Thursday, May 31, 2012

Obama awards rock icon Bob Dylan highest Presidential honor

Several members of the American Jewish community were among those awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday by U.S. President Barack Obama.
"What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people - not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily over the course of a lifetime," said the president in front of a room packed with senior administration officials, guests and reporters.

"No one ever picks up a guitar, or fights a disease, or starts a movement, thinking: 'You know what? If I keep this up, in 2012 I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama. That wasn't in the plan. But that's exactly what makes this award so special," Obama said.
The Presidential Medal of Honor is one of the highest civilian honors that can be bestowed by the U.S. president.
One recipient of the 2012 award was musician Bob Dylan, of whom Obama admitted that he is "a really big fan."
"Bob Dylan started out singing other people's songs, but as he says, 'There came a point where I had to write what I wanted to say, because what I wanted to say nobody else was writing.' Born in Hibbing, Minnesota - a town, he says, where you couldn't be a rebel; it was too cold - Bob moved to New York at age 19."
"By the time he was 23, Bob's voice, with its weight, was redefining not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel. Today everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude.
There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music. All these years later, he's still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth," said Obama.

Bob Dylan is an aquired taste, admittedly. But when one accepts the undeniable fact that, when viewing Bob's lyrics in their many varied forms, that he is nothing but sheer genius in the way he presents word collages as complete thoughts. His talent is drawing the listener in to trying to find context within his lyrics where seldom there is any whatsoever! For decades his word puzzles have intrigued the intellectual among us with its twists and turns, alternating between hard storytelling and Picasso-like cubism that could be compared to nothing else but contemporary abstract art. It's this period (Blonde On Blonde" is a great example) that intrigues me most, as it shows that a story is completely unnecessary to Dylan as he weaves his words into a fabric that is suitable for everyday viewing, whatever your mood or circumstance. His work never seems to grow old, and his chestnuts ("Forever Young", "Lilly, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts", "Idiot Wind", "Visions Of Johanna", among many) will surely last well beyond our time on this rock.

Get yourself a cool beverage, take some time to let loose of your preconceived notions about what role lyrics traditionally play in a song, and let Bob's best work transport you to a time and place that time forgot. It's a truly timeless place where characters exist outside of convention, and where stories and descriptions take on a different kind of form, or, alternately, little to no form whatsoever. Just be sure to leave your critics' credentials at the door and let the artistry overtake your sensibilities for just a short while, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you love his work. You'll be back for more!

Tomorrow it's back into the grab bag of goodies that entertain us, inspire us, and generally keep company as we catapult into the future by relating to our past and the perspective it places on our perceptions. So, as usual, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Steely Dan Japanese obi 7 CD box set review

 The Steely Dan Japanese obi 7 CD box set consists of the core seven long players by the supergroup (Aja, Can't Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy, Gaucho, Katy Lied, Pretzel Logic, and The Royal Scam). Japan mini-CD's are faithful reproductions of original LP releases, and offer the audiophile a choice of embedded formats with which to make use of players with particular capabilities. The term "obi" refers to the paper band that graces the cover of a Japanese import, featuring information about the LP, song or album titles, bar code information, and writing in Japanese. It's generally a sign of its import status, and of the special attention to detail that's paid to such a fastidiously-reproduced package such as this set. There are many obi sets of popular rock, jazz and contemporary artists, and the Japanese definitely pride themselves in superior presentation and incredibly clear and focused sound quality, all of which was obvious upon opening this package and playing the CD's. As in their approach to electronics in general, these sets are similarly created and produced, with serious attention paid to quality control. Each long-playing CD features the obi, and are exact 5" replicas of each original album cover and disk, down to liner notes and lyrics, in both Japanese and English.

The music, needless to say, is presented exactly as on the original releases, no bonus tracks, and looking at each cover and holding them as one would do back in the day as we would do when listening, admiring the lyrics and art, totally brings back the original vibe of the vinyl experience. The audio portion is tailored to contain many audiophile formats, so if you splurged a couple grand on a fine disk spinner (unlike me, I currently stock only BPC Sony units unworthy of mention, much less review!) you will be pleasantly surprised at what comes pouring out of your loudspeakers. This is an audiophile band recording for music-loving audiophiles from the golden age of classic rock audio, the 70's.

Steely Dan has long been regarded as the state of the art as it concerns audio quality, and many audiophiles regard the band's seven LP's as the standard by which pop recordings must be judged. Their reputation for perfection in the recording studio is legendary, and their methods have been aped by engineers and producers for decades now. Their belief was that each instrument should have equal attention paid to the reproduction of its sound, usually presented with little or no equalization or reverb artifacts, and overall, this formula has served them well over the years. They have won Grammy awards for superior engineering and production, and have been nominated many times over the years for attention paid to this aspect of their music. It's this presentation that lends itself to using Steely Dan recordings as test music, as the music and its presentation makes it very easy to evaluate the capabilities of an audio system in terms of focus and clarity with these recordings.

Everyone who listens to classic rock will undoubtedly be familiar with "Reelin' In The Years", "Do It Again", and "Deacon Blues", all classic rock radio staples. Their lesser-known album cuts are by no means filler, as they each represent small vignettes of wild living, sexual overtones, and drug use is a common theme throughout their body of work. Remember, their work was largely representative of the freewheeling seventies, where political correctness was frowned upon, generally speaking, and there was a hell of a lot of weed being smoked and cocaine being sniffed! City life, ladies of the night, and nostalgia are recurring themes. They wrote these stories out in the open, between the lines, and every way you can imagine. In a jazz voice, alternately in a rock voice, each song is a small peek into big city life and all warts (lyrically speaking) intact. The music was a perfect framer to the topics covered.

Given the overall attention paid to the details of this package, the historical value of the music itself, and the band's reputation for studio perfection, they were a band that, until the 90's, rarely toured, concentrating solely on recording. There was a fairly endless rotation of musicians, and often the groups leaders (Donald Fagan and Walter Becker) would audition individual musical contributors to a particular song or part and spent many hours sorting out who was to play what on which song or album. They would assemble a large contingent of session players to achieve this near-perfect combination of lyric, music and personality that pervades each and every song on each and every album.

I seem to be reviewing items and music that I like for the most part, and this is no exception (I guess it''s probably becaues my late mother taught me that if I don't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all! Nobody likes a grouse, anyway...). I give the Steely Dan mini LP box set a solid five stars, for exemplary production, an awesome body of work that has stood the test of time for many decades, and they have more than proven themselves in concert to boot, assembling incredible live aggregations to reproduce these classics live. Steely Dan and perfection are two things that are mentioned quite frequently in the same sentence, and they are definitely the standard by which all groups in their day were compared to in many aspects. They definitely knew how to rock the studio!

More tomorrow, as usual, from the vaults here at mind's eye music! Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Large bookshelf speaker shootout

During my downtime yesterday, observing our troops and the amazing job they do protecting our freedom throughout the world at large, I conducted an informal speaker shootout of a few of my larger pairs of bookshelf-size loudspeakers, just to see if any one of them would outseat another as my daily drivers for my digital-only setup. I was simply listening to my Klipsch Fortes and kg2's and swapping wires between my analog rig and my digital-designated front ends, and that got rather tedious, to be honest. I wanted two standalone rigs to simplify my everyday listening, so I could concentrate on the music alone rather than what wire went where to facilitate a particular configuration upon each program change.

Of all my solid state receivers (nine in total), I chose my Sansui 8080DB (previously reviewed) for its overall sound quality, and the fact that it simply had the most watts per channel. There might have been one that excelled in distortion categories, or another in sensitivity ratings as it regards the tuner, but those figures were fairly relative and insignificant to this test. Most choices would yield the same result in a shootout of this nature. I might, for fun, revisit this shootout theme in the future, making receivers the focus of the study.

First up were a nice, nearly mint pair of AR4X two-ways (all speakers tested were two-ways, for the record). With doped-cloth surrounds and a wide-dispersion cone tweeter controlled by an attenuator located on the back by the connections, they are the oldest (dating from around 1965) of those tested. The historical significance of AR has been well-documented throughout the web and elsewhere, so to go into the late Edgar Villechur's accomplishments here would be superfluous. The speakers were very well-balanced, sorted out confusing, complex signals very well, and overall made for a really nice presentaton. They are of an acoustic suspension design, sealed to create bass response, with no ports or openings. I listened to them in their horizontal orientation, as they were originally meant to be played, and this feature opened up the soundstage considerably as opposed to a vertical placement. They, as all the speakers tested here, were placed on a set of stands that placed the speakers 21" off the floor. This was a nominal placement, and suited my distance from the speakers, and with vertical placement, put the tweeters right about ear level.

Next up were Cerwin-Vega! D-1's from the early 90's. On the back of these stout boxes was the designation "digital-ready' loudspeakers. I'd guess that this was to associate them with the burgeoning audio scene surrounding CD front ends. These cabinets are built the heaviest and are thoroughly braced throughout. As CV speakers are well-known for their bass, it is definitely their strong suit, giving heavy music a strong platform from which to play. They are front-ported, so they are less dependant on proximity to the front wall. The tweeter is a small compression driver, providing a nice extension to the upper frequencies. I'm a bassist by profession and by nature, so I was well-pleased with them on the whole. No bad features or undesireable side effects, they held their own in the competition.

Finally, I tested a pair of Ohm model E loudspeakers. They were the thinnest in size from front to back (see picture), and to make up for the cabinet size as such, they were a bit taller than the others. Ohm makes a bass enhancement mod (heavier woofer and crossover cap mod) that can be applied to the model E, but these are stock. They have a 3-way tweeter pad to control the level of high-frequency information while listening, which is a nice feature to further expand their versatility. I found that they were easily overdriven in comparison to the other models tested, and sounded boxy in comparison. I would do further listening with more analytical/neutral-presenting amplifiers before passing judgement, because they are well-built and sound as if they could simply use a different platform to accentuate their design features. Bear in mind once again that all the speakers tested are two-way designs with 8" woofers.

In closing, I rate the tested models as I mentioned them, first being the AR4X, secondly, the Cerwin-Vega!s, then (until further analysis proves me wrong), the Ohms. I wouldn't kick any of them to the curb, this is just the way that they separated themselves for the purposes of this ratings test. Any of them would be suitable to build a system around, given smart choices of front ends and amplifiers.

Part two of this shootout will be at a later date, with A/D/S L420's, Infinity Qe's, and Electro Voice ZX-1-90 speakers, all two-way designs with similar specs and physical size. Tomorrow we'll feature some of the musical go-to choices that keep the surroundings around here sounding good! Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sansui 8080DB Stereo Receiver (1973)

I've been seriously collecting (hoarding?) stereo equipment since the middle 80's, when I started working at an excellent second-hand record store in St. Louis, Missouri. Along with used vinyl, cassettes, and CD's, the store dealt in used vintage stereo components to compliment their huge selection of prerecorded music and paper collectibles (books, sheet music, posters, autographs, etc.).  At first I was mainly buying components piece by piece, sometimes completing existing systems, sometimes only finding selected deals to further my listening setup. Back then there was no such thing as owning multiple rigs, just an occasional speaker upgrade or a nice vintage piece as the centerpiece of a mediocre system. Prices were still very expensive, compared to now, and there wasn't nearly the selection at that time to make a good comparison with which to guide purchases. In today's internet-driven market, audio forums bring the information to the masses trying to assemble the dream system from ones' past. Back then it was catch as catch can in terms of acqiuiring new and better used stereo gear for many people, and I for one had different prorities at the time. As a gigging musician, I was instead concentrating on getting a world-class bass rig together, and American-made basses were plentiful and way cheaper than nowadays (That's another story for another day...).

I definitely made the rounds of all the used and second-hand stores in the area, as it was my favorite hobby to shop the tons of thrift stores, yard sales, classifieds (this was before the internet, mind you), as well as word-of-mouth referrals. Now, the cat's out of the bag, and ebay rules the roost as far as pricing goes, and there are some rules of thumb that need to be observed. Good stuff's heavy (gudstufsheavy is my audio friend Art's online handle) when it comes to vintage stereo gear, and BPC (acronym for "black plastic crap", flimsy, cheap stuff, generally speaking) sucks. Sometimes it's necessary to have BPC in a nice vintage rig, CD players and turntables are forgiveable in certain cases, but the most desireable equipment is heavy, silver-faced (a sure sign of 70's/80's gear), and manufactured by tried, tested and true brands that bring back an air of nostalgia just hearing the manufacturers' names mentioned (Pioneer, Sansui, Kenwood, Marantz, and so on). Some of these companies are still in business, precious few are still making quality stereo system components, and it has been learned (after many and varied street buys) that if a piece of gear that was desireable from that golden age breaks down, you don't simply throw it away. You send it to one of a plethora of qualified stereo surgeons (locally or nationwide) to operate on your sick patient. They come back stronger than ever, and are steeled for 30 more years of faithful service to entertain and enlighten. Junk is junk, regardless of age, and quality components from the 70's are made to repair rather than to dispose of.

My collecting travels found me making a lot of lateral moves, sound quality-wise, and had me revisiting those tried-tested-and true brands as I always have. But one purchase that truly changed my listening experience was when a friend came to me one day, mentioning that "I have a tube receiver, a Marantz that was my mother's for sale!" Naturally, my blood pressure went sky high after having heard this (hearing the mention of Marantz and tube in the same breath is definitely worth sitting up and paying attention!), and as it turned out, he didn't have a tube Marantz, he had a solid-state Sansui. Nevertheless, I was barely containing myself when he mentioned "I'm not sure it works, I don't have a set of speakers to test it with". I love hearing this, by the way. It serves to drive the asking price down, considerably speaking! I love getting deals on broken gear, especially since I have a couple of well-qualified techs on the payroll!

These receivers are, by the way, WELL worth throwing a couple hundred at to restore, regardless of how much you originally spend (within reason) to acquire the piece, because the difference in sound quality between a vintage two-channel receiver and trying to pull SQ out of a lousy 5.1 home theater receiver (HT) or its stereo equivalent is as huge as The Great Divide! I paid a mere $150 for the Sansui mentioned in the title, which, as it turns out, was one of the very most popular, best-sounding solid state pieces of its day. People go out of their way to collect these receivers nowadays, and, paired with a nice set of speakers, form the basis of a serious system with which to spin vinyl, CD's (through the AUX input) and radio (every receiver has a tuner built in, hence the difference between a receiver and an integrated amplifier). This Sansui has a state-of-the-art (for it's time) AM-FM tuner, and a simple single-wire antenna does wonders in activating the pulling power of this ultrasensitive receiver! It pays, aesthetically and practically speaking, to build a two-channel listening rig around components of this level of build quality. They look absolutely stunning sitting in clear view with their lit facade and silver- and wood-clad appearance, and the 8080 totally killed anything I've ever owned in terms of looks and performance before or since. I wouldn't sell it, I'd beach the whale (!) if I were upgrading any time soon.

The Decware Zen Triode Select tube integrated (reviewed a few days ago) is a more specialized tool, as the SET topology only really works (at 3 or 4 watts, both sides driven, total, down to a dead short according to manufacturer's specs) with super-sensitive speakers. Conversely, at 85 wpc (watts per channel) at 8 ohms per side (recommended speaker output load), the Sansui is a beast of considerable power, just coming up short of the designation of  "monster receiver" power class (at a minimum of 100 wpc driven at 8 ohms a side). Its big brother, the 9090DB shared the positive traits of the 8080, but with another 20 watts per channel via a bigger power transformer. All other particular specs are identical between the siblings. 8080 has a vinyl coated MDF case, while the 9090 is housed in real wood covered with veneer (walnut in color, usually). The Dolby board component is the only point of contention with the unit, as it has 30 passthrough wires that need resoldering just to complete the circuit in the event of malfunction! All that concern for a obsolete the day there were FM Dolby broadcasts and Dolby-encoded media. As long as it was popular it was considered an upgrade, as was the inclusion of Sirius/XM on receivers upon the advent of satellite radio in the 90's, and as the option of HD (hybrid digital) radio is now.

When I got this beast back from my technician, I was gobsmacked at how lush and beautiful the 8080 sounded in comparison to my usual run of garden-variety pieces. Every speaker in my arsenal paired beautifully (the Decware will only synergize with my Klipsch speakers) with the Sansui, making it a very versatile amplifier, comparatively speaking. With loudness, bass, mid, and treble controls, as well as low and high filters, it has tone-shaping capabilities (not every audiophile eschews tone controls as some do), as well as a wide range of input choices (two phono inputs, two tape in/outs, and one AUX in). Headphone jack conveniently located on the front gives me a way to integrate my subwoofer into the rig, with volume and tone controls intact. You can set up as many as three sets of speakers to the outputs of higher-end Sansuis, this model included, but only playing two at a time is recommended, however. The preamp section can be decoupled from the power amp section via a pair of jumpers, thus making the 8080DB useable as a versatile separate preamp or power amp.

In conclusion, I give the Sansui 8080DB (manufactured in 1973, above-pictured complete with hanging tag describing the built-in Dolby feature) a total of 5 stars, for its versatility, sheer power, and sound quality above and beyond the run-of-the-mill products that were out at the time. Build quality is extremely stout on the 8080! In the final analysis I would probably choose a McIntosh or a high-end Marantz over the Sansui, but that's a different discussion for another day, involving many hundreds of dollars added to the price in the case of the Mc! I have yet to acquire my first Mc piece and may never afford the luxury of the experience!

Tomorrow I'll unearth another vintage gem from the archives, and/or a noteworthy piece of music or playback format to review. Until then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Analog vs digital: why not both?

Today's raging debate in the audiophile community is centered around an age-old argument of whether analog is better sounding than digital or vice versa. If done properly, there should, ostensibly, be no reason to have to make a choice!

Take the guy or gal who saved all their vinyl records since they were young, and have an incredible collection of the best classic rock or whatever. They may want to reconnect with their musical past, nostalgically, but realize that since the 80's, technology has changed. Somehow they were influenced that CD's were superior to vinyl, but managed to store away their prized LP's. This person has to either ressurrect their turntable or set out to find a new/old one. They are in the catbird seat, having plenty of first- and second-press run LP's already, and that part of the search is virtually unnecssary. The only purchases they need to make would be to fill in the blanks of titles they missed the first time around, or explore new genres. Maybe they supplement their collection with MFSL and 180 gram vinyls to enhance or complete their NOS experience. At least they have a good selection of music as a foundation to build on. They can concentrate on gear (TT, cart, stylus, belt, interconnects, new dustcover if needed, shelf, cleaning accessories, all essential to complete the experience from a serious standpoint).

For the persons moving their listening experience into the digital age, there are many more choices to make. First of all, they would have to decide whether to have a disk-based system or a file-based one. For the disk-based angle, they would naturally have to choose a disk spinner with the features and capabilities they need to complete their CD experience. There are plenty of used silver disks on the open market in various formats and levels of sound quality to complete their selection of titles. As far as accessories go, some of them border on "tweaks" (inexpensive, and in some cases, very spendy options to enhance sound quality, real or imagined). The "placebo" effect is common among entry-level listeners, and as one gains experience, he/she moves past this phenomenon. The secret in doing this right is avoiding the "snake oil" tweaks, ones that are rumored to work but are questionable at best. Then you definitely have a leg up on what really makes a legitimate improvement, and you haven't spent good after bad to find out what works best. Seriously, this is a science unto itself.

If you choose to go with a file-based setup, it's a matter of selecting a computer with sufficient memory if you want better sound quality than mp3 (superior lossless, compression-free downloads and rips take up considerably more space on your hard drive). Sound cards come in varying sound quality, so it behooves the listener to select the best sound card (one with the highest bitrate playback capability) within their budget. Backups (in case of file loss, computer crash, etc.) require at least one outboard hard drive, preferrably two, to avert emergency crash or accidental loss (fire, natural disaster, bluescreen, etc. - it's recommended to have one backup offsite in case of catastrophic loss and one handy for quick reload). Currently there are many good, convenient choices in terms of material (HDtracks, itunes, record label samples, band demos, etc.), and there are new and better choices becoming available every day. There's a fairly steep learning curve with this approach but the experience is very rewarding, and this is the route I've chosen, (lossless, that is) along with the vinyl appproach. There's no reason why someone couldn't have a combination of all the different choices, so mix and match at will, and don't forget radio in all of its iterations.

Then there's the question of whether you plan to use an outboard DAC (digital analog converter) to complete the rig, or simply utilize the stock DAC's in your CDP or computer-based system, alternately. This is going to be the biggest challenge for the novice, as there are units in every price range ($150 - sky's the limit), with different features, for PC or Mac. This is a relatively new area of audio, comparatively speaking. As with any developing format in audio, there is a such a duplicity of information, it positively guarantees that, if you don't get the best and most pertinent suggestions for your particular set of variables, and follow them fastidiously, you will embark upon a long and winding road to your own audio nirvana (not good). Choose a well-mapped, thoroughly-researched approach and you will reach your ultimate destination with flying colors, and relatively few costly detours.

This is going to take a great deal of websurfing and consulting of experienced audiophiles on the web so that the consumer can make the most informed choice, as much of the pertinent info is relatively new and not yet published widely in reference book form.There are opinions, conflicting views, and lots of misinformation currently being tossed around, making this a daunting task at best. Caveat emptor is the watchword as one progresses into uncharted territory, as it were. Gathering a consensus of opinion is certainly warranted here, as it isn't always that cut and dried in the case of new(er) technology and its alternate uses. Once you finally do get it right, you can simulate the effect pictured below (that 70's dude with JBL L-100's and good tunage), with favorable results!

From the "we missed it" department...Yesterday was Bob Dylan's 71st birthday! Here's wishing the best to the Grammy winning singer-songwriting storyteller, as he advances on (and on...) into his forever young-er years. Happy belated birthday Bob, and may you have many, many more!

Tomorrow we continue the madness, and here's hoping we see you back for more then! Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding

As promised, my reaction to the debut LP release by the former lead singer of Oasis, Liam Gallagher.

Beady Eye are an English rock band formed in 2009. The band consists of vocalist Liam Gallagher and guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell, all former members of Oasis, rounded out by drummer and percussionist Chris Sharrock who substituted for Oasis during their last tour in 2008/2009, before Oasis broke up after chief songwriter and lead guitarist Noel Gallagher quit acrimoniously in August 2009. The remaining members gathered on and decided that they "will not quit making music together" and so they formed the band Beady Eye.
Since forming, the band has released one album Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011) with a second expected to follow in summer 2012 (yay!!!). The band has received general acclaim for their music by Oasis fans, with Q magazine claiming that their debut album is the best Liam has performed on, since (What's the Story) Morning Glory?.

Cheeky move, little bruddah, grabbing the remaining members of Oasis for your fledgling project! I guess, really, if Noel was leaving something, he had no plans to take it with him. Ostensibly, I see this as a move on Liam's part to reward his erstwhile sidemen for years of faithful service in Oasis. These ringers have long proved their loyalty, and that accounts for plenty in today's dog-eat-dog rock and roll world (pay to play, payola, scandal, constantly shifting lineups, etc.). The only question left upon the breakup was simply this...who's going to throw the first punch? (pun intended).

Beady Eye finds themselves operating in an arena (punny) where certain current industry standards must be adhered to (or so it seems by the number of producers/record companies/artists following suit. It's nigh on impossible to determine precisely who's to blame for this.). Today's modern rock, by and large, sounds as if it were run through a crusher. The majority of modern rock today is overcompressed in the mastering stages to give it the appearance of being comparatively louder than the preceding song when played on the radio (terrestrial, sattelite, internet or otherwise), while losing dynamic range in the process. It's called "the loudness wars", and judging by its popularity, it isn't going away. It sort of started happening slowly over the decade of the 90's and continues into the 21st century. In my opinion, it ruins a lot of good music by making it virtually unplayable on high resolution systems. As the trend toward portability versus true audio quality continues to muck up the already murky waters of today's sounds, there's a large contingent (this blogger included) speaking out in opposition to tthis disturbing, destructive trend. Google loudness wars and join in to help regain dynamic range on recordings with us!

Oh yeah, how does the album sound?...(I get on a minor rant and have to be corralled back to the thrust of this exercise.) Compression issues aside, since 2000 (Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants, with his first released effort Little James), Liam has been stroking his songwriting bone into shape, and as he goes along, has picked up considerable juice over the time since. Remember, Oasis is this huge juggernaut in the UK, and basically a band with one or two recognizeable hits domestically (most people in the States struggle to remember the global impact Wonderwall had when it was released in 1995, and the insanity generated in the concert scene in Britain in the 90's and beyond surrounding the band, including record sellouts of huge football stadia and multiplatinum record sales). The band had been all but ignored by radio, and they spent a lot less time trying to conquor America's concert touring scene in the ensing years. Liam was recently named the best frontman of all time by listeners of XFM (a point sorely missed on an American public that more or less missed the boat), thus adding credibility to this breakaway effort.

The music on Different Gear, Still Speeding is very reminiscent of recent Oasis output, and is very British, as is its counterparts. Both Noel and Liam get pigeonholed, unfairly, for aping the Beatles' songwriting styles, but they have gone on record time and time again to defend their admiration for and influence by 60's classic rock stylings. Their take is that they can borrow reminiscent phrases that harken back to particular songs from the British Invasion and beyond and be paying tribute in the process. I for one think that it's a very endearing trait shared amongst the brothers and their musical leanings (together and separately), and I hope that it's a trend that they continue to employ as long as it doesn't get overworked. Yet, so far, it remains to be seen if their fans are growing weary, because the sales of both brothers' LP's have maintained the focus and rate of popularity that is possessed of their previous band effort, and that's a good thing. Nothing wrong with more of a good thing!

As far as ratings go, I give Beady Eye's debut effort 4 out of 5 stars, one point subtracted for succumbing to industry trends surrounding the loudness wars. Noel's debut solo album has the edge in overall sales, and while both LP's were highly anticipated, both receive regular play around the michaelhigh abode. By the way, and for the record,  Noel's LP avoids the annoying trend of overcompression as an effect.

Tomorrow, it's back to audio gear, and some secrets on how to get the most out of your computer audio experience. In the meantime, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

When a band breaks up, there's a natural sadness that descends upon the faithful, and when the British supergroup Oasis split, there was a pall that fell upon the cognoscenti. The brothers Gallagher were at it again, this time Liam had gone too far, assaulting Noel (over the head!) with a priceless vintage Gibson, no less. In terms of what had gone before, the two bandmate brothers had seen it all, a meteoric rise to fame and stardom, years on the road, a steady run of brilliant LP's, and no altercation save this one could threaten to permanently put the kabosh on the band from Manchester that accoplished so much in such a relatively short space of time.

Immediately upon the demise of Oasis (August 2009), both factions set out to get music happening again, as quickly as possible. No one knowing the love of all things rock and roll that existed within every iteration of this group could forsee anything but a perfunctory, momentary split. Liam gathered up his Oasis bandmates before Noel could sneeze, and in the wake of Beady Eye (Liam's new aggregation), the High Flying Birds rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of Oasis with their own eponymous first LP.

Noel had been rumored to be planning to release his first solo effort long before the band split, so it's certain that the machinations were already in motion long before things got completely unbearable within the confines of Oasis, and Liam's asinine behaviour. Sir George Martin, no less, called Noel "the most significant songwiter of his generation". Wow!! Coming from the man that made the Beatles who they were, are, and will ever be, that's a huge endorsement. Pressure to fulfill expectations of rabid-for-product Oasis fans? I have never seen Noel do much more than flinch in the wake of major altercations throughout the most tumultuous years of the band's existance. Even the time in 1996 when Liam pulled his most famous stunt (1996 MTV Video Music Awards, where Liam feigned illness, opted out of the acoustic performance, and heckled his brother, beer in hand, from the balcony), Noel was coaxed back into the fold. Not this time.

Noel's album is nothing short of brilliant, from the pen that gave you Champagne Supernova, Some Might Say, and the smash multiplatinum Wonderwall. Liam has nothing on Noel, who when pressed into service, does excellent vocal renditions of Liam's best work. Noel, naturally, writes, sings, plays and calls the shots on his first solo LP (he is The Chief, after all!). This album totally lived up to the lofty expectations of the fans, and immediately spurred the High Flying Birds (musicians featured on the record include former Oasis keyboardist Mike Rowe, The Lemon Trees drummer Jeremy Stacey and percussionist Lenny Castro, in addition to guest appearances from the Crouch End Festival Chorus and The Wired Strings) to hit the road to promote the LP. Noel's famed Mellotron, rumored to have once been owned by John Lennon, is front and center on the opener "Everybody's On The Run", and the album on the whole is a collection of both wistful and more forceful workouts. No need for autotune or excessive compression (Noel has the most amazing voice, one has only to witness a live performance that's circulating on the web to realize this fact, largely unnoticed with the former presence of Liam), this album is totally modern without falling back on these trendy production artifacts. Noel shows from the get go that the split had no effect on his ability to crank out the most amazing album of 2011 in my opinion. High Flying Birds gets a rating of 5 stars, well-warranted given the high producton values and excellent songwriting. Also, check out his most recent EP (a collection of previous singles' B-Sides released for Record Store Day 2012, limited to 2000 copies), Songs From The Great White North on white vinyl if you can source it, if HFB is your cuppa.

Tomorrow I'll give due time to brother Liam with a quick review of Beady Eye's debut "Different Gear Still Speeding", and, personally speaking, I refuse to pick a winner.

In closing, today would have been Bob Moog's 78th birthday. Robert Arthur "Bob" Moog (pronounced /ˈmoʊg'/ MOHG) (May 23, 1934 – August 21, 2005), founder of Moog Music, was an American pioneer of electronic music, best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. Google celebrated with a Google Doodle that you can actually play "Lucky Man" on! Happy Birthday, Bob!

This marks my first full week of mind's eye music online. Between records and gear, news, reviews and general shoutouts, it promises to be a great resource that will be constantly growing. I look forward to holding forth here, so be sure to make this blog a regular part of your day, each and every day. In the meantime, keep your tubes hot and your theremin antenna up (in honor of Bob, hehe...) ! See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Decware + Klipsch = MAGIC!!!

I've been pursuing a particular path to audio nirvana for the last couple years, that is to say, the road to musical enlightenment. I'd been, for the most part, shopping the used markets, picking up bargains, and due to my budget, sticking to vintage solid state topologies, really good clean examples on the common market. On rare occasion (two of which I've already chronicled), I'll research a particular newer item, find a consensus of opinion that's of a favorable nature, then commit to purchase the item(s). In these cases, after reading glowing reviews on the XDRF1-HD and the schiit bifrost, I made the purchases knowing that the general agreement was that the pieces synergised easily, and actually took the entire system up a notch or two.

I had a rare opportunity to purchase Klipsch Fortes while auditioning a receiver (which I'll review at a later date), as it was two weeks before Christmas and the seller obviously had to get rid of them. He had an extremely small room that already housed his everyday drivers, a nice pair of Altec 19's, in fact the room was already too small to properly play either pair without actually sitting directly point-blank in front of either, as neither are well-suited to nearfield listening. He was planning to list them for sale, locally, and found the sale the way it went down to be convenient (no shipping, and he could use the extra cash two weeks before Christmas!). I had been angling for some heritage Klipsch (these are from 1986) for some time. I figured they would be out of my price range, but I was happily wrong that day.

I usually go shopping with lots of money so that if I see something that really lights my fire I can go all in and get the item I'm angling for, as well as anything else that seems to be a good deal I encounter along the way. This day was no exception, and the Fortes came home. I did this one time when buying a car. I had $4000 to my name and took off on a buying trip. I saw the car I had wanted all along, a Pontiac Firebird, in a beautiful forest green to match my Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. Within minutes the deal was struck, the paperwork was complete, and on the spur of the moment the Firebird was coming home. I have lived to appreciate those examples of impulse buying, as I'm still enjoying both immensely. (I digress...)

I've been wanting to pursue a different avenue of amplification, and knowing this, I had different people scoping deals on tube amps for me after hearing for ages that they paired well with efficient speakers (a la Klipsch, at 98dB.) Normally 2 or 3 watts are plenty to drive such a sensitive speaker, and this was my ideal choice to hear the Fortes in their element, singing beautifully. Upon purchasing a highly-touted Decware SE84C-S Zen Triode Select tube integrated amp (built by Steve Deckert, by hand, right here in Peoria, Illinois, back in January 2003) I found my match made in heaven, flea-powered SET topology and super-efficient horn-driven speakers. The combo is indescribably delicious...

So, what this shows you, at the end of the day, is that a few watts goes a long way with the right speakers, timely advice is invaluable, and good deals are hard to find. When pursuing audio, when the right deal comes along it becomes buying time! These beauties are now my daily drivers:

Decware SE84C-S Zen Triode Select tube integrated amp

Heritage Klipsch Forte 3-way loudspeakers

Tomorrow...I'll be reviewing what I consider to be the best LP of 2012 thus far, nearly half over now! So, until then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Hugh Gibb, CBE (22 December 1949 – 20 May 2012)

Robin Gibb, member of the British pop group The Bee Gees, died yesterday following a protracted battle with colorectal cancer. He was 62.

Robin Gibb - robin-gibb photo

His family emigrated to England in 1967 after a run of nearly 20 flop singles in their native Australia, and was summarily "discovered" by rock impressario Robert Stigwood. In a matter of two weeks their images were cast in that of the Beatles, as pop stars, and they experienced immediate success with charting singles that went on for some five decades. 200,000,000 records later, they remain among the most loved and revered pop groups from the British Invasion of the mid- '60's.

Robin had a reedy, vibrato-laden voice that was immediately recognizable, and was well known as the lead singer on such early Bee Gees hits as "I Started A Joke", "Odessa", and "I've Gotta Get A Message To You". Their early period (1967-1973) was filled with beautiful, psychedelic pop gems, a fact soon forgotten as they pioneered "blue eyed soul" in the 70's. With the addition of record producer Arif Marden and a new sound that was arriving on the horizon, the team catapulted disco into the musical fore with "Saturday Night Fever", a movie starring John Travolta that started a new and somewhat divisive era in pop music. Centered around dancing and the discoteque lifestyle, it alienated the rock audiences who were accustomed to album rock and concerts as their delivery system of music and entertainment in general. The movement spawned backlashes, and disco record burnings, much like the record burnings that took place in the 60's South surrounding the protest of rock music. Soon, America and the world were dancing along, and there was no looking back (at least for the time being... Classic rock, as it's known now, outlived disco with its many resurgences and revivals over the many decades since the 50's.).

Robin, along with the brothers Gibb, won numerous awards spanning their illustrious careers. 
In 1994, Gibb was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, California. In 1997, the Bee Gees were inducted as a group into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, US. At the 1997 BRIT Awards held in Earls Court, London on 24 February, the Bee Gees received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.
In 2002, Gibb was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2002 New Year Honours, along with his brothers Maurice and Barry. However, the official presentation ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London was delayed until 2004 due to Maurice's death.
In May 2004, Robin and Barry both received Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Music from The University of Manchester in Manchester, England. In 2005, Robin Gibb received the Steiger Award (Miner Award) in Bochum, Germany for accomplishments in the arts. On 10 July 2009, both Robin and Barry were made Freemen of the Borough of Douglas, Isle of Man. The award was also bestowed posthumously on Maurice, therefore confirming the freedom of the town of their birth to Barry, Robin and Maurice.

Robin (center) was preceded in death by his twin brother, Maurice (left), and his younger brother Andy, a singer/songwriter with hits in his own right. Barry (pictured on the right) remains the sole survivor of the original group.

Tomorrow, we'll get back to more features on music, gear, and topics surrounding the audiophile scene. Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

No schiit...

 Yes schiit! Every digital audio file (a song or an album's worth of music) must be converted from digital (where it resides on the computer's hard disk drive) to analog so it can be played on your home stereo receiver or integrated amp. Most sound cards that come with today's low-end offerings leave a bit to be desired in terms of sound quality, so an entire industry has sprung up around optimizing that aspect of your audio playback in the last decade or so.

From their purposely cheeky website: "And yes, it’s pronounced exactly like you think. Shee-tah. It’s a proud German name, host to a long line of audio engineers who slaved away in crumbling Teutonic fortresses as lightning lashed the dark lands outside, working to perfect the best amplification devices in the world . . . Yep, Schiit is our name. As in “Hey man, that’s some really cool Schiit.” Or, “We like music and Schiit.” And now that we have your attention, BUY OUR SCHIIT!" (boldface mine)

The schiit bifrost adheres to the philosophy that if you put garbage in, that's what you're getting back out the other side in terms of playback quality, and their low-priced DAC (digital analog converter) is being offered (non-USB topology, that option can be added/purchased at a later date, and the unit is fully upgradeable as technology advances) for $350 plus shipping, making it very attractive price-wise, versus the competition at the present. I especially wanted the upgradeability as the market seems to be searching for a somewhat stable format. I'd hate to buy a Betamax when everything is being manufactured to handle VHS, to revisit a well-known format war! (not to mention the modern-day version of this, the whole "which 3-D video it it going to be" debate! Definitely a whole 'nother topic for a whole 'nother blog...)

Direct from the manufacturer means Mr. Middleman gets nothing, and the consumer gets a wealth of research and development to enhance his/her listening experience further than buying from dealers, and allows the quirky company to correspond directly with consumers to get a real-world feel for what they want in a DAC so that they can develop customer loyaly, an element that is somewhat sorely missing in some areas of retail these days. These features make the low price possible, and allows a relatively new product a chance to gain a foothold in a market flooded with product. schiit has already rolled out a statement piece that, while costing more, offers features unavailable in the entry-level arena. How does it sound, and how does it work, you might ask?

It featues non-oversampling, which means it operates at the native bitrate of the original file, as oposed to an oversapling unit that autmatically raises the file size and bitrate of the file to audiophile high resolution level. According to schiit, this is to avoid a "mystery meat" approach to playback, and offers the best conversion to analog to make your listening experience jitter-free. Attention to these and other details, such as fit and finish, make the bifrost very desireale for home audio, headphone use (in conjunction with their lyr tube head amp) and even television audio conversion, although that simple process can be achieved much cheaper. For $449 you can get asynchronous USB implementation, preferred by some, and you can save the $100 by ordering it without, like I did. I use mine via toslink (fiber optic cable, not all computers and CD players have this feature) through the spdif input.

In conclusion, I give the bifrost a total of 5 stars for the combined experience of fit and finish, correspondance with the manufacturer before, during and after the sale, expert shipping, and the unit really did enhance my file-listening to a significantly higher degree (I have no CD player with toslink output to use it with, but no matter, all my CD's are ripped into my computers. I am in the market for a kickass disk spinner, when/if the budget allows...).

Tomorrow, I'll reach down into my goody bag and see if I can find another goody to review. Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Today is an annual event, Art On The Square, here in Belleville, Illinois, at the Public Square (which is actually a circle, go figure!), located at the intersection of Illinois Route 159 and West Main Street. This festival was recently named the "#1 Art Fair in the Nation" by the Art Fair Source Book, according to Wikipedia. It draws artists and arty-type creatives from all over the globe, and showcases Belleville in a positive light. Belleville is located just east of St. Louis, Missouri, across the mighty Mississippi River, and is the largest county seat south of Chicago. My only son, 18-year-old John Michael, will be exhibiting a self portrait pencil drawing he completed for his senior art class at Mascoutah High School, in, where else, Mascoutah, Illinois! Mascoutah is a town southeast of Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Mascoutah, the quiet, quintessential midwestern town, is primarily home for military families stationed at the Base. As you would imagine, the sleepy little town rolls up its sidewalks every night around 9 PM!

This is John's self portrait! (just kidding, son!) He has a sick, twisted sense of humor. I love him!


This is really him. Handsome devil, eh? Takes after Old Man!

The festivities continue on till Sunday, and will feature food, drink and live musical entertainment (Waterloo German Band? Can you say oompahpah?). It promises to be a great kickoff to the summer 2012 event calendar, and if you're anywhere near Belleville, you should give us a visit. A great time is guaranteed for all, as people watching and world-class art of this magnitude comes but once a year, right around this time every spring. This is the 12th annual event, with many more to come.

Tomorrow we pick back up with audio reviews and music happenings as usual. Until then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Digitizing analog with the Sony RCD-W500C Compact Disc Recorder

Have a bunch of cassettes from sources that can't be obtained either on vinyl LP or CD? Still have a desire to listen to these rarities, or plan to archive them alongside your CD collection and high resolution downloads? Here's your answer... The Sony (seems like I'm featuring Sony exclusively, huh? It's mere coincidence that some of my go-to items are by the BPC giant, but that's a story for another day. It's sheer coincidence that today's and yesterday's posts feature these two popular, utilitarian items made by the same company...) RCD-W500C Compact Disc Recorder is the answer to your problem.

The Sony features playback as well as recording capability, and, for the most part, I use the recording well most often. Not for any reason particularly, it just serves its purpose as a recorder primarily, thus leaving it in a specialty role. I guess if I had to devise a reason why it's not my go-to everyday player it would be the fact that it's a multi-disc player, and I tend to prefer single-disc players for easy, quick load-and-play operation. So, to summarize the playback feature in a single comment, it has a 5-disc magazine that allows a listener to load a few discs and sit back to listen without much fumbling or getting up to hear all 5. Along with a menu loaded with display options and various ways to get the signal to the recorder, this machine is easy to use. With a modicum of experience ripping and burning analog sources on various CD recorders long gone (killed by overusing, and cheap, shoddy optics, I'm sure!) I was able to operate the RCD-W500C without a manual.

You can, as with most standalone audio CD recorders, make copies of analog and digital sources, both internally or externally (using RCA jacks to access the recording input section of the device). It's really as easy as connecting a cassette player or the output of a receiver or phono stage to the analog input on the back of the Sony to rip a cassette or LP, respectively speaking. Setting the levels is easy with visual level indicators, to make sure you're not overmodulating the analog input of the Sony, and maximizing your recording level without driving the Sony into distortion. You can dub a CD automatically with the internal feature, and manually, track by track, with the analog feature. Simple and effective!

My main application for using the Sony is to digitize cassettes of my appearances on KDHX, St. Louis public radio, that I painstakingly preserved as I appeared on the air in the 80's and the 90's primarily. Dragging my cassette recorder to my on-air appearances and patching into the broadcast mixer proved to be a smart move, historically speaking, as I'm an archivist by nature. To further preserve these rare and precious tapes, a free-standing audio CD recorder is the most convenient way to get them reproduced onto CD's. The final process is to rip the CD's to my HDD on my computer(s) for playback in my #1 system. This process asssures that the cassettes won't fall apart from repeated playings, and as I took the time and effort to store the cassettes correctly (out of sunlight, rewound, stored in cases, in racks, catalogued alphabetically and indexed fastidiously for quick reference when needed), I preserved optimum sources for reproduction and archival material.

I find the only drawback is having to use proprietory audio CD-R's (commonly sourced at all the big-box stores, at least for the time being) that cost slightly more than regular computer data CD-R's, but this is a minor drawback, at least until the audio CD-R's become scarce. At that time, I'm sure that some smart industrious individual (or corporation) will cotinue to keep them available. The Sony is discontinued, like the HD radio I reviewed yesterday, and considering that they were both viable, useful components (not to mention very popular) in the vast Sony line of audio products, nothing has come along in the meantime to replace either of these discontinued devices. Usually the reason for companies to discontinue products is to improve them and raise the price, or because the item is obsolete for some reason or another. They (Sony, that is) haven't been party to the lynch mob that seems bent on killing the silver disc as downloading and alternate methods come and go. It's beyond me why this recorder was summarily dropped. It had no known defects (unlike the HD radio, which had various small problems that probably warranted its demise), and, at least for this reporter, always seemed to be the easiest method for digitizing analog sources. Its lack of software-driven topology, endless menus and confusing hookups, made this an ideal item for the thousands without a EE degree, and as mentioned, I figured out how do get it to integrate into my setup without difficulty (without a manual!).

Sony should support this device for some time to come, as they are pretty good about building serviceable components that don't require complete replacement upon malfunction. This is a good reason (for most, other than name-driven audiophiles that are concerned with peer prestige over perfomance) to invest in a brand that might fly under the radar of someone investing in spendy, name-rated gear. Sony had entered that high-end arena long ago, most recently featuring a line of ultra-high-end (read costly) loudspeakers that should remind folks that they aren't only for the BPC crowd.

As a rating, I give the Sony RCD-W500C a total of 4 stars, as the fact that it's currently discontinued and with Sony having no known plans to reenter the standalone CD recorder market, makes this choice ultimately somewhat (albeit slightly) questionable. With an original MSRP of around $350 you can (and I did) find them, as well as various other non-pro CD recorders for less than a C note. They're pretty common on the used market.

Tomorrow, I'll do a quick rundown of an annual event in my hometown that draws tens of thousands over a two day period! Until then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

HD Radio - Keeping the airwaves alive with the Sony XDRF1-HD tuner

I've been a HUGE fan of radio since I was a wee lad. I wasted SO many 9 volt batteries, leaving my transistor model on all night under my pillow, and that was on the nights when I actually kept it on despite repeated warnings, and threats that "if you leave that thing on all night one more time you'll be buying your own batteries from now on!"... Needless to say I had numerous Radio Shack battery cards!

Fast forward, HD Radio is a blast into the future, hybrid digital as opposed to high definition, to clear up the usual confusion. I own the Sony XDRF1-HD tuner, among vintage receivers (which I'll get to describing in future episodes of this blog) with tuners (hence the designation "receiver", as opposed to integrated amplifier, which as you know, is a receiver without a tuner!). The Sony has astronomical sensitivity ratings, produces the best AM sound quality I have ever heard (yes, I listen to AM, quite often in fact), and affords the fortunate owner HD programming, which allows both AM and FM stations the flexibility of sideband stations, mostly used to expand programming to include eclectic music, multicasts, and simulcast of AM stations on FM in glorious stereophonic sound! The baseball game never sounded so good, commercials and all! Diminutive in size, it's a stack-topper (or table topper, the same size as a clock radio), and features a remote with some (but not all the most necessary) functions that make it somewhat useful for the couch surfer in all of us. By the way, HD radio is not satellite radio, and is therefore a free service, non-subscription, making it better on that level as well.

The Sony is long out of production, as it burst onto the audio scene a few years ago to rave reviews around the world on multi-year-long threads extolling its off-the-charts ratings and superior sound. Then, as soon as it appeared, it was DISCONTINUED, and why it was dumped by Sony is still a mystery to this reporter. At an introductory price of around $85, it was a no-brainer for radio DX'ers and FM music freaks. With a simple dipole antenna, obscure stations and faraway AM icons (WLS Chicago and WSM Nashville, just to name a couple) appear magically fully tuned and fully listenable, such as never before this unit appeared on the audio scene.  As its popularity soared, and its availability waned, its asking price soared through the stratosphere, bringing BIN prices of $400-$700 on that auction site. Entire industries arose around modifications to various parts of the circuitry to further optimize its stellar specs. Needless to say, the giant-killer Sony was legit, and was routinely giving vintage tunas (arguably so, amid much debate) a run for their money. Some diehards still swear by their ancient McIntosh, Fisher, Sansui and Kenwood models in terms of sound quality and freedom from drift, but the Sony found a dedicated following and continues to spawn legend in collectors' circles. Its fans were speaking in reverent whispers, and sometimes raving in louder voices when extolling its virtues. Said to run a bit warm, one of the mods available in the aftermarket is to install small silent computer fans to reduce that suspect temperature. Others include a mod to regain treble response on AM, forced analog reception (the XDRF tends to fade in and out as the digital signal comes and goes occasionally), and feet to aid in the cooling process.

For radio lovers, this tuner (not a radio; it requires an amplifier or receiver to operate, it has RCA outputs to make it univerally compatible with 99% of all amps, every one with AUX or tuner line level inputs accessed through standard RCA stereo connectors) is a virtual godsend, and when I first turned it on I was absolutely blown away at the sound quality and ability to pull in distant stations with ease. I know a good deal when I see one, and I was sold when I read the glowing reviews that spanned years on end praising this wunderkind tuner. The sub-$100 price cinched the deal for me!

Bottom line, if you love radio and have stations in your area that are difficult to tune in, get the Sony, and try your best to grind down the asking price. Anyone who bought it aware of its superior specs will undoubtedly know they have a winner on their hands and will certainly be asking top dollar for this item in any condition, given its scarcity on the open market. I give this excellent tuner an overall rating of 5 stars. Mine gets play every single day as my primary source of news (CBS radio news at the top of the hour), and I often listen casually to a local HD station that is the best-programmed classic rock station I have ever heard since discovering the genre some 40 years ago (on the radio, by the way).
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Tomorrow...We'll take an up-close look at another of my front-end sources, the Sony RCD-W500C Compact Disc Recorder. Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hello music/audio fans! I'm the ubiquitous michaelhigh, and if you follow some of the world's better-known audio forums, you will recognize my sometimes irreverent, sometimes serious opinions and findings concerning the vast and varied world of music/audio and its assorted ephemera. These items, among others (artistic license liberally applied here!) will be faithfully covered, and it is my intent to keep things light and generally informative. I invite comments and suggestions, as this is my first attempt at compiling the things that interest me, and I can get offtopic and wordy at times! Click on a blog entry using the list on the right side of the page, and a box will pop up that you can use to enter your comment or suggestion. Say your peace, this is your blog too. Without the restraint of moderators (who provide a service in their domains; I just find myself in conflict over political correctness and overall censorship, which you will soon discover here, OUR domain!) we will explore the topics that interest me most, and you will find that I have led an incredibly eventful existance.

By way of introduction, for those who don't know me personally, I wear quite a few hats, currently and formerly...I'm a multi-instrumentalist musician/singer-songwriter/producer/engineer/arranger/ music fan/father/ex-husband/son/brother/nephew/cousin/audio artist-type/person who places music and creativity highly (hence my name!) in my pantheon of experience. My full name for the record, and again for the record, as this will be the last time (probably, can't absolutely promise) I mention it, is Michael Hy Yaffe, from Belleville, Illinois, born in St. Louis, Missouri. This forms the basis of my experience, as well as my many and varied travels in search of that certain special something that drives a creative from his native home in search of...

...whatever crosses my path that excites me and drives me to hyperbole! Come along for the ride, it might be bumpy at first, but like anything worthwhile and substantial, will certainly promise to be action-packed with reality, much more exciting than fiction, and loads of fun, for sure. Ready?...