Singer-songwriter Amy Duncan, Meridian's Bob Stuart and Classic Album Sundays set for Loud and Clear
Weekend of music and audio events at Edinburgh hi-fi outlet in partnership with Meridian Audio
The way we listen to music has come a long way in the last 15 years, with broadband, MP3, Wi-Fi and smartphones each making access to music ever more convenient. And, while there's a near constant fanfare on the capabilities of each new device going on sale, you'll need to look a bit harder for news on products that aim to improve the quality of the experience, not through convenience, but by making it sound better.
This convenience is all too much for some people, and has, they say, made music 'disposable'. Yet, in terms of the 'format of choice', the massively inconvenient vinyl is back in a big way, and for sale everywhere from mainstream clothes shops to restaurants, with a whole new audience praising its 'warm' and 'tactile' properties. Despite what some vinyl evangelists would have you believe though, digital is far from a dirty word these days. The 24-bit format sold by Warp's Bleep.com are twice the bit depth of CD, while the amount of information in Linn Records Studio Master format is many times higher. Far from being convenient, these files won't even play on most devices.
This ongoing journey is one experienced first hand by John Carroll at hi-fi outlet Loud and Clear. "Things have moved on from the vinyl vs digital debate. They're equivalent mediums with different experiences," he explains. "Part of our job is to stay one step ahead of the game and provide people with what they need for the next generation of the experience."
It's an area sure to be explored during Loud and Clear's upcoming weekend of events themed around digital audio in partnership with Meridian, the UK hi-fi manufacturer who launched the first digital speaker 25 years ago, the D600. Locating the digital signal processing (DSP) inside the speaker unit, their one-box solution stood them apart them from an industry that peddled 'separates' systems. It's high-performance and high-fidelity territory, meaning a high-end price too, although Meridian's Explorer offers a huge upgrade from your laptop's mini jack output for less than the cost of a smartphone.
"Meridian have always been real leaders, not followers. They've never reacted to market," says Carroll. "They weren't just first with the active speaker; when the CD player first came along, they took a look inside, saw the improvements that could be made and produced an audiophile version."
Saturday features talks by Meridian co-founder Bob Stuart on his work at Meridian in partnership with product designer Allen Boothroyd (whose CV includes the BBC Micro, the Lecson Hi-Fi on permanent display in the V&A and more). Friday brings the chance to catch an intimate set in the plush surroundings of Loud & Clear's Edinburgh outlet by Amy Duncan, whose recent Cycles of Life album was produced by Calum Malcolm, best-known for his work with The Blue Nile.
Rounding off the weekend is a Classic Album Sunday session. In keeping with both the 25 and analogue/digital theme, it's Lenny Kravitz' Let Love Rule, recorded 25 years ago using purely analogue equipment and techniques, long before this approach became fetishized (and pre-dating Kravitz's global success and subsequent derision by a music press in thrall to the punk ethos of grunge). There's a further nod to the numeric theme; the turntable for the session retails at £25,000.
Also on sale is the range of 180mg gatefold vinyl re-issues now stocked by the shop. "Years ago, the 'sleeve' was what protected the record," says Carroll. "Now, that sleeve is a big part of what you're buying. The 'sleeve' is now the clear protective one on top of that."
The ongoing change also goes beyond devices and formats. "People don't want to do the whole 'dark space' thing any more," he says. "It's now about one system that integrates into your living space that's good for overall family viewing, but that you can also dive into for some music listening."
With events for fans of live music, those with an interest in product design and manufacturing and a chance to be social with other music fans, the weekend has broad appeal. "There will always be people who turn it into a discussion about the technology" Carrol says. "It's our job to bring it back to the music."
Amy Duncan, 6pm, Fri 7 Mar; Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio presentation, 2pm, Sat 8 Mar; Classic Album Sundays: Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz, 12pm, Sun 9 Mar.