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I was born in the wagon of a traveling show, my mama dancing for the money they'd throw. Well, that'd be a great way to start a bio and one of my favorite songs but in truth, my beginnings were rather more mundane. I was born in the small market town of Bury situated in the North West of England on 11th February 1965 and to the best of my knowledge, neither of my parents was a Gypsy, tramp or thief.  Despite mum being quite an accomplished keyboard player, I showed very little interest in music whatsoever as a youngster although I was one of five nine-year olds selected from 14 wannabes by a violin teacher who briefly gave lessons at primary school. The selection process was very simple. The teacher played notes on the piano and one by one we had to say if the following note was higher or lower than the preceding note while we stood behind him. 

Why he didn't make us stand behind the piano I don't quite know as my 100% score was partly determined by seeing the reflection of his hand in the piano's lacquered finish. Unfortunately the nightly renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star proved to be as annoying for the rest of the family as the lessons and practicing were for me so excuses were made and the violin was handed back. A shame it was in one respect - Baa Baa Black Sheep was next on the curriculum and a fresh vibrant interpretation could have gained me the recognition my blossoming talents deserved. 

On leaving school I became dad's apprentice in his electrical contracting business. This lasted for all of six months before we had a slight disagreement and I decided electrical contracting wasn't for me (not when it involved working for my dad at any rate). Not being one to sit around, a few weeks later I found employment with Rossendale Forestry Company as an apprentice tree surgeon and took to this work like a duck to water even though the brief stint with my dad which involved training at Bury Technical College had taught me how to solder quite neatly. This would prove quite useful in later life and in general the previously mysterious world of elec-trickery was no longer so bewildering.

During my time as a tree surgeon, my interests were primarily centered on the outdoors and all very physical such as boxing at the local gym, practicing Shotokan Karate, shooting and hunting. In general they were a million miles away from the sedentary pastime of sitting on my backside listening to music. This was to change quite dramatically when I had my first experience of the new Sony Walkman personal cassette player. The effect of having actual voices in my head—apart from the ones which used to suggest I should kill the violin teacher—was revelatory.

Having never experienced anything like a decent system before for more than a few minutes, perhaps the effect the Walkman had on me was somewhat exaggerated. Still, the fact remains that I only started listening to music 'seriously' when I had the Walkman and only started buying music on a regular basis when I could listen to it whenever and wherever I pleased. After eight years of cutting down trees, I then spent three years planting them amongst other duties during my employment as a landscaper. Perhaps subconsciously this was 'karma balancing' before packing up and moving 300 miles south to Devon to work as an industrial sheeter and cladder. This job I'd been offered by a friend down there due to my being able to work at heights without getting 'squeaky bum' syndrome. 

Iron roof trusses where certainly easier to climb and more forgiving than the slime-covered trees I'd been used to negotiating with chainsaw in one hand and rope in the other and living alone in an isolated former Post Office was a catalyst for increased listening to music. I even bought a decent Philips boom box which had quite decent sound for what it was as an alternative to the trusty Walkman. This added CD replay which apparently Philips and Sony promised would provide me with perfect sound - forever! Three years later and work was becoming harder to come by in the industrial cladding business so I was looking at other options and to be honest, pining to get back home up North where I'd bought a small terraced house in need of quite major renovation.

In-between job hunting duties back home, I now had time to get stuck into making the house fit for habitation and had already decided that a decent audio system was on the agenda. 'What Hi-Fi' magazine was now a regular read which often had me salivating over reviews of the latest CD players from Marantz and Arcam in particular. As luck would have it, I managed to secure a well-paid job as foreman of the landscaping division of a local housing/property development company and within a few weeks had ordered a brand spanking new audio system from the local store, my choices based entirely on 'What Hi-Fi' 'BEST BUY' components - Marantz CD63 KI Sig, Audiolab 8000S and Mission 752 Freedom floorstanders. 

What should have been a recipe for disaster resulted in a system which for me surpassed all expectations. As soon as I got home the whole street was rocking until 11.00pm when UK law dictates anyone causing excessive noise can be prosecuted. Every weekend I'd be touring the record stores looking for new titles and my tastes were expanding at the rate of an apocalyptic doomsday virus. In fact, mutating might be a better term as I'd tentatively started listening to jazz which I'd previously dismissed as the work of eccentric  musicians who performed together but puzzlingly played different tunes. My girlfriend at that time was convinced I must have been taking some kind of substance to be able to listen to the likes of Miles Davis, yet when she played her own boy-band drivel I must admit that turning to drink to anaesthetize the pain was an almost irresistible urge.

In hindsight, drink or drugs may have been the cheaper path to go down than the way of the audiophile where the desperate lows and euphoric highs encountered mean the term 'mind altering' is almost as appropriate as it is to recreational substance abuse. And so to the present where many years have flowed under the bridge since that first 'proper' system and the case could be made that I actually know what I'm doing now. For certain, I've developed preferences when it comes to the hardware and have firmly nailed my colors to the mast of SET amplification which is the simplest circuit and the nearest to the 'straight wire with gain' ideal.

In general I believe that 'less is more' with audio and that the audio signal should have the most straightforward and least manipulated path from source to transducer possible - and indeed from the artist's performance to recorded master but that's out of my hands unfortunately. To this end, silver is good, short signal paths are good, short signal paths utilizing silver are best. Some components I own may look quite complex at first sight but the complexity is not in the signal path and is purely to do with power supply and regulation which has a major influence on sound and is worth investing in.

As I'd imagine it is for most of us, the primary role of an audio system for me should be to create the illusion of live music, not by transporting the musicians into my living room but by transporting me to the musicians and the recording venue. Currently the primary influence on whether this occurs in my listening room is recording quality. Still, I've yet to hear a recording so poor that it makes listening unbearable. Good music is good music even on a boom box. Buta great recording can make good music almost great music while a great recording of great music is all most of us need to convince us that the years of frustration and financial sacrifice were well worth it.  

• Source: AMR CD-77 valve output CD player
• Amplification: Music First Silver TVC passive pre
• Border Patrol 300B WE SET
• Speakers: Audio Note AN-E SEC Signatures with external crossovers mounted to the wall behind the speakers
• Ancillaries: PS Audio P600 power regenerator, Townsend isolation support for CDP
• Cables: Kimber Select KS-1030 silver ICs, Kimber Select KS-3035 silver/copper speaker cables, Kimber power cords, Artisan Silver Cables Silver Dream IC

Upstairs is another system which changes frequently and this alternates between the following- a heavily modified Sony CDP-227 ESD (valve output stage, non oversampling), Audio Note M3 preamp, EAR 509 100wpc valve monoblocks, Quad 77 power amp, JR 149 speakers (with LS3/5A drivers), Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk2 monitors.

On the opposite wall to the main audio system is the HT system:

• Screen: Pioneer Kuro 5090 50” plasma
• Source: Denon DVD-3800BD Blu-Ray player using multi-channel analogue outputs
• SKY HD box using optical output
• Amplification: Onkyo Integra RDC-7 processor, Onkyo Integra RDA-7 7 channel power amp
• Speakers: Revel Performa F30 mains, Mission Elegante E82 surrounds, two REL Strata 2 subs.