Thursday, February 27, 2014

Seven questions with ... John Daniel aka Forest Management

Photo by Andi Rucker

I love it when an artist gets in touch with me after I've written about their work and we strike up a conversation ... such was my experience over the last couple of days with John Daniel aka Forest Management. I wrote about his upcoming EP on Twice Removed and he contacted me with some kind words (Thanks John!) ... turns out we share more than our love of ambient music in common.

While we were chatting via Facebook I asked if he'd consider completing my wee blog interview ... I'm delighted to say he agreed. This is what he had to say:


1) Who are you and what do you do?
My name is John Daniel and I'm an electronic/experimental musician.

2) What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a documentary film score for my talented friend Mina Danic - I'm also preparing to network with filmmakers at a local festival next month.

3) Who inspires you?
- Name an artist who has inspired you.
Sol Lewitt, and his incredible wall drawings. They expand the ideas of space and utilization.

- Name a place that has inspired you.
Lately, the rapid transit/metro line in Cleveland (USA). It provides one of the best views of the city.

- Name some "thing" that has inspired you.
The lamp on my night stand. Its one of the few objects I’ve always had after moving around.

4) What drives you to do what you do?
The recognition of beauty and the knowledge that beauty is infinite. “Infinite” doesn’t just happen - that calls for created purpose. To me, that purpose comes from being in a relationship with a real, forgiving, creative God, who doesn’t need man or religion to add to how incredible He is.

5) What values do you wish your creativity to express?
That the simplicity of reality is enough to be in awe – real life is so much more satisfying than an HD 1080p-XR9, auto-tuned, Instagram'd false universe.

6) What role does community play in what you do?
Community is crucial – without it I’m isolated. Without community, I’m just one piece of what is meant to be a complete whole. Community provides accountability, growth, and the humble reward of being a part of something bigger than yourself.

7) What is next for what you do?
I’m planning a 2-week tour with my friend Jeff Hatfield for this September – we’ll be traveling through Canada and New England. I’ll also be starting to work on another release for a new tape label run by Brooklyn resident Max Mellman. It’s going to be a more planned recording process, involving a hotel room and probably multiple energy drinks. I’m looking forward to it.


Thanks for that John.

While you are waiting for John's EP to drop on Twice Removed, you may wish to check out another of his releases - "The Contemplative Life" - over on Cathedral Transmissions. It is available as a download or as a lightscribed CDr on a recycled card envelope with artwork by Ryan Samples.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Record Hunting in Edinburgh ... part 1

On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting up one of my longest running friends - Robert Dailey. Olly and the we’ans were in town for something church-related, so I tagged along so I could see my old friend.

The plan of attack was simple: meet up, grab a cuppa & exchange belated Christmas gifts then go record / CD hunting.

It was at the first hurdle that I realise I had left Robert’s present in Motherwell ... so after apologising profusely I was given a suspiciously record-shaped present, which turned out to be “Mezzanine” by Massive Attack on heavy vinyl. I was delighted. Massive Attack are one of my fave bands and “Mezzanine” is an extraordinary musical journey ... “Teardrop” alone is worth the money.

We caught up over tea in the Starbucks on the Royal Mile or should I say one of the Starbucks on the Royal Mile. This was the less-busy one, I knew this because I could get a seat and the Tartan-clad tourists we conspicuously absent.

We then headed near-enough next door to Unknown Pleasures, a shop stocked with a well curated selection of second-hand vinyl & CDs as well as some tees and DVDs.

The vinyl selection was strong: big sections of soul, jazz, dance,and indie were apparent along with a varied selection of 7". The section i was interested in - the progressive / psychedelic / classic rock. This was full of individual sections for Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Yes and others. I found a number of albums that interested me but settled on “Abraxas” by Santana & “Albedo 0.39” by Vangelis. Both covers were in prime condition and the Santana vinyl was pristine upon examination. The Vangelis vinyl, in the other hand, needed a good clean upon my return to Motherwell but now looks / plays well.

From the Royal Mile we took a leisurely walk towards the Playhouse. Just beyond the Playhouse is the second stop on our hunt - Vinyl Villains.

Vinyl Villains is an institution in Edinburgh. I don't know how long it has been on-the-go but i’m convinced my peers spoke of it when I lived in Livingston 20 years ago. It is a small shop and seriously punches above its weight. One side is stocked with new and second-hand vinyl with the other side stocked with CDs and merchandise.

I don't know about you but when I’m on the hunt, I always check the reduced section. I am so glad I did while in Vinyl Villains - I picked up: “Hegerst Ridge” by Mike Oldfield & “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Rick Wakeman - both albums were on my wanted list and the Oldfield had nearly been purchased earlier in the day for twice the price. I then found “Olias of Sunhillow” by Jon Anderson in the main section and my hunt was complete.

“Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Rick Wakeman ^

^ “Olias of Sunhillow” by Jon Anderson ^

All three albums were in very good condition - both covers & vinyl. I was particularly enamoured by the covers for “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “Olias of Sunhillow” - they are fascinating pieces of product design ... with “Journey...” having a booklet attached inside the gatefold sleeve and “Olias...” having a triple gatefold sleeve. Both albums have exceptional artwork in their own way and I'm delighted to have them in my collection.

From Vinyl Villains we then headed to Fopp on Rose Street. We were in need of sustenance and Fopp is near the main eateries. I love Fopp, it's my fave chain. It is a faux-indie that celebrates music in all it's forms, a faux-indie that has embraced vinyl and has a rather enticing selection of new LPs. It also has some fab tees (see below). Whilst I was seriously tempted with “Moon Safari” by Air for £10 or the "Pet Sounds" tee for £15, I was only window-shopping. I had set a budget and had kept it - 5 LPs for £15 was pretty good going, if you ask me?!

I thorough enjoyed the trip and thank Robert for his hospitality. I will be back: Edinburgh has more to offer in the form of VoxBox and Oxfam Music, both in the Stockbridge area ... and the shops I visited today deserve more of my time (and money) too.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Loving ... “Sky Image” by Forest Management

“Sky Image” by Forest Management is a four track EP of exceptional ambient drones that will be released on the always-brilliant Twice Removed Records microlabel in March, 2014.

If you are a regular here you will know how much I love my ambient drones and these pieces from Forest Management are a delight, in the shape of the sounds I love most. These tracks are delicate yet nuanced, they float in your conscious and provide a cushion from the hardness of daily life. They have an organic feel to them ... it is as if they’ve been flavoured with the breathtaking awesomeness of natural world.

This is my kind of ambient, one that paints pictures in the mind and disseminates ideas. These tracks portray, for me, a sense of walking in places that make humans feel small - through old forests, in forgotten caves or beside violent seas, or even in a distant desert where the view of the sky is unsullied by man-made light. I find respite in these sounds. They are pieces I can turn to when the urban landscape has gotten too much for one day.

I found “Sky Image” by Forest Management fascinating and would highly recommend it for folks who love their ambient sounds.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Diaphanous by Harnes Kretzer from Petrichor

Diaphanous from Samantha Castrillón on Vimeo.

My review of “Petrichor” by Harnes Kretzer is up on and I wanted to share this video with you ... it is for "Diaphanous", an exceptional track on an exceptional album:
"Throughout “Petrichor” Kretzer moves with ease between the elegance of neo-classical, the rough-edged skitter of glitchy electronic and the haunting beauty of atmospheric ambient … Kretzer even plays the most soulful electric piano on one track – ‘Diaphonous’ – and adeptly incorporates field recordings on another, the hidden track at the end of the release (spoilers, sweetie!). It is this consistent ingenuity that I find utterly endearing … a fluid seamlessness that points to an exceptional talent … a talent that captured my attention as the listener from the off & held it through the length of the release."


Saturday, February 22, 2014

99% INVISIBLE Kickstarter goodies

99% INVISIBLE is my favourite design-orientated podcast ... a podcast that I love so much that I backed it's latest series via Kickstarter.

My reward for this backing ... other than the feeling of goodwill I get whenever Roman Mars thanks his backers on the show ... was these two pocket cahier notebooks.

This one - "Heyoon" - was my instant favourite, reminding me of one of my favourite episodes - #83 HEYOON.
"Once over the fence, a path behind a white farmhouse led to a thin line of trees, and then to a huge field. And there was something else there in the field. Something man-made. Something really big."
I love that I have this 'something' on a notebook!

I also received this one ... with a subtle 99% INVISIBLE design.

I am delighted and will happily support them again. If you want something interesting to listen to when out walking the dog ... you can't go far wrong with 99% INVISIBLE.


Friday, February 21, 2014

New *Digital* Music no3: M.Persson:Sounds, C.paradisi, Toaster, Jacob Montague & Harnes Kretzer

The fab Free Floating netlabel have reissued "Strange Skies MMXIV" by M. Persson:Sounds ... and I am glad they have. It is a beautiful ambient release, well worthy of your attention:


Brad Ross-MacLeod, the man behind Free Floating, is one of *those* talented folks who make music AND run a label AND create beautiful graphics ... I am rather jealous of his achievements. His second collection of audio sketches - "Sketches for the Edge of Silence vol.2" is a aural delight ... he really practices what he preaches, creating music worthy of his own label. Recommended.


My friend Todd aka Toaster has another album of his weirdbient IDM soundscapes out. "Brethren" is food for the mind and was born out of a number of jams with Daniel Couri, who plays bass for the stoner rock outfit One Eyed King. I really like this release, it has an abstraction that really works for me. I would encourage you to check it out if folks like Squarepusher are your thing.


"All Creatures - Volume One" by Jacob Montague is a work of exceptional beauty.

According to the liner notes...
"In the vein of Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens, the lyrical and melodic themes of "All Creatures - Volume One" seamlessly bridge the seemingly expansive gap between acoustic and synthetic instrumentation, carving out choruses composed of trombone and electric piano, flute and synthesizer, swelling vocal chorales and minimized digital textures ..."
I really enjoy this piece and do appreciate the spiritual content. Highly recommended.


Lastly we have "Petrichor" by Harnes Kretzer on the awesome Fluttery Records. I received this to review for This Is Not A Scene and have to say I absolutely loved it. It combines exemplary neo-classical piano with glitchy electronics, and is an utter delight.


Four more releases from weareallghosts

Dronescape 015 has been a blessing to me ... aiding my painfully slow recovery ... and helping me to rest. My sincere thanks to Cousin Silas for the care he has poured into this dronescape ... it is appreciated, especially at this time.


"Both expansive & dystopian, these sounds present the future of our dreams as being more akin to the stuff of our nightmares ... they give the listener an all too brief insight into the eerie unsettling liminal state just beyond our reckoning, just beyond our remembering, where we span two worlds and stare into the deepest recesses of the unknown."


"This is music for both the head and the heart, a late-night hit of somatic bliss that, in equal measure, inspires and comforts."


"It is an album bursting with new ideas and fresh expression ... an album that features the kind of engaging sound-pictures in each of its twelve tracks that I simply cannot get enough of. It shifts from dark, eerie ambience to moments of futuristic expressionism with ease ... filling my ears with that most wonderfully oxymoronic of all musical joys ... familiar yet utterly new soundscapes."


My week netlabel is growing from strength to strength ... and I am delighted with this current batch of releases.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

New *Physical* music no5

I picked up Sky's self-titled debut for £1 earlier in the week. This wonder of instrumental progressive rock was found languishing in the clearance section of Missing Records. I snapped it up without further thought. I wasn't disappointed.

John Williams (not the Star Wars soundtrack composer) is a gifted guitarist, one I was vaguely familiar with from his track "Cavatina" from The Deerhunter. I was curious how his band sounded and can honestly say I am impressed.

The first thing that grabbed me about this album was how each musician within this incarnation of Sky was accomplished in their own right - Francis Monkman (keyboards), Herbie Flowers (bass), Tristan Fry (percussion) and Kevin Peek (guitars) - all contribute musically to the Sky sound ... this isn't John Williams plus band.

The next thing that I liked was their sound ... it is uniquely theirs. A mix of classical and rock, one that is more progressive than symphonic. Their version Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1" is a delight.

I am glad I picked up this album and would highly recommend it to anyone with a fondness for instrumental & progressive music.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

New *Physical* Music no4

I picked up the following music recently:

... Bo Hansson's music inspired by "The Lord of the Rings" (the LP)

... "Moon" by Snowbird (left) and Andreson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (right)

Bo Hansson's music inspired by "The Lord of the Rings" is a masterpiece of progressive psychedelic instrumental rock music ... and I was delighted to finally find it on vinyl while out and about on Glasgow's Byers Road. The edition I picked up is the 1988 'remixed' version which is more remastered than remixed (thankfully). It is a sonic delight that just sings on vinyl.


I've mentioned Snowbird before ... and was delighted to find their debut album on Bella Union when out and about in Stirling last Friday. "Moon" is a remarkable record that features the talents of former Cocteau Twins instrumentalist Simon Raymonde (also founder of the London-based label Bella Union) and vocalist Stephanie Dosen. It is wonderfully delicate and ethereal upon first listen but gains shape after repeated consideration ... one for late nights and early mornings for sure.


Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe are both my fave YES musicians ... and some of my fave rock musicians of all time. I picked up this album on Amazon for 1p and really didn't know what to expect. I prefer early '70s YES to their later work - I like the crazy solos and one-track-per-side-of-an-LP nonsense and Roger Dean artwork ... and wasn't sure how this would work.

After a few plays I can honestly say I really like it. The music is dated in a late '80s synth kind of way ... but it isn't a bad dated. Its not 'Close to the Edge' but it does stand up to repeated listens. And Roger Dean is well represented with this cover ... a cover I could stare at for hours.


It feels great to be out and about again ... here's to the hunt.


Thursday, February 06, 2014

Looking forward ... Star Wars Rebels

As you may know, I am a huge Star Wars fan: I loved the original trilogy ... really liked the prequel trilogy ... thoroughly enjoyed the 2003 micro-series from Genndy TartakovskyClone Wars - and loved the other Clone Wars animated series from 2008 onwards. Whilst I never got the games (I'm not a big gamer) I did get the cartoons!

As you can imagine, I am very excited about the upcoming animated series: Star Wars Rebels.

As Wookiepedia states...
Star Wars Rebels is a forthcoming animated television series set in approximately 5 BBY, during the time frame between the films Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The premiere episode, a one-hour special, will air on Disney Channel in fall 2014, with the series then shifting to Disney XD. 
The series will follow a motley group of rebels—the crew of the starship Ghost—and their struggles against the oppressive Galactic Empire. A primary theme of Star Wars Rebels will be exploring the origins of the Rebel Alliance.
My criticism of the prequels was that it was so broad but lacked character depth ... except for the main characters like Obi-Wan, Anakin, & Padme. The main reason I loved The Clone Wars series is that it fleshed out the characters ... in particular the Jedi ... that you see briefly in Episode 2 then see again in Episode 3 getting slaughtered. My hope for Rebels is that it does the same!

Anyway ... what got me thinking about Star Wars Rebels was these fantastic promotional posters that they have produced to promote the series by series artist Amy Beth Christenson.

I really, really like them!

This artwork works for me. Well done Amy Beth Christenson ... I can't wait for the show!


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Loving ... Mary Anne Hobbs' weekend breakfast show on BBC 6Music

I wake up early at the weekend to listen to Mary Anne Hobbs' weekend breakfast show on BBC 6Music ... her show, from 7 to 10 am, is an utter treat.

Whilst my Olly thinks I am mad, I can't think of a better way to start off both precious days than to listen to the music and features Hobbs has prepared.

What makes her shows stand out are three things ... Hobbs' eclecticism, her love of new music & her community-creation.

Firstly, let's consider her eclecticism. Take the playlist from Sunday, 2nd February's show as an example ... we had tracks from the following bands:
  • Violent Femmes
  • St Vincent
  • Sonic Youth
  • Joy Division
  • Orbital
  • Friendly Fires
  • Wild Beasts
  • The Specials
  • Beastie Boys
  • Mogwai
  • Radiohead
  • Massive Attack
  • The Undertones
  • Beck
  • Sam & Dave
  • Stone Roses
  • The Dead Weather
  • The Doors
  • Parliament
I can't think of any other show with this variety of music is played on the same show ... and it is an eclectic mix that really works together.

Now ... there were other bands played but I wasn't familiar with them. That's where Hobbs' love of new music comes to the fore ... she doesn't just 'play' new music, she features it!  Hobbs really pushes new or unfamiliar music ... take her patronage of Nils Frahm, for example ... she played his awesome track - "Says" - from his 2013 release - "Stays" -  on Erased Tapes as her 'sunriser' track not once but twice ... I find  this remarkable - independent piano-orientated neoclassical music not just played but made a feature of.

I love her show and if I miss it, as I have recently due to having pertussis, then I play catch up using the BBC's fab iPlayer.

The thing is ... I loathe missing Hobbs' show because she makes it so interactive. She genuinely cherishes her listeners and makes her show come alive by giving shouts-out and engaging with those of us who tweet or text in. I openly admit to being a tweeter-inner and my heart sings when she reads out my name ... by doing so Hobbs makes me feel 'part' of the dedicated community that surround her ... the community she has created. And trust me. its very easy to be loyal to someone who loves music as much as she does!

What's more ... Hobbs has a segment on each show called "Three Minute Epiphany". These segments feature sagely advice from a wide range of creative talents. Think of it as a 'thought for the day' from the creative community on art, music, poetry, photography ... amongst other things. It is fascinating and if you follow me on Facebook you'll see me share the photos that come with these thoughts. I find these epiphanies inspiring and really welcome them.

Radio should be about discovery and Hobbs does a grand job in opening up the airwaves to new music and creative ideas. Radio should also be about community and interaction ... something I think Hobbs does without even trying. I don't look up to many people - I'm like Chuck D, my heroes don't tend to appear on stamps - but Hobbs is someone whose talent is worth recognising:

Mary Anne Hobbs is a national treasure and long may she continue to open up the airwaves!


Monday, February 03, 2014

Loving ... "Triptych" by WASH

I will admit when I am wrong ... and I was wrong to sleep on this rather special release from Warren Daly of Invisible Agent Records.

As the blurb on their bandcamp page states ...
WASH features music by Warren Daly (Invisible Agent), Alex Leonard (Ebauche) and Hal Fx (Audio Mainline). A hybrid soundscape of rhythm, synthesis, live instrumentation and location recordings, guided by the poetry and spoken word of Scott Bywater.
... and, for me, it is a fantastic collaboration well worth checking out.

"Triptych" features three longish-form pieces ... there or about 30 minutes each ... that follow a rather unique pattern - poetry underpinned by heady, electronic soundscapes formed through field recordings, ambient guitar, and manipulation.

The imagination that is poured into these pieces is obvious for all to hear. The music provided is as deeply immersive as a sound recording of the very busy Phnom Pen can be ... a sonic milieu of traffic, people and noise ... crafted through clever manipulation into these rich, vibrant soundscapes that loop and morph whilst underpinning some lovely ambient guitar and Bywater's expression.

I'm not a big fan of spoken-word but Scott Bywater's deliver is a delight ... his stream-of-consciousness presentation with a low-key Antipodean accent is easy to follow and rather hypnotic ... helped by the combination of music (especially guitar), beats, and field-recordings that form the walls-of-sound that back him.

These are pieces that require commitment ... you cannot dip in and out of them, you need to listen from start to finish ... I certainly found that when I did, I was richly rewarded. In fact, this is the kind of music I would absolutely love to hear live ... it has a live vibe about it. I can only imagine the audio/visual experience this could be with visuals projected on stage as WASH played. There is something very visual about their music!

I look forward to more from them and promise not to sleep on their next release. Have a listen below to see what I mean:

In addition, Scott Bywater's poetry as used in this recording can be found & downloaded >> here.


Sunday, February 02, 2014

My first attempt at baking Irish Soda Bread

I'm not skilled in kitchen. I can make rock-buns and have been know to make cupcakes with Olly's guidance ... but that's it.

However, I watched a show on BBC2 yesterday called "The Big Bread Experiment" where a group of women get together to make artisan bread (you can watch the show on iPlayer > LINK ).

I found the show very inspiriting ... the thought of community-creation and folks working together, making things by hand, tasty bread and local ingredients inspired me.

While Olly and the girls were out at church (my pertussis is still grounding me) I tried to bake a simple Irish Soda Bread loaf following this recipe from James Martin.

My attempt doesn't look *anything* like the loaf shown in the recipe ... for one its not round ... but its not just what it looks like but what it tastes like that counts.

I waited until Olly & the girls returned then cut a few slices to try ... toasting them in the oven then giving the slice a good coating of butter (Olly had butter & honey). It was delicious and reminded me of an Irish Soda Farl.

This was Olly's reaction:

I am rather chuffed, if I do say so ... but more than that I am inspired. It wasn't hard ... just as replacing my hard drive in my MacBook Pro wasn't hard.

Who'd have thought I'd be baking, huh?

Give it a go yourself ... you never know.


February 2014's Calendar / Wallpaper

As you've probably gathered, I've been pretty much housebound for the month of January ... struck down with pertussis aka whooping cough. As such, I haven't had any real chance to take a photo for February's Calendar / Wallpaper.

We have a couple of feeders beside the living room window and I've been entertained with numerous Tits: Blue ... Grey ... and Coal Tits have kept me company. This is to remember my wee friends.

Usual flavours are below.


iPhone with Calendar + iPhone without Calendar

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Guest Post :: "My name is Alex and I'm a vinyl addict"

I haven't done a Guest Post in a while ... so when my friend Alex recently told me about his new hi-fi set up, I asked him to write about it. This is what he had to say:


Like many vinyl junkies it crept up on me. I wasn't always trawling through eBay, or scouring second hand shops looking for that specific 180gsm gatefold treasure. My collection started out as a meagre 5 albums all of which I am too embarrassed to list, back in the 90s and has steadily grown to its now 300ish bulk.

My first vinyl hardware set up was as you would expect not worthy of a fan fare. It consisted of a very cheap Sony turntable from the mid 90s and a not too shabby Kenwoood 3020 integrated amp. Nothing changed for a great many years as at this time CDs consumed me. The turntable was really just to complete my separates system.

Then there was this friend who was big on vinyl and had spent a fortune on a serious setup.

Monoblock pre and power amps bi wired and hooked up to a purpose built turntable made up of a 6 inch composite platter, separate motor and power supply. I did not have the money to spend on a system like this but crikey it was a thing of beauty. Not long after being introduced to this beauty I made my first tentative step into proper vinyl HIFI audio. I bought a second hand Thorens TD160 Super for £150. I made some minor mods to the platter and dampening and a nice platter matt to help improve the sound quality and it became clear that the better the source the better the listening experience. My then year old Kenwoood amp was still doing a lovely job.

So my love of vinyl was ignited, and the cd player and tape deck and tuner separates which took up lots of room all slowly disappeared. Life was good.

Spring forward 10 years however and now things started to go wrong, first the volume control became a little crackly on the amp when turning it up but it was still working. Then disaster struck as the phono stage stopped working altogether!!

What to do. Perhaps I can fix it or.... perhaps I can buy a new system.

This was October, Christmas was looming and I have a 1 year old. Money was tight and all I had was £200 (at a push) to play with.

Where to start?

I had lost touch with hi-fi over the years having been content with my simple set up producing a nice sound stage with a pretty detailed listening experience. I did what any self respecting researcher would do. Google to the rescue. I re-discovered the audiophile pre and power amp systems of my dreams and decided to set myself a challenge. Build a pre, power amp set up with a separate phono stage on my measly budget.

I was soon to discover this was not going to be an easy task. Pre and Power amps are expensive and second hand ones still hold their value well, very well. With just one purchase capable of blowing my entire budget. Dejected I decided to just go for a phono stage instead and stick with my increasingly flaky Kenwood 3020 amp.

I discovered the Rega a2 phono stage after auditioning one and being seriously impressed with the results. I started scouring eBay and the sales sites to see if I could get one cheaper than the £80 price tag in the shop.

I was still looking at the pre power amp setup and had taken to haunting the DIY audio forums with dreams of building my own amps. That's where I stumbled on it. A link to an eBay seller who sold tube amps from China in kit form, and that they were, according to some very detailed reviews actually pretty good. Imagine my surprise when I found this little Chinese outfit selling tube RIAA phono pre amp, 4 tubes.... TUBES.. and significantly cheaper than the rega. I was in.

My seemingly impossible goal of building a budget system was looking more of a reality.

Little bear RIAA phono pre amp £65 including postage. Done...

Now about that pre and power amp set up. At the same time as the phono stage I discovered that the same crew made single input pre amp. I managed to get a little bear mini valve pre-amp for £15, which even if it was useless would at least allow me to get started and upgrade at a later date.

Little bear 6J1 x2 tube mini pre amp £15. Done.

I was energised, my dream was becoming a reality. That's when I discovered these amazing little digital amps. Based around the Texas instruments t2024 chip. Some of the reviews were truly amazing. Notably a British company who make a wonderful little amp known as the bantam and it's big brother the bantam gold, which was getting reviews better than a lot of serious audiophile amps. They also did a proper power amp version. But still a bit rich for my budget. So went back to the diy forums to see if there were any alternatives. I heard mention of the Muse digital amp again made by a Chinese outfit but with the build quality and sound quality on a par with the bantam, at half the price. By this point I had listened to a digital amp in my local hifi store and was very surprised at the depth of the sound stage and how much power there was. This tiny amp was no bigger than my phone and was easily powering a set of floor standers. I stumbled across a 2nd hand Muse 50 watt amp on ebay which had been an unwanted gift. It also had a volume control so if my pre amp was rubbish no loss. It was a win win.

Muse digital t2024 50watt amp. £35. Done.

Total cost £118

Add this to my Thorens TD160 and my shelf top Mission 700s we were good to go.

Now all I had to do was wait.....

The digital amp was here in 2 days.

6 weeks later my stuff from China arrived.

So i got to building.

Finally it was there and I was pretty pleased with the look.

Now what does it sound like?

I started with my all time favourite Jazz album, one I have listened to for many years. Miles Davis' "a kind of blue" on 180g vinyl, and I was blown away. I had listened to this via my iPod with the digital amp to test it when it first arrived. The sound stage had really opened up, the detail was incredible if not a little clinical. I was really impressed. The difference the phono stage and pre amp made was nothing short of miraculous. The tone was rich, the bass suddenly had real presence and it was a joy to listen to.

Each LP I played brought another surprise. "Dark Side of the Moon" had this wide sound stage with instruments delicately dancing around each other. Jeff Buckly and "So Real" almost had me in tears as the prescence and warmth of his voice came to the fore on "Hallelujah" and "Corpus Christi Carol". Even the heavy rock notes from Rage Against the Machine and Wolfmother were deeper and more gutsy.

I could go on at depth and review each LP that I listened to that day and since but basically the music feels more real, instruments came to life and vocals have deep emotion. The sound stage has opened up and given life to a lot of my older vinyl.

Even my wife who is not a fan of the glowing tubes and wires, something about not being baby friendly, had to admit that it sounded amazing.

So in summary I have pulled together a system for under £150 which sounds like it should cost at least 3 to 4 times more, and has given me a foundation to really build on. But more importantly is that I am enjoying my vinyl again and that was always the real goal.

- Alex


Thanks Alex!

If you have something you would like to share on this ol' nanolog ... please don't hesitate to get in touch.



Related Posts with Thumbnails