Monday, August 29, 2011

Lee Weiland RIP

The audio community was shocked and saddened by the passing of Lee Weiland at the young age of 46. Lee headed Locus Design, the maker of excellent audio cables, and he was also very active in promoting a sense of unity among fellow manufacturers as well as audiophiles.

Josh Heiner, who makes the terrific SonicWeld speakers that I had the chance of auditioning a few years ago, was Lee's best friend. He left the following message on the AudioEvo forum:

Hello Friends -

This is Josh from Sonicweld. Lee was my best friend and most trusted business advisor for the past twenty years. I'm the one who confirmed his passing, which occurred sometime this past Friday. He was only 46 years old. Life is a fragile thing and can be snuffed out at any moment; it is jarring when someone is taken prematurely. I'm so grateful for the time I had with my dear friend and for the innumerable cherished memories we created together, and I will miss him beyond my ability to express. Thank you so much, everyone, for your well wishes, and for your friendship and support to Lee; it means a great deal to me.

Unfortunately Lee's family is left in a very precarious situation. His wife has cancer, and Lee was the sole breadwinner for the family. I am working on the establishment of some kind of benefit fund for his family, but the details are yet to be hashed out. An official announcement about his death is also pending, but as everyone might imagine, there is a great deal to be done this week with the planning of the funeral and the settling of his affairs.

Most Gratefully,


To find out how to help Lee's family, just visit the Locus Design website.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friends of Sound Records in Austin

"Good thing Austin is a relatively low-crime city," I thought aloud as I wandered down a back alley off South Congress past full trash dumpsters baking in the 112 degree heat. Following Bob Clarke on foot to his new Austin record haunt, I turned to his wife Stacy and explained, "It's violent crime that's low--people say 'I would shoot you, but it's too friggin' hot. Better watch for my ass in October!'"

Yes, Friends of Sound is tucked away. When I came to the front door, I halfway expected one of those little sliding doors where someone asks for the secret password. But once you're inside, it's a small yet well-packed used record store with some truly nice finds.

I grabbed a handful of LPs including Nashville Skyline, a sealed De La Soul EP and a copy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' You're Gonna Get It! (I always remembered it as the one Tom Petty album I really liked back in the '70s). Bob and Stacy didn't buy anything because as Bob put it, "I loaded up last time." The prices were fair, and I noticed that nearly every LP I inspected looked clean and relatively scratch-free, unlike most used record stores you'd find in a back alley. Either the guys at Friends of Sound have very high standards when it comes to buying vinyl, or they run every record through a Nitty Gritty or a VPI--or both.

When I got home, all three records played beautifully (other than the fact that the Petty wasn't as good as I remembered). While there are certainly a lot of places to buy vinyl in Austin, Friends of Sound seems like a much cooler place to browse through the racks since it's so, well...hidden. You won't be constantly bumping elbows with fellow vinylphiles like you do over at Waterloo.

Friends of Sound is located at 1704 South Congress, Austin TX. As I said, it's in the back. You can also buy, sell and trade on their website.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Torna! Torna! Torna!

Looks like that Torna turntable from Margules Group Mexico is closer to becoming a reality. I grabbed these interesting pics from their Facebook page.

You can also see pics of this gorgeous turntable in the latest edition of Positive Feedback Online!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dan Muzquiz, Turntable Set-up Master

Over the last few days, Dan Muzquiz has been treating all of his Facebook friends to ongoing progress reports--with photographs--of an arm installation involving a beautiful Linn Sondek LP12. A friend of Dan's approached him regarding a Linn tune-up, and one thing led to another--resulting in the sale of a Funk Firm FX-R tonearm and a Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge.

It's obvious from the pictures that Dan takes turntable set-up very seriously. He uses a set-up jig for these installations, ensuring that everything is mounted and aligned in its optimal position. Not every audio dealer goes to these extremes, though they should.

Dan gets plenty of practice ripping turntables apart and putting them back together so that they're better than before. He's currently the sole US dealer for Funk Firm, and their Linn modification kits are extensive to say the least. It's very similar to the new Radikal mod Linn is now offering for more than $3K (the Funk Firm's kit is priced in the same ballpark), and I can't help but think the finished product is a true super 'table. Even this LP12 that Dan is currently servicing probably sounds fantastic.

Suddenly I want one!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Famous White Belt from Rega

"A $59 rubber band?"

Fortunately I heard that negative comment only once, shortly after Rega introduced their new "white" upgrade belt for all of their turntables. I had a chance to compare one to the stock "black" belt before this accessory was available to the masses. The 'table in question was the venerable Rega P9, top o' the line so to speak; if any analog rig could readily define the differences it would be this highly resolving machine. And yes, the differences were profound during this particular A/B comparison, with the white belt making the sound so much larger and fuller that it seemed as if someone turned the volume up.

Three years later, the derisive comments are much rarer, presumably because so many people have tried the newer belt and seem unanimous in their praise. I had one engineer who was very knowledgeable in turntable design tell me that "if there's any one single component that WOULD make a big difference in sound, it would be the belt hands down." The white belt is manufactured with much higher tolerances that result in a $59 rubber band that is structurally even throughout its orbit with fewer material anomalies. That means the platter spins true, with less slippage, bumps and artifacts to deter the flow of music.

After much ballyhoo, I pulled the trigger on this little beauty while visiting Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio/Gallery last week. I'll be honest and say that there is a modicum of wonder and disappointment when you see what you get for your $59--a white rubber band in a clear plastic envelope. Setting the two belts next to each other, you'll be hard-pressed to notice physical differences beyond the color. When I removed my old stock belt (which wasn't really that old--perhaps two years or so), I was surprised that it looked larger than the white belt, which seemed to imply that it had stretched and needed replacement. When I purchased my very first Rega in 1991--a P3--I was told that there was little servicing needed save for a replacement belt "every few years." Now Roy Gandy thinks a year is more appropriate, and here was the proof.

That brings up an important point: to what extent are the sonic improvements I immediately heard due to the fact that I needed a new belt? Well, I've owned a total of four Rega turntables now--the aforementioned P3 that I had from 1991 to 1998, the P25 I had from 1998 to 2003, the P2 I bought for a second system in 2005 and my current P3-24 which I've owned since I left Washington State in 2009. I've changed a few belts in that time, and not once did I notice a clear sonic benefit. If anything, I merely experienced a little peace of mind knowing that I wouldn't have to worry about a worn belt in the forseeable future.

But after a few days with the new white belt, I'm hearing many of the same things I heard with that initial A/B comparison with the P9. Everything does seem louder, fuller and more forward. I won't search for a technical reason why this is so, it just is. My particular P3-24 is a heavily modded example (which is why I didn't feel so bad when I replaced my Michell Orbe SE with this more modest rig), with the TT-PSU, a Groovetracer machined subplatter and a Funk Firm Achroplat platter. It's no P9, mind you, but it's an entirely different animal from that first P3 I owned 20 years ago. (Another consideration is that my first P3 had the budget Rega Bias cartridge on it, and now I use the excellent Zu Audio DL-103.)

When it comes to the $59 price, however, you really need to stop thinking about rubber bands and you need to start thinking about remarkable gains in performance. While the Groovetracer subplatter probably yields a more profound improvement in sound, it is more than $200. The TT-PSU is closer to $400. Here is a $59 investment that's in the same ball park. That $59 investment seems even more prudent when you discover that the stock black belt replacement is $39 these days, so you're really talking about $20 if it's time to replace the belt (and it probably is!).

Again, if you're looking to increase the excitement level of your lowly P1, you should probably start with a better cartridge than the Ortofon OM-5e and ensure that you've splurged on the glass platter/better felt mat package. A simple belt replacement may or may not get your heart racing. But if you're using a P3 or beyond, it's silly not to have the white belt too. I'm not sure why it took me so long to grab the white belt, but I'll never go back. In fact, I'll probably use the old belt as a rubber band if I need one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brooks Berdan memorial

I don't know if I feel comfortable blogging about a memorial service, so suffice it to say that the Brooks Berdan memorial was, well, memorable. I've included a few photographs here, and I'll only add one comment: I haven't been to Brooks' shop since 2003, and it has expanded tenfold. It is simply one of the most amazing and expansive and comfortable audio stores I've ever seen.

Brooks' "museum" of audio products is one-of-a-kind, and if you're an audiophile and anywhere near Monrovia, California, you need to stop by and see what this incredible man accomplished in his life.

Music Night with the Clarks

While in Southern California, I also attended Music Night at the home of Dave and Carol Clark. Dave is the editor of Positive Feedback Online, and I've met him and Carol several times in the last year or so. As you might imagine, the Clarks have a spectacular system that includes a Transrotor turntable, Shelter cartridge, Bel Canto, Clayton and Cary electronics and a relatively rare pair of Reimer Speaker Systems Tetons with Townshend super tweeters. To say that the Reimers go deep in the bass is an understatement.

The entire system and room were optimized to the nth degree (you would expect no less from an editor of a respected audio publication), and the system even managed to sound realistic and tonally correct from the front porch!

I met plenty of industry people as well as audiophiles at Music Night, including Michael Mercer. Mike also writes for PFO among other publications, and he and I have discussed working together on a piece where we interview each other on the state of the union when it comes to analog. Mike is a DJ on the side, so he has a very different perspective than I. I'm looking forward to working with him, and I look forward to seeing the Clarks again on my next trip to California.

Visit to Dan Muzquiz at Blackbird Audio/Gallery

Colleen Cardas and I just got back from a trip to Southern California, where we attended the memorial for Brooks Berdan and visited a few friends. First on our list was my good friend Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio. After a huge feast of delicious grilled meat, fish and veggies, we settled into his listening room and played all types of music. Colleen and I wanted to check out the turntables from Funk Firm, and Dan had both the Vector and the Saffire on hand (although the latter had just arrived earlier in the day and hadn't been set-up completely).

The Funk Firm Vector turntable/FX-R tonearm/Transfiguration Axia cartridge rig was combined with Bel Canto electronics, a Heed Audio Quasar phono preamp and Wilson Benesch Arc speakers. The sound was exquisite--both utterly clear and incredibly relaxed. The WB speakers, as you can see, are on the small side but the deep bass was well-developed and natural. The Funk Firm combination is one of the rare lightweight turntables that maintains a firm handle on bass response as well.

Bob Clarke, of Profundo Distribution (he represents Heed, Trenner & Friedl, Transfiguration and VivA) visited Dan a few months ago, and they listened to this turntable at length. Bob was perplexed that this compact, lightweight rig had such well-defined and impressive bass characteristics, and both Dan and Bob came to the conclusion that it was the outstanding FX-R tonearm. If you aren't familiar with the FX-R, it's receiving rave reviews in the UK, with more than one reviewer preferring this $2000 tonearm to the $5500 SME V (which I owned for many years).

Dan treated me to a great pressing of the extended version of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and I was hypnotized for 12 minutes. The string arrangements in particular were dramatic yet sweet, and that deliberate, precise bass guitar line never ceased to propel the music forward. I must get a copy of this!

Distribution of Funk Firm in the US is somewhat scarce at this point; Dan is the lone US dealer for Funk Firm and acting as US distributor as well. Colleen Cardas Imports is looking into Funk Firm, and we definitely like what we see/hear. The Funk Firm Vector turntable is $2395 and the FX-R is $2000. This rig is one of the most compelling I've heard for under $5000 (the price is obviously higher when you consider the $1900 Transfiguration cartridge). I'm trying to get one sent to me ASAP.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Technologies from Blue Computer Solutions and Bright Life Family Chiropractic

Here's a little more of the fun things we get to do at Blue Computer Solutions. We've known Dr. Andrew Gessart and Dr. Tami Howard since they arrived in Kyle, and we've watched as they networked, chose their location and started construction. We've been telling them about our computer services since the beginning; my brother Mat was chomping at the bit because he knew chiropractors have super-cool proprietary software and he wanted to get his hands on it and play around.

Finally Andrew and Tami were ready to launch Bright Life Family Chiropractic, and they showed us all the things they needed in their office. We had boxes all over the Blue Computer offices, and I'm kind of amazed that once it was all installed, it's pretty compact and out of the way.

Once Mat got everything up and running, the Docs couldn't have been more happy. Andrew was like a kid in a candy store and loved the touch screen capabilities and the ease of use. The software program he uses is quite amazing in its ability to accurate assess patients and determine the right course of treatment in just a few minutes.

I know a little about chiropractic (that's the right word--I always thought it was chiropracty or chiropratology) since I once dated a girl who father was a chiropractor. He should me some basic adjustments and told me some great stories (the constipated man was a classic, but that's for another day), but it's clear that the discipline has advanced dramatically in the Computer Age. By the way, those feet belong to Dominic of Valiant Landscaping Services here in Kyle. I had Dominic service my sprinkler system and he showed up in the late afternoon when it was 104 degrees and still fixed everything with a smile on his face. He probably needs that adjustment.

Even the tables are high-tech. You don't even have to lie down on this one. It tilts up vertically and meets your body and gently transports you to a prone position. This makes perfect sense for people who are in a lot of pain.

At any rate, we're excited to help other businesses get their start in Kyle just as we did a couple of years ago. Andrew and Tami are great people--they're engaged to be married, by the way, which makes it even more fun to work with them. Many businesses have proprietary technologies that cost an arm and a leg to maintain. We have a sonogram company as a customer, and the company that serviced their computers charged them a fortune because they were "specialists." Mat walked in, figured it all out and charged a tiny fraction of what the other company cost. So don't be afraid to give him a call at (512) 644-9054. And if you need a chiropractic adjustment in central Texas, just check out Andrew and Tami's website and tell them the Vinyl Anachronist sent you.