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George 47

Chasing The Dragon Live Recording

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In December last year, I wrote about my discussions with Mike Valentine the man behind Chase the Dragon. Mike’s makes ultra high-quality audio recordings for audiophiles (or anyone really) and I have incorporated some of these tracks into the test tracks I use for reviewing.

A few weeks ago, I had an e-mail from Mike asking me if I would like to attend a recording of music in London. It took me nanoseconds to say yes. Mike invited me and a friend to a recording of Beethoven by Candlelight by the Locrian Ensemble of London conducted by Rimma Sushanskaya with John Lenehan on piano.

So, on 1 Feb 2019, it would be a simple matter for Alex 54 to drive from Coventry to my home and then we would get a train to London, except for one thing. Snow. Tons of it. This was my back garden.



Despite a few flakes of snow, Alex wound his way to me and as he has a fancy car with all sorts of drive systems that are good in the snow, he made good time to get to chez George47. So, after a careful journey to me we had a bite to eat and then wound our way to London. What snow! It was just wet in London.

The concert was due to be recorded in St Martins in the Field (SMIF) in Trafalgar Square. And what a recording venue. There has been a church at SMIF since 1222, although the latest neoclassical building was built between 1722-1726.  It looked to be in a great state of repair and as you can see below the wallpaper is quite nice!!




We arrived early and made our way into the church hall and met up with Mike who was quite pleased to see us!!




OK, that was Mike at the end of the recording.

We had crept into the church as they were rehearsing. We sat a couple of rows behind Mike and the sound of the musicians was superb with a great amount of reverb. And I bet no digital processing or design was done to get that sound, just eighteenth-century ears and the sound. As the rehearsals finished, we had a chat with the woman in front of us (Debbie) and afterwards, she moved over to the front of the ensemble. Mike lent over and told us she was Debbie Wiseman (yes, the famous composer). She had just composed a new piece of music and was here to ask Mike to record it for release as part of a charity album for Help for Heroes. After the ensemble rehearsals, they played the track four times and all were recorded. I thought the best track for the music was track three and Mike agreed. Tracks 1 and 2 also had various noises added as various people came into the church. A guard on the door ensured that Track three was noise free and it was also musically the best. During rehearsals, Mike handed the headphones over to us and we could compare the live event to the live microphone feed. They sounded dam close even though the headphones did not totally isolate us from the orchestra.

After this recording, it was time for the ensemble to get ready for the main event. For us, it was time for dinner.

Down to the Crypt Café for some craft beers and a fantastic slab size of fish for the Great British Fish and Chips. Suitably replete we went back to the hall.

Mike gave us a guided tour of the recording equipment.

He was using 4 AKG C12 valve microphones. They may be 60 years old but they sound very natural and realistic. The main two microphones were arranged as spaced omnis with a Jecklin Disc of lambswool in between them. There was a separate microphone placed near the piano and one near the woodwind instruments. They were not spot mics but there to add texture and to ensure the correct emphasis. Mike did not do live mixing as that would require a separate desk away from the hall to allow monitoring, so the microphones were individually recorded and would be mixed down at Air Studios the following week. The four microphones went through a Nagra 6 and were then recorded at 24/192 high resolution digital and separately as double DSD tracks. Next to this digital recording equipment was a wonderful Sony Pro tape recorder, rarely seen outside of Japan. The Debbie Wiseman recording was done at 30 inches per second and the main recording was done at 15 inches per second. There was also a separate dummy head recording as well.





And a close up of that R2R.




And of course, quite a few cables.




And guess who makes the cables and mains clean up…..yes Nordost.



 Because Mike feels that they sound better and have a great ‘jump factor’.




And here is the front end with the dummy head.




And the orchestra getting ready.

And to the concert. We were mid-hall in the guest’s area with the manufacturer of Prometheus turntables and the CEO of Nordost UK.  The concert was of popular classical music and it was superbly played. It featured Beethoven Concerto for Piano No 5 in E Flat Emperor and his Symphony No 5 in C Minor as well as the Overture from Egmont. The piano playing by Leneham was just brilliant as these are complex pieces relying on superb timing. Reviews on the internet rate these musicians as some of the best in London and I could hear why.  

I always like going to live music events if for no other reason it recalibrates my thoughts on audio. The big difference I hear between a lot of modern hifi systems and live events is the sheer dynamics of live music. Even when paying quiet pieces, most audio systems get nowhere near to the sheer speed of dynamics. Loudness yes, but the speed of dynamics…..not really.

After the event, Mike said he had captured what he wanted in all mediums. And then a generous offer from Mike. He will make available to me a track from the 24/192 recording of this concert. Hopefully the one with all the dynamics. And if I get it in time, I will bring it to Kegworth and make it openly available to all the exhibitors. I’ll think about making it available afterwards if I can find a way to make it available to members of this forum.

We got back late and Alex had a bit if drive but made it home OK. I was really tired after a brilliant day with superb surroundings, great food and a superb recording. And in future, I can say I know how this recording sounded as I was there when it was laid down onto tape (or digitally).

Finally thanks to Alex for being good company and taking the pictures as someone forgot his camera.

Edited by George 47
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