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March 3rd: A glass optical cablemavrosoptical
     There's a lot to be said for connecting your music source (computer, Airport Express, etc.) to your digital-to-analog converter with a TOSLINK optical cable instead of a copper wire (coaxial, USB, etc.). Our Audiophile Store catalog does in fact include optical cables. We chose them because they're well made and they're good value. But are some optical cables better than others?
     Yes...if they're made of glass rather than plastic.
     This isn't something we've taken on faith. You know us, we actually listen to the products we offer. We'll have a review of the Atlas Mavros optical cable in UHF No. 96, but you can already
read it right here. (a review of the Gershman anti-vibration devices is also included.)
     The glass optical cable costs more than 10 times the price of the plastic version, but it offers performance that can rival other connection methods, even USB.
     In our own Omega reference system, we use an Airport Express to funnel HDCD-encoded music from an Airport express to a Moon Attraction DAC. The improvement was striking.
     The Mavros glass optical cable is available from our cable page in 1.5 or 3 metre lengths.


Have you seen our in-depth article on using
your computer as a high-end music source?
It's in issue 95,
And Maggie has your electronic copy, for $4.


February 6th: Goodbye Radio ShackRadioShack
     You've probably seen the news: Radio Shack, which has been flirting with bankuptcy proceedings for some time, is coming to terms with the obvious, and is about to disappear. Its hapless management has made mistakes that would put your local convenience store to shame.
     At one time, it was Radio Shack that had the latest and greatest gadgets. Many a letter to santa drew on its bright and colorful annual catalog. Even in hi-fi, it did better than you might have guessed. If you were going to use a receiver instead of an expensive high-end amplifier, you could have done worse than one of its Realistic-branded receivers, the best of which were engineered by Onkyo.
     And if you needed a transistor, a connector or a chip, for a DIY project or a repair, or if your exotic European electronics had blown a fuse, help was as close as Radio Shack. But that was a long time ago. The catalog is gone, and so are nearly all the products that made Radio Shack such fun. A few years back, the management thought it was a good idea to bring in lots of cell phones (because they're so hard to find elsewhere). The stores became predictable and boring. And dirty.
     The fund that bailed out the company a few months back (they don't ask us for financial advice, and we don't offer it) is taking over the stores. Some will be ceded to Sprint, a cell phone provider. Amazon may be interested in turning them into local pickup centres. The rest will get those ubiquitous For Rent signs.
     In Canada, the former Radio Shack stores were long ago sold to the Circuit City electronics chain. When that company folded, Bell Canada picked up the stores, now known as The Source. They have lots of Bell phones, of course, plus the sort of gadgets Radio Shack once had.
     And fuses for your exotic gear, too.

January 30th: Our dropping dollarloonie
     Oil prices have dropped sharply, which has delighted those of us who own cars. But we're in Canada, a major oil-producing country, and cheap oil means a cheap Canadian dollar. Or, from our standpoint, an expensive US dollar. Reality dictates that a number of the products on
our Audiophile Store will be rising in price. We're just giving you a heads-up. Buy now, because next week we'll begin revising prices.
     And if you're in the US or Europe, remember that our prices are in (the ailing) Canadian dollar. If you order with a credit card, the amount will be converted to your own currency on your credit card statement.
     But, just to buck the trend, we've just lowered some of the prices over at our Audiophile Boutique. In particular, that includes the Moon CD3.3 and CD3.3X. Unlike most players, they include digital inputs, so that you can use the 24/192 DAC with your computer or other digital source. This is not a Flash Sale (though we do have a Flash Sale each weekend), but a price drop...while quantities last, of course.


January 16th: Sony stores closesonystore
     The disappearance of Sony's corporate stores has been a slow process. Canada alone once had 80 Sony stores in the better shopping malls. It now has 14, and they'll be winding down. The US stoes are also on the chopping block.
     It's no secret that Sony has been struggling of late, trying to find its identity. It's tempting to say that it's e-commerce that is responsible for the demise of the bricks-and-mortar stores. But Apple has a huge presence on line and in big box stores, and its stores are the most successful in the history of retailing. To put that into context, Apple Stores sell twice as much per suqare foot of space than the runner-up. And the runner-up is Tiffany.
     Still, it's definitely true that you don't need a Sony store to find Sony products.
     Interesting that this news breaks at the same time as the announcements that Target is closing its Canadian stores after a feeble two years of effort, and Radio Shack in the US will be entering bankruptcy protection.
     By the way, we're back from CES. and our office is humming once again.

January 5th: Vegas show underwaysharp
     CES Unveiled, the first of the Vegas press events, was held last night, and today was a day well filled with press conferences: Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Sharp, and oh yes, Hisense, with its new laser TV. You can follow along on
our CES blog.
     But the day's not ever yet. Tonight, Pepcom presents Digital Experience, an off-site showcase of companies that want to meet journalists and are willing to pay for food and drink for us. We plan to take the bait, and let you know what we see.
     Tomorrow (Tuesday), the main show begins.

 


January 1st: Off to VegasSkeleton
     Who is this grinning gentleman? Or perhaps lady?
     Why, that's our skeleton crew, in charge of the office while we fly off to the fleshpots of Las Vegas for International CES.
The show preview (pretty short as we write this) is already on line, and we will be putting flesh on the bones as the show proceeds.
     We suspect they're celebrating at the Consumer Electronics Association, organizers of CES. For a couple of decades, now, they've had to put up with an alternative high-end organization, known as T.H.E.Show. It's been floating from venue to venue, much like CES itself, and offering exhibitors lower rates and even a free lunch. In recent years it has called the Flamingo hotel-casino home. Only it's been shrinking, and now it's gone.
     But we don't mean to suggest that CES execs have been breaking out the bubbly for any reason other than the calendar change. High-end audio is a small part of CES, and the organizers pay relatively little attention to it...which was the argument put forth by T.H.E.Show for their own efforts.
     The festivities begin Saturday with CES Unveiled, a showcase of technology (though in fact it's paid for, not curated). The press day takes place Sunday, with wall-to-wall press conferences, some of them actually important. And the first of the show's four days will be Monday.
     We'll be there, and blogging about it.

December 19th: LevitationLVC
     To be frank, we've seen this trick before: you use a pair of magnets to levitate an amplifier or some other piece of audio gear so that it seems to float, and it is therefore decoupled from vibration sources. The apparent flaw is that the magnetic field can transmit energy up as well as down.
     And so we were skeptical when Gershman Acoustics (of loudspeaker fame) sent us a set of their LVC pods. Most anti-vibration devices we've tried just don't work. Sorbothane, for instance, looks as though it should be great, but it is totally useless. Appearances can be deceiving.
     But we had a set on hand, and we tried them under a Copland CTA-405B tube amplifier, which you'll see reviewed in UHF No. 96. Our jaws dropped. Terrific as this amp was, it was even better with levitation.
     Could we have the pods for
our Audiophile Store? Yes we could. And we have them in stock.
     Frankly, we're still astonished.


Have you dropped by our Audiophile Boutique?
It's loaded with new and refurbished Moon products from Simaudio.
Amplifiers, preamplifiers, monoblocks, DACs, CD players with digital inputs,
all with factory warranties.

 


December 19th: UHF 96 covermini96
     It's done, and so naturally you want us to share it with you, right? Here it is.
     The loudspeaker on the cover, only about a third of which you can see, is the Reference 3a Nefes. When we agreed to take it, it was the company's flagship. Since then, it has been joined by a more expensive château-sized model.
     Also reviewed in the new issue is the Copland CTA-405-B amplifier. This is the newest version of an amp we fell in love with years ago. We loved it this time too.
     We are currently listening to two music streaming systems, one from Bryston, the other from Simaudio (we had taken a first look at the second one in issue No. 95. We have some cables, including an optical Toslink cable made of glass, not acrylic. We'll check out the Oppo BDP-103 player, first as an audio source, and then as a Blu-ray source. (Spoiler alert: we bought it.). We'll have show reports. We'll have a feature on Russian music. And Paul Bergman is nearly done with a feature on the art of the tone arm. It contains info we bet you didn't know....even if you're a tone arm designer!
     Coming soon, in both print and electronic versions.

December 19th: Vegas preview on lineCESarch
     CES comes to Las Vegas once again in January, and UHF will be there. The actual show opens on the 6th, but there are press events (a lot of them) on the 4th and 5th.
     As usual, Ground Zero for CES is the Las Vegas Convention Centre, but the high-end audio exhibits are mostly at the Venetian hotel and casino, right on the Las Vegas strip. What's different this year is that the rebel show, known as T.H.E.Expo, a thorn in the side of CES (one year, CES got T.H.E.'s shuttle driver arrested for trespassing) is no more. It had a 16-year run, but, truth to tell, it had been sinking year after year.
     We will be blogging from CES, of course, and
the preview is already on line. Watch for regular updates, from home and from Vegas.
     As usual, while we're gone partying with the big dogs, a skeleton staff will be taking care of our headquarters.
 


December 15th: Our best-selling issuecomputeraudio1
     Could UHF No. 95 turn out to be the best-selling issue of all time? Perhaps not. That honor would go to issue No. 58, which has long been sold out. The reason for that issue's popularity is the article on building one's own record-cleaning machine. There are now more such machines available than ever, and that has forced prices down a little. Still, our machine cost us just $150, and a clever tinkerer with a few power tools could easily shave a few dollars from that.
     Just before you ask, we repeat that the issue is now out of print. There is no electronic version, because it wasn't until issue No. 68 that we began assembling the magazine purely by computer, with no films or other physical materials. And no, we're not going to start sending out photocopies.
     The good news is that issue No. 95 probably won't ever be out of "print," because a lot of the sales are of Maggie's electronic version. It's just $4, and is available from
our usual back issues page.
     The reason for the popularity of UHF No. 95 is obvious, the article shown at right. It distills everything we know (so far) about making your computer an important part of your music system. We also explain why you should do it, and it's about a lot more than mere convenience. We decided on a long article rather than, say, a book, because what we think today may not be what we'll think two years from now. Computer audio is a moving target. There are constant new innovations, but a lot of bogus dead ends too. As always, we try to help you steer your way through the confusing road signs.
     As for us, we're using a dedicated computer (a Mac mini), nestled among all our other audio components. And our digital sound is better than ever.
     Of course, we still like to break out an LP now and again. And we have an interesting article about that coming up in UHF No. 96.

December 2nd: T.H.E.Show folds 'emflamingo
     At least the Las Vegas version has thrown its cards on the table. Over a period of 16 years, T.H.E.Show (the name stands for The Home Entertainment Show) has been the nemesis of International CES, the giant consumer electronics show that takes place in Vegas in early January. The high-end exhibits, which are now largely at the Venetian complex, are but a small part of CES, and so an alternative high-end show doesn't bite very deeply into the CES bottom line. Still, CES has been swatting at this fly for years. The Flamingo hotel-casino, which T.H.E.Show has been calling home, is a short walk away from the Venetian.
     It used to be worse. Back when the high-end part of CES was at the Alexis Park, a long way from anywhere, T.H.E.Expo (as it was then called) was right next door. There was worse. One year, the rebel show set up a shuttle between itself and Alexis Park, and CES got the shuttle driver arrested for "trespassing."
     But that's over now. T.H.E. Show will concentrate what is now its only other venue, in California next May. That leaves a question mark. CES forbids sales during its four-day run. The exception was The Marketplace at Alexis Park, where record companies and several other small companies had sales booths. When CES left Alexis Park, T.H.E.Show took it over. So what happens to The Marketplace now?
     Our guess? CES has bigger fish to fry, and will be frying them.

November 28th: A warm amplifiercoplandouvert
     We've been busy listening to new products, and writing up the results for our next issue, UHF No. 96 (coming soon).
     One of them is the new incarnation of the Copland CTA-405 amplifier (it has a "B") after the model name. When we tested the original one, some five years back, we fell in love with it. It won our affections this time around as well, and we'll have all the details, as usual, in the new issue. The test sessions are mostly done, in fact, and we'll tell you more about them. We're just setting up the final ones.
     You can also expect a feature on 4K television, a quick-moving format, and why you should -- or should not -- think about buying one. And we'll have a feature by Paul Bergman on tone arm design. It should help explain why arms often look alike but don't work alike. Or cost alike.

BY THE WAY: Yes, we know it's Black Friday, and we're headed for Cyber Monday. So we're starting our usual weekend
Flash Sale a few hours early, and we're running it through Tuesday morning. As last week, we're offering credit notes with purchases: buy the product at full price, and get a credit of as much as $2,000.

November 14th: Upgrading the Kappa system
     Three of us (Toby, Steve, Gerard) spent Thursday with the Oppo Blu-ray player. For reasons we've explained, we need a new player for our Kappa system. Good players are rare, today, and Oppo looked like the most likely choice.
     It was. We spent part of the session with our Omega (audio-only) system, comparing the Oppo to a Linn player which cost 34 times as much. We also compared its HDCD performance to that of our computer with external HDCD decoding. No miracles, we're sorry to say, but it didn't embarass itself either. With Blu-ray, it was another matter, and we were stunned by the difference.
     The full story in our next issue.

BY THE WAY: We have new products coming to our Audiophile Store, and this weekend's
Flash Sale is intended to make room. Have a look.

November 11th: Listening sessions startoppo
     We're moving forward toward the release of UHF No. 96. We now have all of the products we will be reviewing. The list includes the Oppo BDP-103, which you see here. Readers have been asking us for a long time when we would be paying attention to Oppo.
     Our hand was forced by circumstances, truth to tell. Our reference Blu-ray player, a Pioneer BDP-51FD, was failing, crashing so hard on certain discs that it could be resurrected only by pulling the plug. A number of months ago, we had saved it by cleaning its laser lens with one of the cleaning discs our
Audiophile Store had once carried. It had worked, but now the player would no longer even load the cleaning disc, and would crash.
     So here's the spoiler alert: we bought the Oppo. At a time when even most famous-name players have become commodities, with the performance you would expect, Oppo looks very much upscale. It also plays CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audio (remember them?), and it decodes HDCD. It is one of the last players to do so.
     Next Monday, Albert will be doing the photography for the issue.

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