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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 03, 2014 5 comments
We now have an official definition of what is high-resolution audio. That's the good news. The bad news is that we don't have a clear enough definition of what is not high-resolution audio.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2014 11 comments
The AV receiver is such a feature-rich beast that it's hard to believe designers would ever dispense with a single feature. As the category has grown, features have just piled up, and generally manufacturers prefer adding them to subtracting them. But slowly, stealthily, a few features are vanishing from the spec sheet and the back panel. It had to happen eventually. Every feature costs money for parts or licensing. Either prices have to go up, sound quality has to suffer, or some old features must go gentle into that good night. That last alternative seems like the least of all possible evils.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2014 0 comments
Bis is a Swedish music label with a large catalogue of Super Audio CDs. Among them are two releases that have become my go-to choices for major works in the orchestral repertory: Beethoven's nine symphonies and Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos. Both are DSD recordings, less than a decade old, with surround and stereo soundtracks. They'll cost you more than most CD box sets of the same works. But the chance to hear these vibrant performances in high-res DSD via SACD is well worth the price. Think of surround as icing on the cake.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2014 4 comments
The Universal Music Group is taking a new kind of plunge into the Blu-ray disc format. Already the videophile's go-to format for movies and concert videos, Blu-ray now bids to conquer audiophiles. At least, that's the plan. Whether it goes anywhere is a different question.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 07, 2014 4 comments
My moment of immortality in the Pazz & Jop Poll, the annual music critic's poll that runs in The Village Voice, came when I confessed my craving for classical music, not a popular genre at the Voice. I mentioned how much I loved gorging on $2 used LPs at the now-gone Tower Annex in Lower Manhattan, buying "as much dead white boy music as I can carry to the bus." My ballot comment ran in the paper, which was a great honor. That was sometime in the early 1990s, during the golden age of cheap vinyl, before the current vinyl resurgence. Folks were dumping LPs for CDs and even an impecunious collector could make out like a bandit. Today vinyl isn't as cheap as it once was; those 180-gram virgin-vinyl reissues cost a bundle, as do vintage pressings of Beatles and Pink Floyd albums. Yet even today I continue to collect loads of used classical vinyl. Most of it is still cheap and it's one of the few forms of high-res audio an inkstained wretch can afford to buy in large quantities.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 07, 2014 0 comments
High-resolution audio (HRA) can enter your life in more than one way, as I discovered when reviewing two HRA products practically end to end. Both devices are DAC-amps that play HRA audio files. The main difference between them is that Cambridge Audio's Minx Xi streams music in real time from PCs and other devices, whereas Sony's HAP-S1 server-amp plays music from its own internal hard drive. The Cambridge is more of a network player, while the Sony is more of a music server (as I define these terms). These two products offer profoundly different ways of enjoying HRA.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 03, 2014 4 comments
For some, tower speakers are an article of faith. Many audiophiles wouldn't consider going without them—either folded into a 5.1+ system or as a standalone two-channel system. For some of those listeners, owning a pair of towers is the right decision, and I wouldn't be foolhardy enough to try talking them out of it. But for others, floorstanding speakers are just one option among many, and not necessarily the best one. In some primary systems, smaller-scale monitors or satellites would be more appropriate; for some secondary systems, soundbars or standalone audio products make more sense. As I discussed in a previous blog, choice of speaker size depends on both needs and personalities.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 06, 2013 0 comments
I never got to see the 1973-74 version of King Crimson. It played its final concert in New York's Central Park just over a year before I moved to the city. I always wished I could go back in time to attend one of those concerts. Well, be careful what you wish for.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 01, 2013 11 comments
A home theater system, as I never tire of saying, is the union of big-screen television and surround sound. Conceptually speaking, the big-TV part is not a heavy lift. But some people interested in getting into home theater may have trouble visualizing what a surround sound system might look like. And it's hard to blame them. Surround systems come in many configurations, each appealing to a different tribe of listeners. How can you, as an aspiring home theater buff, decide which surround tribe you belong to? Here are some common configurations matched to the listeners to whom they would appeal.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 04, 2013 2 comments
Bar, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin', say most audiophiles. But an increasing number of consumers begs to differ, and the audio industry caters to them with an increasing selection of soundbars. At the recent CEDIA Expo, nearly every manufacturer that makes audio-for-video products was showing a soundbar or three, and no doubt I'll be reviewing some of them over the next year. With such a proliferation of soundbars, some of them may actually be pretty good, within their inherent limits, and worth considering in a bedroom system or something other than a primary home theater system.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 06, 2013 1 comments
It's official. The future of audio hardware and software now has an acronym. It's HRA, or high-resolution audio, trumpets a press release from the Consumer Electronics Association. HRA may well emerge as a key theme of CEA's 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. So this would be a good time to discuss what is, and is not, high-resolution audio.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 02, 2013 0 comments
Review samples traipse through my 5.1-channel home theater system in a constant procession. A smaller number get hooked up to my 2.1-channel desktop system. But very few make it into the bedroom to serve me before I drift off to sleep. A speaker named The ONE, from a company named Audience, is one of the rare exceptions. What follows is not an orthodox review. It's just a story about how a distinctive product was able to fit briefly into my life.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 05, 2013 3 comments
In every review I write of a surround receiver or speaker system, I tap out a graf on associated equipment used to audition the product. You can always find it between the product description and the listening notes. Whenever I read an audio review, I feel cast adrift if the reviewer doesn't disclose what's in his reference system. After all, the receiver I use to review a set of speakers, or the speakers I use to review a receiver, may exert a significant effect on the product's performance and how I perceive it. So does the room, for that matter, and maybe I'll tackle that subject someday. I use asymmetrical long-wall placement in a room with six sides where no two sides are the same length. That should make for an interesting blog. In the meantime, here's a more detailed description of what's in my rack, moving from top to bottom.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 07, 2013 9 comments
Perhaps no product category is more misunderstood or maligned than the audio/video receiver. Within the home theater community, some deem it a deal breaker or bottleneck, despite its true status as the heart of a home theater system. Outside the home theater community, two-channel puritans regard the AVR as a morally flawed cluster of features that is inherently hostile to good sound. Won't anyone (aside from AVR manufacturers) speak up for a product that tries so hard to give the consumer so much?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 10, 2013 2 comments
Someday I'll write a blog headlined Why Surround Receivers Are Cooler Than Ever. But before I get to that one, I'd probably better write one called Getting to Know Your Surround Receiver. Lots of folks dread the whole idea of buying an audio/video receiver because they fear that the getting-to-know-you phase will scar them for life. So here's what to do when you take your new receiver out of the box. This is not a detailed step-by-step guide. You'll have to infer the smaller steps yourself, refer to the manual, or buy a book on the subject (hint hint). But the following may make it a little easier to get started.

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