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Sunday, 07 June 2009


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Given that I still have over 5K vinyl albums I feel a kindred spirit for you!

However I am 72 so my collection probably looks different from yours but then, who cares, it's all music and there is a place in each of our souls for all kinds.

Woody Spedden


I just read your article in detail and indeed we are soulmates. I have virtually all the beatles, a decent supply of Stones and hordes of jazz............yes the real stuff from Shelley Manne and the West Coast sound to Gerry Mulligan etc. I love Dinah Washington, Ella and Sarah Vaughn and of course the legend, Lady Day.

However I also have hordes of opera and classical symphonic music and for years was a season subscriber to both San Francisco Symphony and Opera.

Finally, my system is all tubes as well with electronics from a dynamite design duo from the Bay Area named Scott Franklin and Brian Harsell. Their company is called Wavestream Kinetics and they can be reached at their retail outlet and vinyl record store, The Analog Room in San Jose.......phone number is (408)971-6158. If you get to the bay area stop in and have a listen.......these products are wonderful. While waiting for the duo to produce a new amp (right now they have a state of the art phono stage and line amp) I am driving my Sonus Faber loudspeakers with a 20 watt Monobloc beauty made by Air Tight in Japan. Super classical old single ended design using the Western Electric 300B. Just can't be beaten.

So enough for my Sunday response. Love the music and glad to continue my photo education with the Mikester!



What the hell. Since this is a photo blog talking about sound, I will just throw this query out there: Are there any small headphones solutions and/or software solutions that will allow me to adjust the volume for each side independently?

The reason I ask is that I lost most of my hearing in one ear due to an accident that involved a pretty severe blow to my head. So I have permanent nerve deafness in one ear. This makes using something like an iPod with the earbuds a complete waste of time, since I cannot hear one channel.

But I have a hearing aid that does what is essentially the same job as a graphic equalizer in that it boosts the volume over specific frequency ranges. My most severe loss is in the higher frequencies, and the least severe is in the lower frequencies So I am back to normal, more or less, when I am wearing it. But I cannot wear this hearing aid and a set of headphones at the same time.. What I want is an iTunes or iPod plug-in that will allow me to crank the volume (in a frequency-dependent way) going to my bad ear.

As problems go, this is a pretty minor one, but I find it hard to believe that there isn't some solution out there to give us single-side deafness people some help in this area.

I've two pair of phones: Sennheiser HD650s and AKG K702s. The Senns run off a DarkVoice 336i that I've modified pretty extensively. The AKG's run off a Bottlehead S.E.X. amp that I built from a kit and have tweaked somewhat over the years.

Grado's are fine phones but I'm one of those people who can't abide on-the-ear phones. Those Senns and the AKGs may be pricey (I sure as heck didn't pay retail!) but they sound spectacular and I can wear them for hours. Rumor has it that I tend to fall asleep while wearing the Senns.

Ahmad Jamal's The Awakening is a real treat via phones.

And after dinner I'm off to look at a Nitty Gritty LP cleaner someone's posted on Craigslist.

Nothing like tubes and vinyl after a day slaving over a hot computer. A splash of bourbon also helps.


When I don't have a clue what you're writing about, but I read on anyway, I think that means you're good.

You know how one kid won't do something on principle, because others in the family already are...my brother was into "uber stereo".

I do sometimes listen to the 1st kind of jazz, though my real love is classical; since I was old enough to run away from home, then stomp back to announce that I was taking the Beethoven LPs.

Keep up the good work.

Is Heathkit making a comeback also?

Bringing your OT (off-topic) post OT (on-topic): The cover of Melody Gardot's album is a great photo. Very nice lighting and subject separation.

A little snooping provided the name of the photographer: Nicholas Jhara. I have not been able to find any other information about him. Is it possible there is a professional photographer out there that doesn't have a website? Inconceivable! (Brownie points if you know where that's from, Mike.)

When I make the time, I'm going to run my computer sound through my Fisher 500C receiver to speakers as yet to be decided. Probably I'll get a pair of Advents (the original, "large") from friends who no longer use them. I know they will need new surrounds, but they are otherwise in great shape. I'll add my turntable (a 60-lb Scottish monster named simply "The Source") and listen in analogue while GIMPing scans from A Year of Leica.

All this presupposes I can find someone to lug the receiver and table up to the second floor office. At 60 and with a bum leg, I certainly can't manage it. The digi-heads can scoff all they want, they simply have tin ears. :D

Once I got my Harman Kardon Soundsticks II speakers, I've never looked back. I even have them in my bedroom for audiobook and music use via iPods. They are amazing.

"Inconceivable! (Brownie points if you know where that's from, Mike.)"

I do not think that word means what you think it means, Miserere.


Those Audioengine A2s look huge compared to HK Soundsticks! And they don't look nearly as cool. To each his own.

I´m having an aesthetic collission with this site and the other posters... *sigh*.

If you want good digital sound, go to the [still] existing sources, and buy the "geeky but cool" Creative Labs Gigaworks 20 or 40. They do truly sound S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R, compared to anything. And please, please ditch the Apple branded or reccomended audio equipment. It is really bad, but was looking good ten years ago.

But, I have to say, they are not suitable for american listeners, and are a little far away from japanese sound [though Creative is from Singapur].

About the headphones... I actually kindda enjoy the plain´ol Philips sound.


The Audioengine's with some 24/96K downloads make it easy to spend time optimizing and printing pictures. Personally I went with the Audioengine 5.



Hear hear on the jazz music. I just got a couple of Modern Jazz Quartet and Art Blakey CDs (which I prompty made into flac files, duh) for listening.

Although I have to disagree with you about the Grados. I have a pair of the SR60s, and I do listen on them sometimes. But for the most part, I find the sound just a bit too analytical and overly "sharp." Not to mention uncomfortable to wear. I very much prefer my old pair of similarly priced Sennheisers, which give nearly as much detail, but have a warmer sound. If I had to pick a flaw, it's that they don't give me quite the soundstage separation as the Grados. One bonus is that they are also so comfortable on my head that it could be hours after any music stops playing before I notice I'm still wearing them.

For those who like to build their own speakers (and can afford more space for them and an amp), I suggest these:


Personally, I wouldn't go much smaller, but the A2s should also be a decent option. If only I could muster the will to embark on a DIY anything...

Don't forget the Dynaudio BM5a powered active monitor speakers, a mere $1,000 for desktop audio heaven. But I can't say they are five times better than the Audioengine speakers you recommend.

As for Earphones, Sennheiser HD600s with an Earmax tube headphone amp. Sonic bliss

Have you seen this? http://www.elpj.com/main.html
Laser turntable for those who can't find needles. Anyone heard one of these things? Their customer list is impressive — as are the prices.
No needle no wear is an interesting attribute.

Mike, hitching your music to a computer is wrong! Future generations of anthropologists will posit that this was the behavioural shift event that took away from homo techie any need to rise occasionally from his work station, and thus any motor function except the twitches in his mouse finger and bowel (the latter 'accommodated' by the under-seat commode). Keep your hi-hi separate! Celebrate your inner cave-man!


The folks at Axiom Audio make among the best speakers I've ever heard of, and they recently started making computer speakers too... (no affiliation, just a fan).



What pre-amp are you using with your better than new Dynaco amp?

You suggest upgrading the sound card for use with the A2 speakers. What if you have an iMac or similar computer in which the sound card can't be changed? Is there a work around?

I've got old Cambridge Soundworks computer 2.1 speakers that also sound quite good. Maybe not Hi-Fi enthusiast good, but still a lot better than the usual computer "speakers" dreck, particularly when you turn the volume up. Bought them for about $80 when the usual price was about $150.

BTW, when you're talking about Stanley Clarke, I don't know whether you've ever listened to Animal Logic: him, Stewart Copeland from The Police on drums, and Deborah Holland on vocals. The music now sounds a bit dated (late 80's), but in spite of that "There's a Spy (in the House of Love)" still sounds good. Deborah Holland has a great voice.

Ok, I'll bite, because I'm intrigued to get better sound out of my Sennheisers.

What is a decent headphone amp for a "reasonable price" (whatever that is)? Would prefer at least two and ideally up to four outputs.

Dear Mike,

Two questions and a recommendation...

1) "(You will need to replace that soundcard, or get yourself at least a cheap non-oversampling [NOS] DAC.)"

Explain, please?

2) So, what's a good powered woofer to go with the Audioengine A2's? Audioengine's is kinda overkill (both power and price).

On the matter of jazz vocalists and covers, I am not a big fan of the latter, but Cassandra Wilson's "Belly of the Sun" is the notable exception in my collection. Three originals and ten covers, and she hits everyone from Dylan to Jobim, and she nails most. In fact, I think her version of Waters of March is the best I've heard, and lord knows I've heard plenty.

Once I get done FLACcing and disposing of all my vinyl, maybe I should get a nice tube amp to play it all back on...

pax / anachronistic Ctein

"You suggest upgrading the sound card for use with the A2 speakers. What if you have an iMac or similar computer in which the sound card can't be changed? Is there a work around?"

Sure, just get any USB DAC that uses the computer's driver. Attach it to the computer via USB cable, then go to System Preferences --> Sound and select it. Then attach the powered speakers to the DAC.


P.S. errmmmm, Audioengine, not Audiobox. Dunno where that came from.

There are at least a lot of headphone amps with two outputs; my Musical Fidelity X-CAN V8P has two, and it's a very limited device. I'd suggest a visit to head-fi.org for more specific recommendations.

Sennheiser HD600s...outstanding.

We have a much better solution than the laser turntable (which has been around for years)...just rip your vinyl to computer files.

I wrote about USB DACs here:


And as for 2), I would really not recommend mixing and matching powered speakers with other-brand subwoofers. The problems outweigh the advantages. Better to simply select a 3-piece computer speaker package that includes a subwoofer unit and is cheaper overall, like the HK Soundsticks II linked in the text.

Best, of course, would be simply to connect your computer to your home stereo, assuming you already have one of the latter you like, and bypass computer speakers altogether. This assumes you won't be needing portability, of course.


I use the wonderful Dynaudio MC 15 PC-speakers through the very compact Apogee Duet audio interface. A bit expensive, but highly recommended.

"...rich, lush, ravishing, grainless, fathomless, soulful, dimensional midrange..."

I am sold...will definitely call Bob when I head his way.

I soldered an amp when I was 14, maybe 15 and then got my own darkroom a few years later. I should revisit my better years in that order.

For now, I am using Logitech Squeezebox to connect my computer to my stereo amp. Wireless setup was easy and sounded pretty decent.

So what AD converter d'y'all use to convert your ancient vinyl to FLAC or suchlike?

Anybody use inexpensive USB turntables? Are they actually much better than they have a right to be? Judging by the audiophile's secret performance measure, i.e. sticker price in dollars, they have no right to be any good at all.

Being forced to listen to music on my iMac, due to a "little person" being in the house, I too looked long and hard at how to get better sound out of the computer.

In the end, I ended up getting an external USB/Optical DAC and headphone amp (JAVS DAC-1 Overture). Through the iMac, I can hook the DAC up via USB or through the iMac's optical out.

I have to say, there is quite an improvement in sound quality - so much so that I forget I'm listening to music through the computer. How much is due to the DAC, and how much due to the headphone amp stage, I don't know, but then I don't really care - it's what comes out the 'phones that counts.

The Musical Fidelity amp coupled through the big Mirage speakers still sounds better though...

I use Acoustic Energy ego2 speakers for listening from my computer. First heard them at a hi-fi fanatics house. He has a $$$ setup for his vinyl & used these for the CD player. There's a medium size speaker on the floor & two tiny ones higher up. Great sound & only around $200 few years back.
I've heard some not so good things about the laser turntables.

Might I suggest auditioning the Focal XS 2.1 speakers? They have an integrated Burr-Brown DAC and connect via USB to a computer. The sat/sub are extremely well integrated, and provide a great near field listening experience. The speaker is physically designed to provide a neutral acoustic output, as opposed to electronically compensating for physical design deficiencies to achieve a neutral output. I suppose it might be the equivalent of nailing your exposure in camera instead of pushing/pulling it after the fact in PS.

I knew we had more in common than photography. This brought back memories of building a Dynaco Stereo 70 in my dorm room to run my AR3A speakers. Incredible bottom end. Sweet midrange and demur high end. Which I blame on the little cloth tweeter of the AR3A's.

Too much fun to have in college. A lot of mileage on the old Joni Mitchell, Stan Getz and Led Zeppelin LP's.......

What Mike refers to is to the following stuff:

But the above is too much gamecentric



the Xmod and Xmod wireless


Remember to use the Amazon portal from this page [shameless plug].

PS: the crystallizer techonology actually works [and surprisingly so, may I add].

a) the Grado HP are 'made in USA' which is a good reason to support them (why don't they promote this fact??). I have SR80i which are fine for my listening.
b) Melody Gardot album is terrific. Look up her history to see why she is in the music business.

Recording quality soundcard, well worth the money:


I rip all my CDs to the hard disk as WAV files, uncompressed.

Free, very good ripping software:


In the Grado line I prefer the SR225 even to some more expensive sets. But it's best to forget special hi-fi brands and instead buy what studio engineers buy.

Someone recommended the AKG K702, but for half the price get instead the AKG K271 MKII Studio. These are the best-value closed headphones I have found. The cable comes from one side only and is detachable. You get two different sets of pads so you can use what feels best. And the sound stops automatically when you take them off your head -- nifty! Plus they sound darned nice -- the best 150 euros you can spend.

For dead-cheap (40 euros) collapsible on-ear phones get the Sennheiser PX 100, but not any of their other cheap sets, even if the product number looks similar. These punch way above their weight. Convenient to carry at all times.

For your own health and safety, never use in-ear phones.

Nice thread. I still have about 800 records stashed away. On occasion I pull one out and toss it on the TT.
In fact I think I'll pull out "Collaboration" by the MJQ and Laurindo Almieda. Maybe some Tamba 4 too and make it a Brazillian evening.
I loved the Dyanco replica. My first good amp was a Sansui 1000a which doubled as a space heater.
Now powering with an AU 555 which was new in 1968 and is still going strong.
Try that with anything they sell at Best Buys today.

"This brought back memories of building a Dynaco Stereo 70 in my dorm room to run my AR3A speakers."


We blew out several sets of tweeters on the old AR3a's. Constant vigilance was required to prevent some drunk guy from wandering over and ignoring the big sign that said DO NOT TOUCH THIS VOLUME KNOB OR YOU DIE.


I've enjoyed your blog for over a year now (maybe two) and always looks forward to your thoughts and comments. Being a ham for over 30 years, it was quite interesting to read about the amplifier kit and remember my own experiences with tubes and Healthkit radios many years ago.

But, that's not what got me to finally comment after reading blog for so long. I'm sitting hear listening to the Watercolors channel on XM and hear this fabulous voice singing a song I don't recall hearing before. I look at the radio, see the name Melody Gardot, and instantly recall your post.

I couldn't agree more with your comments. Wow, what a voice! I need to go to iTunes and get that album. Better yet, I'll use the link in your post and buy the MP3s through Amazon.

Hi Mike,

Very good to see the recognition of Joe Grado's phenominal ears/engineering. he made the best damn $6.00 phono cartridge as well.

I sold hi-fi for 20 years and I have to say that one of the most startling revelations was when Joe introduced his headphones. they just buried anything else out there. I still have my 19 year old pair.
And btw, a single woofer outside the box of any stereo pair just sucks. Any info above 50-60hz just screws up phase relationships.
I would much rather forego the supposed added low frequencies than have my head twisted around trying to locate the image.


I rip all my CDs to the hard disk as WAV files, uncompressed.

You should try APE or FLAC.

"And btw, a single woofer outside the box of any stereo pair just sucks. Any info above 50-60hz just screws up phase relationships."

Totally. I hate 'em. I've almost never heard a subwoofer that really works--the single exception being a powered subwoofer the size of a small armchair, under "satellites" that went into the high 30s. My philosophy is, buy speakers designed for the range you want and leave 'em alone.


P.S. Oh, and if someone is the 1 in 100 person who can get subs to work really right, as soon as he moves and has to set up in a different room he's screwed anyway!

Dear Mani,

It's going to depend on what you want to do with files. If you're just trying to find a way to get your vinyl into an MP3 player so you can listen to the music outside your home or in your automobile, an inexpensive (there are some very expensive ones as well) USB turntable is likely to be good enough. If you intend the files to be used for serious listening and/or plan on getting rid of your vinyl entirely (as I am), it's simply not going to be good enough.

Turntable and cartridge issues aside, the quality of the D-to-A converter is extremely important. The problem is not frequency response or noise but "jitter." You may have a converter that collects 48,000 samples a second at 24 bit depth, but the interval between samples must be held stable to vastly better than 1/48,000 of the second, or else you'll get phase distortions in the harmonics, and that's what makes the difference between music that sounds good and real and stuff that makes your ears bleed.

This is a serious enough issue that REALLY serious audio workers will spend a couple of thousand dollars for a good converter, and it really does make a difference for what they're doing. For mere mortals like us, $100-$200 will do the trick. Presonus and M-Audio both have good reputations.

Incidentally, this is why you can't just use the audio input on your computer from the line output of your stereo. The audio converters built into computers are nowhere near stable enough for quality sound.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

"Is Heathkit making a comeback also?"

We can hope.

Just got & listened to the Melody Gardot disc.
Great suggestion;thoroughly enjoyable. I got into jazz in the 50's,when I was in high school. Living in NYC allowed me to go to places like the Vanguard and hear some of those guys live, which I never forgot. Virtually all of my current jazz listening was recorded before the early sixties. Guess I'm in a rut.
Built a Heathkit something or other many years ago;not my thing.

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