EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 03, 2014 4 comments
For some, tower speakers are an article of faith. Many audiophiles wouldn't consider going without them—either folded into a 5.1+ system or as a standalone two-channel system. For some of those listeners, owning a pair of towers is the right decision, and I wouldn't be foolhardy enough to try talking them out of it. But for others, floorstanding speakers are just one option among many, and not necessarily the best one. In some primary systems, smaller-scale monitors or satellites would be more appropriate; for some secondary systems, soundbars or standalone audio products make more sense. As I discussed in a previous blog, choice of speaker size depends on both needs and personalities.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 06, 2013 0 comments
I never got to see the 1973-74 version of King Crimson. It played its final concert in New York's Central Park just over a year before I moved to the city. I always wished I could go back in time to attend one of those concerts. Well, be careful what you wish for.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 01, 2013 11 comments
A home theater system, as I never tire of saying, is the union of big-screen television and surround sound. Conceptually speaking, the big-TV part is not a heavy lift. But some people interested in getting into home theater may have trouble visualizing what a surround sound system might look like. And it's hard to blame them. Surround systems come in many configurations, each appealing to a different tribe of listeners. How can you, as an aspiring home theater buff, decide which surround tribe you belong to? Here are some common configurations matched to the listeners to whom they would appeal.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 04, 2013 3 comments
Bar, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin', say most audiophiles. But an increasing number of consumers begs to differ, and the audio industry caters to them with an increasing selection of soundbars. At the recent CEDIA Expo, nearly every manufacturer that makes audio-for-video products was showing a soundbar or three, and no doubt I'll be reviewing some of them over the next year. With such a proliferation of soundbars, some of them may actually be pretty good, within their inherent limits, and worth considering in a bedroom system or something other than a primary home theater system.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 06, 2013 2 comments
It's official. The future of audio hardware and software now has an acronym. It's HRA, or high-resolution audio, trumpets a press release from the Consumer Electronics Association. HRA may well emerge as a key theme of CEA's 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. So this would be a good time to discuss what is, and is not, high-resolution audio.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 02, 2013 0 comments
Review samples traipse through my 5.1-channel home theater system in a constant procession. A smaller number get hooked up to my 2.1-channel desktop system. But very few make it into the bedroom to serve me before I drift off to sleep. A speaker named The ONE, from a company named Audience, is one of the rare exceptions. What follows is not an orthodox review. It's just a story about how a distinctive product was able to fit briefly into my life.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 05, 2013 3 comments
In every review I write of a surround receiver or speaker system, I tap out a graf on associated equipment used to audition the product. You can always find it between the product description and the listening notes. Whenever I read an audio review, I feel cast adrift if the reviewer doesn't disclose what's in his reference system. After all, the receiver I use to review a set of speakers, or the speakers I use to review a receiver, may exert a significant effect on the product's performance and how I perceive it. So does the room, for that matter, and maybe I'll tackle that subject someday. I use asymmetrical long-wall placement in a room with six sides where no two sides are the same length. That should make for an interesting blog. In the meantime, here's a more detailed description of what's in my rack, moving from top to bottom.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 07, 2013 9 comments
Perhaps no product category is more misunderstood or maligned than the audio/video receiver. Within the home theater community, some deem it a deal breaker or bottleneck, despite its true status as the heart of a home theater system. Outside the home theater community, two-channel puritans regard the AVR as a morally flawed cluster of features that is inherently hostile to good sound. Won't anyone (aside from AVR manufacturers) speak up for a product that tries so hard to give the consumer so much?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 10, 2013 2 comments
Someday I'll write a blog headlined Why Surround Receivers Are Cooler Than Ever. But before I get to that one, I'd probably better write one called Getting to Know Your Surround Receiver. Lots of folks dread the whole idea of buying an audio/video receiver because they fear that the getting-to-know-you phase will scar them for life. So here's what to do when you take your new receiver out of the box. This is not a detailed step-by-step guide. You'll have to infer the smaller steps yourself, refer to the manual, or buy a book on the subject (hint hint). But the following may make it a little easier to get started.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 05, 2013 1 comments
In a global economy convulsing with change, middle-level journalists in my dusty corner of the technology sector don't get many invitations to board a plane for Tokyo. Especially when the ticket is business class. But that's where I found myself a few weeks ago, in a luxurious seat with four different points of adjustment, on my way to visit one of the world's great audio companies: Sony. True, Sony isn't the first company most American audiophiles would think of in connection with high-end audio, or even the second or third. Yet I've been consistently knocked flat by demos of its two new loudspeaker lines in recent years. And it looks as if Sony is also looking to improve its game as a maker of surround receivers. Following is a brief summation of what you need to know about Sony's rebirth as an audio brand.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 08, 2013 0 comments
Whenever I see a bunch of people running in one direction, I run the other way. Let them paw over whatever is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame—I'd rather explore what they've overlooked, at a leisurely pace, in splendid isolation. During the waning days of the LP era, just as the CD's "perfect sound forever" campaign was coming on strong, I refrained from discarding most of my vinyl. Oh, I bought CDs, especially for new releases. But I also haunted the Tower Annex in Lower Manhattan, filling holes in my classical library with used LPs at two or three dollars a pop. For a junior-grade inkstained wretch, vinyl was more affordable than full-priced $15 CDs (in 1980s dollars) though I bought plenty of those too.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 08, 2013 4 comments
Here's what this blog is not going to be: a diatribe about how much I hate CES and, more specifically, the city of Las Vegas. Oh, I'll give that desert hellhole one or two well-deserved kicks, but you're probably not interested in my self-indulgent whining, so I'll keep that part brief. A reader who has never attended CES, but has heard about it for years, would be more interested in what it's like to actually go, to be there, to have the experience. So I'll give you a taste of that instead. CES veterans will want to skip this blog entirely. This is for the newbies, OK?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 05, 2013 0 comments
Regrets gnaw at record collectors. There's always the one that got away: because I failed to buy it, or could never find a good copy of it, or unwisely loaned it, or stupidly discarded it in the CD era's initial flush of enthusiasm and confusion. Over the years I've whittled down my list of regrets with strategic secondhand buys. But a few regrets have remained, and when they affect my relationship with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones—crucial touchstones for a fiftysomething music lover—they're especially painful. I was never lucky enough to find a pristine pressing of either Abbey Road or Beggar's Banquet. However, a recent turntable purchase and an unspent balance in my PayPal account recently drove me to banish these gnawing regrets once and for all.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 07, 2012 0 comments
King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings is a reissue on steroids. This is the only Crim album to have been singled out for a massive box set including 13 CDs, a DVD-Audio disc, and—in a first for indie label DGM—a Blu-ray disc. Like most other releases in the ongoing 40th Anniversary Series, this one features fresh high-res 5.1- and 2.0-channel mixes by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson—and you can also buy those mixes in a far less costly two-disc DVD-Audio and CD set. But the LP-size monster box of Larks is in a class by itself as it documents the intensely innovative 1972 lineup that featured avant garde percussionist Jamie Muir along with what became the surviving quartet of former Yes drummer Bill Bruford, bassist John Wetton, violinist David Cross, and guitarist Robert Fripp, the only founding member.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 02, 2012 4 comments
This just may be the first in a series of blogs on music that finds its way into demos I'm constantly staging for loudspeaker and a/v receiver reviews. Hence the subtitle: Demos. Music is the reason I became an audio critic in the first place. In fact, I was a published music critic long before I became a technology critic, starting in 1979, writing for Spin and Trouser Press and editing the Trouser Press Collectors' Magazine. Tech criticism turned out to be a better way of earning a living but I still see it as an outgrowth of my identity as a music (and movie) critic. As I note in my book: "We master technology so that art can take precedence over technology."

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