October 18th: New street address
Over the years, UHF has had several address changes. We had just had our stationery printed, and the city of Longueuil renumbered all the street addresses. We got a box number (box 316, remember that one?), but the post office where the box was located closed down. Our next postal box was shut down too. We reverted to our street address, but...well, you can see what's happened. They've renamed the whole street.
There was a reason for the name of the street. The large house where UHF is located was once the home of the chief engineer of the Victoria Bridge over the Saint Lawrence river. It was built around 1850
One of our neighbors, however, was Jean Béliveau, a famous and beloved hockey player with the legendary Montreal Canadiens. After his death in December 2014, the city renamed the street.
But we haven't moved...even if our address keeps moving around.
October 13th: Bad turntable design
There are more turntables on the market now than there have ever been before, For those who love vinyl, that's great, but it turns out there are more turntable models than there are competent turntable designers.
One of the principles that every designer should know is that the record, platter, tone arm, cartridge and arm should form as rigid a block as possible. It can't be perfect, because the turntable and arm bearings are in the loop. Then there are designs like the one you see here.
The Mag Lev Audio turntable is not yet on the market. It's another of those Kickstarter projects, seeking funds from the eventual buyers. It's eye-catching, no question about that. The player floats magnetically over the plinth. Trouble is, the tone arm doesn't. This is another sad example of a turntable that has been designed to look good, not sound good.
The Mag-Lev is expected to ship in August 2017, but if we were you we would look elsewhere.
October 12th: Evolving HDMI cables
The HDMI link now used universally for digital television (the only kind there is today), got off to a rocky start, lo those many years ago. The system was so unreliable that many professional installers refused to recommend it, preferring the vastly inferior component connection (the one with the four colored wires), which is analog. The reason: they didn't want calls at 11 pm from customers whose TV sets weren't working.
HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface, and its existence has as much to do with intellectual property protection as quality. Because HDMI can carry such high-resolution signals, such as a 4K film image, the “content providers,” such as film studios, want to insure you can't use it to download the raw data. Two HDMI devices, such as a Blu-ray player and a television set, must “handshake,” to certify that each complies with HDCP, the content protection system.
Making an HDMI cable is expensive, because the licensing fee is so high as to be out of reach for small specialty manufacturers. What's more, the standard has evolved, making some older cables obsolete. Not so long ago, HDMI 1.3a was the ultimate version. We're now up to HDMI 2.1. Behind the scenes, HDCP has also evolved, and some older cables may no longer work. The cable now needs enough to bandwidth to pass 3D movies, 4K and deep color. To make things even more complicated, newer cables have an extra twisted pair of wires to carry bidirectional Ethernet.
There are still older HDMI cables out there. Our advice: don't throw out the bill before you are certain that the cable does what you need.
October 7th: Next for TV: quantum dots
We may still use a plasma screen in our home cinema reference system, but most of the industry has moved on. The vast majority of TV sets in stores now use liquid crystal screens, usually called LCD. Only they're not called LCD, but LED (light-emitting diode). And it's a misnomer.
Nearly all of those screens are still of the LCD type. But instead of being backlit by the unnatural rays of a fluorescent lamp, they're backlit by an array of edge light-emitting diodes, which illuminate a white background. It's a major advantage, yielding better color and much longer life, but the LCD disadvantage remains. An LCD that is turned “off” is never completely opaque, and so blacks are rendered as greys.
The quantum dot screens being launched by Samsung still suffer from imperfect blacks, but the lighting will be far more even. Instead of a series of LEDs deployed along the edges of the screen, the quantum dots will actually emit light, being essentially a fine array of very tiny LEDs.
That shouldn't be confused with either OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes), which actually emit light themselves, or lasers, which are used in some high-end projectors.
Lots more details on these screen technologies in UHF No. 98, coming soon.
October 1st: Don't go to a show without this
Among us (there are six of us in the UHF team, we have toured hundreds of shows. And you know it works. You sit in a room listening to a piece of music you especially like, and you ask to see the sleeve. Or the CD booklet. In a lot of cases, the music resides on a computer, and the exhibitor isn't sure what the music is, because the person who knows is out for coffee.
Let us introduce you to Shazam.
Shazam is an app (as in, there's an app for that), residing on your iPhone or Android device. You open the app, push the Shazam button, and within seconds it identifies the music, the artist, and the album. You can see the cover art, and in some cases Shazam will even show you the lyrics. If compressed music is your thing, you can tap another button, and download the music from iTunes or Google Play. Naturally, you need an Internet connection, either from the hotel's wifi or from your own data plan.
How does it work? Shazam uses the same Gracenote on-line data base that your computer looks up when you rip a CD to your hard drive. It seldom happens that the music is so obscure that Gracenote won't find it. Astonishingly enough, you can rip an LP to a digital file, and Gracenote (and therefore Shazam) will still find it. As the great science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, any technology that is suffciently advanced will be indistinguishable from magic.
Shazam is free for both iOS and Android platforms, but it includes ads, most of them for music. The paid version, called Shazam Encore, is ad-free. It also has a memory cache, so that it will store what it hears even if you don't have access to the Internet, and then look it up once you're back on the net.
BY THE WAY: It's the weekend, and that means our Flash Sale is open over at The Audiophile Store. It runs through Monday morrning, and the specials include high-end connectors, as well as our favorite interconnect cable.
September 30th: Audio in the Rockies
Before we get to the Toronto and New York shows, there's the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, better known as RMAF. It's in Denver starting October 7th, and it has long been considered, along with the Montreal Salon, North America's most enjoyable high-end shows.
What makes an audio show enjoyable? Good organization, for one thing. An appropriate venue, easy to get to, with room acoustics that are not downright horrible. And a good variety of exhibitors who appear to be having a good time. If a number of the designers of your favorite gear are present...well, it can't hurt.
And music. Lots and lots of music.
This year's RMAF may be a little less pleasant, because the Marriott Tech Center, the venue for the Fest, is undergoing renovations. If you're a visitor and you booked a room, you may have been moved to another hotel. The last Montreal Salon, among its other troubles (we're looking at you, Chester Group), was in a hotel that was also being refurbished. Still, the spirit of a show is more important than the hallways.
Check the RMAF Web site for exhibitors and events.
September 29th: Two high-end shows coming up
And we'll be covering one of them. It's TAVES, which stands for...well, it used to stand for Toronto Audio Visual Entertainment show, but that's no longer spelled out, perhaps because it isn't really in Toronto any more. As last year, it will be in Richmond Hill. There was grumbling about that last year from audiophiles who didn't live north of the 401. However, the rooms are cheaper, parking is free, and a number of potential exhibitors have their headquarters in the area anyway.
Although high-end audio is the main focus, there will be much more: virtual reality, robotics, 3D printing and video gaming. You can check out the details at the TAVES Web site.
And now the New York show.
It takes place the weekend following TAVES, and that's the first red flag. Exhibitors already think there are too many shows, and holding one right after the other is asking for trouble. The other red flag is that the organizer is the now infamous Chester Group.
Remember the Chester Group? It ran the long successful Montreal Salon into the ground, actually cancelling the 2015 edition with just 10 days warning. All was well, finally, with the show's original owners swooping to save it at the last moment. But a number of high end exhibitors across North America can't pronounce the name of the Chester Group without scowling.
So will the New York show actually run? Here, in approximate English, is an excerpt from the press release. See what you think.
Sustaining a High End Audio Show in New York City given the massive costs is the reason why previous organisers have pulled out. (...) The Hotel we have chosen ‘wants’ this show and we are already planning ahead so the industry needs to have ‘no doubt’ it will continue to be organised providing of course if they are prepared to support it.
That sounds positive...except for the "providing of course" part. But if you want to keep an eye on it, the show does have a Web site.
September 16th: The Uberization of audio
It hasn’t been so long that selling merchandise on the Internet has been a thing. And the high-end audio industry has been resisting it. After all, the higher prices of true hi-fi over mass market could be justified only if the true hi-fi gear was truly superior. How could anyone know it was better unless it was demonstrated. Demonstration was what the dealer was there for.
But then there was a new phenomenon called showrooming. You’d go to a dealer for a demo, and then you’d order on line from Amazon. Or you’d buy from a small Internet dealer, perhaps operating from his parents’ basement, who had almost no expenses, and could undercut any dealer. The basement dealer might or might not supply a factory warranty, but the price was right.
Call it the Uberization of audio. Just as now just anyone can be a taxi driver, anyone can be an audio dealer. Naturally, the dealers with storefronts, who have to pay rent and salaries, are suffering. More than that, they’re going out of business.
One company, Klipsch, has decided to get tough. It has been suing unauthorized sellers, and has gotten US federal courts to freeze five million dollars of assets of some dealers while awaiting judgments. But it has gone further, terminating factory-authorized dealers who supply the “pirates” with stock. This is a major operation: the dealer network will shrink from 50 to a mere 10. Wow!
In many a case manufacturers are the architects of their own misfortunes. They impose quotas on dealers: they need to buy, let’s say, $100,000 a year of stock in order to remain dealers. If a dealer can sell only $80,000 of that product, what will he do with the rest?
Of course he will. Wouldn’t you?
June 23rd: Technics tables for all
Is vinyl coming back into fashion, or what? Bryston has a turntable of its own, and now Technics has brought back one of its legendary direct-drive turntables, the SL1200.
We first saw it at CES in January. Back then it was a collectors'item, with only 1200 of them to be produced. The launch must have been successful, because Panasonic has put the table into full production.
These Technics tables have been especially sought after by deejays, because the platter gets to full speed in less than a quarter turn, something you can't achieve with belt-drive.
The relaunch has led to a call for Panasonic to bring back its one-time flagship, the Technics SP10. No word on that yet, but Technics, a long dormant brand, now has a range of two-channel audio products, from amplifiers to loudspeakers.
June 10th: Bryston spins records
It's not as though Bryston has ignored vinyl all these years. It makes a number of preamplifiers with phono stages. It used to make, and has now brought back, its MC-cartridge stepup transformer—in fact we own one. But perhaps it's a sign of the times that it now has its own turntable, the BLP-1.
It's a belt-driven turntable, with the motor driven by Bryston's own pulse width modulation power supply. The platter is made of Delrin, a Dupont polymer chosen for its ability to damp out vibrations. The record mat is part of the platter.
The BLP-1 has its own tone arm, made from titanium, with tungsten steel bearings. The headshell is not removable, to enhance rigidity. On the other hand, the tone arm cable is removable, which means you can use whatever cable you want.
With the release of this $4000 table, Bryston can boast a complete branded system...but for one detail. No cartridge is included. The one shown in Bryston's photo appears to be a Benz Micro Glider. Bryston says it will work to identify the available cartridges that will best match its table, tone arm and phono preamplifiers.
Will there be a Bryston-branded cartridge? We'd be surprised if the company isn't thinking about it.
Hundreds of recommended products at The Audiophile Store
Bargains on used, discontinued and specially-purchased products atThe Audiophile Boutique
Have you taken our quick hi-fi course?