Testing one, two three...
Test, test, test...
Testing, one two three....
Hey Steve, Bill, is this mic on?
(Steve) lkaksum... asnjpainj jaimat.
What? Never mind, I'm just going to start talking.
Hello. My name is Joe Audiophile and I'm a Audiohaulic.
(Crowd) Hi Joe!
Welcome to the first ever installment of Joe Audiophile. So what exactly is this column going to be? Think of it this way, as opposed to a formal 'review', this will be a 'reviewer at large' (OK, no twisting my words to make fat jokes). Basically, I'm going to talk about anything audio or music related that strikes my fancy. More often than not, I probably won't go into much detail. I'll leave that gore for my regular reviews. Think of this column as 'Short Attention Span Theatre'.
So lets get started.
Vinyl vs. CD vs. CD with a REALLY good DAC vs. SACD
Recently, I had a few guys over to the house. We had planned to vinylize one of the regular crew who made a mistake and said CD's are the best format. This debate has been going on for longer than I care to remember (or read for that matter). So for giggles, I thought I'd throw my comments into the ring and see how bad they get stomped on.
Every good tubephile (and quite a few sandphiles) know that vinyl is the best playback medium. It has absolutely nothing to do with nostalgia. It has even less to do with being en vogue. On a modestly detailed turntable the music can be anything but warm, so that explanation is out too. It has everything to do with the presentation of music. For the experienced, vinyl is far less aggressive sounding than any other playback medium we have readily available at our fingertips. This is why so many people have gravitated back to vinyl. Let's not forget, good used vinyl is way less expensive than a new CD (if you are willing to go searching for it). I won't waste anymore time going into the pros or cons of vinyl, you've all read it before.
So here it is Saturday night in the great Midwest, we are down in my toy store and the tubes warmed and ready to go. As a vinyl source we are using a modestly priced rig. My Systemdek 2X2 with a Rega 250 arm, Heavyweight mods and a Rega Super Elys cartridge. The phono stage is the exemplary Jazz Club by Graham Slee. The (not so) standard Redbook player is the AH! Njoe Tjoeb with all the tweaks including upsampling. The really good DAC is an AudioNote 2.1 Signature coupled to my Arcam 8se that is being used as a transport (look for an upcoming review). And finally the SACD source is a Sony 777ES, stock as a rock. Oh I almost forgot, we played all of this though my FleaPowered system with Lowthers and vintage high efficiency subs (actively crossed over) for the ultimate in resolution.
What I've done is connect all of these sources to my NEC AVX-910 AV switcher. The remote that comes with this unit lets the guys that showed up nonchalantly switch between all of the sources, comparing the sound of each. Oh, and no, we didn't do the double blind ABX silliness. That's for wimps. Real men want to know what the source is so we can make uninformed, biased decisions. Besides, the majority of the guys that showed up already had a preconceived notion of which was better. We were only out to convince one guy which was better.
So the challenge began. We had a fair amount of music to choose from. The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks, Blood Sweat and Tears 3, Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck Take Five, Gary Burton Like Minds, Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon plus a few others that slip my mind at the moment. I have to admit, we did cheat a little. All of the vinyl we played was premium vinyl. We used stuff like vintage Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Classic Records and Pure Audiophile releases. Not your typical vinyl but we were out to prove a point.
I'll spare you all of the witty commentary about each of the individual formats and musical selections and go straight for the throat. It was a unanimous decision that vinyl was better than standard Redbook. Now keep in mind, we're using the Tjoeb which is not only biggest steal on the market today, it makes CD's sound way better than they have the right to. The Audio Note 2.1 Signature was extremely smooth for CD playback... but it should be at its price. I won't go any further on the Audio Note. I'll leave the rest for the formal review.
The one that really surprised me was SACD. The Sony 777ES was bone stock so it still had that 'Sony sound'. It was slightly aggressive at times but overall it wasn't half bad. As we listened, our group was split. Not that we didn't all agree that the vinyl sounded better, but on one SACD two of us were in agreement that the SACD sounded slightly better than the premium vinyl.
This is interesting to me. Reason? I've resisted, no fought the idea of the new format (SACD). Sure, I've heard it at shows. I've listened to it at other guy's houses and at some local dealers shops but I've never had it in my own system. I did that for a reason. I was afraid it might sound good... and if it sounded good, I'd probably have to auction off one of my kids so I could buy one (don't get any ideas, perverts). Then once you've bought one, you have to feed the beast.
Well, now I'm in trouble. I was (generally) so impressed with the sound, I found myself scouring the Internet looking for an SACD player. Don't get me wrong, I personally feel that vinyl gets it right. Right more than any of the other mediums. If you were sitting here listening to the Denon release of Pictures at an Exhibition, you'd agree with me. Let me give you this analogy. CD is to SACD as eight tracks are to Master Tape.
I've just about convinced myself that a good SACD player can come really damned close to a decent turntable setup. By decent, I don't mean a high-end turntable, cart and phono pre. I'm talking about spending equal dollars here. A $2,500 turntable and $2.500 worth of (modified) SACD. Although I still think decent vinyl rig will beat SACD four out of five times.
If I were a newbie, I would seriously consider SACD as my main source, it is that good. As for the format and its viability, I suppose only the future will tell. It appears that Sony and Philips are in it for the long haul. I recently saw a section at Best Buy devoted to high resolution music on my last trip. Mobile Fidelity is gambling a big chuck of their future on the SACD. Who knows, maybe it's here to stay. Now if they'd start releasing more new music somebody would pay attention. By new music, I mean current artists latest releases.
Imagine... a release from some new artist that isn't compressed and (peak) limited to death. Maybe, just maybe SACD is the answer we've been looking for.
Oh BTW, we did make a new vinyl convert after all.
Quality Interconnects on the Cheap
Bill is like Baskin Robins, he offers a variety of flavors. What I've been listening to have been the Foxfire's (Solid Silver) and the Emberglows (Silver plated Copper). Both of these interconnects will give you nearly all the performance of those ridiculously expensive offerings at a fraction of the cost.
Here's a little help for you that aren't experienced in cable swapping. If your system is a little too 'hot' or bright, go for a simple, pure copper interconnect surrounded by Teflon (Harvest $189 for 1 meter pair). It will help tame your fatiguing beast. If your system could stand just a little brightening or you want a shade more detail, go for the silver plated copper version (Emberglow, $75 for one meter pair). If you want the ultimate in resolution, go for broke, buy the silver (Foxfire, $199 one meter pair). Be forewarned, the silver may make your system a bit too forward.
In the end, I've settled on the Foxfires in my FleaPowered System. The Lowthers can handle extra detail and the high-end definition that Silver gives. The Emberglows sound best in my Big Fun System. The high crossover point of the Epiphony's allows a bit brighter interconnect without the sound becoming fatiguing in the least. The sonic and build quality of these interconnects will definitely compete with the big boys out there. They are absolutely worth considering if you've got upgraditus.
And Finally Lets Finish With Some Music on Vinyl
The first is Gary Burton's Like Minds. If you are a jazz fan and love the Vibes, Gary Burton assembled a great cast of characters for this release. At Gary's side are none other than Pat Metheny on Guitar, Chic Corea on piano, Roy Haynes on drums and Dave Holland on bass. This two-disc release is pressed on the ultra cool blue vinyl. Like Minds will appeal to you guys that are just getting (or wanting to get) into Jazz. It's a great release that is very easy on the ear. It's smooth and harmonious without coming across as Smooth Jazz. On the opposite side of the coin, this release will satisfy even the most hardcore Jazz fan. Stan has done another great job of vinyl mastering on this Jazz Classic. Mmmm it's yummie.
Next up is one that I was relatively unfamiliar with, Bill Berry's Shortcake. Bill Berry is one of Duke Ellington's old coronet players. This particular release is done on black vinyl. Word has it the supplier of blue vinyl pellets used for Pure's transparent blue vinyl went out of business. Stan and Dennis tried pressing it on red vinyl but it sounded, well not so nifty. So they went by to the tried and true virgin black vinyl. Not to worry, the black vinyl version of this release sounds great as usual. On this two disc pressing you'll find a nice blend of Bill Berry originals and some juicy arrangements of other old standards. This one is another killer notch in Dennis' belt.
If you are into true audiophile quality vinyl, the Pure Audiophile releases should be on your shortlist. Of course, you can hear short samples of each of these releases up at Amazon.com. Just do a search in Music and then the Artists Name.
As the summer wanes, the cooler weather sends many of us indoors and to our listening room. These coming months bring tons of great concerts to your local town. I read the forums and see everybody complaining about ticket prices. Rightfully so. Some of the national headliners charge way too much for tickets but there are loads of other groups out there that are worthy of seeing live. Whether it's your local symphony, some smaller regional band or even a group that you used to listen to back in the 1960's or 1970's, go out and experience live music.
Remember, our hobby is all about the music. Your stereo will never replace the live experience. That's where the real magic takes place.