Graham Nash's First Stop: Philip O'Hanlon's On a Higher Note Suite at the Mirage

[Note: click here for background on this project and here for how we set up the equipment.]

After a quick mid-morning breakfast with Graham Nash that included's Michael Lavorgna, we headed up to the top floor of the Mirage hotel to start our day at Philip O'Hanlon's On a Higher Note suite.

Before we walked into the room, Nash gave me a serious look and explained "What I'm looking for is that the intent of my message, the impact of the song, is communicated intact. This is the first time I've heard these songs outside of the studio, so this should be very interesting. I'm looking forward to this."

Before we started, Nash looked around at the equipment.

Of course I had no idea what to expect either, since I'd never sat and listened to music on a good system with Nash. Would he find all of these demo rooms anemic compared to his experience in the studio? Would his musical intent go astray? Audiophiles often work in a bubble where we tweak away heading toward some imagined perfection. What would he think of what we consider great sound?

O'Hanlon greeted us as we came in and I set up the laptop while introductions were made. The Vivid B1 speaker designer, Lawrence Dickie, happened to be present as well and a couple more CES attendees wandered in, surprised to see who was in the room. Graham greeted everyone, making small talk while Michael Lavorgna and I fiddled with cables.

Though the Merging Technologies NADAC was being featured in O'Hanlon's system, it has no USB input, so we connected Nash's computer to the USB input on the Luxman D-08u CD/SACD player and configured Roon. Everyone settled down and I hit play.

The first track we heard was "Myself at Last", the second song on the album and one of the acoustic numbers. Graham told me earlier he likes to listen moderately loud, so I turned up the volume until he nodded. This piece includes acoustic guitar, voice, some light keyboards and near the end, a harmonica. It sounded wonderful to me. We then went on to the opening number, which rocks with pounding rhythm and electric guitars, "This Path Tonight".

I watched Graham as he gently rocked back and forth on the cushy chair, then glanced over at O'Hanlon who was also watching Nash carefully. After all, Philip was taking a chance letting us invade his space with no assurances, and for all he knew, Nash could declare this experiment a failure and I'd have to report exactly that. But after the second song ended, Graham jumped up, turned to everyone and exclaimed "that sounds fuckin' amazing! Lets hear one more?" Whew! Smiles all around.

L-R Philip O'Hanlon, Graham Nash, and Lawrence Dickie all smiles after a successful demo.

After we left the room I asked Graham for more about what he thought. "First, I must tell you It was fabulous to be able to let go. To let go and not be thinking I want this sound here and we need this part there. And I felt the speakers were incredibly designed, almost like a beautiful aircraft."

As to the sound: "I really got the feeling I was sitting there watching myself perform. And that is very difficult for me to feel that—it's difficult for me to step outside of myself when I listen. But I was able to do it today. That was the first set of speakers I've heard the album on since the studio and I was kind of a little nervous and who knows what to expect right? But it sounded fantastic to me. Bass response, everything was fabulous and I congratulate them on great sound."

Next up, the dCS/Wilson Audio/D'Agostino room down the hall.

Equipment List:
Luxman D-08u CD/SACD player $18,000
Luxman C-900u control amplifier $20,000
Luxman M-900u stereo amplifier $20,000
Vivid B1 Decade loudspeakers $28,000
SonoruS proximity subwoofer controller $9,900
Eclipse TD520SW subwoofer $3,600
Artesania "Exoteryc" racks
Artesania "Aire" amplifier platform
Shunyata Venom series interconnects & Aloha series power cords

JennMartin's picture

Congrats on this. I can't wait to read more about the day. Will see Mr. Nash at the NAMM show next week.
Jenn Martin
Atascadero, CA

volvic's picture

It's Vivid speakers and Luxman. Drool over that Luxman turntable. Lovin' these Nash posts.

doak's picture

"What I'm looking for is that the intent of my message, the impact of the song, is communicated intact." Graham Nash

This is what drives audiophiles also - the quest to retrieve the artists intent intact in the reproduction process. This IMO is why seemingly small improvements, to us, can seem like major leaps. The magic is in the details. Hopefully, we have all been there - the place/time when we can finally hear/perceive the true EMOTIONAL CONTENT of the music. It is there in the nuance - quite a feat to first capture it in the recording/mastering process and then again to remanufacture it in our homes.

BradleyP's picture

Exactly! If that last 1% or 1/2% of resolution is the difference between "flipping a switch," raising goosebumps, recalling a memory, or producing a tear, than that little bit is everything, isn't it? It's all about crossing a threshold. Too bad it costs so bloody much.

Glotz's picture

Now if we could get even more rock icons to give it a shot! Best PR ever.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

I count 4 Graham Nash articles in the past week or so. They clearly identify the demographic of Stereophile, which is, obviously, aging boomers. This bodes ill for the future of audiophiles.

It is not a sustainable demographic. This group is not only limited by retirement incomes, but subject to the ravages of mortality.

What do younger generations listen to? That would be my focus if I were editor.

volvic's picture

Another doom and gloom post from Osgood. Stereophile does focus on what young people like this is why you have Innerfidelity and Audiostream and why Stereophile's monthly mag focuses on these subgroups (do you even subscribe?). I attend shows frequently and do see the younger generation attending, I see them and smile knowing that they are hooked for life, as I was when I was a youngster and started buying. The sky is falling syndrome of dying demographics was played out when I was growing up yet here we are. Tastes change, lifestyles change yet people still want good music played on their devices they then ask or seek how they can get that at home. The Nash posts are what this industry needs more of and I commend Stereophile for doing this.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

dear Crinkly one two three, for reminding us aged ones to contact the Neptune Society and get our affairs in order, quickly, before we croak and our systems end up on the shelves of Goodwill. Speaking of which, summoning up some good will would be a lovely way to start the New Year.

No one can possibly attack you personally, since you are a pseudonym. To my mind, you're far more of a posture than a human being. But before you dwell too much on the appearance of people at the show, I wish to remind you and everyone of two things:

1. This was a trade show that is not open to the general public. The people posing next to equipment in the photos are usually designers, engineers, CEOs, or distributors. The people listening in the room are predominantly dealers and distributors. There were 170,000 people at CES, but 169,000 of them spent most of their time at the Convention Center or the Sands.

2. With less high-end exhibits this year, there was a fair smattering of semi-conductor and technology companies amongst the high-end exhibitors on the halls of the Venetian Tower. A goodly number of young, technology savvy people who went room-to-room, listening to equipment. Their presence, however, was not why exhibitors paid a ton of money to strut their stuff; they were there to reach out to their distribution and retail network, and/or to find more dealers or distributions for their products.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Comments are filled with the scared defenders of a dwindling niche market.

Trust you eyes. The photos above show mostly paunchy, grey-haired men (no women). Such is the future of hi-end. Grow old, grow stupid.

I look at the photos above and see a bunch of desperate, avaricious predators.

Digital audio, if someone, at least one person, would tell the truth is processed cheese. No one, except fringe nuts, buys or listens to vinyl. UFOs anyone?

I grew up listening to AM radio. We've come full circle.

(My comments are carefully screened. My previous comment has not been allowed.)

ChrisS's picture

Crinkly's Fable:

Crinkly sees only the tail of an elephant, and thinks "Ah, it's a snake!"