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Start Your Weekends with Ultra Fi

Engage your senses with some fresh coffee and a listening session with the Moon ACE.

Coffee’s on at 9am. See you May 13th. 

coffeeeee

A Record More Than a Record

Sometimes one wants to tell the world about something that one is really excited about, and then one pauses and wonders if there is any universality whatsoever in that thing. I am that one right now.

I have a good friend who loves listening to music as much as I do. Although we both have a lot of recordings in our collections, the intersection of our musical tastes is quite small, but we talk about what we are hearing, and what makes a great recording, in sonic terms, in almost identical language. When he plays something for me, whether I latch on to the music or not, it always sound great. But, as I said, if he is blue and I am yellow in our music collections Venn diagram, the green area is barely visible to the naked eye. We are different, if equally ardent, cats when it comes to music.

It is from this, and other similar experiences, that I am assessing how to describe what I am excited about, but here goes. If you are a passionate pursuer of any pastime, hobby, collection, whatever, which leads you to have or experience more than a few examples, you no doubt develop favorites. If you read my Musing “Merle and the Mystery” or my review of Gram Parsons’ “Grievous Angel,” both on this site, you will realize that I like Gram’s music wildly out of proportion to the mere six records he had significant input to by the time he died at 26 in 1973. He is, very surely, a favorite of mine, but it is the “wildly out of proportion” part that leaves me wondering about my mission here.

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I first thought I would write a really enthusiastic review of a new version (a “remastering”) of The Flying Burrito Bros. “Gilded Palace of Sin,” suggesting that everyone should own this record. Then I realized that this is probably the seminal recording of my late high school years, the time when I, as a budding music lover, began to develop more mature tastes- the first music that I remain close to to this day. As I say in my “Grievous Angel” piece, when I first heard “Gilded Palace…”, I was a MESS. There are a few somewhat fluffy or upbeat songs on here, but even those have an undercurrent of deeper emotion than they seem to at first blush. But the bulk of it? Oh, man. It hurts! And I discovered that I really loved painful music.

But enough about me, and Gram. As much as I like him and the Bros., I harbor no illusions that the music is universal. The fact that it is so critically important to me because of when it came into my life and the inexplicable hold it took almost guarantees that it isn’t. I can’t even articulate what its power is over me.

For the rest of this, I’m going to ask you to substitute and envision a very favorite recording of a very favorite piece of music of your own, because I believe, going forward, we may be in universal territory, or at least the near suburbs. What arrived today is the new Intervention Records vinyl of “Gilded Palace..”. I decided, after cleaning and LASTing it, and then listening to both sides (it FLEW by! Dang, this record is not long enough.) that it may very well represent the single most “medium transcending” improvement to a recording I have ever heard.

I have been able, albeit going back a long way, to spend some time in recording facilities where music performances are laid onto analog tape. I have made a recording of a friend of mine in such a facility performing his own songs, and then subsequently observed the mastering process up close and had the results pressed onto vinyl. Hearing a live mike feed and the master tape that comes from it sort of sticks in your head, etched forever. Thus, one of the highest praises I can give a “play it at home version” of a recording (LP, CD, high res file, etc.) is to say it makes me think of those etched-in-the-brain master tape experiences.

Because I am nutty for GPoS, I have numerous versions. My original A&M, a second pressing; a first press I found many years later (sounds noticeably better); several other A&M’s grabbed whenever encountered at used record stores; the Four Men With Beards vinyl redo from a decade ago (sounds sanded way too smooth); and several CD-based reissues of different pedigrees. I began to feel I was, in a way, triangulating in on what the music actually sounded like based on my mind mixing all the attributes, and trying to edit out the liabilities of these many different recordings. I found out today I wasn’t within a million miles.

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I found out because Shane Buettner at Intervention Records apparently screwed up and shipped the master tape to Ultra Fidelis. From the opening stylus cue (sorry, I can’t say “needle drop”), I had the sensation that it was 1969, and I was transported to the recording venue and allowed to watch one of my very most favorite recordings being made. All of the bad sound, all the artifacts that I thought I had pegged, finally, to the master tape, vanished. The digital version ones, but also seemingly all the phono-based ones- gone! This recording, so close to my heart, had always sounded small, cheesy, unkempt, and thus slightly annoying, despite my love for the music, but not anymore.

I actually had an experience that happens once in a blue moon for me- the hallucinatory thought that if I looked over at my equipment rack, there would be a big old two-track Ampex spinning 10.5″ reels at 30 ips rather then a 12″ LP. And I had that thing that is what we are always trying to achieve in our work at Ultra Fidelis: “people in the room,” and one of those people was Gram, and all this from a master tape that I never, in all my born days, had any clue had it in it.

When this happens with one of one’s foundational records, life is good, really good, and it has staying power. I’ll be high on this for a long time. And that’s the universal part- hearing your music at its best takes both great hardware and great software, and when they come together, for a music lover, there is little better in life.

One of the things that disturbs me about digital files I make from my CD’s is that there isn’t even a metadata field in the ripping programs for “label.” This is, after all, the brand. As I gained knowledge and built my music collection, it was often an important factor in choosing what to add. Now, it’s vanishing. I am not necessarily suggesting that you get a copy of Intervention’s “Gilded Palace of Sin,” although if a few thousand of you did, it would warm my heart, but again, I have no idea if the music will do for you what it does for me, or anything like it. What I am saying is keep a very close eye on Shane’s label. Check out everything Intervention has done and will do, and if you are anywhere near a fan of a record they reissue, buy it unquestioningly. They are gems. Actual records of what went down in front of the mikes. I’m hoping he calls me and asks, “Okay, what are your favorite 1500 or so master tapes that you feel haven’t been done justice yet?”

Upgrading to an Arcam AVR750 Receiver and A REL Series S/5 Sub-Bass System

I am a classical music listener with a substantial music collection. I am compulsive enough to keep a record of every time I listen to a given piece of music and include notes about the quality of the recording and my listening experience. Excellent, accurate sound reproduction has always been important to me, and I had high quality speakers and components. On March 15, 2016 my audio world changed. With each piece of music I listen to now, since that day, thanks to my notes, I am able to compare my present listening experience with the past. It has improved dramatically with the arrival of the Arcam AVR750 Receiver and the REL Series S/5 Sub-Bass system.

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The Arcam has class G amplification – which provides incredible definition and clarity regardless of power requirements which is a breathtaking advance over my previous receiver. The delicate inner voices in the classical music are crucial, and they are presented in pristine clarity. Conversely, if power is called for, class G delivers it without compromise and without distortion.
The REL replaced a high quality subwoofer that was brand-matched with my speakers when I purchased them. Besides a 12-inch driver, the REL has a 12-inch passive speaker pointed at the floor. Most importantly, it can take its audio feed directly from the amplifier-out connectors. Before, I found I was always fiddling with the gain of my subwoofer for various sources- DVD or CDs; I have never touched the settings on the REL. Ultra Fidelis sets it up and you just leave it. It becomes a natural part of your system, which never unduly calls attention to itself, but is always present – such as feeling the organ pedal in your chest, or the dark, deep notes of the cello, more than heard, but gently felt. It as if a whole new dimension of music has been opened. This is why they call it a sub-bass system, and not merely a subwoofer.
The REL was installed and carefully placed by Jonathan – and once it is set, you never need to touch it again. As mentioned above, the bass is amazingly natural, yet when called for it can startle you- experiencing the cannon shots in the film “Master and Commander” is beyond belief! I felt the concussion in my back while sitting on the couch – thanks to both the driven and passive speakers.
Coupling these two components has provided a constant revelation as I listen to post-March 2016 music. Each time I introduce music to the Arcam and the REL I am in for an invigorating new experience.
I am writing this on the one year anniversary of adding these two jewels to my music/home theater system, accomplished under the guidance of Ultra Fidelis, in particular Jonathan Spelt. When I first encountered them nine years ago, I called seeking a product. They could have simply provided that for me, but instead engaged me in a conversation concerning what it was I was trying to accomplish. They listened to me and suggested a very different path. One can buy and replace components, but to have people such as Jon involved in your musical experiences is something much richer and more valuable than mere products. I am exceedingly grateful for the great care, products and support of Jonathan and the Ultra Fidelis team which has improved a very important aspect of my life: the wonder of faithfully reproduced music.

 

Dave E.

Vinyl is a thing

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I was surprised to come across the following letter to the editor I wrote to the Shepherd Express, Milwaukee’s other newspaper, which I love, inspired by a story on the vinyl resurgence. I was shocked to see the date of the document: August, 2002.

To paraphrase A.J. van den Hul, famous Dutch phonographer, “LP’s
sonically blow CD’s into the damn weeds!” It seems the missing ingredient
in Jason T. Mohr’s otherwise heartwarming piece on local vinyl
consumption is any mention of this widely observed phenomenon.

While many pursue vinyl records for their “crackling,” the size of their
accompanying documentation and artwork, their retro-hipness, their sample-
ability, and their collector cachet, perhaps the most salient feature of the
medium, to many of us, is its superior ability to present the emotional essence of the music
it contains.

LP’s remain to this day the most available, convenient and portable medium
that represents a legitimate document of the original musical performance.
It’s the most special thing about them, and the prime motivator behind much
of the resurgence of interest.

Reading it now, I am not surprised they didn’t run it. It was a bit too arcane and, I guess, remains so. Here was a writer trying to talk nice about an alternative phenomenon, the stuff that alternative newspapers love to write about. And I was sort of raining on the parade, suggesting that some people, a significant number perhaps, might be liking a thing for how it performs, at its ultimate, when you actually use it for its intended purpose.

Bring it forward now 15 years and I just read in Stereophile that the BBC did a survey of vinyl record buyers. It showed that almost half didn’t plan to play their records and 7% didn’t own a turntable. What, now? No, I don’t have a car. I just like buying tires. It’s fun!

The thing about “vinyl” at its best, still, is that it sounds damn good. As in, brings musicians and their performances into your house, our guiding principle at Ultra Fidelis. Sure, it’s “old fashioned” and difficult, and for the uninitiated conjures up the smell of musty basements and Victrolas, but, if you care for and feed it properly, it works. Incredibly well.

This isn’t mere nostalgia, like looking back fondly on those cameras that made race car tires go oblong as they slowly scanned the scene and distorted time. This is manual transmissions, which have yet to be superseded in race cars. Stuff that works is to be celebrated. And USED!

Don’t get me wrong on this. I’m not suggesting that if you have vinyl records, you are done, you’re good. Nor that if you don’t you are doomed. Far from it. As I write, in fact, I am listening to an incredible CD-sourced rip on my Aurender (Pulse! Percussion Works). I love all stuff that works. But what I am saying is that if one more scribe mentions “the crackly sound” of LP records as a reason we fall for them, I’ll lose it. That ain’t it.

In fact, it is the compelling nature of the sound, the sheer realism good vinyl well played is able to conjure in our minds, that makes us able to overlook the foibles. If you don’t have any LP’s, you might consider investigating. And if you do, but they’ve been languishing, dive back in.
Really good sounding turntables start around $500, and the great ones, albeit for more money, are a mind bending sonic experience. You can also make some fairly cost effective improvements to your existing ‘table that will quickly convince you that vinyl records are capable of much more than sustaining a fad. They can fling open the doors to the incredible, almost unlimited world of recorded music and pull you in. Finally, thanks to the fad or not, they are making records again- by the ton. You’ll have no shortage of music, new and old, to explore.

Marty’s Review of the Vandersteen 2Ce Signature IIs with 2Wq Sub

This winter, I started the process of buying new speakers. Step one in that process was putting my former speakers up for sale. They sold right away, faster than expected, so things were looking good. Unfortunately my bank account wasn’t full enough to afford the Vandersteen Treos that I desired, but Jon advised me not to overlook the 2Ce Signature IIs, especially when paired with the 2Wq subwoofer. This fit my financial situation better, so he and Bob set up that combination for me in the store and I came down on a Saturday morning for an extended audition. I was more than impressed listening to them and a pair was ordered for me. My new cherry wood Sig IIs and matching 2Wq were soon in my living room.

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I attached the bases that allow the correct angle to be set and then spent some time with a tape measure and the owner’s manual to get the set-up right. Although the set-up is more involved than with most other speakers, the measurement guidelines are straightforward. The angle must be set relative to your seated ear height and the relationships between the distances to back wall and side walls are critical. All this is fully spelled out in the owner’s manual and just takes a little time, but this time spent on getting it right is well worth it. The result is “the Vandersteen sound” and it is immediately apparent. Because of the phase and time alignment that are part of all Vandersteen speaker designs, music sounds more natural and real. All of the music reaches your ears with the timing created by the musicians and instruments intact. The imaging and depth of soundstage is truly something special. If I had to sum up Vandersteen sound in one word, it would be “dimensionality.” I have heard the Treos and Quattros, the 5A carbons and the Sevens. They all do it. Naturally the higher up the line you go, the better they are, but at this price range the sound is remarkable. All of the audiophile buzzwords are there. Air, depth, imaging/dimensionality, and with the 2Wq sub perfectly integrated bass and slam.

Speaking of the 2Wq subwoofer, Vandersteen does subs differently from other manufacturers. When you introduce a 2Wq (or two) into the system, the main speakers are rolled off in the low bass and the sub fills in these lowest octaves for a full range frequency response. I am sure Jon and Bob can explain this better than I can, but just know that it works! You won’t get that one note bass boom like a home theater sub, but real dynamics and tonality. Listening to an upright bass on a good jazz recording you realize that there are actual notes being played. Plus, with adjustable “Q” on the sub’s control panel, you can really fine tune how tight or loose you want the bass. If you like that big boomy sound or maybe are using it with a home theater set-up you can have it that way, but you can also set it for a more musically accurate experience. Another benefit of the 2WQ is that when I can trade up to Treos, I can use the same subwoofer.

Ok, so how does it sound? I would say that the soundstage is about depth. Janis Joplin on “Try” is 4 or 5 feet behind the speakers. Shelby Lynne on “Just a Little Lovin'” is not as far back. The thing is, you can easily tell the difference. On the great SACD “Jazz in the Key of Blue”, Roy Hargrove moves around as he is playing. It’s easy to tell when he backs up and moves forward. He also moves side to side at different times. It’s like he is on the stage and you can tell right where he is. Not just left or right, but how much left or right.

Of course, all of the dimensionality in the world doesn’t matter if the tonality isn’t right, but the difference between a baritone sax and tenor is apparent as is soprano sax and clarinet. Back-up singers and individual instruments are easily defined. When Satchmo’s voice comes in on “St James Infirmary” I always get goosebumps.

So this must be the greatest speaker ever right? Well the Treos and other Vandersteens on up do all these things better and cost more for a reason. But at this price level, the combo of 2CE Signature IIs and 2Wq subwoofer is phenomenal. Vandersteen has sold over 100,000 Model 2s for a reason. I think one reason the price is so reasonable is because they have been in production for so long, but they have been continuously upgraded over the years. And they are made in the USA.

At the beginning of this review I said that I hoping for a pair of Treos. Well I am very happy with my 2s. At some point I will move up the Vandersteen line, but until then I still get to listen to the Vandersteen sound. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. And you can always tell when a speaker doesn’t have it.

Happy listening,

Marty

Rob’s Review of his Audio Research LS-27 Preamp

I wanted to send you my thoughts now that I have lived with my Audio Research LS-27 preamp for some time. Last summer I was happy with my system that consisted of a BAT VK-31SE preamp plus a Musical Fidelity M6-PRX amp, BAT VK-P10SE/SP phono pre (purchased used from you) B&W 803S Speakers, and a Music Hall MMF 9.1 turntable with Denon DL-103R cart (turntable and cart purchased used from you). I bought used items from Ultrafi in the past but nothing new. Even though I never bought new, you have always given me great information, advice and counseling regarding this hobby. This has saved me time and money over trying to figure things out on my own. Let it be said that at this point I had the constant upgrade-itus bug because I wanted to hear better and better things from my system.

When I began having a couple of issues with my BAT Preamp I brought it in for service. Bob said he could fix it but it may take a few days so you loaned me an Audio Research LS25. Providing such a nice loaner while my unit was in for repair is great service but you knew better… The loaner changed everything for me. The LS25 simply sounded much more open and extended that my BAT. The BAT had great low end but to my surprise, the LS25 matched this but was more open and natural. The soundstage enhancement was very good. I could not go back to my BAT. After some consideration and based on your advice and recommendation, I decided to buy a new ARC LS27 from you. Now that I have close to 300 hours on the meter I must tell you that I am thrilled with this unit. The openness, 3D soundstage and pinpoint imaging are awesome. The smooth sound of the mids and grain free highs are great, and I never feel that there is any missing detail. There is absolutely no fatigue or compromise. You even cured me of the upgrade-itus.

I am very happy with the LS27 and I plan to hold onto this for many years to come. Thank you to you and Bob. Your excellent service and advice are extremely valuable to me.

Best regards,

Rob

Spring, huh?

Well, that was an interesting snowfall Monday. I initially thought my two stage snow thrower had broken its impeller as I was having to stop every thirty feet or so and unjam the chute. But when I garaged it and pressed my single stage snowblower into action, and it behaved virtually identically, it dawned on me that what was coming down was not snow, but some sort of white adobe. And plenty of it.

I only mention it because I remember thinking when Kaitlyn wrote about Richard Vandersteen coming and you all “joining us on a most welcomed Spring night in East Tosa” a few weeks ago. With the thought that if it were this nice in February, imagine what March 22 will be like. Now, I’m thinking it might be like the weather we were supposed to get in February. But the weather doesn’t matter when Richard is in town. We’re gonna have fun! And, while we won’t be unveiling any new product, we will have a cool retro surprise worked into our demo setup. So if you’ve missed the other umpteen ways we’ve tried to get the word out, consider this your last warning. A good time is in (the) store next Wednesday, March 22. RSVP by phone (414) 221-0200 or to my email address jonathan.spelt@ultrafi.com . Technically, we are full, but we’ll make room.

This past Saturday almost felt like a spontaneous similar session. A whole bunch of good people showed up, impromptu, and Bob and I led a little jamboree of music lovers. I decided, about mid-party, to trot out my soapbox and again make my case for full bitrate CD rips. Eh, what?

Well, most people reading here probably already know we don’t fool with no lossy digital formats (MP3, Apple AAC, etc.) if we can help it, and we almost always can (internet radio being the one exception, but that’s background anyway). But a lot of people seem to think that “lossless” formats, which carry all the original data, sound just as good as full bitrate rips. The facts are quite different and all in attendance agreed that a WAV or AIFF rip makes a lossless version sound quite anemic by comparison. Ask for a demo next time you are in; it will likely have you rethinking your CD copying protocol.

Also, worry not if you’ve spent the last half lifetime ripping your collection at a lossless rate. You can “transcode” those files to full bit rate and all the sound comes back, whereas if you’ve ground them into lossy MP3 hamburger, or are streaming or downloading iTunes tracks, or listening to Spotify and the like, well, I’m afraid it can’t be steak again. And before I tread too heavily on lossless, let me say with no ambiguity Tidal and Deezer, which both stream lossless, blow the doors off all other streaming services and iTunes sonically. If you don’t have a substantial CD library, or aren’t up for ripping it, you can live quite well with a lossless streaming service.

Soon, we will have a guide to vinyl record care and feeding, but I’ll leak a little about an exciting new product. By the end of March, we should have the new AudioQuest Conductive Record

Brush. No, it is not a “battery biased” tool for cleaning your records, but it does have gold plated contacts where your fingers grip it to let your body dump static charge to ground, and it has zillions of much finer carbon fibers for greatly enhanced “reach” into the grooves. If not a replacement for a liquid and machine deep cleaning process, expect this to radically improve daily dust removal, all for $20.

The weather, as it happens, is perfect for curling up with a good recording. See you in the store or online soon.

Recharge & Reboot

I just checked.  Five months and nearly a half ‘nother since my last writing.  Yikes!  Inexcusable.  But I do have a reason.  I didn’t feel it.

I bounced back quite nicely from my surgery back in September.  With one small glitch, I am indeed good to go.  I’ll need an annual CAT scan, and, assuming it shows nothing, I am “as healthy as my neighbor” as my oncologist put it.  Fortunately Jeff appears the picture of health so I am too, I guess.

And I feel a lot better, too.  Better than in a long time prior to the surgery, even. But I haven’t felt like doing this.  This musing thing.  It has been the longest part of my recovery.  I think it has to do with the fact that I was pretty focused on the day to day realities of getting back to full health and performance in all areas of my life.  That stuff all has to be right before I have the extra brain space to write, for which I need to be able to get away from the normal living stuff and let my mind wander where it wants to go.  And when I set it free to do that lately, it went out a few feet, turned around, came back and parked at my feet like a shy puppy at its first day at the dog park.

Well, things are starting to limber up.  It really feels as if I’m back.  But, after five months away, I am challenged to pick a topic to break the silence and feature today.  So I’m going to leave you with some examples of the things that have helped me get back up to speed.

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  • Setting up a number of AMG turntables, including the new 12 Turbo tonearm on the Viella ‘table, and basking in their profound ability to dig seemingly every last iota of music out of the wiggly grooves. One owner called it “the best sound I have ever heard” and another pronounced his “revelatory.”  Amen to that.  I’m weary of the “analog vs. digital” fuss as I am firmly in the “both, please” camp, but the combination of AMG and Lyra is incredibly compelling.  Vinyl is vitally alive at all strata, but it sure is fun to hang out at the summit.
  • And Aurender’s machines are one of the reasons I am weary of the war. Life with my N10, or the N100H, has been a non-stop journey of (re)discovery of old familiar (ripped) CD’s as well as high res files and the myriad offerings on Tidal. It continues to stun me how good Redbook CD bitrate material can sound when played back through an Aurender.
  • Speaking of Tidal, the emergence, finally, of MQA files thereon has revealed some really special improvements in sound quality stemming from their work reversing the AD (analog to digital) converter-based problems in digital masters. The jury is still out for me as to whether the other function of MQA, that is “unfolding” the streamed file into a higher res file “in your home” bears much additional fruit, but I am at least initially quite impressed with the A/D converter fix.  Now we see if they can continue to convince the record industry of the cost/benefit of the technology. But they’ve got Warner on board and I saw they just signed up Universal Music Group, so…
  • So how did the Moon geniuses get so much sheer fun to come out of the one-box super solution ACE? That machine does things, at $3500, it has absolutely no right to do!  Phono, DAC, MiND streaming and a great sounding amp and preamp in one box the size of any one of those components separately?  Get one before they are outlawed by the Value Police.
  • I have also enjoyed dialing in and doing MASTERS sets on several great audio systems. Vandersteens, Sonus fabers, KEFs, RELs and others have sprung to life before my ears as I optimize them in homes.  It always amazes me how important that final step is!  “Night and day” is not an uncommon reaction.
  • Bob and I have both been gobbling up the new Audio Research Foundation Series gear. Four brand new masterpieces, a DAC, phono preamp, line stage, and power amp, in the space of less than six months!  A person could wrap them all up into a system and retire from the race indefinitely, they are that good.  Or, replace an older component with any one and revitalize a system.  Home runs, all!
  • The Carbon generation of AudioQuest headphones are making even bigger waves than the shock one that the original NightHawk sent out, as well they should. NightOwl, Skylar’s first closed-back design, is particularly valuable for those who need isolation in their headphone listening.  He seems to have nailed it without any of the typical sonic compromises.  Can’t wait for my next plane trip!
  • Bob unboxed the first AudioQuest Niagara 5000 a few weeks ago and, hoo boy, it’s crazy good! Even Garth contends it’s much of what you get in the 7000 and it sure sounds like it from our perspective.  If you are looking for the second best power conditioner on the planet, they are now in stock.
  • Finally, my first Musing since my surgery comes, coincidentally or not, as Kaitlyn returns to manage our web/social media presence. She, too, it seems, went through a spell of “writer’s block,” from entirely different causes from mine, but I’m happy to see she is following her muse again.* Here’s hoping it lasts a good, long time!

*Editor’s note: There comes a point in life when you realize that if you must work, it’s better to surround yourself with really great people…

Recharge and Reboot

I just checked.  Five months and nearly a half ‘nother since my last writing.  Yikes!  Inexcusable.  But I do have a reason.  I didn’t feel it.

I bounced back quite nicely from my surgery back in September.  With one small glitch, I am indeed good to go.  I’ll need an annual CAT scan, and, assuming it shows nothing, I am “as healthy as my neighbor” as my oncologist put it.  Fortunately Jeff appears the picture of health so I am too, I guess.

And I feel a lot better, too.  Better than in a long time prior to the surgery, even. But I haven’t felt like doing this.  This musing thing.  It has been the longest part of my recovery.  I think it has to do with the fact that I was pretty focused on the day to day realities of getting back to full health and performance in all areas of my life.  That stuff all has to be right before I have the extra brain space to write, for which I need to be able to get away from the normal living stuff and let my mind wander where it wants to go.  And when I set it free to do that lately, it went out a few feet, turned around, came back and parked at my feet like a shy puppy at its first day at the dog park.

Well, things are starting to limber up.  It really feels as if I’m back.  But, after five months away, I am challenged to pick a topic to break the silence and feature today.  So I’m going to leave you with some examples of the things that have helped me get back up to speed.

IMG_5515

  • Setting up a number of AMG turntables, including the new 12 Turbo tonearm on the Viella ‘table, and basking in their profound ability to dig seemingly every last iota of music out of the wiggly grooves. One owner called it “the best sound I have ever heard” and another pronounced his “revelatory.”  Amen to that.  I’m weary of the “analog vs. digital” fuss as I am firmly in the “both, please” camp, but the combination of AMG and Lyra is incredibly compelling.  Vinyl is vitally alive at all strata, but it sure is fun to hang out at the summit.
  • And Aurender’s machines are one of the reasons I am weary of the war. Life with my N10, or the N100H, has been a non-stop journey of (re)discovery of old familiar (ripped) CD’s as well as high res files and the myriad offerings on Tidal. It continues to stun me how good Redbook CD bitrate material can sound when played back through an Aurender.
  • Speaking of Tidal, the emergence, finally, of MQA files thereon has revealed some really special improvements in sound quality stemming from their work reversing the AD (analog to digital) converter-based problems in digital masters. The jury is still out for me as to whether the other function of MQA, that is “unfolding” the streamed file into a higher res file “in your home” bears much additional fruit, but I am at least initially quite impressed with the A/D converter fix.  Now we see if they can continue to convince the record industry of the cost/benefit of the technology. But they’ve got Warner on board and I saw they just signed up Universal Music Group, so…
  • So how did the Moon geniuses get so much sheer fun to come out of the one-box super solution ACE? That machine does things, at $3500, it has absolutely no right to do!  Phono, DAC, MiND streaming and a great sounding amp and preamp in one box the size of any one of those components separately?  Get one before they are outlawed by the Value Police.
  • I have also enjoyed dialing in and doing MASTERS sets on several great audio systems. Vandersteens, Sonus fabers, KEFs, RELs and others have sprung to life before my ears as I optimize them in homes.  It always amazes me how important that final step is!  “Night and day” is not an uncommon reaction.
  • Bob and I have both been gobbling up the new Audio Research Foundation Series gear. Four brand new masterpieces, a DAC, phono preamp, line stage, and power amp, in the space of less than six months!  A person could wrap them all up into a system and retire from the race indefinitely, they are that good.  Or, replace an older component with any one and revitalize a system.  Home runs, all!
  • The Carbon generation of AudioQuest headphones are making even bigger waves than the shock one that the original NightHawk sent out, as well they should. NightOwl, Skylar’s first closed-back design, is particularly valuable for those who need isolation in their headphone listening.  He seems to have nailed it without any of the typical sonic compromises.  Can’t wait for my next plane trip!
  • Bob unboxed the first AudioQuest Niagara 5000 a few weeks ago and, hoo boy, it’s crazy good! Even Garth contends it’s much of what you get in the 7000 and it sure sounds like it from our perspective.  If you are looking for the second best power conditioner on the planet, they are now in stock.
  • Finally, my first Musing since my surgery comes, coincidentally or not, as Kaitlyn returns to manage our web/social media presence. She, too, it seems, went through a spell of “writer’s block,” from entirely different causes from mine, but I’m happy to see she is following her muse again.* Here’s hoping it lasts a good, long time!

*Editor’s note: There comes a point in life when you realize that if you must work, it’s better to surround yourself with really great people…

An Evening with Vandersteen

 

As seen in Stereophile Magazine (!), you’re invited to rub elbows with one of the best.

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WHEN: Wednesday, March 22nd, 7-9pm

WHERE: Ultra Fidelis – 7125 W. North Ave. Wauwatosa, WI

WHO: A special treat for our loyal customers.

WHAT: A fun night’s diversion with a man who always entertains and whose loudspeakers lead the way in performance value.

WHAT ELSE? Enjoy some refreshments, will ya?

RSVP: Please call 414-221-0200 or email jonathan.spelt@ultrafi.com to reserve your spot. As you know, space is limited. Can’t make it? Catch the action Live on Facebook.

 
In these times when it seems a challenge to find anything universal, one thing we can all agree on is that our music and home theater systems brighten and restore the zest in our lives. Join us for lighthearted conversation and share your passion with Richard Vandersteen and other HiFi enthusiasts on a most welcomed Spring night in East Tosa.