Simon Kern joins Mono and Stereo

Its my pleasure to welcome aboard of Mono and Stereo team Simon Kern as Senior Headphone Contributing Writer . Here is Simon's introduction...

Greetings, my name is Simon Kern, I have recently had the honour of being invited to join the team at Mono & Stereo. I shall be assisting Matej with posting news with the focus being on Headphones. Yes, you read that correctly I will be covering the world of Headphones, Personal Audio and sharing with you this magical journey of digital streaming, MQA, software like Roon for instance and generally anything that involves Music and listening to it via Headphones.

I have previously written a couple of articles where I have talked about my system and I will continue sharing about that journey as it happens sharing that Journey with you. As I’m sure there are many questions you’ll want answers to.

How did a formerly confirmed Analog, Turntable Junkie decided to go down the digital route instead of pursuing ever more impressive Analog systems and the re-emergence of Master tapes.

A bit of my history, I am an Englishman living in the former British Penitentiary called Australia with my family. My fascination with music began when I was very young. On Sunday morning’s my father would play a broad selection of Classical music and talk to me about it, this bought it alive and I became fascinated both by the music and the equipment that reproduced it.

By fifteen I had a Holiday job as a Junior assistant with Chris Franklin - former editor of Popular Hi-Fi and as I recall it was quite an experience and Travelled with him to meet and interview manufacturers, Ivor Thienbrun of Linn, Bob Stuart of Meridian and Naim Audio these were ‘names’ in those days. I worked for Max Townshend of Elite Townshend Electronics, creator and manufacturer of the ‘Rock’ turntable and an ardent opponent of everything that Linn stood for. At that time they were having spectacular success with their LP12 turntable. CD’s didn't exist until one night John Bamford from Hi-Fi News bought one of the first units over to Max’s for a listen, I remember the shaking of the heads, disbelief that this new technology that promised so much just sounded plain awful.

Soon at age 17 I had my 2 channel system, my first speakers were Pro Ac Tablets powered by a Mission amp with a pre-amp by Townshend Electronics and by then Max had designed a more affordable ‘Rock’ turntable with a trough that arched across the top of the record filled with Silicon fluid with a paddle on the end of the tonearm to provide damping. It worked and sounded even better, except for the moments when a drop of silicone fluid dropped into the precious grooves of the record. Minor issues ! My Father found it hilarious that i took out the household plugs and soldered the amps mains cable directly to it and had strategically placed toilet rolls behind each speaker against the wall to stop them rocking on their stands. It still amuses him to tell that story.

Fast-forward and in my early twenties I left London behind me for Australia. I fell in love with the Sun and beaches that went on forever. I left Hi-Fi behind and worked as a labourer on Shopping Centre sites. One thing led to another and by my early 30’s I had started to build my own Shopping Centres. Until one day in Sydney I looked up Hi-Fi stores and found Len Wallis Audio, out I went and bought a Stax Headphone system with matching Stax valve amp, the source a walkman. Seemed to me at the time It was a no brainer I couldn’t afford what I wanted (speakers a nice 2 channel system) but I could afford a good Stax setup and I could listen to it at night when the kids were finally asleep.

Not long after that it all became more serious, with a pair of Krell KAS Statement Mono-blocks (the ones wiht he big needles and power supply underneath) speakers were the Wilson Watt Puppy 5, a Krell CD Transport and DA Convertor rounded things up. All in a room you could barely swing a Cat in. The complaints from my young family started so I used to watch anxiously for them to disappear down the driveway at the weekends for a few hours listening pleasure.

This all snowballed into my working with Wilson Audio to distribute and promote the brand here and in New Zealand. I also attended every CES as part of the Wilson crew, I learned a heck of a lot in those days from Dave and John Giolas about room setup and most importantly documenting system changes. I learned that just because I could hear a difference didn’t mean it was right. I learned about the importance of cables as a system component from the guys at Transparent Audio. Karen Sumner was on hand in those days and it wasn’t long before I was distributing their brand as well. HRS, Aesthetix, Rockport AudioNote UK, and my first proper listening room which took 3 years and was never really properly finished….. in went mark Levinson 33’s and Wilson X1’s out went the Krell’s it was never ending until I found valves. In that I had good  mentor an older RCA based Engineer who properly instructed me on the very essence of valves. In went VTL power amps and later Pre amp’s. Gryphon front end followed with CEC TLO X CD Transport and a AudioNote DAC 5 Signature DAC. Finally the piece de resistance a Rockport Sirius 3 Turntable complete with instruction from Andy Payor on setup. Every morning was spent on the phone to the US asking questions. I had an insatiable appetite for getting closer to the emotion of the music, to the performance, the breath’s between the instruments. I heard the Wamm’s at Dave Wilson’s house, in that spectacular room of his and knew I had far to travel.

My last 2 channel effort included Wilson Alexandria’s I upgraded them from MK1’s to MK2’s. Audio research Ref 610 Monoblocks went in which ate valves (something to do with our voltage) 4 dedicated lines and a seperate sub mains complete with ground spike completed the power affairs along with Transparent’s best OPUS. Rockport front end with numerous cartridges, record cleaners, CD lathing machines, Aesthetix dual mono Pre amp and Phone Stage’s a six box affair with custom valves supplied by my mentor and the to finish It all off the biggest HRS rack they had built (which is still on the front page of My record collection was blooming, the CD’s were flowing in, some stayed some were returned. Records were spun every night.

I learned so much about speaker setup I travelled the country more often that not with Trent from Wilson in tow, teaching dealers how to ‘properly’ setup a pair of speakers. Friendships were made and at night much was learned about the in and outs of room acoustics. Panels were moved millimetres to get that setup just right, tears flowed at the emotion pouring off the grooves and out of the speakers. The floor was covered in tape with special marking’s carefully written on them. Subwoofers were added and then taken away. It was full time job just keeping the system at tip top performance. 

Then disaster, first the GFC, then floods which wiped out the entire system and all of my record collection. I was distraught particularly at the loss of so much fine music on vinyl. I sold off what I could and retreated back into my cave licking my wounds. 

The longest period of time went by 5 years, I didn’t even pick up a copy of the TAS or Stereophile. The wounds were too deep. Then on Holidays by myself up on the beach I found Addicted to Audio in Melbourne and read Head-Fi and the passion was set ablaze once again. This time all I could afford was Headphone so I bought a set of Audeze LCD-X and a little portable DAC/Amp which I could hook up to my MacBook and Trent from Wilson Audio sent me my first High Res file - Elton John’s Tumbleweed Collection - Come Down In Time and I was amazed and it felt like my brain which had dried and shrivelled from the lack of music, opened up like a sponge and I was enthralled. Wow was this how far things had come. 

I hung out on Head-Fi researching all that I could and started putting together a system again, this time built around Headphones. I had had enough ‘discussions’ about proper listening levels back in my 2 channel days to last several lifetimes. Headphones were the answer I could even have decent sound travelling around. As the system grew again, I realised that digital was finally coming of age and their seemed no point in building up a record collection again given the treat of streaming and searching for new music every night. It became clear to me that the DA Convertor was the most component of a digital system so I searched and bought and sold until I heard finally the first DAC that finally was able to transmit some if not most of the emotion of my previous Analog rig. I met Matej by sending him an email as to the glorious benefits I had found with the MSB Select. A friendship was forged and well here I am.

I look forward to sharing the future with you.