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EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 26, 2008 9 comments
People are watching more network TV shows on the internet and I wondered what it would be like to be one of them. I'm the first to admit I'm not crazy about watching anything longer than three minutes on my PC monitor--even after upgrading to a 24-inch 1080p NEC. Still, I couldn't resist doing an hour of Star Trek from CBS.com. I figured if I could get through season one, episode one--"The Man Trap"--I might do a few more. Slow data rate and low res were givens. My first frustration beyond that was that the Adobe Flash Player wouldn't let me upscale the image to fill the screen. That meant I had to either stick to my desk chair or squint at a postcard-sized image from my armchair across the room. Buffering errors interrupted the flow of the program three or four times. As for the ads, I saw the series in the original telecasts (yes, I'm that old) and ads didn't bother me then. If anything, the online ad interruptions were fewer and briefer than typical broadcast TV. But the ads were painfully loud compared to the volume level of the program. Again, that happens on broadcast TV too, but in this case the disparity was extreme, and got even more irksome during one ad with substantial low-bass content, which turned my desk sub into a blaring bass bomb. Unfortunately my Onix desktop amp doesn't come with remote control. Altogether, I won't do it again unless I can get a full-screen image and a reasonable ratio between program and ad sound levels. These are solvable problems. Over to you, CBS.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 07, 2008 0 comments
Today Pioneer announced that it would stop manufacturing plasma panels. The company will continue marketing plasmas, probably using panels made by Panasonic. So maybe this isn't exactly the end of an era for the fabulous Kuro plasma line. Still, the news sent a chill through Kuro fans. Do you own a Pioneer Kuro? If so, what do you think of it? And while we're at it, which do you like better in general--plasma or LCD?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 19, 2008 0 comments
Today Toshiba announced that it will discontinue marketing HD DVD players. What do you think will happen next? Will you buy a Blu-ray player? Do downloads look more attractive? And finally, those of you who have tried both HD DVD and Blu-ray, which offered the better user experience? Weigh in and tell us what you think. After all, it's your opinion that will determine what happens next in this epic saga.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 13, 2008 1 comments
I was dozing through a commercial break in the 10 o'clock news when I heard something that woke me right up. It was the "Prelude No. 1 in C Major" from Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, the Rosetta Stone of western music. The experience was akin to finding a fifty dollar bill in the street, which incidentally also happened to me recently. What advertiser would be brilliant enough to feed Johann Sebastian Bach to an unsuspecting TV audience? None other than McDonald's, promoting its Angus Third-Pounder. This über-burger can be purchased in three varieties: with lettuce and tomato, with bacon and cheese, or with Swiss and mushrooms. The ad--which I swear I've seen before, but with a less elevating soundtrack--shows an average guy who takes his first bite of a Third-Pounder and is so transported that he tries to push his chair back from the table, to savor the golden (-arched) moment, only to find the chair's bolted to the floor, so he settles for a sip from his giant drink. I'd have run out into the street and bought an Angus Third-Pounder immediately, just this once, were it not for the seeded bun. I don't eat whole sesame seeds. Anyway, there you have it, an odd alliance between the nation's most notorious gristle pusher and a composer who had a direct line to God. And I have no complaints about this. Far from it. Will wonders never cease.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 30, 2008 2 comments
Oh no. What is that large object sitting on your desk?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 23, 2008 2 comments
Abandonment by Warner and Fox has left HD DVD with shrinking support among the motion picture studios. If HD DVD survives at all, it will have to do so with little or eventually no major-studio support. So maybe this is the time to ask a potentially controversial question: Does HD DVD have a future as a niche format--or possibly even an outlaw format? The following suggestions range from possible to distasteful to downright illegal. But since the future of a promising young format is at stake, let's think, um, creatively.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 17, 2008 2 comments
Sometimes it makes me nervous to lift an iPod-compatible compact audio system out of the box. There are plenty of them out there and I want to review only the exceptional ones. From time to time I pull off the wrapping and know I'm looking at a loser before the iPod even touches the docking connector. Flimsy construction usually leads to flimsy sound. On the other hand, some systems also make a fine first impression. The Tannoy i30 is a case in point. It was packed better than most of the surround receivers I reviewed, in charcoal-colored non-disintegrating foam. At a solid eight pounds, it felt good in my hands.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 02, 2008 1 comments
Long time no Diablog.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 19, 2007 3 comments
Soundbar: What a word. I like it. It implies that audio-for-video can be simplified into an unprepossessing horizontal object. The Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two assumes that you'd rather have one speaker (and sub) than five (and sub). It also assumes you have a certain impatience with cables, and therefore sweetens the deal with a wireless link between soundbar and sub--though it still requires two power cords and two analog channels worth of cable between the soundbar and your signal sources. And it assumes you'll accept not 5.1 but 2.1 honest channels in its 1.1 sleek objects. No virtual-surround pretensions here.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 14, 2007 2 comments
I keep up with new surround-receiver features the way a CIA analyst monitors intel from dangerous nations. A lot of these things are just distractions from the fundamentals: dynamics, noise, etc. But I'm in love with the latest wrinkle in connectivity, the front-panel USB jack. At first I thought, yawn, a way to plug in your Windows PlaysForSure music player, as if you had such a thing. But you can also plug in a plain old USB drive. Think of this: You bump your 10 newest favorite songs to a flash drive, plug that sucker into the front panel, and use the remote to get the show rolling. If you have a whole drawer full of those things, each one can become a playlist. Better yet, why not get some use out of the external hard drive you use to protect your download collection from a deadly crash? Or better still, why not buy another external hard drive just for use with the receiver? I just paid $120 for a 500GB Iomega external drive to back up my backups (I'm careful that way). That's much less than the cost of a fancy hard-drive-based audio server. It's also just about what you'd pay for an add-on iPod dock. Kudos to Pioneer, which introduced me to the feature with the VSX-94TXH ($1600), and Integra, maker of the DTR-8.8 ($2400) I'm reviewing at the moment. Let's hope USB trickles down to less costly models.

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