The Fillmore East didn't last all that long, from March 8, 1968 to June 27, 1971, but a ton of great music was played there. Pretty much every legendary 1960s band--except the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Bob Dylan--graced the stage. Led Zeppelin; The Who; Pink Floyd; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Elton John; Fleetwood Mac; Derek and the Dominos; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Santana; and the Doors rocked the 2,700 seat theater in the East Village, in NYC. Ticket prices, as I recall, were always affordable: $3, $4 and $5, and there were usually three acts … Read more
Move over "American Idol," the Audiophillie Music Awards for Excellence in Recorded Sound contest winners are way more talented. They don't just sing--they play instruments, write, and record their own tunes.
Zachary LeFeber's band Magnet South entered "Move On," and I'm glad they did. Zach's the drummer and a very talented audio engineer. A nice fella by the name of Matthew Winner handled vocals and guitar. Magnet South has a blog, where you can see how the music takes shape. The band has been together for two and a half years, but they have real jobs so they haven't played around all that much. Zach recorded "Move On" in his house, using a Sonar digital workstation. He considers himself something of an audiophile, so I wasn't surprised to hear he's getting into vinyl.
Alan Carter wasn't planning on entering the contest, but he had just bought a new Woodpecker ribbon microphone and wanted to record something to try it out. He used the new mic to record everything but the lead vocal and guitar on "Georgia," which was written and sung by Phil Palma. Alan's studio partner Jake played electric guitar; Phil was on acoustic guitar; and Alan played bass.
Alan works for Sweetwater Sound and sells equipment to recording studios,--no wonder "Georgia" sounds so fine. The song was recorded to half-inch analog tape, and, obviously, I didn't know that when I first picked it as a winner. Alan feels that even the best digital recordings never sound as sweet as analog. That's not to say he avoids digital completely--"Georgia" was digitally mixed in Pro Tools, before bouncing it back to analog tape. He concedes there's a lot that you can't do in analog, so he takes a hybrid approach.… Read more
There's no shortage of new sound bars to review, and I still believe they're a great solution for some home theater buyers. They simplify setup chores, and eliminate the hassles associated with placing five or more speakers and running wires to all the speakers. Some self-powered sound bars offer a range of inputs, including HDMI connectivity, so there's no need to buy a receiver.
The best ones get close to the room-filling sound of a bona-fide 5.1 system. The latest Yamaha Sound Projectors like the YSP-4100 and YSP-5100 do a better job at creating a passable facsimile of a surround experience than most, but those two models are priced around $2,000! And those substantial MSRPs don't include the price of a subwoofer. So figure another 300 or more dollars for a sub.
For that kind of investment you can buy a significantly better-sounding 5.1 channel component-based system. If sound quality takes priority over ease of setup and installation, check out Aperion's Intimus 5B Fusion SD satellite/subwoofer system ($1,559) mated with an Onkyo TX-SR507 receiver ($399).
It'll trounce the YSP sound bars on every count, with dramatically better, more-enveloping surround sound, greater dynamic impact--plus, the Aperion/Onkyo system will sound better with music. That last one is a common failing; few sound bars cut it with two-channel music. So if you intend to play CDs in your home theater, steer clear of sound bars.… Read more
I've reviewed or listened to a lot of speakers over the years. Hundreds and hundreds of them, and I instantly forget most of them, but I guarantee that if someone asks me about the Tannoy Prestige Kensington SE speaker in 10 years, I won't have a problem remembering what it sounded like.
Tannoy, founded in 1926, currently manufactures a vast range of speakers for audiophiles and recording studios. The company started out building sound reinforcement systems and is still a major player in that business: the Hong Kong Convention Center, Sydney Opera House, London Palladium, Coca Cola Headquarters in Atlanta and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas all use Tannoy speakers. Tannoy is based in North Lanarkshire, Scotland.
The Kensington SE has a 10-inch, dual-concentric driver and a mahogany-veneered, high-density birch wood cabinet. The Prestige line dates back to 1982 when Tannoy introduced the mighty Westminster speaker, which was upgraded and renamed Westminster Royal in 1987. It's still in production and goes for $35,000 a pair. The Kensington SE ($13,120 a pair) is one of the newer Prestige models, just 7 years old, and the entire line was upgraded to SE status with newly designed crossovers and internal wiring in 2007. Tannoy also sells speakers for under $1,000 a pair.
The speaker's front panel hosts a conspicuous set of tone controls for the tweeter labeled "Treble Energy" and "Treble Roll Off." That sort of tweakability is rare in high-end speakers, but it lets you dial in exactly the right treble balance to accommodate your room's acoustics. … Read more
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has been perfecting the art of remastering audio since 1977. It currently offers a broad catalog of music, from Frank Sinatra and the Pixies to Yes and Little Richard on LP, SACD, and CD.
I recently chatted with Rob LoVerde, one of MoFi's mastering engineers, about how the company's remasters differ from the original label's product.
First and foremost, he said that every MoFi LP--which was originally recorded to analog--is cut from an analog master tape. That's interesting because ever since digital came onto the scene, most, probably about 99 percent, of LPs for sale now are cut from digital masters. So unless you're already buying MoFi LPs, you still haven't heard what a pure analog recording sounds like--older LPs, pressed before the 1980s are all-analog.
Second, LoVerde said that MoFi never uses dynamic range compression. Virtually every new recording is compressed during recording, mixing and mastering. But MoFi eliminates the last compression stage. He also said that equalization is either avoided completely or used sparingly.
LoVerde came to MoFi from Sony, so I was curious about how the two companies approached mastering. At Sony, LoVerde worked within a team, at MoFi each mastering project he takes on is controlled entirely by him. And at Sony, LoVerde had to work fast and complete one or two projects a day. At MoFi he can take his time and track down the best possible master tape. I was surprised to learn that LoVerde doesn't go out of his way to listen to previous remasters. Instead, he's trying to transfer as much of the original master's sound to the final product as possible.
The analog master is also used for MoFi's SACDs and CDs. That means MoFi's analog sourced SACDs are totally PCM-free, which is extremely rare. Most SACDs on the market have at least some PCM digital in them, which means they're not really delivering the format's true potential. MoFi SACDs are the real deal, pure SACD--using Direct Stream Digital DSD coding.
LoVerde said he knows that MoFi customers expect the best possible transfer, so he can't let a "good enough" mastering leave the plant. MoFi has occasionally bailed on a project because the sound wasn't up to its standards.
I listened to a stack of MoFi vinyl and the sound was awesome. Yes, there's more bass, a near absence of vinyl's old friends--clicks and pops--but it's the clarity improvements that were the most impressive. … Read more
The Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitors are really expensive, but the best stuff always is. Then again, $1,350 may be a lot for headphones, but it's cheap for state-of-the-art speakers. Wilson Audio's Sasha W/P floorstanding speaker is in the middle of the company's line, and it goes for $27,000 a pair; Magico's entry-level tower model, the V2, runs $18,000 a pair. The UE 18 Pro is on par with them, it's that good. It's the best headphone UE makes, but UE's custom fitted models start at $399 for the UE 4 Pro, and universal fit UE models start at $50.
The UE 18 Pro is no "earbud," those things are placed in the cupped area around the outer ear canal; in-ear headphones fit into and, most importantly, seal the ear canal. The isolation from outside noise allows listening at significantly lower volume, so it's safer to rock out with in-ears than earbuds. The UE 18 Pro's custom fit (more about that later) hushes outside noise more completely than standard in-ear designs. With external noise hushed, you hear a lot more detail and subtlety from your music.
Never heard of Ultimate Ears? That's understandable; the company originally made its mark building custom in-ear stage monitors for musicians, including Aerosmith, Arcade Fire, Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty, the Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, and hundreds of other touring bands.
I'll tell you this: the UE 18 Pro is drastically better than say, my old favorite: the Etymotic ER-4P in-ears. That's not to take anything away from the ER-4P, but it sounds constrained and contained compared with the UE 18. It's hardly a fair comparison, the ER-4P lists for around $300, the UE 18 Pro is $1,350, plus the expense of getting custom ear molds made (figure about $100). Each UE 18 Pro is a one-of-a-kind creation, hand-built for your ears. … Read more
Audiophiles never gave up on tube electronics. Sure, there's no shortage of great-sounding solid-state amps to choose from, but tube amps are still a hot commodity in the audiophile world. As good as solid-state amps can sound, they never sound like tubes.
Thing is, tube electronics are more expensive to build than solid-state gear, so when I hear about an affordable tube amp, I want to hear it.
The Miniwatt N3 Integrated Tube Amplifier uses a single ECC83 twin-triode tube feeding a single EL84 output tube per channel, and the amp features a switching power supply. The N3 delivers a healthy 3.5 watts per channel; it was designed in Hong Kong and it's built in China.
Yeah I know 3.5 watts doesn't sound like much, but the N3 made its presence known with a range of speakers, running from my Audioengine P4s ($249/pair), to Dynaudio Contour 1.1s, up to the mighty Zu Audio Essence towers ($3,600/pair). I can't tell you the N3 will work with every speaker, satisfy headbangers, or fill your loft with high-decibel sound. But those 3.5 watts will play louder and sound better than you would have thought. At night with your room lights turned down the tubes' soft orange glow will look way cool. … Read more
Bowers & Wilkins staked out its claim as Britain's highest-profile speaker manufacturer long ago, and it's now easily the country's best-selling brand. B&W speakers are favored by audiophiles and grace many of the world's top recording studios.
I recently wrote about B&W's terrific new headphone, the P5, which was introduced at the same time as the MM-1 computer speaker. They're both extremely handsome designs, and that's something we've come to expect from B&W.
The speakers black cloth grilles and brushed metal trim are indeed tasteful; the shiny black and chrome remote is also pretty slick. The remote controls power, volume, play/pause, and next/previous track selection for iTunes. The speakers make a cute little "plop" sound and the left speaker blue LED flashes when you raise or lower the volume. The MM-1 feels right.
The MM-1 is pretty small; it's 6.7 inches high and 3.9 inches wide and deep; they have a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. The right speaker houses four 18-watt Class D amplifiers, two of which power the left speaker. I noticed the powered speaker's aluminum top panel runs warm to the touch. The USB connection is fed to an "audiophile" quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that incorporates equalization to increase the 3-inch woofers bass output.
We can't agree with B&W's "no need to add a subwoofer" claim. Computer speaker systems with high-quality subs, like Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker-subwoofer system ($199), can produce dramatically more and very high-quality bass. This Altec system is one of the very best I've heard, with great dynamic power and overall clarity. Then again, you can't add a sub to the MM-1, but the wee B&Ws take up a lot less room than the Expressionist Ultra MX6021. As always, size does matter.
Listening to streaming radio with the MM-1s, sitting about 2 feet away from them, was mostly not so pleasant. The streams grit and harshness were all too evident. But there were exceptions, and the MM-1's woofers got a nice workout from WFMU.org's 128k MP3 reggae programming. Bass was deep and punchy, though no match for the mighty Altec sub.
The MM-1 all too clearly revealed marginal sounding MP3's shortcomings, so I mostly played CDs for my MM-1 listening sessions.
The MM-1's bass on the opening organ passages from Philip Glass' "Koyaanisquatsi" CD were fairly deep and clear, without the bloated boom we've heard from a number of computer speakers. … Read more
Sure, it's easier to buy downloads or CDs over the Internet, but if you're lucky enough to still have a local "record store," drop by today. It may be participating in Record Store Day celebrations in the U.S. and U.K. and offer special deals or discounts. And who knows, you might even meet other people who like music.
I've discovered so much great music in stores over the years playing over their sound systems, or talking with the stores' employees and customers. There's also something about holding a CD or LP in my hands that I can't get online.
If you love music, it's time to show respect for it in its tangible form, and stop music from becoming nothing more than disposable digital data. Musicians work long and hard to record their tunes, why wouldn't you want to hear everything they laid down? A 128Kbps or 256Kbps download "loses" a lot of music that was part of the original recording. How much is lost? Well, CDs run at 1,411Kbps; where do those other bits go?
One thing's for sure, you're not hearing them when you listen to downloaded music. And if you can't hear the difference today, you will in the years ahead when you get better speakers or headphones. You may have to buy the music you've already paid for again to hear what you've been missing.
But Record Store Day is a celebration of the little guy and independent record stores, and since the giants like Tower Records are history, most brick-and-mortar record shops are indies, owned by folks who have a real passion for music. … Read more
Snell Acoustics never strayed from its core principles. The company, founded by Peter Snell in 1976, continued to manufacture high-end loudspeakers in Massachusetts until this year. I first met Peter in 1978 while working at a NYC high-end audio dealer, and soon bought one of his original speakers, a Snell Type A. I had it for eight years.
Peter was a perfectionist about the sound and the build quality of his speakers. The cabinets were exquisitely finished, but the amount of handiwork invested in the parts the customer never saw was even more impressive.
Though most of the better speaker manufacturers demand a minimum measurement variation for their suppliers' tweeters and woofers, Snell went the extra mile and hand-tuned each crossover network to compensate for the drivers' response irregularities. Then a computer measured the speaker's response, and a technician noted the difference between the desired flat curve and the speaker's actual frequency response.
The hand-tweaking process continued until the speaker measured within Snell's unusually tight tolerances. The painstaking effort ensured all completed speakers measured within exceedingly tight tolerances (+/-0.5 decibels) of the original design prototype. Every Snell buyer heard exactly what the designer intended.
All Snells, including the most affordable models, were built this way, and all cabinets were assembled and finished by hand. Few American speaker companies continue to maintain that approach; most outsourced manufacturing long ago.
If a Snell customer ever needed a replacement tweeter, midrange, or woofer, that part was supplied with its associated crossover parts, again matched to the original spec; and this was done for speakers 10, 20, and even 30 years after they were sold. That remarkable commitment to customer service is rare in today's market, but Snell was a very special company.
Peter dropped by my store on a regular basis, usually to discuss music or future plans. When I moved to a new apartment with unfriendly room acoustics, he offered to help. He spent three or four hours experimenting with different placement scenarios before coming up with a rather unusual strategy that worked. He really was a great guy, totally committed to designing speakers that advanced the state of the art.… Read more