Features

An Audio Vacation

An Audio Vacation

I spent the first six months of 2006 looking forward to summer vacation from teaching. Normally, this isn’t the case, as I feel blessed that I enjoy my career so much. But, with all that has happened with audio in my life since December, I was going to treasure the ten weeks of listening bliss on my main rig. By June, I knew that the ten weeks had been cut in half to five. First, I was changing schools, which meant cleaning out my classroom of some eight years of stuff. That wasn’t all bad as I do have a classroom system that while not anywhere near what my home has to offer, is pleasing in its own way.

I decided to use the listening time to dig thru my CD collection for titles I have ignored for some time. read more…

Jazz File: A Short Stack of Cheskys for Summer

Jazz File: A Short Stack of Cheskys for Summer

Summer is the time of year we seem to switch off certain parts of our brains. It doesn’t matter how high our cultural brows may be during the rest of the year…during the summer Stephanie Plum novels top bestseller lists, America tunes in to find out of it’s really “Got Talent”, and the internet goes abuzz over a movie called “Snakes on a Plane”. And why not? We’re on vacation, or at least enjoying ourselves outdoors more than usual, and as stimulating as “real” art can be, sometimes it’s just too much work.

I had in mind this month to review a bank of recordings from one of the most influential avant-garde jazz musicians alive today, someone whose albums have been spending a lot of time in my system over the past few months. But lo and behold, a record club I belong to started clearing out their entire remaining Chesky Records catalog for a mere two bucks each. I picked up three discs by trumpet & flugelhorn extraordinaire Clark Terry, and a bossa nova date by Brazilian singer/guitarist Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter. For less than a single Hamilton plus shipping, the sound of my summer changed instantly. Knotty? Complex? Challenging? Nope. Not even particularly innovative, by today’s standards. But some fine music to be sure, and the bottom line for summer listening: a whole lot of fun. read more…

Tour of the Magneplanar factory

Tour of the Magneplanar factory

Magneplanar Logo

Magneplanar enjoys a near legendary reputation among audiophiles and audio enthusiasts alike. Founded 37 years ago by an ex-3M employee, Magneplanar has been the foremost producer of planar and true-ribbon speakers in the world. Headquartered in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, I was able to take a trip down, and with a few friends, tour the factory. read more…

Audio Real Estate

Home buying is an interesting experience, so many issues in our modern, post industrialized society makes what most of the world sees as a simple search for shelter, into a complicated morass of form and function. With a change of schools for this coming year, my wife and I have entered the real estate market once again. Although it’s not imperative that we move, convenience/short commute is a big factor. read more…

Jazz File: The Elder Redman (Dewey Redman)

Jazz File: The Elder Redman (Dewey Redman)

There is an enormous amount of talent in the jazz world, sadly the vast majority of it goes unrecognized in the U.S. Take the subject of this month’s reviews, Dewey Redman. Virtually unknown outside of jazz circles, in fact many jazz fans (myself included) may have never heard of him if it wasn’t for the fact that his son, Joshua Redman, is one of the biggest-selling jazz artists of all time.

Dewey Redman has always been a more audacious risk-taker than his son. A pioneer of the avant-garde tenor sax, the artists on whose records Redman has guested could make up something of a “who’s who” of late 20th century jazz: Ornette Coleman in the ‘60s, Keith Jarrett’s “American Quartet” in the ‘70s, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Pat Metheny’s 80/81 band, Randy Weston, etc., but his own recordings remain relatively obscure. Despite his frequent forays into the extreme fringes of jazz, the root of his playing has always been the big, brusque Texas tenor sound he’s honed since his days growing up in Ft. Worth (where he played in the I.M. Terrell High School marching band alongside his future employer, Ornette Coleman). Redman has developed a few other sonic trademarks over the years, including playing the musette (actually a Chinese suona: a small, double reed horn with a brash, bright tone) and a technique for speaking through his saxophone.

While many articles could be written to describe his playing as a sideman, this month we focus on his dates as a leader. Picking which albums to leave out of a survey like this is often harder than deciding which to include, but I feel the recordings below best illustrate the more enduring aspects of his unique approach. read more…

1970’s Audio and the Receiver Wars

1970’s Audio and the Receiver Wars

The late 1970’s are remembered by many audio fans as the era of the *Receiver Wars*. All the mainline consumer audio companies engaged in a direct and very fierce competition to offer the biggest, the best, the most powerful, and the prettiest equipment they were capable of producing. They also provided their dealers with beautiful sales brochures for the equipment that extolled the virtues of their efforts. We took those brochures home with us and drooled with desire…..ha! read more…

Some things I wish for the audio industry

People are always making lists, whether it be to organize their schedule, purchasing needs, family calendar, or just plain goals. Now that I am beginning my summer vacation from the classroom, my wife has begun the summer honey-do list. I’m already about six items into the list since we are in the midst of a garage sale as I write this. This long list got me thinking about what I would like the audio industry to do over the next year. After some brainstorming, I molded my wishes into six things I’d like to see happen over the next 12 months. read more…

Selected Recordings of Bill Frisell

Selected Recordings of Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell is arguably the most distinctive voice in jazz guitar of the last 20 years. Owing as much to Jimi Hendrix as Jim Hall, he is equally comfortable comping tastefully in support of a singer as he is unleashing howls of distortion-laden noise. This versatility has made him a popular sideman, he has appeared on well over 200 albums by artists as wide-ranging as avant-garde enfant terrible Tim Berne, opera diva Renée Fleming, and “jazz-informed” pop star Norah Jones. His own recordings are equally diverse, running the gamut from experimental chamber music (Richter 858) to Buster Keaton film soundtracks (Go WestHigh Sign/One Week).No matter the context, Frisell’s tone and unique voice are always instantly recognizable.

His earliest recordings (on the outstanding German record label ECM) reveal a good deal of what would become his signature style: remarkable dynamic control, a taste for experimental music & electronic effects, nods to various forms of American folk music, and an underlying (and often overt) sense of melancholy. It is easy to think of his recorded oeuvre as being divided into two parts: the earlier avant-garde phase, and a later “Americana” phase, but this is really an oversimplification. I’ve tried to pull examples that reveal the whole of his musical sensibility as much as possible, but more than that these are simply albums that I love listening to. Of course, picking favorites from an artist with Frisell’s breadth is a highly personal endeavor, so take my “recommendations” with a grain of salt. read more…

Speaker Odyssey

Speaker Odyssey

I wish I had a picture of it, the record changer in the big, maple-finished Zenith console “Cobra-Matic” stereo. This lovely unit, with a tonearm that looked like a snake, was the centerpiece of my family’s living room and the machine that allowed me to first start appreciating music – albeit the Three Stooges!

Even at that tender age, I knew I wanted more, and as I grew up, a sort of quest began. My first marriage began with a gift for my own home, a not-too-shabby little Sears “Silvertone” record player, with detachable speakers – not quite a toy, but not exactly sonic nirvana, either.

Along about 1970, I heard my first “real” stereo, a friend’s Dynaco-based rig. It was my first exposure to some semblance of “high fidelity.” The hi-fi bug had bitten! read more…

The Jazz File

The Jazz File

Quick review and history of several albums:

  • Charles Mingus – Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
  • Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream
  • John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
  • Weather Report – Night Passage
  • John Zorn – Naked City
  • Dave Holland Quintet – Extended Play: Live at Birdland 2003
  • Miles Davis

read more…

How to use a VOM (Volt-Ohm-Meter) well

How to use a VOM (Volt-Ohm-Meter) well

Enough To Get By.

You need to know how to use a VOM so that you can do simple chores like setting the DC offset at the speaker outputs of your amp, checking/setting the bias current on the pc board of your amp (somewhat scary, but otherwise simple), and checking to see if that solder connection you just made is really a connection. read more…

Audio Traning Camp – upgrading my audio system

Audio Traning Camp – upgrading my audio system

For years I have teased my wife about how much effort she expended preparing to shop. Now granted, she is a Professional Organizer. But still, the time spent laying the foundation for a shopping adventure seemed downright silly. Then, I got the itch to upgrade my audio system after an amazing 15 year run.

At first, I just wanted to re-acquaint myself with brands, statistics, and terms. I began where I had left off by perusing the audio equipment I had grown fond of in the wonderfully chaotic world of eBay, and later, the refined spaces of Audiogon. Names and numbers I hadn’t heard of in eons jarred my memory. Then came new names and designs, I felt as if I had ignored an old and dear friend. I knew that I was wholly unprepared to purchase, I needed to reawaken my auditory perception/ recognition. Below, is the regimen that led me to a successful upgrade. read more…

Surround Music Award 2005 Nominees Announced

Surround Music Awards: The list of nominees for this year’s event have been announced by CMP Entertainment Media, producers of the Surround Music Awards (SMAs), which is taking place December 15, 2005 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. read more…

Brothers in Arms 20th Anniversary Edition High-Resolution Mixing in 5.1 — the Chuck Ainlay Way

Brothers in Arms 20th Anniversary Edition High-Resolution Mixing in 5.1 — the Chuck Ainlay Way

Introduction

Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’ needs no introduction. It was arguably the Compact Disc’s ‘killer-app’ album which almost single-handedly launched the new digital format over two decades ago into households across the world, not to mention bringing digital recording technology into studios. Two decades later at Mark Knopfler’s own recording facility at British Grove Studios, the album gets the high-resolution surround-sound treatment we’ve all waited for. Renowned audio engineer, Chuck Ainlay — known to some as “Mr Digital” — explains to High Fidelity Review’s Martin Fendt how he remixed this project to DVD-Audio and SACD formats. read more…

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