Review: Glove Audio A1 DAC and headphone amplifier

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By Michael Mercer

Introducing Glove

The DAP (digital audio player) segment has exploded in the past two years. Innovation is driving rapid product progression. What you bought two years ago will not be obsolete, exactly, but it will be a far cry from state-of-the-art, and while odds-are that the new products will only have a few more features than their predecessors, those few new features could change the whole product in many ways!

Take Astell&Kern, for example. Their “classic” AK100 & AK120 DAPs hit the scene like a wild fire two years ago. It’s an odd thing, referring to two year-old products as “classic”, but the company has already updated and expanded the entire product line in this time. Whoops.

I’m a big fan of the classic players. I own both, and paid for both. And now, here come the sexy new replacement players: the AK100II ($899, up from $699 for the older model) and AK120II ($1699, up from $1,299). They’ve also introduced their class-defining AK240 player, topping out at a whopping $2,499. And yes, having lived with the AK240, I can tell you it’s worth it.

Bottom-line? The price for entry into Astell&Kern DAPs has gone up. This is what happens when innovation is accelerating. However, as much as I love the AK240 (and believe me, I love the AK240), the replacement players for the AK100 and AK120 only impress me when it comes to their sharp looks and feature set; I still prefer the sound of the original AK120 to the new replacement players. That being said … if I could improve the sonic performance of my classic AK120, I might not even need an AK240!

Enter Glove Audio, a new product and line from CEntrance, and the new A1 DAC/Amp for Astell&Kern AK100 and AK120 players. Continue reading

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Music Reviews: Carla Bozulich, Eno/Hyde, Christopher Komeda, Charles Hayward, Neil Young

Carla Bozulich, Boy

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Unknown-2Ethyl Meatplow. Geraldine Fibbers. Scarnella. Evangelista. And … Carla Bozulich.

The absurdly talented Carla Bozulich’s nomadic recording personae share one distinction: fearlessness. It’s possible she doesn’t always know where she’s headed, but she always sounds as if she’ll get there even if it kills her. Lucky for us she releases the soundtracks to those travels, and…well, Boy might not an easy road, but when you get to the last song, you’re probably not going to regret the journey.

Folks expecting the near-perfect dissipation of, say, the ‘Fibbers’ Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home may find this album disappointing, or at least disorienting. Bozulich claims this is her “pop” album, and, unlike some of the more recent (and anarchic) output of the largely-improvisational Evangelista, there are song structures here…they’re just not the verse-bridge-chorus sort. These are more of the tone poem variety, both musically and lyrically. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: In Which We Take Awesomeness Where We Find It

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As a closer to my California Audio Show coverage, I’m going to tell you a little story about how I broke my own rule.

CAS was really meant to be the cherry on top of a longish vacation. We’d celebrate our anniversary, then take the better part of a week driving down the coast from Oregon to San Francisco. Ocean vistas, redwoods, wine tasting, and twisty coast roads. Some of my favorite things. Topped off, of course, with some high-end stereos at the end of the week. Mal asked if I was ok with combining work and pleasure. I said sure; after all, I wouldn’t be covering the show if I didn’t think it was fun, and anyway, it wasn’t until the end of the week. I made a rule, though: no work until we arrived at the show on Thursday. We weren’t going to spend the whole drive talking about how we were going to divide up the show, or evenings in the hotel studying the exhibitor list. We were going to have a vacation, dammit, and we were going to sing along with the car stereo and call it good enough. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: I left my heart in San Francisco

Dyn_CAS-logo-2Running around the Westin San Francisco hotel for three days with a press badge on, feeling like John Atkinson (or even, shrudder, Scot Hull), certainly had its moments.

Even though I’ve been attending high-end exhibitions for a couple of decades, the California Audio Show is only the second one I’ve covered for Part-Time Audiophile (see my AXPONA 2014 story). I found having credentials actually can get obscure pop and rock demo music played in the more uptight rooms, and can encourage long, passionate chats with the interesting people who design and build gear these days. For most, it’s a labor of love, and it shows.

The downside is that as much as we writers love to write, part of the challenge of this particular gig (the site is called Part-Time Audiophile after all) is squeezing in time to compose the insane amount of detailed copy the editor demands — and to do it in a way that hopefully is accurate, makes you feel like you were there, entertains you and encourages you to seek out some of this stuff for a listen of your own. That’s why I’m typing this wrap-up three weeks after the end of the show (what was the name of this ‘zine again?).

At any rate, I did want to offer a few parting thoughts as I conclude my slice of PTA’s CAS 2014 coverage. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Eficion’s near-perfect tweet

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2No other speaker component gets as much attention from innovators and fiddlers as the tweeter. It’s easy to understand why: your ears can forgive some weaknesses in the bass or even the midrange, but if you get the highs wrong, your product is unlistenable. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Stunt Systems, Sight and Sound with JBL and Mark Levinson

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Again, ignore the misleadingly soothing pianist in the lobby. One of the real pleasures at an audio show comes when the big guns bring out all of their dogs and ponies. Some may systems are stunt systems by virtue of their cost, but they’re otherwise modest and unassuming. Other exhibits are just stunts.

The Excessive Excess full-boat Harman system presented in the cavernous Bayshore Ballroom by Sight & Sound Home Theater was the most traditional of stunts. It was only one of four systems present in the room, and it only played twice per day. It featured the JBL Everest ($75,000), a pair of Mark Levinson No.53 monoblocks ($50,000), and Mark Levinson No.52 preamplifier ($30,000). When I snuck in, music was coming from a Hanss T-60 turntable loaded with a SME tonearm and a cartridge that I didn’t identify. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Stunt Systems, Sony, Pass Labs and Blue Coast

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Ignore the misleadingly soothing pianist in the lobby. One of the real pleasures at an audio show comes when the big guns bring out all of their dogs and ponies. Some may systems are stunt systems by virtue of their cost, but they’re otherwise modest and unassuming. Other exhibits are just stunts.

Sony‘s second floor partnership with Blue Coast Records was a much more subtle and comprehensive stunt. Cookie and Patrick from Blue Coast again brought their full portable rig to record live performances. We walked in just as the always-animated (and so often blurry) Cookie was enthusiastically describing her methods of mixing DSD and analog recording techniques to an audience. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: True Audiophile presents Spatial, Audion, Human

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2It’s almost mean to make Gary Alpern, the True Audiophile, wait until the very end to see his room covered. After all, we opened our coverage with pictures of him from a midnight listening session with John Stancavage.

On the other hand, Gary was showing off some very cool stuff. He can wait. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Headmasters, with Eddie Current, Questyle, Audeze, Headamp

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Next to a rain-soaked dumpster full of old Altec drivers, the Headmasters ballroom had to be the saddest place in the HiFi world. The Westin’s air walls are a perfectly uniform shade of County Jail Beige, and the battered exhibit tables skirted with the Prison Laundry’s finest linen substitute always have the sort of charm that used to be confined to a Turnpike Ramada when the baseball card traders would roll through for a weekend. There’s no avoiding it, really. It just reminds me how sorry I feel for anyone who booked their wedding in a joint like this.

Given the design chops and production effort that goes into making the products on display, the effect is more than a little incongruous. I can’t imagine too many people dropping five figures on an end-game headphone rig just to litter it all across a surplus cot in their garage, but the effect here was similar.

The room was filled with talented, witty people at the top of their game, baubles that would engage anyone’s gizmolust, and the kind of sound that would have anyone who ever had a favorite song craving their next hit. The room was also unpleasant, dreary, and, damningly for this crowded show, almost entirely empty. Those last facts are not unrelated.

There was a silver lining, though. Since no actual customers wanted to spend their weekend hanging out in a place that made the local DMV seem cozy and inviting, there was never even a line to listen to things…. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Wyred4Sound keeps it simple

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2You can lead music lovers to a better lifestyle system, but can you make them buy? That’s the question a lot of companies are asking as they seek to offer an alternative to crappy department-store minisystems and the ubiquitous Bose boxes.

Wyred4Sound proved that good sound could indeed come from a small package with its room at CAS 2014. The company was demoing its mINT integrated amp ($1,499) with a pair of Martin Logan’s new Motion 15 bookshelf speakers ($799 a pair), bundled together for $1,699 when you purchase them directly from Wyred’s Web site. Continue reading

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