World Wide Listening Station Tour
Rush Hour Records in Amsterdam
words: Mark Cremins (Rush Hour)
The really audiophile end of listening to records was somewhat of an unexplored realm to most of us at Rush Hour. So, playing host to Analogue Foundation's listening station was something of a treat for us. The thought of customers being able to listen to any of the records we have in the store on next level sound equipment, and seeing how they might react to that, was intriguing to say the least.
The day the impressive 80KG++ case arrived, and a few of us stood around it in wonder - it was obvious even then that this thing was a serious beast! The friendly Analogue Foundation team arrived soon after, got to work calibrating the turntable and checking their monster had survived the flight (apparently this was it's maiden voyage outside of the UK). It was soon ready, and we went about choosing records for the recommended listening bin that would reside next to the listening station. The selection was to represent the popular/current choices at store, and also to highlight some records we thought would come into their own if played back on such high end equipment. An immediate favourite was a superbly pressed re-issue of Count Ossie's - Grounation - a seminal rastafari LP with incredible hand drums, horn and sweet choral vocals. It sounded phenomenal - like being right in the session at the time of recording. Next to this were some classic Brazilian records, spiritual Jazz, modern avant garde electronics, Conny Plank produced Krautrock, A recent Russell Haswell, 80s electronic Dub, some choice modern Techno, a few deep soul albums and of course a bunch of our favourite house 12"s. It really was amazing to listen to a classic Robert Hood you've heard so many times on club p.a. speakers, up this close and defined...naked. A personal highlight for me was Junie's When We Do that Rogier from our store brought in one morning: we stood there mesmerised - feeling like we were inside the mixer, every channel as clear and perfect as the next. Producer brilliance.
A good friend Yutaka (a locally based artist and musician - whom is somewhat ironically known in the more Lo-fi circles around Amsterdam) was enlisted to demonstrate the system to our customers. It was great to see him learning as he went, and hearing what selections he'd made from the store stock (with days of digging) and of course hearing about the reactions from the listeners. Seeing how the customers reacted to the opportunity was the most interesting part for us - some with extreme caution and quiet enjoyment - others delving in fully and requesting to experiment with the array of headphones and cartridges that were available to use. The feedback was excellent throughout. Some people listened to entire LPs when the store was quiet, while some excitedly scanned over records they'd just purchased. The week was great success with a number of known customers and some new faces returning numerous times to check the machine. The RH label also used the station as a place to check out new vinyl test pressings. We also invited some other local labels to bring their tests in for review. This in itself was a revealing process, having the reassurance that the playback system was not responsible for any discrepancies that were heard.
As the end of the week approached, we took part in a talk session at Hortus Botanicus. We all congregated in Johan van der Mey’s Palm House, surrounded by over 150 species of plant to discuss music, the nature of analogue and what the future may hold for the city of Amsterdam. The evening had an open forum feeling to it with panelists including Orpheu De Jong of Red Light Radio, Ben Westbeech and Mathijn den Duijf of Kytopia being joined in conversation by guests from across the city.
We decided to make the the closing party an extension of the week's listening by inviting Music From Memory's Abel Nagengast along to play his favourite's from the listening station turntable through our shop soundsystem. The improvement of sound was remarkably audible to our standard Technics SL1200 configuration. Such clarity. Abel was, for want of a better phrase, ' like a pig in shit'. The turnout was great, and it was very nice to see people who'd come along in the week and made it to the talk session coming down to drink a brew and enjoy really great music. A few favourites from the night were from Brenda & The Beachballs and Vito Ricci, then later, when we'd closed the shop, we played some Ernest Ranglin, Sun Ra and Slum Village which all sounded magnificent. As the engineers packed the system away that night, there was a sad feeling around the place that the fun was over and that was the last we'd see of our four wheeled pal (and less of Yutaka). I think we all learnt something that week in one way or another - whether it was that we should change our stylus's more often or simply that high end audio is a DANGEROUS area!
The week left a great impression on the store and we are looking forward to installing a permanent listening station of our own at some point in the future. Listening loud is one thing, but hearing true detail in music you know very well is indeed like rediscovering your record collection all over again.