Friday, January 19, 2018

CES coverage suggests that maybe the end is nigh?

As usual, Stereophile's John Atkinson and Michael Fremer are providing some of the best coverage of audio at CES. The general tenor of reports indicates traffic is high but audio is relegated further and further, to the point that some wonder on camera if it's time for the audio industry to give up on this gathering. Time will tell.

Here's a link to one of  MF's detailed videos, the next best thing to being there as you get a sort of warts and all sense of the rooms, the sounds and the human traffic. And of course, Mikey is always entertaining, but am I the only one cringing slightly at the part where Luke Manley struggles to list the price tag of items in this more affordable system? (not to criticize him, it's the costs not the math).

But check out that new Technics table....phew..

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What's happening with Thiel?

Rumors of Thiel Audio's demise are surfacing online, from a usually reliable source, but their website shows the company still in business. The trouble is, the business they are now in seems to be quite different than the one the late Jim Thiel bequeathed.

I don't object to lifestyle speakers, but I sure do miss the old look and feel of Thiel products.  You decide....

A quick examination of the company's current site seems to suggest they have done away with all the old lines, and the official history of the company makes no mention of the Thiel most audiophiles know. 

A friend once visited the old Thiel company when considering speakers. He was allowed inside and given a tour of the factory. He said that during his tour, Jim Thiel made an announcement and called everyone together to explain a particular assembly issue that required extra care on a new line. By his account, the staff working there were all attentive and interested in what Jim was explaining,  asking questions about the process, and generally into the products they were building. One imagines it's not quite like that anymore.




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Price increases again

I imagined, foolishly no doubt, that the price of ultrasonic vinyl cleaners would come down over time, perhaps forced by the need to capture new markets once the well-heeled had made their purchases. Apparently not, it seems, based on the latest word from Ultra Systems -- they sent me a note today that the Audio Desk  Pro vinyl cleaner would cost $4499 from Feb 1st.  Better get in there quickly if you're in the market....

Monday, January 8, 2018

CES PR in overdrive

I don't go to CES, I wish I did sometimes but life gets in the way. Still, my inbox gets the PR outpouring from companies hoping to catch someone's attention. Today alone I got more updates on more digital developments than I can shake a stick at, never mind understand.  'Studio sound' quality from headphones via a new Sonarworks thingamajig?  A veritable magic wand to link your wired components into a streaming 'ecosystem' from Riva? Am sure these make sense for some....hard for me to judge. Sometimes a picture is all you need, and to that end, here's the juiciest looking promotion that I received today, the forthcoming table from Music Hall, the MFF-9.3 Wood...price to be determined:


I've only heard MMF tables and speakers at RMAF, and usually then only in party-like conditions (these guys enjoy the shows) but I have always been mightily impressed with the sonics. Let's hope this table sounds as good as it looks.

Monday, January 1, 2018

And you thought you took hi-fi seriously

Forget the utility pole mod, it's the poor guy who can't open his fridge that I feel sorry for...and yes, I bet you too end up thinking..."he HAS a girlfriend?"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

JWM Alyson review now live

I enjoyed several months with JWM Acoustics Alyson AMLII speakers this summer, the very same pair that was in use at RMAF, so if you heard them there you can compare your impressions with mine. Full review now in HiFi'Zine.

Some speakers strike me as the product of science, others seem the application of art. Josh Miles' designs seem like a balance of the two, and with a very heavy helping of art in the enclosure designs.  Worth checking out for sure, see more at http://www.jwmacoustics.com/

Happy new year folks.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Cleaning those LPs on the cheap

So, you never got that ultrasonic machine for Christmas? Fear not, there's plenty of helpful videos online for would-be LP collectors and cleaners, it must be something about audiophiles. Here's my new favorite, you know it helps to dress properly when cleaning vinyl too - consider it a gift:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Speaking of Hendrix

Amazon link
I can't complain about the various releases coming out as I recently purchased the 9 LP resissue of the older velvet purple box, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set.  Sadly, it's no longer boxed in velvet, and am sure the source is digital but it's a fine collection, both musically and sonically. Previously I'd thought there was not enough  interesting material on it to warrant purchase but when I found it competitively priced compared to used older sets, I bit the bullet.

Packaging is decent, though the individual album sleeves are basic. Contains good book, sized to read (!) and the quality of the vinyl in my copy was uniformly high. The sonics vary, obviously given the range of source material used, but there's enough good stuff here to enjoy and this forms the majority of the collection. It's an overwhelming collection in some ways, hard to review without getting into the minutia of Hendrix's catalog, but even though I have a fairly large Hendrix collection already, and tend to side with those who feel the albums released while he was alive are the only essentials, this collection still seems worthy to me.

The price varies considerably so if interested, search around or park it in your Amazon cart and watch it for a few days (it just changed $14 while I was editing this entry!).

Thursday, December 7, 2017

'NEW" Hendrix Album for Spring 2018?

Rolling Stone reporting a new release from the Hendrix Estate. I know, 50 years later, new stuff still being 'found' and packaged for release. I understand the demand, am curious myself, but sometimes I wonder what the artist would think.  My own preference would be for some of the live stuff we know is out there (Royal Albert Hall someone?).  I suppose it speaks to Jimi's enduring legacy that we are even having this discussion but heaven help any new listener to Jimi who lucks onto these 'albums' first and thinks what is the fuss about?  For fans only.

"Ten previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix recordings highlight Both Sides of the Sky, an upcoming posthumous LP from the legendary guitarist. The album will be available March 9th, 2018 via Sony Legacy Recordings on multiple formats, including CD, digital and a numbered, 180-gram audiophile double-vinyl
 The 13-track album compiles material recorded between January 1968 and February 1970. It is the final installment in a trilogy series of unissued archival recordings, following 2010's Valleys of Neptune and 2013's People, Hell and Angels. Engineer Eddie Kramer – who worked on every Hendrix project before the guitar legend's death – co-produced the album with John McDermott and Hendrix's sister, Janie Hendrix. 
Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides of the Sky Track List:1. "Mannish Boy" (previously unreleased)2. "Lover Man" (previously unreleased)3. "Hear My Train A Comin'" (previously unreleased)4. "Stepping Stone" (previously unreleased)5. "$20 Fine" (previously unreleased, featuring Stephen Stills)6. "Power Of Soul" (previously unavailable extended version)7. "Jungle" (previously unreleased)8. "Things I Used to Do" (featuring Johnny Winter)9. "Georgia Blues" (featuring Lonnie Youngblood)10. "Sweet Angel" (previously unreleased)11. "Woodstock" (previously unreleased, featuring Stephen Stills)12. "Send My Love To Linda" (previously unreleased)13. "Cherokee Mist" (previously unreleased)"

Friday, December 1, 2017

A meeting of the spirits

There's been a lot of bad news recently with deaths in the industry, and we rightly pause to acknowledge the contributions of people like Charlie Hansen,  but last night I witnessed a musical performance that reminded me of how uplifting music can be. John McLaughlin is on a farewell tour of the US with his 4th Dimension band, sharing the stage with Jimmy Herring's band.

I caught them last night at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Austin and came away on a high that defies logic. It is one thing to hear virtuosity live, but add to that the opportunity to hear classic Mahavishnu Orchestra music played live as if transported back in time. McLaughlin can still deliver it. His band is incredible, truly incredible. And Herring's performance, as a player and as a band, was equally sensational.  The music ran for close to four hours, without much by way of stage props, fanfare or self-promotion; just real musicians getting it on live, collectively delivering amazing individual and band performances. I felt lucky to be there. The tour is called the Meeting of the Spirits and if you have an opportunity, go.  We can argue all we like about audio gear, but last night was a reminder of why humans value music. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Charlie Hansen - Ayre -- RIP

The bad news is coming thick and fast at the moment -- I was very saddened to learn this from Ayre:

"With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that Charles Hansen, founder of Ayre Acoustics, has passed away on November 28th, 2017. Those who knew Charley knew that he was a passionate man who always stood up for what he believed to be right. His family knew him as a loving and dedicated father of his two children. With the passing of Charley, the world has lost one of the most creative and innovative minds in the audio industry and we have lost a good friend. While we can never replace Charley, his spirit lives on in the team at Ayre. We are dedicated to continuing his mission of creating and manufacturing the best sounding audio equipment in the world. Most importantly, we will be there for our friends, partners, and customers who have supported us over the years. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at any time. "


If you followed the recent MQA discussions on Audio Asylum that I linked to a couple of weeks back, you know Charlie Hansen had strong opinions, but he could argue lucidly and always seemed to care more for music over commerce. Many people who never met him felt that he was in their corner. He will be missed. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Waterboys - Out of all this Blue

One of the best gigs I've seen over the last few years was the Waterboys here at the Paramount in Austin when they were promoting Modern Blues. Having seen the band 25 years ago, it was a joy to be reminded of the power of Mike Scott live. Of late, he seems to be on a creative roll so I was happy to learn of a new album, Out of all this Blue, and duly signed up for the deluxe edition. As is the way of the music industry, one could order versions and I got the 3-LP collection that has the basic album (as if 'basic' can be applied here) and various extras including outake versions and live tracks. If nothing else, for the price it is good value.


With Mike and the 'Boys (though it really feels it's just Mike these days with a few musicians backing him up), you might imagine you know what you're getting but you never can be sure. Certainly he will always be lyrically inventive, personal, thoughtful and philosophical. Mike is a writer of anthems, a crafter of inspirational messages, and not beyond adding in a quick ditty if the mood takes him. But he's also capable of being biting, dismissive and critical of a world he holds in disdain. It will be no surprise, therefore, to a seasoned listener to hear these shades in the latest release.

What might surprise you however, is the musical sounds on offer. If you associate the Waterboys with either 'big' music (electric guitars, pounding drums and roaring vocals) matched sometimes with folky textures (acoustic strumming, soft singing, fiddles) then brace yourself for a sideways move into synthesized beats, hip-hop rhythms, and a sonic landscape that sounds both dated and curiously modern at the same time. In effect, it sounds as if Mike Scott is having fun messing around with new toys and for long-term fans, the initial impressions are likely to be colored by the superficial differences the sonic presentation highlights.

That said, and one reason I've had to sit on this review for a bit, is that despite this intentional move into new sonic territory, this is without doubt a real Waterboys album. The hooks are here, (oh boy, are they just) the lyrics are worth hearing repeatedly, and the vibe is one of cool enlightenment -- you know, just like every other Waterboys album.  You just have to give the album a more than cursory listen to let its qualities come through.

Opener 'Do we chose who we love?' sets the tone with a swinging, funky hook that would be at home on any number of previous releases, and by the time the backing vocals kick in over the chorus you'll be tapping your feet along and finding the song worming its way into your brain. And speaking of catchiness, how about "If the answer is yeah" is about as pure perfect pop as you'll hear this year, and impossible not to find yourself singing when you least expect it. Though in true Mike Scott fashion, I doubt too many pop songs these days contain lyrics such as "can you remember the last six books you read?"

A dominant theme throughout is love, and the finding of it perhaps later than hoped for but found fo sure, inevitably and gratefully. Mike Scott's songs tell us he is in love now and has no desire to keep that quiet. And it's not just a woman; he loves New York, he loves music, and he drags you willingly along for the ride across multiple tracks expressing his enthusiasms. But light and love are never the sole thematic drivers of a Waterboys album and we have the almost obligatory dig at some. In this case, Kinky Friedman  gets it in the neck with a sharp dig over a comment made, all set to a cod-country tune. If there's a non-needed track on the album, this might get my nod, though Girl in a Kayak is a couple of minutes of filler on the start of side 4 also. There's a nod to Pink Floyd and the Beatles in a couple of the songs which might be intentional in the latter case, perhaps less so in Payo Payo Chin's opening resemblance to Learning to Fly (just listen, and tell me you don't hear that!). But it's Mike Scott, this is the terrain of a creative artist who does what pleases him and you take it or leave it as you see fit. In the scheme of the double album's worth of new material, I certainly choode to take it.

The deluxe version has some interesting extras that will appeal more to hardcore fans only. Alternative takes of a couple of songs, plus some fairly poor sounding live tracks add another slice of vinyl to the 3-LP package (though getting a live recording of a track  from the same day it was written is a sort of perfect addition). While I'm happy to have these, they are curiosities, not essentials. As an album, Out of all this Blue took me by surprise at first with the low-fi retro sonics and manufactured beats. You'll not find this one used to showcase any rig at an audio show for sure.  But fear not, it's a true Waterboys album. In fact, after hearing it repeatedly, I am of the view that it's actually one of Mike Scott's best efforts. Give it time, the journey is worth the destination.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Arnie Nudell RIP

Just heard from PS Audio that Arnie Nudell died from complications associated with pneumonia. Mostly associated with Infinity speakers, Arnie was involved with the development of the latest PS Audio power amps, the marvelous BHK series, and you can find a few comments from him in the associated videos put out by PS Audio at the launch, which give you a flavor of the man. He was 80, lived a life, and contributed to the art and science of music reproduction. It was rumored he had a new speaker in the works too. RIP Arnie.

New Joe Satriani release coming via Pledge

PledgeMusic is a platform for interfacing musicians and fans that offers some unique opportunities to obtain recordings that might not otherwise happen. While most of their releases are not of interest to me, there are some that capture my attention. Joe Satriani is releasing an album (available on vinyl) of new music  (with Chad Smith on drums and Glenn Hughes on bass) that he seems quite enthused by -- take a listen.



You can follow the process of releasing this, and buy a copy at: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/joe-satriani/updates