Introducing Steve Dickinson

One pretty constant feature has been Nordost cables. It’s where the whole thing began, and my system has invariably been hooked together with Nordost in some form or other. Currently Tyr2 is doing a fantastic job but I’ve worked my way up from Valkyrja, through Tyr, Frey2 and Tyr 2, with smatterings of Valhalla and Valhalla 2 now and then. And each iteration has just got better, giving me more of what I want, a free, open, wideband sound with unimpeachable timing and dynamics. Cables you can install and just stop worrying about whether they’re holding your system back. Full disclosure: these aren’t mine, Nordost has generously loaned me a selection box of mains, interconnects, ground and loudspeaker cables. As a reviewer, I’ve found that I need quite a variety of different cables and it’s tricky to assemble a meaningful package from the random bits and bobs that come in, so Nordost’s support has been a boon.

My current system is both vinyl and optical disc based (no streaming yet). Records are played on a VPI Prime Signature with a Hana ML cartridge, while I use an Accuphase DP570 disc player for both CD and SACD. Amplifier is the Accuphase E-480 integrated, driving a pair of FinkTeam Kim loudspeakers on their own, dedicated stands. The phono stage is an ‘Arkless’ transconductance design, from a one-man operation in the UK whose developed quite a cult following. It not only sounds very good, ridiculously good for the price, but it also removes many of the issues around cartridge loading; reviewing is so much simpler if you don’t have to worry about running through the endless permutations of the viable loading options!

I also have a long-standing relationship with the guys at MusicWorks who produce a range of system supports, mains cables and blocks. I use their ReVo II stand – it’s a modular version of the innovative, and somewhat polarising ReVo acrylic stand that I reviewed for HiFi+ in 2009. It’s not the most practical, or domestically pleasing stand – my wife regularly drops heavy hints, pointedly asking why we can’t have something resembling furniture, instead. The trouble is, it sounds better than most of the alternatives that I’ve tried. MusicWorks doesn’t like metal in supports, arguing that it can be very detrimental to the sound of a system. They’ve gone to considerable lengths to eliminate it from their products, working with acrylic, PEEK, and, latterly, have developed a very interesting composite material, dubbed AcouPlex, which I’ll be writing more about very shortly (it enjoyed a brief starring role in RG’s blog, ). They also introduced me to the Polish cable brand Audiomica, and if I’m not using the resident Nordost loom for any reason, Audiomica is where I’ll turn. They do that all-important coherence thing too, managing the energy and timing, better than anything else I’ve heard at their price.

Musically, my tastes have got broader as my system has got better. I’ve always listened to a lot of classical, particularly orchestral and choral, but in the last ten years or so, I’ve gotten more and more into jazz, learning to understand via the golden era and the sixties and seventies material, but I’m also developing a keen ear for more modern, often Nordic, jazz. I rather like the gloomy, introspective, contemplative stuff as well as the ebullient, energetic stuff. I like to think I’m doing my bit to help the ECM staff feed their families. And there’s a thriving live music scene round these parts, thankfully coming back to life as Covid starts to diminish. Manchester’s Hallé is not just another provincial orchestra. Under Sir Mark Elder it has returned to its former glory and the Bridgewater Hall is an accessible and underrated venue; and there are a good half dozen other music venues in and around my home city, hosting gigs by some amazing musicians. I’m also open to increasing amounts of weirdness, I love it when something that initially repels you suddenly starts to reveal itself. It also serves as a reviewing tool. If the system can make sense of it, then it has to be working on some fundamental level.