Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Here are some of the prototypes for our upcoming "official" cookie for Blue Computer Solutions, which we will give to our customers. Erin Pont and Pam Krug of All Mom's Cookies have been working around the clock to deliver the perfect treat, which we have dubbed the Blue Cookie Solution. All of the recipes revolve around dried blueberries, and we're playing around with all types of ingredients--even maple syrup (I have a serious blueberry pancake addiction).
I think the winning cookie is the one with blueberries, white chocolate and coconut. Unfortunately, a lot of people (crazy people, I might add) don't like coconuts. So our backup is one with blueberries, white chocolate and dark chocolate.
Eventually the cookie will look like our logo. It will be perfectly square and have the actual logo imprinted onto sheets of fondant. I'll post more pics when the design is formalized!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
If you know a lot of people who are into vinyl like I do, there's always someone who has a more obsessive-compulsive way to clean records than you. It's sort of like getting two avid sports fans in the same room and watching them try to outdo each other in terms of sports knowledge and trivia. Forunately, I'm not one of those audiophiles who spends a lot of time worrying about getting my LPs absolutely clean. While I've insisted for years that you NEED a record cleaning machine in order to truly enjoy vinyl, you won't see me hand-washing my LPs in a clean room with reverse osmosis water and a HAZMAT suit.
I've used Nitty Gritty record machines since the mid-1980s, usually in conjunction with some sort of cleaning fluid and brushes. I've tried them all over the years, with the exception of some of those foo-foo brands that charge $100 for a few ounces of their magical elixir. For the last few years, however, I've settled on the QuickWash fluid and brushes from the Disc Doctor. This system is easy to use, effective and it doesn't cost a fortune.
When I visited Terry Combs at Sound Mind Audio last weekend, however, he asked me what I used to clean my records. I told him. He asked me if I knew about the Walker Audio Prelude Record Cleaning System. Well, I had heard of Walker Audio before--their Proscenium turntable is one of the world's best. And, not coincidentally, it is the 'table Terry uses as his reference (when he isn't playing 78s on his Micro Seiki, of course). He retrieved a box from the back room and told me to give it a try. This box was sizable for a record cleaning solution, and it was heavy. I peeked inside and saw a lot of brushes, bottles and jars. "Is it complicated?" I asked. "Not really," he replied, pointing out that some of the home-brew rituals the hardcore collectors employed were much more anal-retentive and complicated.
Then I remembered something. Nearly every LP Terry had played for me, with the exception of the older 78s, sounded absolutely pristine. Surface noise was almost non-existent. Maybe, just maybe, this Walker Audio system was everything it claimed to be.
Once I took the box home, unpacked it and read all of the instructions, it seemed fairly simple and straightforward. No, it's not just a brush and some fluid. First you get a jar of concentrated, active enzymes that must be mixed in small amounts just prior to use. Once the enzymes are mixed with water and activated, they only last about eight hours until they die. You use one of the two supplied measuring scoops and the one empty squirt bottle to mix your enzyme solution. That is step #1.
Step #2 is a pre-mixed cleaning solution, which is pretty self-explanatory. Step #3 is a rinse made from Ultra Pure Laboratory Grade Water. Not distilled water, but ULTRA PURE LABORATORY GRADE WATER. I was tempted to take a sip, but this stuff is almost as expensive per ounce as a bottle of 16-year-old Lagavulin. (By the way, you have to rinse the LPs with the Ultra Pure water twice, which sort of makes it a four-step process.) I checked on the Walker Audio website, and there's now a fourth (or fifth) step that includes a new high-performance rinse that extracts even more foreign matter from the grooves. I may grab a bottle of that later as well for comparison.
You also get three brushes and plenty of replacement pads. The brushes are numbered one through three and are used for each of the three steps to avoid cross-contamination. They are otherwise identical. Walker even supplies a handy plastic tray to hold the brushes while you're cleaning records. You also get a small plastic ruler, and it took me forever to figure out what it was for (it's not identified in the otherwide detailed instructions). I found an explanation on the website--it's for cleaning the fluid out of the brushes! It's a simple and elegant solution.
Mixing and preparing the enzyme fluid was fairly easy and straightforward. You get two tiny plastic scoops--one is larger than the other. With the smaller scoop, Walker says you can clean five to ten records. Simply use a rounded scoop and fill the empty squirt bottle with the Ultra Pure Laboratory Grade Water to Level A. The larger scoop is obviously used for cleaning larger amounts, and you simply fill the bottle to Level B. I used the smaller scoop and found that this amount cleaned way more than 10 records. Maybe I'm not using enough fluid when I'm cleaning, although it certainly seemed to be the right amount. Regardless, you'll have to throw the fluid out when you're done so just make a night of it and clean until it's gone.
The brushes are directional and have arrows marked on one side. The direction of the record spin should actually go into the arrow. Unlike most brush manufacturers, Walker does not encourage you to SCRUB SCRUB SCRUB! Take it easy, they say--vinyl is soft.
Once I was ready to clean, I selected several different records. First, I grabbed perhaps my best-sounding LP--my Three Blind Mice pressing of Tsuyoshi Yamamoto's Midnight Sugar. This is an utterly clean, pristine album with almost no surface noise on the entire disc. I chose it to see how the Walker kit would improve an already nearly perfect LP. I went through the cleaning process and then played the LP. I didn't hear any startling differences. But after a few minutes, I heard something, well...NEW. I heard a bit more decay on the brushed cymbals, and I could distinctly make out the circular motions of the brushes. I've never heard that before. So even on a sparkling clean album, the Walker seems to extract just a bit more music from the grooves. Very interesting.
Next, I pulled out a Decca pressing of Louis Armstrong's Satchmo on Stage. While a great pressing, this particular album was a $3 thrift store buy, and it was dirty, dirty, dirty. It had lots of greasy fingerprints on it, and when played it exhibited a healthy amount of surface noise. I used the Walker kit on this LP and when I was done it positively glowed and sparkled. The fingerprints were completely gone. I've been disappointed in the past to find that most record cleaning fluids simply can't eliminate greasy fingerprints. The Walker kit exterminated them with extreme prejudice. I could see a few scuffs here and there, but no cleaning system will repair a groove to its original state or eliminate scratches. Still, the album looked almost brand new. And it played great, with only about 10% of the original surface noise still present.
Next, I had a very special project in mind for the Walker kit. My Athena pressing of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances from Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra has always been one of my favorite LPs in terms of sheer sonics. But alas, I have played the hell out of it over the years and it's become overcome with pops and scratches. I haven't been able to listen to it for a few years now because it is so heartbreaking. So I gave this poor, hobbled friend the Walker treatment. For the first couple of minutes I noticed only a slight reduction in groove noise. But then, it suddenly disappeared. I heard a few scattered pops here and there, but my dear friend was suddenly VERY listenable again! For me, that convinced me that the Walker is by far the best record cleaning system I've tried so far.
I do have a couple of caveats, however. First, since you're using about four times as much liquid as you would with a single-fluid product, there's about four times the chance that liquid can slosh around and get on record labels, your hands, your clothing, everything. I found it necessary to keep a small towel nearby just to keep everything dry. Second, since you're vacumming your LPs four times instead of one, your record cleaning machine may start to overheat. My Nitty Gritty was hot to the touch after just two LPs. Since you're compelled to clean at least ten records everytime you break out the Walker system, you might want to pace yourself. Those vacuum cleaner motors on most RCMs can burn out if you aren't careful.
Finally, there's the issue of price. The newer four-step Prelude System, known as the Prelude Quatro, costs $215. The version I have, which is listed as the deluxe kit, runs about $168. Actually, once I saw all of the materials you receive in the kit, I wasn't at all surprised at these prices. In fact, I can easily see the kit lasting me ten or twenty years or so. And you can buy the individual parts of the kit a la carte, so to speak. In that context, the Prelude is an extremely good value.
Then again, after I saw what the Walker Audio Prelude Record Cleaning System did for my Rachmaninoff LP, I'd happily pay even more. This is head-and-shoulders better than anything I've ever used before. If you're a serious record collector, you really should give this a try. The Walker Prelude gets my highest recommendation.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio just sent me a pic of his Funk Firm Vector turntable and Funk Firm FXR-II arm with the new HRS ADL record clamp. He's been playing around with this combo and notes that the clamp makes this combination a real winner.
I'm really intrigued with this 'table and everytime I see it I want it even more.
Dan's sending me the Achroplat and Achromat replacement platter and arm for my Rega P3-24 for review as well. I've always been a staunch defender of the stock Rega mat and platter, but Funk Firm has always been at the forefront of Rega mods. The FXR-II, for instance, is one of the best-sounding RB-250 sourced arms available. I'm looking forward to putting these products through their paces.
Terry Combs of Sound Mind Audio sent me some more pics for the upcoming Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever. He apologized for being a better record spinner than photographer, but he's still ten times the photographer I am! Enjoy!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
I spent yesterday up in Dallas with Terry Combs of Sound Mind Audio in Dallas. And, as promised, we listened to 78rpm records on a stellar analog rig that included a rare Micro Seiki turntable modded by Terry himself, with a wood-bodied Benz-Micro that was specifically built to handle the medium. I won't go into too much detail about the experience since it will appear in the next Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever, but suffice it to say that it was an ear-opening experience.
In a nutshell, listening to a state-of-the-art 78 rig won't quite achieve the same level of fidelity and realism as the best modern LP playback systems. What this rig did offer, however, was an illuminating and exciting window into the original recording event, something that is just not possible with more contemporary solutions. What Terry did point out on lacquer after lacquer was the sheer emotional thrill of 78s, and how listening to 78s like this a something akin to traveling in a time machine. If you fancy yourself a musical historian who is interested in such classic performances, a 78 rig like Terry's is clearly the way to go (as opposed to remastered offerings on other formats).
In addition, I finally got to hear the amazing Trenner & Friedl RA Boxes, a unique high-efficiency design that was able to create a full-range sound that was both dynamic yet agile. While I believe that the $170,000 Trenner & Friedl Dukes I heard at CES were possible the finest loudspeakers I've ever heard, the RA Boxes offer a huge chunk of that sound quality for a fraction of the price. I could easily imagine living with these for the rest of my life. The RA Boxes are also extremely practical designs, since they are designed to be used only a few inches from the back walls. They are big and beautiful, but they also stay out of the way.
Terry had paired the RA Boxes with huge single-ended monoblocks from VivA, an Italian amplifier company that has found a unique sonic solution by using the same tube types for the output, driver and rectifier tubes. When you see the four identical tubes in a row on the top of the VivAs, you probably will assume they are push-pull designs. But they're not. Due to this tube configuration, these amps provide a respectable amount of power that will work with a variety of speakers. Plus, they sound absolutely wonderful.
Finally, it was nice to hear Terry express his love for the Trenner & Friedl ART monitors, which I also own. (Here's a pic with the ARTs with the T&F Brilliant supertweeters, mounted on stands that Terry made himself; he actually builds most of the beautiful equipment racks and furniture in the showroom). With all of the bigger, more expensive speakers he had at his disposal at Sound Mind Audio (and he has a LOT of equipment on hand), he told me that if someone told him that the ARTs were the only speaker he could own, he'd say "Wow...thanks!" Again, I don't think there is a finer small monitor on the planet than the ARTs, which is why I chose them. (And I've heard just about everything.)
Terry is also one of the few high-end dealers who works out of his home (which was a gorgeous house that he had completely remodeled on his own) and still keeps a large inventory of product on hand. In fact, he has two showrooms set up with a huge amount of components. He's also one of the few dealers around who doesn't sit quietly while you're listening to music; he LOVES his music and is always emotionally involved whenever the needle hits the groove. I had a HUGE amount of fun spending the afternoon with Terry, and I hope I can visit again soon.
If you'd like to know more about Terry Combs and Sound Mind Audio, give him a call at 214-327-2073. And my Vinyl Anachronist column should appear in Perfect Sound Forever around April 1.
We finally got our Blue Computer Solutions Facebook page up and running the way we want it. Facebook really doesn't like businesses to operate a page that isn't a fan page, and our previous fan page just wasn't flexible for our needs. We had to get a little creative to make it work as a regular page. (Evidently Facebook software knows that no one in the world is named "Blue Computer Solutions.")
Now you can check us out at http://www.facebook.com/blue.computersolutions and see our products, specials, updates and our latest news on our ongoing music server project. Feel free to "friend" us!
Friday, February 18, 2011
My buddy Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio Gallery in San Diego sent me these pictures of a beautiful AR turntable. Dan says, "Since you're into older/vintage turntables I thought I'd share a few photos of my cousin's AR turntable. It's fitted with a Signet tonearm, Rega Elys 2 cartridge and Funk Firm Achromat."
I just grabbed this image from George Cardas' Facebook page--it appears he's experimenting with different finishes for his upcoming earbuds. It'll will be exciting to see if a wide variety of colors will be available to match to your iPod, Zune or other portable player.
Today I was able to meet two Austin audio personalities who are truly interested in bringing something new to the table. The first was Lance Kimmons, who has recently started the Austin Hi-Fi Society. Lance is unique in that he is young, knowledgeable and also savvy about computers and the Internet. In his spare time he has accumulated a lot of choice vintage gear including a number of exquisite and well-maintained Altec-Lansing speaker systems. I'm looking forward to visiting with Lance in the next few weeks to listen to his system. He also just purchased a very nice Linn LP-12 a few days ago, and he's having one of the best Linn techs in the area tune it up for maximum performance. Lance, like me, always wanted to own a Linn at least once in his life, and now he's getting his chance to explore this classic turntable.
I met Lance in downtown Austin at Austin Hifi, which is owned by Creston Funk, one of the most interesting personalities in our industry. Creston has been involved with audio since the 1950s, and now he has the chance to sell some genuinely fascinating brands such as Tocaro single-driver speakers and Crimson Audio. I had the pleasure of listening to the smaller Tocaros mated with the Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center, a Reson turntable and cartridge, and a Crimson preamp and monoblocks.
The sound from this system was anything but typical commercial hi-fi and reminded me of my days with high efficiency speakers and low-powered single-ended triode amplifiers. The Tocaros, which were spaced far apart in a fairly large and open room, provided a huge but delicate sound. The soundstage was spread across an unusually large area, which allowed me to really dig deep inside of the music. This system may not be the ultimate solution for audiophiles who want to rock, but with more sedate musical selections the overall sound was intriguing, musical and unusually engaging.
Creston (who runs Austin Hifi with his son Creston Jr.) invited me back anytime for a more detailed listen in the near future. I approached Creston about an interview for a future column for The Vinyl Anachronist, and he was receptive. If all goes well, I'm shooting for the June edition. (The April column will be about listening to 78rpm records with Terry Combs of Sound Mind Audio--I'll be visiting him in Dallas tomorrow.)
If you'd like more information on Austin Hifi, check out Creston's website at www.austinhifi.com. To see what's going on with the Austin Hi-Fi Society, check out Lance's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Hi-Fi-Society/264616117421.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Get a load of this! This is a NEW 8-track recording from Tom Tom Club celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band's existence. I still remember "Genius of Love" was the first song where I called into a radio station (KROQ), requested it to a DJ and they actually played it.
I just found this on Chris Frantz's Facebook page, and he says only 30 of them will be made. So it will be very collectible to the lucky few. I'm sure I won't be one of them...but damn this is cool.
I think we all missed out on this one. This beautifully restored Thorens TD-147 from Vinyl Nirvana sold within days. The cost was only $625 shipped. For those who don't know the TD-147, it's the version of the famed TD-160 with the auto shut-off function. This particular model has a stunning plinth, and the entire TT had only one minor scratch.
This just proves that the market for first-rate vintage turntables is still thriving. For future reference, just bookmark the Vintage Turntable page on Vinyl Nirvana at http://www.vinylnirvana.com/vintage-turntables-for-sale/ and you'll be able to monitor these offerings before they sell.
Oh, and for the record, I receive nothing from Audio Nirvana, Echo Audio or anyone else for spotting these TTs. In fact, I don't even think that Kurt Doslu or David Archimbault know about my blog. I just think about something that Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio once told me: "Finding homes for used audio gear is good karma. All of these pieces can bring musical joy to SOMEONE..."
At first I thought this latest offering from Echo Audio was a misprint...a Rega P25 with a Groovetracer subplatter for just $495? Wow!
Then I noticed that I didn't have an arm. For $495, it's still a great price, just not the deal of the century. I owned a P25 from 1998 to 2003 and it was one of my favorite TTs ever. This particular P25, which comes with a mahogany plinth, should have a Rega RB600 or RB700 mounted on it for the best performance. I'm not sure why it would be missing in the first place--a Rega turntable without a Rega arm doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Maybe someone cannibalized the stock arm to make a quick sale.
At any rate, this is still a nice find. Check out http://echohifi.com/just_arrived.php for more information.
On Saturday I will be traveling up to Dallas to visit with Terry Combs of Sound Mind Audio. We've been talking about meeting up for months to listen to his state-of-the-art vinyl rig which has been optimized to play 78 records. This will also be the subject of my next Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever.
We've been waiting for Terry to get everything dialed in just right. First he had to ensure that the Benz Micro 78 cartridge was working properly, and then Terry was waiting for the brilliant tweeter for his Trenner & Friedl ART monitors to arrive.
In addition, I'm looking forward to hearing the Trenner & Friedl RA BOX speakers for the first time. The RA (pronounced "ra," not "R. A.") is a beautiful yet deceptively simple-looking design optimized for use with low-powered tube amplifiers. While it's not a typical GIANT full-range speaker, the RA BOX is supposed to deliver a GIANT sound that offers stunning dynamic contrasts as well as deep, deep bass. You can even set a pair of them up against the rear walls and they still sound wonderful.
I'll report back on my visit with Terry at the beginning of the week.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
Here are some nice photographs of the upcoming earbuds from Cardas Audio. I've been able to audition very late prototypes twice already; the last time was at CES where George Cardas himself demonstrated them against a very nice headphone rig consisting of a high quality DAC and a pair of Sennheiser HD800s. These earbuds have been a personal project of George's for quite some time, and I agree that these are something quite special.
I've experienced state-of-the-art headphone reproduction in the past; up until a few months ago I owned a pair of Grado GS1000s and AKG 701s modded with Stefan Arts Equinox cabling and a Woo Audio tubed headphone amp. In addition, I wrote the Headphone Planet column for TONEAudio for several issues in 2007-2009. So I like to think I know what a good pair of cans can achieve.
In addition, I haven't head a pair of earbuds that I truly liked. I'm fairly claustrophobic, and inserting devices into my ear canals has always felt intrusive, uncomfortable and aggressive. The Cardas earbuds were the first in-the-ear devices that felt comfortable and unobtrusive. I tried two sizes of these as well, and I actually preferred the slightly larger version. These buds felt like they had been custom-made for my ear canals and after listening for quite some time I felt little or no listener fatigue.
Okay, they're comfortable. But how did they sound? Well, the Grado GS1000s have always been my personal reference because they sound warm, open and expansive with full, realistic bass response. The Cardas earbuds easily matched and even surpassed the sound quality of the Grados, expanding on all of their strengths. These are the first earbuds that made me say, "I need these."
I talked to a couple of people in the Cardas camp about the projected price and date of arrival. Right now there isn't a set price, but I heard some ballpark figures that were much lower than I expected. I've seen and heard some of those earbuds that require a custom fitting for the ear molds, and the price tags of those products are fairly hefty. If the Cardas earbuds come anywhere near the projected and approximate prices, they will be a huge hit. Best of all, they're obviously wired with Cardas cabling.
I'm trying to get a little more information about the technology behind the Cardas earbuds, and I'll update shortly. But for now enjoy the pics of these precious little jewels and be prepared to audition a pair when they arrive. I'm putting my name on the list!
Thursday, February 10, 2011
In the interest of fairness, I would like to show you some Technics SL1200 mods that may actually make it sound pretty wonderful. Sound Hi-Fi is a dealer in the UK that offers a variety of mods for the SL1200 that revolve mostly around an external power supply and a precision machine arm board that can accommodate tonarms from the likes of SME, Dynavector, Rega and an affordable line from Jelco.
I haven't heard these myself, but people whose ears I trust say the Sound Hi-fi mods are nothing short of spectacular, and will help skeptics like me appreciate the engineering behind the 1200. Their products include armplates, mats, isolation feet, external power supplies, record weights, strobe disable switches, platters, bearing mods and motor dynamics mods. Sound Hi-Fi also provides a wide selection of arms and cartridges. You can even buy a complete state-of-the-art TT, including a brand new SL-1200, called the Timestep EVO. It costs a somewhat daunting 3695 pounds.
If you order a la carte, the cost isn't quite as shocking. In fact, the guy behind the mods, Dave Cawley, is quite honest and upfront about the Technics; he says that these mods won't make the 1200 the best turntable in the world, but the final product offers a very intriguing choice at every price point. This seems to be echoed in a review Sound Hi-Fi received from TONEAudio, where Jeff Dorgay called his modded SL1200 (which was the one I used for two years) his new reference at the $2000 level. That's fairly surprising, since Jeff was no more in love with the 1200 than I was.
So the Sound Hi-Fi mods seem to be the one 1200 mod that makes sense. I'll reserve my final opinions until I actually hear one. I heard a fully-modded 1200 from KAB USA that tipped the scales at nearly $2000, and I'd still rather own a Rega P3-24.
And just to mess with Dan Muzquiz's head, here's an SL1200 with the new Funk Firm FXRII arm! I better he's never seen that before! For more information on the Sound Hi-Fi mods for the Technics SL1200, check out http://www.soundhifi.com/sl1200/index.htm.