Monday, December 28, 2015

And don't forget the joker

I suppose most folks don't consider Motorhead to be audiophile approved but man, I saw the band live, missed them on a couple of cancellations too, over what now seems to be nealry 40 years of touring. Had that first album on Chiswick records too ('those swinging hips') which got lost along the way somewhere, so it's with more than a little sadness that I learned Lemmy died last night. Few people live live that hard and that full and remain polite, funny, pleasant human beings. Lemmy did. And his bio makes for good reading too. Crank up Ace of Spades and just let that music kick your ass into tomorrow. Farewell a rock start who did not tease his hair, tattoo himself for the camera or pretend to be a tough guy. He just got on with the music.

Genesis release customizable Forte speaker


The press release came in today from Genesis. I don't tend to reproduce too many of these here but I've found Gary Koh to be eminently helpful and insightful in his work so this one seems noteworthy to me. The Genesis line of speakers always appealed to me, though I've never had the opportunity to hear them outside the occasional audio show. This one looks tasty though, there's something about a tall speaker that sounds right to my ears. 
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"The Genesis Fortè is the latest model in a long legacy of 6-foot-tall line-source two-tower loudspeakers dating back to 1994 with the introduction of the Genesis II.5. Other illustrious models in this series included the Genesis 350SE (2000) and the Genesis 2.2 Junior (2011). The Genesis Fortè features a 48-inch ribbon midrange, a line-array of ribbon ring-radiator tweeters and two 12-inch servo-controlled solid aluminum-cone woofers per loudspeaker. In a departure from previous Genesis models, for the first time the Fortè will be available in “any” finish and is fully customizable with various options. A custom-finish mid-specification model in fiddleback maple and high gloss black will be shown at CES 2016. Price on application.
While it looks outwardly similar to many of its predecessors, the Fortè incorporates all new design and technology. The cabinet is constructed out of a constrained-layer damped composite material to further reduce cabinet resonance. The crossover has been re-worked with the new Genesis 48-inch midrange driver. The servo-controlled 12-inch woofers ensure deep, accurate bass with improvements in the Dynamic Power Delivery System (DPDS). A revised crossover improves coherence between the midrange and the woofer. Careful selection of crossover frequencies ensure that the lobing common with many other line-source loudspeakers has been eliminated at the listening position.
The Genesis Ring-Radiator Ribbon Tweeter (GR3T) displays remarkable clarity in the upper frequencies. It is often described as “the worlds best tweeter”. The 6mm ring radiator produces excellent dispersion up to 20kHz and above. With a line-array of 12 front-firing tweeters and a single 48-inch midrange, the Genesis Fortè is almost a perfect line source from 120Hz to 40kHz.
Nothing has much has changed in theoretical acoustics since ‘The Theory of Sound’ by mathematician and physicist Lord John William Strutt, Baron Rayleigh was published in 1877. There are still only two proper ways for a transducer to propagate sound in a room: a point-source and a line-source. Anything else, or everything in between, is a compromise.
In order for all frequencies of sound from the loudspeaker to reach the listener at exactly the same time, a coherent wave front is important - not just “time-alignment” of drivers. The ideal is either an infinitely small pulsating point or a thin pulsating line with a length on the order of the room dimension.
The huge advantage a line-source loudspeaker has over a point-source loudspeaker is that there is no vertical dispersion of the sound-wave. This carries several advantages: First, the spectral content of the waveform is consistent throughout the length of the line-source. With a line-source loudspeaker, seating height does not matter. There is no need to sit with the ears of the listener aligned to the height of the point-source or to aim the speaker at the head of the listener.
The second benefit of the line-source loudspeaker is that the attenuation of sound pressure level is -3dB with a doubling of distance instead of -6dB with a point-source. Hence, the change in loudness level is much less over small changes in distance. This results in a much larger area within which the speaker can be enjoyed, and hence can be enjoyed by a much larger audience. In a large room, this also results in much more dynamic sound with an equivalent amplifier.
“The Genesis Fortè is the ultimate loudspeaker for the family in a living room or even the great room,” said Mr. Gary Leonard Koh, Genesis’ CEO and Chief Designer. “It sounds good sitting down, it sounds good even when you are standing up, and the whole family can be enjoying the music at the same time.”
 “There is already quite an improvement when you go from a conventional cone/dynamic loudspeaker to a ribbon or planar-magnetic,” said Mr. Koh. “But it can be really shocking when you go from a conventional loudspeaker to a ribbon line-source. The effortlessness of musical peaks, huge dynamic contrasts and the ability to resolve the tiniest musical details – that’s what gives many listeners a sense of euphoria. It makes listening to music a visceral experience.”
“The Fortè is the perfect loudspeaker for the family,” said Ms Carolyn Koh, Genesis’ Chief Operating Officer. “At night, when you don’t want to disturb the sleep of the rest of your family, it plays softly with no loss of detail. This, to me, is the greatest advantage of Genesis loudspeakers. Many speakers have to be played loudly before you can begin to enjoy the music. The ribbon drivers and the servo-bass technology mean that there is no loss of resolution in the mid-high, and no loss of impact in the bass even when played softly.”
“You can also sit anywhere in the room,” continued Mr. Koh. “With conventional loudspeakers, it sounds half as loud when you double the distance away from the speaker. With the Fortè, music sounds half as loud at four times the distance away.”

Friday, December 25, 2015

Columbia House makes a comeback....with vinyl

Who'd have thought....I used Columbia House to start getting cheap CDs when I eventually decided to break down and go digital in the mid 90s (I was a reticent late adopter). Even visited their HQ once when doing some tech work in late 90s. Never a fan of their shipping model and sort of auto-enrollment in 'selections of the month', a practice for defaulting new customers that online folks now seem to have adopted wholesale, but I didn't realize they'd actually gone out of business a couple of years ago. Well, they're coming back.....selling records it seems. Read more HERE

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Legacy introduce new high power amp for $1600

New press announcement from Legacy. I used to run a pair of their Legacy IIIs which were great and I've enjoyed the Studio HDs I had in for review a couple of years back. Good people - this one looks very interesting and priced competitively.



LEGACY Audio Introduces Powerbloc2 Dual Mono Amplifier 


(Springfield, IL) Legacy Audio introduces the Powerbloc
² dual mono amplifier featuring 325 watts per channel x 2 @ 8 ohms and 650 watts per channel x 2 @ 4 ohms.
elgacy PowerBloc2 Amplifier for release
Audiophiles will appreciate the detail and resolution from the ultra-wide 1.5Hz to 70kHz bandwidth. Professionals will love the abundance of effortless power. Characterized by solid and taut low end with fully developed shimmer in the top extremes, Powerbloc
² is one of the most versatile reference grade amplifiers today.

Featuring the latest high efficiency Class D ICEpower® design, the Powerbloc
²features short circuit protection. Far less power is wasted both in use and at idle, and unit life is extended by the lack of heat buildup. With up to 30 amps of peak current available per channel, the cool running design can drive a wide range of speaker loads.

The Powerbloc
² can be used in pairs with Legacy Audio's DSP based processors/crossovers, such as the Wavelaunch or Wavelet, to raise system performance to a new level.

The Powerbloc
² is currently available for order and will begin shipping January 2016. For a full list of Legacy dealers & international distributors, please visit:http://legacyaudio.com/audition/

Introductory MSRP: $1,600
Specifications:
Inputs: 2 balanced XLR, 2 unbalanced RCA
Outputs: 2 pair gold plated safety approved five-way binding posts
Damping factor: 1,000 < 1kHz
Voltage Gain: 27.4 dB
Dynamic Range: 117 dB
Peak Current: 30 amps/channel
THD: 0.005% at rated output
TIM: 0.0045% at rated output
Dimensions: 3" H x 17" W x 14" D
Weight: 20 lbs
Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 Inside Look

Legacy Powerbloc2 Amplifier

Friday, December 18, 2015

Raven Blackhawk LE review now live

I've spent a most enjoyable 6 months with Raven Audio's limited edition version of their original Nighthawk integrated amp, the Blackhawk. You can find the review live now in Hifi'Zine.

To say I think this amp is enjoyable would be an understatement but it's a product that's as lovely to use as it is to hear, and it put smiles on my face over multiple listening sessions. The original model is wonderful, this upgraded version just a tad better all round. Ah, tubes...what can I say?

Have a few more items in the works. Been keen to try a few new phono stages with tubes but it's proved a bit more problematic than I had imagined. Between backlogs in requests for samples (yes, I really do want to hear the Rogers PA-1A), the requirement to actually purchase an Allnic 1201 with return rights, and the silence in response to my effort to get Luxman's new tubed phono stage in, I've had to return a couple of samples of from ATA when buyers wanted their hands on them or they proved noisy in my rig so nothing happening there now. But stay tuned -- am having some fun with BenQ's TreVolo, a sort of small panel Bluetooth speaker and I have (or think I have) an Artisan Fidelity table on the way, though that is proving to require patience -- my plan to document the build as it occurred seems to have hit a brick wall as the build has stalled over two months with little to show other than a veneer selection. Now if only Raven would develop a phono stage.....


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

BBC gives vinyl a spin

Interesting article on the BBC homepage today about Soulines turntables in the UK. "I think every home should have a turntable," says Igor Gligorov. "The world would be a better place."  I can't embed their video items outside the UK apparently -- but check them out here: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35041053

Sunday, November 29, 2015

And speaking of headphones....$55k Sennheisers are here..

You know you want to hear them..some has:

http://gizmodo.com/we-listened-to-sennheisers-absurd-55-000-orpheus-headp-1741947676

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pass Labs introduce Headphone Amp

Press release  just out from Pass, a company whose products I like, though this is at the pricey end for the occasional headphone user like me:


 
Pass Labs’ HPA-1 Headphone Amplifier is capable of delivering full-range dynamics across the entire frequency range, even when driving headphones that present difficult loads in terms of impedance, power consumption or both.
Pass Labs’ designers knew that in order to stand out from the crowd, and satisfy their demanding customer base, the HPA-1 had to establish higher standards for audio performance. That has been accomplished first, by the conceptual approach of designing the HPA-1 as a real Class-A power amplifier, and not as an accessory offering only incremental performance gains. Second, by cutting no corners in circuit design, while omitting unnecessary frills. Thirdly, by sparing no necessary expense in execution.
The foundation of the HPA-1’s engineering is a custom, low-noise shielded toroidal power transformer feeding a discreet low noise regulated power supply for the audio circuits. The importance of the power supply is often overlooked and plays a large part in overall performance of the amplifier. The HPA-1’s amplifier circuits are low-feedback, wide-bandwidth discreet designs employing J-Fet input stages and Class A-biased direct-coupled MOSFET output stages. The HPA-1 easily drives headphones presenting loads from 15 to 600 Ohms, particularly excelling on planar headphone designs. The sound is rich and detailed.
The HPA-1 has a single high-quality headphone jack on its front panel, two sets of single-ended analog inputs via RCA jacks on the rear panel, and also a set of switchable “Preamp” line-level output jacks on the rear panel. There are no compromises with the HPA-1 when used as a stereo preamp and it will compete against contemporary preamplifiers. The rear panel holds the power switch and fuse. Volume control is via a hefty rotary knob connected to an ALPS Potentiometer. The other front-panel controls are three pushbuttons, to select inputs or to engage the Preamp output.
The substantial casework is the customary and well-recognized brushed aluminum shared with other Pass Laboratories products. Dimensions are 4.5” H x 11” W x 13” D; weight is 14 lbs.
The HPA-1 is available now at US MSRP $3,500.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New tagging options for your collection from BLISS

Need a way to tag images to your ripped music? Apparently it's more of a problem than people realize. Cue BLISS, an audiophile's effort to create a solution for normal people -- in this case, the effort of fellow HiFi'Zine writer Dan Gravell, who knows his onions, so to speak. Best described as an 'artwork finder', this can work with your untagged or rare music files to determine the right options. Seems like a good idea, but what do I know.....find out MORE HERE


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Audioholics on where to spend for better performance

A mix of straight talk and anti-audiophile commentary from the guys at Audioholics. Like every other review, take this with a pinch of salt but there's more than a few nuggets of truth here in my view:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tara Labs to offer cable loans to audiophiles

Most folks recognize that it's difficult to really audition cables unless you can try them in your own rig. The Cable Co has for many years run a loaning library for a small fee and this seems sort of similar -- pick up to three cables to try, pay a deposit,  listen, ship back and decide which if any to buy, you are out shipping only once you return them. Hey, are these guys really the Cable Co in disguise?  Oddly, the system matching form that you can complete to get recommendations has lots of options but neither of my amps are listed,  am sure that's nothing more than an inconvenience. Harder for some will be making the initial preference choice between neutral or warm sonics.  An interesting development, though once again Canadians are left out.

TARA LABS CABLE LOANER PROGRAM

TARA Labs is now introducing its Cable Loaner Program. This innovative and new program will make our product line of speaker cables, interconnects, digital and power cables available to anyone who want to listen and compare our cables in their home.

“Listening to a demo cable in your dealers showroom may not let you hear how it'll really sound once you bring it home and use it in your audio system.”
To know how the cable will sound, you need to listen to it on your own audio systems components. Your equipment, your music, your home!

TARA Labs now offers you this great opportunity! We have a wide variety of mid to high-end audio cables available for home demonstrations.

For additional information, please visit our website: 
www.taralabs.com
Or contact us at: customerservice@taralabs.com

*Cable Loaner Program is only available in the USA.

Audio Desk ultrasonic knock off for $1k?

Seems noisier and perhaps spins a lot faster but it's interesting that someone has figured out there's a market out there for a standalone utrasonic that has most of the automatic features of the $4k models. No idea on quality, and am sure these guys won't send me a review sample but it could be a sign that the price of these tools is going to drop.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

audio mart confusions

I've been registered and happily using US Audio Mart for the last couple of years as an alternative to Audiogon. Managed to buy and sell there without a problem, though the other parties did not seem too quick to bother with feedback which might be problematic for some. Surprised I was to quickly type 'audiomart.com' into my browser and up comes that exact site, only not what I expected. Yes, there is a live Audiomart.com, but it seems newer, has far less content, and you have to register to really see the ads. Sort of confusing, can't determine exactly which name came first but in case you're interested, check out audiomart.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Feelin' Kind of Blue..again

Ever wonder what vinyl records audiophiles are buying?  MusicDirect released an ad today listing the top 10 sellers for October. Here we go:

1. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
2. Roger Waters, Amused to Death
3. Nirvana, Nevermind
4. Elvis Costello, Trust
5. Miles Davis, Filles de Kilimanjaro
6. David Bowie, Five Years 
7. Queen, The Studio Collection
8. Simon and Garfunkel, Complete Columbia Collection
9. David Gilmour, Rattle that Lock
10.Mad Season and the Seattle Symphony, Sonic Evolution

Prices range from $28 to $399.  Ok, draw your own conclusions......

Monday, October 19, 2015

Audioengine B2 speaker makes music anywhere.

I've been playing with the B2 for more than six months now, and it's done duty in every listening context that matters to me: kitchen, living room, outside space. Remarkable sonics for little outlay, and so easy to set up. Oliver's review in HiFi'Zine was excellent, mine are just follow up remarks.  For those on the fence about a bluetooth speaker, here's my take: Audioengine B2 review.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

RMAF - summing it all up

It's hectic, it's impossible to hear everything, and sometimes it's impossible to know what is even there since rooms get assembled in many ways. I wanted Quad and failed to notice they were in a DCS room (no listing for them in directory). The importance of asking folks cannot be overestimated. A casual chat at the bar where I mentioned Tech Das sent a chap racing off to hear it since he'd not known the table was present. So, busy but friendly, a sort of 'we're all in this together trying to squash as much as we can into limited time'. Where else can you get access to so much great gear? Consider it an education.

Room set up is all over the shop. Some nail it from the outset, some get there over the weekend once they hear what attendees hear and how the room changes with more bodies packed in; and some just suck all weekend (or have equipment failure). Music could be more varied (Venessa Fernandez  still popular, Norah Jones, Krall etc, you get the idea. Way too much Dire Straits for my taste too). I know it's handy to have a reference but it does get tiresome if you don't actually care for the music). That said, who'd be a rep or room host at this meeting? - it would tax human endurance by Saturday pm, no wonder so many rooms shut down right on cue!

What I learned

I find uber-resolution tiresome. There's a kind of audiophile sound that is super crisp on transients, particularly on digital sources, that can impress with details but become sort of irritating quickly. I'd not really found a way to describe this before RMAF but after a day I came to sort of recognize it, usually in the more expensive set-ups, and to dread it when volume went up. When coupled with the sort of deep, strong bass that the high end speakers emphasize just to show you they can, it is often disguised as 'resolution' but it's not the same thing. That leading edge crispness can kill the natural sound of instruments and ruin the illusion of music. Now I know it when I hear it.

Real instruments are recognizable when reproduced but there's a level beyond recognition that pushes the illusion of presence further up the scale of credibility. Harbeth rooms did that well. Von Schweikert's too, but the German Physiks room did it best on violin. Of course, that was just the speakers, each had excellent partnering gear and careful set up. I commented a lot on lack of soundstaging in many rooms, the pull of vocals or instruments to one speaker at the expense of the other. Am sure there's a ton of technology that can work on this but the basic rules of set up cannot be fought and even if they could, sounsdtaging won't ever replace timbral accuracy as the key for me. And back to that point about resolution:  real unamplified instruments never have that bleeding edge sound you hear in some gear.

Pricing bears only a modest positive correlation with quality. Once products are well designed, combined with some consideration of match, and set up to suit a space not fight it, then the results are generally pretty good. To move from good to great requires real effort and sometimes incredible cost. But just paying that cost is no assurance of improvement. Further, the improvement you might gain is comparatively slight. It's rare to hear something that is so far beyond the decent, well matched and set up system that you think the world has changed.  Accept this as the reality of reproduction and you will hear gear a little more clearly. The ELAC speakers are a classic case of what's possible on the affordable side and can really compete with more expensive speakers. Reproduction is an illusion anyway, the question becomes at what price you can get a passing illusion of musical reality. I think you can get 80% or more of the way to the ultimate for 20% of the cost of the very best equipment, maybe closer. There's a real 80-20 rule for audiophiles.

The medium might be the message but am not convinced that one format is best. I heard great vinyl, cd, hi-rez digital, tape,  and all fell a bit short of real life. That's ok too, our brains can fill the credibility gap and a system can help it to do so easily. I do think that I am of a generation or a personality type that likes the physical medium. Some computer-based front-ends sounded fantastic at RMAF but I do like my record sleeves and I enjoy the process of setting up an album to play. But I recognize this as something in me, it's not a principle of sound quality. And I would say the same about tubes and solid state amplification.

Finally, despite all the talk of obscene  upward spiral of prices, I actually think there are some downward pressures at play which are offering us really good sonics and value for money. A few years ago I noted that $30k was the typical price of floorstanders. This year there were real choices, serious contenders for your dollars, at far less. Sure, you can drop more and you might be happier, but I saw a few components that I thought could help you put a killer system together for under $10k that would be a delight in most rooms. Of course, I like learning about the top end, and seeing how far the art can be extended, but I no longer feel that I'm missing much by not being able to afford it. In fact, I don't think I am missing too much at all.






Sunday, October 4, 2015

RMAF 2015 Day 3

Small window today due to travel so I decided to concentrate my efforts in revisiting a few places that left questions in my mind. Magico were not showing Sunday so no chance to revisit thus hauling self back to the Marriott, I had to make a visit to Prana Fidelity whose room captivated me last year. Set up on the long wall was a pair of floorstanders that were rocking the joint driven by Prana amplification and a Kuzma vinyl front end (as last year). Selections of vinyl inclued Yello, which had the drivers oscillating in and out before a note was heard, quite a sight, and an amazing recording of Fiona Apple as well as Vanessa Fernandez, all sounding very, very fine. Speaker price? $6950....I mean really, these guys can play with the biggest boys out there. A very cool, welcoming vibe in the room too. Main guy, Steve Norber, is a very special designer combining chops in amp and speaker design, really onto something. Maybe he should talk to the Synergistic guy about explaining those secrets of the physical universe.

Had to pop back into the Von Schweikert room since it was close by. It was even better than I remember. Host Damon kept the tunes moving through all genres, rock to symphony, ambient to jazz, I sat there while people came and went, very impressed by the VR55s driven by Constelllation, YFS and VSA's top cables. Small room, full range sonics, no boom at any volume, resolution assured. Yes, what I heard Friday was true, and if anything it was better today.

A segue sideways into a Devialet /B&W set up was disappointing. I know these speakers and I know people who love the Devialet, but this room sounded constrained and just lifeless. Midbass just choked and the music never flowed. Good deal to be had on the shiny piano black B&W's which were being blown off for $12k as a show special. I know they sound better than this...not sure what to blame.

Quick run over to the Tower, slowed only by the pesky elevators, I hit the 10th floor so I could recheck the Emia room (quasi Quads and idler drive table). Ladysmith live was spinning, but the music was just vague and sort of not there.Yes, vocals were articulate and spread across a soundstage but the whole sound was as I said yesterday. I even came back in after another room visit when I heard piano playing through the open door but nothing worked. This was a near six figure set up that just did not sound ready for the show. I guess the msytical Quad experience will have to wait for another time.

What did live up to memory was the German Physiks/Ayre/Merging Technologies room. Now I hogged the sweet spot and enjoyed another listen to that special violin recording they used. Magic. I know some folks might think there is an absence of bass in these but I suspect it only seems so in comparison to the floors of boom on display here at RMAF. A driving bass solo track reveals that the crossoverless German Physiks do bass just fine - tight, articulate, clear.  For those of us who crave timbre and out of the box sonics, these speakers (and let's be clear, some superb partnering gear and clever set up by Michael Broughton which had the speakers physically exposed but sonically invisible) brought something special to the room. A clear winner for me.

Wanted to hear the Revels again but time was just too tight and I enjoyed a couple of rooms so much I had probably used up capacity. Bumping into Eleanor McEvoy in the elevator as she hauled a couple of guitars down to her final live performance, I decided to end the weekend listening to her to purge the sonics of reproduced sounds.

Missed a few mentions of good things (the Vapor room had real quality, never heard Dark Side of the Moon quite like I did here in the sweet spot, but they were pricey; Well Rounded Sound offered a $5k speaker that could do justice to any music; AudioKinesis just do it differently and well), will get to them but am en route home. It's been fun but it's hectic. While it costs to travel and attend (no, I do not get paid for this), the lessons learned will pay for themselves several times over as I upgrade, if I upgrade. I have a real sense of what money thrown at the issue of audio reproduction cannot get you. More on this when I try to pull it all together.  Well done all who are involved in this show - it's a non-trivial undertaking.


Day 2 cont

One room which stood out for the right reasons was the German Physiks/Merging Technologies NADAC/Ayre amps, on Sistrum platforms with Purist Audio cables.. I always admire the sound of these speakers but here they raised their game further with a combination of hi-rez tracks that sounded spectacularly real. Even sitting close to the left speaker in the front row, you could not quite determine where the music was coming from, it just emerged in the room sort of between but also around the speakers. A solo violin recording privately made by Merging Technologies (I think) was absolutely stunning to my ears with a resolution and timbre so close to the real thing that I felt here is a system I could live with for the long haul. One of the best of show for me.

Nearby, I heard the PS Audio room with YG Acoustic speakers. I know this front end, it's excellent, so I really wanted to know how the new BHK monos sounded. Hard to know from this exposure. The room was huge, the speakers were so far out from the far wall that they threw an interesting soundstage. I generally find the full YG speaker to be highly resolving but hard, much preferring it in normal rooms without the last woofer stage (for example in the excellent Rowland room here, where his integrated and a Bergman Sindre table partnered well).  Here, there was no hardness, but also it was a room with so much traffic, most of whom talked loudly and endlessly, so it was impossible to form a reliable opinion.  Sort of bland, as was most of the music being played.

Winner of the great fun room award has to be Russ Andrews with their 'what can you get for $1500?' challenge.  Their response was to buy decent used gear on ebay and then add $1k of their cables to it. They invited people in to listen to the system with stock cables, then switched them out for their own (Kimber sourced?) wire. It took all of 5 seconds to hear the difference even on a Neil Diamond track. Not sure I'd go with this as a path to spending $1500 but the differences were obvious and should be a required experience for those who claim wire is wire. Great part of the proceedings, and a cheery bunch of folks too, they know how to make room visitors feel welcome. Listen and learn others - this is the type of room that encourages people to enjoy RMAF and the audio hobby.

Some oddities. I really wanted to hear a top end idler drive table but these were thin on the ground until I entered room 1010 where I gound the Saskia table (over $50k!) with a great Schroeder arm and Ikeda cartridge playing through a highly renovated Emia ESL which seemed like old Quads in furniture wrap. Well not seemed; they are. They're also quasi direct driven by a series of tubes built in. A vintage dream? Not to my ears. Sorry, but this sounded decidedly uninvolving. Need to give it another listen if possible, maybe my ears were tired.

Odd but fascinating is how I found the Haniwa Real3D set up which invited us in to listen to (and see) some of Harry Pearson's LP collection digitized from a special phono cartridge/stage combo tuned to each other and replayed via small cube speakers, the HSP line with digital amp and a low watt tube amp. Not quite sure how it all worked but it really did work in terms of making lovely music from small boxes.

Odd, fascinating but not sure why, the Synergistic Research folks were up to their usual conjuring routine, this time courtesy of a non-inline atmosphere setting device which certainly changes the sound. My request for explanation yielded little other than it 'acts on the RF in the room'. A couple of small resonators also did wonders (sort of) for cleaning up the bass just by being moved into the room. Again, no answers on how it worked really. In the next room where 'deals' could be had on these, I was told in no uncertain terms by a young man that the inventor was 'a certifiable genius who knows how the physical world works and how you perceive sound'. Further questioning not welcomed. OK....that explains it.  Scientology for audio?  Well, they were disappearing faster than anything else was selling so maybe folks getting them can chime in. The resonators might be the better option for folks who don't like bass traps.

Oh, many other sounds were good: Gibbon X speakers made it worth staying awhile, Audiokinesis room was pleasing on the ear, Vandersteens  sounded sweet with ARC amp, a sort of sound you could live with longtime.  JMW used monkey pod wood to good effect, Triangle Art make amazing looking tables, Linkwitz can get music from a PVC tube.  A VPI multi-armed table through Joseph Audio speakers revealed how different cartridges matter, it went on and on for Saturday...almost need the show to stay open until 9pm. And I still never got to any of the talks or panels I wanted to attend.

RMAF Day 2

This is the longest day, starting with a waitline for breafast at the Hyatt but as luck would have it, the gentleman in front of me, planning to dine alone, invited me to join him in an open table for two. Turned out to be Bruce Kinch, writer for Positive Feedback and lifetime vinyl collector. This could not have been more fortuitous as he proved an amiable, witty and insightful conversationalist. Great start to the day.

Since I was staying in the Hyatt, I took advantage first of the Magico demo in the Presidential Suite. Much loved by the audio press and somewhat maligned by audio forum posters who complain about prices and endless rave reviews, I have to say the Magicos have always demo'd well at RMAF for my ears. They do continuity through the range and I particularly like the sonics of the smaller models. Here, launching the new 7(?), the filled a large space with that sort of clarity that captures attention but in some speakers goes too far into etched. No doubt these are well made, the on-display skeletal m-cast framework revealed an incredibly solidly built speaker, no simple boxes of wood or mysterious X materials. I am intrigued by the use of bolts internally, I believe racing cars have developed alternatives, but am assured these never vibrate loose. Just as well, could you imagine fanatical owners having to send them back for annual tune-ups!  And the sonics? Good, sometimes great, but again, if I did not sit in the sweet spot, the image pulled to the nearest speaker in a way that might be set up, might be the recordings (most noticeable on jazz vocals, less so on orchestral), but a pattern I kept hearing again and again in other rooms with big speakers.  Interestingly, a conversation outside with a Magico owner checking the new model out revealed he thought they were insufficiently better than his current pair to warrant further interest. Which confirms my own view from RMAF that good sound is found at well under $10k all in if the components are well designed and you don't need to fill a hall. After this, you pay disproportionately for incremental improvements, and many of those are in areas that are not essential for typical homeowners.

The JBL Everests are another imposing speaker. Set up on the long wall of a regular room, with seats along the other long wall, they look super-imposing with their drivers exposed and all that curved woodwork,  The sound however, was quite delicate, almost disarmingly disconnected from the visual experience. I thought the sound was good, but not great, and mostly because sitting anywhere but the middle seat, all I heard was one speaker. Seemed to me, even on a sofa, only one person could listen appropriately to these in a space like this, and even then, only if they sat in the middle. Will try to go back again to check on this as it's hard to be truly fair to them.

General pattern here, I was concentrating on speakers for while, just seems the easiest thing to get a handle on in a strange room. I've complained at the lack of Revel demos in the past and was delighted to see the Salon 2s in use, albeit alternately, with a lower priced model. Lots of traffic here, but the Salons did everything quite well for my ears. Not a huge fan of the looks but they sort of capture everything the big expensive speakers do but in a more manageable, placement-friendly manner. On some familiar Keb Mo tracks, I thought they had a little more presence and detail than I am used to but might not have imaged the best in that room. Still, a good speaker, thoughtfully balanced.

Pioneer were there with an amazing $1500 Kef-copy white concentric drive monitor. Driven by a throwback dial-laden $1200 amp, they were really impressive. Much more so when this little system was switched out for their flagship floorstanders (circa $26,000). Yes more bass, yes more everything, but also far less left in your bank account. I suggested to the host that the difference in price should cause a massive difference in sound, should it not? He sort of admitted that such logic, while appealing, didn't really apply to audio. Once he played the expensive system, this truth was confirmed.

Of coure, no chat of the speakers and prices here can ignore the roll out of Andrew Jones' new ELAC models. A pair of floorstanders for $600 that sounded good and looked better finished than the old Pioneers that Mr Jones is known for, justifiably, as much as for his TAD award winners. Really, these speakers sort of give you so much in terms of room-appropriate sonics that you need to think hard about spending a lot more. My experience with the Pioneer 22s indicates that parterning gear way beyond the typical matching price can bring out a lot more from them, and I suspect these new designs can go a long way. Given the rather sycophantic reaction some of the press attendees present when I was there, expect a few gushing reviews soon. I sort of pitied the Cambridge Audio room a few feet away as they tried to interest folks in a similar sized $1200 floorstander. But at least the Cambridge folks served  decent beer, so they get a big plus for this!

Oh, and a note to some of the media folks....just because you get to sit in the sweet spot longer than most and make us listen to your selections, does not mean you should talk out loud, stand up blocking others and generally make a nuisance of yourself ensuring we all know you are a reviewer.  I mean, you review other people's audio gear for a living....think about that in the greater scheme of life. Show some manners.



more to come....

Saturday, October 3, 2015

RMAF 2015 Day 1

Despite the apparent crushes for admission badges, the general human traffic seems low. I found myself the sole listener in seversal rooms this afternoon, with the good and bad that goes with that scenario. Here's some quick reactions from Day 1 -- with placeholders which I'll correct once I get all my notes organized.

 Picking up registration I walked around downstairs, taking a few mins in the Legacy ballroom where their large (very) V speakers, with correction device, threw a great soundstage, totally enveloping form the sweet spot, but a little shart on transients. This preceded a step into a large room (sorry, can't recall which) where a large Martin Logan Neoliths  pushed out live Frank Zappa in 'you-are-there' realism. Gave up this in the drum solo section (really, you want us to sit through a live album drum solo?) and moved into a pleasant sounding Naim, Focal monitor set up.  Sweet, but a switch from 96 to 192 sampling on the same song from an attendee's own recording revealed more space and more congestion -- the former on top, the latter in the middle. No free lunch so I can see why some people claim the greater sampling rate adds little to their enjoyment.

A stroll took me to the Atrium, and what best way to start than going to the 5th (top) floor there and working my way down the next two floors of exhibits. Stop one was the VSA room to hear a Von Schweikert VR55 with YFS and Constellation. Don't ask the price, this is the high end. Last year I thought this pairing was uber-crisp but not quite the best, this year it  set the early standard for me. Real soundstaging, real presence, and a solid,  controlled bass. Not hard to enjoy at all but it meant I wanted to really hear only other great stuff from here for comparison so changing plans a little, I found myself spending more time than usual listening to some expensive set ups in the Atrium area, home to dealers showing the large Focals, banks of VAC amps and gorgeous looking Trans Rotor turntable.

Now I sort of prefer the smaller Focals over the large Utopias but given the opportunity to sit right in the sweet spot of the towering Utopias, it was impossible to resist. - this is the type of listening experience you normally only get to read about.  Lots of vinyl being spun and the sense of envelopment was truly impressive. That said, the room and position is everything you are told it is. Listening to a fabulous Milt Jackson recording of Round Midnight, the bass was so vivid you could almost touch it, except in some registers where it started to boom, ruining the illusion. I had to move to the back of the room to remove this spoiler, which worked, but then the sheer intimacy was gone. Lesson for me, I could never own a room where these would work at volume. That's why there are smaller models, right!

In fact, the lesson of room size and speaker  fit was obvious over the next few days and should caution anyone who thinks more expense gets better sound -- it often gets you bigger cabinets and calamitously difficult issues with placement and bass. But before this, I drifted into a fine sound room set up by Vinni Rossi, with his new line of LIO amps driving some big (for them) Harbeths (the 40s?). Ah, now this sounded really fine, and right sized. A lover of the P3ESRs, I'd sort of not given too much more attention to the larger Harbeths but assuming they must be good. Well on the experience of this weekend where I ran into a couple of other rooms running various Harbeth models, I'd say this is one speaker company that talks to my tastes - enough frequency extension to represent the musical details, but a midrange that sounds human, with timbre and tone preserved. If you need more, be careful what you wish for.

More to come, but the lesson of the day was size matters, just not in the way you've been told. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

RMAF 2015

Off to RMAF to catch up with what's happening there. Plans on specifics are hard to make, it tends to go belly up when you hit the venue. Was invited to various press only events in mass mailings but somehow the secret directions promised if I replied never materialized....I knew I should have faked an @stereophile.com address!

If you're there and paths cross, say hello. I'll be the chap wishing they'd turn the volume down and stop talking in every room. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Von Schweikert Audio acquires Endeavor - breaking news



Von Schweikert Audio acquires Endeavor Audio


California, USA 25th September, 2015

Von Schweikert Audio is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of Endeavor Audio and the partnership/promotion of Leif Swanson (founder of Endeavor Audio) to the role of Vice President, Sales and Marketing.  VSA is impressed with both the quality of products produced by Endeavor Audio and the US Dealer relationships Mr. Swanson has established in just a few years of operation.

All present Endeavor Audio dealer/distributor agreements are unaffected by this acquisition, the Endeavor Audio line of products will continue to be managed by Leif Swanson independently of present VSA distribution where appropriate.  Leif Swanson is committed to maintaining all established relationships for both lines while leveraging them in territories where only one is currently represented.

As part of the subsequent restructuring, Damon Von Schweikert has taken over as Chief Executive
Officer which allows Albert Von Schweikert to focus exclusively in his role of Chief Engineer.  In addition and due to his success at Endeavor, Leif Swanson will join the design team as an assistant to Mr. Von Schweikert.

These recent changes enhance Von Schweikert Audio’s present product assortment and secures
valuable talent and leadership for continued development and growth which places the company in a
strong market position for the future.

California, USA www.vonschweikert.com – damon@vonschweikert.com – leif@vonschweikert.com 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Guardian article on vinyl production

The Guardian newspaper has a new article on vinyl pressing and the growing demand:.

"Located in Milwaukie, Oregon, which borders Portland to the south, Cascade is a labor of love between three partners: CEO Rainey, mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves and certified public accountant Steve Lanning. As music fans and vinyl aficionados, the trio knew they were tapping into a growing demand.Between January and March of 2015, vinyl sales were 53% higher than the first three months of 2014, according to a Nielsen report. And in 2014, vinyl sales totaled 9.2m, up from 6.1m in 2013."
 find the full article HERE

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Another batch of Jerome Sabbagh's The Turn now available

As promised, here's an update from Jerome Sabbagh to earlier buyers of The Turn -- get them while you can, it's my favorite release of the year:

"I hope you are enjoying the first pressing of the record. I wanted to let you know that, thanks in no small part to your support, the first pressing is sold out. I am pressing another 500 copies. They will be pressed at QRP, exactly like your copy, but, unlike your copy, they will not be numbered. 
In case you know someone interested, they are available for preorder on my website: www.jeromesabbagh.com($25 + shipping). The records should be pressed by the end of the month. I will ship as soon as I get them."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

RIP Bobby Palkovich of Merlin

Always loved the look and sonics of Merlin speakers, they just made music and had the finish quality of fine furniture, particularly in that ruby heart finish. So I was saddened to learn that chief designer Bobby Palkovich died late August. Somehow, this was not big news and barely reached mention on many audio forums. I remember reading Bobby somewhere saying that he'd reached the point where these speakers were as good as he could make them - you can have them small or larger but they are the same speaker executed to the point where nothing more could be done to improve them. How rare is is to hear that from any company? Magic Merlin indeed. More info here


Friday, August 21, 2015

Good news for US Linn owners

Most upper-end table owners like to update, tweak and fiddle with their set ups. LP12 owners do this routinely as the table seems to need more regular tune ups than my car. Owning UK made gear in the US is sometimes problematic and expensive (I know this as an SME 20/2 user) so the following announcement of a US outlet for Linn bells and whistles will be welcome by many:

Russ Andrews USA, supplier of hi-fi and home theater accessories for the audiophile community, is introducing a full range of genuine Linn LP12 spare parts to enable US based vinyl enthusiasts to upgrade their favorite turntable to achieve even greater musical enjoyment.

The full suite of genuine LP12 parts, including motors, belts, platters, armboards, screws, lid hinges and every other imaginable part is now available to purchase direct from the www.russandrews.com/usa website. Having had such a long history with Linn and its most famous product, Russ Andrews has an unrivalled knowledge of how to service and upgrade the LP12 and has produced a guide to help its customers get the most from their turntable. The guide may be downloaded from the Linn LP12 Spares area of the website.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Expressimoaudio The Lift

Of all the inconveniences of the vinyl life, and I am prepared to concede there are a few such as the endless cleaning rituals, the lack of easy track selection and so forth, the one that many have the hardest time dealing with is the need to jump up every 20 mins or so to lift the stylus off the record at the end of a side.  We've all done it, left a precious stylus sitting in the run out groove of an LP when distracted. I've walked out of my listening room and forgotten that I was spinning records rather than CDs, and I hear some poor folks have fallen asleep during a late night session only to wake up in horror, hours later, with the recognition that their needle was still spinning around or worse.  Yes, there might be drinks involved but let him who is without sin cast the first stone here. Nobody likes to think of those wasted minutes or even hours where a valuable cartridge is doing its thing in the deadwax.


Enter Expressimoaudio's The Lift. A deceptively simple looking brass device that you place near the tonearm's pivot, prime by swinging the upper arm around, and then leave alone to do the job. It lifts the stylus at record's end as the tonearm tube moves the upper lever to a tipping point whereupon the lower half of said level swings up and under the tonearm tube to lift the entire arm and cartridge clear of the groove. The Lift has a range of adjustability to allow for tonearms of varying heights and circumference, using a small allen key so the support pillar can be extended or collapsed as needed to find the sweet spot. It all sounds more complicated than it is, and  if a picture is worth a 1000 words, the above  video from Brian the designer should tell you all you need to know.

On my SME 20/2 with V arm, I required the heavier weight version to have the necessary force, and it took me more than a few tries to get positioning and height right. The trick for me was to recognize that the tonearm did not have to make contact with the top weight, but should slip under it to contact the lever. I also played around with BluTak to hold the Lift in place as it would otherwise fall over in use but once I got it set, and I did, the Lift has not left my table.  Set up time for me was more than the claimed seven minutes but once you get a sense of how it operates, the real trick is just positioning.

Now installed, the Lift works every time and believe me, I am glad it does. On more than one occasion it has saved my cartridge from unnecessary wear as I've left the room with a record playing and come back an hour later to find the room quiet, the platter spinning, and my lovely Sumiko Pearwood Celebration II floating safely above the  inner grooves. Ah, the small comforts that matter.

Drawbacks are negligible. On the rather hollow SME arm, the Lift makes a rather sharp noise on contact as the lever triggers and the stylus escapes the inner grooves but having examined this up close, it's not a worry, no damage occurring here. Bigger challenge is to get into the habit of priming it for every side. I've sometimes forgotten to bring the Lift arm back into place when changing sides and then, near the end of the next side, the arm bumps into the Lift's non-raised lever causing skipping. You sort of have to learn this the hard way - two months in and I still sometimes forget to set it but it's becoming second nature.

This is a $100 device that you might think is overpriced but given the general quality and the fact that it works (and let's be honest, looks a whole lot better on a decent table than the Q-Up that you can get for a few bucks less) leads me to unhesitatingly recommend it for table owners. Brian of Expressimoaudio is also a very customer-friendly guy who will work with you to get your set up correct (he's also working on a set of arm and table designs too that promise interesting results - this man is committed to the vinyl cause, watch out for him). I bought the Lift without mentioning my blog or HiFi'Zine so I know how Brian treats customers, not reviewers. He worked with me the whole way and I am confident he'll make you happy.  Buy it, set it, relax. No need to question if you have enough time left on a side to refill the glass, to run to the kitchen or heaven forbid, if you forgot to stop spinning when you left the house. LP listening just became a little more convenient.







Monday, July 20, 2015

Rega do a Queen Edition? We are not amused.

Was sort of taken back by the announcement from Rega that they are doing a tie-in model with Queen for the latter's reissue of catalog on high quality vinyl. Seems you will be able to buy a special version of the RP1 to commemorate the occasion. Only 2000 to be made, and 200 of these only to find their way to the US. The records, sadly, do not come with it.

Apparently, according to the press release, this daring pairing was instigated by the band. Am I the only one who remembers Queen running ads in the 1980s disparaging vinyl, showing an LP melted into a flower pot or some such,  and trumpeting the glories of CD, a format that Queen had determined would be the basis for all their future releases? I guess so.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Another Turn from Jerome Sabbagh

Heard from Jerome this morning that he has found a few more copies of his Kickstarter-funded LP release, The Turn, which is one of the best releases of the year for me. I suspect this LP will be getting wider release soon but if you want one of the original 500 copies, head over to http://www.jeromesabbagh.com/ now. By the time you read this, it might still be too late. Jerome is personally shipping these copies, so just imagine the effort involved and give this man some support. Art lives. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meanwhile, playing around with a cheap table

I picked up an old Denon DP790 online a few months back at a price that seemed more than reasonable so as to get a handle on all this love for direct drive technology that we find in multiple forums. Would like to have heard the VPI direct drive but we've discussed that problem earlier, so a cheap, used Japanese table from the 1980s found its way here instead. Unfortunately the seller had little or no experience packing tables and left the platter on and the cover down, imagining I suppose that those nice people in UPS would always lift gently and hold the package upright. A bit of clean up later, I installed a Clearaudio moving magnet (MSRP $250) on the arm, tweaked a few settings and gave the old girl a spin in my secondary rig.

All sounded fine, a decent basic turntable into a Harmon Kardon receiver driving some old Kefs provided me with reasonable but not earth shattering sounds but what can you expect for this price? Well, you can expect a whole lot more than you might believe if you get the partnering equipment right (as an aside, I know Audioholics reported that the HK receiver I use sparingly has some of the best measurements you can get, but man, it has never sounded great to my ears with any speaker I've used).

A move to my main rig, just to know, proved very interesting. Connecting to my Whest .03RDT SE phono stage (running in MM mode) gave me sounds that really caught my ears Super quiet background, reliable solid bass without any overhang or smear, and nicely articulated highs. Vocals were clear, instruments sounded accurate and most of all, the whole sonic picture was pleasing and engaging. Not bad thinks I - and not just for the price, this little table is not out of place here with my high end components.

Time then for a few tweaks without concern for the sanity of these additions. Off with the rubber platter mat and on with a TTW heavy mat. Hum.....better resolved bass, super-quick, distinct, with bass drum and guitar separated clearly. Add the HRS clamp over the spindle and things seem even a little better still. Yikes, that well over a $1k in tweaks on a used table found for $200, but man, that little Denon is good enough to warrant it.

Would I give up my SME 20 for this? No, it's good but not quite that good but it is easier to nail the exact speed. Using my phone app, I got the Denon to run dead on 33.3 with just the slightest adjustment of its speed dial. The tonearm is height adjustable, and with the standard headshell, you can adjust azimuth sort of quickly by loosening the collar or swap cartridges in a heartbeat. Speaking of this headshell, cartridge positioning is simplified by the manuals instruction to move it until the stylus tip to collar measures 48mm. I did this then used a Stevenson alignment to final check and position. Super easy, the sort of no fuss set up anyone can handle.

The gaps between this table and my reference are there to hear, the SME just gives everything a bit more space around instruments and lines, and provides a larger window into the performance but I wonder now how good the Denon might sound with a comparable MC cartridge. Surely it's madness to put a $1k+ cartridge on this table/arm but I cannot help believe it would sound even closer to my SME. Don't have one to hand and am not about to take my Pearwood Celebration off my SME V given the hours I've put in getting it just right but the opportunity to try one will surely present itself at some point, even if I just swap the Pearwood over when it's time for a replacement.

So, if you are confused by turntables but want to dip your toes in, take a chance on a used Denon or equivalent direct drive. Just make sure it runs ok and the arm is adjustable. From there, the set up is simple (or as simple as vinyl can be), and you will have taken a significant step on the road to understanding what vinyl can provide. A table like that can live with upgrades and decent partnering equipment before its own limitations show. Right now, I don't think I've even reached the limits of what this little Denon  DP790 can provide. Try that with any 1980s cd player and see where you get!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Upgraded Raven integrated in for a listen, more reviews coming

The irrepressible Dave Thomson of Raven Audio shipped a nice surprise to me last week, the Blackhawk integrated amp, a sort of top level version of the Nighthawk I enjoyed earlier this year. Raven have had a rough few months with the crazy weather we had here flooding their facilities, necessitating rapid, all-hands-on-deck style moving of parts and equipment through the night but they have made it through and are still selling product, which is great news. More as I go on this one.

Also,  in use or coming in, all of which will get a mention at some point: Aural Thrills Audio's phono stage (another Texas tube company,  who says it's too hot in Texas for tubes?), looking forward to giving that a run out on my vinyl, where I've also been tweaking with Expressimoaudiodo's The Lift, designed to save us from leaving our precious stylus sitting in the run out groove when we forget (oh, it happens!), and a set of mats from ExtremePhono.  Summer fun with the analog stuff. More to come.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sabbagh Turns Out a Joy

A few months back I mentioned a Kickstarter campaign by Jerome Sabbagh to have his new album, The Turn, released on vinyl. Well he reached his target, kept the project going through some difficult and unexpected er, turns, not least the death of Doug Sax who was involved in the mastering, some initial test pressing problems, sleeve foul ups and so forth. This month, the albums shipped to backers and the results are worth the wait.

The release comes as two LPs in separate but identical sleeves on beautiful slabs of thick vinyl, with 56 mins of music spread across four sides. Yes, you will need to get up every 15 mins or so, making you feel like you've played one of those 45rpm sets so beloved by some (not me) but even though this album is available in other formats, you will want the vinyl set. At the time of writing, Jerome tells me that he still has copies of the 500 original run an will be selling them from his web site  www.jeromesabbagh.com (I backed early but still only got #226, so don't sit around on this one).

But what about the music? Well where do I start. Sabbagh's band (who have recorded together before) consists of some real top notch players, the always striking Ben Monder on guitar and a rhythm section of Ted Poor and Joe Martin  all of whom are given plenty of room to breath and play on this album. Sabbagh's sax is earthy, groove-oriented and truly captivating. The group range mostly over Sabbagh originals and a cover of Paul Motian's Once around the Park, with a mix of sombre, spacious chill giving way to high energy, driving bop. Though the soloists are captivating, it's the collective experience of four guys weaving a musical tapestry in seeming total synchronicity that gives the album its stand-out qualities for me. The opening, title track sums the mood well, a slow drawn out motif on bass and sax sets a contemplative, faintly sinister tone before drummer Poor kicks everyone into swing and Sabbagh embarks on a winding solo that is taken on by Monder who seamlessly drives us further into edginess until rejoined by Sabbath for a powerful band-in-motion ending. This album tells you these guys not only can play, but they can play seriously well together, a unified force that carves solid shapes in thin air,  and you better pay attention.

Yes, Monder goes all out in an almost Hendrixian limb on Cult, an 11 minute drama but his playing never loses perspective or jars the listener because of the brilliant accompaniments of Poor and Martin. The end result being an example of what tradition with innovation can bring to the listener prepared to give current musicians some space. Long Gone is a more traditional groove that lovers of moody sax recordings will immediately resonate with but even here, the music warrants consideration of all that the band are bringing to bear, from sweet chordal backings to percussive voices that add texture and twists to the melodies up front.

One very distinct attribute of the vinyl is that the music just seems to make more sense. I don't really know how else to explain it but even though I had the digital download of this album for a few months, I never really heard it until I spun it on my table. It's not the resolution as much as the mood-capture that the records bring. Once cued up, I have been unable to spin just one side and always end up listening through the whole album, each subsequent listen giving up more to me of this music and this recording's charm.  Listeners in my home who find some bop too jarring for their ears have enquired about this album positively when I played it for them. The Turn is a slow burner, has edge with purpose, and for me the best new jazz record I've heard in a long while.  Stop buying re-releases of old stuff you already have. Get The Turn and go see these guys;  talent this good has to be nurtured.



UPDATE -- I think the copies on his web site are now gone but you might be able to get this still through Amazon. Sounds to me as if this release needs to be backed by a label with more copies.






Thursday, June 25, 2015

The vertical LP boom box....kickstart this..

OK, the PR might be a bit stylized, the obvious opportunist timing for the vinyl comeback (TM) but hey, you never know till you hear it right?



and when you've bought one, be sure to check out this helpful guide on record collecting and proper handling or cleaning:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Mastering Lab acquired by Acoustic Sounds

Not just a PR piece - this is a more poignant telling honoring the work of the late Doug Sax --

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Just what you were waiting for, right?

Another f'in edition of Kind of Blue....
someone make it stop.... It's not that I don't love this album but how many copies are we supposed to need? There's been originals, re-releases, speed corrected releases, what's next...corrected speed-corrected? New tapes found in the back pocket of the studio sweeper's suit by his grandchild. Buy it? What else.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Audition struggles again - where can you actually hear the VPI Classic Direct?

I’ve been trying to find somewhere local and even not so local where I could hear the VPI Classic Direct table. The well-reviewed direct drive model is a change for VPI, not just in terms of technology but in terms of price, VPI not really known for $30,000 tables. I’ve seen the table at RMAF but given the circumstances of show conditions, I could not really say I ‘heard’ one so I thought I’d locate one somewhere in Texas and make an effort to hear it privately.

There are 4 listed dealers in Texas for VPI, a number that initially surprised me and suggested I’d find one to hear pretty conveniently. Turns out one of these dealers is no longer in business and none of the other three have the Classic Direct or even plan to have one in their store any time soon.  There are no dealers in Louisiana. In fact, it would appear that I’d have better luck if I flew to NJ to find a dealership where I could hear one. So, not only do I have to spend a fortune to get the table, I’d have to spend a small fortune just to have the option of auditioning it first. And we wonder why high end sales are threatened?


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Essence Electrostats now direct-sell to customers

Now available direct to customers, Essence Electrostats announced today that they are no longer selling through dealers. These beautiful looking speakers accordingly drop in price from $4k to $2k a pair, with a variety of payment options possible, and supplementary sub available too. Add another $600 to get the taller 63"  pair for those of us who think height matters. This brings some serious competition to the market place and might just capture a new audience who never thought of listening outside the box. Hope to hear a pair in-house myself soon. For further info, check out the Essence site.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ultrasonic cleaning on the cheap

I’ve lusted after an ultrasonic cleaner (USC) for the last few years but could never bring myself to part with the necessary money for the Audio Desk or KLAudio machines. I mean, $4k is no small sum, even if I still buy and play tons of vinyl. I tried to rationalize it by determining the unit cost for each record, and even added in the time saving to tell myself that it would be worth it but no, that price was just too much for me. I nearly pulled the trigger on a reconditioned model from KLAudio, and even bookmarked their site just in case one appeared again but nothing could quite get me to write the check.

Like many of you, I’ve looked into the DIY options. There’s a ton of info on the web, some of it very useful but I was always left a bit concerned. Which of those E-bay USCs would work? Then there’s the LP rotating issue. How do you get the records into the water and keep them spinning there safely? Those selling the cleaners never seemed to mention LPs. Those selling record holders/spinners never seemed to mention which USC device would it would fit, other than gross measurements. I signed up online to get one of the most highly recommended cleaners, built to allow timing and temperature control, and even asked the guy making them if he knew about the rotating holders and if one I had my eye on would fit. He answered that it would, but he never said so on his listings and just as I was about to buy one, they always went out of stock.

Well, problem solved now,  so let me share some practical advice. I bought a DIY set up put together by a local audiophile who demonstrated proof of concept and wanted to move on to other devices. You can put this exact rig together yourself for about $700, maybe less if you are lucky, buy used,  or if you are willing to use cheaper machines. But compared to the price of other set ups, this one seems a good deal. Here’s the parts (each one linked to a relevant eBay listing, but check Amazon on the Kendal):

The Vinyl Stack Sonic Spin Kit:

which fits perfectly with a 9L Kendal ultrasonic cleaner 

There are cheaper but this one I can assure you works well.

To clean the water (or keep it minimally clean while cleaning crud from your records) there’s a TopFin aquarium filter that sits on the side of the cleaner. These are about $15 from Pet Smart.

With these three in combo, a little photo-flo, drop of organic dishwasher detergent and a couple of gallons of distilled water from the supermarket, I’ve given this rig a work out on 20 Lps so far. The results are impressive. The records look cleaner than ever, and coupled with a distilled water rinse on my Loricraft afterwards, the sonic results are impressive. More as I go, there’s no end of discussion online about better combos of cleaning fluid and drying but the real advantage here is that I got 20 lps cleaned in about two hours total time, some of that learning the set up, developing a decent workflow, and  running 9 mins ultrasonic cycles (longer than most people recommend but I’m experimenting).

I think I can easily get 10 records cleaned, dried and sleeved in under an hour if I employed air drying, dabbing dry with microfiber cloth,  or if I would cut back on the final run through distilled water on the Loricraft (a process that adds almost 3 min per record on its own given the suction rate of the Lori’s point nozzle system).  But for now, this set up is the best I’ve achieved in home cleaning, better than the Loricraft/Audio Solutions combo that I was using, and it’s comparatively quick. No, you don’t get Audio Desk or KLAudio auto-dry/ready-to-play convenience but you can make a real dent in your cleaning backlog with this set up. If you are on the fence, give this a try.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Waterboys still got it

Went to see Mike Scott and the ‘Boys launch their new US tour this week. It’s been 25 years since I last saw them, far away on another continent and it was one of my most memorable gigs. Sort of worried that the memory would be tainted by the time but I need not have worried. The venue was perfect, the wonderful Paramount Theater on Congress where all seats are excellent, sonics are good and the bar stays open throughout. The opening act, the Bluebonnets, were fine, quite fun once they found their groove and did not overstay their welcome. But the Waterboys were the business. A nice mix of old and new members, and that was true of the music too. Mike Scott is to my mind one of the great songwriters in rock and roll, and continues to write memorable, haunting songs while retaining his rock edginess. He was still cool, the riffs kept coming, and yes, he played almost everything I wanted to hear, including a rocking version of Glastonbury Song.

Highlight -- Mike Scott going over the piano then saying, by way of introduction, ‘let’s see if we can nail this one to the wall’ and hitting those familiar chords to Whole of the Moon. Cue crowd moving to the front, dancing in the aisles, singing along, sharing the pure joy of live music played well in a great space. New album now out, Modern Blues, I just ordered the vinyl version. Welcome back to a great band, it’s like they were never really away.


And this just in -- live on Letterman, or as live as TV allows....the real thing is even better:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Collecting without listening? The man with 75,000 CDs

Slightly annoying style (and the video is very dark so turn up your brightness setting) but this episode of the BBC series on ‘collectoholics’ offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of one collector who is amassing a sizable but un-listened to trove of contemporary CD releases. He’s bought apartments to house the collection but at least they’ve increased in value. And you thought you had an obsession! Still, the teddy bears are worse, right? Enjoy.