Music First in sideways merger

Feature

Music First in sideways merger
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Music First Audio is not the largest of audio companies and up until recently it didn’t have anywhere to demonstrate its wares. This all changed a few months ago when proprietor Jonathan Billington leased the unit next to his production facility in Hastings. Now he has somewhere to display an array of MFA products and a good portion of his enviable collection of Nagra tape recorders. More importantly perhaps, there is now somewhere that you can audition all 14 of Music Firsts various step-ups, preamplifiers and phono stages with a range of loudspeakers and amplifiers.

Nagra D reel to rell next to a pair of MFA preamplifiers

The MFA dem room is decorated with images of Jonathan’s favourite musicians and its sonic character is controlled with Blue Frog acoustic panels in grey and red. There are stereo and a mono systems to enjoy with the latter based around a Nagra 4.2 mono tape recorder, MFA  Baby Classic preamp, Quad II power amp and Quad ESL57 electrostatic. A vintage system in all respects except, ironically, the component called Classic. The stereo set up includes an Audio Note TT-2 Deluxe turntable and arm with Ortofon MC15 Super II cartridge feeding an MFA MM Classic Phono 632 stage with the 632 step-up transformer. Amplification of various types is available but when I visited Jonathan had a Baby Reference V2 preamplifier driving a Quad 606 power amp that is well suited to the ESL63 electrostatic speakers that were in use.

The mono system with Nagra 4.2, MFA Baby Classic, Quad II and Quad ESL57

Alternative speakers include John Howes’ Corner Horns and Audio Note AN-K stand mount two-ways based on the Snell design. Jonathan uses a Technics CD player as a transport with an MSB Analog DAC for digital but also has something far more down to earth in the form of a Raspberry Pi computer with the HiFiBerry DAC that streams from a USB stick and is controlled with an app called Volumio. A complete digital front end for the price of a budget interconnect cable and quite a presentable one if the short audition I had is anything to go by.

Nagra SN portable with Pilot transfer unit and SNST playback unit

For the Nagra enthusiast this room is something of an Aladdin’s cave, I didn’t count the tape recorders but there are plenty of them in all different sizes from the tiny SN to the Nagra T with TA-TC timecode and pilot module you see in the picture with Jonathan. He has the first ever digital recorder, the Nagra D, and a machine used by Rolls Royce to record the sound of jet engines, but it was a ?? portable speaker behind the Nagra D with more controls than a home cinema receiver that caught my eye. It’s beautifully made stuff and with the collection of tapes that Jonathan has amassed, including Sgt. Pepper’s… on two-track mono tape it must be lovely to hear in action. We stuck to vinyl and CD on my visit and the results were terrific, especially with calmer pieces like ‘Valiant’ from Trialogue (Wesseltoft, Berglund, Schwarze). ‘When the Levee Breaks’ was pretty awesome too but I suspect that the ESLs were not really built for that sort of thing.

Jonathan Billington and Nagra T

Origininal Beatles reel to reel tapes