Hi-Fi Show Live 2019: “a pivotal moment for tape”!

Well, we did it… this Hallowe’en weekend, The Reel-to-Reel Rambler went from being an online webzine to a collaborative live event at Hi-Fi Show Live 2019 – and what a show it was!

If there was any doubt about the growing interest in reel-to-reel, then this weekend must surely have put it to rest. The Reel-to-Reel Rambler room was busy and buzzing from the moment the show opened, and frankly we were quite stunned by the sheer number of people who came to see us, chat, listen to tapes, ask questions and generally hang out.

Between you and me, it was a massive relief, since in the run up to the show I was getting seriously nervous that perhaps I’d bitten off more than I could chew and was about to fall on my face in a very public way! The whole thing took months of negotiation and preparation, involving many conversations with tape labels, manufacturers and artists in a bid to pull together a wide selection of brands, music, tape decks and people to show off the breadth of what open reel tape can offer the audiophile and music lover. And then there were all the negotiations with hi-fi companies to beg and borrow some of the audio world’s finest kit that would do justice to the amazing sound of tape – more on which later.

We have a whole bunch of photos, videos, interviews and opinions to share with you from the weekend – not only from us here at the Rambler but also from other commentators – and we’ll be sharing these on the website over the coming weeks. For now, here’s a few highlights in the form of my own personal photo diary, followed by some heartfelt thanks to all the amazing people who came together to make this happen!

On your marks, get ready…. setting up

Not a bad sight as our hired van rolls up at Ascot – a seriously impressive venue! And a door with our name on it. That door opens into a room with one heck of a view – this must be where the rich and famous come to watch the races. So we figure we’d better do a good job and create something special in here – all hands on deck! A big shout out to The Audiophile Clinic’s Petronel Butuc who not only lugged all of those heavy decks up to the 6th floor, but also serviced and fine-tuned every one of them ready for play. And a deep bow also to RecordingTheMasters’ Théo Gardin who brought the stunning, brand new Ballfinger deck with him all the way over from France!

Go! Saturday morning, the show opens…

We’re on the 6th floor of this massive venue, and right at the far end of it, so it’s going to take time for the crowds filter up this way. Will they make the journey? Will they come this far – let’s face it, there’s plenty of audio nirvana to occupy them on every other floor.

Will they ever! We’re just an hour into the show and they’re pouring in already. Come 10:30am when it’s time for our first presentation – by Mike Valentine of Chasing The Dragon – the room is seriously filling up. Mike treats us to a world exclusive: the very first public playing of a track from the Quentin Collins All Star Quintet’s forthcoming album: A Day In The Life. I was lucky enough to join Mike and his team at Air Studios for the recording of this album (you can read my blog here) and I can tell you it’s an awesome listen. By now the room is packed and it’s standing room only – wow – and that’s pretty much how it remains for the rest of the day!

Next up is Neville Roberts who holds the room’s rapt attention as he explains the reasons why tape is still the ultimate audio medium, and then talks us through how to enter the world of reel-to-reel, how to incorporate tape into your system, and how to care for it.

After Neville, LA-based audiophile jazz icon Lyn Stanley takes the stage – and she really does take the stage, Lyn’s a seasoned performer and a fascinating speaker. She leads the crowd behind the scenes, right into the experience of recording an audiophile album, and entertains us with her stories of working with some of the world’s greatest recording engineers and record producers (Bernie Grundman, Al Schmitt). Now the room’s getting even more packed and people are spilling out into the corridor (even though it’s a very windy corridor!).

The utterly charming Ed Pong of UltraAnalogue Recordings has a passion for music that’s totally infectious. Ed enthralls us all with his tales of flying to France (he’s based in Toronto, Canada!) just to get a violin bow re-strung, and of his utterly obsessive attention to detail in his ‘whole system approach’ to recording, duplicating and playback. His presentation is punctuated with playing snippets of his fabulous master tapes, including a bit of Danse Macabre (since it’s Hallowe’en) which even has a few folks at the back joining in and throwing a few shapes!

Next up is legendary hi-fi journalist Ken Kessler. Now, I knew Ken would be popular (his guest blogs here on the Rambler website always draw in big numbers), but seriously, people are now standing on chairs at the back in order to see and hear his talk – which includes some mind-blowingly off-the-wall musical presentations…. like, would you believe it if I told you he’s playing Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music Soundtrack on 7.5ips 4-track tape? Well, he is, and it’s a knockout, and yep, it’s now on my shopping list! I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but Julie’s voice is like being dipped in honey – such is the power of tape!

Last but by no means least, Marco Taio of Open Reel Records closes the day. Marco plays a wide selection of his exquisite recordings, mostly made in some of the most beautiful sounding venues in Italy, but also interspersed with some vintage gems: Thelonious Monk and Al Jarreau. It’s a wonderful end to an exhilarating day.

In between presentations we play a wide range of music on tape on our awesome system. Throughout the day people drift in and out. Most take a seat, get comfortable, like what they hear and stay a while. Many spend time checking out our bank of reel-to-reel decks, asking questions, chatting with us… the presenters mentioned above, Théo Gardin of RecordingTheMasters, Petronel Butuc of The Audiophile’s Clinic – and me.

It’s an incredible day and it speeds by so quickly, then before we know it it’s Sunday and day two of the show whizzes by in much the same way. The whole thing is an absolute thrill.

The venue is outstanding, oozing style and quality. I never actually get out of the room to sample the restaurant or even grab a coffee, but I’m not complaining – I’m having a ball!

I’d very much like to thank…

I want to take this opportunity to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to a number of people, all of whom helped to make this what Ken Kessler very generously described as “a pivotal moment for tape”.

So, in no particular order, my heartfelt thanks and deepest gratitude to…

Hi-Fi Show Live and the show’s organiser, Paul Miller, for taking a punt on a rookie exhibitor who wanted to do something not only a bit different but also totally untried and tested. It was a risk, and I truly appreciate you taking it.

The rambler’s very own Hi-Fi Show Live team, who all came together on the day to variously sponsor, speak at, travel a very long way to, and be present at, the show. You were all amazing, you did tape proud, and you were a joy to spend the weekend with: audio journalists Ken Kessler and Neville Roberts; recording engineers and producers Mike Valentine of Chasing the Dragon, Ed Pong of UltraAnalogue Recordings and Marco Taio of Open Reel Records; Théo Gardin of RecordingTheMasters; Petronel Butuc of The Audiophile’s Clinic; and recording artist Lyn Stanley.

The wonderfully generous hi-fi brands who loaned us superb high-end audio components for the weekend: Aesthetix Mimas integrated amplifier, GIK Acoustics acoustic panels (a blessing in a glass-sided room), Raidho TD-2.2 loudspeakers, the Townshend Seismic Vibration Isolation Stand and cables from Townshend and Gamut. The sound was truly incredible and you all rock!

The Rambler & sidekick

My rambling sidekick Shauna Robertson, who works with me to manage and edit the thereeltoreelrambler.com and who, just over a year ago, after hearing me rambling on about tape for hours/days/weeks/months, said “hey, why don’t we create a website?”. Not a bad idea at all, as it turns out.

And, last but by no means least, an enormous thank you to all of the audiophiles and music lovers who came to hang out with us over the weekend and whose interest and enthusiasm was a joy to behold. It was wonderful to share time, space and a shared passion with you.

More soon – including video footage, presentation clips and interviews – watch this space!