Nelson Brill Reviews Afro-Caribbean Performances From His Travels

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Nelson gives you a more of a global look at what is going on in the music world as he covers some recent shows and recordings he discovered on his recent travels!


AFRO-CARIBBEAN MUSIC: SWINGING IN GLOBAL SPIRIT

By Nelson Brill    March 24, 2019  

When I am traveling to a different place, I always like to explore the neighborhoods with local record stores to support local businesses. I like to check out these shops’ record bins for new artists that reflect the music scene in that area. So while I was in London recently, we ventured to nearby Brixton where the UK reggae scene has had a rich history, supported by vibrant immigrant community (where you can get a great Ghanian stew or Ethiopian meal on a Brixton street corner or in one of the town’s many markets).

Brixton Market – citizens.com

I happen upon a small record store in one of these Brixton markets, run by a local legend, Jah Lingua, “Markie”, who is founder of Universal Roots Records [http://www.facebook.com/UniversalRootsRecords] which has been producing recordings from local reggae artists since 1998.

Happy2move

Jah Lingua also hosts “R.D.K. Hi-Fi Dances”, (along with his spouse, Claudia, at her Brixton record store, Pure Vinyl Records) where local reggae artists perform on sound systems set up for dance parties. Jah Lingua passed along to me a copy of his CD, U.K. Reggae Stars [Universal Roots Records] and an LP produced by him in 2018 with selections from local artists with “Brixton Downbeat”, “Gentrification Dub” and other great cuts.

On these Universal Roots LP and CDs are the sounds, among others, of Brixton’s own Soothsayer Horns (a swanking brass ensemble); Sandeeno (a vocalist with an expressive baritone to match his messages of fighting racism and gun violence) and two female vocalists, Marlene Ammers and Judith, both with airy, swaying presences. These gifted artists are surrounded on these excellent recordings by local bandmates who deliver pungent bass lines; creative waves of electronica and dynamic percussion. Reggae’s joyful funk and lift; its warmth and dance and its unflinching social-conscious themes – all are here on these excellent spirited recordings from Universal Roots Records reflecting the diverse Brixton community.

Brixton School children; citizensuk.com

This vital connection between Caribbean and African musical heritages continued when I had the lucky opportunity, on February 23rd, to visit the venerable New York City music venue, The Jazz Standard, (located at 116 East 27th Street; http://www.jazzstandard.com) to catch a dazzling concert by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, (“SHO”) [http://www.spanishharlemorchestra.com ], a band that delivers their own incendiary mix of cha-cha-cha, mambo and salsa brilliance.

Youtube.com

From their first fiery notes, the SHO proved to be a tight, dynamic band that wasted no time in igniting their propulsive songs drenched in their Puerto Rican heritage. The sound at the Jazz Standard was up to the task as most instruments on the crowded stage were heard clarion and true, with exception of piano and bass, which were a bit harder to hear individually in the heated big band action.

The SHO focused their Jazz Standard performance on numbers taken from their new action-packed recording, Anniversary [ArtistShare], which has just won a Grammy award.

The recording captures the SHO with great energy and upfront crackling presence. While delivering the heat, dance and punch of this swanking band, its sound is on the lean and sometimes thin side (especially on brass crescendos) and does not offer much in the way of layering or depth to its soundstage, so things are a bit congested. But what the recording offers in spades is the stellar musicianship of the band and a feel for their dancing interplay, as well as the jovial spirit of the band’s three fronting vocalists: Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch.

Allaboutjazz.com

At the SHO’s Jazz Standard concert, their three charming vocalists hit the ground running, with the band carousing behind them in soaring strides. Bermudez’s voice is gliding and smooth and it sumptuously drove his suave song, “Echa Pa’Lante”, accompanied by brazen choruses from trumpeters Manuel Ruiz and Hector Colon and driving wooden strikes from Jorge Gonzalez’ resonant guiro. Bosch possesses a lighter, more carefree voice, telling his tales with a spoken quality. On his “Soy El Tambor,” his vocals were complemented by George Delgado’s lilting conga and Luisito Quintero’s punctual timbales.

Gon Bopps

Quintero was a whirling dervish on his timbales all night. He hit explosive wooden cracks by frenetically playing all surfaces of his drums, including hitting the sides of his timbales with his drumsticks sending crackling wooden blasts to the back walls of the Jazz Standard.

On another ballad, Bosch took up his flute and played a dazzling duet with flutist (and baritone saxophonist) Mitch Frohman, layering their spirited high runs and leaping octaves in a shimmer of light colors (that had the crowd roaring their approval).

Congahead

On “Cancion Para Ti,” Frohman’s flute was complimented with lilting chords and touches from Oscar Hernandez’s piano. Hernandez was always at the ready to lend a dancing frolic or the twinkle of a mambo beat. His solo piano ranged far and wide on “Como Te Quise” joined by vocalist Carlos Cascante, whose ardent vocals were steeped in metallic glow from Doug Beavers’ and Noah Bless’ trombones. The SHO built to a final crescendo of brass calls and vocal harmonies, (with cries of “Viva Puerto Rico!” echoing through the capacity crowd). Their final songs swayed on salsa flow, with cowbell and timbales firing on all cylinders to propel intoxicating grooves and dance steps into the night.

This global-minded, (perfectly fused) connection between African and Caribbean music was also at the heart of another astonishing concert that I attended recently in Boston, presented by WorldMusic/CRASHarts, [http://www.worldmusic.org ] a nonprofit arts organization that has brought the richness and diversity of global music to Boston area audiences for many years.

On March 10th, at the historic Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA., WorldMusic/CRASHarts presented a concert by South African guitarist Derek Gripper and his African Strings and Mali’s legendary performer, Habib Koite, accompanied by percussionist, Mama Kone.

Suburban.com

The evening was a feast of acoustic glory. Gripper and his African Strings opened the show, delivering their sultry lightness on guitars, kalimba, kora and on a Ugandan traditional stringed instrument called the endongo. (The endongo was plucked masterfully by Kinobe, a Ugandan musician, who also possessed a beautiful expressive voice). The group’s instrumentals were propelled by Gripper’s classical guitar style, flowing with light percussive touches and crisp nylon string runs. Unfortunately, the sound mix was a bit skewed in that Gripper’s guitar was overly dominant and so it was harder to hear the gentle soft strums of his partners’ instruments. When they could be heard clearly, Jaja Bashengezi’s accompanying guitar was a light caress and Kinobe plied his kora in sparkling fashion, projecting his notes like soft, falling raindrops.

To hear the astonishing expressive character of a kora, take a listen to a favorite audiophile CD that brings together two partners: kora player Ballake Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal. Their recording is Musique De Nuit [Six Degrees Records] and part of this recording was uniquely made on a rooftop terrace in Bimako, Mali, (with the bleats of goats and rumbling traffic heard below). The recording is superb in its textural detail and its capture of every musical nuance and dynamic flow to this beautiful music. The music is tender, powerful and meditative in its expressive sweep, bringing these two virtuoso players together in supple and heated interplay.

ArtPower

Following the set by Derek Gripper and African Strings, the vivacious Habib Koite took the Somerville Theatre stage and mesmerized his audience with his seamless voice and guitar, working as one vehicle of expressive force and beauty. The sound for this second set was much improved for its clarity, balance and tactile aliveness.

Inyarwanda.com

Koite’s dance of open-hearted lyricism, deep grooves (punctuated by Kone’s thrum on his calabash) and ability to fully inhabit the territory of his songs was exuberant. His voice was a perfect vehicle to express his songs: light-hearted and soaring (with a bit of aging grit up top) on songs of love and hope (including a tribute to “women around the globe”) and then turning powerful and low on his slow brewing blues. Koite’s guitar perfectly partnered with his expressive voice. He utilized open strings; short five-note scale runs (with his capo at the top portion of his guitar for its highest dancing effect) and for his blues numbers,, he let his strings go loose and rumbling to create rubbery low notes (sounding like Jimi Hendrix in his swaggering prime). Koite’s final songs were tight statements of groove and joyful dance with Kone hitting his djembe drum and hi-hat with nimble fury. On these last tunes, Koite strolled through the audience strumming his guitar with light string dampening (to deliver an ebullient dancing beat) accompanied his soaring voice. The audience sang along, swaying in the warm of Koite’s sultry beat.

Returning home after this fantastic World Music/CRASHarts concert, I listened to a favorite new CD from another artist from Mali, Fatoumata Diawara, whose music is also a marvel of expressive, dancing power. On her new recording, Fenfo “Something To Say” [Montuno Productions], Diawara and her superb band deliver all the swirl and snap of their captivating music with spawning energy and joy. The recording beautifully captures all of their stunning musicianship and tactile energy, delivering a soundstage that is wide and deep (if your system is up to it!). Diawara’s voice soars and dips, elegant in phrasing and pitch. She and her band are equally at home in the sway of hip-hop, R & B and pop (such as on their grooving “Nterini” or the lilting pop of “Dibi Bo”) or on their lush ballads, such as the moving “Mama” (which features Diawara in duet with cellist Vincent Segal). The splendor of this recording is a dancing gift to the world, from its African roots to the shimmer of its Caribbean beats and beyond.

The National


If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


 

Dennis Davis Reviews Nordost Sponsored Jazz Quintet at RMAF

By Dennis Davis, The Audio Beat

Let’s face it—most people who attend hi-fi shows don’t make the trek there to attend live concerts.  Musical performances at shows are usually limited to solo performers who have recorded on niche audiophile labels where the biggest selling point is often the label and its recording process.  Performers who have contracts with Universal, Sony, Blue Note or ECM are not in the habit of performing for a bunch of tired audiophiles, who pay nothing at the door and show up for the concert if they feel like it.

In that context, when I learned that Nordost was presenting a concert of jazz musicians from the Newvelle record label, I was excited.  When I saw the list of performers, my jaw dropped.  On trumpet was Dave Douglas.  I’ve attended many Dave Douglas concerts over the last twenty plus years, dating back to his days with John Zorn, and own many CDs he’s recorded as a leader.  Elan Mehler, co-founder of Newvelle Records, played piano at this session and his style has become familiar to me over the label’s three seasons of uniformly great releases.  I knew little of New York based acoustic bass player Simón Willson, except for his contribution to Newvelle’s Piano Noir LP.  However, I got together with the band the evening before the concert, and couldn’t take my eyes off Simón, whose energy was infectious.  John Gunther, composer and multi-instrumentalist (saxophones, clarinet and flute) has recorded extensively as part of New York’s “downtown” jazz scene.  As associate professor at University of Colorado Boulder, and director of their jazz studies program, he was the group’s local performer for the concert, and had warmed up the ensemble the day before at a campus workshop. Singer Dominique Eade recorded twice with Ran Blake, and I loved her well-received 2017 CD, Town and Country.  In addition to a long career as an instructor at New England Conservatory, she has an extensive catalog of recordings.

For those new to this record label, Newvelle issues a new record every other month, sold as a yearly subscription.  Each LP is a work of art—the clear vinyl LP is packaged in a beautiful foldout cover, embellished with commissioned artwork and prose, and is supported by extensive information on the label’s website (www.newvelle-records.com). I’ve heard every record released over the last three years and Newvelle’s consistency of high quality is unequaled in today’s music industry.  Watch out Blue Note and ECM!

The concert was held at the Denver Tech Center Hilton Garden Inn, in a large high ceiling room where I had attended other events.  I recalled fairly poor sound at those non-musical events that had involved a PA system.  Fortunately, Nordost arranged for a professional sound engineer to set up the room and sound system.  He brought in a very high quality sound system and mixing board and the results were spectacular, turning a pig’s ear room into a very good sounding hall.  The stage itself was a little small for the group, and had an effect on my ability to capture good pictures, but the players adjusted well to the somewhat cramped space.

Nordost has installed its professional cabling at the New York recording studio where Newvelle Records records all its sessions, Eastside Sound.  Beginning with Newvelle’s fourth season, all recordings will be made through Nordost cables.  I’ve reviewed the first three seasons for various publications, and look forward to comparing the sound of the new studio recordings. In the meantime, Newvelle’s artists are getting the additional exposure from the Nordost involvement.

The concert featured never before heard compositions from Dave Douglas, as well as material from Newvelle’s LP “Piano Noir”, and material from its third season.  In Elan Mehler’s words, the band, “is dancing between some basic intersections of style and genre—jazz and folk music, poetry and improvisation, prose and composition.”  They opened with a composition from American folk music singer/songwriter Jean Ritchie, an Appalachian song “West Virginia Mine Disaster” recorded by Dominique Eade on her most recent CD Town And Country (Sunnyside).  Next up was “Bear It To Heart” from the “Piano Noir” LP, that featured Elan Mehler and Simón Willson from this group.  The group then launched into a Douglas composition taken from a Jack Kerouac haiku, “Arms folded to the Moon”. I confess that until the middle of the concert I hadn’t recognized vocalist Dominique Eade, but by this third song of the concert, it hit me.  Her resemblance to vocalist Jeanne Lee on The Newest Sound Around (RCA LPM-2500 with pianist Ran Blake) was immediately obvious. I slapped my head over my short memory.  I own two of her CDs and am a big fan. That third song mesmerized me.  The composition, Eade’s singing, and the bands’ excellent ensemble playing had me laying down my pad and pen for the rest of the concert.  True, my hands were engaged in taking photographs, but I was captivated.

This was a performance far above those typically found hi-fi shows.  I searched my memory for comparisons and the only hi-fi show concert I could recall was at a show in New York well over a decade ago, featuring saxophone great Joe Lovano. But merely comparing it to hi-fi show concerts is selling it short.  I attend concerts (most frequently in the San Francisco Bay area) on a regular basis and jazz concerts at least a few times monthly.  This concert was among my favorites of this year, and one I will not soon forget. It sent me home to listen to my Newvelle Records LPs and Dave Douglas and Dominique Eade CDs.  What more can you ask for from a great concert?

Nordost Playlist – May 2018


Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this May.


You can now listen to our monthly playlist here:  TIDAL  |  SPOTIFY


  1. Deathless—Ibeyi, Kamasi Washington—Ash
  2. Righteously—Anna Ash—Righteously
  3. In My Life—Chie Ayado—Best II
  4. Wedding Song—Anaïs Mitchell, Justin Vernon—Hadestown
  5. Djougou Toro—Volta Jazz—Bobo Yéyé : Belle Époque
  6. Demolition Man—Def Leppard—Euphoria
  7. No Ordinary Love—Sade—Love Deluxe
  8. Catch My Breath—Confidence Man—Confident Music For Confident People
  9. Carry On—Wyclef Jean, Emili Sande—Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee
  10. Talking Straight—Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever—Talking Straight

 

Top 10 HiFi system tweaks to get your system sounding its best

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 11.18.38 AM    By Mike Marko

No matter what kind of an audio system you have, be it state-of-the-art two channel or entry level, there are some basic system set-up and maintenance techniques that can significantly enhance your listening pleasure. Some of these common sense improvements are easier to implement than others, but by not paying attention to these basic system tweaks, you’ll never coax the best performance out of the components you already own. In no particular order, here are 10 of the most useful tweaks you can make to get your system sounding its best:

 


 

1) Level All Components

Make sure your loudspeakers and electrical components are as level as possible.  Be precise.  Stability is critical to performance too— it makes a big difference!   It is vital to make sure your speakers are stable and not rocking on their stands or feet.

5-steps-to-speaker-setup-blog-images-03


 

2) Proper Listening Position

Where you sit in the room is very important in relation to your speakers and room boundaries. Stereo imaging and frequency response can be greatly affected if this detail is not considered. Normally, it is best to position your listening chair away from room boundaries. Too close to the back wall can result in boomy bass, but be careful, placing your chair two-thirds back from the front wall can make the system thin and unnatural.  Make sure to try a few locations to determine what’s best for your unique space.

armchair-2683081_960_720


 

3) Reduce Electrical Static Charges

Depending on the season and your location, static charge build-up on components, cables, carpets, and speakers can be a real problem. Both static charges from components, using digital circuitry that scrambles their microprocessors, and cables, attracting dust and dirt that affects their signal transfer, need to be eliminated for good performance. Nordost’s Eco 3X is an effective tool to remove static build up.

Lg-Eco3x-Accessory_550


 

4) Speaker Selection and Placement

If you’re playing dubstep at club levels in a large room but are using small, stand-mount speakers, you’re going to be an unhappy camper. Conversely, large floor standers in a tiny room will be just as problematic. Properly positioning your speakers, relative to walls, your listening chair, and other objects in your room, will be critical to your listening experience. Professional help from a trusted dealer can help you optimize your set-up with these variables in mind. For more information, take a look at at our “Speaker Placement in 5 Easy Steps” blog.

sound-room


 

5) Electrical and Mechanical Grounding

One can hardly over emphasize the importance of system grounding. The advantages of a dramatically lowered noise floor have to be heard to be fully understood. Greater dynamic range, and the ability to hear nuances that are often buried in electrical noise, are some of the greatest benefits of proper grounding. If you can’t practically install a local grounding rod into the earth, there are solutions available that can provide an artificial earth ground for your system. Nordost QKORE Ground Units allow you to enjoy proper grounding, hassle free.

 

QKORE front and back_style

 


 

6) Keep All Electrical Contact Points Clean

All electrical contacts can be subject to corrosion over time. Keeping these contacts clean and free of oxidation is very important to good signal and power transfer. Periodically cleaning and tightening all the connections in your system, from the AC connection of the wall plug, to the pins on a moving-coil phono cartridge, will improve its performance. CAIG Laboratories’ selection of deoxidizing and cleaning products work very well on these issues.

DEOXIT-GOLD-GX-GRP_h200


 

7) Good Cables

Much has been said about cabling in systems. Some have said that, past the most basic level, improving cables will not make any noticeable difference in your system.  You might as well just go wireless, right?  Others know that you’ll never get the most from the components you already own without optimizing their connections. Wired systems always outperform their wireless counterparts. Find a good dealer that will lend you some cables to take home and try in your own system, in your own home. Only then will you hear for yourself how important these critical links in your system are.

Norse 2 Group Image


 

8) Listening Room Acoustic Treatment

Imagine setting up any audio system in a stark room with no furniture or window coverings. There will be echo and excessive reverb, as well as uneven frequency response and poor stereo imaging, no matter how good the system is. Now imagine a nicely furnished normal room with couches and chairs, framed art on the walls, lamps and drapes, crown moulding, and nice carpeting. The difference in sound will be startling, whether listening to music or simply carrying on a normal conversation. For more problematic rooms, you may need to take the extra step of adding acoustic panels, either diffusive, absorbent, or a combination of the two. Again, your local shop can provide analysis and recommendations for best performance.

music-1290093_960_720


 

9) Resonance Control

In order for your equipment to perform its best, it is important to keep micro-vibrations (or resonance) away from the electrical components on any circuit boards. Certain components, like capacitors, are physical devices whose measured tolerance can vary significantly when subject to vibration.  Internally generated vibrations, like those from power transformers or disc drives, and externally generated vibrations, like those from speakers and subwoofers, can both pose problems. Thankfully there are many solutions in the marketplace to address these issues. A good choice is Nordost’s range of Sort products.

Picture 198


 

10) Clean AC Power

Every bit of power needed to drive your sound system, from the source, to the amplifiers, to the speakers, originates from the AC signal coming from the wall. The quality of that power can quite dramatically affect the ultimate performance of your components. Proper power delivery must reduce the RFI and electromagnetic interference that contaminates the AC signal, without limiting the peak current that components require. Nordost QRT products can be very effective at establishing this balance.

Picture 1478


Whenever you see one of us Nordost folks giving demonstrations at HiFi shows all around the world, know that we take all of these points and more into consideration when setting up our systems. Stop by the Nordost demo room next time we’re in town, and let us show you what we mean!

–  Mike Marko


 

For more information about tweaks you can make to improve your system, check out our “Tiny Tweaks, Big Pay-Offs — Simple Adjustments That Make a Difference” download HERE.


 

Nordost Playlist – March 2018


Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this March.

playlist_march_18


You can now listen to our monthly playlist here:  TIDAL  |  SPOTIFY


  1. The Fog—Overcoats—YOUNG
  2. Don’t Make Me Wait (with Shaggy)—Sting, Shaggy—Don’t Make Me Wait
  3. Fallin’-Remix—Madison McFerrin—Finding Foundation, Vol. 1
  4. Money—Caroline Rose—LONER
  5. Broken Record—Alex Ebert—Broken Record
  6. For the Hungry Boy—Jonny Greenwood—Phantom Thread
  7. Make Me Feel—Janelle Monáe—Make Me Feel
  8. One—Gene Evaro Jr.—Too Good to Believe
  9. Left It With The Moon—The Shacks—The Shacks EP
  10. Spirited Away – One Summer’s Day—Joe Hisaishi—Hisaishi Meets Miyazaki Films

 

 

 

Introducing the Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable

Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable_Straight_blogNordost is happy to announce the expansion of our acclaimed Blue Heaven Range with the introduction of the Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable. The Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable makes it possible for music lovers to completely integrate subwoofers with their loudspeakers, creating a truly well-rounded experience, highlighting even the lowest frequency extensions on the spectrum.

The Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable consists of four, 22 AWG, solid core, silver-plated, 99.9999% OFC signal conductors. Its dielectric strength is improved by an innovative precision FEP extrusion process, which further increases signal speeds and accuracy in signal transfer. The conductors are then covered in a braided shield, addressing any EMI and RFI. Additionally, the Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable utilizes a unique flat, parallel construction.

In order to accommodate all its possible uses, the Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable is offered in three configurations: Straight, Y, and Y-to-Y. All three configurations are available terminated with specially designed, gold-plated MoonGlo RCA or XLR connectors.

Designed, manufactured, and hand-terminated entirely in the USA, the Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable guarantees the accurate construction required to produce integrated low level frequencies, while preserving the precision and speed necessary to enjoy well rounded, seamless, and all-encompassing sound from music, movies, and television.

The Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable is now available for purchase at select Nordost dealers, worldwide. To find the Nordost dealer nearest you, visit our “Where to Buy” page.

Blue Heaven Subwoofer Cable_Ys blog

 

Nordost will be back at the Montréal Audio Fest!

21192857_1447127525376923_7236403860401915610_n

Come and see Nordost at the Salon Audio, Montréal Audio Fest! Please join us, March 23rd – 25th, in Montreal at the Hôtel Hilton Bonaventure. Throughout the show, our sales representatives and product specialists, Bruno de Lorimier and Michael Taylor, will be performing live demonstrations and product comparisons, available in both French and English, in Salon St-Michel. The Montréal Audio Fest is a perfect opportunity to hear the effect that quality cables can have on a hifi system, and to determine how the caliber of performance is improved as enhancements are made to cable design. While there, come and visit us at our sales booth, where you can take advantage of our special show prices on select products! Admission is free to the public, so we hope to see you there!

A Rooftop FM Antenna and a Hopping Mad Mom

By Steve Greene

What’s the worst thing in your parents’ mind that you did as a teenager?  Wrecked the family car shortly after getting your driver’s license?  Got your girlfriend pregnant?  Maybe you threw a big, noisy and messy party at their home while they were away?  Well, my teen transgression was much nerdier, but it did have the benefit of teaching me some important lessons: wires make a difference, and grounding is important.

What could I possibly have done, you ask?  Well, my parents, who rarely ever left town without us kids, decided to finally take a long weekend away from us.  They took advantage of a weekend special of dancing, dining, and lodging at a hotel about 100 miles away.  After all, they thought, I was at home from college and my sister had just turned twenty-one, so surely we could look after my twelve-year-old brother.  What could go wrong?  We were trustworthy kids.  I had recently purchased my first quality stereo component, a Pioneer QX-8000 quadraphonic receiver, which I was obsessed with. So when I came home from college I’d be sure to hang around at home with my stereo, watching my brother, and staying out of any trouble.  What they didn’t know was that I was bothered by a bit of multipath distortion on my favorite FM station: Georgetown’s WHFS, home of very popular DJs Surf and the Weasel.  I loved that station and the progressive and psychedelic rock they played!

I had started receiving and collecting both Lafayette Radio and Allied Electronics around age eleven.  I’d pour through them from cover to cover every year, numerous times, dreaming about what electronic gear might lie in my future. It was early Saturday morning, and I had a hunch that I knew what might solve my multipath distortion problem. I had recently read an article in High Fidelity Magazine about a dealer in upstate New York who had installed an FM antenna on a customer’s roof.  The article was quite detailed explaining how to safely mount a mast and antenna securely, as well as the importance of grounding the antenna. So I headed to Lafayette, with their latest catalog in hand, in order to check out their FM antennas and accessories.

My bedroom system 1975 -Pioneer QX-8000 and Alliance rotator box

I had a plan. My bedroom was on the corner of the first floor of our house, and my Dad had a nice, sturdy ladder. I was going to drill a hole through the side of the house in order to bring the twin lead to my QX-8000 in the bedroom. I knew the 6-element Finco FM-4G was $17.15, while the 10-element Lafayette FM “double driven” model (with a whopping 10–foot boom) was just $11.95.  Plus, I’d need about 50 feet of 300 ohm twin lead at $2.29, a five foot antenna mast at $1.49, heavy duty 4” wall brackets at $4.78, several wood screw insulators to hold the twin lead where it would run down the wall from the roof, a lightning arrestor, and a ground rod and ground wire for another $9. Then, the piece de resistance, I would need a plastic tube about 3/4 inch in diameter and about 13 inches long for $1.19. As I totaled up my expenditure in my head, I realized I was going to have more change left over from the $50 I had burning in my pocket (part time jobs really pay off) if I bought the bigger, but cheaper, Lafayette antenna instead of the Finco!  The total would be about $35 plus my labor (yes, I’m referencing the 1973 Lafayette catalog, that I still have, to confirm these prices!).  I paid the cashier, loaded up my goodies in my hand-me-down Corvair, and headed back home.

While the installation took me way longer than I expected (about four hours) the FM antenna was finally installed.  I had completed the job safely, only teetering on the roof once during a sudden gust of wind, but the sturdy mast saved me when I grabbed hold of it!  I also realized that I had to shove some gunk into the tube entering the house, so that it wouldn’t be a direct path for insects.  Wadded up bubblegum seemed do the trick…but I later changed that to insulating foam.  The Pioneer QX-8000 sounded great on FM, although I was surprised that the signal strength meter didn’t show much of a jump in gain.  However, since the multipath was highly reduced on WHFS, I was pleased over all.

I could hardly wait to show my parents my big accomplishment when they returned home Sunday afternoon!  I didn’t have to tell them, though.  When they pulled up in the driveway my mother instantly saw the antenna and shrieked, with hands to her face, “oh my God, Bob (sounded like “Bawb” with her New England accent), he’s ruined the looks of our house!”  No amount explaining how much better my FM reception sounded could calm my mother down.  You’d have thought I’d painted the house orange (which “Bawb” later did, although it was supposed to be “Harvest Gold”…but that’s another story).  I could tell my father was slightly amused and, I hoped, impressed enough with my newfound antenna installation skills that he could stave off the punishment my mother was demanding in exchange for her loss of curb-appeal.

The following week my father revealed my punishment: buy them a TV antenna with Alliance U-100 rotator for the TV in the family room.   The real punishment was not, however, my financial outlay for that purchase.  The real punishment was that, despite my proven new-found skills, I was not allowed to help—but watch my father install their new antenna to a vent chimney on the roof, standing in the backyard, poised to call for help if he fell.

My mother, upon seeing the new, added structure shooting from the vent chimney was further horrified.  But, our Montgomery Wards color TV (our first color TV!) now had a fantastic picture with no ghosting on any channels.   Even she had to admit that the antenna effected a huge improvement to their television viewing.

Dad's curiously short antenna mounting - the punishment antenna

However, much to my surprise, he had only mounted the antenna about one foot above the rotator!  He could have mounted it another three feet higher!  What was up with that! Surely you want to mount an antenna up as high as possible for best reception and lack of interference.  I guess that was his one consolation to Mom; make it a teeny bit less noticeable from the front of the house.  My antenna, on the other hand, could be seen from any angle in the neighborhood!  I was so proud!  Oh, and the ¾ inch hole I drilled through the wall of the house to run the antenna wire through the plastic tube?  Well, my Mother never saw that until they sold the house and retired to Florida a few years later.  I had proudly shown that piece of work to my Dad who stated at the time, “pretty nifty…And NEVER show that to your Mother”.  It was hidden from view behind my stereo equipment thank goodness.

But folks, that’s not the end of this story.   I mentioned at the beginning that this experience taught me a bit about wires and grounding.  How so?  Well, after settling in a bit with my new antenna system for my QX-8000, I became a bit underwhelmed by the RF gain.  (I still have the QX-8000 although it’s languishing in my attic, lonely).   I decided that maybe I should have bought the more expensive, albeit shorter, Finco FM4G antenna.  So, off to Lafayette I went about six months later and bought one.  I decided that two is always better than one, so I replaced the five foot mast with a ten foot mast and mounted both antennas on the same mast, one pointed towards metro Washington DC, and the other towards Baltimore.  I added another twin lead wire to the new Finco and installed a “knife-switch”.  (Remember those?  They looked like a mini version of the switch Dr. Frankenstein used to bring his monster to life).  The knife switch allowed me to switch between the two antennas depending on which station I wanted to listen to.  The new twin lead connected to the Finco antenna had some kind of foamed insulation, so I experimented by switching the wires where they connected to the two antennas on the roof to compare the wires.  I discovered the slightly older wire actually had better signal strength.  My first realization that wires do make a difference!

I didn’t think she’d notice, but soon Mom wanted to know why there were suddenly two antennas where there was formerly only one.  She complained about this until I finally decided that the Finco FM4G was a better antenna than the Lafayette antenna—it was more selective and had better gain despite being shorter, better tuning and spacing of the elements no doubt.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “Save up a bit more money and I can take down the Lafayette and put an Alliance U-100 rotator on that mast so I can aim the Finco in any direction.  No more need for a second antenna.”  And that is what I did!  This change also eliminated the knife switch, meaning there was one less junction for the signal to pass through.  Eventually, I even tried using a coax, shielded 75-ohm cable versus an unshielded 300-ohm twin lead for less noise pick up. However, since that also means you lose a bit of signal strength, I eventually settled on the twin lead.  My multipath worries were eliminated by the use of the rotator, and I could relax without further modifications to my FM antenna set-up.  Being a big Red Sox fan, I often tried to listen to games at night on AM with the QX-8000 receiver, but the noise level was often too annoying.  I discovered that by running a ground wire from the AM antenna ground tap on the back of the receiver to the FM antenna’s ground rod outside, I could improve the AM performance pretty dramatically.  This provided a much, much lower noise level so that the signal I was seeking could emerge from the background.  A proper ground is a must in an audio system, and I can’t overemphasize how much that will take the performance of your system to an even higher level.

My Finco FM4G and Alliance U-100 on Mom - Dad's roof circa 1975
This is why I was so excited to work with Nordost’s QRT Power Products. Our QRT QBASE distribution bar helps establish a common ground in your system and eliminates ground loops. I had thought the QBASE was the end-all-be-all in grounding, until we released our QKORE products last summer.  The QKORE dramatically reduces the noise level in a system by creating a clean, artificial earth, which has a dramatic and positive effect on the sound—bass becomes tighter, extends lower, and becomes more powerful.  The overall image moves further out into the room and extends beyond the boundaries of the speakers.  It’s really quite dramatic, and has to be heard to be believed! For my mother’s sake, I wish I had those products when I was a teen, I could have hid them much better than a rooftop antenna!

Oh, and speaking of my old FM antenna set-up at the old family house—out of curiosity, I drove by that house on a business trip… and lo and behold, the FM antenna and mast were still mounted on the roof!  Strangely enough though, no twin lead-connecting cable could be seen.  I guess there are no audiophiles living there anymore!

SoundStage Australia Reviews BC Sort Kones

Review Banner- BC Sort Kone_wide

This month, Soundstageaustralia.com featured a great review on our Sort Kone resonance control devices. In his article, Edgar Kramer explored the differences that BC Kones made on his sound system. The benefits that he experienced were anything but subtle. Sort Kones even got a stamp of approval from Edgar’s wife when she called him into the sound room, immediately having noticed a mysterious improvement in the ‘realness’ of the music!

“What I thought was going to be an exercise in punishingly strained listening usually resulting in ultra-subtle differences at best, ended up being deceptively the opposite. How wrong and surprised was I.”

Edgar’s Sort Kone review is now available to read on SoundStageAustralia.com here: Nordost Sort Kone BC Resonance Control System

You can find this review and more great Nordost reviews on our Reviews Page.

Nordost Playlist – February 2018


Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this February.


You can now listen to our monthly playlist here:  TIDAL  |  SPOTIFY


  1. 99—Elliot Moss—Boomerang
  2. Surprise Yourself—Jack Garratt—Phase (Deluxe)
  3. I’ll Close My Eyes—Dinah Washington—Blue Gardenia
  4. Evergreen—YEBBA—Evergreen
  5. Powa—Tune-Yards—WHOKILL
  6. Mystery of Love—Sufjan Stevens—Call Me by Your Name (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  7. Luna—Kuzo—Luna
  8. L’attesa—Petra Magoni, Ferruccio Spinetti—Anestesia totale
  9. Close But Not Quite—Everything is Recorded—Close But Not Quite
  10. Living In The City—Hurray For The Riff Raff—The Navigator