Saturday, June 17, 2017

Del Amitri fans enjoy -- Justin Currie offering a new album

Justin Currie - This is my kingdom now

Songwriting is a craft and in my view, Currie was one of the great (and greatly underrated) songwriters of his generation. He was one of the late 80s wave of young Brits who brought rock sensibilities and lyrical bite back into the mainstream after years of over-produced, stylized and synthesized pap (sorry folks, the 80s were  mostly crap). His main band, Del Amitri produced a string of strong albums from Waking Hours on and could kick-ass live too, as evidenced by the comeback tour shows released two years ago in a small box set. The last decade or so has been a quiet time for Currie the songwriter and it's good to have him back, though this recording is likely to appeal only to hardcore fans. 

The thirteen tracks here are slow, or mid-tempo ballads, recorded in a quality that suggests low-key, domestic technologies, limited accompaniment ( a bit of piano here, some bass there, drums spread about) with the main man musing throughout on life, loneliness and his own various shortcomings. Nothing too stark and nothing too lively here, the album has the feel of hearing an old friend demoing with some tunes while sipping a few drinks and reminiscing of old times. 

Audiophiles will not be impressed with the sound quality and yes, you have to order from the UK as I don't believe there's a US outlet, but for all the challenges, it's hard not to enjoy the work.  And at a total cost of under $20 shipped, you get a digital download immediately with the CD arriving less than 2 weeks later.

(this, and other album reviews are archived in the Listening Notes page)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rega in red...

Just announced through the regular PR push. Looks great in red....used to have a Rega 3, great table, bought it for £150 (pounds), used, back in the late 1980s.  More at http://www.soundorg.com.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Better than the KEF LS50?

Well, so claims the gushing PR from Essence -- a pair of active speakers, under a grand, might be worth a listen given the design roots:

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New gear in for review

The PSAudio BHK 300 Monos are in for review and making sweet music in my reference rig. I've been trying various permutations of cords and cables with these, and will be adding a pair of Wireworld cords soon as these are incoming.

This is an interesting hybrid design with tubes in the input stage and balanced Mosfet output. Consequently, rule #1 for me is to remember to turn these off when no longer listening....a new habit I have to acquire the hard way.  Review forthcoming.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hinges for your Bryston table cover coming...

Want to take that cover off your turntable from Bryston -- new hinges coming:

Can't say it was a problem while I had that table in the house -- just a reminder, this is a lovely sounding analog front end, and not fussy to set up. Check out my original review here

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Vinyl sales continue up but is the LP an ornament?

You see these trend data a lot these days --- vinyl sales are apparently undergoing a resurgence, reaching their highest numbers for 30 years it would now seem.  But you realize, when you look closely, that the old adage about damn lies and statistics is applicable here. Even as LPs sell more in comparison to CDs, the total sales are not that great. Moreover, according to this article, many people buy records but never actually listen to them!  Hey, I sometimes take a while to get around to new records when I buy a few in quick succession, and maybe some of my records have not been played in a while, but buying them just to have a trophy?  This too will pass, surely?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Audio Cabana in Austin

The amiable Josh Miles of JWM Acoustics hosted a gathering of Texas audiophiles at his apartment yesterday. On hand were a pair of his excellent sounding Alyson standmounts, fed by his equally impressive sounding Karen 12 table (the 12 for the long Ortofon arm), and Etsuro-Urushi MC, and Daistasis phono stage, courtesy of Joshua Masongson of Believe Hifi, with amplification by Raven's beautiful Shaman monoblocks (we missed you Dave!) Cabling mostly by Douglas Connection, another local company with some later improv of whatever was to hand to make some connections fit.

Some gear swaps occurred throughout, including a late run with a pair of expensive Aries Cetras preamps that were really impressive sounding, and digital feeds from a laptop (don't ask me, I am a materialist).

So, apartment set up, no abnormal room treatments, just a lot of gear you can fit into a normal room, basic furnishing, floor rug, sofa, dogs, booze and tacos. You know, a  normal guy's home! Sonics were really pleasing on most material, a mix of stuff on hand and recordings people brought to share. Yes, jazz was the dominant genre but the quality of stuff on hand was toe-tappingly good. Later we veered into Temple of the Dog (RIP Chris Cornell) and some new sounds to me, which Siri shazammed for me but did not note for the record, so those names are gone. I just asked Siri what it last played and it told me 'sorry, but I can't find 'what I last played' in your records. Technology!   But hey, it was a good time.

The Karen table is a gorgeous and elegant design, no flash, all sonics, about as fuss-free and groovy as you could want. The pic below does not really do it justice and as Josh would tell you, this is a sample that he takes on the road, his finished versions are just better looking, and its true, I've seen them. The Esturo cartridge was new to me, so not sure what to make of its contribution to the sonics but I was there to have fun, and fun we certainly had.


For kicks, as everyone's level of 'refreshment' advanced, Joshua from Believe HiFi distribution introduced a pair of Aries Cerat preamps to the mix. OK, we're entering the nosebleed end of audiophilia here with the basic preamp being $12k and and reference level component, pictured here, hitting closer to $80k. I don't know what to tell you but two things seemed pretty clear to those of us fortunate enough to be there. The $12k preamp is stunning, it just gave the whole system a lift from the moment it was introduced. But wait, there's more. The top of the range reference model was even better. I know....$70k better? I'll take the usual audiophile reviewer cop-out of telling you it's not up to me how you spend your money but it was better and if I could have either, I'd take it. I have no idea where the cost goes as these are not the most beautiful components one might ever see. The supertube these preamps are built around? The origins of the design in a long-forgotten dissertation?  Life and audio are mysteries....But none of that takes away from the $12k model - it was really, really good sounding in this rig. 

Anyway, that was Audio Cabana....a fun gathering and easy going session where men (and only men, sadly) came to hear some great music on really nice gear while sharing light conversation and a few drinks. My thanks to Josh for hosting -- a more genial host it would be hard to imagine.  This was way more fun than most rooms at RMAF and I hope to get a pair of those Alyson speakers into my room to review in the coming months - they have some real magic going on I sense. 


Sunday, May 21, 2017

New kickstarter: the old turntable on speaker portable package returns

Kickstarter has an eye-catching new project that's attracting funding, but it's not too late to get in. Here's the Seed: "an all-in-one, multifunction turntable system that integrates excellent sound quality, high output and wireless streaming, in one simple setup."


You might think that putting a turntable on top of a speaker is not ideal but don't worry, they've thought of this too and have an "exclusive tri-point suspension system" to ensure rumble-free operation. Why didn't I think of that? You know you want to find out more...and you can, including demonstration videos here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

New reviews live on the 'Zine

I've been handling a few reviews recently and both now are published. The Charisma 103 cartridge, a mod'd Denon, proved to be a real treat for those who like it meaty, beaty, big and bouncy.  My new ref for $750 MC, I'm keeping one around.

The Valvet A4 monoblocks are a top contender for those who long for pure Class A amps in a manageably-sized product. Glorious sonics, gorgeous looks. Two very different niches of the specialist market but both are winners. I know, how boring right?  Just telling it like it is.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What HiFi's odd list of audiophile recordings


UK mag What HiFi? produced a list of recordings they recommend for audiophiles. Of the 50, I have less than 10, so I guess that tells you all you need to know about my tastes or credibility. Have to say, more than a few of these do not appeal and am not even sure they sound very good. Taste, as always, varies but one imagines there might at least be some standards we can agree on for sound quality?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mosaic Records plea

If you've ever bought a record or cd set from Mosaic, you know the love that goes into their work. It's clear that they are struggling to continue and it would be a major loss to jazz lovers if they fade away. Here's a note from them to subscribers which I am sharing here in the hope of encouraging folks who have interests to buy before it's too late. Go to http://www.mosaicrecords.com/ and get an education.


Dear Mosaic Friend,
In this time and place, the Mosaic business model is becoming harder and harder to sustain in this rapidly changing world. We aren't sure what the future will hold for us, but we want to let all of you know how much we appreciate that your support has allowed us to constantly make our dreams come true with set after set and that we intend to persevere. The way we operate may change but our mandate remains steadfast.

Charlie Lourie and I started Mosaic Records in 1982 and our first releases were in 1983. The company was almost an afterthought. The idea of definitive boxed sets of complete recordings by jazz masters at a crucial time in their careers was a small part of a proposal that we made to Capitol Records in 1982 to relaunch the Blue Note label. Even before Capitol turned us down, it occurred to me one night that the release of these boxed sets could be a business unto itself if we made them deluxe, hand-numbered limited editions sold directly to the public.

Our first release was The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk, which came about because I'd found about 25 minutes of excellent unissued Monk on Blue Note. It was too short for an album and I was obsessed with how to get this music released. . It then dawned on me that all of this important material needed to be retransferred and assembled in chronological order as a significant historic document.  I solved my problem of releasing those 25 minutes of Monk music and Mosaic Records was born. We had a wonderful run of projects. The Tina Brooks, Herbie Nichols, Serge Chaloff,  Count Basie and Nat Cole sets were among those that were especially near and dear to our hearts.

Charlie was my best friend and working together was a joy. Mosaic was slow getting started and it took a few years before we could even draw a meager salary. I remember during those lean years worrying if we could afford to put out a Tina Brooks set. Charlie looked at me in amazement. "Isn't that why we started this thing - to do what's important without anyone telling us no?!" He only had to say it once.

In 1989, we moved out of Charlie's basement and into our own facility. Scott Wenzel joined us in 1987. We added employees as the business grew. We started issuing sets on CD as well as LP and eventually had our own website. We lost Charlie to scleroderma on December 31, 2000. We managed to keep the tone and spirit of the company up to the level that Charlie created and continued to put out thoroughly researched vital sets of importance in jazz history. But in the early 2000s, the record business began to shrink and morph for a variety of reasons and we were forced to downsize our staff, move to smaller quarters and reduce the flow of sets. 

We've always tried to be diligent about warning you when sets were running low so you wouldn't miss out on titles that you wanted. But at this point, some sets which are temporarily out of stock may not be pressed again. We are not certain  how Mosaic Records will continue going forward or how many more sets we will be able to create and release. We've got a lot of great plans but few resources. Scott and I want to thank every single person who has supported us, made suggestions, given advice and shown us such love and affection. If you are thinking about acquiring a certain set, now's the time.
-     - Michael Cuscuna

Monday, April 24, 2017

Audeze offering limited time promotion price on new headphone

SINE DX ON-EAR OPEN-BACK HEADPHONE
STUNNING SOUND.  HUGE SOUNDSTAGE.  LIMITED AVAILABILITY.

Introducing to the world of SINE: The new Audeze SINE DX!  

You have made it clear: an open-back version of Audeze’s critically-acclaimed SINE closed-back headphone is what you want to hear!  As a company, we make our products for you, the lover of music and audio.  Here you go, the on-ear Sine DX with its​ planar ​drivers optimized for open-back headphone,​ offers an amazingly smooth frequency response, an enormous open soundstage and fatigue free listening.

As a ​special promotion for our discerning customers​, take advantage of a $499 discounted price from the list price of $599. 

This Audeze.com Website-only ​Exclusive Offer Starts: 
Tuesday, April 25th at 12 Noon PDT   

We are only offering the​ initial ​limited run of 80 units in this special offer​, so we hope those who can "grab one before it’s gone" enjoy it as much as we do! 

YOUR MUSIC.  YOUR SOUND.  HEAR MORE.
Open-back planar headphones​, by their nature, sound more spacious and feature a wider, deeper soundstage with more air and separation between performers. The sound is exquisite,​ and pulls you into the soul of music with ultra-low-distortion, hugely deep and driving bass, a gorgeous midrange and sweet highs. At 100dB efficiency and 18 ohm impedance​ you can drive the SINE​ DX with almost anything.

Friday, April 14, 2017

German Physiks available in the US

I've always enjoyed the German Physiks rooms at shows and while I won't be at Axpona, they will be, thanks to now having a US distributor in Larry Borden of Distinctive Audio in NJ. The speakers offer a most uncommon sense of immersion and ease that floats music around you rather than pumping it at you, and in my experience, the speakers are more than a little special. You need to hear this to realize that maybe your expectations of speaker sound is conditioned by too many reviews and not enough hearing.

Anyway, other than the fact that you can now find these in the US, Distinctive Audio is offering a special price on the complete line of speakers by way of introduction for a few months, so check them out if you are in the market.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bryston to release a lower priced table option

I loved the BLP-1 when I had it in the house for a few months last year and now Bryston have done the opposite of what most companies do when they launch a successful new product, they've come up with a more affordable version by offering a cheaper arm option for the same table and power supply.

Welcome to the BLP.5 ("the point 5")

"BLP-.5 Tonearm– four high
precision micro ball-bearings manufactured by GRW in Germany and then singularly sealed and packed to preserve their integrity and purity at the best: extreme precision is a crucial factor and it allows B-.5 tonearm to reproduce without effort every musical detail.
This will allow our customers to purchase a superb turntable at a much lower price point and will also allow them to upgrade the Tonearm to the more expensive version on the Bryston BLP-1 table in the future if they wish."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Chesky announce MQA-CDs

Just sharing the release - no experience myself but there's always a new technology, right?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Austin Audio Society has lively session

Another good meet up of the newly energized Austin Audio Society yesterday, hosted by the generous Fred Thompson in his Bastrop home. The emphasis this time was two combinations from Raven and JWM Acoustics, two Texan manufacturers offering a highly complementary pairings of amps and speakers, with cabling provided by Austin's own Douglas Connection.

Raven Audio I know about, I reviewed a couple of their integrated amps for the 'Zine and ended up loving the Blackhawk 20w so much I had to buy one. It's a wonderful sounding piece that just encourages intimate, relaxing listening sessions. Yesterday, the more powerful Golden Eagle integrated was in rotation, an 83w model that's not yet listed on their site, likely selling for $7995. It's on its way to Axpona to drive some Legacy Speakers and from what I heard in a small room with JWM's Alyson AML stand-mounts, it sounded very pleasing. Am promised a review sample and I can't wait to give this one a run in my main rig.


Pride of place was given to a main room set-up involving Raven's Shaman monoblocks, their Silhouette preamplifer, and JWM Acoustics' top of the range Jane JKM floorstanders with external crossovers. Cabling throughout (except for the crossover to speaker interface) was by local manufacturer, Douglas Connection, a new name to me, and further proof that some folks are still crazy enough to enter the audio market with products built of personal passion.




Since I came late (and stayed late, sorry Fred), I had two distinct listening experiences. At first I felt the main rig was a little tight sounding, not helped by the lively attendees being in relaxing rather than listening mode when I arrived. However, as the amps warmed up and I got some quiet time in front of the speakers later on, I felt this set up was beginning to sing and had an effortless groove.

The Jane speakers have a beautiful form factor, matched by a musicality and soundstaging capability that suggest they will fit most rooms with ease, visually and sonically. I'd definitely like to give them a run in my main room.  When we swapped in the smaller Alysons later for comparison, I think the smaller speakers might even have a little better resolution even if they didn't quite flesh out the lower frequencies as much. Main difference between the models is the tweeter,  a silk dome in the standmounts as opposed to the beryllium in the Janes, which sort of ran counter to my sonic expectations in terms of resolution but that's what I heard.

With the Shamans providing the power, the Alysons had no problem filling the large listening room easily.  At $8k, they offer a very interesting value proposition. And did I mention they are very elegant to the eye?  No cheap box finishes here. Plans are afoot, Josh told me, to provide a bass module for these that would extend the lower end and replace the stand. That prospect is has significant potential to my ears and offers buyers a chance to upgrade into the future, always an attractive option when it comes to investing in your rig. I like what I heard here, JMW speakers are ones to watch.


The beauty of such meetings is they are low pressure, relaxed gatherings where you hear new gear, some new tunes, in a new room with people who are interested in audio. I don't consider these to be real auditions but you can learn more about gear in these environments than is possible in most stores (remember those?).   For me, also getting a chance to learn a little more about the people behind the gear is fascinating.  I had a good conversation with Josh Miles, chief of JWM, about his work and company. Frankly, as I'd previously told Dave Thomson of Raven, you have to be a little crazy to try making a living as a small specialist audio manufacturer these days but these guys are anything but crazy: they're smart, committed to their products and happy to share their knowledge. Long may they thrive.

My thanks to the hosts and to the manufacturers -- watching these guys move their gear in and out was reminder that this business is real work, it's a good job there was Texas beer there too!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

At last, a cartoon series for audiophiles

Check out the gently teasing look at audiophile life on the Woofer and Tweet site. Regular updates provide a dose of reality check for a few of us

Monday, March 13, 2017

Audiophiles petition for more Blue Note releases

Yes, the MusicMatters Blue Note releases have been so good I subscribed and am prepared for the end since Ron and co warned us that this last series was it. However, there's a groundswell of support for more...not sure that the numbers make sense but hey, here's a petition we can get behind. Check it out:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Amp joys and SXSW woes

Having an excellent time with the Valvet monos in the system, this review will not be too difficult to write. Hoping to secure a pair of PS Audio's BHK monos to try soon too but that rests on the good auspices of the team at PSA - our little 'Zine is rarely the beneficiary of such expensive gear....here's hoping.  Mono amps just seem so much better to my ears. But hey, if some manufacturer of fine amps wishes to challenge that by submitting their product for comparison, let me know. Who knew amps could sound so different....not those who think it's purely a matter of engineering to the numbers, that's for sure. Meanwhile, let the Valvet fun continue.

It's SXSW season here in Austin. For those of us who live in this fine city, the inundation by hordes who take over the roads, the restaurants and the music scene in search of a good time are, shall we say, starting to wear thin - and it's not officially kicked off yet. Anyone seen a 'F*#! off SXSW' sticker? It's only a matter of time.



Thursday, February 16, 2017

The beauty of BAT

I dug my old BAT VK500 out of the spare room recently while I did some system reconfiguration. This is an amp I bought some time ago and kept when I moved to Spectron Monos largely because it was just too difficult to ship anywhere for a sale. After several years of non-use, the left channel acted up so a quick check with BAT had me return part of the amp for repair. Now the design of the VK500 is a true dual mono in one chassis. When one channel needs attention, it is possible to take that side of the amp off and ship it separately, which I did.

BAT, to their great credit, completed an affordable repair and shipped it back promptly, giving me a refreshed left channel. Reinstalling it today, I had to sit back and admire the design of this amp and the quality of the build. Just placing the whole left side back onto the main body showed how tightly and cleanly everything fits together. Even the speaker connectors, when placed through the rear holes in the chassis, not only line up perfectly but are mounted on a metal plate that slides so cleanly onto the back of the chassis that once placed correctly, the whole side fits so precisely that screws were barely needed to complete the assembly. You can take this amp apart and put it back together like a jigsaw that holds itself together.  Even the internal wiring is so precisely laid out that, taken apart and lacking any visual instructions on reassembly, the wires practically point out where they want you to make the connection. Yes, it's heavy, it's large, and it gets warm, but this amp is testimony to a form of design and manufacture that screams 'high end' in the most literal sense.  Back in one piece, it sounds wonderful again. Talk about built to last, if you see one used, grab it. Well done BAT.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Reviews update

My review of the IceAge Audio cables and the Bybee RCA Adaptors are going to press in Hifi'Zine and should be out shortly. My rig has been disrupted a bit with some gear shifts, and I've become interested in new amplifiers as I've switched various models in and out recently. I've recently tried running my Spectron in single stereo amp form, brought my BAT VK500 back into use, and the experience has given me pause about what exactly matters in amplification. Am happy to note that I have a pair of Valvet A4 monos coming in next week for review. These are a very interesting, push pull, class A designs that keep it simple, but with enough power to feed my Von Schweikert VR5s I believe. Let's see. Appreciation to Alfred Kainz, distributor for Valvet and owner of Highend-Electronics in CA for enabling this review.  More to come but here's a sneak pic:


Friday, January 27, 2017

Bespoke R2R recordings: the ultimate analog lover's copy

This guy speaks my language and he pulls no punches on the quality of recordings or the fear of some musicians who rely too much on technical tools. Watch this video:

Ramseur Records, in conjunction with John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Recording, is proud to offer bespoke reel-to-reel series. Over the past few years, Ramseur Records has enlisted the audio services of John Vanderslice to produce and record all analog releases by Samantha Crain and Bombadil. These analog recordings were recorded directly to tape at Tiny Telephone Recording in San Francisco, CA. Vanderslice went as far as overseeing the cutting of the vinyl from the master tapes by the legendary Bernie Grundman. Now, Vanderslice will take the analog process a step further and personally duplicate reel-to-reel copies from the master tapes. These master tape copies will be duplicated in the same studio where each of the projects were recorded. Each master tape copy will use the same reel-to-reel equipment that Vanderslice used to make the master recording. The customer can request tape preference, output level, speed (15ips, 30ips) and tape size (1/4 to 1/2 inch) - making their copy personalized and tailor-made for their own reel-to-reel machine.