I caught up with my old friend, mastering and recording engineer Bob Katz at the Audio Engineering Society convention held last week in NYC. He was there to proclaim an end to the "Loudness Wars," which refers to the overuse of dynamic range compression to flatten the soft-to-loud volume changes that naturally occur in music. Katz was way ahead of the pack in decrying the overzealous use of compression in mastering recordings, he has been in the trenches, fighting the good fight for more than 20 years.
The ALO Island is a USB-powered digital audio converter/headphone amplifier, and it's a honey! Functionally, it's not so different than many of the other USB digital converter/amps I've covered on this blog, but it's a bit bigger. The others are about the size of a thumbdrive; the Island is a 1.25x1.25x3.25-inch aluminum "brick," but it's still small enough to be considered a portable device. It handles low- and high-resolution files, up to 192kHz/24-bit. The Island sells for $299 in the US direct from the ALO Web site, … Read more
I didn't know the price of the M-Audio M3-8 when I first started listening, I just assumed it was $900 to $1,000 for the pair of speakers. No, the street price is closer to $600 for a pair, around the same price as for one of the reigning wireless champions, such as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air or Bose SoundDock 10. And the M3-8s deliver so much more of the sound of your music than those two wireless models, it's not even close. For one thing a pair of M3-8s produce stereo, and the sort of … Read more
I first heard about Neil Young's Pono music system more than a couple of years ago, and it was supposed to roll out a few months later. Rumors continued to circulate about an imminent debut, then fade away. Young showed a Pono music player prototype on the David Letterman show in September 2012, and it seemed like the launch was within reach.
Like everybody else I'm still unsure about how the Pono music service will work. Will we have to buy a Pono music player to fully enjoy the glories of Pono files? In other words, is Pono … Read more
Bass-emphasized headphones are now the norm, so much so that when I get to listen to more accurate headphones they really stand out. Not that I have anything against bass, readers of this blog who crave feel-it-in-your-bones bass had their turn with the JBL Synchros S700 headphones, so now it's time to go for a higher-resolution/clarity model with the new Phiaton Fusion MS 430 M-Series headphones ($179).
The earcups' carbon fiber inserts are a sleek styling touch, but the ear cushion's comfort levels are good, not great. While the headband padding may be a little lean for … Read more
Every now and then I get e-mails from readers who like to listen loud -- really loud. One recent one asked, "Can you recommend a nice pair of tower or bookshelf speakers capable of keeping the party going?" Well, there's loud, really loud, and there comes a point where it's so loud your neighbors call the police.
The guy's budget was limited to around $600 for a pair of speakers, so I immediately thought of Klipsch; its larger bookshelf and tower speakers can play really loud, and sound good while raising the roof.
I rang … Read more
I recently met with speaker designer Andrew Jones at the CNET office in NYC to discuss his latest project, the new Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar. And after we finished, I picked his brain about the value of speaker specifications.
My take is that most, but not all, are nearly useless for providing consumers with information that could lead to opting for one speaker over another. For example, what exactly does "power handling" mean? When a manufacturer claims its speaker has a 100-watt power handling rating, can it be safely used with a 200-watt-per-channel amplifier? Or a 500-watt amp? … Read more
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that most people like bass, and they like more bass even more. I suppose JBL engineers know the same thing, and they made sure the new Synchros S700 over-the ear, closed-back headphones deliver incredibly deep bass.
Designwise, JBL avoided the slick, plastic look of Beats and other fashion-oriented 'phones. The Synchros S700's precision die-cast aluminum earcups look like they mean business, and the headband is steel-reinforced, so the headphones feel really solid. One other reason for that is the headband isn't hinged, so while it … Read more
From the way things are going multichannel home theater speaker systems will be on the endangered species list in a few years. Sound bars epitomize the "good enough" direction the market has taken, and most folks are happy with them, mostly because they sound better than the speakers built into their TVs. That's easy, but how do sound bars fare compared with a bona fide 5.1-channel subwoofer/satellite system? For this shootout I wanted to keep the budget in check, so I used MonoPrice's 8247 sub/sat system, and compared it with a couple of … Read more
I remember the very first Woo Audio headphone amp I heard five years ago; it was the $520 WA-3, and they still make it. The little amp made a strong impression because it so radically improved the sound of Grado headphones. That amp transformed Grados, gave them more soul, more body, and sweetness. I've reviewed a number of Woo products over the years, but the new WA-234 Mono is a very different beast. First, it is as the name implies, a monophonic design, so you need two amps for stereo. The other big difference is that these tube amps … Read more