Impressions of the California Audio Show (CAS4)

After a week of travel, I arrived at the show early Sunday morning. Last day – maybe everything is tuned and locked in. For the most part, it was.

Given lack of time and energy, I decided to dispense with my normal “play these 3 tracks so I can evaluate” rigor, and just listen and enjoy.

Here’s what I encountered:

  • The new venue is much improved. Bigger rooms, more luxury, and I heard no complaints about power or noise. Well done.stwit2
  • The star of the show for me was the Enigma “Sopranino” supertweeter (link). Wow. I didn’t need test tracks to hear the remarkable sonic improvement that it afforded the Magico host. And not just air on top. Richer harmonic structure, more dynamic contrast, and greater integration of the soundstage. I could have sworn that a better DAC was inserted! $3600. I must try these with my Quad’s.
  • Piraeus Audio’s (link) Athena active loudspeakers rocked, both literally (his music collection was 98% rock) and figuratively. I could find little to fault in the sound and I love the concept – digital-in to the speaker. Of course, this architecture renders the system niche (except maybe in a studio), and the 24/96 limitation doesn’t help either. $18K I think.
  • At the low(er) end, the LRE Audio (link) Fourier speakers demonstrated quite credible sound for less than $2K/pair. Unique enclosure design can be wall-loaded. Oddly, they are meant to be driven by an AV receiver. Probably also niche, esp given the industrial (at best) standard finish. Still, I admire the innovation and low price point.
  • I really enjoyed the time that I spent with Steven Lester, a local AV consultant (link) who specializes in 2-channel plus video. Steven’s absolute passion for this listening mode was only exceeded by the tremendous wealth of audio-related video content that he has on his 30 TB of hard drives. I literally had tingles while watching the vid that he had chronicling the recording of a Bernstein show tune from West Side Story. (Leonard B ended up in tears too describing it.) Magical.

So this was for me a show whose stars were at the fringes of our hobby. This made it exciting instead of merely enjoyable. The improved environment didn’t hurt either.

I also saw a fair number of younger listeners, perhaps drawn by the headphone exhibits.

A very enjoyable Sunday.

Bob

Edit: The reason for the Yamaha receiver was that the LRE speakers require EQ (“room correction”). No wonder Jason and I thought that their frequency response was so well-balanced.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 Audiophile, Events 4 Comments

The Young Shops Vinyl

20130807_202802

On the Jersey Shore last week

 

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 Analog, Audiophile, Bob Comments Off

Two-speaker Surround Sound – The future?

spkr cloudAs some of you  may know, I went to grad school at Princeton. Professor Edgar Choueiri, one of the prof’s in my old department is an audiophile and doing very-cool research (funded mostly by Sony). He’s also partnered with David Chesky.

Anyway, he came over to my lab (AKA house) last week and set up his gear as a source to my system. Oh my, the sound was truly incredible – a 200-or-so degree soundfield with only two speakers – and no change in tone, transients, or level.

Then he did the same thing with my AKG 701 headphones. That was even better. in fact, if I had it I’d seldom tum on my power amps.

He later embedded the loudspeaker transform into a plugin (VST and AU) before he left. So I can still approximate the effect in my home.

There are caveats: (1) binaural recordings are required  to get the wrap-around effect; (2) the transform is valid for one speaker/room configuration only; and (3) the effect is only good for one listening position. But IME only the last constraint is hard & fast. Most well-recorded stereo recordings benefit as well. Demonstrably so. And I switched speakers and still prefer to keep the plugin active.prin

I also prefer the this technology’s sonic presentation to most “surround sound” that I have heard. It sounds more natural.

At some point, I may run a BAAS open house so that folks can hear this tech. It’d be tough given the narrow sweet spot though. In fact, the tighter the dispersion of the speakers, the better the effect. (Based on my recommendation, Edgar now uses electrostats from Sanders Sound as his references.)

- Bob

Saturday, July 27th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, General, News 1 Comment

Elite Audio Brings Spiral Groove, Zesto, Kharma and more to BAAS Members

Over 50 BAAS members braved a rare San Francisco heat wave and Elite’s store renovations yesterday to hear some of the best that vinyl and tubes have to offer.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Michael Woods (our host) and Peter Truce (or Analog Czar and organizer), the event was a great success. Thanks also to Allen Perkins (Spiral) and George and Carolyn Counnas (Zesto) for sharing their knowledge and expertise. (As a special treat, Zesto played the prototype of their much-anticipated tube power amp.)

Well done!

Bob

 

Baas_6-29-13_1 Baas_6-29-13_2 Baas_6-29-13_4 Baas_6-29-13_6 Baas_6-29-13_9

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 Analog, Audiophile, Bob, Equipment, Events Comments Off

Free Byrne / St. Vincent EP Download

Brass Tactics

Brass Tactics. Get the 5-track EP here. Cool tunes. Well engineered (if a bit compressed). In 320K MP3 (I didn’t notice).

Live concerts in Saratoga and Oakland – July 20-21.

Bob

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Downloads, Music Comments Off

Video: Modern mastering made easy

In addition to being humorous, teaches a bit about overload distortion…    – Bob

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Humor, Video Comments Off

The Absolute Sound (TAS) Issue #1 Download

Celebrating their 40th anniversary, TAS is offering their first issue as a free download (PDF).tas1

Printed in 1973, this was the all-analog age. LPs and tapes ruled, as did the Phase Linear 700 amp. And no advertising (Stereophile had just started accepting dealer ads).

Enjoy,

Bob

 

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, News Comments Off

Memorial – Frank Zappa

I came late to the genius of Frank Zappa. this video provides another look at his art and his modus operandi. As a small bonus, there’s some cool footage of Dweezel at a mixing board, analyzing and enjoying his father’s master tapes. (Frank owned all of his masters.)

Enjoy

Bob

Monday, May 27th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, General, Video Comments Off

Sound from Sight

The recordings are analog, but the medium is ink on paper.

This article describes the process used by Indiana University, and contains recordings from the nineteenth century.

Bob

Friday, April 5th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, General, News, Technical Comments Off

Audiophile Porn – 27,000 Pictures of Gear

xoverThe HiFi Shock website fills a unique niche, specializing in showing what’s inside audiophile gear.

Some very interesting images.

New startup idea: do video.

Bob

 

 

Thursday, March 28th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, General Comments Off

Subjectivism isn’t just an audiophile thing

wineWe all lament how difficult our hobby is. How can we capture, remember, and describe an ephemeral audio event? How can we reconcile the results of objective vs subjective testing? Of sighted vs blind testing?

When I’m asked what it’s like to be an audiophile, I usually point to wine-tasting as the closest analog. Both involve fleeting, personal experiences. Both have myths and sciences. And, when in doubt, both favor the subjective view over the objective.

And both suffer from the bugaboo of expectation bias. Take, for example, the following passage from this article in The Atlantic:

An expert’s own expectation can act like Kryptonite on their superpowers. Expectation, as it turns out, is just as important as raw sensation. The build up to an experience can completely change how you interpret the information reaching your brain from your otherwise objective senses. In psychology, true objectivity is pretty much considered to be impossible. Memories, emotions, conditioning, and all sorts of other mental flotsam taint every new experience you gain. In addition to all this, your expectations powerfully influence the final vote in your head over what you believe to be reality.

Sound familiar? Read the article for an interesting and humorous account of enological blind testing.

Bob

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob Comments Off

Is DSD more accurate than hires PCM?

dsd v 192Not really, especially 24bit/192kHz PCM.

It’s a shame that good articles like this 11-year-old piece have fallen into the Wayback-machine crypt. But they have.

A key conclusion reached is that not only does DSD suffer imperfections in accuracy, but also in precision. Ergo, it’s unlikely to produce the same waveform twice (due to intense noise modulation).

Of course, these technical imperfections may yield superior sound – especially when compared to 24/96.

I, for one, enjoy the DSD sound qualities (as do most folks that try them).

Bob

 

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Technical Comments Off

24hz Rendered in Water (Cool Video)

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Video 1 Comment

Vinyl – “I’m Swimming in the Sound”

cd-lp

Q magazine features this article about a 20-year-old’s first experience listening to vinyl – LZ’s “Whole Lotta Love” no less.

Charming and hopeful. Wait until she hears DSD!  LOL.

Click here for some other contemporary opinions

Bob

Sunday, March 10th, 2013 Analog, Audiophile, Bob 3 Comments

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (ukelele)

(Thanks, Vince.)

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Music, Video Comments Off

Don’t Understand Digital Audio? Xiph Can Help!

digital vid

This video contains the most lucid instruction on digital audio theory that I have seen.

The exposition should benefit non-technical folks as much or more than techies, but beginners may want to start here.

Enjoy,

Bob

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Technical, Video Comments Off

The Great BAAS DSD DAC Shootout…

…and DSD recording session.

BAAS members climbed into the Belmont hills yesterday to observe a live DSD-based recording session and to sample and audition four representatives from the current generation of DSD-capable DACs. The devices were:

  • Playback Designs MPD-5 (link)
  • Benchmark DAC2 HGC (link)
  • Mytek Stereo 192 DSD DAC (link)
  • TEAC UD-501 (link)

Musical selections – some of which were free downloads and available in both DSD and hires PCM – included:

  • “Lush Life” and “Freddie” from AJP3 (link)
  • Selkye:”Slow Day” from BCR (link)
  • Mahler 2/1 from Channel Classics (link)
  • Mahler 1/4 from DLN (link)
  • Iyer:”Human Nature” from DLN (link)
  • Recording from the live session

As to the results of the listening tests, I’ll leave the details to JVS and his report on Audiostream.com. I will say that the most prominent trend was once again sound quality mirroring price. But opinions varied, especially in the second session.

Also, late in the day and at a member’s request, we conducted a brief single-blind listening test. The setup was simple: two 30-sec level-matched excerpts were played on the MPD-5, one hires PCM and one DSD. Pick the DSD track. Consensus a priori was that this task was “easy” and a “waste of time.” The test results suggested otherwise.

Finally, you can access a list of current DSD DACs and DSD download sites here. 2L in particular has a great selection of free downloads.

Many thanks to Cookie Marenco, Patrick and the Blue Coast team, and Jason McGuire (master of Flamenco guitar). Great job in making this happen.

Bob

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Equipment, Events Comments Off

Rock History Through the Lens of the LP (BBC)

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Video Comments Off

Another “Sound & Vision” – The Life and Times of David Bowie

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Video Comments Off

Beck’s Amazing “Sound & Vision”

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 Audiophile, Bob, Video Comments Off