Archive for January, 2009

A Dozen Opinions on Computer Audio

pos-fb-dog.jpgDave Clark at Positive Feedback recently interviewed 12 experts, asking 10 questions on the trends in digital playback.

The result is a valuable compendium of info on topics such as:

  • USB or Firewire
  • Jitter
  • “Pro” gear vs “Audiophile” gear
  • And much more….

If you are thinking about computer or ‘music server’ sources, then this is highly recommended reading.

Click here to read….

by bob walters

Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 Bob, General, Music Server, News Comments Off

Keeping up with BAASnotes

comment.jpgThe easiest way to stay current with BAAS and this web site is to subscribe to its RSS feed.

Click here for  an explanation of RSS.

Also, you can subscribe to email updates of comments.

To do so, simply use the “Subscription Manager” feature at the bottom of the “Leave a Comment” dialog (see example at right).

Please take advantage of these two features. This will allow you to better keep up with BAAS, and allow me to send fewer emails!  ;-)

 by bob walters

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 Bob, General 6 Comments

Audiophile Jazz Prologue Vol 3

Many of you enjoyed a 24/192 cut – “Lush Life” – that I used to demonstrate ultra-high-resolution at yesterday’s event.ajp3-cover.jpg

The CD/DVD containing that track is now available in limited quantity from Kent Poon’s web site (click here).

Recommended. Even in CD (also available) this material sounds great!

Bob Walters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Bob, Events, Music 3 Comments

BAAS AIX/iTrax Event featuring Mark Waldrep

guitar_noir.jpgAbout 40 members and theirs guests were treated to some great music yesterday, courtesy Mark Waldrep and Bay Area Audio.

Between teaching at a local university, recording audiophile gigs at AIX Studios, and running iTrax.com, Mark Waldrep leads a very busy life. And did I mention Mark is also employed by a hot video startup?

One of the key elements of the event was the ability to compare/contrast 2-channel and 7.1 surround versions of Mark’s audiophile-quality recordings.  And what great music it was, especially since it included “private” (unreleased) acoustic tracks from the likes of Jennifer Warnes!

Here are some notes from the day (mainly from the 2-channel room:

  •  Most sessions began with a conversation by Gabriel Sakakeeny – Music Director for the American Philharmonic, former tube amp designer, music synthesizer inventor, and audiophile. (He’s probably a 007 agent too!  ;-) )
    • In addition to providing some very cogent comments during the sessions, Gabe also volunteered to teach some classes on “audio electronic” and “music appreciation.” BAAS members present were enthusiastic.
    • You can reach Gabe here.
  • We featured Medea and Minerva DAC’s from Weiss Audio (this link also contains a list of web sites featuring high-definition music). The Minerva (PM session only, as FedEx didn’t arrive until noon!) was particularly stunning – easy-to-install and very musical. [Thanks, Clive, for the Medea.]
  • We connected the Medea with the RME Fireface 400 firewire adaptor box (I bought mine here). Excellent (German) engineering, and great sonics. Another great option is the Apogee Duet ($500 street), especially for Mac’s. We also discussed the Bel Canto USB adaptor and the Lynx AES16 sound card.
  • The speakers were the uber Ficion F300‘s in stunning black laquor. They were great, especially since they were only out of the box for 4 days. Some of you will recall that they made my “Top 5″ list at RMAF 2008. They are described here.
  • The amplification was by Goldmund and the cabling by Verastarr, Oritek, and Furutech.grand-illusions-pc.jpg
  • Two important software utilities for Mac were discussed: Max (for ripping and transcoding formats) and Audacity (for really geeky stuff like sample-rate conversion.)
  • We also discussed the promise and perils of attenuation in the digital domain(often to elimanate the need for a preamp). Rather than rehash that thread, check out Bob Katz’s excellent articles here (read “Dither”).

I’m sure there’s some stuff that I’m forgetting, but duty calls….

Bob Walters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Bob, Events, General 5 Comments

Music players — I Mean Servers?

psaudio_perfectwave.jpgCES featured a new trend – music players that act like music servers. In particular, they can:

  • Read music from a hard drive and play it;
  • Play hi-rez disks directly (like Ref Recordings HRx); and
  • Rip the music from CD to hard drive (in some cases)

A couple of these new machines were the rage at CES. Soundstage (among others) has the details here and here. (One of them even has tubes!) I think that PSaudio will sell a bunch of their product. They have the engineering budget to really do things right, and seem to have the vision as well.

One sobering note: of the four products that I saw in this category in Vegas, two were “down” for a period of time for software errors (“bugs”). It’s hell being on the bleeding edge….blacknote_closeup.jpg

In any case, this category will likely do well as a whole. Many audiophiles are turned off by the concept of a “computer in the music room.” Likewise, using a computer to rip/organize a massive music library is daunting. So the appeal of just inserting a disk and getting the sonic benefit of playback from a large memory buffer is substantial.

For me, I’ll take a Mac/1TB drive/Firewire any day!  <g>

bob walters

Sunday, January 18th, 2009 Announcements, Bob 2 Comments

Inexpensive Audiophile Tweaks

hi-finator.jpgWe are all looking for inexpensive ways to improve the sound quality of our systems.

Now a new company, “Elemental Voice,” has taken this concept to the next level.

Click here for their product catalog.

As always, enjoy the music! <g>

by bob walters

Saturday, January 17th, 2009 General, Humor 1 Comment

Bob’s 2009 “Best Five Rooms in Vegas (CES)”

xa100-pair.jpgVegas was filled with great sights and sounds last week as CES and THE Show both descended on the humble desert village (along with the annual porn show).

Of the hundreds of rooms showing audio gear, I heard about twenty very refined systems. Narrowing classic.jpgthese down to just five was tough, so I cheat and also cite some “Honorable Mentions.”

The best sound that I heard in Vegas was in these rooms (named after the speakers in them, with some mention of electronics):

  1. Classic Audio “Project 3.3″ – BEST IN SHOW. Large, heavy loudspeaker system featuring modified professional horn and dynamic drivers. From $24K-53K, depending on options. Great bass, detail, and transparency. Extremely dynamic. Nice balance from ~25hz up, but just a bit warm & romantic. See them here.
  2. Art “Deco 20″ - About $30K. Nearly flawless presentation: fast, tonally neutral, and able to resolve the fine detail and time coherency necessary for great ambiance extraction. Deep, pia-dia.jpgtuneful bass. A sonic treat from Scotland. Excellent “Audio Techne” electronics didn’t hurt the cause. See them here (“20″ not yet shown).
  3. Tidal Acoustics “Piano Diacera” – Accuton woofers and diamond tweeter combine to create SPEEEED: This is one fast speaker! Great presence on voice, and very good resolution of the finest detail. Beautiful finish. Small enough to be intimate (in a Teutonic way), but big enough to fill large rooms. See it here.
  4. Magico “V2″ – About $18K. At last, a Magico floorstander to cuddle with and love. Combines the approachability of the v2_1.jpg“Mini”with the dynamics and range of the “V3.” I suspect that it’d even be relatively easy to drive. Neutral yet inviting – I liked these better than the uber-alles “V5.” Here it is.
  5. Marten “Coltrane Sonata” – About $45K. Great tonality, bass mids and treble are seemless and coherent. Good detail with truly superb midrange resolution. Dynamics are excellent too. Ear electronics brought out their best. See them here.

So there we have it. These are really reference-quality systems, but it pains me that they are also all mega-buck systems. Didn’t any relatively-affordable kit sound good? Honestly, I didn’t see much in that bracket, but here are a couple:

  • Zu “Essence” – A truly capable and dynamic speaker that’s also easy to drive. Quite attractive too (in a “modernist” way). Slight mid-treble emphasis. I think they were about $6K. See them here.
  •  Sonist “3.4″ – A “Top 5″ speaker last year, these $3.4K beauties are simply stunning at that price point. IMO, these speakers are better than most (but not all) similarly-priced speakers on Audiogon. They are that good. Assisted by the always-capable deHavilland tube gear. BEST “BARGAIN” SPEAKERS IN SHOW. They are here.

And what about the RMAF “Top 5″? How did they fare in Vegas?

  • My Best-in-Show Kaiser “Kawero” speakers had tough going in the Venetian. The room was small, placement was bad, and some “cap problem” was causing uncomfortably-aggressive treble. Very different from their stunning performance in a huge room in Denver. Yikes! (A good lesson for me, though, re factoring in the room.)
  • The Eficion “F300′s,” on the other hand, were just as competent as at RMAF. Only the increased competition (and maybe choice in electronics) kept them off the podium. In fact, they are so good that I bought them. (You’ll hear them at the next BAAS event.)
  • The Joseph Audio “Pearl’s” are in a similar situation – just as good as RMAF but nudged out of the medals.
  • The Ascendo’s were a no-show (Laufer Technic brought something else.)
  • The Sonist’s are mentioned above.

Other “Honerable Mentions” go to the rooms featuring products from TAD/Berkeley Audio/Pass, Evolution Audio/Playback/darTZeel, Reference 3A (Grand Veena), Gershman (Black Swan), Red Wine/WLM, and Sanders Audio.

Let me add a note about my “grading” methodology. A key point is that I use only my own material – stuff that I’ve played on 100 or more systems over the years. If I can’t, I may listen but I don’t grade.

Then, as I begin to listen to my selected tracks, I ask myself: “Do I simply enjoy this sound?” If I don’t, the deal is killed. This speeds my reviewing along quite a bit.

After that, I play 1-minute excerpts from tracks, each of which is designed to test one or two technical aspects of the presentation. Detail, speed, tonality, extension, coherence, soundstage dimension, and image placement are all given weight.

Finally, based on the 4-8 minutes of listening that I’ve done, I ask myself: “Do these sound real?”

That’s about it….

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 Bob, Equipment Comments Off

How Digital Killed the (Evil) Record Labels

ishot-13.jpg

This NY Times article describes a new book by Steve Knopper, “Appetite for Self-Destruction.”

In “Appetite,” Knopper outlines the rise of the CD, fall of the “single.” and ultimate victory of downloads and the iPod.

All interesting topics and I’m sure worthy of a read. (Someone send me the Cliff’s Notes!)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 Bob, General Comments Off

Van Halen “Like a Dog”

Member Stephan S pointed this article out to me.eddievanhalen.jpg

It’s an interesting read about EVH, his new “signature” guitar, and the rock guitar industry in general.

I was particularly entertained by this passage:

“Ed’s like a dog,” Matt Bruck, Van Halen’s longtime guitar tech, says with a sigh. “He hears things that the rest of us don’t.”

And there were those Ed-isms employed to try to explain his complaints, if poorly. “Ed was always saying, ‘It needs to sound more like nut butter,’ ” Bruck says.

“Nut butter, yeah,” says Fender’s Chip Ellis with a laugh. He was entrusted with building the Wolfgang prototype that will be manufactured en masse. “What does that mean?”

The duo recall listening to the boss wring out pickups — those rectangular, coiled-wire devices that amplify a string’s vibration — for eight months straight. “Ed can even hear the difference between a guitar plugged into a 5-foot cable and a 10-foot cable,” Bruck says. “Nuts.”

For Ellis, the experience proved both a dream and a nightmare, which he documented in a diary. One typical entry reflects Van Halen’s uncanny sensibilities.

May 27, 2006: “Ed called tonight. Said the (prototype) guitar played great and sounded not great. He hasn’t even plugged it in and tells me it doesn’t sound right. What? Then he says, ‘This isn’t basswood, is it? What did you use, alder?’ … I did use alder. I can’t believe he heard that wp-hearing.gif(difference).”

For his part, Van Halen shrugs when asked how he perceives such sonic subtleties in everything from a slab of wood to a wire.

“Sound is a funny thing,” he says, his back to a wall of amplifiers and speakers carrying the EVH logo. “It’s like color to a blind person, I guess. You just feel it instead of seeing it.”

Remind you of anyone you know?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 Bob, General Comments Off