Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Part 1



Thus far my holiday haul related to music and/or audio is as follows:

1. The 33 1/3 book about The Who-"The Who Sell Out" album. I've skimmed it and it looks like it will be a good read. Although I have a lot of Who albums I don't know a lot about the personal dynamics within the band. For those not familiar with the 33 1/3 series they are short, pocket sized books about ground breaking albums. I've already read the ones that cover Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and The Beatles' "Let It Be" which are both excellent. The one about Led Zeppelin IV isn't as good since the author was unable to coax interviews out of the participants.

2. A book titled "The Dark Side of The Moon-The Making of The Pink Floyd Masterpiece" which I've already read 75% of and while most of the information isn't new to me that isn't the authors fault because I've read a ton of stuff about Pink Floyd.

3. The Ryan Adams & The Cardinals album "Cold Roses" which I haven't had a chance to listen to yet but he's pretty reliable when it comes to putting out good to great albums.

4. Eddie Vedder's CD single "All The Way" which is a song about being a Chicago Cubs fan.

5. A David Glimour promo CD with the song "Wot's. . .Uh The Deal?" from his performance at the Gdansk shipyard. It couldn't fit on the album so it was given to those who purchased the two CD version at independent music retailers. Since I bought the 5 disc version (3 CD's 2 DVD's) from Best Buy I initially missed out on it, but I'm glad to be adding it to my collection now.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Black Keys-"Attack & Release"




Originally written for bigblackdisk.ning.com

Is heavy, riff based Rock back in style? If the likes of The White Stripes, Wolfmother, Secret Machines, and The Black Keys have anything to say about it the answer is a rousing “Hell Yes!” “Attack and Release” was originally planed as a collaboration between Dan Auerbach, Patrick Carney (or The Black Keys as they are collectively known), Ike Turner and producer Danger Mouse. However with the passing of Ike Turner this became impossible and so it became a Black Keys project. Recorded in just 14 days the album has a strong DIY feel from the water color and pencil cover to the hand built recording console that was used during the sessions.

Side A: “All You Ever Wanted” starts off at a medium simmer but mid way through the song the organ enters and it rivals the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in terms of sheer surprise. “I Got Mine” is a stylistic cross pollination of The White Stripes and Robert Johnson, with an unexpected left turn that heads straight for psychedelia and ends with the gentle hum of the guitarist’s tube amp. The third song on the album, “Strange Times” literally stomps. Being propelled by a big bass drum sound and hand claps. The lead melodic instrument of “Psychotic Girl” is an odd lurching bass guitar riff with flourishes of honky tonk piano and banjo. All of this with the addition of the creepy backing vocals are enough to make anyone remember a crazy ex or two. Is she at the front door? Is she going to stab me in the hand with a pencil again? How up to date is my restraining order anyway? All questions this song brought to my mind. Following hot on the heals of “Psychotic Girl” is “Lies,” a master stroke. Once one starts thinking about that crazy ex pondering all of the out there things she used to say is a natural progression. Of course the creepy soundscape is extended throughout this song as well, even more effectively than the previous number.

Side B: At the beginning of “Same Old Thing” the tape machine can be heard getting up to speed adding to the audio-vérité feel present throughout the album. The lyric “No matter where you been/Those people try to do you in/Every day till dawn/There’s some thieving’ going on.” are worthy of being part of any blues standard. The heavy groove and flute have a Black Sabbath meets Jethro Tull feel. “So He Won’t Break” has the best groove on the record. It is the sound of pure seduction aided by a xylophone. The guitar solo is an affectionate nod to Neil Young. “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing” is the perfect song to close the album. While calling it epic would be a bit of a stretch its obvious that it’s slower tempo and vocals were meant to invite the listener to follow it’s story of loss and regret. Both the organ and the backing vocals add a sympathetic touch to the song.

The pressing is extremely quiet and utilized the half speed mastering technique. Included with the record is a copy of the album on CD, at $18 the package is a bargain. Other artists should take note, it’s a nice touch for many reasons. It makes importing into iTunes a snap, listening to it in the car easy, it aids in the comparison of vinyl vs. CD for those on the fence, and it comes in handy for loaning to friends who are curious about the band. After spending the last several years servicing other people’s turntables it’s doubtful that I’ll ever lend out my records. The number of people who feel that it’s appropriate to put spare change on top of their tone arms in order to make sure that it tracks or are completely missing the diamond of their stylus is just plain alarming. Records, like girlfriends and wives are not for lending. Use the CD to help spread the word, cherish and hoard the record.

Of course the record has a much wider and deeper soundstage than the CD, no surprise there. What was surprising was how much better the bass was, not just in a tonal sense but dynamically as well. On a few of the songs the low-fi aesthetic goes a bit too far, by adding needless effects to the vocals. That slight misstep wasn’t enough to mar the overall presentation, it just seemed like an unnecessary indulgence.

What are any of the songs about? For the most part who cares? This isn’t a record about lyrics. It’s about the sound, the feel, and the groove. An atmospheric tour de force. While moments on the album remind me of this band or that , overall the album doesn’t remind me of anything else. The Black Keys are very much themselves, creating their own art. With little regard for how it will be received. Seemingly unaffected by corporate interests and focus groups. Something all too rare today.

Sound ***
Performance *** and 1/2

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

cover letter and resume

Currently I am in the job market looking for a job in the audio industry. Below is my cover letter and resume with some personal information removed for privacy reasons. For contact information and reference please email me at the address on my resume.



To Whom it may concern-

For nearly a decade I've been selling audio/video products. During this time I've become very good at explaining complex technologies to the everyday person. Working with cutting-edge home theater systems has also helped me to hone my strong problem solving and analytical skills. My communication skills are also first rate, both verbal and written.

While at Audio Consultants I was responsible for stock levels at my store and communicating my store’s needs to our central location. Determining what products were to be put on display was also an area that fell under my jurisdiction. My input was regularly sought about what products should be stocked for our company and what levels my individual store required. I was also responsible for working with manufacturers and various other repair facilities to get customer repairs completed in a timely fashion. These duties were in addition to my responsibilities as a sales person.

During my time at Allnet (now known as AVAD) distribution I worked selling audio and video gear to custom installers. Many times they asked for my advice to help them find a solution for one of their customer’s needs. I was able to perform this task not only because of my sales abilities, but also because I understood the products that I was selling. Also while at Allnet I was in constant contact with various manufacturers to check on delivery times and back order situations in an effort to serve our customers better. I was also involved in the training of many new employees.

When employed with Ovation Audio/Video my influence with the buying department was used to make sure that my store not only had the proper products on display, but that adequate stocking levels were maintained. Many times the buyers would ask me to help evaluate products from perspective vendors. I also helped to slim down the number of SKU’s from Monster Cable, while not negatively effecting our company’s sales. In fact because of the smaller number of SKU’s we were able to stock the ones that we used on a regular basis much more deeply. In addition many of my co-workers considered me a resource when it came to cutting edge technology. Many times asking for my help with their projects, or asking me to help by answering customer questions that they could not answer.

A major part of my employment at Great Sounds was to assist them in entering the home audio/video market. The company had been successful with respect to car audio for many, many years but many employees lacked some of the technical expertise for home theater. While there I helped to educate the part time employees on the finer points of home theater and video. During my tenure with Great Sounds we also pioneered HD TV in the Muncie market.

While attending College at Ball State University I worked as a tutor for over three years. This work experience sharpened my presentation skills and made me extremely comfortable talking to various sized groups of people. Also while a student I held numerous positions in student government. All of these skills would be a perfect fit for your company.

Currently I am seeking a position in sales or in purchasing, with or without travel. Relocation is also a possibility for the right opportunity. I am always interested in learning new skills, both audio and non-audio related.



The Audio Explorer


The Audio Explorer
E-mail: meglos@gmail.NOSPAMcom (remove no spam of course)


WORK EXPERIENCE

Account Manager Electrograph
July 2008-October 2008
  1. Interacted directly with the buyers of multi-million dollar accounts.
  2. Negotiated special pricing for large quantity orders.
  3. Prepared back order reports with estimated time of arrival based on all available information, including direct contact with manufacturers.
Sales/Design Audio Consultants
January 2005-February 2008
  1. Enabled customers to choose the proper equipment to optimize their systems.
  2. Designed high end audio/video/whole home audio systems to suit individual customers.
  3. Set up and maintained all store displays.
  4. Interfaced with manufacturers to handle warranty issues in a timely fashion.
  5. Monitored and determined stocking levels for my store.
Sales/Technical Support AVAD (formerly Allnet Inc.)
February 2003-January 2005
  1. Answered incoming phone calls and wrote orders in a fast paced environment.
  2. Assisted dealers in system design and offered technical support.
  3. Acted as a liaison between our customers and our vendors.
  4. Performed 46% of the work for a department of three employees.
Sales Consultant Ovation Audio/Video
December 2000-February 2003
  1. Designed home theaters and coordinated their installation.
  2. Helped customers to choose high-end audio gear that best met their needs.
  3. Set up and maintained all high-end equipment demonstration areas in the store.
  4. Helped to pioneer custom home installation program with this company.
  5. Highest profit margin in the store for nearly my entire tenure.
  6. Worked closely with the buyers to determine appropriate product mix and stocking levels.
Financial Representative American General
July 2000-December 2000
  1. Helped customers plan finances to meet all of their obligations.
  2. Wrote loans that benefited the customer and the company.
  3. Ran the office in the Manager's absence.
  4. Ranked first or second in loan production.
  5. Honed strong negotiating skills.
Sales Consultant Great Sounds
May 1999-July 2000
  1. Set up and maintained all home audio displays
  2. Increased other Sales Consultants' knowledge of home audio equipment
  3. Improved conversational skills and ability to qualify customers
  4. Helped increase floor traffic by 50% with innovative HDTV display
Tutor The Learning Center, Ball State
October 1996-May 1999
  1. Subjects-Political Science, History, and Psychology
  2. Took students from D's to A's
  3. Taught critical thinking skills as well as course material
  4. Helped students to improve their general study and note taking skills

RELEVANT SUMMITS, SEMINARS, AND OTHER TRAINING

How to Sell At Prices Higher Than Your Competitors
Thiel Factory Tour and Training
Martin Logan Leadership in Sound Summit
Monster Cable Evangelist Training
Transparent Audio Labs Emerson
Magnepan Factory training

EDUCATION
B.S. Ball State University May 2000 GPA 3.5/4.0 overall
Major: Political Science GPA 3.8
Minors: Psychology and History

AWARDS, HONOR SOCIETIES, ETC.
Dean's List
History Department Award
Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society in Education
National History Honor Society
Golden Key National Honor Society
Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society in Political Science

References available upon request.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Deep Listening

Stereophile's analog guru Michael Fremer recently participated in a round table discussion on the importance of quality sound. The other members on the panel included an audio engineer, a producer, a mastering engineer, an audio critic, and a music lover.

Perhaps the most insightful quote of the 2 1/2 hour discussion was from Mr. Fremer, "For Whatever the defects of a record are there's soething about what's in there that makes it emotionally nourishing."

One of the panel members related an interest antidote about how although humans can only hear from 20Hz in the bass frequencies to 20,000 Hz in the high frequencies that we can perceive frequencies much further up than the accepted 20kHz. Click on the picture of Mr. Fremer after you have grabbed the potato chips and the beverage of your choice.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Revolutions In Sound: Warner Bros. Records Launches 50th Anniversary Celebration



Boxed sets are so much more than just the music that they contain. They are testaments of passion and respect reserved for historically important topics. The 240 page book contains many exclusive photos and interviews. Warner Bros. has released two versions of this collection. One version of the boxed set contains a USB drive in the shape of the Warner Bros. logo and contains 320 songs. It is not immediately obvious what file format or resolution has been used to encode these files. The other version contains 10 CDs which have 199 songs. Would it have killed them to have shoe-horned in one more song?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pick your own standards



The wattage rating method used for audio products isn't standardized. The only way that wattage can be used in comparing two products is when dealing with models from the same manufacturer. Is a 300 watt Bryston twice as powerful as the 150 watt Bryston? Yes it is. Is a 300 watt amp from "X" twice as powerful as a 150 watt amp from "Y? " It might be, but it's far from certain. This is because of the variables in rating wattage. Below are just a few:

  1. The Impedance used to load the amplifier's outputs during testing, rated in Ohms.
  2. The frequency range being driven. Some manufacturers drive 20Hz to 20,000Hz because that is what many accept to be the human hearing range. Some cheap receivers are driven at only ONE frequency, 1kHz being the norm.
  3. How many channels are driven AT THE SAME time. Just because a receiver or amp has 5 or7 channels doesn't mean that they were all driven during the test. Nearly all receivers only drive one channel during testing.
  4. How long was the test. Many times an amplifiers circuit can deliver very high wattage but the power supply and heat sinks won't allow it to continue doing so for long.
  5. How much "Total Harmonic Distortion" was deemed acceptable during the testing. More distortion allowed means more watts on paper but distortion is also usually the cause of damage to speakers.

For mass market goods the wattage is largely determined by the marketing department and then the engineering department does the algebra to figure out which variables give them the desired answer. The Federal Trade Commission's major requirement is that the rating method be disclosed to the public.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Guster-"Ganging Up On The Sun"



Originally posted on Big Black Disk

GUSTER “Ganging up on the Sun”
(2006 Reprise)

Sound: ****
Performance: ****

Hidden on Chicago’s FM dial is one of the most eclectic stations in the country. Driving with the windows down on a forgotten Saturday afternoon WXRT played the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man”, and Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” back to back to back. How many radio stations would play these three songs in the same year, let alone as part of the same set? XRT displays the same passion and courage when championing new talent. They freely lend their support to Guster and many other under-exposed artists. If you’re thinking about being jealous, don’t. Through the miracles of the internet it’s now available world wide, make sure to send Al Gore a nice thank you note written on a palm leaf using soy ink, delivered by Pony Express. Maybe he’ll read it while riding on a private jet to one of his $175,000 speaking engagements. (Remember do as he says, NOT as he does and Mother Earth will be just fine).

Guster’s “Ganging Up on The Sun” is a meticulously recorded and mixed, ambitious pop album lovingly crafted to induce toe tapping. By the second or third listen the album already sounds familiar, like an old favorite. Except of course it isn’t, it’s a brand new favorite. ”Satellite” has such a perfectly written melody it feels familiar after the first listen. The day after the first spin odds are good that you’ll be humming this one. “Manifest Destiny” combines romance, revolution, and the yearning for a new beginning. ”You and I could quit this scene/Build a town and then secede/Like Adam and Eve.” The pop arrangement stops the song from sounding holier-than-thou and assures that the band’s brand of wide-eyed optimism comes through unscathed. ”One Man Wrecking Machine” has a similar theme, a need for a simpler time. The tune expresses a desire to return to the simpler times of High School via a homemade time machine. The spacey beginning and ending are a nice garnish. The song contains the oddly poetic and yet apathetic line, “I’m going to see the homecoming queen/Take her to the Christmas dance/Maybe now I’ll get in her pants, whatever.” Except for a lack of money and having to follow far too many arbitrary rules I share certain sympathy with the sentiment.

Start with ingredients that include banjo and a shuffling drum rhythm. Stir in a dollop of twang in the form of a guitar solo and “The Captain” has a surprising country flavor. ”The New Underground” is a straight-ahead rocker reminiscent of The Clash in its guitar tone and angry staccato chords. ”Ruby Falls” is a beautiful song that begins with an intimate vocal nestled in soft sheets of arpeggio guitar cords and a bed of organ. A muted trumpet provides a mysterious coda. It would be a tragedy if this song didn’t become a centerpiece of their concerts. This song taps into whatever instinct forces audiences to simultaneously break out their lighters and slowly wave them to and fro. It would be the perfect song to use to leave the stage and say “goodnight,” then of course return for some really rocking encores. ”C’mon” is a call to arms to abandon the tendency of people in their late 20’s and early 30’s to “sell out.” Maracas and tambourine take turns giving the song a nice pacing and the appearance of mandolin is a nice flourish. ”Hang On” has an anthemic, life affirming feel and matching lyrics. Not in the cheesy 1990’s Elton John way, but in the “Hey life ain’t so bad. Everything is going to be ok after all” vein. Imagine Tears For Fears meeting the Beatles in the modern day and you’re there. In short it’s the perfect song to end the album on an emotional high note.

I’ll admit it, I’m a bonus track slut and I don’t care who knows! Live stuff, unreleased songs, b-sides, alternate takes, demos; bring them on. The pure joy of having something that most people don’t even know exists is exhilarating. I like to think of myself as John Cusack’s character from the film “High Fidelity” but truth be told I’m more of a cross between Jack Black and the really awkward one. The spiritedly performed four demos on the fourth side would have been deemed ”good enough” by most bands and record labels to have been unapologetically released as finished product, even though they sound a bit “digital” and lack depth. But that wasn’t allowed to happen here. Bottom line, we have them and the poor bastards who buy the CD don’t.

Every song is too short, only one song totals more than five minutes. In the spirit of a great appetizer they tease, leaving me wanting more, more, more. The album, much like Jennifer Lopez, has a healthy bottom end that is to be admired. Unlike Ms. Lopez it also has musical substance. Every spin rewards the listener with previously unnoticed nuances that add to the experience. With a near perfect distribution of introspective, poppy, and more rockers it’s clear that a great deal of thought went into the running order of the album. This is the type of music that will be appreciated by its owner more and more as the years pass. It’s hard to say what my tastes will be in ten years time, but chances are good that I’ll still be spinning this disc on occasion. Is there any higher compliment?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The end of an era?




It’s always surprising that customers expect the price of speakers and electronics to defy inflation and continually drop in price. They may have been willing to spend $500 for a Sansui in the mid 1970’s but now they want a unit that has three times the wattage, five additional channels of amplification, video swithiching (or even scaling), and surround decoding for the same money. That’s particularly interesting when one considers that the cost of that $500 Sansui would be approximately $2,500 in today’s dollars. Unfortunately, the audio video industry is thought of in the same way as the computer industry. The costs associated with building audio products don’t follow the same rules as computer processors and hard drives that is set forth in Moore’s law. Moore’s law, which was developed to predict the advancement of computer technology states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 24 months. This increase in productivity leads to a decrease in cost for computers, but not audio. So what’s a manufacturer to do when customers are looking for prices to drop as their costs rise? For many manufacturers the answer was simple? Go to China.

Is the cheap Hi-Fi equipment coming from China a good or a bad thing for customers, companies, and the industry in general? That kind of question is impossible to answer in one word for anyone who is informed on the subject. David Wilson of Wilson Audio had some interesting things to say on the subject in a video that has been previously posted here. Compared to Wilson Audio’s approach of cost-no-object speaker building NHT has always been know as a company that wants to give it’s customers outrageous value for the money. Not surprisingly Chris Byrne (one of NHT’s founders) views on the subject have more nuance in them than Mr Wilson. Mr. Byrne, who isn’t against the manufacturer of goods in China does however see this trend of unbelievably cheap Chinese labor coming to an end. While he feels this means an increase in the cost for goods he also sees the potential to create local jobs and industry as well as reduce planned obsolescence. Another positive outcome would be a reduction in electronic waste. Please read his essay here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Finally, they get it right




Unfortunately, when the mass-media covers the vinyl resurgence it usually casts it as some kind sort of kitschy nostalgia item. With an introduction that goes something like, “Remember those 12” black disks that you used to listen to that are collecting dust in your attic or basement? Some people still listen to them. Aren’t they wacky for putting up with hisses and pops?”

The cynical hacks that usually write for The New York Times must all be on vacation because someone over there took the time to interview manufacturers of high end turntables (Sumiko and Walker), discuss the differences between direct drive and belt drive, and the importance of proper cartridge alignment. To top it all off no one is made to look like a kook or a crackpot. Be careful New York Times you might lose the scorn of audiophiles everywhere for your audio coverage.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/technology/techspecial2/02table.html?_r=3&ref=techspecial2&pagewanted=all

Monday, December 01, 2008

R.I.P October 1, 2005 to August 11, 2008 Alan’s iPod



Originally written for bigblackdisk.ning.com

August 15, 2008 – 9:50 pm


A couple of days ago my beloved 60gig iPod photo died. She had been ill for some time, occasionally slipping into a coma without warning or provocation. Services will be held at the Fagan-Miller funeral home in Highland, Indiana on Saturday August 23, 2008 from 1 to 5pm. Owing to incompetent emergency surgery it will be a closed casket ceremony.* She leaves behind a car adapter, USB charger, and a pair of ear buds. Send money in lieu of flowers Please bow your head and join me in a moment of silence.
In all seriousness shouldn’t a $400 piece of electronics last longer than two and a half years? Apple, who cast themselves as a customer service oriented “green” company offered me three options:
1. Turn in my departed friend and receive a 10% discount on a new unit of my choice.
2. Buy a “B” stock of the same model that offered no real world savings considering that the newer ones with more capacity would be less money new!
3. Send it to a third-party company for repair. Apple’s name is on the product but they couldn’t be bothered to service it for their customer.
Thanks Apple, don’t do me any favors or anything. Now imagine if I had a problem with a $500 turntable from a Project, Music Hall, or Rega. They would be more than glad to service it, even 10 years hence. Just another item on the check list of why digital isn’t “Perfect sound forever.”

R.I.P October 1, 2005 to August 11, 2008 Alan’s iPod

*My council has advised me to decline any requests for further information because of an ongoing police investigation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Panamax vs. Monster power conditioners.



Monster power conditioners use MOVs, which have a relatively limited lifespan. After the MOVs are gone MANY times the units continue to pass current to the equipment meaning that the next surge could destroy the connected gear. The Monster units do have a light to indicate that they are no longer protecting the equipment but who wants to depend on a light that they can forget to check?

Panamax uses an avalanche diode that acts almost like a flood gate. It opens when voltage is above or below a safe area, then starts testing the voltage. After the voltage is back within the normal range for 7 seconds Panamax units allow the equipment to receive electricity again. When an avalanche diodes fails they are stuck in the "open" position 99.9% of the time. Meaning that the equipment receives NO electricity so the user knows that the power conditioner needs to be replaced.

Panamax specifies that MOVs are 1000 times slower then their avalanche diodes. At trainings Panamax regularly does a demonstration where they hook up a Panamax and a Monster into a device that can create spikes, then into each unit they plug an illuminated lamp. Both units are then hit with a 150 volt spike. In the 10 or so demos that I’ve attended I’ve noticed two things. First before clamping down the lamp plugged into the Monster grows momentarily brighter. A sign that is letting the beginning of the surge through before clamping down. Hence the potencial for damage to connected equipment. No increase in the brightness of the lamp plugged into the Panamax is observable. Second, I’ve NEVER seen a Monster live past the third “hit”. Twice they began to smoke, once a small fire began. The Panamax products have lived through 10-15 hits before they go on with the presentation, they don’t fail mind you the presentation just moves on because they’ve proved their point.

From what Panamax says other surge devices using MOVs will act in a similar manner. If you are considering things up market from the Panamax products Transparent Audio’s power conditioners also use avalanche diodes and offer some of the best power conditioning that I’ve ever heard. PS audio’s new power conditioners use something in addition to an MOV. They claim that these two devices in tandem are better than an avalanche diode. They may be, for me I look at how these devices work in the long term (ie years) and their products are just too new for there to be a body of empirical evidence out there, one way or the other.

For my own use I've used the original version of Panamax's MAX-5510 for about 4 years in my high-end two channel system. For my computer, TV, and AV receiver I use one of their cheaper units.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Passion

At roughly 3.3 million albums Paul Mawhinney has one of the largest music collections in the world. Library of Congress estimates believe that less than 20% of the music contained in his archive is available on Compact Disc. The collection may be worth as much as $50 million, his asking price is a mere $3 million. Check out the site specifically designed to help sell it.


The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Interesting links

http://marklev.com/ A fan site with pictures, schematics, literature, and dating for most Mark Levinson products.

http://www.arcdb.ws/ A fan site for Audio Research with specs, dating, and original pricing. So complete and accurate that Audio Research has a link to it on their official site.

http://www.6moons.com/news/news.html Frequently updated with the new releases of more obscure high end audio companies. Great photos.

http://desirableaudio.blogspot.com/ High end audio from the perspective of some very passionate individuals in the Far East. They seem to be really into the resonance tuning of their rooms with stuff like Shun Mook and the like.

http://www.audiojunkies.com/blog/ Mostly mid-fi and car audio. They also enjoy laughing at the excesses of high end. Occasionally they have some funny stuff.

http://news.cnet.com/audiophiliac/?tag=blgs.list Steve Guttenberg's blog which an interesting mix of high end and mid fi, and some wacky stuff.

http://bigblackdisk.ning.com/ Social network for vinyl lovers. Reviews of new releases from current bands.

http://www.fmtunerinfo.com/ THE source of technical information on analog and quartz lock loop FM tuners.

http://www.classicsansui.net/ Great info on classic Sansui equipment including pictures, schematics, vintage literature, and much more.

http://www.classic-audio.com/marantz/mindex.html Very informative site about classic Marantz gear which includes specs, vintage literature, and some behind the scenes stories.

http://www.stereophile.com/images/masterindex/ Want to know if and in what issue a component was reviewed? This index is an incredibly useful tool to find out. If only it had links to the reviews contained in the on line archives.

. . . and of course Wes and Stephen's Stereophile blogs are lots of fun too!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Black & White



Don't get all up in arms he only uses records that are already to damaged to be playable. Check out his website here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The making of Led Zeppelin LP's

Below is a short video on the making of the recent "Mothership" and "The Song Remains the Same" records.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

We're Gonna Groove



Today marks the 28th year since the death of John Bonham and the end of Led Zeppelin. John was a family man who hated touring and the rock star lifestyle. He preferred to go to the local pub and talk to farmers about how every body's crops were doing. He didn't just own a farm, when he wasn't recording or touring he worked his farm. He was as proud of his prize winning cows as of his gold records. There are many stories about his angry outbursts but for the most part he was depressed about being away from his family. Everyone who knew him described him as a warm and giving person.

Led Zeppelin had one of the most varied list of influences imaginable. Bonham and Jones were into Soul, R&B, and Jazz. Plant loved Blues, West coast psychedelia, pop, and Indian Music. Page was fascinated by Blues, Early Rock N' Roll, Folk music, and world music. When people call them the first Heavy Metal band that's an insult. No heavy metal band has their knowledge of music history or their ability to play just about any type of music they decided to attempt. How many band could play blues, folk, hard rock, punk, reggae, country, and pop? Add to all of those the songs that simply defy categorization.

In interviews both in 1980 and since every band member has admitted that they felt that the band was stagnating and they were hungry to explore new directions and conquer new territory. Were they on the verge of another great period or were they about to head down a creative dead end? If their track record was any indication another great success was in their future. They were always risk takers. Even ending the band was a brave move. They had to know that none of them would ever achieve that level of success as individuals. Led Zeppelin is perhaps unique, with the exception of The Beatles in the fact that they decided to end it and go out on top. A wise move as no one would have been able to fill Mr.Bonham's drum stool. They never won a Grammy during the band's existence, they have since been honored with a Lifetime Achievement award.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A giant among men

Sadly many people haven't heard of Les Paul. In addition to being a great guitarist he is a great innovator and even an inventor. He invented the solid body electric guitar, thus greatly reducing the problem of feedback on stage. He also invented the idea of over-dubbing allowing one musician to record many parts for a single work. Not to mention his innovation of synchronizing a number of recording machines to allow for multi-track recording, thus making mixing after the performance possible. Modern recordings simply couldn't exist without his vision.





Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seriously?

Have you ever wondered what review's systems look like? Below are pictures of Robert E. Greene from "The Absolute Sound" two systems.

System 1:

Harbeth speakers on make shift stands, Bryston amp setting on the floor, components stacked on top of one another and a turntable that's on a flimsy looking stand. This can't be the recipe for great sound. Sadly this isn't a joke.

System 2:

Looks to be a Bryston Preamp sitting on top of a Sunfire amp (a H-U-G-E, HUGE no-no because the power supply of the amp MUST be radiating noise into the preamp which contains delicate signals) hooked up to a cheap direct drive turntable and a cheap looking CD player all setting on a fire place mantle.

None of this is to say that those systems can't sound great but the chances are very, very slim. Now, for a few pictures of MY system from a couple of years ago. While not perfect the set up is much closer to what the majority of the audiophile community would consider ideal. Lacking a digital camera this is the best photo that I can provide.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wearing the Inside Out



Today it was announced that founding member of Pink Floyd, Richard Wright passed away after a short battle with cancer. While he didn’t have many song writing credits after "Dark Side of the Moon" or many appearances as the lead singer his contributions behind the keyboards defined the Pink Floyd sound. It's absence from their album "The Final Cut" insured that album's failure as a "Pink Floyd Album" and guaranteed that it would forever be seen as a "unofficial Roger Waters solo album." With only a small guest appearance on "A Momentary Laps of Reason" he couldn’t stop that LP from being anything more than a David Gilmour solo album that had Mick Manson doing a bit of drumming. His full return for the "Division Bell" album revitalized the sound for a new phase of the band that was far too short. It is impossible to imagine a singer more perfect for harmonizing with and complimenting David Gilmour's voice so seamlessly. The song Echoes from The Floyd's highly underrated Meddle is a prime example. His 1978 solo album, "Wet Dream" which is unjustly out of print is a wonderful collection of songs well worth the trouble of seeking it out. Mr. Wright's family released only a short statement and asks for privacy.

At the very end of "Time" Richard Wright sings

"Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desparation is the English way.
The time has gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say . . ."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Methodology



Acoustic music is better at diagnosing the sonics of a component simply because the listener has had a chance to hear it in real life. I've always felt that if a component could reproduce the tonality of acoustic instruments accurately, their reproduction of the tonality of electronic instruments must inherently be accurate. However, I would agree that if a trained listener had heard a recording of non-acoustic instruments on a system that is known to be extremely accurate because of it's performance with recordings of acoustic instruments in real space enough times that they could then use that recording with some authority.

Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a bias against rock and pop, or a preference for jazz and classical. It is perfectly acceptable to use acoustic rock as a reference. Drum kits on rock and pop are, as long as they acoustic also a perfectly acceptable instrument to use for evaluation purposes.

While the sound of an electric guitar MIGHT be as complex as a flute, acoustic guitar, or grand piano it is unknowable. By that I mean that unless you were in the recording studio with the guitar player on the day of the original session your understanding of the sound of that guitar can only be in the broadest of terms, not exact terms. There are just too many variables that affect the tone of the guitar. The list of factors that I can think of off of the top of my head are:

1. The Guitar (make, model, and year)
2. The switch positions on said guitar
3. The nob settings of said guitar
4. Custom modifications to the guitar (if any)
5. The foot pedals (not only type but brand)
6. The nob positions on those pedals
7. Any customization of those pedals (if applicable)
8. The Guitar amp (make, model, and age)
9. The setting of knobs and switches on said amp
10. Any customization of the amp (if there are any)
11. Recording mic (model and type)
12. Mic position
13. Tweaks of the mic (if any)
14. Room position of mic
15. Room acoustics
16. String choice on guitar
17. Choice of guitar pick
18. Tube type in guitar amp (if applicable)

Now lets look at the variables for recording a flute:

1. The flute (make model, and year)
2. Recording mic (model and type)
3. Mic position
4. Tweaks of the mic (if any)
5. Room position of mic
6. Room acoustics

Because there are so many variables in the way an electric guitar CAN sound it is completely unsuitable as a reference to determine the accuracy of reproduction. So if a piece of audio gear slightly changes the tonality of electric guitar it’s tough to know because the slightly inaccurate reproduction is still somewhere on the continuum of what an electric guitar MIGHT sound like. It’s pretty obvious that the chance KNOWING in exact terms how a particular performance on electric guitar is supposed to sound is an impossibility. While KNOWING how a flute is supposed to sound in absolute terms, though difficult is possible.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Occasionally

Occasionally I've been THAT guy! But only when customers really, really had it coming.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hearing vs. Listening


The average audiophile's HEARING isn't any better than the average person. However, our LISTENING abilities are much more refined. Our brains have become extremely practiced at analyzing the data that interests us. Hearing is a physical action. Listening is a cognitive, analytical action. Like when we were kids and our parents said, "You don't listen." They were right we heard that they were speaking to us but we didn't bother to remember what they said. We just didn't think that it could be important.

Just a quick thought.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Baaack!



The way those kids were handling that record made me cringe.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Invitation



Writing is an activity that has always brought me much enjoyment. From High School through College each of my English teachers encouraged me to make it my profession. There have always two major obstacles. First, my skepticism about how an individual can making a good living as a professional writer (The bohemian lifestyle holds no romance for this rampant consumer) and second the creative muse only seems to visit me when there is an assignment, preferably one with a deadline. Douglas Adams once declared, " I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." But for me there is a strong internal drive to meet my obligations at all costs that trumps my natural laziness.

Recently an opportunity has presented itself to write about topics for which I have no shortage of opinions. Bigblackdisk.com is focused on supporting Mom and Pop record stores, Indie Rock, Hi-Fi, and vinyl records. If there is someone that you know would enjoy my writing or has an interest in those topics please forward this email to them. The site goes live on August 15th and I hope that all of you will join me. Feel free to leave comments good and bad. If you want me to know which comments are yours simply post with your first name and last initial. As a preview to entice everyone to check it out I’ve included the introductions to my first four reviews. You’ll have to stop by on August 15th to read the rest, just call me a tease. ;-)

Black Keys-"Attack & Release"

Is heavy, riff based Rock back in style? If the likes of The White Stripes, Wolfmother, Secret Machines, and The Black Keys have anything to say about it the answer is a rousing “Hell Yes!” Recorded in just 14 days, the Black Keys’ “Attack & Release” has a strong DIY feel from the water color and pencil cover to the hand built recording console that was used during the sessions.

The pressing is an extremely quiet and utilized the half speed mastering technique. Included with the record is a copy of the album on CD, at $18 the package is a bargain. Other artists should take note, it’s a nice touch for many reasons. It makes importing into iTunes a snap, listening to it in the car easy, it aids in the comparison of vinyl vs. CD for those on the fence, and it comes in handy for loaning to friends who are curious about the band. After spending the last several years servicing other people’s turntables it’s doubtful that I’ll ever lend out my records. The number of people who feel that it’s appropriate to put spare change on top of their tone arms in order to make sure that it tracks or are completely missing the diamond of their stylus is just plain alarming. Records, like girlfriends and wives are not for lending. Use the CD to help spread the word, cherish and hoard the record.

Jeffery Lewis-"12 Crass Songs"

It was once remarked in my presence that if an old painting was put into a new frame it forced the view to re-evaluate the work from another perspective. That's exactly what Jeffery Lewis' "12 Crass Songs" sets out to do. Jeffrey Lewis re-interprets 12 songs by punk band Crass as folk tunes. It's not such a strange idea as it first seems, in some ways punk and folk are closely related. Both genres are democratic musical forms. Anyone can form a punk band or become a folk troubadour. Being able to play an instrument competently , follow a melody, or in anyway sing are strictly speaking optional. All one really needs is a quick fire vocal delivery that's almost fast enough to slip by the standard left wing observations as being profound. A skill perfected by Bob Dylan.

Guster-"Ganging Up on the Sun"

Hidden on Chicago's FM dial is one of the most eclectic stations in the country. Driving with the windows down on a forgotten Saturday afternoon WXRT played the Cure's "Just Like Heaven", Muddy Waters' "I'm a Man", and Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls" back to back to back. How many radio stations would play these three songs in the same year, let alone as part of the same set? XRT displays the same passion and courage when championing new talent. They freely lend their support to Guster and many other under-exposed artists. If you're thinking about being jealous, don't. Through the miracles of the internet it's now available world wide, make sure to send Al Gore a nice thank you note written on a palm leaf using soy ink, delivered by Pony Express. Maybe he'll read it while riding on a private jet to one of his $175,000 speaking engagements. Remember do as he says, NOT as he does and Mother Earth will be just fine.

Guster's "Ganging Up on The Sun" is a meticulously recorded and mixed, ambitious pop album lovingly crafted to induce toe tapping. By the second or third listen the album already sounds familiar, like an old favorite. Except of course it isn't, it's a brand new favorite. . .


Mark Knopfler-"Shangri-La"

Mark Knopfler is such a fluid, tasteful, and literate guitarist that he makes it sound easy. This more than anything else accounts him being one of the most under-rated guitarists plying his trade today. He never uses his well formed technical abilities to needlessly dazzle, his gifts are only utilized to serve the song. Not only is Mr. Knopfler an instrumental virtuoso, he is also a compelling song writer. Imagine the pick of Stevie Ray Vaughn and the pen of Pete Townshend and the level of Mr. Knopfler's talents come into focus. Not only is he a great talent, but his modesty allows him to be surrounded by performers of similar talent. Just so my biases are clear to all I wrote the above before compressed carbon met this helping of dead dinosaur for the first time. So I guess that you could say that I'm predisposed to like the disc.

About half of the songs on Shangri-La have a common theme, but not to worry it avoids stepping over the line to become a pretentious concept album. The majority of songs are about the struggles of the working class and their exploitation at the hands of the Bourgeoisie. For me listening to an album about the plight of the working class on a system that costs more than many people make in a year is the source of a bit of chagrin. But if Mark Knopfler is comfortable making more on said album and associated tour than those same people make in a lifetime I guess I can soldier through my guilt.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bose?



Bose is a great marketing company that makes mediocre (at best) speakers. First of all, I believe that most would agree that they start their design from a flawed premise. They've always said that 7/8 of the sound we hear is reflected, as apposed to direct sound. This is why most of the drivers in a 901 face in odd directions. Ask anyone from Bose where this number comes from and they can't tell you. This is creating false space as apposed to recreating the space that is actually captured on the recording. Then you have their active equalizer that is there to compensate electronically by forcing drivers past their physical limits to get a "big" sound out of a small box. This MUST create distortion. This is only one of the products, the others are equally flawed.

Then you look at their tendency to sue people for the most goofy reasons. They sued CEDIA (Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Association), a trade association of which they are a member for the use of the word "Lifestyle" with respect to audio. Years ago they sued Thiel because they used that same model number. Which is just stupid because the whole idea copyrights is to avoid confusion in the market place. Who in the world is going to confuse Bose and Thiel? Especially when the speakers looked completely different and were designed from a completely different technical point of view?

The following is from Wikipedia, "In 1981 Bose unsuccessfully sued the magazine Consumer Reports for libel. Consumer Reports reported in a review that the sound from the system that they reviewed "tended to wander about the room." The District Court found that Consumer Reports "had published the false statement with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity" when it changed what the original reviewer wrote about the speakers in his pre-publication draft. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling on liability, and the United States Supreme Court affirmed in a 6-3 vote in the case Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., finding that the statement was made without actual malice, and therefore there was no liability for libel." I can't believe that they sued someone for a bad review!

Then you look at their draconian approaches in retail such as insisting that their products MUST NOT be set up where they can be actively demoed against other brands and their Secret Police tacts of demanding that managers fire sales people that say anything remotely negative about their brand ON THE SPOT or risk being cut off as a dealer. Neither of these things are myth, I've seen them happen!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lots to think about



Wilson Audio is one of the pillars of the High-end audio industry. The following video makes it clear that David Wilson, Wilson Audio’s guiding light has profound thoughts about a great number of topics involving the industry other than speaker design. The half hour video addresses such subjects as the difference between a product vs. a commodity, the financial transparency and solvency of Hi-Fi manufacturers, business models, fair pricing, real customers vs. customers of opportunity, perceived quality vs. real quality, De-localization, corporate social responsibility, labor rates, and shop efficiency. Click on the photo below to attend the lecture.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Maybe I'm amazed




My Martin Logan CLS electrostatic speakers are now powered by the Audioquest AC15 power cords that I recently mentioned. Each was broken in by using them to power my Threshold Stasis S550e amplifier for 24 continuous hours. There is no contest between the Monster Cable PowerLine300 that I was previously using and these. The first thing to strike me is how much more quiet the backgrounds are with the AC15s in place. On Belle & Sebastian’s “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” the gentle hums and buzzes of the guitarist’s tube amp is clearly audible in the right channel as he waits for his turn to enter the song. The acoustic guitar also has more body behind the strings and the piano sounds fuller too. These cords have also made the soundstage more spacious, increased the shimmer around cymbals, and allowed music with lots of layers to really reveal itself much more effortlessly. They’ve also gotten rid of the extremely slight sibilance that female vocals could occasionally take on.

Gone is a slight muddiness on cello that I always noticed on Jacqueline Du Pre and the London Symphony's transcendent performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. The unwelcome hardness of the dynamic peaks at the very beginning of the second movement have also been tamed and sound much more effortless.

The audible effects of power cords continue to amaze me. How much of these changes are due to the ferrite clamps, how much do the Wattgate connectors contribute, how much of it is just the better wire in the cable. It would be hard to know for sure but the overall effect is nothing short of jaw dropping!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Keep this Train rolling



My love affair with analog FM radio is well documented on the blog. However, the ability of internet radio to bring variety and diversity to everyone around the world is thrilling, even if the sound isn’t. Tivoli radio has been making some of the most compelling and innovative table radios for a couple of years running. Their new NetWorks radio clearly demonstrates that they have no intentions of slowing down. The NetWorks allows the user to listen to internet radio anywhere that there is a wired or wireless internet access. But it doesn’t stop there, this new addition to the Tivoli stable can also find music files on your PC and play those too. It also has a USB port to play songs off of portable media players.



Wednesday, July 09, 2008

White?



Led Zeppelin's newly remastered "The Song Remains the Same" is being released on four 180 gram LP's. The latest version of the album includes 6 bonus tracks not on the original album including "Black Dog", "Over The Hills and Far Away", "Misty Mountain Hop", "Since I've Been Loving You", "The Ocean", and "Heartbreaker." Also orders through ledzeppelin.com by July 22 have a chance of being randomly selected to receive the release on white vinyl, which is limited to 200 copies. Isn't white supposed to be for virgins?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A good deal for skeptics

It would be hard to find a topic more controversial and debated in high end audio today than the effect (or lack there of) of power cords on sound. The discussion of the contribution of power cords to the overall sound of a system has been discussed many times on this blog. When I first started my forays into this phenomena I didn't want to hear a difference, because I'm cheap and I'm a natural skeptic. However, my brand of skepticism is more of an “open-minded skepticism” so investigation was clearly in order. For those looking for an inexpensive way to do some experimenting HCM audio has a closeout deal on Audioquest AC15 power cords at an unbelievable price, $39.95 for a seven and a half feet power cord. As a bonus, they are fitted with WattGate/Marinco 5266, ends. Much nicer than what Audioquest originally offered as the standard terminations.



The AC15s includes a ferrite bead to help stop RFI and EMI from getting into the components. They will be replacing the Monser PowerLine300 on my Martin Logan CLS speakers. Audioquest has been my cable of choice for a number of years now. In addition to being one of the oldest cable companies in existence, they always make clear what makes one level of cable better than the next. Their staff is more than willing to make custom cables to any specifications and to complete and ship them extremely quickly. Take a couple minutes and read this short interview with Audioquest founder Bill Low.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ebb and Flow

Bill Shafer sent along a nice video about the resurgence of the vinyl record. Like the ebb and flow contained in the grooves of our favorite records those black discs have risen and fallen and risen again in popularity over the years. It's out lasted reel to reel tape , 8-track, cassette, DAT, and Minidisc. The way things are going it's starting to look like the record will outlast the CD too. Now wouldn't that be ironic.




Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kid Rock is Right?

Rarely, if ever do I agree with Kid Rock. But he makes his point very succinctly in this youtube video.



Stealing music is wrong. You heard it here first kids!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Impending disaster at Capitol Tower



Los Angles may be close to loosing a land mark. In a city where almost nothing is old and a general sense of history is lacking, Capitol Studios is under threat. The Capitol Tower was designed by architect Welton Becket and opened in 1956 at 1730 Vine Street. A developer has purchased the land next door and intends to build a 16 floor condominium high rise, complete with underground parking. That subterranean parking would only be 18 feet away from the legendary echo chambers. The construction would make the chambers and studios unusable, at least temporarily. Of more concern is that the traffic in the garage might make them permanently useless. These are the very echo chambers and studios used on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and countless others.

The builders originally went to great lengths to make the studio as acoustically isolated from the surrounding as possible. The rectangular first floor that houses the studios is actually a separate structure, joined to the tower after completion. The exterior walls are 10 inch thick concrete with a 1 inch air gap separating the outer structure from the studio’s inner walls. The studio floor floats on a rubber-tiled 3 inch thick concrete slab, which itself floats on a layer of cork supported by a 6 inch concrete slab. The heating and air conditioning system use decoupled ducts, sound traps, and specialized vents. Even the ballasts for the fluorescent lights were mounted outside the studio to eliminate any source of hum. Les Paul designed the echo chambers, using similar construction methods 30 feet underground. They are capable of creating echoes that last for up to five seconds. It would be a shame if all of this hard work and good design was made obsolete so some yuppies can have a posh pad with underground parking.

For those in the LA area Capitol is encouraging people to turn out and show their support at a zoning meeting for a stay of execution. The Planning and Land Use Management, or PLUM (If only politicians would spent less time thinking up cute anachronisms and more time solving problems maybe we’d have better government.) is meeting Tuesday June 17 at 2 PM at City Hall in hearing room 350. The fate of Capitol records studios may very well be in our hands.


.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pure Power

For the last couple of years PS audio has been making some of the most exciting and innovative power conditioning products on the market. In the video below PS audio's founder Paul McGowan takes us on a tour of their Power Plant Premier.



I had a Power Plant Premier in my system for a month recently. The drop in the noise floor was unbelievable. The recording that sticks most in my mind was Paul McCartney's "Unplugged." The tonal shifts in his voice as he would move his head to talk to either the audience or the band were always audible, however with the Power Plant Premier the changes were astounding. Sound staging depth was also dramatically increased throughout the album. One detail that I had never noticed before nor have I heard since was the sound of McCartney shifting his feet between songs. Micro dynamics also became much more evident.

PS audio is currently offering a free DVD entitled "Coal to Coltrane: a Brief History of Power." Anybody that is interested in high end audio should request a copy. It's full of insight and anecdotes from Wes Phillips, Michael Fremmer, Robert Harley, and many more. The documentary not only demonstrates the basic principles of electricity it also explains how and why we have the electrical system that we do today. The program isn't a fluff piece selling merely PS audio's products, in fact it rarely mentions their wares. It could easily be shown on PBS, it's that educational and historically informed.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Avant-garde



Avant-garde musician David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads sets out to prove that music is all around us by turning an abandoned building into a musical instrument. The whole space is playable by a keyboard. For whatever reason when I heard about this I knew it had to be in New York. Originally posted by boingboing.

video

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Grado


There are certain audio companies for which I have a soft spot. For the most part, it's companies that have stood the test of time and build their products right here in the United States. Grado certainly meets both. They've been making excellent phono cartridges for over 50 years, never giving up on vinyl even in it's darkest years. Grado is still in the hands of the family that founded the company and they still hand make their products in Brooklyn. I have one of their Gold cartridges that has served me well for a number of years. Many years ago I gave a pair of SR60 headphones to my then girlfriend who loved and treasured them even after she stopped loving and treasuring me. They also make a nice phono stage and a couple of headphone amps. The guys over at audiojunkies have a nice factory tour.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

T Bone Burnett



In an interview with New York’s WNYC, Producer T Bone Burnett expounds on his dislike for the CD. "It's stepped down from tape to digital to compressed digital, so people are now listening to a Xerox of a Polaroid of a photograph of a painting." For future releases of Burnett’s projects he intends to release a CD packaged with a DVD that will include DVD-Audio and files in a number of formats including 24/96, 16/44.1, AAC, and MP3. The files will be encoded from the original master instead of the process so eloquently described by Mr. Burnett. All for the same price as a conventional CD release. Too bad it wasn’t ready for the Robert Plant & Allison Krauss release “Raising Sand.” Hopefully it will be re-released in the new format.



Thursday, June 05, 2008

A new resource





Lately I’ve been completely addicted to wikipedia, whenever something piques my curiosity it’s my go to resource for quick answers. nearly everything you’d want to know about anything is there. Any subject, that is except audio. Even the entries on companies like Mark Levinson, Dynaco, Audio Research, and McIntosh are extremely short. Then there are important companies that have no entries whatsoever.

Enter Audiophilewiki. Started in May of this year, Audiophilewiki is looking to change all of that. Right now it’s in an embryonic state but with such industry luminaries as Harry Pearson, Robert Harley, Ray Kimber, Tim de Paravicini, Michael Fremer, Paul McGowan, Ken Kessler, and EveAnna Manley the talent and the passion is certainly there. For a good list of topics that already up in some for or another click here. Now go and help make it pretty!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Revolution!

Jim Thiel is one of the most innovative speaker designers of all time. He bases all of his designs on common sense and hard science, not marketing. Instead of coming out with a new line of speakers every three years or so, Thiel chooses to wait longer and release speakers that are revolutionary as apposed to evolutionary. The dizzying number of finish options are all well done and allow those who worry about aesthetics to have a large number of choices. They even go as far as to offer custom matching of existing wood work. Does the wife have an 18th centaury armoire that she insists be matched? No problem. Send the nice folks in Lexington Kentucky a sample and in about a week or two they will send back three samples with pricing for each.

Thiel’s newest speakers, the CS3.7 is a masterstroke. For a company whose speakers have always been very seamless owing to their time and phase coherent design the 3.7 takes it to the next level. The vanishing act that these speakers pull off is quite startling. Like all Thiel speakers they do take quite some time to break in. Many believe that the extended break in time required is related to the metal drivers and the solid core wiring used through out the line.

The new 3.7 is significantly more efficient than it’s predecessor, providing twice the output from a given amount of input power. The most technologically innovative aspect of the 3.7 is it’s midrange driver which has response all the way up to 20kHz. The traditional tweeter that lies at the center of the midrange driver is there mostly to improve dispersion. The new midrange driver’s ripples also are unique and add a great amount of structural strength, which reduces distortion. Below is an interview with Jim Thiel conducted by Ken Dawkins. He discusses many of the facets that make his new speaker a technological tour de force. Click on the picture to view the video.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Compromise worthy of a politician


It seems that there is no end in sight when it comes to the battle of which sounds better, the CD or the record. There are those who feel that CD’s will never be able to sound like a record. There are others who ask why would anyone want them to. Then there’s Aleks Kolkowski, with an idea worthy of a politician. He offered attendees of Manchester Futuresonic 2008 Festival a 45 rpm single that was cut onto a useless CD or DVD. Even going as far as to offer people the chance to bring a WAV file of their choice. Now if only useless old laserdiscs could enjoy the same “treatment” we could have some 33 1/3s as well. Many vinylphiles will enjoy the irony, yet cringe at the thought of what playing one of these would do to an expensive phono cartridge.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rough Mix




The ability of music to instantly and powerfully remind us of a very specific time in our life is one of its most magical qualities. For me “Rough Mix” will always be inextricably linked to a drive between Indianapolis and Lexington Kentucky with my friend and former boss Duke. There’s nothing like a road trip with good tunes to get to know someone. He brought the album along as an evaluation tool when we were visiting the manufacturing facility of Thiel Audio. When we got back into town he lent it to me. I enjoyed it, returned it then promptly forgot all about it. Until a saw it again 8 years later, I just had to buy it.

The story began when Ronnie Lane of “The Faces” approached his friend Pete Townshend of “The Who” for a loan. Townshend declined but offers to work with Ronnie on an album instead. Initially Ronnie thought that he would produce a solo album for him but Pete had little interest in sitting behind the console. Mr. Townshend offered to do a joint album (stop your snickering DAMN IT!) and recommends Glyn Johns to produce.

Rough Mix is anything but! There are lots of layers, a virtual tapestry with everything perfectly in it’s place. For the most part it’s an intimate album with hushed, almost confessional vocals. It’s an album of quieter moments. Choosing to whisper the truth instead of scream nonsense. This is all the more surprising when one considers the number of guest musicians. None of whom try to call attention to themselves, instead they chose to contribute tastefully. Special guests include Charlie Watts of “The Rolling Stones”, Eric Clapton, John Entwistle of “The Who”, Ian Stewart sort of from “The Rolling Stones (see foot note*)”, and future Who member John “Rabbit” Bundrick.

The Pete Townshend contributions are universally strong. “My Baby Gives It Away” is mid-tempo rocker. “Misunderstood” can be said without a trace of irony to have the perfect amount of cowbell. It also contains other nice percussion touches. The harmonica also adds a nice counter point to his vocals, and what’s not to love about the chorus (“coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking.”) “Street in the City” is a nice little song about the goings on during the day on an average street with a nice little string arrangement. “Heart to Hang on to” has some nice moments of vocal interplay between the pair and a nice brass interlude. “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” is just beautiful and is a great example of a cover so perfectly chosen and performed that the artist really makes it their own.

I find the Ronnie Lane contributions less moving. The sole songwriting collaboration between Lane and Townshend is an instrumental called “Rough Mix” where Eric Clapton singularly fails to do anything interesting and John “Rabbit” Bundrick upstages everyone with his performance on the organ. “Annie” has a nice sad Irish drinking ballad feel to it, which is added to by the accordion and violin. For whatever reason his song “Catmelody” sounds like an outtake from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” intended for Meat Loaf, the sax solo really seals it too. I would add “in a bad way” to the previous sentence but I feel that it goes without saying since we‘re talking about Meat Loaf. “April Fool” really benefits from Clapton’s Dobro playing, which is a nice touch. The bonus tracks, while not essential are nice to have too. All three of the outtakes have a loose audio-vérité feel that adds to their charm.

The sound of acoustic guitars are not just strings, but the body behinds the strings and the pick against those strings. The album also has quick accurate bass, and extended shimmering cymbals. While the dynamics are not overly compressed, if they were a little more open this album would go from great for a Rock recording to exceptional for a Rock recording. The newest version of the disc is a Dual Disc that in addition to it‘s DVD-Audio layer (The DVD-A is 24/48 for surround and 24/96 for stereo. In addition it has Dolby Digital stereo and surround for backwards compatibility.) also features a short documentary. The default on the DVD-A side is multi-channel, unforgivable from the two-channel audiophile without a monitor perspective.

*He was kicked out for not being cool enough though he continued to record with them and play with them live. Maybe Mick didn’t want to split the money six ways. Sorry but I simply never pass up a chance to take a shot at Mick Jagger, even a cheap unfounded one.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Knowing your roots

Originally written December 6, 2006, now with pictures!

Recently I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The museum began life as the private collection of Joseph R. Pavek. A traveling salesman that made it a regular habit to stop into every small town barber shop for a quick trim and to ask the same question, "Do you know anyone with an old radio they don’t want?"In Mr. Pavek’s day the barber knew everyone in towns business.

There were a plethora of interesting exhibits. The first that springs to mind was a musical performance that was recorded simultaneously for acoustic 78RPM record (A horn captured the sound which was then cut directly into the master. No electricity was necessary) and electrical 78RPM record (Microphones and something approaching modern recording technics.) flipping between them was a snap. Of course the electrically recorded version had much better bass response, a more transparent midrange, and more a more accurate presentation of brass instruments. The gentleman guiding the tour briefly mentioned that when electrical recordings made their debut felt that they were markedly inferior to the old acoustical recordings. Thus was born Audio Luddism.
The next exhibit that inspired my imagination was when our tour guide was nice enough to play a Bing Crosby recording on an early Ampex ¼” reel to reel tape deck using a Marantz 5B tube amp and a huge pair of Western Electric horn speakers that were originally designed for movie theater use (I would estimate that the mouth of these horns was roughly 5’ by 7’, yes I meant feet!) The sound was stunning and immediate! Apparently, Mr. Crosby was an early investor in Ampex, supporting an American GI that had brought back some German machines after World War II. He used the Ampex machines to record his radio show so that he could complete it on his schedule, not allowing himself to be a slave to the time slot.


Perhaps the most amazing item on display was a Philco radio from 1939 It featured six AM presets and a wireless RF remote, that used a rotary dial similar to what was used on telephones. The range, an astonishing 200 feet! Something that would have been amazing had it been working was a 78RPM record changer that would play one side of the disc, then flip it to play the other side automatically. Unfortunately it had malfunctioned the previous day snapping a shellac in two, just my luck.

In one of the earliest examples of decorators trying to hide audio systems as to not ruin the décor of a room was a 78RPM turntable disguised as a lamp. The shade hid the turntable, and the body of the lamp was a brass horn that emitted the music. It was also a working lamp. The sound, well let’s just say that it was the Bose of it’s time. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Also on display was an original Theremin utilizing all tube electronics. I was even granted permission to "play" it. That was a very cool experience. I’m no Jimmy Page, let me tell you. Another interesting tidbit was a Mechanical Television with a resolution of 48 lines (If I remember correctly.) It consisted of a spinning disc drilled with holes and an eye piece that the view looked through. Broadcasts were over AM radio frequencies and most viewers built their own "televisions."

If anyone is in the St. Louis Park, Minnesota area a visit is mandatory. My tour was courtesy of Tom Mittelstaedt who was obviously equal parts passionate and knowledgeable. The Pavek is located at 3515 Raleigh Avenue in Saint Louis Park, just east of Highway 100, off the West 36th Street exit. They are open to the public five days a week and are also available for special tours and evening meetings. Call the Museum at (952) 926-8198 to make reservations for group tours or just stop in for a visit. Their website is www.pavekmuseum.org It’s not to be missed.