Friday, December 15, 2017

Check out the HB Channel for good advice on speaker placement

And that humor.....listen carefully or you might miss it :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Speaking of Hendrix

Amazon link
I can't complain about the various releases coming out as I recently purchased the 9 LP resissue of the older velvet purple box, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set.  Sadly, it's no longer boxed in velvet, and am sure the source is digital but it's a fine collection, both musically and sonically. Previously I'd thought there was not enough  interesting material on it to warrant purchase but when I found it competitively priced compared to used older sets, I bit the bullet.

Packaging is decent, though the individual album sleeves are basic. Contains good book, sized to read (!) and the quality of the vinyl in my copy was uniformly high. The sonics vary, obviously given the range of source material used, but there's enough good stuff here to enjoy and this forms the majority of the collection. It's an overwhelming collection in some ways, hard to review without getting into the minutia of Hendrix's catalog, but even though I have a fairly large Hendrix collection already, and tend to side with those who feel the albums released while he was alive are the only essentials, this collection still seems worthy to me.

The price varies considerably so if interested, search around or park it in your Amazon cart and watch it for a few days (it just changed $14 while I was editing this entry!).

Thursday, December 7, 2017

'NEW" Hendrix Album for Spring 2018?

Rolling Stone reporting a new release from the Hendrix Estate. I know, 50 years later, new stuff still being 'found' and packaged for release. I understand the demand, am curious myself, but sometimes I wonder what the artist would think.  My own preference would be for some of the live stuff we know is out there (Royal Albert Hall someone?).  I suppose it speaks to Jimi's enduring legacy that we are even having this discussion but heaven help any new listener to Jimi who lucks onto these 'albums' first and thinks what is the fuss about?  For fans only.

"Ten previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix recordings highlight Both Sides of the Sky, an upcoming posthumous LP from the legendary guitarist. The album will be available March 9th, 2018 via Sony Legacy Recordings on multiple formats, including CD, digital and a numbered, 180-gram audiophile double-vinyl
 The 13-track album compiles material recorded between January 1968 and February 1970. It is the final installment in a trilogy series of unissued archival recordings, following 2010's Valleys of Neptune and 2013's People, Hell and Angels. Engineer Eddie Kramer – who worked on every Hendrix project before the guitar legend's death – co-produced the album with John McDermott and Hendrix's sister, Janie Hendrix. 
Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides of the Sky Track List:1. "Mannish Boy" (previously unreleased)2. "Lover Man" (previously unreleased)3. "Hear My Train A Comin'" (previously unreleased)4. "Stepping Stone" (previously unreleased)5. "$20 Fine" (previously unreleased, featuring Stephen Stills)6. "Power Of Soul" (previously unavailable extended version)7. "Jungle" (previously unreleased)8. "Things I Used to Do" (featuring Johnny Winter)9. "Georgia Blues" (featuring Lonnie Youngblood)10. "Sweet Angel" (previously unreleased)11. "Woodstock" (previously unreleased, featuring Stephen Stills)12. "Send My Love To Linda" (previously unreleased)13. "Cherokee Mist" (previously unreleased)"

Friday, December 1, 2017

A meeting of the spirits

There's been a lot of bad news recently with deaths in the industry, and we rightly pause to acknowledge the contributions of people like Charlie Hansen,  but last night I witnessed a musical performance that reminded me of how uplifting music can be. John McLaughlin is on a farewell tour of the US with his 4th Dimension band, sharing the stage with Jimmy Herring's band.

I caught them last night at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Austin and came away on a high that defies logic. It is one thing to hear virtuosity live, but add to that the opportunity to hear classic Mahavishnu Orchestra music played live as if transported back in time. McLaughlin can still deliver it. His band is incredible, truly incredible. And Herring's performance, as a player and as a band, was equally sensational.  The music ran for close to four hours, without much by way of stage props, fanfare or self-promotion; just real musicians getting it on live, collectively delivering amazing individual and band performances. I felt lucky to be there. The tour is called the Meeting of the Spirits and if you have an opportunity, go.  We can argue all we like about audio gear, but last night was a reminder of why humans value music. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Charlie Hansen - Ayre -- RIP

The bad news is coming thick and fast at the moment -- I was very saddened to learn this from Ayre:

"With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that Charles Hansen, founder of Ayre Acoustics, has passed away on November 28th, 2017. Those who knew Charley knew that he was a passionate man who always stood up for what he believed to be right. His family knew him as a loving and dedicated father of his two children. With the passing of Charley, the world has lost one of the most creative and innovative minds in the audio industry and we have lost a good friend. While we can never replace Charley, his spirit lives on in the team at Ayre. We are dedicated to continuing his mission of creating and manufacturing the best sounding audio equipment in the world. Most importantly, we will be there for our friends, partners, and customers who have supported us over the years. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at any time. "


If you followed the recent MQA discussions on Audio Asylum that I linked to a couple of weeks back, you know Charlie Hansen had strong opinions, but he could argue lucidly and always seemed to care more for music over commerce. Many people who never met him felt that he was in their corner. He will be missed. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Waterboys - Out of all this Blue

One of the best gigs I've seen over the last few years was the Waterboys here at the Paramount in Austin when they were promoting Modern Blues. Having seen the band 25 years ago, it was a joy to be reminded of the power of Mike Scott live. Of late, he seems to be on a creative roll so I was happy to learn of a new album, Out of all this Blue, and duly signed up for the deluxe edition. As is the way of the music industry, one could order versions and I got the 3-LP collection that has the basic album (as if 'basic' can be applied here) and various extras including outake versions and live tracks. If nothing else, for the price it is good value.


With Mike and the 'Boys (though it really feels it's just Mike these days with a few musicians backing him up), you might imagine you know what you're getting but you never can be sure. Certainly he will always be lyrically inventive, personal, thoughtful and philosophical. Mike is a writer of anthems, a crafter of inspirational messages, and not beyond adding in a quick ditty if the mood takes him. But he's also capable of being biting, dismissive and critical of a world he holds in disdain. It will be no surprise, therefore, to a seasoned listener to hear these shades in the latest release.

What might surprise you however, is the musical sounds on offer. If you associate the Waterboys with either 'big' music (electric guitars, pounding drums and roaring vocals) matched sometimes with folky textures (acoustic strumming, soft singing, fiddles) then brace yourself for a sideways move into synthesized beats, hip-hop rhythms, and a sonic landscape that sounds both dated and curiously modern at the same time. In effect, it sounds as if Mike Scott is having fun messing around with new toys and for long-term fans, the initial impressions are likely to be colored by the superficial differences the sonic presentation highlights.

That said, and one reason I've had to sit on this review for a bit, is that despite this intentional move into new sonic territory, this is without doubt a real Waterboys album. The hooks are here, (oh boy, are they just) the lyrics are worth hearing repeatedly, and the vibe is one of cool enlightenment -- you know, just like every other Waterboys album.  You just have to give the album a more than cursory listen to let its qualities come through.

Opener 'Do we chose who we love?' sets the tone with a swinging, funky hook that would be at home on any number of previous releases, and by the time the backing vocals kick in over the chorus you'll be tapping your feet along and finding the song worming its way into your brain. And speaking of catchiness, how about "If the answer is yeah" is about as pure perfect pop as you'll hear this year, and impossible not to find yourself singing when you least expect it. Though in true Mike Scott fashion, I doubt too many pop songs these days contain lyrics such as "can you remember the last six books you read?"

A dominant theme throughout is love, and the finding of it perhaps later than hoped for but found fo sure, inevitably and gratefully. Mike Scott's songs tell us he is in love now and has no desire to keep that quiet. And it's not just a woman; he loves New York, he loves music, and he drags you willingly along for the ride across multiple tracks expressing his enthusiasms. But light and love are never the sole thematic drivers of a Waterboys album and we have the almost obligatory dig at some. In this case, Kinky Friedman  gets it in the neck with a sharp dig over a comment made, all set to a cod-country tune. If there's a non-needed track on the album, this might get my nod, though Girl in a Kayak is a couple of minutes of filler on the start of side 4 also. There's a nod to Pink Floyd and the Beatles in a couple of the songs which might be intentional in the latter case, perhaps less so in Payo Payo Chin's opening resemblance to Learning to Fly (just listen, and tell me you don't hear that!). But it's Mike Scott, this is the terrain of a creative artist who does what pleases him and you take it or leave it as you see fit. In the scheme of the double album's worth of new material, I certainly choode to take it.

The deluxe version has some interesting extras that will appeal more to hardcore fans only. Alternative takes of a couple of songs, plus some fairly poor sounding live tracks add another slice of vinyl to the 3-LP package (though getting a live recording of a track  from the same day it was written is a sort of perfect addition). While I'm happy to have these, they are curiosities, not essentials. As an album, Out of all this Blue took me by surprise at first with the low-fi retro sonics and manufactured beats. You'll not find this one used to showcase any rig at an audio show for sure.  But fear not, it's a true Waterboys album. In fact, after hearing it repeatedly, I am of the view that it's actually one of Mike Scott's best efforts. Give it time, the journey is worth the destination.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Arnie Nudell RIP

Just heard from PS Audio that Arnie Nudell died from complications associated with pneumonia. Mostly associated with Infinity speakers, Arnie was involved with the development of the latest PS Audio power amps, the marvelous BHK series, and you can find a few comments from him in the associated videos put out by PS Audio at the launch, which give you a flavor of the man. He was 80, lived a life, and contributed to the art and science of music reproduction. It was rumored he had a new speaker in the works too. RIP Arnie.

New Joe Satriani release coming via Pledge

PledgeMusic is a platform for interfacing musicians and fans that offers some unique opportunities to obtain recordings that might not otherwise happen. While most of their releases are not of interest to me, there are some that capture my attention. Joe Satriani is releasing an album (available on vinyl) of new music  (with Chad Smith on drums and Glenn Hughes on bass) that he seems quite enthused by -- take a listen.



You can follow the process of releasing this, and buy a copy at: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/joe-satriani/updates

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Stereophile Recommended Components List

I started reading S'phile in the mid-1990s, and have stayed with it over the years. Its combination of technical coverage, decent writers (Art Dudley, particularly), new music, and sheer commitment to the sonic arts make it an easy choice each time renewal rolled around.  I also happen to like magazines as a medium and S'phile has always been well-presented. I know the nay-sayers, and sense there's a lot of hate and suspicion out there on the forums for all audio mags, but I feel I get my money's worth.

The regular recommended components list alway gets my attention, and in the early days of my subscription I thought I'd  never get much beyond the Class C category as Class A was just too damn expensive. Well, I've grown older and the 'A' gear still seems a little out of reach, but I don't care anymore as I am not convinced there are huge sonic differences between components that warrant such sums of investment anyway.  And yes, I have heard a lot of it - am sure the differences I do hear might even be less if heard blind, but best not go down that path with audiophiles lest they contort themselves unhealthily in denial.   All that said, I've noticed over the years a huge variability in prices within categories, to the point that I play a little game every time a new list is produced. That is, can one still assemble a Class A set of components for 1/10th the price of another set?

The answer, as usual seems to be yes.  In fact, so robust is this conclusion, that I'd invite interested folks to peruse past lists and play the same game for any time period. It's fun, safe, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home!

So let's see what we have in the latest, Oct 2017 listing. Now leaving aside the silly school grade inflation of Class A+ being distinct from Class A for some component categories (instead of Class A being consistently true to the magazine's own definition of it as the "best attainable sound for a component of its kind"), you can find the same 10:1 (approx) range in pricing across all categories of component.

Take turntables. The highest priced Class A table is the Dohmann Helix 1 at $40k. The lowest is the PTP Solid12 at (currency adjusted) $3200 plus shipping.  Fancy a Class A tonearm? Try the Acoustic Signature TA-9000 at $18k, or the Abis SA1.2 at $1800...and so it goes.  Need a preamp? The Boulder 2110 is recommended class A at $55k but if that's too rich, the Parasound Halo JC2 will only set you back $5k for Class A performance -- what a bargain!  And there's more, the Parasound guys can give you class A monoblocks at $9k a pair which is proportionally about one tenth of what a pair from, yes, you guessed it, Boulder will set you back, with their 2150 monos going for $99k a pair.

Yes, it's fun....spend half a million for the best of the best...or don't...get the best of the best for $50k.. So what does that extra $450,000 actually get you if not better performance?  Normal folks with roll their eyes but you can point to the mag and show how you're a connoisseur of audio, and a savvy purchaser too. Now that's what I call good value.

I know, you cannot assume components play well together, and S'phile never intended this to be a basis for system building but come on...people love rankings and use them to determine everything from college attendance to cars.  It is still the case that these regular issues sell more than any others during the year? Surely so.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Further links on MQA

The more I dig, the more comes up.

Here's an excellent editorial by Doug Schneider of Soundtage.
And here's a longer discussion by audio professions (not to be confused with audiophiles).

General points are common-- the basic comparisons enabled by the promoters of MQA are not equivalent in terms of source material so it's hard to know what is really going on. Presumably the MQA folks know this but don't seem to offer a very convincing argument as to why they do it this way. The points about the audiophile press being too quick to push MQA as an advance seem justifiable. 

Ad this to the blind test results reported below and it's just bizarre that we seem to be having this happen in 2017.  Not taking sides here (though no sane person who loves music wants backfoor DRM, if that's really on the agenda),  just trying to fathom what the heck is going on?

I'll keep posting what I find -- feel free to send links.

Monday, October 23, 2017

MQA concerns continue

My recent post (see below) on the blind test results on MQA samples from Archimago clearly struck a nerve. This got me digging deeper and now I find there are more than a few people pointing out that something seems a little odd with the whole push from Meridian.

The main concern seems to be that this is a back door move to rights management for music that will force us all into paying fees for music that we never actually own, but some folks are even more vocal in their objections, claiming that endorsements from the audio press are based on comparative samples that have been goosed up to favor MQA. The most outspoken critic right now seems to be Charlie Hansen of Ayre, someone we might all acknowledge knows a thing or two about good sound.  Over on the AudioAsylum forum, he's started a minor firestorm by criticizing Meridian and the mainstream press for failing to be completely honest in their  presentation and coverage of the MQA move.

Take a look at: Why can't the audio mags do this?    You'll want to expand the full thread to read comfortably...



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Burning Amp 2017 coming in Nov


No, I won't be there but would love to know what i's like.  




Burning Amp Festival 2017, DIY Audio’s
Premiere International Festival Held Annually
In San Francisco, Set for November 12th


San Francisco, CA November 12, 1217 — Burning Amp Festival 2017 is coming to the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Sunday, November 12th from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 PM. New This Year: BAF’s hours have been extended due to the increased interest and popularity

Held in the fall since 2007, BAF has grown into a premier international event for do-it-yourself audio enthusiasts and professionals.  DIY audio is the original maker movement dating back to the 1940’s and 1950’s when Hi-Fi was in its infancy, and a lot of great-sounding equipment was assembled at home by enthusiastic amateurs.

BAF celebrates audio technology both new and old, tube and solid state, analog and digital. The festival has been held in the fall since October of 2007.  Come listen to hand-built audio amplifiers, speakers, and more.  Bring your own gear: DIY amps, speakers, turntables, DACs, servers, etc. Share ideas and learn to design and build your own equipment. 

 There will be free admission to anyone bringing a DIY project.

There will be displays, demos, auction and raffles items and freebies, plus well-attended lectures by prominent figures in audio engineering design like Nelson Pass, Siegfried Linkwitz, Damian Martin and Wayne Colburn. 

Nelson Pass is, as always, generously contributing a big batch of Amp Camp amp circuit boards, parts and loudspeaker drivers.


A helpful map of the Fort Mason grounds can be found here:
When driving to the site, enter via the Gatehouse at Laguna Street and Marina Boulevard.


ADDENDUM

TALKS GIVEN BY INVITED SPEAKERS:
There are four talks throughout the day and will be held at the Firehouse. A link to the schedule is available on the Home page. Unfortunately, the room cannot by the Fire Code accommodate more than about 110 people so some may have to stand outside or will not be able to attend the talk they want to hear if they are late.  Please: no standing around the walls as this will violate Fire Code.
Nelson Pass will be talking about his new amplifiers which diyAudio will sell as kits and should have them to demo along with tons of other cool stuff including the awesome SAL speakers in his audition rooms
Siegfried Linkwitz will also give a presentation on audio perception, and demo his acclaimed LX series open baffle speakers in his audition room.
Damian Martin will demonstrate the only existing sample in the U.S. of a new precision measurement interface for computers which has unheard of performance per dollar, and a device designed by Jan Did den that automatically sets the input voltage to your computer interface to 1 volt to get the best measurements and not blow it up! He will have them on display at a table in the Firehouse and may do some tests of amps for people to demonstrate them
Wayne Colburn from Pass Labs will be about his new headphone amp design and the PCB’s he can supply for them and how he approaches some common circuit design issues. He will also have a table in the Firehouse where you can listen to it. Bring your own headphones for the most meaningful experience!
The talks are throughout the day and will be held at the Firehouse. A link to the schedule is available on the Home page. Unfortunately, the large room cannot by the Fire Code accommodate more than about 110 people so it may very well be that some may have to stand outside or will not be able to attend the talk they want to hear.  Please no standing around the walls as this will violate Fire Code.
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Sunday, October 15, 2017

RMAF 2017 -- last thoughts

A few loose ends to tidy up now that I've got most thoughts down on another show. These are necessarily quick reactions and likely not common, but it's what I heard.

Big Tannoys and VAC amps...sounded good in a huge room, which is not as routine as it seems at RMAF.  Acoustic Zen were in two rooms with two very different sounds: the smaller Crescendo IIs in AZ's own room sounded great -- an experience I have every time I hear them. Sadly, in the W4S room downstairs, the top of the range Zens ($40k) just boomed too much on Holly Cole for me to stick around long. Poor set up and music choice there.

I was also disappointed with the Harbeth 30s I heard in Vinni Rossi's room. Not helped by a continuing, loud conversation going on and on with a press rep from a well known mag. I almost asked them if anyone was playing music here but they eventually put on some singer songwriter that the guys in the room thought sounded "amazing". I heard a rather dull, limited sonic picture that surprised me, but not in a good way. Another first-- poor sound from a pair of Harbeths. I moved on.

The Constellation amps sounded very good wherever I heard them but particularly in their own room with Continuum table (lovely!) and Wilson speakers. I went in a couple of times, always to hear great music on LP.

Caught the tail end of a demo of the new Legacy processor which seems to be all about timing and signal recovery (not to be confused with the Qol of yore that was about phasing). Switched in and out, it made an obvious improvement to my ears. Hard to figure what this would sound like in a normal room as Legacy always seem to take over a ballroom and play music in different set ups around the huge space. With more gorgeous amps from Raven than I've ever seen in one place, this was also a visual delight. Wish I'd had more time here to really listen closely.

Zu Audio are wonderful hosts, but I was not too impressed with the sonics in their big room. Certainly affordable, loud, and toe-tap-inducing enough but not what I'd want to hear all day. Technics room was excellent and their two turntables, both direct drive, sounded very good. Their top of the range $4k model might be the one to beat at the pricepoint.

And of course Sanders. No surprises...simply excellent sounding speakers. I say it every year and it's always true. While the seating arrangement only encourages people to believe these speakers have to be heard from the sweet spot, I moved about and still found them excellent sounding. For most sane people, these would be good enough to settle with for the long haul.

Can't say the same about the Golden Ear speakers with Hegel. Two good companies whose products garner great reviews, it all sounded lifeless to me when I was there. The Joseph Audio room had a pair of floorstanders (the Pearls?) that were superbly coherent and lifelike. Sort of shaped like my reference Von S VR5s but a little more full-bodied and present in that room. A quick word with Mr Joseph asking how he got this sound and he mentioned to secret is really the crossover. No argument from me.

Not sure I mentioned the ELAC speakers...I wanted to hear them but when I entered they were shutting it down to reboot everything as Andrew Jones did not like the sounds he was hearing. Telling us to come back in 10 mins or so, I moved on and of course, inevitably was distracted by other stuff.
Never even tried Can Jam, but that was only a function of time - I really would like to have heard a few options there. And despite promising myself a Stax experience (they had a room), it never happened either. Next time, maybe.

Checking out of my hotel, I lucked into finding Avalon and Spectral set up on their own in the Hyatt. Keith Johnson himself was playing a selection of his own recordings, and damn good they sounded too. Not sure too many people knew they were there but I suspect their goal was about business meetings rather than casual attendee listeners.

Last shout outs -- ATC sounded very good in two rooms, the active versions particularly. Same can be said of smallish Monitor Audios I heard. Not sure what changed with both company's designs recently but I liked both more than before.

Other major disappointments: Apart from no Quad, I found the sound in some really expensive rooms to be really disappointing. Generally like Vandersteen but their 7s in a large room with VTL amps sounded like nothing special to me, and for the combined price, made me wonder just why anyone spends such sums. Maybe large rooms have different demands, but if that is what I ended up with my home after dropping north of $100k, I'd question my sanity. No, it did not sound 'bad' but it just did not sound great or even better than many other rooms with far more affordable gear.  Am sure room will get best of show from someone though.

On the very first day, during the early pre-show hours, I lucked into Robert Silverman's new recording being played in the Kimber room with four Sony floorstanders surrounding the listening space. It sounded spectacular, a real best in show. When I opened my eyes after taking it in, found the (Silver)man himself clearly enjoying it too on the sofa in front of me (only being partly interrupted by an over-zealous purchaser of the new recording who wanted it signed).  To end it all, on Sunday, I walked in again to hear Mr. Silverman playing live on a piano in the adjoining room. It was marvelous and served to remind anyone there what music listening was all about. If anything, it also reminded me of how far we have to go. No fake soundstaging, no ultra sharp transients,  no overemphasized details, but real dynamics and decay, and beautiful music that was physically present. Every room here, even the best, paled in comparison.

Good fun, a real reminder of what's out here, what's possible, and what's typical, RMAF is worth any audiophile's time. My congrats to the organizers and to all the companies that set up rooms and put up with the endless repetitive questions and requests for music. It's hard work for all but worth it. I consider the cost of attendance a small investment in reality checking -- after hearing what all those extra dollars gain you sonically, you might save a small fortune over time on your own system.  That's it for another year. Thanks for all the emails, I tried to cover everything I could reliably remember but am sure I've missed a few.





Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RMAF 2017 part IV

Lots of other stuff caught my attention, some for a moment, some for considerably longer. While I don't have huge interest in all the latest high-tech gadgets working magic in the digital domain, I was quite impressed with the sonics in the Merging Tech room. Their transport and networking DAC (called the Player and NADAC in their lingo) have their origins in studio technologies but are presented here for home use employing the Ravenna open-source audio over IP, which for the rest of us means it is pretty easy to get this thing to play music everywhere and anywhere you need it.

Set up with an Ayre power amp and Sistrum rack, to the fore of a pair of $3k Definitive Tech speakers, the music was actually gorgeous. Kudos, as always to set-up expert and charming host Michael Broughton, it was possible to sit here and not want to leave the haven in an otherwise quite rough environment of the RMAF hotel. Highlight for me: Luna's Tender Surrender, which simply was magical and uplifting, unlike so much else being played at the show.


At the opposite end of the technology front, I had to admire the passion and commitment of those hardy folks who have an alternative view of audio. The Audio Kinesis Azels look different, are toed-in aggressively and, with their rear coaxial driver induce a delay in reflected sound that aims to create  sense of space. I quite enjoyed the results.   Similarly, the Lejonklou room was mostly about their electronics but I could not help give most of my attention to the use of JBL flat speakers, products aimed at cinemas but co-opted here as stereo speakers (and only $800 or so each, shipped). Not too attractive looking but I noticed some people quite taken by the price and those large woofers.

For real oddball innovation though I have to hand it to Swan Song Audio whose Black Swan speakers really caught my eye. With 18" woofers and a top mounted horn, all on a beautiful wooden cabinet, these heavyweight high-efficiency transducers looked like nothing else. Chief Tony Crocker has a unique passion for exploring the unconventional and producing something unique, in small numbers, including a 3W 6NS7-only SET amp. The results proved easy and engaging when Dark Side of the Moon was spun on an SME 20/3, causing at least one person in the room with me to sigh and slightly complain that this made him re-think his decision to quit vinyl. I liked it enough that I sat through a side, even though time was catching up with me.

Tony tells me that given their size, he is willing to host visitors interested in purchases and cover travel costs to their Tulsa base (check with him for details). Thank goodness there are still folks out there pushing the bespoke, unique product lines in audio like Swan Song.

More mainstream, but sounding very smooth and relaxed were the Von Schweikert VR55s, where I found host Damon even spinning vinyl on a Kronos table that wins the award for good looks. The ZYX cartridge seemed a little tight to me but I enjoyed these speakers and had them spin Robbie Robertson to help clear the RMAF-induced Dire Straits ache from my ears.  In the connected room, a pair of Endeavor 3s were really making music, but you had to know it was there to hear it. These are normal home size speakers with outstanding musicality.  Those inquisitive enough to make it back there seemed to enjoy what they were hearing when I was there.

Speaking of musical interludes, I smiled to myself passing one room on Saturday when I heard Whitesnake belting out the door. Inside, a rack of vintage NAD gear and small PSB bookshelves were pumping out the memories, with an original NAD amp from back in the 1980s doing the honors to show just how long those guys have been around.

Ditto Sunday when a re-visit to the ModWright/Studio Electric room was ensured when AC/DC belting out caught my ear. I'd been there earlier in the show when Dan of ModWright was switching between his excellent 200w integrated and a new mini-sized low power tube amp which can run headphones or efficient speakers. While there an attendee asked to hear the Carpenters and Dan asked us all to stick around and listen to it played on both amps, and then with both StudioElectric standmounts and floorstanders. Amazingly, the tube amp managed both but I felt, oddly, that the tubes sounded a bit harsher on the top end than integrated. Either way, I never heard the Carpenters sound so good -- but not quite as good as AC/DC!

Still more loose ends to tidy up, I did hear a lot more stuff, but that's the main story as I recall it - I'll add some more observations over the weekend, but am sure I have forgotten tons already.







Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Learning while listening: RMAF 2017 part III

The best experience for me was hearing Paul Barton, chief of PSB Audio, deliver a seminar on Saturday morning. The emphasis was on his use of the acoustic labs at NRC Ottawa to test his designs on listeners. While the talk aimed at headphone design particularly, much of it was based on prior research on listening preferences with loudspeakers. The real emphasis here was on the scientific method, and use of blind tests to establish listening preferences for various response curves, with particular details provided of a simple experiment involving headphone reviewers and their reactions to curves, including the one employed in the PSB RoomFeel technology.

The seminar covered a lot of ground, not least the value of testing, the importance of preventing participants from seeing what they were listening to and from communicating their reactions to other participants. A part of the seminar covered breakthroughs in modeling and tools for measurement of the human ear  (the physical interface a headphone makes with the listener seems paramount to perceived quality) and a lively Q&A session at the end had us exploring how universal the preference for a tapered frequency curve might actually be. I learned that it has been long known that humans generally prefer a particular frequency curve when left to their own devices, which means they do not like ruler flat,  but that this preference can be distorted in early listening impressions, only to emerge  over time as listeners gain some ability to shape the sound to their preference.  Yes, there is hope your teenager will outgrow those Beats!

Naturally this had me asking, if the preference is so universal, why do we see such variance in gear at RMAF? Ah, sighted listening, a preference for a particular look, influence of others etc, all mentioned as reasons. We humans, it seems, might have a preferred response curve when all other stimuli are removed, but that's not actually the world we inhabit or make purchasing decisions within. Fascinating stuff, if only to push me harder to understand more of the science of listening preference (no, not the engineering of loudspeakers, what people actually experience).

Of course, I thought a lot about the estimable Paul Barton's words as I wondered the rooms later that day. Is it any surprise then that I found great pleasure in the Revel room where a new $10,000 pair of speakers (F228?), due to be released early next year.  Revel's rep was pretty clear in stating that their speakers are always built on the basis of scientific, blind listening tests, and a new model is only released when it clearly improves on existing models. Hence, the Ultimate series, now 10 years old, remains top of their tree as it's the best they can build currently. This new model ups the ante on the previous F series apparently and they have the data to prove it!

I visited the room more than once to check it out and have to say, it would get my vote as one of the best sounds at the show. Obviously conditions are less than ideal, and I hate the white plasticky look but the speaker had an impressive coherence and very smooth sound to go with sufficient resolution to reveal lots of detail on a range of tracks. The triumph of science?


Would say the same seems true of the Bryston gear. A pair of snazzy white floorstanding (is the color a code?) Model Ts in a a cool active system (exernal crossover before power amps feeding the various drivers). Sounded smooth, coherent and inviting, so I took some time just sitting there. One attendee behind me remarked something to effect that this was the kind of 'buy it and be done' system that you spend $25k on and then forget about gear thereafter. Of course, much as audiophiles might love that idea, I think few actually do it. But in spirit, I have to agree. Is it a coincidence that James Tanner of Bryston is another user of the NRC labs for testing speaker designs?