Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My First Cigar Column at Part-Time Audiophile

I've just written my first cigar-related article, albeit for an audio publication: I introduce The Smoking Jacket, my new ongoing column for Part-Time Audiophile. You can read it right here.

This came about last month, when Part-Time Audiophile debuted a new column, The Reluctant Sommelier. It's written by Nina Sventitsky, who is both the Secretary General of the North American Sommelier Association and a partner in WyWires, a high-end audio manufacturer specializing in cables. I joked with Scot Hull of PTA by asking what was next, "The Recalcitrant Cigar Smoker"? His response was something akin to, "Well, are you up for it?" So I gave it a shot.

I certainly don't have Nina's credentials. I owned a cigar lounge for a few months and I've been smoking them for nearly twenty years. I'm just someone who's standing at the intersection of two hobbies. I have so many cigar buddies in the high-end audio industry, including the aforementioned Mr. Hull, so I know there's an interest. I have a lot of things to talk about, and as a layman I welcome any professional insight from my many friends in the premium cigar industry.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Three CES CDs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

Every time I exhibit at a high-end audio show I try to purchase at least one demo-quality disc, be it CD or LP, so I can play something fresh and new for show attendees. Usually I can sneak down from my room at some point during the show and head for the ballroom where multiple vendors are selling music and accessories in the big open marketplace downstairs. Occasionally I luck out, as I did at RMAF a couple of years ago, when Final Impression Music had a room right down the hallway. During every lull, I'd run over and pick up a disc or two. That was when I picked up such great FIM demo discs as Happy Coat and Best of Play Bach. I'll also check out Chad Kassem's booth for Acoustic Sounds--especially if I'm playing vinyl at the show and I need one of his awesome remasters from Analogue Productions.

At CES, however, I'm usually out of luck--retail sales are not only discouraged, but they're actually against the rules. (I haven't actually seen this rule anywhere, but I've been told of the dire consequences of ignoring it.) That's why I was so surprised and grateful that Mobile Fidelity had a room down the hall from me during January's show, a room so thoroughly stocked with MFSL LPs and CDs that I almost started to hyperventilate. (I apologize for not having the foresight to snap some photos while I shopped around, but it was stupendous to see.) I wound up purchasing three fairly new MFSL CDs, or at least three MFSL discs I've never seen before--The Band's Music from Big Pink, Dean Martin's This Time I'm Swinging and the famous 1991 audiophile extravaganza Jerry Garcia/David Grisman.

I chose the discs for one reason or another--my only LP copy of Big Pink isn't quite the cleanest record I own, I've been on a Dean Martin kick lately and I really wanted to wow attendees with a realistic rendering on his voice, and the Garcia/Grisman disc was purchased just because I wanted a guarantee of an awesome demo disc. Unfortunately, only the former disc was used consistently at the show due to its sonic qualifications. The Dean Martin sounded clean and vibrant, but the recording was severely lacking in deep, deep bass; I don't have a copy of the original to compare. Big Pink sounded great compared to my old grungy LP--the imaging and the space between the musicians were more focused, and I could hear recording artifacts that were buried deep in the recording. But again, the lack of deep bass was problematic, and I was playing through a pair of loudspeakers that were flat down to 32 Hz and weighed 200 pounds each.

That kind of brings me back to my feelings about MFSL in general. I love 'em, no doubt about it. I still have time travel daydreams about going back to my local Tower Records in Buena Park, California, circa 1979 or so, and buying up all those sealed UHQRs on that 50% off clearance endcap. My first audiophile LP pressing was MFSL's Crime of the Century from Supertramp, and I remember being startled listening to that opening harmonica from "School" through a system that included a Sansui 8080DB receiver, a Dual 510 turntable with a Shure V-15 Type III cartridge, all running through a pair of the then ubiquitous Sennheiser HD-414 headphones. I still use the MFSL LP of Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth as one of my most impressive demo discs.

But here's the thing--over the years I've felt that MSFL's mission wasn't to make extraordinary sounding discs that blew your mind, but to make poor recordings sound relatively reasonable for the first time. So it is the case with these three particular discs. But my main concern is with this missing bass on the latest Ultradisc releases. I've listened to these three recordings on a variety of systems, including my main headphone system, and I really wish there was a bit more of a solid foundation under these otherwise brilliant remasters.

MFSL is releasing so many new titles these days, which is certainly a good thing. But I do miss the days when MFSL consistently offered the best-sounding versions of popular albums. With competition from so many great audiophile labels, I think it's time for them to come up with a new benchmark for performance.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Random Pics from Our Visit to the Arizona Audio/Video Club

Colleen and I just returned from Phoenix, where we braved a serious bit of winter weather to present the new Axis VoiceBox S loudspeaker to the Arizona Audio/Video Club. Bill Coomes, proprietor of Sweet Spot Audio in Goodyear AZ, is the first Axis Loudspeaker dealer in the United States, and he asked us to return to the AVAZ--we held a demonstration for the group a little over two years ago. The day before we left Colorado we had a snowstorm that dropped about 20 inches of powder in a single day, so we almost didn't make it. But the day before the event the sun came out and the snow started to melt, so we were fine.

I remembered this ballroom from two years ago--big, square, bare walls, tall ceilings, all the conditions that make it difficult to provide good sound. In addition, we had only a few hours to get everything set up and dialed in at the Airport Marriott. I kept looking over at the tiny Voiceboxes and saying to myself, "Big room, little speakers, and a relatively low-powered tube amplifier...sounds like a recipe for disaster." But within thirty minutes or so Colleen and I had the system assembled and playing music. Much to my surprise, the low frequencies were not only present, but tight and controlled and clean.

We brought our prototype of the Unison Research SH headphone amplifier/DAC, which is about to start shipping to the US in a couple of weeks. Matched with the Unison Research CD Primo CD player, the ADL H128 headphones and Cardas Audio Clear Light cabling, this system impressed many of the audiophiles in the room--so much so that we sold a couple of them before the show was over. We have set the MSRP of the SH at $1695, by the way.

The main system was identical to one of the systems we exhibited at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last October. It consists of the Axis Voicebox S speakers, of course, as well as a Unison Research Triode 25 integrated amplifier/DAC and the Unison Research Unico CDE CD player, all wired with Furutech. Since the Voiceboxes are relatively inefficient, we had to switch the Triode 25 into pentode mode for 45 watts per channel. Even in this big room we were able to achieve decent sound levels.

Just like the last time we visited, the room was pretty much full with Arizona audiophiles. I played three or four of my usual trade show demo tracks--some Three Blind Mice, some 2L Recordings and, of course, Happy Coat. Then we played a few requests. I know I'm making a few waves in the industry by talking about taking show attendees' requests, but an audiophile club meeting is different--more interactive and more casual. After we finished the presentation, many club members lined up to speak with us afterward. The AZAV has always welcomed us and treated us graciously, and we hope to return in a few months to introduce new products from both PureAudio and Brad Serhan's new company, Brigadier Audio Group.

Finally, Colleen and I snapped this selfie just a few seconds before we went into the ballroom and started our presentation. It was a great, productive trip, and you can see it in our faces. We're planning on hitting the road this May for at least a couple of weeks, and we're going to try to visit as many of our dealers as possible. We hope to do more events just like this one. In fact, this is one of the best parts of our job!

Stereophile's Latest As We See It Column Now Online

Jason Victor Serinus' "As We See It" column in this month's Stereophile, which partially discussed my Part-Time Audiophile article on attending high-end audio shows, is now available to read online at So far no nasty comments!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another Visit with the Arizona Audio-Video Club

More than two years ago, Colleen and I visited the Arizona Audio-Video Club at the invitation of our Los Angeles and Phoenix dealer for Opera and Unison, Bill Coomes of The Sweet Spot. Bill is officially the first US dealer for the Axis VoiceBox S loudspeaker, so Colleen and I are returning to demonstrate his new line of Australian loudspeakers for the AZAV members.

We are planning to feature the Axis VoiceBox, of course, as well as a Unison Research Triode 25 integrated amplifier/DAC and a Unison Research Unico CDE CD player. All cabling and power management will be provided by Furutech. We also plan on bringing our prototype of the Unison Research SH headphone amplifier along with the Furutech H128 headphones.

The monthly meeting of the Arizona Audio-Video Club will be held at the Marriott Airport Hotel on Wednesday, February 25th at 7pm. The address of the hotel is 1101 N. 44th Street, Phoenix. You can find out more info on AZAV on their website.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

My New Article on Part-Time Audiophile

My latest article for Part-Time Audiophile is now online. I felt a little gun-shy about writing another "controversial" article on the audio industry since my foray into the subject of getting more women into audio went a little pear-shaped, as the British say. But this article about the true role of an audio review in the buying process needs to be said over and over--a in-joke between PTA's Scot Hull and me since he already wrote a similar article--because I see far too many consumers doing these things over and over. Enjoy, and don't be too mean in the comments section!

Friday, January 30, 2015

New Vinyl Anachronist Column Now Online at Perfect Sound Forever

My latest Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever, my 102nd, is now online. In this column I recap my rather disheartening experience of writing and arguing about the question, "How do we get more women interested in audio?" I wrote this final recap reluctantly, because I had removed myself from the public debate because I felt so weary--I'd actually been combating an illness at the same time--and I just wanted to apologize for being wrong and for being such a dick about it, and then quietly excuse myself from the conversation.

I took some time off, got healthy, and then realized that I still had mixed feelings about the way everything went down. I finally gained some perspective on the whole debate by realizing this wasn't an issue between the sexes, but rather an issue between my generation and the Millenials, or Generation Y or whatever else you want to call "those damn crazy kids who won't stay off my lawn."
Those younger folks grew up in a world that was significantly more tolerant, where the "old ways" of Baby Boomers like me were frowned upon. So they're much quicker on the draw when it comes to perceiving language that can be exclusionary or discriminatory. Just like my generation rails at the thought of the world in which our parents were raised, and the predominantly racist and sexist attitudes that are still carrying forward, their generation is trying to guide the world, kicking and screaming, to the next big step.

So I'm not trying to open that can of worms again; I'm just trying to focus on the bigger picture. Enjoy.