EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 10, 2015 3 comments
What if streaming isn't such a good idea after all?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 05, 2015 15 comments
I have been lucky enough to spend nearly all of my career explaining audio and video technology to readers. I'm just as lucky to have made Sound & Vision and its predecessor Home Theater my roost since 2001. But in a previous phase of my career, I divided my time between specialist publications like this one and other kinds: music and pop culture magazines, men's and women's and travel magazines and newspapers and more. It was while writing a story for Details that I racked my brain for a way to assert the relevance of audio technology to a young, hip, music-loving audience (not unlike myself at the time). Finally I stumbled upon the key that unlocked it all: the phrase closer to music. I've been using that phrase and its cousin—your relationship with music—ever since.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 01, 2015 1 comments
I recently spent a few weeks exhaustively reviewing five headphone DAC-amps. They included the Schiit Fulla ($79), AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149), Oppo HA-2 ($299), Celsus Companion One ($595), and Sony PHA-3 ($1,000). Of course anyone who buys one of these products will find that the listening experience depends heavily on the headphones used with it, and there's no predicting which headphones an individual buyer may use, so I chose a varied selection: the Oppo PM-2 ($699), Sennheiser HD600 ($400), and Sony MDR-V6 ($110). Then I had to choose the demo music. That was fun—anyone who says a job like mine isn't fun should find another job—but it took some care and forethought. Just as associated gear affects perception of an audio product, so too does the music.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 10, 2015 6 comments
Freak that I am, I still pay for most of the music I listen to. Not that I didn't have a fling with Napster and its successors—but I've removed torrenting software from my PCs and no longer seek out illegal downloads. Nowadays, if I want to check out new-to-me music without investing, I try the public library, YouTube, borrow from a friend, or—being a journalist has its privileges—ask for a review sample of the disc or download. But I also explore the vast realm of classical music via $2 LPs and pay full price for CDs and LPs by greying artists I've supported for decades. The one thing I refuse to do now is settle for a lousy stolen MP3. I'm done with that. If you're not, here are a few things to think about. Please don't get the impression that I'm acting all high and mighty about illegal downloading. What I'm arguing is that it's in your best interest to give it up. Here's why.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 05, 2015 4 comments
One persistent criticism of audiophilia is that it can be expensive. Why this criticism is leveled at, say, Pono—but not at fine wine, high-end apparel, or fancy cars—is one of life's mysteries. I'd say the best signal sources, speakers, amps, headphones, and other products are worth the investment if you know what you're doing. But paying more for the good stuff isn't the only way to be an audiophile. You can get pretty good sound from, say, one of the $600 receivers on our Top Picks list. And, whatever you may have on your rack, there are other ways of improving your system for little or nothing. Longtime readers will find most of the following tips blindingly obvious. But they are intended for younger readers just getting their systems started.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 06, 2015 15 comments
First there was mono. Then there was stereo. And then things got complicated. Surround sound has been a restless medium ever since it first snuck into movie theaters and home theaters. Encoding methods and formats have proliferated but standards have been elusive. Where multiplexes are concerned, that doesn't affect the consumer much. Most moviegoers are content to leave the technical details to the theater owners (except our readers, of course). But at home, where consumers are investing their own money in the home theater experience, many would like to have a fixed idea of what surround sound is at heart, something as close as possible to a stable minimum standard. And until now that standard has been 5.1. But in the dawning age of Dolby Atmos, is 5.1 obsolete?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 02, 2015 1 comments
Why do tech critics and readers alike persist in saying "X is dead?" Do we have a morbid fascination with death, mirroring society at large? Or is it just that we never feel more powerful than when we are the arbiters of life and death, giving technology that is already moving along a certain trajectory a further push into oblivion? X, in this context, is a mature audio format or technology. (I won't address video or computer technology here. Death somehow seems more final in those categories.) A whole lot of Xes have been prematurely declared dead over the years. Maybe what "X is dead" really means is "X does not fit into my agenda."

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 05, 2014 12 comments
Would you like to feed your audio system with signals equivalent to what the artist, producer, and mixing engineer heard in the studio? For most people, this is a no-brainer. Why would you not want to hear what the pros heard? And on that basis, a new generation of music players, USB DACs, and other high-resolution audio products is now on the market, seeking open ears and open minds. You'd think this would be cause for celebration. But a small cadre of rigid ideologues are not celebrating. They're insisting that there is no audible difference between CD-quality audio and high-res audio. They bought Perfect Sound Forever, the ancient Compact Disc marketing slogan, hook, line and sinker. Infinitely condescending, the Perfect Sound Foreverists claim to have science on their side and dismiss any other point of view. But the latest science flatly contradicts their long-held dogma.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 07, 2014 0 comments
Dolby Atmos is hitting surround audiophiles like a succession of giant waves crashing on the beach. The first wave is Dolby Atmos in movie theaters. The second wave is Atmos in Atmos-enabled speakers and surround receivers. But what about that third wave, the one nobody's discussing? That's the quiet incorporation of another totally new technology into the Atmos technology bundle. I'm talking about Dolby Surround.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 03, 2014 4 comments
Should there be a Soundbar Bill of Rights? Consumer rights are trivial compared to the majesty of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights—for example, the right to freedom of speech (Fourth Article) or the right to a speedy and public trial (Ninth Article). Even so, the question is provocative enough for one little blog.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 05, 2014 27 comments
Every review I write has an "associated equipment" graf in which I dutifully list all the major components of my reference surround system: speakers, subwoofer, surround receiver, and universal disc player. When I use my turntable, I list that as well as the phono cartridge and whatever I'm using as a phono preamp. But I never go into similar detail about another significant component in my system, namely the cables that tie everything together. Readers may be wondering what I use and why I use it. This blog will tell all my dirty little cable secrets.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 01, 2014 0 comments
Although home theater is maturing, it's still capable of being transformed by new technology. This year we are doubly blessed with the advents of both Dolby Atmos surround sound and Ultra High-Definition TV, both of which are being supported in AV receivers. Incidentally, if you want an opinion, I'm cautiously optimistic about both, and believe they will have a positive impact on large dedicated home theater installations. But there are also smaller improvements that get less publicity. So here are shout-outs to half a dozen little innovations that are making AVRs more convenient or better sounding.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 03, 2014 6 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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