Sunday, November 11, 2018

And it really is goodbye to TAS

After posting my decision to give up on TAS, I listed the 20 years or so of back issues I had for sale on a forum. Within the month they were picked up and gone. Three boxes worth, about 155 issues, and a happy new reader has them for a buck an issue.

And what comes in the next morning, a reminder from TAS that my subscription is ending and it's time to renew or lose....I actually chose to lose, I suppose. There goes a couple of decades.....

Apparently, I won't want to miss :

  • Our expert reviews of top-performing products---in each price category
  • Insightful features on audio components that redefine the state of the art
  • Expert commentary on "what's hot" in high-end audio
  • Upcoming coverage of must-have recordings
  • Guidance to help you get the most out of your system


Yeah, but....do I have to listen to the same old stuff about audio shows six months after the event, or know that everything Magico (what happened to all that love for Kharma?) is great, MQA is the bees' knees, and cable companies can expect their advertising spiel to be repurposed for copy? Don't worry, there's a new Golden Ear award for something, an extract from the TAS History of X being presented, or hey, a manufacturer calling on a reviewer's new house to long-term-loan him another $100k component to enjoy (err... 'review').  Don't worry, don't measure, and don't complain, we mere mortals can't be expected to understand. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Look what's selling in 2018

Discogs latest round of data on what is selling makes for telling viewing. Coltrane still doin' it. As are  Floyd, with DSOTM, The Wall and Wish You Were Here all in the top 6. Guess there's an insatiable demand for some old vinyl, and some old music on vinyl too. Not sure of the demographics but this is a topic worthy of study. Since the most expensive record this quarter was the $13k paid for a Japanese promo copy of Ummagumma, I suspect it's fair to say that those with a certain level of disposable income predominate.  Full details here

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Choosing to invest in listening

Life seems to have been relatively rushed of late, and consequently, serious music listening has been pushed to the back of things to do. I still have the study rig going regularly but it's been some time before I fired up the main rig for no other purpose than to sit an listen, particularly to vinyl. As an aside, one thing I have noticed since tubes, somewhat miraculously, made their way back into my listening room's primary set up, is that I'm listening less. Life demands aside, I think that the thought of firing up the power amps and the phono stage so they are ready to play is mixed in with an inner-calculus of 'how much listening am I planning to do'?

When I had only solid state gear in the main rig I used to leave everything on, all the time. Thus, if I wanted to hear a few tunes I'd just hit play and there they were. Since I moved to an ARC tubed phono stage from a Whest, I find that I need to commit to several hours of listening before I consider it worth hitting the power on button. I don't like this, but I check on that 'hours' button on the ARC's display to see that I'm running down the useful life of the tube set. Perish the thought that I'd lose a few hundred hours of tube life by letting them sit warm but idle. In the grand scheme of things, tube life is relatively long and replacement costs not exorbitant, but still, there's a cost here that you don't think about with solid state.

Well last night I wanted music and I wanted to listen intently while nursing an adult libation. Vinyl it was and man, did it feel good. I'd picked up the latest Paul Simon on LP and needed to give it a listen, and one thing led to another and 4 or 5 lps later I was in a good space. Perhaps that's the commensurate benefit of tubes - by rendering music listening a conscious choice, I committed myself more to the process and in so doing, got more out of it. Not sure, but I do know the rig sounded sweet, no matter what I played. Still enjoying the fun with the Audioengine 5+ wireless speakers in my study, but man, the main rig is hard to beat, especially spinning some vinyl through the ARC. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Scofield's Combo 66 delivering the goods

Had a wonderful time listening to John Scofield and band at the Mohawk club here in Austin last night. Small, outdoor venue, great views everywhere, and a group of musicians that just played the grooves.

Sco' kept the set up simple, played straight into a Fender amp (with perspex screen ) and let his fingers do the work. Man, can he play. Nice boots too!  Keyboard player Gerard Clayton was a revelation to me, simply amazing chops that complemented the music perfectly.

You stand there and just have to recognize that the human ability to make sounds like this is revelatory. Sound quality matters, of course, but music matters more. Long live the passion to play. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Left outside on Audiogon?

Not sure why anyone (other than the owners) think this is a good path forward but Audiogon has initiated a new membership level. For $100 a year, or $10 a month, you can be an 'Insider' to the site which comes with various perks. The most valuable one is access to the Blue Book. I used to sign up for that when making major sales or purchases, I figured the price (was it $49 then?) was easily covered by appropriate pricing levels it provided. Not sure of the current price but for the new price you get access to forums with only other 'insiders', ad-free browsing and some other perks, I think. Really hard for me to see much value in any of these. Still, in an age of free-for-all-discourse on most forums, with the commensurate repetitions of old arguments, maybe (just maybe) this will make a difference. Personally, I don't see it but time will tell. Let me know what it's like if you're on the inside, I won't be paying.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Audioengine 5+ wireless rockin' the joint

These wireless speakers from Audioengine eventually showed up this summer for a review and I've been having a lot of fun with them since. Easy to set up, room-filling sound, convenience, you name it, there's a lot on offer for the price (around $500 depending on finish). I'll be writing a fuller review for the 'Zine but am giving these all sorts of try outs from my main listening room to my desktop, and while I have enjoyed lower end bluetooth speakers, there's something about a stereo pair that just sounds a lot better to my ears. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

RIP Prof Linkwitz

A few times at RMAF I would stop by the Linkwitz Labs room and cheer myself up listening to the great sounds coming from what appeared to be plumbing fixtures cobbled into a loudspeaker. For it was so......

The man himself, Siegfried Linkwitz, together with his wife, engaged attendees with the sort of 'yes we know, it might look odd but just listen' expression of folks who could see much of the high-end audio industry for what it was.

Yes, I vowed to make a pair myself, spoke with owners of his multi-amped top design and generally smiled to myself at the quality on offer. Man, his rooms were fun for all the right reasons. He retired at the end of last year but I was still saddened to hear the news. RIP Siegfried.

More about his work here

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Want a high-end site? pay up

Well, who knew but there's a price. The domain 'www.highendaudio.com' is for sale....and the current bid apparently is north of $20k....where did I go wrong?  Hey, I'm available for weddings.....


Monday, August 20, 2018

Time to give up on TAS

I've been a subscriber for over 20 years and have the back issues to prove it in my basement. There's no doubt it's a beautifully produced magazine with wonderful photography which I happily browse  and consider too good to throw out when done. But the time has come to recognize that for me at least, the content is no longer there.

I took a look at the last year or so of issues as I got ready to consign them downstairs and, on a whim, took a page count. More than 50% of every issue is an advert, which probably does not surprise anyone, after all it is how they can run a mag of this production quality at a profit. But of the slightly less than half that is given over to content, even this has a recycled quality to it. You know some expensive product will get a dominant position and rave review; that MQA will be advocated, blind-testing devalued, and pricing rarely critically evaluated. I also get that this is part of the process. But what has stretched my patience is the rest.

The regular content now has too many show reviews, with too much cookie-cutter coverage that is too late to matter.  And in these reports I get to read again and again how difficult it is to cover the show, how Jonathan Valin gets to check out the ultra expensive speakers, that show conditions are not great, that the first day is a sonic mess in  most rooms, but the usual suspects get to be 'best of show' anyway.  Rinse and repeat, adding other writers for other product niches but generally sticking to script.

And if it's not shows, we get historical and memorial pieces, apparently lifted from the TAS glossy books produced and sold at great expense a few years back (yes, I paid good money for two vols), repackaged now in the monthly issues which honor the greats of the industry (not only re-using content but presumably keeping certain industrial participants sweet on the mag too).

Sure I wish there was a bit more on music, fewer 'awards', and yes, I also wish some more effort was made to compare 'systems' at price points using audiences (not just reviewers) with no stake in the products to give their reactions. And yes, I wish there was greater acknowledgement of the challenges facing interested consumers in really hearing and evaluating the products covered in the mag (but that's true of all mags where being told to 'go hear for yourself' serves no real purpose other than to protect the writer's opinion). What bugs me further are cartridge reviews without compliance details (matters a lot to me in my rig) and those mega-buck cable reviews where the company press-release is repackaged as part of the review ('croy-alloy proprietary windings' indeed).

Anyway, without malice, and with no little regret, I shall not be renewing my subscription and thus I bid farewell to a reading habit of decades. It's mostly been a lot of fun but life moves on. Anyone want my back issues?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

New (to me) site worth checking out: RealHDAudio

I was drawn to a kerfuffle reported online over a power cord demo at a recent audio society meet. Seems Dr. Waldrep upset some folks with his reporting. Seems to me the organizers of the event are over-reacting. Judge for yourself here

Now while typically on the side of science myself, I remember bringing an 'exotic' cord to a local audio event. When the host switched it into the rig for comparison purposes, we listened to it and his even more exotic cord on the same component, using the same music without further change. Most folks there preferred the more expensive cord and reported it sounded louder. I sort of agreed, the volume did seem to change but when I suggested we might want to level match for sure with an SPL, folks were aghast. "No way" I was told, nobody had changed the volume control so clearly the first (my) cord was inferior and somehow choking the sound. If I had not heard it myself I would not have believed it either. Never did figure it out but I know for sure no shenanigans were involved.  Luckily no egos were damaged in that meet. Meanwhile, I'll be checking the RealAudio site regularly.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Clarus Produces Video Series on Cable Design

Clarus just issued this release -- have a look
 Clarus®, the high-end audio cable brand that is a “sister” company to Tributaries A/V cables, is introducing a nine part series of consumer-informational videos: “Interviews with Jay Victor Cable engineer” that explain, in a straight-forward manner, the intricate processes that are behind the development of their Clarus Crimson and more-affordable Aqua cable lines. The nine videos in the series are viewable on YouTube by clicking here (or see direct links to each one below)
In each video, Jay Victor, the man behind the design of Clarus cables (and Tributaries cables since 2003), describes the application of both scientific principles and “Golden Ear”-based processes that were involved in the patented design of Clarus cables.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Audiogon's new design not impressing regulars

The world's largest used audio gear site (so we're repeatedly told) made a big splash announcing the roll out of their new website design a week ago. I got the PR push, imagined it must be about time, then took a look. Hum...what's with the images? Why is it difficult to drill down to items of interest (am always interested in something)? Maybe it's just me, I figured. I am at the age where changes in design for new platforms and alternative look-and-feel have almost no appeal, so maybe I'll get used to it. Well, I might, or I might have to, but the general response from regulars has been far from positive.

Check out this thread. Feedback describing the new design as 'horrendous',  'terrible' and 'hate it' are about as consistent as any user experience tester might want -- no ambiguity here. I guess the use of those periscope images are designed to make listers cough up more to have their listing favored with a clear picture. Whoever thought this up clearly neither tested it on real people or actually gives a damn about what anyone thinks. I'll be interested to see how this one evolves....is it time to remind people of Audiomart?

UPDATE -- and as I expected - A'gon has announced a few modifications to address the stream of user comments. Not sure everything is solved here but clearly someone made a really bad design decision last week.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Remembering Doc Watson on Independence Day

I never really gave Doc Watson too much listening and tonight I feel like I've missed a giant. NPR's Fresh Air did a beautiful show tonight using archive interview and performance material with him. The music is what matters most (and he could really play) but the life story is truly humbling, as is the man himself when he talks of what he's gone through. Take the time to listen through all of this show, you won't regret it.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Diana Krall getting back to basics?

Caught the show this week at the Moody Theater in Austin. Not my favorite venue, sort of soulless vibe with high pitched banks of seats, but at least you can see the stage from most parts and the sound is better than other venues about town. Krall played with a four piece: drums, bass, guitar and violin, giving the band lots of time to play, and play they could. Anthony Wilson on guitar was excellent and overall, the set seemed to hang a lot on her older releases with the instrumentalists given space to shine. As such, for jazz fans like myself, this was a set I enjoyed though I gather some of the crowd wanted to hear more of her newer stuff and less of the band. I would have enjoyed an Elvis song myself but I figured my shouts for 'Shipbuilding' would not have been appreciated.

The set was a little short of 90 mins with encores, and in parts I felt DK was a little disconnected, seemingly a bit distracted and somewhat tired looking. No real complaints there, the road is a tough life and I like my performers to be human, in all the ways that entails,  but I've read comments from others who caught her recently and this seems to be a common refrain. Regardless, the woman can play when she cuts loose,  and from my vantage point I enjoyed both her piano work and her vocals which are as velvety in real life as on record.

If there's anything to be learned about the industry from the demographics of this audience, I'd say her audience is distinctly middle-aged, white and not too keen on improvisation. This puts her in a position of trying to steer the course between musical exploration and just delivering the hits, but then she won't be the first musician to face this, and she can at least be assured of people willingly paying nearly $100 at least to see her. Not such a tough life I suppose, but I'd love to see her just forget the constraints and play more jazz...she has the chops. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Authentic Sound: challenging classical music on clavichord

I learned recently about Authentic Sound in Belgium, where Wim Winters creates high quality music recordings of a particular type. In what is surely a labor of love, keyboardist Winters has chosen to focus his efforts on the clavichord after experiencing its sound up close. His love of the music and the sound has led to a recording project that embraces sonics and authenticity. In his own words: The name ‘Authentic Sound’ was first chosen in 2012. I believed that the clavichord instrument, as important as this instrument was throughout the whole 18th century, could use some extra help in today’s concert and recording scene. The term ‘Sound’ reflects the sound of his clavichord. The word “Authentic” tied into its voice; which is authentic in every meaning of the word. And so, Authentic Sound it was.”

A large YouTube following has provided encouragement and with a series of recordings under his belt and available for purchase, Wim Winters is releasing a special vinyl release this year. 

For details - visit here and of course - watch this video to get a real sense of this man's passion for his art. Once again, it's a pleasure to recognize the commitment of some musicians to the full sonic arts.