Listening

hifi

I had a wonderful extra and unexpected Christmas present this year. My Dad bought a new pair of speakers just after Christmas — some lovely Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors — and offered me his old Mission 753s at very low "mates rates" to replace my ageing B&W 601s. The B&W speakers are still pretty good, but they sound a little weedy in our new — much larger — living room.

After a bit of a struggle, we just managed to fit the speakers in the back of our tiny car, so I've had some fun setting them up and trying them out with familiar bits of music this afternoon. Of course, I've listened to them many times at my parents' house, but all sorts of variables (like the model of CD player and amplifier used, the types of cables, the shape of the room) affect the sound you get out at the other end. I'm happy to say that — despite having a much less fancy amp and CD player than my Dad — the speakers still sound great. The solidity of the stereo image is amazing, and the overall sound is much tighter, better integrated, and more detailed. It also has more of what I like to call oomph; difficult to define, but very easy to recognise.

I've got some great memories of listening to these speakers. A while ago, my Dad got a new amplifier, and he and my brother had been giving it a thorough test. When Mr. Bsag and I arrived to stay, my brother had gone home, but had left a CD ('Mezzanine' by Massive Attack), with a small Post-It note attached. The note read, "Try track 1. Volume at 10 o'clock." I should say that 10 o'clock (on a knob that starts at 6 o'clock and rotates clockwise) doesn't sound very loud, but trust me — it is1.

Well, that sounded like a challenge. "Shall we?", Dad asked. He set everything up, and the three of us — me, Dad and Mr. Bsag — sat in a row on the sofa. Track 1 of Mezzanine is 'Angel', and starts with a subterranean bassline, punctuated by a crisp percussion crack like a synthesised rim-shot. At this point, we could feel the bass tickling our feet and growling in our guts. The percussion was so sharp and precise that the first one actually made me jump. I looked at the others and realised that they had the same goofy smile on their face as me. This was going to be good. Then the vocals came in and filled the room with an air of menace. Finally — with the vocals "love ya, love ya, love ya..." — the guitars and everything else came crashing down in a wall of sound.

Those of you as old as me might remember those old adverts for Maxell tapes, in which a man in an 80s suit sits on a chair facing a stereo, and his hair streams behind him with the power of the sound. Basically, we all looked like that. I could hear the glasses in the cabinet in the dining room ringing and rattling with the vibrations. As I turned to look into the dining room, I could see my Mum. Her mouth was forming the words IT'S A BIT LOUD!, but nothing was audible.

I've just listened to the same track again, and it sounds just as powerful, though I had the volume much lower. My parents are lucky to live in a detached house, but unfortunately I have to be mindful of the neighbours.

1 The clock face instructions were necessary because the amp had no labelling on it at all. It's some kind of unwritten law that the more expensive the hi-fi equipment, the fewer knobs, buttons and labels it has.

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