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June 19th: UHF 96 goes to pressmini96
     We know you've been waiting for it, and it will soon be here. Issue No. 96 went to press at Transcontinental this morning. Now the press people have it in hand, and we're eagerly waiting for it.
     There have been some changes in the lineup, and we'll update the Reading Room preview. We'll also prepare
Maggie's electronic version, and also the incomplete but free version. We'll let you know as soon as they're available.
     We'll be busy over the summer, working on issue No. 97. Target date: late September. We already have some reviews lined up. We expect to review two more DACs. Paul Bergman will be taking a look inside the Blu-ray disc…including the 4K version which has been announced. And Kather Lieber is preparing a retrospective of Ole Blue Eyes. You know who we mean.
     We've added a number of products to our Audiophile Store. We've been forced, alas, to raise some prices, because the Canadian dollars has followed the oil prices downward. Then again, remember that all our prices are in Canadian dollars.


June 11th: New LPs at the Audiophile Storeswing
     We've received a good stock of new titles, and we've put them on line at
our LP Store. There are new LPs from the usual (well-appreciated) sources, such as Reference Recordings and Opus 3. We even have a copy of Dick Hyman's From the Age of Swing (at right), which even Reference no longer has.But there are plenty of other from other labels. All are curated, which means there's nothing there we wouldn't recommend to our friends
     Among the goodies are Jennifer Warnes (The Well), Ricki Lee Jones (the original self-titled album), Peter, Paul & Mary (Album 1400), Mary Black (No Frontiers), Simon and Garfunkel (Bookends), plus Leonard Cohen and Count Basie.
     We also have our favorite set of complete Bach cello suites, that of Janos Starker. They were the best on Mercuty in the 60's, and they still are.
     Some time ago, we had warned you that, with the dropping value of the Canadian dollar (largely tied to the price of resources), our store prices would have to rise. And some have. But we've made some special purchases, and some LP prices have actually dropped. All prices are of course in Canadian dollars, curretnly trading around $0.80 USD.
     Also remember that LPs are now pressed in small numbers. If we run out of stock, we'll try to get more, but we may not be able to.


June 10th: Apple Music (but...)
     On June 8th, all eyes were once again on Apple and its World Wide Developers Conference.The presentation, by Apple CEO Tim Cook, was one of the longest we could remember. After the crew had gone over iOS9 and OS X El Capitan, Tim Cook announced "just one more thing." That one more thing was Apple Music.applemusic
     Apple is the world's largest music retailer, and it has been for years. Of late, however, its iconic iTunes store has been overtaken by streaming services, notably Spotify, Rdio and Pandora. When Apple paid 3.5 billion dollars for Beats Music, which included the Beats Music streaming service, it was clear that Apple was planning its own streaming service. Monday the service was launched.
     Naturally, the other companies in the streaming business "welcomed" Apple, though clearly convinced that Apple Music was too little , too late. Are they right? Apple has a history of moving into a market that already exists, and taking it over. Think iPod, iMusic, iPhone and iPad. But it has had failures too.
     But Apple is starting from a position of strength: it has a tremendous number of customers, and it has the world's biggest music catalog. More details will come out between now the and the time Apple Music goes live (at the end of June, in some 126 countries), but Apple seemed to be saying that the entire catalog would be available for streaming. If true, that would be a huge advantage. An "all-you-can-eat" service is of little use if there isn't anything you want on the menu.
     The service will be free for three months, and will then cost $10/year (in the US, of course), or $15 for a family membership, with up to 10 people having their own preferences and playlists. There is no free version, and that may be significant. Spotify does have a free version, ad supported, which is what most of its customers are on. But artists get a mere pittance from free streaming. Taylor Swift, notably, has pulled all her music off Spotify. Now who's taking music without paying for it?
     A film shown at WWDC seemed to promise that music would be treated as an art form rather than a digital commodity. If that should turn out to mean a better deal for artists, Spotify, which is bleeding money, could begin bleeding content.
     To be continued.


May 29th: Lighting your listening room
     Perhaps you like to listen to music in the dark, but probably not. After all, you need good light to read the tiny print on CD booklets. But if you're still using incandescent or quartz bulbs for light, you're throwing away money that would buy you more music.
     Light bulbs, as we have known them, were invented in the 19th century by Thomas Edison, who also came up with the phonograph. They are short-lived (typically 750 to 1,500 hours), and nearly all the electricity you pour into them turns into heat, not light. Have you noticed how warm your listening room gets? It's not just your power amplifier.
     At the start of 2015, production of incandescent bulbs became illegal in many countries, and a lot of stores laid in supplies. Don't buy them. A $1.49 bulb, over its mercifully short lifetime, can waste $30 of electricity.
     You probably don't like those curly compact fluorescents either. They're more efficient, sure, but they produce a light with peaky color response, and parts of the spectrum are missing entirely. They can even interfere with remote controls (read the label). They're also loaded with mercury. Break one, and you need a Haz-Mat suit to deal with it. And what do you do with them once they finally die?ledbulb
     We recommend LED bulbs. They have a normal spectrum, and their 25,000 life helps offset their higher cost (that means less time spent on a ladder too). Over our main desk at UHF is a trio of baby spots. The old quartz bulbs burned 50 watts each. Our new LED bulbs? Eleven watts each. Do the math.
     Most of the new LED bulbs are dimmable, but some older ones are not. Check the label.
     Shold you use a dimmer in a listening room? Old dimmers used to inject noise into the same power line your music system was drinking from. The newest ones are much better. Some modern dimmers are specially made for LED bulbs, with an input/output curve that is better suited to the new technology.
     Do you still have a cupboard full of incandescent bulbs? Don't "use them until they burn out." Don't give them to your friends, either. That wouldn't be nice.


May 15th: 4K content comingLogoBluRay
     You've seen those UHD (Ultra High Definition) TV sets, better known as 4K. The demos look great, but will your existing Blu-ray or DVD films look any better?
     Good news...possibly. The format for a future Blu-ray has been set, and the first 4K players should be available in time to make it onto Santa's sleigh. We would expect the discs to be both scarce and expensive at first. But film buffs will love the new format. Streaming services such as Netflix will offer 4K as well, but with extremely high compression that will pretty much nullify the advantage.
     Resolution aside (4K has, of course, four times as many pixels as Blu-ray), the new discs will offer a higher frame rate, for smoother motion, and an extended color gamut and tonal range for better shadow detail.
     What about compatibility, you ask?
     The new players will play older discs, no problem there. But will the new discs have an extra data layer allowing them to be played on conventional Blu-ray players, in the same way SACD can be played on normal CD players? No word on that yet.


May 8th: Cables that cost like cars
     Just as we prepare our latest
Flash Sale for this weekend of May 8th, which features a bargain price on loudspeaker cables made of monocrystal copper, we get a press release reminding us that, when it comes to cables, the sky's the limit. It's from Nordost.odin2
     Nordost is, of course, known for making cables for the 1%. The Odin 2, shown here costs a breathtaking $30,000 a pair. But wait, that's for a one-metre pair, a length few people are likely to use. Add another half metre, and you've just added $4,000 to your purchase. So, for the very common 3 m cables, we're looking at $46,000. Of course, if you want to bi-wire...
     Naturally, the other Odin 2 cables announced at the same time are not being given away either. The power cord alone costs $17,000, and that's for a 1.25 m length.
     Well look, we did review a very expensive Nordost cable some years back, and we liked it a lot. It's not up to us to tell you whether you should spend that much on cables. All we can tell you is what we think you are likely to hear if you listen to this or that cable. We can also say that the Odin 2 cables are beyond our present budget.

IN OTHER MATTERS: In our last blog entry we told you that among our final reviews was one actually intended for the issue after the next one. It was of the Audiomat Maestro 3 digital-to-analog converter. It turned out that we had to do a little shuffling, and the review of the Maestro will be in our next issue, number 96.
     Which is very close to going into production. We'll update the table of contents and of course the magazine cover, and we'll let you know when it goes to press,

April 24th: Finishing up the magazine, starting the nextmaestro3
     We're rushing around to get UHF No. 96 to the presses, but we're also beginning work on 97. Two of the products that will be featured in that issue are already in and undergoing the usual rounds of run-in. Two of them are DACs, digital-to-analog converters.
     One of them is shown here, the Audiomat Maestro 3, from France. We last reviewed a Maestro DAC years ago, when the available technology was in its infancy, at least by comparison. And our digital systems were primitive too. We listened to it using a CD player as a transport.
     Nowadays, of course, our digital playback is computer-based, and we're eager to hear for ourselves what Audiomat can bring to the table.
     We'll be starting the listening sessions next week. First, we have pages to finish up for UHF 96

BY THE WAY: Speaking of DACs, you won't want to overlook t
his weekend's Flash Sale. You have until Monday at 10 am..


April 16th: Simaudio's 35thdurrant
     We remember when it was called Sima Audio, and it consisted mainly of Victor Sima, designing and assembling mostly pro gear, and not yet having discovered the audiophile world. A lot has happened over those 35 years, and on Tuesday Simaudio, now one of the workd's major makers of high-end audio gear, had a party to celebrate. Juno-nominee Melanie Durrant was on hand to sing.
     We hadn't toured the building since its official opening, and what had changed was its two listening rooms, which have have received major acoustical treatment. The gear is all Simaudio's Moon series, except for the loudspeakers, which are respectively Dynaudios and Wilson Sashas. The latter room sounds especially terrific.
     The Montreal newspaper La Presse chose that particular day to publish a long article on the paucity of made-in Quebec electronic products, and deplored that, except for loudspeaker-maker Totem, there are no high-end audio companies in Quebec. It's called research, people. And there's a little company called Google that could possibly give you a hand with that.

BY THE WAY: On this weekend's
Flash Sale, get a Moon CD player with digital input, plus one of our favorite interconnect cables, all at a bargain price. And Saturday is Record Store Day. We have some special prices on selected LPs.


April 13th: Audiophile Boutique back upLogoaudiophileboutique
     When we finally moved our Web site to WHC after the catastrophic meltdown of our longtime Web host, we concentrated on our main pages, including those of The Audiophile Store. Left for later is our special product section, called The Audiophile Boutique. It features such products as a Thorens turntable, a glorious Mastersound tube integrated amplifier, and a CD player and monoblocks from Simaudio.
     It's now back up
in a new corner of our main site. That's temporary, but then again perhaps it should be permanent. We gave it its own URL way back when because we want to distinguish it from the magazine. But why? When you have a brand, you stay with it.
     Anyway, the Boutique is back on line, and perhaps it will stay where it is.

April 9th: Goodbye Future Shop
     While we were away (because our longtime Web host had closed up), we got news of another closing: Canada's Future Shop big box stores.futureshop
     You might think that this of little interest to fans of genuine high fidelity, but that's not so. Aside from the fact that the stores carried high-end TV sets, such as Samsung plasmas, and even MartinLogan electrostatic speakers, it was also where we bought, at a discount, the Mac mini computer that is at the heart of our reference systems,
     Still, the closing has both more and less than meets the eye.
     Future Shop belonged to the US megachain Best Buy. When that company moved into Canada some years back, it was planning to compete hard against an established Canadian chain, Future Shop. But competition costs money, and Best Buy decided it would be cheaper to buy the whole chain. Which it did. Oddly enough, it then built Best Buy stores within a stone's throw of Future Shop stores, thus giving the illusion tof a competitive market.
     The world is changing, however. The two chains moved on line, but they were then right up against Amazon. In the US, Best Buy is in some trouble, and plans to close some large stores in favor of small ones selling cell phones. (Good move...note how well that worked for Radio Shack!)
     Hence the keelhauling of Future Shop. There's a parallel with the recent closing of Target Canada after little more than two years and the waste of $5 billion. Target is also in difficulty in its home market, and could not carry its Canadian division, whose management appeared to be brain-dead anyway.
     Is this the end of the big box store? Ask Costco, which keeps purring along, despite the relative high salaries it pays its employees. Some executives blame "the economy," when actually they could learn a lot by just looking in the mirror.

April 8th: Montreal show blog finally on line
     By now you know why we didn't blog the Montreal show during the show. Just before the show opened, our Web hosting company closed down. Without warning. We were days with no site.
     First priority was of course getting the main site back on line, and quashing the
inevitable rumours that we were the ones who had gone belly up. We've now caught up with the show blog, and here it is.

showwindow

     As you'll see if you didn't know already, it was the smallest Montreal show ever. Unable to go on working with its new owners, Sarah Tremblay, who describes the show as "her baby," resigned.
     Nearly all our site is back up, though one small corner of it is not, and Maggie says her electronic magazine section got thoroughly trashed, and will need work.
     We're on it!

March 31st: UHF back from the void
     It happened Tuesday evening. Our Web site, which has existed since 1996 and has been hosted by the same company for 13 years, just wasn't there anymore. Planet Velocity, which had been hosting it, folded its tent and moved on into the desert.planetvelocityjpeg
     And therefore so did we.
     Planet Velocity was not one of those tiny hosting sites. It had a presence on three continents. We had no idea they would fold, and they didn't give us any warning.
     The timing was not optimum, and that's for sure. We were preparing for the Montreal Salon (held this past weekend), and having no site was not much fun. We signed up with Web Hosting Canada, which also hosts the site of the city of Montreal, Desjardins, etc. As of this morning, our site came back up.
     Depending on where you are, you may not see the site for a couple of days. The worldwide DNS servers, which translate site names into their numeric equivalents, don't get the message at the same time.
     We think we're now fully back on. Our other site, that of the Audiophile Boutique, is not yet up, but it will be shortly. And Maggie (the nice lady who sends out the electronic issues of UHF) says her part of the site got trashed but good. If you're trying to download an issue you've bought from her, let us know, and we'll fix it for you.
     Oh yes, about the Montreal show. It didn't exactly cheer us up in this dark week. More on that shortly.

 


March 25th: Is music streaming really winning?
     You may have seen this in your local paper, or (more likely) the Internet. Revenue from streamed music is now greater than that from physical media, specifically CDs . Surprised? But it isn't true. The dice are loaded.riaalogo
     Let's look first of all at those figures. They come from the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America. Yes, the same people who have been known to
claim that you are "stealing music" if you transfer a CD you have paid for to your iPod. Streaming brought in $1.87 billion in 2014, and CD shipments brought in only $1.85 billion. Notice how this figure doesn't seem to cover other physical media, such as Blu-ray or LP.
     Did we mention that these figures are only for the USA? Most mainstream news media seem to have missed that.
     That's not all they missed. What are these "streaming media" of which they speak? Yes, of course they include Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, Beats Music and others. Some of them are USA-only, but we won't belabor the point.
     The more relevant point is that the total also includes YouTube and Sirius XM. If we're going to include them, why not also include over-the-air radio, which has been around since 1919? Include them, and "streaming" is an even bigger winner. And always has been.
     By the way, the LP's share of physical media shipments is now 14%. That's USA-only, and it's from the RIAA. Would you like salt on those figures?


 

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