EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 07, 2007 2 comments
What would happen if David Letterman came onstage to do his opening monologue but nothing came out of his mouth? What if the stars of the silver screen had to improvise all their dialogue--would someone like Tom Cruise even have a career? Now you may have an inkling of what TV and screenwriters contribute to popular entertainment. And that's why the strike of the Writers Guild of America matters. They're looking for a bigger cut of burgeoning DVD revenues and growing Internet revenues. Peopling the picket lines in New York this week were Seth Myers, the Weekend Update coanchor and head writer of Saturday Night Live, and his predecessor Tina Fey, now of 30 Rock. The most recent SNL telecast included a hilarious skit with Fred Armisen posing as an overpaid studio executive. Jay Leno has contributed a sound bite supporting his writers and Letterman describes the producers as "cowards, cutthroats, and weasels." But Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is really putting his money where his mouth is. He is personally paying the salaries of his writers for the duration of the strike. These folks know on which side their bread is buttered.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 31, 2007 1 comments
Recent ruminations over the contents of my rack have given short shrift to a major player. A disc player, in fact--the Integra DPS-10.5. It has long served as the main signal source in my reference system. Occasionally I make a note to that effect in reviews but I've never really done justice to the Integra. Let's remedy that now.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 24, 2007 0 comments
I've talked a bit recently about my reference surround speakers and receiver and signal sources. That may leave a few droolers (you know who you are) wondering what cables I use.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 17, 2007 0 comments
A problem was looming in the kitchen--aside from my rudimentary cooking skills and haphazard sanitary habits, that is. I found myself avoiding my kitchen system. The kitchen rig seemed like a good idea at the time. By combining a mass-market mini-system with a sat/sub set, and wall-mounting the satellites, I'd squeeze music into a tight L-shaped place where only radio had gone before. Anyway, I soon tired of the system's rudimentary and haphazard performance and it devolved into a glorified radio. After a decade I threw in the dish towel and replaced the radio function with, well, a radio. Then I set about brainstorming a new music system for the kitchen.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 10, 2007 2 comments
I'm nothing if not loyal to my reference gear. Google "fleischmann rotel rsx-1065" or "fleischmann paradigm studio 20" and you'll see what I mean--the latter alone brings up more than 900 links on this site and elsewhere. I continue to use, and implicitly recommend, these products because they sound great, combine the best traits of both real-world and high-end audio, and give my ears a stable and reliable benchmark against which to judge other things. When I tell speaker makers I use the Rotel, they breathe a sigh of relief. So do receiver makers, when I tell them I'm using the Paradigms. The reference pieces also like one another. Hearing them together recalibrates my ears between reviews. I wish I could listen to them more often.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 03, 2007 1 comments
Once a year I quietly go berserk updating my book Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems. Adding new content and revising old content forces me to review what I know about the subject, often prodding me into becoming better informed. And of course it gives me a chance to capture more of your hard-earned nickels and dimes. The 2008 Edition is number seven. It comes in a handsome cream cover and is now available from Amazon in both the U.S. and the U.K. As I often tell people, don't read it all at once or it'll make you violently ill. But this strapping little volume does make an excellent answer book for all the questions a non-engineer might have about how HDTV and surround sound really work. Knock yourself out!

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