SOUND TRAV­ELS

Sud­hir Das loves the in­ti­macy and vi­tal­ity of live mu­sic. So the closer he can get to live mu­sic at home, the closer he is to nir­vana. Here he is in­ter­viewed by Tom Wa­ters of the Syd­ney Au­dio Club…

Australian HIFI - - ESOTERICA -

Tom Wa­ters: Do you have a first mem­ory, a first un­for­get­table mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence that left an im­pres­sion?

Sud­hir Das: It was my un­cle’s sys­tem which he bought from over­seas dur­ing my school days. That ini­ti­ated my in­ter­est in mu­sic sys­tems.

TW: And did that start you on the hi-fi jour­ney or did some­thing else start you on the au­dio equip­ment quest?

SD: My hi-fi jour­ney started in my col­lege days in the hos­tel. My friend Iqbal and I de­signed our first am­pli­fier and made our own speak­ers. We in­vited our col­lege mates to our room to lis­ten to the mu­sic pro­duced from those speak­ers. Then we went on to broad­cast the mu­sic through­out the hos­tel so that ev­ery­one could hear it. It just took off suc­cess­fully and peo­ple were tun­ing in to hear our songs. That was the time in In­dia when it was hard to ac­cess Western mu­sic… let alone heavy metal mu­sic. My class­mates whose par­ents were work­ing in the Mid­dle East were kind enough to get those cas­settes for me. The col­lec­tion was huge and we in­tro­duced mu­sic like Iron Maiden—Power Slave, Sev­enth Son of the Sev­enth Son, Some­where in Time; AC/ DC—Black in Black; Dio—Holy Driver; Def Lep­pard—Py­ro­ma­nia/Hys­te­ria; Twisted Sis­ter; Scor­pi­ons—Black Out and Love at First Sting; White Snake—87, Quiet Riot—Metal Health; Kiss; Me­tal­lica—Master of Pup­pets; Ozzy Os­bourne—Bark at the Moon. We also in­tro­duced bands such as Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi—Slip­pery When Wet, Europe, etc.

Some of the most pop­u­lar re­quests to play were Dire Straits, Eric Clap­ton, San­tana and the Ea­gles. Our en­thu­si­asm grew when strangers stopped by our room and asked us to play some of their favourites. We felt like rock stars cre­at­ing live mu­sic of our own.

Also while liv­ing in New Zealand I used to travel a lot to Asian coun­tries. Sin­ga­pore was the cen­tre spot and I spent lot time at the Adel­phi Mall in Sin­ga­pore with my cousin Anil Kishen who lived there. I saw and heard many sys­tems and was able to buy lots of CDs that were not avail­able in Aus­tralia or New Zealand. I’ve also been to hi-fi shops in Thai­land and the Philip­pines but they weren’t as good as Sin­ga­pore or Malaysia. Even In­dia wasn’t as good back then—that has all changed now.

TW: You’ve men­tioned lots of rock mu­sic. Was that your sta­ple mu­si­cal diet back then?

SD: Yes, pretty much all rock mu­sic. I wasn’t re­ally into jazz or blues back then. And it was mostly on cas­sette. Vinyl was avail­able but due to the cli­mate it was hard to main­tain vinyl to a high stan­dard. Even cas­settes were dif­fi­cult—we’d play the en­tire side of a cas­sette and not stop mid-way for long be­cause the hu­mid­ity could dam­age the tape. You wouldn’t fast for­ward or rewind be­cause it could dam­age the tape.

TW: Where do you think your sys­tem is go­ing, or has it ar­rived?

SD: I am happy with my sys­tem right now but I know that it will keep chang­ing. I haven’t done any­thing in the last two years due to fi­nan­cial rea­sons. How­ever I have been do­ing a bit of tweak­ing here and there to my sat­is­fac­tion. To me, all au­dio sys­tems are a long chain of equip­ment put to­gether from source to hear­ing. There is al­ways a weak­est link which can be fixed, and sort­ing that out will re­veal the sec­ond weak­est link to work on and then you move to the next link and that goes on for ages. I haven’t done any acous­tic work (room treat­ment) and that is what I am look­ing at do­ing in the near fu­ture.

TW: Do you have any spe­cific plans re­gard­ing room treat­ment?

SD: I am con­sid­er­ing a DEQX unit. But re­ally, I sup­pose any unit ca­pa­ble of han­dling my room is­sues would be con­sid­ered. I have a free space in my rack just for it. I be­lieve when you have the space and the will, it will come.

TW: What’s your favourite piece of equip­ment at the mo­ment, some­thing that you wouldn’t sell?

SD: I am not emo­tion­ally at­tached to any com­po­nent in my sys­tem. There­fore, I will change any­thing if I find some­thing bet­ter that I can af­ford to buy. Nick Pa­pas from Au­dio So­lu­tions al­ways helps me with up­grades and I am al­ways open to sug­ges­tions for im­prove­ment. If pushed to choose one, I would say my favourite is my sub­woofer. I haven’t found many subs bet­ter than my REL G2, but I’ve found many speak­ers around the same price as my Sonus Fabers that I would be happy with.

TW: What do you see as your next hi-fi pur­chase or up­grade?

SD: I do have a few plans in the pipe­line which are strictly sub­ject to my fi­nan­cial con­di­tions. My next buy will likely be to up­grade my turntable but I am also look­ing at fix­ing my mu­sic room’s acous­tics. I’ve seen a nice turntable at Au­dio So­lu­tions—a Well Tem­pered Amadeus GTA MK11. The tone-arm uses a golf ball par­tially im­mersed in high vis­cos­ity sil­i­cone fluid to pro­vide the damped, zero clear­ance bear­ing! I am also look­ing at get­ting my dig­i­tal mu­sic (HD and FLAC) on to a mu­sic server us­ing soft­ware such as Roon.

TW: What’s the most mem­o­rable pair of speak­ers (or sys­tem as a whole) you’ve ever heard?

SD: I love live per­for­mances and some of the sys­tems used in live shows these days have had enor­mous im­pact—more than any sys­tem. I re­mem­ber a speaker sys­tem at a hi-fi show a while ago, it was ‘W…’ some­thing. [TW: Was it Wis­dom, the LS4?] Yes, that sounded great to me. It was be­yond my bud­get so I didn’t look into it any fur­ther. All that said, I also liked the orig­i­nal huge Fo­cal Utopias that Kiet Le­quang (at Len Wal­lis Au­dio) played for me. I also like some of the home the­atre sys­tems I have seen over the years.

I have a huge col­lec­tion of Blu­ray con­certs which I love watch­ing on my home the­atre sys­tem. I have or­gan­ised many live mu­sic con­certs over the last 17 years. It started with my un­cle—he had con­nec­tions back in In­dia and for 40 years he ran shows back there. He’d bring in artists and movies alike. Through him I would man­age bring­ing these peo­ple into Aus­tralia for con­certs at the Sey­mour Cen­tre and the River­side The­atre, since 2001. Live shows with good sound in­spire me a lot and I get con­nected to the mu­si­cians and the mu­sic.

TW: You’ve men­tioned Blu­ray and home the­atre a few times. Is it the multi-chan­nel as­pect you like, or the vis­ual? SD: I like both ac­tu­ally. TW: Is there any com­po­nent you’ve owned and then sold that you now re­gret sell­ing?

SD: My speak­ers and am­pli­fier from my col­lege days. I should have kept them. I did not want to bring my M&K sub­woofer from New Zealand but then I could not find any M&K subs af­ter com­ing to Aus­tralia. Ap­par­ently many of the en­gi­neers at M&K went to REL!

TW: Do you use the same mu­sic for com­par­ing com­po­nents as you do for lis­ten­ing plea­sure?

SD: Yes, I have a long set of tracks which I know very well that I use for com­par­ing com­po­nents.

TW: What genre of mu­sic do you lis­ten to mostly and who are some of your favourite artists?

SD: It has changed over the years. It used to be heavy metal but I’ve since moved on to jazz and blues. Age is catch­ing up to me… my tastes are chang­ing! I’ve found that since I bought my turntable I’ve been lis­ten­ing to more jazz and blues—John Coltrane on vinyl sounds much bet­ter than on CD… and if you get the first press­ing it sounds even bet­ter!

I went to New Or­leans and Mem­phis to get the feel of blues (and jazz), and now that re­ally turns me on! I went to Sun Stu­dios in Mem­phis and also lis­tened to bands play­ing in the streets—a great ex­pe­ri­ence. The type of mu­sic I lis­ten to de­pends on my mood. I have a wide va­ri­ety of mu­sic rang­ing from In­dian to Western. In­dia has a huge va­ri­ety of mu­sic in dif­fer­ent lan­guages and I en­joy In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic a lot.

Some of my favourite artists are In­dian singers such as Mo­ham­mad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh and the mu­sic of Ilai­yaraaja and A.R. Rah­man to name a few. Also, Dr. L. Subra­ma­nia­man, an ac­claimed In­dian vi­o­lin­ist, com­poser and con­duc­tor, trained in the clas­si­cal Car­natic mu­sic tra­di­tion and Western clas­si­cal mu­sic, and renowned for his vir­tu­oso play­ing tech­niques and com­po­si­tions in or­ches­tral fu­sion. And singer K.S. Chi­tra who has recorded more than 60,000 songs, and has vis­ited at my home and lis­tened to my mu­sic col­lec­tion! And from the Western world my favourites would be Mark Knopfler, Diana Krall, No­rah Jones, Madeleine Pey­roux, Stacy Kent, Melody Gar­dot, Chris Botti and Robert Plant.

TW: What would be your ‘desert is­land’ mu­sic al­bums if you could only choose, say, three works?

SD: Mo­ham­mad Rafi’s songs, Jagjit Singh’s Ghaz­als… and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.

TW: How would you de­scribe the sound you’re get­ting from your cur­rent sys­tem?

SD: My sys­tem sound is lively with good bass. I am still work­ing on two big dips and one big high at around 200Hz. These are pro­duced by the room and most acous­tic pan­els (less than the size of a Mack truck) can­not elim­i­nate them. Pan­els help to an ex­tent, but I can’t re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect them to solve all my room is­sues. Back to the ques­tion… imag­ing is im­por­tant to me to get the feel of the per­son in the room. I try to bring in my ex­pe­ri­ences of lis­ten­ing to live con­certs to re-cre­ate that live per­for­mance’s feel and con­nec­tion at home.

TW: In what way does mu­sic af­fect your life, your emo­tions and the way you feel?

SD: It is very re­lax­ing and takes away the day to day stress. I find it a kind of med­i­ta­tion. My wife is into med­i­ta­tion. For me lis­ten­ing to mu­sic is my med­i­ta­tion. It takes me back in time and in­spires me a lot.

TW: With fam­ily around, how do you find the time to lis­ten to mu­sic?

SD: I lis­ten mostly on week­ends, a lot on Fri­day night. Fri­day night is my main mu­sic night. I wish the club had more SIGs on Fri­day night so I could at­tend—I’m al­ways busy with my fam­ily on Satur­days.

TW: Where do you see the high-end au­dio in­dus­try go­ing in the fu­ture?

SD: It looks like dig­i­tal stor­age and stream­ing, and likely the in­creased use of head­phones and ear buds. Phys­i­cal me­dia is go­ing to dis­ap­pear even more. New cars of­ten don’t have CD play­ers any­more. I do still love to see an al­bum cover and get a feel of the al­bum be­fore lis­ten­ing to it. I re­ally like the 60s and 70s mu­sic on a well-pressed LP. I think the fu­ture is smaller sys­tems with full func­tion­al­ity em­bed­ded in the one sys­tem.

TW: Where would you like the au­dio in­dus­try to go or to evolve to?

SD: I would like to see the au­dio in­dus­try con­tinue to move away from MP3s. The only good thing about MP3 is that at least the mu­sic is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple. I would like to see more qual­ity in down­loaded mu­sic. Other con­cerns are the ag­ing of the typ­i­cal au­dio­phile and the di­ver­gent in­ter­ests of the young peo­ple—they are both chal­lenges for au­dio in­dus­try. With kids the cur­rent trends are to­wards in­ter­ac­tive, gam­ing and home the­atre sys­tems which de­tract from the au­dio in­dus­try.

I think kids are more at­tracted to the vis­ual as­pect than the au­dio. I also fore­see more harm to real mu­sic be­ing caused by the phone man­u­fac­tur­ers which pro­mote low qual­ity mu­sic from the phone. That is made worse by kids then lis­ten­ing through cheap ear­buds or head­phones. There are many more hur­dles com­ing up for the mu­sic in­dus­try.

In­ter­view by Tom Wa­ters of the Syd­ney Au­dio Club [www.syd­neyau­dio­club.org.au]

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