Friday, April 25, 2008

An open letter to John Atkinson

In his May 2008 review of Paradigm Reference Studio/20 Robert Reina states the following, “Even on “The Best of Both Worlds,” from Hannah Montana’s Dance Along DVD (Disney IFPI 7792), the Studio/20 had me following an interesting melody on distorted guitar buried under Miley Ray Cyrus’s processed, in-your-face vocal.” (May 2008 p.101) What is Mr. Reina doing with this DVD in his collection and what makes him think that this is an appropriate demo disc for a Stereophile review? This largely, if not completely undercuts his credibility and seriously threatens the credibility of Stereophile Magazine itself. John Atkinson should call for Mr. Reina’s immediate resignation, or Robert’s severed head on an mpingo disc. The disc’s harmonic tuning could turn his screams of “I Leave my 24” Celestion Si speaker stands to Sam Tellig.” into Frank Sinatra singing “I get a kick outta you.” Who at Stereophile knew that “Robert J Reina” was the nom de plume of a 15 year old girl, and when did they know it? I call for a series of Congressional hearings into the matter. The hearings are to last at least 20 months, cost $20 million dollars, produce a report of no less than 409 pages and answer no questions, find no fault, and offer no solutions. Use the Mitchell report as a blueprint and you can‘t go wrong. In addition a copy of the report must be mailed to each subscriber so we can not read it at our leisure, but discuss it as if we had. In the future Mr. Atkinson I strongly suggest that you screen applicants for reviewing jobs much more vigorously. Please cancel 1/10 of my Stereophile subscription. Not by issue count, but by removing Rob Reina reviews from issues mailed to me. Please issue my refund check for the difference in Canadian dollars.


A reader with too much time on his hands

P.S. In all seriousness I know that everyone is trying to lose weight but the latest issue of Stereophile is positively anorexic at 150 pages. The postman slipped it under my door.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Everything that's old is new again.

Tom Petty’s newest recording is a reunion of sorts with his former band Mudcrutch, which later evolved into the Heartbreakers that we all know (and some of us love.) Mudcrutch is three-fifths the same band as The Heartbreakers, both Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench were there then and are there now. Of particular interest to audiophiles the album was recorded with a no overdubs, including vocals and solos. Songs were written quickly and recorded soon after, thus maintaining their freshness and excitement. All of this will most likely add up to a do or die type of album. I can’t wait to hear what happens. From the samples up on it has a definite alt-country flavor. Who knows maybe this will help bring back risk and excitement by competent musicians in Rock. Mark April 29 on you calendars.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Compression and conspiracy?

The most damaging change to recorded music currently being perpetrated by the record industry is dynamic range compression. Dynamic compression is the reduction of the volume difference between the softest and the loudest passages on a recording. Record companies feel that an album or song that is consistently louder than others will “punch” through on the radio, thus increasing sales. However, other record companies are doing the same, thus it has become an arms race of sorts. The losers aren’t the record companies but us, the music buying public. We are forced to suffer music that is uninteresting and uninvolving, a relentless assault on our senses. Removing dynamic contrasts destroy the nuances in a musician’s performance, taking away one of their most important weapons to convey emotion to the listener. The following video is a powerful illustration.

Unfortunately, even older recordings are not safe. Many recent remasters of older material have been dynamically squashed too. The newest Elvis Costello greatest hits package, “The Best of Elvis Costello The First 10 years” is so “hot” it is un-listenable. His 2002 album “When I Was Cruel” is also dynamically challenged. Fortunately, his excellent 2003 album “North” was spared. Most likely because it was on the German Classical label Deutche Grammophon, thank you DG. For the most part Classical and Jazz haven’t befallen this same kind of wholesale destruction because they don’t rely on air play for sales.

If one were cynical they could see all of this as a conspiracy by the major labels to open the door to selling us “remastered” versions of all of these new releases with less dynamic compression in a couple of years time. One of the biggest cash windfalls in the history of the music business took place as consumers converted their collections from vinyl to first generation CDs. Perhaps the second largest boom in their business history was the remastering of those first generation CDs because they hadn‘t done it properly the first time. How many businesses get to make money off of their mistakes? Surely, this didn’t go unnoticed by record executives. Why sell an album on a given format once when you can sell it twice and double the company profits? If record companies really cared about their customers, they would give discounts or rebates to customers who upgraded to a new version of an album. Why not reward hard core fans of a particular band or artist, instead of penalizing them? Never mind the long term good will it would create with customers, something that they are really short on right now. Unfortunately, the small loss in short term profits would be unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

To each their own

The high end hobby is undoubtedly one driven by passion bordering on obsession, as are all hobbies. Some choose to gleefully cross the line into full blown madness. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it happens but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “ I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” If one thinks of high end audio as a flame it is inevitable that certain areas of the flame burn hotter than others. One such area is horn loaded speakers.

A gentleman in Italy has taken it further than anyone else. Below the listening room is a 3 and 1/3 foot deep series of trenches constructed in brick to form a two horns, one for the right channel and one for the left. Each horn houses eight 18” woofers. The length each horn is a little over 31 feet. The subwoofer must have been an unbelievably difficult and expensive undertaking. All of this might be over kill for a system whose sources are a Thorens TD160 turntable and a Marantz CD85 CD player, both using what appear to be rusty car springs as isolation. If you feel more information is in order click here and scroll down the page. To each their own.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The vinyl renaissance

Anybody who hasn't been living under a rock is well aware that vinyl is going through a renaissance . The major stumbling block to joining the fun is that many people have no idea how to properly set up a turntable. The abysmal documentation included with nearly all turntables isn't making the situation any better. Most manufacturers assume that whoever is assembling their turntable has previous experience, and thus takes a certain level of knowledge for granted.

Planet of Sound, a Canadian Hi-Fi store has made a short video explaining how to set up Project's extremely affordable Debut III.

When purchasing a new turntable a good dealer should offer to set it up for a nominal cost, if not for free. Watching how it's done and asking a few questions is never a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Show must go on

There is an old saying in the entertainment industry, “The show must go on.” The clip below might be seen as the ultimate example of this philosophy. At a November 20, 1973 concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco The Who’s drummer, the irrepressible Keith Moon passed out after taking a handful of horse tranquilizers (Ya, you read that right I typed “handful of horse tranquilizers.”) The amazing thing is that Pete Townshend and Company decided to continue the show using a drummer from the audience named Scott Halpin.

How many fans ever get to jam with their idols? If I were him I’d tell everyone I ever met. Something along the line of, “Hi I’m Scott, I once sat in for Keith Moon and played with The Who.” According to an interview he did with Rolling Stone, “I didn't have time to think about it and get nervous. I only played three numbers and I was dead", there energy was staggering.” After the show he got to party with the band. Luck Bastard!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


It's no secret that music servers are the future of audio. Most, however are extremely expensive when the parts list is taken into account. Enter the do-it-yourself movement. Many people have an old computer laying around that is no longer in service. Augment this old machine with a bigger hard drive (either internal or external) and there is only one major obstacle, the user interface. Unfortunately many of the solutions on the market assume that there is a video display on hand or that a small display, typically the size of what is common on CD players is adequate for navigating menus from across the room. What's a two channel audiophile to do? Relax Slim Devices is confident that they have the answer. It's called a Squeezebox Duet, and it sells for an easy to swallow $399. The Squeezebox Duet puts the display were it should be, in the user's hand. Check it out.