Friday, December 31, 2010

Year end audio fashion

Easy copy is provided at this time of year for the best-of lists but I find the presence of such product listings in audio mags to be largely a waste of space, a poor substitute for more substantive content. I concede to the request in AA for my own which I keep brief but really, audio development and product releases are not as cyclical as films, books, and other 'events' in the media. A recent discussion on A'gon about products that came and went, initially with a flurry of positive reviews, reminded me of how one year's best can be quickly forgotten when new products come along, reducing the whole audio product cycle to the level of more transient realm of quick-turnover consumables.

It's not difficult to see what are the current darlings of the audio press, especially in speaker design, so I was reminded of how a couple of years ago in TAS you could hardly open a page without positive images or comments on the Kharma speakers, but where did all that attention go? You can pick up a pair easily on A'gon at about one-third of list now. Got an eye on some Magicos? Wait a couple of years and save yourself a fortune. Always longed for that Esoteric front end the mags all loved? You can have one now for a fraction of the original price. In short, take all such best-of and hyped up reviews with a pinch of salt. As I reminded myself recently in reviewing the Eastern Electric DAC, a 15 year old CD player can still sound very respectable partnered with the right gear, and yet digital audio is one area where very real progress is being made. Imagine the bargains to be had now in used tables, amps and the rest. A more interesting best-of would be a listing for a great system sourced from the used market. Try this from today's audiogon:

Basis Debut Gold, with Audio Research PH3 SE phono stage,
a Sony XA5400ES CD player, an MBL 601D preamp, a BAT VK600, with a pair of Wilson Wp7s, and you'll come in comfortably under $30k for a set up that listed closer to $100k when the rave reviews came out not so long ago. Now that's a best-of I could live with for more than a season.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Great Micheal Fremer video at the Audio Beat

Don't ask me how I missed this before but Paul Bolin and colleagues have produced a great new audio web site called the Audio Beat. Nice look and feel, and even nicer material. I really enjoyed this  video interview with Micheal Fremer where he discusses the state of audio reproduction and the value of turntables. Think I have to pick up a copy of his set up DVD after this. He's far saner sounding on video than I imagined from reading his columns :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

HiFi Zine issue 3 now out

The Dec 2010 issue of HiFi'Zine is out today and contains part two of my interiew with the ever-engaging Albert von Schweikert in which he discusses both the history of his designs and some exciting new plans for speaker technology. One of the goals of the mag is to offer an alternative to the limited space/ad-driven layout of paper publications and with this interview we take advantage of the lack of space restriction to let Albert speak at length. He does not disappoint.

The new issue coincides with the announcement in this month's Affordable Audio that it will be incorporated under the broader HiFi'Zine banner next year. AA will continue to organize and deliver reviews of equipment with the same writers, but it will no longer continue as a monthly 'magazine', as it has done for the last five years, with remarkable consistency. I've been associated with AA for almost three of those years and am happy to remain part of its new future under the HiFi'Zine project. As I need to remind people often, these projects are run by volunteers - none of us gets paid to write this stuff (park your sarcasm right there brother!) and to me it's a wonder of the new world of media that a dedicated group of fanatics can collectively publish articles and reviews that others seem to enjoy and which seem to draw the ire so frequently of the journalistic 'professionals' (a term I used to think implied something more than just being paid but I digress...). Anyhow, HiFiZine is the home for our efforts and we welcome new contributors.

Stylus gauge blues part 2

Well, my jousting with Music Direct resulted in a second purchased stylus gauge arriving (though no reimbursement of the original cost as yet but it's promised), this one, I am told, was checked before sending. Yes, it arrived and it works, calibrating spot-on 5g, despite reports elsewhere that this was a problem with others. Thank you Rocco at MD (where my complaining emails ended up) for stepping up.

Quick check of my set-by-ear-VTF revealed me within the 1.6-1.9g range recommended by Benz for my cartridge, leaning slightly to the light side. The drop counterweight on my JMW 10 only takes a little adjustment to increase force measurably but I decided to go the whole hog and reset everything, with pleasing results, but am still tweaking VTA within a small range.

The Audio Additives gauge has a peculiarity in that it registers slight positive weight (in the 100ths range) when my cartridge sits over but not touching the tray, presumably due to magnetic influence and the ever helpful Rocco  suggested taking the batteries out of the gauge and resintalling which I'll try, as well as running the demag function on my PPP to see if this changes anything. Not too worried, I take the 'precision' of these gauges with a pinch of salt, I just want to get to the nearest 10th and then be able to trust my ears from there. It does seem necessary with the JMW, and probably every arm, to measure at several points across the arc travelled by the stylus since VTF varies and one could become obsessive over these numbers ('could' being an understatement with vinyl afficianados). All told, I'll stick with this gauge but I can't say it inspires much confidence or pride of ownership. It's about good enough for me but one thinks there has to be a market there for something a bit better but not so costly as The Cartridge Man, but maybe not. I just wished companies would fess up that these are generic gauges, no matter what name is on the outside and I really doubt that the dealer on A'gon who claims to have these specially made to his standards is sourcing anything different than this product.

Of course, once you get into vinyl and want to set things up yourself (which sooner or later you will have to given the dealership network for tables), you will find you can spend a small fortune on tools related to setting up the basic gear: a gauge ($80), a cartridge alignment tool ($80-250), a test record ($30), an azimuth checker ($250), etc......and all this before you play a tune! There's a story waiting to be written here and I'm on it....

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stylus gauge blues

Well, as I mentioned that I'd given up the ghost on my drained Cartridge Man gauge when I learned I'd have to pay serious dollars north of a hundred just to have the battery replaced and the machine recalibrated back in the UK, but my search for a cheaper and easier alternative has not been without hiccups. I first chose a Jennings CD stylus gauge which is cheap and semi-reliable. I say 'semi' deliberately. It measures consistently in its center spot but since the scale is formed in the size of a cd in a case, it produces variable measurements depending on where on that surface you place your stylus, which worried me endlessly, not least because it seemed to be inconsistent only with a stylus, not with a fixed calibration weight. Add to this, it's physical thickness makes measuring the tracking force at the height of the LP surface is near impossible.

Next up, I tried an Audio Additives gauge from Music Direct at $79, despite the suggestion in this online review that most such gauges are rebranded versions of a cheap Chinese sourced scale that was never designed to measure tracking force of cartridges. Well, fired up to dial in my rig after some shuffling and moving, imagine my disappointment on Saturday, a day I'd set aside for indulging in vinyl pleasures, when the damn scale would not even calibrate properly, returning only 'fail' or blinking blankly at me when I tried to set it up. A fiery email to Music Direct resulted only in a "Sorry, let us know if you want to return it or get a replacement, we're now closed, back Monday" message. Arg.....As I told them, that was the wrong answer! The right response should have been: "Sorry, we're shipping a replacement today, and issuing you a return code to ship back the faulty one" so I would at least have known one was coming. By monday they told me they would send another one (after I complained) but would have to charge me for it, promising to reimburse me for the original faulty one once I'd returned it and they'd determined it was actually faulty. From there, I'd see my account credited 2-3 business days later.....sheesh, it's all in the mail as I write but it makes me wonder if I really should have taken Bill Feil's advice a couple of months back and just paid up to have my Cartridge Man sent back to the UK...I'd be sitting prettier now, that's for sure.

I think I am definitely going to get a cheap Shure or Clearaudio analog scale as back up after struggling to set VTF by ear and struggling for hours to get things near where they should be. Am confident the cheap and approximately accurate manual scales would get me closer quicker 99 times out of 100.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC packs a punch

I've had the EE MiniMax Dac in my rig for the last couple of months and it's been a real treat. The review will be in the December issue of Affordable Audio but it's fair to say that at the price, you can attach it to a cheap old CD player, your computer and anything else with a digital out and achieve very impressive sonic results. With a tube circuit that can be placed in or out of the listening path, this is a true audio plaything that is just a lot of fun to use. Is it the best DAC in the world, as some have suggested given it's use of the Sabre 32-bit chip? I don't make that claim but now I have the Bryston DAC1 in for review next, I'll be able to say more in due course. The real point here is, you can get really great digital sound now at a price that does not require you to drop thousands of dollars on an esoteric piece of kit that is built like a tank. So it really did take this long for redbook to come of age....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remastering the masters

Just took possession of the 35th anniversary remaster of Deep Purple's Come Taste the Band. Eminating from the efforts of Simon Robinson who runs the band's appreciation society, this finally catches up the remastering of Purple's original back catalog....and what a long road. It took 25 years to get the ball rolling with the uniformly excellent 25th anniversary remastering projects on the original releases but time slipped, tapes were proving hard to source and general other hold ups meant that it was another 10 years before we got to this one.

Worth the wait? I think so. This is a double CD package, rather like the splendid anniversary job on Machine Head, with a second CD of remixes which give the old tunes a little different twist. I've always loved the album since I grew up listening to the strange mix of hard rock, jazz and funk, but let's be honest. The original vinyl sounded muffled, with Coverdale appearing to be singing in another room while the band overloaded every channel trying to be heard. The music demanded a sense of space but it was missing in action. I've tried various remastered CD releases but none sounded as good as this one. Oddly, I am finding the 2010 Kevin Shirley remixes to be a real ear opener, new lines from Tommy Bolin appearing where before there was a cut or fade; Coverdale actually sounding like he's in front of the band; and You Keep on Moving placed where it was intended, on the 'opener' to side 2, though of course on CD, this just means it's moved up the listing a little, with a riotous Drifter closing the album out. Yes, as with all original Purple releases, the band write and record in a hurry (2 albums a year being standard back then) and I wonder how this all sounds to someone who never heard the music before, but I suspect it's more than a trip down memory lane. More's the pity this line up never lasted and a greater pity we lost the wonderful Tommy Bolin before he could really shine - now that was a talent lost. Anyhow, this is not audiophile music, it's just toe-tapping, body shaking good time music by a band that confused more people than ever got it. Tasty.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's too easy to be uneasy

OK, I wrote a little article for HiFi'Zine entitled "The Unease of the Audiophile" as a gentle send-up of the stereotypical audiophile, at least as one might imagine him (and it's always 'him') from typical forum discussions and debates on line. While most people recognize the humor and have the grace to accept the parody, I do fear for the world when others start taking issue with it or picking out points which they deem unfair. Some of the discussions about the article are the best evidence you can get that audiophiles sometimes miss the point.

So there can be no misunderstanding here -- I see myself in all those points, from religiously checking A'gon prices on old gear to imagining how my room might sound with audiophile, steam cleaned wires and LPs, but the article was lighthearted, and not intended to insult anyone even remotely interested in music and the audio arts. Thank you! Now, can you believe how much that vintage Mac gear is going for nowadays??

Sunday, October 17, 2010

RMAF -- what I heard

RMAF was great, really great fun, but overwhelming. It's wonderful to wander from room to room hearing the gear you cannot otherwise experience in your own locale but it is also a trial. There is not enough time to hear every room, and frankly, if you don't know the Marriott, the layout is bewildering and it's easy to miss the stuff you really hope to find unless you plan with the precision of a military campaign. I went with a couple of goals in mind: one specific aim, to really hear the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport and Dac set-up; and a second more general one, to learn what some of the really 'great' (read expensive) speakers and tables might sound like.

I arrived on Friday and headed straight to the Von Schweikert rooms to learn what the new VR33 and VR35 Deluxe could do, and therein lies the problem. The VR33 is good and sounded it, either in the VSA room or the Jolida room, and at the asking price of $3750 it is a very attractive deal. However, if you will add $4k to that basic design you can get the significantly upgraded VR35 which really is excellent, and partnered with a truly spectacular looking KR integrated amp ($16k) with two tubes the size of two-liter wine bottles and Tentation CD player ($12k) in a highly inverted cost-basis system in the Musical Reality room, I heard music here that made much of what I subsequently experienced sound comparatively flat. i went back a couple of times to be sure, and I ended up certain that this was a really great speaker.

I wandered around a few more rooms that first day and set out Saturday morning to hear as much as I could. I trawled the rooms the second day for 8 hours without even stopping for coffee, which frankly is not hard to do with so much on display. In terms of my first aim, I did get to hear the PS Audio combo in two rooms: the excellent Veloce room where battery powered amps ($14000 a pair of monos fed the lowest priced YG Audio Carmel speakers ($18,000) along with a great sounding Amazon table, which one can find used for about $5k. On LP or digital, this room sounded very good and I could not draw too much from this about the Perfectwave combo, other than the rep for Veloce said it was a definite contributor to the room's good music.

I then targeted the PS Audio room directly, hoping to learn more, but this was a major disappointment. The PW combo fed a prototype PS Audio power amp directly (no preamp) and a pair of large Genesis speakers (I think an unmarketed prototype from a few years back) in a relatively simple set up. Sadly, the insistent chatter of the PS Audio reps with a loud-mouthed attendee and the awful selection of music while I was in the sweet-spot alone (Journey) meant I left totally underwhelmed. I understand music choice is personal but when the reps are more interested in standing to the side and engaging in full voiced chatter with another attendee, (and I include, most depressingly, VTL and Wilson's room in this complaint) it's hard to understand why they were even showing. Maybe I just timed it badly or you have to be on the insider track to get the 'private' session but given my aim, this was a lousy experience.

This was a widespread problem at the event. So many people at RMAF, presumably audiophiles, thought nothing of holding conversations at near shout levels, often about nothing to do with the gear and everything to do with their 'expertise'. Room organizers tended to up the volume to compensate with the result that music tended to force itself at you, rather than inviting you to listen. Add this to the natively hostile environment of limited square-footage hotel rooms and I left too many demos where the overloaded bass and in-your-face volume wondering why anyone would want to showcase their products in this manner.

Darlings of many, the Magico speakers, sounded very coherent but hardly in another league from many others, as you might imagine from most of the media coverage. Yes, they sounded good, and yes, I'd like them at home, but at nearly $60k it should sound like the singer is in your room -- it didn't. The Zu Soul Superfly at $2600 offered a lot of quality for a fraction of that price, though the bass was overloading when I listened. For ridiculous sums of money, the Kaiser room was really making music while I was there; understated but with a fidelity to instrumental timbre that was supremely engaging, but the total set up topped $200k before I stopped counting the price. Their Kawaro speakers ($66k) sound like they want to seduce you by any means other than flash.....they succeeded with me, and looked good too.

So, if the rooms are not well proportioned for audio, what can one do? Well, one might imagine that a dealer or manufacturer would appreciate this when planning an exhibit; too few did. There were exceptions. TweekGeek of Denver seemed to know what they were doing. They showed the Vivid Audio $7500 speaker on a stand which had a wonderful, full-range sound that belied the tiny size. With Modwright amps (which seemed to be everywhere), this room sounded great and I felt that for people with less than $10k to spend on speakers, these with the the VSA VR35s are offering some serious musical reproduction that is hard to beat. Most importantly, these kinds of products give you a palate cleansing calibration that will make you think again about where to put your hard earned cash. Congrats TweekGeek -- this was a special room.

I'd heard a lot about the quality of Van Alstine products but I confess the room I heard these amps in with Salk speakers sounded disappointing to me, flat and generally lifeless. Not sure the fault here but with too many other rooms to hear I did not stick around to find out. I did hear Salk's new Soundscape 12 in the Iris room, powered by Parsasound JC1 monos to much better effect. These look big and sound big but in the large, treated room used for their demo, this speaker worked quite well to my ears but I could not quite shake the feeling that this was not the best sound the speakers could provide. Was it a case of trying to make the case with too much volume? This was not an isolated problem. I was very disappointed in an ARC-fed Vandersteen 7 -- big room, loud sound but sadly nothing special in the results that reached my ears for the prices involved (was that another $100k+ room) , though the use of the classic Linn Lp12 to deliver vinyl to these was a nice reminder of that vintage table's qualities, which I've often doubted since playing with a friend's version years ago. Sometimes refining over time on a basic model really does yield results.

At the other end of the cost spectrum, Harbeth's tiny P3 bookshelf speakers sounded so good in their room that one had to really stop and listen. If you want truth the sound, I thought these had it in a way that even the more spacious and bass-rich Harbeth 5s could not replicate. This was high class sound of real fidelity. And did I mention 'proportion'? I'd say the same about the Gallo room where I heard the ref 3 with a Spectron amp -- small looks, well structured sound. Apparently a new model was also on the go here but I missed it. I did get to speak with John Ulrick of Spectron though who was a really pleasant person (and why not, I suppose?)

Also very good, Bryston ran a very musical set up consisting of their own BCD-1 player, their transport and Dac1, BP26/MPS2 Preamp and mono power amps, with PMC IB2 speakers (I think). I sat next to James Tanner as he controlled the music with an iPhone and Ipad, playing various selections in quick succession. The music was in proportion, sounded pleasing and just somehow right, another reminder that power has its place, and quality is not the same as cost.

There were Wilson Sashas and Sophia 3s in several rooms. To my ears, the Sophia 3, particularly when partnered with Rega's new top of the range Osiris integrated ($9k) and Isis Valve CD player ($10k), were better suited to their environment than the Sashas, which confirms again the need to consider the room when choosing audio gear. I 'know' intellectually that the Sasha is 'better' but that matters little if your home is not of a scale to do the physics of the speaker appropriate justice.

Sadly, no Thiel's could be found, meaning my desire to hear the 3.7s had to be postponed again. I did however get to sit for a while in front of a pair of Quad 2805s in their room, which was pleasant, though not the epiphany I hoped for given their legendary status. What was closer to epiphany was my experience with a pair of the German Physik omnidirectionals. These look ordinary but they spread a soundstage out in all directions, especially front to back that makes live music sound really present. Soundstaging is a bug of mine - we love it in our speakers but don't easily find it in the pinpoint way of audio in real live music, despite the myths, and these speakers seem to capture that odd nature of this quality really well. They also sounded light and airy in a most captivating manner. I doubt I'll ever own any at the price (in the $30k range) but they have a truly original voice.

I had great fun listening to a Townsend Rock 7 turntable with EAR gear on a dedicated Townsend rack, with Marten's new Getz speakers ($20k). Dan, the EAR rep explained a little about the table and frankly, at the starting price of around 3k without an arm, one can enter the world of hi-end tables with this design, though the show table came loaded up at around $11k once the arm Helius Omega ($3k) and Dynavector SV-1s cartridge were included. Lots of music to be had here and your toes will tap.

The Sota demo included Tweek Studio's rep rapping the Sapphire table ($2700) crisply while an LP spun with no deleterious effect to anything except his poor knuckles. His aim, which I think he reached, was to show that the tweaks they add to the table's isolation are effective. That got everyone's attention in the room, I can tell you. This room also had the Genesis 7.1f speakers ($8k) which did little for me though they looked quite nice.

What looked better than their photos suggest were the Revel Ulltima Salon2, and they sounded great from the mid=bass up, offering a kind of floating-free-of-the-enclosure sonic picture that you read about but seldom hear. When I first listened I was genuinely taken aback by the sonics -- here was something truly different. The bass, however, was too much for that small room, a conclusion I confirmed by coming back later to determine if I really had heard what I thought that morning. Yes, these speakers are really good, but in that room they were too much and I'd have loved to hear how the Studio2's worked there.

I was repeatedly disappointed in several rooms with the Avalon line up -- they sounded pretty dead no matter where I listened though one well known reviewer who ended up at my bar table on Sat night told us all that the Avalons are clearly the best sounding speakers out there. So, people disagree. I'd hoped the reviews were true, but on this evidence, I'd never own a pair. I had wanted to get to the Legacy room but could not locate it in a hurry. I did however stumble on the Studio Electric monitors fed by a Benchmark DAC/pre and large power amp which, for their price (under $2300) offered impressive sound and in the scheme of things, true value. Nice room -- no hard sell, wine and cheese too!

So, what to conclude? First, it's a blast. RMAF has the feel of a fanatic's gathering and it permeates everything about the venue, from the rooms to the bar. Second, there is so much stuff to hear that you really cannot aspire to completion. Third, the rooms often suck sonically and some exhibitors seem to care little about this. As a result, some great gear probably does not sound so good at the show. Make allowances but recognize your home probably sucks too, so the importance of room context is not to be understated and serves as a great leveler in the world of hi-end audio. Getting your room right first is better than dropping tons on new gear, and the differences between decent and superb gear cannot be measured simply in dollar terms.

Finally -- get there sometime -- the only way to experience this show is to experience the show. I'll be there next year and the organizers really should be thanked profusely for their efforts.

Monday, October 11, 2010

RMAF 2010 up next

I'll be heading to Denver for the RMAF audio show this weekend which is a first for me. I hope to hear a oouple of products that have eluded me thus far, not least the PS Audio Perfect Wave combo, some Salk speakers, the new VSA 33, and who knows what else I might find. I'll try to update the blog as I go but I think time will be tight there. The Von Schweikert owners forum members are planning a dinner event which we hope will include Albert and son, and I generally want to meet in person some of the many online colleagues who I've come to at least partially know through this great hobby over the years. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The reviewer's deceit

At the heart of audiophile magazines rests a claim that is difficult if not impossible to sustain. Namely, all reviews and all product rankings carry with them a statement, implied or explicit, that you should not rely on the reviewer's impressions but instead, should seek out these products and hear them for yourself to determine if they are truly as good as reported. On top of this, we are reminded of system synergies, that your mileage may vary, and no two rooms are the same etc. In other words, the reviewers can report what they like, defended against objections by an appeal to subjective experience and unreproducible context.

Sadly, most reviewers must know that not only are the contextual variables impossible to replicate in any reader's situation, but worse, most readers can never anticipate being able to hear these products, even in a dealership. Consequently, even though review after review reminds people not to take the experiences of one as a guide, the reality is interested parties must rely on the advice given if they are to form a sense of what might be good and not so good in the world of audio products. Since reviewers won't submit themselves to blind tests to confirm that they actually can hear what they report hearing without recourse to sight, the reviewing literature is always questionable.

Now there are positives here that should not be overlooked. One can, over time, learn to identify the reviewing biases and preferences of some reviewers and then calibrate one's own tastes accordingly. I have done this so that I now know, if a well known reviewer raves about a certain digital front-end, I probably will not be able to hear what he hears, but if another finds no problems with a certain speaker, then I will likely enjoy that product too. But this is a less than precise or efficient process, and it still requires experience listening to products that have been reviewed. And this is the nub of the problem: contemporary audiophile product selling does not reflect the world in which reviewers reside and from which they advise.

Nowhere is this clearer than in trying to purchase speakers. Here's a component that you really have to hear before making a decision to buy but tell me, where can a typical purchaser hear most of the loudspeaker products reviewed in a typical issue of TAS or Stereophile? I put this to the test a couple of years ago when I wanted to learn what I could hear locally. In a relatively large, well-populated part of the US, within 25 miles of my home I could hear in a dealer's showroom the following $10-20k models:

Wilson Sophia
Eggleston Andra
Martin Logan Summits
B&W 802D

And to have even this many, I consider myself lucky. No Thiel, no Von Schweikert, no Magico, no Verity, no Quad, no Avalon, etc. Go through the top ranked speakers in the recommended components list of S'phile, or the increasingly frequent award winning listings in TAS and try to find some of these models. Not round here fella!
Leaving aside the fact that only one of these models was supported by a dealer who would consider a home trial, I wondered how I could even lay eyes on some of the highly touted products in this competitive price range, never mind hear them.

Contacting manufacturers directly resulted in some insightful responses. Avalon told me to contact a dealer over 1200 miles away, who subsequently told me I'd love the product and he'd work with me if I bought them. But no, I could not hear them anywhere but his dealership first. A Legacy dealer told me to fly to Illinois and he'd reimburse my flight if I bought them. The editor of a leading mag told me to attend an audio show and make a choice from there. Wow.....this is how one spends $20k on audio then. Oh, and by the way, don't pay too much attention to reviews! And heaven help you if you want to buy a turntable of any quality.

The disconnect between mainstream reviewing, the industry, and how real people get to purchase gear explains why Audiogon thrives, why there are so many forums for people to share experiences, and why so many times we end up arguing about reliability and objectivity of reviews. I don't think the reviewers in the mainstream mags are to blame, but I sure wish they would wake up to the reality of ordinary purchaser's opportunities to hear equipment, and in so doing, review in a manner that helps rather than hides behind vague endorsement and the convenient defense of 'hear it yourself to decide'. When you cannot hear it for yourself, we need reviewers who can be more than generally positive about everything while hiding behind the standard caveats, and we need an audio press that works on a realistic appreciation of how people get to know audio equipment then campaigns to have manufacturers make this process easier. A little honesty about the audio purchasing experience would go a long way.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Haden and Jarrett -- as good as it gets

I've listened intensely for a couple of months now to Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden's Jasmine It really is something beautiful and confirmation, if any were needed, that these guys are special. Too much to note here, I think I need to start a set of review pages for great music and this will be on it. From what I could learn, this recording resulted somewhat spontaneously and with little if any rehearsal, once they'd agreed some changes. I recall Charlie Haden saying on NPR earlier this year that he was visiting Jarrett's house as part of a film project and he only took his bass along at his wife's insistence that he'd likely want to play when he got there. Well, he did, then they played, and that set in motion a series of events that produced this result, for which we can all be thankful. The music is very accessible but nuanced, and you can get a real sense of your system by listening closely to this and then making a component change - once familiar with this recording, differences are revealed, but that's a bonus; the music here is enough. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HiFi Zine second issue now out

I am pleased to note that despite the nay-sayers who claimed it would fade, issue 2 of HiFi 'Zine is out today, replete with good articles including an interview with James Tanner of Bryston. I contributed a less than serious piece on audiophilia neurosis (though from some folks' reaction I wonder if it is being taken literally) We are thinking through how a mag like this might break down the issue model that ties back to paper publication and might explore some options going forward since many contributors and manufacturers want the article published as soon as they read a draft! Ideas welcomed. Meanwhile, if you have something you'd like to see reviewed or audio insider you'd like interviewed by HiFi 'Zine, drop me a line.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New reviews and music on the way

Labor Day -- must mean it's the end of summer. I just spent a couple of very interesting months with the Digital Amp Co's Cherry Jr power amp. Oodles of power, no shortage of finesse and bass power that never runs out. $2k worth of Class D that is a good as I've heard near the price, makes one wonder just how good their top of the range amps might be. The full review will be in Sept 2010's Affordable Audio [and check the review archive on this page where all reviews eventually are added]. Kudos to DAC for engaging with us - you'd be surprised how many companies decline our invitation yet complain about difficulty obtaining decent reviews. DAC stepped up quickly when I offered the opening. Good products, good people.

Next up is an Eastern Electric DAC, which is a bit of a step for me (not sure if that's back or forward) since I gave up on DACs a few years back (still have that Parasound DAC 2000) before they came back into fashion with the move to computer audio. Bill O'Connell also sent a wonderful (and I mean that literally) Japanese product that 'treats' your CDs with magical light which it is claimed improves sonics. So far I've been making people listen to CDs before and after without telling them what is happening, asking them what they hear. It can be hilarious. More in due course.

The whole CD player future is intriguing. I wonder if anyone other than Oppo are selling many SACD players these days given the firesale prices I see on other lines. Sony might sell a few of their well-regarded XA5400ES model if they actually made some! It's hard for me to think about spending much on any digital front end at the moment, but Sony's thinking on this model is difficult to follow. PS Audio's PerfectWave combo seems to be a genuine attempt to develop a futureproof audiophile solution but even with the current discount, you need to lay out $4k, so I don't think we'll be getting any in for review, unfortunately. If you have one, feel free to drop me a line.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What price the 'audiophile' label?

We all know audio hi-end gear is priced in a manner that defies comprehension sometimes, cables in particular. But sometimes even the cheaper end is harder to fathom. I bought a Cartridge Man digital gauge 9 years ago from the Elusive Disc when I purchased my VPI Aries (I had little choice, they told me I needed a gauge if I wanted to set up the table and this was the only one they had....cue another $250 on the total!). Now maybe you change cartridges every year and need to check tracking force every month or so but not I. Once set up, I employed the gauge maybe two or three times more when I changed cartridges at year 4 and again last year.

I pulled it out this week to check tracking force after a little modding of VTA and the damn thing was dead, even after the required 24 hour charge up. OK, no surprise, time for a new battery (confirmed by a read of the not so well-written manual). Unfortunately, the battery is not user-replaceable and the manual instructed me to contact the US Distributor for further assistance. No slam on the responsive Bill from AudioFeil but what I learned was that this gauge has to be sent back to the UK for battery replacement and 'updating' at a cost of $140 plus shipping to England. Yes, this is a gauge we are speaking of and an almost perfectly functioning one, albeit with a dead battery.

It may be true that the resulting modified gauge would contain a new battery pack that in future I could replace myself, but I find myself wondering why any digital gauge for measuring stylus tracking force would require this amount of work and cost when relatively accurate digital stylus gauges to do the same job can be found online for under $50 new. I guess the others are not audiophile approved. Given sunk and extra costs, I decided not to own a near $500 gauge -- I guess that makes me an audio cheapskate.

Friday, July 23, 2010

DAC Cherry in for review

I have a Cherry Jr from the Digital Amp Company in for review and it sounds like no other Class D I've heard -- and I've had the Wyred4Sound, PS Audio, Nuforce and Spectron amps here for months at a time. Full review scheduled for the Sept issue, all things being equal. In the meantime, check out their forum at Audio Circle to learn more about these products and their designer, Tommy O'Brien. More in due course but right now it's powering my Vons easily.

Monday, July 19, 2010

But this might keep the 'net alive

Ever try to sell hifi or convince others that audio matters? Then enjoy this little video

And can you validate my parking?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The internet is dead, apparently

The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as 'Prince' has declared the internet dead in a recent article with the Daily Mirror in the UK. Not sure how he imagines a CD cannot be ripped and shared anyhow but I have to admire his strong convictions. I'd be a little more interested in his views if he hadn't chosen a rag tabloid in the UK to host his new release however.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Onward in the DIY stakes

Ok, enough of the bad experience with A'gon, best to turn my thoughts to more positive experiences. I spent a few hours over the last weeks assembling the TB Kit 3.1 speaker. I'll be writing up the process and reviewing the resulting sounds for Affordable Audio next so not too much info here other than to say there is something totally liberating about building audio stuff! Not only does this give you a sense of where the money goes in audio gear, but it seems listening to something that you had a hand in putting together really does make listening more fun. I've been putting the kit speakers through their paces with the totally enjoyable Elekit integrated I assembled back in April, and with an Ebay-sourced old Sansui integrated (soon to do duty in my patio system) and they really do create a sonic picture that is both unique and pleasing. More in due course.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Caveat emptor? Not on Audiogon....

Ok, I've had it with Audiogon. I hate to rant on my own blog but two apparently well-rated Audiogon members both left me in the lurch this week after bidding on my item and when I accepted, promising me the money was 'on the way'. In both cases, the money never arrived (thank you PayPal). Consider the following excuses both issued:

[Member name close to a large breed of dog]"I didn't realize I was so close to maxing out my credit cards" bid on $2k worth of gear and only then realize you don't have the money? And this after you make me measure the parcel size to get you an accurate shipping quote?

[Member name close to Oz value] "Sorry for the late reply. I'm out of the country due to my job and I have no return date yet, so I'm unable to continue with deal."

Oh, you bid, accept my counter-offer price, make arrangements for drop off, and THEN find out you are in another country with no planned return date. You must living in a movie!

Audiogon to the rescue by protecting the seller? Not so. Cleverly, Mr'Ozl' (positive feedback 24) had confirmed the final deal by emailing me directly, not via the 'Gon's mailer. So A'gon feel it's just bad protocol rather than failure to comply on a binding deal (even though for 24 hours I could not mod the ad or update other offers as a formal deal was pending). My attempt to offer constructive feedback on these 'members' is subject to their acknowledgment that I am telling the truth. Now, how likely do you think that will be? I have the full email trail which I'll happily share here if either party feels this is inaccurate but really, when did people become such plonkers?

Meanwhile, if you are in the market for a gently used component or two, and have the funds to back up your promises to buy, please watch for my listings from now on here or on Audio Circle, where there is a better breed of audiophile. And if you are buying via A'gon, congrats, simply following through on your offer might make you that rarest of creatures, a normal buyer. Mr Dane and Mr really should get to know each other.

Friday, June 4, 2010

HiFi Mag launches today

A new online magazine aimed at audio enthusiasts launches today: HiFizine . I interviewed Albert von Schweikert for the inaugural issue and he was very open, as you can see. There are lots of good articles produced by volunteer writers and there is a general open invitation to all to get involved, as the magazine aims to leverage the audiophile crowd's enthusiasm for discussion and analysis. Check it out.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How much improvement in digital front ends?

The Marantz repair, which it turns out from other owners is not unexpected, has forced me to put an old Denon 2900 into service again as my main player for the foreseeable (I am resisting temptation to purchase a new Oppo or Sony for purely financial reasons). First blush, it's a step backwards: clarity lessened, somehow the soundstage is not as real as with the SA11, but, and it's a strange but, over a couple of days, and with a Virtual Dynamics David PC added to the mix, the Denon sounds pretty good. Not so much a lesser Marantz, more a different sonic picture. Of course, the players originated from similar eras, 2004 (denon) to 2005 (marantz) but they differed cost wise by an order of three, at least. Other than sonics, which are better, the Marantz has a far more elegant feel in use and tends to load faster. Still, it confirms my view that money thrown at the digital front end is not as effective as money spent on a good preamp or speakers.

Of course, this is a lesson I should have learned the first time I seriously upgraded a CD player. I'd been a slow adopter, even being lectured by a Naim dealer in the UK when I lived there who like me was a vinyl addict, upon hearing my reaction to his carefully arranged demo of the first Naim CD player (a company slow to launch this line and who trumpeted their audiophile credentials for delaying it until the early 90s) said that if I did not like the Naim then I'd never like CDs. Well, he was wrong, and that early Naim player was an ear-ache to me (Sorry Naim, I love you really). Fast forward to living in the US in early 90s, and unable to buy new vinyl, I conceded defeat and went to buy a CD player. I ended up with an entry level Rotel, unable to tell the difference (again to the dealer's annoyance) between it and his more expensive models. It was fine, for the time, and I still have it, but bombarded by the audiophile media through the 90s that I needed a DAC or a new high end player to really appreciate digital, I succumbed to a two-box Parasound set up. Oh dear. It was really not much better than the Rotel, even though the cable connecting the two cost as much as that player.

Long story short, the Denon 2900 replaced the Parasound, with a simple return to one-box, and sounded better. The Marantz sounded a little better again. How many dollars could I have spent on other parts of the rig with better return? Don't ask. So, just how good is that Oppo?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The fragility of SACD players, perhaps

Addendum to the last post, last night the Marantz started skipping and stopping on the wonderful sounding SACD anniversary issue of Dark Side of the Moon. Ouch....all my ranting about cds might be misplaced (though I still think they are badly packaged!) as it now seems likely the Marantz could be the cause. I located an SACD owners and lovers forum, SA-CD Net which contained a several years old thread outlining problems others have had with their SACDs. Seems it's common enough for players to fail on the SACD layer while reading the red book track just fine. A series of not-terribly helpful back and forths with the Marantz customer contact line has me now packing up the SA11 for shipment to the nearest service center for a check up and hopefully, warranty-covered correction. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The fragility of CDs

If anything is going to push me over to the computer audio side in my living room it's the increasing problems I am having with CDs. We know the 'perfect sound forever' claim was never valid but most of us interpreted that as referring to the 'perfect' part, we kind of thought CD was robust but I am beginning to wonder. It's bad enough that 1 out of ever 3 or 4 cds I purchase from Amazon comes with the case split or damaged before I even open it, or that I have to use a knife to get access to the disk with all those sticky layers of 'protection' on the case, now I find CDs seemingly give up the ghost of playing without any cause. Last night my relatively new SACD of the Incredible West Montgomery album (new because I never realized Amazon carried the SACD version (they keep this hidden mostly unless you specify it in format search) so I purchased the album again having lucked on to that), refused to play. In fact, the TOC would not read in my Marantz. I took it out, gave it a quick examination and saw nothing unusual so I wiped it down, tried again and again before popping it into my older Denon 2900, relegated to DVD duties with my TV and always a machine guaranteed to read anything. Sure enough , the blue 'SACD' light came on and the player read it. But still no luck with my main rig. Hum....time for some stronger cleaning. I tried the toothpaste trick -- no luck. So, feeling brave I tried serious buffing before making a copy on my computer for luck. A quick search on the Web turns up all sorts of tricks for cleaning and repairing CDs (including, I kid you not, bananas, coca-cola, erasers, Brasso, and Barkeepers' Friend). Now as I am seriously determined to understand how any of these work I started a regime of trying them. I can tell you that I ended up with no luck and one still largely unreadable SACD. I have no idea what heppened to it but I never manhandled it or let it fall but now I hsve only the Apple Lossless version to listen to so I did what any self-respecting audiophile of a jazz leaning would do, I bought another copy. But I've not given up. There are some serious tools out there for people who want to repair cds and I am going to explore this one further to learn if I cannot resucitate this original. Stay tuned. But let me just say, I never had this problem with my LPs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Great reads for audio heads

I've been totally enjoying Greg Milner's Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music which offers a history of audio recording from Edison up to the software tricks of modern pop singers. Excellent material of interest to any self-respecting audiophile, including visits to Mikey Fremer's house.
Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

While on the subject of what any audiophile should read, I am a great admirer of Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession which I reviewed for Affordable Audio a couple of years back. It's one thing to study gear but to really understand how it all works, you need to understand that machine between your ears. Levitin explains it better than anyone I've read.This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Welcome to the machine

Roger Waters will be touring the US later this year, playing The Wall too, but if you want to see him be prepared to pay through the nose and pre-register for the privilege of doing so via lottery at his site:

Bah humbug-- it's a gas....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jaton RC2000p preamp: lushness embodied

Jaton's Operetta RC2000P is my latest review for Affordable Audio. I quite liked it as you will see, it has an almost tube like quality to it. At $1300 it provides plenty of competition to preamps in the $2k range but Jaton Corp are offering direct deals on this line now which will bring the price down 30% further -- see Jaton's site for details. At that price, fully warrantied, you are entering the realm of bargains typically found only in the used market, but with trial and return privileges.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Metheny at the Paramount

Went to see Pat Metheny at the wonderful Paramount Theater here in Austin on his Orchestrion tour. Not having heard the new album at the time, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and Pat spent some time trying without much success to explain to the audience how it all worked. He appeared on stage alone, slowly revealing more and more of the accompanying technology surrounding him that allowed him to create the equivalent of a band: drums, synthesizers, other guitar parts, bass etc. It made for interesting visuals too, a drum kit separated out into one stick and one percussive item per frame, stacked up behind him with robotic hands pulsing out the rhythm. He mixed it up and threw in some oldies and some improvisations as well as the whole new album, and as always, he was his charming self who let his playing do most of the talking for over 2.5 hours. Great musician, great venue, decent sonics for an amplified show and a glass of wine made this a far more pleasant experience than some gigs. But, and it's a big but - throw in parking, ticket convenience fees (!), a sitter etc. and the whole evening set me back $200 for two. Live music is essential but who can afford this level of regular attendance?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Elekit amp up and running

Despite the damage to a tube outlined below, the Elekit amp building project proceeded and I'll add pics and details as I get the full story written.

The kit comes with a set of well wrapped parts which are not labelled so you have to spend a lot of time relating these to the packing list to make sure you have all the parts and can identify them accurately. I recommend a thorough review of the instructions to help you accomplish this too as the resulting amp is heavy and densely packed once assembled. Undoing a mistake will prove costly so take your time and really do it one step at a time. Despite reading a review where the the builder put the fuses on the wrong side of the main board, I also made that mistake myself. In part this results from the lack of images in the instructions but also it comes from my own failure to read it all as fully as I might.

First up, you need to separate the circuit board into several parts along precut lines to free up the main board for some resistor installations. The instructions also ask you to solder plate a couple of holes on the reverse side too. No great difficulties here but you need to be sure you get your resistor values clear and don't confuse your 47k with your 33k etc. To make this work for me, I set up a dedicated space for the project which I knew I would not complete in a day or two but which I would return to over the course of a couple of weeks.  Too much to tell in a blog entry -- I'll have the full story in a separate document soon, but rest assured, it's a working amp that's a lot of fun to use. 7 watts of tube glory and a wonderful midrange ease.  Add a pair of sensitive speakers,  a half-decent front end, all joined by some affordable cable and you have real hi-end system. Stay tuned for results.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Virtual Dynamics closes down

Everyone loves to beat up on cable manufacturers, and no doubt Virtual Dynamics fed the fire with uber-expensive lines but I was saddened to learn the company is folding due to economic pressures. In my view, any designer who thinks that applying their skills to improving audio reproduction in the home is important deserves our encouragement. The proof is in the listening but if nobody is willing to try make a better tube, a better cable, a better table or better amp, then we will all be forced to live with what we have. So once someone has developed something new, you can judge it in various ways. You might consider its price relative to others, its parts quality, its claimed benefits, its underlying science, or you might just give it a listen and decide for yourself. It is clear in audio land that just listening is never enough and, in some cases, is not even relevant to forming an opinion.  I heard VD cables and I liked what I heard. If you read around, you'll learn that I was not alone. I did not understand the application of Coulomb Friction that the designer invoked as explanation, but I do know that a set of their lower end David speaker cables made me accept, finally, that cables can make an audible difference.

Few, perhaps none, have copied this principle in their cable designs, preferring instead to work on the metal components, shielding, terminations or some combo of all three in offering their best shot at communicating the signal. What I do know is this company's approach was different, made many people think the designs mattered, and will be missed. On top of this, head honcho Rick Schultz was always a pleasure to deal with and was open to helping. Au revoir, another hi-end company bites the dust.

A footnote -- curiously, a discussion on this topic on A'gon disappeared -- not the first time I've noted this on that forum. Audio Asylum closed one discussion topic on this but left it up for review. Funnily, many people made a big deal of a web review that basically showed the parts in an entry level cable and used it to ridicule the company. I interpreted that whole cable design differently, feeling VD had deliberately put together a cheap cable based on the principles of their more expensive designs as a lure to new customers to try one and see if they would like it, and all at a cost that was entry level (around $100 I think). Well, like everything in audio, interpretation is key. For example, try this review

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Paul McGowan on room set up

Paul McGowan explains how to get your room right, in general terms, in this video from the latest PS Audio Newsletter. The newsletter generally is worth signing up for, it appears monthly in your inbox and is not just a sales push, though selling PS Audio's approaches is generally what it's all about. Paul is a generally positive guy who offers great input on the company's own customer forum at If nothing else, the video shows you the cool set up at in their listening room. Maggies, diffusers, prototype amps.....enjoy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bye bye Herb

I hate it but it is so, the great Herb Ellis has left us. I can write about it but words won't convey the wonder of his playing. If you need an education, go to YouTube and check the guy out. If you want to listen, really listen, to a player who could comp, solo, accompany, interpret and just plain push that guitar into the realm of true instrumentation, pick up one of his solo albums and just listen. No histrionics, no wailing distortion masquerading as technique, no speed runs feigning profundity, just pure harmonic joy in the instrument. And if you want to know how anyone could live in the same space as Oscar Peterson and thrive - he was that man. Thank you Herb - you made life better. Nuff said.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reviewer sells cables sent in for review - shock, schlock and lack of facts

One of the complaints of the web is that we are drowning in too much data -- but another is that some postings never die, and can resurface at any time. Both are in evidence in a recent note I came across on Audio Asylum. Not sure how I missed it since I subscribe, but apparently a leading writer in a leading magazine (!) was alleged to have sold his review samples on A'gon. Worse, this was $20k's worth of cable from a high end manufacturer who was not amused. No official response from the 'critic' though he allegedly called the editor of a rival journal a 'fucker' for mentioning it.  Follow the links, it gets more bizarre as a well known amp designer chips in with other stories and a picture emerges of bribery, reviews for sale and general lowlife behavior among some members of the review community. Now read those mags with a better sense of perspective.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Elekit up next

Flushed with beginner's success, I purchased another kit, this time an Elekit 879s integrated, a good looking 8w three-tube amp from Japan. I purchased from Victor Kung in Vancouver who imports these and translated the manual (which apparently has since been copied by others without permission). Victor has been a great assistance in dealing with a damaged shipment courtesy of the mail service. More pics to follow but the parts quality of the Elekit is impressive and a step up from the S5 amp.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

DIY amps

I've been assmbling a kit tube amp from S5 Electronics, a small, 8w 6 tube integrated that lives on a piece of wood, the KL8

Instructions are not the best but suffice to get it done (there is one missing figure and at least one missing step involving the input jacks but you can figure this out easily by the time to get to that stage of assembly). All you need is basic soldering skills (nobody's are more basic than mine), and the final assembly looked like this:

Despite their 86db sensitivity, I managed to drive my old Kef 103/2s with this to really pleasing room filling volume. At the very least, this kit tells you what you can achieve with a small investment in decent enough parts, a predesigned schematic and some labor. Sure you don't get anything that looks too good with this kit but you can begin to appreciate how more expensive transformers and caps might improve matters. There's a whole range of DIY forums out there to help (check out, for example, this one )

From here, I plan to move on to another kit, the Elekit integrated which comes from Japan complete with a decent chassis and ultra cool looks. In fact, there are more high quality kits out there than you might imagine and I suspect one could create a really decent amp for a reasonable investment. More as I go.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review update , preamps and the A'gon world

I spent the last 5 weeks with the Grover Huffman interconnects and speaker cables, for a review hopefully published next month in Aff Audio. Without a doubt, these are the best affordable cables I've experienced, maybe more.

Right now I am moving onto the preamp stakes. Today, I pulled my PS Audio GCP 200 with external PS out for a while to hear my older McCormack TLC1 with the Spectrons. Interestingly, what I lost in uber-clarity, I may have gained in warmer bass and more resolving highs. Stay tuned. Of course, all this is prelude to a new preamp review, and I have the Jaton Operatta in for review this month. First impression, purely on looks alone this is a nice piece. Let's see what it sounds like.

So, naturally, as I start to consider preamps, I check out A'gon to see what is happening in the used market. I have to ask, were sellers always this rude? An enquiry Thursday about a model that I fancied resulted in stonewall silence, followed, three days later by the listing becoming 'sale pending'.  Not even a 'I am close to selling and I'll get back to you if not' reply. When I sell, I answer everyone, no matter how inane, and heaven knows, I've put up with some plonkers there.  A query to a dealer who advertises on A'gon brought a reply from him (polite, constructive and noting that he would love to help if there was no local dealer) but then I hear from the national rep (for a company that has no accurate listing of dealers) who without prompting copies my query to a local dealer who in turn  chastised me for not contacting them, they represent a manufacturer who has an incomplete web site that does not list them as a dealer,  have their own out of date web site (last updated sometime in 2008), offer no parking and no open hours to visit without appointment....and somehow, I am made to feel like the bad guy for failing to remember they represent the company whose amp I thought, last week, I'd like to hear! Life's too short for grudges but I'm no longer interested in that preamp.....

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New audio forum launched: The AudioNation

A dedicated group of folks have launched a new audio forum, Audio Nation which is now being launched from Houston TX. The goal is to offer a sort of alternative to A'gon, with emphasis on safe e-commerce and networking among audiophiles. If you have a desire to review, there's an open invitation now for submissions on gear and music but you do need to register. For non-commercial entities, read you and me, membership is free. The business model I presume is based on dealers and manufacturers signing up and advertising regularly. Main administrator, Keith, told me he really wants to create something different here, which is an aspiration I can support. Early days but worth a peek.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lexicon - Oppo = Oops

Buying hi-end goods often means paying a premium for build quality and packaging, along with the hoped-for sonic improvements. What you don't expect is that you are only paying for the packaging, and it seems Lexicon has been caught red-handed by an excellent review in Audioholics of their new Blu Ray player which noted the new BD-30 is nothing other than an Oppo BDP-83 lifted into a specially made outside cover. Lexcon claim that they made 'modifications' but none are visible or reported. Cue outrage on the forums and sudden revisionism in the discussion sections of published reviews. Well done Audioholics.

Home Theater Review published a rather glowing review of the Lexicon and when respondents pointed out what Audioholics had determined, they took the comments down. The beauty of the 'Net is that it's hard to kill postings and one entrepreneurial soul posted these here. It's not good news for anyone who bought the Lex and it's a little embarrassing surely for the reviewer but maybe he really did see and hear those differences because of the extra Lexicon wrapping :)

Turns out, "rebadging" is quite common in the digital player world, take a look at the images in this post on Steve Hoffman's forum (see msg#19). Somehow, honest relabelling does not seem to be at work in this Lexi-Con example. Just as it did not seem right to relabel that Phillips as a Theta. It's all well and good to call 'caveat emptor' but if you want to kill off high end, this seems a pretty foolproof way to go about it.

Lexicon have made some vague statements about their player being built off the Oppo through engineering improvements at their Indiana plant but so far have been strangely uninformative on what any of these improvements might be. Here's what a technical manager from the company posted to one forum last September before the brouhaha broke:

" Short Answer...Built in America...THX certified...Lexicon Quality and Support...Best Video...Fastest transport...Joe Kane likes it...first shipment expected in late October or early November.

· “What are the differences to the OPPO?”
o When we specified the BD-30 we focused on premium video & audio performance, fast response times, and a mechanical construction that upholds the lexicon tradition of excellence – Some parts are similar to the OPPO due to the fact we purchase subassemblies from the same contract manufacturer. We then ship this subassembly to Indiana and complete the manufacturing in the States. We load in application specific firmware

· “why does the Lexicon cost more?”
o The BD-30 is the highest performance blu-ray player available today and when you see the unit, you’ll realize that the product not only is the highest performance player, but is build to the highest standards in the USA. It is then shipped with Joe Kane’s setup disc and supported with world class customer support.

Stereophile's Kal Rubinson has apparently submitted a review on this particular model (in Dec 2009) which, due to the lag in print publishing won't appear until the March issue, so it will be interesting to see how the mainstream media react. Chris Martens Perfect Vision site is taking heat for his review, which he is gamely and politely attempting to address. Of course, at the end of the day, all this points to the problem of hi-end reviewing not being able to demonstrate that sonic differences are independent of labels and sighted auditions. Plus ca change, but it's good to have the blatantly corrupt exposed.

This one will run and run.......except maybe on Audiogon, where posts seem to be censored routinely.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

House of Representatives honors Miles Davis and Jazz

It's difficult to understand what any of this really means but it makes a change from the usual HoR divisions on matters some of us hold dear. Here's the language of last month's honor:

Honoring the 50th anniversary of the recording of the album `Kind of Blue' and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure.

  • Whereas, on August 17, 1959, Miles Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, and Julian `Cannonball' Adderley collaborated to record the album `Kind of Blue';
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' ranks 12th on the list of the `500 Greatest Albums of All Time' published by Rolling Stone magazine;
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' was recorded in 1959, the year Columbia Records declared `jazz's greatest year';
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' marked the beginning of the mass popularity of jazz in the United States;
  • Whereas in 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America awarded `Kind of Blue' quadruple-platinum status, meaning 4,000,000 copies of the album had been sold;
  • Whereas in 2002, the Library of Congress added `Kind of Blue' to the National Recording Registry;
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' was recognized as the bestselling record in the history of jazz;
  • Whereas 50 years after the release of `Kind of Blue' , MOJO magazine honored the Legacy Edition of the album by giving it the `Best Catalogue Release of the Year' award;
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' both redefined the concept of jazz for musicians and changed the perceptions of jazz held by many fans;
  • Whereas today, the sole surviving member of the Miles Davis Sextet, Jimmy Cobb, is performing and touring with his So What Band in tribute to the 50th anniversary of `Kind of Blue' ; and
  • Whereas `Kind of Blue' continues to be the standard masterpiece of jazz for American musicians and audiences: 

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--(1) honors the 50th anniversary of `Kind of Blue' and recognizes the unique contribution the album has made to American jazz;
(2) directs the Clerk of the House of Representatives to transmit enrolled copies of this resolution to Columbia Records;
(3) encourages the United States Government to take all appropriate steps to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music;
(4) recommits itself to ensuring that musical artists such as Miles Davis and his Sextet receive fair protection under the copyright laws of the United States for their contributions to culture in the United States; and
(5) reaffirms the status of jazz as a national treasure.