Sunday, March 30, 2008

Origami Speakers

This afternoon I was watching Current TV which featured a profile of Muji. Think Japanese IKEA, minus the cute names. Muji's central ideas are quality, simplicity, and modesty. The product that caught my attention was a pair of single-driver speakers that use a collapsable card board box as their enclosure, retail is a cool $42. Never mind the kinds of frequency response problems that such an enclosure would introduce, I want to hear these speakers and I don't even know why. Muji just opened their first US store in New York. These would be right up the alley of Stereophile's Art Dudley. Single-driver? Check. Japanese? Check. Original in a wacky way? Check. Esoteric? CHECK!

According to Muji's website:


What is MUJI?

MUJI is not a brand whose value rests in the frills and "extras" it adds to its products.

MUJI is simplicity - but a simplicity achieved through a complexity of thought and design.

MUJI's streamlining is the result of the careful elmination and subtraction of gratuitous features and design unrelated to function.

MUJI, the brand, is rational, and free of agenda, doctrine, and "isms." The MUJI concept derives from us continuously asking, "What is best from an individual's point of view?"

MUJI aspires to modesty and plainness, the better to adapt and shape itself to the styles, preferences, and practices of as wide a group of people as possible. This is the single most important reason people embrace MUJI.

MUJI - in its deliberate pursuit of the pure and the ordinary - achieves the extraordinary.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Extremely early Jimmy Page

You tube is really a treasure trove of old video, most of which can not be released commercially because of copyright reasons. Below is a performance by James Page, better known as Jimmy Page (much later of Led Zeppelin) from 1957. Who knew he was a world class whistler too? I wouldn't hold my breath for a reunion of this group either.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Raising our profile?

All too often the high-end hobby spend lots of time and resources preaching to the choir. In some respects it’s understandable. High end manufacturers have limited resources (most employ less than 50 people) and by targeting their message towards hobbyist they guarantee some return on their investment. However, this does nothing to bring new blood into the hobby. A greater number of people involved in high quality audio reproduction is a good thing not only for audio companies, but also for consumers. As production increases the prices that companies have charge per unit to remain profitable and innovate will drop.

Recently, there have been a number of steps in the right direction. According to Steve Guttenberg’s March 11 blog Thiel audio and Bryston have teamed up to set up a system at the headquarters of Rolling Stone magazine. The system will be in place for three months and consists of Thiel 3.7 loudspeakers and SS2 Subwoofer. As well as Bryston’s BCD-1 CD player, BP26 preamp, and 28BSST mono block amps. Hopefully the writers at Rolling Stone will be so impressed that one of them will write an article about perfectionist audio, thus helping raise it’s exposure.

Another category that is helping to raise the profile of high-quality sound reproduction is the partnerships between auto manufacturers and high-end audio stalwarts. This trend began in earnest when Mark Levinson teamed with Lexus and seems to only be gaining momentum. Other partnerships include Aston Martin/Linn, Jaguar/B&W, and Bentley/Naim, Volvo/Dynaudio, BMW/Lexicon, and Bugatti/Burmester. According to Wes Philips’ excellent blog Naim has taken things a step further by setting up a listening room at the 2008 International Auto Show.

Last, but certainly not least American Express has given the industry some unbelievable free publicity with their Plum card advertisement that features music direct, a highly regarded mail order audio retailer on their TV commercials. Jason Victor Serinus wrote a great post on Stereophile's webpage about how this commercial came about.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Going Home Again

On the Cowboy Junkies newest album, "Trinity Revisited" they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their landmark 1988 album "The Trinity Sessions." Even going as far as returning to Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity, the sight of the original recording. At first blush this sounds like possibly the worst idea of their career. The original is a certified classic, whatever they did with it they were bound to ruffle lots of feathers.

With such an endeavor there were two courses that were the obvious ones. First they could try to meticulously duplicate the original. But what’s the point in that, lightning never strikes in the same place twice in exactly the same way. The second clear path would be to do something completely different with the same batch of songs. Of course with so many listeners that love the music this could also make the Cowboys the victims of a lynching.

The Junkies chose a third, less clear path. To stay true to the original spirit, while breaking new ground with the arrangements. Along for the ride are some impressive guest musicians. Again, Cowboy Junkies avoid the pitfall of just picking current “hot” musicians. Instead they find sympathetic souls that understand the original masterwork, but aren’t afraid of it. It’s impossible to imagine a better supporting cast than Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, Natalie Merchant, and Jeff Bird (whose a given.) Gone is the minimalist miking of the original. The sound isn’t as spacious as the original but the tonality of the individual instruments, particularly the vocals is arguably more accurate.

Overall the guests are used to good effect. Everyone is perfect in their rolls. While it wasn’t rehearsed and recorded in one day, like it’s inspiration the pace was still breakneck. One day for technical set up (lighting, cameras, sound) the second day for rehearsals, and a third for the performances. This surely helps keep things fresh, fun, and just a little dangerous.

The set comes not only with a CD, but also a DVD. Production of both is first rate. The video was shot 1080, at 24 frames per second (actually 23.976 if you want to be specific about it.) and the audio was recorded at 24/96, so they’ve prepared for the future as well as making a great looking and sounding package for today. The DVD defaults to the PCM stereo track, handy for those who want to listen to the 24/96 track of the DVD but either don’t have a monitor to navigate menus, or simply don’t want to turn it on. Someone was thinking. Bravo! Also contained on the DVD is a documentary covering both the making of the original and the updated version which runs about 30 minutes, as well as the band’s early “creative” touring methods.

Not only has the new version been played numerous times, but it’s mandated more listenings to the original. There is no higher praise than that.