The Audio Equipment I Regret Not Having Bought, Way Back When (Part 1)

darTZeel NHB-108 model one stereo power amplifier

Regrets, I have a few… even about reviewer-loan audio equipment I now wish I had bought, way back when.

The first audio magazine I wrote for was Wayne Green’s Digital Audio magazine. The première issue came out in September, 1984. The articles listed on the cover included “How to Buy Your First CD Player.” (Snort.) I was the founding classical-music columnist (“Classical ReMarks”).

I got that columnist job by pure happenstance. Someone I knew (Chuck Dougherty) worked for the regional hi-fi chain Tweeter, Etc. Chuck also was a computer whiz who moonlighted writing for one of Wayne Green’s computer magazines. Word got around to Chuck that Wayne Green Enterprises needed someone who knew about classical music, and who also could write. Seeing as I was already writing reviews of classical music concerts and recitals for the Providence Journal, I seemed to be a good fit. Wayne Green’s little publishing empire was based in New Hampshire. As it happened, I was visiting New Hampshire frequently, in that I was organizing and presenting the chamber-music performing-arts series at Thomas More College in Merrimac.

While writing for Digital Audio, I not only reviewed CDs and wrote a column; I also interviewed musicians, including André Watts, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Joseph Silverstein. Although my duties did not include equipment reviews, I did have occasion to drool over (or lust over) some pieces of gear. I moved on to the Planet HiFi website (which was where I first reviewed audio equipment, and not just recordings), and then back to print journalism, first with The Absolute Sound, and then Stereophile.

Please note, this mini-series is limited to products that I had the opportunity to hear in my home, as part of a formal review process. There are many excellent products I would consider buying, but which I just have not had the opportunity to hear at home; the best examples I can think of at the moment are the excellent radial loudspeakers from MBL.

After the jump, I recall some of the “big-fish” (as well as some “little fish”) audio-review-loan components that got away. Continue Reading →

An Excellent, No-Cost (free!), Sound-Pressure-Level (SPL) Meter iPhone app

This one will be short and sweet.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) hearing-loss team evaluated 192 sound-measurement applications for the iOS and Android smartphone platforms, to examine their accuracy and user-friendliness in comparison to standalone, professional-quality sound-measurement instruments.

Of the 192 tested applications, only four (all for the iOS platform) met NIOSH’s selection criteria for functionality, features, and calibration capability. NIOSH hearing-loss researchers collaborated with one of the iOS developers whose applications met their criteria to develop an occupationally-centric sound-measurement iPhone app, to be distributed at no cost to the occupational safety-and-health community, as well as to the general public.

So there you have it. The app is only for the iPhone, for reasons of reliability of microphone-equalization compensation. And all it does is measure and log SPL; it has no spectral analysis or RTA functions. I have found it convenient and intuitive to use. The NIOSH SPL Meter app can be downloaded at no charge here. Please be sure to download and study the user guide.

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Arturo Delmoni Analog Master Tape to Direct Stream Digital (DSD256) Crowdfunding Project

Photo credit: Geoff Zagarola of La Naranja eBay auctions.

I find it hard to believe that 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the recording session for Arturo Delmoni’s legendary 1988 Water Lily solo-violin recital.

Recorded at night in a monastery chapel, Delmoni’s compelling performances combine thrilling technique with thought-provoking musical insights. This minimalist-audiophile, two channels from two microphones, analog-tape and tubed-electronics production remains a reference for the recorded sound of a violin.

The violin in question was made by J. B. Guadagnini in 1780. I am very certain, based on reliable oral-history testimony, that in 1949, Dr. Delmoni’s Guadagnini was played on Charlie Parker with Strings by Max Hollander, the concertmaster of that string section. How about them apples?

The Delmoni-Water Lily project was my idea. I also helped bring it to fruition. And I now own the master tapes… . Therefore, I am not about to argue with eBay seller Bob La Naranja, who wrote of the (used) Delmoni Water Lily LP he recently sold (for more than $100):

Incredible solo-violin renditions of Bach, Kreisler, and Ysaÿe.
Perhaps one of the greatest solo-violin audiophile records—the recording is sublime.

(Except, I might have left out the word “perhaps”… .)

My current project is to arrange for a 11.2mHz/DSD256fs (“Quad DSD”) transfer of the master tapes, selling the download files via an informal crowdfunding venture. How that works, and for more on what all the above means, please click on the jump link, where you will also find generous sound samples. Continue Reading →

In Memory of David A. Wilson II, 1944-2018

David Wilson, assembling a WAMM loudspeaker, 1986. Courtesy of Wilson Audio.

In Chicago in 1972, Peter McGrath was holding down a part-time job in a stereo store, while he pursued his graduate studies in fine art.

For those who were not alive and aware at the time, the early 1970s witnessed the dawning of the second Golden Age of Hi-Fi. The first Golden Age encompassed the late 1940s through early 1960s. Pioneering companies included Fisher, McIntosh Laboratory, and Marantz (electronics); Klipsch (horn loudspeakers); QUAD (electrostatic loudspeakers, and electronics); and Acoustic Research (acoustic-suspension loudspeakers, and turntables). The great hi-fi companies of the 1950s established the component stereo system (consisting of a turntable and sometimes a tuner or reel-to-reel tape deck, vacuum-tube amplification, and loudspeakers) as a vital part of what was understood to be “the good life.”

I think it is tremendously important to point out that although hi-fi started out as a hands-on hobby for technically-inclined males, by the late 1950s, high-quality music playback in the home via stereo components was almost universally regarded as something to aspire to—even if in many cases, people had to settle for suitcase stereos or the massive pieces of furniture called console stereos. Going back and reading general-circulation magazines of the 1950s (as well as male-oriented magazines such as Esquire and Playboy), one is struck by the prevalence of advertisements for hi-fi components and loudspeakers, as well as for “culturally improving” book and record clubs.

More context, backstory, and appreciations of David A. Wilson, after the jump link. Continue Reading →

Bricasti Design M15 Solid-State Stereo Amplifier

 

I just had a rather arresting (in the sense of, one has to stop doing anything else, and just listen) listening experience. I want to share it with you. The music I was listening to is from an underappreciated (really, almost unknown) classic-era jazz recording; but I have heard it many times.

However, I had never heard it like this—it was a real “Holy Poop!” moment. (The truth is, I did exclaim rather loudly, 19 seconds into my favorite track.)

The recording is Guitar Forms, guitarist Kenny Burrell’s 1965 orchestral collaboration with arranger and conductor Gil Evans, the same Gil Evans of Miles Davis Sketches of Spain fame. (Guitar Forms remastering, Verve 314 521 403-2; imported CD from Amazon; also available streaming from Tidal.)

Creed Taylor (later of CTI, the crossover label that so many loved to hate) produced, while Rudy van Gelder was the engineer. Session players included Lee Konitz, Bill Barber (both of whom played on the Birth of the Cool recorded live performances, as well as the recording sessions), Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones. How can you beat that? Guitar Forms is a wonderful recording, so even if you are not in the market for a new power amp, you owe it to yourself to read on. A generous sound sample and more audio commentary are to be found after the jump. Continue Reading →

Superlux S502 ORTF Microphone Array

Photo © John Marks

In my recent post about my using Sound Devices’ USBPre 2 as a location-live recording interface, I mentioned the “near-coincident” ORTF stereo microphone technique. In that case, I used an AEA stereo mic protractor ($22) to position two Pearl (Sweden) CC22 cardioid-pattern side-address microphones in the so-called ORTF array. The ORTF array is a compromise between crossed-axis “coincident” X/Y cardioid or figure-8 microphones, and “A-B” widely-spaced omnidirectional microphones. The idea is to mimic the response of the human head/ear/brain system concerning horizontal-plane stereo cues, while preserving good compatibilty to monophonic mix-down, by which I mean the avoidance of self-cancellation. Continue Reading →

Sound Devices USBPre 2 as a Location-Live Recording Interface

As part of my series on making digital transfers of vinyl LP phono records, I recommended Sound Devices’ USBPre 2 (street price $895) as the most cost-effective (“Pareto Optimal”) USB combination analog-to-digital converter and monitor (headphones or loudspeakers) controller. In that usage, the USBPre 2 takes an analog output from a phono stage through its line-level RCA jacks and converts the analog signal to digital (at data densities up to 24 bits/192kHz), and outputs the digital datastream via USB cable to a host computer (which is also the source of the USBPre 2’s power). The linked-to blog post enumerates the USBPre 2’s many virtues, and makes a compelling case for its value for money.

In addition to digitizing LPs, the USBPre 2 can be used for live recording. The USBPre 2 can provide 48V “phantom” power to professional microphones (but the 48V power can be switched off for pure-ribbon or dynamic microphones). Further, the USBPre 2’s metering and monitoring are truly professional-class. Given that the USBPre 2’s microphone preamplifiers are based on those of Sound Devices’ industry-standard 700 Series remote-location portable digital recorders, I wanted to make a location-live solo-piano recording. More details, and a sound sample, after the jump. Continue Reading →

In Memory of Richard Shahinian, 1931 – 2017

In memory of music lover and loudspeaker designer Richard “Dick” Shahinian, I offer a very impressive live performance of Mozart’s Requiem, by the French vocal ensemble Arsys Bourgogne with the Camerata Salzburg. Aside from faith and family, Dick’s major passion in life was large-scale orchestral music (or large-scale works for orchestra and chorus). The larger the scale, the better, it seemed. During one audio show, I asked Dick to play on his demo system a track I had brought with me, a live recording of Jessye Norman singing the Angel’s Farewell from Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. After the track had played, Dick allowed that it was all fine and good; but then he asked me why had I not played the Demons’ Chorus, instead? That’s Dick in a nutshell—unusually knowledgeable about even the most obscure musical works, and… very opinionated.

Dick’s love affair with classical music began at age 14, with the birthday present of a 78-rpm phonograph and a recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. About a year later (1946), at Carnegie Hall, Dick heard the New York Philharmonic play Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, conducted by Bruno Walter. Years later, Dick wrote, “I have never quite recovered from the shattering impact of that experience.”

After serving honorably in the United States Marine Corps, from the late 1950s on (the blossoming of the Golden Age of Hi-Fi), Dick devoted his career to bringing the thrill of live orchestral music into peoples’ homes (to the greatest extent possible, that is) by advancing the art of loudspeaker design. For more, please click on the jump link. Continue Reading →

In Memory of Charles Hansen, 1956-2017

Audiac Persdag 26-04-2006
Foto en © Jiri Büller

The small world of high-end audio is reeling from the untimely and unexpected death of Charles Hansen, who was the chief designer of Avalon Loudspeakers before striking out on his own to found Ayre Acoustics. Ayre Acoustics’ announcement concludes with the request that those who remember him, at some time over the coming holidays, play an album in memory of Charley. I am sure that I will do that.

As a reviewer for Stereophile magazine and then as a consultant for the University of the South’s Ralston Listening Library (the audio system of which, in its first incarnation, included Ayre amplifiers driving Wilson Audio’s Alexandria II loudspeakers), I got to know Charley, and to appreciate his passion for musical truth, and truth in general.

Charley Hansen was a good man and a devoted father. He had a vibrant interest in education of all kinds, but especially music education. If I recall correctly, he was a supporter of Waldorf education, and I know he was very proud of his child the student violinist. After an irresponsible person nearly ended but surely blighted Charley’s life, I always continued to marvel at his equanamity and grace.

I will miss him.

I know that Charley loved violin music, because he once asked me to send him some JMR CDs by Arturo Delmoni, and then he insisted on paying for them.

So, in memory of Charley, I offer my music video “Wally the Finch Listens to Hlif Sigurjonsdottir Play Bach.”

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A Pair of Bose 901s in a 21st-Century California Home

It took me a moment to realize that the loudspeakers behind the conversation pit of the 21st-century California home that is the subject of the cover story of the September/October issue of Dwell magazine were venerable Bose 901s.

I not only bought the issue; I took out a subscription.

Dwell‘s cover-story house (Craig Steely, architect) will not appear on the cover of This Old House, at least any time soon. (Give it 100 years.) Very cutting-edge in its details, such as the curved corners of the glass walls and the LED ceiling strip lights that set off different areas, the house nonetheless adheres firmly to the Mid-Century-Modern precept of siting the home within nature, rather than in opposition to it. The first similar design was Mies van der Rohe‘s see-though glass-walled Farnsworth House, built for Dr. Edith Farnsworth.

OK… But–how did the 901s get into a 21st-century house?

For that, some background on the 901, and my thoughts about the architectural-acoustical aspects of the design, please click the jump link. Continue Reading →