties, working in the City of London and was earning beyond what normal graduates would be earning at that age. I, on the other hand was working for toffee, writing editorial and reviews at Hi-Fi World magazine. The hifi system in question had as its centre piece an amplifier from a well know brand of the time that by chance I had just written a review of. My tactless younger self sat down with the chap and said to him that he should have spoken to me first and that his ears would be hurting after less than a hour of listening even at low levels of volume. A few days later the flat mate got in touch to tell me I was right. Some attribute this phenomenon to what they call Listener Fatigue though I am not so sure.

Listener Fatigue1, not as far as I am aware a medically recognised term, is attributed to tiredness, discomfort and some pain after prolonged listening to music and usually at louder levels. In the case in question, however, we have less than an hour’s listening and at not necessarily high levels of loudness yet the pain and discomfort is genuine. I have had and have anecdotally heard similar complaints from others while listening through headphones. An often, but not always, telling sign of a problem is when vocals spoken or sung in a recording are sibilant or seemingly ‘shouty’ in reproduction. Also if certain instruments like high hat cymbals are sounding obviously ‘splashy’ rather than clean. As you can see from my use of ‘Latin’ terminology I have yet to find a source of medical or other academic verification of the cause. To this end I thought it worthwhile posting on a number of audio fora (or forums) which we sponsor to see if I’d get a few more view points and who knows some pointers to academic studies. To put it mildly, in just a couple of days the response was vast and to say the least, quite varied. I placed the threads in Audiokarma, Pink Fish and Audio Circle. Although one or two tangents are taken there are clearly quite a few declarations of faith in the phenomenon. Though the number of theories as to the cause outnumbers the respondents by some margin. Putting to one side my own scientific leanings for a moment, a little bit of pseudo-science and straw polling statistics suggest strongly that at the heart of it all is a mixture of poorly balanced presentation of the audio and, of course, non linearities in the reproduction. In other words, distortion 2 34

Within a few hours of me posting the threads one of our very well respected dealers sent us a message saying, “No disrespect – but what do you guys know about listener fatigue? Sonneteer kit is *most* notable – above all else – for completely lacking it: lovely velvety tonality!”. Yes thank you and a product would not leave our test benches if it were to behave otherwise. Saying that, I was recommended an interconnect cable recently to try, but it turned our “velvety” test reference system into an unbearable listen (again at normal listening levels) after about 10 minutes. With the cable connected, initially the system sounded more present, more detailed and perhaps extra real. Well as I wrote not too long ago in our Magazine section, the human ear is exceptionally sensitive and so responds to tiniest change in pressure in the airwaves. To give you an idea in numbers, the human ear threshold of hearing is less than one billionth of atmospheric pressure 5. So there were clearly some changes in the sound, if slight, disturbing enough to cut short my pleasure.

Ok so I did come across a number of academic papers alluding to the subject (found in some of my footnote references scattered about this article) but not quite addressing directly. One of the more interesting reads was on  a loudspeaker manufacturer whose customers are often associated with Sonneteer product, Harbeth’ website 6. Though more focussed on loudspeakers it certainly presents an interesting educated view of the subject. Much, again, leans towards audible distortion and non-linearities in particular audio frequency bands and so on. Upper mid band audible frequencies between 3KHz and 5KHz, for example, seem to be mentioned a lot as too are accentuated lower mid to upper bass sounds. My instincts lean me to agree with much of it. Also a lot has come up in the fora which is credible but there is very little scientific flavour to any of it.

For now, I can conclude that the accuracy of the presentation of the recorded material is key. By that I don’t necessarily mean absolute verbatim reproduction, but a true re-presentation of the essence of the recording. This applies equally when designing an in car system, a portable music system, a TV sound bar or a high end, high fidelity system. Good, quality design will deliver at all these levels. We buy these products to be entertained by their delivery. If we don’t like it we will simply switch off, consciously or otherwise. In the meantime, I will continue to follow the fora as the conversations unfold, explode and tangent. There may even be an Ear Ache Part 2 as I learn more.

Haider Bahrani is Managing Director and one of the founders at Sonneteer.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listener_fatigue
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distortion
  3.  http://gedlee.com/downloads/Distortion_AES_I.pdf
  4. http://www.gedlee.com/downloads/Distortion_AES_II.pdf
  5. Hyperphysics, Georgia State University
  6. http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?1813-Listening-fatigue-how-does-Harbeth-avoid-it

21 years Under the Pink with Sonneteer.

Under the Pink- Tori Amos“Tears on the sleeve of a man Don’t wanna be a boy today..” follows a signature Tori Amos Piano introduction, ‘Pretty Good Year’, starts the album off, stripped down to the bare beauty of Tori’s voice and piano. Our anticipation hangs off every lyric for the next as each note carries us like a mother dancing with her baby in arms. The song builds as strings, percussion and voices are layered on. Tori’s main vocal and Bösendorfer piano still seem raw yet beautiful amongst them as they close much as they began. Pretty good song.

Released in the same week as Sonneteer’s incorporation 21 years ago, Tori Amos’ second album, ‘Under The Pink’ has been one of our reference recordings. As we both come of age I thought I’d dust off my reviewer’s cap and give the album a critical airing. Though in fairness it is hard to be critical of a piece of work that has served us so well in our development over the last couple of decades.

My first experience of Tori Amos’ music was a few months pre my Bachelors finals in Electronics. Silent All These Years had finally charted properly in the UK and the radio stations were all over it like the next big thing. I think I heard the song twice and I set to Ourprice to buy the album. My Parents had bought me a proper separates (Philips)hifi CD player for my 21st Birthday and this was now the jewel in my collection. Hard to believe since Prince and Jimi Hendrix pretty much ruled my musical world at the time.

Not long after this my first amplifier was taking shape. One of our lecturers was an Audiophile and an audio designer himself so he needed no encouragement to let me go ahead and build an amplifier for my final year project. I’d already bought a nice pair of Tannoys, but my amp was an (actually very good) second hand Toshiba and I felt the system needed a tweak. I mostly used it for monitoring in my real hobby which was recording (my own and some of my friends’) music. None the less Tori’s first outing (under the Tori Amos brand) was to feature heavily in the midst of the fires and minor explosions which was the development of my first amplifier design. If CDs could wear then there would be little of ‘Little Earthquakes’ left by the years end, so you can imagine my anticipation levels for a second bewitchment.

A more dynamic number follow, ‘God’, is Tori out Kate Bushing Kate Bush. The piano is now an obvious percussive instrument. If a song is going to send a badly designed amplifier or CD player into a frenzied muddle it’s this one. To the generic this is madness, but seems totally right. Guitars shrieking like seagulls, a bass line that carries both melody and backbone, and layers of Tori voices prodding your senses throughout.This is wall of sound yet you can make out every little detail. God does she come through.

Perhaps my favourite Tori Amos tune follows. The third song on the album is, ‘Belles for her’. I remember my partner, Vicky and I going to see her live at the Albert Hall, long, long before we had children and we had time to do such things. A special upright piano was brought onto stage for this number. This is just Tori and the instrument. As the name suggests, the upright sounded like bells playing. As with a lot of Tori Amos productions, every thud of the pedals and stroke of keys is felt and heard through the recording. Each ‘bell’ rings like it’s in a cold hollow chamber. It is as haunting as it is beautiful. I could hear it a hundred times over and it would still tingle the bones from the inside, and out of control. I recall once at a HiFi show we played the track through our [Sonneteer] equipment to a room full of about 30 people and they were so captivated, barely a breath was heard throughout the whole five minutes and fifteen seconds of it. Anyone who has had the experience of these shows back in the day when they were very busy will appreciate the achievement. The timing of every breath and every strike of a key keeps you hanging and wanting. The beauty of the song is only matched by the drama of the performance.

The next two songs, ‘Past the Mission’ and ‘Baker Baker’ are Tori in coasting mode. They come at just the right time as the senses are in need a bit of rest. The calmer ‘Past the Mission’ with it’s playful verses and silky chorus will have you singing along unwittingly. This is as close as we get to a proper pop song as ‘Under the Pink’ takes us on musical journey that is far from dull. Voice and piano alone again, almost but not quite a lullaby, ‘Baker Baker’ slows us right down.

If sleep is where I am then ‘The Wrong Band’ and ‘The Waitress’ are smelling salts to the senses. The former is a playful and uplifting yet strangely melancholy. This is still Tori coasting but with aplomb. And if that didn’t wake you up then,what comes next is a true test of subsonic playback and the incitement to violence laws. Which is a perfect preamble to the most commercially known song on the album, ‘Cornflake Girl’. This happens to be my least favourite title on this long player and yet it is arguably the only complete song in the collection. If I only had one test song to play then ‘Cornflake’ would be it.It has it all. Tori vocals at their provocative best and a jamboree of melody and dynamics and in fairness a good song too.

If there at all was a dip in the early album then,’Icicle’, track nine is a true return to form. I often use the very first note of this song as a test signal on its own. It lingers momentarily, solitary yet fat with emotion, enough to fill a family of hearts. The melody plays out like a Nordic TV police drama which still makes sense without the subtitles. We are sort of kept in this mode all the way to the end of the album. The final three songs, ‘Cloud on my Tongue’, ‘Space Dog’ and ‘Yes Anastasia’ are melodically are episodes two, three and four. The pick of the three is probably ‘Space dog’ which always gives me a sense of being in a dingy on a smooth yet fast flowing river in a dream. Closing out the album is a drawn out affair that takes us to the soulful depths as well as the pitched heights of a Tori Amos rendition. As much as ‘Little Earth Quakes’ was an almost rude interruption but very pleasant exposure, ‘Under the Pink’ is a scalpel through the chest and a drill into the scull of the body of work that Tori Amos is yet to deliver. If Little Earth Quakes put her on the map, Under the Pink built the city. Every penny Tori earned after this is owed to this. Brilliant.

The year was 1994 and I was half way through my Masters degree when my HiFi crazy University friend Remo Casadei and I decided to start making amplifiers. I had also introduced him to Tori’s tunes and he too caught that flu.

To write this review I have been listening to her CD over and over in the past week and getting paragraphs written in between bouts of work at the bench in the workshop, studying circuits and sipping black coffee as well as at my office at home with the kids jumping around and on me. The systems I have used have comprised of a Sonneteer Alabaster amplifier, Byron CD player Mark Three and Jamo Concert 8 loudspeakers in the workshop and at home, a Mark One Sonneteer Campion, a Mark three Byron and a pair of Rogue 6 Penaudio loudspeakers.

Haider Bahrani is the Managing Director and co founder at Sonneteer.
Hand made in Britain since 1994

We do, they talk: The Evangelists Part 2.

“Right away I sensed there was something special happening.”

“probably the most musical gear I’ve had come through my music room in recent memory.”

“…stroke of genius”

“enjoying the music – as it should be!”

“The build, fit and finish is exceptional revealing layers of detail I’d not tuned into before.”

“absolutely musical and organic sounding. Pulls you into listening to and enjoying song after song, album after album.”

“I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be reviewing the amp rather than sitting there transfixed.”

And that’s just some of the good stuff from the reviewers.

Here are some words from our customers:

“This amp is beautiful to the eye and to the ear.” Mark Williams, Alabaster Owner Nov 2014

“Orton is still one of my reference amps and all old and present Penaudios has been designed by listening them through Orton!” Sami Penttila, Founder of Penaudio loudspeakers.

“I’m just enjoying the amp so much Haider, thanks again for designing/building such a beautiful sounding piece of art.” Rafe Arnott, Campion owner.

“I have had your excellent Alabaster giving me pleasure for more than ten years..” Richard Coe, end user, UK.

“I can’t tell you enough how proud I feel to have owned one of your first Campions for all this time.” Hallam Udel, UK and Japan End user.

“In the short time listening I am very impressed with the performance of the Alabaster and it seems to work very well with my Harbeths. “ Edward Laukys. Canada end user.

“The sheer musicality of the Sonneteer is incredibly impressive. It creates distinct instrument separation, 3D placement and ‘air’ around voices and instruments.” Raferx on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums.

and so on and on.

For a lot more please visit www.sonneteer.co.uk

Hand made in Britain since 1994.

Vinylise: Magazine edition.

GramophoneTrevor Horn’s Video as we all know now, did not kill the radio star. If anything radio has grown much stronger since. In the same vein digitised music has yet to do away with all analogue forms and Vinyl has been spinning its virtues louder than most. So much so that the last decade has seen an actual solid and consistent growth in the sales of vinyl records 1. This has prompted more recording artists and companies to release more of their recordings on the format which in turn can only allow this trend continue.

On the Bandwagon.

Of course we may simply be enjoying the dizzy heights sitting atop an ever growing and rising bubble. Though I don’t think record companies are under any illusion that LP is going to make a comeback and dominate all music sales. Some may call it a passing fad even. We however can see it sitting nicely in its niche for years to come. Digital formats are all over the place. More and more are being introduced without others falling by the wayside. This adds confusion to something that is already very confused. The ritual of walking up to and raising and placing a stylus on a record has virtues beyond the technology racetrack. Dynamic range? pfft!

Still in the groove.

Here at Sonneteer we have not shied away from supporting both digital and analogue formats. The Sedley phono stage has served the Vinyl loving community since the late 90s and in that time we have also had two CD player models, the Byron and Bronte spinning silver disks for the music loving public. Though while CDs and CD players seem to be on the Hearse to the format crematorium needles are still merrily jigging in the vinyl grooves. Tellingly we have recently retired our two CD player models and have introduced an internal phono stage to our most popular amplifier, the Alabaster. This is the same bit of Sonneteer, much praised, electronics’ trickery that used to grace the now also retired Campion amplifier. This particular phono stage has been in the shadow of the Sedley for many years yet has quietly built up a bit of a following. Little did we expect the noises that regretted the passing of that particular feature almost more than the Campion itself. For that reason, as much as any, it is back

Between the amp and the turntable

The phono stage is the box of electronics’ tricks that sits between the record player’ stylus and the audio amplifier stage in a music playing system like your hifi. It probably does the most important job in getting the music correctly off the record and playing as it should into your ears. Because of the way records are made (remember these techniques were invented a very long time ago) they require an equalisation filter which has become known as a head amp or phono stage to correct the anomalies of production. Please see So What is Exactly is a phono stage?2 for more on the subject.

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  1. http://www.statista.com/chart/2967/worldwide-vinyl-sales/
  2. http://sonneteer.co.uk/home/magazine/exactly-phono-stage/

The audio amplifier and other format sauce.

Ear care by SonneteerThe beating heart of any sound system is the amplifier. Its invention is attributed to the coming of the first triode123 valve at the turn of the twentieth century to make the first AM radios. Since, the audio amplifier has unassumingly featured in all electronics’ products that are sound making while the limelight has shone on its various appendages. Items which, over the past century or so, have come and gone as often as the weather changes in Blighty 4. Amplifiers along with loudspeakers, in their various forms have been the main stayers in sound systems ever since.

While the loudspeaker is the mouth and larynx delivering the audio message, the amplifier is the heart pump that drives and controls its delivery. This is the same be it in a small transistor radio or a behemoth of a PA system at a Rock festival. The timing, the depth, the essence of the original sound and its recreation is ultimately dictated by the ability of the amplifier to take it from the level of a whisper to one that can excite the cones, horns and cans that tickle our ears and vibrate our floors. So as CD players have come and gone (nearly), Cassette players become specks on a landfill and as surely one day streamers become the ‘reel to reel’ of our children’s past, electron pumping amps and air moving ‘speakers will remain. Luckily the former is what we do, hear at Sonneteer 5.

The dawn of the digital age to riding the hybrid wave.

Despite their ever presence, audio amplifiers have not been static technologically. Here at Sonneteer we design with whatever fits the purpose. Every now and then we may also experiment with new things just to see where it will take us. When digital power amplification became a viable reality for audio products Sonneteer were right at the forefront. The Bronte amplifier for example started as a concept development on behalf of a technology partner which turned into an award winning product. We now, within our designs employ a mixture of electronics technologies, analogue and digital at any particular stage simply because it suits. The ultimate aim is performance. That is our goal. Our current range reneges not on that promise.

Where ever the music comes from we play on.

Music sources are changing and increasing in number almost daily. Gone are the times where one format displaces another completely. A format no longer dies, but becomes a niche. Every now and then there will be a nostalgia for it and it will have a mini revival. As the global population grows the more and more this will happen. Everything and everyone will have a champion or two however small. Accommodating everyone is impossible but since everyone who wants a music system needs an amplifier in it, somewhere, then as long as we can interface with them we are in a good place.

More format ketchup.

In the land of audiophilia the stresses of format accommodation are often acutely felt as the customers strive to be compatible with ever changing present. Obsolescence which is more of an emotion that is realised out of fear than reality is a strong factor in decision making. Finding something that does everything is practically impossible as formats grow in number. PCM16,24,32 96kHz, 192kHz, 384kHz,DXD and so on. Then there’s DSD in its various guises. May be this goes some way to explaining the Vinyl revival. Our amps talk to them too.

For more on amplifiers and other interesting topics related to Sonneteer please see Volume 6.

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  1. http://www.aes.org/aeshc/docs/audio.history.timeline.html
  2. http://www.ehow.com/about_4899502_history-audio-amplifier.html
  3. http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/physics/transistor/history/
  4. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/Blighty
  5. http://www.sonneteer.co.uk
  6. http://sonneteer.co.uk/home/magazine/2012/05/23/speaking-volumes/