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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 25, 2007 5 comments
What size would you like your iPod-compatible speakers to be? Do you want Baby Bear, Mama Bear, or Papa Bear? Sierra Sound's iN STUDIO 5.0 fits into the middle category, as a monitor-sized pair of speakers with an iPod dock atop the left one. The review sample came in festive high-gloss Ferrari red, pleasing me no end, though you can have basic black or boring old traditional iPod white if you prefer.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 18, 2007 2 comments
Are Apple's new higher-fidelity downloads worth their premium prices? No, says a recording engineer writing for the Sci Fi Tech blog. Critic Leslie Shapiro downloaded 20 songs from iTunes Plus at 256 kilobits per second and compared them to 128kbps versions (both using Apple's favored AAC codec). "I bought into the idea that the difference would be drastic, or at least noticeable," Shapiro writes. "I spent hours listening, switching from 128 to 256 and back, straining to hear something--anything--different about the tracks. My critical listening skills are pretty good, but this was pushing the limit. To be fair, there were differences, but they were subtle. For example, on David Bowie's 'Space Oddity,' the high-end clarity was a bit more pronounced on the 256-kbps version, and on KT Tunstell's 'Other Side of The World,' the guitars were slightly more detailed. It would've been extremely hard to distinguish had I not been switching instantly from one format to the other." True, Shapiro might have reached different conclusions if comparing MP3s at the same data rate--or compressed files to lossless ones. But considering what Apple's charging for these higher-bit-rate downloads, the winner (at least for people who care about sound quality) may be the dear old CD. After all, you can rip it to any codec you like, and even change your mind in the future. Mmmm, my bulging CD shelves are sure lookin' good!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 11, 2007 0 comments
The world is well supplied with iPod-compatible micro-systems. Unfortunately, many of them don't look so good. An exception is Sonic Impact's curvaceous T24.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 27, 2007 0 comments
It's summer. The trees are in leaf. That means I can't see the river any more.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 20, 2007 2 comments
In a Diablog about my pianistic hero Sviatoslav Richter, I ended by wishing aloud for the re-release of an 18-disc boxed set Philips originally issued about 15 years ago. Following up with an email, I got this response from Ken of the Decca Music Group: "I'm happy to confirm that all Decca and Philips's Richter recordings are due to be re-released over the coming months, and you'll be able to read about them, with US release date information, on the iClassics site." The first three freshly released two-disc sets entitled Richter: The Master celebrate his command of Beethoven and Mozart, with a third volume of Scriabin, Prokoviev, and Shostakovich and presumably more on the way. The packaging is nothing special but it's great to see this material becoming widely available again. The reissue series will cover both the Philips and Decca catalogues, including (I hope) Richter's late-in-life examinations of Haydn. And it will give a new generation of listeners a chance to buy recordings sold until now only in used form by ripoff artists. Some of the Philips "authorized recordings" titles, issued separately from the box, command secondhand prices as high as $60--and the box itself goes for up to $2000. Me happy boy.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 13, 2007 2 comments
The iPod has a way of erasing all boundaries between itself and the rest of your life. Why shouldn't you be able to listen to it through your home theater system? After all, some people do use their iPods more than their whirring disc players--though as an audio snob, I'm obligated to point out that uncompressed CDs sound better than compressed file formats (and SACDs can sound better than CDs). To test the product, I found another use for it. Still, the iPod has become the way many people organize their music consumption, and the people's voice must be heard. That's why some surround receivers have optional iPod docks. And for those that don't, there's a veritable army of docking devices like DLO's Homedock Deluxe.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2007 59 comments
Recently I've begun configuring some review systems to eliminate the horizontal center speaker in favor of a matching left/center/right array. The specific weakness of horizontal centers lies in their dual woofers. They bring on an effect called lobing--that is, sum-and-cancellation effects that cause uneven response at the listening position. However, my preference for identically matched speakers across the front is causing consternation to some readers, especially concerning placement.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 30, 2007 3 comments
The British Broadcasting Corporation has been busy lately. Its iPlayer is about to relaunch following a beta test. It will enable viewers to download single episodes or entire series a month after airing. In other BBC news, an archival project will put a million hours of historic material online for free, according to the Guardian. In this case there's a catch. You'll have to pay the annual BBC license fee to access it. The archives include an interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, conducted two days before the shooting, in which they candidly discuss the impact of their relationship on the Beatles. There's also an interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., conducted the day before his death, in which he says: "The important thing isn't how long you live, but how well you live."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 23, 2007 7 comments
Can a brand that has made its biggest mark in television also muster credible music players? Whether or not you've noticed, RCA has been doing that for several years. The 2007 line includes three flavors: the Jet, the Opal, and the Pearl. I got hold of the 1GB version of the Pearl for review. It plays both music and Audible e-books. With its modest size and rounded shape, this is a player you can easily shove in a pocket before getting on with your mobile life.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 16, 2007 0 comments
One of the cool things about digital television is the potential for creativity on the subchannels. Case in point: The Tube. It's carried in many markets by DTV stations owned by Raycom, Sinclair, Tribune, and others; and by Comcast, Time Warner, and other cable systems. The independently owned channel delivers nonstop rock and pop music videos with minimal channel IDs and no commercials. Programming races back and forth in time, from the 1960s to the present, mixing raw live footage with conventional promo music videos. Some items in heavy rotation are surprising--I would never have gone out of my way to add Queen concerts to my DVD stash, but wow, Freddie rocks! My only complaint is that heavy audio compression results in harsh, grainy sound with virtually no dynamic range. Even so, it's a great place to surf during commercial breaks on other channels, and repays longer spells of attention with a wide and ever-changing array of music. Check the Wiki to see if The Tube is available in your area. The channel also has an official site, an unofficial site, and a myspace presence.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 09, 2007 0 comments
Did I just hear the words "wait till you see the statues in my bathroom!" shoot out of your home theater system?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2007 0 comments
Recent press reports that Jack Valenti passed away last week were not quite complete. This blog has learned that the man who likened the VCR to the Boston Strangler was, in fact, strangled by a VCR. Police say the videocassette recorder snuck into the bedroom of the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America as he slept. Spitting out a cassette, the VCR uncoiled the tape and wrapped it around the neck of the veteran lobbyist who once told Congress: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone." The murder was captured by a security camera connected to, ironically, another VCR. Valenti began his career as a publicist and served in the administrations of presidents Kennedy and Johnson. At the MPAA he pioneered the rating system and cried wolf insistently enough to secure passage of the unbelievably fascistic Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which criminalizes anything and everything to do with home recording devices, including just looking at one. According to police, forensic evidence in the form of Super Avilyn particles may eventually tie the murder weapon to the rogue VCR. They also say the getaway car was driven by a TiVo.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 25, 2007 0 comments
Smaller iPod-compatible speaker systems like this one are usually described as "speakers" (as opposed to "systems"). The Altec Lansing inMotion gets points for not calling itself an i-something. What's seductive about it, though, is its shape-shifting ability.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2007 1 comments
This is the 300th blog to be posted in this space. It won't be the last, but thanks to our spiffy redesign, my news stories will move from here to another part of the website. You'll find them under HT News, right below the Buyer's Guides, and you needn't even scroll down, because the section lies "above the fold," to borrow some old newspaper talk. I'll continue posting to HT News from Monday through Friday barring holidays, trade shows, and other predictable interruptions. And Darryl Wilkinson will continue to write news and product items in his always readable and enjoyable style. The two-voiced diablogs and reviews of small audio products will continue in this "From the Edge" blog and eventually I may find something equally self-indulgent to add to them. So please look for me in HT News on weekdays and check this space for non-news goodies every few weeks. Thanks for all your comments and encouragement.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 02, 2007 0 comments
The news that EMI will sell no-DRM downloads through iTunes couldn't have come at a better time. Music downloads are growing but not fast enough to offset sinking CD sales. Electronic libertarians assert that digital rights management is a big part of the problem, because it balkanizes the music-player world, preventing iTunes purchases from playing on non-iPods. Steve Jobs flew to London especially to join EMI in announcing that the big label's entire catalogue will become available in AAC, the iPod's favored file format, without DRM, and at 256 kilobits per second, which should provide higher quality than either MP3 at the same data rate or standard iTunes downloads at 128kbps. You'll have to pay a premium price of $1.29 per track. And if your music player doesn't do AAC, you're out of luck. However, EMI will cover those bases by selling through other download services in MP3 and WMA. For law-abiding music lovers, this is great news. Note, however, that this move is more a breakthrough in marketing than in law. EMI and Apple aren't saying you can copy anything anywhere. But it would be fair to interpret this as tacit recognition of reality--the beginning of the end of the criminalizing of fair use. It has been at least several months in the making, following the anti-DRM manifesto of Jobs and small-scale experimentation by EMI. No word on when the Beatles catalogue will become legally downloadable. Yet.

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