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Never written an autobiography before. Never needed to. Does that tell you something? If an autobiography is to give an answer to the question "Who I am?," then I'm lost. The reason? The pronoun 'I" as well as the verb "be' are the most difficult pronoun and verb in the universe. Mind and existence. Tough, ain't' it? Let's try again: What have I done? That question has a moral tinge to it. For once though, let's put matters of guilt and regret behind us.

What have I done to deserve a place on 6moons?
Well, like most of my 6moons colleagues, I've played guitar. My father bought me one when I was seven. I used to practice in our sauna (yes, it's not only for women to deliver babies) while everybody else was asleep. If I needed more echo, I went to the bathroom. The piano was always out of tune. No matter. I soon learned to select the key that was least affected by the bad keys.

Also, the radio was always playing. In our household, it mainly meant exposure to popular tunes of the day. It was impossible, however, to escape classic music because people were -- in a good way, I'd say -- more serious back then. They sincerely believed that a man could be cultivated by feeding his soul with elevated material, music included. I'm thankful for those times because they gently forced me to become a radio listener -- which I still very much am -- and because they made my ears more receptive to more demanding material.

I remember playing guitar as a teenager in two R&R bands. The second was more electric, partially due to some inventive solutions for grounding the guitar amp. I occasionally got 220V vibrations straight from the strings. Then, some idiot terminated the cable from the speaker unit to the amp section with an AC socket. The inevitable happened. One night I plugged the speaker directly into the wall outlet! Not a good career start for a future HiFi reviewer. But you should try it on for sheer excitement some day.

As to the music we played? The Beatles were in a class of their own and it was McCartney's songs that resonated best with me. And it seems safe to say in general that my musical sensibilities were advancing, by modern standards anyway, in a fairly melodic environment. My first encounter with AC/DC was when a friend asked which type of motor my turntable had. I didn't know.

My childhood and youth went by in the metropolitan area of Helsinki/Finland. And while I can't throw a stone from where I live now to where I grew up, I'm not too far from it, either. But that hasn't been always so. The reason why has to do with...

How did HighEnd audio and the reviewing thereof enter my life?
Once graduated from the university, I tried my hand at streamlining environmental statistics. When more than half of the annual working days ended up being conducted in meetings abroad, I thought that I might as well move there when the occasion presented itself. So I did.

The years in Geneva/Switzerland by Lac Leman, a valley between the Jura and pre Alps, in the vicinity of famous French vineyards and the cultural delights of northern Italy and other life-enhancing privileges, deserve a bio of their own for good and bad. More importantly, however, my time in Geneva broadened my perspective on HiFi. For the first time, I could seriously listen to and make judgements about big Martin Logans, Alons, ProAcs, and about electronics of a certain pedigree - YBA, Jadis, FM Acoustics etc. And of course, I had a chance to benefit from talks with local HiFi nuts.

Not that I had been completely ignorant about good HiFi before. As long as I can remember listening to records, I'd always been interested in their sound and hence, what caused it. An early sign of my gifted nose for high-quality products were mid-priced B&Ws in one of my very first systems. Two decades later, a chap who runs a second-hand stereo shop liked the speakers so much that in exchange, he offered me three pairs of classic tweeters: Decca/Kelly ribbons, Wharfedale Super 3 (I just love the sound of paper cone tweeters), and Pioneer 6 horns!

So Geneva meant a revival rather than birth of the hobby. Gear such as Musical Fidelity, B&K, VTL, Audiomeca and Gradient began to enter my system. Gradients (1.2 and Revolutions) were particularly important companions en route to a better system not because they were Finnish compatriots but because in many ways, they taught me the basics of good sound reproduction.

From Geneva as my base of operations, I started to pay visits to the major European HiFi shows. In fact, one of the first stories I ever wrote about HiFi was a report on a HighEnd exhibition in Paris. Home theater was just beginning to intrude into such events, terrorizing them with their low-frequency thunder. I remember having been so pleased to report that the only thing that banged in Paris was a bomb at a nearby metro station! It was through the shows and dealer tours that I gradually developed a deeper understanding of the nature of supply and demand.

The second landmark in my HiFi career was two summers spent in Hong Kong in the 1990s. That was just before the economic collapse with its astronomical real-estate prices. What a fabulous time. Hong Kong was a veritable gold mine for good HiFi, shining audio shops in almost every street corner competing with the most famous haute couture boutiques from Paris. You name it, they had it: the biggest Genesis models, Wilsons, Duntecs, Westlake Audios, Jeff Rowlands, Sutherlands. There were street markets for HiFi accessories & components, specialized shops for transformers, second-hand shops for Levinsons, Cellos, Krells. It also was HK were I got my first exposure to vintage gear -- Fishers, Leaks, Altecs -- not least of all thanks to my friend Marco Leung. I left Hong Kong in the morning of the very day that the city was handed back to China.

Before I did, I interviewed the chief editor of one of the leading HiFi magazines (they had something like eight different ones for a population of five million). It was a very edifying experience. First, they had a most ingenious way to (almost) retain their independence: they bought everything they reviewed. Then they put the gear in a room devoted to facilitate break-in. Then there was another room for making a preliminary evaluation. If the gear passed this stage, it was taken to a third room, the main listening area. There it went through a careful investigation by many reviewers including the chief editor himself. And then, of course, they had a spacious storage room for reviewed samples. What can one say?

The third influential circumstance was the encounter with Teruo Harada in Stockholm/Sweden. Through him, I got access to Japanese high-end culture, which always seemed to be way head of what was going on in the rest of the world. He also taught me the art of vintage turntables (EMTs), cartridges (SPUs, Denon), preamps and single-driver speakers. But most pertinently, he made me realize, indirectly at least, that the secret of good sound may not lie so much in the system itself but in what we expect from it - a big leap towards music. I became convinced that the way in which two genuine HiFi buddies commence their conversation is: "Have you heard X conducting Y's whatever ...", where X might be a prematurely departed Italian conductor from the first half of the 20th century and Y one of Haydn's lesser known symphonies.

Back home
Then it was back to Finland and philosophy, never abandoned despite the fact that there were no representatives of analytical philosophy within a 400km diameter from Geneva. Today I lecture and do research on moral and political philosophy at the University of Helsinki.

By the mid 90s, I began to write stories for the one and only Finnish audio magazine, HiFi-lehti. At that time, the magazine's editorial policy was very conservative, to say the least. Of an amplifier, for instance, it was acceptable to mention power, THD, size, weight and a few words about ergonomics. When I cautiously suggested that a certain CD player might have some sonic character of its own, it caused big waves. I had heard something that, as a matter of fact, was impossible to hear. In this regard, the situation has much improved. Now objective measurements are combined with subjective evaluations of which one is blind, the rest open. On the other hand, the triumphant march of home theater has decimated opportunities to contribute on issues I'd really like to write about. To compensate, I've recently set up a small importation business around products I've known and owned for years. I continue to write for our Finnish HiFi magazine and other publications, staying well clear, naturally, of the few products I'm personally involved with (Phy, Shindo and Verdier.)

This may be the opportune place to make some of my HiFi-related presumptions and predilections transparent. First, I don't disregard measurements though I would never give them preference over my ears. Sometimes, however, they may produce useful statistical knowledge about certain phenomena; say how an amp reacts with a speaker or how a speaker behaves in a room. Second, I swear by subjective reviewing. Whether my perceptions are real or illusory is really beside the point. That's not the end of the story, however. Here's what Jonathan Bennet says about a certain conceptual distinction: "... we need a good analytic understanding of what distinction it is - an account of it in terms that are clear, objective and deeply grounded in the natures of things. Clear so that we can think effectively, objective so that we can think communally, and deeply grounded so that the issue about ... will not be trivialized..." [The Act Itself, 1995, 79.] That's exactly what a good subjective assessment should aim at: to be clear, objective and non-trivial. And as far as I'm concerned, the best way to achieve objectivity in subjective reviews is not through brilliant verbosity but by using language that is accurate and systematic yet not empty.

Third and more controversially, I believe that our task as HiFi hobbyists is not so much to reproduce slavishly what's stamped on the record nor to simulate the original soundfield of the recording venue as it is to do whatever it takes to make the music feel correct. That is, I allow for
degrees of freedom and unorthodox solutions where purists would cry foul. (One of my favored systems of tone control is swapping cartridges - easy when the cartridge is in a shell). As to what determines how good and true music feels, I side with those who emphasize the importance of the time domain (speed and dynamics). Considerations of tone color and harmonics are not irrelevant either but I'm not allergic to every tiny coloration that impairs timbre and definition. Soundstage and imaging are least interesting to me as long as there's enough air in the sound.

The system
For almost fifteen years now, I've had tube amps at the heart of my system. The ones I use currently come from Shindo Laboratory and (modified vintage amps executed by Marco) from certain non-commercial sources. The same is true of my preamps. As a main source, I run two EMT turntables -- a 930 and 928 -- and a Nouvelle Platine from Verdier (with Lumiere/Ortofon/ Denon cartridges on Ortofon and EMT tonearms). My CD players include an Audiomeca/Sentec combo plus certain more exotic solutions. As a rule, I like high-sensitivity speakers. The ones I currently use rely on a single driver (Phy, Fostex, Seas, Stentorian) either in an open baffle or in a cabinet. Common to all cables I like seems to be that the conductor is silver-coated copper. I see the utility of using certain accessories but I don't enjoy making a big fuss about them.

The listening room is 4.5m x 7m and fairly modestly treated - other things being equal, I prefer too little than too much treatment. In the past, I used to have a dedicated listening room with carefully thought-out and implemented room treatments. The older I grow, the easier I can live with imperfections, however - and the more I fancy the idea of my HiFi system being part of a normal living room, indeed part of a normal life. Which brings me into the final section of this self-portrait.

There's more to life than HiFi
I like cars. Not so much driving them than watching and conceiving them. I especially like certain vintage cars unspoiled by electronics: the Renault 4, Karman Ghia, BMW 2800/3.0 CE, Volvo 240-940 - three of those I have also owned. I like watching birds, too. It gives me great pleasure welcoming them every spring on the hills of the south coast of Finland. I love to take my daughter to a musical play or opera. And I like music, of course, although I wouldn't perhaps go as far as claiming that life without it would be in error [Nietzsche]. When it's only for personal pleasure, I listen to classical music. As regards different styles, I allow myself to be fairly eclectic, from Baroque to contemporary. I like jazz too, but more selectively. Popular songs from the 1940s to 60s, either French or Finnish, go down well when I'm in a certain mood and auditioning HiFi equipment takes care of my remaining hidden needs for lighter music. I have a season ticket to a series of concerts in town, not to keep my ears tuned but to experience good music. Most of all, I enjoy a half hour Saturday evenings in a small nearby church where I can get my weekly dose of Bach, Buxtehude and Mendelssohn (via fairly good-sounding organs).

So there you have it, Kari's caricature of la dorke vida audiophiele. Clearly not. Audio is an important part of my life but just a part. It has to coexist with others. As such, certain "hard-core" audiophile considerations shift - not just about performance but how this performance should be achieved and how it needs to integrate itself into a regular life.

As my time allows and as I come across worthwhile discoveries that mesh with my proclivities, expect to hear from faraway Finland about things that could interest other music lovers who, like me, already have returned -- or still contemplate -- to some of the older roots of this hobby: vinyl, tubes, single-driver full-range speakers.