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Geoff Husband

TNT-Audio France

[Italian version]

[I'm a family man]

I've been with TNT for over five years now and to my shame I've not updated my biog. I hope the following puts that right and that the comments following explain what makes me tick when it comes to hi-fi.

Born 1960, and managed to miss whatever the 60's and 70's were about - except platform shoes and punk rock, spent the last 25 years catching up... Spent 25 years in education - school, university then 8 years at the "chalk face" teaching science, after which an obvious change of direction called and I began running cycling holidays in Brittany/France. This gave me spare time to indulge a growing interest in freelance journalism, some of which I get paid for (mostly cycling magazines) and some I do for love (TNT). A firm believer in the adage that the winner is the one who dies with the most toys, I spend most of my disposable income (that bit not taken and controlled by my wife Kate - thank god!) on shiny items especially hi-fi (and a Fiat Barchetta sports car). However an inbuilt meanness has sent me up the second hand and DIY trail.

Lacking any technical ability I've so far applied my creative talents to speakers where the chance of blowing up wife and family are more limited. My musical talent is also limited to singing in a school rock band (30 years ago) and a couple of very dodgy choirs followed by the inevitable wailing in pubs. Recently I've taken to playing 'with' the bass guitar - a walking bassline is just within reach but I'm no John-Paul Jones. I've also been roped in to resurrect my singing with the music school rock band (not good enough to play bass...) and I occasionally bang drums. Apart from that I confine myself to annoying the neighbours with other peoples music played on my system at home. How bad is the disease? Well my wife threatened divorce after she came home to discover a huge and tatty red velvet curtain suspended from the ceiling in an attempt to damp a nasty 200 Hz resonance in the living room - trouble is it worked...

My musical tastes are very varied, though classical music takes an increasingly small part in my collection. If I were to land on a desert island tomorrow my 8 discs would probably include Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Arethra Franklin, Steely Dan, Madonna, Fats Waller, Stravinski and Muddy Waters though the list will be different tomorrow.

systems used

I like a dynamic detailed sound, I don't like "easy listening" systems or music. My number one requisite is emotion - if it doesn't change my mood one way or another, or make me want to dance then isn't worth listening to. I'm also a vinyl junkie as I don't earn enough to make a decent record collection with CD's and the quality of vinyl still hasn't been beaten IMHO. One major problem is the system is hardly 'mainstream', 8 watt amps being unsuitable for all but the most efficient speakers. As a result my reviewing had drifted away from speakers and amps, however in the near future a custom built listening room will come into operation (called a 'library to get it past the censors at home) where a more flexible system will reside - watch this space...

My bargain searching has made me cynical of the "this years model is best" syndrome and so I review equipment without the baggage of always having to find the "improvement", something which TNT's "no-advertising" policy makes much simpler. I don't carry a torch for valves or vinyl, just use what sounds good to me at the moment. If tomorrow a CD player comes out that betters my Opera LP 5.0 (and I can afford it) and second hand CD's are widely available for 2 Euro then my allegiance would change. I am also a little suspicious of people who's hi-fi is worth 10 times their record collection, my first thought on upgrading is "why not buy more music instead?". This cynical side is nothing compared to Kate's who can decide a sound is garbage from an upstairs room and is invariably right, making my life as "purchaser of hi-fi" a very stressful experience. However in recent times my hi-fi has come close to the value of my record collection and so the only answer will be a search for more vinyl...

For TNT I review anything I can get my hands on, providing it is with me, in my home, for at least a month. Demonstrations at shows, manufacturers and shops are meaningless without familiar references at home, a while back I heard a 15,000 Euro hi-fi in a shop sounding so bad I could have believed the sound came from an AM radio - I do not exaggerate... I try in my reviews, to bring out the positive aspects of a component's sound, I'm not of the "this is c**p because I don't like it" school. I'm aware that there are as many preferences as people out there, so if I review a warm cuddly valve amp I will write knowing that many of you out there are looking for just such a sound, though I am not. Likewise I can be impressed by holographic imaging, though it has little to do with what I like in music. Ultimately I hope to pin down the character of a component so someone reading the review can see if it is something for their personal shortlist.

What sort of reviewer am I?

I do not have 'golden ears'. There I've said it and it is NOT false modesty... Unlike many on TNT and most of the paper press my ears are run-of-the-mill jobs that just about keep me listening to music. You won't find me eulogising about the sound of resin on the strings of the third violin, or suddenly being able to spot that so-and-so had a slight cold that morning or that Eric Clapton's Tele was using lighter gauge strings than normal. I just don't get it, I tend to listen and enjoy.

So what qualifies me for the job? Well I guess I'm happy to work for nothing, have a certain, limited gift for writing and the time to put to it. But most of all I am easily irritated. Example - last week I was riding my bike in a group of 12 including my wife Kate. After a couple of miles I asked her to stop so I could adjust her brake as I could hear it rubbing. It was just a barely audible "whoosh" every turn and had no effect on the ride. She tells everyone that I'm mad as I get my Allen keys out but the damn noise was driving me nuts. I've pulled over on the hard shoulder of the motorway to rummage in the boot of the car to find what was going "donk! donk!". No one else notices these things. Kate had an alarm clock that made a slightly different "tick!" when the second hand was climbing to when it went down the other side - I had to take the batteries out, it was keeping me awake.

You get the picture? If anything in a sound grates, or isn't quite 'right' then it drives me nuts. The 'wow' on the Kuzma turntable, the harshness at the top end of the Dino, the 'bloom' of the Orbe/SME, the sound of the transport whirring on the Audionote Zero. They all get marked down. To get a good review something needs to not do anything wrong. To get a great review it needs to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck (ESE Nibiru, Loth-x Polaris etc) or just be ridiculously good value (T-Amp), but where a component might wow a reviewer with it's positive attributes, I'm more likely to be irritated by some flaw.

Lastly, through family music lessons, my wife's membership of a street band and my own involvement in a band, I hear live music almost every day. More importantly I hear live, unamplified drums, saxophone, clarinet and guitar every day. Now I'm not saying I'm hearing great music (or even 'music' some days), but I hear a 'rimshot' every day and really know what someone means when they say the holes of a clarinet 'light up'. Without a feel for what a real instrument sounds like how can you possibly judge a system? One reviewer might criticise a system because a cornet solo makes him wince. Well I know that when a cornet player points that bell at you then you better wince if you are listening at realistic volume levels!

I also try to be straightforward and honest. I like many hi-fi writers, am treated as a guru by some people who send complicated emails asking for opinions on esoteric components. Well I'm nobody's Guru and if I haven't heard said combination in my home (and it's highly unlikely that I have) I won't offer any more than the vaguest advice. If you want someone to tell you what to buy write to one of the paper magazines.


Over the years writing for TNT, I've become increasingly disillusioned by some of the traditional hi-fi press and its ethics. I've been told of 'bungs' demanded by well known reviewers, reviews-for-ads and I've been offered money for reviews by manufacturers. An editor of a major hi-fi magazine recently told me he never employs any writers who haven't worked in the retail side of the business, otherwise they wouldn't understand the consequences of their reviews - think about it, do you want a review written by a potential 'seller' or a potential 'buyer'? None of this is unique to the hi-fi press, I've had similar experiences with cycling magazines, one reason why I no longer review cycling equipment except on my own website.

But while I'm being holier-that-thou there are grey areas in what I do, and in those cases the only answer is disclosure of what that entails. So here I'd like to give my take on the issue so no one can be in any doubt.

Generally you'll find my reviews positive, not because I'm a soft touch but because I review stuff that I find interesting and expect to enjoy, though it doesn't always follow. Lucio encourages us to write controversial reviews when appropriate, but when I see a speaker advertised as "the world's best" and which is obviously an 'ICE' driver in a fancy box I don't email to ask for a review.

I never take money for reviews - and of course TNT doesn't pay either... One of the 'perks' of reviewing is that if I like something I can usually buy it for trade, or better still, factory gate prices - this is standard practice and is not linked to a good review (if it were rubbish I wouldn't want to buy it...). As the review equipment is by definition 'second-hand' and I've not had any dealer help I'm perfectly happy with this situation.

Sometimes manufacturers leave things with me - often because they can't be bothered with dealing with a second-hand component that doesn't cost them much in the first place. I'm aware that these can be seen as 'gifts' from grateful/hopeful manufacturers. This area makes me uncomfortable, but as far as I'm concerned these items remain on 'loan' - the manufacturer can have them back at any time and I will never sell them. In return they get a link to the original review whenever I mention the component though this applies to other components too. The reason I accept such 'loans' is that I am slowly building a series of current and familiar references for use in reviews, left to my own devices I'd buy everything second-hand or DIY which would negate a lot of a review's value. It also means that when I have a component that doesn't work well with my equipment I have other components with which to find a better match - without this facility my reviews would be much the poorer.

For example my own, 100% paid for turntable was the Michell Orbe (sadly just sold to pay a tax bill). When I reviewed arms I was limited to those that physically fitted, and that were not too heavy. So when Opera offered me their LP 5.0 at about 30% retail I bought it. Now I can review the Dynavector 507, or a big parallel tracker - impossible before. That means that currently I have spent a large amount of my own money on something that is primarily used for reviewing, unpaid, for TNT. The only way I can possibly justify this to the powers that be (Kate), and myself, is that I should be able to recoup that money if I need it by selling the turntable. In an ideal world our editor would be an eccentric millionaire who provided a range of systems at each price point to every writer at TNT. Unfortunately he's a penniless Maths Professor. Is this selling my soul to the Devil? I hope not and I like to think that no such loan or good-deal influences future reviews of equipment from a particular manufacturer. As an example compare and contrast my review of the Dynavector DRT-1 and the Dynavector 'Superstereo', reviewed just after the former was left here on loan.

Currently the items here on 'loan' are the Dynavector XV-1s, XX-2 and PH-100 step-up, The Son of Pharao valve amp, AN Zero CD player, Music Maker cartridge, Hadcock 242 SE arm, Lehman Black Cube Twin, ESE Nibiru phono stage, various cables. Everything else here has been paid for!

Not all a bed of Roses

Now the real downside... Sometimes it isn't easy. I've had angry phone calls and threats of law suites. I've been told by a well-known magazine editor that as I'm obviously incapable of distinguishing things he can hear (no 'golden ears' as I said) I should stop writing. I've had tirades from manufacturers over reviews, been hammered on mailing groups, had equipment lent to me then had it taken away when a review wasn't good enough and, you may be surprised to hear, sometimes had a lot of self doubt over what on earth I'm doing here. But personally the biggest pitfall is the 'building of a relationship' with a manufacturer who gets a good review then becomes friendly and wants more. The problem is not that I think these people are trying to make me their 'tame reviewer', but rather that I like them, like what they do and feel bad when I have to say anything negative about what they produce. In every case I try to see if the item can in some way be changed and I'm proud to say that several well-received pieces of hi-fi have benefited from my fussy nature.

Despite this I fear you will all have to put up with my meanderings - can't wait to see what the rest of 2005 will bring.

Those of you who would like to see what I do for a day job can find my site at www.bretonbikes.com. But for now I must away and learn the lyrics to 'Polly' :-)

Happy Listening

© Copyright 2005 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com

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