SOUND TRAV­ELS

This month, Aus­tralian Hi Fi con­trib­u­tor Peter Xeni in­ter­views Peter Allen, a Mel­bourne Au­dio Club mem­ber and the Edi­tor of the club’s mag­a­zine.

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

This month, Peter Xeni in­ter­views Peter Allen, who’s not only a mem­ber of the Mel­bourne Au­dio Club, but also the edi­tor of the club’s monthly mag­a­zine.

Au­dio vet­eran Peter Allen is a keen believer in the art of mix­ing and match­ing hi-fi com­po­nents for op­ti­mum re­sults. His leafy out­er­sub­ur­ban home has an up­stairs loft filled with ev­ery­thing from leg­endary solid-state am­pli­fiers to old clas­sics such as Quad57 speak­ers and Stax F-81 elec­tro­static head­phones—plus lots of new giz­mos. De­spite his ex­tended au­dio col­lec­tion, his Quad 63s and Yamaha NS-1000s still hold pride of place in his liv­ing room.

‘I tweak what I have, and keep it to­gether for a long time,’ he says. ‘I have come slowly to re­alise that there isn’t an ul­ti­mate, and I’m ba­si­cally a sat­is­fied, mod­er­ate au­dio­phile. I suf­fer the oc­ca­sional au­dio­phile nig­gle and ask my­self: ‘What if I just make one im­prove­ment, maybe buy some­thing new yet again? Might it sound bet­ter and give me more ear­gasms?’

He leans back in his sweet-spot chair and says in all earnest­ness: ‘I’m wiser now and no longer chase the au­dio­phile bench­mark of what is pos­si­ble. I lis­ten to th­ese wildly ex­pen­sive sys­tems, but at home I don’t feel like start­ing over again. I have re­cently vac­il­lated be­tween ‘del­i­cate and dy­namic’; be­tween the Stax/ Quad 63s ver­sus the Yama­has. Horns done right might please me, but ‘done right’ is rare. Soon I’ll set up a Sys­tem 2 up­stairs, the Quads with my VTLs. Am I an au­dio schiz­o­phrenic? Who knows? I will no doubt change things around again even­tu­ally!

Peter says that Mel­bourne Au­dio Club founder Alec En­cel’s be­lief that a good syn­ergy be­tween com­po­nents will get the best out of your sys­tem still holds true.

‘Get­ting it right takes time. Even in com­puter au­dio ev­ery­thing mat­ters’, he says. What­ever the trend, he still re­turns to his older elec­tron­ics. ‘They’re like old friends; by know­ing their strengths and lim­i­ta­tions you can re­lax from hi-fi anx­i­ety and make your mu­sic lis­ten­ing more en­joy­able.’

PX: What were your ear­li­est ex­pe­ri­ences with au­dio and the Mel­bourne Au­dio Club?

PA: I joined the club in late 1974, but first be­came in­ter­ested in au­dio in the six­ties. Who else of the el­ders re­mem­bers Alec En­cel’s weekly col­umn in the Green Guide to ra­dio and TV? He was the in­spi­ra­tion for the club and we learnt a lot from him—such as sys­tem match­ing. The set-up is very im­por­tant, he’d say and he’d take a per­sonal in­ter­est in the match­ing of his cus­tomer’s gear at their homes. ‘You can’t just put boxes to­gether,’ he’d tell me. Since then, I have op­ti­mised what I’ve pur­chased based on his phi­los­o­phy. As for join­ing the club, per­haps it was at a hi-fi show with that big model loud­speaker on show and meet­ing MAC’s early con­venor, Gra­ham Cobb who fi­nally hooked me in. I am so glad I joined—for the mu­sic, for the gear, and for the ca­ma­raderie amongst ‘con­sent­ing adults.’ PX: What mu­sic is your genre of choice? PA: Com­plex mu­sic. As Duke Elling­ton said: ‘There are only two types of mu­sic— good mu­sic and bad mu­sic.’ My fa­ther loved his sym­phonic con­certs. I learned about mu­sic from his LPs which he trusted me to han­dle and play. We en­joyed mu­sic that had dis­tinct rhythms or har­monies—or both, such as Si­belius 2, Cae­sar Franck (Mer­cury) on his Leak Stereo-20 and his Lowthers. The En­cel’s shop chose well there in get­ting him the right gear. As a young man, I per­formed in a choir and my life­time high­light was sing­ing Vi­valdi’s Glo­ria— it’s some­thing I have never for­got­ten.

PX: If you were short of cash would you sell your CD col­lec­tion, your vinyl, or your DVDs?

PA: Easy. First would be all the CDs. They are re­place­able. I’ve ripped thou­sands of them at full res­o­lu­tion, plus back­ups. As for my LPs, I can only of­fer a heresy warn­ing. I must con­fess I’m fully sat­is­fied by the sound of my CDs. Not hav­ing played an LP for years I can’t be­lieve they would be any bet­ter. Now I have re­tired I can set up the turntable again, and per­haps I’ll re­join the dis­ci­ples. I have a Linn and an old wood Koetsu in the loft in readi­ness.

PX: What is your ear­li­est me­mory of mu­sic and au­dio that in­spired you?

PA: My ear­li­est mu­si­cal me­mory is I think my dad play­ing Bach’s Toc­cata and Fugue with E. Power Biggs on or­gan, but it could have been Richard Strauss’ A Hero’s Life. The screamer trum­pet dis­so­nance bit I ab­so­lutely love. My big mo­ment in au­dio came when a school friend took me home to lis­ten to some mu­sic, and his hi-fi made me go: ‘Hey mate, I want that sound, never mind the mu­sic.’ That was a ma­jor epiphany for me. ‘Way back some cheap Pi­o­neer head­phones in­fected me with that en­thu­si­asm. Ety­motic in-ears are great, af­ford­able. One day I’ll be sat­is­fied. Do we au­dio­philes ever be­lieve that?

PX: Did that lead to the pur­chase of your first LP and what was it?

PA: As an im­pov­er­ished stu­dent, I could only ever af­ford to buy sec­ond-hand LPs, which I did at Bat­man Records and Cle­ments. I think my first pur­chase was ‘Blowout at Mardi Gras’ and it has been a ‘desert is­land’ disc of mine ever since. It’s a live per­for­mance in a New Or­leans club in 1955, recorded in beau­ti­ful mono on Smith­so­nian. Son­i­cally it’s a bit rough, but it has a ‘life-force’. More re­cently, many of my mu­si­cal pas­sions have be­gun thanks to meet­ings of the Mel­bourne Au­dio Club— Eg­berto Gis­monti, As­tor Pi­az­zolla, Ore­gon and es­pe­cially Jes­sica Wil­liams, un­known but up there with Jar­rett and Evans. As the say­ing goes: ‘Art—in all its forms—is the sub­tle de­vi­a­tion from the ex­pected.’ MAC is so much about the mu­sic. Now I have two thou­sand CDs on NAS I have heaven at my fin­ger­tips, I can have a jazz disco fever party for one.

PX: How would you change your hi-fi life if you started again… or would you?

PA: It is a jour­ney; there is no fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. But I would spend a lot more time and money on acous­tics and get­ting the room right… and a lot less money on ex­pen­sive in­ter­con­nects. I have con­tin­ued

to ac­cu­mu­late gear and I have en­joyed it all, though I have of­ten thought, ‘this’ll see me out,’ start­ing with the Quad-57s (one ini­tially), Staxes—from SRD5, ESL, through to my Six­ties Lamb­das. Look­ing back, elec­tro­stat­ics have been a con­stant theme. But I’d spend less on in­ter­con­nects, much more on acous­tic treat­ments. With my same sys­tem, in dif­fer­ent houses, it’s ap­ples and pears. PX: What jazz bands have you seen live? PA: I have seen Brubeck at Fes­ti­val Hall… Paul Des­mond’s a star. Mon­day nights in New York was big band night, and I saw the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Big Band. That was heaven. At in­ter­val I spoke to the trom­bone player, who said to me, ‘Say hello to Jim­mie [Mor­ri­son] back in Aussie.’ That was an ex­pe­ri­ence.

PX: What were some other mu­si­cal mo­ments in your life?

PA: My wife Rose­mary and I were mar­ried at St Paul’s Lon­don, with the grand or­gan play­ing. She started down the aisle to the sound of Wi­dor’s Toc­cata. Noth­ing in my life could top that… I mist up when­ever I play it… and it’s why a sub­woofer is es­sen­tial.

PX: Com­puter au­dio is new, but some are ten­ta­tive at div­ing in. What would you say? PA: Like all of hi-fi and com­put­ers it’s a learn­ing thing. I be­gan by read­ing right through Au­dioQuest’s ‘Com­puter Au­dio De­mys­ti­fied’ and ev­ery­thing pub­lished at com­put­er­au­dio­phile.com PX: What is your most prized piece of au­dio equip­ment? PA: My Yamaha NS-1000s. I love them so much I res­cued a spare set just be­cause I could. To me they are still the best value in hi-fi. My Spec­tral amps—when re-in­stalled—will keep me up late. PX: What are the qual­i­ties of the NS1000s that ap­peal to you most? PA: Just as with wine, women and song, sound qual­ity must be bal­anced. We need tone, dy­nam­ics and pres­ence. My Yam­mies have all three right. They drive the room. I can lis­ten re­al­is­ti­cally with sound pres­sure lev­els in the mid90s. I call it ‘Jump Fac­tor.’ I al­ways sit in a nearfield equi­lat­eral tri­an­gle and shut my eyes and the play­ers are there right in front of me, and they sit within a foot of the back wall and an­gled within a cen­time­tre or so. Ex­actly where one sits mat­ters as much—and even more than you’d think—par­tic­u­larly in or­der to get the deep bass right. Swedish ra­dio sta­tions use Yamaha NS-1000s as mon­i­tors: I use them for the love of mu­sic.

‘Now I have re­tired I can set up the turntable again, and per­haps I’ll re­join the dis­ci­ples. I have a Linn and an old wood Koetsu in the loft in readi­ness.’

‘Look­ing back, elec­tro­stat­ics have been a con­stant theme. But I’d spend less on in­ter­con­nects, much more on acous­tic treat­ments.’

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