Updated: Mar 31
A very warm welcome to you all visiting this page for the very first time. This blog actually started (in December 2016) as an introduction to the little audio company and a little background on how I got here, but it turned into a bit of a life story. Titled changed. I was asked about a few background details of the company on Facebook at one point, so I've revived this blog and gone on to complete it. So apologies in advance for the lengthy rambling, but it has been good going through this and remembering a few things I'd forgotten. As with all blogs, you're free to ignore the rest of this post, and I wouldn't blame you. But maybe there's something in there that strikes a chord with you, or reminds you of something you'd long forgotten...
Growing up in Birmingham in the 70s, there wasn't a lot to do apart from ride around on your bike (Raleigh Chopper, for those interested), play footy in the park, or climb a tree. Indoors, it was a board game, listen to the radio, or watch one of three TV channels (pre Channel 4 and home computer days). My very early years during the early 70s were dominated by The Beatles constantly being played on the parent's all-in-one "radiogram" - which was basically a large sideboard. That rotating Apple logo in the centre of their records will remain seared into my brain for eternity, and will probably be one of the earliest memories that will remain with me until I no longer remain. With my parents being huge Beatles fans, I was never really exposed to heavier rock like Led Zeppelin or The Who at the time other than via the radio occasionally.
During the mid 70s I was given a stereo comprising of a 'one box' amplified turntable with a matching pair of speakers, all in white - looking back that seems odd now with more white hifi becoming popular. I don't recall where most of the records came from, but I do recall picking a few up from jumble sales (remember those?!). My collection mostly consisted of a few albums and a host of Elvis Presley 7" singles, among which was a soundtrack album to Sergio Leone's 'Dollars Trilogy', by the great Hugo Montenegro. This must've been a jumble sale purchase (based on seeing the films at an early age as my father used to watch them) as was the 7" single of Hot Butter's early 70s cover of Popcorn (a song originally written the year I was born). I hadn't really realised that I had been exposed to electronic music and films scores at such a young age until I was composing this blog - this must have a bearing on the fact that much of my listening nowadays are predominantly those two genres! The records I had weren't in great shape though, and on top of that, they were played to death with what was probably a duff needle that I don't ever recall being changed for a new one. Did the job though.
The late 70s was still predominantly radio listening (and watching Top Of The Pops), and my record collection had never really expanded from the above. My Dad invested in a separates system from a friend though - a Pioneer PL12D with Shure M75ED II cart, Sansui AU-101 amplifier, JVC JT-V31 tuner, Technics RS273USD flatbed cassette deck, and a pair of the amazing Jim Rogers JR149 speakers. Most of my music from that point was recorded off the radio, and played back on my father's system.
Growing up, I was never really part of any "movement" with regards to music. I was too young to understand punk, although looking back I do recall liking a lot of punk based chart music at the time, some of it crossing over into comical pop. There were a few movements I wish I'd have been a part of, or at least taken more notice of at their time of happening, particularly the start of Grunge. The early 80s kicked off with a bang for me though, after seeing Adam And The Ants perform Kings Of The Wild Frontier on Top Of The Pops for the very first time. It was just so different to anything else I'd heard before. This seemed to be the point where I really sat up and took notice of music in a big way. My uncle gave me a cassette recording of Pink Floyd's The Wall from made from his (presumably original pressing) LP, as I’d seen the video to Another Brick In The Wall on Top Of The Pops numerous times and loved it. I played that album to death on a small battery powered portable cassette player that I carried almost everywhere, even to school. I bought my first record in the early 80s - the 12" single of David Bowie's Cat People. Still got it, still in excellent condition despite many plays, and still sounds great! I bought the odd album, but most of my purchases during the 80s were 12" singles, all of which I still have. I believe the first album I bought was Lover Over Gold, and Dire Straits became very much part of the early/mid 80s for me and a few school friends. We managed to see them live in 1985 at the Birmingham NEC, and the one thing that struck me about the whole set was that it sounded exactly like the live album Alchemy - which just shows how faithfully that live performance was captured.
My first real system was obtained while I was still at school. Around 1983/84 I picked up a used Denon PMA-510 amplifier for about £60 from Bullocks TV & Video at the Fox & Goose shopping centre, just across the road from my secondary school, Washwood Heath Comprehensive. A mate of mine had a JVC Direct Drive turntable, which sounded pretty good, but I couldn't afford that one so had to settle for the belt driven version, the JVC L-A110 (which I'm sure sounded better), bought from Richer Sounds in Birmingham, and a pair of two-way Solavox speakers from Comet at the Tivoli Shopping Centre in Yardley (now known as the Swan Shopping Centre). Another friend of mine had the the three-way model, and they were pretty impressive. They cost me around £60. I had many hours of listening pleasure from that system. Like much of my father's system over the years, his JR149 speakers found their way into my system (against his will) as they were just streets ahead of the Solavox. I'd always liked the sound of them - small and punchy, with good bass presence in an average sized room, not much bass boom either being a sealed cabinet. Then came many small changes over the years, but none were regretted as I was thoroughly enjoying it.
Six years on from buying that first system, I was working at Birmingham NEC on the gigs when I applied for my first job in hi-fi - I got the job and started working for Radford HiFi (Plymouth) in 1990. During my five years there, a set album list was decided upon by the company for the stores for demonstration purposes. On top of that, each staff member could choose one album each to add to that. I can’t even remember what my choice was (might've been Tears For Fears' Seeds Of Love), but a colleague chose Nirvana's Nevermind, and proceeded to play it to death. I thought it was just distorted noise and shouting. But over a period of about four months, it must've made some subliminal impression on me, as one day it just clicked. This album was amazing. About a month later, Cobain "allegedly" shot himself. Talk about being late to the party! From the same member of staff (Mike Batt - not the one from The Wombles fame), I did generate a liking for Tricky's Maxinquaye album, which I guess led me down the trip hop/downtempo road (and numerous other slightly varying music genres), paving the way for the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead later on.
It was whilst at Radford Hi-Fi in Plymouth that my liking for KEF loudspeakers started. It was my first exposure to the Reference range in the shape of the Reference 104/2. For the very first time, I experienced kick drums punching out from taut, meaty bass lines, and they just played whatever you threw at them, no matter how loud! The particular track that started this was from Peter Gabriel's So album from 1986, called This Is The Picture, a duet with Laurie Anderson. The KEFs really conveyed the depth of the bass line on this track, and did it with conviction too. Soon after, the Q60 was released, part of the very first Q Series produced. Along with the Reference 101/2, 102/2, and 103/4, my fascination with UniQ technology started here!
Moving back to Birmingham around 1996, I briefly ended up working for the one and only Bob Griffin of Griffin Audio. He was such a laid back character, reminding me of a cross between Johnny Cash and the actor Patrick Mower. I remember visiting his store a few times in the early 80s when he worked alongside his father, and was struck at how different it was to a normal hi-fi store. No ties and precision creased trousers, just jeans and casual shirt, promoting a far more laid back atmosphere, and obviously one of a music lover rather than a conventional hi-fi shop, with musical instruments on the walls, and a selection of vinyl to purchase. Bob, who very sadly passed away around 2004, is one of the influences for what I am doing now.
Mid/late 90s through to 2002 were spent at Superfi Birmingham, where another colleague hugely influenced my listening habits (Jason). Being a movie fan as well, he was into music scores, particularly funky 70s stuff by the likes of Lalo Schifrin. Over my 7 years there, a lot of music was discovered and shared between us, like Propellerheads, David Holmes, Portishead, David Arnold etc etc. Adding to this was a cool, "spaced out" dude who came in and bought a system for playing his electronic music collection. After the demo (and purchase of a B&W/Rotel pre/power system), he gave me a big list of artists to research as I kept on popping into the demo room to ask him what he was playing. Suddenly, I had numerous other artists to add to my growing collection, stuff like Nightmares On Wax, Boards Of Canada, Kruder & Dorfmeister etc. This was probably the first huge expansion of my music listening since the early 80s, and from that point, hosting an audition for me has been as much about sharing music as it has listening and comparing equipment.
I'll fast forward though the Sevenoaks Birmingham years (around 2004/2005) as it was more about AV installs, which had zero tie in with music at the time. Nothing much really happened except for one thing. "Miller & Kreisel". It was here that I fell in love with Ken Kreisel's speakers. For me, his speaker designs massively shifted the goalposts with regards to home theatre reproduction, and has influenced the way in which I recommend and set up home theatre systems ever since.
Whilst at Sevenoaks, we did supply a 5.1 sound system, including Miler & Kreisel speakers - for St.Paul's Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter for a special event they were holding - a run of original artwork prints for Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, to tie in with the remaster and re-release on CD and vinyl.
From left to right: Mat, Jason, Jeff Wayne, Raj, myself
For 11 years I was exposed to some great hi-fi and audio systems covering a wide range of price points whilst at Frank Harvey Hi-Fi (much of it no longer there), and gained knowledge of many other manufacturer's products. Working with less than perfect demo rooms (timber framed) really gives you a lot of knowledge on how to get the most out of any system or speakers in almost any type of room. My music collection expanded quite a bit here due to sharing music with those who popped in to audition systems there over the years.
This all leads up to this point in time. After I left Frank Harvey Hi-Fi, I decided to jump in and start 'the little audio company' as over the years I'd seen the way many companies approached things, and how they do things, and felt that things should be much simpler or could be improved upon. This is besides the point that I love for music and movies, as well as the means to reproduce it. I wanted to create a space that was as far removed from a retail premises as possible, somewhere far more relaxed and stress free, not only for myself, but also for any visitors. My aim is to offer the best of the best, as well as alternative solutions that seek to genuinely address the real world issues of the compromised listening spaces we all have.
As far as music is concerned, you'll see many posts on forums from myself (usually under the name "davidf",and previously as "hifix" on AVForums, and "Frank Harvey" on the What Hi-Fi? forums) about what I'm listening to and what I like, and if you're ever in for a demo, you'll always get recommendations from myself based on what you're listening to. I'll be posting more about music in the near future. Below are links to the profiles of the main forums I post on, and social media links.
I mentioned influences earlier. One of them being Bob Griffin, who was one of Birmingham's genuine, independent hi-fi dealers, and always had been, as far back as I can remember. Bob left a gaping chasm when he passed on, and I've always wanted to try and recreate that truly independent hi-fi retail experience that Birmingham has lacked ever since.
My second influence is an odd one. Ricky Gervais. On social media, among his many humanitarian posts, he comes up with the odd inspirational post, one of which was, "if you do what you love every day, you can't fail". So if this business fails, I'm suing Ricky Gervais.
Even more oddly, one of Gervais' characters from his brilliant sitcom 'Derek' also inspired me. It was a character I never liked throughout the series, as he was always hanging around the old people's home with nothing better to do than drink lager and make crude comments that always went too far - I never saw the need for the character, he seemed out of place and just plain wrong. Until the very last episode that was. During the short interviews with each character about their life, he stated, "I'm not a failure because I didn't succeed, I'm a failure because I didn't try". The look on his face when he said it was truly moving for me, and it instantly validated the character. Anyway, that saying really inspired me to taking the chance, with no regrets, regardless of what the future holds.
Of course, starting a company supplying “luxury” products during Brexit probably wasn’t going to provide the best of starts, but hey, from here, the only way is up!
Thanks for making it to the end! Feel free to browse the website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 638 0721 or 0753 888 169 for help or to arrange an audition. We are a 15 minute walk from New Street Station, or a few minutes on the tram system that runs between New Street and Wolverhampton.
davidf @ the little audio company
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