Updated: Sep 4
September 2023. This Edition: Analog Days. Hail and Farewell. Some of the best classical recordings ever; Lyrita Recorded Edition.
I’ve mentioned before that most of my critical listening is done using digital formats. I must have 3000 CDs, and that remains the most used format for classical music, even today. For reasons I wrote about in May, I do not have streaming at the lake house, so that limits me to CDs and vinyl, which is more than fine with me.
It has taken me a while to get here, but I now have three lines of turntables at three different price points, and I am proud to represent all of them.
Rekkord Audio’s tables are handcrafted in Germany. Every part comes from Germany, not Asia like so many other European brands, and the products are made in the old Dual factory by many of the same people who manufactured those famous tables some years ago. Rekkord makes five models; three are fully automatic, and two are manual. Most models come standard with a pre-mounted Ortofon or AT cartridge, and the two lower-priced tables have built-in phono stages. The amazing thing here is that none of them are over $2,000! My favorite of the bunch is the F400, which retails for $799. If you want to speak about value, here it is. You are getting a German-made table, built to a very high standard, for less than $1,000. I’ve not spoken about the sonics, but they are no slouch either. You can find excellent reviews all over. https://www.rekkord-audio.com/en/home/
I think everyone knows about the Michell Audio Gyrodec. It has been called the “world’s most iconic turntable” for good reason. Some people buy them for their looks, and that is a good enough reason for me, but it is their sound that impresses me. Michell has been building turntables longer than anyone else in the UK. It is still family-owned and operated, and that means a lot to me. Like Rekkord, they offer excellent "value for money," as the Brits say, and the build quality is superb…no MDF here! There are three models on offer, the Technodec (I love these names!) which is unsuspended, the famous Gyrodec, and the top-of-the-line Orbe. To my mind, all are outstanding, and when you purchase one, you know that it can easily be passed down through the generations as is often done. https://www.michellaudio.com
The last and most expensive turntable line to enter Hi Notes is the Danish company, Bergmann Audio. I have long been fascinated with air-bearing tables and arms. At the first Hi Notes, I used to represent Forsell (did not sell even one piece!) and remember his great air-bearing table with great pleasure. Even though it was problematic, the advantages of air-bearing and linear tracking were evident. These problems are a thing of the past with Bergmann. It is easy to set up and adjust; the linear arm works like a dream, and the air pump is dead silent. My listening chair is about three feet from the pump, and I cannot hear a thing. It is a thing of beauty as well. The Danish design is simple and elegant. The plinth is made from a heavy composite material, and the platter is of aircraft-grade aluminum. There are only about four dealers in the country that represent Bergmann, and I am happy to be among them. https://bergmannaudio.com/
What about phono stages and cartridges? I am using some excellent Gold Note phono stages now but have ordered the Moonriver 505 and can easily order stages from Unison Research and Grandinote. My Unison Research Primo also has a fine built-in stage, and the upcoming Dowton preamp from my friends at English Acoustics has a built-in stage which is supposed to be quite good. As for cartridges, I stock Goldring and Michell but am also looking for something a bit more exotic to add to the lineup.
Last time, I wrote that Cyrus Audio was leaving my line card as they no longer had US distribution. The good news is that they have a new distributor already, and I am fully on board once again so a "crisis" is averted. I really like the products from Cyrus, as any visitor to Hi Notes can tell. The bad news is that English Acoustics has lost its distributor. While not a top seller, I have very much enjoyed these amplifiers, and I hope they find new distribution as well. If not, maybe I will bring these in myself. We shall see.
New lines at Hi Notes include the aforementioned Gold Note products from Italy. Joining them are the Luna Cables from Canada, and in November, I should have my first product from Thoress, The EHT Integrated Amplifier. Now this will be fun!
One can possess a fantastic analog setup, but if you don't have the LPs to match, there will undoubtedly be an issue. You've probably heard about the MoFi (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab) debacle, and I'm sure you've read about the poor quality of many new releases – perhaps you've even experienced this firsthand. There are numerous excellent sources for reviews on current releases, and I suggest consulting these before investing a substantial sum of your own money in a purchase.
In a future update, I'll delve into LP labels and sources that have consistently served me well. Today, I'd like to spotlight one of my favorite classical labels, Lyrita Recorded Editions. Lyrita was in operation from 1958 until the passing of its founder, Richard Itter, in 2014. Lyrita specialized exclusively in English music, often by obscure composers that many had never heard of. However, almost all of their albums are delightful, with meticulous attention to the recording process, something not often witnessed. Lyrita's records were primarily pressed by Decca, who took extra care with each release.
Even if you're not particularly fond of classical music, allow me to encourage you to purchase at least one of these albums so you can experience what I'm talking about. You'll usually find a decent number of Lyrita recordings available on Discogs, but please don't expect to stumble upon any bargains. Sellers are well aware of the treasures they possess and have priced their offerings accordingly.
Until next time.
July 2023. This Edition: New Product Announcements at Munich. Goodbye to Cyrus. A Trip to South East Asia
As I wrote last month, an injured foot prevented me from making the trip to High End 2023 in Munich but by all accounts, the show was a great success. There are plenty of videos and written reports about the show and I suspect you have spent some time viewing these, as have I.
As is typical at these shows, there were a great many product introductions. These are what you will see at Hi Notes:
Diptyque announced two new speakers, the DP 140 Mark II (16,999) and the DP 170 Mk II (29,999). These two speakers incorporate the same technology as found in their new reference speakers but at a lower cost. Both speakers will be available in the fall. In this era of speakers in colored finishes, let me also say that Diptyque is available in over 200 RAL colors! https://www.diptyqueaudio.com/en/products/hifi/dp-160mkii
Ferrum showed its new DAC, the Wandla ($2,795) to great acclaim. I just took delivery of a demo unit and am extremely impressed. Based on the ESS chip, there are some advanced filters on offer that makes this stand out from the crowd, even among DACs so much more expensive. https://ferrum.audio/wandla
Grandinote introduced their new integrated amp, the Solo at $17,000 This amp has almost double the power of the highly acclaimed Shanai along with many other innovations, and also features new cosmetics. They are running a special 15% discount on the first run of fifty amps so if you are interested at all, please let me know. As the last count, they had about 19 amplifiers to go before the special pricing goes away. https://www.grandinote.it/products/solo-integrated-amplifier
Perlisten announced their limited edition S7t speaker at $30,000. I am reluctant to say that a speaker at this price is a bargain, but it is, especially when compared to other speakers that are over ten times the cost as these. Only fifty pairs of this speaker will be offered worldwide and will surely sell out. If you would like to be placed on the list to receive the speaker, please let me know asap.
Q Acoustics hit one out of the ballpark with their new whole new range of speakers. The 5000 Series is positioned between the 3000i range and the Concept series and consists of five models. Like Perlisten and Diptyque, there is some serious engineering going on here and the speakers could not be more reasonably priced. https://www.qacoustics.com/collections/5000-series
My other Italian line, Unison Research announced a new amp, the Simply 845 ($9,995). As you would expect, this amp is based on the famous 845 tube and is single-ended. I plan to bring one of these to Hi Notes in a few months and am very much looking forward to this. All the UR products I have at Hi Notes are currently from their hybrid line so this will be the first pure tube UR amp on demo. https://twitteringmachines.com/in-barn-for-review-unison-research-simply-845-integrated-amplifier
Wattson Audio announced a new version of their acclaimed streaming DAC, the Madison Lounge Edition. As I understand, it is based on the standard Madison with upgraded parts and circuitry. I have been so pleased with the “normal” Madison, I can’t imagine what this will sound like. The price should be in the $5,000 range and it is scheduled to be available in the fall. https://en.wattson.audio/madison-lounge-edition
About a month ago, Fidelity Imports announced they would no longer be representing Cyrus Audio in the United States. As of this writing, a new distributor has not been announced. I am sad to see them go as first, Cyrus makes some excellent products and second, the company is full of great people. If you would like any products from Cyrus, I can still get them for about the next few months so please let me know.
I’ll not be able to schedule any demos at Hi Notes from July 15 to August 1st as I will be out of the country. I do not write much about the double reed (oboes and bassoons) portion of Hi Notes’ business but believe it or not, there is an annual international double reed convention, and this year, it is in Bangkok. While in SE Asia, I am also taking advantage of the trip to visit Singapore for the first time and Bali, one of my favorite places on Earth.
Thanks, as always for your support, and until next month, happy listening.
May 2023. This Edition: Making the Trip to Hi Notes. Welcome Michell, Bergmann, Moonriver, and Ferrum. Opera News.
In 1995, my wife and I made a decision to build a modern home and it became our dream ever since that time. Almost thirty years later, our dream came through as our home was finally completed after being in construction for almost five years. It is this home, “Casa Schaeffer” as our architect calls it, that hosts Hi Notes.
One could say that we are a home-based dealer but unlike other home dealers, this house is unoccupied about 99% of the time. We use this for an occasional weekend visit and once a year, may stay for a few weeks, otherwise, it is pristine. There are no barking dogs, dirty dishes in the sink, or anything like that, just pure silence in a lakefront setting surrounded by trees.
The house was designed by Chilean architect Felipe Assadi and his (then) wife, Francesca Pulido. Felipe is a very well-regarded architect, primarily in South America and Europe and this is his only project in the United States. Construction materials include stone, glass, and steel, and the home cantilevers over the lake, providing a pristine view. It is approximately 2,000 sf which is more than adequate for the two of us.
I knew I was going to re-establish Hi Notes when the house was designed, so we paid particular attention to our demonstration room. Unlike most of the house, this room protrudes from a small hill so basically, it is underground. Natural light comes from a skylight but there are no windows to mar the acoustical properties. The walls are concrete and the floor is cork. There are extensive acoustical treatments from GIK and I must say, the room “sounds” pretty good.
There is no Internet at the lake so demonstrations are orientated through analog or CD sources. If you do want to stream, this can be done via a cell phone and a Bluetooth receiver but I would suggest bringing over some favorite CDs and records.
The house itself is located in Leasburg, NC on Lake Hyco, and is near the Virginia border. This is about an hour’s drive north of Raleigh. I have made this drive hundreds of times and never tire of doing so. You can take US 15/501 which is pleasant enough, but for a treat, I suggest taking state highway 157. There, you will pass generational farms and rolling fields of tobacco, corn, and soybeans. Tobacco curing sheds are plentiful; most falling down after years of non-use. You’ll pass structures ranging from antebellum mansions to single-wide trailers that have seen better days. In all, I could think of few better ways to spend an hour or so.
We work by appointment, only once a day, so you can have as much time as you need. Typically, customers come here knowing what they are interested in so I will set this up in advance for you.
Finally, I recognize that Hi Notes may not be an easy trip for many of you so if you are arriving from a distance greater than 150 miles, on request, I will be happy to pay for one night’s accommodation at the Hampton Inn in nearby Roxboro, the closest town of any size. I will do this no matter if you purchase something from us or not.
We are very happy to introduce four new lines to Hi Notes. I have been saving the selection of analog products for last, so am particularly glad to welcome Michell Audio and Bergmann. You probably already know Michell for its iconic tables used around the world. Bergmann is from Denmark and features an air-bearing platter and arm. They join our existing analog products, Rekkord turntables and Goldring cartridges and I am very much looking forward to their arrival.
We also welcome Ferrum from Poland and Moonriver from Sweden. Next month, I will write more about all of these great lines.
On May 6th in New York City, it was announced that I am the Artistic and General Director of a new opera company, Marshall Opera.
At around the same time I organized Hi Notes, I was approached by a group of individuals who asked if I had any interest in coming out of retirement to direct a new company. I agreed and since that time, have been employed by the Marshall Opera, tending to organizational and legal matters. With those in place, the new company was launched at a large gala.
I can, and have been running both for the past year. I have a great staff in NYC to tend to everyday opera matters and I do not see more than one commute there about every two months. I genuinely love the audio business so rest assured, nothing will change; Hi Notes will continue on as usual.
Until next month, happy listening.
April 2023. This Edition: Three New Lines at Hi Notes. Axpona and Munich Shows. Perlisten Price Increase. What’s Coming Next.
I’m happy to say that my foot is healed enough so I no longer have to wear a boot, meaning demonstrations have resumed at Hi Notes. I really appreciated your patience during my recovery.
Our shop continues to expand and I am very pleased to welcome Unison Research, Grandinote, and Diptyque to our offerings.
Unison Research was founded way back in 1987 in Treviso, Italy by an electrical engineer and pianist, Giovanni Sacchetti. Unison was largely unknown in the United States until Sam Tellig of Stereophile began actively promoting them in his monthly column around 2005. Now, not only is Unison well-represented in the US, but its products are distributed in twenty-eight countries.
On demo at Hi Notes are two products from their Unico (hybrid) series, the Nuovo (2999.00) integrated amplifier at 95 WPC and its companion CD player, the Uno (2999.00).
Cosmetically, they are lovely, and the build quality is excellent. All of the detail you would want is there but it is not thrust in your face like so many amplifiers on the market. Later, I will be bringing in some of their pure tube amps but if you do not want to wait, I can easily order whatever you want.
Next up is Grandinote. Also from Italy near Milan, Grandinote employs a circuit they call Magnetosolid. The name of this technology comes from a combination of “ferromagnetic” with “solid“. The components are solid state but are used in circuits identical to those of tube amplifiers including output transformers. The goal is to utilize the advantages of solid-state and tube amplifiers while overcoming their respective shortcomings. The amps are biased in pure Class A and are without feedback. Their bandwidth is over 300hz and the damping factor is excellent.
On demo is the Essenza integrated amplifier, (25,000.00). I have not played this as much as I would like as the amp weighs about 100 lbs and I am having Sound Anchors build a special stand for it so I can easily move it around. However, my initial impression is that this amp is stunning. One of the “tough” German magazines gave Grandinote a perfect score of 100 for the very first time. It is pretty easy to see why they did.
Panel speakers have always been appealing to me. At the first Hi Notes, I was a dealer for Quad and always enjoyed what I head out of them. Even before I opened the current Hi Notes, I read about a panel speaker from a new French company named Diptyque. I was able to hear the speakers in Paris and again at last year’s Munich show. On both occasions, I was mightily impressed and when Fidelity Imports began representing them in the US, I signed up to be among the very first dealers.
There is something about the way a panel speaker energizes the room that makes them special. Then, there is the lack of boxy collaborations and side-wall reflections. Diptyque employs isodynamic technology patterned after the Eniment Technology speakers. They need some power but in my demo room, they are easily driven by my Cyrus, Unison Research, and ASR Emitter amps. We have the DP 107 (7999.00) on demo which is their newest speaker. In my humble opinion, these are outstanding speakers and I hope you will hear them.
As I write this, the Axpona show in Chicago is in full swing and this time next month, the granddaddy of all shows takes place in Munich. It is always exciting to follow these shows and I particularly like the Part Time Audiophile’s reports as well as those found on Michael Fremer’s Tracking Angle. While I am not at Axpona this year, I will be in Munich so if there is anything you would like for me to check out there, please let me know.
With very good reason, Perlisten is one of my favorite speakers. They have become quite popular at Hi Notes and it is little wonder they receive one award after the next. I was proud to be among the first Perlisten dealers and have established a great relationship with them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the distributor has announced a price increase effective May 1. If you are even slightly considering placing an order, let me encourage you to do so prior to the end of this month.
Until next time...
February 2023. This edition: Slipping on the ice is never a good idea. The iconic ASR Emitter. Rekkord Turntables. A streaming service for classical music lovers.
Let me begin by saying I have a fractured foot! I slipped on some ice while visiting a colleague in Vermont which is never a good thing. The only reason I bring this up is that I will need to curtail any demonstrations for the next few weeks. I am sorry for any inconvenience and greatly appreciate your patience.
The ASR Emitter amplifiers do not get much attention in the United States. They have had a string of importers that never did much with the brand or in the case of one importer, jacked the price up so high, it was ridiculous. The company still has a low profile here and I believe there are only two dealers in the entire country; Hi Notes and a dealership in California. This is all a pity as the amplifiers deserve better.
ASR’s are built to order in Germany. There are a number of options you may select, beginning with a Model 1 or Model 2 (more power). Both models are available in a basic version or an “exclusive” version. You can add silver wiring, WBT connectors, extra outputs, a battery power supply, and so on. The demo model at Hi Notes is an Exclusive 1 model with most options other than a battery power supply. In this configuration, the retail price is $18,000. All you need to add is a phono and/or digital source.
Unlike so many manufacturers that put their money primarily in cosmetics, you can see where your money goes in an ASR. The chassis is made of thick acrylic in your choice of a dark smokey grey or clear. The large power transformers are of the rare Philbert-Mantelschnitt design, with the Exclusive versions featuring exotic cores. All models have a hefty external power supply, roughly the same size as the main unit. Looking at their specs, the ASR’s are of the first order; low noise, low distortion, and extremely high bandwidth. Both the Model 1 and Model 2 provide ample power for any speaker. At Hi Notes, we normally demonstrate this amp with the Perlisten speakers and have found a great synergy here.
Let me invite you to “Google” ASR Emitter and you will find glowing reviews from all over the world. These are truly world-class products.
As Hi Notes grows, we continue to add product lines. The latest addition are the turntables from Rekkord Audio. REKKORD Audio turntables are made by hand in their workshop in St. Georgen in Germany in the Black Forest. They are very proud of the fact that 99% of the parts used in their turntables come from the Black Forest region.
While you may not have heard of Rekkord, you surely will have heard of Thorens and Dual. For almost a century, these brands were produced at the same factory that today houses Rekkord. When Dual and Thorens turned to off-shore manufacture, the factory management and workers then formed Rekkord.
As the British say, Rekkord turntables offer tremendous value for money ranging from $369 to $1899. There are four models of fully automatic tables and two models of the manual. All of the automatic tables come with a fine Audio Technia or Ortofon cartridge already installed, while this is an option on the manual tables. As you would expect, the higher you go in the model line-up, the better cartridge you receive. For example, the top automatic table, the F400 which goes for $799 to $949 depending on the veneer, comes with an Ortofon 2M Red, which retails for about $100 if you were to buy the cartridge alone.
If you are beginning your vinyl journey or just want to upgrade and not spend a great deal of money, I can easily recommend Rekkord tables to you. There is also one other thing that a Rekkord table will bring when compared to other inexpensive turntables; pride of ownership.
Among audiophiles, I know classical is about at the bottom of anyone’s favorite types of music, which is a real shame. However, if you are an aficionado, there is no better streaming service than Idagio from Germany. There are three tiers of subscriptions from free to “premium” for 12.00 and “premium plus” for about 22.00 (you are billed in Euros). The features are about the same as with any streaming service and with the paid subscriptions, they stream at 320kbps and the free service is at 192Kbps, still plenty good.
The great thing about Idagio is they have such a great depth of available music. If I want to hear a recording from my previous opera company, The Center for Contemporary Opera, I can find it! As I write this, I am listening to a series of piano preludes by an underrated Swiss composer, Frank Martin. This comes from a European label and if I were to buy the CD, it would be about $30.00. I cannot recommend Idagio highly enough and it won’t cost you a penny to try.
Until next month.
January 2023. This edition: Q Acoustics comes to Hi Notes. Perlisten continues to impress. Kudos to Cyrus. Our next steps.
Happy New Year!
Last month, we welcomed a new line to Hi Notes; Q Acoustics. Q Acoustics is based in Great Britain and was founded in 2006. As they state in their advertisements, they have no old black and white photos of their company as they have started with a clean slate, full of fresh and innovative thinking. They make a complete range of speakers at every price point starting at $329 to about $6,500/pair.
I heard these speakers at several shows before deciding to take them on and at each hearing, they impressed me with their openness, truth of timbre, and ability to disappear. The speakers are well-made and in many ways, remind me of the Perlistens, only at a lower price point. Also like Perlisten, they receive more than their fair share of positive reviews, most of which come from the foreign press but several extremely positive reviews have recently come from Stereophile.
On demo at Hi Notes, we have the Concept 3050i which retails at $1099 and is the lowest-priced speaker I stock. We normally have the Cyrus One amplifier (999.00) paired with it, all connected with QED cables and interconnects. For about $2,300, you will have a system that will bring many years of pleasure.
While speaking of speakers (ouch!), Perlisten continues to make waves across the audio world. You can spend much more for speakers but I am not convinced there are any better speakers out there. I have linked some recent reviews below.
At the recent Capital Audio show, I had the great pleasure to spend some time with Nick Clarke, the managing director for Cyrus. A few weeks following the show, Nick contacted me and asked if I would like to have a private orientation on the Cyrus range. Of course, the answer was yes!
I have always been impressed with Cyrus. It is well-built and most importantly, sounds great. They have some personality, unlike so many cookie-cutter products you find in the high-end. Also, they offer an upgrade path for all of their products. Say you start with the Hybrid Class D One series integrated streaming amp. These have a pre-out so you can later run an amplifier from their Classic Series. There are similar options for upgraded power supplies, phono pre-amps, and so on. In other words, you will never lose your investment in a Cyrus product.
Finally, they have been in business for a long time and pride themselves in their ability to repair almost any component, no matter how old. Like some other worthy brands, Cyrus has suffered from a lack of good representation in the United States, but Fidelity Imports, the current distributor is top-notch and I know Cyrus will now receive the attention it deserves.
Hi Notes is now entering its second year. Our opening year was “soft” due to product shortages and construction delays, but that is now a thing of the past and we are very happy to welcome you to our showroom. As we grow, new lines are on the horizon which will include the remarkable Diptyque planar speakers from France and Grandinote from Italy. Both lines feature “out of the box” thinking which is so important to me.
Diptyque speakers are arguably the best planar speakers you can find. I have been curious about them ever since I first read about them many years ago. I finally got a chance to hear them in person at the Munich show and again at the Capital Audio Fest and was greatly impressed. For me, it was another no-brainer. Coming to Hi Notes will be the DP 107 which is about the largest planar speaker that my showroom will support.
Grandinote has also been on my radar for a long time. I have heard their products many times and have been impressed by their sound and innovation. I hesitated only because of their expense (amps start at $15,000) but like ASR Emitter, I figure potential customers will make a trip to us for an audition. You just can’t hear these products everywhere, even in the largest cities. We will be showing the Essenza integrated amplifier which is in the middle of their integrated amp line.
Until next month, happy listening!
November 2022. This edition: A report on the Capital Audiofest, Madison Wattson DAC. A hidden gem in NYC. Big Black Friday Sale.
I hope all of you are enjoying the nice autumn weather, my favorite time of year!
Several days ago, I returned from the Capital Audiofest held outside of Washington DC. To say I had a good time would be an understatement! It is so nice to be able to hear and see great products again as well as meet the people behind them. I have been to shows as both an exhibitor and attendee and I have to say it is a lot more fun to wander around than to be locked inside a room for three days!
I stock a good number of products from Fidelity Imports, my favorite distributor. Steve Jain, the mastermind behind Fidelity, has a good ear and mind for bringing in some of the greatest products from Europe. He had six rooms, all showing different gear and each one of them sounded excellent. As a result of an audition, I added two new lines for Hi Notes, Audia Flight, and Q Acoustics and am very much looking forward to taking delivery of these products.
Also represented by Fidelity are the superb French planar speakers Diptyque, and the iconic analog brand, Michell Audio. These lines will also be coming to Hi Notes in the new year.
Overall, most of the rooms at the show were bass heavy. This was not my cup of tea but since it was so prevalent, perhaps this is what people prefer. There was also a trend towards an exaggerated top end. This certainly gives a sense of added “detail” that does not exist in acoustic music. However, there was some excellent sound and the rooms with smaller speakers seemed to fair better than those with large speakers.
In terms of sources, there were many rooms with turntables but most exhibitors used steaming for their demos. I only saw a few rooms using CDs. Tubes and solid state were about equally used and good sound could be heard from both.
As most of my customers live in the mid-Atlantic region, a drive to Washington is certainly within reach. I strongly recommend you make the trip next year!
As you may recall from last time, I am now a stocking dealer of the Madison Audio digital products. These are 100% Swiss made and while diminutive in size, there is nothing diminutive about them in performance. As there is no Internet at the lake, I use the Wattson DAC to directly drive some power amps to excellent effect. While this is a new product, the reviews are coming and are universally positive. The people at Madison know what they are doing. Due to its small size, I am happy to send the store sample to your home for an extended audition.
Luckily for me, I remain heavenly involved in opera and had a short trip to NYC for some organizational matters for a new company. Even though I have worked in NYC for about fifteen years, I never heard of this place until now. The Jazz Record Center is located on the eighth floor of a nondescript building in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. Once you arrive, you’ll see row after row of the best in new and vintage jazz. Most of the LPs are used but all that I examined were in excellent condition and the prices were right as well. Apparently, the JRC has been around forever and I kick myself in the pants that I did not discover this earlier.
I am still in the process of selecting product lines. I can offer a great system for about $2,000 but the bulk of my products are in the $5,000 to $20,000 range. I have also selected some rather esoteric products that are not easily found elsewhere, even in the largest cities. I know it is not easy to get to our listening room; literally in the middle of nowhere, and for those of you that do make the trip, want to make it worth your while.
Besides the products on my website, here is a listing of those coming in the future:
Now arriving; Audia Flight, Q Acoustics. Coming shortly after the New Year: Michell Audio, hORNS by Auto Tech. Other lines TBA!
Let me close by announcing a Black Friday Sale. There will be big savings on most of my demo items. These are all in like-new condition and have been out of the box for about a year. I know from experience it is important to keep my showroom fresh so like to rotate products on an annual basis. If interested, please let me know and I will pass on the details.
October 2022. New products: Pangea Audio, Wattson Audio. An Interview.
I hope this note finds you well. I must say that autumn is my favorite time of the year. Not only in general terms, but also as a great time for listening to music over your favorite system.
Hi Notes continues to expand our product offerings. This month, we welcome Wattson Audio to the fold. Wattson is a subsidiary of Engineered S.A., a Swiss company that has been designing and manufacturing DACs and such for some of the biggest names in European audio. Their products are 100% made in Switzerland and are advanced as any. They are not cheap but are not silly money either. We have their Madison streamer DAC on demo which I particularly enjoy since you can drive an amplifier directly from the DAC.
There are not many dealers yet for Wattson so I am able to assist customers from about anywhere with your purchase.
Next month, there will be a new line of turntables and electronics at Hi Notes. Please stand by!
This month's Notes to You is a bit abbreviated as I thought you may enjoy this interview with Pangea Audio. Pangea was kind to feature me in their monthly newsletter which I appreciated very much. The interview is below.
As always, thank you for reading. I love being back in this business again!
Hi Notes Music: What to Do After Careers in Audio, the Air Force, and Managing an Opera Company “I’m originally from Norfolk, Va. and in spite of not having any musical influences at home, I developed a great love of classical music. This led me to attend the University of North Texas as a major in bassoon.” So says Jim Schaeffer, an audio pro and owner of Hi Notes Music in Durham, NC. Unlike many of his colleagues and competitors who get the high-end bug early in life, Jim’s love of high-end gear blossomed in his 30s. At the time, he was in the Air Force, stationed in Huntingdon, England, home to some of the greatest names in audio, such as Quad, Mission, Meridian, Cyrus, and many others. “The influences were everywhere, and you could not help but become exposed to fine audio.” “When I was in my twenties, high-end electronics were unknown to me,” says Mr. Schaeffer. “I’m a musician, and I love listening to music, but the stuff I owned was typical of the average consumer. But the amps and speakers I started to see in England are what eventually led to a career in audio.” After graduating from North Texas, he knew he would be drafted for the Viet Nam War. To avoid going in as a “grunt,” he completed an officer training program and was commissioned a second lieutenant. “I told myself, ‘They will never call a bassoon major to active duty,’ but indeed they did,” he says. While in the Air Force, he served in various flying, logistics, and command positions but never lost his love for music and high-end audio. As his duties permitted, he served as principal bassoonist of the orchestras of Montgomery, AL; Virginia Beach, VA; and Cambridge, England. His time in the Air Force led to the rank of colonel before retiring after 20 years of service. Enter career #2: his first hi-fi audio shop and the first he called Hi Notes. “It made complete sense at the time, and still does every time I think about it,” says Mr. Schaeffer referring to his move into retail. “I’m passionate about music, passionate about electronics design, and enjoy working with people. It’s my life.” It was his life, but it was also a pitstop before career #3 when he left Hi Notes to become President of Spectron Electronics, the Class D amplifier pioneer, and later became a partner of Cambridge Signal Technologies, the developer of the first USB DAC sold under the trade name of Stereo-Link. He says, “My time at Spectron was fun, and I learned a lot, but the opportunity at Stereo-Link allowed me to work on an entirely new product concept for the time.” Around this time, his wife, Tammy, accepted a job with Duke University, leading Mr. Schaeffer to travel between NC and MA so often that he resigned from his position. In 2008, he embarked on career #4: first as Artistic and General Director of the Long Leaf Opera Festival in North Carolina and later in the same position with the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City. For 15 years, Mr. Schaeffer managed all aspects of these organizations, from repertory selection, casting, and scheduling to facilities management and fundraising. “It was a great time, with lots of rewards and pressure,” says Mr. Schaeffer. “Fifteen years felt like a good stretch. I was 65 and ready for my next adventure.” Cue career #5: the return of Hi Notes. “Tammy and I built a second home on a lake near the border of Virginia,” he recalls, designed by the Chilean architect Felipe Assadi. “We started from the ground up, which gave me the freedom to create a purpose-built audio studio for the sole purpose of hosting Hi Notes. I couldn’t be prouder of the acoustic purity of the space.” With the space used as a showroom for a select menu of high-end electronics and speakers not easily found elsewhere, Hi Notes is a no-pressure environment for indulging a love of music and audio. And, where there is audio gear, there is a need for audio furniture. Enter Vulcan racks. “We needed audio furniture that gives us a unified look throughout the space,” comments Jim. “I’ve admired Pangea Audio for years; their Vulcan racks look good, are easy to assemble, unshakably rugged, and frankly, are worth twice as much as they cost.” Adds Mr. Schaeffer: “Vulcan racks are an amazing value. I am not inclined to carry another line of audio furniture.” For further information about Hi Notes Music, visit https://www.hinotesmusic.com/.
ASR Audio arrives at Hi Notes. Product Updates. My New Toy.
Hi Notes is delighted to welcome ASR Audio to our already distinguished line card.
My history with ASR goes back many years. I first heard the amp in the UK and remember how impressed I was at the time. Subsequent hearings did nothing to persuade me otherwise. To my mind and ears, ASR is among the few really great amps in existence today.
ASR was founded in 1980 which is the first thing going for the company. How many high-end companies do you know that are that old? Not many, I would venture and I see this as a huge advantage for the marque. You know they are going to be around if your amplifier ever needs service.
While I suspect my demo amp is not fully broken in, what I hear is nothing but complete transparency. There is no editorializing or romance added to the signal. What you put in is what comes out. It is dead quiet. It is also built to the highest standard and is a delight to the eyes. There is no other amp designed like the Emitter.
On demo, we have the Emitter 1 Exclusive with some select options. One of the great things about ASR is that they are built to your specifications as the options are many.
This is exactly the type of product I like to represent at Hi Notes; idiocentric, great sounding, well made, and full of value. I understand there is only one other dealer for ASR in the US and they are on the west coast. There is about a three-month wait for your Emitter to be delivered. Please contact me today to schedule a day at the lake to include a lengthy audition.
In other product news, Perlisten continues to impress any and all. Their new R Series are making the rounds with critics who are universally impressed. Cyrus Audio has announced some plans to upgrade their venerable Classic series. This should be good! And speaking of Cryus, if you are looking for a summer amplifier...one that does not generate much heat, let me recommend their One series. It is a fine-sounding amplifier and you will be surprised how far Class D amplification has evolved.
I also must say I continue to really enjoy the English Acoustics 21c amplifier. It does not have much power, but unless you like to listen to headbanger music on Apogees, it will probably be ample for most situations. It is a lovely amp.
Finally, Christmas comes early for the Schaeffers as we just bought a Peter Redstone harpsichord for our lake house! With one manual and pitched in the standard Baroque A=415, this non-transposing instrument will be great fun to play. Visitors to Hi Notes will easily see this instrument, and if you are so inclined, bring some Bach, Scarletti, or Vivaldi and have a go yourself.
I hope you enjoy the remainder of your summer.
Until next month,
PS. We will be closed while on vacation until 1 September. I will still respond promptly to emails and other inquiries. Thank you!
27 June 2022. A report from Munich. New Arrivals. The Big Wait. Keeping My Hand in Music.
Who would not enjoy a trip to Bavaria in the lovely spring? Off I went to Munich to see the famous High-End Show for the first time. While I had a fine time, I was somewhat disappointed with the show and will probably not attend again, at least for a year or so.
My problem is that so many of the lines I wanted to see were not really there in spite being listed as an exhibitor. For example, I was very anxious to see all the products from Michell Engineering: the GyroDec, Orbe, etc as well as meet the principals of the firm itself.
Instead, Michell was represented by one lonely TecnoDec brought in by the German importer; that was it. Perlisten Audio had a static display and there was great interest in these speakers, as usual.
Quite a few rooms used tape to demo their products and I predict you will see more and more new decks on the market. Presently, most are using refurbished decks but there are at least three new decks available.
The other trend I noticed is the high number of “crazy-money” components…$300,000 speakers, $100,000 cables, etc., etc. Yesh. Someone must be buying as there seems to be no limit to this madness.
I also had a nice visit with my friend David Chesky and we primarily discussed the state of contemporary opera, something near and dear to my heart. You may know him as a record producer but he is equally known as a serious composer of opera and other classical works. He was very enthusiastic about a new recording technology that he, among others, are developing.
Loyal customers know well of the problems I am having with furnishing Hi Notes’ studio (not to mention the entire lakehouse, too). Finally, I said “enough” and traveled to Ikea in Charlotte to purchase at least enough to get the room up and running. Alas, that was not so easy as even Ikea’s shelves are empty. Over the course of several trips, I managed to buy just enough so that the studio is not bare and I can now manage some fairly reasonable demonstrations. Once I get the full measure of the room’s acoustical properties, I’ll bring in some treatments as needed and we will be set.
Speaking of waiting, it is just not furniture that is the problem. I have been waiting for over six months for some inventory and have tens of thousands of dollars tied up in deposits with nothing to show for it. Maybe one day soon?
On to some good news. English Acoustics continues to impress and has introduced the Stereo 41c with double the power of their already famous and well-respected 21c. My favorite distributor, Fidelity Imports, is now representing Opera Speakers from Italy. These all-wood speakers exude exquisite craftsmanship as only the Italians can do. Due to limited space, I will not be stocking these, at least in the near future but if interested, please let me know.
If you will forgive some personal indulgences, I just finished producing a world premiere opera for Barnard College of Columbia University; Southern Crossings by Polish composer Zaid Jabri. It was a fine success and I was so glad to be doing this once again following my retirement in 2018. Also, I served on the jury of the National Endowment of the Arts opera adjudication panel this cycle. I was very honored and grateful for both opportunities.
Thank you for your patience and continued support. We will get there soon!
23 April 22.
Record Store Day. Thoughts on Turntables. Perlisten Continues to Impress. A Book to Read on a Long trip.
I have delayed this month’s edition of “Notes to You” to coincide with worldwide Record Store Day. Who would have thought that today, vinyl records are outselling CDs by a large margin? I will readily say the bulk of my listening is in digital but who does not enjoy listening to a treasured record at the end of a long day? I sure do.
While we all appreciate what companies like Music Direct have done to make LPs more available, there is something special about visiting your local record store and rummaging through their many stacks. In Durham, we are fortunate to have at least three such shops, and I hope you will support your own local store .
Speaking of LPs, as soon as I can welcome guests into my studio (please don’t get me started), I will have several turntables and arms on demo. One of the companies that I will represent will surely be Michell Engineering. Their GyroDec is one of the most enduring and familiar designs in all of audio and I am so pleased they are once again available in the United States. In addition to the GyroDec, they offer the Orbe, their premium table, and the TecnoDec, Michell’s newest design. Michell is the oldest turntable manufacturer in the UK and like SME, they got their start in precision engineering. Anyone who has seen “2001, A Space Odyssey” has seen some of Michell’s early work.
Many of Hi Notes’ lines continue to receive great press. The Cyrus CDi XR player was the recipient of a fine review in Stereophile and the aforementioned Michell turntables are creating quite a buzz as well. The Perlisten speakers continue to make a huge impression on listeners around the world. I have linked some of these reviews below so you can see for yourself. Perlisten’s R new series has also been a great success and allows you to experience a similar great sound and technology as the S series at a much lower cost.
I do not read many novels, but when on a long flight, think they are just the thing to help pass the time. In honor of Record Day, I could not imagine a more appropriate novel than The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. Here, an idealistic music lover opens a shop where nothing is sold but LPs. One of the great things about this novel is that all the music he recommends to his band of equally eccentric customers is chronicled on playlists which can be found on YouTube! It is a fun book and well worth your time.
Thank you, as always, for your support during my (much more than anticipated) extended soft-opening. It is my great pleasure to be back in this industry I enjoy so much.
16 March 2022
Welcome Perlisten and ASR Emitter. A new amp from English Acoustics. Idagio; a music service for classical music lovers.
Good day to you!
March was an important month for me as I attended my very first musical event since the beginning of the covid outbreak, a world premiere opera, The Leopard, by my very good friend, composer Michael Dellaira. The premiere was produced by the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and featured a professional cast augmented by their very capable students. Gerard Schwartz conducted and the production could not have gone better. Well done to all!
We are very pleased to welcome two new product lines to Hi Notes, Perlisten and ASR Audio.
"Out of the Park" says Hi Fi News and Record Review.
I can't recall any new speaker company making such a splash as Perlisten. The world's press has accorded accolade after accolade upon them. And it is not just the subjective opinions of these reviewers praising the speakers as these boast measurements unsurpassed by any other speaker I know. Like the Morrisons, they virtually disappear from your listening room, an attribute that is so important to me.
Their speakers are available at two different levels, the S and R series. Hi Notes has just received the S5m monitor which is a great fit for our studio.
I am also very pleased to announce that Hi Notes is a stocking dealer of the distinguished German line, ASR.
Hardly any other high-end product has received as many accolades as the ASR Emitter. Since 1980, the Emitter has been continuously refined and continues to bring enjoyment to music-lovers around the world. Some would even say the amplifiers enjoy a cult-like status among their fans. The Emitter is well-known for its neutrality, speed, resolution, and ability to handle any speaker, regardless of load. The two models, the Emitter I and the Emitter II, are built to order according to your own specifications. There are only two U.S. dealers for ASR and Hi Notes is very pleased to be one of them. We will be showing the ASR Emitter I Exclusive with silver wiring and other options.
Our good friends at English Acoustics have proudly announced a new amplifier, the 41C. Following on from their Stereo 21c, the Stereo 41c features twice the power with the same exceptional sound quality. While I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing this amp, judging from the performance of their 21c, it will be stunning.
I am a Luddite when it comes to streaming technologies and must admit that I had better get up to speed very quickly. However, one streaming service I can recommend now is Idagio. This German company has made available about every classical composition you can think of, even some recordings produced by my former opera company, The Center for Contemporary Opera. As I write this, I am listening to the complete Nocturnes by Irish composer John Field in hopes it motivates me to finally finish Ulysses by James Joyce, a book I have started and stopped more times than I care to think about. However, I have a feeling this time may be the one. Finally, it is hard to remove yourself from the tragedy that has become Ukraine and I hope you will lend your support to these brave people in whatever way you can. I have listed some recommended support outlets below. I suspect your system will sound even better after you have made a donation. Until next month, Jim Schaeffer https://www.perlistenaudio.com https://www.perlistenaudio.com/check-mate https://asraudio.de https://www.englishacoustics.co.uk/product/stereo-41c https://about.idagio.com https://www.npr.org/2022/02/25/1082992947/ukraine-support-help
18 February 2022
Relief is in Sight. About Hi Notes’ studio. Record and book shopping in NYC
When I announced the opening of Hi Notes a few months ago, I thought I would be ready to go; complete with products, proper furnishing, and all the other items needed for a proper showroom. Alas, that was not to be. There was delay after delay to the point that I have spent the first few months helping customers by long-distance with no hope of inviting anyone to my studio. There is finally some relief in sight as I have learned that the Italian sourced appointments have finally reached the United States. Now, I just need to have them delivered from the port in New Jersey. From there, I will do some acoustic sweeps and install whatever treatments are needed to make the studio worthy of the great products that we represent. As you would imagine, I am “gun shy” so would rather err on the safe side. But, I think we can say that by the end of April, we will be set. In the meantime, I am happy to send any solid-state product in stock to you for your home evaluation.
To tell you a bit about the house itself, this is a second home for my wife and I and was designed by the Chilean architect Felipe Assadi. This is his first project in the U.S. and we are quite proud to be his clients. The home gently cantilevers over a lake and appears to have grown from within a sloping hill itself. The listening studio was purposely designed and is actually underground, ensuring complete silence.
There are many fine home-based dealers but many of them have several things in common including barking dogs and dirty dishes. As this is a second home for us, you will see none of that at Hi Notes, just an architecturally unique home in a tranquil setting. We look forward to welcoming you soon.
I used to work in New York City for ten years and it has become like a second home. I am not there so much anymore but recently enjoyed a nice visit on some opera business. I found myself with a completely free Sunday and of course, took that time to visit some of NYC’s iconic record and book stores.
In my opinion, Strand Books is the greatest bookstore of them all in New York. You can find almost anything you want often at very advantageous prices. If you visit, you need to allow at least a few hours. Mast Books could not be more different. The small shop has an almost Zen-like appearance as the cognoscenti look for the latest in Japanese design or obscure rare books. I love this place as well.
I would guess that NYC has more record stores than any other city in the country. Rough Trade used to be in Brooklyn and looked perfectly at home there. Now, they are in Rockefeller Center and have seemed to have lost a little of their edge. Still, if you want the latest punk rock LP in coke-bottle green vinyl, this is your place. Some of the others I enjoy are Stranded Records, Academy Records, and Generation Records. With the exception of Rough Trade, these other stores feature used records so bring your gloves along with some disinfectant…just like the old days!
17 January 2022
The virtues of British audio
Happy New Year to all!
In the 70s, one of the first mandatory purchases for any young man over twenty was to buy a “hi-fi” as it was then called. And so I did. In 1978, I purchased a Yamaha receiver, Philips 212 turntable, and Allison Six speakers. I remember this system as being quite good and it brought me many years of enjoyment.
For better or worse, it was not until three years later when I was posted to RAF Alconbury in England that I became an audiophile. The influences were everywhere. Huntingdon, the town where the airbase was located, was home to Quad, Mission, Cyrus, Meridian and others. I could see EAR Yoshino’s workshop from my bedroom’s window. I discovered Hi-Fi News and Record Review which I still consider to be the best of all the English language audio publications. BBC 3 was always tuned in and I easily appreciated the great care and attention they placed on their live broadcasts.
I should also note that Peter Walker, the founder of Quad, was also a fine flutist and as I was principal bassoonist of the Cambridge Orchestra, our musical paths often crossed.
The virtues of British audio have always remained with me. To my mind and ears, these are characterised by superb sonics, fine build quality, sensible size, and reasonable pricing.
Hi Notes is pleased to represent some of the best of British audio from Goldring, Cyrus, and QED. These companies have been around forever and I am very happy to stock their products.
A company that has not been around forever but is making big news is English Acoustics. At the original Hi Notes, a customer traded an old Leak 20 amplifier. Just for fun, I hooked it up to a pair of Alon speakers with special Alnico drivers and remember the sound to this day! How could an ancient amplifier sound so good?
When I learned that an updated version of the Leak was being offered, bringing it to Hi Notes was a no-brainer. The English Acoustics 21c preserves all of the attributes of the Leak with none of the drawbacks. The build quality is second to none and I could not be more enthusiastic about this amp. The fact that it comes in a variety of finishes is icing on the cake but if it was only available in Pepto Bismol pink, I would still give it my highest recommendation.
I wish I had better news about when I can welcome guests to the studio. The furnishings are still on the boat from Italy, at least that is what they tell me. In the meantime, I am happy to assist you and can send many products to your home for a two-week trial.
New arrivals to Hi Notes will include the Morrison Leprechauns, Perlisten S5m, Cyrus i7-XR , and the US premiere of the Audiopax 88 Reference. This is essentially a Maggiore amplifier built into a Model 88 chassis.
Have you heard of Radio Garden? Through this app, you can listen to over 10,000 radio stations from around the globe. I spend many happy hours with this and find it fascinating to listen to stations from other cultures. As I write this, I am listening to Radio Belgrano, a classic tango station from Buenos Aires.
Thanks as always for your patronage and support.
Until next month,
20 December 2021
Last week, I just returned from a piano search and while I came home empty-handed, I did have a great opportunity to try some fine pianos and meet some very interesting people. My wife and I are interested in a used August Förster, Blüthner, Bechstein, or Bosendorfer. There is no great rush and I will keep looking until we locate the perfect piano.
In many aspects, selecting product lines for Hi Notes is no different than looking for the kind of pianos I prefer. Steinway pianos are world-class but are so common, you see them for sale practically everywhere. The same with Yamaha and Kawai. There is not a thing wrong with those brands but I prefer products that are distinctive. Truth be told, I have always been somewhat of an oddball in these matters. I selected the bassoon to play at the age of twelve and if that was not strange enough, I now play a French system bassoon which is as scarce as hen's teeth outside of its home country.
I am using the same criteria in selecting the lines for the new shop. These are all great products that you will not find everywhere. In the new year will come Perlisten and Unison Research. Later will come my selection of turntables and arms and there are many that carry my interest.
For you instrumentalists, a large shipment of Marcus Bonna cases has arrived including some rare carbon fiber models. About anything you want, I am happy to order. For example, I just received a carbon fiber case covered in rich brown leather and trimmed in wine. Someone will be proud to own this. MB has just sent a new price list, so any orders placed before January 1 will be honored at the existing prices.
Several of our products were the recipients of high praise this past month. The English Acoustics 21c amplifier was named the “Power Amplifier of the Year” by HiFi Plus magazine. HiFi Pig gave the amp its highest award, “Editor’s Choice”. We are very proud of our demo Stereo 21c custom finished in our distinctive “Hi Notes Auburn”.
Perlisten hit one out of the park when the reviewer at Stereophile called their S7t “the best speaker he has ever heard in his room”. Similar accolades have come forth from other magazines and websites. Clearly, Perlisten is producing world-class speakers.
Congratulations to you both!
In terms of recommendations for the month, may I suggest Forgotten Books? Forgotten Books is a London-based publisher of about 1,300,000 titles of neglected and forgotten books. Presently on my nightstand is The Church Bells of Huntingdonshire. I happily lived in Huntingdon for two years and remember the pealing of the bells of All Saints and St Mary’s churches with great pleasure. I should also add that Huntingdon is the home of that fine manufacturer, Cyrus Audio. https://www.forgottenbooks.com
My very best wishes to you and your families for the holidays and a safe, prosperous, and joyful New Year.
15 November 2021
We are delighted to welcome you to the grand re-opening of Hi Notes. After an absence of many years, I am looking forward to joining the business I know and love so well.
My goals and objectives for this version of Hi Notes will differ from the original. I will not be so concerned about covering all products and price points. Now, I will focus on a few select product lines that will provide you with years of musical pleasure. As with my previous store, you will also see a great many products that are off the beaten path, like Morrison Audio.
I will write in more detail about this later but one of my objectives with Hi Notes is to use the proceeds to begin a music festival that will feature the neglected music of our post-war composers. If all goes to plan, this will begin in about a year after the store is up and running.
The business address is in Durham, NC but demonstrations will take place by appointment in a purpose-built studio in Leasburg, NC which is overlooking a lovely lake.
My opening will be of the soft variety. With all the log jams and shortages, I do not have all the inventory in place that I had hoped and the studio's furnishings have not arrived either. My best guess is that it will be late January before everything is in place. Until then, please contact me at email@example.com and I hope I can help you with some long-distance service.