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Tuesday, April 27, 2010


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:


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


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


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?