Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Perfect Sound Forever is now online!

The December/January issue of Perfect Sound Forever is now online at http://www.furious.com/perfect/. It features my year-end review, aka The Annual Vinyl Anachronist Awards for Analog Excellence. Here is a direct link to the article: http://www.furious.com/perfect/vinyl78.html. I give my awards to Best New Release in the Vinyl Format, Best New Reissue in the Vinyl Format, Cartridge of the Year, Turntable of the Year and a new award for Analog Moment of the Year.

You can also read the rest of the issue for great features on The Clash, Kip Hanrahan, Blue Nile, The Creation, Changing Horses, ZO2, Charlie Patton, Motley Crue, Peter Hammill, Mr. Sterile Assembly, Dave Travis, Kevin Kastning and the Moldy Dogs.

Remember, the February 2011 issue will be a special version edited by noted rock critic Robert Christgau, but I will be back in April with #79. Enjoy!

Steam-powered turntable?

Yep, this is a steam-powered turntable designed by a New Zealand-based "steampunk" artist named Asciimation (ASCII...I get it). The accompanying article is a bit critical of the design, mostly because the speed control is obviously shaky. I'm not nuts about the fact that you have to swing the tonearm all the way back across the record to play it, either, but Asciimation assembled this from parts in his garage and probably did the best he could.

But it's still a fun design and shows that turntables are spreading across several demographic groups in the 21st century.

Here's the article: http://dvice.com/archives/2010/11/steam-run-turnt.php. There's also a video.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More pics of the Margules Group Mexico's Torna turntable...

I just found these pics of that gorgeous Torna turntable from Margules Group Mexico. The first group of pics I shared were merely digital renderings...these seem to be physical models and/or prototypes. Enjoy!

Vinyl event at End of an Ear

When I visited Brian Di Frank at Whetstone Audio on Saturday, he invited me to a listening event at End of an Ear later that evening. End of an Ear is a record store located at 2209 S. 1st Street in Austin, and Brian told me it's his favorite record shop in the area. Brian brought over an ice chest full of Modelos, a Rega RP1 turntable, a Rega Brio 3 amplifier and a pair of Rega RS5 speakers and set it all up in a corner of the store. Brian's mission was to prove just how good vinyl can sound, even on a modest system.

This was the first time I've actually heard the new Rega RP1 turntable in action, and I have to admit that it sounds really good, much better than the P1 it replaced. Brian was able to achieve some pretty remarkable sound in a fairly odd space (bare walls, tile floor, off in a corner). Look at it this way...the RP1 is $445 (and that includes arm and a cartridge), the Rega Brio 3 is $695 (and that includes an MM phono stage), and the RS5s are $1595 and offer close to full-range sound. You could even forsake a little bass and go with the RS3s for $1195 or even the small bookshelf RS1 monitors for $695 and still have an analog-based system that is highly musical.

As for End of an Ear, this is a truly great little record shop with a fairly large inventory. I wish I hadn't blown my monthly music budget at Waterloo Records earlier that day...End of an Ear had everything Waterloo had and at a lower price! They're pretty packed with both new and used LPs, and they have a fairly large selection of CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs as well. They even had a little corner devoted to vintage receivers and inexpensive turntables to help vinyl newbies get started for just a little bit of money. Or you could just head down to Whetstone Audio and get that all-Rega system and be happy for the rest of your life.

Again, End of an Ear is located at 2209 S. 1st Street in Austin, Texas, and their phone number is (512) 462-6008. Whetstone Audio is located at 2401 E. 6th Street and Brian's phone number is (512) 477-8503.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Checking out the new gear at Whetstone Audio

As promised, I spent yesterday afternoon at Whetstone Audio and got to see owner Brian Di Frank's new product lines (LFD and Harbeth). When I walked in, I saw both the Harbeth 40.1s and the new P3-ESR speakers all set up and ready to go. I had to walk right up and give the 40.1s a hug! I missed these speakers and still consider them to be among the finest speakers I've ever heard!

Brian also had the new LFD LE IV Signature integrated warmed up and ready to go. I have to admit that as much as I love LFD, its understated looks were completely overshadowed by the gorgeous Leben amplifier that resided just below. Fortunately, we were able to hear both. The Leben has the sonic edge, with slightly better dynamics, but it's also twice as much as the LFD.

Here's the entire system we listened to, which included a Rega P5 turntable with a Dynavector 20X cartridge along with a Dynavector phono stage. Cabling was from the Chord Company.

Here are the 40.1s and the P3-ESRs side by side. It's amazing that the little P3s are a tiny fraction of the size of the 40.1s but offer a HUGE helping of the classic Harbeth sound. After listening to the big speakers for a while we switched to the P3s and I was instantly impressed with their ability to sound big and full in Brian's rather large listening space. The 40.1s obviously offer more in the lower octaves, but Harbeth's Alan Shaw should be extremely proud with what he's accomplished with the tiny P3s. They are truly great mini-monitors.

Here's a better look at the P3-ESRs and their gorgeous rosewood veneer. The 40.1 were in cherry, just like the ones I reviewed for TONEAudio, but these ones were much darker. Harbeth, just like most British speaker companies, provides beautiful wood veneers with all of its models.

Although my visit was to hear the new Harbeths and LFD, I also had a chance to hear the Kudos Audio line of loudspeakers. Kudos is from the same designer who developed the NEAT line of British loudspeakers, which have always impressed me. The Kudos Cardea C10 monitor, which you can see above next to the 40.1s, looks rather conservative at first glance. But this premium loudspeaker uses the SEAS Crescendo tweeter which is normally used with speakers costing as much as $20,000 a pair. Despite the fact that they are much smaller than the 40.1s, they delivered an equally big sound. In many ways, the C10s were the stars of the day. These are truly magnificent-sounding speakers and should be considered by anyone who needs world-class sound in a relatively small space.

Here's a close up shot of the Crescendo tweeter...

And another shot of the C10s.

 ...and another shot with the 40.1s in the background.
Brian also wanted me to check out the new Rega P3-24 turntable...his first one in orange. Very cool, but I still prefer my lime green one. I do like the colored mats and may get a ghastly purple one for mine.
He then showed me the new $449 Rega RP1 turntable--in white. Brian joked that "this is your turntable...on drugs," and I realized that yes, with the yellow mat it does look just like a fried egg!

All in all, it was a great afternoon and I heard a lot of great music. I'm going to visit Brian very soon and try out two new tweaks for my Rega P3-24. The first is the famous "white belt" that is a $59 upgrade to all Rega turntables. Back at TONEAudio we tried one of these belts with the P9 and both Jeff Dorgay and I heard a clear difference from the stock black belt. Much to our surprise, the magic white belt made the Rega sound much bigger. For $59, it's a no-brainer.

The other tweak is the new platter mat for the Rega from Auditorium 23. While I've always felt that the stock felt mats sound best, Brian tells me that this new mat does offer a big improvement in the sound. So I'll let everyone know about my findings very soon!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whetstone Audio this weekend...

I'll be headed out to Whetstone Audio tomorrow to hear Brian Di Frank's new LFD and Harbeth lines. I'm looking forward to listening to my old friend the Harbeth Monitor 40.1s, one of my favorite speakers in the world, as well as the brand spanking new LFD LE IV Signature integrated amplifier and matching LE Phono Stage.

Brian just also announced that he will be getting the new Rega DAC which will be sold for just $995. Apparently if you add the Rega DAC to a Planet or Apollo CD player, it will beat the much more expensive Saturn player. Brian will also be offering great trade-in allowances (or, as he calls it, "cash for clunkers") toward the purchase of the Apollo CD player and the DAC which will allow you to get the combo for $1840.

I'll be reporting on all of his new gear after my visit tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The horror...the horror!

Open heart surgery is never pretty. And they told me not to look. But I did.

You were only six...too young to die. But another one is coming and I'll just have to move on!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ben Harper's Pleasure and Pain from Cardas Audio

My big announcement has to do with the newly-remastered version of Ben Harper's 1992 album Pleasure and Pain from Cardas Audio. I've been listening to an LP version of this release for the last few weeks, and the sound quality is simply incredible. Like the Hamza El Din LP I mentioned yesterday, this George Cardas-produced disc is one of the most lifelike recordings I've heard in a long time. The overall sound quality is direct, natural and intimate. I can't think of a single piece of music in my collection that reproduces the acoustic guitar more vividly and accurately.

Here's an excerpt from the press release:

"Ben Harper and Tom Freund's legendary album, "Pleasure and Pain", has been newly re-mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood California. This is truly an Audiophile recording. The album was originally recorded on March 15, 1992 by George Cardas, of Cardas Audio, using a Studer A-80 tape deck. George used a pair of Omni differential microphones that he custom built and fed the sound directly to the Studer tape deck with nothing else in the signal path, not even a preamp. It is about the most direct and natural recording method there is. The first master for the album was made by Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab in Hollywood California. For this new release, George gave the original
master tapes of the recording session to Bernie Grundman."
In other words, Cardas Audio has proven again that the simplest way is the best way when it comes to recordings. Think of all those great jazz and classical recordings of the late '50s and early '60s and how they usually sound much better than the so-called "digital-ready" releases of subsequent decades. That's because they kept it simple buy using only a pair of microphones and steered away from compression, excessive mixing and overdubs. But George Cardas took it step further and even bypassed the preamp, something you won't even find in that spectacular Hamza El Din recording (the custom tubed Tim De Paravicini preamp used for those sessions, however, is practically the next best thing to no preamp at all).

Here's another excerpt from the press release, which talks about how this recording was originally made back in 1992:
"Music has always been a part of Ben Harper's life. Ben's grandparents owned the Folk Music Store in Claremont, California. As a child, Ben hung out there and became familiar with all types of musical instruments. He wound up selling, demonstrating and repairing instruments for the store's customers. His favorite was the guitar, in all its forms. He especially liked the lap steel guitar. Ben began singing and playing in the shop, first for his parents, then for customers who heard him in the back room of the store. He was especially fond of southern Blues and it is a major influence in his music today.

"Tom Freund is also a native of Claremont. A mutual friend of theirs, Alleghaney Meadows, introduced the two because she thought they would really sound good playing together. They connected immediately and began jamming the first night. Ben and Tom were so excited about the music they made, they called George so he could listen. George was in his recording studio, set up to record another artist, Johnny Kallas, when Ben called. Johnny was ill and couldn't make it to his session, so he said, "Sure, come on over." Ben and Tom began to play, while trying to see what songs they knew in common and how best to harmonize. George began recording the pair, in what turned out to be a "magical music moment". All songs were
recorded in one take, with the whole session lasting only forty-five minutes. George said, "It was the kind of recording session you dream of, but that rarely happens." He immediately made an album, which Ben was able to take to L.A., and as they say, "The rest is history!"

I think what I like best about this story is the connection between a very well-known singer-songwriter and someone who is well-known within high-end audio. I've seen Ben Harper live a couple of times, most recently at the Bridge School Benefit a few years ago, and I never would have guessed that he got his start with George Cardas. There's an old saying that musicians tend to have the worst stereos, mostly because they're used to the real thing and know that they won't ever be satisified with the sound from even the most expensive systems. I like it when the two worlds come together. Over the last few years, I've met a few famous musicians (Joey Santiago of the Pixies, for instance) who ARE audiophiles or really care about the sound quality on their recordings (the latest from John Mellencamp is a good example).

Well, I'm not sure what kind of stereo system Ben Harper has at home, but he must be very proud of the sound quality of Pleasure and Pain. First of all, the record surface is beyond quiet, which allows you to clearly visualize Ben and Tom's interaction with their guitars. While a recording of two guys and their acoustic guitars may not be the ideal way to test the dynamics of your system, it's a perfect way to address inner detail and harmonics. Recorded music sounds so much more compelling when you hear the physical act of a musician producing the sound, as opposed to music that just sort of materializes out of thin air. That's what makes most live performances so much more vibrant, that added dimension of seeing fingers pluck and move and drive the music forward. Pleasure and Pain provides that magnificent illusion as few recordings do.

Unlike Ben Harper's more mainstream releases over the last few years, Pleasure and Pain sticks closely to the blues, specifically the Mississippi Delta variety. Both musicians rely heavily on the slide, and you'll find covers from Robert Johnson, Chris Darrow and David Lindley. A couple of songs are written by Tom and are more firmly rooted in rock 'n' roll, but the vast majority of this album has an almost timeless feel as if these two musicians could be playing anywhere and any time over the last 50 years. This is not a slick, polished performance but an earthy, loose and inspired moment in time.

The release of this newly remastered version isn't set yet, but it will be soon. I'll let you know when. It will be available on beautiful, rich, pristine vinyl (pressed at RTI), and you'll also be able to get it in a 33rpm or 45 rpm (which will come later). I have the 45rpm version and I'll be able to compare it with the 33rpm version very soon.

This is a very cool album in so many ways, and chances are that it will be highly collectible as well. In the short time I've had it, it's turned into one of my reference recordings even though I had to keep mum about it until the release date was a little closer. If you like Ben Harper, Mississippi Delta Blues or the slide guitar, this will become an essential recording to own.

A waitress with a good sense of humor...

...always gets a big tip.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hamza El Din -- Lily of the Nile

Before I talk about my Portland music scoop, I'd like to take a moment and tell you about a major LP score this weekend. Thanks to Colleen Cardas, I was able to grab one of these rare, limited edition copies of Hamza El Din's Lily of the Nile LPs. I remember when this released back in 1990, and everyone scrambled to grab one before they ran out. This album was coveted by audiophiles due to its phenomenal sound quality which was the result of the meticulous recording process. As the album jacket states:

"This is a pure analog recording done exclusively with custom-built vacuum-tube electronics with the exception of the microphones. The microphones were set up in the ORTF configuration. No noise reduction, equalization, compression, or limiting of any sort was used in the making of this record."

Other than the legendary Egyptian/Nubian oud and tar musician who delivers this extraordinary music, three men well-known and respected in the audio and music industry pooled their talents to create this unique recording. Kavi Alexander of Water Lily Acoustics produced and recorded Lily of the Nile, and he is well-known for producing some of the best-sounding recordings of all times such as one of my personal favorites, Meeting by the River with Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt. Tim de Paravicini, who heads one of my favorite audio companies (EAR, makers of one of the great classic phono preamplifiers), was the technical consultant, co-mastering engineer and designer/builder of the custom recording pre-amplifier. Finally, George Cardas of Cardas Audio (designer, of course, of my favorite cables) of was co-producer and funded the entire recording.
It should be no surprise that this album possesses state-of the-art sound quality. First, the vinyl is incredibly silent. Second, Hamza El Din's music is subtle, direct and unfettered with recording artifacts. If you're looking for a recording that provides the illusion of a musician performing in your listening room, this is it. When El Din's fingers fly across his fretless oud, you can hear and even feel the percussive contact of his fingers on the strings and almost tell where his arms are in relationship to his instrument (you can hear his sleeves rustling every once in a while). When he switches to the tar, a simple Persian drum, on the final track "Hamalaya," you'll be impressed with the sheer variety of tones and timbres he extracts from goatskin head and wooden frame.

I probably shouldn't be teasing you by telling you about something that may be difficult to impossible to find. I have found the 1995 CD reissue on a few international record websites (for around $40 or so), but I'll wager it doesn't sound anywhere as good as this limited LP. But if you do come across a copy somewhere, buy it. I'm going to file my copy next to my handful of reference LPs, the ones I use to really evaluate a piece of audio equipment.

Weekend in Portland!

I just got back from an amazing couple of days in Portland, Oregon, one of my very favorite cities in the entire world. I lived just across the river from Portland in Vancouver, Washington from July 2007 to September of last year, and when I moved to Texas I've never felt as homesick for a place as I did for the Pacific Northwest. When I arrived on Friday morning (the pic above is my view from my hotel room in downtown PDX), it was rainy and 43 degrees. Perfect!

While I was in Portland on business, I had two important objectives. The first, as you can see above, was to hit Voodoo Doughnuts. I guess every time I go to Portland I will have to get off the plane and drive straight to Voodoo, just like every time I go to Los Angeles I have to run from the airport and grab a burger from Tommy's. For those keeping score, I had a McMinnville Creme (a Bavarian doughnut with maple frosting instead of chocolate) and a Dirt Doughnut (which is covered with crushed Oreos).

I actually went to Voodoo Too, the second branch of Voodoo which is on "the other side of the river" from downtown Portland on 15th and Sandy. I learned this trick when I lived here--the original Voodoo on Second Avenue is in one of the scariest neighborhoods in Portland and there's absolutely no parking. In Voodoo Too, there's an actual parking lot and the surrounding area is quiet and clean. And the doughnuts are exactly the same. Exactly. But if you need to get married or learn Swahili, you'll have to get those services at the first location.

My second objective, immediately carried out after the first, was to have the greatest cup of coffee in the world at Stumptown on 34th and Belmont. The entire time I lived in Vancouver I would drive to Portland and get a pound of my favorite coffee from Guatemala or Panama or Costa Rica and then sit down for one of these unbelievable lattes. I'm a cream and sugar kind of guy, but I drink these straight because the flavor is so strong, smooth and pure. I once read a ranking of the greatest coffee places in the US in some foo-foo culinary magazine and Stumptown was second behind some joint in New York City that FedEx'd the beans from the coffee fields the day before and charged a fortune for a cup of coffee. With places like Stumptown in Portland, almost nobody I knew drank Starbucks. We enjoyed the best, and Stumptown, in my humble opinion, is it.
I miss both Voodoo and Stumptown, and it was such a pleasure to indulge myself yesterday. Unfortunately, I bought a pound of coffee to take home and left it in the car of the lovely lady you see below. If you recognize her, you'll understand the business side of my trip to Portland. Like I said before, I have a bit of a musical scoop to tell you, and as soon as I can gather my notes and write them down, I'll spill the beans (pun intended).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

LFD LE IV Signature Integrated Amplifier AND LE Phono Stage

To round out LFD Week here at the Vinyl Anachronist, I found this picture of the new LFD integrated amplifier and its matching outboard phono stage on Gene Rubin's website (http://www.generubinaudio.com/). The amp is officially called the LE IV Signature and it retails for $3495. The phono stage is called the LE and it retails for $1200.

When I get back from Portland early next week, I'm going to try to hook up with Brian of Whetstone Audio to hear these babies. Advance word is that the LE IV is nearly as good as the $6000 NCSE, which is VERY high praise indeed. LFD makes amazing gear that looks modest and kicks major butt.

By the way, my sojourn to PDX is audio-related, and I should have a ton of crappy cell phone pics to share...and maybe a scoop or two.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LFD and Harbeth now at Whetstone Audio!

Speaking of LFD, Brian DiFrank of Whetstone Audio here in Austin is now an LFD and Harbeth dealer. I can still remember walking into his store for the first time and saying, "Boy, if you had Harbeth and LFD in here, you'd really be cool." I guess he listened!

Just kidding of course. Here's Brian's blog entry on the new additions:

"After many years coveting these two lines, I am now a dealer! LFD electronics and Harbeth Loudspeakers are now on the floor! I have the new LFD LE IV integrated amp and Harbeth P3ESR which is based on the famous BBC LS3/5A. The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 should be here next week. I also have the 40.1 on the floor (kindly on loan / consignment). I will be rounding out the lines over the next few months.

I’ve been getting lots of calls. If you have a local Harbeth dealer, please deal with them. I WILL NOT SELL TO YOU IF YOU HAVE A LOCAL DEALER. I DO NOT DISCOUNT!

Whetstone Audio is the only Texas dealer authorized to sell Harbeth and LFD."

Above you can see the pic of the brand spanking new LFD LE IV integrated, which looks like the $6000 NCSE and costs roughly half as much. Below you'll see a pic of the Harbeth 40.1 monitors, which are probably my favorite speakers of all time (even though I fall a little bit more in love with my Trenner & Friedl ART monitors every day and can't wait to hear their amazing $25,000 RA Box).

Brian just sent me an email asking me to come on down and listen to all the cool new gear he has on display. I'm headed out to my old stomping grounds in Portland over the next few days, but I'll visit as soon as I get back. I can't wait to hear the new LFD!

For more info on Whetstone Audio and Brian's new product lines, check out http://www.whetstoneaudio.com/.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The One That Got Away: The LFD Mistral integrated amplifier

"That's a lovely pastel-sounding amp you have there."

That was Grover Huffman, maker of Grover cables and interconnects, upon hearing my system back when I lived in the San Fernando Valley. Grover was a semi-mysterious guy who made cables and interconnects in his spare time and sold them on the Steve Hoffman forum. I ordered a pair of the interconnects just to check them out. They were relatively affordable, and everyone on the forum including Steve Hoffman himself raved about them. Well, it turned out that Grover lived just a mile or two away from me, and he couldn't resist saving the shipping and handling costs by delivering them in person.

After swapping out a pair of Chord Company interconnects for the Grovers, we settled in for a listen. Back then (it was probably 2004 or so), I had my reference analog rig which consisted of a J. A. Michell Orbe SE turntable, an SME V tonearm and a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge. Speakers were my Spendor SP100s (which are still being used by the ex). And driving this $12,000 analog rig and a pair of $5000 speakers was the simple yet elegant LFD Mistral integrated amp, which retailed for a relatively low price of $1095.

I'm still a little confused about Grover's "pastel" reference. It's one of those audio descriptions that you kind of understand, but not quite, like a chocolate-y midrange or a citrus-y treble. (Yes, I've seen both of those terms used in audio reviews.) I think he meant that the LFD's sound was light, airy and almost see-through. It was sunny, like an Easter weekend in Phoenix. It was the opposite of chocolate-y--it was as transparent as a cold glass of 7-Up in a pink champagne glass. Or something like that.

Anyway, I had no problem using $1100 of amplification with $5000 speakers and a $12,000 analog rig. (Actually, I used LFD's outboard phono stage with the Mistral, so it was technically $1800 worth of amplification.) The LFD was that good. For most of the time I owned the LFD (probably from 2000 to about 2005 or so), I was always looking for a "better" (aka more expensive) integrated to take its place. When I bought the LFD, it was an interim solution after I sold my Naim NAIT 2/NAP 140 combination. I tried a few different amplifiers such as Quad Classic monoblocks, a vintage Scott 299B and a few others and I never quite felt compelled to replace the LFD. When I sold it on Audiogon for $500, I knew it was a mistake. The guy I sold it to wound up re-selling it, and he got more than $500 for it by advertising that "This is the unit owned personally by Marc Phillips, the Vinyl Anachronist!" It wasn't until I bought my very expensive and very low-powered Yamamoto Sound Craft SET amplification that I felt I was on the right road again.

I still remember buying the LFD Mistral from Gene Rubin. I invited myself over one day because I hadn't seen Gene for a while, and I wanted to hear some of the newer gear he was selling. He showed me the LFD Mistral because he was excited about it; LFD was a new line that he had just started carrying. He asked me if I would stick around and help him compare it to the Naim NAIT 5, his current reference at that price point. Actually, the NAIT 5 was roughly $1600 back then, $500 more than the Mistral. After about an hour of A/B comparisons, I was undecided. They both sounded very, very close. Gene, however, was leaning toward the LFD, feeling that more of the music was coming through.

After I left, I started thinking about the LFD. Having owned the Naim NAIT 2 for so long, I was eager to get the new NAIT 5 as a more powerful replacement. But a little voice kept telling me to save $500 and get the Mistral. A couple of weeks later, I called Gene and told him I had to have one. I asked him, while he was at it, to throw in the cool outboard phono stage. And I was happy for the next five years.

I've used a lot of amps since then, and I often think of my favorites from brands such as Nagra, BAT, conrad-johnson and SimAudio. I even think of the Mistral's successors, the $2995 Zero Integrated LE III and the $6000 NCSE, and how I loved both of them. But something tells me that I'd still be very, very happy if I still owned that original Mistral amplifier. I think it would be better than my current Rega Brio 3. I think it would be better than a Naim NAIT 2, too. And I probably wouldn't have to pay such inflated prices for a used model like I would with the NAIT...at least until the word gets out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dean Peer's Airborne --on vinyl!

On his website (http://deanpeer.com/music.htm), bassist extraordinaire Deen Peer just announced that he will be releasing his latest album, Airborne, on limited edition vinyl. Here's Dean's press release:

"We have had an overwhelming number of requests from our audiophile fans for a special run of a 180 gram vinyl version of AIRBORNE. This a limited special run of AIRBORNE to satisfy our most critical listeners. It was specially mastered by David Glasser, the grammy award winning engineer from Airshow mastering in Boulder, Colorado."

Like Dean says, it's a very limited run and they're taking orders right now. The albums will ship on January 3, 2011. If you've already heard this amazing album, you know it will really put your system through its paces. On vinyl, I'm sure it will be even more spectacular.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Naim NAIT 2...it's time to vote!

These are both Naim NAIT 2s. The top one is the older cosmetics. The bottom one is the newer cosmetics and is the style I personally owned. I believe the switch was made around 1991.

I had a couple of guys state on my Facebook page that they prefer the older cosmetics. I like the newer version by far. But let's put it to a vote! Just vote OLD or NEW in the comments section of this article. I'll keep a running tally.

Naim NAIT 2...getting more expensive all the time!

The legend of the Naim NAIT 2 continues to grow, and I continue to lament selling mine oh so many years ago. Case in point: this NAIT 2, which sports the older-style cosmetics, just sold on Audiogon for $925. I'm not sure what the first generation 2s sold for back in the day, but the newer version sold for $995. I bought mine as a demo unit from Gene Rubin at Gene Rubin Audio for just $695--and it had only been out of its box for six weeks. $925 seems like an awful lot of money for an older unit that has some cosmetic defects on the top of its case.

As I've mentioned before, the Naim NAIT 2 could be found used on eBay or Audiogon for $300 to $400. Then audiophiles such as me started to sing its praises, and the last time I checked they were going for around $700. Now it's such a collectible that sellers are getting close to its original retail price for them. I'm not saying the Naim NAIT 2 isn't worth a grand, but it's no longer the outstanding bargain it used to be.

After all, you can get a brand new Naim NAIT 5i for just $500 more than its twenty-year-old predecessor. For $500 more, you get much better cosmetics, more versatility (you won't have to buy Naim-approved speaker cables or interconnects) and--most importantly--a lot more power. The NAIT 2 only had 15 to 21 watts per channel, while the new 5i has 50 watts per channel, which means you can mate the newer model with just about every speaker on the market. With the NAIT 2, you needed a speaker than had a sensitivity of about 90 dB with an impedence of 8 ohms before you could approach realistic listening levels.

That said, many people (including me) feel that the NAIT 2 is the best-sounding NAIT of all time. I owned a NAIT 5i (note that this was the "i" model and not the current "i" which is supposedly a little better), and I have to admit that it was a slight disappointment...especially since it replaced an LFD Mistral which was another spectacular little integrated amp that I wish I still had. The NAIT 5i was a bit grainy through the treble and sounded a little rough around the edges. The 5i (again note the italics) is supposed to be much better in this regard. My NAIT 2 never sounded grainy. Aside from its relative lack of oomph, it was resolving and detailed and very, very musical. It also had an excellent MM phono section, something its successors lack.

So do I still want to own a NAIT 2? Absolutely, but I have no intention of paying these kind of prices for one. Honestly, I would get the new NAIT instead. I even saw a Naim NAIT 3R for sale at Echo Audio in Portland a few months ago and Kurt Doslu only wanted $600 for it. For that price, you even get a remote!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Old Vinyl Anachronist columns at PSF...

I've had a couple of emails over the last few weeks concerning all of my Vinyl Anachronist columns on Perfect Sound Forever. The first was rather terse and confrontational and criticized me personally for not including a link to all of the other columns at the bottom of each page. I tried to explain that a) Perfect Sound Forever is not my website and all comments should be directed accordingly and b) there is a link on the home page of PSF that allows you access to all of my columns from 1998 to the present. I tried to be as gracious as possible. Honestly, I tried.

The second email was much more courteous but still troubling. "Whatever happened to that e-zine you used to write for? Why don't you write for them anymore?" I had to reply that I did still write for Perfect Sound Forever, and that my 77th column for them appeared just 18 days before I received this particular email.

So I thought it was time to once again plug my association with Perfect Sound Forever and its editor, Jason Gross. As long as Jason wants me to write for him, I will write for him. Jason was the very first person who ever published anything I ever wrote (way back in 1998!), so I'll be forever loyal. My 12th annual year-end review and awards article will appear on December 1. Since the February 1 issue is one of those special editions that is edited completely by noted music critic and scholar Robert Christgau, I will not have a column. I will resume with the 79th column in the April 1 issue.

Until then, here's a link to all of my PSF articles: http://www.furious.com/perfect/vinylanachronist.html. If you do choose to re-read them, please take note of the date they were written (which appears at the beginning of each article). I do get the occasional email from someone who wants to correct me on some detail that was correct AT THE TIME IT WAS WRITTEN. Other than that, I still stand behind most of what I've written over the last 13 years!