21 years of Sonneteer 2015 also marked the revival in Vinyl record sales. We had (have) been making the Sonneteer Sedley phono stage and its USB sibling for quite a while now, but it was apt that it too was getting a little more attention. The Alabaster got a Polish 5star from HiFi Choice and also, by coincidence, one of our favoured CD/LPs for reference (perhaps our single most favoured recording), Tori Amos’s ‘Under The Pink’ also turned 21 and we wrote a piece on it for our Blog. Here it is again below:
“Tears on the sleeve of a man Don’t wanna be a boy today..” follows a signature Tori Amos Piano introduction, ‘Pretty Good Year’, starts the album off, stripped down to the bare beauty of Tori’s voice and piano. Our anticipation hangs off every lyric for the next as each note carries us like a mother dancing with her baby in arms. The song builds as strings, percussion and voices are layered on. Tori’s main vocal and Bösendorfer piano still seem raw yet beautiful amongst them as they close much as they began. Pretty good song.
Released in the same week as Sonneteer’s incorporation 21 years ago, Tori Amos’ second album, ‘Under The Pink’ has been one of our reference recordings. As we both come of age I thought I’d dust off my reviewer’s cap and give the album a critical airing. Though in fairness it is hard to be critical of a piece of work that has served us so well in our development over the last couple of decades.
My first experience of Tori Amos’ music was a few months pre my Bachelors finals in Electronics. Silent All These Years had finally charted properly in the UK and the radio stations were all over it like the next big thing. I think I heard the song twice and I set to Ourprice to buy the album. My Parents had bought me a proper separates (Philips)hifi CD player for my 21st Birthday and this was now the jewel in my collection. Hard to believe since Prince and Jimi Hendrix pretty much ruled my musical world at the time.
Not long after this my first amplifier was taking shape. One of our lecturers was an Audiophile and an audio designer himself so he needed no encouragement to let me go ahead and build an amplifier for my final year project. I’d already bought a nice pair of Tannoys, but my amp was an (actually very good) second hand Toshiba and I felt the system needed a tweak. I mostly used it for monitoring in my real hobby which was recording (my own and some of my friends’) music. None the less Tori’s first outing (under the Tori Amos brand) was to feature heavily in the midst of the fires and minor explosions which was the development of my first amplifier design. If CDs could wear then there would be little of ‘Little Earthquakes’ left by the years end, so you can imagine my anticipation levels for a second bewitchment.
A more dynamic number follow, ‘God’, is Tori out Kate Bushing Kate Bush. The piano is now an obvious percussive instrument. If a song is going to send a badly designed amplifier or CD player into a frenzied muddle it’s this one. To the generic this is madness, but seems totally right. Guitars shrieking like seagulls, a bass line that carries both melody and backbone, and layers of Tori voices prodding your senses throughout.This is wall of sound yet you can make out every little detail. God does she come through.
Perhaps my favourite Tori Amos tune follows. The third song on the album is, ‘Belles for her’. I remember my partner, Vicky and I going to see her live at the Albert Hall, long, long before we had children and we had time to do such things. A special upright piano was brought onto stage for this number. This is just Tori and the instrument. As the name suggests, the upright sounded like bells playing. As with a lot of Tori Amos productions, every thud of the pedals and stroke of keys is felt and heard through the recording. Each ‘bell’ rings like it’s in a cold hollow chamber. It is as haunting as it is beautiful. I could hear it a hundred times over and it would still tingle the bones from the inside, and out of control. I recall once at a HiFi show we played the track through our [Sonneteer] equipment to a room full of about 30 people and they were so captivated, barely a breath was heard throughout the whole five minutes and fifteen seconds of it. Anyone who has had the experience of these shows back in the day when they were very busy will appreciate the achievement. The timing of every breath and every strike of a key keeps you hanging and wanting. The beauty of the song is only matched by the drama of the performance.
The next two songs, ‘Past the Mission’ and ‘Baker Baker’ are Tori in coasting mode. They come at just the right time as the senses are in need a bit of rest. The calmer ‘Past the Mission’ with it’s playful verses and silky chorus will have you singing along unwittingly. This is as close as we get to a proper pop song as ‘Under the Pink’ takes us on musical journey that is far from dull. Voice and piano alone again, almost but not quite a lullaby, ‘Baker Baker’ slows us right down.
If sleep is where I am then ‘The Wrong Band’ and ‘The Waitress’ are smelling salts to the senses. The former is a playful and uplifting yet strangely melancholy. This is still Tori coasting but with aplomb. And if that didn’t wake you up then,what comes next is a true test of subsonic playback and the incitement to violence laws. Which is a perfect preamble to the most commercially known song on the album, ‘Cornflake Girl’. This happens to be my least favourite title on this long player and yet it is arguably the only complete song in the collection. If I only had one test song to play then ‘Cornflake’ would be it.It has it all. Tori vocals at their provocative best and a jamboree of melody and dynamics and in fairness a good song too.
If there at all was a dip in the early album then,’Icicle’, track nine is a true return to form. I often use the very first note of this song as a test signal on its own. It lingers momentarily, solitary yet fat with emotion, enough to fill a family of hearts. The melody plays out like a Nordic TV police drama which still makes sense without the subtitles. We are sort of kept in this mode all the way to the end of the album. The final three songs, ‘Cloud on my Tongue’, ‘Space Dog’ and ‘Yes Anastasia’ are melodically are episodes two, three and four. The pick of the three is probably ‘Space dog’ which always gives me a sense of being in a dingy on a smooth yet fast flowing river in a dream. Closing out the album is a drawn out affair that takes us to the soulful depths as well as the pitched heights of a Tori Amos rendition. As much as ‘Little Earth Quakes’ was an almost rude interruption but very pleasant exposure, ‘Under the Pink’ is a scalpel through the chest and a drill into the scull of the body of work that Tori Amos is yet to deliver. If Little Earth Quakes put her on the map, Under the Pink built the city. Every penny Tori earned after this is owed to this. Brilliant.
The year was 1994 and I was half way through my Masters degree when my HiFi crazy University friend Remo Casadei and I decided to start making amplifiers. I had also introduced him to Tori’s tunes and he too caught that flu.
To write this review I have been listening to her CD over and over in the past week and getting paragraphs written in between bouts of work at the bench in the workshop, studying circuits and sipping black coffee as well as at my office at home with the kids jumping around and on me. The systems I have used have comprised of a Sonneteer Alabaster amplifier, Byron CD player Mark Three and Jamo Concert 8 loudspeakers in the workshop and at home, a Mark One Sonneteer Campion, a Mark three Byron and a pair of Rogue 6 Penaudio loudspeakers.
Haider Bahrani is the Managing Director and co founder at Sonneteer.
Hand made in Britain since 1994
The Alabaster was again making hey as the Polish edition of HiFi Choice gave it the full 5 stars:
The tested amplifier sounds unbelievable, as I will write more in the review, but it is also quite unusual. In many respects it refers to devices of a bygone era, but the builders also had their own idea, thanks to which it was possible to obtain such, and no other sound. Translated from the original
And back to the Sedley. As we said ,that same year the Sonneteer Sedley got a lot of press attention as Vinyl fever caused delirium.
So I can’t keep the Sedley forever, even though I would like to, so I will add another few lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet to sing the Sedley’s praise. The Sedley’s music will be with me, if not eternally (who can keep a piece of equipment forever): “Or at the least so long as brain and heart / Have faculty by nature to subsist, / Till each to razed oblivion yield his part / Of thee, thy record never can be missed.…. to quote but one reviewer, Jon Eben Field for the Wall of Sound.
HiFi Choice had a chance to marvel this time as they played through a pile of LPs.
Build quality is very impressive…Tank-like build (they exclaimed)…lovely sound…The Sedley is a very level headed performer unruffled by whatever you throw at it…it is able to get the best out of all test material in equal measure…notes extend from the sound stage and hang in the air with natural grace. Bass is well extended and without..bloom.
We are not that familiar with Tanks but happy to be compared as we assume they are quite sturdy.