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October, 2007

Strange 6C33C tube symbol

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007 by Mike

Here is a 6C33C-B vacuum tube, a tube which is found in, say, Lamm ML1.1 and ML2.1 amplifiers.

In trying to accurately identify this tube, one might reasonably try and describe all information printed on it to somebody, say, over the phone.

This particular tube then, is the “6C33C-B ‘phallic symbol’ 81 with an OTX 7 in a diamond” tube.

At least, that is what I overheard people talking and laughing and wondering about as I was, as usual, hard at work in my office. :-)

[OK, Neli wants me to remind everybody that there is something on both sides of the phallic symbol….

On the left is the month and on the right is the year of manufacture.


Me? I’m calling it a ‘rocket ship’].

Inclusionary versus Exclusionary Tactics

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007 by Mike

As pointed out in the last post, there seems to still be some old school high-end audio exclusionary tactics in our profession:

“High Fidelity is only for rich [need we say old, white, men?], classical-music lovers only whose system must only be evaluated by comparing their system to the sound of acoustical instruments.”

Somewhat shocking that these attitudes still exist.

The typical stuff one can read posted by Bored Angry Self-Absorbed Guys in the forums is more egalitarian, but still exclusionary: Only tubes, only solid-state, only ‘my favorite brand of the week’, only panels, etc.

But, in our experience, people are much more reasonable in practice. Real people with real systems have their preferences, but they laugh about them, or they are forthcoming about the trade-offs that their preferences require compared to the alternatives.

Real Audiophiles seem to be much more pragmatic and practical and not as fanatic as the people posing in forums, and the audiophile ‘public persona’, would indicate.

This is too understated… When people think about audiophiles, and when they read the forums, it seems like 99% of us are wacko and unpleasant to boot. But people with real systems that they care about and work on are only occasionally unpleasant and rarely audiophile bigots.

[Now, it doesn’t help that the anti-audiophile brigade are some of the most bigoted people one would hope never to meet - but it being unfashionable to pick on people of color or the foreign born - they turn their hate to us.]

It is my stipulation that 99% of the people are nice people and that this 1% is not only unpleasant, and has chased away most people off the forums, but that they have chased away most of the people who might otherwise be interested in this hobby.

So, I am not for censorship, but um, can’t we keep a handle on publishing hate-filled diatribes? The anti-audiophiles on AVS Forum and the angry men on Audio Asylum have already chased away many of the reasonable 99%. If Stereophile, many of whose members live on AA, continues going this direction, I predict that they will 1) soon close their doors, and 2) it will just solidify a number of people’s attitudes towards audiophiles as being exclusionary, unfriendly, holier-than-thou, and not too rational.

The point then, is that all music can be good [and bad], including Rap for those of you who are over 35. All technologies can sound good [and bad]. All people, including audiophiles, can be good [and bad].

Stereophile’s J. Gordon Holt Interview

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 by Mike

OK, if you haven’t read this As We See It editorial at the front of this month’s Stereophile [November 2007], don’t.

It is a startlingly transparent view into how a bitter old man can embarrass himself in public. I would suggest to JA to avoid doing any more of these to try and preserve whatever generous status history will assign Mr. Holt at this point.

This “high end audio is what I say it is and anybody who disagrees with me is a __________” is so, so, … so speaking to the adolescent males of the species with too much testosterone and an undying sense of self-importance [yes, it plays right into the hands of the forums where similar modes of thinking rule. On purpose? I don’t know. The topic of how Stereophile is more and more often targeting this same audience is for another post].

Reminds me of the similar people on car forums [I go there every 4 years or so when I need to find out about the current state of the auto market].

These people shout that cars are only supposed to:

1) Handle well [engines in the center, please], or
2) Go fast [in a straight line, of course, you Corvette owners know best], or
3) Be reliable [aka not American made], or
4) Be American made, or
5) Have good mileage [Hybrids], or
6) Have 10 ton towing and hauling capability [here in the west, *sigh*], or
7) … many others

and any other reason to evaluate how good a car is is angrily shouted down and flamed.

For those of us not fanatic about cars [I figure 80% or so of our readers], we can see that this is ridiculous. All of these reasons may be valid for different people, and that a weighted mix of these features is most often what is important to most individuals.

Yes, double blind testing has its uses [but mostly its abuses]. And certainly there is a place for science in high-end audio [though remarkably few of the people advocating this have any clue what science is. And besides, funding is, uh, lacking? AWOL? Laughable? But needed if any real research is to be done in the public domain.]

But the ideas thrown around in the article about ‘disciples’, ‘gospel’ and ‘talented reviewers’ smacks of traditional patriarchal dominance of our hobby and that day is thankfully, long gone, dead, buried, and composted. [the net gave the ignorant a voice for the first time in history, and it is obnoxious; but this is better, in my opinion, than a few moldy olds pontificating from on high].

So, in case it wasn’t clear, it is OK to evaluate your system subjectively, objectively [as if this really exists], a mix of the two, by color scheme, weight, size, technologies used, maximum SPL, origin of manufacturer, personality of manufacturer, towing capacity, or what have you. Sure it may not sound good [If you want it to sound good, use subjective evaluations. Duh.]. Welcome to the free world. Welcome to high-end home audio.

News: AudiogoN’s RMAF Show Report and Audio Federation’s Report

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 by Mike

Audio Federation is pleased to announce that AudiogoN’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Show Report will be displaying photos from the Audio Federation show report as they move towards being one of the most comprehensive show report destinations on the internet. AudiogoN show reports offer several unique features such as interactive exhibitor information, comments and room-by-room discussion boards.

AudiogoN RMAF 2007 show Report

As always, Audio Federation will continue to focus on the high-end audio show experience from a ultra high-end audiophile point of view, expanding the coverage and depth of the photos, reporting, and presentation to provide visitors ever more realistic up-close-and-personal you-are-there high-end audio show reports.

Stopped by 6moons a few times…

Sunday, October 28th, 2007 by Mike

SixMoons.com is usually a safe stop for me - it doesn’t drive me crazy with angst reading their stuff.

I liked the Hong Kong Show Report. Is it just me or do they know how to do high-end like nobody’s business? The new $200K Transroter turntable, the new, what, $140K?, Burmester CD player …

There was also the Jeff Day piece on Musicality at 6moons.

I guess I agree with his general thesis, which we would put as “Don’t overemphasize Realness (transparency, accuracy) and Impressiveness (slam, detail) at the expense of Enjoyability”.

But it was hard to tell if he was going too far, and saying: “Enjoyability versus Realness and Impressiveness are fundamentally incompatible with each other”.

The other point he was implicitly making, and you just know the type of people who will pounce on this, is that not only should products, rather than systems, be chosen on the basis of their Enjoyability (which he calls Musicality) but that cheap products are inherently more musical than expensive ones. For example, car radios, Leben CS600 pre and the Harbeth Super HL5 speakers. [I am not familiar with the Leben, but the $4795 Harbeth ……? How about the Acoustic Zen Adagio, the Quad, the Odyssey Lorali, Sonus Faber Amatuer I, or used Extrema, etc. etc.]

But assuming these do sound good to somebody - they buy them, take them home, plug them in to a system with cables that distort the harmonics and muffle small transients even more, a system with amps that are guaranteed for 20 years exaggerating the attack of every note [not to mention truncating the duration, that most beautiful thing, the ’sigh’ of each note] so now George and Ringo seem like THEY ARE REALLY ANGRY all the time.

Hey, uneven dynamics and a relaxed attitude to the things like, oh, voices and musical instruments don’t bother everybody.

OK, in my stupid opinion, most equipment over-emphasizes something; it is just plain hard to make something perfectly balanced. But hardly any of it is unusable, if care is paid to system matching.

But is a lot more difficult, it seems to me, to correct for something being too comprised in the attempt for musicality. That if that something has too little of a property of sound, it is worse than too much. If something, in trying to archive “musicality” so badly that dynamics or responsiveness or finesse are removed, there is just no way to get that information back. But if something is too detailed, throw a tube at it [crude but effective]. If something has to much transparency? The soundstage is too realistic? Imaging too spot-on?

Sorry, the article would have been more to the point to talk about components with near perfect balance, and ignore the “audiophiles going down the wrong path” lecture. Audiophiles are all over the place. They don’t need to be steered away from transparency, imaging and the like [we KNOW it is not the end all and be all, that it is not the sole criteria for quality, but it is certainly ONE set of criteria], off into low-fi land.

[I know I exaggerate, but this buyers guide approach bores me. People need to know their options at each price point and the performance trade-offs of these options, using some kind of categorization scheme, [NOT 1 thru 5 stars, A thru D, 1 thru 4 notes, etc.] that can handle the bewilderingly large number of characteristics of each product’s performance as it relates to other product’s performance. We try to do that here, with perhaps some success, though our focus is primarily on the ultra tippity tip of the high-end.]

One of our first posts was about climbing the mountain of fewer and fewer compromises to the ultimate system sitting at the top, which we speculated, most people would agree was the best. And how there is path up the mountain along which systems exist that have compromises but mimic the ultimate system that sits at the top of the mountain . But the compromises are things like frequency extension, macro dynamics, bass. Not details. Not transparency. Not imaging. I would argue that those things are part and parcel of music, and stereo reproduction. They leave the midrange alone. They leave most musical instruments and voices alone. Compromise somewhere else.

As for building a balanced Enjoyable (musical) system.

Just buying cheap gear is not the answer. Just buying old gear is not the answer. Just buying expensive gear is not the answer. Just buying the latest upgrade is not the answer. Just buying things that get great reviews in the magazines or on the forums is not the answer.

The answer? Ugh. W-e-l-l-l-l-l-l-l…

The easiest answer is to listen to lots of things, hear a system you like, and get that system lock, stock and barrel. [I apologize to our non-U.S.readership - I have been overflowing with these old-fashioned ways of putting things lately].

Another method is to grow your system: take your best guess as to what to get next, paying close attention to not only what people say it does well “Great bass on kettle drums, man” but what it is weakest in “I have been noticing a lot of musicians play instruments that need to be tuned”.

Then strive for balance as you add / change components: if you already have something that is very detailed in your system - don’t add something else to your system that is extremely detailed if you want a balance, if you want Enjoyability (Musicality), no matter how ‘cool’ it is or how excited the people are who talk about it.

[But if you do want the Most Detailed System Ever - then… go for it. Have fun. Don’t let anybody tell you that your system has to be enjoyable / musical, it is YOUR system. [Just don’t expect your spouse to hang out with you a whole lot when you are playing it :-) ]]

OK. Glad someone is talking a little about music and how humans process it… but this “High-End Audio is All Messed Up Because Of:

[fill in the blank:

1) too much realism, [Jeff Day]
2) too little realism, [J. Gorden Holt]
3) too commercial,
4) too many charlatans,
5) nobody takes it seriously enough
6) missing real dynamics
7) the manufacturers suck, the trade rags sucks, the forums suck
8) the musicians suck
9) the musicians suck after 1750 A.D.
10) kids and their downloads
11) greedy and/ or impressively stupid recording industry
12) things are too expensive
13) China
14) the value of the dollar is dropping like a heavy stone right smack on our little toe [us :-) ]
15) the media format (pick one, or pick several: MP3, redbook, SACD, DVD audio, Blu-ray, HDDVD, digital recorders)
16) the media format wars [pick one]
17) home theater
18) too many products
19) shrinking demographics
20) and not the last, but… The Internet

], whiny stuff is for the therapists couch. [Boy, look at how long that extemporaneously written list is… this hobby sure has a lot of whining going on. :-) ]

HiFi+ and the Marten Coltrane Supreme loudspeakers

Saturday, October 27th, 2007 by Mike

I hope nobody thought we were just going to ignore this… :-)

Most people tell me this was a pretty positive review. We certainly would like to thank Roy Gregory for taking the time and brain cells to describe what these speakers do, as well as putting it on the cover of the HiFi+ magazine this month.

But me, similar to the reviews of the smaller Marten Coltranes before this by Roy Gregory, Mike Fremer, and HP, I want them to describe what the speakers do that is unique. Not just describe it as yet another speaker that does X, Y and Z with music track A and B.

I can sense that they recognize there is a challenge here, to 1) describe these without damaging their relationships with other manufacturers and 2) not sound like they have gone off the deep end, lost too many marbles, and gone wacko like the guy at Audio Federation.

The problem with these speakers is that they are so competent, especially the Supremes as we call them here [and which is what the rest of this post is about, though everything applies to the Coltranes and little cousins, just there are more compromises and less absolutes], that they are completely shocking… or completely boring.

They are completely shocking because we have spent our lives playing with speakers that are colored. Colored neutral or colored sweet, colored impressive or colored dull. Finally there is the music, which has always been painted in the past with some kind of artist’s brush, the artist being the speaker manufacturer.

To be sure the underlying technology, drivers, crossover, cabinet all limit just what can be done compared to the Real Thing. But, given the technology, this is the way speakers should be built if people just want to hear what is upstream. If they do not, then that is OK, and there are a lot of speakers out there that sound great and we love them and we recommend and or sell a number of them.

They are completely boring because they just play what they are given. They don’t futz with the music and pump it up because they think they know what you should like - and it isn’t the actual music, it is how well the designer can SLAM the bass, or render exceedingly fine detail, or throw a gigantico soundstage or build a great looking cabinet or make tall tall speakers or …

They are boring because after you get them, you are done with speakers. Now, if you want to change the sound, you just change the upstream components.

They are a tabula rasa, which means, if I remember my Spanish [Latin] meaning clean slate. They are like a blank piece of paper: scary, challenging, boring, exciting… because it is now up to YOU to setup the components to make the sound you have always wanted.

And this is where the reviewers are at a disadvantage. They, have limited time and limited componentry to try with the speakers. They may have only one room. It took us one year [so far!], three different rooms, five different positions, dozens of combinations of best in-class amps and cables and sources, … and we are STILL just starting to get a handle on what they can do.

Like any good tool, the designer does their best, but they can barely imagine, if at all, what people will be able to do with it. This is true in software and I believe it to be true in high-end audio as well. We are, many of us, mapping new territory in high fidelity music reproduction using the best equipment available. How much fun is that? [that was a rhetorical question, but, just in case… it is a LOT of fun :-) ].

So, I am definitely asking for too much from reviewers, but it would have been so great to have them talk about this in their reviews, how these are so, so, so balanced. Like wives versus girl friends, husband-material versus boy friend-material. Something that will stand by our system for years and years.

Playing an electric guitar through an Audio Note Ongaku amplifier

Friday, October 26th, 2007 by Mike

Richard works at Audio Note and does many things including the website and, apparently, playing guitar through the Audio Note U.K. Ongaku integrated amplifier and Audio Note speakers.

If the video maker does not allow embedding, and there is no video above, clicking on the link below will take you take you to the video on YouTube.

The Video

Cool huh? And not a bad job playing the guitar either.

We are Professional Audiophiles

Friday, October 26th, 2007 by Mike

People always ask us “What the heck are you guys? Dealers? Distributors? A Magazine? An Online Guide? A Blog? Hobbyists? A Charity? Therapists? Nuts?”

Finally figured it out and in a way that is buzzword compliant and, AND!, fits on a bumper sticker.

We are Professional Audiophiles.

Everything we do as Audio Federation, the corporation, the magazine, the show reports, the extreme quality of the toys [uh, I mean, equipment], the ….whatever, revolves around us being Professional Audiophiles.

That’s it.

Simple huh?

[Enough with the long posts for awhile. We’ll let this one be readable.]

Show Reporting

Thursday, October 25th, 2007 by Mike

First, if you have a problem with show reporting, email us, don’t call.

Neli provides our customers and people interested in our store what is no doubt the most friendly, sales-pressure-free, and helpful advice people can find anywhere for their high-end audio systems. She is not a show report complaint department. That is my job :-) If you are really mad, email me directly at mike at audiofederation.com.

Not that anyone is really mad. Actually, 99.99% of the people really love the report this show - seems like we successfully walked that knife edge between saying nothing, glibly providing marketing copy, and blasting people for every sour note and incorrectly dampened and cabled doohickey. Whew! That blade is sharp…

But people are still finding us for the first time. And people see our report and then see all these others popping up that seem to have, uh, motivations that are different than ours.

Look, providing advertising copy “This system was to die for” in exchange for advertising revenues or semi-permanent equipment loans ain’t going to go away. At least not anytime we would call ’soon’. People have to earn a living. Fine. [Of course, the reports that diss equipment as a threat or punishment because no equipment has been or is likely to be loaned to them is just a wee bit slimy]

[And the major magazines (like Stereophile, TAS, HiFi+) and the top webzines make enough money and do not HAVE to do this, and most of these don’t, AFAICT.]

But people see our report and they go wha? Where’s the ads? Where’s the ‘Pending Reviews’?

Oh, they are a dealer, so they must just diss all the rooms that do not have equipment that they sell.

A lot of people just deactivate their brains at this point. But if they accidentally leave them in the ON position, they will see that

1) we are an equal opportunity trash talker, and

2) if it sounded good we are likely to want to carry it so we can sell it and make money and that is a lot harder if there is a online report that says we think it sucked [hello? and even if a local dealer currently carries it, how long does it usually take before they decide to drop a product line? 1 year? 2? 5? If its good, we will wait and snarf it up if becomes available and we have the bandwidth to fully support another line.], and

3) we sell outrageously great (and sometimes expensive :-) ) stuff that one might expect to actually end up in some good sounding rooms once in a while. And they do. Once in a while.

Shows are unpredictable, and don’t we all know it [we have an advantage at RMAF, we don’t have to SHIP stuff. Shipped stuff gets broken. Especially for shows. It is some kind of ’shippers revenge part II’ or something to do with shows and expensive electronics and frustrated Terminators. Or not.].

So, leave those brains on, eyes open and ears wide people!

And when we do say something that does not absolutely thrill an exhibitor’s marketing department - look, they can either

* explain why it sounded like that,

One report, and it was awhile ago, I talked about a certain hardness in an otherwise very open and dynamic Cain & Cain setup. They respond, “yes, that is true, when [now it was a long time ago so don’t quote me] it is turned up really loud in a room that small, that is what happens.”. This gave me, and readers, so much more confidence in their honesty, their ability to hear what was going on, and in their depth of knowledge about their speaker’s performance envelope.

Another was about Almarro and how the sound went from pretty good one day to not so good the next. They later emailed about how they didn’t think it was perfect along the long wall and so they tried the short wall, and oh boy was that a mistake [I’m adding the American colloquialisms here, they are from Japan], but they were stuck with it during one of the days at the show. Fine, I put it into the report. People learn that even exhibitors have to fish around for good speaker positions [let’s here it for small speakers! hip hip hurray!].


* they can deny it sounded like that, could ever sound like that, and only perfect sound erupts from any of their rooms. If they can’t hear the problems, or they lie about them, if they can’t provide a logical reason why I heard what I heard, then that is an additional interesting factoid about the designers or dealers that people may find useful.

Look, they can always admit that they go for sound X, with compromises Y because their customer base is willing to sacrifice Y to get X at the price their product is going for. Great! Just don’t get upset when I talk about X and compromises Y so that our readers can decide if they want to buy it without having to negotiate the rapids between the shills and charlatans and honest fans who don’t know they are sacrificing Y and wouldn’t care even if they did know and all the other internet hazards along the way to finding out something about anything out there.

Some exhibitors can’t afford decent equipment so they should just be upfront about it and say that they think people can still hear the quality of their gear on the compromised system and that X, Y and Z are going to review it. etc.

People, honesty is the best policy. Yeah, dishonest people do make sales, and maybe more sales than honest people in the short term, but over time they could make more sales and sell for higher prices if they were honest and the products they are selling are of a decent quality.

At least, this is what we tell ourselves. Every show report I have to cruise the forums, answering questions, posting links. Checking out other reports. The shills, the duplicity, the dishonesty, the politics, it gets us down. I probably shouldn’t even talk to Neli about this stuff - you know women, they think we men have messed up the world BAD - and this just adds lots of proof to the pudding.

But you know, the naivety out there, people liking things that we all think are severely compromised, naivety that a lot of people complain about, doesn’t bother me. Compared to audiophiles in a hundred years down the road, we are all idiots and know nothing [nothing!]. Let people enjoy the discovery process - it is one of the most fun parts of this professional hobby.

Another long winded post. Hopefully we can reuse this periodically, during show report seasons, to remind our new visitors who we are.

Our Room, Other Show Reports

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 by Mike

Lots of people have written to ask why our big room wasn’t covered in the other show reports.

First, thanks to everyone who did cover the room and is yet to cover the room. We live on the net. We see it. We appreciate it. (And we still read the print zines too of course :-) )

Our room, for the first time this year, was packed on Friday and Sunday [the slow days], as well as Saturday. So at least a lot of people there were interested - and many spontaneously went out of their way to complement the system sound [not in the polite “thank you” way but in the “Oh Fudge, You’ve spoiled me!” kind of way]. Just doing our job ma’am and/or sir.

Looking at the lineup of show reporting suspects … We have:

Enjoy the Music only covers a certain number of rooms and they covered our Audio Note room, figuring that their readership is more interested in a $15K System than, and I just now added it up for this post, a $480K system. Well, yeah…. I can see that. Make perfect sense. Darn! :-)

Stereophile graciously covered our Audio Note Room and our large room. They like the Audio Note room (everybody does, especially when they hear the price) they thought the large room did not, essentially, have enough ‘air’, mentioning cables or positioning as a potential culprit. Well, we had all Jorma Design Prime cables (except on the bass towers) for the digital, which are some of the best cables in the world, if not the best, so that probably wasn’t it. But maybe they had just heard the Nordost ODIN cable demo downstairs and wondered, ‘Hmmmmm…. How can we encourage Audio Federation to put ODIN cables on the system next year so we can hear THAT?’. :-)

[Seriously, the positioning was also fine but perhaps they noticed that the bass was sometimes turned up a wee bit too high, making the highs seem a little attenuated? It is pretty subtle. We talked about this issue in the report and previous blog post(s) and I think Neli has finally torn up the divorce papers because I convinced her that, although this setup and therefore the concomitant problems, were largely my fault, I could have done stupider things and so she should save the papers for a time when I do something REALLY stupid. Probably won’t have long to wait…[but I can always claim that I will do something even stupider yet, so this defense is flawless :-) ]].

OK, as you can see, my ability to be serious is seriously in trouble here today.

Dagogo will probably cover the both rooms. Or at least I think they were in our room. I saw them everywhere - all over the show. Everywhere I looked. Everywhere I didn’t look.

SonicFlare will probably cover at least the large room. They were in the room play cuts of this and cuts of that - one of the more fun times during the show for me.

The Absolute Sound was there in force. We are hoping for a positive report from them.

6moons was there, but I got distracted and I am not sure they got to hear enough, or something familiar enough, to form an impression.

Positive Feedback may have been there - I didn’t see them but I often seem to be out of the room doing our show report when many of our friends choose to stop by.

HiFi+ was there and charmed Neli [it must be that British accent, and I bloody well better start doing it too, hip hip. Oh, who am I foolin’…]. But I do not think they were there in a show reporting capacity.

Well, of course, these are not institutions, but real people, and often just a single person. Steve, Constantine, Jason, Marja, Henk, Bob, Josh, Roy, Dave, Carol, Danny, and a lot more whose camera shots I flub up when my flash goes off right before theirs… and whose writing I read and learn from and try to incorporate (or not incorporate) into my show reports and posts on this Blog. And most of them add commercial marketing information to their show reports, which takes a lot of effort, and, while it can quite boring, can be quite useful because for some reason many, many manufacturers like to keep information secret (stuff, like, oh, the PRICE! for example) unless it is in a show report, in which case it is OK to blab it to the world.

And before I forget, the reports on the forums, which have taken a severe hit when Trelja stopped reporting, seem to be by people who only visited the 1st and 2nd floors. At least it seems that way if you go by the things they are talking about. I think there was a incorrect assumption on their part that this was where the best rooms were. Don’t they know that this show always, in tribute to the White Album, one of the best albums of all times, puts the best stuff on floor Number 9? Apparently not. So everybody, …everybody! Please fill your neighbor in on this. White Album. 9th Floor. Got it.

But seriously, they are hearing things like big MBL amps on big MBL speakers, big BAT amps on Big Wilson,… for the first time. They seem to having a blast, and which of us didn’t when we first heard those big boys? [Well, you know what I mean. And some of them are big boys, aren’t they. Much yang. [ Maybe the key to a great system is balancing yin and yang? [ Or, after 3 days of too loud rooms at a show, maybe it is the removal of all yang. :-) ]]].

You just know when you start typing triple-nested levels of narration and jokes it is time to End This Blog Post.

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