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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!