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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Phono Preamp

The Audio Technica came today.  Very nice build quality, gold-plated RCAs, even the wall-wart power supply seems substantial.  No real chance to listen yet though, and I'll make sure to take some pics.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Audio Technica

I recently acquired an NAD C350 integrated amplifer.  It has a distinctly different sound than does the Sony TA-F444ES which is my main amp, and has some of the proprietary technologies NAD is famous for, such as automatic speaker impedance matching.  This is a good feature for Dynaudio speakers as they tend to be 4 ohm nominal impedance and low sensitivity, which rules out some less muscular amps.  The C350 is rated at 60 watts into 8 ohms, which despite the fact that my listening room is small, is not (I have been advised) really enough to "control" the sound of the Focus 220s.  Nonetheless, it sounds quite adequate, and I may even prefer it when I am playing blues, or live amplified rock.  It takes the "edge" off things.  My upper frequency hearing is still pretty good- probably because I don't go to rock concerts that often.  I am sure the new NAD C375 at 150 watts would be superior, but it's a little over a grand, so I have to do some serious auditioning before I take a chance on that one.  My two complaints about the C350 are: 1. no phono input, and 2. overall cheap build quality.  In the latter case NAD has always put their money into the INSIDE of their gear, so as long as there are no reliability issues, it's no big deal.  In college I had a 3125 integrated that I really should have kept (thank you Jon, for helping me acquire it.  Remember I bought it w/out listening?  You said: "Brass ones."), as NAD stuff was built better then- newer NAD receivers have been known for problems (T series especially).  My C350 was repaired once by a previous owner, supposedly, but it has given me no trouble.  The first point- no phono preamp- was more of an issue for me.  I actually have over one hundred records, many of which I listen to pretty often. I've got some great Chet Atkins stuff.  NAD makes an outboard phono pre (including USB out, an interesting option but one that I understand lacks fidelity, I'll have to look into that.  Anyone out there have experience?) but I found one at The Needle Doctor by Audio Technica, the PEQ3, for only $43, as opposed to around $130 which seems to be the next cheapest model out there.  It should get here tomorrow.  I don't know its s/n ratio or its channel separation ratings, a quick search at Audio technica didn't turn up the info.  Hopefully it is printed in the manual.  We'll see.  it'll have a hard job competing with the phono pre in the TA-F444ES.  The Rega really sounds GREAT through the Sony, very smooth and very little noise, especially on clean records.  I'll report as soon as I get some time with it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

With Kitchen Prose and Gutter Rhymes


Stopped by the local Goodwill and picked up some great records in even greater shape for a mere $.99 each.  Included is some classic eighties stuff, the most interesting being the classic "Worlds Apart" by Saga.  Those of you who remember the first few years of MTV (before it sucked, and it DOES suck huge now, my three year-old niece could crush any argument to the contrary with ease, so stop watching it) might recall 'On the Loose" which was a big video hit from that album.  Even more interestingly, Rupert Hine produced the record- is he the guy of the "Pina Colada" song fame?  Is there someone in Centereach who knows the answer to that?  Anyway, I also got "Songs from the Wood" by Jethro Tull and the Emerson, Lake and Powell album- a group typically known as Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  Palmer is Carl Palmer, who might be seen now as the drummer for Asia (The Asia Bluray is GREAT I highly recommend it.  They do a killer version of King Crimson's "In the Court of the Crimson King." John Wetton can really sing- imagine if he had replaced Peter Gabriel after he left Genesis. and Steve Hackett had stayed on as well- no "Invisible Touch" album)  This particular EL-P record has a version of Gustav Holst's "Mars: The Bringer of War" on it that is pretty neat.  I'll have to devote an entire post to ELP because I'm a great fan and should at some point discuss the DVD-Audio version of Brain Salad Surgery, an album that makes a very strong case for hi-res surround.  Listened for a few hours tonight, and the setup is really coming together.  I have a fairly cheap turntable and cartridge, the Rega P1 with glass platter and Ortofon 2M Red, but the phono stage of my Sony TA-F444ES integrated amp has been recently re-done (it's a 1984 vintage amp) and is really coming into its own.  The beauty of vinyl (and you shouldn't believe all the ridiculous hype that certain members of the audio press are putting out about it being better than quality digital sources) is that some of its inherent limitations and distortion actually flatter the terrible recordings of classic rock discs.  Combine vinyl with a good tube amp and even the shrillest crap can have a pleasing mellow quality, especially if you're an old coot who can't hear the upper registers anyway.  Now I'm getting close to ripping on some of the mainstream audio press, so I better stop here before something happens and I disappear in the night. . .   

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Capacitor Bulge

Well, I had the cover off the STR-GX9ES today, and it looks like three of the four Nippon Chemicon caps are bad.  They all have bulges to a varying degree, and may have had something to do with the fuse blowing.  By the way, don't bother looking for vintage fuses at Radio Shack, they don't have them.  The board looks easy to remove, but I just don't know enough about discharging the caps to be confident that I won't zap myself.  So, I am mulling over what to do, as my guess is it's a $200 fix- maybe more, if there are other problems I am unaware of.  The Sony gear of that era really strikes my fancy.  A lot of more expensive gear has come and gone but I keep coming back to that stuff.  To see some beautiful pictures of a fantastic vintage collection click on Mastercontolmedia's link, you will not regret it.  The site is owned not only by a Sony fan who takes fantastic pictures, but he also makes his own tube amps.  Did I get taught how to do ANYTHING in High School?  I'm even typing this with a combination of two fingers.  I got taught how to apply for college, apparently, for what THAT was worth.  Oh, and I had to read: "Deliverance."  Great.  This is starting to sound bitter.  It's a good thing I don't have one of those Facedbook account thingies (is that the right name?)  I might encounter an old classmate who would remind me of all of the other things I have forgotten. . .  Anyway, more dead GX9ES pics if you follow the Flickr link, in much larger sizes.  Oh, and one other thing- I noticed that occasionally there is an ad for Aperion speakers in the sidebar.  They have a pretty cool website, and I am thinking about ordering a pair of 4Bs to compare with the Atoms.  We shall see. 

How to Improve Your Stereo for $10 (plus deposit)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Testing the Patience of Your Health Care Proxy

I have an apology to make that indirectly has to do with waking up suddenly last night to find my wife holding a pillow just above my face.  Not that this hasn't happened before, it's a fairly regular occurrence, but she lacked her usual look of indecision and guilt, so after thinking it over I figured I had better address something brought up in my last post.  Readers should not get the impression that Susan and I don't enjoy watching some TV together.  In fact, ever since I went back to school this year and we cancelled cable for budgetary considerations, we probably watch more TV together than we used to.  For me though, it's mostly movies, and the occasional Rick "avert your eyes when I'm in the sauna"  Steves Travels Europe show (they once showed a gleaming black Volkswagen VR6 Corrado in the background of one shot and I've been watching every show ever since in the hopes of seeing it again- it's a LONG story).  Most of our viewing is downloaded from a Netflix instant viewing cue using a Roku, which was worth every penny of the $99 it cost.  For someone like me there is a pretty good selection.  I generally prefer films that should carry a disclaimer at the beginning  about potentially being rendered blind while viewing.  I prefer the desperate honesty of a really horrendous movie.  Whether it's: "Manos: Hands of Fate," "Track of the Moonbeast" or: "The Color Purple," I enjoy the escape into cinematic incoherence, shamelessly bad or mind-numbing dialogue, juvenile efforts at cinematography and community theater acting rejects who utterly lack shame.  If you feel the same way, please click on the Badmovie.org link for a real treat.  The key for me is that no matter how bad a movie is, it has an end, at some point, so I can get through it and be done (okay, okay I don't actually KNOW if GI Joe or the last installment of the Terminator franchise ended, for all I know they went on after the first ten minutes but for what reason and to what end is beyond me).  TV shows, especially episodic series string me along and I lose interest.  I watched the first episode of Lost and realized that I'd have to see episode after episode after episode and probably be disappointed ultimately- they wouldn't show a single Sleestak, nor would the cast stumble across an egg the size of a VW watched over by two, tiny Japanese women and realize suddenly that they had landed on Monster Island.  Susan has the patience for that though, she gets wrapped up in character development whereas my misanthropism gets in the way pretty quickly.  I have to give her quite a bit of credit for putting up with me while watching anything.  She used to let me sit in the room during Gilmore Girls until I started putting my fingers in my ears, closing my eyes and humming the Alka-Selzer theme song anytime Rory and Jess were together.  Finally, she had the good sense to banish me from the room during viewing.  The point of all this is that she does watch some good shows, and we do enjoy some together.  In fact we will probably start watching the second season of Blood Plus (an anime series) tonight.  That is we will if I don't drift off on the couch after finishing a Partnership Agreement I'm working on and she doesn't decide to put me out of her misery once and for all.  I'll bet if that happened the mystery of who has been eating her pre-packed lunches sometime before she wakes up in the morning will be solved once and for all.    

Monday, March 22, 2010

WiFi and WiFi ready are NOT the same thing

When you go into a big-box, chain electronics store, and you ask the feckless khaki-clad, bright blue polo-wearin' youth behind the counter if a particular BluRay player will indeed stream whatever it is your wife wants to watch on Netflix (I'm really tired of watching the cute cheerleader on Heroes throw herself off of things or under moving vehicles as I pass through the room on my way to the fridge), do yourself a favor and read the box.  Just because Chad or Brad, or "ChikMagnet01" SAYS it streams doesn't mean it does.  In an interesting legal twist however, when the box indicates RIGHT ON THE FREAKING TOP that you must buy a proprietary adaptor from the company's website for $79.99 BEFORE any streaming of tired TV shows will occur (when will they rename: LOST  "Found," or maybe: "Presumed Abandoned"?), the company means it.  Or, at least their legal team does.  Who knows what marketing wanted it to mean, especially when no one knows what they're up to when they're not looking for infants to sacrifice.  Short version: went out to buy new Sony BDP-570 (as seen in Home Theater), failed in mission.

Friday, March 19, 2010


One of my goals this afternoon was to take a clear picture of the Tara Labs cones I have supporting the Sony 444ES integrated amp.  The felines of course took over the whole session.  I had originally bought the cones to replace the feet on the Rega P1 as you can hear the vibrations from the platter rotation pretty clearly with the volume down, but then I used them under an NAD C350 that had a little transformer hum.  They really helped with the NAD.  Right now they are under the 444 even though that amp is DEAD silent and doesn't need them ( a whole post about that amp soon, I promise- suffice to say that they go for under $100 on eBay and if you see one BUY IT), but they look kind of cool with the right side hanging out over nothing- the transformer is so heavy that all is held in balance despite the odd positioning of the three cones.  Other than the effect on mechanical noise, I wouldn't waste time looking for any other impact on the sound of the system because of the cones.  There are too many other factors that have a much larger impact on overall sound (such as my unresolved speaker positioning) to worry about.  That being said, they do have a pretty clear positive effect on the little buzzes and hums that electronics sometimes make.

Bad precedent

Bad cat (well, good cat, bad behavior- hate the sin, love the sinner).  We were probably out of the litter box all of five minutes when this happened.  So why spend any real money on stereo?  All I need is a $3,000 Krell integrated with chocolate cheerios all over it.  That'll impress people.


Meet Duante and Holly, integral parts of any listening session.  Today, while listening to Glass Hammer's cover of "South Side of the Sky" a hairball of prodigious size was warfed up onto the stairs.  Actually, it splayed across three stairs in something of a brown and green cascade.  I haven't been able to get the stain out yet, and we're having company tomorrow.  Of course.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The travellin' speakers

Chances are that if you like stereo (which is NOT the same as liking music, in fact one would argue that music makes people who like stereo miserable most of the time), you know and associate with others who do as well. I can't imagine the plight of the lone stereo nut. Lunacy is so much more enjoyable when you can point to others and say: "See? That guy is talking loudly in an agitated fashion about speakers and doesn't know his fly is undone JUST like that time when I did that at your Mother's house!" I for one am very lucky in that some of my closest friends would rather save their money for a dedicated AC line than buy new golf clubs, especially because I don't golf. Come to think of it, I haven't even been back to the local miniature golf course since the unfortunate: "ball washing incident." Lifetime bans being neither here nor there, it's always nice to go to your friend's place and listen to them complain about their gear instead of worrying about whether or not you've wired your stuff out of phase when the Dalai Lama pops in unexpectedly to visit (bonus points to anyone who remembers the Caddyshack movie advice from the Lama to Carl Spackler the greenskeeper- also on a golf course, coincidentally).

Listening critically somewhere else is always a daunting proposition, given the change in equipment and room acoustics. I am however, very fortunate to be in a position where I actually own a pair of speakers that I don't mind packing up and hauling with me when I visit so that I have something of a reference with which to compare. Some would call this a waste of money, but I need only point to a Nordic track, a coffee table book of the collected works of Robert Mapplethorpe a home defibrillator or a copy of the newly-arrived Census and say: "Voila! Choose one as exhibit A" to tie that argument up for the foreseeable future.

The pair I sometimes tote about are the small but generally excellent Atoms by the Canadian manufacturer Paradigm. Mine are version 5, and are finished in a very light natural cherry which matches absolutely nothing in my entire house. This was confirmed by my wife asking: "That's the only color they had?" upon my opening the box. Of course they had other colors, but THIS pair was open box and left over- the company has moved on to version 6. The pair I own could be had for only $178 with tax, and as you will soon learn, dear reader, that is the kind of deal that I can never pass up. In later posts we will explore together the impact that policy has had on the closet in my office, and the burgeoning relationship I have with the nice people at the local UPS Store.

Along with being cheap, the Atoms sound pretty good for their size, which is small, as the picture with Miss Meep for scale should show (goodness forbid she were to be any larger, it's all we can handle at a mere eight pounds). The best thing about the Atoms though, as if you hadn't already noticed of course, is that the woofer looks like a big, rolled up latex condom. That's actually the second thing my wife said upon their coming out of the box. "Do they? I hadn't noticed" I responded innocently, never giving away that the salesman and I were hysterical about just that point in the showroom, only a few hours earlier.

The woofers aren't actually made out of latex, they seem to be pretty standard plastic fare (although I am sure the Paradigm website indicates that they are something far more exotic, like diamond powder-coated triple laminate carp skin) but they sure do look funny. Older Paradigms (if I remember a pair I considered buying back in 1989) had nearly transparent woofers, and you could see right in to the voice coil and spider assemblies, kinda like you can with Vienna Acoustics speakers now. These woofers are white with only a slightly transparent quality.

As I said, they sound pretty good, and are very easy to carry around. The binding posts are not too robust, so switching cables should be done with care (who am I kidding, I just touch unravelled coat hangers stuck in the back end of the amp to the binding posts- after I strip the plastic shrouds off them of course- let the sparks fly, carpet be damned it's all about the sound!). So, they sometimes go with me for listening sessions. Which leads me to potentially big news. If a certain someone is very generous with his time, I may be able to review a Realistic STAV-3000 50 wpc receiver (1989 vintage) on these pages very soon! I was afraid I wouldn't get around to reviewing anything for a while thus leaving the reader (Hi Mom!) rather confused. But this is too good a chance to pass up, so we'll see if we can get around the busy schedules. In that case, look for a post describing the parameters of a bad review (as conducted by the proprietor, "with no warranties, express or implied, and no recourse") to be posted soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Herein lies the problem

Let's suppose that you know this guy, and he happens to own a very nice vintage integrated amplifier, something of an under-achiever that he got for a real song. He even paid some decent money to have it brought up to spec and upgraded (you know, so he can use a variety of power cables the likes of which will have a instant and positive impact on the way complete strangers will think of him). The ONLY problem is that the insensitive monkeys who previously owned the amp scratched the top of it- a noticeable, 2 inch scratch, probably left by stacking a Scientific Atlanta cable box on top of it- (if you don't see the problem there then start reading a different Blog- better yet, read the comments to the articles at the Huffington Post, it'll serve you right). Now, this amp happens to have a rare finish, no simple black or silver that can be touched up- a finish only made for a very few (two, maybe) years by the manufacturer. No way to remove the scratch. UNLESS our intrepid fellow were to purchase a matching CASSETTE DECK from the exact same era that has a perfect finish just to carefully place on top and hide the scratch! Even though he hasn't even OWNED a single cassette tape for years, much less listened to one! Brilliant! Insane! Soon to be divorced! Take your pick!

Why your stereo sucks, Part 1 of an ongoing series

Well, maybe it doesn't suck. Maybe it's you.

In retrospect that seems kind of harsh. It's probably because you didn't spend enough money when you bought it.
I just double-checked my profile, which is by far the most personal thing I have ever willingly published on the web (let's not even get into the picture), and I am shocked to discover Google displays both your astrological sign AND your zodiac year as part of your profile? Did I miss opting out in the setup somewhere? Can I expect a mood ring in the mail? Isn't the zodiac year the thing that is pre-printed on paper placemats at the Chinese food buffet? They can't just put the birthdate up there and let folks interested in signs figure the other stuff out for themselves? Yikes.

What's so bad about it?

I have an entire room in my house that is devoted essentially to the arrangement of a series of medium to small-sized black metal or wooden boxes that plug into the wall, each other, or both. From time to time, perhaps more frequently than one ought, I sit in one of the two chairs carefully placed in the aforementioned room and wait for the collection of boxes to do something. I've told people who ask about it that the something I am waiting for is the reproduction of music and some of the sharper characters I know figure that out for themselves. Even though I tell that to those interested enough to ask, I know better. I have been to the Philharmonic, rock concerts, musicals and open-mic nights. What's going on in the room with all of the boxes is something very different altogether from music. Getting to the bottom of what IS going on shall be one of the alleged purposes of this online experience.

Just a casual Google search demonstrates that I am not alone in this peculiar practice, but as of yet I have not discovered a sensible explanation for a very important part of the box-listening act. I am listening not just for music to happen in the room with the boxes, but I am also listening for something else, and I expect the boxes to deliver. What is this something else? How will the boxes provide it, and when? Why do I occasionally think I'm gettting "it", only to later know as certain as I know my own name (at the moment) that I absolutely am not? More questions come quickly to the fore, such as:

"If I am unhappy, why should these simple objects be to blame, and could more booze be a quick fix?"
"How long is my wife going to put up with this nonesense?"
"Why must the cat insist on sitting on that?"
"How much is this going to cost me?"

Readers who have not already navigated away, of course know that this odd introduction is in some way trying to describe the relationship between an audiophile and his stereo equipment. I would like however, for this to be the first and last post in which the term "audiophile" is used, at least by me. I would think that the term "audiophile" should refer to someone who likes sound in general, not just the sounds that stereo equipment makes, and more specifically as far as reviews of stereo equipment are concerned, the sound an audiophile prefers is the sound of his or her own voice as it is played back in his or her own head (digital, analog or otherwise) while writing his or her latest review. We'll have to leave that topic for now for to expand upon it would certainly require more time and space to do it justice than I am currently willing to commit. We'll return to it, in a similar sense as MacArthur meant regarding the Phillipines, no doubt. For now though, let's agree to not to use: "audiophile", okay?

So now to the bad. As I look at the post title, even I am not so sure whether "bad" refers to a particular quality of review, a particular quality of audio gear, a particular category of either, neither or some combination. Seeing that I, for the moment at least am in charge here, we shall have to agree on "all of the above," which unfortunately is the most time-consuming of all multiple choice answers. It will have to do though, as we are early on in the process and should avoid commitment if we can. As a first step let me provide that I hope and plan (certainly not in equal amounts) to write a little bit about bad audio gear (for reasons that will become apparent) and a little bit more about bad reviews of both good and bad audio gear. Should anyone at all worry whether or not I am qualified to do so, they should console themselves with two facts. The first is that I was raised in an educational system that saw fit to bandy about the ill-advised adage: "You can do or be anything if you just put your mind to it!" with all of the associated multi-axis behaviors and conditions that come with it, AND I have a small badge indicating that I am qualified. It's on my desk as I type, and I promise to keep it in a safe place and take it out every time I so much as THINK about making and entry. I promise.