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August, 2010

Marten ‘Momento’ speakers

Sunday, August 29th, 2010 by Mike

Mike Valentine has written up the Marten Momento speakers [their second largest, penultimate speakers] . The Momento speaker article has several photos and his listening impressions (fortuitously for most of us here, it has been translated into English :-) ):

Mike Valentine: Marten Momento Speakers

[Thanks Mike!]

Recommended Music

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 by Mike

First off, this post is not going to list music we recommend. Sorry.

In fact, we don’t really recommend music, per se, and this post is going to talk about why.

First, although I think we both enjoy it when someone else plays their canned selection of tracks… THIS one shows awesome mid bass, that one shows how wonderful female voices are etc. - it is a terrible way to evaluate a system and I think a dishonest way to try and sell a system.

That midbass is nice and deep and rich, yes, but won’t it sound like that on almost all systems? Maybe it sounds better, in actual fact, on most other systems and this system actually sucks.

That it is the track itself that is extraordinary, not the system.

And when friends play us these kinds of tracks, and they not trying to sell us something :-) , this is probably their main point - that it is the track itself that is great, yes… “but doesn’t it sound great on my system!” with a big smile on their faces.

There are two ways that we use to select music to evaluate a system.

1. One is the way Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note recommends: using a wide selection of music you have never heard before [or at least do not listen to very often]. This is great for people stuck in a musical rut, usually only playing 3 or 4-piece jazz bands with female vocals because that is the only stuff that sounds good on the systems they are familiar with. By playing more complex music at random - they will actually be able to recognize when they come across a high-quality system that can play many, if not all, kinds of music well. For people NOT stuck in a rut :-) this method works [and is required for any real in-depth evaluation], but it takes a lot longer to evaluate a system this way than…

2. Playing a select group of tracks [songs] or varying ‘complexity’ that you are VERY familiar with to test various aspects of the system.

Not sure that complexity is the right word.

There is a continuum of music with varying degrees of… ‘difficulty’, say, stretching from music that sounds good on every system, just about, music from which only a few clues about the quality of the system can be judged [so called audiophile music - but it is really useless-for-audiophiles music] to that which sounds unpleasant on most systems below a certain quality.

[i.e. some music sounds about the same on most systems, and some sounds very different on different systems - to exaggerate a bit]

And this is why it is hard if not impossible to recommend music - we can talk about how track #16 shows wonderful decay and amazing separation between 16 different instruments being played simultaneously, for example. But it requires a certain amount of quality in the system to render the music like this - and people who listen to it on a lesser system, they will either think we are nuts or, instead, will imagine that they too hear such amazing things - that their system is up to the task when it is, in actual fact, not.

So what we do is, when it is our turn to pick music to demo our system to someone, and we are done with playing music they are really familiar with [approach #2 above. BTW So many people are embarrassed to admit their favorite music! What a world we live in] , we just pick music we like at the time [which serves as approach #1, above, for the listener].

When I play music to evaluate someone else’s system - I play any Radiohead track that I am VERY familiar with and then something natural, real world stuff, that I am familiar with: classical or world music or whatever. After these two I can rate the system based on separation, depth, imaging, soundstage, tonal quality, detail, and stuff like harmonic detail, imaging sizing, etc [all from Radiohead] and also whether the sound is grounded in reality. This only works because [besides Radiohead being deceptively complex] I have heard a these few Radiohead tracks on a number of very high-quality systems - and others - that I listened to with full attention - and so know kind of just What Can Happen… what these tracks REALLY should sound like [kind of. Think of a graph, lesser system sounds on the left, better systems sounds stretching to to the right. The graph is trending up, so one can extrapolate that there might be better systems someday that will extend the graph farther to the right. This anticipation of what Radiohead etc. will sound like over in the uncharted areas on the right side of the graph is one of the things that keeps me playing with this stuff :-) ].

Summarizing

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by Mike

OK, summarizing the last few posts and comments…

I am of the opinion that:

1. It is a disservice to audiophiles and the equipment/systems to lump everything into more or less two categories: good and pretty good but that this is the state of affairs for 99% of the reporting by both laypeople and reviewers.

2. That simple numerical ranking, and Stereophile’s grading system, are very slightly better [much better than the Golden Ear-type approaches] but still fails because of A. taking into account the cost [a $3K class A component is not as good as a $100K class A component [even though there is a significant percentage in our hobby who INSIST this mythical component MUST exist, somewhere, somehow and they keep looking and buying a heckuva lot of $3K components] and B. not describing why it belongs in the class they have assigned it to [yeah, they refer us to the orig review but those reviews do not put the sound in context, see #3].

3. That comparative analysis that compares components to each other is the only approach that makes any sense - not on the basis of This is better than That [which would drive away the advertisers who are paying for the review] - but at a more detailed level that is completely agnostic about what is ‘better’.

In the Audiophile’s Guide to the Galaxy, we do exactly this at a level that the layperson can grok [rereading Stranger in a Strange Land. Last read it when I was 12 (from this same paperback!)]. Emotion, Impressive, Natural/Organic… where Magical/Spiritual really just means that there are some depth to the component and that it will take time to understand and that the listener will be given the opportunity to ‘greatly enhance’ their appreciation of music.

Beyond the layperson-accessible approach, we audiophiles can use terms like ‘detail’, or more precisely, micro-, midi- and macro- detail, with which we can compare and describe components using such references as the Wilson speakers, Levinson amps, etc. and beyond (helps to use components most people have heard - but the beauty of it is - this is NOT a requirement! Humans are great at figuring out where things go in their special ‘buy list’ without having to live with each and every object in the list, if GIVEN ENOUGH COMPARATIVE DATA to work with). This approach would eventually sketch out the world of audio components: both the compared and compared-to become more well-defined through this technique. There is no inherently better and worse here - though an audiophile who is at all familiar with their own preferences, and that of the average listener, will KNOW which is best for them (and the average guy and gal).

This exposes the way components actually sound to the light of day - let the chips fall where they may. I will post some real-world examples in the next few posts.

[before I get to that… Yes, we do plan on reviving Spintricity at some point. Right now the High End Audio channel on Mattters is doing somewhat better than Spintricity did [except for show reports :-) ] and about the same as Dagogo [on average]. There are also channels for the laypeople like Home Audio and even Home Theater for those that like technology for the eyes as well as the ears].

Farming Music

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Mike

No, I do not mean music to farm by…

A common argument people use to sidetrack audiophiles and audiphiling is to say, in this ‘trump-card tone of voice’, “well its the music that is the important thing”.

That is like telling an organic farmer [oh, so now you see the why of the title? not that you have to agree with the analogy but…] who is talking about different natural fertilizers and crop rotation algorithms that, well, the food is the important thing.

It is like, “yeah, really?” People like food do they? People like music? Wow!

Yes. OK. Everybody likes music [for the most part].

But as audiophiles, we talk about and try to farm high quality music.

In fact, everybody likes high quality music, and food. But everybody does not know where to find it, how to grow/make it, nor how to talk about and discriminate between various qualities and flavors.

Nor does everybody want to pay for it… ergo the success of McDonalds and Bose.

Some of this has to do with the need for humans to feel like they are better than the other guy. I like music more than you. Food cooking is most important. No, ingredients. No the eating is the important thing. No, the presentation. The atmosphere. The company. The organic purity. The size of the farm. The location of the farm. etc.

Food has a much richer social structure than high end audio - but as you might try to map some of the previous points of view from food to audio, you can see that audiophiles are perhaps less cantankerous than foodies? Or maybe it is just that our ranks are few and, although nutcases we have plenty, perhaps the percentage is less than those in the population in general? ;-)

Oh, anyway, as an audiophile I like thinking about - and have special appreciation for - the quality of sound of the music I listen to. But everybody likes music. So don’t bore me by pointing it out. Everybody likes quality sound, too, they just don’t like thinking or talking about it much. But there is nothing wrong with that. Are they still audiophiles? Not everybody cares about the presence of [or lack thereof] cumin in their ‘bonzo beans either. Are they still foodies? There are people who love movies [me!] and then there are people like Ebert [not me!].

Still do not think this is Amir’s ‘professional’ versus inexperienced. More to do with emphasis on what a person pays attention to and cares about. Or perhaps I am picking on Amir’s choice of wording too much and if we replace professional with 1. experienced and 2. cares about and has the ability to describe sound in the context of these experiences - then I think we are good to go [think about reviewers in this context, for example].

Ebert cares about weird esoterica that is interesting - but I really do not have time to learn about nor really appreciate to any great depth. I can understand when he thinks a movie is ‘important’ or a ‘classic’ but not exactly why. Hopefully posts like this will help spawn a number of Ebert-like people in audiophiledom. I truly believe we have none at this moment.

Another kind of ‘compression’ in high-end audio

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Mike

Anyone who reads the average show report, the average review or any forum runs into the dreaded ‘blowed me away’ or “best I’ve ever heard” or even the infamous ‘best ever’ mixed with your usual sprinkle of awesomes and wows.

To some extent this is the fault of the English language - mathematics is much better at quantifying things. And certainly the culture at large, at least here in the U.S., encourages such obfuscation, equating, for example, the horror of killing 40M people with the local tax collector or the latest starlet driving too fast after a drinking a beer with - well, nothing holds a candle to this particular crime against humanity.

The point is that some audio equipment is significantly better than others, and some systems sound much better than others. Yet any causal, or even in depth, perusal of the information available would have one believe that everything is pretty darn great. That it is all about budget and aesthetics and what is ‘hot’ right now on the forums, or recommended by Stereophile or written up by some Joe who pins a ‘reviewer’ tag on their shirt.

Speaking of Stereophile, at least they TRY to classify things a little - though with their emphasis on measurements, their taking price into consideration, and their lack of long-term reviewing - their A, B, etc. grading is not so very useful. The Golden Ear Awards, as another example [not to pick on them… almost ALL of the online mags do something like this] is a completely random walk through components by people with completely random powers of observation and skill and experience.

I know, I know, people say that quality is in the ear of the beholder. I say that people who use this argument are lazy and are afraid of taking a stand :-) I say that there is indeed ABSOLUTE quality that is irrespective of listener and we may or may not be able to measure it today - most likely not - but that it is of a kind of quality that is *theoretically* measurable - that one can imagine that one might be able to measure it someday - given enough time, brains and money.

Sure, we all enjoy the Bose car stereo sometimes. Enjoy it a lot. Sometimes as much, say, as a $1M rig. We also might enjoy the smell of a wild rose in a random alley, as well as the gardens of La roseraie, say. One can hardly equate the quality of the two - but both can be equally enjoyable at certain times under certain circumstances. The point is that quality of audio should not be measured by whether someone MIGHT enjoy it once in awhile [one might make an argument that enjoyment over an EXTENDED period of time should be included in some kind of subjective quality measurement] - that there is an intrinsic quality that is NOT relative to the listener, just like the quality of a garden - that there are a number of measurable and not-yet measurable qualities that set a wild rose garden apart from one of the world’s most cared-for rose gardens. That there is difference between an amp, say, made by someone who then markets it on the forums versus someone who has spent their whole lives building amps and studying what good amps do and don’t do and who TRIES to do the best that CAN BE DONE at a price point, or on an acre, as opposed to ‘good enough’.

It is this contrast, of the not so good with the extremely excellent - that makes life wonderfully fascinating and I would say that the contrasts themselves are also quite… enjoyable. It gives life ‘color’ - these graduations in quality. And it is the descriptions of audio equipment, through incompetence, fear, duplicitousness, ignorance, hive mentality or whatever, who compress everything into a category of ‘good’ - that are drowning us in meaninglessness - that are robbing the hobby, and all of our audiophile lives, of some of its real potential for enjoyment.

HRS - Harmonic Resolution Systems - News

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Mike

[Got a number of posts to… uh… post. So please bear with us!]

Some of this you already know these Harmonic Resolution Systems tidbits - but just so that the blog has a record of all this…

The HRS R1 Isolation Base:

The new R1 Isolation Base at $1095 works in the same frame system as S1 ($1695) and M3X ($2495) Isolation Bases. The R1 and S1 come in 17×19 and 19×21 sizes only (and that would be inches on a side, everybody). We haven’t tried the S1 and R1 yet, but the idea is that the S1 is supposed to be just about nearly as darn good as the old M3.

The standard (for a few years now, I think it is) DPII Series Damping Plates now come in both black and silver finish - purely for cosmetic reasons. Even though most of us Yanks prefer black components - statistically - some of us do have silver finish components, whether we like it or not.

There are now new HRS DPX Series Damping Plates - with more than twice the mass of the DPII. The largest plates come in at a whopping 5.5 lbs. These were added to the product line because people were often found to be using multiple plates on a single component.

Well, we certainly do - and probably would also use multiple of these larger plates too. Why? Because components are often sensitive to WHERE the damping plate is placed, and using multiple plates offers one a lot of customizability. Careful though, one CAN over-dampen a component with the plates [unlike the Isolation Bases or Nimbus Couplers (feet)]. We haven’t tried these new DPX plates. When we use them we mostly use them on the (relatively) inexpensive components - mostly because we do not have an Isolation Base and the Nimbus Couplers for *everything* here. The DPX plates come in black and silver, just like the DPII.

Nimbus couplers are soft [rubbery] pads, and you use two, one on each side of a metal spacer, as feet to couple the component [and its vibrations] to a solid mass - usually an massive Isolation Platform which are about 60lbs on average. We used to poo poo the feet, but they do increase the performance of a Isolation Base by quite a bit - oh, say, 25%? (it varies from component to component. EMM Labs somewhat lower, Audio Note and Lamm somewhat higher, whatever - you get the point, right?)

You can now buy the triplet: 2 nimbi and a spacer, as a single unit, the Couplers being permanently bonded to the Nimbus Spacer using a very highgrade aerospace adhesive system. “The bonded assembly makes handling the units very easy for all applications.” They used to do something like this a long time ago, bonding 1 metal spacer to one soft coupler - which still allowed one to put it under a foot of a component if one desired (not recommended, especially, unless there is no alternative. It sounds better if they are placed under the metal of the component’s chassis; placing them under the component’s feet does improve the sound - just not as much). So, I guess the point that this paragraph was trying to make but doing a lousy job at - is that bonding them together is more convenient - but not nearly as flexible. So unless there is a sonic difference (none that I know of. Neli? Mike L.?) then in most cases you will still want to get the 3-piece feet as separates.

OK, think that is it for HRS!

Seriously, if you want your system to sound a lot better without even having to upgrade any components - this is it. We have found HRS to be a consistent and a predictable performer. Most other isolation products, although often quite popular, are sadly horrible sounding compared to using nothing at all [Is there such a thing as laughably bad. ? Nope, probably not.].

Speakers for my office?

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 by Mike

Every time Neli … irks… me I threaten to move the Marten ‘Supreme’ speakers into my office :-) Which is at least once a day. ;-)

Of course, this does not make her any happier with me at those moments…

But, you know, I really, really,really would like to have the Supremes as my personal little system - and it would TOO fit in my 10×11 foot office [seriously, I think it would do just fine]

But if I am not careful with this negotiation stuff I may end up with these.

Music: JIENAT - MIRA

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 by Mike

JIENAT ‘Mira’

Been meaning to post about this for way too long.

More to come on this SACD & blu-ray music disc combo with some amazing sound and music:

96/24 DSD Stereo + 5.1 SACD
92/24 Stereo + 5.1 Blu-Ray
Blu-Ray Video

Picture forthcoming - but the music itself is, well, here in the U.S. it sounds much like Native American chanting. But unlike Native American chanting that we heard in Santa Fe last August at Indian Market, say, which is filled with anguish and regret - the music on the disc is full of mirth and joy and is quite playful.

Just about everyone who hears it asks where they can get one [even though Neli insists on playing the ‘dog barking song’ - which is really not that weird or funny - nor is it representative - I think she likes to see all the expressions on people’s faces]. The fact that so many different kinds of people [including us by the way!] like this disc speaks well of the music.

The sound is excellent as well. This is fairly complex music - and the liner notes describe to what lengths the recording engineers went through to get it right. A lot of emphasis has been also on the 5.1 surround aspect of the recording - which we were not able to experience. Similarly with the blu-ray music disc - my blu-ray setup is probably better than most but the bar is so low [and comparing it to what I normally listen to thru that system - Comcast Digital Cable TV, the BEST example of why we need anti-trust laws that one could imagine - the bar is just so very, very low. Well, I should probably listen to it there anyway. TBD.]

If you are like us - and have / enjoy a lot of different kinds of music and are always looking for something that is not the same old derivative this or that - and yet at the same time is very very high quality sound - then you need this.

Loud Bob Dylan before breakfast - do you say thee aye or nay?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 by Mike

Just an informal poll. Kind of concerns the goings on here and a little husband and wife … discussion… ;-)


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