If you're not in the "club," high-end audio might look like a bastion of elitist snobs and the idle rich, so it may come as a shock to note that some of high-end audio's greatest engineers started out in rock and roll. Take John Curl, in the early 1970s he worked his magic on the Grateful Dead's concert and recording sound systems and later kept the Jefferson Airplane aloft. That was just before he tackled film sound in Hollywood. All of that led to collaborations with high-end pioneer Mark Levinson; together they raised the stakes, considerably, with the JC 2 stereo preamplifier in 1974.
It didn't matter that the JC 2 was two or three times more expensive than any other component in the nascent high-end market; a lot of folks lucky enough to hear it and afford it bought it. The JC 2 had that effect on people. Curl and Levinson soon parted ways and over the next few years Curl designed a long run of cutting edge electronics for other companies. Levinson eventually departed the company that bears his name, and his old company now designs car audio systems for Lexus. High-end is in the big time now.
When I heard that Curl had finished work on an all-new Halo Series JC 2 stereo preamplifier for Parasound I had to check it out (it's like hearing that Carroll Shelby just built a new AC Cobra). Better yet, for this review Parasound sent along a pair of the matching Halo Series JC 1, 400 watt mono power amplifiers. I reviewed the all-new JC 1 & JC 2 combination for Home Entertainment magazine, you can read the review here.
The JC 1 is a seriously powerful amplifier, its output stage employs nine pairs of high-current bipolar transistors with massive heat sinks to insure long-term reliability. Each amplifier can deliver 400 watts to 8 ohm rated speakers, and 800 watts to 4 ohm models, and if your speakers ever dip as low as 2 ohms, the JC 1 will happily serve 1,200 watts! The JC 1 sounds potent, even when listened to at merely moderately loud levels, and maintains its composure at lease breaking, call-the-cops volume. … Read more
Compared to iPods LPs are a lot of work. First you have to put the record on a turntable platter, cue the tonearm over the lead-in groove, and then gently lower the "needle" into said groove. When the record's over, you have to raise the arm and return it to the rest. If that sounds like hard labor stick with your iPod. But to audiophiles the turntable/record playing ritual is part of the analog experience, a preamble of good sounds to come.
Thing is--the stylus tracing the microscopic world of groove wiggles encounters more than just wiggles--whatever dirt and assorted crud that's adhered to the vinyl adds its own noise, clicks and pops to the music. Sure, when things are really bad you could gently wash the LPs with baby shampoo, rinse with lots of water and dry. That might help, but the deep down grime at the bottom of the groove will still be there, and still audible. The ground-in crud can dramatically increase what we perceive as "record surface noise." Record brushes can sweep some of the surface dirt off, but at the end of the day the only way to get the deep down stuff is to use special record cleaning fluid and suck it off with a vacuum. that's exactly the way record cleaning machines work--they squeeze more analog juice from used and even new records. … Read more
Ghosty, one of my favorite satellite radio DJs, he's on Sirius Disorder, urged listeners to email their favorite weird and obscure music. Never heard of any of the records, but it set me to wondering about some of my more out titles, and if I had to pick one I'd go for, The Rotor Rooter Good Time Christmas Band LP. It came out in 1974 and yes, I bought it for the wacky title, but it's actually a really good record, I've played it many dozens of times. Mixing equal parts polka, psychedelic, rock, classical and just flat out bizarre, Rotor Rooter is a blast from start to finish. If I had to pick just one cut, it would have to be "Fanfare/Buick LeSabre."… Read more
Today's audiovisual receivers are complicated things. They can be a real pain to use, have excruciatingly complicated menu systems, and many don't even accommodate turntables! Point is if you're mostly interested in playing music do yourself a big favor and buy a stereo receiver.
Like Harman Kardon's new HK 3490 two times 120 watt receiver ($449). In my opinion Harman makes the best sounding AV receivers, and I have every reason to expect their stereo models to be even better. The engineers invested in a high-performance phono preamp, pre-out/main-in jacks, and high-current amplification. You also … Read more
Producer T Bone Burnett talked passionately about sound quality, or lack thereof on a radio program, Soundcheck, from WNYC on Monday. Burnett produced Robert Plant and Allison Krauss' awesome Raising Sand CD; the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack; as well as records by Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, and Counting Crows.
Turns out Burnett's no fan of CDs or downloads, stating that CD's inadequate sampling rate loses too much of the sound he heard while making and mixing records. He put it this way, "We've been fighting digital sound since it came out twenty years ago...music's gotten to a place that's harder to listen to."
Wow, the guy sounds like an audiophile to me, and he goes on about the degradation of sound from what he heard in the studio, "It's stepped down from tape to digital to compressed digital, so people are now listening to a Xerox of a Polaroid of a photograph of a painting." Tell it brother, but it's interesting Burnett never brought up vinyl or analog, though he did mention that it's only in the last few years that digital's gotten really good. I agree.
Digital losses have all taken their toll on the way people relate to music, so it's mostly background to other activities instead of the primary focus. Digitized sound is diluted to the point is ceases to connect with people on a visceral level. It's just there, a ghostly shadow of its original intent. … Read more
Sure, it looks like everybody's doing it, but you've never downloaded music. I understand, downloads, be they iTunes or MP3s, even some of the DRM-free varieties sound awful and you're an audiophile, or just really care about sound quality. Downloads are "good enough" for most folks, but they're not good enough for you.
Enter HDtracks, a sound quality oriented download "store," where you can get 100 percent uncompressed, DRM-free, bona-fide CD quality downloads and burn them to CD. HDtracks also supplies each CD's full liner notes and cover art as a PDF.
I wrote about HDtracks before, but now that they're offering a free eight song sampler you don't have plunk down any dough to find out if their UNcompressed AIFF files, lossless FLAC files, or even 320kbps MP3 downloads would work for you. Burn the FLAC files to CD and play 'em in your car, or the boombox, or if you're hard-core, over your hi-fi. If you're so inclined you can put the music on your iPod as well.… Read more
It's in the East Village around the corner from where the 1960s rock Mecca, the Fillmore East once stood. Rockit Scientist Records is a blast from the past, a 'Village record shop that's a treasure trove for collector oriented psychedelia, '60s, '70s, and '80s garage rock, underground, progressive, punk, blues, soul, reggae, and jazz.
Rockit carries mostly CDs, but there's a lot of new and used vinyl, with a smattering of music DVDs. Owner John Kioussis is there six days a week and always multitasking. "It's not rocket science," heh, heh--drop in, and you'll likely find him sorting records, chatting on the phone and serving in-store customers--all at the same time.
Asked if downloads are killing his business, John got a little worked up, "Anybody who legally downloads music is an idiot! You can get it for free, why pay for it? Download it illegally, who's going to catch you? Legal or illegal, they sound the same."… Read more
MartinLogan, based in Lawrence, Kansas, maker of highly regarded curved panel electrostatic speakers announced yesterday that its Design Series models are now available through Amazon (Amazon is the only authorized Internet retailer of MartinLogan speakers).
MartinLogan's unique technology produces sound with far greater detail than conventional "box" speakers--it's high-definition for the ears. I think MartinLogans are also beautiful and elegant, which doesn't hurt. M-L's technology was also used to create stylish in-wall, on-wall and floor-standing speakers, and many of the speakers qualify for Amazon.com's free Super Saver Shipping or free two-day shipping (… Read more
If you think high-end audio has to be boxy and/or kinda masculine, check out Pathos Acoustics wares. We think it's hot stuff, and when we've heard it at shows the sound was always pretty impressive. Pathos gear combines vacuum tube and solid-state technologies to eke out the very best from both.
Pathos Acoustics was founded in 1994 by three engineers, Gaetano Zanini , Gianni Borinato and Paul Andriolo in the Italian city Vicenza. Pathos developed a new amplification circuit they called INPOL (Inseguitore a Pompa Lineare = Linear Pump Tracker). All Pathos products are still handcrafted in Vicenza. They … Read more