EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann  |  May 01, 2015  |  6 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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 10, 2006  |  0 comments
Unique is not a word to throw around lightly. To be unique, a product has to be like nothing else out there. Even by the strictest standard, however, the Boomtube from Think Outside can wrap itself in the mantle of uniqueness. This little emperor is well clothed.
Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 23, 2008  |  0 comments
As recently noted in the News Dept., Verizon is pushing its FiOS TV, net, and phone service into all five boroughs of New York City over the next six years. Of course this is a major challenge to the local cable companies, Time Warner and Cablevision. Taking a pro-active stance, Time Warner has already been running TV ads for months deriding Verizon's fiber-optic technology. Here's the scenario: A guy about to tuck into his morning cereal answers the doorbell to find a callow youth offering Verizon fiber, complete with animated effects. Waving his bowl of bran--full of fiber, get it?--the happy cable customer snarkily responds that Time Warner has been using fiber optics for years. What the ad doesn't mention is that Verizon takes fiber all the way up to the house or building served, only then reverting to coax, twinlead, etc. for various services. For my own part, I'm both a reasonably happy Time Warner customer and an embittered former Verizon customer. My dialtone went away, never came back, and the company's fully automated customer service wouldn't put a human on the phone to talk with me about it, though I do regularly get mailings begging me to come back. But what technophile wouldn't be seduced by Verizon's vision of a fiber-optic future? The company is make a huge investment in FiOS. In a country decidedly behind in broadband technology compared to other nations, the Verizon program is just what we need.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 13, 2006  |  2 comments
TiVo's struggle for survival continues to generate headlines. Two weeks ago I reported that the company may reduced rebated hardware prices to nothing, concentrating on software for survival. This week's big announcement, as Darryl reports, is that TiVo is axing its $299 lifetime service plan in favor of shorter-term plans for one to three years. Darryl's also got the details on the new TiVo Mobile plan which will allow remote scheduling of DVR recordings from the Verizon Wireless network. And there's more: In June TiVo Kidzone will make the DVR more family-friendly by permitting parents to ix-nay programs either individually or under built-in advice from groups like the Parents Television Council. The company is targeting doctors with what it describes as "physician-oriented programs." Finally, the future may be brightening for TiVo—last year's fourth-quarter loss was 24 cents per share, down from 42 cents the previous year.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 28, 2006  |  2 comments
TiVo may soon lower its hardware pricing to every consumer's favorite number: zero. The news came when CEO Tom Rogers addressed a Reuters technology summit on Monday. The free hardware would begin as a test. In exchange, service plans may extend longer and cost more. Why this, why now? TiVo is a publicly traded company under constant pressure from Wall Street. Once its main competition was RePlayTV but now it's up against proprietary offerings from cable and satellite companies as well as mainstream manufacturers. An especially hard blow was DirecTV's announcement last year that it would de-emphasize TiVo in favor of its own product. Smooth-talking Rogers is determined to defend and increase his subscriber base of four million: "We feel that the notion that TiVo has hit some kind of distribution wall and is no longer a growth animal is not the case." Coincidentally, he is the former CEO of Primedia, publisher of Home Theater.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 27, 2006  |  1 comments
Or "tattles," as The New York Times put it. In an effort to mend fences with frazzled advertisers, TiVo's new research division will sell data on its 4.4 million users and their ad-viewing habits or lack thereof. Ad skipping is a hot issue—ABC's ad-sales chief is actually trying to convince cable operators to "disable the fast-forward" on their DVRs! Half of TiVo use is time shifting and 70 percent of that group has a finger on the fast-forward button. But TiVo hopes data on specific commercials will help advertisers design better ones. The researchers will sample 20,000 TiVo users per night, reporting back what was watched and when. More specific details on viewer demographics won't be revealed due to TiVo's privacy policy though the company told the Times that may change by year-end. With the feds demanding logs from the major search engines, TiVo's data mining may be the least of our problems.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 11, 2008  |  6 comments
Tivoli Audio has steadily expanded beyond its original retro-style Model One radio into a variety of related products. All of them have killer radio tuners and some, like the iYiYi, have iPod docks. This revision of the briefcase-friendly SongBook radio adds an extension speaker and iPod dock along with some interesting twists.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 26, 2006  |  0 comments
Radio pioneer Reginald Aubrey Fessenden should be more widely celebrated for his place in media history, argue the folks at Tivoli Audio in their "100 Years of Broadcast" campaign (complete with free shirt and emblazoned SongBook radio for freeloading members of the press like myself). On Christmas Eve 1906, nearly a century ago, the Canadian became first person to broadcast music and speech over the airwaves. Marconi is often celebrated as the father of radio but telegraphy was his actual innovation. He was not the first to transmit music or even speech—he transmitted the letter S in Morse code. Fessenden's idea was to transmit music and speech as continuous waves. Edison listened to the idea and laughed it off so Fessenden pursued it alone. Since there were no radio receivers then except for ships at sea, the first-ever music broadcast went out from the coast of Massachusetts to ships in the Atlantic, as Fessenden played a Haydn recording and his own violin. Tivoli and a handful of tech historians assert that this broadcast became the basis for radio, television soundtracks and (if one overlooks the later leap from analog to digital) even music downloading. After all, Fessenden was the first guy to move music and speech from point A to point B without using a disc, a cable, or some other physical object. Tivoli's latest new product is the iYiYi, another iPod-docking compact system, and I hope to get one in for review when it becomes available in the fall for $299.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 07, 2016  |  3 comments
To buy or not to buy? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to pay an Ebay seller several hundred bucks for an ancient Luxman L-80 or take arms against a sea of regrets—that is what has been troubling me for years as I've ogled this stereo integrated amp from 1975. I don't need it; yet I want it. I'm suffering from non-buyer's remorse.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 14, 2006  |  4 comments
Half of electronic product returns happen because the products are just too complex for the consumer. That's the conclusion of a thesis published at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. The study by Elke van Ouden found that American consumers are willing to spend 20 minutes on how do you work this thing before giving up. Even professionals—product managers from Philips, no less—had trouble when confronted with unfamiliar products. The researcher found that the single biggest problem was "product definition." It appears many consumers don't even know what they're buying. Maybe they should spend more time reading Home Theater. Just a suggestion.
Mark Fleischmann  |  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.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 19, 2007  |  7 comments
Like Poe's purloined letter, some stories lay in plain sight, unnoticed. On rooftops, no less. I'm talking about the return of the humble TV antenna in the age of HDTV. As Newsweek's Johnnie L. Roberts says so eloquently: "The irony is marvelous. Pushed into obsolescence by the technological advances of cable and satellite, antennas are re-emerging thanks to one of the most promising high-tech services of the digital age. High-def channels can be plucked out of thin air by antennas just like regular broadcast signals--no cable, no satellite dish, no monthly bill, no waiting for the cable man." OK, if you've got a Jon Stewart addiction, the dear old antenna will do nothing to help. But how many such addictions do you really have? If the answer is just one or two, try this exercise: Get your cable or satellite bill. Multiply what you're paying for television by 12. That's what you're spending every year for Jon Stewart. Still think it's worth it? Then multiply the figure by 10--that's the amount of cash you could have put in your retirement fund over a decade. And what with cable's constant rate hikes, the final figure will be considerably larger than this simple calculation. If free TV seems like a good idea after all, the Consumer Electronics Association maintains an antennaweb site expressly to help people like you save money every month. Consumer hints: All HDTV channels live in the UHF band, so make sure your antenna works well at those frequencies (like the Terk indoor model shown here). You'll need a TV, set-top box, or DVR with an ATSC (meaning digital) tuner. But the results are worth it. Broadcast HDTV operates at a higher data rate than cable or (especially) satellite. So over-the-air HD picture quality is more than competitive. Salut!
Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 31, 2006  |  3 comments
"I love the sound of breaking glass," Nick Lowe once sang, and the Avdeco HR420 is just the TV stand for him. A member of the AV Science Forum relates: "I happened to be sitting in the next room, when I heard a tremendous crash. I thought that a plane had hit my house, and I ran into my bedroom to see what happened. The top shelf of the Avdeco stand EXPLODED sending shards of glass to every corner of my bedroom. Fortunately for me, I wasn't sleeping at the time, or I would have been hit by flying glass." The Panasonic 50PX500U plasma that had been sitting on the stand weighs 114 pounds, less than half of the stand's rated weight limit of 250. Neither Avdeco or the dealer that sold the stand, Threshold Concepts have responded to the consumer's complaints. The model is still listed on the Avdeco website. It's not on the Threshold Concepts site, though other Avdeco glass-rack models are, with the comment: "The simplistic lines are subdued, yet make a strong statement." Indeed. Other AVS members weighed in with useful pointers: (1) Tempered glass is designed to fragment into pebbles when broken, which is actually less scary than the angular shards of broken non-tempered glass. (2) It's been known to shatter in response to changes in temperature even when nothing is resting on it. (3) Manufacturers who make a quality product may disagree, but maybe glass of any type isn't the ideal material for a TV stand.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 04, 2006  |  0 comments
Time Warner Cable of Raleigh, North Carolina will not supply CableCARDs for the forthcoming TiVo Series 3 HD DVR, according to ConsumerFury.com. A consumer emailed the company asking about the card and received this response: "Time Warner Cable of Raleigh does not provide support for or allow TIVO devices on our cable network. Time Warner Cable provides DVR service and equipment for customers that would like to record programs and watch them later. Cable Cards will only be installed on Cable ready, Cable Card slot available television sets. This policy is subject to change at the discretion of Time Warner Cable of Raleigh." Of course, as the response points out, TWC would rather have you rent TWC's DVR, no matter how bad it is. Presumably that's why the 1394 output of my own TWC-NYC cable box is disabled, preventing me from hooking up any form of HD-capable recorder. Nice logo.

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