Ears On

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Mark Fleischmann  |  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?

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 05, 2013  |  1 comments
In a global economy convulsing with change, middle-level journalists in my dusty corner of the technology sector don't get many invitations to board a plane for Tokyo. Especially when the ticket is business class. But that's where I found myself a few weeks ago, in a luxurious seat with four different points of adjustment, on my way to visit one of the world's great audio companies: Sony. True, Sony isn't the first company most American audiophiles would think of in connection with high-end audio, or even the second or third. Yet I've been consistently knocked flat by demos of its two new loudspeaker lines in recent years. And it looks as if Sony is also looking to improve its game as a maker of surround receivers. Following is a brief summation of what you need to know about Sony's rebirth as an audio brand.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 08, 2013  |  0 comments
Whenever I see a bunch of people running in one direction, I run the other way. Let them paw over whatever is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame—I'd rather explore what they've overlooked, at a leisurely pace, in splendid isolation. During the waning days of the LP era, just as the CD's "perfect sound forever" campaign was coming on strong, I refrained from discarding most of my vinyl. Oh, I bought CDs, especially for new releases. But I also haunted the Tower Annex in Lower Manhattan, filling holes in my classical library with used LPs at two or three dollars a pop. For a junior-grade inkstained wretch, vinyl was more affordable than full-priced $15 CDs (in 1980s dollars) though I bought plenty of those too.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 08, 2013  |  4 comments
Here's what this blog is not going to be: a diatribe about how much I hate CES and, more specifically, the city of Las Vegas. Oh, I'll give that desert hellhole one or two well-deserved kicks, but you're probably not interested in my self-indulgent whining, so I'll keep that part brief. A reader who has never attended CES, but has heard about it for years, would be more interested in what it's like to actually go, to be there, to have the experience. So I'll give you a taste of that instead. CES veterans will want to skip this blog entirely. This is for the newbies, OK?

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 05, 2013  |  0 comments
Regrets gnaw at record collectors. There's always the one that got away: because I failed to buy it, or could never find a good copy of it, or unwisely loaned it, or stupidly discarded it in the CD era's initial flush of enthusiasm and confusion. Over the years I've whittled down my list of regrets with strategic secondhand buys. But a few regrets have remained, and when they affect my relationship with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones—crucial touchstones for a fiftysomething music lover—they're especially painful. I was never lucky enough to find a pristine pressing of either Abbey Road or Beggar's Banquet. However, a recent turntable purchase and an unspent balance in my PayPal account recently drove me to banish these gnawing regrets once and for all.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 07, 2012  |  0 comments
King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings is a reissue on steroids. This is the only Crim album to have been singled out for a massive box set including 13 CDs, a DVD-Audio disc, and—in a first for indie label DGM—a Blu-ray disc. Like most other releases in the ongoing 40th Anniversary Series, this one features fresh high-res 5.1- and 2.0-channel mixes by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson—and you can also buy those mixes in a far less costly two-disc DVD-Audio and CD set. But the LP-size monster box of Larks is in a class by itself as it documents the intensely innovative 1972 lineup that featured avant garde percussionist Jamie Muir along with what became the surviving quartet of former Yes drummer Bill Bruford, bassist John Wetton, violinist David Cross, and guitarist Robert Fripp, the only founding member.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 02, 2012  |  4 comments
This just may be the first in a series of blogs on music that finds its way into demos I'm constantly staging for loudspeaker and a/v receiver reviews. Hence the subtitle: Demos. Music is the reason I became an audio critic in the first place. In fact, I was a published music critic long before I became a technology critic, starting in 1979, writing for Spin and Trouser Press and editing the Trouser Press Collectors' Magazine. Tech criticism turned out to be a better way of earning a living but I still see it as an outgrowth of my identity as a music (and movie) critic. As I note in my book: "We master technology so that art can take precedence over technology."

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 05, 2012  |  2 comments
As I wandered around the floor at the recent CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis, a theme emerged. By some remarkable coincidence, three different loudspeaker manufacturers were showing special models to celebrate multiple-decade anniversaries. The brands—Paradigm, KEF, and Wharfedale—continue to be formidable ones. They have been making some of the world's best speakers for a long time, and these anniversary products are worth celebrating. They all include monitors, which are right up my alley: My reference system is based on monitors. Unfortunately, most of these models (except KEF) will be made only in limited quantities. Moreover, they are sold only per pair, so if you want to use them in a 5.1 or other odd-numbered surround configuration, an extra speaker is going to languish in a closet. Therefore I won't be able to get them in for review. However, I'd like to celebrate them here and note their passage through the history of audio.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 24, 2012  |  0 comments
Jerry Garcia's premature death at age 50 left a void comparable to that of John Lennon at 40. We ache from the loss of their iconic presence, their wry wit, and songs they might have written. But though Garcia did not live to see his 70th birthday celebrated on August 3rd, 2012, he was present in spirit at the marathon concert convened at Bob Weir's TRI Studios in San Rafael, California. It included old friends, new acolytes, songs that have not worn out their welcome, heart-on-sleeve performances, an audience that spanned generations, and the subtle use of technology that let the musicians do what they did best while spreading the event to a webcast audience.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 18, 2012  |  0 comments
Readers may already have noticed that my speaker and receiver reviews have begun name-checking a new reference signal source. It is a Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable. And it's a jewel. There isn't a single component in my rack that I don't respect and depend on. But the Micro Seiki I love-love-love. Let me tell you how and why I acquired it.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 24, 2011  |  0 comments
The most dressed-up flat-panel TV in the universe has to be the Trithon REYN, displayed in the Leon Speakers booth at this week's CEA Line Shows in New York City.

Take a close look at the edge of the set. That's python skin.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 16, 2011  |  1 comments
As someone whose job involves filtering massive amounts of hype to isolate the tiny tidbits of information readers may care about, I must admit that at times my filter gets clogged. So I got a kick out of reading Mark Schubin's essay "Headphones, History, & Hysteria" as he doggedly pursued a seemingly simple question: Who invented headphones?

Well, one website says it was John C. Koss in 1958. And if it's on the internet, you know it must be true. But wait! The Beyer website says it was that company in 1937. And if it's on the internet.... But wait!

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 13, 2011  |  0 comments
This is the second installment of In Progress, an occasional series on noteworthy things about products under review.

Are you plagued by doubts about the iThing compatibility of a prospective surround receiver purchase? If you're actually inspecting a carton in one of those old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores, Sony has the solution. Its STR-DN1020 ($500) lists every iDevice with which it's compatible right on the top of the carton! Complete with little graphic representations, no less. Since our 600-pixels-wide image may not be entirely legible, we'll list them below.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2011  |  0 comments
While we await the news from today's Apple event, I'd like to toss out an observation connected to a yet-to-be-published review. This may be the first such piece in a continuing series. Or not. You never know.

What struck me about the Pioneer VSX-1021-K ($549) is the way it accommodates both push and pull of iTunes content via AirPlay. You can push content from computers or portable iDevices into the receiver. The receiver will even turn itself on and select the appropriate input. But it can also pull content from other router-connected devices using DLNA.