Monday, December 24, 2012

It's really about the music

Despite all the great gear I have and get to review, sometimes I have to remind myself that it is all for nothing without the music. I am reminded of this tonight after reading a bio of the great Rory Gallagher, and realizing from this how many of his albums I own and how important some of them once were to me: Live in Europe, for example, was rarely off my table during certain teenage years.

So, of course, I have to go looking for what is out there from Rory in this new, re-released, newly remastered, never-before-heard-age. Are those 180g audiophile-approved Rory LPs really any good? Let's see.....I'll be back.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kickstarting a turntable?

Not quite as the title suggests but you've got to admire the passion behind a project to launch a new table via the Kickstarter site. The Orbit by U-Turn Audio  has got to be worth supporting. Check this out:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dec issue of HiFi'Zine now issued

My review of the wonderful Von Schweikert VR22  kicks off the Dec 2012 issue of HiFi'Zine, which also has coverage of the RMAF and the Australian AV/Audio Show, and lots more. The VR22s are an easy-recommend, and deliver great, lively, room-filling sound in your home for under $3k. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RHB announce teflon capacitor patent for audio

RHB Sound Dezign, an amplification modification company run by Bob Backert, argues that even some of the best gear in the world uses cheap electrolytic capacitors in the audio chain, driven by cost savings. They offer a series of upgrades to better capacitors to improve sonics, and hopefully saving you some money over the cost of a new amp. This week, RHB announced they have been awarded a new patent for a power supply using only teflon capacitors, apparently a world's first for audio amplification. The teflon design is said to greatly improve linearity and dynamics in the audio signal. Progress, it seems, comes even in the most traditional of audiophile products. I also hear the company will be producing it's own tube preamp in 2013, so I'll be keeping my calendar open for a review sample. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New owners for Thiel Audio

If you believe audio is unnecessarily a guy's domain, you might be saddened a little by the news today that Theil Audio has been taken over by a private equity firm, and one of the few female CEOs in audioland, Kathy Gornik is leaving. It should not be too surprising following the death of Jim Thiel that the company would end up with new owners and there is hope here that the company will continue to thrive. They may even get their website up to date! More here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to set up a turntable video

Mickey Fremer's video is very good but you have to pay for it to see it, I won't be linking any of the cuts on You Tube here. There are, however, numerous amateur videos out there which aim to help. This is one of the better ones I've seen - a bit slow, but if you want to start somewhere to get a visual handle on what it means to set azimuth, align a cartridge etc, this is worth watching. Well done Robert Arco for creating and sharing this.

Stop the Loudness Wars

I just signed the petition "Stop the loudness wars and release High Definition Music Downloads" on
They auto reply on to a signature asking you to post on FaceB and related sites which I don't use. In case you are interested, here's the link:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Losing those vinyl blues

After much searching, asking, reading and talking, I received several clear instructions on how to improve the sonics with the Dynavector 10x5, described below as whining away like a radio antenna trying to find a decent signal at the outer reaches of the dial. The Dynavector distributor had not heard of this problem before, nobody with any familiarity with my rig could explain it, and folks online suggested that since the cartridge was new (and generally seen as good), I should get rid of my expensive Whest Phono stage (perish the thought) or find a new phono cable that was 'better shielded'. Jim Wang at Harmonic Tech assured me his cables are well shielded and something else was afoot, and afoot it was, all the time, right there in front my eyes (well not quite, but almost).  A quick email to Whest about it resulted in a might helpful suggestion from James Henriot, chief designer, that I check the gain setting on the phono stage. Duh.......there it was, sitting way too high for comfort with the 2.5mv outputting Dynavector. One quick switch and harmony was restored, no more dive bombing sounds.

In my defense, setting gain on the Whest phono stage is not exactly simple. One gains access to the internal dip switches only by unscrewing too many tiny screws on the top, then using something smaller than my fingers to push a dip switch on each channel on or off. The recommended loading for the Dynavector is 47k when gain is set to 55dB. Any more gain and you get extra whistles with the sonic bells, so to speak. I'd managed to control these by loading the cartridge down but at a cost in liveliness and resolution. Now, when I read anyone online complaining about the 10x5's whining sonics in their rig, I know the answer is probably in their gain settings.  Me, I'm leaving the screws out of the top of the phono stage so I can get easier inside access for future changes, just laying the top on without fixing it down, it works a treat.

For the record, here's what James Henriot of Whest says you should think about when setting gain on any cartridge:
"The gain issue with catridges is simple as long as the phono stage has been designed properly:   
43dB =  MM
50-55dB high-output MC
60-65dB low-output  MC
72dB very low output MC
All Whest stages are MC designs.  The noise/load levels are steered to low output MC UNLIKE most other phonstages which are MM designs that can playback MC. The the latter designs have higher noise levels (impedances are too high) and the loading values 'fight' the internal impedances."

As for the 10x5 (and more than one person has asked what I am thinking by putting one on an SME 20/2), I have to say, it's surprisingly satisfying musically. At $450 you have few choices in quality cartridges but you should expect decent sonics, believable timbre and midrange while perhaps giving up extension at both extremes. The 10x5 is lively, full sounding,  not as resolving as the Concerto in so many key areas but engaging and lifelike, presenting music in a full and solid manner that makes me tap my toes. And believe it or not, it even had me listening to an old favorite, Paul Brady's Hard Station LP, and hearing a few details that I'd not really noticed before. How's that for the price?  More as it all settles in and I do final tweaks, but I feel comfortable enough with what I am hearing to tell folks putting their toes into higher end analog waters to buy one and live large. Just get that gain setting right!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vinyl blues

I learned a painful lesson in seeking perfection with vinyl when I managed to remove the entire cantilever on my Clearaudio Concerto through a variety of moves, adjustments and measurements, none of which can be reliably blamed for it, that responsibility surely lies with me. Convinced I had to check SRA with various magnification systems to see if I was near the 92deg magic number, I clearly did some damage at some point by getting too close. I only realized I had a problem when I dropped the  needle onto my stylus cleaner prior to playing some music only to see the entire cantilever remain on the pad when I lifted my tonearm. Ouch. That this would happen on a Friday night, as I was settling in for a good weekend of vinyl enjoyment only added to the misery. Damage done, wallet considerably lighter, mood now definitely darker. Really, is there any other part of the audio chain that is so easy to lose money on than a cartridge?

In an effort to appear rational, I spent a large part of Saturday checking online audio forums, contacting a favorite dealer (the excellent Jay Kaufman of Audio Revelation) and seeking help from Soundsmith, and the Analog Store in the hope that some repair was possible. I also contacted Musical Surroundings (importer of Clearaudio) and Clearaudio Germany, just to see what my options were, now that my $2500+ cartridge was deceased. And all this, without any chance to listen to records.

Upshot to all this is, I suppose, of some interest to those of you who experience anything similar. True to their reputation for not being the 'most responsive' to emails, a view that seems to be supported by their own web site declaration of the need to be patient or re-send, I've yet to hear back from Soundsmith (in fairness, I've just learned from chief Peter Ledermann since first posting this that Hurricane Sandy took a toll on them and they are overwhelmed with email even now.  I wish them well even as I dismiss his charge of my threatening American audio jobs with my posting! For the record, I approached them on the almost universal recommendation of others that they are the best as what they do, but they were slow to reply, as many folks indicate,  and I am just reporting that fact.). The Analog Store however explained to me within a couple of emails over the weekend that if the cantilever was off, my cartridge was probably toast, no repair possible. By now, I was pretty sure this painful truth was unavoidable, I had lost serious money by just not being careful enough. Thankfully, Jay at Audio Revelation had reassured me by sharing similar horror stories from others and offering to work with me on making this situation better. By Sunday, we'd decided to not waste a lot of money on an expensive replacement until looking at the full set up in a calmer fashion, and he'd shipped me a Dynavector 10x5 to tide me over until such time arrived, all at a fair price too.

Now, the Dynavector is installed and making some pleasing music - definitely not as resolving as my old Concerto but surprisingly good, except for one oddity. If I load the cartridge at anything above 1k, I  get a whining, high pitched noise like a missile coming in, or like ghost radio signals on some near dial setting. Switching to 1k kills this noise but somewhat softens the musical presentation too much. Not sure how much of this might be a function of grounding or my tonearm cable (the otherwise excellent Harmonic Technology) but nothing other than loading seems to control the noise. I have never experienced anything like this but it seems others online have had the same problem with this cartridge. Experiments will have to continue while I try to get to the bottom of this.  If you have a clue, let me know.

The somewhat good news at the end of this story comes courtesy of Musical Surroundings who responded with a generous trade-in offer on my dead Concerto for a new one, the v2, via Audio Revelation, which is far more than I expected. Given the noise I am experiencing with the 10x5, this will likely happen sooner rather than later.  Of course, this was all started by my wondering about the whole SRA at 92deg argument. I wanted to check my own settings to determine just how relevant this was, given  the decades of old cartridge reviews (some written by the very same people who now push the 92deg argument) that recommended setting the arm slightly down at the back. Did they just discover the new SRA facts that only apply to new cartridges or might we now question all those old reviews?  Oh well, that'll teach me....don't listen for yourself, just bow to authority and be happy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Serbian Minister shows what a musical stump speech is like

Not quite audiophile quality but how much more interesting might our Presidential debates be if they had to perform a song live?  Here's how it goes in Serbia where the Minister for Science and Technology gets on TV to make his point by covering Deep Purple:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

RMAF 2012 - Later thoughts

On the audio forums there's a lot of criticism from causal listeners who attended the event and seem to have been underwhelmed by the sonics. In part this comes from the tendency of some to appear as tough, rational listeners who are not 'fooled' by the high end or who tend to find their favorite company's products (usually lower priced, built in the garage by a 'little guy against the world type') blow more expensive gear out of the water. Cue the usual suspects but if some of these small manufacturers with vocal advocates really did produce the best rooms and the best products, I wonder if I attended the same show or why those products are just not so well liked or known by everyone else (ah, that would be because of the advertisement-paying majors have control over the magazines which trick us all into believing that only expensive gear is worthy, of course). Oh well, let's move on.

Now the dust has settled, I've tried to make some sense of what I was hearing at RMAF. When I came home, I made a point of sitting quietly with my own rig to remind myself of how it sounded. In short, it was a reminder of joy. Yes, my existing rig, in my room, sounded better to me than almost anything I heard in Denver. No big deal there - I have really nice equipment and a large, comfortable room in which I've taken time to place my gear and feed it with clean power. How many of the rooms at the Marriott could provide manufacturers with the same? At a basic level, this experience confirmed that the room is vital, a quiet space is important, and equipment upgrades need to be thought about carefully and chosen empirically. Plus ca change.

I recognize that room treatments seem to matter but the problem with understanding their effects at RMAF is that you don't get to hear the before and after treatment sonics. I have to trust that when I visit a room where the speakers are angled and the corners are treated, the set up is deliberate and carefully chosen rather than a quick and dirty attempt to cure the worst excesses by trying some basic "traps in the corners, cover first reflection points" placement. I suspect any trust here is a little misplaced and that improvisation is more the order of the day. So, how can any of us really judge the effect of the treatment, and by extension the quality of the gear, in such circumstances?

That said, there's a couple of memories that continue to impress. That Sony AR-1 4-track listening session has been hard to get over. On my two-channel rig, the bow strikes are there but not as embodied as they were in that Sony rig and I can easily tell the difference. What I cannot know is how much of this results from downsizing to two channels at home,  if the Sony speakers are just more resolving or if all that expensive EMM gear in the front end, in that large room, was providing the improvement? I can understand some people feel that if you really want the sound you hear at some demo, you have to purchase the identical rig as a whole and then work on your own listening room.

Another, perhaps more sobering, is the impression that the gap between the best and average sound is not even close to the gap in prices. I realize it's somewhat of a fool's errand to put price on sound quality but really, with such variance in pricing from the low thousands to the tens of thousands of dollars and more per component  that could be observed across rooms at RMAF, one might reasonably anticipate far greater and immediately obvious differences in sound. Pricing really does seem out of sync with sonics. This might be true of many product categories such as luxury watches or automobiles but I have my doubts that it is so wide a spread as in audio gear. I realize old Gibson guitars fetch prices that are not quite tied to their sound alone, rather their desirability as collectibles but even there, the best made and sounding guitars, while more expensive than their cheap compatriots, are not tens of thousands of dollars more expensive. Hand labored archtops using expensive woods cost a lot, but not that much more than a basic but well made Yamaha or Ibanez guitar, with the exception of centuries old instruments perhaps.  Even if the comparison is limited, the question provides genuine food for thought -- is there something about audio gear that makes if operate on a different economic model?

I don't have an answer but I do know that the trip to RMAF is worthwhile, that the organizers do a fantastic job, and that now I am home, I really can enjoy my own gear with a refreshed perspective. Enjoy the music!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New video from Wilson on the Alexia speaker

Having heard one pair of large Wilsons (Maxx 3?) in a small hotel room, I missed the Wilson Alexia at RMAF, it being located 10 floors above everything else and I tended to use the stairs rather than the ponderous elevators to get around,  but now I see this video, I wished I'd made the extra effort.

I think it's fair to say, given the reaction in the press, Wilson won't bother sending review samples to a small e-pub like HiFi'Zine, but it never hurts to hope I suppose. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

RMAF 2012 - quick reactions

It's fast, it's furious and it's a form of audio heaven and hell combined. Yes, RMAF has the makings of a good time that every audiophile should experience. There are plenty of accounts emerging, none more  representative of the attendee experience than Pez and Tyson's show thread on AudioCircle where they give blow by blow accounts, with great pics, of many rooms. This is what the weekend can consist of, a type of dash through so many rooms for a few limited minutes of sonic experience with a combination of gear that can prove difficult to follow, all the while battling people talking too loudly, doors swinging open and closed, and the sounds of other rooms bleeding through. But apart from that, if you prepare yourself for this craziness, you can really enjoy the show.

I went with a few targets in mind, get them out of the way as early as possible so I could return to them at leisure over the weekend and explore other treats on offer as available, and at RMAF there are lots of treats in store. Here are a few of the products I set out to hear and managed to experience for some of the time there.  My main concentration was speakers, but along the way I gave some attention to tables, tweaks, and general quality for price. In no particular order, and without accompanying pics as I don't carry a real camera, here's the brain dump.

The Kef Blades

Stunning to the eye and great to the ear, the orange Blades were powered by a rack of Macintosh gear (strangely, stuck right in the middle of the speakers in same plane, destroying imaging) and a Mac laptop in a huge room. I went there twice to sit in front, to walk to the sides, to admire the coin standing on the edge at the top seemingly immune to the powerful soundwaves the speakers could put out, and to just take in the dramatic form. These speakers are much bigger than I thought, way taller than they appear in magazines yet their curves give them every possibility of disappearing in a real room, maybe! Vocals were extremely well presented with these, a true attention-grabbing product.

The Sony AR1

Playing largely 4 channel Isomike recordings from Kimber with EMM and Pass gear, this room sounded excellent to me and gave me a real sense of the abilities of a company like SONY to surprise you, again. There's no doubt, when they commit to doing something for sonics, they really can do it. I loved these so much I bought a copy of Victor Uzur's Solo Cello recording that they were playing, so powerfully did it grab me in this room. Would love to have heard it just as two-channel but I've no doubt these speakers can deliver the goods. Nothing flashy, everything just musically balanced and engaging. I know people cannot imagine spending serious money on speakers from Sony but that is really a case of brand mis-perception. These were a highlight of the show.  A prototype ES model speaker with different tweeter was on show in a second room, powered by Pass, and sounded great too, price to be determined but lower than the AR2 (meaning less than $20k, official release at CES apparently).

Thiel 3.7

I've wanted to hear these for years and always been stifled in my attempts. This year I got to spend some time with them (after first hearing the new 2.7 which as the same metal mid/tweeter driver). They were demo'd with a Hegel intergrated (new one, with DAC, some $5200 I believe, 250w). Feeding these from your iPod or laptop, you could have a $20k system all in that would give you resolution galore. Hard to get too much of a read on unfamiliar music with speakers challenged for space but there was resolution here that never tipped over into harshness and I'd imagine one could get a lot of music out of them with the right set up. I'd like to hear them with some other equipment, but I think it's fair to say I really preferred the 3.7 to the 2.7, even though the latter were powered by Audio Research.

Associated panel/electrostatic/line array/out of the box speakers

After failing to be impressed with the Quads at my last RMAF or the Martin Logan Summits I auditioned locally, I've wondered if the push on electrostatics or line arrays was just a matter of style choice for some people. Thus, I determined to hear all I could at RMAF this year, and particularly targeted the most cherished designs (other than Quads perhaps) in this realm, the Magnepan room. It took three efforts to get in as they closed their door and ran a fixed number of folks through in 15 minute sessions. On demo were the basic MMG ($650, if I got that right) coupled with a centre channel (to ensure everyone in the room had full sound according to Wendell) and a bass panel (don't call it a subwoofer) cunningly disguised as  a coffee table. Running us through several samples of classical and 50s pop/rock, the results were pleasing but there was no chance to hear the basic two speakers on their own, which strikes me as the real deal. Pleasant music resulted, not much more I can say than that but I'd be interested in what Maggies gave me for under $700 for stereo pair (which probably are hard to beat if you like resolution) than for this full three-channel with bass rig, which goes for $2500 or so and takes up lots more floor space. At the full three-channel price I see challengers that fit a bit easier into domestic life.

Room space would be less of an issue, height aside, if you go with Wisdom Audio's new model, Not sure the number but it's very tall and comes with a suitcased-sized subwoofer that you can hide under the couch or wherever, out of sight. We received a semi-lecture on how good these measured before we listened but the sonics to me were over-tight, slightly mechanical and lacking in bloom. Need to hear them again. King Sound had a large pair of panels in one room which looked curiously old fashioned with their wooden sides and feet. No chance these would ever disappear visually in any room but in a hotel room they looked completely oversized. Sonics were ok, people listening with me seemed to like them but I heard nothing that would encourage me to invite a pair of these into my home. A quick check in on the Martin Logan demos again left me wanting more from what are just some of the best looking speakers out there --what a pity the sonics have never really seemed right to me - despite the looks, they do not actually sound airy and box-free.

Sanders Sound had a pair of their hybrids in a room run by a pair of amps. Roger Sanders explained that for about $13500 he sells you the speakers and one amp, you have to provide one on your own, just like any speaker purchase. Using room correction and active crossovers in the set up and feeding it from a laptop, the layout had people sitting in a single file in the middle of the room with the speakers slightly off-set from the corners. Well, if anything really surprised me it was the level of detail, control, full range resolution and space that these speakers provided. I sat right in the front and let waves of SRV (how many times can you count hearing Tin Pan Alley at RMAF?) wash over me in sheer pleasure. I don't care for the looks but sonically, the Sanders are stand outs -- I'd love to hear a pair of these in my home because if they can be made to sound this good in hotel room, their potential is surely enormous. A real game changer.

German Physiks also appeared very competitive with their new $12k speaker, the Unlimited MkII.  Plane jane looks but the value is in the sound: easy, spacious, resolving and a genuine taste of their higher end products. The rep at the show when I visited mentioned these were easy to place, no great fussing about with locations, which adds to the domestic appeal. Something about these speakers from Physiks really appeals to my sense of music, another product I'd love to hear in familiar space like my listening room.

Other product experiences

I spent time twice in the Audio Research/Vandersteen 7 room while there. On both occasions the music was a pleasing mix of digital and analog (gorgeous AMG Viella 12) and it always sounded good. Prices here start to get scary with the speakers alone costing $50k with external crossovers, and I don't even want to know how much those big Audio Research monoblocks would cost but it's hard to argue with the results. A sound that draws you in rather than forcing itself at you.  Generally enjoyed the other Vandy's I heard, the Quattros, in another room late on Friday, a real palette cleanser after hours of ear bashing in some other rooms. Last RMAF I loved the Vivid speakers but this time around I could never get to hear them properly -- too many people talking and moving around, a common problem. Listened to Sean Casey fending questions in the Zu Audio room which limited my chance to hear the speakers for more than a few minutes but the designs looked great, and while he outlined some of the pains the company are experiencing, he seemed in good form and dealt amiably with all manner of  questions and lengthy comments from folks -- got to love that company for their commitment to value and strong design identity.  At a different end of the price spectrum, I have to say the TAD room sounded good to me -- who knew they made amps too? -- and this was for their lower end Evolution speaker (just under $30k?). For once the hype and my hearing were in alignment!

Lots of reel-to-reel players on display and in use throughout the weekend. if you think LP's take effort to play, try loading tapes and selecting tracks in hurry. I did spend a really fun evening in the United Audio Room late on Friday listening to the complete three-tape presentation of The Who's Tommy, played through impressive Von Schweikert VR44s and a prototype Jolida tube monoblocks that were eye-catching in white finish with blue lights. The ample supply of beer and wine clearly helped proceedings with a lively audience and air guitar flourishes, shouts of 'yeah' and various jerky body movements accompanied the Moon-driven rhythms and Townsend riffs. Late stayers were treated to a similar run through a tape of Sgt Pepper too. Not sure how late everyone stayed but I would love to have heard some of the music on hand that I know better but I never got to hear their tape of Kind of Blue. The sonics here suggested to me that with tape you hear enough into the recording to recognize the limits of The Who's playing abilities back then - the rawness was all there. Good fun.

Also lots of turntables on display, some quite beautiful, some just for show. Triangle Arts Reference, eye-catching towers of metal, seemed almost a bargain at $16500 compared to the price of some gear here. George Warren's table seemed to be in more than a few rooms and looked good too. I also retract my comment in an earlier blog about the new Merrill table being one of the ugliest products in audio. In person it looks much better, though sadly I did not get to hear it. Music Hall had their $1000 table playing Jimmy Cliff when I visited - all through an integrated Creek and a pair of their own bookshelf speakers that belied what you can do all in for $1500. The scotch that everyone was consuming might have helped the party spirit but it did not spill over into the evening event by the Lift Bar they organized which was a bass booming mess of a dance party that never got going -- wrong demographic methinks.

Lawrence Audio presented their $18k Cello speaker playing via Rowland amps. Striking looking and sonically spacious, I found myself sitting next to the designer. I am not sure my few words made much sense to him but I did enjoy the music and I think that showed. The Cello had an ease that befits the name, definitely another speaker I'd like to hear in my own room. Also striking looking but not in a way that I found as attractive on the eye, the MBL room sounded excellent but man, the size of their accompanying monoblock amps just makes domestic accommodation difficult to imagine. The white finish would not do it for me either, black would definitely help reduce the apparent footprint.

Loving the Harbeths I reviewed late last year I went searching for more. Found the 30.1 playing in a dealer's room but the bass overloading was so pronounced, I did not stay long. Hard to believe something that small would sound that deep but it was a problem when I was there. Believe it when Harbeth offer advice on room size for their products if you want to get the best out of them.  I loved my first hearing of Eficion speakers however, the F250, a sort of box on a ball shaped floorstander sounded great partnered with a large Plinius integrated. At under $10k these speakers are very appealing, and the company offers lease/loan terms that allow you to get them into your home for less than $300 a month - nice idea, let's see how well that works. Small catch, the designer told me he thinks the speakers only sound great with Plinius amps, so factor in another loan to buy that too!

The Von Schweikert VR22s are in for review right now so I'll not say too much here other than at $3k delivered, they put lots of more expensive competitors to shame. Since loading by close wall placement is designed into the speaker, these made a lot more sense in the hotel room environment than most speakers on show. The improvised cable elevators made of upturned plastic wine cups were a delightful added touch :)

No Revel this year - a real disappointment. I love the efforts made to use scientific methods of listening tests to design a statement product but the lack of dealer network means I can only hear these at shows. The sole dealer I could find heard my complaint and did not disagree with me - their absence was noted. No Magico either that I could see, perhaps the latest darlings of the media are going the way of previous darlings such as Kharma and we'll have a new company to read all about soon. Wilson were there but what can I say, I always admire but rarely enjoy their sonics. This time was no different.

Overall impressions

The new ordinary is $30k -- by which I mean almost anything you asked about price for seemed to cost about that much. Sometimes that was a pleasing answer (the Rockport room sounded really good on two visits, and stunning when playing Peggy Lee's Fever through their new Avior speaker) but other times you wondered if manufacturer's are being told by marketeers that this is the price point to aim for regardless. What do you want, a new car or a pair of speakers? Given this, some gear, such as the Sanders, seem almost underpriced at $13,000 - and you wonder why audiophiles get such a bad rap!

Macs were everywhere (the computer not the amps). Mac minis, airs, books, iPads etc seemed at the front end of so many demos that you can't escape the feeling that you have to go this path yourself, even while reel-to-reel and LP technologies were still on show. No cassettes or DATs though, some some progress is inexorable.

Room treatments seemed to be more in use this year than before - not sure how much it helped some rooms but I do feel for the efforts dealers and some manufacturers with limited budgets go to in order to present well. It's got to be madness for some in small rooms to have doors swinging open and shut, people talking loudly, stepping on cables to get behind the gear and generally doing anything but listening to the gear but such is life at an Audio Show. Typical compensation efforts involved ramping up the volume (Vapor Audio, are you listening?) which  tended to drive me away rather than draw me in, but that's just me.

Loved the sample of the Auto Desk LP cleaner that Cable Co had on working display - smaller and quieter than I imagined  -  I know I want one but even at the show special price of $3200 it's beyond me at this point. They told me that most people who buy one keep their old machine (perhaps as a pre-cleaner?) and report cleaning more LPs in a few months with this new machine than they did in years with their previous cleaner. I can understand that given the labor involved. I know .....add up those minutes and the price almost seems a bargain over a couple of years.

More to come as I gather my notes but that's it after the flight back. I also attended a seminar from John Atkinson on the problems associated with any claim to 'absolute sound'.  Got to love it -- other than the limited seating for food in the bar, the whole event is great tribute to the folks in Denver who organize it. As a colleague noted, the price of admission and the travel costs are cheap, the real costs come later when you fantasize over what is next for your system because you know, to paraphrase The Stranglers,  something better change!

Were you there? Feel free to share your impressions below....

Sunday, September 30, 2012

BSG qøl™ review in latest HiFi'Zine, out now

The September 2012 issue of Hifi'Zine is now out (just in time) and it contains my  review of the BSG qøl.  Perhaps most interestingly, BSG offer a manufacturer's comment after the review that contains details I'd not seen elsewhere, and also announces the successful patenting of key ideas in the design.

image of BGG qol front plate
As you can tell, I enjoyed this rather unusual new product. I remain unclear on how exactly it does what it does but the results are impressive in my system. I know the qol has given a lot of people reason to doubt but talking about it is really no substitute for hearing it. I made that point (edited out of the final version) but really, trying to form a view of any component, not least one as different as this without hearing it for yourself is an exercise in frustration. No matter how much you want to dismiss it or embrace it, you need to hear it, ideally in your own rig. BSG make this possible with easy 30-day returns, a trend that is welcome in this day of limited dealerships. They will be at RMAF in October but show conditions, especially given the well-documented volume difference when bypass mode is engaged, cannot substitute for hearing it in your system. Hearing is believing, but never more so when the mechanisms involved are out of the ordinary.  

The Ugliest Audio Gear money can buy

Much as we might wish to believe it's all about the sound, for most of us the aesthetics of a product are important drivers of our satisfaction and enjoyment of a product. Listen to how many audiophiles on forums slaver over the fit, finish and detailed workmanship involved in their favorite toys. It's not crazy, the look and feel of speakers, tables, cables and components do seem to matter. With that in mind, let me share my list of products that absolutely fail my 'looks good' threshold. I make no comments on the quality, value or general desirability of what follows, am confident they are fine sounding pieces of gear, but something about them just turns me off. Your mileage might vary, nominations welcome (manufactured, for sale equipment only please, as you will see if you follow the link below)

image of REAL turntable
1. The Merrill-Williams REAL turntable

I don't know if it's the corky top, the stick-it-under-the-plinth power supply, the oversized chess piece center-weight, or the goofy inverted ball rubber feet but this table looks like a pieced-together kit made in someone's garage out of a modified 1980s mid-fi spinner. Nothing elegant about this player, let's hope it sounds more coherent than it looks!

2. Salk Soundscapes

image of pair of speaker
I am sure these are very well-made but, and it's a big but, these boxes cannot escape the giving the impression that someone plonked three blocks together, stuck some chunky footers on them and tried to use beautiful veneers to tie the results together. Owners and potential purchasers 'ooh' and 'aah' about the look, but I cannot shed the impression that this is a speaker made for men who imagine the wife would welcome a new tube-amp for their wedding anniversary.

3. Wyred 4 Sound MMC5

image of W4S MMC5
Price is right with most products from W4S but this type of utilitarian sheet and rivet look would not look out of place in a Soviet-era knock-off. The little black fascia panels might soften the blow but this box oozes the vibe of something made up from the clearance-sale list at Parts Express.

4. Wilson Audio Polaris and Maxx 3 

I don't care how well reviewed or expensive these are with their material X and Y construction , but the
image of wilson speakers
Star Wars robotic look suggests death-ray lasers interwoven with the soundwaves. If you entered your listening room late at night without thinking you might imagine alien intruders standing by the stereo. Bad as the Maxx and Alexandrias appear, that Polaris seems to be doing a passable impression of a fat R2D2. Out of this world looks to go with those prices.

5 - You tell me.....

For now, I am restricting this to commercially available gear, avoiding some of the Frankensteinian efforts of DIY-ers, and I am definitely excluding room treatments which are just too easy to hate, but you will surely be tickled by some of the images here, if not for the gear alone, at least for the Herculian efforts some folks make to give such gear a home. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

I know wires...

image of power cord
and I know they give me no end of heartache. Forget price, I've ruined HDMI connections by leaning on them, blown outlets by overloading plugs, added hum by changing cords, sent carefully designed speaker cables that came in for review back to the manufacturer as they did not fit my peculiar set up, and now, I've shorted out a snake-sized power cord by trying to get it to fit a connector without first planning the lay out. One of my otherwise excellent Spectron Thunderbolts hit the point of no return this week when, adding a new power conditioner on trial to my rig, I found I had to turn the IEC connector or the plug (or both) around at an angle to get it to fit the new component and amp securely given the new configuration. Seemed fine until I powered up and then the circuit died. Oops. Turns out I shorted the cable by turning the connector too far, wrestling the internal wire out of its connector just enough for two legs to touch. Ah, simple fix thinks I, a couple of twists and a quick go with the screwdriver and we'll be back in business. That was until I realized, thirty minutes of frustration later, that the sheer amount of copper used in these cords involved a connection between wire and socket that was more than my hand or hand tools could provide. So, off to the shop it has gone for repair (how much? don't ask!)  And so it goes with me and cables. Surely there is a future for me where all cable connections are thin, flexible and of suitable length. Maybe, but why do ultra slim cables seem to cost more than hosepipes?  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Q-up tonearm lifter

If you play records, sooner or later you fall asleep/leave the room/ or aren't quick enough to get to the table before the stylus runs off at the end. We've all been there. I remember a product called 'The Lift' from a few years back but never see them anywhere. Now there's a new solution, the Q-UP, ($60) which seems easy to fix to your table and has a spring mechanism that is triggered by the encroachment of your tonearm. Not the most elegant in operation, but it looks sweet enough, if this video is anything to go by.

Searching for the Lift did turn up the Levitator which looks as useful and a little more nicely designed to my eye, but without seeing both in action it's hard to tell. Check this out:

Good deal on Zu Essence, great blog entry

Zu Audio, whose products always sounded enjoyable when I've heard them, especially if you like rock, funk etc, are having a closeout sale on the Essence line, a pair now at less than half price. At under $2k a pair this has value written over it. A 60-day home trial and free return shipping if you are unsatisfied is included, plus the promise of 100% trade-up for two years. I'm not buying only because I have more speakers than any sane person would probably need in one house but if $2k is your price point and you have the space, here's a real deal.

Zu had a dealer tour earlier this year, sadly when I was out of town on business. The local dealer here, Whetstone Audio, has a great blog and it caught my eye this week with a tragically sad (and slightly old) story about the Garrott Brothers, known to a small band of cartridge lovers (not including myself) as the people who could modify any cartridge with loving care. Good deals, sad stories, it's all about the music. Peace. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Von Schweikert podcast on VR22

Interesting new use of the medium to share information on the Von Schweikert  VR22 speakers has been made by the company. Check it out here. Can you tell which speaker Albert is referring to when he speaks of non-resonant enclosures?  I have a pair of the VR22s in for review, I'll say more as we go, they're in my rig right now but it's fair to say, at under $3k delivered, factory-direct, this is a going to be an interesting option for many.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Power: clean, conditioned and regenerated

A few years back I had an electrician run a dedicated line for my audio set up, a 20amp feed straight from the box at the back of the house to two outlets in my living room. He seemed skeptical when I told him also to use 'hospital grade' outlets but complied and I since replaced them with PS Audio outlets that grip power plugs like a vice. I cannot say it made a massive difference but it did clean up some of sonics and later, when I added a PS Audio Power Point Premier regenerator, I enjoyed very clean power free of pops from the AC kicking in (which is several times an hour in a Texas summer). When the PPP died (something I've experienced with more than a couple of the PS Audio components that I've owned over the years) I took advantage of an offer from the company to take it back on trade for a new P5, the latest generation of line regenerators (no mere conditioners!) from PS Audio. Have  to say, I like it. It looks good, works well and keeps most of my cables out of the way.

A couple of cords it does not hold however are those of my mono block amps which I've always plugged straight into the wall since using them with the earlier PPP tended to kick the fan in the regenerator on during particularly quiet pieces of music. For reasons that elude me now, I decided this week, when the system was powered down for a break, to try putting the Spectrons onto the P5 also, thereby running my entire rig from the one clean, freshly regenerated power supply which I can observe as a clean sine wave on the P5s front screen.

When I powered up I was surprised on several fronts. First, the display would not work but several restarts fixed this (though not without my worrying that I'd been struck by the failing PS Audio gear curse!) but second by the sonics. The music really did sound different with the amps on the P5 but it was not all good. Bass seemed to be greatly reduced while upper frequency detail seemed enhanced. I decided to leave everything on for a few days to familiarize myself with the sound but after two days I could not take anymore, it all just sounded too edgy, thin and lacking in body.  Putting the amps back on direct feed from the wall restored my pleasure but not before I'd discussed this with both PS Audio and with Spectron.

I think it's fair to say, there are significant disagreements as to what is happening here. PS Audio correctly view the power from the P5 as being cleaned up, therefore what I was hearing is probably a tonal balance shift. If the music is sounding worse to my ears and I cannot get used to it, there is probably something wrong elsewhere in my rig or, heaven forbid, I am really hearing what these amps sound like. Spectron tell me the problem is the P5. They do not recommend using it, or any transformer-based conditioner in fact, with their amps which are particularly fast and current intensive. They point out, also correctly, that if it the amps sound better without the P5, then that's all the evidence required to avoid its use. Two reasonable conclusions but two contradictory lines of reasoning.

All this has me wondering just what is happening here so I'm embarking on an exploration of various power treatment options. It won't surprise you to learn that said options are not cheap however I would like to get some of these into my rig to compare them on the same circuit and system. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 10, 2012

An audio blog for your significant other

It had to happen but there was never a guarantee that it would be this good. Check out The Audiophile's Wife and perhaps be grateful it's not you that is being written about here. On second thoughts, that's's all of us! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

RIP Maestro Lord

I was particularly saddened this week with the news of Jon Lord's death on Monday from a pulmonary embolism, even while he was fighting pancreatic cancer with some success. When you get to a certain age, you think back on the music you grew up with less than critical eyes, and from which you can still obtain genuine pleasure in the sonic trips down memory lane. Jon for me was the sound of Deep Purple and that band is permanently etched in my mind with experiences of hearing certain music for the first time, for scouring record stores in the hope of finding obscure records and for the times when you never really got to see bands, you had to hear them first, in that pre-video, no rock-on-TV age that was the early 1970s. The death has caused an outpouring of memories and comments online and I am amazed to find that via the web, I can read comments from strangers who were actually at some of the gigs I attended years ago on the other side of the world.

The best reading on all this is at the The Highway Star where the band and many friends share their emotions or you can listen to Ritchie Blackmore and Rick Wakeman talking about Jon on the BBC's Last Word podcast.   Best line I've picked up was from Ian Gillan who told a funny story about an over-excited fan running up to Jon once in a hotel, blurting out in his confusion:  "Jon, Jon....I am your hero"  to which Jon quickly responded, "Ah, so you're King Arthur!"  Great man, great music. Go listen here as he explain his 'sound'

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fair use, plagiarism or what?

I suppose it says something positive about the content of HiFi'Zine that other sites think it's ok to lift articles wholesale and post the text on their own pages with minimal attribution. I realize web protocols for authorship are, shall we say, in flux, but I was a little disappointed with the Carver Forum which lifted text and graphics from the recent Bass Integration Guide (parts 1, 2, and 3) put together by Paul Spencer and while it offered a fleeting link at the top saying 'From Hifi'Zine', I cannot imagine any other publication considering this anything other than stealing. If you wrote those articles and put in the hours on measurements and graphics that clearly Paul put into them, as any reader can see,  I think you'd feel aggrieved to see your work presented this way.  I doubt Bob Carver wants to be associated with this type of 'design' choice.

[Addendum:  The site manager has removed the content since a complaint was registered but let's just say, gave the owner a lecture about free access. Who knew?]

Monday, June 25, 2012

HiFi'Zine June 2012 issue now out

This  new issue has two entries from me, both connected with the new cable company, High Fidelity Cables: a review and an interview with head honcho, Rick Schultz, former chief of Virtual Dynamics. I'd been trying to get Rick for a while to talk about developments old and new in the cable business and am pleased to finally get our conversation on the record.  Also, great articles on the Akimate Micros, music reviews, and the best guide yet to getting started on computer audio for Mac users by editor in chief, John Reekie. Enjoy, comment, and think about contributing an article yourself if so inclined - remember, HiFi'Zine is a magazine by audiophiles for audiophiles; advertising free, open to all and happy to explore the hobby from all angles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is A'gon slipping?

Well the interest in the Audiogon alternatives has clearly grown recently given the traffic here. I took a look at the Qualcast data on hit rates

You can certainly see a sharp downturn in visits to the 'Gon since the redesign, though it's fair to say that they had apparently grown traffic significantly over the last two years so it's something of a return to 2009 rates, not too shabby in itself but clearly something changed this year and the mood seems to be swinging. Let's see how this plays out over the next few months.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Alternatives to Audiogon part II

That note below about the A'gon complaints seems to have drawn much traffic and some private emails. My defense of A'gon is that it remains the best out there  until someone or other is prepared to put the effort into a real alternative. Well, it seems some folks are willing to walk the walk, with varying degrees of success. A recent push mail from AVGuide contained a link to SoundOffers which offers a gear selling structure similar to the 'Gon. Nice enough interface but the experience is seriously hampered by the lack of product. Multiple categories of product have nothing listed and even the most populated categories have but a handful of items listed. Still, it's a reasonable effort that holds promise with basic listing only costing $3 for 30 days and, as far as I can tell, none of the commission rates that annoys so many with A'gon. It's local too, at least in as much as the publisher for TAS has interests in Austin. Worth keeping an eye on as this one has marketing back up that might grow it into something significant.

A much more grass-roots oriented effort has been launched by the guys behind the Canuck Audio Mart.  Named, perhaps not surprisingly US Audio Mart, these folks really are pitching themselves as an Audiogon alternative with a full statement to that effect off their home page. Most exciting, since the owners rely solely on advertising revenue from manufacturers and dealers, the process of buying and selling gear is free, it has sufficient product for sale even now to make it feel worth using, you can improve that by revealing listings form the Canadian site that sellers will ship to the US, and it has member discussion forums. Right now it's showing sufficient energy for optimism about its future. For those of you still annoyed with A'gon, this is definitely worth checking out. I've registered and will be working my way slowly through the content and forums over the next week or so but for now, this is the one to watch.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Complaints over Audiogon continue

It's been nearly 6 months since Audiogon made changes to its fee structure and design. From the outset people seemed upset, not least those who were paying for ads at the time and saw traffic diminish and the search engine sputter. The site has slowly become more robust and retains top-spot at the place to go for scoring or selling audio gear but this has not stopped the criticism. Here's a new article that seems to have tapped into a lot of the negative sentiment, published in Home Theater Review this week, claiming dropped traffic and revenues as a result of the changes made to Audiogon.

I am more sanguine than most on this, after all, it's still the best place to get a sense of the value and availability of gear, and I've bought a lot of my system over the years through listings on that site. Until some other group comes up with a real alternative, they will remain the #1 place for this type of transaction, so how bad can it be?  Of course, if you are a member of some other forums, such as the excellent Audio Circle, you can list and buy without fees, but don't imagine you have the same choice of gear as you will find on A'gon. As usual, it's easier to criticize than create, and I wonder how many people really feel strongly enough to take up the challenge of doing it better?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a....sticker?

Well if you love tweaks, you'll love these new 'chips' cunningly disguised as a stickers which you put on the back of your speakers with the express aim of  gaining some audio magic.  Working (allegedly) at a 'sub-atomic' level,  the sticker, er, chip, to quote the Cable Co folks, "is mounted on an adhesive backing which can be attached to the device. The Chips are "programmed" for their specified applications. The adhesive is not aggressive, and the chips can be used and removed for testing purposes, no problem."  Priced at a level which makes them affordable by all (!), let me know what you hear won't you?

And in fairness to the Cable Co whom I don't tend to think of as marketers of much nonsense, here's a link to their line of videos explaining their products

Cable wars - gone before you knew it

If you read my review of the Wywires loom in the March 2012 issue of HiFi'Zine you'll know that I've been impressed with the addition of Spectron's Thunderbolt cords on my power amps. In fact, I was so impressed, I bought a couple as I'd never heard a power cord do for an amp what these cords did to my Musician Mk III monos. Intending to give these more coverage as time went on, I was surprised to learn tonight that Spectron are no longer going to sell them. Apparently production costs have risen through the roof and they don't think they can sell these profitably any more. What a shame -- these were not cheap, with the Mk2 listing at close to $2500 per cord, but still they can't make sufficient profit to justify continuation. I have no idea what went into these cables, and I do know metal prices have gone through the roof, but the Thunderbolt Mk 2s  remain for me the best power cords I ever heard on my monoblocks, and by no small margin. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Tone Audio issue out

As always, beautifully produced and an engaging mix of gear, beer and music...what more do you need? And it's free! Find it here

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blind or Sighted listening tests

A most informative (but now two year old) posting from the Sean Olive blog, Audio Musings, reports data from a 1994 study of blind v. sighted tests of loudspeakers can be found under the heading "The dishonesty of sighted listening tests"

It's worth a read since Sean is one of the few folks in the world with the education in experimental methods involving human subjects and sufficient interest in applying these to audio reproduction. Apart from confirming what most open-minded people expected, that sighted listening has an effect on how you judge a product, there are two very interesting results that warrant particular attention. First, experienced listeners are no less susceptible to the effects of sighted listening, despite the protestations otherwise that we have learned to factor this out. Second, I was taken by the curious impact of blind or sighted listening on the judgement of speakers when layout/positioning is adjusted. It seems that you are far more sensitive to positioning of speaker in the room and the resulting impact on sound when you listen blind. Not sure how to turn these results into practical guidance for your own tweaking but then, blind testing is always very hard to do on your own :)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Interesting blog from nearby dealer

Well, consider me surprised to learn about a local dealer whose premises I've probably driven close by dozens of time without realizing they existed. Austin HiFi turns out to be an importer and dealer who sells the excellent Harbeth and ATC speaker lines, as well as a couple of more unusual products. Nothing too unusual there but the owner runs a nifty little blog that's full of nice entries and links to the wide and esoteric world of music and art. Check it out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

qøl™: review upcoming

One of the more talked about audio products so far this year has been the 'signal completion stage' from BSG Technologies (called the 'qol'). The forums started buzzing once Robert Harley gave it a positive review in TAS and reported an interview with chief designer, Barry Goldfarb. I can make neither head nor tail of the explanations of how this product works but I am giving it a good listen in my own system before I make up my mind. Review anticipated for the June issue. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speaking of speakers...

Got to love the new Morrow Audio (as in Morrow the handmade cable) mailing that invites you to learn about their new deal Lansche speakers.  You can actually hit an 'Add to Cart' button on a pair of $200,000 speakers....go on, you know you want to......

Got a few more bucks? Try the new Hartvig Audio turntable......price on request.  Described by the manufacturer as offering 'pure sound with soul' opposed to that pure sound without soul, I suppose. Is he having a go at my SME?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Origin Live does speakers...

Known for their good looking turntables and arms more than anything else, Origin Live have a new speaker on the way, the (perhaps aptly named) 'Astute'.  Using bamboo composite and string (apparently) they are eye-catching. Few reports as yet as to the sonics but the company reports a positive debut at UK show from attendees. Not enough info to see where the connections are or if that lamp-look for a base is a awful in real life as it appears here but the full range (if it comes to fruition) promises some interesting new ideas that move speakers beyond the typical box and driver look of so many others. Bet we'll have lots of arguments about arches in or arches out for placement once folks get their hands on them. It's not still April 1st is it? 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Loricraft in the house

OK, I had to do it. I eventually located a good condition Loricraft PRC-3 on the 'Gon and made a good deal with the seller. It came with a missing part so while I was working around this, I went looking for more info on line and turned up this excellent video on the PRC-3, complete with microscopic images of before and after cleaning. This is the best video explanation of the machine I've found and it's worth the 10 mins it takes to watch it all.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Video of the new Von S VR9 SE

OK, prepare for another round of audio lust.  And it's not just the new speakers -- the rest of the gear is pretty impressive.  This is from Cor Dekker, VSA dealer in the Netherlands and all round nice guy whom I got to meet at RMAF a couple of years back.

Friday, March 30, 2012

TAS latest guide to vinyl published

You can find it here.  As Robert Harley notes in the intro, 10 years ago he urged people to buy the best table they could, if they had interest, as hi-end LP players would not be round much longer. Looks at the goodies on show from table manufacturers and wonder how the technology has advanced. A thing of beauty is a joy forever! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Upgrading the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC

As a generally happy owner of the PS Audio PWT/PWD combo for the last couple of years, I had to bite on the upgrade offered for the DAC. As a bit of background let me say that the combo is the best digital I've had in my home by considerable margin. While it offers a wide range of filter and upsampling options, I've always just enjoyed it running in it's 'native' mode where it has given my cd collection a major lift. The upgrade offers improvements wrought by the onward march of digital processing, particularly the option to use the USB connection seriously for computer-based audio.

Now the beauty, in theory, of this two box platform is that updates are handled by software download to a built-in SD drive and that hardware upgrades, such as the new DAC board, can be serviced by the owner. To this end, PS Audio have gone to some trouble to provide all the tools needed, and your $1000 results in a shipment containing new board, new screws, screwdriver, several wrenches, new wiring connectors, all-threads to help push off the cover, and even a white cloth to lay your DAC on to avoid scratches. Despite all the efforts the process has proven to be a mess for more than a few owners.

First, the descriptions of what to order and what will be entailed in the process involve considerable effort on the owner's part. Seems that multiple versions of the PWD were created and sold, and depending on which one you have, different boards and wiring harnesses have to be ordered. PS Audio generally get this bit right though I've read of some owners getting the wrong version because they could not accurately identify the version they owned.

Second, I ordered and paid online before being told by way of a confirmation email that it would be a few weeks before my upgrade shipped. Apparently supplier problems meant no stock on hand but you'd be forgiven for thinking this might be explained in advance.  Assuming I'd have it within a week, I ordered in anticipation of some downtime I'd planned. Scupper that idea. Oh well...could that not be made clear on the site before ordering? There's a series of discussions on the otherwise helpful PS Audio forum where you can learn that some folks have waited months. Ouch.

Third, the package I received came with a manual that encouraged me to check out videos on YouTube showing which of the two wiring harnesses I had received should be used and how to install it correctly. Sadly, the URLs on the manual front page were wrong. Worse, a check of the PS Audio site offered no clue as to the real location. Subsequent discussions with the 'help' desk (who responded three days after I asked)  informed me that a simple search using the words ?PS Audio DAC" on  YouTube would get me there directly but you try this...go on......see what you get.

I could go on....and I will, a bit.....the actual install is not difficult once you get the cover off but the real issue is the firmware update. The SD card provided with mine did not work. After all the labor of installation I had no sound. Not 'I had no upgraded sound', I had NO sound. Full stop. Silence. A dead DAC. This parrot was deceased.  Why? Firmware OR card problems. How do I know this? Well, a question to the PS Audio forum turned up lots of responses from owners who had the same problem  and it was clear (if anything here could be so described given the general convoluted nature of the website and process) that either some DACs did not read 2gb SD cards (as supplied) or the firmware was corrupted. Yikes. An earlier post on a thread from PS Audio's head honcho Paul suggested they had figured this out and all disks shipped before I got mine had corrected the 2gb problem (wrong, I still had it after that supposed date) so by the time I gave up trying to buy a 1gb disk around Austin (I got lots of sympathetic looks from staff in Target, Radio Shack, Walmart etc that confirmed only the most hopelessly backward or impoverished among us even want a 1gb disk)  did I try, at the suggestion of other owners, a fresh download of the firmware to another 2gb disk.

It all worked out in the end but sheesh, did I have to pay one thousand dollars to experience a lost day, incomplete and inaccurate instructions, and a dead DAC? How does it all sound now? Great.  Final score? Sonics: top marks. Service: not so great. I add this to the long line of problems I've had with PS Audio gear (phono stage repair, amp gain cell crash, power regenerator failure) only this time, the sound of the player and DAC keeps me hanging on.  Time for some scotch and jazz. PS Audio owners, be warned - stay calm, expect problems, have a plan B. The final help desk reply today told me they hoped their dealers would handle future upgrades. I don't feel comforted by this.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

HiFi'Zine March 2012 issue published

The latest issue of HiFi'Zine (March 2012) contains, among several fascinating product articles from the crew, my review of the WyWires cable loom where, as well as just reviewing these fine cables,  I explored how much benefit there is to having a one-manufacturer cable set up in my reference rig. Despite the attraction of the argument, I found I preferred a mixed set up, at least with the wires I have in my home. That said, Wywires are really good cables at comparatively reasonable prices (at least for audiophiles!) and very easy to work into your set up. The star of the show is the entry level power cord which is really good on front end gear. But I 'fess up, I really am tired of cable changes now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Making a B&W speaker

Nice quick-motion video of the making of an 800 series B&W speaker. Quite a process, especially for the piano-black finish models. Some audiophiles tend to dismiss  B&W probably due to their mass sales and HT-oriented dealer network but I still recall hearing the 802D for the first time when I was listening to every Wilson, Audio Physic and Martin Logan I could hear locally. They really sounded like music to me. As the video suggests, B&W is a serious design that makes some lauded speakers look like the work of hobbyists with decent woodworking skills. Enjoy.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Jazz box sets: good value, so-so sonics

Amazon is carrying an interesting pair of imported box sets of classic jazz albums called, with no false modesty, "The Perfect Jazz Collection,Vols I and II". At the price of less than $40 for 25 original Sony/Columbia albums per set, there is no doubt about the value on offer. If you love jazz you'll no doubt have some of these recordings but at that price, I could stomach some overlaps, and it's always useful to have a spare copies anyhow, for friends, the car, other rooms etc. so I sprung for both sets: 50 classics for less than $75 shipped (I got lucky on the timing). All come in slim file cardboard versions of original sleeves (a bit small to read at length but an enclosed booklet helps) and combined together in a presentation box, the sets take up little shelf space for the amount of music involved.

OK, not to be overly critical but while the selection is great, the sonics are not always up to snuff. In a close listen to the enclosed Kind of Blue (you didn't think they'd miss this one!) and others with several versions I have already,  the Collection versions seem closer (or maybe identical) to the original CD releases than to any subsequent remastered version (you know, that slightly edgy, ragged treble, the tame bass of 80s digital). Not a deal breaker, the sonics are decent enough to enjoy and this is about the music first and foremost. Surprises abound. George Benson's "It's Uptown", how did I ever miss that one before?  Throw in Ellington, Blakey, Vaughn, Monk, Mingus, Simone, Pastorius, Brubeck, Rollins, Armstrong,  and both soundtracks to Bird and Round Midnight and you just can't go wrong. See full listings and listen to samples here.  Is this a sign that the CD market is drying up so much the major labels are close to giving stuff away? I doubt it, but this price point is hard not to enjoy. Get an education while you can.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rock bios leave something to be desired

I don't suppose one gets to my age and still views the rock musicians you grew up listening to as quite the heroes you imagined in your youth. Still, you hope that life has taught them some lessons worth passing on or at least given them a perspective on their own records that might be worth sharing years later. In quick succession I worked my way through three such bios over the last couple of months: Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography; Tony Iommi: Iron Man; and Keith Richards: Life

Glenn Hughes is arguably the most talented of the three but his book reflects unintentionally the damage done in 15 years of coke-induced mayhem. The account up to and including the years with Purple is fascinating and indicative of the times. Young boy with looks and talent finds himself launched to super-startdom, private jets, sell-out tours, an endless stream of beautiful women and an unshakeable belief that the ride will never end. Imagining that the world is waiting with baited breath for his solo outputs or that supergroup alliances are just there for the picking, he never quite comes to his senses for years. While the world moves on he drifts through a series of increasingly embarrassing and desperate attempts at come-back which seem to burn all good will with friends and fellow musicians. Living off the twice-yearly checks from the royalties of bygone albums, he reveals that he paid the rent six months in advance then proceeded to blow the rest, or rather inhale it. No punches pulled in describing the life of a junkie, the book is ultimately unsatisfying as it jumps over years, leaps back and forward down links that only make sense to him presumably, evidence indeed of the damage done. It all ends well enough: cue getting clean, meeting good woman, making comeback recordings, gaining critical acceptance. You learn who his friends are and it's clear that some rock stars are human beings after all. Well done David Coverdale -- if you read this you'll understand.

Tony Iommi comes across as a decent, down to earth chap who can't quite explain how he is the king of devil rock riffs. Interesting opening chapters cover life as a shopkeeper's son in mid-century Birmingham and his passion for music that took root early. Let's just say Tony's wit is dry.  Like Hughes he details the early bands and then relatively meteoric rise before we settle into the album by album account of the next twenty-five years or so. The inner workings of Sabbath are not particularly unique though we learn a bit about how he views riffs and songwriting (he can't write fast riffs easily), the limits of Ozzy's abilities, the creative impact of Dio, the stranglehold of management on bands which explains the sometimes baffling decisions, at least from the fans' perspectives, on line-up changes, album releases and touring schedules. And like Hughes, Iommi seems to be a friend of John Bonham who keeps making appearances and causing upset, often in unpleasant ways.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Hughes and Iommi appear in each other's books, and while music is ultimately the common thread, cocaine is part of their shared history. Why should this surprise you?  On balance, the book breezes along effortlessly, you don't really get detailed insights on the relationships as Tony tends to ease over the rough spots and just roll along, but  you can see in the space of 25 years how rock music eventually became a job and big business from the way bands like Sabbath evolved.

Richards' Life  is the best written, the man clearly is articulate, relatively engaged intellectually in the world and not short of opinions. Again, the last decades are sped through with minimal detail as the bulk of his story is really the early and middle years of the band's history but unlike Hughes or Iommi, Richards was part of a band at the center of the cultural shifts and swirls induced by and reflected in rock and roll. He clearly has little time for law and order and seems to take great pleasure in insulting Mick Jagger's manhood while emphasizing his own credentials (did you know he's really considered a black man by some black musicians, yeah, I know....), but the book does provide a real historical account from the inside of times and people that made history. If anything the book is too long but then, Keef has lived a long life. Surprisingly perhaps, he confesses that he has been off hard drugs for over 30 years but people won't let the myth die, so the image lives on. Proof positive, indeed, that we need our rock stars, real or not, to provide something that makes life richer for us all. I learned from this that he also wrote most of those great songs using only a five-string guitar tuned like a banjo. The reading of this book sent me back to listen to lots of old Stones and ultimately, I was disappointed in the records, way too much filler, and Exile on Main Street is just not as good as people say, but this is still the best book written by a rock star in many a year. A low bar? Perhaps, but he crossed it handily.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is this you?

Wonderful 20 min video of the audiophile personality, a film by Ken Barnes. As one person says in it: " I was a perfectly normal person until....."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Alan Parsons 'rips' audiophiles, shock

Seems that even the pro audio media is not beyond silly headlines. CE Pro decided that Alan Parsons was  criticizing audiophiles for spending too much money on gear and not on room treatments but if you actually read the interview you will find his language hardly constitutes a 'rip'.  I think his point is that the law of diminishing returns kicks in at the high end pretty quickly and that rooms impact the final sound, so plan and spend accordingly.  Best quote: "I think what perhaps critics don’t appreciate is that there is a lot of luck in getting a good sound."

Still,  Alan also admits that he does not listen to music recreationally except in the car. Otherwise recordings are something he works on in studios. Well, that tells us a lot about Alan then doesn't it. Oops, did I just 'rip' on him.....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Record cleaning, at the machine level

I've been looking at the various record cleaning machines out there just to find something that might be easier on the ear and the clock than my standard routine of steam cleaner with VPI 16.5 (noisy and susceptible to dirty lips, if you get my meaning). Turns out, there's many out there, varying from the similar style vacuum designs (Nitty Gritty, Clearaudio, etc), the mainly manual (Spin Clean) and the esoteric (Audio Desk sonic cleaner) and more. I am in love with the Loricraft design of 'thread and suck' but I don't have $2500 or more to spend though I suppose this would be the last machine you'd need. Still, you can find lots of discussion if you search from people who are convinced that the type and make of record cleaner matters (what say you, surely a rinse of dishwasher soap under the tap and quick towel dry will work?), so take a look at these delights and wonder if you are really, at the end of the day, a fetishist:

TNT: Review of Nitty, VPI and Clearaudio machines, and they pick a winner.

Here's a riveting video the Audio Desk Sonic cleaner in action:

And here's a Loricraft:

Can you believe you just watched those? Update: I asked for a review model to examine for HiFiZine but Audio Desk told me they cannot keep up with demand so none are available for reviewers. Who would have known?