Saturday, May 1, 2021

MQA - just what is going on here?

The MQA 'thing' always makes me uncomfortable -- the technical explanation seems implausible (the whole less is more thing? I'm with Yngwie on this....'it's impossible; more is more') and then the sense that you have no real ownership of the music you purchase. It all makes me uneasy. I get that some love it, feel it sounds superior, but I've learned to take a lot of claims from the audio review world with a pinch of salt. Anyway, we all make our own minds up, right? Good, as long as we have choices and I can keep spinning my records and own the music I buy forever. Now, have a look at this:


Friday, April 30, 2021

John McLaughlin: Liberation Time (Abstract Logix, July 16, 2021)

Not to sure about the handling and playing of the record in this video but it's always nice to learn of new music from John McLaughlin. I saw him a couple of years back on his farewell tour of the US, he still mesmerizes on the guitar. I'm in.  


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Covid strikes Peter Lederman of Soundsmith

 I just learned that Peter Lederman, the man behind Soundsmith cartridges and mainstay of analog excellence, has been stricken with Covid-19 for the second time in year. This has had a devastating effect on his health but he is apparently making a solid recovery. Amazingly, he's been updating folks by posting on Audiogon where there's an active thread -- find it here

I've been an interest admirer of the Soundsmith line for years, at least since calling them once about a repair on a very expensive Clearaudio that I accidentally wrecked (the memory is still painful), and having the phone answered by the man himself who talked me down from the ledge and explained my options. In the end Clearaudio (or rather their importer, Musical Surroundings) stepped in to help but I decided then that a Soundsmith cartridge was in my future. Well, it has not happened yet and I realized when reading the news that if we wait too long, we risk losing the chance if talent like this disappears. Peter seems on the mend, thankfully, but it's made me prioritize my next analog purchase come cartridge-replacement time. In the meantime, spin an album, and send the man a note via A'gon. We're all in this together.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

Gauntlet thrown....Synergistic invites Audioholics to walk the talk

 Or is it that Synergistic is offering to show Audioholics that it will walk the talk...either way, this could be interesting

Unfortunately Audioholics seem to have taken issue with this video and it's been pulled, though I wonder if their case might be stronger if it stayed up. Essentially it was Ted from Synergistic expressing his view of Audioholics and inviting them to come visit for some cordial and constructive listening sessions.   And then there's the other side: Audioholics account of the Synergistic situation

This stuff is nuts of course. But that's the audiophile world. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Vinyl sales revenue up but streaming remains king

Lots of buzz on various forums with the release of the RIAA sales and revenue figures for 2020. You can explore the details yourself at their site, including some interactive graphing options to explore further. The big story for some audiophiles is the news that vinyl sales revenue has overtaken CD for the first time in decades. That is news. But before you get too excited, recognize that in terms of total revenue, all material formats combined account for around 10% of sales, the rest are digital streams or downloads. The various tables and summaries on offer make for interesting reading, but the news that music sales are continuing their upward trajectory might be taken as encouraging news.

While vinyl sold 22.9m units compared to 31.6m CDs, the price difference between the two formats, which vinyl lovers know all about, means that LP revenues are higher, and that is the angle some folks are getting worked up over.  The vinyl market is worth north of $600m according to the latest data, up 28.7% last year.  It was not so long ago that CD sales in unit terms was so much greater than vinyl that many had predicted the LP was dead. Let's not forget, in 2000, only 2.2m LPs were sold. As a proportion of all music sales, LPs might be only around 6% now but they are selling millions more than at any time in most people's memory, year on year. And don't forget, this is while manufacturing capacity is maxed out after fire damage and the pandemic has hampered routine operations.

The full picture might make you wonder about the future of CDs more than vinyl, sales dropping for those silver discs some 23% in the last year,  but in a world where material preferences are elevated to cult-like loyalty and the industry is happy to get any sales they can, I suspect we'll be living with material discs, in both forms (overpriced and repackaged endlessly no doubt) for some time yet. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

New Oberon 9 from DALI hits a sweet spot

Lenbrook Americas press release today announced the launch of their DALI OBERON 9. Here's some details:
"The OBERON 9 (US MSRP $2,499/pr) is offered in Black Ash and Dark Walnut finishes and will be available in late March. With a dedicated 7” midrange and two long-throw 9” woofers it offers outstanding dynamic capabilities most speakers can only dream of. The OBERON 9 is a true three-way design that combines ultimate refinement and startling detail with effortless power handling to bring genuine concert and cinema experiences right into your home. DALI’s patented SMC (Soft Magnetic Compound) is used in the OBERON 9’s midrange/woofer magnet systems to provide improved flux linearity, reduced magnetic hysteresis and a significant reduction in harmonic distortion. These SMC benefits result in longer listening pleasure, and excellent low-level detail."

The Oberon series has apparently been a big success for the company.  These are nice looking, designed apparently for wide dispersion, hopefully making them easy to place in normal rooms. The DALIs I've heard at shows have always sounded decent to me, caveats assumed in those conditions. With companies mostly announcing price rises (Harbeth up another 10% shortly thanks to Brexit)  it's good to see a nicely finished Danish floorstander for this price. Of course, the proof is in the hearing...more info here:



Monday, February 22, 2021

Bryston: meet the new boss....same as the old boss

Got a note from James Tanner about his new role as CEO of Bryston. Seems he and a partner now own the company, which I have to say is good news. James is a talented audio designer and a really pleasant fellow. I reviewed their Mini T speakers a few years back which I thought were great but I was really impressed by the (sadly shortlived) turntable he developed, a spectacularly good sounding and well-engineered product that just could not continue to be produced at the pricepoint. If you got one, lucky you. Anyway, James tells more in a good interview now available in Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Herb Reichert gives tour of his rig

Herb is currently my favorite audio writer. His turn of phrase, humor and general love of music and its emotional power make me enjoy his reviews more than anyone since the late Art Dudley. Not only does this come through here but I love his room as it is so real (though I'm guessing he's single!) Too many listening spaces look like advertisements in mags (where are the speaker cables and why is everything so neat?). When you read a reviewer talk about his or her space, you form a mental picture and while mine might have deviated a little, I sort of expected Herb's space to be like this. Here's a place and a person you know would make for a great listening session or two. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Paul McGowan releases new book and test CD for set up.

I own, and have owned over the years, a lot of PS Audio equipment. Even now, my out of date PWT/PWDII combo still sounds great to my ears and their BHK monos are the best sounding amps I've ever had in my home. The company has always been easy to deal with, and any service issues I've required, I can confirm that they looked after me fairly and quickly. Good people. I've met CEO Paul McGowan once or twice at RMAF and he's always been pleasant and patient with my questions, so I am happy to plug his new work, The Stereo- An Audiophile's Guide, and its accompanying recording of test tracks, a package designed to help you set up your system in your home. You can sample the test tracks at the company site and order there. If I ever get a copy I'll happily review it here but the post-holiday crunch has put my credit card into the danger zone and I'm trying not to spend $58 unless I have to....but now that I mention it, this does not seem an extraordinary cost if it helps you get the best out of your system. Let me know if you try it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Steve McCormack is back (did he ever go away?)

The SMcAudio site had a few changes recently, losing the .com and now back as .net. Glad to hear all is well with them. Check out the new site, including a video interview with Steve himself talking history, design and audio. Have owned various pieces of McCormack gear over the years, including the DNA.5 (sorry I ever sold it), the TLC-1, and currently run the superb VRE-1C preamp in my rig. In fact, that component might be the longest-lived pre-amp I've ever had and I have zero desire to replace ever it, it's really special. Good people, good gear.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Small batch Lush Life from Craft announced

And no, we're not talking bourbon, but Coltrane. Here's another boutique run, limited to 1000, and it's $100. Get them while you can to avoid those folks who somehow 'ended up with two' and then try to flog you a copy for $150 (good news: each order limited by Craft to one but I suspect greedy people will find a workaround) Check out the video, more info on their site

Update on this -- it was pointed out to me that someone has actually listed a copy for bids on E-bay at considerably more than the $150 I joked about....seems there's now a futures market in reissues!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The new headphone amps keep on coming

 Moving into slightly more expensive territory than the small USB headphone amp/dac market, but adding significantly more capability. Underwood Audio is at it again. For $799 you get headphone amp, DAC and choice of solid state or tube output. First part of a series of matching products that will add a phono stage, streamer, and power amp designs.  Here's the official PR, edited only slightly to take the breathless edge off:

Walter Liederman and Underwood Hifi announces an Incredible Full-Featured High Res DAC with remote controlled Preamp and Headphone Amp that has both Vacuum Tube Outputs as well as Solid State - you choose Your Voice and Musical Style.

Liederman went on to explain –  The Discovery Series is all about introducing audiophiles to quality at down to earth prices. This DAC/Control Center is now shipping and will be followed up shortly with a Peter Madnick Designed MM/MC Phono Stage and a then a Volumio-Powered Music Streamer. These products will tip the scales in Budget Reference for these product groups. Please do not think for a moment that we forgot a Power Amp to complete the Discovery Series. In the same package you will soon see a NEW Class D, Wide-Bandwidth 150 watt per channel Stereo Power Amp (350 watts in mono)

We are really excited about these products. It is these lower priced items that require a special discipline that our teams have. These are many of the Designers and Product Planners from the original Audio Alchemy from the early 90’s. These guys knew how to set the market on fire with Budget Reference products that have stood the test of time. 

A bit more about the DPH-1

The DPH-1 has an array of four Digital Inputs using the Dream Team Chip Set of the AKM AK4118 Digital Input Receiver and the AK 4495 DAC. It decodes PCM to 24/192k as well as DSD. This  Preamp Control Center is complete with a Rotary Encoder Volume Control and has both tube and solid state single ended outputs. The tube buffer stage is based on a GE NOS tube. Both outputs can even be run simultaneously into an amplifier or line-in enabled integrated amp to give you both solid state and tube sonics. 

With Internet Direct Pricing we were able to include an R-core based Power Supply, audiophile grade caps from WIMA of Germany and Solen from France as well as Dale resistors from the USA.  In addition to USB, coax and optical inputs we even included a BNC input.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Another USB DAC/Headhpone amp - this time from Clarus

Just received this from Clarus -- might be of interest to headphone aficionados and those sold on MQA (which would not include me).  $300, not cheap but the specs look impressive,  it has vol control and choice of filters. Better still, it promises software upgradability into the (unspecified) future. Coming in December. 

November 12th, 2020 — Clarus® announces the CODA, a new USB DAC with Headphone Amplifier that includes an MQA renderer. The CODA features the latest in USB-DAC technology that provides ultra-low distortion, more detail, greater dynamics, and a bigger sound stage. Designed to be used with a smartphone, tablet or computer, the CODA has a 2-button volume control and a choice of three roll-off filters.

The heart of the Clarus CODA is a New Legendary ESS Professional Series SABRE® DAC audio converter with Hyperstream® II modulation that provides previously unheard-of improved sound stage and clarity. QUAD DACTM Technology delivers superb 124dB DNR and -112dB THD+N for the ultimate in sound quality with a stable sound field. The low-power USB controller supports USB 1.1 and 2.0 and can natively handle 32-bit 384 kHz PCM and DSD up to 5.6MHz. The CODA’s class G headphone amplifier provides class AB performance with ultra-low power consumption optimized for mobile use. The 2.0Vrms output voltage will provide plenty of power for the most demanding headphones and class G ensures it won’t drain your battery.

Jay Victor designed the CODA with the new SABRE® DAC and these Audiophile features;

  • A High Precision Audio Grade Clock to reduce jitter
  • Audio Grade film capacitors 
  • 1% tolerance metal film resistors and Tight Power Supply Regulation using Multi-Stage, Low Noise, High Ripple Rejection CMOS Based Regulators 

Jay commented… “With any DAC, the printed circuit board layout is critical for low noise and best performance. Because of the small enclosed space, we used a high grade, high temperature PCB material to eliminate any overheating problems. It’s that level of attention to detail that enables CODA to provide a very enjoyable listening experience.”

Thursday, October 15, 2020

New vinyl catch up

As I've not been writing too often these recent months, I have not stopped listening. In fact, I've been steadily accumulating batches of new LPs as the releases of interest are coming thick and fast. Consider this a flying mention of the most notables - more to come.

Monk album cover

New Monk, who can resist? I confess, I had my doubts when news surfaced of a recently sourced old tape from a late Monk performance at a school in California, not helped by reports that it was recorded by the janitor. Well, all that might, and indeed likely is, true but this is no barrel scraping excuse to shake a few more shillings from jazz lovers' pockets. Nope, this is a fine production, replete with inner liner notes and copy of the original poster and program revealing the story of a schoolboy producer and a road hardened group who came together to play music one afternoon. The sound is really quite good, better than I expected, but the music is superb. The whole band is on form and it's hard to listen to this and not get swept up in the pleasure. The total production quality of this on LP is high and great value in an age of mega-buck reissues.  Monk, Palo Alto. Just get it. 

Deep Purple are still going, despite the pandemic temporarily (it seems) halting their end of the road world tour, and to the surprise of many they have released perhaps their strongest album in twenty years (and this for a band that's been going for over 50 now).  Bob Ezrin might be to blame, age might have mellowed the personalities, but the songwriting chops are maturing and this album makes a case for old guys continuing to rock on far stronger than anything I can think of from their contemporaries. As always, Paice on drums makes Purple swing where others pound, and the results are catchy, joyous, musical, progressive and yep, still identifiably Purple-esque. The vinyl comes in two thick slabs and sounds great. The highlights for me are Nothing at All, with an ear worm of a riff and a wonderful keyboard solo from Airey that marries Bach to Basie once Paice and Glover drive it along, and a version of the first-ever DP track, And the Address, which opened the Shades of Deep Purple album back in 1968.Are they telling us something?   Whoosh it is

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Genius of Jazz

Charlie Parker's centennial seemed to pass with precious little mention in mainstream media, which I suppose should surprise neither jazz fans or followers of the current news channels. But here's a little something, not about Bird, but about the musical form as a melting pot that is worth enjoying. Grab a drink, sit down, and enjoy the history: