Pursuing the Ultimate Music Experiences

Audio Federation High-Fidelity Audio Blog

Mike Fremer welcomes us into his home on YouTube

Mike Fremer welcomes us into his home on YouTube. Went up day before yesterday. We liked it. 🙂

A few comments:

So many records!

Here is somebody who listens nearfield to large speakers, people. Everybody with small rooms [us too, now], take heart!

Comparing analog with digital on that system is somewhat disingenuous – his analog stack is significantly superior to his digital stack. The best digital comes MUCH closer to the best analog than his digital.

The uncomfortable cautionary tale about the stroke victim really is some sage advice to us all to tell our significant other to hire an ‘expert’ friend-of-the-family’, or at least a ‘trusted expert’ to sell the records [and gear!] after such a tragic incident [assuming we did not want to listen to music after a stroke, which you know, is so WRONG].

I presume the making of this video, and Mike’s mention of each component he has bought and paid for, was prompted by a rash of reviewers whose whole system is on semi-permanent loan [and saying good things about that gear, and only that gear]. This says something about his sincerity when he says he likes these things, and lends authenticity to his recommendations. These sort of distinctions seem to be beyond the ken of many people these days – as we grow more and more accustomed to consuming bite-sized opinions on FB, Twitter and YouTube as facts – but glad someone is shining a light in the darkness.

Stereophile is not paying Mike enough. And the weird thing, for me, is that people seem to think that being an ‘underpaid journalist’ is to be expected, even for someone who is at the top of his game as the preeminent journalist in all of high-end audio. Stereophile, the top publication in high-end audio, should pay their top journalists enough to afford a mortgage on a modest home / apartment [in Joisy, of all places] and to purchase tools-o-da-trade like this level of system, which, seriously, is not all that outrageous of a system [the analog signal path seems quite well designed, in fact]. Certainly over the course of his tenure at Stereophile, just his salary should be enough to cover this level of investment in gear and more, IMO.

So many records!



Greatest Audiophile Voices (close-mic’d female vocals)

Greatest Audiophile Voices (close-mic’d female vocals), from the album “Greatest Audiophile Voices” Vol: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

On YouTube. Several of these are unfamiliar to me, so I enjoyed learning about, and hearing, them. [Everybody does know, of course, that most ‘Audiophile Music’ is just music that sounds good on any Hi-Fi, no matter how bad the Hi-Fi is, right?]


01 • 00:00:00 • Light My Fire • Lisa Lovbrand
02 • 00:04:58 • Somewhere Over The Rainbow • Julian Kuchocki
03 • 00:11:03 • When I Fall In Love • Karin Melchert
04 • 00:14:12 • I Wish You Love • Juliet Kelly
05 • 00:16:52 • Don’t Know Why • Adreinne Hindmarsh
06 • 00:20:54 • Lover Man • Jessica Lee
07 • 00:25:32 • Shiny Stockings • Sue Giles
08 • 00:29:25 • A Fool To Believe • Andrea Reichhart
09 • 00:32:53 • The Day You Left • Yvonne Walter
10 • 00:35:43 • Send In The Clowns • Julian Kuchocki
11 • 00:42:33 • Wait For Me • Juliet Kelly
12 • 00:47:25 • I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face • Katrine Madsen
13 • 00:53:03 • At Last • Maci Miller
14 • 00:57:28 • The Way You Look Tonight • Dani Thompson
15 • 01:01:56 • Cry Me A River • Gail Marten
16 • 01:07:46 • Besame Mucho • Sofia Laiti
17 • 01:14:34 • Fever • Maci Miller
18 • 01:18:43 • What A Difference A Day Make • Svante Thuresson/Katrine Madsen
19 • 01:23:03 • Dream A Little Dream Of Me • Tipitina
20 • 01:26:20 • Fly Me To The Moon • Nashi Young Cho
21 • 01:29:53 • Don’t Want To Fall In Love Again • Tammy Weis
22 • 01:33:27 • The Girl From Ipanema • Arienne Hindmarsh
23 • 01:36:04 • Moon River • Ida Landsberg
24 • 01:39:54 • If I Were A Bell • Irene Atman
25 • 01:43:29 • Night And Day • Lisa B
26 • 01:49:00 • Surely • Virna Sanzone
27 • 01:54:35 • Neither One of Us • Trisha O’Donnel
28 • 01:58:54 • Walk On Bay • Lee Engele
29 • 02:01:44 • When I Fall In Love • Lisa Lovbrand whit David Foster


San Francisco Opera in the Park

We attended the San Francisco Opera in the Park yesterday. Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park.

Sharon Meadow was filled up…

We were up-prepared for it to be so unnaturally sunny (for SF) and unnaturally warm (for SF), so all by itself, that was memorable.

The quality of the performance…  was shockingly good. I mean, we listen to a fair amount of opera and classical music here. In my opinion, the sum total of the performance, the musicians taken together as a whole, was better than just about anything I have heard before. Perhaps many albums focus too much on ‘stars’ as opposed to performances?

The quality of the sound… it was amplified. A lot. It was perfectly loud back where these were taken. So, not very high fidelity. There was good immediacy, but the midrange sometimes had a ‘falsetto’ washed out color to it, and the upper bass had minimal decay and sounded more percussive and dead than it should. Similarly the upper mids could not handle much complexity at volume, which is somewhat familiar as many classical CDs have this problem – maybe to do with the microphone being overloaded?

Copland’s arrangement of “At The River” sung by Jill Grove, San Francisco Opera in the Park [sorry about the abrupt start]. There were many others I should have recorded, which are more my cup-o-tea, but this is what we got.


The view from Hippie Hill. We *love* San Francisco! [and the air was better here than in Palo Alto. What’s up with that? There wasn’t much of a breeze at all from the Pacific either, but maybe it was just the proximity to the ocean that made the air a little more human-friendly].



Objective methods for describing the quality of music reproduction

I have been thinking a lot about objective methods for describing the quality of a HiFi system sound. Or even the quality of a single component.



Because I am very very curious about how a lot of things sound that I will not have the time or resources to hear myself. And reviews and show reports are just not doing it for me.

To me, just about 100% of these read like this: “blah blah blah sounds great blah blah blah high price blah blah you should buy it. Next.”

First, very few people are qualified to review top-tier gear. When the world is awash in $15K(!) and above DACs few of our stalwart reviewers can afford to play this game.

Second, few people can, or even try, to describe sound in a way that readers can understand what they are talking about. Its hard, and it is certainly NP complete, and in the best case the press inspires, not describes.

Third, we all know what is third, no reason to bring it up.


I am thinking comparative analysis might be a good place to start. How does something sound relative to its peers. Does A have more bass than X but less than Y and Z? Good to know, right?

Then I ran across this old post on Romy’s site Do not “compare” audio equipment. In particular (as Amir quoted, and disagreed with for his own reasons):

You have to very clearly recognize what distinct the performance of a given component form “how it should be” instead to recognize the performing delta of a component relative to it’s competitive.

I interpret this to mean that one has to be careful – just because A has more bass than X does not mean it has better bass. X may have the perfect amount of bass and A may then have too much.

[I know, this “how it should be” is more of a gestalt – but we are forced, IMO, to objectify this gestalt in order to understand and communicate the quality of something]

These days, this “more is better or is it” dichotomy is very common with respect to resolution. Many things have more resolution than what might be considered natural – not that we can’t still enjoy them and buy them, but from an objective point of view, it really is probably too much resolution.


We can look at other high-end domains as a guide, like cameras and autos, though they also suffer from the same primary problem we do: the quantification of the subjective in order to try and pave the way for objective comparisons is fraught. [fraught I tell you :-)]

Fraught or not, here we go:

We’ve done this a dozen times in the past but haven’t done it for several years, and I know Steve Rochlin at Enjoy the Music did it for a few reviews as well, but we are going to start comparing things to other things using tables.

Tables with a ton of attributes like Bass, bass slam, bass tightness, bass resolution, bass naturalness, bass harmonic richness, etc.

At the same time the numbers will not only be relative to other components but relative to ‘how it should be’.

A score of 100 is ‘how it should be’. A score of 110 is a little more than how it should be. A score of 90 is a little less.

WAIT. Before you think “Hey. My preferences are a little from yours Mike. Who gets to say what is 100 aka perfect?”

Well, if we are going to be able to communicate what something sounds like using numbers and words, we really need to try and to take ‘preferences’ out of the equation when it comes to reviews.

The assumption here is that there is indeed an absolute perfect sound. It doesn’t necessarily exist in the studio, on tape, on the original digital recording or in our living rooms, but there is a “how it should be”; a “what it is supposed to sound like”.

So… the flaw in the ointment … we have to encourage and verify that reviewers review things with respect to ‘how it should be’ and not ‘how they are OK with it’ [after they get a long lecture about how cold and sterile is not ‘how it should be’, sorry JV].

There can also be another table, that each of us fills out, that represents our personal preferences.

In the absence of being able to ever achieve that absolute sound in our lifetimes at a less than prohibitive cost, what are we willing to sacrifice and what to we absolutely insist on. These are our personal preferences.

My table would have soundstage depth, for example, at around 90. This attribute is slightly less important to me than it is to other people, in general, and a score of 90 is fine by me.

[There has to be another number associated with each attribute, a penalty fine for going over (for me, too much midrange energy is not good at all, too much soundstage depth is fine)- and for going below (too little resolution is also anathema for me, personally).]

In this way, I think we can move a good distance toward an objective comparison and communication of the performance of hifi systems and of individual components.


Filling Audio Note AN-E loudspeaker stands with sand

I stumbled across Neli filling Audio Note AN-E loudspeaker stands with sand and I decided to take some photos [and hold the funnel :-/].

This time we used fish aquarium sand instead of play sand [aka sandbox or beach sand, which clumps up due to moisture. Good for building sand castles, not so good for filling equipment racks and speaker stands]. Play sand works fine in an arid environment; here near the bay, not so much.

We used most of this 20 lb bag of ‘aquatic substrate’ [aquarium sand].

The all-important pail. About 2 lbs of sand was poured into the bucket from the bag of sand, then decanted into each leg as we went along.

You would think this radiator funnel’s mouth would be too big, but it worked fine. The sand is so fine and dry, it runs into the stand legs like water.

The directions on how to assemble the stands.

We don’t use the upward facing spikes and no one else uses them and suggest you do not either. We sometimes use soft HRS Nimbus Couplers between the speaker and the stand [increases resolution, lowers authority – and makes positioning during setup easier], or a washcloth [makes positioning easier], or blu tack [recommended by the factory – adds authority, makes adjusting positioning more difficult].

Each leg is filled with sand through the larger hole you see here.

All the legs are filled with sand. A few grains of sand got lost on their way into a leg. Neli was embarrassed that we spilled so many [uncountably few if you ask me] and the first stand *did* go better.

We used this solder sucker to blow sand out of the threads where the stand will be bolted on to its top [actually bottom] plate.

Time to screw in the bolts and add the spikes and away we go 🙂 The spoon wasn’t used for much after I convinced Neli to just pour the bucket of sand directly into the funnel which went a lot faster [hence the reason I was holding the funnel and not taking photos at those times].


Taiwan Hi-End Show 2017

The Taiwan Hi-End Show 2017 was held last week and Mono and Stereo has a posted a couple of hundred photos of it on their site.

Also several hundred are posted on Hiendy here and here for starters. Full index of their coverage of the Taiwan Hi-End Show 2017 is here

tl;dr: “If you just multiply the price of any Acapella loudspeaker by three or so, you will know what other speakers they should be compared to out there, performance-wise”

It appears to be a fairly large show but with fewer people than the Hong Kong AV Show held last week.

The Acapella Audio Arts’ room featured their LaCampanella loudspeakers, here with red horns. The LaCampanella speakers come in two versions: this is the $23,000 version at 93 dB efficiency. The LaCampanella speakers do not feature Acapella’s ION (plasma) tweeter and instead are a perfect two-way, with the horn acting as a single-point source covering the all-important 700 Hz to 20k+ Hz range.

These speakers perform much better than others anywhere near this price range [as do all Acapella speakers, as those who visited our CAS exhibit room can attest – many hearing our $55K Acapella “High Cellini” speakers rival and in many aspects beat the $300K speakers elsewhere at the show].

Yes, inflated prices at the top end of the high-end audio market are to blame as the top performers position themselves against each other. But…

If you just multiply the price of any Acapella loudspeaker by three or so, you will know what other speakers they should be compared to out there, performance-wise. This both makes us feel good that we are keeping prices reasonable  [well, you know what I mean] and at the same time frustrated that other brands of speakers are getting so much attention, in large part because of their astronomical prices, and whose sound is inferior, on a price-performance basis, compared to Acapella. [*arghhhhh!*]

[There is also a LaCampanella ‘Alto’ speaker at $48,600 with twice as many woofers (4 woofers on top of the horn as well as the 4 below – i.e. the speaker is twice as tall), a better crossover and a 95 dB efficiency].





Hong Kong AV Show 2017

We didn’t get to go, but I have been following the news avidly, trying to understand what is happening in China and Asia as they seem to be leading the high-end audio resurgence that will hopefully soon follow on this side of the world.

The above photo of Audio Note UK at the show is from Mono and Stereo’s Hong Kong AV 2017 report

There are also many photos on Audio Shark of the HK AV Show 2017. See also Page 3 for more photos.

Mike Fremer of Analog Planet (Stereophile) fame did three Hong Kong AV Show videos [see below]. I preferred the 2nd video. The 1st was also pretty good [but spending so much of that time going through vinyl? Luckily I did not see too much that I needed, otherwise it would have made me very upset that they are so many thousands of miles away]. The 3rd video was more an ‘extras’.

The Hiendy forum had a few photos and you can read the Google translation [such as it is. In Chrome just lick the translate icon in the top search bar on the right].

The upshot is we have seen most of these brands before at U.S. shows [though there are some very unusual system configurations at this show!]. Skewed toward the expensive [so what else is new?], and has a younger demographic with apparently more women in attendance than previous years. It was very crowded, much like the part of CES dedicated to consumer electronics et. al. [everywhere except for the high-performance audio part of CES, which has not been busy for many years. Maybe it need to be in a convention hall like area and not in a high-rise hotel]

I’ll add more links as I find them…