Author Archives: Part-Time Audiophile

Air Tight PC-1 Supreme: A Review Follow Up

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by Darryl Lindberg

As Ralphie poignantly noted in A Christmas Story, “just when all seems right with the world” chaos inevitably lurks around the corner, ready to disrupt our reveries. Or, to put it another way, feces occurs. In the case of audio, this intrusion of chaos is especially jarring when the system’s been performing as it should for quite a while, spewing out musically compelling sounds without a hitch. And, if you’re in any way like I am, you tend to take the proper functioning of your system for granted, which makes performance anomalies that much more disturbing. You rev up your dearly-bought—and hopefully completely paid for—gear and expect to bask in musical bliss, like a hundred times before. And that’s when you notice that something’s not quite right. It could be of the sonic variety (left channel mysteriously missing) or the visual variety (left channel amp on fire) or a combination of the two. There’s a desire to shake your finger and say “how dare you—especially after all I’ve done for you!” Read more

Review: Aurender X100L Music Server

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by John Grandberg

State of the Art

It’s a great time for computer-based audio. Just ask Chris Connaker from Computer Audiophile. His site started in 2007 and has grown to become kind of a big deal. It’s funny to read posts like THIS where he talks about getting the cold shoulder at T.H.E. Show (in 2008) from certain audio companies that didn’t have any interest in “geek” equipment. Bet that hasn’t happened to him recently, eh? Or how about Michael Lavorgna at AudioStream ? In addition to his duties there, he was just tapped for a monthly column in Stereophile [and it's about damn time -- ed.]. Clearly, what was once a fringe aspect of the hobby has now gone mainstream; new optical-disc based players are becoming the exception rather than the rule, and I notice many of them have network playback capabilities and/or digital inputs for increased functionality. Read more

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. Read more

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

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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. Read more

Review: Cary DAC-100t Tube D/A Converter

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By Brian Hunter

The (Digital) Times They Are A Changin’

With the onslaught of technological change and market shift impacting traditional hi-fi, more established companies are dipping their big toes in the murky waters of unexplored territory. In a trend that’s become readily apparent, they’re offering new products in both the digital domain and even down into the trenches of personal audio, a trend that’s becoming readily apparent as the audio show circuit expands.

Cary is one of those astute companies. Based in the US and founded in 1989, Cary started with 2-channel vacuum tube equipment and quickly evolved into upscale A/V gear as that market expanded. A few years ago, they introduced a hybrid headphone amplifier with a tube preamplifier stage called the HH-1, and they’re now offering a pair of D/A converters.  The purely solid state DAC-100 retails for $2,495 and the DAC-100t includes a vacuum tube analog stage, for an additional $500. Both units share the same digital bits but the topic of today’s discussion will be the “t”-for-tube DAC-100t. Read more

Pono Backers Listening Party in San Francisco, 8/1/14: Part Two

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Photo by Michael Mercer

by Paul Ashby

After being wooed with the Pono headphone experience, the organizers herd a group of nine of us into a darker, un-airconditioned room. It’s unfinished, the concrete floor covered with a rug, with wall treatments and bass traps. Seven chairs are set up opposite an Ayre AX-5-based system with some not-shabby Sony speakers (I’ve asked Pono’s press rep to confirm a model number, but no answers were forthcoming by press time). Our host downplays the quality of the setup, terming it a “basic home system.” It’s probably worth around $15 or 20,000, including cabling, and, I assume, a better rig than the ones owned by over half the attendees. But tacitly I pretend it’s a more akin to a Harmon-Kardon receiver with Bose 901s, and we move along.

A Pono unit is plugged into the Ayre and we’re played some tunes: Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold”, Elton John’s “Sixty Years On,” and Adele’s “Skyfall” theme.

On “Heart of Gold”, Pono sounds like a good DAC. The snare snaps sweetly, the harp has no more (or less) than the appropriate amount of grit, and the vocals are staged just right.

Does Pono sound like a $400 DAC? Probably better. For all the room treatments, though, the acoustics in the space are still below par; this really comes across on the Elton John track. From the center chair in the first row, the bass is boomy, most likely because the speakers are too close to the wall. Sadly, the Adele selection is the closest thing to classical of all the available tracks, but the instrumental backing is mere orchestral bombast. What I’d really like to hear is solo grand piano, or a string quartet, something with cello and violin. My knowledge of classical music is less than intermediate, but a basic selection would more adequately demonstrate Pono’s ability to handle the tonal range of acoustic instruments. Read more

Pono Backers Listening Party in San Francisco, 8/1/14: Part One

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Photo by Michael Mercer

by Paul Ashby

Flashback to Summer 2003

Apple’s iTunes Music Store had been up and running for awhile, but its only content was music from major labels. I was working at an independent music distributor in San Francisco, and managed to wangle an invitation to an Apple event in Cupertino. Indie labels were finally being courted for inclusion on iTunes.

I arrived, printed invitation in hand, and stood in line to get in. When I reached the gatekeeper, I was told I…wasn’t on the list. I flashed the invitation, showed my ID, and offered to sign something in blood testifying to the authenticity of my credentials.

There was a brief consultation among clipboard-toting, headset-bedecked personnel, and, evidently, they took pity on me. The gates parted and I was ushered into Apple’s Town Hall theater.

The people in the crowd were excited, but you could sense a vibe of skepticism. Best Buy, Borders, Barnes and Noble and Amazon were in the process of putting a significant number of independent (and chain) record stores out of business; my former employer, Tower Records, was already punch-drunk and on the ropes. Distributors and labels were having more than the usual difficulty in getting paid as the wholesale market became less diverse and control moved up the limited supply chain. The market for CDs was flat, and the vinyl resurgence was still eight years off. Indie label types feared that a cathartic transition was nigh.

Steve Jobs took the stage and thanked the hushed crowd for attending.

An hour or so later, blinking, I walked out into the hot South Bay sun, excited (and more than a little freaked out ) by the possibilities. What was I getting into? Would my boss go for it? If so, how was I going to explain the deal to our labels and artists and actually sell them on the concept of wholesaling digital music?

And, assuming I succeeded, how was I going to digitally encode hundreds of masters, with metadata and tagging to spec, and get them uploaded? Read more

Flagship Closed-Back Headphones from MrSpeakers, Audeze and Fostex

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by John Grandberg

A few months back I surveyed the “affordable” sealed headphone landscape, ending up with a good number of competitors that I felt comfortable recommending. The most expensive of them was well under $400 and several on the list didn’t even top $300. That’s great for those of us on a budget, or for casual headphone fans who need a great sounding alternative to their speaker rig.

This question is. does it get much better than these affordable options? What about the absolute best sealed headphones out there, the really high-end models which pull no price-related punches? Today’s article focuses on the flagship sealed options, which is something we’ve seen a lot more of recently. Still, the list is rather small compared to open designs, and I’ll do my best to explain why many of the options just didn’t make the cut for me. Read more

Review: JOB 225 Stereo Amplifier

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by John Richardson

We all know the saying that big things sometimes come in small packages. However, we normally don’t apply this logic to powerful stereophonic amplifiers, especially of the class AB variety.

Well, I’ve got a blockbuster for you, and one that could probably fit in your mom’s purse: the $1699 JOB 225 stereo amplifier. This beast has been available now for a bit longer than a year; just enough time for some serious scuttlebutt to emerge from the on-line chat sites. Check it out. If you read the same stuff I do, then this thing sounds like an amazing specimen. There are stories of supposedly sane audiophiles deep-sixing their DarTZeels and cashing in their Constellations. All because of the little JOB. What gives? Thanks to Scot I’ve now got my hands on one of these little wonders.

But first, a bit of background. Read more

Geek Wave, Rebooted — Now Live on Indiegogo

Geek Wave Rebooted

By all the usual measures, LH Labs’ last crowd-funded product called “Wave”, was a success. At 140% of their funding goals, this smart-phone-coupled super-charger of a headphone amp/DAC combo was fully funded, ready to go. It was done. In the bag. Complete. Finis.

Almost.

Sometimes, you just nail it. And sometimes … yeah.

The problem wasn’t the Wave. Well, not exactly. The problem was the fan base. The tepid response to the Wave was not quite what LH Labs had been excepting. Given their track record, it’s not hard to see their concern. With their first crowd-sourced project, the Geek Out, they hit 1000% of their funding goal. With their second outing for the desktop version of their headphone amp/DAC combo, they hit 3000%. With that as a backdrop, 140% seemed … off. At best.

Read more

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