EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 12, 2008 8 comments
I was too woozy after CEDIA 2008 to deliver my final show blog. Anyway, I like to take an annual stand on what was the best thing I heard at the show--after all, people at the show are always asking me. The answer, hands down, was Pioneer's EX Series Reference Class Architectural Speakers.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 27, 2008 5 comments
Don't you just love this bright new Blu-ray world we're living in? To celebrate the great transition, the studios now have hip high-def copyright warnings. This one came from Warner's 10,000 BC. Notice the forceful graphics, the festive colors, the 4:3 aspect ratio. The rounded screen corners that remind me of a 1950s B&W Magnavox--the first TV I remember, delivery medium for countless episodes of Captain Kangaroo. Best of all, it stays onscreen a real long time, and is invulnerable to the track-skip and fast-forward keys, so you have plenty of time to meditate on 5 YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON before your evening entertainment. That'll stop those bootleggers and analog-hole deviants from stealing our precious bodily fluids! Uh, I mean our intellectual property. Or perhaps the studios are just as tone-deaf as ever, wasting the time of law-abiding Blu-ray renters and purchasers to send a message to other people who are impervious to copyright warnings. For the record, I have no intention of ever bootlegging a Blu-ray disc. But all those moments spent watching dopey copyright warnings add up. Couldn't they be shortened to three seconds, or made skippable, to really celebrate a new age of great HD entertainment? I want my life back.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 20, 2008 17 comments
Any takers for the world's greatest music collection? Paul Mawhinney has been collecting for 60 years, amassing a three million items, but is selling due to age, health, and financial problems. An appraiser says the library is worth $50 million, though Paul is willing to settle for $3 million. That's just a dollar a record. The collection includes LPs, CDs, EPs, 45s, and 78s and right now they're sitting in a climate-controlled warehouse waiting for a buyer. Mawhinney would prefer to sell to a museum, library, university, or foundation which would keep the collection intact, though he adds, the new owner is "free to do as you please." If you'd like to check the contents, there's an online database.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 13, 2008 1 comments
If you live anywhere near the Wedge Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, check out the paintings of Ruth Whiting. She's every nerd's dream--a painter who finds inspiration in cables! Says Whiting: "My work can be seen as a product of my fascination with the sublimely ordinary. For some time now I have set myself the task of revealing the beauty and heroism of mundane objects. I think of my paintings as lenses through which insignificant items, usually thought of as nothing more than functional, can assume the roles of heroes. My paintings do not attempt the illustrative role of myth, and yet there is a level upon which a giant orange extension cord that writhes through the nave of a quiet church demands a mythic justification. Thus, rather than propose a narrative, I attempt to create a situation that calls for an explanation. Electrical cords are like the connective tissue of our technological lives yet most of the time all we do is trip over them. This is a show dedicated to glorifying the dreams of extension cords." See showrooms here and here. This page includes clickable larger images. All oil on paper, the paintings are for sale at prices ranging from $130-500.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 06, 2008 3 comments
My boss Shane Buettner has been taking the heat recently for eliminating our product review rating system. In addition to the comments on his blog of last week, he's also been reading a torrent of opinion in the magazine's regular stream of reader mail. When Shane notes that he dropped the ratings with the "complete support of HT’s staff," that definitely includes me. I had been trying to persuade my editors to kill the ratings long before Shane took over.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 31, 2008 2 comments
This sleek spherical satellite/subwoofer set has actually been reviewed in the print counterpart of this website. But Kevin Hunt's review is not on the site itself. So here are my impressions of the Mod1, Orb Audio's lowest-priced speaker package.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 03, 2008 1 comments
The description in the headline above is Klipsch's, not mine. I usually refer to this kind of product as earbuds. But Klipsch is allergic to that term for arcane technical reasons explained in this FAQ. So headphones these wispy transducers are.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 18, 2008 20 comments
Sonoro is a German audio manufacturer. The company recently commissioned a survey on the listening habits of 560 consumers. Thirty-nine percent of them named FM radio as their number one audio entertainment source, beating iPods and other MP3 players at 23 percent. That was interesting, but when I visited the Sonoro site, I found something even more interesting: the Cubo system.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 11, 2008 6 comments
Tivoli Audio has steadily expanded beyond its original retro-style Model One radio into a variety of related products. All of them have killer radio tuners and some, like the iYiYi, have iPod docks. This revision of the briefcase-friendly SongBook radio adds an extension speaker and iPod dock along with some interesting twists.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 04, 2008 1 comments
There are lots of wireless ways to get two channels of audio from point A to point B. But which is the right one for you? One of several possible answers is the Audioengine AW1 wireless audio adapter. It takes the form of two shiny black objects. Each one is the size and shape of a box of kitchen matches, with a stubby USB dongle at one end and a stereo mini-jack at the other end.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 28, 2008 1 comments
Most headphones beam sound directly into the ear canal. Ultrasone takes a different approach with the HFI-2200. With these German-made headphones, sound enters the ear just as it does in real life--bouncing off the complex fleshy surfaces of the outer ear, or pinna. This S-Logic technology has two desirable outcomes. One, according to the manufacturer, is more natural sound with better perception of distance, depth, and imaging. Another benefit is a 40 percent drop in sound pressure level for the same volume. The headphones are also shielded against electromagnetic radiation. See two different videos on the Ultrasone site and Amazon.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 14, 2008 0 comments
There are a lot of internet radio stations but not many internet radios. Even as smart a player as Tivoli Audio had to pull back on introducing one, after Tom DeVesto and crew discovered how difficult it is to design a compact internet radio that operates with the same plug-and-plug simplicity as the company's other products. Well, the Tivoli NetWorks is finally here. It's the same shape as the PAL radio but comes in a wooden enclosure (walnut, cherry, or wenge) like the Model One and some other Tivolis. It accesses both internet radio stations and the contents of a PC's hard drive via either wi-fi or ethernet connections. The only control is a round button at the top. Pressing and holding it turns the unit on or off; pressing it quickly mutes the radio; rotating it adjusts volume. Hardest thing you'll need to do is input the password for a secured wi-fi connection. The unit is shipped with five of Tom's favorite stations already selected as presets though you can change them. It is available with or without digital FM tuner. At $600 for the tunerless model, NetWorks is not cheap, but the development must have cost a fortune. See video and press release.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 07, 2008 45 comments
I've never given a price formula for putting together a system--you know, X percent for this, Y percent for that. But I recognize that impecunious readers may be tempted to save a buck on speakers or amps, if only as a temporary measure. So where's the best place to save? Is it better to mate expensive speakers with a cheap receiver, or cheap speakers with an expensive receiver? I think the first idea is a disaster in the making. The cheap receiver won't let the speakers live up to their potential. A paltry supply of dirty power will make them sound somewhere between mediocre and awful. In addition, if the speakers have low sensitivity and present too great a load, the stressed receiver may even damage the drivers or shut itself down. On the other hand, mating an expensive receiver with cheap speakers (like the nice-sounding and nice-looking Onixes pictured here) just might work. Sure, the speakers may not be the culimination of your high-end dreams, but a good receiver will get the best out of them. Of course you'll have to be careful not to blow them out with too much volume. Upgrade the speakers later when you can afford to. Your goal, of course, is to have both great speakers and a great receiver.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 23, 2008 0 comments
As recently noted in the News Dept., Verizon is pushing its FiOS TV, net, and phone service into all five boroughs of New York City over the next six years. Of course this is a major challenge to the local cable companies, Time Warner and Cablevision. Taking a pro-active stance, Time Warner has already been running TV ads for months deriding Verizon's fiber-optic technology. Here's the scenario: A guy about to tuck into his morning cereal answers the doorbell to find a callow youth offering Verizon fiber, complete with animated effects. Waving his bowl of bran--full of fiber, get it?--the happy cable customer snarkily responds that Time Warner has been using fiber optics for years. What the ad doesn't mention is that Verizon takes fiber all the way up to the house or building served, only then reverting to coax, twinlead, etc. for various services. For my own part, I'm both a reasonably happy Time Warner customer and an embittered former Verizon customer. My dialtone went away, never came back, and the company's fully automated customer service wouldn't put a human on the phone to talk with me about it, though I do regularly get mailings begging me to come back. But what technophile wouldn't be seduced by Verizon's vision of a fiber-optic future? The company is make a huge investment in FiOS. In a country decidedly behind in broadband technology compared to other nations, the Verizon program is just what we need.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 16, 2008 2 comments
Last Friday I had the privilege of watching Lang Lang perform a freshly commissioned piano concerto by Tan Dun (who composed the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The 25-year-old wunderkind brilliantly exploited the work's wide dynamic contrasts and powerful sonorities, often conjuring extraordinary tone color by hammering the lowest notes of the keyboard, and bewitching the audience with extravagant gestures. Lang Lang is to the piano what Leonard Bernstein was to conducting. Anyway, Sony slipped me a ticket to celebrate its three-year pact with what is arguably the world's greatest living pianist. "Sony is delighted to welcome Lang Lang as a 'brand ambassador' who can reach and connect with audiences around the world," said Sir Howard Stringer in a press release. Lang Lang describes himself as "a long-time Sony user." No doubt he'll boost Sony's popularity, not only in America but in classical-conscious Europe and his native China. It's great to see a major corporation hitching its wagon to a major pianist. Rumors of classical music's death have been greatly exaggerated.

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