January 4th: CES is on
There's no lack of stories from CES, many of them centering on improbable gadgets. Last night's CES Unveiled was full of them. But, fun though they are, that's not what we're eager to talk about.
Today is the first of two press days before the actual CES opens on Friday. We'll be filing stories all week, starting with the Samsung press conference, first up this morning. Our reports can be found on our Vegas blog. Check back for new reports.
The gleaming hotel and casino at right is the Mandalay Bay. At one time, the press days were at the Venetian, the same hotel where the “high performance audio” exhibits will be. But as the events got bigger, more room was needed, and so the press days were moved to the Mandalay Bay.
The convention centre at the hotel is simply huge. That's not a surprise, because Las Vegas is very much a convention town. For the poor journalists, that's a pain, because between the parking lot and the convention halls is a couple of kilometers of hallway.
Been there, done that. We're not walking those halls this year (for the first time in 26 years), but we'll have the stories anyway.
January 3rd: Headed for Vegas
Well, not us. For reasons we've explained, we don't have boots on the ground this year. But that doesn't mean we don't have reports. The Vegas blog is already on line, and we'll be adding to it through the week.
By the way, CES keeps changing name. It used to stand for "Consumer Electronics Show," but that's now rather generic, so the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the event, had long been insisting that it be referred to as "International CES." This year, it told us that it should not be called that, but should just be called CES...but with the little circled R to indicate that it's a registered trade mark. Well, you know what, CTA? We're going to call your event anything we damn well please. It's CES...and if you want something else added to the name, we accept VISA and MasterCard.
December 31st: Looking to 2017
There seems to be a concensus: 2016 has not been a terrific year. We mostly hope that it won't turn out to be a template for 2017.
For us, the end of the year was saddened by the loss of a long time stalwart member of our small team (see the December 23 blog entry). But we've been hard at work on reinventing UHF, to make it an even better source of information in a world defined by disinformation, or even fake news.
Shortly, we'll have the usual reports from CES in Las Vegas. Or about CES. We're not putting boots on the ground in Vegas this year, for reasons we'll be outlining shortly. The truth is that CES is not the show it once was. There are other shows we would rather cover, and we will be doing so.
But you know us, we have a unique take on many topics, both audio and video, and so our reports won't be mere echoes of what you may read elsewhere.
Stand by for more from UHF Magazine. Much more.
December 23rd: Goodbye Reine Lessard
Our former associate editor, and so much more, Reine Lessard, died this morning after a long illness.
The photo shown here is from 2005, the last time UHF Magazine had its own exhibition room at the Montreal show. For many of our readers, the show was a unique opportunity to meet the woman whose articles they had read and appreciated in our pages. When she joined the (always small) UHF team in 1992, she brought with her a cornucopia of talents. She was an accomplished classical pianist, specializing in Chopin. She was a fine painter too, with an artist's sensitivity. Above all, she was a magnificent writer, able to bring a musical work to life in words that glowed.
She was then new to high-end audio. After one long group listening session, she exclaimed, “Wait until my family learns that I spent the day comparing the sound of cables!” But she heard the differences with no problem, and she translated what she heard into elegant prose that left plenty of room for the emotion that is at the heart of music.
She also wrote about music itself, in an extraordinary series of long-form articles published over more than 60 issues of the magazine. She wrote in depth about countless musical instruments, from the cello to the pipe organ to the accordion to her own beloved piano. She delved into the careers and works of composers of all musical genres: Vivaldi, Chopin (of course), Bizet, George Gershwin, Leonard Cohen, and The Beatles. She probed the origins of jazz, and of rock'n'roll. She made you want to dig out your copies of music you hadn't listened to in a long time.
She retired from the magazine because of ill health in 2008. Even then, she continued to collaborate on musical subjects, and she always took delight in seeing her byline in the magazine.
She died early this morning, accompanied by her son, the poet Jean-Marc Lefebvre. The last sounds she heard were Nocturnes by Chopin.
We are richer for Reine's presence, and we are convinced that many of our readers feel the same way. We will miss her.
November 25th: Why Samsung bought Harman
Harman is an electronics holding company with a rich portfolio of brands. There's its original brand, Harman/Kardon (they still spell it that way), but also Mark Levinson, JBL, Lexicon and Infinity. Readers of UHF thinkl of Harman as a high-end audio company.
Samsung is known for its TV sets, but also for its telephones, its appliances, and a good deal else. Samsung actually accounts for 17% of South Korea's economy. The company has been in the news the past month because of both its Galaxy Note 7 and its top-loading washing machine, both of which have a tendency to explode. The phone alone will probably end up costing Samsung some 17 billion US dollars when all is accounted for. So why is the company spending eight billion for a hi-fi company?
Ah, but Harman has a lot more going on than hi-fi, and indeed most of the world press pretty much ignored the hi-fi angle. Harman also makes "infotainment" systems for cars, and may be working on control systems for self-driving cars. Some observers believe that Samsung's competitor, Apple, is working on a car, and it wants the technology to let it compete. In fact Apple may not be working on a car, but it's in the habit of playing its cards face down.
You might well wonder what will happen to the hi-fi brands. Will they be spun off? Will they be used exclusively to make audio systems for cars? Who knows?
By the way, last month there was a rumor that Samsung was buying the French speaker maker Focal, which owns Naim. Hasn't happened yet.
November 21st: Audio (mis)information
Some time back, a reader wrote us to wonder whether, in the age of the Internet, it was still relevant to publish a magazine with advice on high fidelity. We answered that it was (but then we would, wouldn't we?), and that not all advice available on the Web was of real value. And then you probably know the adage that someone who can distinguish between good advice and bad advice doesn't need advice.
Here's a case in point. Aperion Audio (no link, because it would only encourage them) not only makes speakers, but has a section on its Web site called Aperion University, offering advice, and inviting visitors to “ask us any home audio question.” If you take them up on it, we suggest you do it only for comic relief. Here are some gems from an article claiming to debunk common audio myths.
For speaker cable, one of the most important factors is gauge. In fact wire gauge is pretty far down the list. Home Hardware can sell you really large-gauge wire for next to nothing. Guess how it will sound! Actually, we don't have to guess, because we've tried it.
...Due to the increasing price of copper, there is an alternative CCA (copper clad aluminum) wire becoming more common. What? Copper prices have been dropping for years, not rising, and even the cheapest speaker wire doesn't contain aluminum. The section then says that some expensive speaker wires are made of silver, or even gold. Silver yes, gold no, not ever. Predictably, Aperion claims that the advantages of cables costing “hundreds of dollars” are imaginary. We wonder whether their speakers are wired with aluminum.
A major issue with receivers that have multiple channels is crosstalk. Crosstalk occurs when audio from one channel bleeds into another channel. This would include hearing dialogue from the center channel at low levels in other speakers. This is fantasy. There are valid arguments against all-in-one receivers, but this isn't one of them.
Sound is literally the physical movement of air. No it's not, it' the vibration of air. To be fair, this is a common misconception, but you would expect a speaker manufacturer to know that.
You get what you pay for. There's a grain of truth in that, and it's true of audio advice too.
November 15th: Leonard Cohen, the Audiophile
It's been a heck of a week. A heck of a year, in fact. It wasn't made any better by the death of songwriter, singer, poet Leonard Cohen. We at UHF met him once. It was at a hi-fi show, as he was signing a Totem Model One loudspeaker.
If anyone else had signed it, you'd want to look up solvents that can remove Sharpies ink. But with that signature, that became the most valuable Totem speaker ever.
Cohen was of course a Montrealer, though he lived in many other places, including Greece and California. He began his carer as a poet and a novelist, but he then began setting his own poems to music, and recording them in his deep, resonant voice. Other artists were drawn to the power of his poetry as well. Hallelujah was covered by several singers, notably kd lang. And in 1987 he made a genuine audiophile album, Famous Blue Raincoat along with Jennifer Warnes. He was 82 and in poor health (“I hurt where I used to play,” he said), but he had just released his final, perhaps greatest album, You Want It Darker. With accompaniment composed by his son Adam, Cohen adresses God directly: I Didn't Know I had the right to kill and to maim. You want it darker? We kill the flame.
That album stands up to repeated listening, unlike a lot of contemporary albums. It is, by the way, available on vinyl.
Some anglophone Quebec artists are unfamiliar to most of their francophone compatriots. That's the case of the late Mordecai Richler, one of the great novelists of his era. It's not the case of Leonard Cohen, who was revered even by those who would have struggled with the fine nuances of his poetry. He was considered un des nôtres.
Though we learned of his death on Thursday the 10th, he actually died the previous Monday...one day before he could learn the outcome of the US election. In fact, in a 1988 song, he had anticipated the way the world was going:
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Was Leonard Cohen actually an audiophile? Many musicians are not, because they know music so well that they need only an imprecise reminder of what they should be hearing. Leonard Cohen was enough of an audiophile to tour the Montreal Salon in 2007.
November 10th: Like vinyl, only better
LPs never really went away, but since their return to the mainstream, record manufacturers have been searching for ways to make them sound better than ever. And they've had considerable success, But what if there could be a high-definition LP? An LP with 30% more capacity? Sounding 30% louder? And, best of all, sounding twice as good?
All right, that last claim is ludicrous because a quantity reference can't be applied to quality, but we probably have your attention.
The HD Vinyl record isn't yet on the market, because this is another of those crowd-sourced things. You have to pony up cash before the product appears. HD Vinyl has been patented by an Australian company named Rebeat. The new LPs can be played on any turntable, and will sound better, but they will sound best on an HD turntable. Of course.
There are few details on how this new miracle will work, and that's just one of the reasons much skepticism is being expressed about this system. Rebeat's web page is down for servicing. No joy there.
So how do you feel about your expensive turntable being suddenly obsolete?
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