I’ve been a technology journalist, with a strong emphasis on the audio/video side of consumer electronics and home entertainment, since 2003. I worked for more than 14 years at What Hi-Fi?, the last six of which were spent as the editor of the magazine and website.
In this time I’ve developed a pretty deep understanding of the way both the publishing industries and the electronics industries function, as well as the sort of intimate knowledge of products (both specific and general) that can make people very wary of me at parties.
While I was completing a journalism qualification, I also worked at Richer Sounds (the London Road, Brighton branch, for those who may have shopped there back in the day). I’m fairly sure it was my knowledge of consumers and their requirements, as well as my obviously sparkling writing and obsessive interest in music, that led What Hi-Fi? to take me on in the first place.
Since leaving What Hi-Fi? I’ve embraced the carefree, serene life of the freelance journalist, and have written about home entertainment and consumer electronics for quite a number of specialist and mainstream titles.
I do it because I love it. Like most of us, I’ve loved music for as long as I remember - and I’ve grown to love - authentically love - sound, too. I’m not so deep into geekhood that I can’t possibly enjoy a piece of music if it’s being badly reproduced, but my goodness there’s something so visceral about music that sounds as it is supposed to. Of all the arts, music is (I think) the most communicative and the most immediately and reliably moving, and as such it deserves to be heard to its full potential.
To my mind there’s nothing especially uptight about the way I listen to music when I’m in fact listening to equipment – but any number of people who are very close to me would probably disagree. Obviously my system is set up perfectly, obviously my seat is comfortable, and it’s the correct height for the speakers I’m listening to and the correct distance away. But after that it’s just a question of letting the music happen.
When I first started reviewing audio equipment professionally, I was briefly (but deeply) convinced I would have to give it up. I found I had stopped listening to music for its own sake and could basically only hear the equipment it was being played on – and I really couldn’t allow anything (least of all my job) to spoil my relationship with music. Happily, I managed to find the headspace to separate and compartmentalise ‘enjoying music’ and ‘listening to electronics reproduce music’.
When I want to listen to music I almost always either put on an LP or open the TIDAL app. Like all music-lovers of my generation, I used to own an absolute stack of CDs – I probably have no more than 50 now, which are all discs that are a) not available on streaming services and b) prohibitively expensive to acquire on vinyl.
Again, I will deny my own geekiness – but vinyl is my preferred music storage format because, well, it sounds best. There are reasons why the vinyl format is prized/fetishised, and they are not – despite what you might have read – to do with complexity or expense. I really value music streaming services, though, because convenience and extraordinary breadth of availability are not to be sniffed at. And some of them sound pretty good, too.
The idea of a ‘favourite’ record is not one I really try to think about, because there are many records I love and for many reasons. But when it comes to exposing/revealing the secrets of a music system, its strengths and foibles, there are a few records I return to time and again (and always have done in some cases): Exodus by Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic having at Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1959, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Another Green World by Brian Eno, Phoenix: Flames are Dew Upon My Skin by Eartheater… There are others, of course. There always will be.