February 20th to 22nd 2015 at the Marriott City Centre Hotel, Bristol Sonneteer, hosted by our partner NuNu Distribution will be on Display in in Rooms 217 and 218 on the second floor at the Sound And Vision Show. The highlight of the show this year will be the Sonneteer Orton Mark Four amplifier showing off its subtly new look and beautifully crafted new remote control handset. The handset, as well as aesthetic beauty, boasts an internal rechargeable battery and an LED torch light for that little extra help when trying to wire up the rear of the amplifier.
The amplifier inside has had a tweak too. In the words of one of our founders, Haider Bahrani, “As difficult as ever as it is to improve on a much loved design we at Sonneteer are always looking to push the envelope. Thus the MK IV Orton was born. Taking the MK III Orton to a new more refined level of performance. The control system power supply (the Orton has three power supplies) has been improved with careful revisions and in conjunction with design changes to the circuit board mountings, all culminating to deliver pleasing improvements to an already highly regarded amplifier. In essence the ‘pin dropping’ is just that much more real.”
So why not come along and have a poke and take a listen. We look forward to seeing you.
“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.
First published in the Sonneteer Sound Magazine.
Haider Bahrani is the Managing Director and co founder at Sonneteer.
Hand made in Britain since 1994
Picking up the baton from the much loved Campion amplifier, we have decided that the Alabaster, as well as carrying the spirit of the Campion, will inherit its phono stage too. Like a shy yet gifted child the little circuit huddled up amongst the line stages on the pre-amp printed circuit board has delighted those who have gotten to know it well. Perhaps too long in the shadow of our outboard Sedley phono stage, it has maybe been given too little time in the limelight by us. That said, its followers are many and their voices have been heard. Some end users have benefited from a retrofit recently and others have asked if the Campion phono stage could be included. We have gracefully obliged on all accounts.
The phono stage which takes over the Line 2 slot in the pre-amplifier section of the Alabaster will be dedicated to Moving Magnate phono cartridges or high output Moving Coil only. The standard settings are, for those with a technical penchant, are 47K? input resistance with a 47pF capacitive load. An earth stud is also added to the rear panel to accommodate your turntable connections. Vinyl not included.
For more on phono stages, amplifiers and thoughts for ears please visit our magazine.
The 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.
- http://www.aes.org/aeshc/docs/audio.history.timeline.html ↩
- http://www.ehow.com/about_4899502_history-audio-amplifier.html ↩
- http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/physics/transistor/history/ ↩
- http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/Blighty ↩
- http://www.sonneteer.co.uk ↩
- http://sonneteer.co.uk/home/magazine/2012/05/23/speaking-volumes/ ↩
To catch up on a couple of recent events in our calendar, October saw two Sonneteer hifi attended shows happening at the same weekend. Though over the years at Sonneteer we have won as many awards in Japan for our digital products as analogue this year the latter took centre stage. Winner of two Audio Excellence Awards, the Sedley phono stage alongside the latest incarnation of the legendary Alabaster amplifier. We were again hosted by Kyoji Arai of Allegro. With analogue recordings‘ sales at their two decade peek 1 and the Alabaster now adopting an internal phono stage as standard, the purist form of audio is clearly very much not ignored at Sonneteer.
We would also like to take this opportunity to welcome Hagto Audio 2 of Norway to the Sonneteer family. They started with a Show in Horten showing off the Orton as shown playing with a pair of Harbeth SHL5plus loudspeakers, a brand Hagto also represents and one with which Sonneteer customers have a long association with.