Friday, December 25, 2009

Sort of Supergrass

The boys from Supergrass are going to have a busy year. In addition to a new studio album there will also be a new side project consisting of covers called The Hot Rats. The album was produced by Nigel Godrich so it should be a good one. Samples are available on their myspace page. Below is a video of them performing The Beatles "Drive My Car."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Roads to Rome

One of the most unique things about high end audio in the diversity of ideas present in the hobby. I've always believed that there is more than one road to Rome. While every path doesn't make sense to me as long the traveler arrives at the destination, which is musical enjoyment of course who am I to judge? When a designer looks at their products as something that is created, rather than simply manufactured that is always a good sign. After all if they aren't passionate about their offerings what's the chance that anyone else will be? After all we aren't talking about toasters or washing machines. Audio equipment acts as a conduit through which an artistic is conveyed. Just some ideas that these two videos inspired. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

In many ways John Paul Jones was the most under appreciated member of Led Zeppelin. Until recently his post-Zeppelin work has been pretty sparse but recently he seems to be making up for lost time. In the last couple of years he has released two excellent solo albums, "Zooma" and "The Thunderthief" and produced a couple of others. On Tuesday, November 17th his next project will be released. The album is a collaboration with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame titled Them Crooked Vultures. It is currently available to stream through youtube.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Even more Beatles remasters news

In addition to The Beatles remasters being released on CD in mono and stereo versions Mojo recently broke the inevitable news that they will also see a vinyl release as well. Thus far there is no news on pricing, stereo and/or mono, or whether they will be sourced from the 24/192 digital masters or analog masters. But it's good news for record lovers everywhere. For those on the complete other end of the spectrum the catalog will also see release on a USB drive according to Reuters news agency, just in time for Christmas of course. Apparently, the release will be limited to 30,000 units. Probably in much the same way that the mono boxed set was "limited" to 10,000 units. In addition to the 320 Kbps MP3 files the drive will also contain the albums in FLAC at 24 bits 44.1 Khz. It's good to see that they are offering people something at higher resolutions than MP3. Now the only question is when will they release the music in 24/192 (possibly on Blu-Ray) because we ALL know that it's coming sooner or later.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Beatles Mono vs. Stereo

There has been quite a bit of discussion on this blog about the importance of The Beatles catalog in mono. This video does a great job of demonstrating many of the variations.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Memories of Jim Thiel

Most of my fondest memories of Jim Thiel come from a factory tour in 2001. During the first night at dinner Jim, Kathy, and the higher ranking people were in a discussion about finish options, price points, shipping time, and other business matters while Ken Dawkins and myself were making non-audio small talk. Finally Ken asked me, "So what kind of receiver are you using with your speakers?" My response was, "Well, I'm actually using a Parasound P/HP850 preamp and an Adcom GFA5802 amp with Audioquest cables." Jim, who happened to be sitting next to me was obviously bored by the business talk and turned to me and said, "That's a pretty nice system." Jim spent the next 45 minutes or so having an in depth conversation with the least important person at the table, a kid in his early 20's that few people in the industry took seriously. It wasn't a one sided conversation either, he was interested in my thoughts and opinions as well.

The next day in the Thiel listening room Ken asked us to listen to the PowerPoints which our company had repeatedly declined to put on display. In fact myself and my co-workers were under strict and explicit orders to not listen to the PowerPoint speakers under ANY circumstances. The higher ups in our company had never heard the speakers but had decided based on size that they couldn't possibly be worth the money. At the time the first Thiel sub was still in prototype form, but nearly finished. I shocked my co-workers by saying, "I'll be glad to hear the PowerPoints, but only if we can hear them with the Thiel Sub." Well, one of the Thiel sales guys quickly said that it was Thiel policy to not demo prototypes. No sooner had he said that then Jim said, "deal." Needless to say on my return to the store myself and my co-work told everyone that would listen that we NEEDED the PowerPoints on display. We kept on the decision makers until they listened to them and in a couple of months we had them.

On the same trip I was struck by a sign near the door to the workshop that said something to the effect of, "Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated." I told Walter that it was a great sign. His response was, "That sign isn't accurate, when it comes to Jim is should read "excellence will be grudgingly tolerated.""

A couple of years later while demoing a pair of Thiel CS2.4's for a customer I accidentally hooked them up to the 8 ohm taps of a McIntosh MC402 instead of the 4 ohm taps. The sound was remarkably better and I called down to Lexington to find out why, Sherry said she didn't know but would ask Jim about it and get back to me. A couple of hours later I received a 3 page email from Jim explaining that while he did not have direct experience with the amp in question that my findings did not shock him. He then went on to lay out an extremely involved scientific theory on why I heard what I heard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Goodbye Jim

Today the sad news about the passing of Jim Thiel was announced. On the few occasions that I met Jim he was always very gracious. I can't think of anyone in the audio business that I respect more. He will certainly be missed. Like many others I'm sure, I only wish that I could have known him better.

The Thiel philosophy holds, among other things that a speaker should be time and phase coherent. Phase coherence is when two drivers in a speaker are working to create the same frequency and they are doing so by moving in unison. Time coherent means that the sound from each driver arrive at the listening position at the same time, which is made possible by the sloped baffle of his designs. The third major component to all of the recent Thiel designs was short voice coils held within a long magnetic gap. This arrangement has the advantage of keeping the voice coil of a driver within the magnetic field of the gap and dramatically reducing distortion.

To learn a lot more about the innovations and views of this founding father of high-end audio check out the following interviews. Also of interest is the March 1998 Stereophile interview conducted by .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Breaking down Thiel

As anyone who's been following the blog for a while knows I am a big proponent of Thiel Loudspeakers. They contain quite a few original design ideas and unique parts that set them apart from the competition. Gary from Thiel worked with on-line retailer Audio Advisor to create the videos below to discuss a couple of the things that set Thiel apart from it's competition.

The first video briefly describes some of the technical aspects of Thiel speakers that make them something special

The Thiel CS2.4 has been the apple of my eye since it was a 2.3.

Next up is the CS2.4SE, the new apple of my eye. What a beautiful finish!

The PowerPoint speaker is one of the most surprising and technically unique speakers ever developed. While being mounted on a ceiling it still manages to image where a normal floor standing or stand mounted speaker would.

The SCS4 might be Thiels most versatile speaker. It can be used as a standard left/right speaker, a center speaker, or for rears in a home theater application.

Last, but certainly not least is the Thiel CS3.7. The 3.7 is one of the most advanced speakers available today.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Wilco - Summerteeth on Nonesuch (vinyl)

Nonesuch records (Wilco's label after being dumped by Reprise for refusing to change aspects of their brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) has re-released the band's first three albums on vinyl with Summerteeth arriving in stores late last month.  Summerteeth is considered by many to be the album which finally shed them of their alt-country moniker which they inherited from Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt's former band, Uncle Tupelo with singer Jay Farrar. And happily, this double LP follows in the band's recent tradition of quality vinyl sound, which I was slightly surprised by since I never thought Summerteeth was particularly great, sonically, on CD (a copy of that CD [or maybe a remastered CD, come to think of it, I haven't checked] is included here, as well). I always thought the Reprise CD was overly compressed and crowded sounding. This LP, on the other hand, offers a much cleaner, unencumbered sound with Tweedy's voice high up in the center allowing much more room for the instruments to stretch out - especially the percussion and Jay Bennett's little sonic thises and thatses.  And while I've never heard the initial vinyl pressing from 1998 when the album was first released, opinions I've read are that this one is much better. 

And to think people have been buying the original LP on eBay as recently as last spring for highly inflated prices. It shows a little patience pays off - especially now that a new vinyl age is upon us.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beatles Stereo Remasters

Both my blogmate and I agree; until the Beatles mono remastered box set arrives, it will require one thing and one thing only to tide us over - an ever larger box set.

I thought I'd post some quick pictures and impressions of the stereo Beatles remasters.

There are two songs ("Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You") which couldn't be included in stereo due to the lack of the proper mastering source, so the engineers wisely present the mono versions here rather than an inferior stereo mock-up.

The astute observer will note that, while the original UK Parlophone and Apple record labels are replicated for the 2009 disc art, Magical Mystery Tour uses the North American Capitol record label with colorband and silver Capitol stamp since it was first released in the US. I am of the opinion that all Capitol CDs should use this disc art, even today.

Attention was spent on detail with the aesthetic packaging of this boxed set. While the iconic yellow Parlophone logo was used throughout most of the Beatles releases on the label, from year to year and album to album, there were slight variations on the typeface and text placement. EMI/Apple made sure they were all replicated with the disc art (current logos and legal verbiage notwithstanding).

As for how the boxed set actually sounds, the first word that came to mind is "crisp." While listening to the first several albums, they finally sound the way they were meant to - full of energy, fast-paced, plenty of bottom end that sends McCartney's bass notes into your shoes and furniture, in-your-face guitars and vocals that scream out. On the later albums, once the engineers began paying a little more attention to how to properly mix for stereo (as opposed to the first couple of LPs with instruments on the left, vocals on the right, rinse, repeat), the sound begins to fill out with more elaborate arrangements and studio techniques, and these CDs demonstrate it far better than the 1987 masters.

Over the next several weeks, we're sure to hear all about how the engineers either created the finest digital remasters in the history of both digits and masters, or that it's "too loud" with "no sense of space" and how they've completely botched it for future generations, and that Sir Joseph Lockwood will be spinning in his grave - so I won't bore anyone with a long review of each album. As a huge Beatles fan who spent their own money, I'd be biased anyway. Besides, if you're reading this, you've probably read a dozen other reviews, already. Let me just say that they sound every bit as good as a modern CD made from the original master tapes can sound, which is long overdue. These remasters have successfully sent the 1987 CDs back to 1987. Without pristine early vinyl pressings and an expensive turntable and hi-fi system, you will not get a better impression of how the stereo records were intended to sound. Were the band's producer and engineers preoccupied with giving the recordings a huge sense of "air" and space? Not at all. By today's pop music standards, it certainly seems that way, but the Beatles were never exactly an audiophile's delight, either. The Beatles recordings are just some great sounding rock n' roll, pure and simple, and it's evident on the original master tapes. Now, for the first time, it's evident on CD as well. And for what it's worth, it's reinvigorated my hunger to hear Beatles music again.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Audiophiles often bemoan the lack of a younger generation of audio enthusiasts. To be honest it's all a bit like Chicken Little claiming that the sky is falling. High end audio has always been a niche product and there is a good chance it always will be a niche product. However, the next generation of audiophiles are being created at this very moment by two completely different driving forces, the resurgence of the vinyl record and the iPod.

With records the kids are finding that they need help with turntables which leads them to stumble into the various on line audiophile forums and learn about much more than just how to properly set up a turntable and to care for vinyl. They are being indoctrinated on what to listen for in speakers, how to choose the proper amplification, and many more esoteric topics.

The iPod has made listening to music cool again and many of those kids are discovering the included headphones leave much to be desired and they are upgrading. When doing research on which new cans or ear buds they should get they are also learning about how to properly rip and encode digital music.

Below is a video about a young man that's fallen in love with records and reproduced sound. Hopefully this hobby will bring him many years of joy.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Yet more Beatles mono news

Just to make The Beatles mono-mania that's going on around here a little more absurd earlier today I received the following email from amazon:

Hello from,

Our records indicate you purchased a Beatles Mono Box Set, and we wanted to update you on its availability.

This new information will not affect your pre-order--if you pre-ordered a mono box set, you will receive it.

The manufacturer has informed us that they will be producing additional mono box sets due to high demand. While the box set remains a limited-production item, it will not be capped at 10,000 copies for the U.S. market, as originally reported.

That's good news for those who haven't already ordered.

Monday, August 31, 2009

George Martin Featured on BBC Radio 2

Since it's essentially Beatles month here at The Audio Explorer, I thought I'd link a very interesting program from BBC Radio 2 where record producers are featured. This week, it's George Martin talking shop about recording The Beatles, and of course there are clips of current engineers discussing briefly new technologies used in the upcoming remasters.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Both myself and my blogmate have been anxiously awaiting the release of The Beatles remasters box sets, particularly the mono set since they were announced. For those not aware the mono boxed set is limited to 10,000 copies in the United States and is already sold out. Now being "limited edition" means nothing in and of itself however, since it is of limited appeal there is every chance that it will go out of print. So why all of the the excitement for the mono set?

George Martin and The Beatles spent days, sometimes weeks mixing the mono version of most of their albums. The stereo mixes were done usually by an assistant engineer. Sometimes it was even worse, the stereo mix was done by an apprentice engineer. Paul McCartney briefly mentions this in the extra material on The Beatles Anthology DVDs. Saying roughly, "the stereo mixes were done one day while we (George Martin, the producer and The Beatles) were at lunch." With the exceptions of "Yellow Submarine", "Let It Be", and "Abbey Road" the mono mix was the baby. The stereo mix was the bastard redheaded stepchild at best.

At first blush this sounds like a massive oversight. But as Mr. McCartney goes on to point out ". . . ninety-Eight percent of people were listening in mono." Stereo was new, many thought it was a fad and wouldn't last. Many Hi-Fi enthusiasts resisted it in the beginning. It meant a serious amount of money needed to be spent. They were forced to buy another amplifier, another speaker, a new preamplifier, and a new turntable.

Will the sound live up to the expectations? If the review on Tone Audio is any indication the answer is a resounding YES! Also of interest is an ongoing thread on the Steve Hoffman forum. Amazon has some interesting podcasts on the remasters on the right hand side of the page. In addition to two 10 minute interviews with two of the engineers involved in the 4 year project there are there are numerous half minute samples of various Beatles songs to enjoy until the sets ship. September 9th can't arrive fast enough!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8-Bit Miles Davis

Do you like Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, but can't stand all that analog fidelity or unencumbered studio ambiance. Then look no further than Kind of Bloop.

The listening room of George Cardas

Enjoy a quick video that presents a snapshot of George Cardas' listening room. What I find refreshing is that he could have any equipment that he wants, yet his system is very tasteful. If I'm not mistaken that looks like a double pair of Magnepan MG3.6. Those particular Maggies are one of the very best values in high end audio. For less than $5,000 they will easily compete with anything in the world when it comes to transparency in the midrange and extension in the high frequencies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kind Of Blue

Recently Miles Davis' seminal "Kind Of Blue" album turned fifty years old. It's quite possibly the most re-issued and praised jazz album of all time. The vast majority those accolades are richly deserved. Nearly any jazz fan that wasn't being a pretentious ass would recommend it as one of the ten best jazz albums for people looking to get into the genre. The work has been endlessly analyzed but that analysis hasn't stripped of any of it's power or magic. It's hard to put a finger on what makes it so special, but that's how it often is with things that transcend their genres and become part of popular culture.

Monday, August 17, 2009

. . .to boldly go . . .

This photo is all over the internet and I have one major question. Does the Wow and Flutter make every singer sound like William Shatner? Sadly, for many Star Trek fans this isn't available but I'm sure that some Enterprising (sorry I couldn't resist) fan will make one in his parent's basement. Hopefully, Paramount won't sue him when he does.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Legend Gone

Sadly many people haven't heard of Les Paul. In addition to being a great guitarist he was 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.

Les Paul (1915 - 2009)

Les Paul may not be the most celebrated guitarist of all time, but there is little doubt that he was the most important. Having not only paved the way for virtually every rock and jazz guitar player with his invetion of the modern electric guitar, he was also equally, if not more so, influential in the world of studio recording with the invention of multi tracking, overdubbing and other tape effects; all of which are still widely used today.

The Gibson Les Paul, a guitar so iconic it is rivaled only by the Fender Stratocaster, was designed in collaboration with Les and Gibson. While he may not have literally designed the entire instrument he made famous, Gibson recognized Les not only invented the technology, but through his own fame gained as a musician, made the electric guitar widely popular.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Guy Fletcher's Diaries

Below is a link to the professional diary of Guy Fletcher, a veteran keyboardist who has worked with Mark Knopfler (among many others) since the Dire Straits days and on every solo album thereafter. I find these posts to be very interesting, especially the technical notes and photos from the recording sessions of Knopfler's recent records.

Some highlights include seeing vintage EMI tube desks and tape machines still being used by Knopfler and his long-time engineer, Chuck Ainlay. Also, don't miss the pictures of George Martin stopping by to visit the sessions and to show off iPhone pictures from his frequent trips to Montserrat, or indeed, the revelation that Big George actually owns an iPhone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Recovering History

One of the best ways to explore the history of music is to find out who influenced a given artist and explore their work. In this way Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton would lead directly back to Robert Johnson. For this method do work one very important thing is necessary. The recordings must be available. Many older jazz or blues performances are extremely rare and only available on 78 RPM shellac discs. These discs are relatively delicate and can be easily damaged. Unfortunately until recent to these historically important performances could be lost forever. United States Library of Congress has been working on a solution. They've come up with a machine that optically reads the information on an analog disc, similar to the way that a computer scanner works. Check out the NPR story, as well as some some before and after samples. Click here for the full story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bimbos and audiophile recordings

What do bimbos and audiophile recordings have in common? For the most part after the first encounter or two the thrill is gone. In the end they are great for impressing friends, but offer little to no long term happiness. I haven't heard the recordings from DirectGrace but they don't belong in the bimbo category. Even if the music does fall flat for some listener they will still be able to take satisfaction in knowing that their purchase helped those in need. Now that's long term happiness, it's a fantastic idea. Who among us hasn't felt at least a pang of guilt as we spent more on a pair of interconnects or a power cord than many people around the world make in a year? For that matter many of us own speakers that cost more money than people in the third world will see in an entire lifetime. Is it our faults? Not entirely. Can we do something to help change the situation? Certainly. Just some things to think about while watching the video.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's In The Hunt

As one who is still very new to the active collection and enjoyment of vinyl records (I'm not counting using them as frisbees or surfing the basement carpet on them as a child), I've begun to appreciate the fickle, frustrating nature of the medium. Everything about the collecting, the listening, the tweaking, the maintenance and the hunt can be equal parts maddening and rewarding. I once spotted a pristine, mint-looking early Nat King Cole record at a thrift store. The jacket - shiny. The spine - solid. The inner sleeve - factory crisp. The record inside - "101 Strings, The Glory of Christmas." It's enough for me to cause a scene there amongst the rusty Faberware.

There are good days, however. Here are a few recent finds from a Goodwill. 

James Brown - I Can't Stand Myself (1967, King)

This is a very lively record with The Godfather of Soul in his prime doing what made him famous.

Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart in San Francisco (1963, Columbia)

This is a Canadian pressing (I'll explain my hang-up about this in some future post), but I couldn't pass this up at $1.99 CDN. This album was the first LP, I believe, with the hit title song which had already been released as a single.

Teddi King - All The King's Songs (1959, Coral)

This is valued at $60-$70, but more importantly, it's a great recording and is a very good record with outstanding performances by Ms. King.

Jimmy Rushing - Five Feet of Soul (1963, Colpix)

Jimmy Rushing was a blues singer who sang for Count Basie. His powerful voice and powerful personality is on display here. "Five Feet of Soul" refers to his nickname, "Mr. Five By Five." Five feet tall by five feet wide.

Cecil Payne - Performing Charlie Parker Music (1961, Charlie Parker Records)

Cecil Payne was a saxophonist who played with Dizzy Gillespie. He only had a handful of records as a bandleader, and this one is from 1961. It's also in great shape.

In the film American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, in an interview, commented on his time spent at garage sales looking for old jazz records, in search of that one title which will somehow magically make his collection complete. To paraphrase, just when he feels like giving up, he makes some find that whets the appetite all over again, and the cycle continues. I wouldn't draw too many comparisons between myself and Harvey Pekar. Besides, finding records at garage sales is becoming rarer and rarer. The energy spent (and weekend sleep lost) getting up on Saturday to check out garage sales which might advertise records on Craigslist are usually in vain since eBay and flea market creeps often contact the sellers early to try to get first crack at the bounty. Who wants to compete with that?

Luckily, I've rarely spent more than just a few dollars for a used record. Demand is low for analog, which is sad for the industry, but great for fans. Unless, of course, you're a Michael Jackson fan. After his death, Thriller began selling for over $100 for used copies on eBay. I'm glad I got a replacement copy for my 1984 original a few months ago from the 50-cent rack at a local record store. Of course, eBay is the worst place to buy anything, really, since prices are usually driven up by one singular moron with more money than common sense.

I refuse to be that moron. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perfecting Sound

NPR has a wonderful interview with Greg Milner, author of "Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music" which can be downloaded here. In the book Mr. Milner traces the development of recording technology from the Edison wax cylinder to the modern day. Based on the interview the books will probably a very compelling read.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Audio over USB

The arrivals of the iPod, iPhone, Airport Express and Apple TV have raised the bar of consumer expectations of convenience when it comes accessing their music collection. With hard drives being as cheap as they are and so many new DACs coming equipped with USB inputs putting together a DIY music server seems like a better and better idea every days. However, like many things in high end audio it's not as simple as it first seems. At least two major factors stand between the interested audiophiles and good sound.

  1. Jitter: In essence all of the "1" and "0" are present and in the correct order but the word clock that tells the DAC when to decode them is wrong. We're talking about fractions of a second here but our ears do pick up on it. Think of it this way. The world's best marching band all taking their time from a drummer with great rhythm vs. that same marching band with someone with no rhythmic sensibility. The musicians haven't changed, their instruments haven't changed, and the sheet music is still the same. But the rhythm won't be the same and things will start to sound sloppy and lax. Many of the new digital to analog converters are built specifically to reject incoming jitter are based on the Burr Brown PCM270x chips. That chip set has two major limitations. First it has a strong jitter component at 1kHz, which as misfortune would have it is smack in the audio band AND the frequency at which the human ear is MOST sensitive. Second, the chip is limited to a maximum sampling frequency of 48kHz which excludes it's use to transfer high resolution 88.2 kHz, 96kHz, and 192 kHz content. A better solution is a DAC capable of exploiting USB's asynchronous mode where the DAC requests the data when it is needed and therefore determining it's own word clock. Curently very few DACs on the market are capable of properly implimenting the asychronous mode because of the coplexity of the computer code necessary to make it work properly. Gordon Raskin, whose first career was in the computer world is one of the few people on the planet with a good understanding of bother sides of the problem. Currently his custom code is available in products from his company, Wavelength Audio and the upcoming QB-9 from Ayre.
  2. Re-sampling: CD's are at a sampling rate of 44.1kHz which means that every second is broken up into 44,100 slices with each slice being described by a series of 16 "1" and "0." Microsoft in their infinite wisdom decided that most of their products translate everything to 48kHz or 48,000 by adding essentially garbage in a part of the program called the "K Mixer." According to the Wavelength web page the "K" mixer can be by-passed or mapped through as it's called (proceed at your own risk) by the following steps. "Go Control Panel => Sounds and Audio Device => Select Hardware Tab => Select USB Audio Device.

    Click Properties Button => Select Properties Tab => Click the “+” to the left of [+] Audio Devices that will pop down USB Audio Devices.
    Select USB Audio Devices and click Properties.

    Check both Use audio features of this device and Do not map through this device.
    ==> [ Apply ] <=="

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Many times it is a struggle to explain to those not interested in high-end audio what drives the audiophile to sacrifice time, money, aesthetics, and domestic tranquility to achieve their goal of sonic bliss. Trying to describe any emotional experience to another individual is always difficult but the euphoria that is brought on by experiencing a phenomenal musical reproduction in one's own home of a favorite artist, many times long since dead is particularly difficult.

For the most part when trying to explain the quest to those who are interested in understanding I've repeated the same anecdote. When I was in college most of my friends were training as classical musicians which gave me the chance to hear live orchestral and string quartet music on a very regular basis. Though I 'm no expert. One night we were all sitting around and shooting the breeze while my stereo was playing a piece by Debussy in the background and one of my good friends asked, "Isn't this all a bit excessive?" while motioning to my system of the time. He was a huge Johnny Cash fan so I asked him, "When you pop in a CD of early Johnny Cash recordings into your boom box what is your goal?" He smugly replied, "I want to listen to a Johnny Cash CD of course" thinking that he had won the argument. My response was to say, "Then a boom box is an acceptable tool to reach your goal. My goal is different. I want to be transported back in time and space to 1955 Memphis, Tennessee at Sun Studios with Mr. Cash and his band 10 feet in front of me and Sam Philips a couple of feet behind me in the control room. To me a really great audio system is almost a time and space machine which should create a virtual reality experience." Instantly everyone in the room sort of got what all of the madness was about and from that day forward they respected what I was trying to accomplish.

Of course if this 20 minute documentary involving the Audiophile Club of Athens by Ken Barns had existed then I would have shown them this as well. It's a great peak into the passion, humor, and diversity that is the hobby. It's also wonderful viewing for audiophiles that have somehow lost their way and forgotten that it really is all about the music. Even though these gentlemen and I have had very different life experiences there is no doubt that the passion that we share for music and audio would be enough common ground to enjoy each others company for an afternoon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett

Click on the photo to see a Wilco studio outtake featuring Jay.

Sadly, last weekend saw the passing of former Wilco member, Jay Bennett. Bennett's tenure with the band saw a profound period of Wilco's evolution, and many fans largely attribute Wilco's rapid growth during this period, both musically and sonically, to his talents as an arranger, songwriter and engineer. His sound is most evident on Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot where his songwriting partnership with Wilco's frontman Jeff Tweedy was in full bloom, and his arrangements and presence behind the mixing console gave the songs a richly textured, yet incredibly sparse (and never overproduced) sonic splendor.

Apart from Wilco, Jay has released solo records and has also played as a studio musician for Sheryl Crow and produced Blues Traveler's 2005 album, ¡Bastardos!.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why Cost-No-Object Speakers Are Good for Everyone

Without a doubt the audio component furthest away from perfection in our systems is the lowly loudspeaker. With distortion ratings left of the decimal place for nearly every transducer on the market (many in the double digits) there is a lot of work to be done. So cutting edge, no-holds barred, statement products not only improve the state of the art but also hold the promise of providing technology that can trickle down to improve performance for nearly everyone. Below is a picture of Kef's newest all out effort, "The Blade." Click on the picture to watch a short video outlining the basics of these beautifully, sculpted speakers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Objectivist Rant

To All Subjectivists-

[sarcasm begins]
Cast off your subjectivist sins and all will be forgiven. Become an objectivist, it's cheaper and there's no need to pursue "happiness." Because so-called "happiness" can't be scientifically quantified surely it's just an illusion created by chemicals in the human brain.

When are you going to stop "listening" to music and realize the truest and purest way to "appreciate" it is via oscilloscope? It has the added benefit of being cheaper and the SAF* is much higher too.

You should also be enjoying your wine by testing it's chemical composition instead of wasting it by dumping it down your unscientific throats. This method has the added benefit of getting rid of the wines unfortunate side effect that many refer to as intoxication.

A painting should be evaluated by the number of colors per square inch and the size of the work rather than how it makes you FEEL.

I also advocate the testing of cars by seeing how fast they can make a piece of toast out of a slice of bread placed on the engine. There's no need to actually waste ones time test driving the damn thing. My 2001 Hyundai Accent does it just as fast as the top of the line BMW 5 series, therefore they must be just as good.
[sarcasm ends]

One of the things that I don't get about most objectivists when it comes to audio they deny anything that can't be measured as if it can't exist. Don't they realize that the first step to scientific understanding is many times anecdotal observation which is then followed to a new scientific understanding? The most eloquent word for this is serendipity. Penicillin was discovered because Sir Alexander Fleming had a runny nose that dripped onto some slides containing bacteria. Louis Pasteur once said, "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." Just because we can't measure something doesn't mean it is non-existent, it just means we don't yet have a method to quantify it. Newton didn't discover gravity he only found a way to quantify and describe it. Gravity existed long before him.

Ken Ishiwata makes an excellent point in passing. Why are specs seen as so important when they are obtained using CONTINUOUS (or static) test tones and yet a piece of audio gear's purpose is to reproduce a constantly VARIABLE set of tones? The measurements are obtained in an entirely different manner than the product's intended use.

*SAF, or Spouse Acceptance Factor is the more politically correct
version of WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor.)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Furutech Furor

The Furutech deMag device has been causing controversy in high-end circles for some time now, Stephen Mejias' excellent blog entry reignited debate on the Stereophile forum. It's main purpose is to de-magnetize vinyl records although there are reports of people using it on interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, even CD's; all with positive results. According to the manufacturer while vinyl is not magnetic carbon black, the material used to make records black does exhibit some magnetic properties.

I'd like to thank Michael Fremer for posting the files for comparison sake. Not only does it let us look at (although in a flawed manner) what the Furtech demag device does or does not do, it also lets us all get a glimpse at how special Mickey's turntable is. The digital recordings were made using a Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable, Cobra tonearm, Castellon stand and "probably Manley Steelhead, Lyra Titan i cartridge" as the analog front end according to Michael Fremer.

Right after the downloads were complete I listened to the two samples using the computer as the source through my Tivoli Model One table radio, just for fun. Even on the Model One after the first listen I thought I heard a difference. It was so small as to be indescribable, but "Step Right Up 2" was just a little more alive. From there I burned it to a CD-R and put it on my system.

There are two things that are important to mention. First, this is a digital conversion of an analog medium so some of the differences are bound to have gotten lost in that conversion. That seems obvious, but it's still worth mentioning none the less. Second, while my system is very, very good most likely it's not nearly as resolving as Michael Fremer's system.

Alright, on to my conclusions.

All comparisons were done over the course of a number of days. "Step Right Up 2" consistently bested "Step Right Up 1" in the following ways:
  1. The bass is more articulate and has a more complex tonal structure.
  2. The Scatting and the finger snaps at the beginning of the song are much more prominent.
  3. There is greater soundstaging depth and space in general.
  4. The sax sounds at once further back in the soundstage AND less veiled.
  5. The performance is more involving with a greater sense of micro dynamics, especially in the nuances of Tom Waits vocal delivery.
Were the differences HUGE? Not on my system but as previously mentioned the scale of those changes were probably reduced by the conversion process itself and the system that I'm using is several steps below the one that Michael is blessed with. However, I'm confident those differences are real. For someone with a ultra high end vinyl set up looking to add those last few drops of resolution the Furutech DeMag might just be the ticket.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Old Vinyl, New Life

I often tend to approach my hobbies with a collector's mentality. Unfortunately, this means I always have shelves overflowing with media, not to mention the never ending search for storage solutions. Still, the hook always comes in the form of those random, unexpected finds.

Once a week or so, I'll stop into a Goodwill which is situated between my house and where I work to check out their CDs and vinyl. Any vinyl collector knows the usual thrift store fare rarely consists of more than collections of religious hymns from the 1970s, Herb Alpert and records by the 101 Strings. However, I recently stumbled upon stacks of old Capitol and RCA Victor discs. This means a lot of Perry Como, recorded using RCA Victor's much-derided Dynagroove technology, Jackie Gleason Presents Music for Lovers Only, Harry Belafonte, and several records by Vera Lynn (one of which I almost bought just to hear the song referenced by Pink Floyd in their song, "Vera Lynn"). I might not have been interested in any of the records at all, but the $0.99 price tag encourages me be a little more adventurous. Besides, at that price, it isn't like I can't just roll the dice and donate them back if I don't like it.

I brought home two discs; Harry Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean (1957), a simple collection of gentrified calypso songs in mono, and Henry Mancini - Our Man in Hollywood (1963).

Our Man in Hollywood was part of RCA Victor's popular "Our Man in..." series, in which they "place" their recording artists in various locations and genres (e.g. Chet Atkins - Our Man in Nashville and Sonny Rollins - Our Man in Jazz ).

Our Man in Hollywood is a collection of movie and television themes arranged by the brilliant Henry Mancini, and was offered in mono and "LIVING STEREO." I was lucky enough to find the stereo version since it gives the already quirky arrangements an also quirky sense of stereo separation, which was very common in the 1960s, but doesn't detract from the arrangements at all. Instead, thanks to plenty of natural reverb and the skill of the recording engineer (see below), it gives the recordings an extraordinarily wide soundstage and tons of space and clarity. Not all of the tracks are exactly stellar, but the majority of them sound quite amazing. Especially "The Theme from The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm," "Too Little Time ('Love Theme from the Glenn Miller Story')," and an absolutely 'swingin' 60s' version of "Seventy Six Trombones" from 'The Music Man.'

Side 1:
Days of Wine and Roses
Walk On The Wild Side
The Theme From The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
Love Song From Mutiny on the Bounty
Mr. Hobbs Theme
Seventy Six Trombones

Side 2:
Love Theme From Phaedra
Bachelor in Paradise
Too LIttle Time
Drink More Milk
The Wishing Star

It should be noted that the album was recorded by Al Schmitt, one of the all-time great recording engineers who has also recently worked with Diana Krall and Shelby Lynne on her wonderful sounding 2008 tribute to Dusty Springfield, Just a Little Lovin' (which was produced by Bacharach's old collaborator and the 1967 Casino Royale soundtrack engineer Phil Ramone).

All in all, I consider it 99 cents well-spent.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Simon Yorke

Below is a brief interview with Simon Yorke, designer and manufacturer of some of the worlds most highly regarded turntables. While I don't agree that digitally reproduced music is incapable of moving the soul I do share his concern that music is being treated more like a commodity than art.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Hello, folks.

Audio Explorer has graciously invited me to contribute to this site, so I thought I'd provide a little background about myself. Basically, I love music. I love listening to it, I love collecting it and I even love (trying) to make my own. Listening to music can, at once, be one of the most therapeutic, relaxing and invigorating experiences we humans can have.

That is why, several years ago, I decided to set about building a stereo and entertainment system to finally do justice to the hundreds of CDs I had collected over the years. Being out of college, engaged to be married and (more or less) out of the red, financially, I began consulting Audio Explorer, or rather this blog's administrator, a very old and dear friend, and one who knows his shit when it comes to hi-fi, about which speakers I should listen to and which A/V receivers offered the most "bang for the buck." It had long been a goal to slowly begin putting together a system, but, as with a lot of "noobs," I was always kept away by astronomical price tags. Still, I knew enough not to just head out to Best Buy, bring home the Bose and call it a day.

I waited.

Eventually, after a lot of calls to Audio Explorer, I had a great system for music, movies, games and television. The Rotel RSX-1057 and Paradigm Studio 100s v.4 anchored a 5.1 system that really breathed new life into our living room entertainment. Along with a nice Sony XBR LCD, it all culminated to a substantial improvement over our hand-me-down mid-90's Pioneer stereo and CRT TV.

Now that my wife and I have moved, temporarily, to work in Canada, we've rented a house that has a small space in the basement for TV/movies/gaming and an empty living room upstairs in need of music. Again, I began researching some amps and associated gear to use my beloved Paradigms for a music-only system.

Here's what developed:

Here are the speakers and the Arcam FMJ A38 integrated amp and the matching CD17. I also added a Panamax power conditioner. Like many others, I have also been getting back into vinyl, so awhile back, I went with Pro-Ject's entry level Debut III turntable and Phono Box phono stage preamp. I intend to eventually order Arcam's on-board phono stage.

Nothing re-energizes collecting music as a hobby than a new stereo to listen to it on (or "on which to listen to it," for you English nerds). That's my intention with The Audio Explorer - to chronicle record hunting, discuss music and stereo-related topics and continue to discuss new ways to enjoy music.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.

Sometimes I find it remarkable how much disrespect people can treat objects that are art. I was saddened to read earlier today that the pressing plant responsible for the pre-2006 albums of mainstay indie label, Matador had not only went bankrupt but had carelessly thrown away the vinyl master plates for those albums. If you want more of the gory details check out The Guardian article

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Only Belle & Sebastian

Here is a good teaser video concerning Belle & Sebastian's next project. Which is an album and soon to be a film. What other band in the world would let a fan sing lead on a song?

Previews of three songs are available here.

With the way that crew operates one of the fans might end up as a permanent member. Eventually there's going to be like 20 of them. It's going to be less of a band and more of a gang. Then it will sub-divide into two bands of 10 people each one called Belle which will be all of the girls and some of the more twee boys and the other will of course be called Sebastian and will be made up of boys obsessed with classic rock. Mark my words!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Myrtle Wood Blocks

Many after market component support tweaks are manufactured from man-made materials and are made to extremely tight tolerances which results in a uniform "tuning" frequency. The uniformity usually adds some distinctly negative coloration in addition to the products sonic benefits. That doesn't occur with the wood blocks. Since the blocks are a natural material every sample is going to differ a bit. That might, in fact be part of why they work so well. Each block works on slightly different set frequencies because of variations in the grain structure and density of the wood.

During my time at an Ayre dealer I sold hundreds of sets of the wood blocks and told everyone the same thing, "If you don't hear a difference please bring them back." I can't speak for Cardas but Ayre is very picky about who their dealers are from a customer service stand point. If someone purchases a set and DOESN'T hear a difference I'm sure any Ayre dealer would let the customer return them for a full refund. I only had one set come back in over three years and that was because the guy owned Halcro gear and the standard feet were too tall to allow their use. I once sold a set to a hard core skeptic non-tweaker because his wife demanded that the system fit into an armoire and the CD player was blocking the top vents of his hot running preamp. When I told him that in addition to allowing the preamp to breath it would make the CD player sound better he gave me a complete "FUCK YOU" look. Three days later he called me back and bought three more sets for the other components because he had heard a difference even though he didn't want to.

The Ayre wood blocks in my system are used in sets of three because three points define a plane, with the logo right side up. Not to name drop but Charlie Hansen and Steve Sliberman of Ayre also feel it to be the best sounding orientation so I'm in good company. When I worked for an Ayre dealer Steve would only reveal his conclusions after I had done the experiments myself, they encourage people to "play" with the blocks. I do not believe that the benefit of the Ayre/Cardas myrtle blocks is in their resonant behavior ADDING a pleasurable element to the sound. I believe that the mechanism is the DRAINING of resonances AWAY from the component and into the equipment rack. I always place one block under the power supply of the component because that's usually the biggest source of vibration in components other than CD players and turntables.

Whenever possible the Myrtle wood blocks are placed against the side of a protruding screw, bolt, etc on the bottom cover because these fasteners are the best mechanically conductive pathways for vibrations. The amount of change in the sound just by making sure that they made contact with a fastener of some type was an ear opener. I found that chestnut of thinking while reading about Symposium products after Stephen Scharf's thread on DIY roller blocks had piqued my interest. The acoustic impedance of the wood blocks is much more similar to the metal (Myrtle wood being extremely hard) of the component bottom AND the wood of the rack shelves than the stock rubber feet offered on most products, thus it drain the vibrations away much more quickly and efficiently. I will admit that according to this theory the ideal situation would be to have metal shelves and metal footer, all made for more or less the same metal. Maybe Cardas should make some of these blocks, with the same dimensions in metal too. Why don't these blocks allow outside vibrations into a component as well as drain internal resonances away? I'm don't have a good answer to that question, but I assure you that I have thought about it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Interesting Video from Paul

A while back PS Audio's Paul McGowan bought some gear to make their "Coal to Coltrane" DVD and has been making interesting smaller videos ever since. The new one discusses what high resolution digital audio is, why it's better, and how we can get it into our systems. It's a good way to spend the next 9 minutes. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Find of a Lifetime?

Being a semi-serious Beatles fan I was aware that Capitol had not released the earliest Beatles album or single in the US, that honor went to a small Chicago label named Vee Jay. While at Second Hand Tunes in Evanston, IL. I came across a copy of The Beatles - "Introducing. . . The Beatles Englands No.1 Vocal Group." on the Vee Jay label. Of course my Southsider skepticism was immediately raised but for $20 and with my best friend whom I still owe a wedding present being a HUGE fan I figured that I'd take the chance. After all if a record this rare would be found anywhere, why not Evanston it's pretty much Chicago after all.

As I often do I called my buddy from the record store in a hushed voice as to not tip the store's staff off to what treasure I might have found and asked for his input. Of course he also knew that the first album had been issued on Vee Jay but didn't know of any distinguishing marks to spot a possible fake. After arriving home I Googled the title hoping to find a website with a little guidance. The first site that I found had an encyclopedic amount of information. Apparently the The Beatles first US album is one of the most faked albums ever. The fact that Vee Jay issued many, many variations of the album in a short period of time can make identifying an original a bit difficult. The copy that I purchased had many of the signs that it was the genuine article but it failed one or two of the crucial tests. In the end it looks like it is one of the better forgeries that was produced, fooling many professionals in fact. I hope that he isn't too disappointed. Below are photos of the label and back cover of the version of the forgery that I ended up purchasing.