Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 04, 2016  |  3 comments
Soundbars are not for everyone. But they are for an increasing number of people, with unit sales having risen from 1.3 million in 2010 to 12.9 million in 2016. I review soundbars and soundbases as well as satellite/subwoofer sets and orthodox speakers, so I know what it's like to live with one. I must admit it wouldn't be my first choice for a primary audio system. But the following scenarios don't apply to me...

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 12, 2007  |  1 comments
A new royalty structure approved by the federal Copyright Royalty Board has webcasters quaking. Formerly they paid the music industry's SoundExchange between 6 and 12 percent of their revenue. But under the new royalty structure, they'll pay $0.0008 to stream one song to one listener, rising to $0.0019 in 2010. That may not sound like much, but it would amount to 1.28 cents per listener per hour, more than estimated current ad revenue of 1.1 to 1.2 pennies per hour. And that's just for starters. Rates would continue to rise every year. More bad news for small webcasters: There would also be a minimum charge of $500 per year per channel. And the new rules don't apply to songwriter publishing royalties, potentially an additional expense. Whether all this will kill web radio as widely predicted remains to be seen. But the fledgling medium will certainly have to find a more lucrative business model if it wants to survive. So, a speculative question: Just how much would you be willing to pay for Internet radio?
Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 24, 2010  |  0 comments
These three-channel LCR bars from Artison deliver the center channel from the top, and the left and right channels at the bottom. Without grilles they're only 1.8 inches deep. The Masterpiece is $2500, the Portrait $1800, and the Sketch $1200.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 13, 2008  |  1 comments
If you live anywhere near the Wedge Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, check out the paintings of Ruth Whiting. She's every nerd's dream--a painter who finds inspiration in cables! Says Whiting: "My work can be seen as a product of my fascination with the sublimely ordinary. For some time now I have set myself the task of revealing the beauty and heroism of mundane objects. I think of my paintings as lenses through which insignificant items, usually thought of as nothing more than functional, can assume the roles of heroes. My paintings do not attempt the illustrative role of myth, and yet there is a level upon which a giant orange extension cord that writhes through the nave of a quiet church demands a mythic justification. Thus, rather than propose a narrative, I attempt to create a situation that calls for an explanation. Electrical cords are like the connective tissue of our technological lives yet most of the time all we do is trip over them. This is a show dedicated to glorifying the dreams of extension cords." See showrooms here and here. This page includes clickable larger images. All oil on paper, the paintings are for sale at prices ranging from $130-500.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 15, 2013  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Supports lossless formats
Great-sounding headphone out
May be used as standalone DAC with a PC
Minus
Rudimentary touchscreen DAC use limited to 96-kHz or lesser files.

THE VERDICT
The AK100 successfully ventures beyond the iTunes universe to open a world of high-resolution portable playback.

Is Apple the biggest obstacle to progress in portable audio? The iPod has been around a full dozen years, and the iPhone for half that, yet even today the Apple ecosystem fails to support 24-bit audio file formats. All Apple-supported file formats—even the best of them, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV—are limited in iOS to 16 bits. That’s not high rez, that’s mid rez. Forget about playing your growing library of 24-bit FLACs. Leaving the Apple ecosystem can be painful because the company’s touchscreen and clickwheel devices are so ingratiating. But leave you must if you want better sound in your pocket, and the Astell & Kern AK100 may be on your list of destinations.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 18, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A&K’s most affordable player
Same Wolfson DAC as in classic models
Flatter form factor
Minus
DSD converted to PCM
Less than intuitive GUI

THE VERDICT
The Astell & Kern AK Jr is the least expensive music player from the company that has defined the state of the art in pocketable audio.

Visit the Apple Website and scan the banner across the top: Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, TV, Music, Support. Where’s the iPod? You’ll have to hit Music and scroll down a bit for the link to the iPod page. There you’ll find the surviving touch, nano, and shuffle players, but no high-capacity hard-drive-based models or even the iconic click wheel. Apple (and to be fair, Apple isn’t alone) recognizes that most people now use phones for onthe-go listening.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 26, 2014  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Native DSD decoding Superb sound Elegant styling
Minus
Jaw-droppingly expensive Bulky form factor

THE VERDICT
If you’re willing to pay big bucks for a portable music player, Astell & Kern’s AK240 delivers state-of-the-art sound with the big plus of unfaked DSD decoding.

Yes, this portable music player costs $2,500. That would buy you 10 Apple iPod classics. Let the gush of hate mail begin.

Look, if it’s a choice between buying this product or, say, paying the rent, or fixing your car, or otherwise keeping the wolf from the door, I’d advise you to attend to the essentials. I know what it’s like to live within limits. But if you have golden ears and cash to burn, then be aware that the Astell & Kern AK240 bids to become the prince of performance among portable music devices.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 28, 2016  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Compatible with DSD and 32-bit PCM
Streams to and from other devices
Extraordinary build quality
Minus
Breathtakingly high priced
32-bit capability is irrelevant to non-professionals

THE VERDICT
Astell & Kern’s AK380 offers copious network audio features and the unique plus of native 32-bit playback—but is it worth the high price to consumers?

Shock lead of the year: Astell & Kern’s AK380 music player retails for $3,499. That’s an awful lot to pay for a pocketful of music. But it seems unjust to start a review of such a product by carping over its price before evaluating its merits. After all, not many people muster moral outrage over the price tags on Porsches, Patek Philippe watches, or 99-point offerings in Wine Spectator. Why should high-end audio units—including the Pono, a comparative bargain at $400— be the only perfectionist products to face puritan scorn? No, as a consumer, I wouldn’t pay $3,499 for a music player. But as a critic, I’m willing to consider cost-noobject items on their own terms.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 09, 2008  |  0 comments
Legit download music sales have passed a notable milestone at Warner's historic Atlantic Records. The label now sells more downloads than CDs. This is believed to be a major-label first.

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