Monday, November 25, 2013

Audioengine Portable DAC/Headphone amp sounding sweet

I've been tempted of late to improve the sound of music I listen to via 'phones on my Mac so when Audioengine announced their new D3, a $189  headphone amp/DAC, I jumped at the chance to listen. The D3 streams 24/96 audio in a plug and play package that is small and elegantly presented in a tidy aluminum drive that can be carried anywhere.

Set up is as easy as promised, at least on my Mac. Just plug in, go to your sound settings to select it as the output, connect 'phones and brace yourself. Music, music, music. I had to carefully match volume between D3 and normal jack to be sure I was comparing fairly but really, there was no difficulty hearing the improvement wrought by the D3. Air, decay, timbre, detail, all improved to the point that even with my mid-fi Sennheiser 350s which I'd given my son for long-term loan in his gaming pursuits, the sound was excellent. I am hearing stuff on old familiars that put the sonics far closer to my reference rig, and maybe even revealing a bit more in some cases, such is the nature of headphone listening. Bass, always a bit warm with the Senns, is tighter and more resolved than I thought possible with these cans.  I can't compare the D3 to the much-lauded (and recently price-reduced) Audioquest Dragonfly, but I don't feel the need to do so right now -- I'm having too much fun. This has opened my ears (literally) to the possibilities of portable listening, so much so that  I am going to start looking for some serious phones.

You can buy direct from Audioengine for $189, with free shipping and 30 day return privileges. I don't care for 'Best of the Year' awards but if pushed, I'd have to give this one for most value. You won't get an improvement like this for less. Sweet deal.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New gear inbound!

Just as I thought it was getting quiet on the review front (Minus-K platform up next in Dec issue), I land a couple of beauties. First, Bryston offered me their Mini T speakers (mini in name only, I saw these at RMAF and if that's their idea of 'bookshelf' I'm reading some odd books!). Was impressed with what I heard in Denver so am keen to try these out at home. Should be here next week. Second, the new little mono amps from Digital Amp Co, the Maraschino, a pair are coming soon for review. Was very impressed with the Cherry stereo amp a couple of years back so am intrigued to know what Tommy O'Brien and co have come up with in the intervening years. Stay tuned. Have suggestions for what you'd like us to review? Let me know. I can't promise any manufacturer will want to play but if we can report that readers asked for their gear, it can make it easier to get to 'yes'.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Take over a record store?

You can do it -- if you have a few hundre thousand dollars to spare. Ebay is listing the "On the Beat" record store in London for close to $500k. For this, you get 25,000 records, including some rare Beatles, CDs and some vintage tables inside your own cramped space near Soho. No living quarters, and details on the lease or actual ownership are sparse but as the owner says, it's a great oppotunity for someone who wants to live the 'High Fidelity' life. Check out the Daily Mail story.

Tim Derbyshire, Owner of One Beat Record, has put the shop up for sale on eBay after struggling to turn a profit

Owner Tim Derbyshire reports that he's tired and it's hard to make ends meet, despite the vinyl revival, which is hardly the pitch of a master saleseman but you have to admit, a small part of you fancies taking this on. Watch the listing here

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Detailed video review of the SMcAudio VRE preamp

I happen to own this preamp and it's the one item in my rig that I imagine handing over to my son, which is not quite what I feel about other components (well, maybe the SME 20/2 table will be equally heirloom-like in due course but I can imagine upgrading from it). It's just built right and the sonics convince me that running without a pre-amp is not better, no matter how purist it might feel. Anyhow, see more here, and there are three parts so follow the links. Well done Peter Breuninger of AV Showrooms, nice set-up!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who gets to say what is good sound?

My 'reactions' post garnered more traffic in a few days than most posts here manage in a month. What gives? Other than general interest in the show, the traffic suggests a lot of interest from the modestly titled "What's Best" Forum, where a 'name' reviewer dismissed my views in such an off-hand manner that it drove traffic my way. Thanks Mr. Expert. No hard feelings here, people who make a living from doing what I and many others do for fun probably are threatened.

I moved through RMAF with a friend who, like me, has spent non-trivial amounts of his own money on equipment he thinks sounds good. We attended, listened, and compared notes, so you can be fairly confident that if we liked something, it was based on two sets of ordinary ears, not one golden pair. That may nor may not be important. When something did not sound so good, then that's where the trouble seems to start.

If you read the majors' 'Best of' lists you might be surprised. TAS, a magazine to which I subscribe, had a senior writer review speakers above the $20k mark. He lists almost over thirty pairs of speakers, fully one-third of which are candidates for 'Best of Show'.  If you read it, there are several others which were also described as producing 'excellent' sound, one which for brief moments was better than anything else, and these not' contenders. Perhaps it's all just thinking out loud but you now realize the meaning of 'best' as used in some professional circles is likely not the way you and I use the word.

On that same forum, a room I heard on Friday was described as excellent.  I thought it was awful. So did my colleagues. Interestingly, the owner admitted he probably shared my view. What were the others hearing? Could the presence of the company's CEO as a regular poster on the same forum have possibly influenced people to say nice things about the room's sonics?  You tell me. 

All this points to a rather difficult position for potential purchasers. Since it is practically impossible for most US audiophiles to hear everything they are interested in buying via dealers, attendance at shows such as RMAF is increasingly a vehicle for making purchasing decisions. If you can't make it there, you consume all you can find from others who go. Everyone accepts the room sonics might play a part but if people really can hear the same sounds and describe them as 'great' or 'awful', then there's something of a problem here. I certainly allow for differences of opinion but the human percpetual mechansims for sound are more similar than different, so what causes these reactions?

I don't believe there is one simple factor here but I do sense in the dialog and chatter about RMAF that there is a class of reviewers either determined to create some mystique about sound so as to protect their status as judges, or they are so lazy that they just don't really critique any more, they just say vague pleasantaries so as not to upset manufacturers.  Read the press. How many poor rooms are listed? I heard more than a few. I also heard lots of ordinary rooms, places where the sound was undifferentiated from anything playing around it, poor in timbral reproduction, boomy or muddled in the bass, tizzy on top. Anyone who tells you otherwise either luckily missed all of these rooms (in which case I question if they were there at all), chose to ignore them, or, perhaps has an agenda. That at least a couple of these are being lauded this in the professional press as fine sounding really suggests to me that something is awry.

There is also a class of casual reviewers (like myself) motivated to write about such shows and equipment. Don't assume we're any better. Plenty of people just use the web to criticize expensive gear, to take a pot shot at Wilson or Magico, and to push the more affordable equipment they buy, like or happen to know about. If they are friends of the owner, even worse, they will sometimes push the idea that research, technical development and large scale manufacturing capacity a la B&W or Focal are unnecessary when a guy in his garage with some woodworking skills can produce better sounds. Yeah, there's a lot of that about too.

But there are people who are genuinely interested in finding out how good something might sound, and how much one has to spend to get near the best sounding gear. There is so little science or method here that you are left with opinions as a guide, and some established opinion makers seem threatened. When expertise is almost entirely based on taste and experience, you don't have quality standards, you have connoisseurship. Fine, as far as it goes, but then audio gear becomes more like wine than engineering, subject more to branding, marketing, and opinion formation from elite reviewers than from facts. No wonder, when you state an opposing view, an 'expert' feels it is acceptable to summarily dismiss it  with a derisive 'who's he?'

I cleansed my ears this week with two live performances at the opposite ends of a true skill spectrum. The first from my son's school orchestra, which contained some players who started their instruments only weeks ago. The second was from Manahem Pressler with the Miro Quartet, a collective that has served its dues.  The former was in a school auditorium, the latter in an acoustically designed performance stage. Both sounded  really good, and nothing I heard at RMAF came close. During the school orchestral performance, the sound of strings rose up from the stage in a bloom, unlike anything any speaker has ever delivered to me at RMAF or elsewhere.  When listening to the Miro and Pressler, as I looked at the performers, followed the intricate lines, lost myself in the music and I did not think too much about soundstaging, bass, or articulation. I listened to the whole sonic picture and realized that if an audio system reproduced what I was hearing from my seat in mid-hall, I am not sure commentators from RMAF would think it the 'best-of' anything. We have a long way to go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

RMAF 2013 - some reactions

I got there early enough for the opening, stayed late enough for the closing, and over the course of 2.5 days I think I saw most of what I wanted plus a fair bit of what I didn't.  It's difficult to summarize the chaos and energy but there was a lot to hear even if the numbers in attendance seemed down, making it a bit easier to move around during peak hours. With fellow audiophile Mike, we started with a plan: go to the top floor on Friday and work our way down, checking ahead that anyone we had to see/hear on each floor was visited, other rooms treated to a quick decision as we passed based on traffic, sound etc.  We figured by doing this we'd have a sense of our progress as time passed. This was complicated only slightly by the need to get over to the Hyatt to visit four rooms,  the desire to take in a performance of Doug Macloed, and spend some time at the CanJam.

What follows are some general impressions with examples that struck me as standing out, for better or worse. There's more than a few reports online with blow by blow, room by room images and comments, and 'best-of' lists (Audio Circle run one of my favorites) but I always get overwhelmed by such coverage after a while though it is useful to remind me what I visited and to calibrate my views with others (we don't all agree, that's for sure). I'll update as time allows, but here's a quick brain dump.

Who and what are really there?

It is really hard to attribute sound to one component when you are listening to complete systems put together in various ways, all in standard hotel rooms. You might imagine that you are visiting the room of one manufacturer only to find they are not even at RMAF but their speakers or tables are being used by another. Working your way through the program can help a bit, but even if you don't see the product you like listed, it may still be somewhere on show. That said, I could not find models from Thiel, Magnepan, Revel (except for their tiny monitor), Quad, Martin Logan, KEF, and a few others.

Although attendance seemed down and private comments from manufacturers seemed to confirm this, there is still a ton of people at the show. While there are indeed some young people and some women, it's mostly a fairly narrow slice of the population who gravitate to RMAF. No, it's not quite as nutty as a Star Trek convention (so I hear!) but white, middle aged and male sort of typifes the demographic.


 Isn't it really about the music?

Audiophiles tell you it is but you may doubt it after a couple of days here. What music you do hear can start to grate after a while. Attendees long complain of endless female jazz vocal examples or another spin of Kind of Blue and we sure had those, but this year I head more Ray LaMontagne than I needed. Enough to put me off hearing him for another year. Oddly, I was surprised to hear David Coverdale's voice in more than one room, with his unplugged vocal/guitar album with Adrien Vandenberg used to good effect. Some stuff just sounds good anywhere I suppose but it was a rare demo that had me pulling out Shazam to learn more about some great new music I was hearing.

Of course, some rooms cannot get their act together even to keep the music going,  leaving long periods between tracks as people talked or the person managing the room became distracted with other matters.  A tip to those demo-ing vinyl. Don't stand in front of the table, controlling the play, simultaneously answering detailed questions from one attendee while a room full of seated attendees wait to hear something. Yes, we walked in and out of several rooms after waiting minutes for sound and never actually hearing anything played. The winner for this: Wilson and VTL. For me, it's the second year in a row that I've walked in to their much-lauded space and left without hearing a note. This year, two gentlemen who seemed to be from one of the manufacturers ignored us, engrossed in some minor disagreement about a distributor or 'the business'. And boy, could they talk loudly about this. I tried to interject by asking  "is anyone playing any music here or are we just in a display room" but I was ignored. The gentlemen continued; we left. I know Wilson/VTL rooms like to play on a schedule but really, they did that in their main demo room at the Hyatt, there was no need for this in the regular space at the Marriott. I wonder if they can make it three in a row next year? They get my "Who Gives a Toss about the Punters" award.

Not far behind would be the YG Acoustics main room. $175k's worth of set up sounded OK on Friday, with a vinyl rip of Randy Newman's 'I Love LA' still doing loops in my head. The problem here was less the sonics than the reaction of the main guy in that room to a problem triggered, it would appear, from one attendee's light touch on the side of the speaker to determine the material (I'm not naming names!). Some grounding problem likely triggered a meltdown in one left channel amp, followed by a meltdown of the guy leading the demo, who literally shouted 'what did you do?' to the person he blamed for the problem. Sorry, this was just bad manners (and there were plenty examples of this to go around at RMAF) and left a poor impression on those of us in the room. Cue a new "It's Always the Punter's Fault" award for this guy.   I went back next day but was not particularly impressed with the sonics, and would be less so if I paid list price for that combined system. In fairness, YG were in multiple rooms and the smaller set-ups tended to sound better, an experience I've had in previous years too.

How good are the sounds in a hotel room?

On Friday I think Mike and I both agreed that nothing we heard sounded very good. There was a factor of more than 10 between the most and least expensive rooms, but there was a great flattening of difference in sonic quality.  The Genesis room, one I'd targetted to hear after reviewing Gary Koh's excellent power cables, was loud and harsh sounding. We both felt something was not right, an interpretation that was confirmed when I went back on Sunday to hear a far smoother, lower volume presentation that was easy on the ears and eyes led by Gary himself. His smaller speakers can be used in nearfield and they indeed sound very good up close.    Ditto the United Audio/Constellation/Von Schweikert room. I went to hear the big $100k Vons but left very disappointed with the sound. A reel-to-reel version of Sgt Pepper was quite unlistenable, but this is hardly an album I consider sonically impressive. I found I only enjoyed this room later in the weekend with digital tracks, but even then, it never really got going, both frequency extremes being lost somewhere. I discussed this with Albert Von S himself and he acknowledged they were having difficulties in the room. I have heard good things about Constellation amps but I could not recommend them with VSA on this experience. As for reel-to-reel tapes, which were common, I'll go as far to say that someone, somewhere, is pulling a fast one. 

General problems of this kind were everywhere. Many rooms insisted on putting in speakers that overwhelmed the space or were underpowered. We both wanted to enjoy time with the Rockport Avior speakers but they were only found in one room, a pair owned by another company, who tried to get good sound out of them using leather-clad (really!) Absolare 45w tube monos fed by a turntable. The music was always a bit unresolved in the lower regions, and that bass clouded the mids and uppers. Not good for the manufacturers or for Rockport sadly, they never scaled the heights reached last year. But what do I know -- a major mag is listing this room as possible best of show!  A quick visit to the SVS room had to be quick - a live Police video was blasting out from a home theatre set up with the SVS UltraTowers I know well sounding nothing like as good they can. Here however, a tired looking reunion trio on a large flat screen practically sat in the laps of those in the front row while the volume did it's best to reach concert level distortion. Bad. Very Bad. Small rooms and loud volume lent harshness and boom to way too many rooms. Dealers and demonstrators know this but seem unable to help themselves.  One room ups the ante as  music bleeds through the opening doors and volume is increased elsewhere to compensate etc. And as you moved from one to another you tended to get numbed into a state that makes serious auditions impossible. People always say they are exhausted at the end of the day and I attribute most of this to the onslaught your auditory channels must take.

Is the CD player dead yet?

If you looked around the various rooms for sources you would see a ton of MacAirs, USB-receiving DACs or related laptops. This you would expect in 2013. What you might not expect is the plethora of turntables. From one perspective it was marvellous to get close to so many that you can never hear locally. Regas, Thorens and VPIs were plentiful, but there were more than a few exotic AMGs and an almost top of the range Clearaudio that was about as good as it got to my ears in the Musical Surroundings room. No SME though that I could see. What is odd, to me at least, is the almost unquestioned belief that vinyl is always better, despite the evidence on display, and some pretty expensive set ups had some mid-level vinyl rigs feeding the signal, and it sounded like it too.  This certainly plays to the aging demographic in attendance but must confuse people who go there expecting to learn more about cutting edge digital. You can do so, but you have to actively seek it out.

So what really caught the ears?

Lowlights out of the way, there were some really impressive showings in places. Wilson annoy lots of people, just because, but I could hardly fault their structured presentation at the Hyatt where a pair of the truly massive XLFs, with Thor Hammer subs, and amplification from VTL and Parasound, combined to create a very impressive sonic picture. Big, bold, deep and very clear, the room ran 30 min demo slots that required you to come, listen, and leave. No standing round listening to arguments in this room. The opening track presented drums in real detail with perhaps the best reproduction of cymbals I've heard. Forget the expense, I went there to learn what a top company, going all out, could deliver. Most of us could never, even if had the money, assemble that gear into that sized space in our homes. That, to me, was not the point. What Wilson Audio demonstrated there was how far audio has come and yet how far it still has to go. I thank them for this demo, it cannot have been easy or cheap to assemble and staff this event and they delivered.

The Hyatt actually had some of the best rooms at the show even through the traffic here was low. Next door to Wilson were a couple of set ups by virtual new-kids-on-the block Vapor: two dramatic looking pairs of speakers that both sounded pretty good to my ears. Costing a fraction of the price, their  Joule and Nimbus floorstanders are not embarressed by the comparison to their costly neighbors.   Next door to them on the other side was a stunning-looking and sometimes stunning-sounding Scaena set up, all chrome, 15 line drivers and two stacked trios of woofers behind them. My first impressions where of high frequency tizz from some ambient track being demo'd but by the time I got to hear Dave Brubeck playing live, I was reminded of the argument that a great stereo system is really a time-machine. Apart from the woofers, the Scaena are among the most beautiful speakers I've seen and they can sound great too.

Sanders Sound Sytems always manage to impress me with their $20k system (just add music). I don't care to have snippets of high volume music played at me by a somewhat patronizing host, nor do I care to have to sit in one place only to get the magic but I must admit, the sonics can be superb here. Mr Sanders himself told me that if other speakers were as phase-controlled as his, we'd all notice the effects of not sitting right in the middle but since they are not, his are unfairly criticized for this result. Yep, that's the line. Would love to try a pair at home.

I've never been impressed with the Focal speakers I've heard at RMAF but this year was an exception. On the mezzanine floor, two upper level Focal speakers could be heard, the Scala Utopia, a mere $32k, the Stella Utopia in the mid $90s, and both were supported by superb front ends and amplification. The 'more affordable' of the two had incredible soundstage depth (yes, it exists), and the timbral reproduction on both was among the best I've heard.  But don't think it's all about expensive stuff, I was totally seduced by the Fourier product -- it looked like it was made with spare kitchen parts in someone's garage but at 'less than' $1500, and designed to go flat up against the wall, it produced the most enjoyable presentation of Kind of Blue I heard all weekend.

Best demos were from Synergistic Research and Nordost. The former set up a Bosewave system playing Neil Diamond with a before/after demo of the impact of some dots and an energizer. Hearing is believing but the energizer ($799) is a strange black box that plugs into the wall (not your system) and is either on or off. Switched on, I heard a  transformation in the sound for the better. Added to this were a series of small metal cones about the size of your small finger nail that were placed in the corners of the front wall, one on the ceiling, and a another on the Wave unit which in combination made the Bose sound better. Huh? Right. $299 for a set of 5, add in the energizer, and hey presto, instant room transformation for about $1k and nobody can tell you've changed a thing unless they know where to look. Beats most room treatments I've seen. But I'm still trying to make sense of what I heard. Got to try and get a review set of these!

Nordost have the demo model down pat. Listen to music on a decently set up system with a pair of excellent Audio Physic speakers. Add footers to a component and listen to the same music again. Repeat with power cords and eventually speaker footers. Each change was immediately recognizable to the point that I was wondering if they were playing two different versions of the same track!  The most amazing change was upping the quality of power cord on the CD transport. It sounded good with their entry level cord ($350), but sounded better with their $800 cord. They promised even more dramatic improvements on other parts of the rig. The speaker footers gave the music even more drive and depth. When I was there Sunday morning, most people were shaking their heads at what they were hearing. Great music too, including some Russian ska from a group called 3:14 (I think). Now that was how a demo should be run!

Quick shout outs to other good systems should include the Salk/Van Alstines (never enjoyed the pairing before but the cheaper of the two speakers actually sounded great, better than the more expensive ones to my ears). I love speakers that do it differently and in this regard, German Physiks are hard to beat. Very basic looks but the omnidirectionals really do vocals in an almost uncanny manner, and the demo had some fantastic, obscure Irish vocal pieces which were spookily fine. Love to know how the upper range ones sound if this is what entry level ($12k) can do! A truly fine sounding room was the Eficion one, $16k F300 speakers, a $4k integrated (name escapes me) and music I could listen to for the long-term. Next door, the Rowland room impressed with sound and word, those chasses for the amps are fabulous, though I was not so sure I could live long-term with the speakers they were using here. On the other hand, the Tidal speakers, coupled with SMcAudio VRE-1 preamp and Audo Power Labs really sounded different, in the best way possible, too, just don't tally up the cost. Got to hear some Bryston smallish speakers which live up to the company's record of fine design at a fair price, and I thought the PMC/Rega room showed just what you can get for comparatively small dosh compared to much else on display.  It goes on and on.

Summing up

Fun, camraderie, community and general exposure to the range of audio products out there, all in one weekend, is exhausting but a great experience. The biggest cost is getting there, though the hotel restaurant and bar can add a few dollars to that, and that is not including the gear lust induced by exposure. As I say to people, it might be $25 to get in, but it's more like $25k to get out the other end. Watching some of the major reviewers lumber around can give you a genuine calibration for their reviews, if you get what I mean. And yes, some of them do get treated like minor royalty, so that might explain  of their attitude to the rest of us. Not sure what explains the attitude of regular attendees who can't shut up or fail to appreciate that their constant jabbering is instrusive, I guess self-centredness is endemic. But this is a minority -- most folks are their for the fun and polite enough not to intrude on the fun of others. The great folks behind the Zesto room, George and Caroline,  (with Merrill-Williams  table, TAD speakers and WyWires cables) threw a great reception Friday night - wine, whiskey, and total relaxed vibes, welcoming anyone who came through. Class folks who epitomized all that was good at RMAF. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's time for the Rockies

Am attending RMAF -- I'll update (maybe) if time permits but more likely will just take notes and try to provide a refined report when I get through it.  It's hard to target anything there as the crowds and the distractions from many other inviting rooms can make it difficult to move but I want to experience some of the upper echelon speakers on display, not least the Von Schweikert VR-100XS, the Focal Stella Utopias and a few more that have been announced. Hope there some Revels there too, and Harbeths. WIll try out some headphones at the bigger-than-ever CanJam too. Great vinyl is also on the cards if the opportunity presents itself. I don't tend to get too excited over new DACs or hi-res streaming but then again, it's impossible to predict what will catch the eye and the ear on the day. No doubt the buzz factor will be high and the days will be long, but you know you want to be there, right?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New mono designs from Digital Amp Co

I believe I wrote the first published review of the DAC Cherry amp a few years back (see reviews listing) and waited for their monos to emerge. Well, the Cherry monos did arrive, but I never received a pair for review. Such is life. Still, I keep an eye on Tommy O'Brien's company to learn what's happening and still think their amps are a well-kept secret in audohilia, even though they've garnered more than a few positive reviews since mine. Right now the company is launching a smaller mono design, the Marachinos, which I am hoping to get to hear soon. In the meantime, here's a taster:  250w in 4ohms, true balanced design, 5"x6"x 5" footprint, 8lbs in weight, external mains power supply, WBT binding posts, Neutrik inputs, granite base.  Great power in a small package? We'll see. Check out their products here

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reality TV needs an LP washing show

I know, you can spend a fortune on a record cleaner, but why bother when there are real-world ways of doing this chore that cost nothing but your time (hours of your time). I'm always on the look out for new low-tech audio tips and could not resist sharing this one. Am sure there is a market for ready-made holed tea-towels after watching this. Enjoy

Monday, September 23, 2013

Linn's Anniversary table for $40k

Linn are celebrating the 40th aniversary of the launch of the Sondek LP12 in an unusual manner, a limited edtion 'whisky cask' wonder of a table made from old Highland Park barrels.  Lots of the usual self-congratulatory BS in the press release but let's not be too hard on them (there's plenty of upset folks in various audio forums already), it's just a limited edition LP12. You do get a rare 40 year old Highland bottling thrown in, which is worth a bit too, though I seriously doubt the claim by (aptly named) Mr. Tosh of Highland Park that "the density of our hand selected, Spanish oak casks has also added to the already impressive sound quality".

 Since only 40 of these tables will be released it's hard to imagine too many, if any, finding their way into reviewers' hands, though I suspect there might be some associated gatherings where the whiskey flows and people get to see/hear one. The interesting aspect here (if there is one) is the manner in which high-end audio products, deliberately designed to be limited in production, can generate investment-style interest from collectors. Will we see these products in auction houses in years to come fetching six figure sums? I think it unlikely but one never knows.

Personally, I never owned an LP12 but I have watched friends wrestle through ownership, constantly worried about set up and upgrades. I used to laugh to myself at folks getting their annual 'tune-up' at a Linn dealer in the UK as the 'trained' Linn expert handed it back, packed up, telling the owner to be careful driving it home as the settings were sensitive! Perhaps it was me that over-sensitive, I opted for a Rega. I am partial to a drop of Highland Park though and can see how a special bottling of this might help ease the tension when that bouncing table doesn't spring quite right.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Living la vida reservada

Quiet times at our house as my amp is being repaired and my Von Schweikert VR5SEs are somewhere between Texas and California, en route to VSA HQ for upgrading to the Anni II level. Sure I have other speakers in other rooms but it's not the same. Even the SVS Ultra Towers I had in for review have been returned so I got to thinking about what I would do if I had to start again. It's actually a nice thought experiment as I am relearning what my living room looks like when it has space in the front wall instead of cables, towers, and associated clutter.

Rather than spend good money on speakers that would only be replaced when my Vons return (I always wanted to try a pair of the Revel Salon2s or Studio2s, many of which are finding their way to A'gon these days at attractive prices), I've started to wonder about headphones. And of course, when an audiophile wonders, he finds himself on line reading the collected wisdom, ramblings, and gibberish of other audiophiles. Turns out, head-fi folks (for that is what they sometimes call themselves) are as mad as the rest of us. In fact, given the demographic, I wonder if this sub-group of listeners is even more afflicted. Am used to people with no experience of expensive gear trashing the idea of cables or exotica making any difference, but when I read that the one pair of headphones that I do own (a basic Sennheiser EC350) is described as very detailed, balanced, and high end, I wonder if the warm, mid-bass heavy sonics I hear when I wear them are what these people could possibly be describing, and if they have ever heard  a great stereo or even live music?

And why do owners of one type of headphone seem to act like it's a competition? I know audiophiles love the idea of a bargain, and are susceptible to the suspicion that most high end companies (save the ones whose products they've bought) are out to milk customers, but really, it's possible to like more than one pair of speakers. In headphone-land, such largesse seems seriously disruptive (unless you are selling). And what's with the idea of selling old stuff that's been sitting on your head.....thanks folks, but why does nobody mention the sweat/oil and general unsanitary nature of phone usage when selling their 'barely used' old phones? Is cleaning never an issue? Thanks but no thanks, I think I'll get something new myself.

So, am hoping RMAF has enough samples to give me a taste of the high end phone world (and a selection of wipes). Yes, a dedicated amp is required, I expect this, but I really do want to experience the differences between STAX and the top of the line Beyers and Senns or HiFiMan etc. It's the Stax that have me most intrigued, but then, I am intrigued but yet to be very impressed by Martin Logans or Maggies too, despite their supporters' zeal. just have to give in and go with the flow.  Meanwhile, those warm 350s are beckoning....

Monday, September 9, 2013

Transparent cables open online store

In another nod to the changing face of audio retailing, cable manufatcturer Transparent now sells most of its cables direct through its new online store. Dealer-only sales remain for some catalog items. What's different here is that by purchasing online, you are also connected with the nearest Transparent dealer in case you need further assistance or wish to upgrade in the future. Nice idea, we'll see how well it works.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Amp back and amp out for repair: when an experiment is not covered by warranty

I received my repaired monoblock from Spectron this week. All works fine. Sadly, it now is also obviously louder than the other half of the pair and causes a balance shift in my soundstage. Back and forth with Spectron suggests that it's probably my other mono that is not performing to spec as the repaired one was tested at the factory. Long story short, my 'conditioner experiment' likely damaged both monos, and while the second one seemed ok, it actually is not firing on all six, as we say. So, a repaired one is back and now I have to send the other back to be brought up to spec. Annoyingly, I am told this repair will not be covered under warranty -- not sure why, something to do with my ''experimenting" with a conditioner, even though the first repair was covered. Can't win here. I'll get these back working as a pair sometime in October I suppose -- lesson learned, but I am starting the search for some new amps. I'll skip any further conditioner reviews for now, thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Another vinyl product on Kickstarter

We've seen the turntable, now comes a speed-strobe-in-a-clamp design called the Uniform Frequency Orbiter from the brain of Jim Hagerman. The deadline came and went, sadly, but neat idea

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Interesting new designs from PBN

I always want to hear PBN speakers but they are never where I am. Any chance at RMAF this year? That said, the company never seems to sit still and recently has announced a whole new set of speaker kits, the Scanspeak B741. Interestingly, on A'gon they even mention newer models that have yet to make their website. These offer the keen buyer a chance to acquire a serious pair of speakers where part of the price is paid in your own labor. Kits are all well and good but most audiophiles I know are very concerned with looks (or at least they have to consider the views of a significant other who likely feels that cables and woofers are not the most attractive indoor furnishings). Most audio kits end up looking like, well....kits. PBN designs some pretty serious equipment costing tens of thousands, so it's great to see them do more than offer a token cheap option in the range. If they end up looking as good when built by a real person as they do in the pics from PBN, there could be some unusual value here. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is your collection getting a little out of hand?

Does your partner object? Do friends find your obsession more than a little odd? Take heart, there is always someone who takes this too far and to whom you can point, with justification, as evidence that you are really quite balanced in comparison.

See this house here with all the details
Thanks to Apollo Records for the story!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why I hate conditioners

Well, I have had a major system meltdown over the last few days. Trying out a new conditioner, from a company that shall remain nameless, the power up produced smoke and crackles, literally rather than metaphorically, with the result that one of my monos is out of service and on the way back to the manufacturer (at my expense). Seems also to have blown an output stage in another component. The last 48 hours have involved a lot of cable swaps, amp swaps, rejigging of connections etc to determine what is broken where, but basically I am down to one channel and now one mono amp.

Luckily, the Spectron monos can be reconfigured at the back to drive in stereo using the single-ended connections rather than my regular XLR cords, and I've managed to get music back up and running in this manner today but I am, I confess, just worn down by the complexity of trying to get it all to work so as to hear some music. It's almost enough to make me want to jack all this gear, go simple with an integrated amp and forget audiophilia. Almost.

No names as it's hard to know what caused all this but I would encourage you, if in the market for a new conditioner, to ask the manufacturer if they have customers with the same amps or gear you plan to use. The Spectrons are funny like this, they really don't enjoy a lot of line conditioners and despite protestations otherwise, definitely never worked well with my PS Audio P5. But at least the P5 didn't cause a system meltdown either.

All told - a house without music is a diminished space -- this much is confirmed. For now, I am just grateful to be hearing, in stereo, Kenny Burrell's new live album Special Requests

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hi end gear stolen on way to California Audio Show - alert

From Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports, who asks that this be circulated widely among audio buyers:

"On Friday my truck was broken into in the state of Nevada at the hotel I was staying at on my way to the California Audio Show. All the Ypsilon gear was stolen, Aelius amps, PST100 MKII, DAC100 & CDT100. Along with several Stage III cables, several HB Power Distributors, Acapella platforms and tools. Damage to my truck and a broken back window. I filed a police report and they have a detective on the case.

The retail value was around $250,000 USD.  Also the thieves didn’t get the remote controls for the PST100 preamp or CDT100 CD Player, so whomever tries to purchase these units will probably be looking to purchase the remotes at some point because the units won’t work without them. Then we can turn them over to the police department immediately after getting their information.

I suggest that we spread the word around and we all check the various websites which they might try to sell them.

They didn’t get these items:

- CD Puck for the CDT100
- Remote control for CDT100
- Owner’s manual for CDT100
- Remote control for PST100 MKII
- Owner’s manual for PST100 MKII

The gear was stolen in the city of Sparks Nevada, USA on Friday August 2nd, early morning.

Any information on this matter can be set directly to detective Jason Edmonson (see below).

Detective Jason Edmonson
Sparks Police Department
Crime Supression Unit
Cell 775-287-9295
Fax 775-353-1614

Here is a complete list of the gear stolen:

1. Ypsilon Aelius Amps,

2. Ypsilon PST100 MKII,

3. Ypsilon DAC100 D/A Converter,

4. Ypsilon CDT100 CD Player,

5. HB Cable Design PowerSlave Marble (x3),

6. HB Cable Design PowerSlave Acrylic,

7. HB Cable Design PowerStar Horizon (x2),

8. Stage III Concepts Kraken Pwr. Cord (x5),

9. HB Cable Design Proton Pwr. Cord,

10. Acapella Fondato Silenzio Isolation Platform (x5),

11. Specialty Tools

I would suspect the gear may show up on ebay, craigs list or similar type websites.

Thanks for your support in this matter.

Best regards,
Brian Ackerman
Aaudio imports
4871 Raintree Drive
Parker CO. 80134
(tel) 720-851-2525
(fax) 720-851-7575
(cel) 303-264-8831


Friday, August 2, 2013 on the audiophile life

This article is short and interesting enough (apart from some very odd claims by the protagonist that 99% of top class audio gear is US-made, and that A-B testing won't work in audio -sigh, why do so many set themselves up like this?) but what's really entertaining here are the comments. Michael Fremer weighs in and pulls no punches, but he seems be be a lone voice, and some readers punch right back. Frothy stuff. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

McIntosh sizzle video

More PR than substance but a short video from McIntosh with enough to keep you watching:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Floyd Toole on audio

A couple of years old now but this is still worth listening to as one of the leading experts on sound reproduction outlines his work with Harman and beyond for Home Theater Geeks (give it a second to load)

Friday, July 26, 2013

SVS speakers in for review

I have a pair of the SVS Ultra Towers in my rig at the moment. For $999 each, this is an eye-catching pair for $2k, internet-direct. Duke Ellington grooving away as I write, the side-firing woofers needing some careful placement for optimal fit with my room but here's another affordable speaker that challenges you to listen carefully for what extra money gets you. I am in a groove at the moment having heard some great sounds from the sub $3k loudspeaker market in the last year. Sure I'd love to try some Magicos but it's a true education to hear what's available at the level where both casual buyers and audiophiles won't go, each for different reasons. More in due course.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Best Buy sells tube gear!

Is this a sign of audiophile-resurgence? Best Buy now sells Samsung tube-gear. You didn't know Samsung did tube gear? Me neither, and Best Buy makes little effort to explain this directly but check out their sound bars and wireless woofer packages. No details on the tube types or expected life but they appear to be used in the preamp stage and are marketed here as offering a warmer, more vibrant sound. Cue the scorn of some who think they know better but this a fascinating turn.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another ultrasonic record cleaner hits the market

This one from KLAudio -- serviced (if not manufactured) here in the US. This offers greater power and no need for cleaning fluids other than distilled water. Impressed? Well, unfortunately, the competition for Audio Desk's cleaner has not led to any price war, this one is also nearly $4k, but think of the savings on fluid :)

I know, I really really want one, if only to save time. I love my Loricraft but the thought of spending nearly 20 mins doing a deep three-stage clean of each album has me wondering how long I will have to live to get through my record collection, even if I clean in relays. Just keeping up with purchases is hard enough never mind working my way through the backlog (and I have a comparatively modest LP collection). Anyhow, I'd love to review this one but I think I'm too far down the totem-pole for the company to send one on, but we'll see.

Update -- KLAudio did get back to me. That's a positive since some companies never do.  As expected, they've got some out for review with the majors but they are keeping my interest 'on file'.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

June issue of HiFi'Zine now live

The latest issue of the 'Zine is now live and contains two reviews from me. The PS Audio Powerbase was a major improvement on some components but less so on others, and quite surprisingly, seemed to have positive effects on my line regenerator more than my digital front-end. You can hear the differences quite easily on sources and I enjoyed it under my 'table. I also fell heavily for a new set of power cords from Absolute Fidelity. I know, I know....what can wire do? I don't know how it works but my ears loved these cords on most components, particularly my preamp. The only downside is the price! Be warned.

The issue also has great new articles on the Cyrus 8 integrated amp, an interview with it's designer Peter Bartlett, and technical articles on plugins for audio, and a primer on active speaker implementation with Pure Music from John Reekie. Once again, all of this is brought to you advertisement-free and at no cost by this talented team (ahem!). Read, enjoy, get involved. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Excellent video form Axpona

Peter Ledermann gives an excellent overview of cartridge design to audiophiles at this Spring's convention, worth listening through to the end. Infinite groove contact, differences between cartridge types, mysterious modulations -- all here, with decent graphics though you cannot hear the audience questions, you can infer enough from the answers. Certainly piques my interest in a new type of cartridge, so be warned.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another competitor for Audiogon

I mentioned it previously but now it's up and running -- check out Audiomart   If you join now, it will allow free listings/deals until Aug 31st. After that the pricing can be $20 flat rate or 2%, your choice, which would presumably make the sale of sub $1k components attractive. Audiogon gets lots of criticism but it really is the leader in this area but competition is welcome. Also, don't forget Soundoffers, the've been going for a year or so now and though they don't have huge inventory yet,  they do seem to be attracting more listings (and their listings can be as low as $3 without a pic).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sanding down the scratches on those old LPs

OK, if at first (and perhaps even second) glance, this sounds completely mental, you have to admit that if you read through it all and check his images, this guy makes a plausible case for at least considering sandpaper for scratch removal.......let me know how you get on ;)

Monday, June 3, 2013

LP and CD sales surprisingly up

"In 2012, 193 million CDs were sold compared with 118 MP3 albums, which may be surprising to some. And according to market researchers, The NPD Group, CD sales have increased for the second year in a row -- making a 2% sales jump."  What is partly driving this (apart from the growth of middle aged consumers who like physical media) might be the ability on many sites to audition the music before committing. Amazon is great for this.  

Interestingly, while we all reacognize that LP sales are increasing, albeit slowly, the assumption is that this is such a small niche market that the increases really only reflect very small growth. It seems however, that vinyl sales are at their highest in 15 years, so that slow incremental growth is catching on.

 Read the full article here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

UPS strikes again

People tell me all shippers are the same but here in Austin, I've had more problems with UPS than any other carrier when it comes to gear being shipped. Today brought another example of their idea of 'handling' when this arrived on my doorstep. Normally UPS won't deliver anything without a signature but I guess the driver was too embarrassed to stick around for me to answer the door.  This gash goes clear through the outer box and shows evidence of contact being made with the internal component 4" inside. Do you think the forklift operators actually take aim at the 'fragile' signs? I only ask as this is not the first time I've seen such damage. Fortunately, all inside seems ok but really, if I can ever avoid using UPS I do and I discourage anyone from shipping audio gear through them.

Eventually, everything hits the used market

After loving what the somewhat mysteriously designed BSG qol did when I had it for review last year, I was wondering how long it would take for one to turn up on the second-hand market. Well, now one has, at $1500k off the list price, it may be the start of a supply for the less well-heeled. I have no data to back up this point but I always advise people to watch the various lists assiduously if they really want to find a piece, sooner or later what you want will show up.  Hey, you can now get those Magicos at 50% off is you try. Of course, you have to factor in your time and how much you really save when you commit so many hours to a search but hey, price browsing on the 'Gon is fun right?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Analog labor of love in the news

Short but interesting video piece on music restoration from The Guardian today. Glad some newspapers think this worthy of news. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What do you call a pair of parodies?

Or how can you know parody from the original? I don't know but I have been amusingly parodied on the Naim forum where member Jan-Erik turned my Unease of the Audiophile sketch from a couple of years back into an alternative, the Ease of the Naimophile. It is good fun.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's official: men need their caves

Psychologists have spoken: men really do need their caves. "Space is very important for regulating emotions. It's incredibly important to be in one's own space and resonate with who one is" says Dr. Sam Gosling. Point your spouse at this article for confirmation. I particularly like the resonation idea, and the argument that a guy's needs are not met the same way in other spaces. The good doc goes on to argue that this man cave must be designed by the man with 'no compromise'. Now that's good science in the service of audiophiles. If only we could get the same science to work on reviewing!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to use the Dr. Feickert Adjust+ software

If you've wondered what the Feickert software can do for you when adjusting your cartridge, here's an example of azimuth setting through crosstalk measurement. And this is just one parameter, I gather the tool can do more. Yes, I know, pretty soon you can spend as much on set up devices as you can on your table but if you are in for the long-haul, you've got to be tempted. Of course, as I run a Mac and an SME V, I am not sure this would ever help me but it is interesting to note how far we've come in the effort to improve the vinyl experience.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The master passes

Sad but not too surprised to learn this week of the death of great cello player Janos Starker. I'd been drawn to the great Kodaly recordings over the last year and they never fail to move me. There's little anyone can add to the praise that he received in his lifetime but he really was a wonderful character. At Indiana, he was one of the last faculty who could get away with lighting a cigarette in his office and I love the quote from Maria Kliegel, former student, who said he once commented on a piece she'd played for him that 'if you ever play so out of tune again I'll deny I was ever your teacher'. Put on a recording, have a scotch, and let the man's music live on.

There is a memorial site at Indiana now for those wishing to leave remembrances.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brad Mehldau, Chris Thile blend, bend and transcend boundaries

When the superb Brad Mehldau was announced as coming to Austin, tickets had to be bought and I was perhaps a little concerned when I learned that instead of the trio format, Brad was performing in a duo format with Chris Thile a mandolin player. Well, so much for preconceptions as the 90 minute show last night at the beautiful Paramount Theater was a sheer, unbridled celebration of music without boundaries. Mehldau has hands that command the keys with such ease that he offers both drive and counterplay touches simultaneously, a true joy to watch while you listen. Thiele plays the mandolin like   a guitarist, wresting lead lines, bends, riffs and runs that give you a new appreciation of the instrument's potential.

While the musical selections were varied, from "I cover the waterfront" through Irish airs and Fiona Apple to Dylan's  "Don't think twice it's alright", the tune selection was less the point than the way the duo took the tunes apart and reassembled them. Yes, with players this good you are going to get staggering, virtuoso moments but for me, the incredible interplay between them, with each taking turns to lead yet apparently effortlessly slipping behind to provide the bass and rhythm when the other soared, only for both to dance around the tune together, back and forth, was a joy to behold. Yes, the music transcended musical boundaries, reminding us again and again last night of the common humanity behind all forms, the players themselves transcended roles and created a live musical experience that I doubt could easily transfer to a recording. Magical stuff indeed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Smoke on the martini....

Never heard them play it like this but if you want to hear the current Deep Purple playing a lounge version of Smoke, follow this video and move about 5 mins in to hear the live performance, great stuff.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When albums ruled the world video

Fascinating video on the rise and fall of the LP as a medium for recorded sound, by the BBC. Worth watching all the way through.

Cartridge alignment joys

I've been trying out a couple of cartridge alignment gauges recently to celebrate the installation of an SME V on my table. The experience convinces me that those who find vinyl too fussy to deal with have good cause.

First off, in need of a new alignment protractor for the arm, I found that these are not  always readily available, and rather than buy one from the UK, I ended up dealing with the fine folks at Flat Earth Audio who were out of stock but told me they could get some from SME probably faster than I could. Deal done. At $18 shipped, this is never going to break the bank but given that you are only getting a piece of card with the devilishly clever SME design that allows alignment with single point adjustment, you cannot complain. However, from my perspective, there are still a couple of problems with this alignment tool.

On my SME 20, the centre hole on the gauge is larger than the spindle on my player, which was not a problem on my old 309 gauge. With the roomier hole, the placement of the gauge is never certain and either SME makes difference center hole sizes for different tables, or my older SME has an older sized spindle. The solution for this was careful placement of tape over both sides of the hole which I split carefully with an Exacto knife on two-diameter lines to allow me to center the gauge tightly on the spindle. Plenty of room for the anal-obsessive to worry that the diameter lines were not perfect but it worked well enough for me. Seems odd though that I am reduced to this.

Problem two is the degree of precision one can get using a single point that is determined by eyeballing the arm's alignment from above for placement within two lines representing the outline of the tapered tonearm. It is possible to move the arm slightly fore and aft while still getting the appearance of a good fit, which means that the stylus point also moves slightly without ever being certain that you have got it perfectly set. SME's literature suggests not to sweat it -- and that is probably the most appropriate advice here but surely they know who they are speaking to? Audiophiles live to sweat it! For the sane few, this is fine, but how many sane purchasers of multi-thousand dollar analog rigs are out there? So, ease of use is wonderful but the sense of precision one demands, especially with a table/arm combo as otherwise perfectly engineered as my SME 20/SME V, is lacking.

In search of alternatives (or could it be reassurance?) I have purchased the alignment gauge designed by AVID for SME arms from Analog Seduction in the UK whose price and service were very good. This arrived promptly and safely but you should be warned, the only instructions are etched onto the gauge. In form, it's a hard, mirror-like plastic, quarter-circle-ish in shape, which (incidentally) fits the spindle of my SME 20.2 perfectly. Good for several models of SME tonearm, it's almost impossible to photo clearly but this image from Avid will give you a good idea. Here are the instructions:

1. Point alignment guideline at tonearm pivot
2. Immobilise alignment tool
3. Align cartridge using one of the grid patterns
4. Without moving guide check correct alignment with other grid.

As one intrepid owner on an audio forum put it, it's easy from step 2 on, the problem is step 1. While the tool does allow you to sight down a guideline (unlabeled) toward the pivot point of your tonearm, if you can see it, the line does not go all the way, and in my experience, it can tolerate slight sighting errors which, if you can imagine the tool, means you would move it slightly left or right to get your fix. Of course, in so doing, move the position of the two etched alignment grids on the gauge. Small errors, perhaps, but variance in use that you'd obviously wish to avoid. In fairness, I've not heard to many complaints from other users, but then I've wondered how confident all of them are in their sighting?

I'd add another couple of potential problems here. When you go to step 3, do you lower the stylus onto the gauge or just above it? No instructions there but I lowered to the surface and noticed that if you really want to hit the target, minor movements become very important, all the more reason to get the tonearm pivot point sighting perfect, not just close. My solution was to run a taut thread along the line and across the top of the SME to try to ensure I hit the pivot point. It might get easier with practice but since the thread must rise above the tool to hit the upper pivot point on the SME, there is room for error here too. All this makes me think those expensive tools which contain an adjustable pivot to spindle element such as the Feickert, are not overkill; precision costs. Alternatively, stick with the SME paper gauge and 'don't sweat it'. More as I go.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Latest HIFI'Zine published

The March 2013 issue of HiFi'Zine is out this morning. It includes my review of the Legacy Studio HD monitors, plus interviews with the brains behind Vapor Audio and a new electrostatic panel for the DIY community, as well as a survey of mid-priced DACs by Oliver Masciarotte. As always, comments welcomed on all articles.

The Legacy's are packed up and ready to ship out (non-trivial when I have to haul the box to UPS myself) but I have some Absolute Fidelity cords in the rig, which are causing reactions in listeners, and a test of the PS Audio PowerBase is up next. Both, hopefully, in the June issue but for now, enjoy the March edition -- this is a labor of love, remember, the 'Zine is a truly volunteer effort. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Axpona -- the new RMAF?

I've not been to Axpona but I wish I could be there. Chicago is just a great location but I suppose once you get there for an audio show, location is not really a concern. Looks a little quieter than RMAF, which has got to be a plus for all but the dealers.  This video from Cor Dekker gives you some sense of the occasion:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Legacy Studios in the house

I have a little pair of monitors, the Legacy Studio HDs, in for review and the've been in my main rig for a few weeks. Small package, hefty weight, and a big sound for their size. Expect the review in the next issue of HiFi'Zine. All I 'll say here is that Legacy's recommended amplifier power is more than advisory.

Also purchased several of the Sony Legacy reissues of the Rory Gallagher back catalog, and they are sonically a step up from earlier CD copies I have, perhaps closer to the original LP sound wise, which was a complaint I've repeatedly heard of all the reissues, regardless of origin, to date. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Improvements by Mapleshade

I always enjoy the Mapleshade catalog when it arrives, though I am not sure if it's the products or the claims that capture most of my attention. If you're not familiar with Mapleshade, they are home to a range of products from recordings to modified turntables. They also are probably most known now for their massive maple racks and plinths, which they sell as bases for everything from CD players to bookshelf speakers (which they recommend positioning low on the floor but tipped back so the drivers aim up at the listener).

The latest catalog doesn't disappoint and comes with the usual tales of endless listening tests behind their products such as the thin $100 speaker wire which 'customers' report besting mega-buck cables, the choice of maple over everything else for supporting gear, and their proprietary wash for steam cleaning LPs, that before you place them on their microdot platter spots which, you've guessed it, are of optimized geometry and yield 'bigger sonic dividends' than spending $3k on a cartridge upgrade. All of this might be true but I don't actually know anyone who's tried their products so unless they are sending stuff out for review, I'll just have to continue enjoying the claims.

Their thin power cords and strips, which look like they are wrapped in cellophane bags certainly lack the bling factor of most audiophile products, but they also probably elicit shrieks from spouses when introduced into a living room. All a matter of taste, I suppose, but among their free tips for better sound, they recommend sitting with your chair back to the wall behind you (long wall preferably) with the speakers pulled up to 5ft in front of you. Now, I might be able to sell my significant other on the cellophane wrapped wires but rearranging the furniture and speakers in this way would be a quick path to bachelorhood I fear. If you try it, let me know how you get on, sonically that is (I don't want to know about your relationships!)

Now I am not saying there is nothing of value here - the Stanton table upgrades seem impressive, but the endless claims of listening tests, $90 tweaks that outperform multi-grand component upgrades, and exact percentage increases in sonic quality that result from one or other addition tends to elicit guffaws rather than respect after awhile but who knows? If you've tried one of these products, share your experience.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jimmie Vaughan doing well

Well, it happens to the best of them but I was amazed to learn from a friend in the UK that Jimmie had suffered a heart attack this week, though thankfully he is doing well. Read it here but I would not have known without that link form Europe as I don't read the local press. You may not know either, unless you read such outlets as you can be sure the mainstream media don't cover musicians such as Jimmie. I have to say Jimmie Vaughan is really a quite amazing player who's guitar skills are often under appreciated because of his laid back style and lack of histrionics. Having seen him live, I think he is way more impressive than some whom he backs, e.g. the 'god' who is appearing soon in Austin with ticket prices ranging from the low hundred(s) if you just want to be in the arena to several thousand bucks if you want to be up close. That ain't the blues, and it sure isn't justice either. Am sure JV does not mind and for that alone, we should all be grateful he's around for bit longer yet. Play on, JV.