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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Steve Albini’s 24 Bit Downloads and Home Audio Setup

Friday, July 6th, 2007

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Oddly enough, Steve Albini (of Electric Audio recording studio, the bands Shellac of North America, Rapeman and Big Black) has been answering questions on a poker forum as a “micro celebrity.” He answers any question about favorite bands, musicians and recording sessions.

An interesting excerpt about digital and analog home audio listening:

Q: For your own listening pleasure, digital music (CDs) or analogue (vinyl)?
A: If I’m going to put on a record for pleasure, it will be a vinyl record, unless I’m at work. Understand though that I listen to original masters all day every day, and so I’m less likely than most people to want to throw on an album when I knock-off at midnight or whatever.
Q: Any thoughts on the new higher sample rate/bitrate SACD or DVDA releases?
A: Doesn’t matter, since both formats are now dead, but I think a greater bit depth (24 bits is plenty) grants a bigger quality improvement than increasing the sample rate. The downloadable version of the new album from my band (Shellac of North America) is available in compressed formats, but also 16-bit or 24-bit 44.1kHz versions [ED: these are 24-bit WAV files, I’ll have to research if these will work over my Airtunes setup (or I could maybe burn to a DVD with Roxio Toast). We did it as an experiment to see if anybody appreciates having it available.
Q:I thought the Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones remasters sound great on regular systems. Maybe SACD would be better.
A: No, I’m pretty sure they’re still going to have Dylan and the Stones on them.

Continue reading Steve Albini’s 24 Bit Downloads and Home Audio Setup

Popularity: 49% [?]

Wii Transfer - iTunes Music Library on Your Nintendo Wii

Friday, July 6th, 2007

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I scored a Nintendo Wii a few weekends ago. Between Wii Sports Boxing sessions with Paige, my 3 year old (we each won a match), and throwing out my neck driving and putting in Super Swing Golf, I realized that I could use the Wii to send my digital music collection to the living room stereo. We’d been missing music upstairs in the kitchen/dining/living room area. I had even been considering getting a second Airport Express, especially since their price reduction, to handle music in the living room.

To my surprise the Wii can stream music through its Internet Channel. A buddy at my day job recommended Wii Transfer by Riverfold Software to handle this task. Wii Transfer gives you access to both your iTunes music library and iPhoto albums through the Wii’s Opera browser. It can also transcode video files to a format the Wii can understand when copied onto an SD card and viewed through the Photo Channel, and backs up game saves.

Wii Transfer works as advertised though it has some annoying limitations (though some may be the Wii’s limitations):

Continue reading Wii Transfer - iTunes Music Library on Your Nintendo Wii

Popularity: 57% [?]

Blade Runner Final Cut DVD - New DVD Feature Details

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Blade Runner Ultimate Edition Screencap

Following up on my earlier Blade Runner Final Cut post, I found this unofficial product mock up and disc set feature details and that we’ll get the official announcement at the San Diego Comic Con.

Here’s the feature list courtesy of Binary Bonsai:

Disc 1 - The Final Cut (2007):

  • Ridley Scott’s definitive new version of his science-fiction masterpiece includes added & extended scenes, added lines and new and cleaner special effects.

Disc 2 - 3 Complete Film Versions:

Disc 3 - ‘Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner’ Documentary

  • Newly created documentary: Through interviews with the cast and crew, critics and colleagues, this feature-length documentary provides a mainstream-friendly yet meaningful in-depth look at Blade Runner’s literary genesis, its challenging production and controversial legacy. When all is said and done, this will be the definitive documentary on the film.

Disc 4 – Enhanced Content Bonus: (TBC)

  • INCEPTION - Featurettes and galleries devoted to Philip K. Dick, the birth of Cyberpunk and adapting the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
  • PRE-PRODUCTION - Featurettes and galleries devoted to script development, conceptual design and abandoned sequences.
  • PRODUCTION - Featurettes and galleries devoted to principal photography and locations.
  • POST-PRODUCTION - Featurettes and galleries devoted to deleted scenes, music and visual effects.
  • RELEASE - Featurettes and galleries devoted to marketing and reaction including Trailers, TV Spots and Promotional Featurettes
  • LEGACY - Featurettes and galleries devoted to the film’s resurrection and impact.

Disc 5 - Work Print Version & Enhanced Content:

  • Including the rarely seen Work Print version and potentially the 52 min. Channel Four (UK) documentary which was the first serious documentary created for the film.

Additionally, the set will come packaged in a limited ‘Blade Runner’ briefcase holding the five-disc digipack with foil-enhanced and embossed slipcase. The goodies inside will include a lenticular motion image from the original feature, a collectible model spinner, an origami unicorn, a collection of photographs and a letter from Ridley Scott.

When I mentioned that the “Voight-Kampf” brief-cased collector set to Beth over dinner last night, she responded, “Nerd alert, nerd alert… Why the hell does it come with an origami unicorn?” I took her question seriously, “Because the Miami Vice police chief guy [we don't watch Battlestar Galactica] would leave little origami sculptures for Harrison Ford and it somehow meant he was a replicant, though I don’t agree with this interpretation.” Paige concluded the conversation with, “Oooh, unicorns!”

(Via Cyberpunk Review.)

Popularity: 21% [?]

Vinyl + Digital Downloads - Why Not Lossless Digital Audio?

Friday, May 11th, 2007

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Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible was finally released on vinyl (Merge copy: “LP is double 180-gram audiophile quality with three sides of music and an etching on the fourth side.”). I picked up my copy yesterday after work. On the way home I noticed a red sticker on the shrink wrap promising a coupon for digital downloads (pictured above).

Continue reading Vinyl + Digital Downloads - Why Not Lossless Digital Audio?

Popularity: 31% [?]

Major Label Vinyl Disappointment - Dirty Mint LPs

Friday, April 20th, 2007

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The cynic in me blames Capitol Records for Side 1 of the Decemberists’ Crane Wife not sounding its best. I assume the major label cut costs on the vinyl manufacturing and all us crack pot record lovers have to suffer.

When I first pulled the record from its sleeve it caught the light in a way that revealed mold release residue spots like dusty finger prints all over the playing surface. When I spun the record on my Music Hall MMF-5 turntable, it had a definite warp. Dropping the needle confirmed the warps sonic signature: noise, pops and snaps with every 33 1/3 rotation.

Shu-shuk, shu-shuk, pop.

I’ve never heard Crane Wife before, not on CD, MP3 or internet radio. Beyond the rough surface noise the album presented a nice, clean soundstage with good separation between the many layered instruments. Colin McCoy’s voice, though, sounded hard, as in hitting the ceiling flat to the point of caustic distortion. Again, with no reference point, I don’t know if this is in the recording (done with the iZ Tech 24 track RADAR V, 24 bit/192 kHz at Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice), pressing or if I need to bust out the mirror, mini-torques, magnifying glass and bright lights and re-align my cartridge. I hate it when a new software title makes me doubt my hardware, I usually find the hardware was fine all along and the software is just buggy.

This noisy record has inspired me to investigate $40 DIY record cleaner machines again. I hope my local Goodwill has the right components to harvest: ice cream maker, air pump, vacuum cleaner with a 10 amp motor and a turntable platter. If I cannot find the right parts I can always spend $159 on a KAB EV-1 manual RCM.

Just as the turntable’s needle hit the run out groove, Beth arrived home from some quick Target shopping. “This new Decemberists album sounds terrible, so noisy,” I showed her the record and tried to get the right reflection angle so she could see the smudges. “Yeah, that’s bad,” Beth has an expert eye as she used to grade used vinyl for a living in the Nineties. As we were checking it out I also noticed how carelessly the label was affixed to the record and picked off some fine vinyl shavings from the record’s edge. “Plus, it’s warped.”

I slid the record back into its sleeve and returned it to my shelf. I was looking forward to listening to the whole album, but got discouraged in the first 15 minutes. I even pulled out all my acoustic treatments and carefully placed them around the room. Now I had to remove them back to the laundry room storage.

I probably won’t play the album again until I find or build a cleaning solution. This hobby is frustrating and rewarding.

Popularity: 19% [?]

The Future of Recorded Music Media - Not So Fast CD

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

More than a year ago I made a promise to myself that I would stop buying CDs and only buy vinyl and downloads. Since no independent record shops exist in Chicago’s western suburbs (I hope to change that someday soon), this promise has been difficult to keep. The only vinyl source close to my day job is Virgin Megastore, their selection is hit and miss and their prices are normal retail if not a few dollars higher. Other Music owner, Josh Madell, envisions recorded music’s future without CDs, with only downloads and vinyl LPs left. From Wired’s Listening Post:

WN: Do you think CDs and MP3s can co-exist peacefully, sort of like the way vinyl and CDs live in harmony at your store?

Madell: Hard to say. CDs in some ways seem outdated next to MP3s. But as hard drives and players become more powerful and smaller, and internet connections improve, I could imagine CDs becoming of less interest. I think the time is not too far off where some releases come out on vinyl and MP3 only — no CD. But who knows.

Vinyl and downloads of the same album is the perfect blend of ultimate consumer sound quality (vinyl; not to mention album sleeve art, liner notes and resale value) and compromised convenience (digital downloads without the restriction of DRM).

Continue reading The Future of Recorded Music Media - Not So Fast CD

Popularity: 21% [?]

Nirvana - In Utero CD Liner Notes Reveal Tone Control Easter Egg

Monday, March 19th, 2007

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I stopped by Virgin Megastore to fruitlessly shop for Broken Social Scene and TV on the Radio on vinyl Friday. Browsing through the book section I found the 33 1/3 book series. Each book is devoted to a different classic album. I was looking for Pixies Doolittle, but found Nirvana In Utero.

In Utero is one of he most frustrating recordings I own: my favorite Nirvana songs, recorded by Steve Albini and Bob Weston, but mastered for FM radio in a ‘78 Ford Fairmont by Bob Ludwig. To paraphrase Steve Albini’s opinion of the mastering, “…compressed dynamic range, closed down stereo image, reduced bass and treble…” Essentially, the final master approved by the band and Geffen had a sonic bell curve applied to it, appealing to the lowest common denominator.

The 33 1/3 book stated that bootlegs of Albini’s original recording exist and some versions of the vinyl LP contain the original. Searching ebay turns up domestic and UK pressings but no description mention a different mix on either. Nirvana fan sites don’t list the Albini sourced bootleg in their “Outcesticide” series. I’m losing hope that the original mix is available on any recorded media (or is so rare on limited vinyl pressings that it is lost to time).

Continue reading Nirvana - In Utero CD Liner Notes Reveal Tone Control Easter Egg

Popularity: 34% [?]

im in ur dac, clippin ur t00nz

Friday, December 29th, 2006

0 dBFS+.

Ever heard of the above digital audio condition? No? Me neither until I was reading a review of my Panasonic S97 HDMI DVD player by Christine Tham on Audioholics. 0 dBFS+ is illegal (in digital audio). It is a distortion of an audio signal above the absolute digital audio amplification level ceiling of 0 dB. It can hide on your CDs from the original mastering (loudness wars), appear when your digital music files are “normalized” (like iTunes’ and your iPod’s “Sound Check”) and be introduced by an upsampling DAC while converting the signal to analog.

Continue reading im in ur dac, clippin ur t00nz

Popularity: 16% [?]

Join the Vinyl LP Resurgence with the Rega P1 Turntable

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

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Michael Fremer, of Stereophile mag and 21st Century Vinyl DVD fame, sent me this The Business article, "Vinyl Turns the Tables on CDs" printed back in May. The Business's Tony Glover says:

According to music industy figures, sales of vinyl records have soared sixfold between 2001 and 2005. Virgin Megastores reports that vinyl singles of new releases from artists like Arctic Monkeys, the Raconteurs and Pete Doherty now outsell CDs by more than two to one.

So, the question is: Do you have a turntable?

No? Well all the cool kids have one. If you're short on cash and can forsake your next iPod purchase, why not consider the new Rega P1 turntable for only $350 (the "only" is relative to turntable pricing scales, where you can easily spend a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands).

Continue reading Join the Vinyl LP Resurgence with the Rega P1 Turntable

Popularity: 14% [?]

Who Else Wants an Audiophile Trained Ear?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Any audio expert will tell you that the best way to train your ears and brain to recognize fine audio components is to attend live music events. More specifically, live events with no amplification. You could go to the orchestra or a jazz club or a piano bar, whatever. Just get your ear in front of percussion, brass, strings and woods to develop a sense memory of these live events. For me this hasn't been very easy, I don't have the time or resources (or taste) to seek out these events.

Instead I stumble across live music that is unnecessarily amplified. If anything, these music sessions are ruining my ears instead of improving. Some examples:

Continue reading Who Else Wants an Audiophile Trained Ear?

Popularity: 23% [?]