On Experts, Reviews, and Drive By Shootings: Part 3

Recently, Roger Skoff offered up a caricature of an argument around the so-called “expert” and skewered some of the challenges that appertain thereto. Heh heh.

In short, Skoff argues that experts, generally speaking, aren’t — and that’s okay because we’re all still going to live.

Good to know, right? Right. And your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

Ha ha!


In the first part of this” exploration”, I wandered through a philosophical thicket of what a review is. Call that Part 1.

We then took an extended detour around some of the problems of what one has. That was Part 2.1 and Part 2.2.

So, let’s take a moment and talk about where things go off the rails. There’s this notion of “value” and corruption and … stuff. For lack of a better frame, let’s hang the shingle “Ethics” on it. That should let us shine a light on some unsavory places, if just for grins.

Got your hip boots on?

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Apple in the rumor mill again with hi-res downloads from iTunes

Have you heard the news? It’s huge! Awesome! Amazing! Life changing!

Apple is ready to (finally) move on high-resolution downloads.

Okay, fine. It’s not news. Apple has apparently been toying with this change to iTunes for years. I wrote something back then about why I’m not entirely convinced that this would be a “good thing”. My worry was that Apple would commoditize “high-resolution” like it commoditized the rest of the industry and what we’re left with is a shell of an idea served up in an iPhone-shaped taco. High-resolution audio files, played back through low-fi devices (like an iPhone) and out $10 earbuds is not going to make anyone a believer or convert anyone over to high-end audio. Given Apple’s self-serving track record (hello, “Mastered for iTunes” in the context of the Loudness Wars), my confidence was not high.

That was a few years ago. It’s hardly surprising that things have changed.

What’s changed? Pono.  Continue reading

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HeadAmp’s Stellar GSX Mk2 Balanced Headphone Amplifier

_GSX MK2-18

Photo by Lee Shelly

by Frank Iacone

But is the wait worth it?

HeadAmp‘s Justin Wilson has been designing and building amplifiers professionally since 2002. He has developed a cult following in the portable and headphone communities for building some of the very best amplifiers available today for portable and home listening.

The GSX Mk2 is one of the latest Headamp creations for reference caliber listening. The original GSX that was based on a Kevin Gilmore design has now been updated with the circuit fine-tuned to make the sound more transparent.

Tricked out with the upgraded DACT stepped attenuator, the GSX Mk2 retails for a tad shy of $3000. The amplifier is a two-piece unit with a separate power supply and is a fully balanced design end-to-end, however, it can be used with both single-ended sources and headphones. The Mk2 is a modular design and allows for the amplifier to be upgraded in the future by just purchasing a replaceable board. The Mk2 uses the highest quality parts available and Justin personally selects every part. He also personally matches the transistors. The Toshiba JFETs are the transistors of choice in this design. The Mk2 has a first-class pre-amp for people choosing to use it with their home systems.

According to Justin Wilson the profit margins on the GSX MK 2 are tight and everything used in manufacturing the Mk2 is some of the highest quality parts that can be obtained. Justin said there was no compromise in designing and building the MK 2. His goal was to build the very best amplification he could build that would just make the amplifier disappear and allow the music to shine. Continue reading

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Latest Crowd Funding Project From LH Labs: Geek Wave


Got your trunks and your longboard? It looks like we’re in for another crowd funding ride. LH Labs, the guys that brought us the kick-ass Geek Out “Headphone Awesomifier” and the forthcoming Geek Pulse (the desktop version) have a brand new toy — a mobile device kickassifier they’re calling the Geek Wave. It’ll charge your phone, provide extra music storage, and with the same digital-to-analog technology in the other products, it can play anything you throw at it. For those keeping track, this last bit pretty much targets Neil Young’s much ballyhooed Pono spot on.

Prices start at $399.

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Da Vinci DAC from Light Harmonic, Issue 243 (May) of TAS


Available now is Issue 243 of The Absolute Sound. Deep within, you’ll find my review of the most excellent Da Vinci DAC from Larry Ho and his crew at Light Harmonic, as well as my brief interview with Larry.

This review was a long time coming. Many thanks to Larry and Gavin Fish for their patience and assistance with the finer points. Special thanks to Bill Leebens for the encouragement, the opportunity, and all the (sometimes gentle, sometimes not) prodding. Couldn’t have done it without you, Uncle Bill!

I’ll let you grab your own copy at your venue of preference, but please do check it out. Tons of great gear in this issue, including gear from MBL, Zesto Audio and more, plus a review of the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold and the Abyss AB-1266 headphones, which are currently sitting on my desk!TAS_243

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On Experts, Reviews, and Drive By Shootings: Part 2.2

Part 2.2: Epistemology and some Problems with Knowing

Recently, Roger Skoff offered up a caricature of an argument around the so-called “expert” and skewered some of the challenges that appertain thereto. I then took it upon myself to elaborate. Um. Yeah.

Let me offer up again that apology I made in advance. Okay? Okay.

So, this whole “knower and knowing” section took a lot more words than I thought at first blush, so I chopped it in half. Just trying to help!

To review: in the last section, we poked a stick at reviewers. In this section, we’re going to turn that pointy bit around and talk some trash about the Knowing, calling on some challenges we all seem to face with getting there. Wherever “there” is. Continue reading

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Headphone Bliss: B.M.C. Audio amazes with PureDAC


by John Grandberg

What does it take to separate a piece of audio equipment from its similarly priced peers? Is it based purely on sound? Features? Looks? Or, ideally, a combination of all three? Us writers are always talking about this or that category being extremely competitive … but the reality is that nearly every category, at every price range, is jam-packed full of great options. Budget DACs? I can name half a dozen under $1k that I highly recommend. Headphone amps? There’s a really good one at every price level you can imagine. Monitor speakers? That category has been contentious for decades. What’s a company gotta do to really stand out? Is it even possible given the sheer volume of competition these days? Keep in mind, all these standouts exist in a sea of decent, mediocre, “also-ran” gear, to say nothing of the lesser products out there.

German firm B.M.C. Audio believes they can separate themselves from the pack. True to their name — Balanced Music Concept – the company aims to tick all three boxes in spectacular fashion. The name involves a bit of wordplay because B.M.C. has a strong preference for balanced circuit designs. See what they did there? Balanced? As in well-rounded? Versatile? I think you get the picture.

All puns aside, B.M.C. brings considerable resources to bear on their “budget” model. Selling for $1,790, the PureDAC is a far cry from being “cheap”, though in relation to its B.M.C. siblings it’s rather affordable. Their next most affordable model is the MCCI phono preamp at nearly $4K, and it goes up from there, reaching $16K for a pair of M2 monoblocks, or up to $40K for the Arcadia speakers. Check out Scot’s coverage of the B.M.C. room at CES 2013 for some good pics and video, and see the rest of the line at Aaudio Imports, the North American distributor who was kind enough to loan me a unit for several months.

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Part-Time Audiophile Gets Huge Infusion of Cash, Plans To Spend It Pretty Much Immediately

Well, it finally happened. The Lotto Fairy came through! My ticket has been validated and I’ve claimed my half of the $400M MegaMillions prize from the March 18th drawing!

I’m so excited I can hardly sit long enough to take a decent constitutional! I’m using lots of exclamation points and I can’t seem to stop!

As you know, I’ve been fantasizing about this for so many years … Sitting, staring blankly into my laptop screen. Standing, staring blankly into the shower wall as I try to wake up in the morning. Walking, staring blankly into the middle distance as I wait for the damn dog to finally conclude his morning pee-o-rama. So many, many, many hours spent, compiling lists and making plans.

Now, it’s go time. Continue reading

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On Experts, Reviews, and Drive By Shootings: Part 2.1

Part 2.1: Epistemology and some Problems with Being an Expert

Recently, Roger Skoff offered up a caricature of an argument around the so-called “expert” and skewered some of the challenges that appertain thereto. Whew. You had no idea, did you? Well, yes, ‘appertain‘ is in fact a word.

In case you missed that article and then promptly failed to avail (another real word!) yourself of the link to click back, Skoff argues that high-end audio experts, generally speaking, aren’t — and that’s okay because we’re all still going to live.

When your breathing returns to normal, let me assure you that it’s all true, we are going to live. I mean, high-end audio is a hobby after all. No puppies were harmed during the enjoyment of this enterprise. So. Take a breath. And another. And repeat as necessary.

In Part 1 of our philosophical detour, courtesy of Skoff’s jumping off point, we took an odd look at reviews. In this section, we’re going to talk some more about the Knowers, and some challenges with being one. Continue reading

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Double Take Review: Rockin’ out with the Geek Out


Geek Out 1000, First Take

by Michael Mercer

Light Harmonic hit the hi-fi scene like a bat outta hell a few years ago, earning a reputation for sonic integrity and forward-thinking design aesthetics. Upon the introduction of their Guggenheim Museum-looking Da Vinci DAC — known equally for its unique enclosure, sonic transparency, and sky-high price tag, the Da Vinci DAC established the company as an industry leader right out of the gate, and won numerous industry “best of” and “editors choice” awards, they probably could’ve continued their meteoric rise in the high-end, eventually offering a hundred-thousand dollar DAC! [editors note: the Sire DAC was announced at CES, and will retail for $120,000 on release, some time later this year]. However, they had other dreams: Light Harmonic wanted to reach the consumer-level masses with their products. They weren’t going to do that selling 30k DACs, especially now, with the financial crisis plaguing everyone. Time for 21st century thinking.

Light Harmonic decided to enter the affordable DAC and headphone amp/DAC segment via a brand new concept to high-end audio (and relatively new concept for consumerism in general): crowd-funding. They launched their first crowd-funding/social media campaign at Kickstarter late last summer to create the Geek Out series of USB dongle/memory stick-style headphone amp/DACs. Think Audioquest’s Dragonfly, HRT’s microStreamer, and Audioengine’s D3. As expected (given this is the team behind the Da Vinci DAC), Light Harmonic took this new market segment and turned it on its head.

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