Bye Bye Apple

•September 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

In November 2014 I bought my 3rd iPhone (and probably my 8th or 9th iPod) – the iPhone 6 Plus. Literally 1 year after I bought it, the ca,era stopped focusing. Two months later the screen became unresponsive. I didn’t drop the phone, kept it in a protective case: externally it looks perfect. Functionally it is dead. I went back to the shop – “sorry 1 year warranty – 2 year contract – pity you didn’t buy insurance.” I phoned Apple – same story. From the Internet it appears that this is a common problem with that particular phone – associated with “bend gate” – Apple refuses to admit the clear fault with the phone leaving many of us with €900 bricks. Apple used to be a company that sold premium products for premium prices – now they seem to be selling shoddy products at ludicrous prices. It is unacceptable that a phone should die from an internal fault within the contract period and not be replaced. I choose to insure a phone in case I do something stupid like dropping it down the toilet – not to idemnify Apple for a poorly designed product.

So, I decided to abandon them and go with Android. I preordered the Galaxy Note 7 – and then battery gate happened. On Friday, I couldn’t take any more of my 4 year old iPhone 4S (bad signal, bad connection and about a 6 hour battery life) – so I went into my local phone shop (due an upgrade). Guess what – iPhone 7 release date. On the rack was the 7 side by side with the Galaxy S7 edge. What a contrast – the Edge is a 5.5″ beauty – a real object of desire – or for €50 more I could buy a really boring looking iPhone – that looks like last years’ phone without the headphone jack. Why in God’s name would anybody buy a portable entertainment system into which you cannot plug headphones? There is a reason why headphones have been around so long – they work dummy. High end headphones are just about the only high fidelity products making money these days – and the iPod/pad/phone are largely responsible. Didn’t Apple spend a few billion dollars buying shitty headphone brand (they didn’t even design them) Beats? Obviously nobody at Apple knows what decent headphones are otherwise they would have bought Sennheiser, AKG, Grado, B&W or some other hi fi company. I have had dozens of wireless headphones over the years and use none of them now – the sound is lousy, you have to charge them and they are fiddly. “You can use the dongle” and attach it to your $1000 Grados – I’m sure that there is an amazing DAC built into that wire – not! A lot of people forgave Apple for making their iPod/phone docks redundant (I have a fairly expensive Wadia one) a few years ago – but killing off the analogue headphone market is sheer hubris. 

So iPhone 7 or S7 Edge:

Advantages of iPhone – I can use my old apps (most of them are free). I know how it works. That’s all: nothing special. 

Advantages of S7Edge – it is bigger, and looks really good, great camera, high res music – that doesn’t require annoying iTunes sync nonsense, SD card slot to increase memory, and A HEADPHONE connector. The latter did it for me. Hello Android. Strange, though, I am typing this blog on my iPad Air 2! 

Trustworthy Vinyl Reissue Labels

•July 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have been listening to a lot of vinyl this year, so I though I would update this list (mostly for my own reference).

Vinyl Reissue Labels to TRUST (original analogue masters and analogue processes)

Analogue productions
Mobile Fidelity (original master recordings)
Music Matters (Jazz)
Speakers Corner (Classic, jazz, oldies)*
Reference Recordings (Classical & Jazz)
Pure Pleasure (oldies)*
Audio Fidelity
IMPEXIMPEX
ORGORGORG
Mosaic
Classic Records (nothing much since 2011)
Light in the Attic
Gearbox Records*

Vinyl Reissue Labels that are trustworthy (but likely not sourced from original analogue masters – all analogue nonetheless)

Mobile Fidelity Silver Label
Heavenly Sweetness (Blue Note)

 

Vinyl Reissue Labels that are trustworthy (but may be high res-digital sourced unless otherwise stated)

Sundazed (the majority are likely analogue only and are nicely priced)

Sony Legacy
Rhino

Vinyl Reissue labels that I trust but are high res digital sourced (but from original masters at least)

Music on Vinyl (best)
Back to Black (ok)
Back on Black (mediocre)

Hit and Miss

4 Men with Beards
Simply Vinyl

Albums of the Year (2016) so far…

•June 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have been listening to a lot of music and going to a lot of gigs this year but I must confess that I have been less than cosmopolitan in my listening. So here are my favorites (that I bought on vinyl or hight resolution download (marked DL)), so far. I’m sure that I have missed out on lots of great recordings, but in the era of Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and Qobuz – you can really sample before you buy.

  1. Applewood Road – Applewood Road
  2. Sturgil Simpson – a Sailor’s Guide to Earth
  3. Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
  4. David Bowie – Blackstar
  5. Max Jury – Max Jury
  6. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
  7. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle
  8. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
  9. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Person A
  10. Brian Eno – The Ship
  11. Avishai Cohen – Into the Silence
  12. Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Little Windows
  13. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust
  14. PJ Harvey – Hope Six Demolition Project
  15. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
  16. Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
  17. Turin Brakes – Lost Music
  18. Field Music – Commontime
  19. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
  20. M. Ward – More Rain
  21. The Coral – Distance InBetween
  22. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  23. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  24. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle
  25. Mogwai – Atomic
  26. The Gloaming – The Gloaming 2
  27. Weezer – White Album
  28. Damian Jurado – Visions of Us on the Land
  29. Lucinda Williams – ghosts of the highway
  30. Suede – Night Thoughts
  31. Chris Forsyth – The Rarity of Experience
  32. Eric Clapton – I still do
  33. Michael Franti & Spearhead – Soulrocker (DL)
  34. Band of Horses – Why are you ok (DL)
  35. Emily Jane White – They Moved in the Shadow… (DL)
  36. Michael Formanek – The Distance (DL)
  37. White Denim – Stiff (DL)
  38. Charlie Haden & Jim Hall – Charlie Haden & Jim Hall (DL)
  39. Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution (DL)
  40. Case / Lang / Viers – Case, Lang & Viers
  41. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By (DL)

What is remarkable this year, so far, is the number of “returning” artists. Generally I look for new talent and new work, but the records by Bowie, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, Suede, Paul Simon and Lucinda Williams are truly marvellous. The best, experience, however, was Eric Clapton. Although I have most of his albums, nothing since “unplugged” has really grabbed me. But “I still do” is a wonderful record, recorded in analogue, engineered by Glyn Johns and sounding – perfect – then released on 2x45rpm AAA for a reasonable price.

I went out an bought the Bowie album on the day of release on vinyl and  high res download due to highly favourable reviews. I love prog Bowie. I hope that, with foreknowledge of his imminent death that David left us with lots of unreleased recordings – he departed the stage much too soon.

Incidentally, I think Sturgill Simmpson is probably the greatest recording artist in the world right now (no as a live act Springsteen + ESB and Neil Young + promise of real are in a different league to anybody else, save U2). His baritone voice is a slightly sweeter instrument than Johnny Cash’s. Everything about the new album is brilliant, from the artwork to the R&B, blues and Motown influence.

Please Sturgill,  a duet with Kacey Musgraves – that’s all I want!

Applewood Road is my new favourite album

•March 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Nearly 30 since “The Trinity Session” by Cowboy Junkies changed the way I listened to music, at last an album of similar ethereal feel has arrived – Applewood Road’s eponymous debut. Recorded on a single microphone – minimal accompaniment and gorgeous harmonies – this is what country-folk should sound like: wonderful. I also love the all analogue signal chain described on the cover – it is an AAA album. What’s not to love. Buy it, on vinyl, now.

ELO vinyl reissues

•January 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have always been an ELO fan – even when they we the 2nd most uncool band in the world (after the Bee Gees – whom I also like). I defy anyone to watch Jeff Lynn performing ELO’s greatest hits at Hyde Park and not enjoy it. 

A few months ago, much of the ELO back catalog became available in Hi Res for the first time. I bought everything (24-96) from Qobuz (sublime). I listened to “Out of the Blue (OOTB)” in its entirety one day through my headphones and enjoyed it immensely.

In December, shortly after Jeff released his new album, Legacy released 3 of the classic ELO albums (New world record, Eldorado & OOTB) on limited edition numbered clear vinyl (i.e. Audiophile). The price was surprisingly reasonable. My copy of OOTB is numbered 90 something.  Recently I decided to listen to it. Readers – it was HORRIBLE: thin sounding, metallic, compressed. I was not naive enough to believe that this “audiophile” release was an all analogue remaster – but they had just released the album on HiRes and this sounds like it came from iTunes. I dug out my 30 year old copy of OOTB (of underermined provinence – bought 2nd hand in Dublin circa 1984) and it sounded great (not better than the Hi Res files mind you). I then played the most recently remastered version from CD – and guess what? It sounded exactly the same as the new vinyl. WTF? Generally I have been impressed with Legacy vinyl over the years but can there be anything more fraudulent than pressing a CD onto vinyl and then numbering the cover to make the product look audiophile. 

Rip off! It really is time for a record labelling system. 

What has happened to surround sound?

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Twenty years ago, I wired up my living room with 5.1 surround sound, based on Dolby Pro Logic coding on VHS tapes. This included 4 mini monitors, a JBL center speaker and a passive subwoofer. The soundtracks of late 1990s movies were great fun, with planes flying overhead, cars jumping into the screen, background chatter, crowd noise etc. Things have moved on massively in the intervening period – these days 24 bit high resolution audio is encoded into all of the channels – and even height coding is included in Dolby Athmos. Current budget surround sound amplifiers sound absolutely stunning – I recently acquired an inexpensive Sony surround amplifier and it is absolutely marvelous: it includes every conceivable way of connecting mobile devices to the amp, it will decode DSD from a USB drive, one can wirelessly stream from a home network – and SACDS – when connected to a Sony blu-ray player (DSD is decoded) – sound brilliant in surround mode. I have stacks of SACDS and DVD-audio discs, encoded in 5.1 surround and they sound fantastic. Albums such as “Wish you were here,” “DSOTM, ” “Gaucho” and “Layla and assorted love songs” are completely different and better than the stereo versions. It is a truly immersive experience.

In the 20 years since my first surround experience, I have had various multichannel systems – Marantz, Yamaha and JVC amplifiers, blu-ray surround systems (x2), a creative labs computer system (it was really good) – but they were all limited by one factor – the wires. Frankly, the surround speakers were a pain. This was resolved, in our home, by going wireless a couple of years ago – using the Sonos soundbar/sub and Play:1 surround speakers. The system is flawless – the optical signal from the television provides surround sound from all sources, and it works really well. Unfortunately, the surround sound is low res Dolby digital, only ok, although 16 bit stereo audio sound great. While my Sonos system is a deluxe package, it seems that most others have abandoned surround and chosen inferior quality soundbars and soundbases. One can hardly blame them – compared with the thin quality speakers built into LED televisions – soundbars sound good. But they do not provide any great semblance of surround sound – no matter what the advertisers claim.

I wonder if we are now entering a new “dark age” of audio. Many of the titles that one can rent from Netflix/Blockbuster (and other video vending machine operators) include only basic Dolby Digital, as do television stations, cable tv etc. If you want high res digital soundtracks you need to buy the blu-ry or blu-ray 4K disc. For audio only products – the same appears true. The seemingly abandoned Blu-Ray Pure Audio programme featured only stereo audio at 24/96 or 24/192 – no multichannel – such as was available on DVD-A and SACD. I have “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes on CD (stereo), SACD (multichannel), BR-PA (stereo) and the DVD-A from the box-set (DTS surround). Both surround versions are vastly superior to the muddy original stereo mix. You can clearly hear Duane Allman playing sweeping slide guitar in the surround speakers: it’s a joy!

Similarly, recordings that are sold on HD websites (such as HD tracks) – are stereo only – for recordings that have previously been available with a surround version (e.g. SACD) for more or less the same price. You can buy “Harvest” from the Pono store at 24-192 in stereo or locate the DVD-A – which also features an MLP surround mix. Steven Wilson is a great musician, but he has an alternative career as a surround sound remixer extraordinaire– one can buy those great XTC, Yes and King Crimson albums on dual CD/Blu-Ray – featuring multiple mixes both stereo and surround – for 20 euro or so. Using DVD audio extractor to rip the audio, and buying the physical disc is a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, the physical disc format has limited life expectancy – and it is extremely unlikely that we will have high resolution audio discs in abundance in 5 years time. As the record companies are beginning to twig that suckers like me will re-buy our CD collection in 24 bit resolution, the majority of analogue era recordings and all new recordings will be available to download and stream in high resolution. Few, if any of these will be in surround sound. This is a pity as a tremendous number of albums were released in the 1970s in quadrophonic sound. I fear that, like 3D, surround sound audio (for music) will be forgotten and then “rediscovered” in 20 years time, when wireless multi-channel audio has fully matured.

Albums of the Year 2015

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment
  1. Kimasi Washington – The Epic
  2. The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman
  3. Ron Sexsmith – Carousel One
  4. Grimes – Art Angels
  5. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
  6. British Sea Power – Sea of Brass
  7. Father John Misty i love you honey bear
  8. Jeff Lynn’s Electric Light Orchestra
  9. Ash – Kablammo!
  10. Jonathan Jeremiah – Oh Desire
  11. Wolf Alice – My love is cool
  12. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
  13. Brian Wilson – No Pier Pressure
  14. Gretchen Peters -Blackbird
  15. Libertines – Anthems for doomed youth
  16. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
  17. Steven Wilson – Hand Cannot Erase
  18. Bob Dylan – Shadows in the night
  19. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
  20. Decemberists – what a terrible world…
  21. The Cribs – for all my sisters
  22. Sleater Kinney – No cities to love
  23. Githead – Waiting for a sign
  24. Spector – Moth Boys
  25. Kendrick Lamar – To pimp a butterfly
  26. Matthew E White – Fresh Blood
  27. Riley Walker – Primrose Green
  28. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and think
  29. Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon
  30. David Gilmour – Rattle that Lock
  31. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
  32. Four Tet – Morning/Evening
  33. Jamie XX – In Colour
  34. Get the Blessing – Astronautilus
  35. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier
  36. Destroyer – Poison Season
  37. Kacey Musgraves – Pagent Material
  38. Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern
  39. Jason Isbell – Something more than free
  40. The Orb – Moonbuilding
  41. The Dead Weather – Dodge and burn
  42. Low – Ones and Sixes
  43. Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime
  44. Field Music – Music for drifters
  45. Guy Garvey – Courting the Squall
  46. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
  47. Tame Impala – Currents
  48. FFS- FFS
  49. Kurt Vile ‎– B’lieve I’m Goin Down…
  50. Tom Robinson – Only the now
  51. Beach House – Depression Cherry
  52. Blur – the Magic Whip