Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef  |  Sep 22, 2023  |  13 comments
Can an audio brand maintain a "house sound" if the original creator of that sound is no longer among the living? If the brand in question is Ayre Acoustics, the answer is a resounding Yes.

When Ayre founder Charley Hansen passed in late 2017, Ariel Brown, who is now Ayre's vice president and chief technology officer, was ready, waiting in the wings. Brown has worked for Ayre since he was a sophomore in college. As John Atkinson wrote in his February 2019 review of Ayre's EX-8 Integrated Hub, "Brown says that for better or worse, he was indoctrinated in Hansen's way of thinking and design. 'I only know the Charley way! Charley never wanted to introduce a product unless we had something new to offer with that product. 'New–Better–Different' was his philosophy; every product had to be a step up from before.'"

Ken Micallef  |  Sep 20, 2023  |  2 comments
Today's scrappy record labels understand that an intimate brand connection captures consumers. Every major label has its own boutique imprints, from Columbia's Legacy to Blue Note's Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl. Craft Recordings, the catalog label for Concord, is set up well for achieving such a connection, since the parent company also owns Fania, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, Telarc, Vanguard, Concord Jazz, and Riverside (not to mention Stax, Rounder, and Sugar Hill). For vinyl reissues, that's the jazz motherlode.

Craft created Jazz Dispensary to reissue some of this music, with shall we say uplifting goals: "With jazz as its source, ... Jazz Dispensary blurs boundaries and opens minds to the psychoactive potential of music, introducing a new generation to the grooves that elevated the hippest heads of the '60s and '70s." One Jazz Dispensary review copy came with branded rolling papers.

Ken Micallef  |  Aug 25, 2023  |  18 comments
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits—the 1974 album by those San Jose yacht-rock sages the Doobie Brothers—could also describe an audiophile's life.

The journey begins with booze and bong money spent instead on an entry-level turntable and cartridge; it did for me anyway. Then starts the churn, through many components and configurations seeking that elusive, blissful audio fix until finally we find our audio oasis, our own sonic peace, our gearhead nirvana. We achieve a system that satisfies our listening indulgences, whether it be based on streaming or spinning, class-D or tubes, with Belden wire or 0.999999% pure-silver single-strand wire that costs more than a Range Rover. It doesn't last.

Ken Micallef  |  Aug 09, 2023  |  0 comments
Photo by Meredith Truax

23 year-old Samara Joy is the recipient of the 2023 Grammy Awards for best new artist and best jazz vocal album. Her 2022 sophomore outing, Linger Awhile (Verve), is a jubilant celebration of The American Songbook. Her warm, velvet-dark vocal tone, graceful swing sense, and intuitive interpretations provide a master class in classic jazz fundamentals.

Joy owns the past but also the present. On her TikTok channel, "Samarajoysings," she has accumulated 585,100 Followers and 4.3 million Likes. The channel documents performances of such standards as "A Foggy Day," "Guess Who I Saw Today," an a capella "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and a sublime "Round Midnight," delivered in multi-octave glory. Old and new, together. Read that last bit again, about TikTok. That Joy is popular with jazz fans will surprise no one who has heard her music. That she has won such a following on a platform dominated by 10–19-year-olds—mainly by singing 70-year-old songs—boggles the mind.

Ken Micallef  |  Jul 10, 2023  |  21 comments
A phenomenon formerly unique to Japan, which in recent years has been emulated in cities around the world, is the jazz café (known as jazz kissa in Japan), where salarymen can find respite from their hectic lives, loosen their ties, and enjoy hi-fi jazz over coffee or a drink. Jazz kissaten are typically charming, smaller shops, traditionally furnished and paneled in beautiful wood, which serve superb artisan coffee in artful ceramic cups.

Such respect for artistry, craftsmanship, and attention to detail—the Japanese word is shokunin—is reflected in many aspects of Japanese life. This is where you find double handrails to accommodate people of different heights, intricate, ornately designed manhole covers, and bento lunch boxes with hand-carved vegetable figurines. While upholding strict conformity to societal norms, the Japanese highly value creative individualism. This shokunin mindset underlies their reverence for artisanal expression—and their love for jazz.

Japanese audio, much like jazz kissaten, reflects the shokunin mindset: craftsmanship pursued with both pride and humility.

Ken Micallef  |  Jun 01, 2023  |  6 comments
Founded in 1978, VPI Industries appears to be one of the most successful turntable manufacturers in the world—certainly in the US. The New Jersey–based company sells turntables, tonearms, cartridges, record clamps, plinths, record cleaning machines, and a phono preamp. But that's not all. The company offers VPI-branded pillows, candles, mugs, stickers, T-shirts, and a tell-all company history, 40 Years on the Record.

And talk about turntables! From the entry-level $1499 Cliffwood to the top-of-the-line $104,000 Vanquish (found under the website's "VPI Luxury" page, accompanied by the adage, "Settle for Nothing but Extravagant"), VPI is clearly and rightfully proud of its analog achievements.

Ken Micallef  |  May 06, 2023  |  17 comments
Back in the 1950s, Cesare Sanavio, then a new electronics graduate with a specialty in output transformers for tube amplifiers, began his career in radio and television, traveling to various locations outside his native Italy to apply his expertise. Eventually he settled in Paraguay and started designing tubed sound systems for public installations, teaching his son Luciano the art. A few years later, Sanavio and his family returned to Italy. There, he worked as a consultant to several hi-fi companies. Finally, in 1994, drawing on decades of accumulated knowledge of tube-amplifier design and manufacturing, and a particular focus on output transformers of the highest quality, Cesare Sanavio and his two sons, Luciano and Lorenzo, formed Mastersound.

When Cesare Sanavio died, Lorenzo and Luciano continued operations. In 2015, the company re-formed, with some new international business connections and a new CEO, Antonio Ferro.

Ken Micallef  |  Apr 21, 2023  |  1 comments
Colorado's Ayre Acoustics jammed a big system into a small room at APXONA, wall-to-wall attendees barely leaving space for Ayre's president, designer, and Chief Ayre-Head Ariel Brown to press the flesh and discuss the gear.
Ken Micallef  |  Apr 20, 2023  |  1 comments
VANA CEO Roy Feldstein worked a room at AXPONA, no bells and whistles, no crazy demos or static displays. Roy simply plays the kind of solid gear that he excels in distributing, including European Audio Team (EAT), Kyomi Audio, Grimm Audio, Atlas Cables, Ferrum, Jorma and Marten loudspeakers, and Rekkord turntables.
Ken Micallef  |  Apr 20, 2023  |  2 comments
A classic American brand, as flag-waving as the Fourth of the July, with an impressive history as a US industrial giant, all ears perk up when new JBL product is announced. Today's declaration brought to you by AXPONA: the new JBL 4329P Studio Monitor ($4500/pair).