Published: 3. July 2013, No. 110
Marja and Henk are a couple writing reviews for the Swiss internet magazine 6moons.com by Srajan Ebaen. It’s quite a unique situation as specialist journalists and reviewers are usually lone wolves enjoying one’s own company, valuing own opinion and independence. To have to work out a common position on such a sensitive subject as sound is for them (us) simply unthinkable – win or lose. Yet one look at this couple (I took the photo at the Audio Show 2012; see HERE) is enough to understand it a bit better – they seem like a single four-arm two-head person. Their own, carefully balanced but at the same time explicit opinions are written with such originality that they contribute something fresh to audio literature. They seek out small, unknown manufacturers and watch them with interest, giving them a chance. Their visit to Warsaw in 2012 resulted in new contacts with Polish manufacturers and new product reviews. They first reviewed anti-vibration accessories from Franz Audio Accessories (see HERE) and Audiomica Laboratory cables (see HERE).
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Marja & Henk in a double interview!
In "THE EDITORS" series we have interviewed so far:
- Matej Isak, "Mono & Stereo", chief editor/owner, Slovenia/Austria; interviewed HERE
- Dr. David W. Robinson, "Positive Feedback Online", USA,, chief editor/co-owner; interviewed HERE
- Jeff Dorgay, “TONEAudio”, USA, publisher; interviewed HERE
- Cai Brockmann, “FIDELITY”, Germany, chief editor; interviewed HERE
- Steven R. Rochlin, “Enjoy the Music.com”, USA, chief editor; interviewed HERE
- Stephen Mejias, “Stereophile”, USA, assistant editor; interviewed HERE
- Martin Colloms, “HIFICRITIC”, Great Britain, publisher and editor; interviewed HERE
- Ken Kessler, “Hi-Fi News & Record Review”, Great Britain, senior contributing editor; interviewed HERE
- Michael Fremer, “Stereophile”, USA, senior contributing editor; interview HERE
- Srajan Ebaen, “6moons.com”, Switzerland, chief editor; interviewed HERE
Wojciech Pacuła: How did you appear in 6moons.com? I mean – how did you start your cooperation?
We have been reviewing for a couple of Dutch magazines and a website since the beginning of this century. It was in 2003 that we liked the early 6Moons website so much that we contacted Srajan and introduced ourselves to him. Result from that contact was Srajan’s question to write a sample review to assess our reviewing and writing qualities. With that we passed the balloting and our first review was published on the website in September 2003. Writing for an international website is a bit like pen-palling. All communication is done via e-mail. Luckily there are many audio shows around the world that offer great excuses to travel around and at many occasions we met with Srajan in person.
Please tell me something about yourselves – your past, your career, and your plans.
The ‘we’ is Marja Vanderloo and Henk Boot. We both carry a Dutch passport and are recently relocated to a house with plenty of listening possibilities in rural Holland. Our income comes from working in IT; audio writing is a pure hobby that ran a bit out of hand. Music has been the theme in all our life. Growing up in the 60’s is definitely the ground for this and we developed a broad appetite for all kinds of music. A true guide through the musical universe was Frank Zappa. He led us on a musical path through classic and modern music. It was he who pointed at Miles Davis, another great music teacher and guide. Of course playing in a band was almost mandatory those days and listening to LPs at home could be loud when you used a double Marshall stack as ‘hifi’. Those LPs came from recommendations from friends, day-long listening sessions in record stores and of course the underground radio stations that played wonderful new stuff late at night. Nowadays we discover tons of new music via internet. Sites like Bandcamp and CDBaby offer hundred thousands of independently released albums which first can be listened to and when liked bought and downloaded in at least CD quality for a fair price.
What is your review philosophy? What are you looking for in a review?
The gear we review is most of the time not the average you find in stores everywhere. We try to find new and exciting designs that offer something very special. It is the passion of the designer that we look for. That passion once transformed into something physical that is capable of transforming in turn captured music on a medium into music in the room complete with all the emotion – that is what we look for. Music equals emotion and that should be passed on to the listener. That journey towards Musical Ecstasy as our late friend Harvey ‘Gizmo’ Rosenberg called it, is what drives us.
Do you think that web-based magazines can be a reliable source of knowledge? Why print magazines try hard to discredit everything related to internet magazines?
Web based magazines are a true source of knowledge and information starting with the ability to quickly search for an article of interest. You can Google a word and direct the search engine towards a specific website or let it roam the entire World Wide Web. Print magazines lack that possibility and the best they can offer is a summary of published articles ordered by subject or name. Web magazines can also react to current affairs much quicker as they are not bound to maximum number of printed pages, deadlines and distribution. Of course many printed magazines see the web based versions as a thread but that is only because they do not fully use their own capabilities. When they would use the energy they now waste on bashing web magazines instead to make a beautiful printed magazine, they would be much happier.
Tell me something about the Dutch audio market – what is it like? Is it healthy or not?
We see the market the same way we see the audio magazine market. If you do nothing and only complain, the only way is down. Yes, there is a financial crisis and some sales are down. The sales that are down are the sales of middle-of-the road gear, the stuff that fills the racks of the big Media Markt type of stores. Distributors hire so many square meters in such a shop and fill that space with boxes. The more the store turns over the better the price they get for the square meter. Audio dealers that work on the same basis – just shift boxes – have a hard time. Those dealers who add value still do good business. Due to the so called crisis many shops have closed. We think that they closed because their business model was not right. Just sitting in your shop and wait until a customer comes in does not work. A dealer has to be active, offer real great service. A dealer should be a partner on the way to audio happiness and help the customer as much as possible. Think of home installing, power quality assessment, acoustic tuning and correct setting up of loudspeakers. Those who practice such services make good sales even today. There’s even a benefit of the ‘crisis. Money in the bank does not make any interest. Inflation percentages are higher than the interest rates so spending money on something fun is a much better investment.
What are the main Dutch print audio magazines – we mainly know English ones…?
In Holland there are two competing print audio magazines. One is a privately owned company the other is part of a bigger publishing company. The first is a more glossy and block-bound monthly and fully focusing on audio while the latter magazine is also covering video. Both magazines are also distributed in Belgium as Dutch is also spoken there.
What is your reference audio system? Why this choice?
At the moment we have three reference systems ready to play. For digital we have a system that consists of a custom built Windows PC that runs XXHighEnd software and is driving the Phasure NOS1 DAC. From there the signal is sent to a pair of Hypex Ncore 1200 Class-D mono blocks that in turn drive a pair of huge Arcadian Audio Pnoe full range AER MD 3B based horns. For the frequency range from 40Hz down we use a Zu Audio Submission MK1 subwoofer that is also using a Hypex amplifier, Cabling in this system is by Nanotec of Japan and Dutch Crystal Cable.
Another system setup for digital playback uses a PS Audio PWT transport as source. All other signal handling is done by a Devialet D-Premier AIR which also accepts streamed input from an iMac. Loudspeakers in this system are Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega and cabling is by Nanotec and ASI. For movie watching we use a system that has Belgian Vaessen Aquarius loudspeakers while the Philips DVD player and the satellite receiver send their S/PDIF signals to a second Devialet D-Premier.
For our analog pleasure we use a Dr. Feickert Analogue Blackbird turntable with DFA 1o5 tone arm and Zu DL-103 cartridge. As phono stage there is a Trafomatic Reference One Pre that is followed by a Trafomatic Reference pre amplifiers and a pair of Trafomatic Kaivalya mono blocks. By just swapping the Crystal Cable loudspeaker cables the Pnoe can be the loudspeakers. All systems are electrically phase aligned and use various AC treatment.
Of course the setups change when review gear comes in and we are looking for the best match we can achieve. In storage we have various cables, spare connectors and all other things one might need just like a collection of 300B tubes from different makes and years for our Audio Note Meishu. In all our own equipment we look for speed and dynamics. Those two factors are for us the most important; they make the liveliness and are like salt and pepper in a dish. You need plenty to get all the flavors from the ingredients.
What do you think about the future of audio?
About how we see the future of audio we can be brief. The future is bright! Downloading and streaming are the magic word for musical sources and now more and more record companies are cut out of the loop and artist take their own responsibilities much more beautiful music is available in great quality. Speaking of quality, the high res hype is not going to make it. Super high res will stay marginal. There is still so much hidden in the CD format as we notice nearly on a daily base when we add more CDs from our collection to the hard disks of our PC. Eventually we think new recordings will get available in 24/192 format for downloading only. Eliminating the restrictions of physical media makes the transition easy.
What do you listen to at home when you want to relax?
You ask what we listen to for relaxation. Well, that can be anything from large opera to experimental free jazz. Most of the time – and PC based audio makes that even simpler – we compile a musical menu. That menu can be theme based like all music from a certain composer, musician or having a main instrument in common. It is a bit like a real home concert.
What web-based magazines can learn from print magazines and vice-versa?
What we think print and online magazines could learn from each other is that they should stick to their own media code. A printed magazine is slow reading stuff. Most webzines are intended for fast reading – browsing. With the exception of a few webzines like Tone and 6Moons all webzines use busy layouts that distract and run relative short articles. Printed magazines are rooted in the art of graphic layout. They know what type font to use. Many webzines are made by well intending amateurs and that shows.
What audio magazines do you read?
All in all we do not read audio magazines. Occasionally we flip through one when we are in a magazine shop but we don’t read it cover to cover.
What kind of live music do you like, what concerts you go to?
As we think that music reproduced at home is a different art form from live music, we listen with a different mindset to live music. In live music there is no soundstage, no imaging, no holographic depiction, no prat-factor or whatever audiophile description. With live music there is just that: live music. The music cannot be repeated, is unique with all its flaws and errors and that just makes the beauty. It is the beauty of the imperfection, the beauty of the uniqueness and the beauty of the temporality. With these parameters, it does not matter what the music is and who is playing.
What do you believe “the absolute sound” is?
You ask what we think ‘the absolute sound’ is. We think there is no absolute sound at all. Everything you hear is subjective. Just like I can’t tell you how I see colors (where does green end and does blue start in the spectrum?) I can’t tell you what I hear let alone that I can say that it is ‘absolute’. If that were true, there would be only one audio reproduction system in the world. Imagine what consequences that would have for freedom, democracy etc.
Do you think that audio magazines should be specialized or rather wide open to everything on the market?
In our opinion a print magazine should be specific oriented and let the ‘rest’ be covered by the WWW. A small group of highly qualified writers covering a subject in depth is what we think is added value to a print magazine. Web magazines more and more get crowd-sourced articles. Look at the colophon – or equivalent - of web magazines and see all those associated names. Then look at the colophon of specialized magazines; only a handful of paid (!) editors.
Could you list your 10 most loved albums that you are listening to now?
With thousands of albums on vinyl, CD and on disk it is not easy to make a top-10 but here’s a try but in random order:
- Miles Davis, Live Around The World
- Frank Zappa, Zoot Allures
- Karim Bagilli, Lea & Kash
- Stokowsky, Symphonic Transcriptions
- Johnny Cash, American Recordings
- Gert Vlok Nel, Beaufort Wes
- Hadouk Trio, Live a FIP
- Various, Woodstock (soundtrack)
- Bill Evans, The Gambler Live in Tokyo
- L’Arpeggiato, All’ Improvviso
Thank you for the interview and see you soon at the next audio show!