Listening. Back in September 2014, I attended a Classic Album Sundays event hosted at Sarm Studios in Notting Hill London [below]. Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy acted as MC for Inside the Pleasure Dome, a 30th anniversary celebration of the release of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s fabled debut release in its actual place of origin. And amazingly both Trevor Horn (the record’s producer and still studio owner - inset) and engineer Steve Lipson were on hand for a Q&A session scheduled to follow playback of the complete double album. ‘Cosmo’, a boundlessly energetic global ambassador for the high-fidelity cause, had set up a vinyl and valves combination fronted by big Klipsch La Scala II horns. It was positioned in the studio’s legendary live room, a backdrop adorned over the years by the talents of myriad multi-million selling artists including Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Paul McCartney, George Michael, Rhianna et al. It’s impossible to exaggerate the cultural earthquake the record’s release caused here in the UK. Its influence reached way beyond pop music. It's for good reason then that Trevor Horn is still widely referred to in the mainstream British media as ‘the man who invented the eighties!’  And I even summoned up the courage to ask the Horn/Lipson team a question of my own concerning two other records that had a profound developmental effect on my love affair with sound - Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm & Propaganda’s A Secret Wish.


It was a magical evening and with the memory still fresh, that’s the rather circuitous explanation of the fact that the first sound to break free from the GX’s cute little woofers was ‘Relax’, the hit (banned from British airwaves due to its overt sexual content) that announced the band’s arrival on the world stage. And boy did these Fostex impress from the off. We all have our own subjective idea of the ‘absolute sound’ stored in our heads built up through years of listening. And the GXs were delivering this record exactly how I wanted it. If the synthesiser was undisputed king of the 80s' sonic jungle, then this was the sound of it baring its teeth, the caustic industrial bass line captured with a scalpel-like precision. The whole album spun excitingly into my listening space and the magnesium woofers’ ability to come to a complete and absolute halt when required made me imagine that the designers must have ticked the ceramic brakes option.  Trevor Horn’s trademark ability to present the slickest of productions without any sacrifice of raw energy was fully apparent. It was abundantly clear why, not since the Sex Pistols, had any band debuted with such a carefully crafted insolent intent. Ironically the whole presentation was much more impressive than it had sounded a few weeks before, back in its west London birthplace. You may have guessed that Klipsch & Audio Note might not have been the ideal suitors for this distinctive mix of electronica, pop and rock whilst the diminutive Fostex hammered that very point home.


Next up, Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain demonstrated that if lush string-backed electronica are your thing, these speakers could well end up being life partners. On "Utopia", Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals appeared articulate, nicely centered and part of a soundstage which, somewhat unusually, impressed more with its depth than width. This was a surprise as it’s a rarer quality I normally associate with more expensive designs. Michael Brecker’s double-Grammy winning Pilgrimage is such a joyous album, you'd never guess he was suffering the trials of leukaemia during recording and it did indeed transpire to be this great musician’s final offering. Joined by Pat Metheny, John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, unlike many of these all-star outings, compositionally it’s very strong too. And even on the busier harder-driving tracks like the opener "The Mean Time" and "Tumbleweed", there isn’t one iota of extraneous noodling. The speakers ably conveyed how everyone had turned up with their A-game and demonstrated that the recording is perfect too; crystal clear, perfectly layered and with the saxophone in particular displaying a rich full-fat tonality to die for. DeJohnette is confirmed as the most sensitive of drummers. His subtle cymbal work portrayed with a lovely liquid but not too bright sheen by the magnesium tweeters. And the interplay between him and Patitucci perfectly illustrated the GX's accomplishment when it came to tracking both the biggest and smallest dynamic contrasts.


Another veteran jazz artist—Eberhard Weber—sounded as characteristically Nordic as ever on Endless Days, with the inescapable tenderness of his music wonderfully captured. The fingering technique employed to elicit what must be one of the most recognisable sounds in jazz could be pictured: cutting down pizzicato style to create piercing harmonics. Those were anchored by the most luxurious of deep cavernous lows. The complexity in that electro bass alone, so often bleached out by lesser equipment, was here in full Technicolour. And long-term partner Rainer Bruninghaus’ luminous Bösendorfer bore a timbral core robust enough to remind me of my own ATC SCM50ASL towers, speakers which are peerless when it comes to reproducing piano. On "Nuit Blanche", his own musical imprimatur of restrained romance threatened to positively blossom, such was the generosity of tone.