EARS ON

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Posted: Sep 02, 2016 10 comments
I adopted a new reference receiver recently. You've already read all about the product itself, the Denon AVR-X7200W. But it's one thing for a reviewer to evaluate a product positively. It's another thing to give it the coveted reference-receiver berth on my rack. This is a big event, so perhaps I should say a few words about it.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 05, 2016 3 comments
My job is to write audio equipment reviews and news briefs for our magazine. My hobby is to write this blog. Writing for a print medium means writing tight because there's only so much space to go around. That means routinely eliminating material. The temptation I face most often is to lard hardware reviews with music criticism. I'm a lapsed music critic and like to blur the boundary between tech criticism and music criticism as long as it doesn't disserve the tech-oriented reader. Recently I faced a similar temptation when reviewing a Sony Walkman and earbuds. It required a trip out of the office. Some impressions of the trip ended up on the cutting room floor. They weren't strictly necessary for the review, but they haunted me. I'll blog them here instead.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 01, 2016 14 comments
When it comes to my music library, sometimes I'm like a little kid. Buy now, think about the consequences later. My apartment was already groaning under the load of LPs, CDs, other media, and gear a year or two back when I suddenly went on an accelerated vinyl-collecting binge. When my workday was over, I'd sit in my armchair with a tablet, making one Ebay buy after another. On weekends I was off to Academy Records on West 18th Street in Manhattan to look for classical treasures (because classical vinyl is still cheap and cheap is what it's all about). Vinyl started overflowing from the shelves to the floor. Those LP-size BD/DVD-A/CD box sets made matters worse. Soon, and not for the first time in my life, I was in the throes of a full-blown LP storage crisis.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 03, 2016 1 comments
The audiocassette killed the LP. The Compact Disc killed the audiocassette. Downloads have all but killed the CD. And it looks increasingly as if streaming is killing downloads. Yet vinyl resurges, confounding the wing of audio punditry that has long asserted its flaws ought to make it stay dead. Me, I love good analog as much as I love good digital, and I also love the tactile experience of handling LPs. Once in a while I pick one off the shelf and marvel at what a beautiful artifact it is. Following are some of my favorite LP artifacts, with emphasis on unusual design and manufacturing gimmicks that make them especially pleasing as physical art objects.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 06, 2016 16 comments
Audio products bring us joy. They also get in the way. (That goes double for hard-copy software. And triple for LPs, much as we love them.) In fact, though the magazine's reviews discuss fidelity, features, and even ergonomics, they rarely discuss how a product might bulk large in your home. Reviewers simply assume that readers will consider the product category, look at the picture, maybe check the dimensions, and reach their own conclusions. But intrusion is a major way in which products relate, or fail to relate, to us.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 01, 2016 1 comments
I have been a fan of Keith Emerson (1944-2016) since a childhood friend introduced me to Elegy by The Nice. I was intrigued by the long stretches of piano and Hammond organ improvisation overlaid onto recognizable songs—among other things. What just zipped by? Was that a Tchaikovsky symphony movement? My heirs may someday be startled to find three LP copies (and one CD) of this album. Not long afterward, I spent my lawn-mowing money on the untitled debut album of Emerson Lake & Palmer. After more plays than I can even estimate, and on some pretty dodgy turntables, it's developed some sibilance problems, as I noticed on a recent memorial spin, but the DVD-Audio/CD edition with Steven Wilson's surround and stereo remasters has picked up the torch.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 04, 2016 2 comments
Concertgoers will enjoy a new experience on Beyoncé's next tour. Starting in April 2016, the Formation World Tour will be the first to feature THX Live! certification. Yes, THX is now certifying concert sound.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 05, 2016 15 comments
It is now blindingly obvious that music has burst free of its chains. Even the traditionalist audio categories I cover have ways to make music fly through the air. Let me run through some approaches to wireless connectivity—some well established, others new and novel. When we get to the finish line, I'd love to hear about what you use and what you would like to try.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 11, 2016 1 comments
Audio highlights and trends from CES 2016 worth writing home about.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 01, 2016 6 comments
Has concertgoing become a lost art? Observing behavior at concerts, I can't help wondering if some of my fellow audience members have lost the ability to listen in the moment. And the music suffers for it.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 04, 2015 12 comments
Anyone who follows my work will see references to multiple audio systems, including my reference system and my desktop system. But I actually use a good half-dozen audio systems—in a one-bedroom apartment. Why? I'm tempted to say because I can. But it would be closer to the truth to say I must.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 06, 2015 4 comments
It's been 30 years since I bought my first Compact Disc player and first CDs. With the CD format in a death spiral, the LP recovering nicely, high-resolution downloads on the rise, and streaming capturing a new generation of listeners, defending the CD at this moment in history may seem like pure contrarianism. That alone is reason enough to reevaluate the CD—even if it seemingly contradicts things I myself have written in the recent past. But let's make it clear that if I am about to find a few kind words to say about the dear old shiny disc, it doesn't mean I don't love my vinyl and FLACs any less. It's just that my music library has room for more than one format. I still buy CDs, but I collect LPs and high-res audio too.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 02, 2015 14 comments
Over the past couple of years, I've raised the bar for new entries to my music library. I've been steadily giving up lossy audio. In other words, file formats like MP3 and iTunes-approved AAC are no longer welcome. It is time for my library to move to the next step. So long, lossy. Quoth the raven, nevermore.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 04, 2015 9 comments
What's in a name? At times, not a whole lot of sense. The consumer electronics industry has a genius for giving dopey names to things: unintentionally misleading names, deliberately misleading names, duplicative names, redundant names, outright laughable names. Here are just a few:

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 07, 2015 24 comments
Most receivers have seven amp channels. I've just reviewed several of them in a row: the Onkyo TX-NR545, Pioneer VSX-1130, and Sony STR-DN1060. Our October issue will collect them in a roundup, with a review of the Denon AVR-X1200W following in November. All list for $600 and include Dolby Atmos height-enriched surround in a 5.1.2-channel configuration. That is a couple of height channels short of the 5.1.4 configuration Dolby Labs recommends for Atmos in the home. And that in turn prompts an uncomfortable question: Is the seven-channel receiver obsolete?

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