6moonbeams #1


Do enjoy the music you hear at audio shows? In the main, I do not. My tastes are more closely aligned with FactMag and The Quietus than Just Jazz Guitar or Gramophone. Not every audiophile subsists on a diet of Jazz At The Pawnshop or Harry Belafonte but you wouldn’t know that from wandering the halls of the average hi-fi show.

Compounding the problem of same-same choices is the paucity of CD players with which guests could once bring their own. Insisting on a factory-pressed CD was one way for the exhibitor to prevent home-baked discs burnt from lossy sources making it into the tray.

Digital audio has brought with it considerable convenience to the average listener but computer-based front ends in audio show rooms hold attendees at arms length. The restaurant is licensed but BYO isn’t too commonly accommodated.

For attendees holding USB keys full of tunes aloft the file provenance issue presents. I can certainly sympathise with exhibitors refusing on grounds of doubt. Some politely sidestep that awkward conversation by lamenting that they don’t have the required software to transcode FLAC to ALAC (necessary for iTunes library loading).

The manufacturer or dealer’s tendency to play it safe with the tried and true cuts of years gone by sees many a showgoer stuck in a Groundhog Day of Nils Lofgren and “The Great Gig in the Sky”.

A few exceptions aside, the majority of music heard at shows is clearly aimed at the dominant demographic: middle-aged white men who savour the familiarity of Diana Krall and Hotel California. Having already detailed my complaint some two years ago, I’ve no wish to repeat myself here. I’m not advocating that we all start listening to A Place To Bury Strangers or The Haxan Cloak, just that there’s a hidden thirst among a (mostly) silent minority for greater musical variety.

Thankfully, the advent of lossless streaming provides us with an opportunity to share CD-quality streams with fellow audiophiles. Show exhibitors with sufficiently robust Internet connections can pipe Tidal or Qobuz direct into their rooms.

For those without the luxury of bandwidth, there’s an opportunity to hear fresh music without feeling encumbered by the lossy encoding of Spotfy or Rdio.

Putting myself in the shoes of a hi-fi demonstrator, I asked myself what I might play at an audio show. The answer arrived in the form of ten-song playlist comprising mainly mid-pace numbers – tunes that could easily be slipstreamed into the usual programming of Norah Jones without causing too many frowning foreheads or turned-up noses.

With an overacted nod to the hosting site, 6moonbeams #1 awaits your click here.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. It will be cool if your suggestions become commonly known as “Darko’s playlist” at the shows. This solution could be one of your greatest contributions. I consider you to be an authority on an issue like this with very practical, super-eclectic, good tastes and a wide-sweeping base of experience. I appreciate that you want to have a go at this problem. On a side note I’m particularly appreciative of your audiophile electronic music suggestions. I’d support your playlist if I could actually get around to the shows but I can certainly take advantage of your song suggestions to add to my own experience and listening pleasure. Thanks for all that.

    • Ah, I don’t really wish to take such overt credit for simply curating a playlist – that’d be too gauche – but glad I struck a chord.

  2. I clicked over to the article on 6moons, and I was quite pleased to find that you selected two tracks that I truly love. Beck’s “Paper Tiger,” and Waits’ “Alice.” Anyone who is writing about music and audio and mentions those two tracks deserves further reading as far as I’m concerned. Good work.

  3. Wonderfull article as always.I have my own personal music probably 5-6 discs that I carry with me to an audio show or an audio dealer.With these discs,I continually amaze the hosts because they probably have never heard them before!
    If you would like,I could probably E-mail you directly a file that contains the list of these discs and why I feel that they are the best that I have ever heard.
    The dealer with the best music selections,bar none is High Water Sound In New York. Thanks,John

  4. Thanks, John! It’s always nice to find more alternatives to add to my own testing playlist. My overlap with with “audiophile classics” is pretty low given my musical tastes. I think there’s a lot more well recorded modern music out there if people choose to open their ears.

  5. Although the playlist is on “6moons” web site, you’ve initiated the article here, so I am placing my comment here, also.

    Usually, I do not give a ‘schiit’ about what others listen to and I do not give out my own suggestions on what to listen to. There is too many music categories, subcategories, periods, genres, styles, tastes, etc., etc., to find two people who would like the same music.

    However, I find your playlist really quite well balanced and diversified (although obviously leaning toward a specific generation in its makeup). I especially like your choice of the track from “Last Temptation”, David Byrne’s “Sound of Business” and Tom Waits’ “Alice”.

    As soon as you convince audio show organizers to use more sensible choice of music (instead of something I NEVER listen to in my own room), I will start attending those shows…

  6. A demonstrator’s reluctance to let you play your own music (unless they simply don’t have the ability, vinyl only setups for example) is a very strong indicator that their stuff sucks, and only sounds good with very select piano trios or solo female vocalists.

    It’s far harder to create a system that can stand up to the kind of music most people listen to than it is to design your system for Kind of Blue and nothing else. I am sympathetic to the fact that demos often have to be thrown together very quickly and there’s not much that can be done about the usually horrible acoustics (though some folks *do* think to employ bass traps in their hotel rooms), but everybody is still playing by the same rules, and the folks with real confidence in their wares are usually the same folks that will let you play whatever you wish.

  7. In a former life, one of my brothers was the drummer for Flesh For Lulu; a Goth-rock band. That’ll shake ’em up. That and something from the Clash. Boom!

  8. Hi John,
    Great article and a nice list. As a manufacturer we have always tried to strike a balance with our demonstrations, between genres and between the more common place audiophile recordings as well as plenty of completely new content.

    Having just returned from the Bristol Sound & Vision Show I can tell you that we played Diana Krall and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but we also played Jon Hopkins, Nitin Sawhney and a few tracks from Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys to the delight of many. The feedback at the time and via email since the show has been fantastic.

    We have often had customers who don’t like the challenge of something new, as a James Blake fan, I distinctly recall playing ‘Willhelm Scream’ to the disgust of one listener and the delight of others. Which ultimately tells you everything you need to know – music, its reproduction and the experience of listening is totally subjective. Yes we’re a business, but we also love music and what we do, so sometimes it’s nice to show a little bit of character and share what makes you tick as an audio enthusiast, rather than worrying about the company’s bottom line.

    With regard to customers contributions, this can create a grey area. We have no hard and fast rules on this, simply if we recognise the music in question and the quality of the source can be verified then we’ll play it if we deem it suitable. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and we do sometimes decline. I’ve learned to my great embarrassment that taking a chance on something you don’t know can be a fatal mistake – queue, inappropriate lyrical content, frankly awful compressed recordings and simply woeful music that has people sprinting for the exits. But in so much as an audio demonstration is about the equipment and the quality of the products, it is also for us at least, a great opportunity to meet customers and followers of the brand and share new experiences in music, so we try to accommodate as much as possible and every year we come home with a list of new music that dovetails into better and more enjoyable demonstrations year-upon-year.

    • Luke – thanks for posting from the manufacturer’s side of the fence. I realise that some recordings must be pre-screened to some degree. But like a road trip, some wrong turns can be fatal whilst others can open up into a pleasant diversion. It’s a risk and I can see how you have to play the odds. Alas, I don’t think too many exhibitors realise how their blanket refusal to roll the dice alienates people like me. And I’m not asking that we be pandered to, just that we’re considered.

      Besides, my playlist isn’t really intended for showgoers to load onto USB drives and instil fear into folk like you. It’s hopefully a tiny step towards having some reconsider the tunes they play, to broaden their horizons. I acknowledge that my choices are (ironically) plucked from my own take on the white, middle-class male music tree – that much was deliberate. One simply cannot go straight for A Place to Bury Strangers! Things will hopefully get spicier as I gather momentum with this 6moonbeams column.

  9. While my musical tastes generally align with yours (Robin Hitchcock!), I’ll offer a counter-point. I have a close friend who builds and sells some of the finest tube gear on the market. He and his wife have worked hard over the past five years to build their sterling reputation and market share. At audio shows his vinyl-only room is frequently mentioned in “best of show” discussions. His primary customer is the older, classical & jazz favoring audiophile so that’s what he plays at audio shows.

    A few years ago I walked into his exhibit room with a freshly-purchase Mobile Fidelity pressing of Elvis Costello’s “Get Happy!” My friend told me point blank “I’ll play it but I’ll only give you two minutes”. Though the time was short, I’ve never heard EC sound better. But as the record played I could see my friend wince every time an older gentleman would poke his head in the door and quickly duck out because of the music. After time was up he handed the record back, and in an apologetic and gracious tone said “bring it back for our after-hours cocktail party and we’ll give it a good workout”. Later that night, EC brought the house down on that system. So while I’d prefer to hear Elbow, Beck, and Tori at audio shows, I can understand why some exhibitors favor more conservative audiophile music choices.

    • Hi Russ – as can I completely understand this approach; I think I alluded to this in my post? Anyway, my point is kinda twofold: 1) if every room was like your friend’s jazz room there’d be very little appeal for anyone with tastes like ours which means 2) audio shows are ultimately doomed to die away with the generation to whom they currently pander.

      • Does the audiophile culture drive the audiophile market or vice versa? As much as we’d like to hear more variety, the music that sells the most gear wins!

        • That’s fine but societal music tastes generally evolve over time. Audio show music needs to show some signs evolution if high-end audio’s livelihood isn’t to die out with the demographic to which it currently (predominantly) panders.

  10. Okay okay. Being the dominant demographic white middle aged man I could have easily been offended however thankfully I don’t fit all your categories prefering a wider music choice devoid of Diana krull.
    I guess the exhibitors are playing to the nominal target audience which is difficult to get away from no matter how bland it is. I agree a wider range of music should be on offer off the stick to challenge the equipment, hell Linkin park and rage against the machine are true musicians widely misunderstood and sound brilliant on a good system.

    Bigger test than Diana krull for sure.

    • I too am a white, middle-aged fella. But as you say, not all white, middle-aged fellas dig the same music.

  11. Not gonna say anything other that I enjoyed reading this. Any more and I’d probably go into rant mode. Someone needs to print t-shirt s with that message and distribute them at shows. Kickstarter, anyone?

  12. Never mind the balding, rotund baby boomers, the following generations can’t be too smug either when we’re talking their favorites. Beck? Wholly cow that’s old school played to death music as well.