New Year – New Gear

My favorite headphones for the past 5 years have been the Sennheiser HD-380 Pro series. I thoroughly tested them against the ATH-M50 (their closest competitor) and preferred the Sennheiser model in every category of comparison from comfort, design aesthetic, durability, transparency of audio signature, and portability. (The HD-380 Pros ship with a wonderful semi-hard shell travel case.) You can check out my original comparative review from 2011 here.

2

After 5 years, I’ve replaced the earpads once, but the replacements are third-party aftermarkets and have already separated from the frame after only a few months. I’m considering investing in a new pair and am exploring alternative models.

In April of last year, I picked up a pair of AudioQuest Nighthawks – the company’s flagship headphone. Aesthetically they are absolutely brilliant and precisely the style I’m after. They wed both vintage and contemporary design with their liquid wood finish, biometric diamond-cubic butterfly latticework grills, and retro-style dual headband. (Check out my featured images and more design details from this entry to Innerspace.) But of course, what matters most with headphones is their sound signature, and I quickly found that while the Nighthawks deliver a punchy and powerful sound for live and rock recordings, that they were somewhat lackluster in their delivery of classical, ambient, and electroacoustic works.

az6hsvzl

The features I most desire in a headphone are supraaural closed-back leather earcups, detachable cables, passive noise cancellation, and studio-style sound signatures which focus on transparency rather than colorization. These will primarily be used in my listening room and in bed, which are both low ambient noise environments. Comfort is another key factor as I do not want fatigue to distract from first-listens to subtle and nuanced recordings like ambient, space, and drone works. I’m eyeing the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 cabled headphones as a potential upgrade.

pkitwkal

But before I jump into a new pair, I’m going to hold off until I pick up the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC. Universally acclaimed as the finest portable DAC at its price point, the device has been sold out from all licensed distributors twice since November of 2016, so I am just awaiting the next replenishment. I am hopeful that the Dragonfly Red will correct the somewhat disappointing (but fully understandable) performance of my Android cell phone, Chromebook, and my desktop in playback of FLAC and 320CBR audio from my server.

Stay tuned!

AudioQuest Nighthawks

Today I took the next step in audiophilia and invested in a pair of AudioQuest’s flagship headphones – 2015 CES Best of Innovation Winner – The NightHawk.

Jude, an admin from Head-Fi.org offered some exciting details about the NightHawk when they premiered at the end of 2014:

The grills are 3D-printed using a process called selective laser sintering, and its biometric design mimicks the latticework in a butterfly’s wing. It’s designed to diffuse sound and to help defeat resonances.

The cups have substantial internal bracing, and have their interior surfaces coated with an elastomeric coating.

The driver uses a high-excursion 50mm biocellulose diaphragm – far superior to the Mylar diaphragms most drivers use. Compliant rubber surrounds improve the drivers’ pistonic behavior. The NightHawk driver’s magnet is very strong, rated at 1.2 tesla.

The earcup suspension mount system uses ultra-high-grade silicone bands that let them articulate with a lot of freedom, but while still providing nice tension and control. These are VERY comfortable to wear.

With the shock-mount-type suspension, the circular yokes, the Liquid Wood earcups, and the rod-type headband, the NightHawk looks somehow concurrently modern and vintage…

A perfect fit for yours truly!

13

02

01

11

 

Published in: on April 7, 2016 at 9:59 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy

I love a good challenge, and last night I presented myself with a most delightful dilemma. As of late, I’ve created a stockpile of obscuro musically-themed graphic tees to thoroughly confuse the unsuspecting public. And with the plethora of imagery available from avant-garde sound and cult cinema, I could go on forever printing these tees. But I’d never be able to wear them all.

And so I set myself the challenge – to conceive and implement the ultimate autobiographical tee – a single design which sums up all of my specializes interests. The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

And then it came to me. What better way to showcase my academic pretension, my musico-cultural obsession, and my meta-hip snobbishness than with a custom tee emblazoned with a Fruchterman-Reingold graph depicting the web-like interrelationships between my 60 favorite sub and micro genres?

I quickly constructed a dataset of my favorite musical niches and formatted them as a CSV denoting each node and edge for the graphic. (For example: Post-Punk is an amalgam of elements from funk, dub, electronic, and experimental musics.)

I was pleased to discover that my favorite data visualization application, Gephi (previously employed in the creation of my 550 Favorite Artists of 2014) was supported by Linux and in a short time I produced this splendid graph. Behold, ladies and gentlemen: The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

CLICK HERE for the hi-res!

Grand Unified Theory of HipI’m insane.

The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Making the Move to the Mobile Web

Today I’ve started a new project.  After working for an app development company for 8 months, hearing every day that the app market has hit critical mass, and that mobile web access has overtaken desktops as the primary means of accessing the internet, it seemed in my best interest to invest in a tablet to keep abreast of the mobile “craze.”

I’ve never paid much attention to the Play Store other than my daily use of Sindre Mehus’ wonderful Subsonic media server app.  Projects like music research, databasing, and library management just don’t lend themselves to a mobile environment, much less to an app.

But I took on the project and invested in a Nexus 7 2nd gen (2013) which appeared to have universal acclaim as the best 7″ tablet on the market at present.

329835-google-nexus-7-2013

With its quad-core Snapdragon processor and the highest resolution of any available tablet (WUXGA 1920×1200) coupled with its affordable price tag, the choice was simple.  A certified refurbished model from a licensed distributor was $160.  A package of Tech Armor screen shields and a Moko faux leather case/stand with a compact Bluetooth keyboard was only $39 more, so the entire package was $200, tax and shipping-free.

But the question remained – would this mobile device be of any use to a user like myself?

I spent the first evening customizing the tablet.  I compiled a beautiful high res album of photographs from the most renowned libraries in the world and installed Wallpaper Changer to cycle through a gallery of bibliophilia and really show off the resolution of the Nexus 7.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-13-04

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-10-16

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-09-16

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-11-00

Next I ported my browser add-ons and settings to sync from my desktop to my mobile environment, which was surprisingly easier than I anticipated.

Then I arrived at perhaps my most empowering conclusion.  To really get the most out of the mobile interface, I needed all of my library resources to be instantly accessible.  As I had a fondness for the desktop interface of most of these services, I learned how to save deep-web links to my home screen instead of using apps.

Below is a snapshot of my fourth home screen where I’ve created shortcuts to everything from my most-traveled music subreddits to my audio reference texts which I’ve converted from PDF to reflowable ePubs and synced to my Google Books account.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-12-23

I was excited to explore my record catalog which I had recently ported from a static database to the cloud on Discogs.com.  The interface is clean and customizable in the tablet browser environment.  Here is the Art Rock folder of my top 300 LPs in cover-view.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-15-49

And the same folder in detail view.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-16-00

And finally, the summary view from the home folder.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-16-26

The site functions very well with a touch-based tablet interface, and my Subsonic media server was equally easy to use.  In addition to the high resolution display, the Nexus 7 is fitted with stereo speakers which perform well in the mobile setting.  Better still, I travel with my Sennheiser monitors wherever I go, so I am ready for anything (although I might consider a portable DAC further down the line).

Here is the Subsonic interface, viewing one artist’s folder on the Nexus 7.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-20-52

And a view of a primary discographic chronology folder.

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-21-47

Or if you prefer to navigate by playlist…

Screenshot_2014-08-27-18-23-04

So it would appear that the Nexus 7 is up to the challenge of the majority of my computing tasks.  The one remaining challenge would be to draft an entire blog entry on the tablet.

Which I’ve just done.

This increased mobility will let me seize the opportunity to work on my research and blogging wherever I go.  I’m looking forward to the productivity.

I’ll leave you with an interesting thought piece.

(Begin at 6m 45s if the video fails to jump to that time.)

This is Zimerman’s Paradox. “Music is not sound.”

In this BBC interview segment, Krystian Zimerman condemns digital recording for its perfection, and claims that it strips away the emotion and character of a composition.

What do you think?

So I sandboxed, poked and prodded at iTunes for the first time… and ended up with a manifesto.

iTunes-Logo

You know what’s coming, but if you delight in watching me writhe and convulse in the corner, read on.  I’d never once connected to itunes.apple.com as I knew in advance that it had nothing to offer.

But a 17 year old kid assured me that they provide various masters of each recording for the listener to sample to help them identify which they should purchase.

This was, of course, completely false.  By “various masters” he meant that Dark Side of the Moon was available in TWO formats –

 The 2011 CD remaster
ooooooor….
The 2011 CD remaster (with bonus tracks).

So there you are.

But I was already deep in the filth so I said, “what the hell” and started throwing artists at its ‘search’ box.

I figured I’d start out with the easiest of pitches – the 2010 EMI Beatles Box Set.

iTunes ONLY offers the stereo edition and doesn’t even HINT that the Mono Box even exists!

Beginning to sweat, I looked up their page for Captain Beefheart…

NO MENTION OF TROUT MASK REPLICA.  But that’s okay, it’s only one of the most important and critically acclaimed records of its decade.

The 49 awesome albums recorded by Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Gottsching?  Not today, sorry.

Pete Namlooks’ monumental Fax +49-69450464 record label – not a single word of any one of the 238 legendary albums.

So I tried another approach – searching for Deutsche Grammophon classical releases.

Lo and behold – iTunes offers NO MEANS of searching by record label!

Want to peruse the Ninja Tune catalog?  Forget about it if you’re on iTunes.

Warp Records?  Ohr?  Brain?  Mute?  Mo-Fi?  Too bad.

And the 94 albums produced and recorded by LTJ Bukem on Good Looking Records and its various sub-labels?  You’re going to have to search for them one at a time. (Psst – don’t bother… they aren’t there anyway.)

Salvador Dali’s notorious opera, Être Dieu?  Not so much as an artist entry for the man.

Dig Nurse With Wound?  Only the 26 CD releases of their ~100 disc catalog are available for purchase.

The same applies to Tangerine Dream.  Beside an all-too-small sampling of their most popular early albums, iTunes is overrun with 80s-2000s compilations and soundtracks.  The pink years were easily their best work, but they never happened according to this marketplace.

Independent artists?  Not a single one I searched for produced any results.

Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity – arguably his best free jazz work – doesn’t exist.

The original German master of Stockhausen’s Kontakte?  Forget about it.

Wordless Music Orchestra’s historical live recording of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops?  Never happened.

Spacemind’s 62 hours of psybient works?  Not a one.

Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc. collection?  Issued in the Netherlands, but nowhere on iTunes.

The Electronic Music series produced by Turnabout records throughout the mid-60s?  Nope.

The popular Franklin Mint 100-disc Classical Collection?  Nadda.

NASA’s majestic Symphonies Of The Planets series?  The cat’s eaten it.

What It Is: Funky Soul & Rare Grooves Box Set?  Not a scrap.

(This one killed me) Kraftwerk’s three critical early albums – Kraftwerk I, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf und Florian?  No, no, and no.

Max & Dima’s 131 releases?  0 on iTunes.

Alban Berg?  Not even an artist page.

Anton Webern?  Zilch.  (However Shoenberg gets some unfair attention.)

Throbbing Gristle has 137 albums and singles.  Six of them are on iTunes.

The hundred-odd crazy moog/bachelor pad/and early synth records which defined the age of futurama in the 50s and 60s?  If not for iTunes’ lonely copy of Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out, you’d never know they happened.

The mash up craze popularized by 2ManyDJs “As Heard on Radio Soulwax” series?  You’ll have to settle for Girl Talk.

Well done, iTunes.  At least we can say you’re consistent.

 ·                  ·                  ·

The world’s most popular public tracker currently offers over 6.2 million torrents, ranging from single albums to massive discographic archives.  And the top 168 active private trackers host an additional 1.6 billion torrents collectively.  Suddenly, iTunes’ measly 37 million individual songs seems rather inconsequential.

The audiophile community has built a tremendous archive of analog-only issued recordings which cannot be purchased digitally anywhere on the web.  This community remains the simplest and most informative resource for discovering rare music.  It inspires an average of $1200 in vinyl purchases annually for this user, alone… and there are many more like me.

I will not publicly endorse file sharing, but it clearly demonstrates the dire need for a change in the fundamental operation of the music market today.

#anythingbutitunes

Pretentious Audiophile Vs My Workplace Muzak

I’ve just produced a short video to give viewers a taste of what I go through at work every day. It features brief highlights of my favorite music and samples of the Muzak at work.

The clip is intended to convey a touch of cynicism while educating the viewer at the same time. It’s my first video and without a quickcam I tried to make the best of it.

If you do view it please give it your full attention so that nothing is missed.  Thank you for letting me share!

Published in: on October 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,