The Analogue Sound is carving out a big niche for itself globally, claiming back some territory in the now highly confused digital audio space. While the rest of the world decides if it’s streaming, downloading, or optical disc-ing the music loving world is still dancing to the sounds of spinning Vinyl. The good ol’ fashioned Audio Fair is definitely back in Vogue and no more so than in Tokyo. June 13 and 14, 2015 showed that audio enthusiast are still willing to attend events in their thousands. More importantly to us our partner in Japan, Allegro with Mr Kyoji Arai decided to take the Sonneteer range along. The Sonneteer Alabaster amplifier and Sedley phono stage, famously a dual Audio Excellence award winner in the land of the rising sun, both graced the ears of the attending crowds. For more information please go to Analogue Audio Fair Tokyo and if your Japanese is no better than mine then Google translate does a great job for you.(It worked automatically on our Chrome browser).
New spin on an old romance: Latest Sonneteer creation lets you print your own records in your own home!
Latest stereolithography 3D printer technology lets music lovers to recreate their favourite LPs. The 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’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.
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!
We’d like to thank Remo Casadei, Technical Director and one of the Sonneteer founders for help with this article.
Here 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?
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.
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 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.
Cranage Hall in Crewe this coming weekend hosts an Audio show. For those of you with a taste for the High End or simply love listening to good music played through great music systems, pop along. One of our founders, Remo Casadei will be on hand to answer any questions as will our UK on the road team namely, Anne and Tony of NuNu Distribution. Our participation in the show is part of a preamble to things to come as our twenty first year takes apace. We at Sonneteer hope to see you there.
The Campion has been with us since inception and the Alabaster arrived not long later. Since the mid 1990’s these two integrated hifi amplifiers have been the foundations on which Sonneteer has been built. The Sedley may have more Google hits and the Byron may have had a few more column inches in the press, but neither pluck our strings like the original amplifiers that marked our existence.
As sentimental as this all sounds it’s important to know that when we started off as young just graduated students, ideological by nature, we had this purist dream and the Campion was a fulfilment of that. In high fidelity terms we were purists and in business terms we were novices. So the first development embodies these facts. This lead to the Sonneteer Campion being critically very successful with reviewers’ hands aching as they scribbled so much prose in praise of it. The Alabaster which was based on the same design, but with a little more power followed soon after and was received with even more fanfare. The words,”the best amplifier ever made” were bandied about often as were the words “amplifier specialists” referring to us at Sonneteer. In the mean time, as the Sonneteer range has expanded and evolved, the Alabaster has been at the heart of our reference system ever since. With the exception of a few enforced changes due to supplier part modifications, it and the Campion have changed little since.
Not that long ago we announced the Orton upgrade which in itself was a long effort to better an already well respected amplifier. We can now reveal that at the same time and using much of the same learnt ideas the Alabaster and Campion amplifiers were going through a transition of their own. It would be foolish of us to think that we peaked in 1994 and that we can’t do any better. So we can make it official and tell you that a Campion or Alabaster that you buy today shares some of the ‘trickle down’ knowledge from the Orton and that there is indeed a new reference Alabaster now sitting in our listening room. Pop off the lid and the untrained eye will see very little. This really isn’t about oil filled capacitors and deionising spray. We do own an Oscilloscope or two and spectrum analysis tools are aplenty here too, but our most important tools are our ears and our brains. The trained eye will spot a few mechanical tweaks and some firming up in the power supply stage electronics. It doesn’t sound so glamorous, but the refinements, in our view, have taken the sonic performance to a higher plane.
In Part 2 of our review of 2012 we head off to land of the rising sun, Japan. Our (Sonneteer) products enjoyed the poetry of Japanese reviewer on more than one occasion this year. In the Spring Audio Basic magazine wrote about the Campion amplifier and Bronte CD player stating that, “..these machines are the objects of craft work Comparable to drinking single malt whisky, straight. You can enjoy the high quality sound without colouration”. We wrote about it here in our May 2012 posting. The next episode came in the Autumn issue of Audio Accesory. This time the Bronte CD player on its own. Below are some translated extracts from the review which also spends some time praising our whole line up as well as the United Kingdom as country of Audio Aficionados.
The review starts by asking [on behalf of the reader] “who are Sonneteer?”. They went on to give a little history by stating that Sonneteer [that’s us] produce realistically priced products that are accessible to the true music lover”…” Established in 1994 they are a relatively new company in the Audio Kingdom [The UK], but their products are designed in the traditional British [They said English, but I am Welsh!] way. Sonneteer products are not made exclusively for the very rich but accessible to all music lover who like to buy something a little expensive for themselves.” They then went on to describe the transitional British sound by saying, ” They [The British] don’t make their sound too loud in volume but like nuances and sensitive dynamics to be pronounced more than us [The Japanese]. The British manufactures produce high resolution audio products that maintain their resolution even at low sound volumes. We who live in cities in Japan cannot play music at loud volumes so we are very grateful to have Sonneteer products.”
Beyond the history lesson the Bronte CD player was being reviewed here and they certainly liked it. ” The music was full of energy…clearly expressive with a very good perception of detail and rhythm.The playback Sound is Faithful to the principles [of the music] … The sound reproduction is not in the true ‘high end’ style, so allowing the true music lover to concentrate the music.”
Having started the year as a winner of the Visual Grand Prix Award the Bronte CD/SACD player ends 2012 with high praise from Japan’s leading audio magazine. If we are an audio Kingdom then they certainly qualify as an audio Empire.
Magazine: 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 1. Added to that the huge dynamic range we have it’s difficult to understand when some people say that they can’t hear the difference between one music system and another. Beyond the ear music is ‘listened to’ by our whole body. Deaf people have a more enhanced sense of this and often gain as much fulfilment out a piece of music as a person with the ability to hear. Albeit from a different perspective 2. I would expect that they too would notice the difference between the reproductions of different sound systems.
Recently, as we have been working on the Mark five CD players and the Mark Three Orton amplifier we have reawakened our awareness of the subtle sensitivity we have to tiny changes in sound. Because of this we find most of our work is done not behind the CAD 3 screen and not gazing at an Oscilloscope on the test bench, but on the sofa in the listening room with a clutch of CDs and with soldering iron and screw driver handy. Our abilities in audio electronics have to be at least matched with our mechanical engineering capabilities and knowledge of the dark arts. Though the latter can often be substituted with common sense. [Go to our magazine to read more]
It has taken us a little time but as Sonneteer products are received and reviewed more and more outside of the motherland we often have to wait a little for an accurate translation. In Part 1 as we look at reviews published in 2012 we start not too far back, in October when the Russian Edition of What Hi-Fi published a very pleasing review of the Sonneteer Orton amplifier. We picked it up courtesy of Audiomania.
They started off with a reference to the Bronte amplifier that was once so familiar to Russian Audiophiles:
“Our familiarity with Sonneteer amplifiers started with a digital amplifier [the Sonneteer]Bronte, a product not typical of the British company whose amplifiers, since 1994 have followed the traditions of the English mostly analogue school.” They then continued to praise the design, ” The amplifier design is uniquely different “dual mono” with a completely independent power supply for each channel and the control circuit.” and continued with “[the] Orton’s design combines the elegance, simplicity and thoroughness, typical for the British Hi-Fi.”
It all got a little serious when Bach came into the equation:
“[The] Orton sound can also be called a classic. Main emphasis is on detailed, refined and expressive depth in the midrange charming the audience with the volume of musical information. We have yet to see and amplifier in this price range, which could so precisely and flexibly transfer the interaction of voices of Cantus Colin, performing Bach’s Actus Tragicus. At the same time, even in more complex compositions with greater number of musicians and dynamic range such as “Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky, the amplifier can deliver the frantic energy and changing diversity of every part of it. The dramatic performance is achieved not by a deafening volume, but by the exceptional solidity of the emotional expression- the same as a convincing actor with a well-trained voice and a deep understanding of the script. ”
It ended a little tong in cheek however mocking that the lovers of modern music like “Consolers of The Lonely” by the Racounteurs would not require so much detail with their music and hence perhaps the amplifier is not for them. Oh I don’t know, I had ‘Hail To The Thief’ by Radiohead and Muses latest offering ‘The 2nd Law’ both blasting through an Orton off a mark 3 Byron earlier. Reminded me of a recent experience at the O2 Arena. Me and 20,000 others. Exceptional.