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Dirk Sommer

Magazine: „”
Position: Editor/owner

First issue appeared: 2009

Industriestraße 35a | 82194 Gröbenzell | Germany
tel.: +49 (0) 8142 - 66 95 344
tel. kom.: +49 (0) 151 - 184 23 292


ome of our actions don’t seem to bring immediate results, no matter how hard we try. Even if we bend over backwards, nothing comes out of it. In such situations it’s worth remembering the ripple effect principle – a stone thrown into water produces concentric ripples that spread out in all directions. If it hits other ripples, they get amplified and grow bigger. Apparently, something like that happened to me and to Dirk Sommer. He was born in 1957 in Dortmund, a German city that's well know because of its football team Borussia Dortmund with three Polish football players. He studied electronics for one year and switched to German and Latin language. He graduated in 1988 as a high school teacher and taught German language to adults for some years before he began further studies to become a technical author. After finishing it he was offered two jobs: one as lecturer for technical documentation in the northern part of Germany and one as an author for a high-end magazine in Bavaria. And although he preferred the sea to the mountains, he decided to turn his hobby and passion into his daily job and started working as an editor for the German magazine “HiFi Exklusiv”, which, at the end of 1994 was transformed into the leading German high-end magazine of that time, „image hifi”. Following the launch of issue 01/99 he became its chief editor.

And this is how I met him during, as far as I remember, the first or second Munich High End show, fresh after it moved over from the Kempinski Hotel in Frankfurt. Dirk caught my interest straight away when I saw his magazine and heard the vinyl records he produced. He was already a recognized sound engineer and producer of technically refined and perfectly realized LP records. The magazine of which he was the chief editor could have been described in a similar manner: stylistically refined, superbly edited and intrinsically coherent. It was then one of the best looking magazines in the world. And although much has changed since and Dirk has nothing to do with it anymore (except for past memories, experience and some friends he made during those years), his former magazine can be still regarded as the symbol of elegance.
Something evidently had to go wrong in that perfect machinery, as was once hinted at by Cai Brockmann, another refugee and now a chief editor of the printed magazine “Fidelity” (see HERE). Dirk left in 2009 and started his own web magazine “HiFiStatement”. That’s how we met again, in a wholly new situation.
I asked him about what’s changed since then and what happened to “image hifi”, and about his work as a music producer soon before we decided about our collaboration – the exchange of published materials, meetings, etc. This is really a new beginning and we have some pretty interesting ideas that have been brewing in our minds.

In "THE EDITORS" series we have interviewed so far:

  • Marja & Henk, „”, Switzerland, journalists, interviewed HERE
  • 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”, 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, “”, Switzerland, chief editor; interviewed HERE

Wojciech Pacuła: We’ve met a few years ago when you were the editor of “Image Hifi” magazine and it was in full swing. What happened?
Dirk Sommer: In 2009, the publishers wanted to change the focus of Image HiFi: The products reviewed should be more affordable and there should be more computer hi-fi. I don't have anything against computer hi-fi, as you will notice when you take a look at “”, my new online magazine. But I was convinced that the quite conservative subscribers, readers and advertisers of Image HiFi won't follow the new direction. So I refused to make the change and left the magazine. By looking at one of the actual issues everybody can decide for themselves how much Image HiFi succeeded in paying more attention to affordable gear and computer hi-fi.

I spoke with Cai Brockmann, the chief editor of “Fidelity”, and he told me that German magazines are in bad shape. Do you agree?
I prefer not to talk too much about fellow competitors. But one can state, that there are an awful lot of magazines around and the German Hi-fi-market is still decreasing. So it's hard to get your share of the market that you need to keep the quality of your publication up.

How did you start “” magazine? Where did the idea come from?
When I left “image hifi”, in 2009 already existed. A real hifi-enthusiast and attorney had founded the magazine a few months before. He had gathered some well known authors around him and started the magazine as a hobby project. There have been articles translated into English and French as well. But the magazine wasn't run really professionally: Doing some of the writing and all the administration besides his main job was too much work for the publisher. But I liked his idea of “”, met him, discussed a few things with him and all of the sudden was the editor of an online magazine. When personal reasons made it impossible for the publisher to carry on with hifistatement in 2011, I decided to take over and continue the magazine.
As soon as I started to work for the magazine in this – at least for me – new medium, I tried to find special things an online magazine can offer to his readers, but that are impossible to do in a printed one. So I developed the idea of our Klangbibliothek (i.e. library of sound): When doing a review of a cartridge, we always record the same three songs with this cartridge. So we get three wav.-files in 24/96 with the special sound of this cartridge, which we offer as a free download. If you listen to these files, you get a very good impression of the sound of the cartridge, especially in comparison to other cartridges. At the moment our Klangbibliothek offers 49 different files.
And there are the Statements From Birdland, articles about jazz concerts with a review from a local newspapers, atmospheric pictures and one song that can be downloaded in CD-qualitity, high resolution and sometimes even as a DSD-file. You see, the idea of lauching “” was not mine, but in the meantime you'll find some ideas in this magazine that could only be realized in an online publication.

Do you think that printed magazines can learn something from web magazines? How about vice versa?
The examples above show that there are things you can't do in a printed magazine. But because of my history with Image HiFi, for me a well made printed magazine is still the benchmark in some aspects: Writing in the internet should be done with the same knowledge and care as in print. For me the pictures are an important part of a magazine, where ever it is published. All pictures for our reviews are taken in hifistatement's own photo studio by Helmut Baumgartner, a professional photographer who is into High End equipment and especially turntables since his early youth. With one click you can enlarge the photos in our articles and even zoom into them without losing resolution. There is no reason – except keeping the production costs as low as possible – to use manufacturers’ pictures only, just because you are an online magazine. For me, it is ideal is to preserve the high standards of writing and taking pictures as in high quality printed magazines and add new features that are only possible online.

What is the status of vinyl right now?
It is the only “hardware” music format with increasing sales figures. This makes vinyl interesting even for larger record companies. I guess vinyl will be even more important in near future. Younger people that don't care too much about Hi-Fi or High-End equipment are attracted more and more by this format. And they are not DJs, just music lovers.

Please tell me about your own sommelier du son company.
Some years ago, I was in a mastering studio and the sound of a master tape played back on a Studer A80 impressed me so much that I bought one of these tape recorders less than a month later. The sound of a good tape is much better than that of any CD and even any LP. As usual with things that I like, I started to collect Studers and Nagras. By the way, at the moment there are six analog tape recorders ready to be used. But for me it didn't make sense to collect them only, so I tried to use them for recordings. And it was much easier than we thought to make recordings of well known (jazz) musicians. Because double bass is my favorite instrument in jazz – I own one, but I do not dare to say I play it – sommelier du son first LP is a recording of a solo bass concert by Dieter Ilg, one of Europe's best bass players. To give our record producing activities a legal form, Birgit, my wife and I founded sommelier du son in late 2008 – mainly for fun. Our idea was to record and produce music we both like, doing this throughout in an all analog way and selling the LPs without any pressure. Nothing against reissues – if it's not the 100th edition of Kind of Blue –, but sommelier du son releases new recordings only. The first album simply entitled Bass was followed by LPs with Charlie Mariano and Dieter Ilg (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat) and with a Quintet around Michel Godard and Steve Swallow (Soyeusement – Live At Noirlac).
In 2011 our analog activities had surprising consequences: I received a call from one of the managers of Edel. This company on the stock exchange, has several hundred employees, owns the Optimal pressing plant that manufactured all the Eterna and Amiga records in the days of the former GDR, and produces, distributes and sells books and records. I was asked to produce a series of audiophile records, later named the Triple A Series. Of course I agreed: We recorded the German trumpet player Joo Kraus & The Tales In Tones Trio performing Michael-Jackson-songs (Captured For Good), the blues/rock-singer Inga Rumpf (White Horses) and in Cooperation with Nagra Audio Leon Russell at the Montreux Jazz Festival (The Montreux Session). And now we are working on several other recording and producing projects for sommelier du son, Edel and hifistatement.

How should a good vinyl record be made?
Sommelier du son controls its vinyl releases from the all analog recording to the pressing. And the tasks we can't do on our own, we give to people we trust. Whenever possible, I take part in the process: I'm in the cutting studio when the transfer from the tape to lacquer is done. I bring the lacquer to the pressing plant myself because the time between cutting and silvering it should be as short as possible. I firmly believe that if you have good personal contact with the people who work on your project, this will add some extra percentage of quality.
On the recording side, we try to use a few channels only, choose a simple but good microphone set up, avoid the use of sound controls, filters and effects if possible and mix to two tracks on location. So every mistake of the musician or the sound engineer is burned on the tape without the chance to correct it afterwards. That leads to a special concentrated atmosphere. There is no “we fix it in the mix”. You either make it right on the spot or the moment is gone. If we do a good job we can cut directly from the session tapes, without any mastering, like adding a little – analog–reverb or making subtle tonal corrections.

What about most of new vinyl records that are made from hi-res digital files. Are they worth our interest?
There are many audiophiles and music lovers that are happy about these LPs from hi-res-files. But to me, it feels a little bit like cheating the customer. I see no reason to manufacture LPs from digital sources.

And what about hi-res files?
Hi-res helps the dedicated music lover make his peace with digital. I really can enjoy recordings in hi-res. It is second only to analog or in the best case, even equally as good.

Did you compare PCM and DSD? Which one is better? Why?
I can remember a review of an upsampler and a converter from DCS I did in “image hifi” no. 42 in 2001: A normal CD sounded significantly better when its 16 bit 44.1 kHz signal was converted to a DSD-stream than when it was upsampled to 24 bits and 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz before it was sent to the DAC. I guess the filters used when converting DSD to analog are more pleasing to the human ear than the ones used for converting hi-res PCM to analog.
Last month I converted some analog master tapes to hi-res and DSD to prepare our albums for downloads. I'm still checking different converters, but to my ears DSD has a small advantage over 192 kHz. So I can understand the hype about DSD converters especially in the US and Japan.
But you have to be careful: It's nearly impossible to do a recording in DSD without changing to hi-res when mastering or ever changing the volume of it. And having a DSD that has been hi-res once is a little bit like producing LPs from hi-res files.

How about good ole CDs? Is there any future for it?
One has to admit that there are good sounding CDs nowadays. But hi-res and DSD files – and vinyl – offer a superior sound. That's why there is no longer any need for CDs in the audiophile world. But I think that the CD will survive some time in the mass market. There are many people that don't want to mess around with computers.

If you could point out the most interesting recent trends or techniques, what would it be?
Without any doubt hi-res and DSD from the computer, the software players like Amarra, Pure Music and Audirvana – in the world of Macs – and the superb sounding affordable DACs are the most interesting topics today. Never before has the listener had the chance to come so near to the real thing: the master recordings.

Please describe your reference system and explain your choices.
First I have to say that I dislike the term “reference system” a little bit, although it is correct in the sense that I compare a component I review with the corresponding one in my set up. Nevertheless, I would prefer the term "personal reference system": That is the gear that I chose and fine-tuned over two decades. As everyone knows, there is nothing like the best cable in the world or the absolute reference cable. Another example: The quality of the mains power is dependent upon the place where you live and even on the time of day. So there are no power generators, filters, or cables with some filtering that are the one and only solution for everybody.

Anyway, the most important component for the sound in my room is the Lumenwhite DiamondLight. That used to be the top of the line speaker from the Austrian manufacturer. I did the first review of a LumenWhite worldwide, the WhiteLight and fell in love with the speaker with its unique shape immediately: It's high resolution, as quick as an electrostatic speaker, but can produce a lot energy in the lower octaves with exactly the same speed as the ones mentioned above. There is nearly no coloration due to the Accuton drive units with ceramic and diamond diaphragms. Because of the special shape of the cabinet, there is not even the smallest piece of damping material inside the “box”. Five years after buying the WhiteLight, I sold it and switched to the larger DiamondLight, which acts with a little more ease at extremely high playback levels. The Lumen are not very forgiving speakers and nothing less than euphonic. But they are very reliable tools for judging High End components. And when the recording sounds great they give you a lot of listening pleasure.

Thomas Fast of Fastaudio did some measurements in my room and found out that the reverb time over the entire frequency is quite linear. So I do not employ any acoustical treatment, except a full set of Acoustic System resonators installed by Franck Tchang, the brain behind Acoustic Systems.
I used to drive the DiamondLights with Brinkmann Mono power amps, but they were destroyed by the very low impedance of the fascinating Göbel Epoque Fine speakers during a review. So I'm looking for something new – and maybe better. At the moment, the Ayon Epsilon are my favorites. But before I make any decision, I will test them with the brand new KT150 tubes instead of the KT88 – even though, I'm not missing anything using the standard KT88: The Epsilon has a very pleasant, slightly warm sound characteristic, offering a lot of details and revealing a great three dimensional soundstage. It has more than enough power to drive the Lumen or my ears to their limits.

To cut a long story short, I'll give you a list of my equipment – without any further comments:

Turntable: Brinkmann LaGrange with tube power supply
Tonearm: AMG Viella 12", Breuer Dynamic, Immedia 10.5, Kuzma 4Point, SME V, Ortofon 309, Thales Simplicity
Cartridge: Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, Brinkmann EMT ti, Clearaudio Da Vinci, Denon DL103, Jan Allerts MC 2 Finish, Lyra Olympos and Titan i, Ortofon SPU Royal and Silver, Roksan Shiraz, van den Hul Grasshopper protoype
Phono preamp: Einstein The Turntable's Choice (balanced)
Computer: iMac 27" 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8 GB, OS X version 10.8.4
CD Drive: Wadia WT3200
D/A Converter: Mytek 192-DSD-DAC
Tape machine: Studer A 80, Studer 820, Nagra IV
Digital Recorder: Nagra VI, Tascam DV-RA1000HD, Alesis Masterlink
Preamplifier: Brinkmann Marconi
Power Amp: Ayon Epsilon, Cello Encore 50 with Cello Germany modification
Speaker: LumenWhite DiamondLight Monitors
Cables: Audioplan Powercord S, Audioquest Wild Wood, Wild Blue Yonder, Diamond USB and Firewire, HMS Gran Finale Jubilee, Nordost Walhalla, Precision Interface Technology Sun Audio Reference NF and Digisym,
Accessories: PS Audio P5 Power Plant, Clearaudio Matrix, Audioplan Powerstar, HMS wall sockets, Acapella bases, Acoustic System resonators and feet, Finite Elemente Pagode Master Reference Heavy Duty and Cerabase, Harmonix Real Focus

By the way, the gear mentioned above is what you find in my moderately sized listening room. There is another very nice sounding set up in my living room, but the components there have been chosen by Birgit, who really loves music a lot and is totally convinced that you need a good hifi-system to enjoy it. I'm not allowed to select the gear for our living room, but sometimes Birgit follows my advice.

Could you list 10 must-listen albums for the readers of “High Fidelity”?
As mentioned above, I record and produce vinyl records on my own and that changed my view of the LPs, CDs and downloads in my collection. For me, it's really hard to only concentrate on the audiophile or musical aspects without thinking about the technical side of the recording. That's why I asked Hifistatement's writers to introduce two of their personal favorites to you. Here they are:

Chie Ayado

East House Records CNLR 1111 (CD)

Of course, the two albums I want to introduce to you are not the only ones, I would take with me when leaving home to live on a deserted island only accompanied by some hifi-equipment. In this case it had to be a lot more. I like to talk about two albums that have been released not long ago. The first was published in 2011 by East House Records (CNLR 1111). It is one of the great albums from Chie Ayado, the great Japanese singer and piano player. She is accompanied by four musicians playing guitar, percussion or drums, bass and organ. The album is called Prayer and contains well known songs, which we all have heard before in the original version. I very seldom like cover-versions as much or even more then the originals. But the versions from Chie Ayado are very fascinating. If you listen to her, you would never believe what a small person she is: She's really got a great voice. I prefer Prayer to other records of the same genre. The compilation is not only based on the Great American Songbook, but a perfect mixture of gospel and soulful music.

Frederic Chopin
The Complete Nocturnes
wyk. Gergely Bogány

Stockfisch Records SFR 357.4051.2-1/2 (SACD/CD)

The second album I love, is a double CD/SACD released by Stockfisch-Records (sfr 357.4051.2-1/2) in 2008 (Ed. Note: we reviewed it HERE). The music is always able to calm me down whenever I want to relax. Gergely Bogányi plays The Complete Nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin, which are 21 pieces. The recording was made by Hans-Jörg Maucksch at Pauler Acoustics. On one hand, I enjoy the emotional playing of the 34 year old Hungarian artist. On the other hand, I like the sound of the instrument he is playing: a Fazioli F 308 grand piano with a length of 3.08 meters and a very rich sound. Even if Mr. Bogány is playing over 112 minutes on the Fazioli, time passes like in a dream and Chopin´s music is always greatly touching to me.
Recommended by : Wolfgang Kemper


wyk. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan
Decca Set SXL2167/69 (LP)

This was the first stereo recording of Aida, produced by the famous John Culshaw from the DECCA team. Recorded in 1959! This record is a truly spectacular sonic experience with exceptional dynamics. The brass sections is especially a hardcore test for your equipment. It is a wonderful recording of the singers as well. It is important to find an example with the ZAL stamp, which means original pressing. After the ZAL stamp, you can find another letter, which stands for the cutting engineer. In my edition it is a “G“, which stands for Theodore Burkett.
Recommended by : Jürgen Saile

Charles Lloyd

ECM 1976 (CD)

Live recording at the Lobero Theater, Santa Barbara. Only three musicians on stage, Lloyd playing different instruments, from tenor saxophone to tarogato. Accompanied by Zakir Hussein, an indian tabla player and his resourceful drummer Eric Harland.
Percussion instruments are not only recorded with explosive dynamics, but also with all the subtleties which these instruments are capable of. It is a very good CD for testing Pace, Rhythm and Timing, „PRaT“. The acoustics of the recording location and the audience are equally well reproduced.

Grace Jones
Slave To The Rhythm

ZTT/Manhattan Records/Island Records (LP)

Originally planned as the follow-up to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, the seventh studio album by Grace Jones is a creative highlight of Trevor Horn’s productions in the mid 80's, if not his most creative one. Although this concept album, which features seven wildly different interpretations of the title track Slave to the Rhythm, polarized US and European media – comments ranging from “genius” to “extremely childish” were mentioned – it became a huge commercial success in 1984. It can not really be considered an audiophile recording, in the way most people define audiophile quality today, but it is truly audiophile as a fun record to listen to: with amazing recording effects and truly unique fireworks of musical ideas!
Recommended by Amré Ibrahim

Jonathan Wilson
Gentle Spirit

Bella Union/PIAS/Rough Trade (LP)

Although it was highly critically acclaimed and had a lot of popular supporters including Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Erykah Badu and Robbie Robertson, Jonathan Wilson’s debut album failed to reach commercial success in 2011. The intelligent and psychedelically-influenced folk songs transport an organic intensity that can only be described as deeply touching. To catch the spirit of the recording process, which by the way took a couple of years, Jonathan Wilson decided to record the album on analogue tape. A wise decision: The double LP version of Gentle Spirit sweet-talks the ears and seems to be made for pure listening pleasure with tube amps and full range speakers. Absolutely gorgeous – in every way!
Recommended by Amré Ibrahim

Penelope Houston
The Whole World

Heyday Records/Heyday (LP)

The second solo album from the former singer of the Avengers is one of my favorite folk-rock records. The rage of the older punk days is still there, but the cynical lyrics are embedded in a harmoniously melodic sound now. There is still much energy and passion in Penelope's voice, that most of the other female singer/songwriters of this time pale in comparison. No, I'm not talking about Joni Mitchell or Rickie Lee Jones.
The album's sound, especially in the slow parts with lower levels, is exceptionally good and surprisingly pure high-end, even if this may not have been the original intention during production. A gripping and clear transparent tone makes the session absolutely adorable. Qualities of Mercy, Father's Day or Behind your Eyes are nice tracks forany listening session when doing a high-end review.
Recommended by Matthias Jung

In Concert

Dude/Indigo (CD/DVD)

Lets mix! Four drummers, any kind of percussion and additional marimbas in a crossover from modern classical via free jazz to trance and pop up to traditional arrangements. This is ElbtonalPercussion from Hamburg with their live recording from 2010. They only play percussion instruments, but with such technical brilliance and precision in such a way that you'll never miss any “normal” instruments. This sounds academic and maybe boring to you? No way: These four guys interact with so much groove and fun, you won't believe it until you hear it. The CD's sound is direct: Vibraphone, cajon, djembe, timbale, Thai gong, and shime-daikos will take your equipment to the limit and beyond. When three people with six sticks on nine tom-toms let you imagine three helicopters starting their engines, letting them warm up, getting their rotors turning, lifting off and disappearing up in the air, you'll totally forget about the existence of your hifi system. What's left? The pure pleasure of rhythm and pace.
Recommended by Matthias Jung