Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 07, 2014 0 comments
The audio industry, so given to soul searching and navel gazing, does have a reason to exist and here's how Audioengine's Dave Evans describes it: "Because you love music." Really, isn't it as simple as that? If it's not it should be. The maker of the giant-killer A2 compact powered speakers, great for the desktop and our TV speaker of choice, recently introduced the USB-driven A2+, which we've just reviewed. New for CES was the D2 USB thumb DAC, selling for $189 and shipping since late last year. We'll got our acquisitive eye on that too.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 06, 2014 0 comments
My brain was still pondering whether I'd like to text my fridge about the availability of beer when LG showed a handful of audio-for-video products. Of the most interest was the LAB540W SoundPlate. As you can see, it's less than 40mm thick and designed to serve as both base and sound reinforcement for 32- to 55-inch TVs. It includes 320 watts spread over 4.1 channels, Smart TV functionality, built-in Blu-ray player, and speaks both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Also shown were two soundbars, NB5540 and NB3740, the first of which is similarly equipped in channels and power. And there were the NP8740 and NP8540 multi-room speaker systems, which operate by 2.4GHz mesh networking and speak both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Shipping and pricing was not mentioned at the event or on the web press release. One more interesting tidbit: Harman Kardon helped tune up the audio on LG's 4K 2014 TV line.
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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 20, 2013 3 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
AirPlay
Streamlined interface
New binding posts
Minus
No Bluetooth

THE VERDICT
Denon has successfully rethought the budget receiver, a real achievement, and produced an all-around good performer at a reasonable price.

The Denon AVR-E400 reminded me that I’m a guy who gets excited about speaker terminals. Make of that what you will.

The receiver had been out of its box for only a few seconds before I noticed something different on the back panel. There I found speaker terminals of a type I’d never seen before on a receiver. Press in on Denon’s new spring-loaded binding posts, and a hole opens at the side to accept the cable tip or banana plug. This is a different arrangement than the collared binding posts on most receivers—which accept cable tips through a hole on the collar, or banana plugs through a second hole in the center of the plastic nut, before you tighten the nut to secure the cable. The new posts are an upsized version of those used on some satellite speakers. The practical result is that the terminals grip the cables so tightly that it’s nearly impossible for them to fall out without your permission.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 10, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well made metal bar
Wireless sub, Bluetooth
Solid performance
Minus
Pricey for a soundbar

THE VERDICT
A high-performing soundbar with HDMI connectivity and lossless-surround support.

Like a pilot fish feasting on a shark’s leftovers, the soundbar has occupied a secondary role since its inception. You might imagine a TV without a soundbar but never a soundbar without a TV. Even so, secondary doesn’t necessarily have to mean second-rate. What if your soundbar were as good at producing audio as your TV is at producing video? What if it were better than your TV?

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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: Dec 05, 2013 0 comments
TiVo goes into its fifth generation with the new Roamio line, which succeeds the Premiere line. You can still buy refurbished Premiere units through the TiVo Outlet. However, if you want the latest and greatest, consider Roamio and its three models.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 25, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $330

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dedicated surrounds for true 5.1-channel sound
Bluetooth connection to mobile sources
Effective DTS Volume mode
Minus
Less impressive performance with music

THE VERDICT
A surprisingly good-sounding, high-value choice for movie sound, though serious music lovers might need to look elsewhere

Home theater, as I’ve always defined it, is the union of big-screen TV and surround sound. At their best, they have the power to suspend disbelief and pull you into a cinematic narrative or musical experience. Sometimes soundbars make the cut, and sometimes they don’t. Any decent-sounding soundbar—whether it has 2.0, 2.1, or 5.1 channels—is likely to improve over the awful speakers built into most TVs. Making the evening news intelligible is no small contribution to household happiness. But few soundbars try to cross the barrier from convenience to full-bore 5.1-channel rapture. The Vizio S4251W-B4 is just such a product.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 25, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Enhances computer audio
Sleek design
High-end build quality
Minus
No headphone jack
Ambiguous indicators

THE VERDICT
The Director is the best USB DAC we’ve heard yet.

I will never forget the moment when I first heard digital audio in 1985. It was a profound disappointment. I had just bought my first CD player and played my first Compact Disc. The sound was harsh and alienating. How could that be? CDs offered perfect sound forever. There must be something wrong with my ears, I thought. It took years to trust my senses and rethink my digital signal source.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 21, 2013 0 comments

Nucleus Micro SE Speak
Performance
Build Quality
Value
TR-1D Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,614

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Highly compact steel sphere enclosures
Transparent sound quality
Big soundstage with no restrictive sweet spot
Minus
On-wall or near-wall placement well advised
Tricky subwoofer mating
Likes a lot of power

THE VERDICT
A sub/sat system whose great strengths are its midrange clarity, wide dispersion, and décor-friendly form factor.

The interaction between speaker manufacturers and the public they serve has changed markedly since the days when I was a longhaired college kid buying my first speakers. Back then, design ideas flowed in one direction, from the top down, from the drawing board to the sales floor—and if you bought a speaker, you nearly always bought a box speaker. Now speaker-design imperatives flow in both directions. With a greater variety of beckoning form factors, speaker buyers influence the design process simply by choosing the products that fit into our lives.

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