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May 2000
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Music, Sound and Personalities Ė
Year 2000 WCES and
T.H.E. SHOW (Part 2)

by Dave Glackin
Click here to e-mail reviewer 

  The first installment of this yearís CES report gave you some of the history behind the high-end show, established the current scene in Las Vegas, and gave comments about my favorite hardware.  In this second installment, we conclude the post-show report with tests of accessories, and then segue into the reason that all this hardware exists: the music!

 

III.        The Post-Show Report

This is the section in which I report on my tests of the various tweaks, potions, gizmos and gadgets that were given to me at the show.  Usually included are the results of Clark Johnsenís latest visit to minister to my system, but he has been preoccupied with finding a new home for The Listening Studio, as his section of the warehouse district in Boston is about to be transmogrified.  Heís made his decision, and will be back in business soon.

Toy Shigakawa of Torumat has released a new version of his CDX-16 CD fluid, dubbed CDX-16-3.  Last year, I was very favorably impressed by the ways in which CDX-16 is superior to CDX-15.  The CDX-16-3 is a similar step up, and in similar ways.  The most significant improvement lies in its distinctly better image focus across the frequency range, coupled with a deeper soundstage.  The latest fluid also has a distinctly more neutral, less "digital" sound, and probably better transparency.  I continue to use Torumat as my CD treatment of choice.  The scientist in me really wants to understand why this stuff does what it does.

Byron Collett of Audio Prism gave me a pair of his Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancers to audition.  Each four-inch-long device consists of two halves that are pin-registered and secured with Allen screws.  They are designed to go around power or interconnect cords, and they filter out common mode noise.  When the two halves are separated, itís not hard to tell that these devices are magnetic.  They are fully shielded, and patents have been applied for.  As recommended, I first tried these on the power cord to my power amplifier.  In my system, these devices have a distinctly beneficial effect.  They remove an electronic glare that I didnít realize was there until it was gone.  With the Wave Guides in place, music sounded less like electronic reproduction of instruments and more like real instruments in a real space, with their natural, delicate harmonics intact.  They also had a beneficial effect when used on the power cord to my DAC.  These devices substantially improve my enjoyment of music and are staying firmly in my system.  This is an unqualified rave.

Finally, Todd Laudeman of Argent Cable, Inc. gave me a sample of Carbon-Diatonic "Setton" Pro fluid.  This is a contact enhancer from Nekken in Japan.  According to the label, it "is made up of numerous particles, each with a diameter of 150 Angstroms...composed of three layers of pure carbon, carbon graphite and diamond.  [It] enhances electrical conductivity, activates and revives various deteriorated electrical contacts."  Looks like it contains every form of carbon except Buckyballs.  As you might expect, it looks blackish.  I was not able to give this a try before press time, but hope to report on it soon.

I also ran across an interesting record store that youíll want to visit if you are in Santa Barbara, California.  Dennis Hartman runs American Pie Records, which has LPs, and only LPs, and most definitely no CDs, just LPs.  The shop specializes in hard to find records from the 50s and 60s, and its proprietor will play them for you on the spot.  Dennis, a self-described "music freak extraordinare", is a Vietnam vet, a NASCAR nut, and a real character.  You wonít soon forget a visit to Dennisí shop (http://www.ampierecs.com).

 

IV.        The Music

The below includes those LPs and CDs that I enjoyed.  If the music (not necessarily the sound quality) didnít float my boat, it ainít in here.

LPs:

Loyal readers of Positive Feedback are familiar with the high regard that I have for the work of Steve Hoffman and DCC, and his all-tube 180 g LPs.  Steveís release of The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (LPZ-2051) continues this tradition in spades.  If you are an Eagles fan like I am, you must have this record.  Compared to my original pressings, the DCC has a more well defined and solid bottom end, a much smoother and less "processed" sound, and gives a far better sense of real instruments and voices in a real space (even if these were studio productions...).  Itís the most enjoyable Eagles record that I have ever heard.  Please support the reemergence of DCC as a preeminent provider of outstanding LPs, and buy this record.  (dccgold@earthlink.net).

The Super Analogue Disc LP half-speed-mastered reissues from the gracious David Fonn and Cisco Music are truly sumptuous, with high quality artwork and heavy jackets.  The thick, dead-flat and quiet vinyl (pressed by RTI) is a joy.  And unlike some companies, these folks have a knack for choosing great performances.  Their recent release of Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing the Mahler Symphony No. 5 is a case in point.  This is a riveting, energetic performance, which should please most any Mahler fan.  Very highly recommended for music, performance and sound, which is a rare combination.  Another new Cisco release is of Lorin Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Sibelius Symphony No. 2.  The same comments about the quality of the jacket and the vinyl apply.  This performance is excellent, although Iím something of a nut about Sibelius, and have a personal preference for the outstanding job done by Sir John Barbirolli and The Royal Philharmonic (as recorded by Kenneth Wilkinson).  (http://www.cisco.com)

Cisco seems to achieve a consistently very quite vinyl surface, with nary a tick.  How do they do it?  Is it in their reportedly fastidious plating process?  Is it in special handling at RTI in the pressing process?  I donít know, but would certainly like to find out.  On the down side, a translation of the inserted program notes from Japanese to English would be appreciated.  So would a translation of the spine of the jacket, so that English-speaking music lovers can tell what the record is when itís sitting in a record cabinet amid myriad others.

Classic Records and Mike Hobson have done an absolutely outstanding job with their reissue of the classic RCA Heifetz: Glazunov Violin Concerto; Mozart Symphonie Concertante in E-flat (LSC-2734).  Compared to my treasured original 1S/1S Shaded Dog, the Classic reissue has better transparency, better frequency balance, better definition of instruments (especially winds, basses, and triangle), better bottom end authority, and a better sense of a real orchestra in a real space.  It has been a long time since I have done a direct comparison of a Shaded Dog with the Classic reissue, and this is a real ear-opener.  Apparently, the changes that Bernie Grundman made to his signal chain some time ago, and the new vinyl formulation adopted by Classic some time ago, have really paid off.  By comparison with the Classic reissue, the original sounds a little shrill and a tad opaque.  Long-time readers of my articles know that I calls Ďem as I sees Ďem, and the call here is definitely in favor of the Classic.  (Note that the White Dog label mistakenly put on the early copies of this reissue will be replaced with the correct Shaded Dog label, which might make the first run a rare item.)  And musically, the Glazunov is one of my favorite Heifetz recordings.  Very highly recommended, and an unqualified rave.

Classic has done an excellent job with their reissue of the classic RCA Heifetz/Munch: Mendelssohn Concerto in E Minor; Prokofieff Concerto in G minor (LSC 2314).  I compared the reissue to my treasured original 1S/1S (slobber, drool) Shaded Dog.  This was a bit of a harder call, but the Classic proved to have better transparency and coherence, better overall frequency response, and somewhat better bottom end, and edged out my original in the end.  The music is phenomenal, and the performance is one of the best by Heifetz, period (IMHO).  And of course, Boston Symphony Hall is widely recognized as among the top handful of halls in the world.  Very highly recommended as an outstanding combination of music, performance and sound.

OK, OK, hold your vinyl envy, because this time I donít have a 1S/1S Shaded Dog to compare to.  Sosumi.  The Heifetz/Munch Beethoven Violin Concerto (LSC 1992), again recorded in Boston Symphony Hall, is one of the true classics of the repertoire.  In the Classic Records reissue, Heifetzís violin has a sheen and presence that makes it almost sound like the master is in the room with you.  His playing is at once delicate and powerful, sensitive and masterful.  This is an indispensable piece of music, played by a violinist whom many (yours truly included) consider to be the best who ever laid bow to string.  While the comparison to the original will have to wait for another day, the sound quality of the Classic stands on its own merit.  Classic is three for three here.  Very highly recommended for music, performance, and sound quality.  All three of these are going in my "Desert Island" file.

John Coltrane is my favorite jazz artist, bar none.  Classic Records has reissued one of his masterpieces, Blue Train (Blue Note 1577).  I compared the Classic to the Blue Note reissue (from the original master tape; LP designated BST 81577).  The Classic is thicker and has more groove modulation, and the sound is great, but the Blue Note is better.  The Blue Note sounds more natural, more liquid, and more involving, and the players are further back in the soundstage at more realistic-sounding positions (on the Classic they are more forward in the soundstage).  If you canít find the Blue Note, then buy the Classic for the music and performance alone.  Coltrane plays his heart out, and Paul Chambers on bass, "Philly" Joe Jones on drums, Lee Morgan on trumpet, and the others arenít exactly slacking here.  Highly recommended, but preferred on Blue Note.

Carole Kingís Tapestry was originally mastered by Bernie Grundman when he was at Contemporary Records, and he has recently remastered it for Classic.  This is reportedly the first time that it has been remastered from the original master tape.  I donít have an original to compare this to, but if you like the music like I do, my intuition is that buying the Classic is the way to go.  This is no audiophile spectacular: it is quite obviously a studio recording, and the vocals often sound like they are bordering on tape saturation (and during at least one point in the album they cross that border).  The Classic reveals all of the warts, such as an occasional odd shift in instrumental position in the soundstage that might be intentional or might be due to editing (e.g., the guitar at the start of track 2).  Itís very tough to find a good original copy of this album, according to my listening buddy and record maven extraordinare Ted Conger.  So if you like this album, Iíd buy the Classic  (http://www.classicrecs.com).

See the CD review section below for a description of Jacintha: Autumn Leaves from Ying Tan of Groove Note. Ying was kind enough to supply not only the CD, but also a pair of LPs packaged together, one cut at 33 rpm, and one containing bonus tracks cut at 45 rpm. Talk about palpability. Talk about hearing down into a set of vocal chords. Talk about in-the-room presence. Good as the CD is, the 33 rpm LP sounds better, and the 45 rpm LP sounds much better yet. The 45 rpm LP is relaxed, transparent, and almost scary in its realism. Very highly recommended (http://www.groovenote.com).

 

CDs:

John Sunier of The Binaural Source (http://www.binaural.com) and Audiophile Audition (http://www.audaud.com) provided me with a copy of The Living Air: Sounds from the Peruvian Rainforest.  This is a binaural CD, made with a dummy head carried by recordist Peter Acker into Peruís Upper Amazon Basin.  A binaural recording is made with microphones stuck in the ears of a dummy head, and when listened to on headphones, it sounds pretty much like you are in the recording venue.  This recording features some of the best natural sounds that I have heard in such a recording, and it made me look around more than once to be sure that that particular thing wasnít in the room with me.  There are birds that sound like theyíre not even from this planet (the Olive-backed Oropendola), choruses of insects, pesky flies that seem to love your ears, water, Howler Monkeys, thunder, and a rainstorm that builds up unbelievable rapidly into an absolute deluge.  But my favorite track is the little laughing frogs, who sound like they have you surrounded, think youíre pretty funny looking, and are about to rip the flesh off of your calves just for the hell of it.  Highly recommended, whether or not you are a connoisseur of binaural recordings.  If youíve never heard one, and you own headphones, try this!

The latest Chesky 2K Sampler from David Chesky has some great tracks on it.  Of the newest releases, my favorite track is "Dear Miss Lucy" by Daveís True Story.  A phenomenal female vocalist with a great straight-ahead jazz combo backing her starts off sounding like a Doris-Day-pure singer, and she continues in this vein all the way through.  You quickly come to realize the 90ís twist, however, as she is singing to her husbandís S&M artiste about returning him to his family.  Very inventive and different.  Highly recommended for musicianship, outstanding sound quality, and original concept. (http://www.chesky.com)

Ed Woods of Clarity Recordings continues to put out some great work, especially in the areas of classical and jazz.  The Clarity Collection: Volume Two contains some excellent examples, many of which I have reviewed before.  My favorites are the cuts by violinist Eugene Fodor, who plays with a level of verve and mastery stamped with a personal signature that I love.  Run out and buy the Witches Brew CD, and youíll see what I mean...that disc gets my very highest recommendation.  The Hot Club of San Francisco: Lady in Red is a follow-up to their last release on Clarity.  The group is all acoustic, three guitars and a bass.  They are joined on this album by various instrumentalists and vocalists, including Maria Muldaur, who really shines on "Lover Man."  This is gorgeous jazz, sometimes quiet, sometimes swinging, with outstanding musicianship (the tenor sax and clarinet work deserve special mention).  The sound quality, captured with two spaced omnis and an Ampex modified by Tim De Paravicini, is excellent.  Highly recommended.  (http://www.clarityrec.com)

Hereís the happiest find among this yearís crop of CDs.  Steve Hoffman and DCC are doing some very nice work in digital and analog formats.  Don Sebesky: Three Works for Jazz Soloists & Symphony Orchestra, one of DCCís "Cool Jazz" series releases, is a case in point.  This is an inventive, and in my experience unique, blend of classical and jazz, with truly outstanding compositions by Don Sebesky coupled with outstanding performances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Harry Rabinowitz, as well as by the jazz combo, which includes Bob Brookmeyer.  My favorite work is Bird and Bela in B-flat, a musical account of an imaginary meeting between Charlie Parker and Bela Bartok.  What genius!  The combination of styles is astounding.  In the beginning, the music is moody and ethereal, and sets a tension that doesnít let up.  Later on, joyful straight-ahead jazz is being played.  Thereís never a dull moment on this disc, and I give it my very highest recommendation.  (And this is definitely not the type of "classical crossover" music that I generally detest.)  Bob Brookmeyer also plays his trombone on The Bob Brookmeyer Small Band, where he is accompanied by jazz, drums and acoustic guitar in a live set of well-played, low key jazz.  (dccgold@earthlink.net)

Ying Tan of Groove Note is doing some excellent work with his new label.  Jacintha: Autumn Leaves is an original Groove Note production featuring the Singapore-born and raised jazz singer Jacintha covering the songs of Johnny Mercer.  The recording was done in analog on an ATR-100, and transferred to digital using the Sony Direct Stream Digital system.  This CD is an outstanding example of how far the state-of-the-art has come.  It sounds relaxed, natural, airy, and three-dimensional, with the subtleties intact.  It is obvious that a great deal of care was taken in the recording and mastering processes.  Jacinthaís voice is pure and luscious, and the jazz instrumentalists provide a perfect, straight-ahead backdrop for that voice.  My only quibble is that Jacintha displays a rather limited range of expression on this disc, but in saying this Iím holding her to a very high standard, since I listen to Billie and Ella frequently.  Highly recommended for music, sound, and an outstanding example of the SOTA in CDs.  (www.groovenote.com)

Hart Huschens of Audio Advancements (audadv@earthlink.net) is known for importing high quality European high end audio equipment and accessories, as well as LPs and CDs.  He now carries the Tacet (http://www.tacet.de) line of classical CDs from Stuttgart, Germany.  These are purist recordings of chamber works.  The sound quality is outstanding, with warmth, good imaging, and an outstanding sense of real players in a real space.  And the musicianship is top-notch.  My favorite of the new Tacit recordings is The Tube: Works by Boccherini, Sammartini, Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, Biber and Corelli, with the Stuttgart Kammerorchester, Germanyís oldest chamber orchestra.  The recording uses a tubed Neumann M49 microphone, from Tactís collection of historical microphones, a tubed mixer, a tubed Telefunken M5 tape deck, and a high-quality ADC.  The players were reportedly really keyed up, and it shows in their playing, which is suffused with intelligence and verve.  This is an outstanding chamber music recording, featuring a rare balance of impeccable musicianship and first-class sound, and it may remain near the top of my play stack for some time to come.

Another interesting Tacet recording is Das Mikrofon, which features 16 tracks that are all recorded with different microphones, from the "Neumann Bottle" of 1927 through dummy head mics, the Neumann U47, a sphere microphone, boundary layer mics, and a dummy-head-like plexiglass shield.  This is a collection of tracks from other Tacit releases, and itís quite educational.  Another disc in the Tacit series is Franz Schubert: String Quartet in G Major and Quartet Movement in C Minor with the Aurin Quartet.  This disc features some very spirited, adept playing by four very talented musicians.  And finally, there is the Bach: Goldenberg Variations with the Gaede Trio.  This is a nice rendition of a very popular piece of music, but it doesnít grab me in the way that the other releases from Tacit do.  Overall, these are truly excellent efforts from a label that is new to me.

Povee Chan of Top Music International Ltd. has been producing some very high quality and enjoyable CDs recently.  If you read my 1999 CES report in Positive Feedback, you know how impressed I was with their releases of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Summer Time (perhaps the definitive Ella and Louis recording) and of Janos Starker: Concerto Collection (Iím a big Janos Starker fan, and these performances are truly outstanding).  If you want to try some recordings from Top Music, I couldnít give you any better advice than to purchase these two CDs.  This Hong-Kong-based company has been producing consistently excellent sounding gold CDs, including some unique musical collections and some nice surprises.  Their discs variously use "HRCD" 32-bit DSP mastering, "UQCD" 24/96 mastering, and "Ultradisc" 24/96 mastering.  (No explanation of any of these processes is offered in the liner notes.)  But the proof is in the listening.    (http://www.topmusic.com   or povee@topmusic.com)

I never expected to be reviewing a recording by The Platters, but Top Musicís The Best of the Platters (Audiophile Version) is astounding.  The sound quality on this disc, including that from some of The Plattersí most famous tunes from the mid-fifties, is quite something, featuring vivid, expressive, and smooth vocals.  Songs such as "Only You," "The Great Pretender," and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," were obviously well recorded initially, and are rendered with astonishing clarity here.  The earliest songs on this disc (e.g., 1955-56) are in mono, but I predict that you wonít care one whit.  If you donít own any 50ís music and want to see what all the fuss is about, or if youíre a 50ís freak, or if youíre somewhere in between like me, you should buy this disc.  Highly recommended.

Moving to a completely different style, 100 Years of Latin Love Songs features the famous saxophonist Paquito díRivera in a selection of ten songs, each from a different country (Argentina to Venezuela), and each from a different decade of the twentieth century.  Paquitoís playing is smooth and expressive, the sound quality is outstanding, and the production quality is first-rate.  This music is perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon.  Highly recommended to any lover of jazz or Latin music.

Concierto de Aranjuez features guitarist Lex Vandyke in an artfully played selection of Latin songs that are both well recorded and produced.  The music is quiet and introspective, perfect for late evening listening.  Two tunes by the justifiably famous Jobim are included.

Changing gears again, The Red Road with acoustic guitarist Bill Miller features Native-American-influenced music, based on Billís experiences as a member of the Mohican tribe.  Bill is an engaging folk singer, and his voice and guitar really shine on several of these tracks.  Other tracks have a somewhat New-Age feel, mixing Billís guitar and voice with Native American sounds, chants and instruments.  This work is unique, to my knowledge, and is recommended to the more musically adventuresome.

Grinding those gears a bit, Romantic Saxophone features a collection of performances by Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond.  For my taste, this is the best of the current crop of Top Music CDs.  Excellent performances have been selected, such as Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd doing Desafinado.  The rather poor choice of title aside, this is a well thought out collection of enjoyable music by great musicians.  This disc is highly recommended to any lover of jazz in general, and of the sax in particular.

Wrapping up the Top Music selection by going in reverse back to some more oldies, I never expected to be writing about these particular artists either.  Classic Oldies contains popular songs by Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, and others.  Not exactly my usual cuppa tea.  But I had no idea that these songs could sound this good.  If this style of music is your cuppa tea, run out and buy this (right before you write to me to tell me what the heck youíre doing reading this magazine).  Meanwhile, Iím going to ship this CD off to my Mom, who will absolutely love it.  Highly recommended, if this is your style of music.

 

V.         The Reference System

And for you new readers, so you know where Iím coming from, the following is a description of the system used in these reviews.  The LPs were auditioned on a VPI TNT with a 10" JMW Memorial arm, a Benz Micro MC3-I cartridge, and a very effective Black Diamond Racing (BDR) record clamp.  The turntable rests on a BDR "The Shelf for the Source" and BDR cones, resting on a Bright Star Big Foot TNT filled with 100 lbs of sand, resting on a VPI TNT stand filled with 200 lbs of lead shot, spiked to my floor (which is loudly crying uncle).  An outstanding Hovland tonearm cable takes the signal to a Klyne SK-2A headamp, then Cardas Cross takes it to a Music Reference RM-5 tubed preamp (using Top Hat tube dampers), then more Cardas Cross takes it to a (yes, I know) Sumo Half-Power power amp (mil-spec components, high current, "the Krell of its day").  The Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancers are on the power cable for this amp (currently one on each end).  Biwired Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables connect this to Eminent Technology Model 8 loudspeakers, which themselves are Cardas-wired and mounted on Sound Anchor stands whose spikes are nestled in BDR cones.  Cardas Microtwin connects the second preamp output to a Sunfire subwoofer.  The equipment before the power amp is isolated in a walk-in closet, while the amp and speakers are in a dedicated listening room treated with RPG Diffusers, Room Tunes, ASC Tube Traps, and a big Navajo rug.  Everything except the power amp is plugged into two Power Wedges, which are themselves plugged into dedicated outlets, as is the amp.  Plug polarity is done correctly with an Elfix polarity tester.  A Philips CD680 CD player is used as a transport, connected to a Theta Cobalt DAC via Cardas Microtwin (with another Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancer), while Cardas Cross is used from there to the RM-5.  The DAC uses the excellent Hovland power cord.  The electronics in the closet (except the headamp) are on a Target B5 stand.  The headamp, preamp, amp, and DAC are isolated with various combinations of BDR Pyramid Cones and shelves, while the outstanding Rosinante DarkMatter shelf is used to isolate the CD transport.  Open reel tapes can be played via a Technics RS 1500 semi-pro 2-track 15 ips tape deck, the one with the big U-shaped transport (a really good machine which is used as a transport by Chesky in their analog mastering).  Headphone listening can be done with an Ear Max tubed triode headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD-580s.  And there's some decent FM, mainly used for listening to Car Talk and What Do You Know (or is that Whaddaya Know?) on NPR.

Until next year!

 

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