Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Chronicles of Sydnia, Part 7: Len Wallis Audio

As high-end audio importers and distributors, Colleen and I currently service 23 dealers in the US. As far as business models go, CCI has an even mix of brick-and-mortar stores and dealers working out of their homes. We even have one or two dealers who rely primarily on internet sales, even though we are an old-fashioned distributor and strenuously protect our dealers' territories. The latter group, of course, is reserved for customers who do not have a local dealer nearby. All of these dealer types have their pros and cons--home-based dealers, for instance, don't have to deal with the high overhead of a store and are able to offer demonstrations that closely approximate the customer's home environment, and more and more of these dealers are popping up all over the world.

This flexible model, which usually operates on an appointment-only basis, is certainly the way I shopped for years with Gene Rubin Audio--I really appreciated the one-on-one attention I received from Gene and I felt I made better buying decisions in such an environment. But I miss the old hi-fi stores, and the ability to stroll into a showroom and see all the equipment I've heard about in person. I still love to walk up to equipment and see it up close and perhaps even touch it--especially if no one is watching.

That's one of the reasons why Len Wallis Audio in Sydney was such a genuine treat, a well-needed respite toward the end of my Australian trip.

Walking in the front door, I felt chills as I saw the sales floor filled with tons of high-end audio equipment spread out everywhere, with listening rooms carefully positioned along the perimeter of the store for more careful auditioning. Suddenly I was transported back to the late '70s and early '80s, during my audiophile apprenticeship, where I could wandering among the set-ups and experience all these lovely machines in all their glory.

Brad Serhan wanted me to meet Len Wallis, who has been part of the Australian hi-fi scene for decades. In fact, I even knew who Len Wallis was before Brad even mentioned his name. So on the second-to-last day of my Sydney excursion, Brad and I headed out, unannounced, to Len Wallis Audio.

When was the last time you went to a hi-fi store in the US and saw dozens of beautiful turntables in a static display right when you walked in? And I'm not just talking about budget turntables. For instance, Len Wallis had the entire Rega turntable line sitting front and center, even the new RP10. Brad was amused as I darted all over the showroom saying, "Oh, they have this!" and "Wow, I've never seen one of these in person before!"

The first listening room I entered, just off to the right as we entered the store, featured a system that used the Axis VoiceBox S speaker. I mentioned that our trip was unannounced because Brad was so happy that one of his designs was featured so prominently in the store. "Len had no idea we were coming today," Brad explained. "So he didn't put these here just to make me happy!"

As it turns out, Len Wallis is the Australian distributor for Axis, and he told us that the speaker was really starting to take off in Sydney as THE 2-way monitor for his customers. We even spoke to one of Len's salesmen, who told us that he and the rest of the sales staff were discussing the most interesting new products in audio over the last few years and four out of the five salesmen said, "The Axis VoiceBox." That's comforting to Colleen and me since we've been working hard over the last year to spread the word.

Len, of course, was the exact opposite of the snobby high-end dealer so many audiophiles despise. Warm, friendly and full of enthusiasm, Len loved talking about audio as much as I do. He'd even been reading about my adventures in Oz and was hoping he'd get to meet me while I was there. We chatted for a while even though Brad and I had arrived unannounced and he was in the middle of a very busy day.

This, of course, underlined something I already knew: Australians as a group are friendly and outgoing and so nice to deal with. I'm certainly not saying you don't get that level of attention from US dealers, or that you won't have as much fun with a dealer who works from home. But between Len Wallis and Jeff Knox, I knew that if I ever moved to Australia my high-end audio needs would be met. (And trust me, that subject came up several times!)

If anything, visiting Len Wallis and Jeff Knox was the realization of a subject I've been writing about all year in my articles for Perfect Sound Forever and Part-Time Audiophile--that a good hi-fi dealer is an audiophile's best friend, even 8000 miles away in a foreign country. Not equipment reviewers. Not other audiophiles on internet discussion forums. A high-end audio dealer, the type that isn't just making a sale but is trying to get you as a customer for life by steering you right.

In Len Wallis Audio, I was able to see some of my favorite gear just sitting around. I even saw a Continuum turntable just sitting on a table near the back of the store! I made Brad snap this photo of me with a Linn Sondek LP12 for a couple of nebulous reasons. First of all, I've always wanted to own a Linn ever since I first heard one back when I was in college and they still retailed for $795. These days Linns just aren't as prevalent in the US as they are in the rest of the world. That's too bad because I still find them to be exceptional turntables that offer a unique sound that may not be the last word in accuracy, but it's compelling and musical nonetheless. It reminded me of one of my favorite dealers in the US, Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio, who is one of the last few of the US dealers who can still set-up and extract optimum performance from one of these classics.

While there, Brad had another treat--Len Wallis still sells loudspeakers from Orpheus Audio, one of Brad's earlier designs. As I glanced around the store and talked to some of the staff, I wondered how often hi-fi stores are visited by the actual manufacturers and designers who make the gear being sold. I'm not talking about planned dealer events, just an impromptu visit to hang out and perhaps talk a little about audio.

Again, I'm not trying to make a general point about the paucity of brick-and-mortar high-end audio stores in the US because I do visit plenty of them. Many of them are just as impressive as Len Wallis Audio. I'm just saying that I long for a return for this type of store in the US. Maybe that's not realistic in 2015, but I still get goosebumps when I see an old-fashioned hi-fi store still thriving in the Age of the Internet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

EagleWolfSnake's ZANG! on CD

I have to admit that the cover of EagleWolfSnake's new CD looks like something you might find in a middle school art class, a rather generic wilderness portrait of the three eponymous creatures, apparently penned with a black Sharpie, against a white background. I try not to judge CDs or LPs by their covers, but this minimalist approach to marketing seems to suggest a trio of adolescents who have spent too much time in a garage pissing off the neighbors with folk metal. It's a genuine surprise that when you actually load ZANG! into your CD player, you hear something quite different than you expect, catchy and exuberant power pop that will remind you of Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys or even a touch of The Jam in their later years.

EagleWolfSnake turns out to be one of those trios that sound bigger than they are, much in the vein of The Police, with Nick Bray's layered and anthemic guitar sound, Eli Meyskens' solid and steady bass and Ryan Malley's super-energetic and dense drumming complementing the dense vocal harmonies from all three. (For the record, Malley is responsible for the cover drawing which really isn't that bad, although it might have been transferred from a cocktail napkin.) As a whole the band captures an early-to-mid-'80s sound that's wet with reverb and earnestness without scratching too deeply into the sheer angst of the indie rock that would dominate the scene over the next twenty years.

All eight tracks on ZANG! are, in the best pop tradition, exciting and brief and chock full of the energy that you might see during one of this San Francisco-based band's live performances. Only the closer, "Olivia," slows the proceedings down despite all the cheerful handclaps and playful guitar riffs. While there is a hidden layer to EWS' delivery, prompted perhaps by their previous incarnation as a soul quartet called Music for Animals, EWS is content to be danceable and singable. When your songs have titles like "We Are What We Are," "Whatever You Say," and "Do What You Want," it's best not to be too ponderous. ZANG! is light and fleeting, infused with a feeling that everything's gonna be okay.

If you actually dig the cover of ZANG!, here's some good news: you can buy a T-shirt from the band that immortalizes said image. It's all about the irony, I know. Forget about the cover, however, stick this CD in your car player and head on down the road. You'll come back home with a big, friendly smile on your face.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Chronicles of Sydnia, Part 6: Redgum Audio, the Axis VoiceBox and Carlton Ale

This is a current photo of my main listening room, where I have substituted a rather basic black box of an integrated amplifier for my usual glowing tube amplifiers. To tell you the truth, I've needed an amplifier like this for a while--something with high current, something that can drive just about anything, especially when I'm entrusted with a loudspeaker with fairly low efficiency--such as the 83 dB, 5-ohm Axis VoiceBox S that we distribute here at CCI.

I'm reminded of my old Naim NAIT 2 amplifier, that diminutive and legendary little black box from the UK that offered about 18wpc. Back in the early '90s, my little NAIT did a pretty decent job of driving my 84 dB Spendor S20s--as long as I didn't crank up the volume too much. (I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Encino at the time, so I wanted great sound at low SPLs.) How did this combo work? The NAIT was a high-current design, and the Spendors had a fairly benign 8-ohm impedance. It was my first taste of true high-end sound. It was the perfect apartment system for me.

This particular integrated amplifier is the Redgum Audio RG1 35 ENR. Since my return from Australia, I've spoken with several of my dealers here in the States and many of them remember this venerable brand from a few years ago. What they remember most is the lovely wood--or as they say Down Under, "timber"--faceplates, as well as the novel key that's inserted on the front panel and turned to turn the amplifier on. The RGi 35 ENR doesn't have that same gorgeous front, decked out in the trademark redgum front--it's part of the new Black Series that represents the entry-level line for Redgum. It doesn't have the key, either. But this little 65wpc integrated amplifier has something I need--the ability to drive whatever speakers I have on hand for evaluation. In fact, this amplifier is well-known in Australia for being able to drive the smaller Magnepan speakers to fairly loud listening levels.

So how did I wind up taking this amplifier home with me? John Reilly, who designed the Axis VoiceBox S loudspeaker with Brad Serhan and manufactures it, shares factory space with Ian Robinson of Redgum. While I was meeting with John in Sydney, he suggested that I meet Ian and listen to his products. I remembered Redgum Audio as well, and I once heard a system driven by Redgum amplification and I really liked it. So John called Ian in Melbourne and he headed out to Sydney with the RGi 35 tucked underneath his arm. (Okay, the Redgum isn't small like the NAIT, so a little more effort was required.)

The first question I have to ask an overseas manufacturer when they want me to hear their product is, "What makes your product special, and how can I sell it in the US?" That, of course, mirrors the questions my dealers will ask me about the product, questions such as "How is this different from other similar products in the market?" and "How do I sell this to my customers?" Most of all, dealers want a story to tell, and the answer has to be better than "It sounds really good for the money." At first glance, the Redgum amps are the proverbial black-box amp, simple and a bit of an anachronism--if simple two-channel audio, within the context of its current resurrection, can be called that. As an audiophile, I've always leaned toward simple integrated amplifiers since my system usually just includes speakers, an analog source and a digital source. I don't need a fancy amp, in other words.

This simple black box had some unusual features, however. First of all, when I asked Ian if he had a 110V version for US, he informed me that his amplifiers could do both 110V and 220V--a sensor within the amp uses relays to choose the right power setting. I'm not sure if that's a big selling point for US audiophiles, although I do occasionally have customers who live in more than one country and would love an amp with this feature. As an importer I dig this feature because it means I won't have to wait longer for special "US" versions to be shipped, which can often lead to delays.

The second unusual feature is the way the inputs are marked. Instead of such dated input labels as "tuner" or even "CD," the five inputs are color-coded. Each color is represented on the front panel with a corresponding colored LED on the front panel. Input selection is accessed through the remote control, which leads to a cleaner, more streamlined front panel. You can even ensure that the batteries on the remote are fresh by pushing a button labelled "MAGIC" which makes the relays in the amp click a few times. Other interesting features include passive preamplification with dual volume controls, a massive power transformer with power output MOSFETs and a huge "sine-wave" heatsink on the bottom of the amp that elevates the chassis for better ventilation, and adds a distinctive look that does manage to make this simple black box look like no other. There's even a smart phone app that can replace the remote control's basic operations.

Hanging out with Ian and John was a real pleasure--they're both "blokes" in the true Australian sense of the word. We spent a few hours talking about the Redgum products, and then we set out to put the smallest Redgum through its paces. As I said, the RGi 35, at 65wpc, is the smallest amp in the line. The Black Series also includes the 125wpc RGi 60 ENR and the 175wpc RGi 120 ENR. All three amplifiers are identical on the outside--it's the power inside that's different. Due to my best calculations, performed while the Australian dollar experienced some instability over a period of a couple of weeks, these amps should retail in the US for about $2500, $3500 and $4500.

Paired with their soulmates, John Reilly's Axis VoiceBox S, the RGi 35 ENR was able to extract more bass control from those very revealing studio monitors than the lower-powered tube amplifiers I've used up to this point. Ian has designed his amplifiers specifically for speaker loads that dip below 4 ohms. The Axis sits at 5 ohms, and while I've been able to drive them with as few as 22 watts per channel, I've always felt that the Axis VoiceBox needed a little more juice to realize their true potential. I was right. I've never heard the VoiceBox sound so effortless and dynamic as they did with the Redgum.

During our voicing of the Brigadiers Audio speakers, we had plenty of expensive amplification sitting around. While we kept gravitating toward the AU$16,000 Einstein integrated for its ability to stay out of the way of the music, we kept going back to the modest Redgum for its ability to project a powerful, dynamic and clean sound. Not bad for a $2500 integrated!

So I've brought the Redgum back to the States for further evaluation, which is code for "deep down I'm still an audiophile and nothing thrills me more than to have seat time with a new product." After a few weeks I'm obviously considering bringing Redgum back to the US. The utilitarian looks might not be for audiophiles who are looking for audio jewelry adorned with precious metals, glowing meters and rare wood accents, but Ian still manufacturers his classic Signature Series with the timber (or is it "timbre"?) faceplates for a little more money. But I'll tell you what the Black Series is--it's the Workhorse Series. It's the amplifier for the audiophile who needs to power something like a Magnepan but doesn't want to spend a fortune on the watts needed to make those huge panels sing. And while many in the audio industry say "watts are cheap," implying that you can find a powerful amp for not a lot of money, those amps often lack subtlety and musicality--unlike the Redgum.

After our listening sessions, John asked me if I'd been to an Australian pub yet. When I replied that I hadn't, both Ian and John took me to a local pub where we enjoyed a Carlton ale on draft (or is it "draught"?). I didn't know of Carlton ale--my experience with Australian beer has been confined to those really big cans of Fosters. After a long day of listening, that smooth, creamy Carlton really hit the spot. That's a feeling I could grow to love--a hard day of work, and then a pint or two of Carlton's with a couple of my mates before going home for the evening.

And, as usual, if CCI starts importing Redgum to the States I will stop telling you how great these amps are. But until then, yeah, I really enjoy the power, control and simplicity of the RGi 35 ENR.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Chronicles of Sydnia, Part 5: Les Davis and Constrained Layer Damping

About a year ago I was hosting an exhibit room at one of the hi-fi trade shows--I'm about 99% sure it was RMAF 2014--and a salesperson from one of my dealers came and sat in my room and evaluated our system. He came away quite impressed with the sound, which is a good thing since he sells our products to his clientele. Before he left, he recommended one thing--I should use footers and vibration control from a particular company in order to "sharpen" the sound of each component.

When I priced these products I was a little dismayed at the high cost of just a single set of footers. And I was supposed to stick these under every single component I demonstrated? Whew. I was going to have to cut down on cigars in order to find the budget to include these products so CCI could have that advantage over the other exhibitors--who were also using these products as well.

Flash forward to this year's RMAF, from which we've just returned. While there, I noticed the aforementioned footers in what seemed like every other room. The word was out--if you're serious about audio, you need these expensive thingies. I found myself in one of the better-sounding rooms at the show, where the actual designer of the footers demonstrated the sonic differences with and without his product. There was no doubt about it...with the footers in place, the noise floor lowered and the overall sound was fuller and more detailed. I was sold, except for one thing; I'd heard a similar demo in Australia the month before with another product that was more modest in looks, and therefore potentially more affordable.

The man in the photo above is Les Davis. Les has been in and out of the audio game for many years. He's a gifted musician as well as an audiophile with excellent hearing. A mate of Brad Serhan and David Allen, Les wanted a few minutes of my time so that I could hear the effects of a new damping material he had developed using constrained layer damping techniques. While in Australia, I heard about constrained layer damping many times--Brad uses this design concept to seal the cabinets of the Brigadiers Audio BA1 and BA2 loudspeakers.

Les, however, has taken the concept one step further. He showed us a simple sheet of his material, which we then cut up into squares to slide under the components of the system we used to evaluate the voicing of our two speakers. The sheets looked like aluminum foil that had a distinct grid-like pattern stamped into them. First we placed a sheet under the Arcam CD player we were using. We heard those same gains in clarity, frequency extension and detail. We then placed a sheet under the Einstein integrated amp that we had all grown to love during the development of the BA1 and BA2. We heard even more gains. Finally, we placed sheets under the Brigadiers Audio BA1, which you can see below. What I thought was one of the greatest speaker designs I've heard in quite some time became even better--deeper, clearer, more coherent.

I told Les that he was definitely on to something. After the demo, Les and I talked about everything under the sun, including our favorite music. Les, who is British and grew up during that stellar era of UK music in the '70s and '80s, had quite a bit in common with me, the kid who was totally into the LA punk scene back in the early '80s. You know, SST bands like The Minutemen, Husker Du, Meat Puppets and Black Flag.

So what is constrained layer damping? I'm not an expert at this point, but I'm learning so I'll proceed with caution. (Both Les and Brad can offer a more eloquent explanation, I'm sure.) CLD is used for damping and vibration control in a number of technical applications. CLD usually consists of a three-layer sandwich of damping materials--a base layer, a damping layer and a constraining layer. The alternating layers then dissipate all vibrations as "low-grade frictional heat."

Brad's use of constrained layer damping is applied through the use of birch-ply construction in his cabinets, with a specialized adhesive between the layers. Les' approach adds even more damping--as we saw with the initial demonstration, each layer of CLD improved the sound in an almost linear manner without diminishing returns.

The differences, as I said, are not subtle. We did extensive A/B comparisons and everyone in the room heard a difference. Those differences, as I said, were almost identical to the improvements I heard in Denver a few days ago. CLD is not a gimmick--it's effective engineering applied to our hobby. So I told Les, "this is something people should know about." So I told Les that I thought he should start applying his sheets into a finished product, one that could implement the sheets into an attractive footer between attractive pieces of wood, or metal, or anything that would not dilute the impact of CLD.

After a few weeks, I started thinking about Les' sheets and how I want others to hear what this material can do for their systems. So I'm hoping to sneak a few little squares under our Opera and Unison Research system at CES in January. I'm also eager to try the CLD sheets in my own system at home.

So this is one of those unexpected developments--an Australian encounter with something that I think could be great. Les is going to manufacture some CLD gaskets to fit around the drivers inside the cabinets of the BA1 and BA2 and we'll see how that affects the sound of a speaker I already feel is outstanding in every conceivable parameter. So if you come visit us at CES (room 29-110 at the Venetian), hopefully I'll have some of Les' fantastic CLD sheets on hand so you can listen for yourself.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Chronicles of Sydnia, Part 4: A Visit with Edgar Kramer

As I've already mentioned, I do have a moderate case of arachnophobia. In the weeks leading up to my visit to Australia, quite a few people took to teasing me about my completely rational fear of those eight-legged little bastards and how Australia, land full of things that want to kill you, would be the end of me. Most of my concerns revolved around a nasty little bugger called the Sydney funnel-web spider, one of the most venomous spiders in the world. To make matters worse, they're known for being aggressive. And they're not out in the boonies, which is why they call them Sydney funnel-web spiders. Bloody hell, what's that crawling up my leg?

Once I arrived in Sydney, I quickly learned a few things as I constantly scanned the ground around my feet. Funnel web spiders, for instance, couldn't really be found in central Sydney, where I spent most of my time. They scampered around in the outer suburbs, and especially in the the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney where they apparently blanket the landscape like morning dew. In addition, I also learned that funnel-web spiders hadn't killed anyone in Australia since 1981, when they developed the anti-venom. So I was told not to worry about them so much, and to stay away from the Blue Mountains where herds of them ravage and pillage the countryside at will.

Brad Serhan and David Allen, along with Morris Swift (President of the Audiophile Society of New South Wales), arranged for me to meet with Edgar Kramer, well-known audio reviewer for 6Moons and his own publication, a gorgeous print magazine known as Audio Esoterica. Edgar reviewed the Axis VoiceBox S for 6Moons some time ago, and he had already spent some time with the larger floorstanding speaker from Brigadiers Audio, now known as the BA1.

The purpose of the visit was for me to meet Edgar, a very civilized and gracious host, to bring him the smaller two-way monitors from Brigadiers, known as the BA2, and for me to spend some time in the beautiful Blue Mountains. Gulp. The Blue Mountains, guys? Really? Can I borrow a hazmat suit and a flame thrower first?

Despite the beautiful home and the extraordinary sound system, I was told by the others that Edgar was a "bloke." Up to that point, I always thought that bloke referred to anyone of the male persuasion, a mere synonym for guy, man or dude. But it really meant that Edgar was a buddy, a pal, a regular guy who can joke around and have fun and perhaps even come and bail you out of jail one night, no questions asked. He was all that, and even more--he served us all tea and cake.

I've only seen tea and cake in the movies. But let me tell you this--tea and cake is awesome. As an aside, I drank so much tea in Australia that it actually became a habit, and now I miss it a little. But I digress.

Once we were done, we sat down and started some serious listening. While Edgar played DJ, I browsed through a few issues of Audio Esoterica, and I have to say that I really miss this kind of audio publication with its huge, glossy pages and wonderful photography. It's like a bigger version of Architectural Digest for hi-fi enthusiasts. AE dedicates itself to the very best high-end audio, so you're assured of lots of wondrous eye candy. While you can download a hi-rez version on Zinio, I'm set on getting the print version ASAP. It has such a classic look and feel, and I get nostalgic just thinking about it.

Edgar's current system consisted of the new Alexia speakers from Wilson Audio, the big Parasound Halo monoblocks, a Supratech preamp and a very cool-looking digital player from AMR. Within the context of Edgar's astonishing home, this is one of the great listening rooms I've ever seen--spacious, comfortable, filled with light and, of course, tweaked to the nth degree for the best sound quality.

We were treated to some wonderful musical selections and I was instantly impressed with the sheer weight and size of the system. I haven't always been a fan of Wilson, but the last few times I've heard them they had a distinct, enveloping roundness to the sound that was very unlike the more aggressive presentation I heard from the earliest versions of the WATT/PUPPY back in the early '90s. This newer Wilson sound is more welcoming and intimate and therefore more musical. The Alexia sounded absolutely engaging and musical every step of the way.

Edgar's system, obviously, is an incredibly neutral and resolving tool for his reviewing duties, but it's also a joy to listen to, and I couldn't help but feel just a little envy.

At one point I was led to a smaller room off to the side of the main listening room--the home theater room--where Edgar has used the Axis Voicebox S for multi-channel duties. I noticed that the tweeter on the center channel had been rotated 90 degrees so that the speaker could be set on its side. John Reilly of Axis designed the tweeter to do this--something the current US importer and distributor didn't know.

Of course I jumped on Facebook and immediately revealed this "new" feature on the Colleen Cardas Imports page. John, of course, jumped on within minutes and warned that the tweeter rotation is something that should be performed by the Axis dealer. So, kids, don't do this at home. But it's still cool.

After an hour or two of listening, we brought the Brigadiers Audio BA2 two-way monitors in for an audition. We were anxious, of course--Wilson Audio is a tough act to follow sometimes. And I'm not about to tell you that the BA2s came close to the performance of the Wilsons at a fraction of the price, because then you'd know I was just tryin' to sell you sumthin'. But once we had everything warmed up and playing music, I couldn't help but feel a little proud of the BA2s. I halfway expected them to sound like miniatures compared to the Alexias, but they sounded big and warm and full with plenty of extension at the frequency extremes.

I've had this particular pair of BA2s since January and I've used them in a lot of different systems, but the majority of my amplification is of the modestly-powered vacuum tube type and I've always felt that I needed to place a good 100 to 200 watts per channel on them to hear their true potential. Here they were, powered by the gigantic Parasound monoblocks, and they just kicked ass all over the place.

After our listening sessions, the five of us went down the road a bit (I saw a herd of wild cockatoos standing around on someone's front lawn on the way) and visited the iconic rock formation known as the Three Sisters. I was quickly reminded of CES back in January, where Colleen and I took a road trip to the Grand Canyon with Bartolomeo Nasta of Unison Research and Opera. Bart has wanted to see the Grand Canyon all his life, and every year he's asked us to take him. Well, this year we finally did. We rented a tiny and worthless Chevy, Spark and the three of us drove for four hours across Nevada and Arizona. When we finally arrived, the entire canyon was socked in with dense fog. Bart was so disappointed that we thought he was going to throw himself over the edge.

Just eight months later, I was facing the same problem at the allegedly lovely Three Sisters. We managed to be patient for a while and slowly this three-tiered rock formation revealed itself to me, especially as I hiked toward it. The only downside was that it was a very cool and rainy day, and I thought I could brave the temperatures in just a long-sleeve shirt. I had to borrow one of Brad's "jumpers," which is what Australians call jackets and sweaters.

I never did see a funnel-web spider. In fact, I had to go to a zoo to finally see one. But I did see this snake and decided to make friends. I posted this on my Facebook wall and everyone went nuts. One of my oldest friends exclaimed, "Marc, what are you DOING?" But as you can see, this particular snake was docile and slow-moving. VERY slow-moving. Almost motionless. Okay, completely motionless.

Thanks go to Edgar Kramer for a wonderful afternoon. And I'm planning on getting a subscription to Audio Esoterica as soon as I can--it's a welcome return to the sexy, beautiful pictorial magazines from the not-too-distant past.