What I failed to make absolutely clear in my April column is that I really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed all three USB DACheadphone amps that I auditioned: the Audioengine D3 ($189), the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149), and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS ($199). Each offered a slightly different perspective on the music, but none could be accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, dumping several feet of snow on top of our car, or doing anything especially wrong.
Except for a few titles I've combined with the ones in my listening room, and a few others that I intend to sell, the record collection I bought last year remains in three rows of boxes on the floor of our guest room. Because that room is spacious and comfortable, and equipped with a small refrigerator and a flat-screen TV, it is also the place where my 16-year-old daughter and her friends have their slumber parties and Dr. Who marathons. Thus, as you can imagine, I must sometimes explain to our young guests the Tao of collecting records.
On Thursday April 24, Sony announced a new round of reasonably priced products, all of which are capable of high-resolution audio playback. Sony's unequivocal embrace of high-resolution audiothe acronym HRA seems to have become the mutually accepted, industry-wide termwas the main order of business. Defining HRA as everything greater than Red Book CD (16/44.1) Jeff Hiatt, the company's Director of Home Audio (above), began by stating, "We have sacrificed quality in order to get convenience. MP3 has been degrading the quality of music, and was a quantum leap backwards. The young generation doesn't even realize that they're not listening to music as the artist intended it be heard."
Many music lovers share a moment in common. On a cloudy evening, you put on a record. Hopefully, it was Rush’s Hemispheres. Most likely, it was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The LP sleeve rested in your lap. The receiver’s meters bobbed gently, and the lights were dimmed just enough so your eyes could transfix on the junction of prism and light that refracts into a rainbow wrapped in black. As those guitars and synthesizers roared, the artwork and its melding with the music allowed you to transcend conceptual planes by uniting abstract visuals with word, rhythm, and melody. For just a moment, the world wasn’t so bland.
The Gralbum Collective are trying to recapture this enlightening experience with the Gralbum, or graphic album, a packaged release of image, word, and song for iPad and iPhone.
Here's what I've learned in my 35 years in the High End, first as a hi-fi salesman and then as a full-time reviewer and blogger: No hi-fi, no matter how expensive or exalted, will ever deliver the holy grail. While there have been considerable advances over the years, I can cite two 50+-year-old loudspeakersQuad ESL electrostatics and Klipsch's big hornswhose transparency and dynamic range, respectively, blow away those of many contemporary high-end speakers. The very best of today's speakers, electronics, and source components don't zero in on a single perfected sound indistinguishable from the experience of being in the same room as the musiciansno, every one of them sounds different from all the rest. I want to experience as many of those flavors as I can.
WANTED: Jazz Hero. Must be willing and able to bring stunning new creative energies to a musical genre in danger of becoming stale and repetitive. Must be comfortable with a Marsalis level of celebrity. Saxophone or trumpet players preferred. Old men need not apply.
In 2011, jazz prayers were answered with the release of When the Heart Emerges Glistening, a brilliantly inventive mainstream jazz album led by Ambrose Akinmusire, a photogenic, 28-year-old trumpeter from Oakland, California. The young man had lots of fresh ideas, speed and dexterity to burn, and a unique tone, the combination of which brought back a flood of memories: Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Pops.
The 2014 AXPONA (Audio Expo North America), scheduled for April 2527 in Chicago's completely refurbished Westin O'Hare, promises to the biggest and most comprehensive US consumer audio show east of Denver. How about, for starters, at least 56 known product introductions, with many more intentionally unannounced; 75 active exhibits in "standard" hotel rooms, whose dimensions are a far-from-standard 14.9'x19' with 8.5' high ceilings; 35 significantly larger meeting rooms and suites, spread over numerous floors, often filled with more than one active system per room; an Ear Gear Expo with exhibits from 23 headphone and headphone amp/accessory manufacturers; and a lobby level marketplace that promises 70 displays from 30 different vendors?
Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker
by Stanley Crouch (New York: Harper, 2013), 365 pp. Hardcover, $27.99.
A section of this biography, which documents the early life of the dazzling bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker, starts with a four-page meditation on "the truth and myth of railroads" in America: the figurative underground railroad that comprised a web of escape routes for slaves fleeing the South; the "black-smoke-puffing iron horse" that galloped into the West and "would eventually carry the brutal and legendary Apache chief Geronimo and his people . . . to Florida"; the trains "that inspired the legend of Casey Jones"; and the trains steaming through the blues tunes that echoed their melancholy nocturnal sounds.
Crouch views the train as "a vehicle and a dream source" in a culture where children were once tantalized by ads that pictured toy trains looping around "bright ovals of miniature track." As every jazz fan knows, Charlie Parker's playing traveled along bright ovals of its own. So does Crouch's prose, and his intellectual excursions carry readers well into the realm of African-American history, which is a significant dimension of this book.
On the mantel sat a stuffed Culo snake from Nuevo Laredo, with a red rubber tongue in freeze-frame flick. Above the bookcase hung the mounted head of a wild poi dog, killed in self-defense in Sri Lanka with only a Phillips-head screwdriver. A table-lamp made from a shellac'd, puffed-up frog wearing a sombrero and playing the contrabassoon bathed the room in a soft cream glow.