EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 17, 2006 0 comments
"There are eight million stories in the naked city," says the voiceover from the 1958 film noir of that name, and there are also 3000 stories in the Made for iPod city. One of them is Logitech's AudioStation. It hasn't got a handle, so it isn't exactly a boombox, but it does have two speakers surrounding a central control unit. What makes it special are touch-sensitive controls and a jutting dock for the iPod's 30-pin receptacle.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 21, 2006 0 comments
What's in a name? Logitech bills this iPod accessory as a set of "portable speakers," not a "system." That makes it smaller than such other iPod-compatible notables as the Bose SoundDock, Klipsch iGroove, and Apple's own Hi-Fi. It also signals a reduction in pricing, features, and expectations. The mm50 doesn't try to blow you away. It just provides an intravenous feed of music to keep you from going bonkers. In that respect it should not be underestimated.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 29, 2006 0 comments
Can a company better known for computer peripherals than for audio products make a great pair of headphones? Don't underestimate Logitech. The company's PC speakers may not keep the high-end audio industry awake at night but some of them do provide surprisingly decent sound for their modest pricetags. With these headphones, however, Logitech courts comparison with serious audio brands. That's because these are full-sized headphones (with real bass response) that enclose the ear (like the audio world's highest-performing headphone models).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 16, 2007 0 comments
From Sonos to Apple's AirPort Express, there are lots of ways to get music from a PC hard drive to a home theater system. One of them is Logitech's Wireless DJ Music System. It does not have all the features of Logitech's recently acquired Slim Devices line, including the latter's versatile connectivity and support for lossless formats. But it is simpler and a little less costly. It's also more functional than Logitech's step-down move, the Wireless Music System for PC, and has a far more functional remote control.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 13, 2006 3 comments
CableLabs, the cable industry's development arm, has certified the first multi-streaming CableCARD. The hip new Motorola M-Card "enables consumers of retail set-top boxes and integrated digital television sets to watch and/or record their programming from multiple simultaneous tuners using a single CableCARD (e.g., handling picture-in-picture or simultaneous watch-and-record of multiple digital video channels)," according to a CableLabs press release. The M-Card is backward-compatible with existing unidirectional CableCARD sets and boxes, and will support only a single stream when used that way—but when paired with an M-Card compatible product, it will do all its new multi-streaming tricks. How far the M-Card will get in TVs (as opposed to set-top boxes) is debatable given the sorry state of the existing CableCard standard. Major cable operators will deploy it within a few months, says CableLabs. Talk to yours for details.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 17, 2006 2 comments
Doesn't the world sometimes seem unbearably noisy? The best advice I can give you is this: Stick it in your ear! I'm talking about Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs. Made of silicon gel, they mold themselves to the shape of your outer ear canal and cut noise by 22 decibels. That's better than any model of noise-canceling headphones. With a few days of practice you'll get used to gently pushing them into the ear just enough to cover the opening. Getting used to the sound of your footsteps traveling up your spine (BONK, BONK, BONK) takes longer. And I must admit that eating while wearing plugs sounds like a horror movie. But I am no longer willing to walk out on the road-rage-possessed streets of New York City without them. I also find them comforting on buses, subways, planes, and even in airports—a siren at the Newark Airport security checkpoint once practically brought me to my knees. What will other people think when they see you with plugs in your ears? Who cares? Give up a little dignity and baby your ears. They're the most irreplacable components in your system.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 06, 2007 0 comments
China may be just starting to lose the momentum that has made it the world's biggest manufacturing economy. True, Chinese factories make tremendous quantities of stuff, and some of it is of very high quality. But as China's booming coastal factories move up the ladder, costs are rising too, including wages, office rents, and utilities. That leaves manufacturers looking to stay on the leading edge of cost-effectiveness with two options: either move deeper into the Chinese mainland, or move to other nations with seaport access. The Economist reports that Intel has raised a previously announced $350 million investment in a Vietnamese chip-making plant to a cool billion. Mark Schifter of Onix tells me he's moved some (though not all) of his company's loudspeaker production to Cali, Colombia, where labor costs more but MDF and veneers cost less. His Chinese factories have to import those things. Also contributing to corporate unrest: recurring concerns over China's wild-west attitude toward intellectual property.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2006 2 comments
Daniel Barenboim is using his baton as a stiletto. The outgoing musical director of the Chicago Symphony has lashed out against Muzak in a BBC lecture series. Starting in the 1920s, Muzak pioneered the piped-in music that follows you around like a talkative acquaintance with bad breath. Barenboim called it "absolutely offensive" and declared, "active listening is essential." In response, the Muzak people compared their product to the works of Erik Satie, describing it as an "aural background" and a "mood enhancer." But the conflict here isn't between foreground and background listening. It's between music voluntarily perceived as music and music involuntarily endured as noise.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 18, 2009 2 comments
Two things you need to know about Christoph Niemann. His artwork has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and American Illustration. And he does not like cables. In this visual essay in the New York Times Opinion section, he explains why. Niemann is not so much Luddite as everyman: Is there anyone out there who cannot relate to the following statement?: "The true malice of headphones, however, is revealed when they are allowed to mingle with other cables."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 15, 2007 0 comments
Are you a fan of Norah Jones? If so, you may be looking to download "Thinking About You," her new single. Best place to go is Yahoo, where you can buy it in the latest, coolest codec ever: MP3! Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can buy the track from iTunes. But if you do, it will be wrapped in FairPlay, Apple's brand of digital rights management (yuck, tooey). Wouldn't you rather pay the same to Yahoo, and enjoy the following advantages of DRM-free downloads, so helpfully enumerated by Yahoo? Oooh, talk DRM-less to me:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 03, 2006 2 comments
Today Bob Dylan makes his debut as DJ on XM Satellite Radio. He will host Theme Time Radio Hour, each installment organized around a different theme—today's theme is the weather. The New York Times ran a set list for next week's show, devoted to Mother's Day. More than a mere list of novelty songs, it demonstrates the deep and encyclopedic knowledge of roots music that has always informed Dylan's songwriting: Tommy Duncan, Buck Owens, Bobby Peterson Quartet, Ruth Brown, Carl Smith, Ernie K-Doe, Little Junior Parker, Jimmy McCracklin, and LL Cool J. The Times arched an eyebrow at LL Cool J. Perhaps the greying composer of "Positively 4th Street" is more sophisticated than the Grey Lady of West 43rd. Dylan will record the one-hour weekly show at home and on the road.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 29, 2007 0 comments
Independent music labels are banding together to increase their marketing power in the dawning download era. Say hello to Merlin, a licensing authority that bills itself as a "virtual fifth major" label. It will serve as a single point of contact for download services like iTunes and Rhapsody, giving indies a better shot at getting into the most heavily trafficked online distribution channels. Under a deal with SNOCAP, Shawn Fanning's post-Napster venture, Merlin will also enable artists to sell no-DRM MP3s on MySpace or through their own virtual stores. Members include numerous indies from the United States, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, and the far east. Look out Universal, Sony BMG, EMI, and Warner. You've got some real competition now.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 18, 2012 0 comments
Readers may already have noticed that my speaker and receiver reviews have begun name-checking a new reference signal source. It is a Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable. And it's a jewel. There isn't a single component in my rack that I don't respect and depend on. But the Micro Seiki I love-love-love. Let me tell you how and why I acquired it.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 26, 2006 2 comments
The weeks of carefully orchestrated of leaks and rumors surrounding Microsoft's iPod-like Zune have approached the viral intensity of an Apple product launch. Confirmation finally came in Billboard with the announcement of "a family of hardware and software products" by Chris Stephenson, general manager of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business. As rumored, the product will ape Apple by integrating a music player with software downloads. But it will also one-up the iPod by offering wi-fi for functions that will include downloading, purchasing, and exchanging songs with a limited number of other users. Not an original idea, but maybe a powerful one. Stephenson raised several other possibilities without confirming any of them: "The ability to connect the different devices is a key part of the strategy. Whether it's a portable media device, or a phone, or the Xbox or Media Center PC, the idea is you can access your entertainment from anywhere." The music industry, eager for "flexible" pricing, will be happy to release its foie-gras-engorged gut from the 99-cent corset imposed by Steve Jobs and iTunes. Not so pleased are the manufacturers and download services who have licensed Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM. They are effectively frozen out of the new integrated Zune hardware/software environment. Prospects for Zune's survival? Send me one and I'll get back to you.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 17, 2006 0 comments
A Tokyo racetrack has become home to the world's largest large-screen video display. The screen is 218 feet wide (by 66 by 37). Judging from the picture, its ratio of width to height is way more than the standard 16:9 of DTV in general. Behind the display is Mitsubishi's Aurora Vision LED technology. Here LEDs are being used to produce the picture directly, though they're also creeping into consumer DLP displays as a substitute for the color wheel. The screen was installed in 35 pieces and cost $28 million. Apologies for the headline. Couldn't resist. A larger edit of the picture, and three others, are in the Galleries.

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