Music & Talk

How to connect the audiophile with the artist?

Getting started in audiophile music usually presents quite a challenge, because, at the very beginning, nothing is fixed. From the energy to feed the system, via the components chosen and the room they are placed in, right to the source of the music itself, everything is either in doubt or in flux. In such a listening scenario, even great recordings may go unnoticed, while others may appear to sound ‘great’ due to their ability to cut through the haze. The more obstacles we remove, the more exceptional recordings will be able to stand out from the rest. But even then, buying music on vinyl is a bit of a gamble, because so much of the sound depends on the mastering and pressing of the record. In the ‘Music’ part of this section, I aim to provide some basic pointers to help you navigate this terrain.

The ‘Talk’ aspect of this section is to provide you with unusual perspectives from collectors and performers, for us to explore the relationship between the creation of a sound event to the re-creation of this event in our living rooms. Interestingly enough, creators of music do not necessarily have a strong interest in High Fidelity or even highly sensitive hearing. At the same time, audiophile listeners very often have absolutely no clue about the artistic side of the process or the ability to play an instrument. Bringing the two sides together and leading them towards mutual understanding and appreciation may help all of us in raising the bar of what is technically possible today.

Audiophile Music

  • Jörg Hegemann, Foot Tappin' Boogie

    Jörg Hegemann, Foot Tappin' Boogie

    5/14/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Boogie Woogie

    There is something very pleasing about getting older, as it takes time to mature in character. This is true for great wines, whiskeys and some cheeses, but also for artists such as musicians and writers. And perhaps the greatest pleasure lies in maturing together, as every day there is a new wine ready for drinking and a new musician to reach a level of accomplishment that is impossible to reach without true devotion and the ever-important element of time.

    Jörg first approached me in 2002, asking if I was perhaps interested in translating the booklet of his new CD. The recommendation had come from a mutual friend, Thomas Aufermann, and I reluctantly accepted without knowing what genre of music Jörg played. As it turned out, the album was called ‘Eight to the Bar’, a reference to eight beats to one bar, the foundation of the Boogie Woogie. At the time of writing my first translation for Jörg, the Boogie Woogie was a genre that I was completely unfamiliar with. And as I had never heard the Boogie performed live, I had to rely on the CD recording to form my opinion. Sadly, as was the case with many live recordings of the time, there was a general lack of dynamics and a lack in stereo imaging that made it difficult for me to assess the genre.

    With each new album that I was asked to translate, I could hear that Jörg’s skills as musician were becoming ever more refined. And while I gradually grew accustomed to the music and could enjoy it more, the quality of the recordings was not on par with Jörg’s skills as musician. Audiophiles are a neglected species, and I am sure that listening to the CDs on a car radio would have produced acceptable results, but in the world of meticulously set up HiFi rigs, the recordings fell desperately short of perfection. And I confess that I was troubled by this and even addressed the issue with Jörg. Over the telephone he consoled me, saying that his 2021 album was to be recorded in a proper recording studio with all the bells and whistles of a modern production.

    ‘Foot Tappin’ Boogie’ is Jörg’s 10th full CD album. It is also the 6th album for which I was asked to translate the CD booklet, and it is Jörg’s first album to offer music at a recording quality level that we audiophiles can really appreciate. Listening to just 30 seconds of this album gave me a satisfied grin on my face that I had trouble supressing all the way through to the last song. Jörg’s exceptional gift as musician meets sophisticated recording studio quality to create a true firework of a Boogie Woogie performance. Considering the age and increasing rarity of the genre, paired with Jörg’s exceptional skills as musician, ‘Foot Tappin’ Boogie’ might easily be the best Boogie Woogie recording ever made. I found myself running through our apartment yelling "He did it! He finally got it right!"

    Of course, it helped that Jörg had called upon a formidable group of musicians to make this recording come to life with him. There is the album’s guest star: double bass man Paul G. Ulrich; his 20-year companion in music: drummer Jan Freund; and Jörg’s long-time friend and Boogie shouter: Thomas Aufermann. Together, they make the Boogie sound effortless, highly rhythmical, and extremely engaging. The recording is well-balanced with the instruments nicely spread out over the stage to form a homogenous musical event. Well done.

    If you are looking for an audiophile album to take you on a mature and eloquently presented journey through the world of Boogie Woogie that has the skills and the sound quality to match, this is the album to go for. I will keep this CD close at hand in my short-listed audiophile collection and share it with fellow audiophiles, that they too can experience the full depth and breadth of the Boogie.


  • Carmen Lundy, Soul to Soul

    Carmen Lundy, Soul to Soul

    4/16/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    I have rarely come across a Jazz album that feels as instantly entertaining and naturally balanced as Carmen Lundy’s 2014 album 'Soul to Soul'. There are subtle changes in speed and dynamics from song to song that are just different enough to keep us interested and similar enough to preserve the album’s inner harmony. The music is sparsely instrumented, the recordings are tonally accurate, even delicate, with a soft warmth to them. There is a pervasive sense of natural stage depth and dimension throughout. As I am listening to the album on our newly refurbished Technics SL-1310 turntable with its original Shure M75ED entry-level classic, it is difficult to imagine a better sound.

    ‘Soul to Soul’ is Carmen Lundy’s twelfth music album and, in typical Lundy fashion, features many original recordings. Born in Miami Florida in November 1954, she decided to become a professional singer after joining her local church choir. She was twelve years old at the time. After receiving her BA in music, Lundy moved to New York where she quickly found engagements alongside contemporary Jazz greats. In a career spanning half a century, Lundy has cut her own career path, composing and publishing more than forty original songs along the way, predominantly Vocal Jazz. 'Soul to Soul' is in many ways the culmination of her experience and a definite recommendation for soulful nighttime cruises. Enjoy!

    What is Carmen Lundy's best album? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  • Bridges, Chamber Orchestra

    Bridges, Chamber Orchestra

    3/23/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    On Wednesday, 17 March 2021, I received an e-mail invitation from a musician friend to watch the YouTube streaming of a music performance by a Frankfurt-based chamber orchestra in which my friend plays the cello, taking place on the following night.

    I had not spoken to Gabriel Mientka in a long time and had hardly noticed the occasional Facebook post, which showed advancements in his music career. I did remember that Gabriel was a member of the Cellharmonics quartet, consisting of Larissa Nagel, Christine Roider, Christopher Herrmann, and himself. And I had even seen some of their earlier performances, but — with two young kids in the house and a business to run — in recent years, we had stopped attending public venues.

    In the time that Gabriel had been playing the cello around the world, some things had changed on my side as well. For one thing, my interest in setting up audiophile HiFi systems had led me to a deeper appreciation of music, which was slowly taking me away from repetitive Pop culture to more sophisticated recordings and arrangements of acoustic instruments. Depth, breadth, dynamics, rhythm, flow, and the presence of organic materials are the salt of great recordings.

    When Gabriel wrote in his e-mail that he was now playing the Cello in the ‘Bridges’ chamber music orchestra, and that this could be streamed live via YouTube, I was immediately intrigued by the idea that I could listen to him and his colleagues perform live from living room couch, without conflicting with my duties as a father. What a wonderful and exciting opportunity. The fact that this music could also be played via our Martin Logan electrostatic system was a nice bonus, of course.

    Apparently, the Bridges chamber orchestra had just come back from their winter break, and created a fresh new concert, premiering six original pieces that had been — in true Bridges tradition — composed by the musicians themselves. The e-mail went on to remind us of the special and challenging situation that musicians have been facing in times of COVID-19 and pointed out that the transcultural Bridges was a symbol of freedom and successful transnational co-operation.

    On the night of the event, I called the family together on the living room couch, lowered the lights, and tuned our projector in to the YouTube stream. We set our system at realistic live performance volume and watched with anticipation. That the NAXOS theatre makes a decent venue for a chamber orchestra, was my first thought. It also felt good to see 25 musicians come together to perform their special craft, despite the fact that no audience was allowed to physically attend. It reminded me of the band continuing to play until the last minute on the sinking Titanic. In both cases this helped to bring about some reassurance that essential aspects of what makes us great as human beings are still intact.

    I could not help but marvel at the orderly fashion in which all musicians played their part, taking time to pay respect to each other’s performances, each falling into place under the directions of the conductor. There is a pervading sense of dignity and respect towards one another that is especially highlighted in an orchestra as culturally and musically as diverse as this one. Bridges’s multi-ethnic musicians played a range of pieces heavily influenced by Syrian, Andalusian, Turkish, Columbian, and Hungarian music culture, the musicians’ countries of origin. The conductor was Nabil Shehata, who is also the chief conductor of the South-Westfalia Philharmonic.

    Although our kids are just three and seven years old, we all enjoyed the performance very much. When at times concentration lapsed, this was mostly due to passages in which something was not quite right in the technical presentation of the music. For instance, some instruments, such as percussion, were recorded at very low volume. When these instruments took the lead or played longer parts, some of the original momentum and potential of the pieces were lost.

    For the most part, we were drawn into the event. Although, for some reason, the changing of camera angles always resulted in a brief deterioration of image quality which again made it clear that we were watching a recording rather than being present ourselves. We were also surprised to see that there were cuts between the pieces which highlighted the fact that we were not following the actual event live. Sadly, YouTube is not known for excellence in sound. I am not sure what algorithms are used to compress music, but the sound quality was not on par with the usual ability of our home setup.

    The pieces themselves were well-presented and gave a good impression of the ethnic diversity all around us and the possibility for cooperation between these cultures. Although quite different in timbre and harmonics, no instrument or musician sounded out of place, and no theme was boring or disappointing to listen to in and of itself. I am grateful for the opportunity of attending a concert with our children present in the comfort of our own home, a concert that each of us can relate to, especially but not exclusively, because we are friends with one of the musicians. I would wish for such luxury to become standard and have highlighted areas of potential improvement in the paragraphs above, simply because I feel that this type of offer, if done well, would be a lasting change for the better.

    I enjoyed reading the musicians’ profiles on the Bridges Frankfurt website and on their Facebook page, as well as listening to Gabriel Mientka’s own composition. “Constantinople” was the last song of the event. It sounded full and energetic with lots of natural flow. A wonderful piece that left the audience on a high note.

    P.S.: Candidly, I hope to invite Gabriel for an interview to find out more about his relationship with the cello and with music in general. I need to find out more about the people who make the actual music that we audiophiles listen to and to experience first-hand, if they in turn can derive some pleasure from performances being replayed at a higher than usual level of acoustic sophistication. My hope is that by listening to each other well, we will better understand what each side is striving to achieve.


  • Alin Coen Band, Wer bist Du?

    Alin Coen Band, Wer bist Du?

    1/24/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Singer Songwriter

    Well, we could ask the same question. — So, who is Alin Coen? Having shied away from public media for some years now, due to the increasingly deafening presence of irrelevant nonsense, Alin’s 10-year presence in the German public eye had simply escaped me. After all, Germany is a small country that is comfortably perched at the centre of a large and bitchy neighbourhood. A community of national pride in which local talents usually remain strictly local phenomenons. We are still far from the cosmopolitain Europe that would create legends to rival those from across the pond. And, sadly, I have a frightful feeling that this outlook will not be any different for Alin Coen and her band. What a shame, because they have so much going for themselves.

    Alin was born in Hamburg in 1982 and was raised bi-lingual in German and Spanish. Having spent some time in Scandinavia, she speaks proper English as well. Similar to many German musicians she holds a full university degree, a backdoor to a decent job that will always be open to her, just in case her music career should become too much of a challenge. Bummer. This structured approach to life is arguably one of the reasons why true and lasting passion for music is rare to be found in this country, with the world’s megastars to be found in places where artists are willing to bleed and more often than not need to overcome hardship to follow their passions.

    “Wer bist Du?” was written at a time when Alin and her university friends and band members re-decided to take up music rather than follow a career in environmental science. Who are you, who am I? Who cares? — All we can say for certain is that Alin’s debut album was released under her own “Pflanz einen Baum” label in August 2010. Apparently, the German weekly ‘Stern’ even had the album listed as highlight of the week. A later album of hers “Nah” was given the same honour by the radio station MDR Kultur. But how much good is a week of support in today’s competitive world? The trouble with the German nine-to-five media is that they neither ‘think big’ nor do they think very far. Pushing a young star up the billboards is not something we might expect from such stuffy and well-situated institutions. Here, too, are people unwilling to bleed for their passion.

    “Wer bist Du?” is a straight forward singer-songwriter album lending elements of Indie Pop mixed with Folk. Voice and instrumentation are soothing and calm enough for nighttime listening, an important factor for audiophiles waiting for the city to fall asleep and for the power grid to calm down. Although the lyrics are not the first thing to strike the listener’s attention when listening to the album, Alin’s choice of words does merit the description ‘poetic’. Personally, I prefer her English language songs, because I find her voice and intonation more instantly believable than her German singing voice (with slight Spanish accent?). However, this could well be a mirror of my own scepticism towards German language songs. Having listened to the album a few times, I hardly notice the language changing anymore, and the German has become more familiar. All of her songs appear to be genuine and hand-made and, as such, are well above the usual Pop and radio standard.

    Here is an album that has the potential to grow with your audiophile HiFi-system. When Sabina first brought it along for our evening sessions together, our main system consisting of Martin Logan electrostatic speakers still sounded somewhat thin and unbalanced. Consequently, “Wer bist Du?” also sounded a bit light, with too much emphasis on upper voice and lower bass. I was not aware of this at the time and thought this was simply how the album sounded. With each improvement to our system, the music became richer and tonally more accurate. Having completed our most recent updates, most obviously those to our cables, “Wer bist Du?” now has a pleasant fullness and warmth to the voice, as well as a wonderful mid-bass punch. I did not know I like this sort of thing, but it seems I do. 

    While both our systems now play the album well, I especially enjoy listening to it on our Halfer XL280 amp and Tannoy XT8F combo, on which the music now has a wonderfully organic flow that resembles my short experience with Harbeth speakers, a lush sound of earth and wood that really impressed me. Both the album and our system have become a soothing whole. And finally: Would I recommend this album to English audiophiles? Yes, I think you will enjoy it, for its ability to caress and surprise. Even the German songs paired with Alin’s voice are reassuring and melodic enough to appeal to international listeners.

    Feel free to share your experience with “Wer bist Du?” in the comments below.


    CrossXculture Business Language Training
  • Joshua Redman, Round Again

    Joshua Redman, Round Again

    1/21/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    I am by no means and expert in Jazz. I have neither been educated in music nor have I studied or followed the genre for very long. I came to Jazz mainly because of two things: the pleasure of discovering and listening to high quality recordings, and the boredom of being stuck in contemporary music that is all based on a handful of chords being repeated over and over again. Jazz speaks to me as an aging audiophile wanting to be tickled and teased, but also as a listener with an inquisitive mind.

    Having said this, I am not quite as green as I was 7 years ago—when I thought that Diana Krall made complex albums—and the names Redman, Mehldau, McBride, and Blade all rang a bell. McBride’s “Live at the Village Vanguard” I presented in this forum in October 2020, an album that I had first heard at a friend’s house on a Dynaco ST70 system running on Snell C4 speakers. In the spacious room with the 4,00m high ceilings, it sounded as if my friend had invited the musicians in person. I was very impressed, everything from the system to the room screamed: this is real. Perhaps, if I am lucky, he will let me present the components on eiaudio at some point.

    “Round Again” is the unlikely 2020 quartet reunion of the musicians, following Joshua Redman's “Moodswing” album back in 1994. Twenty-six years of separation are a long time, the equivalent of a life-sentence. A whole new generation has meanwhile taken over in music and elsewhere, and yet, the four musicians play with such familiarity that it seems as though they never parted. Joshua Redman on tenor saxophone, Brad Mehldau at the piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Brian Blade on drums create an engaging, lively atmosphere that is both highly sophisticated and surprisingly playful. For a relative novice like me, side A is easier to digest, with ‘Undertow’, ‘Moe Honk’, and ‘Silly Little Love Song’ having more approachable themes.  “Round Again” is my second album from The Guardian’s “10 best jazz albums of 2020” list. I am grateful for the recommendation.


  • 2Cellos, In2ition

    2Cellos, In2ition

    1/15/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Acoustic Pop

    “In2ition” is the name of 2Cello’s second studio album and was first released in Japan in 2012. The Croatian cellist-duo that consists of classically trained cellists, Luca Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, had managed to secure a record deal with Sony in the previous year and have since released five albums. 

    The duo’s entry ticket to stardom was their 2011 cover of Michael Jackson’s song “Smooth Criminal” which received millions of views on Youtube within just a few weeks. Their cello renditions of world-famous tunes continue to captivate audiences worldwide though their juxtaposition of rawness, immediacy, and delicacy, a combination that is not often found.

    “In2ition” is a great album for audiophiles to test the ability of their HiFi system to breathe. When I bought the album following my first exposure to 2Cellos on Youtube, I was sad to find that most of the songs sounded loud, harsh, and compressed. Only the slow and highly melodic passages stood out to me, seemingly as masterpieces of the album. “So they have a few good recordings”, I thought to myself at the time and placed the album on the shelf.

    Many years have passed since my first listening, and with every improvement I made on our system, another song opened up its magic to me. What first sounded loud turned to dynamic, the harsh passages became sweeter, and what had appeared to be compressed became more spacious. Cellos offer lots of natural dynamics and can become very loud very quickly. Systems that have been set up to fully exploit their dynamic headroom will not only muster the energy it takes to swell, but also be able to subside quickly, thus leaving enough space for the music to breathe, even in passages that are loud and fast.

    Can your HiFi system breathe? Why don’t you find out with this CD and send me your report of your experience in the comments section below? Your input is much appreciated. Enjoy.


    Musik by Cara live music
  • Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room

    Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room

    1/9/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    “The Girl in the Other Room” was my introduction to the concept of Jazz. While I today understand that Krall’s seventh studio album is not really Jazz from a purist’s perspective, it certainly was Jazz to a novice like me. I enjoyed the fact that the songs were lyrically attractive, that the music was smooth and beautifully-crafted with lots of time and space to allow for individual notes to carry and sink in. And still, in the very beginning, the album was too disorganised for me, and I had to take long breaks and honestly only liked the more pop-like songs. My appreciation of Jazz motifs was still undeveloped at the time.

    Released in March 2004, “The Girl in the Other Room” was an experiment for Diana Krall herself, because it was the first album in which she did not only perform cover versions of established Jazz greats but wrote the songs and lyrics herself with the support of her husband Elvis Castello. About the process of songwriting she says: “I wrote the music and then Elvis and I talked about what we wanted to say. I told him stories and wrote pages and pages of reminiscences, descriptions and images, and he put them into tighter lyrical form. For 'Departure Bay,' I wrote down a list of things that I love about home, things I realised were different, even exotic, now that I've been away."

    In my opinion, the album’s lyrics are outstandingly beautiful. They were instantly familiar and relatable to me, a child of the seventies and eighties, in the sense that they mirrored the aesthetic beauty that was taught at American schools and widely accepted at the time. The song “Departure Bay” is about Diana returning to her hometown in British Columbia located on Vancouver Island and about the family spending the first Christmas following her mother’s death. The emptiness of the rooms and a sense of her mother’s lingering presence are so elegantly contrasted that the song has brought tears to my eyes many times. I even took it to one of my English classes and had my students interpret the lyrics with me.

    If you are new to Jazz and have a heart for good lyrics, then this album is accessible enough to get you started. If you already enjoy Jazz and can appreciate tighter and less experimental musical concepts, give it a go, you just might enjoy it. To my mind, “The Girl in the Other Room” is a step up from Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” and a real treat in terms of audiophile listening. Give this album some time, it will grow on you. And if you should go for the CD version, I would recommend not getting the SACD. Having set my system up properly by following the twenty-something rules described in the High Fidelity section of this forum, I can assure you that the benefit of the SACD is mostly the increased profit of the label. The supposedly smoother top-end due to the improved high frequency roll-off does not make up for the hassle of having to deal with failing lasers, etc.


  • Kari Bremnes, Norwegian Mood

    Kari Bremnes, Norwegian Mood

    1/5/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    “Norwegian Mood” is Kari Bremnes’ 9th solo album and her first English language production. Released on 24 April 2000, the album’s audiophile qualities took music critics by surprise. Germany’s STEREO magazine heralded it as an ‘audiophile highlight’.

    The songs are a mixture of Jazz motifs and Norwegian Folklore. Harsh winters that cloak Norway in long nights of darkness, the roughness of the sea, and the gloom that surrounds it all, are contrasted by her gentle voice and the stories that it tells. Much of Kari’s own background shines through in the cosmopolitan air and thoughtfully composed lyrics that she creates.

    Kari Bremnes was born in 1956 in the Lofoten part of Norway and holds a BA in language, literature, history, and theatre studies. She worked as a journalist until she became a full-time musician and today lives in Oslo. Her Music career spans more than 25 years, and her audience has steadily grown with her. She has won many local and international prizes and now ranks among the most influential Scandinavian performers in the music industry. 

    From a listening perspective, I have found the album to be captivating, despite its at times melancholic mood. On the positive side, the Jazz compositions carry more weight than the Folk elements. Actually, it is this careful balance that first makes the album accessible to an international audience. On the downside, modern listening equipment will all too easily reveal a slight harshness in the highs, a subtle metallic ringing, especially around the recording of her voice, that the album would better do without. This effect is possibly more pronounced on the CD than the vinyl version. If I were to purchase this album again, I would therefore choose vinyl for sure.


  • Carla Bley, Life Goes On

    Carla Bley, Life Goes On

    1/3/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    Following the recommendations on The Guardian’s 10 best jazz albums of 2020 list, I felt compelled to go ahead and purchase Carla Bley’s "Life Goes On" studio album on vinyl and have since been very pleased with my choice. 

    Carla Bley is an American Jazz composer, pianist, organist, and bandleader. She was born as Lovella May Borg in Oakland California  in 1936 and has been an important figure in the 'Free Jazz' movement since the 1960s, with many of her compositions having been covered by other Jazz artists.

    "Life goes on" was released by ECM records in February 2020. ECM is famous for producing exceptional recordings, and "Life goes on" is in keeping with this tradition, in that it provides at a rare level of sophistication, both musically and technically. Playing the piano in her longtime trio with bassist Steve Swallow and British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, Bley teases us with a combination of musical understatement and seamless perfection. She says about the album: “We’re essentially a chamber music ensemble and this allows me to write music for us free of bombast and exaggeration”. 

    Without a drummer in their midst, the emotionally compelling arrangement leaves sufficient time and room around each instrument. Instead of being highly condensed and descriptive, the album rather invites its listeners to follow their own thoughts for a while. Having listened to the recording about five times, I have not been able to either stay focused on the music nor to turn it off before having listened to the entire album. 

    I find myself getting lost in my thoughts, and I crave for the music to continue—eternally. As if the mind cannot exist without it anymore. Well done, and highly addictive for meditative and audiophile nighttime listening.


  • Nick Cave, Idiot Prayer

    Nick Cave, Idiot Prayer

    12/27/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Alternative

    The occurrence of Covid-19 and government measures against the spread of this particular strand of the flu lead to the cancellation of concert events worldwide throughout 2020. As artists were looking for alternative ways of staying in touch with their fans, their focus shifted from huge events at crowded public venues to more private chambers, often in the shape of the artists’ own and therefore intimate spaces.

    ‘Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace’ was shaped by the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in that it places the Australian artist and his piano at the centre of the Great Hall of London’s Alexandra Palace, an ample space of 6,426 square meters and a ceiling height of 26m. While under non-Covid-19 circumstances the Palace is the host of awards ceremonies, public concerts, gala dinners, and exhibitions, Cave’s lonesome presence there serves well to reveal and underscore the full depth and force of his presence as an artist.

    There is more to Nick Cave than meets the eye. If are not convinced yet, ‘Idiot Prayer’ might be just what you have been missing. Intended as the culmination of a concert film trilogy that began with ’22,000 Days on Earth’ in 2014 and continued with ‘One More Time with Feeling’ in 2016, ‘Idiot Prayer’ was streamed live to ticket-holders around the globe on 23 July 2020 and then released as live-album on 20 November 2020.

    We were not in possession of tickets and had not followed the artist in some time, but seeing the album advertised on local billboards, my wife decided to candidly place it under our tree for Christmas. And I really must say that I am very grateful that she did so. The recording and mastering are of great quality. It seems the location itself may have added to the superb acoustics, in that it provided a natural balance of space and insulation that is so difficult to achieve. Nick Cave’s voice is well-captured with sufficient focus and dimension, and the piano is arranged around it to provide a musical frame. There is great timbre to the piano and voice that allows for long and effortless listening sessions.

    While many of the songs are familiar to me from previous Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums, hearing them played in this setting brings a new sense of sobriety and wisdom to them. Right from the very first words that are spoken, it became clear to me that I am listening to a fully accomplished poet and musician, an artist at the prime of his expression, a sober man with a story to tell. It is easy to be drawn into the recording and to lose oneself in the allusions and images that appear and fade before the mind’s eye. Nick Cave, the story-teller, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, in full control of his voice, his piano and his craft. A remarkable album.


  • Diana Krall, Turn up the Quiet

    Diana Krall, Turn up the Quiet

    11/2/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    "Turn up the Quiet" is Diana Krall’s 13th studio album and has been my personal reference medium for testing new HiFi equipment for some years now. When listened to over a car stereo or a mediocre home system, much of the album’s subtle charm may go unnoticed, but if the system is up to par, there is great tonal balance and spacial accuracy in this recording.

    Released on 5 May 2017, "Turn up the Quiet" is a collection of 11 Jazz standards which Diana Krall interprets alongside some of the best Jazz musicians of our time. Among these are Christian McBride, Russel Malone, Jeff Hamilton, and John Clayton Jr. The music comes across as effortless and compelling, as both playful and mature. It is easy to forget one is listening to HiFi gear and to just focus on the music instead — if the setup is right.

    Turn up the Quiet is a studio album that has been arranged around Diana’s voice. Consequently, the voice is presented louder than it would be in a live performance. This means the album should be played at around 70-80 dB living room volumes for it to be realistic. If you listen louder, the voice starts to sound unnatural, drawing too much attention to small clicks and pops happening left and right of Diana’s tongue.

    In summary, it can be said that Turn up the Quiet is a high quality studio album that should easily satisfy critical ears, for as long as it is played at realistic volumes with the singer’s voice as focal point. The album can be helpful in detecting flaws such as tonal coloration, etc., in the system and is also wonderful to enjoy on a well-balanced system. When I sometimes read in forums that people’s reference tracks are to be found on the tenth remastering of Dire Straits or Pink Floyd albums, here is something more modern to consider.


  • Christian McBride, Live at the Village Vanguard

    Christian McBride, Live at the Village Vanguard

    10/4/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    Christian McBride — Live at the Village Vanguard. A must for all Jazz enthusiasts who are into live and authentic small club performances. Published by Mac Avenue Records in December 2014, the high quality double album stretches over nearly 70mins.

    While the recording itself was compiled from three consecutive live sessions, listening to the full album appears natural and seamless. As is typical for performances of this nature, the music grows on you while it becomes more familiar, to the point where you can allow yourself to dissolve in the moment.

    Although ‘Live at the Vintage Vanguard’ is completely instrumental, it is easy to enjoy the brief episodes of spoken English, listening to Christian introduce the band, or thank everyone for coming. The album closes with renditions of “Down by the riverside” and “Car wash” and manages never to be boring despite these familiar tunes. Great job and wonderful on vinyl. Enjoy.


  • Sandra MacBeth, Conjugal Scene

    Sandra MacBeth, Conjugal Scene

    7/9/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    I first came across the singer and songwriter Sandra Mac Beth listening to her song ‘8 Ball’ on the ‘Uncompressed World Vol. II - Audiophile female voices’ sampler. The song immediately stuck a cord with me, because of the high quality of its recording, its warm and insistent piano tones, and because of Sandra’s voice that startled me in its rawness, clarity, and warmth. The song did not appear to have have any of the smothering effects so common to modern recordings and, as such, was very pleasing to my ears.

    I set out to find out more about the artist, because I was hoping to listen to more of her songs. Yet, for some reason, none of my usual sources of music purchasing and streaming produced the desired result. I also watched some YouTube clips of Sandra’s, but since these were lacking the desired quality and even material, I decided to write her an e-mail and ask her to send me a copy of the album that ‘8 Ball’ was originally on.

    Sandra wrote back to inform me that her album ‘Conjugal Scene’ included ‘8-Ball’ and was available on Apple Music—which I have not subscribed to—and that she could send me a copy of the album and a more recent long player on CD from Scotland, to which I happily consented. The little envelope holding the CD and long player arrived just a few days later, and I was happy to find that about half of the tracks are of similar quality and attraction as the song that had led me to my search.

    There is a marked difference between the earlier tracks, which are of average recording quality and the tracks around ‘8 Ball’ which sonically really open up into the room and manage to carve out that purity in the voice that is so hard to come by. This has lead me to the idea that I would ask her for an interview with me on Music & Talk. Quite audacious at this point in time. Obviously, much more needs to be done, before I am ready and able to provide the setting online, but…I have already started ‘exploring’ the possibility. And that is the motto of this page.


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  • Martin Sasse Trio, Studio-B Konzert

    Martin Sasse Trio, Studio-B Konzert

    6/16/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    A treat for vinyl Jazz fans: Martin Sasse Trio, in genuine AAA recording. Brought a big smile on my face throughout the session.

    “Große Emotionen sind bei den Direkt-Mitschnitten aus den Bauer Studios garantiert, besonders wenn Musiker des Kalibers auf der Bühne stehen, wie sie das Martin Sasse Trio zu bieten hat. Der Namensgeber der Formation, der an einem Steinway Flügel Platz nehmen durfte, hat schon gemeinsam mit Bobby Mc-Ferrin, Billy Cobham, Till Brönner und Sting musiziert, um hier nur einige zu nennen. Akustisch perfekt eingefangene Jazzsession, die glücklich macht.” - Ralf Henke, hifitest.de


  • Jamie Saft Quartet, Blue Dream

    Jamie Saft Quartet, Blue Dream

    6/16/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    ‘It is worthwhile to consider that there is no resolution in music like this, only an extended consideration.’ - Michael Bailey, in allaboutjazz

    The four page album offers Jamie Saft’s typical flow in music paired with excellent mastering and pressing, which results in life-like dynamics and low noise floor. Upon listening, I felt that the album could be a little more cohesive with a little less drama in some passages. Michael Bailey’s quotation above is, therefore, absolutely to the point. All in all, still a great adventure for audiophile listeners, often reminiscent of the 1950s Miles Davis and 1960s John Coltrane.


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Explorations

Explorations
  • The Conduit Incident

    The Conduit Incident

    12/10/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Explorations

    Tag: Cables

    Cables on HiFi systems are known to play different roles—and therefore demand for different properties—depending on their positions in the signal chain. For instance, cables that are located near the source of the signal should ideally help to preserve both the detail and dynamics of the source material whilst maintaining a natural tonal balance, whereas cables positioned closer to the output need to uphold speed, musicality, and coherence. In order to ensure this, audiophile analog RCA/cinch interconnects positioned before the preamplifier often come without conventional shielding such as foil or mesh cover.

    Manufacturers such as Kimber Kable, for instance, braid their RCA/cinch interconnects in order to minimise interference despite their lack of a conventional shield. Examples for Kimber’s braiding technique are found on their entry level ‘Tonik’, ‘PBJ’, and ‘Timbre’ cable models, all of which are great fun to play around with. The audible advantages of such concepts lie in superior transparency, speed, and dynamics. On the downside, braided cables are easily agitated by outside interference. Such interference might come in form of high or low frequency radiation or through direct induction when crossing or running parallel to other cables. Taking a peek behind most people’s HiFi racks and seeing the crossing and tangled wires, it quickly becomes clear why interference is an important factor in setting up a system. Add to this the omnipresence of WiFi & cellular communication, and it is no surprise that better wires and better positioning will often have a greater effect on sonic integrity than upgrading the units or speakers themselves. After all, most antennas are simply a short piece of wire, and even that is sufficient for airborne signals to make an impact.

    Which brings me to the starting point of this exploration. One evening, after I had made some changes to the digital wiring behind our rack in order to install our second HiViLux Digital cable, sitting back in my armchair, I noticed that channel separation and imaging on our DAC had fallen to pieces. At first, I attributed this to my own tiredness, to perhaps having gotten used to the high quality of sound, but in the end the change was too abstruce to live with, and so I stuck my head behind the rack to find the culprit. From DAC to preamplifier, we are running a pair of Kimber Timbre RCA/cinch interconnects, and I saw that the two channels were touching in parallel over a distance of about 10cm. As I lifted the upper one off the one lying underneath, I noticed a change in the sound, similar to a blanket being lifted. I could already hear the difference while being bent behind the system. Hence, I fixed the new position and returned to my seat to find that what had previously been lacking had now been restored.

    Following this experience, I began to wonder if it was possible to place spacers between the many cables to make sure that they neither touched nor crossed. I contacted some friends of mine who have a better understanding of electronics, but they were only familiar with the regular binders used to collect and fasten cables behind a rack. They also found it difficult to relate to my finding. One suggested it was a psycho-acoustic phenomenon, and another warned me not to believe everything I read in HiFi magazines. Unable to find professional help, I decided to explore this subject on my own. It occurred to me that the best protection for the cables would span the whole length of the wire, just like a second skin. I went online and found 2m of corrugated conduit of the variety that is used to protect cables from rodent bites in vehicles. I chose the 13mm diameter that would best fit over the cinch plugs. When it arrived in the post, I cut it into lengths of 95cm so that it was slightly shorter than the RCA/cinch interconnects. I pushed it over the whole length and secured it at both ends with black fabric tape. I then used a white marker to label the channel and the signal direction.

    Before reading on, can you guess the outcome? I suspect that you cannot, simply because I had no idea myself before trying. And this is the greatest thing about exploration: our theories need to hold up in practice. Needless to say, I would have favoured a positive outcome in the lines of better imaging, greater musicality, etc., simply because I had invested money and time in this project. Unfortunately, I was not that lucky. I connected the newly constructed Kimber Timbre with conduit, and the result was a sluggish and muffled sound. Most of what makes Kimber’s braided cables special had disappeared. What had been one of my better cables had become one of my worst-sounding. After about 30min of listening, I took the conduit off and had my previous sound back.

    Now, who can tell me what I did wrong? Did I somehow connect the grounds of the two RCA/cinch plugs with the corrugated plastic conduit? Did the wires running inside somehow create an electric current with the conduit? — I am leaving this exploration as a fail for now, but with my present knowledge I cannot be sure of the exact reason of failure, other than to report that it really did sound terrible.

    The Conduit Incident
    The Conduit Incident

  • Coincidental Cartridge Bake-Off

    Coincidental Cartridge Bake-Off

    11/6/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Explorations

    Tag: Cartridges

    Most ideas in audiophile listening do not come over night but rather mature over time, during endless hours of listening. Usually, one thought or experience sparks another, creating a slow but continuous process of evolution. Since most steps are trial and error, victory is never certain, and just when we feel that it all sounds perfect, there is that little nagging voice that claims that we have heard nothing yet. And it is a race against time, of course. With growing experience comes growing age. The race is to hear it all before it all grows numb.

    Our first record player after many years of CDs and mp3s was our grandfather’s Philips 212. We found it in the basement with a protective dust cover on top and with the original cartridge stuck in a faulty bracket meant for another record player. It seems the Philips had broken down many years earlier, and attempts of restoring it had failed. By the time we finally salvaged it in 2018, its rubber drive belt had already turned back into thick oil and was sticking dead and gooey to the floor. We ended up buying a second broken Philips 212 to restore our find.

    The Philips’s original ‘GP400’ cartridge was not a great one to begin with. Given its own mechanical flaws, paired with the inherent shortcomings of the player, as well as nearly 50 years of material decay, our original impression was not exactly one of audiophile bliss. However, our inquisitive nature could not leave it at that. We first tried to improve the performance by replacing the stylus. But this had little effect, perhaps because NOS (new old stock) actually means that the replacement is also, well, old. It was not until we exchanged the GP400 with a modern Audio Technica VM95E cartridge that the Philips 212 finally came alive. Sonically, it was as if a heavy veil had been lifted. From this, record newbie as I was, I learnt that a decent cartridge will have a huge effect on performance.

    Our second record player was a Lenco L75 which was built at around the same time as the Philips. On this, the original cartridge had long since been replaced by a Grado ‘Prestige Blue 2’ cartridge. Grado has a good name for cartridge quality, and the ‘Prestige Blue 2’ has very good specifications. As I later saw, indeed, much higher than the Audio Technica. Yet, somehow, I still preferred the sound of the Philips + Audio Technica to that of the Lenco L75 + Grado, a phenomenon that struck me as odd, as audiophile listeners will usually flock to the latter and disregard the first. I had no answer for this at the time.

    Only recently, when moving from our Tannoy DC6T speakers up the model range to the more bass-heavy Tannoy XT8 speakers, I began to understand what it was that had troubled me: the ‘Prestige Blue 2’ on the Lenco was so silent and well-behaved that it somehow sounded dead and uninspiring to my ears. I guess it took the improved dynamics of the larger Tannoy speakers to point this out to me. So I called a friend to lend me a few Lenco-ready cartridges to try out. — Yes, some people have that sort of gear lying around the house, just in case an neighbour drops bye and needs one. LOL. — I consider myself very lucky to have made friends such as these, of course. What a luxury, to be able to try different gear before making a purchase. Thank you to Luigi and Derya for supporting me whenever I’m an audiophile in need.

    The cartridges I was handed to try out where: A Satin ‘117 G’ (the white Version with the grey needle holder) and a Shure ‘M75-6S’, all pre-mounted in original Lenco head shells which I just had  to fasten to the tonearm. This made changing between the cartridges quick and effortless, a plus when the aim is to compare their sound. As I have always been a fan of laid back and full sounding American gear, I began my journey with the Shure, and I immediately noticed that the M75 plays loud. At 6.2 mV, the Shure has the highest output of the three. I could feel lots of bass punch, perhaps at the expense of control over the lower frequencies. What did I care? While the audiophile in me was a bit confused, my more uncultured side loved the sheer force that was apparent from the moment of putting the needle down. The Shure made my records seem loud and showed audible noise even during silent passages, like someone accidentally brushing over a body microphone during a telco.

    The music came across as voluptuous, musical, and warm. It seemed as if the Shure ‘M75-6S’ was eager to tell the whole story of the record and was having trouble taking its time. I found this aspect to be highly entertaining. While I did have to perform some basic realignments of the cartridge and even asked a Luigi to help me with the cleaning of the needle (with FLUX fluid and a special cleaning machine), it turned out that finding the right cartridge position was relatively simple. Either this, or I had been lucky. All in all, the Shure ‘M75-6S’ is an enjoyable and playful musician with lots of bass slam and musical detail at the ready. If your system-speakers-room combination is bass heavy and imprecise to begin with, stay away from the entry level vintage Shure. But if your system is rather academic or even sterile sounding, the Shure’s do-or-die approach just might add the extra excitement you need. If it were mine, I would keep it for Shure.

    The second option presented to me was the Satin ‘117 G’, a former entry-level High End gem. A first listen showed great potential in the presentation of voices and the placement of instruments. However, it also revealed some inherent flaws that proved the cartridge to be beyond repair (for me, anyway). Somehow, due to age and decay, the magnetic needle holder had lost its firm grip on the needle, and the needle itself showed signs of corrosion. The combination of which lead to sibilant highs and a more general inaccuracy in the music. In my attempt to rescue the Satin cartridge, I ordered a replacement needle, but this showed similar corrosion. Even the foam around the NOS packing disintegrating upon touch, much as a vampire would when facing sunlight. Sad to have lost all hope of salvaging the cartridge, I sent the replacement needle back to the vendor and put the Satin base back in the box.

    Since at this point I had not yet had the chance to experience a range of cartridges in the way I had originally intended and was feeling guilty for returning the Satin needle to the vendor in broken packaging, I decided to order a more elaborate version of the Audio Technica VM95 cartridge from the same vendor instead. This time, not in the version E for Elliptical, as we had for the Philips player, but in the more refined ML version. ML stands for Micro Linear. Two aspects should make the ML stylus superior to the simple ellipses: The nude joining of the needle directly into a hole in the shaft (instead of being soldered on as on the E), and, secondly, the more refined shape and micro-linear cutting of the needle shaft itself. The ML has been designed to pull all available information from the record and has a threefold life expectancy to the elliptical version of up to 1000 listening hours. This did sound promising, indeed. While the VM95 ML is new and will not show signs of ageing, I am aware that the VM95 is an entry level cartridge, and that its specs are not as impressive as those of the Grado, regardless of the needle quality. On the down-side are its poor channel separation of just 23 dB (Grado, 30 dB), as well as limited power generation of just 3.5mV (Shure, 6.2 mV) at peak.

    From experience I know that positive technical specifications do not always translate into great musical experience. One would think that the Grado’s top frequency of 50 kHz would produce far superior sound to the Shure’s maximum of just 20 kHz, or that the Grado’s superior channel separation translates into better imaging. Yet, while our eyes are glued to the specs, our ears may come to opposite conclusions and even prefer the lower-rated device.

    It was therefore not surprising that our first listening impression of the Audio Technica VM95 ML cartridge was very positive, indeed. While it had the urgency of the Shure and could indeed become loud in dynamic passages, it was very much capable of delivering nuance as well. The audio band seemed to extend further, much like that of the Grado’s, but it did so without seeming hyper-controlled or sterile. The music was full of detail and colorful. The VM95 ML offers more bass contour, showing subtle differences in the playing of bass notes. While the Shure smothered over some musical delicacy with omnipresent bass, the VM95 ML was able to present full and controlled bass, and it was painting beautiful colors at the same time. The information on the record seems to be accurately and sensibly reproduced. From my previous experience with the Audio Technica V95 cartridge on the Philips, I knew that the engine can sound a little crude at times. Perhaps this is due to a design decision and a matter of taste rather than a flaw. Both the Grado and the Shure sounded more relaxed and vinyl-like, while losing some of the joy and musical clarity on the way. I will need to give it some time for me to fully comprehend what the Audio Technica is capable of. But I can already say that even Diana Krall’s “Glad Rag Doll”, perhaps her most difficult album to play well, sounds excellent with it. This settles my decision for now.

    The cartridges discussed here are:

    Grado Prestige Blue 2
    Sound: Ultra silent on the record, precise, academic, warm, controlled bass

    • Frequency Response: 10-50.000 kHz
    • Channel Separation at 1KHz: 30 dB
    • Input Load: 47K
    • Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec.: 5mV
    • Recommended Tracking Force: 1.5 g
    • Stylus Type: Elliptical
    • Inductance: 45 mH
    • Resistance: 475 Ω
    • Weight: 5.5 g
    • Year: 2017 -2019
    • OSP: EUR 125,00 (Germany)
    • Stylus Replacement: Original, EUR 90,00

    Grado Labs
    4614 7th Avenue
    Brooklyn, NY
    11220 USA

    _____________________________________________

    Shure M75-6S
    Sound: Noisy on the record, voluptuous, musical, warm, full and sloppy bass

    • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
    • Channel Separation at 1KHz: 20 dB
    • Input Load:
    • Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec.: 6.2mV
    • Recommended Tracking Force: 2.5 grams
    • Stylus Type:  Spherical
    • Inductance: 720 mH
    • Resistance: 630 ohms
    • Weight: 5.6 grams
    • Year: 1972 - 1979
    • OSP: DM 92,00 (Germany)
    • Stylus Replacement: OEM, EUR 30,00

    Shure Brothers lncorporated
    1501 West Shure Drive
    Arlington Heights Illinois 60004

    _____________________________________________

    Satin M 117 G
    Sound: N.N

    • Frequency Response: 20 to 25,000 Hz
    • Channel Separation at 1KHz: 25 dB
    • Input Load: 40 Ohm
    • Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec.: 3mV
    • Recommended Tracking Force: 1.3 grams
    • Stylus Type:  Elliptical
    • Resistance: 50 ohms
    • Weight: 9,2 grams
    • Stylus Replacement: NOS, EUR 90,00 (with caution)

    Shure Brothers lncorporated
    1501 West Shure Drive
    Arlington Heights
    Illinois 60004

    Coincidental Cartridge Bake-Off
    Coincidental Cartridge Bake-Off

Interviews

  • James Bluntie

    James Bluntie

    6/2/2020

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Interviews

    Tag: Musicians

    About James

    Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean.

    A small river named Duden flows by their place and supplies it with the necessary regelialia. It is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth.

    Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar.

    Q&A

    What was the biggest achievement of your career?

    Probably when I won my first Grammy in 2019. I worked really hard on my latest album and I'm extremely grateful that my fans liked the new direction I took with my music.

    Why did you decide to change genres?

    The Big Oxmox advised her not to do so, because there were thousands of bad Commas, wild Question Marks and devious Semikoli, but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen. She packed her seven versalia, put her initial into the belt and made herself on the way. When she reached the first hills of the Italic Mountains, she had a last view back on the skyline of her hometown Bookmarksgrove, the headline of Alphabet Village and the subline of her own road, the Line Lane. Pityful a rethoric question ran over her cheek, then

    Interview details

    • Date: 21 May 2020
    • Location: Frankfurt am Main