Monday, January 26, 2009

PS Audio strikes again

PS Audio has a habit of coming up with innovative, yet relatively affordable high end audio gear. Their newest transport reads a CD into a memory buffer in an effort to virtually eliminate jitter. The built in display is capable of showing cover art in addition to the standard information normally displayed by a CD player. The unit has been in development for quite some time, above is a picture of the original prototype.

Also of interest is the matching DAC which has an I2S input capable of much lower jitter compared to the more standard digital connections of optical, coaxial, and AES-EBU which are all based on S/PIDF. The built in volume control is also a nice touch. For those who use only digital sources it would allow them to do away with their preamp entirely. Due to the fact that the DAC can find music files on networked hard drives it can also be used to put together a first rate music server. Add all of that up and it's a virtual swiss army knife.

Who better than the man himself to explain it all? Paul McGowan tells you all about them in these two youtube videos.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


There isn't much intellectual discussion about the reproduction of audio to be found. In a previous post readers were pointed towards a 2 and 1/2 hour round table discussion that included an audio engineer, a producer, a mastering engineer, an audio critic, and a music lover. High end speaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins (known to most as B&W) has begun a new podcast that is a free subscription through iTunes. The first three installments cover the topic of non-musical sound as art, why the standards of recorded sound have recently fallen, and the viability of surround sound for music. Check them out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Favorites of 2008

Don't you hate those best of the year type lists almost as much as rhetorical questions? I know that I do. No one gets to listen to every album so it seems a bit presumptuous to compile a list of "The Best Albums of. . ." list. So my list is a little less self important. While these may not be the best five albums of 2008, they are my favorites of 2008.

Vampire Weekend-"Vampire Weekend" The song "A-Punk" was everywhere this year past year and for good reason. The record is a breath of fresh air full of short, catchy pop tunes. The record was recorded in spacious surroundings and features dripping wet guitar tones. Many songs have a The Clash punk sensibility infused with a Paul Simon world music vibe and feature lots of non-standard rock instruments to keep the listener interested.

Belle & Sebastian-"The BBC Sessions" Those Scottish bastards snuck this one out on me. The first couple of songs sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a garbage can with cassette recorder that has speed stability problems. The rest of the album sounds good enough to enjoy the performances and the last four songs, which to date haven’t been released on any of their studio albums are nice additions to their body of work. Make sure to get the Limited Edition. It contains an extra CD with a live 2001 Belfast performance. The covers of The Beatles "Here Comes the Sun" and Thin Tizzy’s "The Boys Are Back In Town" are well chosen and are very enjoyable.

Black Keys-"Attack & 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. 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. For a more thorough discussion please check out my full review.

Supergrass-"Diamond Hoo Ha" I literally couldn't wait for it to be released in the United States so I ordered from in Canada. Every great band has one album that can be viewed as a turning point. The work where they stop being the sum total of their influences and transcend them to become something completely unique. These collections are marked by a confident, self assured sound where risks are undertaken without sounding "risky." "Diamond Hoo Ha" demands to be given that role in Supergrass's catalog. At some point I’ll be reviewing this collection for Big Black Disk.

David Gilmour-"Live In Gdansk" The five disk (Three CD’s and 2 DVDs) version available exclusively from Best Buy. The performance of "Echos" is truly EPIC. The sound is just beautiful on the whole set and the picture quality of the concert is probably the best I‘ve ever seen. The first two of the CD’s contain the majority of the concert. The third CD contains bonus tracks from other stops on the tour, including a great performance of "Wearing The Inside Out" with the late Richard Wright on vocals. The first DVD is an edited version of the concert and a documentary. The second DVD contains a generous offering of performances taped for various TV appearances and the "On An Island" studio album in 5.1 surround. Plus an envelop containing numerous other goodie souvenirs including a postcard, ticket, backstage and artist‘s passes, Custom David Gilmour guitar pick, 7 photo prints, double sided poster and 24 page booklet. This package has immediately become one of the most prized possessions in my library.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Apple's iTunes Store Ditches DRM

People who take joy in hating all things Apple, iTunes and iPod have one less gripe. After reaching a new agreement with the major record labels Apple announced that it will no longer embed copy protection into any of its songs. Not only does that mean that it will become easier to move iTunes libraries between computers but non-iPod devices will now be able to play files purchased from the iTunes store. Starting today 8 million songs will be offered DRM-free, the transition is expected to be finished in approximately 3 to 4 months. Apple has also decided to allow the record companies to have different pricing strategies for different artists. Tracks will sell for $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29 in the United States. Now if only they would allow iTunes and the iPod to play FLAC files, sell lossless files in the iTunes store, and/or high resolution files they’d really be on to something. The major unanswered question is what about all of those previously sold DRM-encumbered files already? Will customers be able to upgrade to the real deal for little or no money?


Monday, January 05, 2009

The Return of the 7" single

The resurgence of vinyl isn't just happening in America. From all appearances it's a global phanomon. The sale of 7" 45 RPM singles in England broke an estimated 1 million units last year, up from an all-time low in 2001 of 180,000 units. What makes that number all the more impressive is that the collection of data used for these estimates don't take small mom-and-pop stores into account. It's still a long way from 1979's peak of 89 million, but it's a start. Rough Trade East's owner Nigel House consisly states, "Obviously, you make more money selling a CD, but there's nothing like seven-inch singles, especially for the music aficionados. They're tactile, they have fantastic sleeves, they sound great, they're concise. Pure pop."

Click on the picture below to watch the video and read the article: