Dave Robson runs the Facebook group “Audiophiles UK. Hi-Fi and Music” and here talks Hifi Pig through his musical and Hifi journey.
Where does your music journey begin?
I have mine on good authority from the all-powerful mother!! Apparently, my journey started in the early 1970’s, with a blue potty and a copy of Kenny Rodgers “Ruby” (don’t take your love to town). We had a little Pye standalone record player. The type with the arm to hold records in place and if you left it open it would just repeat over and over. It drove my poor mum mad! I actually had 4 copies, one frizbee’d into the frying pan, destroying the evening’s meal! The second yet again frizbee’d out of the top floor of our block of flats, the third left upon a bus. This left my grandad trolling around the Music shops of Liverpool trying to find another copy! Which he did!
Mum divorced when I was about 3 (not because of the records but a motorbike so I’m told!). We then lived with Nan and Grandad and my Aunty who was a teenager and we had a big wooden stereogram, I can’t remember the make or model, but my aunt constantly listened to a lot of the 60’s and disco funk of the 70’s… Diana Ross, Four Tops, Tavares, Hot Chocolate etc. I remember the Top of the Pops type albums, the “Now” albums of the day, being played by dancing teens having good fun to funky beats.
These tunes became a staple from there on into my own first proper Hifi. I made do with radio and tape recorders, taping the Top 40 on a Sunday like most of us did. Finger paused over the record button, waiting for our favourite tunes to appear (yep, me too – Ed).
The Amstrad Years
At the grand old age of 13 I managed to get my first “real” Hifi. After seeing a friend’s older one I was lured by the “Stack”!!! An Amstrad 25ti (or something like that ). Speakers hung on nails on the wall with thin bell wire trailing down the wallpaper (mother not happy)!!! This was musical Nirvana! Friends all jealous as hell! It was shiny silver, and none of those old fashioned Needle VU meters but soooo cool, LED lights flicking up and down!! I thought I was the bees knees.
I hadn’t formed a following for any specific group or type of music, I still had disco and funk ringing in my ears from years past, so the single became my source of new entertainment. Once a week on a Saturday, going to my local store in Fazakerley, clutching my pocket money, buying my treasure and running home with my newest purchase, yet again to be played over and over, and over.
I think my first was Hungry Like The Wolf, Duran Duran. (yeah, sorry no Led Zep or pink Floyd here just an 80’s boy ha). These great 80s bands mixed with mum’s old Nat King Cole box set, my Step dads James Last and James Bond theme albums and a few 70’s compilations saw me through my life. That is until I went to my mates Brother-in-Law’s house to babysit!
Me and Little Alan
That’s where I saw it, that’s where I heard it!!!! (nope not his sister and her boyfriend making out, that’s another story completely). A separates system, it was actually separate! Not like my silly childlike Amstrad, Nooooooooo… this had wires connecting it all together, it was different colours, different shapes, it had big speakers, ON THE FLOOR!! I was immediately hooked like never before! Now, I’m not sure of all the bits, only a few, I think it was mostly Akai, a front loading tape deck, no door, Sony speakers and a Rotel amp. Now I’m not sure of the Turntable, but it was a good one, probably not in the Lenco or Thorens league, but a good Japanese one, I know this because I was warned by the very tough gorilla that was the keeper of this magnificent beast not to damage it and to follow his instructions ALWAYS!! Which I did!!
Weekends where now filled with going to his place, babysitting and listening to not only our music but we now had access to HIS music too! This was a new ball game. Me and Little Alan were now best buddies!!!!
Playing the Top 40 tapes, some of my 80’s electro synth stuff, and the cool music of a 20 something. From what I can remember, those albums then formed the whole building blocks of my musical tastes to this day. There was The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, Michael Jackson, The Commodores, Hall and Oates, Elton John and The Police to name a few. I was hooked on not only the music but the equipment as well!
Playboy Covers and Athena Posters
Hmmm my 16th birthday was on its way! Now guess what I’m after!!! YES! A touchy feely girlfriend and a new HiFi!
Unable to tear myself away from the stack system I opted for a Technics. Remember that the 80’s where in full swing, the time of the Yuppie had arrived, advertising was king, product placement had arrived! At 16 I was Logo and brand happy. Technics was damn cool!
My new Technics logo branded smoked glass door was enough to put me in the BIG league! Or so I thought. The Technics receiver and tape deck with accompanying Turntable was Black and new. All now installed in my bedroom with my Athena posters and playboy duvet cover!!
The Technics Years
It was at this time I knew I needed a job to fund my new habit, so to the local supermarket I went, nothing but good manners to get me a job. RESULT!!!!! Stacking shelves was the new fuel for Hifi nirvana!!! First on my list for me was one of those new CD players! I’d been to a new friend’s house, he had gotten a Sony CD and I remember him playing it to me for the first time, Brothers In Arms. No pops, crackles or hiss! Gobsmacked! Immediately borrowed the loot from the bank of mum, and went off to buy a Technics Sl-p220. It went in the Stack! Me with copies of Hall and Oates , Foreigner (4) and the Dire Straits (Brothers in Arms) in the bag too!!!!
Over the next few years I carried on with the Technics brand, the magazines always rated them highly and I was happy to hand money over without audition, blindly following the reviewers recommendations. I ended up with Technics’ Top of the range CD player the SL-P990. I then went to a new shop to me as they had the New Top of the range Digital Pre / Power amp (SU-A60 / SE-A50). The salesman happy to recommend it as “the digital side of the pre amp will totally transform my CD”! Oooooops. It actually didn’t. The DACs in the CD were exactly the same as the amp!!! My Musical Fidelity Reference 4 speakers confirmed this as it actually sounded worse through the optical cable than the RCA’s. This is where my big Hifi learning started… £800 too late, an expensive lesson to learn, but lean it I did!
The Fish Years
My next real journey happened at the age of 21. I’d gotten my career underway working on the railway, gotten engaged and found a home. Luckily for me my new abode was a big old Victorian house with 5 bedrooms, no kids, lots of hobbies and a very understanding wife to be. She and her brothers were all into the music scene, all older than me and they were true rock fans… Led Zep, Pink Floyd etc. My Wife to be was a mad fan of Marillion, fronted by Fish (Derek Dick). It was just at this time the band broke up and Fish went solo. There were no arguments about upgrading Hifi! The game was on.
Now being steered by good Hifi shops in the north west of England I bought some Target spiked Hi-Fi stands and junked the Technics Amps in for the Audiolab 8000 C/P pre / power, and the CD player for a Teac VRDS T1 CD Transport and Audio Alchemy “DAC in the Box” DAC. On reflection I could have done a lot better with spending more on my cables. I was using Audioquest and Monster at the time. The cost of mortgages @ 15% and having to re-decorate a large house, funds where tight a lot of the time. We were also going to a lot of Fish concerts during this time as well. So I kept my older cables and put the extra into new equipment. My last purchase there was to upgrade the Speakers. The weapons of choice were the Mission 753’s. I opted for these over the equivalent B&W at the time as although I actually liked the sound of the B&W more, the speakers hit their end stops at high volume. My listening room was big, 18” x 16” with 10” high ceilings! A lot of space to fill with music, so the 5 year guarantee and tank like build of the Missions won out. When I got them home the big bouncy wooden floors played havoc with the Bass of the Missions, I opted to put 2 full sized flag stones under the speakers this tightened everything up and gave great soundstage, massive in fact. Filling the void in my bay window!
I filled my CD collection with some of the old favourites, Hall and Oates, Supertramp, Simple Minds, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Steely Dan, Queen, The Cult, Foreigner, Marillion, Fish, Elton John and Paul Simon to name a few. I never really had a massive music collection; I wasn’t someone who needed to have “more”. At the time there were no cheap CDs either.
A New Start
At 30 my world started to turn and change. My marriage broke up, things got blurry for a while, my Hifi was boxed up and put into storage for the next 2 house moves. I foolishly sold my Target stands andI made do with a little Sony midi system and a few choice CDs.
There is always a silver lining though, and a happy ever after! (Hopefully). A new life, new home new child came along. I was itching to get the Hifi out again. I just knew at the time we didn’t have space for it. The old system was for a big room, it all took space and I knew I didn’t have the space without chopping and changing it. Child care did away with having any spare money to spend for a while. The internet was now at the end of my fingertips and I was getting the bug!!! I bought a Sony A/V amp and some Q Acoustic 1020 speakers, got my CD transport and DAC out, and made a hifi rack from two Ikea units butchered together. IT WAS BACK!!! To a fashion anyway!! I added 3 small Mordaunt Short speakers and a 309 sub-woofer making a 5.1 surround system. One evening we were watching Sky arts or something. A concert by Corinne Bailey Rae was on TV. The sound quality gave me chills big time! I had to have my music back. That night we decided to extend our home with a rear extension, tagging on the detached garage and turning that into a Hifi/cinema room!! First job……. Yeah find a second power amp in secret! Ha, managed to find a new/old stock of the Audiolab 8000p power amp, £250. Bargain!! Managed to sneak it in and hide it in the loft until the new build was finished! Yeah I’m a Bad boy!!! Having free reign in the converted garage I hid all the surround sound speaker wires in the walls and ceilings, fed HDMI, Optical fibre and Internet under floors from the Sky Box. Put heating in and got myself a big comfy chair. I unboxed all my kit and CDs but left my Turntable and few Albums in the loft as my mainstay has been digital.
I knew before I got it all going again the speakers wouldn’t be any good in the small converted garage as they only really sung when pushed hard… I now had 2 power amps but the way the garage was connected to the house loud wasn’t an option for us as a family and as a good neighbour!
Things where looking rosy until my CD transport started to fail. New ones looked expensive and anything other than that would seem like a downgrade. I decided to bite the bullet and look for something new. At this time the Audiolab 8200CD was just appearing on the market and getting rave reviews. It looked a good option with the Audiolab pre/powers. On disconnecting the CD I managed to break off the RCA connection on the back of the pre amp too!!! It was a common problem as they got older they fractured. On speaking to the local Hifi shop they said why not kill 2 birds with 1 stone and go for the Audiolab 8200 CDQ, CD and Pre amp in one. I had an audition and it was a good improvement all-round. My old Mission 753’s where now my weak link. I went to Adventures in HIFI in Chester. I took my 8yr old Daughter with me. (hoping to give her an insight into the right way to do things). We listened to several speakers, stand mounters and floor standers. I’d liked the fast tight sound of the Missions and the B&W 684s2’s fitted the bill in my smaller room. I chopped in my old cables and chose to try some Mogami Speaker cables and some handmade Silver cabling from Artisan Silver Cables based in Isle Of Wight.
Getting All Social
It was at this time I’d started to get into the Hifi scene on the internet and the groups on Facebook. It was quite interesting hearing other peoples journey with music and equipment, how big the vintage stuff is and the resurgence of vinyl. On the downside some of these sites on a nightly basis descended into nasty bullying arguments over trivial matters and I really didn’t need to read it. The solution was to start my own group. A small friendly group with lots of interests, and no bad attitudes. All levels from guys just starting out to some who have speakers that cost more than my house, but all on the same level wanting to be helpful and informative, some are even funny!!!!
I have recently gotten the bug to upgrade again. The Audiolabs were holding back the new speakers I felt. I managed to get a 2nd hand Roksan Caspian M2 power amp (would like to try a pair) for a reasonable price. I gained a lot more detail but lost some of the big 3D soundstage my Audiolabs gave me. I also found the Silver cables didn’t suit and now I had the option of XLR cables I decided to give them a try. During the auditioning of the new cables I managed to short the amp out with the RCA’s and pop the amp!!! So at the moment it’s being fixed by Roksan, who have been amazingly helpful. Im stuck with a 7.1 surround system and some Blu-ray concerts. Not too difficult really!
I’m tempted to get a new Turntable at the moment but I’m not 100% if I should concentrate the money on improving what I have with better speaker cables and interconnects. Choices, choices eh?
Am I an audiophile? I’m not sure. I do love Hifi and music? Very definitely.
What advice would I give budding enthusiasts? Find a good dealer and be honest with him in what you want and like. Join a hifi group, one person’s advice is great, but 200 bits of advice gives you choices (…and read Hifi Pig of course – Ed’). Don’t discount second hand gear as there are some good items out there for sale. Buy good cables, there will always be the argument about them, but trust me it makes a huge difference. Play with positioning of speakers it probably makes the biggest changes to how your system sounds. Bigger isn’t always better either, in size, watts or price.
Finally, trust your own ears. The best equipment is on the side of your head.