JBL L100 Classic Loudspeaker

Photo by John Marks

JBL’s L100 Classic loudspeaker has a United States MSRP of $4000/pr. (stands not included).

However, if you want to make them sound like the proverbial “a million bucks,” here’s how to do it:

(1) Connect a pair of JBL L100 Classics to your amplifier.

(2) Subscribe to the Qobuz streaming service (they have a risk-free 30-day trial offer). Feed that signal to your Digital to Analog Converter.

(3) Dial up the 24-bit hi-res version of Joel Fredericksen & Ensemble Phoenix’s astonishing feat of creativity and musicianship, the Nick Drake tribute album Requiem for a Pink Moon.

Wow. The first 60 seconds of Track 1 should convince you. The L100s sound like a million bucks. I unhesitatingly recommend audition of the L100 Classic to anyone shopping for loudspeakers in their price tier.

However, my take on the reality (of all such situations) is that every loudspeaker ever designed incorporates tradeoffs. To get this, you have to give up that. Even if the only thing you are giving up on is affordabilty.

The L100 Classic is remarkably affordable, considering its dynamics and its bass performance. If I were still writing for Stereophile magazine, I’d put it in for the coveted “$$$” high-value indication in the Recommended Components List.

But when you design a loudspeaker that has perhaps 80% of the bass and dynamics of loudspeakers costing four or five times as much (or even more; I am talking about loudspeakers in the $15,000 to $28,000 range), but at 20% of the cost of the more expensive loudspeakers, there are, of course, going to be tradeoffs and compromises. That’s my take on the reality.

More on Pink Moon, more on the social and cultural context of and the impact of the original L100, and more comments on the sound of the new one, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Graham Audio Chartwell LS6 Loudspeaker

Photo by John Marks

[Note: The bunny atop the LS6 is a gesture in memory of Art Dudley. I am certain that Art would have loved this loudspeaker. I think that it is one measure of Art’s impact upon the high-end audio community that most people who read this review will immediately grasp much of what this loudspeaker is all about, just from reading only that.]

Graham Audio’s Chartwell LS6 loudspeaker is a labor-of-love audio product that is seriously competent in terms of engineering, but also characterful in terms of its presentation of music—especially the human voice. Therein lies the complexity.

The Chartwell LS6 evokes complex reactions in part because of its UK BBC “thin-wall cabinet” design heritage. However, heritage is not destiny. In any event, the LS6 is more of a “clean-sheet-of-paper” design than a slavish copy of a loudspeaker that is nearly 50 years old.

The primary engineering difference is that the LS6 is a ported-enclosure design, whereas the iconic BBC LS3/5A is a sealed-box design. Therefore the LS6 is, to me, more of an updating of the idea of a “Classic BBC-Designed Studio Monitor” than it is an updating of any particular loudspeaker.

The Chartwell LS6 deserves to be judged in comparison to its older BBC-derived relatives—but also, by today’s standards as well. Either way, it is a winner. In addition, it is solid value for money.

A philosophical diversion or two follows, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Caitlin Flanagan on “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

I have always been impressed by the journalist Caitlin Flanagan, but her recent memoir and “think piece” on the remarkable staying power of a TV special from 1965 featuring the cast of the comic strip Peanuts is one of the best such things I have ever read. Just like the Charlie Brown Christmas special, it’s an instant classic.

After the jump, I quote generously from the intro. But I leave off quoting before I get to the best part, which is her explanation of how that instantly-accessible jazz music ended up in the mix. So, please click through to read the whole article on the Atlantic website.

But before that, I want to note that Ms. Flanagan has been battling Stage IV cancer with preternatural courage. You may wish to read I Thought Stage IV Cancer was Bad Enough… (then came a pandemic, during the Presidency of Donald Trump).

Clickez ici, SVP! Continue Reading →

Noam Sivan: Improvisations upon the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

I am indebted to David P. Goldman‘s wonderful Tablet magazine article on the place of classical music in Israeli society for introducing me to the young pianist Noam Sivan, who is recovering the lost art of classical-piano improvisation.

Born in 1978, Sivan has taught at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School. Currently he is Professor of Piano Improvisation at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart, where he has opened a Master’s-Degree program in classical-piano improvisation.

His album Chopin & Improvisations is downloadable from his website.

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Say “Hello” to Hagerty Media!

I have a new writing job, and I am having lot of fun with it.

I have started writing a column for Hagerty Media, the media and communications division of the Hagerty collector-car insurance business. My new column is called “Music for Your Road.” The (Somewhat) Unique Selling Proposition of my column is that all the recordings I recommend are gathered in a public playlist hosted by the Qobuz streaming service.

So, if you go to Hagerty’s Media website (which is public-access) to read my new column, at the end there is a link that guides you to my first “Music for Your Road” Qobuz playlist. More after the jump!

Continue Reading →

Brahms: Violin Concerto; Sergey Khachatryan, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Courtesy of frequent Audio Asylum classical bulletin-board poster Todd Krieger, here’s an outstanding Brahms violin concerto from a violinist I had been unaware of, Sergey Khachatryan. I should not have been unaware, in that Sergey Khachatryan was awarded first prize at Belgium’s Queen Elizabeth Competition in 2005.

This performance is full of depth, nuance, subtlety, and grace! And the conductor and the orchestra are completely on board with all that. In particular, the dynamic shadings of the interplay between soloist and orchestra are such a revelation. Phrasing is also blessed with such innigkeit. And Khachatryan has amazing technical resources. But exactly which kind of demands this concerto makes upon technical (and musical) resources, I offer an opinion on, after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Bavarian Broadcasting “BR-Klassik” Internet Radio

I don’t understand much spoken German at all. So it might be surprising that my favorite classical-music internet radio station is Bavarian Broadcasting’s BR-Klassik channel.

The reason is simple. BR-Klassik’s programming is unusually diverse, and therefore more interesting to me. To tune into the “br.de” streaming service, all you have to do is click here: https://www.br.de/index.html. Once you are on the home page, scroll down to here:

And click on the tile with the BR-Klassik logo. A player window will open that connects you to the classical-music channel. Bavarian households pay about $250 a year for public broadcasting, but now you are getting it for free!

More commentary from me, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Moonriver Audio Model 404 Stereo Integrated Amplifier

The Moonriver Audio Model 404 is a solid-state stereo integrated amplifier with a rated output of 50 Watts per channel. The Model 404 combines a preamplifier stage that consists entirely of discrete devices (and therefore, there are no integrated-circuit chips in the preamplifier), and a power-amplifier stage that is Class A/B linear (and therefore, the Model 404 is not a Class-D digital-switching amplifier).

The company name of Swedish high-end-audio newcomer “Moonriver Audio” is a tribute to the song “Moon River,” from the Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Moon River” won for Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics), the 1962 Academy Award (“Oscar”) for “Best Original Song.” (The screenplay was based on a novella by Truman Capote. He cried all the way to the bank.)

Therefore, the first important point is: the Moonriver 404 is hand-built in Sweden, apparently by someone who has fond memories of Audrey Hepburn.

(And so, therefore, the Moonriver 404 is not built in China by people who—most likely—do not have fond memories of Audrey Hepburn.)

The second important point is that the Moonriver 404 (US MSRP $3500; but there are optional modules) is a tremendously serious audio product. As far as I can tell, the Moonriver 404’s only “flaw” is that it never calls attention to itself. However, that’s because it only calls attention to the music.

More on what I mean by “a tremendously serious audio product,” after the jump. And more about Audrey Hepburn!
Continue Reading →

Cantor Meir Finklestein, Grant Geissman: “Kathleen Mavourneen”

Despite my Jewish surname, I had such a provincial, parochial, cloistered Irish-immigrant upbringing that when my mother’s aunts did not want the tykes to know what they were talking about, they spoke Gaelic.

Even better: As a precocious reader of the newspapers, I thought that I had figured out that Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X was, in reality, Pope Malcolm the Tenth.

Hey! I was a middle child! They never explained anything to me.

John XXIII, Malcolm X—they both were religious leaders who had Roman numerals instead of last names… .

Anyway, the sad Irish ballad that breaks the treacle meter (despite having been composed by an Englishman), is “Kathleen, My Darling.” In Gaelic, “Kathleen mo mhuirnín,” which Anglicizes to “Kathleen Mavourneen.” So, “Mavourneen” is not a family name (last name), but rather a term of endearment. I had always assumed it was a folk song, silly me. However, a quick look at the sheet music indicates otherwise; the melody takes slight turns here and there that are not really “folk-ish.” Actually, more like early-19th-c. German art music. Imitative of Irish or Scottish folk music, but still German art music. (FWIW & YMMV.)
Continue Reading →

Julian Bream: Nocturnal After John Dowland (conclusion) (Benjamin Britten, op. 70)

 

Julian Bream (who died today, age 87, in Wiltshire, England) grew up in a musical household, and certainly made the most of it. His father, a commercial artist, was a jazz guitarist who also played the piano. As a child, the young Julian would sit by the radio, trying to strum along on his father’s guitar. Lessons followed on both guitar and piano. Winning a piano competition at age 12 gave Julian entry into the Royal College of Music. He made his début recital on the guitar at age 13, and made his Wigmore Hall début at age 17. His father bought him a lute, which he taught himself to play. In 1960, he founded an original-instruments group with himself as lutenist, bringing Elizabethan music to widespread public awareness. England’s most important composers, Benjamin Britten, Sir William Walton, and Sir Michael Tippett wrote pieces for him, as did dozens of other composers.

Here he is in a video from 2003 (I believe), playing the penultimate and final movements of Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland. Britten’s Nocturnal is not so much a set of variations as an 18-minute reconstruction of a deconstructed “Come, Heavy Sleep,” by John Dowland.

In sharp contrast to the usual variation sets that start with the melody and get more complicated as they go on, Britten inverted that agenda. The piece starts with the variation most remote in character; each successive variation is closer to the original tune, and the work ends with Dowland’s original lute song (which was published in 1597). So, here we have the final variation, and then the statement of the melody.

There were giants in the earth in those days…

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