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.