Sunday, January 24, 2016

Artisan Fidelity table on the way

I've been intrigued by the Artisan Fidelity tables for a long while.  For those who don't know, their tables are a melding of old parts and modern precision tooling to reveal the magic of old Lenco, Garrard and Technics engineering. Reports for the few owners are very positive, and the few comments from reviewers that have heard one confirm that these tables might be quite special. Seems odd in one sense, that something like an old idler-wheel design, discarded over time in the face of newer developments, might be repurposed and tuned up by modern tools, with a dedicated new plinth to create a mix of traditional and modern that some say is the bees knees of analog reproduction.

Well, who would not want to hear one of these creations, especially given the drop dead good looks that the Artisan Fidelity folks seem to deliver.  I mean, look at this and weep, record lovers:

As one dealer told me, you could buy an Artisan Fidelity and just give up worrying about your front-end, it would be the product to get you off the upgrade path. At the prices charged, I'd hope so but then, in audio land, tables prices like Artisan Fidelity might be considered modest in comparison to what lists for Class A in Stereophile.  Still, no one is going to buy one of these on a whim, these are tables for those who love their records. That same dealer (and a few owners) told me that Artisan's estimates of completion time are not very reliable though, and I'm here to confirm this is the case. Three months? Dream already past month four, so a reliable estimate is really more like five or six.

Personally, I like the look of the 401, it captures something of a time (late 60s, sci-fi 'new era' modernity) and the chance to hear this with a 12" arm is too much to resist, so one is coming. Chris at Artisan has even been good enough to send some pics along the way as they go through their construction process which I will be updating here. It's a slow process, we worked out the details last October after several months of back and forth, and the table is only now taking form that allows for pictures, but patience is a virtue, right.  Here's a sample.

First, pick a finish -- I love the reddish wood hues you can see on various table in the Artisan Gallery (here) so, if you have a choice in the matter, why not go for it. This is African Paduak, and in it's raw form starts like this, shown on right.

Of course, once coated, it will take on the lovely reddish hue found in their finished plinths, and for me it strikes the right mix of classic, traditional and slightly modern. Hey, it's all in the eyes of the perceiver, right?. Artisan Fidelity can do a range of finishes, covering numerous veneers and motor car gloss style painted surfaces. I suspect you only have to ask if they don't have something that catches your eye.

Plinth under construction:

Taking shape:

My choice of table is the 401, which to me has the near-perfect look that I prefer to the 301 model -- no logic here, this is purely my taste:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

BENQ treVolo portable electrostatic speaker

I've been having some fun recently with wireless speakers, using them to connect to my laptop, phone and iPads via Bluetooth for music and radio around my home and on the deck, in settings where my normal gear just does not go. BENQ's treVolo is an interesting alternative to the boxy designs of most, presenting an electrostatic, wing-flap design that looks as cute as it sounds.

The electrostatic 'wings' can fold back for storage but when opened allow space for the passive radiators. Specified as a quad-amped design with dual 2.5" front firing woofers that also has power storage for up to 12 hours of use without plugging in, the treVolo certainly is a little different. Throw in line out capability for using it as a feed to your stereo if you want to stream, and three ambience modes (pure, warm, and vivid), ability to have your phone calls routed through it, with automatic music-pausing and resumption for the call duration, and you start to appreciate how feature packed is this little design (though personally, the idea of telephone calls coming through my speakers sends shivers of horror up my spine!).   There's an app available too to change ambience mode and check battery power.

So, that's the basic structure, all wrapped up in small package a little over 6" tall, 5" deep and, with the electrostatics opened up, about 11" wide. Of course, all this is irrelevant to audio fans if the sound is akin to a boombox. Thankfully, what we have here is better, in fact much better than you might imagine. Whether it's the aptX Bluetooth, the active DSP crossover reportedly used or the electrostatic meets drivers combination, the package works to give you sonics to enjoy.

As you might expect from the electrostatic type design, this sonics of the treVolo are nicely airy and detailed. There's a quickness and light touch to percussion is anything but tizzy and and gives the music here a level of realism indicative of better speakers. Vocals and midrange instrumental details come through cleanly. Bass is certainly present but clearly not where this speaker is going to win most admirers. That said, the right recordings indicate that what's provided is well articulated and definitely not a single-note boom.  The Tsuyoshi Trio's Midnight Sugar sounds lively and real, with the stand up bass having real body and detail.  As you might imagine however, this is a speaker that does acoustic jazz, chamber, ambient, and vocal music better than heavy rock, its limitations being apparent on Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell, where the laws of physics make it difficult for the treVolo to deliver the punch and power required.

While the treVolo can go loud and fill a typical room, this is not where it shines. I've had it in the outside screened porch and been happy enough with it, never wanting it louder, but where it works best, in my view, is in nearfield listening. Placed on a table near my chair, controlled from my laptop while I work, this little speaker can give you an extremely pleasing, intimate listening experience that will put you off ever relying on your computers speakers again. Given this application, and the treVolo's elegant form and portability, you can handily carry it with you anywhere your computer goes for a level of sound that's really hard to argue with in such use. The lack of wires and the ability to place it anywhere makes it more enjoyable than decent headphones for me.

Another aspect of this design that works for me is the sound radiation on both sides of the panel, which results in a spatial quality to the sound that works wonderfully when the treVolo is placed on a open table in my sitting room. Moving around the room, the music sounds good in all directions, unlike small box speakers where the soundstaging can collapse when you shift position.

I have only minor quibbles with this product. The user interface is somewhat confusing, I could never remember how to reset the ambience to the mode I wanted and have it stay there when powered off. Since the power button also controls ambience setting, the light code can be confusing. And good luck if, like me,  you misplace the manual and try to locate one online. The BenQ site is one of the most unfriendly I've experienced for occasional navigation. Still, battery life is reliably long, bluetooth pairing is easy, and you can have this unpacked and playing music in a matter of minutes.

At a similar price to the Audioengine B2, it's fair to ask how it compares. I'd give the B2 the nod in terms of room-filling ability and bass quality, it just has the ability to sound much bigger than it looks,  but the treVolo is more portable and a little better sounding in nearfield use with quieter forms of music.  The BenQ also has features such as phone call pass through that also might be of value to some. It looks more dramatic too. Make the choice primarily based on your lifestyle, either will instantly elevate your computer audio experience so it's really how you wish to use them.  At $299, the treVolo is hardly an impulse buy but over several months, I've enjoyed it enough to consider it good value for my lifestyle, offering superior sound and convenience in one very attractive physical form. There really is no excuse any more for putting up with the speakers in your computer. Life is good.  More information here