Whether you listen to music from the cloud, MP3s, CDs, LPs, cassettes, or 8-track tapes, it's always in stereo. So while multichannel SACD, DVD-A, or music-only Blu-ray discs trickle out, only a very small handful of recently recorded music is available in multichannel sound. If there was any real demand we would have surely seen an uptick in the number of surround releases, but that's not happening. Stereo rules the music world, which is why high-quality hi-fis aren't going out of fashion. Onkyo's new A-9070 integrated amplifier and C-7070 CD player are both sound investments.
The … Read more
A lot of people think good sound is good sound, but music and movies have very different requirements. Starting with home theater, remember that today's films have nearly unlimited soft-to-loud dynamic range; dialogue is mixed to the center channel; surround effects may be ambient or point-sourced; and deep bass demands can be extreme. Just about every feature film released over the last 20 years has a multichannel soundtrack.
How different is music? Let me count the ways: an exceedingly small number of new music recordings are available in multichannel sound; stereo rules in the music world; most, probably 99 … Read more
I cover a lot of high-end, audiophile-oriented gear in this blog, but I also love finding great-sounding affordable products. Match any of the stereo speakers on this list with any amp from my post on "Top 10 great-sounding amplifiers from $40 to $450," and you'll get amazing sound value. Unless noted otherwise, the prices listed are for pairs of speakers.
Dayton B652 ($40) The price is no typo; the Dayton Audio B652 is a midsize, black vinyl-covered monitor speaker, 11.7 inches high, 7.1 inches wide, and 6.5 inches deep. Fit and finish are decent, but the rear panel's spring-clip wire connectors won't provide a tight grip on the wires, so they may fall out when you move the speakers.
I've seen clips on $100 speakers, so I can't really complain about spring clips on $40 speakers. Bass definition is fine, but deep bass is lacking. The B652's bass is reasonably flat to 70Hz, so you may not need to add a sub. The speaker earned its reputation by delivering surprisingly accurate tonal balance, exceptional detail, and transparency. The B652 speakers are available for $40 a pair from Parts Express.… Read more
NASA scientists for the first time can track the effects of a solar storm on Earth, offering new advancements in our ability to predict space weather and how it will impact our satellites, emergency systems, power grid, air traffic control equipment, and more.
New observations from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, spacecraft have allowed researchers to observe the sun throwing off immense clouds of material, see how the material interacts with solar wind, and monitor the result as it hurtles toward Earth's magnetosphere.
The result: a first-ever view, end-to-end and in three dimensions, of the impact … Read more
This Top-10 list of great-sounding solid-state and vacuum-tube amplifiers includes headphone amps and vintage models. Most are light on features, so if you need autosetup, GUI menus, AirPlay, iPod/iPhone/iPad compatibility, home networking, HD Radio, Bluetooth, HDMI switching, digital-to-analog converters, Dolby and DTS processors, that's not the main plan. The focus is on amps that provide the maximum sound quality for a minimal investment, but I included one receiver with some of those goodies.
I'll do a top-10 affordable speaker list soon.
Dayton Audio DTA-1 Amplifier ($40)
It weighs almost nothing, looks cheap and flimsy, but Dayton'… Read more
To go along with the consolidation of the Sirius and XM satellite radio services, the new SiriusXM rolled out a unified hardware platform: the SXV100 SiriusXM Connect vehicle tuner. We've already seen the first receiver to offer compatibility with the SiriusXM Connect from Alpine. Now, Sony strikes back with the second, third, fourth, and fifth as most of its new CDX line of CD receivers is now compatible with SiriusXM's module.
Four of the six new CDX receivers feature compatibility with the SXV100 SiriusXM Connect module ($60) and connect to the module's proprietary connection. The SXV100 draws … Read more
I'm a big fan of Sonos, thanks in part to the loaner Play:5 in my kitchen. I use it more than the beautiful Marantz receiver and classic Tannoy speakers in my living room, not just because it's in a more convenient location, but because it gives access to much more music. My Sonos plays my music library from a networked hard disk, as well as Spotify, Pandora, and local and global radio stations. It's really a fantastic audio device.
With the introduction of the lower-end Play:3, it appears that Sonos is steadily moving down the market. Perhaps, I thought, the company is going to lower its prices even more, so I could afford put a Sonos box of some sort in my living room. Perhaps, even, when it's time to upgrade my receiver, I'll be able to get one with Sonos built in. I called Sonos co-founder Tom Cullen to ask when that would be.
The answer was not what I wanted, but it led to an interesting look at Sonos' and home audio in general. In short, according to Cullen, "We don't believe receivers are long for this world."
Cullen says that audio receivers made sense "before the digital world," when you needed a box for big amps and for switching between a lot of sources. As more entertainment comes over the Net, Cullen says, "We think the notion of switching between physical sources will be seen as quaint. Instead of putting Sonos into receivers, we're going to make receivers unnecessary."
He adds, "We play in a market full of companies that haven't made meaningful changes to how they do sound in 20 years."
This Sonos vision certainly makes sense, as a vision. At the moment, home audio (and video) users do have to deal with multiple hardware sources: DVD players, game consoles, television or satellite or cable signals, and so on. Granted, more of the content is going to the Internet, to both remote cloud services like Spotify, Pandora, and Netflix, and to local network storage. But you can't yet run a full entertainment system without having some way of switching between physical signals in addition to your IP streams.
You'll never find a comparably equipped 1980 Corvette outperforming a 2011 'Vette, or a 1980 TV or computer blowing away a '11 model. Audio is a different matter; a lot of decades-old gear really does sound better than its 2011 equivalents. That's especially true when comparing 1970s and 1980s receivers with today's models. I covered why that is so in last weekend's "How can 30-year-old receivers sound better than new ones?" blog.
If you've ever watched stereo 3D on your smartphone and found yourself rubbing your temples, you're not alone.New research out of U.C. Berkeley suggests that eyestrain and the ensuing discomfort is the result of a phenomenon called the vergence-accommodation conflict, by which the eyes have to manage both watching a screen at a certain distance and simultaneously making sense of images that are either in front of or behind that screen.
"When watching stereo 3D displays, the eyes must focus--that is, accommodate--to the distance of the screen because that's where the light comes from; and at the same time, the eyes must converge to the distance of the stereo content, which may be in front of or behind the screen," says Martin S. Banks, the professor of optometry and vision science at Berkeley who published the report in today's Journal of Vision.
Though his series of experiments was conducted on just 24 adults, a sort of discomfort trend emerged: Watching stereo content in front of the screen (which appears to jump into the viewer's space) was less comfortable from a shorter distance more typical with cell phones and laptops, while stereo content placed behind the screen (appearing as though the viewer is peering through a window) was less comfortable when viewed at greater distances more common in movie theaters.
Banks suggests that more studies be conducted across larger sample sizes that include children, and that those pave the way for actual guidelines on appropriate viewing distances.
"This is an area of research where basic science meets application, and we hope that the science can proceed quickly enough to keep up with the increasingly wide use of the technology," he says.… Read more