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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unbelievable

Not that it matters to Sir Howard Stringer http://www.sony.com/SCA/bios/stringer.shtml, but for the past month or so I have been fighting to get Sony to honor an extended warranty for a television set.  My advice to readers is:

1.) Do not buy Sony.
2.) If you must buy Sony ( I cannot think of any good reasons to do so), do not buy an extended warranty.

I have always felt that extended warranties were a way to bilk customers out of money.  The warranty sold to my Mother (which I recommended because the TV she was purchasing has an integral bluray player- a combo I would generally oppose) for over $150 by the Sony representatives at the Sony store in Riverhead NY is just that- a way for Sony to gouge more money from you at time of purchase while abdicating all responsibility for supporting the product they have sold you.  There are even discrepancies between what is printed on the contract of insurance and what the RECORDING that the underwriter says once you call them as to the nature of your coverage.  Basic business law 101 nonsense.  I am disgusted.  I will not buy Sony again and am considering ways to offload the vintage stuff I have worked so hard to maintain.  As a result this blog's existence is in question at the moment.  I will forward this link to  the hacks and know-nothings that manage the company now and think about where I will go from here as far as gear is concerned.  Another nice story- popped into magnolia which is carrying Marantz now, and saw they had a new ES multichannel receiver.  The sales guy quickly came up to me as I looked at it and said:

"Don't buy that one.  A lot have come back.  In fact our 1st floor sample didn't work when we tried to set it up."

Sad.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A use for my DVD-A discs?

http://www.acura.com/ELSSoundSystem.aspx

Hm.  The system plays DVD-A.  We're picking up a 2010 TSX later this week- so I'll have to bring my Brain Salad Surgery and Fragile DVD-As with me.  A full report is called for, I suppose!  Haven't bothered much with car stereo for years.  I buy manual cars (the TSX has what I think is the best 6spd you can get for anything mear the money) and like to hear the engine- mechanical musc.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

1.875 inches per second

D. played the "Immortal Beloved" soundtrack which he had dubbed onto a Maxell Chromium Dioxide tape last night, and darned if it didn't sound super, super close to the CD.  Makes you wonder about stratospheric S/N ratings and Dynamic range- how much can the 40 year-old ear hear?  For kicks I put a thrift store ninety-nine cent CrO2 pre-recorded copy of the Rolling Stones "Dirty Work" into my old Sony KA1ESA deck and I was also impressed.  Who knows what that tape has been through?  Apparently, tape made some real strides as a recording medium technology that found their way into relatively inexpensive consumer decks by the late eighties.  At that time I never had the money to invest in a quality deck.  It's a limited format for me now- can't even use it in the car- but as D. pointed out while we were listening, the process of sorting through the discs, adjusting the record level and pausing or fading between tracks all has a wonderful nostalgic feel that ripping files to a hard drive just can't capture.

Meep

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nova

Well, here is why there has been no stereo use for the past couple of weeks- a 2 pound tornado named Nova.  She's a ferocious little beast, don't let the picture fool you.  Everyone is in an uproar.  We kept her in the stereo room as it was the most calm, until I noticed her chewing on my Mapleshade speaker cable- so now she's mixed in with the general population.  It's been so hot the past few days the listening room is uninhabitable anyway.  Maybe next week we'll get a break and I can get around to doing some posting on tape decks.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Barry

Home again from Sin City, and I'm not going to miss the 107-degree weather, nor all of the gassy people flying on Southwest, for that matter.  The real news however, is that unbelievably, I actually saw Barry Manilow in concert. Regular readers will know that my tastes run primarily in the symphonic works and progressive rock realms, so my attendance at the Manilow show may be something of a surprise.  It was for me as well- Susan's Dad bought her the tickets as a gift.  Now, I have nothing against Barry Manilow.  From years of sitting in my Mom's car as a lttle kid while she ran errands, I know all of his classics from AM radio.  (I also know Bread, The Association and Simon and Garfunkel as well, which generally for me is not a good thing as the damn songs pop into my head when I have insomnia.  That and "Skyrockets in Flight, Afternoon Delight." Luckily my Mom discovered broadway show soundtracks after I was old enough to stay home on my own.  Still, that one Simon and Garfunkel tune makes me glad we have an electric oven so I don't follow the song's example one sleepless night- and maybe Richard Cory was listening to Melanie when he shot himself).  Anyway, like I said, Barry Manilow is a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, and I wish him no ill.  In fact, there were a few very nice highlights to his show, even for the non-fan.  He plays a lot of nostalgia into the performance, and cracks a lot of jokes at his own expense ("as long as there are elevators and teeth, my songs will be famous," he quipped at one point), which was very endearing.  He played a piano duet with a video of himself from American Bandstand that was very good, and his cover of Cole's "Nature Boy" was excellent.  All throughout, the 50 somethings in the crowd went nuts- but this brings me to my biggest complaint about the show, one you won't believe.  It was way, way too LOUD.  I couldn't believe it.  The Yes show I saw at Townhall this past winter was no where near as loud (although in Barry's defense there was WAY more pot smoke at the Yes show, in fact I was so fuzzy from second-hand smoke, Susan started to resemble Cheech Marin to me by the time they finished playing "Starship Troopers.")  Seriously though, the monitors were way too hot in the midrange, which made all of the backups and the alto and trumpet very shrill, which was compounded by the volume.  I was quite surprised.  At one point I would have liked to have pointed out to all of the adoring ladies (?) in the crowd that they were being somewhat hypocritical had they ever lectured their own children about "turning down that racket."  But then, maybe the volume was up at the show so they could hear it at all. . .  bottom line, whether I appreciate him or not, Barry is an American Icon, and for the faithful, he did not disappoint.  It was a Vegas show through and through.  Tonight I'm going to try to post again- but this time about the 2 month old kitten who has co-opted our listening room. . .

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CDP-605ESD

Haven't written much about this machine, and I need to take some better pictures of it now that the walls behind it aren't orange (what were they thinking?).  This player is very similar to the CDP 555ESD, especially from the front, and it came to me purely by luck- for $25.  Little did I know at the time.  It also uses the famous Phillips TDA1541A chip for its Digital to Analog Converter.  Some folks feel that particular classic has never been bested.  At the moment however, I'm not even using that DAC- I have the coaxial output of the CD player feeding the DAC in the TA-F630ESD, through which I am listening to a pair of Grado headphones.  Mostly violin stuff, well, mostly Sibelius violin stuff.  I'll check out what chip the amp is using- maybe I'm making a big mistake!  At any rate, a direct comparison with the SACD XA-5400ES would be neat, but lately I'm lucky if I get to listen to a track or two before I have to be doing something else.  The cats love the new carpet though.  As you've noticed, it's really their room.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Superstition

Ever wonder why cats stare intently seemingly at nothing?  Old Wives' tale has it that if you look between their ears you can see what they are seeing. . .   oddly enough I do believe that I see a vintage WWII Wehrmacht PzKpfw V Ausf G (that's a Panther Tank for the uninitiated) passing by in the lower right.  But that doesn't seem to be what Holly is looking at. . .

It's a boy!

Having some second thoughts about Eddie Bauer's "Mist."  I had a more Stephen King color in mind, not the color that makes you run out and buy cigars and memberships to baseball camp.

Embarrassment of riches

One day you have no tape decks, the next you have two.  Pictured are a 3-head Sony TC-KA1ES, and a dual cassette, 2-head Sony TC-WA8ESA.  The WA8 is brand new, right out of the box- thank you, Mr. Sweda at Chips Unlimited of Patchogue, NY. The 3-head deck was a low-use eBay purchase.  I discovered an auction for an identical deck  of which a portion of the purchase price went to the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary: http://www.blindcatrescue.com/ (please visit and give if you can).  I missed that one, but bought this one and gave to the rescue anyway.  These machines while nice, and including many features, are built in no way close to the standards of the ES machines of yore.  They are light-weight mass-market fare.  A TC-K730 or 890ES would be better, but they still command high sums, need maintenance that is costly and after I finish this project would sit idly collecting dust.  For the limited use these will get, I expect them to do the job.  A more involved review of their performance to come when I start dubbing David's band: "Stepson" on to CD.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wow and flutter

There was a time when average folks spent the majority of their stereo budget on. . .  a tape deck.  I've owned a few in my time, all entry-level stuff, a Denon, a Nakamichi, never a Sony ES, interestingly enough.  The issue was that I never owned a car stereo or Walkman of high enough quality to warrant making good dubs.  This despite the fact that a one J.A. Feldman challenged me to making the best tape mixer (but he put tracks from Farewell to Kings on his, so how could I compete?)  Even with sub-par equipment, making a quality tape mix is like creating art- it embodies self-expression, balance, and something of an effort to connect with our fellow man.  I have never gotten the same feeling when doing so using iTunes or Media Player on the computer, and I think the reason lies in the lack of forgiveness when using tape.  Sure, you can record over something, but it takes time and effort (real time, usually).  Plus you get the chance to actually interact with the mechanicals of a tape deck- you hear the heads engage and disengage the tape, hear the whirring of the motors during fast forward and rewind, cool stuff.  For a few years now I've needed to dub my late brother-in-law's cassette tape recordings of his band (he was an excellent guitar player) to CD, so it's time to buy a tape deck.  The question is, what is still out there that is worth spending any money on?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So what?

Listening to the opening bass line on "So What?" from the Super Bit Map version of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue."  This Rotel RDV-1040 is one of the better CD players that also does DVD that I have heard.  Interesting difference with the "source direct" option on the GX9ES.  If you want to test bass on a pair of speakers, you can't beat listening to Paul Chambers on this track.

They don't?

I guess the people at Dynaudio never saw the movie: "Terribly Happy."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Discussion of Arizona SB1070 held over from Facebook

*If you're following this discussion from Facebook, welcome.  Normally we talk about fun things like stereo equipment, music and cat litter.  Well, at least I think those are fun topics, and I'm the one doing most of the typing around here.*


Okay, seeing that I have violated my own posting rules on politics and attracted an all-time high number of personal messages, some quite irate,  (this discussion should be on my very quiet blog, it could use the traffic) I'll explain my original point. Of course I am no lawyer. But if only lawyers can understand the laws governing our conduct, we're in bigger trouble than we think, so I'll take a shot at muddling through. Prepare to be confused.


My question was originally a purely legal one, which is why you may have had difficulty discerning my "position," Anne. The Supremacy clause holds that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and trumps all state law (this includes Federal regulations, but unless you want to read streams of profanity, let's not get me started on that). So, given that under 8 U.S.C., it is the Federal government which regulates naturalization and immigration (if things were left to states, when the Sabres lost to Ottawa in the playoffs, Canadians wouldn't have been able to get home from the game in anything like a timely fashion), a challenge resulting in SB1070 being found unconstitutional seemed inevitable (see Pennsylvania v. Nelson 350 U.S. 497 1956, for example).

So what's the deal in Arizona? Don't they know this is all for nothing? The various people who believe that all of the creators of SB1070 are ignorant, NAZI, White-supremacist, cowboy-rednecks, aside from hurling rocks from inside their own glass living rooms, are displaying a good deal of intellectual laziness. Sure, there are some individuals with racial motivations, good luck finding legislation or legislators in any state, or town anywhere where that isn't the case. Ignore that for a second. What if the writers of SB1070 were trying to address a legitimate complaint without issuing ranchers an open season most-dangerous game license? What if the Federal government abdicates its Constitutional responsibility to the detriment of a state's residents? What recourse does a state have?

Under 8 U.S.C. sec. 1252c, a state may arrest and detain someone illegally in the country IF that person has previously been convicted of a felony in the United States and deported or left the United States after such a conviction. The state still has to clear the individual's status with the Feds. But SB1070 is going a step farther than that and as I read it, essentially setting up Arizona law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of Federal laws, at least SB1070 is written carefully enough that a novice like myself can interpret that out of it with not-too careful reading. I think that Arizona will probably rely upon the Decanas v. Bica decision which upheld a state's police power to regulate the hiring of Illegals, in order to force the Federal government to enumerate the ways in which SB1070 interferes with Federal policy. That was my original question- will the current administration betray its hand in the course of the litigation? This can play out a few different ways, depending on how accurately or inaccurately the White House has judged public sentiment on the issue. I think the language of the government's argument could do more than not to further the cause of those who see the issues occurring in Arizona and other parts of the country as a serious problem that will not be solved by amnesty or amnesty-light. The victorious suit will backfire, in other words.

As for my personal opinion, which is of course meaningless, I recognize Kathleen's points. James and I were once detained on the Jersey Turnpike because we and the vehicle we were in (a red Toyota pickup) met the profile of alleged drug-traffickers. A very young NJ trooper asked me a whole slew of very foolish questions after making me partially unload the bed of the truck. I was unhappy to put my speakers on the side of the road (Klipsch KG2s!) He demanded to know what I studied in school, and when I said French, he demanded I say something in French. Weighing my options, I chose not to indignantly invoke my Constitutional rights and instead responded: "Va te faire foutre" or something to that effect. He had no clue, but got much nicer after that, which is funny. I am very glad I had ID with me at the time or it would have been a very long day. It is also my opinion that immigration as a whole has been a disastrous failure at the foreign policy level, causing ordinary people in Mexico and the US alike to suffer because of the influence of special interests and the duplicitousness of government. I am not giving the Mexican government a pass on this one either. I think it's pretty unlikely Dennis would be detained even for as long as I was by that NJ trooper coming out of a 7-11, and were he to be I would volunteer to work on the pro se case against Suffolk County that would ultimately pay for Jaden's college tuition. There are so many horrible things happening as a result of the current status quo however, that I am willing to see a few Slurpees spilled if it means an end to human trafficking, for example. And now I will go back to putting music lyrics and thinly-veiled innuendo on my Facebook page.

One man's trash is another's. . .

. . . well, another's DVD player, I guess.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yet another great find

Score.  Amazingly, I picked up a Rotel RDV-1040 DVD/CD player complete with remote at the local thrift for. . . $8.99 today.  I would give it an 8/10 (maybe 7.5 for the picayune) cosmetically, and I just had it playing "So What" on the Miles Davis Kind of Blue Super Bitmap CD and it sounded very, very nice.  Haven't checked its video performance (although I really don't care) nor have I done any comparisons.  Good deal no matter what.  I'll try to get a picture or two up tomorrow.  last thing I need is another disc player, but I've always really liked Rotel stuff.  At one point I had a Rotel 1070 preamp driving an TA-N80ES amp, and that was a nice set up.  More to follow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Furniture

Plateau stand, $300- nice, nice, not thrilling but nice.  Susan likes it better than anything we've used, so we're good.  Paint tomorrow.  Tonight I will take a listen to the Japanese/Virgin  SACD release of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,"  the last Genesis album featuring Peter Gabriel.  Very much looking forward to hearing it.  Then, the whole system will be down for a week or so.  Have to listen to the DVP-NS9100ES upstairs.  Quel dommage!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chicanery, legerdemain and snake oil

I don't own an iPhone.  I sent my first text message over a cell phone in the fairly recent past, and I didn't have a voice mail box until this past spring.  I have no idea what I would do with an iPad.  In the past year however, I have purchased no fewer than four pairs of speaker cables.  I suppose I should change the name of the blog to: "Hello, my name is William, and I have a problem. . ." but I am not even considering the first of the twelve steps for my stereo habit.  Now, if the people in the back will sit down and stop shouting: "NERRRRRRRRRD!" I will get on with the purpose of this post: new speaker cables.  My wife (the Saint- as you may recall her) has never really had any issue with any of the various peices of stereo gear I tote in and out of the house.  In fact, right now she is (happily, I presume) listening to our Marantz home theater receiver (wait, now she's yelling: "What?!  Gort doesn't reconstitute?!  What a terrible ending!"  It's best not to know, sometimes).  The only thing she generally can't stand is messy wiring- you know, the rat's nest behind equipment racks that makes the overloaded outlet in "A Christmas Story" look neat and orderly by comparison, and speaker cable splayed all over the floor like visiting day at the Reptile House.  I sometimes have to turn Pentecostals away at the door- no snake handling here!  Who can blame her? 

So, since we are in the midst of painting and re-doing the listening room, I figured that I would hunt for something a little less industrial-looking than the Tara Labs stuff I had been using.  Susan especially hates the fact that the Tara cables are white.  They really are meant for in-wall use.  Furthermore, almost all of my vintage Sony stuff accepts bare wire connections, but not standard banama plugs (can anyone tell me why on Earth they are called that?).  At first I checked Audio Advisor for the Kimber cable I have long wanted to try, but I couldn't bring myself to spend $440 on an 8' pair, plus the jacket is partially you guessed it- white.  The local shop, Audio Den carries Nordost and Tara, but truth be told, they gave me some of the entry level Nordost as a loaner and: a.) the flat ribbon's potential for creasing and b.) the sound I heard did not thrill me for the money. I am sure they thought I was nuts when I returned it.  Kudos to Bob for letting me try it, however- that's the thing that will keep the brick and mortar shops in business- well that, and whomever is still making money on Wall Street buying lots and lots of expensive flat screen TVs and remote starts for their hot tubs.

Then I remembered a catalog from a company called Mapleshade that I had received a while ago, so off to the closet (much of the contents of which are strewn about the house as it awaits new paint and carpet) to find it.  I ordered an entry- level 10' pair of Golden Helix for a little over $100, and it was here in two days.  I had never read any reviews, nor had I seen their cable anywhere but on their web-site.  It was vaguely Kimber-esque in looks and much nicer than the white-jacket Tara stuff Susan detests.  But when I opened the shipping box, I was a little taken aback to find an invoice and a box only slightly larger than a paperback novel.  "Darnit, they only sent one 10' length" I thought.  Wrong.  As you can see in the picture above, that tiny box contained 20' of neatly coiled double strand wire.  In fact, the cable is one lead for positive, one for negative, with something like a thousandth of an inch of dielectric coating.  Check out the link to get the full story from Mapleshade. The ends are nicely tinned and marked for speaker/amp connection.  They immediately met with Susan's approval: "MUCH better" she said. "We'll see" I thought to myself.  No warranty, but a thirty day return policy.   Off I went to hook them up.  She's right though- these cables definitely look cool.

Everything about the set-up is in such a state of flux (much like my career), that I didn't worry about elevating the cables off the floor as recommended, nor did I sweat routing them around other cables as the whole shebang is getting disassembled in a day or so.  Didn't even warm anything up, just uncoiled the little suckers, carefully inserted them into binding posts (lest I put out an eye, I worry about these things, you know) and turned on the power.  One SACD loading cycle later (I will name this unit of time in the future, I assure you), and I was listening to Norah Jones.  Standing back from the setup, I could barely see the cables.  Just what Susan is looking for.  It's too soon to get a handle and the sound but. . .

First impressions?  The presentation is bright.  Not harsh, mind you, and remember that there is absolutely NO furniture in this room right now other than the system and a chair (and a step ladder to spackle holes in the walls that are mysterioulsy close to the ceiling).  The room has a definite echo it did not have before when it housed two book cases.  It merely sounds as if the treble had been adjusted slightly upward.  With that brightness there is a clear sence of greater immediacy, or "space" around the vocals, I think that real reviewers (HA!) call this phenomenon "air" or "presence."  It was a definite contrast to the dark sound that the Dynaudio Focus 220 speakers are known for.  And. . . I like it. 

Right now, FM stereo is running low in the background until things settle in.  Of course this may be futile as the system soon comes down, but I am very much looking forward to some serious listening in the near future.  I have concerns that some of my older progressive rock my be a very poor match for these cables, but I really want to hear some of my classical SACD stuff.  Time will tell.  As for the title of this post, I am as yet unwilling to come down on one side or the other as to the differences cables make in a system's sound, other than to say that should they exist they are surely subtle.  And I know just enough about the science to know that about 99% of what the packaging says is absolutely meaningless.  So why 4 pairs in a year, you ask?  Well, it beats having to answer voicemail on my iPhone.

1990 MSRP list

Here are a few more price listings for Sony Elevated Standard gear from the 1990 Stereo Review equipment buying guide.  At some point I'll have to consolidate into one list.  In the meantime, if you're looking for anyhting from 1986, 88 or 1990, let me know as I probably have the MSRP for most of the catalog.  For some reason, no tape decks or DAT listed here.  My interest is obviously in Sony, but if you have another favorite from those years let me know and I will look it up.

Sony STR-GX10ES Receiver. . . $1,200
Sony STR- GX9ES Receiver . . . $1,000
Sony STR-GX7ESII Receiver . . .$750
Sony STR-GX5ES Receiver . . . $500
Sony TA-N77ES Amplifier . . . $1,200
Sony TA-E77ESD Preamplifier . . .$1,000
Sony CDP-R1 and DAS-R1 CD Player and Converter. . . $8,000
Sony CDP-X7ESD CD Player. . . $2,000
Sony CDP-608ESD CD Player. . .$900
Sony CDP-508ESD CD Player. . .$550
Sony CDP-C15ESD CD Changer. . .$800
Sony CDP-8ESD CD Changer. . . $500
Sony ST-S730ES AM/FM Tuner. . .$550
Sony APM-22ES 2-Way Speaker. . . $500

Renovation underway

Pretty busy right now- entire listening room and adjacent closet emptied, tearing out old carpet for new Stainmaster (ultra-plush and hairball resistant, warrantied for 25 years against kitteh marks), plus priming for paint.  I'll gain about a foot of more listening space to the rear, about as much behind the system as well.  new stand that should hold everything on the way, along with some speaker cable by Mapleshade that should arrive today.  The Tara in-wall, which sounds great and is cheap, is too much of an eyesore.   If the Mapleshade stuff is nice, I'll post a link and some pictures.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's time for another episode of:

. . . Will She Divorce Him?!  The latest reason is a pair of Klipsch KG .5 foundlings picked up for $7.99 at the thrift store.  In the picture above, they are sitting on a low shelf to reinforce their limited bass output.  Also in the picture are the $10 B&W DM610 speakers that were a thrift store find around last year this time.  It's hard to find anything good at thrifts anymore because of the advent of ePray (I buy it and then pray it will survive shipping). 

Readers will know that the title of this post is misleading as Susan has never once complained about the various pieces of gear that parade in and out of the house.  I suppose she has learned not to become too attached to anything.  Either that or the bitter almond taste in my tea has nothing to do with a new blend.

As for the little KG .5s, they have to be the ugliest pair of speakers I have ever owned, and that is being said in light of their very good condition.  They are literally: boring, black boxes.  They're small- just 5.25" woofers.  The dome tweeters are horn loaded, like the mighty pair of Klipsch KG2s I owned in college (Jon, I would have paid full MSRP to buy them back, man!).  They have a rated low frequency response of 60Hz, and I have to say they sound a little lighter than that which is probably indicative of not a lot of distortion creating false bass.  I dug out some old bare wires as the KG .5s have spring clips (but a very robust pair, I must say) and after testing that they worked, set them on the shelves as seen in the picture.  Then they played some Chet Atkins in a very pleasing way.  The only thing that bothered me was that they were brighter than I am used to- in fact the entire treble response seemed a little coarse and directional, to the detriment of imaging.  Keep in mind I am comparing a $129 pair of speakers to my $3000 reference Dynaudios- trust me, the little Klipsch(es?) sound pretty nice.  I ran them with the TA-F444ESII which has a higher damping factor and hits me as more revealing than my other amps, so that may not be a good match.  The little guys were made for home theater use, I think, especially since there is a large bolt for wall mounting on the back of each.  There is also a tiny port- the smallest I have ever seen on a speaker, in fact.  Maybe an inch in diameter?  Less?  At any rate, pleased as punch, I promptly carried them upstairs and hooked them up to the STR-GA8ES upstairs system.  The B&Ws came downstairs and are right now sitting on stands playing Sibelius with the TA-F630ESD providing the juice.  Even though this pair had to have a tweeter dome dent pulled out (the trick- judiciously applied packing tape) they were quite a steal.  D. used them for a while, but he is an all Wharfedale set up now- B&W are competitors.  All in all, not too bad a find.  The KGs will be perfect for TV and the occasional MST3K episode upstairs.  The B&Ws will travel and come out to play from time to time.  Let's see if I can hold on to everything for at least a week.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Some more MSRP

Some other Sony gear from the 1988 Stereo Review Buying Guide:

Sony TA-E77ESD Preamplifier. . . $1,100
Sony TA-F700ES Integrated Amplifier . . .$700
Sony TA-F500ES Integrated Amplifier . . . $500
Sony ST-S700ES Tuner . . . $400
Sony ST-S500ES Tuner . . . $300
Sony APM-66ES Speaker System . . . $1,100/pair
Sony APM-22ES Speaker System. . . $500/pair
Sony CDP-705ESD CD Player . . . $1,500
Sony CDP-605ESD CD Player . . . $1,000
Sony CDP-505ESD CD Player . . . $600

Unfortunately no tape deck prices.  Note that all of the ES model CD players had a digital output by 1988 (hence the "D" in the ESD), but they were still extremely expensive.  There was also a TA-77ES preamp without the digital built-in, but that's a pretty rare beast.  Recently the ESD version went for under $200 on ePay.  That's a pretty great deal (if the cosmetics are good) on one heck of a well-built preamp.  Shouldn't have sold mine!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Change is good

Looks like the listening room is getting a make-over.  Believe me, it needs it!  Details to follow. . .

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Beast returns

I picked up the STR-GX9ES  receiver on Saturday morning and it just sounds fantastic.  Downside of course, is that everything in the relatively small listening room had to be shifted around and things have piled up.  Even the cats are avoiding the place (hard to believe I know- but keep in mind it's not winter anymore and the felines don't need to lounge on warm amps during the summer).  The bass of the GX9 is especially full and pleasing.  Once again, the folks at In House Repair have worked magic. If you need older gear brought up to operating potential again, you really should follow the link and visit their site. 

The problem with the ringing I heard on sustained/decaying paino notes seems to have been with the "Spontaneous Twin Drive" circuit, which if I understand it correctly controls the amp's bias, and could only be detected at low level (kudos to In House for not thinking I was a nut and taking the time to confirm what I was hearing).  I think the amp functions at very low power in something like Class A operation.  I have the manual, so I will pull it from the files and type up something intelligible at a later point.  Well, I can retype Sony's marketing hype, at least.  I don't recall if that particular circuit was covered on The Vintage Knob site, but it shows up in other Sony amps, I believe.  It seems that the new version of TVK is about to launch so you can't access everything as it was.  I am sure the new version will be even better. On that note, I am continuing to gather research materials to further the discussion regarding the Japanese audio giants in the late eighties, as appeared a few posts ago.  In so doing I came across some old Stereo Review Buying Guides, so here are a few tidbits of possible interest:

February 1986 Stereo Review Buying Guide
Sony TA-F555ES Integrated amplifier. . . $640
Sony TA-F444ES Integrated Amplifier. . .$490
Sony ST-555ES Tuner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $450
Sony ST-444ES Tuner . . . . . . . . . . . .  .  $340
Sony PS-X555ES Turntable . . . . . . . . . .$420
Sony TC-K666ES Cassette Deck . . . . . .$650
Sony TC-K555ES Cassette Deck . . . . . $500
Sony CDP-650ESD CD Player . . . . . . .$1300
Sony CDP-620ES CD Player . . . . . . . . $950
Sony CDP-520ES CD Player . . . . . . . . $600

Again, all 1986 manufacturer's list prices.  Man, those disc players were pricey!  The 650ESD would cost well over $2000 today!  If you don't believe me, check out the trusty inflation calculator: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/

Friday, June 18, 2010

As promised



Some nude comparison shots of the TA-F444ES and the TA-F630ESD.  444 above. The 444 has been to the experts at In House Stereo Repair for some minor modifications (new binding posts, power cable, caps) but the lay out is essentially the same as when new.  I have only had the 630 for a week or so, no time to really even come to definite conclusions about its sound.  It does have the nice "G" chassis, but no copper like the 444.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Value-Added

Buying or collecting stereo equipment, like other hobbies such as golf, frivolous litigation, autocrossing, travel or elective surgery requires disposable income.  Given that my peer group (late thirties, early forties) is generally out of the day-care expenditure phase (or close to it- I can think of some folks counting the days), one would think that the people I know who are so inclined would generally have more to spend on stereo gear.  Unfortunately, given the current economic climate and the promise of higher taxes on what little is earned in the very near future, we find ourselves in a position relative to consumer electronics purchases not that different from when we first entered the workforce.  As a newly employed college grad in 1989 or 1990, it was unlikely that you were earning enough to purchase new stereo gear from the likes of Conrad Johnson, Mark Levinson or McIntosh (did all of those companies exist in 89?  I know McIntosh did, and I think CJ started in the late seventies) while at the same time renting that first non-slum apartment, replacing Aunt Edna's 67 Volvo wagon that faithfully got you back and forth to school on only 2 quarts of oil a day, and starting to pay off the student loan debt you incurred (for fun and extra-credit, calculate what each slept-through class cost you, with interest).  

So, many of us turned to less-expensive Japanese brands for gear that was a step-above the once-piece rack system with pressboard sides and wood-vinyl decals that could be purchased at Sears or Service Merchandise (remember them?).  For the most part, many of those brands are still with us today, such as Sony, Pioneer, Yamaha, Denon and Onkyo.  Alas, many others, such as Sansui, Nakamichi, Aiwa, Akai and Kenwood no longer have the market presence in home stereo they once had.  Japan had not yet entered into the "Lost Decade," which began when the period of Japan's post-war miraculous economic growth abruptly ended.  A combination of unreasonably high land valuation and very low interest rates leading to excessive speculation and easy availability of credit created a bubble.  After the bubble burst, economic growth ground to a halt (sound familiar?).  Banks disappeared, the Nikkei crashed, and corporations saddled with debt lost the capabilities of capital investment they had formerly enjoyed.  In reality, Japan has still not recovered, which should be a sobering thought for those in the US who watch helplessly as the Federal government blunders and bloviates its way into a Keynesian non-solution to our own problems.


Prior to the massive loss of investment capital at the start of the Lost Decade, Japanese consumer electronics corporations were free to invest in new technologies and design exercises that advanced the state of the art in stereo.  Many masterpieces of audio gear were created during this time, and for the best overview available on the web, I highly recommend: http://www.thevintageknob.org/ if you enjoy reading this site at all, then a visit to TVK should be considered mandatory.  Those "audiophiles" (yes, that's a disparaging usage) who dismiss Japanese stereo equipment of that era are not acknowledging the fact that the Japanese recognized the demand for their products overseas and aggressively pursued it ( in 1984, consumer electronics outpaced car exports- see: Burton and Saelens, (1987). Japanese Strategies for Serving Overseas Markets: The Case for Electronics. In Management International Review [online] available: http://www.jstor.org/pss/40227856).  Government support was available to further the industry's efforts.  More importantly for the budget-minded consumer, the Japanese consumer electronics industry was consciously pursuing a: "value-added" strategy which allowed many expensive, esoteric and innovative technologies in premium stereo gear to trickle-down to lesser product lines.  Which explains my love of almost everything Sony made for their ES (Elevated Standard) line from 1984 to 1990.  Again, check out TVK to see some great examples of what I mean.
 

Which brings us to D.'s $40 Denon PMA-720 Integrated Amplifier.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, D. has a killer listening room with an all Wharfedale surround system run by a Pioneer Elite AVR.  We have had many listening sessions in D.'s room and typically the sound is very, very good.  But as you may remember from our May 10, 2010 post, we recently learned that a small NAD C350 Integrated Amp really made D.'s Wharfedale Diamond 9.6 towers sing in ways the Pioneer AVR never could, whether in direct mode or with processing.  The NAD was not as powerful nor did it have the measurement clout that the Pioneer had but the evidence was in the listening (alright, alright, in deferrence to subjective reviews MAYBE I will keep my subscription to the Absolute Sound, but I am so sick of Fremer and Dudley's nonsense, that my sub to Stereophile is toast.  It's a good thing- strangers won't see copies of the magazine on the table and think I listen with my pants off).  That night, D. decided he would get a two channel.  I figured he would spend a great deal of time hunting, but that was not to be.



A short while later, D. scored a Denon PMA-720, circa 1988 (although they made them through 1991, I believe, and I don't have the info on where in the production run this particular example was created).  The PMA-720 is a small, 90 wpc amp that is capable (according to the little I could find on it) of driving difficult speaker impedance loads, and uses an optical circuit to optomize its bias current (the optical circuit invented  by the famous Amercian Amp designer, Nelson Pass- the same Pass who licensed his "Stasis" design to Nakamichi, and was used famously in their entry-level two channel receivers of the same era).  For $40, the thing looks like all it really needs is a decent cleaning of the faceplate. It's in that good a condition,  certainly much better than anything one might find at the local thrift shops.  D. hooked it up to a brand new Onkyo C-S5VL SACD player (I will devote an entire post to that machine when I can) which is a very slick piece of kit in and of itself.

We listened for over an hour,  but I'm only going to refer to one piece of music.  In 1988, I saw Wynton Marsalis play at the Niagara University Gallagher Center, and Marcus Roberts was his pianist at the time.  I had never heard of Roberts, but the very next day I went out and bought his album: "Deep In the Shed." Find it here:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_14?url=search-alias%3Dpopular&field-keywords=marcus+roberts+deep+in+the+shed&sprefix=Marcus+Roberts

This disc has been at every equipment audition I have been on for 20 years, and in that time I have never purchased a new piece of gear without hearing tracks 1 and 4 on the potential purchase first.  The key is, as you may have read in my April 15 post, it's pretty hard to express music in linguistic terms, but there is no denying when you FEEL something.  At that concert I felt blown away by that ensemble, and by the tracks Roberts played from the album.  To this day, when I listen to the disc, I get a little bit of that night back.  At the same time, when I listen to the album played back on a system that is really dialed in, the experience is that much better.  So that's how it was on the Denon/Onkyo combo.  More than when I had heard any of the album on the Pioneer, I felt excited about the music in the way I had when I heard it live.  The million dollar question of course is:  WHY?

Simply, I don't really know.  I can hazard a guess or two, though.  D. and I both agreed that the Denon must have been built with a totally different purpose in mind than any AVR, and no matter how obvious that sounds, it shouldn't be taken for granted.  Denon meant that for the $500 1989 USD that the PMA-720 cost, it should sound as good at playing back 2-channel sources as possible.  The Pioneer, in contrast, has that mission plus the need to process a bazillion different soundfields, decode numerous audio for video formats PLUS the video, and be THX certified as well, for what that's worth.  All designed to meet a particular price-point in a very highly competitive market.  The Pioneer also has to contend with the possibility that the industry will change as home theater often does, so it has to be able to cope with some of this change in order to be considered a viable purchase (not that that is really possible- just anyone who's tried to recoup any of the purchase price of a non -HDMI equipped AV receiver recently).  There simply isn't the real estate inside the Pioneer AVR to have the audio-grade components that are a luxury in even a cheap integrated like the Denon.  Bottom line is, they're different animals.

The complaints of audio snobs about Japanese "Plastic Black Boxes" (or more disparaging labels)  that can't play music that were not justified in the past may be ringing more true today.  It's hard to say.  But in order to clarify things, one needs to compare apples with apples, and the Denon PMA-720 is a pretty rare beast today in the stable of the Japanese giants.  The Yamaha AS series (highly reviewed, BTW), Pioneer Elite A-35R and Onkyo A-V5L are among the few.  There are some digital two channels as well, such as the Onkyo A-9555, and the Sony STR DA1500ES stereo receiver, but overall the inexpensive Japanese 2 channel market is occupied by tumble weeds.  So, for those in the know (and that's now YOU, dear reader), the used market is the only place to turn, but we can't all be as lucky as D. (a $40 amp and the sex appeal of Antonio Banderas.  Some guys have all of the. . .)

Today, globalization and corporate consolidations (Harman kardon, Denon and Marantz are all under the same ownership, for example) have impacted on the pursuit of a market almost completely integrated with video, in the form of home theater.  Consumers have fewer dollars, so home audio equipment is more and more a compromise between quality playback and a comprehensive set of features that will appeal to buyers and include the latest gadgets.  The results have been less than encouraging, as the DVD-A and SACD, BluRay and HD-DVD format wars have shown.  Technologies come to market that are not optomized for sound quality such as earler versions of HDMI or the early adoption of high-jitter USB for the transfer of computer audio files.  The upside is that many of the gems made in the eighties were built to last, and like my TA-F444ES, with a thorough cleaning and a few judicious upgrades can easily hold their own against any reasonably priced AVR.  So if you're interested in hearing your favorite tunes closer to the way they were meant to be heard, cruise eBay for a cheap integrated or 2-channel receiver.  Drop an e-mail if you're looking for some reccomendations.  Just don't expect to win that Sony Champagne TA-F808ES in mint condition.  I'm prepared to set a maximum bid that will make your eyes water.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Simplify, man!

Saw a pretty good movie tonight, a French thriller starring Jean Reno called "Les Rivieres Pourpres."  The soundtrack was very good, and I thought that the director had a Hitchcockian eye.  Fun.  At one point, Reno is crossing a stone bridge over a fast-moving stream, and a dog is barking in the distance.  For a moment, I fell out of imagination mode into critical analysis mode and thought:

"Probably none of the noises I am hearing out of our home theater right now were recorded when this scene was shot.  Even the dog isn't real."

Later on in the film there are gunshots, a car chase and an avalanche.  All movie magic, or at least foley artist magic.  Everything sounded pretty good.  We have a decent home theater set up, A Marantz 6003 AVR, Pioneer Elite DVD player and Pioneer BluRay player (the slowest freaking machine in the universe) Paradigm Monitor series speakers and a Martin Logan sub.  We have a number of concert Blurays, and I enjoy watching them.  Therein is the key term- watching them.  They sound very nice, but I don't use the home theater set up to listen to music.  I am blessed enough to have the luxury to get up, go into an entirely different room, and listen to equipment optomised to do one thing- play music in good old-fashioned 2 channel stereo (or mono, if I'd like or the recording calls for it).

The way a system is set up for movies, and the compromises that go into preamplifiers and amplifiers (or multi-format disc players) set up for doing surround sound applications never hit me as being conducive to high-quality stereo.  Without writing a thesis, nor covering ground covered ad nauseum in the industry publications, I think that the reasons for this are quite simple.  First, a good HiFi should be designed for accuracy and realism.  Despite what advertisers tell you, that is neither necessary nor is it desireable for movies and movie sound.  Movies are meant to either wow you with their sound (think "Avatar") or weave sounds into the visual storytelling experience.  What the hell does a phaser sound like anyway?  Remember the "Alien" movie ad: "In space, no one can hear you scream."  Guess what, in space no one can hear ANYTHING.  No air, no sound.  That cool TIE fighter noise?  Never hear it.  But movies aren't about realism in that way- even some documentaries.  Let's look at a specific example:

My personal reference BluRay is the last Bond film, "Quantum of Solace."  At the beginning of the fim there is a car chase scene where a number of automatic weapons are used, including a light machine gun that appears to me to be an 5.56mm FN SAW.  It's a great car chase, fast, exciting and the machine gun sounds like thunder when it fires, a rapid succesion of booms punctuated by brass casings rattling off of car interiors, rounds puncturing sheet metal  and glass shattering.  The subwoofer is rocking the whole time.  Very cool, but not at all what the weapon sounds like in real life.  A version of that weapon is used by the United States military and I have been in training exercises at the USMC Officer Candidates' School where a SAW has been fired (once suddenly, in the dark from very close by.  If I hadn't been hugging the ground already I would have caught some serious air, it surprised me so much). It has the sound of  a series of sharp, piercing, metallic cracks, in super-fast succession, and you should be wearing hearing protection if you are nearby or you will be sorry.  The metallic sound of the bolt moving in the action is also not inconsiderable.  What there is not is anything that is likely to make your subwoofer break a sweat.  No thunder, no boom.  Of course, if the weapon is fired indoors you have the echoing effect, but any system capable of producing such a noise at realistic volumes would probably cost tens of thousands of dollars and kill many a tweeter, all the while punishing your electric bill.   Bottom line is, movies is fake, and the machines that reproduce their soundtracks don't have to be accurate, they just have to reproduce movie noises efficiently and in a pleasing fashion. I also heard 81mm mortar fire on a range and no movie explosion I have ever heard is even remotely similar.  Anyone who lives in the Bellport, NY area who was home the morning Grucci Fireworks blew up can tell you that.  Does the home theater gear have to be incapable of reproducing music accurately?  No, of course not, and I'll bet many mega-buck systems do both just fine.  If however, you are designing to a budget and know your audience wants bang for their buck and is happy with uber-compressed MP3 files for music listening (ugh), why waste corporate funds on doing both?

So what I'm saying is, stop using your AVR to listen to your favorite live jazz, vocal or classical music recordings (I leave most rock, dance, electronica, goth and rap out because they fall mostly into the category of movie noises as well.  I may also be leaving some rap out for the reason that I can't/won't stretch my personal definition of music far enough to include it.)  Thursday night we had a good example of why this is a recommended course of action.  D. scored a vintage Denon PMA-720 integrated amplifier (2 channel only) for $40, and running an Onkyo C-S5VL SACD player through it made his Wharfedales sound like new speakers.  And his Pioneer Elite AVR is no slouch in the sound department, either- but this 20 year-old Denon SMOKED the AVR.  We listened until midnight and I was mighty impressed. I have some more specific thoughts, but I want to bug D. for a picture and some more info, so more on this topic in the very near future.

Did I mention the GX9 had to go back AGAIN?  But good news- the evening it came back I was listening to some solo piano and I heard a post-tone ringing in the mid-range area, so I called up In House Repair and they had me bring it back in.  (That same day- how's THAT for service?  I'm telling you they are the best.  If you need vintage stuff looked at, call those folks.  See the link on the right.  They are super nice and super good at what they do).  Anyway, at first there seemed to be no replicating what I heard (see my previous post for the cateorization of dead/dying audio gear)- it scoped okay and seemed normal, but shortly thereafter, they discovered there is an issue at low levels- notch distortion, I think?  So a resistor somewhere is to be replaced.  Whew! I thought she was a goner!  Only noticeable at low levels- see?  I don't ALWAYS sit around playing Achilles' Last Stand at levels that could sterilize frogs!

  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Working on pictures

Follow the Flickr link as I will post full size shots there, first.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Squint, and you'll see. . .

. . . the "new" integrated.  It's a TA-F630ESD, which was also known as the TA-F303ESD, and is rated at 90watts per channel into 8 ohms at 0.004 percent distortion.  The interesting part is that even though it seems to have been smack-dab in the middle of the line up, between the TA-F530ES and the TA-F730ES, the 630 had a digital to analog converter bolted on the back, with coax and optical in, as well as optical out.  The other models did not.  I am trying to learn more about the DAC, and I believe (according to the 1989 Grammophone review cited below) it uses the Philips Bitstream (PDM to Sony) technology.  It was cleaned up for sale, but in my book only really warrants a 7 or low 8 on cosmetics, but all of the functions are excellent and it plays strongly.  The DAC works well- an indicator on the front panel lights up when you feed it a signal.  I'm assuming the rates other than 44.1 are for DAT (which was the future of recording back in 1989.  Ha!)

 


That's a nice Ultralink digital cable, which is an appropriate Canadian brand to use with this Canadian model Sony.  Too bad I take really, really bad pictures (I have an entire photo album of Big Foot and Alien Abductions and you can't make out a damn thing).

In other news (not so good) I think the OTHER channel on the GX9ES died or started to die this evening.  Just back from the shop, too, and any repairs will have to be charity work as I can't afford to sink any more money into it.  The best I could see it selling for is around $200 (if it worked) and I'm over that as it is.  Sad, I really like the look of the thing and the right channel sounds great!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Correction

I incorrectly indicated that I was acquring a TA-F650ESD, when in actuality, it is a TA-F630ESD.  An old review can be found here:

http://www.gramophone.net/Issue/Page/December%201989/199/739510/SONYTF

The GX9ES and the GA8ES also showed up today, and everything seems to work fine.  The GA8ES is actually in what I would call: "mint" condition.  Pics tomorrow after I get a chance to set things up.  I'll post a bunch on Flickr first.

Monday, June 7, 2010

No cats or comedy here ("8" on the boring post scale)

Two new pieces of gear are due to arrive this week ( I pray they arrive safely), one of which will be my representative for the (now) annual summer "$100 stereo challenge competition."  As if we had nothing better to do (or spend our money on) D. and I came up with the idea last summer that it would be fun to see who could assemble the best stereo for $100, new or used.  Although D. came up with a nice combo of a vintage Scott receiver and Marantz CD changer, I had mixed luck.  Efforts to procure a decent set of Polk 5jr Monitor speakers (1987 vintage) failed miserably, but I did get a pair of B&W 600i speakers for $10 at the thrift shop.  I even pulled a dent out of one of the aluminum tweeters, and despite looking a little rough they sound pretty good.  They're acoustic suspension, (meaning no port to extend bass response) which is hard to find nowadays.

Back to the original point, I managed to bid $5.50 on a Sony STR- GA8ES receiver with remote and manual- and win!  Total shipped from GA about $40.  I don't know that much about it yet- it was a complete impulse purchase.  I was easily able to rationalize putting it into the upstairs system, as the older STR-GX909ES that used to live upstairs needs to go in for a service, tune-up and cleaning.  More interetingly however (and unfortunately more expensive), is the Sony TA-F650ESD integrated amplifier that should also be here soon (tomorrow?).  I know even less about this amp than I do the GA8, although I believe it is essentially a TA-F700ES with a digital to analog converter bolted on the back.  Google searches bring up very little info, and Sony played so fast and loose with model numbers that it's tough to pin down details until you pull the top off of something and see how the guts are arranged.  So in the near future a big comparo between these two, the old 909 and the GX9 (which is still in the shop).  And maybe we'll throw the 444 in as well.  Speaking of which, D. recently procured an older Denon 2 channel integrated so the 444 and J.'s Cambridge Audio will have to be compared as well.  The list of things I am supposed to have written about alrerady is getting longer and longer!  Add these plans to the discussion of Sony stuff from 1984-1990 and my thoughts on damping factor ratings. . . at least I don't have to do the phono preamp comparo- I sold the Audio Technica already!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Back to Basics


I mentioned in an earlier post that I would try to explain my penchant for vintage Sony gear, specifically the stuff the company made between the years of 1984 and 1990.  As it turns out, that explanation involves a nexus of history personal, corporate and cultural, and is more involved than I thought.  To start the ball rolling however, let's look at some pictures from a nice copy of the November 1987 issue of Stereo Review.  It might help to explain things a little bit to share some common imagery.  Am I violating copyright?  Perhaps, but only if someone is actually reading this blog!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Forbidden Planet

Just want to direct you to some fantastic pictures of a home-made tube amp:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mastercontrolmedia/4588317742/sizes/o/in/photostream/

The post title reference is to the science fiction movie race of super-advanced Krell.  This amp looks like one of their fantastic machines.  That is talent!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Doing my part. . .

. . . to stimulate the economy.  Maybe big news on the horizon.  As you know, the GX9ES is in for repairs (we'll see tomorrow what the details are) and I have a lead on a rare Sony integrated with built-in DAC from 1989.  Plus D. has picked up a Denon integrated for a song- it may be a very interesting summer.  If we can get J. to bring over his Cambridge, we'll have quite a comparo.  And since after all of this I will be broke, the beer will be canned and of the under $5 a six-pack variety.   So much for lucid posting.  I'll try to write something intelligible about my obsession with anything made by Sony from 1984-1989 in a future post, if I can figure it out myself.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fahrvergnugen?

It just hit me that nearly the entire previous post also applies to Volkswagens.  Well, except the kitty litter part.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What is that burning smell?

When a piece of your favorite stereo gear expires it is a sad thing, but the fact that it comes in many variations keeps it interesting.  I find that there are three categories within which one can place most audio death.  The first, and probably most common is the "Peaceful Passing" wherein you turn the machine off, and it never turns on again.  You jab at buttons, wiggle your connections, check to make sure the slackers at the electric company aren't playing games again (the minute you plug in a: "Class A for the first 5 watts" amp they know they've got you.  Sometimes I can hear them whispering and giggling through the wall outlet.  I had better order some of those Japanese hospital-grade receptacles for $200 each), all to no avail.  No sound, no lights, just that awful, final silence.  Then as you sit in your listening chair thinking about the good times, you wonder if the ten lbs. of cat litter that has accumulated in the power supply from crunchy toes scampering over the heat sinks had anything to do with the problem.

Then there's the slow death preceded by bouts of totally inexplicable behavior that is something like "Audio Alzheimer's" complete with dementia.  You turn on your digital integrated amp, select SACD and get the tuner output instead, followed by a high pitched screech, a voice you could swear sounds like Brit Hume saying: "Shazbot," more tuner, nothing for a few seconds, and then finally the SACD player, as if nothing was ever wrong.  At other times everything works fine, lulling you into a false sense of security.  "Did the display really read: BITE ME or was I just imagining things?"  Or the display blinks some cryptic code number at tenth-of-a second intervals, which you stare at unblinkingly for an hour trying to decipher before you jump to your feet and inform your wife that  the Emperor is signalling you to start hunting down the Jedi and you're off to Kashyyk.You tell yourself things just need to "warm up" before everything works properly- that's normal, isn't it?  When you finally realize that the thing has gone completely and totally bonkers, you scramble frantically to unplug any component plugged into it- as if the symptoms could spread like a stereo social disease.  The most frustrating event happens even later, when the repair shop leaves you a message that says in short: "Couldn't replicate the problem, cleaned all connections, left on bench for three days next to much more expensive gear with far more serious problems in order to teach it a lesson, total charge: $500." 

The last category is, as with most things that are inherently dangerous, the most exciting.  It is also the type of death experienced by the Sony GX9ES 2 channel receiver I acquired earlier this year.  It is pictured above in happier times, but I really didn't do a thorough inspection of it before powering it up, which I should have done as it had been sitting idle for years (it was new in 1988, so who knows how many of the last 22 years it has been out of operation).  I've learned that for cars, people and stereo equipment, idleness leads to problems.  Cats however, should remain idle, as the busier they are the less idle their owners can be.

The category of which I speak is the violent, action-movie-type death.  First there's a flash, loud report, followed by smoke and swearing (kind of like when a pistol tucked into your waist band goes off, only without the burning sensation).  Sometimes, if you're REALLY lucky you get shrapnel and/or fire as well.  As an owner of vintage equipment, I take the fire possibility pretty seriously, so I don't turn gear on and  then go on vacation to Paris.  Who am I kidding, I never go to Paris.  Fire prevention is another good reason to keep a beer close by.  Seriously though, don't pour beer on an electrical fire. For reasons why, go here:
http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/all_citizens/home_fire_prev/electrical.shtm
(Check out the Christmas tree fire video.  S-C-A-R-Y.)

At any rate, that's the exact death that the GX9 experienced.  The fuse was definitely blown but a quick replacement (not so quick- the 8 amp fuse is hard to find nowadays) did nothing to help the problem.  If you follow this link:
 http://www.flickr.com/photos/31589637@N04/

you can see pictures with the hood off (bonnet open?) and notice that the capacitors are bad as well.  For the past few months I have been trying to convince myself to try fixing it myself.  At long last, I decided to practice my repair skills (read: butchery akin to Civil War surgery, I don't just tin my leads while soldering, I tin my fingers as well) on a less worthy patient, something that didn't cost $1200 when new in 1988. That's $2148.33 in 2010 dollars, for those of you playing along at home.  So I made the call to the good folks at In House Stereo repair (see the link at right) to see what they think.  If the amp is salvageable they can do it.  I'm not sure what arcane arts they practice (there wasn't a chicken feather in sight last time I was there) but they do fantastic work.  The 444ES is a great example- that amp (which is even older)sounds great.  Update to follow. . . 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Duck, duck. . . goose

They should make little greeting cards for people who are into stereo, like the ones you see in Hallmark.  Instead of saying: Congratulations on the New Baby/Job/House/Sex change, they could say: "Heard you got new speakers, guy! Congratulations!"  Or: "Happy Anniversary on the occasion of you managing to keep a piece of gear for an entire year without deciding that there was something in the midbass that you ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT live with and selling it!"  Or: "Condolences from all of us here at the office on the smoky/stinky demise of your vintage 2 channel receiver."  They probably should make cards for the significant others who have to put up with all of the silliness, at least.  If such things existed, I could have sent D. a card to congratulate him on the arrival of a new pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9.6 towers to his home.  Wharfedale is a a well-respected English speaker manufacturer that has been in business for over 70 years:

 http://www.wharfedale.co.uk/

They compete with some other big names, such as Monitor Audio and Bowers & Wilkins (the speakers they use to master with at Abbey Road). I even owned a pair of Diamond (version II, IIRC) mini monitors from Wharfedale that had been modified by an industrial engineer who worked for McCormack (of amplifier fame) at one time, but I lost them in a break up (I know, I know.  It was a small price to pay for the sanity of all involved, trust me).

D. has been a fan of Wharfedale for some time now, and for good reason, because he typically needs a speaker to perform the multiple chores of solid stereo performance and believable home theater sound all at a non-insane price.  Not many speakers can pull all of those off, but certain models of the the Wharfedale range have been exceedingly good at it, at least in his room.  He had been using a pair of Diamond towers (9.5, I think) that I really liked, probably because they had the same driver complement as my Dynaudio 220s- dome tweeter, 6.5 inch midbass and 6.5 passive.  I generally prefer the tighter bass of smaller woofers, and two or two and a half way designs, as they seem more "coherent."   The older pair were very coherent and had great imaging, with a wide sound stage.  As is his wont, however, when D. saw a great (and I mean GREAT) deal on the big brother Diamond 9.6 towers, he took the plunge.  So, on Saturday, I packed the NAD C350 amp, some cable and the Atoms (see Travellin' Speakers post) and headed over for some listening.  Turned out J. was back from Europe, leaving it ash-covered and financially destitute in his wake, so he would be able to join us.

After a very nice dinner and before any listening, we had to go outside and play some duck, duck goose.  Now, I have no idea why the goose is the one who should have to do all the chasing (although goose, goose duck just doesn't sound right), but we managed to convince D.'s daughter that calling mommy all of the time was the best option (by clapping and yelling: "YAAAAAAY MOMMY!" every time she was tagged) so we may not be invited back.  Why make Uncle J. run?  It's not nice as his Camel Ultrawides fall out of his pocket.  And then there's the problem of my arthritic pancreas.  After watching poor D.'s wife run around the yard a few times, we retired to the listening room.

D. has a great listening space- finished basement, concrete floor, good ceiling height and excellent distance to the listening spot (14.5 feet according to the HT AVR processor).  The Diamonds are BIG, much bigger than my Dynaudios, and they dwarf the Atoms even on stands, as you can see in the picture.  They're over a meter tall, with an eight inch woofer, reaching down to a claimed 28Hz bass extension.  This pair have a very elegant silver finish, that you would think would look out of place on a large tower, but it doesn't.  It's almost as if they look "brushed" even though it is a veneer.  Well done, Wharfedale.  Still, you couldn't hide these things and they are going to take up some real estate in a smaller room

Running the show was a Pioneer Elite 110 wpc VSX-21THX AVR, and as you may have guessed I haven't the slightest idea how it works or how it is set up (maybe D. will post an enlightening comment).  I have heard the amp section of that AVR numerous times, and have always thought it sounded quite good.  D. did run all of our listening either in PCM or analog direct mode.  The former used an HDMI output from a Pioneer BDP-51FD Bluray player, the latter the RCA outs from the same machine.  I own the same player, and it has a maddeningly slow load time, so much so that it detracts from the value it offers as a superb sounding machine with Dual Wolfson DACs (especially for sub $300).  He also played back some tracks with the AVR processor deciding what sounded best for "stereo" but I won't comment on that now for fear of committing heresy.  The speakers had been running for some time to "break them in."  More on that later.

One track we always listen to is Chick Corea's: Great Pumpkin Waltz from the GRP Digital Master album "Happy Anniversary Charlie Brown!"  Writing in retrospect, I guess the easiest way to describe what we initially heard using the line from Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I: "Nice, nice, but not thrilling."  Things sounded more or less clean, laid back, with extended but unrefined bass. D. popped in the Yellowjackets after that for something more frenetic, and the bass was certainly worse- fuzzy even.  J. agreed.  Not that the overall sound was bad- I just felt that D.'s previous Wharfedales were better, and he had not really gotten any improvement with the move to the 9.6 towers.  Norah Jones "Come Away With me" went in after that, and being such an ubiquitous test disc,  you know what you're listening for: the smokiness in her voice, the vocals hanging palpably in the sound stage. . .  and those thing just weren't "there."

So, we decided to switch amps.

The decision wouldn't have been such a big deal if it had been an amp of D.'s that he had lying around- if it sounded better, no harm, no foul, no credit cards injured.  Unfortunately, we switched to the NAD C350, which I had brought with me and was positioned on the floor on top of a dead Harmon Kardon CD changer to give it clearance from the carpet, and hooked up with swanky Ultralink RCA cables to D.'s Marantz DV6001 Universal Player.

Moments after playback started, the "there" was there- and D. noticed it before I was even willing to admit it.  Richer vocals, more coherent bass, a deeper sound stage, the whole shebang really came together.  J. put it best- maybe he'll chime in with an informative comment, but indeed, things sounded better.  And then we went back to Chick Corea to find the same.

As we were listening, I thought to myself: "well, I'd be happy with these now, even though they are well under the 200 hours recommended break-in time" and it hit me that it might be the LISTENER who needs to be broken in- to get used to a "new" flavor of sound added by a particular manufacturer's design.  Furthermore, D. had been under the impression that the Marantz was the inferior player, but through the NAD it just sounded great. 

We realized that NAD is also an English company, and that the C350 ( a few years old, now) was not only a very highly regarded 60 wpc integrated amp with a very uncluttered design, but it was from a marketing point of view an amp quite likely to be paired with Wharfedale products, and perhaps the symbiosis we were hearing was planned.  I have to admit the system worked very well together, even though the amp is less powerful on paper.  Did the Tara lab speaker cables have anything to do with the change?  Good gravy, I hope not.  Life is complicated enough.

We never bothered to listen to the Atoms.  At another time, they will be pitted against a pair of vintage $10 thrift shop B&W 600s, along with their bigger brother Paradigm Monitors, but for this night it was just the C350 and the Diamonds.  According to D., the Elite will continue to perform home theater duty, but he is definitely in the market for a dedicated 2 channel amp for music.  Maybe I can find another $125 used C350 out there somewhere. . .

Monday, May 3, 2010

Out of the Desert

There has been nothing good on eBay and not too much on Audiogon for that matter, but I came across this:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=260595392822&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT

Which is a very good amp, even if a bit too expensive at the listed price.  I use the little brother with some upgrades and I am very happy (as you know) with its performance.  It seems like all of the good buys are only in the ultra high-end range, where (as far as I am concerned) the thousands of dollars you save off of the thousands of dollars price is still thousands of dollars too much.  For example, much as $2,000 is a steal for an Accuphase Class A integrated amp that only produces 20watts per channel, it's not going to do the trick playing Achilles Last Stand on vinyl at volumes that will bring down passing aircraft and sterilize the neighbors' kids and pets.  Which is the only volume one can play that song, right?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apologies

Where is the semester going?!  I am busily preparing for a Civil Lit Test and other projects are looming.  Important metaphysical questions such as: "What does a length of Audioquest speaker cable sound like?" shall have to wait.  Unless of course we adopt a Wittgensteinian position and just conclude that: "that which cannot be said shall be passed over in silence."  Or something to that effect.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Link to Text

You can find some of the books I was referencing in previous posts at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Women-Dangerous-Things-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468046/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271949356&sr=1-7

Much cheaper than when I bought them in Graduate school.  And does anyone else remember the issue of Audio wherein Willie Gluckstern (author of: "The Wine Avenger") unsuccessfully guest-reviewed a Marantz integrated amp?  I have to hunt through the closet to see if I still have it. . .

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good Luck, New Jersey

Just read some of the "comments" over at NJ.com regarding the school budget votes tonight.  It ain't pretty.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Wonder. . .

If I were to run my household budget the same way many nations, states and municipalities ran theirs, what would I have paid for my stereo system?  And how long would I enjoy it before the nice people at American Express came to gather it up from me?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Procrastination

Well, I was going to clean some of the records I picked up at the thrift store this evening, but instead I spent an hour watching cooking shows on WLIW Create.  I'm not sure why that is, but it does explain the Daisy Cooks link on your right.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some language

WARNING, AMATEUR HOUR: Lately these posts have been getting somewhat serious.  The author apologizes.  Furthermore, the more serious the post the greater the revealed ignorance of the writer.  I believe that can be represented formally, but read on and you'll gladly take my word for it without needing to go through the effort.  For foolishness go back a few days.  Hopefully the author will snap out of it.

I've been ruminating about the difficulty of describing something I hear while listening to music into langauge that makes sense to a reader.  The problem as I see it is that sound exists as a physical reality, but my experience of it when listening to music engages me in a way that I can only describe for the most part metaphorically.  Let's rule out a reviwer of stereo equipment merely listening to test tones and reporting back to the listener, let's be brave and think about using actual music to describe equipment performance.  According to some linguists, our conceptual structure is metaphoric (I'm thinking of Lakoff and Johnson here, Metaphors We Live By,  and  Women, Fire and Dangerous Things,   neither of which I have re-read in the last 10 years or so, so please forgive any accidental misrepresentations). Depending on the way a piece of music, or a phrase or bar within that piece is interpreted (heard?) by the listener, the conceptual structure and descriptive metaphor that they would use to describe it will be different.  Variations in how individuals interpret and use metaphor (because of cultural or experiential differences in their conceptual structures) make matters even more complicated.  Professional audio equipment reviewers use words such as: "detailed," "rich," "warm," or "liquid" to describe elctronic performance.  It seems to me that by using those terms that I would be adopting a particular conceptual structure that is not native to my experience, but is instead learned through frequent exposure to it in the context of magazine and online reviews.  So where does one go from here?  In what manner can we establish the source of our metaphors clearly?  Would it ever be possible to completely forego them?   Should we just have two categories of stereo equipment review: "Sounds great" and, "It sucks?"  Perhaps trained musicians have an entriely different vocabulary (although I believe a number of professional stereo reviewers are both classically trained musicians and recording engineers).  Let me track down and bug some smart people who actually know something about music to set me straight.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Parameters

It's probably a good idea ahead of time to set up some parameters and provide some details, so should you be foolish enough to read any information I post here you'll at least be informed.  The room that we do our listening in (that's right, there are two chairs and Susan often joins me, sometimes with a glass of WINE even) is 14x11, and I have set up the primary listening spot in an equilateral triangle with the speakers and listener all 7'2" apart.  Carpeted floor, with large bookshelves on the walls, one window on short wall.  As you might have already read, I use a vintage (25 year-old) Sony integrated amplifier, the TA-F444ES.  Unbelievably, it was entry level in 1984.  Other than a few selector knobs, the whole damn thing is metal, with a thick, anodized aluminum faceplate.  I bought it for $100 with box and original manual on eBay, and then dumped a further $250 into it to have it professionally cleaned, replace caps in the phono stage, replace the binding posts with gold-plated five ways, and replace the stock power cord with an IEC outlet so I could kid myself into thinking swapping power cables would make a difference (sorry Shunyata, I didn't hear nothin').  On that note I am using a 7 gauge cable I bought on eBay from a company called CTRL Audio.  There store link is: http://stores.ebay.com/ZPXR-Store and I highly recommend them.  I am not getting into reviewing the sound of power cables now, but the build quality and eye-candy value is extremely high.  While we're on the topic of cables, I use Audioquest Type 4 with silver banana connectors.  Nice, but not thrilling- I will probably buy a set of CTRL cables for WAY less money in the near future.  All interconnects are by Tara Labs, and are the fairly inexpensive Prism 200a. I have more expensive Tara cables, but the Prism 200a model does not stress the RCA connectors at all when I frequently switch gear.  In a semi-controlled test, I found (along with 2 other listeners, if they will admit it- can we get an affidavit?) that these cables actually do make a difference compared to Monster.  More on that at some other time.  For sources, I primarily listen to a Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD/CD player.  It takes forever to cue and has nowhere near the build quality of vintage Sony disc players, but it really does sound as good as the pro-reviewers say it does.  I also use a vintage Sony CDP-605ESD, which loads SUPER quick and plays burned CDs.  Then of course, we have the Rega P1 with glass platter and Ortofon 2M Red for vinyl.  I think that covers everything- I don't currently listen to stuff ripped to a hard drive.  More on that later as well.  The speakers are of course, the Dynaudio Focus 220s (http://www.dynaudio.com/eng/systems/lines/lines/focus.php).  I bought them from the super nice people at Dedicated Audio in Scottsdale Arizona, to replace a pair of bookshelf Focus 140s I got at Audio Den in Lake Grove, NY.  Respective websites are: http://www.dedicatedaudio.com/, and  http://audioden.com/.  Both places are fantastic to deal with, and if you go into Audio Den make sure to ask for Bob.  He's put up with quite a bit of nonsense from me.  The 220s are absolutely terrific speakers, as are the 140s.  I will devote an entire entry to these speakers next, as I think it's important that readers have an idea of what the basic sound is before they can hope to get anything meaningful out comparisons or discussions of gear.   I guess now we're ready to get serious.  Just in time for the weekend!

Is it mounted properly? Who knows.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Inherent Problems

The weakest link in all professional audio equipment reviews aside from the room size/setup variable (and the obnoxious airing of dubious political opinions that seems quite prevalent among aging and bitter writers in certain publications) is the choice of source material with which critical evaluation is performed.  A seemingly simple task such as comparing and contrasting two phono preamplifiers is complicated not only by the electrical design and build of each preamp, but also by the music played through each.  As I understand it, the "straight wire with gain" design concept should mean that in gear designed to be true to the original signal, there should be much more similarity in comparisons than there is difference.  My own experience is showing this not to be the case.  If you bother to read reviews, pay close attention to what the reviewer likes to listen to.  If you are unfamiliar with -or worse yet hate- the reviewer's taste in music, you should regard his conclusions warily.  The differences I noted between the preamp in the 444ES and the NAD/Audio Technica combo could themselves be differentiated depending on what type of recording I was listening to- genre, technology, recording space, and so on.
  

Friday, April 2, 2010


Tomorrow I will spend some serious time comparing the upgraded phono pre-amp in the 444 to the NAD C350/Audio Technica combo.  On paper, the Sony measures much better, with an 87dB signal to noise ratio, for example.  I'm inclined to think that the differences between the C350 and the 444 will make a greater contribution to overall sound difference.  I will say this though, the Ortofon 2M Red is an amazingly clean sounding cartridge.  I actually like it better than the OM20 I used to have on a Dual CS5000.  One of the main reasons for listening to vinyl is that in some cases harsh rock and pop music that did not translate well to CD can sound quite pleasing on record (I give up on hearing Yes or Rush on SACD, which is a shame- the format did wonders for the old Genesis catalog).  I have also recently heard a Denon MC that has amazing bass.  The Led Zeppelin boxed set thundered through a pair of a/d/s/ towers.  The Red is an MM design, and it's new so no upgrade to a pricey MC in the future.  Unless I got another turntable. . . I also got the go-ahead on the Optimus 2 channel review, so we are organizing a time for that.  I expect that session will also be a speaker shoot-out, Paradigm Atoms, first-gen Axiom M3, and Wharfdale Diamonds.  But why bother listening to an old Radio Shack amp, you ask?  Well, there are two primary reasons.  The first being that we may be warming up for another: "assemble the best sounding stereo you can for $100" competition, like last summer (won resoundingly by an old Scott and cheap pair of Dual speakers), and this Optimus would be in the running, along with others of its ilk.  And the second reason being that a quick internet search hasn't turned up much info on it.  Google the NAD C350 or Sony TA-F444ES and there's plenty of stuff.  There is an especially good "Inside Out" from the Affordable Audio site regarding the 444, I highly recommend it.  Don't discount Radio Shack.  Back in the day (that's the eighties, for all of the kiddies out there), Tandy and Texas Instruments did some quality stuff.  In fact, TI owns Burr-Brown now I think, so many of your pricey DVD and SACD players have TI chips in them.  First things first, though- let's get this phono preamp situation squared away.  Some more pictures and a comparo to follow, I promise.  I wonder if we have enough Sam Adams in the fridge?