Monday, December 22, 2014

The greatest record collection in the world?

Well, there is competition for the title (see earlier post on the Mr Freitas who wants a copy of every LP ever made) but this guy is surely up there with the top candidates. Great personal story of one man's obsession (slightly dated now):

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The state of the music industry is not the state of the musicians

For once, a relatively positive voice (unless you believe the future rests on you and me buying the same albums again and again in a new package, in which case, you are welcome to spend your money and to contemplate just what Ringo really was thinking or if we need that 93rd reissue of Kind of Blue)-- welcome Steve Albini. This takes some time but it’s worth it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

MusicMatters announces new titles for 2015 Blue Note series

It was anticipated this would happen by regular purchasers of the wonderful 12 LP series but today MusicMatters confirm that a new series is coming in 2015. And 20 new titles are promised including Dolphy's Out to Lunch and other gems, which will be happy news for many. I bought the full set so far and love them. So, if you thought you spent a lot on vinyl last year, brace yourself for another $700 or so on these if you want the lot (and you know you do)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The crap side of being an LP lover

I've done it again -- in a moment of minor inattention I brushed the back of my middle finger against my cartridge as I changed sides on a recently cleaned and wonderful sounding used LP that I was pleased to have found (Duke Robillard's Swing on Rounder Records, as a matter of fact) and 'pop'..there goes the cantilever. "Oh" went my first reaction, "how did I touch that?"...assuming no real damage as the touch was so light. But my eyes soon revealed the full horror -- the cantilever was shorn completely off the body and was lying dead on the platform of my SME 20.

Now I could go on about how rare this is but I did it less than two years ago with a previous version of this same, rather extended-cantilever cartridge. At that time, I blamed my overzealous efforts at trying to position a magnifier close enough to see VTA but this time I had no excuse - not alcohol, not careless handling, not hurrying, just plain accidental hand positioning as I went through a routine, habitual physical act of changing a record.  I've played records for 40 years, I never damaged a cantilever until two years ago, I look after my gear.  I could scream since I have just completed a series of reviewing and adjustments that had the table sounding about as well as I have ever heard vinyl in my home. This $2800 cartridge had only 200 hours on it, carefully logged, carefully cleaned and usually, carefully handled. Right now, I am sitting in silence as I cannot bear to put a CD on and I am contemplating the decimation of all the plans I had for the upcoming holidays to binge clean and wallow in vinyl. I was even contemplating investing in an ultrasonic record cleaner. Not now. I don't know if I have the money or the inclination to do this all over again.

Sometimes being a vinyl lover just f^*k+n# sucks!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wilson Benesch set up new distribution in the US

I've long been intrigued by the designs of Wilson Benesch. Their use of carbon composites and their rather elegant flowing lines always struck me as eye-catching. Have never managed to hear their products though and I am hoping this might change soon as the Sound Organization in Dallas has been named their new US distributor.Pictured to the right is their new Cardinal model from the Geometry series, described poetically as consisting of "a silk black baffle, spine, foot and carbon fiber cabinet is beautifully augmented with side cheeks that may be customized with a choice of 14 polymer or natural wood veneer side cheek finishes, expertly applied by Bentley trained craftsmen to compliment any décor."  Wow, it sounds good already right? No US prices that I can determine yet but start saving, a published German review listed it as well north of 'more than you can afford' at 55,000 pounds

Sunday, November 30, 2014

New gear arriving

The upshot of my last 'Zine review on the Purist and Furutech phono cables was to push me further here to tweak every last bit of performance out of my tonearm. Scot, the rep who submitted the Furutech cable offered to send a set of their  La Source 101 headshell leads to complement the SME V arm and I accepted with some trepidation given the rather finicky nature of swapping such leads in and out -- this is no mere cable swap but a task that involves removing the cartridge, at least partly, if only to gain room for one’s fingers and tweezers. Still, enquiring minds want to know what, if any, benefits one can obtain from this so stay tuned.

Dave Thomson, the chief driver behind Raven Audio here in Texas followed up with me post-RMAF to offer his Nighthawk integrated tube amp for review. This was not what we’d originally discussed as he has some great new designs coming but it was available and who am I to refuse such a generous offer. It’s been a few years since I had a tube amp in for review and right now, the surprisingly portable Nighthawk is warming up in one of my secondary rigs (should I have a tertiary rig since I have three different set ups in various rooms?) and reminding me of just what so many people cannot give up on tubes. This is Raven’s lowest price amp (circa $1250 for 20w) but I am really keen to hear how it handles my upper end speakers.

Finally, I have a sample Essence of Sound CD treatment in house. This is a spray treatment that promises wonderful improvement in standard CD sonics -- am usually suspicious of such claims but Robert from Essence is pretty detailed on how his treatment works. Right now I have treated the one CD pair I have to hand (and I’ve another pair on order) so I can keep a couple of  direct A/B comparisons on hand for any visitors. From there, I’m going to give a few of my old favorites the treatment to see if this has the claimed effect. Not sure if my use of the PS Audio PWT memory transport hinders the effect so I’ll try this in a secondary rig too. Who knew that hoarding gear all these years would become such a benefit --- someone tell that to my wife!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Science in favor of analog?

Interesting piece on the merits of analog versus digital listening

As the original article notes: 
"Research shows that musical quality has a huge effect on emotional response. A recent study performed by audio researchers at DTS divided a group of listeners into two groups — one that watched a video accompanied by standard stereo 96-kbps sound (Spotify's default audio setting) and the other group listened in 256-kbps audio format. The responses in the brains of the group listening with the 256-kbps audio were 14% more powerful on metrics measuring memory creation and 66% higher on pleasure responses. And this was just 96 to 256 kbps.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A king is dead: Harry Pearson passes

Though I never met the man, I was saddened to learn this week of Harry Pearson's death. Perhaps the last of a particularly iconoclastic breed, he is of course famous for founding The Absolute Sound and raising the critical evaluation of audio products to the level of serious journalism.  Over the years he gave a start to many budding reviewers and seemed quite happy to entertain and annoy in equal measure. I found his writing compelling if sometimes a bit too heavy on self-promotion (his superlist, his naming of his own 'Pearson's Rule of Thirds' to describe speaker positioning that many folks use, and his constant reminder that he invented words to describe sound, just so we would all know) but there's no doubting that his words mattered.

I expect TAS has some special commentary coming attached to their announcement, but I heard the news first from Albert Von Schweikert's posting on the Audio Circle site where he relates some of his early experiences with HP. Apparently the man had a tendency to rack up expensive dinners on manufacturers' tabs if invited to dinner, an aspect of HP's character confirmed by Michael Fremer in his account of life with the man. Micheal's entry is really the best I've read: personal, honest, and balancing appropriate respect with an acknowledgement of the man's flaws. The end of Harry's tenure with TAS seems to be a sore point and there is little doubt that HP's output over the last few years of his life seemed a tad below his usual standard but that is no crime. His expectations and treatment of some manufacturers might be a different story if we are to accept some accounts but that's for others who actually have to facts to determine.

For me, there are few audio writers who compel one to read on in the hope of some enlightenment, some insight into a new quality in reproduction or some special recording that I needed to hear. This is not a criticism, it is an observation that writing about audio is not high art, but Harry sometimes made it seem so. We who love music and the technologies of its reproduction are all worse off for his passing. Enjoy his legacy. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Back to the review business

Wow, 4000+ readers for my RMAF comments? If I'd known, I'd have given more thought to organization and layout. But another year has come and gone....I forgot to mention a few things, such as the ubiquity of Vanessa Fernandez LP in analog rooms - sounded impressive on first and second listen but I soon yearned for something more. Does a new singer songwriter set out to be the darling of the audiophile crowd? One imagines not but good luck to her, it's a tough world for new voices who opt for music over shock.

Anyway, onward to the regular services here, I've had a couple of fine phono cables in for review (about the only new cables I can get interested in reviewing in my rig), a Purist Corvus and Furutech Silver Arrow, both offering some impressive sonics. Review in HiFi'Zine now live. After this I have the Essence of Music treatment to try, and a promise of a pair of Prana Fidelity's excellent-at-RMAF monitors. But there's many a slip between promise and ship, so we'll see. Hope I can snag some of the great Raven amps I heard too but it's hard on new companies to ship gear out for review, and I appreciate that. Getting any audience for a new specialized audio product or recording is a challenge for everyone. Let's keep trying.

Also bought the latest two releases in the MusicMatters Blue Note release series...the Cannonball and Sonny releases.
I think I just reached the full set point. More to come one hopes but what started out as a desire to fill in the blanks in my collection grew into a 'better get them all while I can' approach. No regrets but this pushes the average price of my LP purchases up, which was never part of any plan. Got to love them anyway - these are products of art, manufactured to standards of love. Can't really ask for more. Some time I'll try to report on all I hear but it's fair to say, I never regretted picking up any one of them, even if I have one or more copies of the same recording (and I mad or sad?). Ron at MusicMatters is really committed to sound and a quality product (and service too). Let us all be grateful. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

RMAF 2014 - Third instalment

So, what else remains. Here's a few memories....

I really enjoyed meeting Ron Sutherland - I had him to myself listening to his new phono stage which he was explaining when in walked a well known chief of a large audio company. Clearly they knew each other and my conversation was irrelevant at that point as the interloper bellowed loudly and asked to check out the new design. Without really waiting for an answer, he strode behind the set up and promptly trod on a connection, breaking the signal and shutting everything down. I left.  Prior to this, it was clear to me that Ron is just a passionate designer who really wants to create special products. "I don't build appliances" he told me, but he left his mind open to the idea that despite what his engineering background told him, some audiophile ideas might not be too easily dismissed. So he set off on a journey which ended with the new $25k phono stage. Too rich, likely forever, for my blood but I liked the man, he's just a little different than most. Hope he got the music back up but I guess that visitor brought a literal meaning to 'stomping all over the competition'.

The TW Acoustics table in the High Water Sound room made great music. Nice looking speakers too. I could have sat there and just relaxed. Also relaxing, but not so good looking, the JTR speakers were so big in their room you could not imagine them working but they did. And to top it all, they were driven by the tiny DAC Maraschinos I reviewed recently - a good pairing - they win the "How could this work" combo award.

I just don't get NOLA - they never sound very good to me any time I hear them so I cannot understand the awards and plaudits. Every year I try the room, it's large, they play loud, obviously can rock but they only ever sound ok to me. But I don't sweat it, I sort of don't get the raves on TAD either - they seem over-damped to my ears, though I liked them better this year in the Zesto room with a Merrill table/Tripalanar arm. And let's face it, I do love my cheapo Pioneer speakers that the same designer has created  and which I run in a second system so maybe it's just the set ups and rooms.  I also enjoyed the Salk room with van Alstine amps. This was news for me as usually, despite all the forum positives on this combo, I've not been particularly impressed. This year was different, I really enjoyed the set up and during a particularly driving track, I saw cone extension in the drivers like I have never seen - they literally slid uniformly in and out like pistons as the music flowed.

Table wise, I have to say the twin platter Clearaudio set up on the Mezzanine with the Focal speakers sounded great for the second year in a row. And wow, what a sight. Speaking of which, Triangle Art's tables are pure eye candy - acres of shiny metal and very decent sonics to boot. I'd love to just watch one spin in my room. Even their cheapest model looked fabulous, I'd love one. The various VPI set ups were only ok, but I've owned an Aries and am happy to have sold it on.  And what do you make of a $10k metal spinner from Lithuania's Jakutis, which includes a granite and steel stand (the Dalia?) Who buys these tables? Well  distributor (Mockingbird) told me he sells direct, often arriving in person to set them up too. The model I heard looked and sounded very fine to me, with a real ceramic body cartridge whose manufacturer I missed. I'd love to know more about that set up and since Mockingbird are based in Texas, I hope to do so.

Also enjoyed discovering the Pear Audio tables which seemed familiar until I twigged they were the fruits of the final work of Tom Fletcher, best known for the Nottingham line of tables. The similarities are obvious once you see them. The room did them few favors but I liked the table and arm enough to think I need to hear this one again.  Many enjoyable analog set ups this year. The Bergmann air-armed tables looked great and sounded so, the Merrill table/Triplanar arm in the Zesto room was so relaxing but it was the Kuzma table in the Prana room just took the biscuit for me - fabulous sonics, all smooth detail, body and rhythm, nothing to want. I think it was the Reference table with a 12" Kuzma tonearm -- best vinyl at show to my ears. And as far as I could tell, the main guy there just grabbed his own table from home to front the room at the last minute. And with a Denon 103R cartridge to boot....I could live with the sound at home for a very long time, which is a rare experience for me at RMAF.

Must mention the Exasound multichannel offering. Using five Maggie 1.7s, the enthusiastic host fed a Mac into his DAC and, with a multichannel Bryston amp, proceeded to show us the differences between 2 and 5 channel music. The multi-channel was better but not to the level that would have me buying five speakers and associated cables for my room (not to mention how little music that matters for me in this format). The real lesson for me (other than this DAC is very good and priced well), was the Maggies. They sounded better than I ever heard them and they were not positioned with any great thought to layout. Clearly, with Bryston driving them, these speakers can deliver fine sound. Another strike for the saner end of the audio market.

Lots of other stuff sort of passed me by (and I know I've forgotten some rooms). I gave no attention to CanJam this year as I got their too late and I ignored anything related to computer audio other than to note how much of it was there. Some people are pompous and loud, but really, most attendees are there for fun and it shows -- I really enjoy this show despite all the problems. If I get the time I'll try to list what I heard in alphabetical order to make it easy for people to find- some of you asked, I just have to find the time.  If I missed something, let me know and I'll check my notes but this was most I can easily decipher from memory, scribbles and literature.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RMAF 2014 - second instalment

I had a lot of fun checking out gear that is very different than my usual set-up, and why not? RMAF has it's own lunatic fringe that is not about price alone, it's about the passion and personal efforts some designers make to create something different.

Raven Audio, a Texas company, caught my eye last year with their beautiful looking tube amps so this year I made a real effort to hear them. Their room contained some of the most intriguing speakers at the show, the Burwell and Sons 'Mother of Burl' horns which look like finished furniture. As if this was not enough, Raven decided to show their new 'Goldfinch' stacked all tube mini system containing and 8w 5AQ4 amp/preamp/DAC/power amp combo, as well as their Spirit 300B monos which sounded very sweet. You have to love people who commit their lives to creating special audio gear - this is a precarious way to make a living and the Raven and Burwell guys deserve to succeed. I had a couple of listening sessions, helped along in the first instance by  particularly welcoming hosts who seemed to throw themselves fully into the party spirit of the show. Really, an 8w tube stack powering an $80k pair of 'work-of-art' horns blasting out Stevie's "Tin Pan Alley" like you would not believe-- it just made for a crazy good experience.  Now that is what RMAF should be about - these guys know how to treat attendees.

Speaking of gracious and helpful hosts, Audio Kinesis' set up made music and chief designer Duke LeJeune was as gracious as could be in answering my rather naive questions about his up-firing woofers. Totally different look that gives not a hint of how smooth the speaker sounds. Driven by Atmasphere amps, the music from these $4900 speakers was really up there with some far more expensive products.

Sticking with the $5k price range, new boys on the block (to me at least) Ryan Speakers had a great pair of their floorstanders pushing out pleasing sounds in their room. The brothers Ryan told me they had started designing speakers in the 1980s but gave up as life took over but are back, and determined to do it well. Fit and finish was great, these really are products that would find a place in most homes, and the sonics were really impressive too. See, there is value to be found at this price point. Watch out for Ryan Speakers - these guys mean business.

Keeping it real, price wise and sonically, I lucked into the Prana Fidelity room on Sunday morning where the main host was demo-ing a tape deck through what looked like fairly modest monitors, their Fifty90s. So good did they sound that I asked if this was a function of the expensive looking tape source. Quick as a flash, the host (Steve?) said 'watch this' and proceeded to fill the room with glorious vinyl sounds courtesy of his Kuzma Ref turntable, playing a Charlie Byrd DTD record. Imagine my surprise when he added that this great sound was coming out of a budget Denon 103R cartridge on the arm. Fabulous stuff -- and an amazingly full, balanced, musical presentation from the Fifty90s. At $3400, these have to be the best bang for the buck at RMAF. I would give these room in my rig anytime. I knew the name but had never heard the products. Prana, I am on the prowl to hear more.

Also sounding good, and one room that most folks reporting would say the same about, was the set up from Vapor. They had a beautiful looking, curvy Joule Black (approx $18k) filling a large room with musical, pleasing sonics. At the suggestion of Ryan, the main man, I sat in the middle of the front row while he proceeded to play demo recordings that had sounds practically wrapping around me and a colleague who tried the same seat. And in case you're worried, the music was good in all parts of the room, not just the sweet spot. When you hear what some committed folks can produce under $20k, you have to wonder how anyone sees value in the higher end market. And did I mention that these looked good?

No, I don't have photos, my iPhone capture is not worth adding in here. I also have lots more notes and when I get the chance, will try to list all rooms I visited and think worthy of comment in an alphabetical list. I know how hard it can be to glean info on what you want to know about from a brain-dump like this. I've not mentioned the interesting sounds of the King Sound Labs (another contender at $10k), the kick-ass sonics in Acoustic Zen's room (another sub-$20k that asks really hard questions of the more expensive loudspeaker products) and the new lifestyle Muso soundbar from Naim.....who'd have thought they would be taking on Bose (all eyes were on their Statement display, the $200k+ amp system which I was told has sold out its first year's supply). Am hoping to get the Muso in for review. And then there was the vinyl, the great joys of the Zesto/Wywires/TAD room, the demo of stereo and mono cartridge sounds from a twin-armed VPI, a five channel Maggie 1.7 demo and more. Phew. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

RMAF reactions - first instalment

RMAF seemed less well-attended to me this year, but that's just my impression from wandering through over a couple of days. As always it's great fun albeit somewhat draining. The chief culprit? Volume. Most people just seem to prefer music played far more loudly than I can comfortably tolerate and across the day, it starts to wear me down. But I was prepared for this and made sure to take regular time out to allow my ears to calm between listening session.  Rather than give an exhaustive listing of what I heard and thought, let me just tackle some of the targets I went to explore.

I had a personal interest in the new PS Audio Directstream DAC since I see this as a logical upgrade for my PWD Mk II. Unfortunately I could determine almost nothing about it. PS Audio used it in a major display that contained massive IRS Infinity Beta speakers and two new monoblock amps. It was just impossible to know what the effect of the new DAC might have been while I was there. The sound was interesting in that the music floated away from the huge cabinets which made placement of instruments vague, and the room was definitely not bass-heavy despite the size of those woofers. But in combination it all seemed a bit diffuse and soft.  Not sure what the purpose of this set-up was supposed to be as it neither showcased the Directstream model or offered any real insight into the new amps. The matter was not helped by one of the monoblocks packing in while I listened so I took myself next door to hear their new Sprout. Now this is a product to watch out for: integrated amp with  50w per channel, a MM phono stage, USB and RCA inputs for a CD player and TV, a headphone input and bluetooth capability. I immediately snyc'd my iPhone and streamed tunes through it for fun. Sonically the bluetooth option renders everything at MP3 level, I believe, but it's good enough if you just wanted to hear something in the background. A lifestyle product or second system option, at $799 this seemed good value. Good host in the room too, Scott(?) who showed infinite patience and enthusiasm. As for upgrading my DAC, well, I am none the wiser from this trip.

I also spent a good deal of time checking out the Von Schweikert VR55s, an active pair, listing for $49k, was in constant use over the weekend with a huge Constellation amp. The looks are not the classic two-box design I love of the old VR5s but the sonics were clearly a step up in terms of resolution and coherence. The secret is the new  stiff-material (coated magnesium?) drivers I believe which still sounded here as if they needed a bit of breaking-in as they were slightly etched sounding on some frequencies. That said, the resolving power here was impressive to my ears and these worked far better in the hotel room than the big VS100s that VSA showed last year. I gather there's a trade-up program coming for current owners so watch out.

Every year there are a couple of faithful rooms that are worth stepping into just to calibrate one's ears to real sounds and  prices.  German Physiks always impresses me in this regard. The newly lower-priced (yes, you read that right) entry model of these omnidirectional  DDD wonders sounds like no other speaker at the show, and in so doing, it cleanses your palette and makes you feel like more audio gear should capture this quality. The musical selections on offer are wider than most too, helped along as always by the good-mood vibes of the host Michael Broughton. I heard vocal and flute reproduction that had reach-out-and-touch quality on Sunday morning and one attendee, after hearing a pipe organ track remarked that he'd never heard an organ sound that good before. Easy placement, somewhat plain looks (you can pay more for other finishes), the German Physiks room was a serious contender for the one to beat at $10k.

Legacy had the usual large room location to themselves and showed off the Aerius and debuted their new V speaker. This is simply huge looking, not helped by the wide and deep proportions at the foot, shaped to house the amplification (two per speaker). The interesting part of their use of  the Wavelet processor, a preamp with crossover time alignment and room resonance correction built in. As Bill Duddleston explained it Saturday morning to some of us, this enables the speaker to be adjusted for any room. You could indeed walk around the side of it and hear the sound drop as intended. Yes, this might work in your house but I'd say WAF on these is on the low side. Sonically, I'd say this was more impressive than enjoyable but then, I rarely enjoy Legacy at RMAF where they sound very different than I've heard them in people's homes (not least my own).  Price to be determined but 'around $50k' was mentioned.

Ah yes, did I tell you that 'around $50k' seemed to be prevalent here. I used to think $30k was the new normal for good speakers but clearly price inflation knows no limits and the $50k bar has been reached and pushed through by too many companies for my taste. Not sure it was launching them here but Polymer made a big splash with their MKS-X speaker ($59k). I cannot recall what it was matched with but the layout had the speakers sitting way out in the large room, volume cranked, and details flying at you. All pretty good but I felt the bass could be choked on some recordings and this took the shine off the experience for me but others seemed excited, and I am sure that had nothing to do with the company's use of two supermodels at the front door handing out literature and invites to the mainly male attendees. Just sayin'.

Focal always seem to be out in strength at RMAF and this was no different - I think I counted them in at least 5 rooms. I have a mixed reaction to these speakers. The low end models always disappoint me, offering great looks but so-so sound to my ears. But the upper end models, from $30k  Scala up seem cut from a different cloth. On the mezzanine floor the Grande models were on show, and mostly sounded good but I was surprised as how flat and dull the LP reproduction of Pink Floyd's DSOTM seemed in the Apex Audio room on Saturday pm. Just goes to show, I suppose, that it's all about the system and context but at the price one pays for the pair, these speakers had better sound fabulous every time.   I'd say the same about the Wilson/VTL room. It was impressive in some ways and the use of those monster subs (taken in an out to show the difference when I was there) confirmed my sense that subs can free the sound up.  But the price is too high for what you get in my view and I just cannot warm to the look. Still, at least I heard music in this room this year, unlike two previous years.

I've never heard the YG Acoustics speaker line sound very good before. I know their speakers receive glowing reviews from the mainstream press and are marketed as the best in the world with some measurements to boot, but when I listen, I am left uninvolved by what seems a rather cool, detached quality, more lab than musical instrument.  After stepping out from another great presentation in the Sanders room (where I stood to the side to determine if these really required absolute central sitting position - they don't!), I crossed the corridor to hear the YG Acoustics in the GTT room. Still felt these were not my sound and when I mentioned this to Roger Sanders I received the 'what can you expect from cones and boxes' speech. Can't argue with him on the basis of his room but I was forced to revisit my YG conclusions when I heard them set up in one of the Rowland rooms where they sounded very musical. The other Rowland room with their lower end preamp and a pair of their stereo amps driving stand-mounted Josephs was another sweet environment, and all for under $20k.

Some quick shout outs to gear that caught my attention:  The new Harbeth Super HL5 sounded pretty good with the Acoustic Signature Thunder front end, but not great. Davore Fidelity were making fine music with their Orangutan 96 high sensitivity speakers (96db) but I think the looks might be a hard sell for some. The Box Company racks in this room are great looking though - real furniture for real homes.  Reading great things about the Daedalus/Modwright set up on the ground floor, I stopped by at what must have been the most inopportune time as they seemed to be experiencing some difficulties and the sound was poor. Never got back again.  The Linkwitz room was fascinating as always, and I sat in on the demo and explanation of the little model you make yourself from a kit with the addition of a few items purchased at Home Depot. Man, these were so good you have to pinch yourself and ask what is going on in some of the other rooms. Methinks this little kit has to be tried as a project.  OK, more later......

Friday, October 10, 2014

RMAF 2014

Most likely will save any comments until I take it all in it's too hard to sort it all out while it's happening. Main objectives for me would be to hear the latest PS Audio DSD wonder DAC, check in on the new Von Schweikert 55s, the replacement for my recently upgraded Anniversary 5s (see, both of these are updates to products I use ), plus to enjoy the range of turntables and speakers that one reads about in the glossies.

There's usually a live performance going on, and some talks but most of the weekend is spent just moving room to room.It's often fun to hear what the buzz is all about there and to just hear the mega priced components you would never dream of buying. It's often quite useful to be reminded that after a certain point, it makes little difference and that in a poor room, everything sounds ordinary. If you go, let me know.

And if you landed on this page by searching Google for RMAF 2014 reviews, just click on the AudioMatters header above to get the more recent instalments.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jerome Sabbagh's The Turn reaches target

Am pleased to report that this KickStarter project has reached its target -- well done all who contributed. And of course, as the target was approached, more piled in so the amount raised surpassed the initial request. More than 140 backers stepped up and one person paid the necessary $2k to be listed as a producer on the album...guess that gives a new meaning to some sleeve notes but I'm just happy for the musicians involved. I'll report back when I get the LP.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Want a bargain? Like Beethoven?

Then try the Tokyo String Quartet's Complete Beethoven String Quartets. Box set of 9 (yes, nine) CDs, well recorded, excellently played, for under $16 currently. Free delivery too if you are a Prime member. Don't ask...just get it here

Buy it here

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kickstarter for Jazz Vinyl - Jerome Sabbagh's The Turn

There's a new Kickstarter project to help talented saxophonist Jerome Kabbagh press his latest recording on vinyl. But not just any vinyl -- he wants Doug Sax and the Mastering Lab to handle this. See, the man has taste. Check it out - this is a project of love not commerce. There is hope for music when an artist is this committed, but only if he can reach a supportive audience. Take a listen.  I've heard the full recording and it's excellent, with strong supporting guitar too. This group is worth knowing.  Now, tell me where you can get a mint, high quality pressing of original jazz on three sides of vinyl for $20.  Less than the price of yet another edition of Kind of Blue, or another Zep reissue...I'm in, give it a shot and you can get to influence what gets released.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CDs still a big player in the Japanese market

Interesting story in the NYT this week. Apparently the market for digital downloads, seen as the media-killer here in the US, is not growing everywhere. In fact, digital downloading is on the decrease in Japan where CDs are still the dominant means of purchasing music.  All sorts of theories are posited here, ranging from the unique Japanese love of collecting to the maturity of the market, with some insiders arguing that the industry must crack the downloading market there if it is to survive. Seems CDs are now seen as the problem not the solution. Oh dear. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Technics makes an audiophile comback

Well, it must be the season. The new Technics emphasis on sound quality is beautifully illustrated through their new website. Worth a browse for sure even if their tagline:"Never ending pursuit of the definitive sound" reads a little too close to Lexus' pursuit of perfection for my tastes. Maybe it should be the 'derivative' sound they are seeking.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The man who wants all the vinyl in the world...

I kid you not......see this NYT article on the inimitable Mr Freitas. 
Though from the picture, it seems he's as likely to stand on them as listen to them

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Digital Amp Co goes Kickstarter

Digital Amp Company are trying Kickstarter as a means of generating support for some variants on the Maraschino, not least a 'hanging' version that can dangle out the back of the speaker. Interesting approach from a company that seems to do everything just a little bit differently. There's even a chance to pick up a pair of prototype monos for silly money if you back the campaign. Check it out here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Interesting article on the vinyl resurgence

Including numbers on sales etc. from Pitchfork by Joel Oliphint, including sales figures over time. What is most interesting here though is the behind the scenes examination of pressing plants and the costs and hazards of setting one up. Seems many bands have no idea that vinyl requires particular mastering steps and then there's the depressing nugget that 15% of record sales are to people who never listen to them but download the MP3 accompanying it or, one imagines, hold on to them in the hope of selling on for profit later. All in all, an excellent read, worth checking out. Lots of good images too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pioneer launch a new turntable

The Technics 1200 is still mourned by many but this appears to be a close alternative from Pioneer, the new PLX-1000. Weighing in at nearly 29lbs, this direct drive alternative might actually have something. I expect a few folks on the audio forums to come up with some mods and tweaks for this in short order. List price is $699, it offers an alternative to some of the overpriced Technics selling on Ebay. Sadly, the search function on Pioneer's site leaves much to be desired if you want track one down quickly. Certainly there does not appear to be a model available anywhere near here. If you get to hear one, let me know. I won't hold my breath waiting for a review sample.

And, not for the faint of heart, see some DJs putting it through it's paces in the video below. Don't try this at home audiophiles :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Charlie Haden dies.

Sorry to report this, but I heard this afternoon that Charlie Haden has died:

"It is with deep sorrow that we announce that Charlie Haden, born August 6, 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa,  passed away today at 10:11 Pacific time in Los Angeles after a prolonged illness. Ruth Cameron, his wife of 30 years, and his children Josh Haden, Tanya Haden, Rachel Haden and Petra Haden were all by his side."
Tina Pelikan
ECM Records Publicity
Charlie was in poor health recently but this was still unexpected. Time for some memories and celebration of a great musician through some listening this weekend. For now:

Maraschino Mono review is live

I had an interesting time with the DAC Maraschino Monos in my rig for the last few months. You can read the review now here in HiFi'Zine.   There's something interesting going in with DAC products, they have a unique sound that is very easy on the ears, and the form factor of these little monos is very unusual.  Next up, a comparison of two phono cables on my SME V. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Love that Rowland look

And in my limited experience of it, the gear sounds pretty fine too. One can imagine this being the get-off point.

Jeff Rowland Design Group: Art in Science from Brandon Kelley on Vimeo.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Marc Maron on the vinyl life

Don't know the guy myself but I liked this from today's Guardian:

The standup, writer, sitcom star and host of the popular podcast WTF explains why vinyl has taken over his life – and wonders whether $15k is too much to spend on speakers

More here....

Friday, May 30, 2014

Video tour of the SME factory

Micheal Fremer just posted a great pair of videos he made while touring the SME factory in England. These are not the first videos that people have posted from within those walls, SME seem to have a healthy open-door attitude to displaying their wares, so to speak, but Mikey's are lengthy, detailed and to my eyes, fascinating. Thank you Mr. Fremer.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The A'gon alternatives shrink...

It was a brave effort but one alternative to Audiogon that I liked has closed its doors. Soundoffers is no more.....but it is for sale......tempted?  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What's in the review system now

The DAC Maraschinos are doing main duty now powering my Von Schweikert VR5 Anni IIs (those having been upgraded last year and still surprising me). It's quite a sight to see these little boxes powering the rig.

Also ongoing is a comparison of some decent phono cables between the SME V and Whest phono stage: a Purist Audio Design Corvus and latest addition, the Furutech Silver Arrows, which are all going head to hear with my Harmonic Tech reference cable. More on that in due course.

Sonically, I've been enjoying the Blue Note MusicMatters vinyl reissue series on 33rpm and yes, I even got to compare the new edition of the Burrell Midnight Blue with my own original. The sonics are generally what people say - very good, perhaps better than some of the much-lauded 45rpm releases but more as I go on that little area of audiophile delight. I never thought I'd be in the market for $35 LPs but it's amazing how one can rationalize.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Great NYT article on blues collector

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie,  from the NYT weekend magazine a few weeks ago -- but online you can hear some of the music. A fascinating read on the obsession of collectors, the nearly forgotten forebears of recorded country folk blues and the importance of music in our culture. Long but worthwhile, and when's the last time you felt that way about an online article?

Since the story broke there has been a reply by the daughter who is upset, perhaps not surprisingly, with the way the original writer obtained some of the information

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Record store day among the oldies

Old records that is....  I spent a couple of happy hours this afternoon in celebration of Record Store Day at the wonderful Whetstone Audio in east Austin. Boy, I had not realized how much modernization was going in the area until I drove around looking for parking but forget that, the pickings at Whetstone were excellent. Not quite keeping count, I racked up 15lps before I got a grip and started looking at the gear on show: Rega's new R10 through a pair of Harbeth 5SL (and I think Naim amplification but I was too taken with the Rega to notice) blasting out great tunes, plus some great signs of record cleaning, tubes, dacs and a gorgeous Leben integrated that gives fresh meaning to the expression "to see is to want".

Well ,y LP stash covered a great collection of Glenn Hughes/Trapeze old releases, including an early pressing of Medusa, a Kenny Burrell, Sinatra with Quincy Jones, The Communards, Bucky Pizarrelli, Ralph Towner, and a mint copy (honest, it's not for me) of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack! But that's the fun -- I bought stuff on a whim, stuff I know I want and was happy to find, and some as gifts for people for whom a typical present is hard to determine. And the best part, once it was all racked up, Brian (the owner who seems more like a music fan than anything approaching a salesman) halved the price (hey, apparently it was a 'clearance' day) and I walked out with a stash for a barely believable $40.

If you are near Austin and love gear and music, Whetstone is well worth a visit. If you are not, the website is worth visiting since Brian adds tons of fun videos and insights to his pages routinely. He told me he's making a living and I hope he continues to do so -- this is the kind of space you simply cannot replicate online.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bryston Mini-T review is live

We've moved to a publish as ready model now on the Zine -- no need to wait for quarterly issues. My latest review of the Bryston Mini-T speakers is now live so please--- Check it out:

The DAC Maraschinos are up next, then I am having a bit of a shoot out on some phono cables from Purist, Harmonic Tech and Furutech.....yes, I am having too much fun.

Am also spending a lot of time listening to the new Blue Note Music Matters reissues of classic LPs from Grant Green, Kenny Burrell and others. I have some originals so the comparison is interesting. No formal reviews planned but I might get round to it if time permits.  Stay tuned.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Do amps really matter?

The greatest benefit of reviewing audio gear is that I get to hear gear in my own home. Whatever you might imagine truly great gear offers, nothing brings home the reality of the audio business than listening in an environment that you know. One exercise I find instructive is to partner gear in ways that probably are not typical, so I use cheap digital front ends on expensive rigs, bargain cables between components or entry level cartridges with top class analog arms. The results are always interesting and while I realize that some great gear only shows its greatness when surrounded by equally great (read expensive) components, sometimes you unearth a gem that can deliver the goods no matter what.

I am thinking of this right now as I play with the new  Digital Amp Company's Maraschino Cherry Mono amps. I've been running them in on a more than respectable pair of Bryston Mini-T speakers (review forthcoming) and really enjoying the results. But for kicks, I tried these two-thousand dollar multie-watt amps on a pair of Pioneer BS21 speakers which I picked up for $49 shipped online. Why, you ask?  Why not?  I am not sure if these are 'Andrew Jones-designed' as the later BS22's are marketed, but they are great fun, easy to place, and decent sounding in most situations. However, put some serious amplification like the DAC Maraschinos in front of them and prepare to lift your jaw off the floor. 

If ever anyone needs confirmation of how important amps can be, they need to see what the proper implementation of power can do for cheap speakers. The monos bring something from these speakers that defies common sense. Nobody in their right mind would pair these components but if they routinely sound decent with most amps, they sound positively indecent with the Maraschinos. Yes, I still believe that speakers matter the most in system allocation but you might never realize how good that basic pair you own can sound if you don't try some high quality amplification with them.  Live and learn brother!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Minus K review is live in latest HiFi'Zine

The latest issue of HiFi'Zine (better late than never) has my latest review, a super-duper Minus K BM-8 platform which I sat under my SME 20 turntable. I can't really explain the physics but this is one component that once installed, made such a difference that if you heard it blindfolded, you would have to be deaf not to distinguish the differences. Now, distinguishing is not the same as liking but in my case, I did like the difference. Air, detail, resolution, bass, all sorts of the usual audiophile values that make me think the right platform under a table is a better investment than a new cartridge. Sadly, the cost is not trivial, the BM 8 I reviewed is $2600 (ouch!!) and it looks like it is, shall we say, not quite designed for the living room. Interestingly, I've adjusted to its looks sufficiently well to think it fits quite well in my room, but then, I run a snake's nest of wires in full view of visitors so perhaps my standards are not quite those of Home and Garden magazine.

I also have the very interesting Bryston Mini-T speakers in for review next, and a small-size-big sound pair of DAC Maraschino monos. Interesting times, interesting sounds. Stay tuned, more to come.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Sound and The Story (1956 video of the making of an album)

"The art of creating the effect of a concert performance....a planned illusion.....appear to have the best seats in the house..."   A wonderful historical film explaining the recording of an orchestra courtesy of the Prelinger Archives. Now this might give you a new found appreciation for stampers, mold release agents, vinyl quality and the motivations of the serious collector:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Small things matter

Well, we hear that statement lot in audiophile-land,  it's the small set up tweaks that make a difference, the last half-inch of toe-in that completes the picture, and we all love a giant-killing or free adjustment that brings it all into place. Today, I am slightly kicking myself for not installing this sooner but having ordered a new belt for my SME 20/2 a couple of months back, I let it sit there waiting for the right time. The belt had to come from the UK, as best as I could find, but even with shipping and conversion to dollars it arrived for about $40. I only got around to putting it on now but wow, what was I thinking by delaying the installation? I know belts matter and people always talk about the precision that AJ Conti has pursued to improve those on his wonderful Basis tables but I used to look at mine, check the speed and generally feel all was as it should be. Now that I've made the change, I remind myself once more to never take my eyes off the important things.

Changing a belt on the SME is pretty straightforward, you lift up the weighty platter and there it is running around the sub-platter and the small motor to the left. Once removed I was pretty surprised to see the gunk that had gathered around the pulley. I guess this belt had seen better days (and certainly some warmer ones) as little bits of rubber residue were melded to the shaft on which it rides. Hmm, a few Q-tips and alcohol wipes later, it was clean but not perfect. I had to go at it with a micro-fiber cloth, a sharp point and apply some real finger pressure to get everything clean. Routine housekeeping perhaps?

The trickiest part is getting the belt on flat around the sub-platter and the motor, especially without wiping residual dust or oil from your fingers. I tried the spare white gloves that came with my PS Audio PWT (a nice touch to ensure you don't put fingerprints on the glossy top but good luck with those, I can't grip anything, never mind at weighty, shiny component with gloves that risk everything sliding through your grasp). I gave up the gloves and just washed my hands before using my fingers. Once on, I ran the very handy iPhone RPM app to check platter speed and while this is not stable enough (at least as far as I can set it up) to lock it onto one measure, I got the platter running at 33.2-33.4 rpm with some minor trimming and left it at that. Still a bit easier and probably as precise methinks as staring at the lines on those strobe disks under fluorescent light.

Anyway, the point of all this is really the sonics. Think a belt change cannot matter too much? Think again boyo. The bass on the SME just dropped down a level and came through with punch and clarity like I'd made a major change. Details emerged, transients snapped, and the soundstage was just better defined. An easy to hear difference without doubt.  This is the best $40 I have spent since I bought a cheapo Blue Jean coaxial cable for my secondary rig (that's another story but I have to say, the word on Blue Jean cables' value is probably correct). I don't feel the need to say more other than if you have belt-driven table and have not changed belts in a while, do yourself a favor.  Of course, it's bad enough to count records spun to estimate cartridge wear, I now have to use that to estimate belt age too. Record playing might just feel like it's a constant reminder of the aging process as you wear things down by use but it's also those small changes and adjustments that make vinyl in particular such an addictive pleasure. Hail the tweak!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How strange is the supposed vinyl revival?

Interesting piece from The Week suggests there is something strange happening with the uptake in LP sales, witnessed while other media show diminishing numbers. Of course, the numbers are not that impressive in absolute terms but I do think there is something in the material pleasure of  a record and its sleeve that adds to the experience of ownership and use. The ritual of playing music on a turntable may not be as convenient as iTunes but it does involve you in the moment.  Anyway, its interesting to see this story run and run. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tom Waits on vinyl reminds me of the pleasure we all seek

Like many of you, I suspect, I get the daily emails from PopMarket and Soundstage Direct offering vinyl or CD bundles for sale. In a moment of seasonal weakness I looked at the the 4 LP bundle of Tom Waits 70s albums for $64 and thought, why not?  Well I'm glad I did. These Rhino 180g releases came well protected and were so appealing that I ignored one of my own rules and played one without cleaning. The Heart of Saturday Night is an album that I cannot say transcends time for me because I have very specific memories tied to songs on it and boy, did they ever come flooding back to me as I played it. How does it sound? Better than the CD releases I picked up in the 1990s, but that might not be the toughtest test. For now, this is my definitive copy. Great pakaging, and a thick enough slab of super clean vinyl to cause me to adjust the Minus K platform to accomodate the weight (yes, review of the Minus K is really forthcoming, watch this space). For now, it's time to sail away on some great Waits lines and airs....all cooler than a well-diggers ass!