Saturday, September 16, 2017

Classic Album Sundays Comes to RMAF

Heard the one about the woman who asked friends to use a room in their pub to play an album for people to sit and listen to seriously?  Did you know it caught on?  Remind you of your own youth when an album really meant something? Fancy a chance to partake in a simple listening session with like-minded enthusiasts? Well, friends, you're not alone and you can share that experience at this year's RMAF again.

Get details and schedule here:

Yeah, I could happily live without ever hearing Sgt. Pepper again (sorry Beatles fans) but a real listening session promises to actually be a respite at RMAF....go figure!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Just what the world needs, a new $25k CD player


















Just when you thought the CD was dead, Metronome Tech confound you with a a new offering, their upper level dedicated Kalista Diamond transport and two-box DAC.  Sure, the price is nosebleed (if you have to ask, etc...)  but take a look at all gleaming chrome and backlit display. Doesn't it just make you want to touch? Limited edition production means you can add it to your limited edition Magicos and be special. Sarcasm? Moi?

Read more (or just pore over the visuals) here

Friday, September 8, 2017

Best headphones in the world up for a refresh?

It seems not very long ago that Focal launched a new upmarket headphone with a nosebleed price. The Utopia received some rave reviews and was heralded by more than a few reviewers as the best in the world, even at an MSRP of $3999. Not sure how many well-heeled or 'phone obsessives purchased them in the ensuing year or so but right now it seems impossible to open up an email or audio article without an advert offering these at $1k off, or in some cases, a no-questions asked $1k offer for any 'phones you might want to trade in.  Officially it's a celebration of the first year, but we'll see if this means a refresh is coming or if sales have just been slow. Offer for now good through September, which means they're a mere $3k before tax. Have fun!



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

John Abercrombie -- rest in peace

By now the word of John's death has made it out to various forums and many people are rightfully mourning the loss of a great guitarist. Much is written, and you can find a decent obit in Jazz Times. There's little I can add other than to note that his playing had a distinct quality, and like many jazz players, his commitment to music made complete artistic but rarely financial sense. To my ears, he was a uniquely free player, moving in ways that were hard to predict but eminently satisfying to hear.  Tonight I am spinning Sargasso Sea, his beautiful, deeply captivating LP with Ralph Towner, and am moved again by the power of this music.  The lifeforce is dimmed a little tonight. Thank you for the music, John.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gretchen Menn -- beauty is a beast

Gretchen Menn can play guitar. She's young, photogenic as hell and can do note for note renditions of classic Blackmore and Django solos, as evinced on YouTube. This makes her talented but maybe not sufficiently interesting to the music business of 2017. What does set this artist apart though is readily apparent on her new release Abandon All Hope.  Where most flashy young metal guitarists can dazzle you with fingerwork flourishes, lightening speed runs and classical-flavored solos to the point of boredom, it's a far rarer player that can compose and deliver an instrumental rock album of sufficient musical depth to keep a jaundiced listener like me engaged for more than a few tracks.

Certainly the music here mines a relatively narrow range of moods and textures. Forget the pretentious Dante's Inferno inspiration of the marketing materials, this music is fast and furious rock guitar offset with airy, etherial touches of strings; piledriver rhythms and choir-like background vocals, the sort of fantasy rock world  teenage air guitarists dream of creating. But to sum it up so is to do a disservice to what's on offer. For sure there's a few rock cliches, but  I hear a classicism in tunes like Shadows and Weights that takes me back to early 20th century works in another canon. Riffs like Hounds of Hades (yep, the titles sort of sum up the vibe) are derivative but within these constraints she solos with a lyricism that catches your ear and tells you something different is on offer.

Bloodshed and Rise bring the violin to the fore, revealing Menn's compositional skills.  Throughout the record vague celtic edges and even middle-Eastern vibes conjure up early Rainbow, particularly in tracks like Limbo and the modal Tempest. This creates a mood throughout that elevates the music above the simple 'look at what I can do' of typical rock instrumentalists and gives you a connection to a deeper well of music making that had me thankful that in 2017 some emerging guitarists are committed to pushing the form forward.

Obviously a guitarist has to make a living and the photos and imagery of an obviously beautiful woman are used to catch the audience's eye here,  but Menn is too talented to be limited by this or being reduced to a Zeppelin cover band. Her compositional skills and playing ability confirm a talent that warrants a creative career in music making and I hope she can garner the support to enable this.   If you cut beneath the surface,  her form's more of a jazz musician than a metal guitarist, improvising within a strict structure, but this album kicks rather than swings. I suspect there's better to come from her in the years ahead. I certainly can imagine soundtrack requests following the dramatic soundscapes presented here.

Sound quality and production sadly, are not great, the music is disappointingly compressed, lacking resolution and air (I downloaded an AIFF version for my Mac and played via USB through my PS Audio PWDII, but am still tweaking it so maybe there is hope) but no matter -- the music warrants listening through the full, near double-album length work without pause, and that's more than I can say for many rock instrumental albums of recent years. Enjoy the ride.

Find out more about her here


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Remember when CDs cost more than LPs?

Yeah, when CDs first came out they were priced higher than LPs...oh, how long ago that was. I am used to the premium cost of vinyl now but sometimes even I get surprised. Look at this pre-order price difference on Amazon:


Yeah, its a 4LP set, I know...but man...$20 on cd or $80 on vinyl, for a live album?  Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash eh Dave?

Wanna join the audiophile elite?

Are you ready for some new tweaks? Specially aligned crystals to sort out your soundstage? Painted wooden artifacts to align the signals? Hey, knock yourself out. Apparently they are popular among 'the audiophile elite', according to the site, so that rules me out.  But if you've tried them, let me know. 



more here: http://audiophile.rocks/index.html

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quality of vinyl hurting sales?


Growth slowing? No, it's not the limited pressing facilities, it's the use of digital files according to some:

"A move to making vinyl records from digital files instead of the original analogue recordings is causing concern in the industry with sales slumping in the first half of 2017.

In the first half of 2015, sales of vinyl records jumped 38% compared to the same period the prior year, to 5.6 million units, Nielsen Music data show. A year later, growth slowed to 12%. This year, sales rose a modest 2%. “It’s flattening out,” says Steve Sheldon, president of Los Angeles pressing plant Rainbo Records. While he doesn’t see a bubble bursting—plants are busy—he believes vinyl is “getting close to plateauing.”
Despite the resurgence of vinyl records in recent years, the quality of new LPs are not as good as “old” LP’s claim observers because record Companies are resorting to laying down vinyl from digital sources.
Old LPs were cut from analogue tapes—that’s why they sound so high quality. But most of today’s new and re-issued vinyl albums—around 80% or more, several experts estimate—start from digital files, even lower-quality CDs."
Full story here: https://www.channelnews.com.au/vinyl-sales-slump-quality-blamed/

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Genesis Technologies sponsor new Anne Bisson D2D recording



No real info on how to purchase yet but here's the announcement:

Genesis Advanced Technologies (USA) and Brilliance Music (Thailand) are pleased to announce the release of a new “Live at Bernie’s” audiophile recording. The Anne Bisson Trio: Four Seasons in Jazz is the product of an amazing collaboration of the finest musicians from Canada with the best engineers in Hollywood.
“It was a chance that could not be turned down. An opportunity too good to miss,” said Gary L Koh, the Designer & CEO of Genesis Advanced Technologies, and self-described music lover and Bernie Grundman Mastering fan about sponsoring the album. “Anne first broached the idea of doing a Four Seasons in Jazz nearly two years ago, and when Bernie agreed to do it direct-to-disc, I leaped at it.”
The brainchild of Gary L Koh and his long-time friend and Thai distributor Wuti Larnroongroj, the story of how the recording came to be was one of serendipity; of chance meetings and opportunities grasped, then one of hard work and perseverance to bring the album to fruition.
Canadian jazz vocalist/pianist Anne Bisson and her musical collaborators were recorded direct-to-disk over two days by Bernie Grundman at his studio, Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, CA. Co-produced with Bisson, legendary sound engineer Michael C. Ross used a 100% analog recording chain directly to Grundman’s all-analog record cutting system to realistically capture every glorious moment.
 “When I was asked if I wanted to do a “Live” album at Bernie Grundman’s, I said “Sure! Yes!” Said Anne Bisson of the album, “I had no idea what sort of commitment and preparation it would involve, but well, we did it! Me and my two wonderful cohorts, Jean-Bertrand Carbou and Pierre Tanguay, who inspired me on every take.”
“I’ve known Bernie Grundman for many years. He does all the mastering of the Thai language albums I produce. When my old friend Gary asked him if he would do another “Live at Bernie’s” album, I was all in.” Said Wuti Larnroongroj of Brilliance Music. “It would be my first foray into producing an album in English, and what a way to start!”
Four Seasons in Jazz: Live at Bernie’s is only the 3rd direct-to-disc recording ever created at Bernie Grundman Mastering, and the 2nd mixed in real-time by Ross and mastered by Grundman himself. The album will be released as a Limited Edition, hand-numbered 180-gram 45rpm double vinyl LP in super premium packaging with a 16 page book containing lyrics and an essay giving readers and music-lovers a never-before-seen insight into the background and the process involved in creating this direct-to-disc adventure.
The Anne Bisson Trio consists of Anne Bisson, vocalist & pianist, Jean-Bertrand Carbou on double bass and Pierre Tanguay, drummer/percussionist.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another audio meet up in Austin area

Thanks to hosts LoneStar Audio, based in Lakeway, TX, a gathering of audiophiles from Austin, Houston and San Antonio met up at host Jim's home to enjoy two rooms yesterday. Both relied on Magico speakers, the S1 in a smaller, mainly vinyl room; and the S3Mk2s in a slightly larger, digital room. Lots of excellent and expensive gear in the rigs, not least Constellation amplification, Aurender DAC, Oracle turntable with linear tracking arm and gorgeous Ortofon A95 cartridge, Rogers phono stage, power conditioning by Torus, and treatments by ASC and Synergistic Research.

Naturally my eyes were drawn to the wonder vinyl set up, where the Oracle was drop-dead beautiful to behold. Delivering through Rogers phono, to Boulder amplification and the small (relatively) S1 Magicos, the sound was sweet, pleasing and scaled nicely to the space.  Of course, in a completely new rig it's hard to know where the magic is occurring but host Jim was quick to point out that the room was heavily treated with Synergistic Research products (small objects stuck to the wall, graphene panels, and some signal generating device whose electromagnetic magic was beyond my comprehension).

The larger room drew the greater audience, where the Magico S3s were augmented, sometimes, by JL subwoofers. Is it a surprise that audiophiles have opinions?  Well, every time I entered there was an ongoing discussion about whether or not the subs should be engaged, or if they were crossed over too high, too low etc.  Lots of digital tracks gave me the impression that high resolution digital can sound quite harsh in the upper frequencies. Yeah, lots more 'detail' than vinyl is deliverd but in a way that makes me often hear (or think about) the studio more than the music.

The S3s were impressive in some areas -- the ease of lower instrumental lines and the continuity across the range are qualities I associate with Magico and were on display plentifully here at times -- but for reasons that I could not attribute to any one factor (was it the room? the DAC, the subs?)  I found myself enjoying the music less here than in the small room. On Chris Jones' 'No Shelter' (an audio show staple, sadly), the bass boomed so much at the back of the room that I thought there's no way I wanted subs in the mix, but in other on-off comparisons, I experienced the opening of soundstage that good sub matching can provide.   Sonically, more questions than answers for me, and I found myself wondering just how good I could get the S3s sounding in my larger listening room, or if the S1s might actually work in that larger space.

Main host Jim was charm personified, cheerfully answering repeat questions across the day, admitting that he was still tweaking the sub combo, and happy to let people wander around his rooms with some very expensive gear left unattended. This is where he hosts customers who want to audition gear, and it's a fine, relaxing environment.




Thursday, July 13, 2017

News from Raven Audio

As an admirer and owner of Raven Audio's tube amps, I found the AudioXpress interview with chief Dave Thomson a worthwhile read.  Change afoot, but the company is moving forward, and it's great to see. Check out my reviews of their integrated Nighthawk and Blackhawk in the side bar.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rega announce new MC and phono stage

I've not used a Rega cartridge for years, and not since I gave up my trusty old Rega 3 15 years ago, but am pleased to see the company continuing to push through new products. Of course, the PR is the usual breathless stuff, full of references to expert-this and sophisticated-that, no doubt to be repeated in reviews up and down the land, but here, a picture of the MC is worth a thousand such words:




At $795, the Ania has real appeal for many I presume -- no compliance figure provided so am fairly sure it's not a great match heavy arms, but other specs below:
  • Tracking Pressure 1.75 - 2.00g
  • Input load impedance 100 ohms
  • Output impedance 10 ohms
  • Nominal output voltage 350μV (.35mV)
  • Channel Balance: ≥ 20μV
  • Separation : ≥ -29dB
  • Iron cross & micro-coil assembly
  • Cutting-edge neodymium magnet
  • Elliptical profile stylus
  • High specification 0.018mm fine coil wire
  • 3-point Rega mounting style, compatible with 2-point style headshells
  • Fortron-PPS body

Friday, July 7, 2017

Berg and Finck slow burner out on Chesky

Am enjoying the latest Chesky release, a jazz duo recording of pianist Shelly Berg and bassist David Finck, The Deep. Again, this is a single mic'd binaural recording, and the result is an intimate, spacious sound with real presence. The music is a pleasing mix of improvisation and standards, recorded in a single take, with Why Did I Choose You a standout for me so far. But it's early days, and I am struck by the apparent irony of something recorded so directly and quickly requiring repeated listening to fully appreciate. Of course, the quick process of these artists is built off many years of preparation and dedication to the craft of jazz.   In a world of disposable consumption, I am grateful for the work of such artists and of companies such as Chesky that commit to sonic quality and artistic vision.

You can learn more here:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Wes Montgomery out there?

Not sure how I missed the vinyl copy (must be that RSD tie-in which has no interest for me usually) but there's actually new Wes emerging that is worth knowing about if you enjoy jazz guitar.   This is an old radio broadcast of a club show, decent enough sonically though not quite enough of Wes for me across the recording. That said, Resonance Records is to be thanked for digging this stuff up and getting it out there, decades after the event. We used to dream of more live Wes so I'll take what I can get, so I bought a copy on CD (that should tell you how valuable I think this is).  Find the story here:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Roger Waters is back

And I for one will always welcome new music from the man - here are my thoughts on his "Is this the life..." album.