The Fifth Element

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John Marks Posted: Oct 10, 2014 3 comments
"The Guitars of Rachel Rosenkrantz" is perhaps not quite as evocative a title as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Nevertheless, there are parallels. I met the young, French luthier through mutual friends, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is very serious about her art, and rather obsessive about her craft. Rosenkrantz studied art, architecture, and industrial design, and worked for some years designing commercial lighting fixtures and furniture. However, she let go of that career to start over from scratch as an apprentice to Daniel Collins, a builder of classical guitars. She recently opened her own custom shop, Atelier Rosenkrantz, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, sharing space with jazz-guitar builder Matt d'Ambrosio.
John Marks Posted: Jul 30, 2014 5 comments
The CD-200 is the new CD-only player from TASCAM, the professional-audio division of TEAC (footnote 1). It has unbalanced analog outputs, and RCA and optical digital outputs. The CD-200 also has a new transport, the CD-5020A, designed by TEAC for audio use.

Unlike many affordable disc-spinning devices with slot-loading transports (eg, inexpensive DVD players starting at $29.99), the CD-200 has a traditional drawer mechanism that has been upgraded to minimize the noise of loading and clamping a disc. TASCAM also claims improvements in the internal clock function, for smoother sound and lower jitter.

John Marks Posted: Jun 06, 2014 10 comments
Were one in a whimsical mood, one could divide the history of hi-fi into the eras before and after Edgar Villchur (1917–2011), inventor of the sealed-box, air suspension (or acoustic suspension) bass-loading principle. It was Villchur's invention of the acoustic-suspension woofer that made possible affordable loudspeakers with deeper bass from a smaller cabinet (see Sidebar: "Sealed Boxes").
John Marks Posted: Apr 10, 2014 2 comments
Were it my place to hand out awards for "The Most Forthright People in Audio," Michael Grace of Grace Design would be at the top of the list. Years ago, after I'd given stellar recommendations of Grace's 901 and m902 headphone-amplifier-DAC-line-stage models, I asked Grace if I could audition his full-rack–size, more fully featured m904 Stereo Monitor Controller. He told me that he didn't think that was necessary, because the m904's sound was extremely similar to the sound of the smaller m902—it just had a different feature set, and he believed that the additional features were not things that Stereophile readers were likely to need. That is the only case I can recall of a manufacturer's declining an offer of additional coverage in Stereophile.
John Marks Posted: Feb 04, 2014 4 comments
In 1974, in England, Australian Reverse-Pommy pianist and recording engineer Billy Woodman founded the Acoustic Transducer Co. (ATC) as a maker of loudspeaker drive-units. That makes ATC a few years younger than Spendor (1969) and a few years older than Harbeth (1977). When I mentioned all that to a quick-witted audio buddy, he immediately came back with "Middle Child Syndrome!"
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John Marks Posted: Dec 16, 2013 1 comments
Norway's 2L label has an enviable track record in choral music. In 2006 they were nominated for Grammys for Best Choral Performance and Best Surround Sound Album, for Immortal Nystedt (SACD/CD, 2L-029-SACD). Knut Nystedt's composition Immortal Bach, performed by Ensemble 96 conducted by Øystein Fevang, is a stunning fractal reworking of J.S. Bach's "Komm, süsser Tod."
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John Marks Posted: Oct 09, 2013 9 comments
Long experience has convinced me that many audiophiles' stereo systems substantially underperform compared to what they could sound like. This is not because people haven't spent enough money on their electronics or speakers. Instead, people aren't getting all the performance they've paid for because they haven't devoted enough attention to all aspects of the initial setup, and/or to maintenance and updating.
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John Marks Posted: Aug 08, 2013 0 comments
First, two noteworthy CDs. San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet, whose set of Beethoven's late quartets and high-resolution downloads I praised in the April issue, is back with a new CD (Avie AV2275) that explores their musical roots.
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John Marks Posted: Jun 19, 2013 2 comments
Talk about a fascinating personal history. Rising-star jazz pianist Aaron Diehl's father ran a funeral home in Columbus, Ohio, with a largely African-American clientele. Diehl started at the piano with Bach, and not long after was playing in both the funeral home and a nearby Catholic church. I think the significance of those early experiences is not so much that a young teenager was already playing for audiences, but rather that he was playing in the context of rituals and, in the case of the funeral home, emotionally fraught major life transitions. I suspect that Diehl's unusual backstory is a large contributing factor in his musical maturity and poised artistic approach.
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John Marks Posted: Apr 09, 2013 Published: Dec 31, 1969 0 comments
Reading the November 2012 Stereophile, my eye was caught by John Atkinson's very enthusiastic review (he bought the review sample) of Ayre Acoustics' new QA-9 analog-to-digital converter. Over and above the intrinsic interest of the QA-9's claimed flat response down to about 1Hz, and that it is a cutting-edge ADC from a maker of consumer rather than professional audio gear, I had just been engaged by early-music scholar and organist Beverly Jerold to produce and engineer a recording of historically informed performances of Baroque organ music by Buxtehude (b. 1637), Clérambault (b. 1676), J.S. Bach (b. 1685), and Domenico Scarlatti (b. 1685). The recording venue was the Auditorium of the Third Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, in Providence, Rhode Island.
John Marks Posted: Feb 14, 2013 0 comments
A particular audio interest of mine has long been cost-effective systems that work really well together. I think most of the audio sob stories I've heard can be traced to one or both of two things: mismatched equipment, and inadequate attention paid to room acoustics. I've previously written about systems that range in price from $7500 to under $1500. Here's as minimal and classy a high-performance system as you can ask for: one box for the electronics (including USB connectivity), and two stand-mounted, two-way loudspeakers. The total cost is just under $10,000, but I think the price is justified not only by swank looks, but by the sound.
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John Marks Posted: Dec 12, 2012 Published: Dec 31, 1969 5 comments
It's once again time for holiday-gift recommendations. These 12 go roughly in order of ascending price, from the very affordable to the rather unaffordable. To be included, a gift had to strike me as being exceptional in quality while also representing excellent value for money. But by "excellent value for money" I don't necessarily mean low-cost; I mean a high return on investment.
John Marks Posted: Oct 10, 2012 0 comments
I've had Vivid Audio's Oval K1 loudspeaker here for several months. Over many years, the only other speaker brands I've written about as much as I have Vivid have been Wilson Benesch and Shahinian Acoustics, whose speakers I still revere and can recommend without reservation—to the right listener. But Vivid's high-tech sorcery has raised the bar. The Vivids I've had here are among the best loudspeakers I've ever heard, and that's a consensus that seems headed in the direction of critical mass.
John Marks Posted: Aug 09, 2012 0 comments
Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Fantasy Symphony Season competition, announced in this column in February, has been a smashing success—as far as I'm concerned, it's the most worthwhile write-in competition yet. The 13 winning entries and one hors-concours laureate are posted in the follow-up to February's column on Stereophile's website. The update lists the compositions in each winning Fantasy Symphony Season entry. I created a spreadsheet to determine the most popular composers and works in the winning entries.

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John Marks Posted: Jun 20, 2012 2 comments
Fred Delius and the Duettes. Sounds like a 1950s vocal group, doesn't it? Let's start with some great new music. SACD fans: Prepare to vote with your wallets again. Frederick Delius (1862–1934) is one of my favorite second-rank composers who wrote first-rate music. Although not that easy to define, Delius's music is usually instantly identifiable as his.

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