Friday, March 6, 2015

Album Review : I love you honeybear - Father John Misty

I purchased my fourth Subpop record making my records tally closer to one hundred. A record that carries an interesting title “I love you honeybear” by Father John Misty (Joshua Tillman). This is undoubtedly the best album I purchased since December 2014.

This is a funny, melodic, cold yet harmonic album with cruel lyrics showcasing what Misty had become since Fleet Fox. A touch of 70s, 80s a bit of synths are all in there with realistic yet harsh lyrics. It is indeed a great record and I love each of Misty's artistic work.

I bought the 2LP standard vinyl set, not the deluxe edition. The deluxe edition consists two picture discs with one or more booklets inside than the standard release, which complimented to warp the picture discs unfortunately. The amount of wear tear is slightly higher on picture discs so does the high fidelity quality deterioration. I'm not a huge fan of picture disks due these valid reasons.

I must give credit to Subpop records for compiling this album into two 12” 45rpm disks. It's an audiophile grade pressing although the disks aren’t anywhere near 180g. Subpop records are known for their quality pressings and signing good artists to their label. If you’re a vinyl lover, this is a must have in your collection, one such album that sounds warm and nice on the deck, in vinyl.

The 2LP vinyl standard edition carries a nice album artwork with a tiny booklet to play around. The vinyl edition carries a digital download code for the tone-deaf losers. Subpop has quite correctly watermarked the words ‘LOSER’ on the download coupon.

The eleven tracks run for a fraction over 46 minutes, a great compilation. The producers at Subpop have done a great effort arranging the tracks in a nice rhythmic flow. The first few songs are catchy enough to make anyone fall in love with the album. That said I wouldn’t comment on individual tracks as music is perceptual.

I love the overall work. The pink coloured graphical illustrations on the cover stands out on the shelve, making it quite easy to pick next time you run to the record store. The album has entered the charts promising a huge commercial success.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Throw away CDs and MP3s folks, vinyl revival is here!!!

Why vinyl records again ?
This is the digital age, one might wonder why do we need to go back in time. Why do we need to listen to vinyl records again ?  The truth is vinyl records never died but it was just that were a bit distracted. There's a huge difference in terms of audio quality and accurate sounds on vinyl compared to "modern day CDs", not just a nostalgia as many tone deaf thinks.

Is this is just a trend ? is there's a real benefit on records ?

Music lovers, the audiophiles moved away from CDs towards vinyl records over the recent years due to this thing called "loudness war" (also known as loudness madness/loudness mania). The CD manufactures over the years "increased the amplitude in CDs to make the CDs sound a bit louder to compete with other CD manufactures. We call this ugly competition as "loudness war", which killed the dynamic range that the music has. The record companies achieved this by compressing the music "further more" on a CD. 

What does the loudness war mean ?
Ortofon 2M Bronze Cart in action
Well, it's quite simple, record companies increased the amplitude of the lows and brought the highs down to make the waveform even and then increase the amplitude altogether; thus resulting the music sound a bit louder but flatter. You might think this is pretty cool, since you'll get to hear music a bit louder at a lover volume. But unfortunately it is not. This process kills the dynamic range of the music and make everything in a song sound flat, muddy and distorted. The range of the drums, depths of the vocals and the clarity of individual instruments are all gone during this process. This makes all instruments and vocals to sound at the same range/level. The "loudness war" distracted those who listen to real "music". (ie this doesn't have any impact on those who plug their ipods with Apple provided headphones or beats/bose crap)

For an example, if you listen to Sade's original recording of the "Promise" album and the recently remastered CD, the latter sounds a bit flatter and dull. The difference is like day and night. Metallica's "Death magnetic" album known to be the loudest album ever produced, which sparked a protest against the "loudness madness" and many fans requested a re-release of the album with the dynamic range ie without the loudness mania but that never happened.

Why can't make vinyl's sound louder ?

The limitations on the media itself prevent record manufactures applying same principles of the loudness war on vinyl records. That said, I have seen badly pressed vinyl records that aren't distant from CDs. But overall, the vinyl records win hands down in terms of sound quality and there would be no fatigue for long hours of listening to the analogue music since waveforms aren't computed as in digital media. The new vinyl records aren't cut from CDs or digital master copies often but from the analogue sources. The new 180gram pressings sound awesome and promised to last a few generations making record warp a thing in the past. The records do have a higher sampling rate compared to digital media.

Can records last longer like CDs ?
Well, the answer is yes and no. The vinyl records would indeed last for generations. I haven't seen any CDs last the way vinyl records so. My vinyl collection consists records older than 45 years. Recently one of my mates brought a 45 years old Simon & Garfunkle record and it sounded brilliant without any hiss or pop after giving it a bit of clean. The vinyl records however wear out over a period of time but that's insignificant and there are ways to minimise the record wear, which I'm planning to explain in another article. In a nutshell, if you configure correct tonearm height, stylus pressure and anti-skating correctly you could make the record wear to be very minimal. In worst case scenario, the records would still play and generate music no matter how many times you've used it or how badly they have been used. I've got a mate having a collection of records some have been played to death yet sounds great.

I think I stopped buying CDs about 6-7 years back and I blogged my experience here. That said, I bought a few CDs where there's no vinyl counterpart and some were original releases. In general, you need to take a good care of vinyl records to make them last generations. A clean before dropping the needle, a periodic stylus clean are just a few basics steps to ensure a longer life span among many other. One might think this as an annoyance compared to playing a CD. Well, absolutely not. Playing a record involves a bit of human effort, which makes the individual a part of the listening experience. In return, vinyl records have more presence to the music, warmer, natural yet detailed sounds. The dynamic sounds are there to enjoy all day along.


Why should I go through this hassle to play a record ?

It's like using a DSLR camera vs a point and shoot crap; both take photos. The DSLR in manual mode needs a bit of effort at each photo shoot; you need to set the correct aperture, shutter speed, film speed, white balance, configure the focus point etc,. However, the end result justifies the efforts you've put at each click. Just like listening to music over vinyl record. To conclude, if you're given a manual 1987 Ferrari 288 GTO and an a 2015 plated Toyota Hybrid Camry with all the bells and whistles, what would you pick to drive ?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Audio Video Receivers suck at music reproduction ?

A bit of background
Do Audio Video Receivers (AVR) deliver quality music for audio sources ? No, never. I guessed yes for a while but I soon discovered AVRs lack real presence of music although I listened to audio in Pure Direct mode.  What Pure Direct mode does is, it disengages power and control to tone controls (IOW it bypasses tone controls). This helps AVR to minimise signal contamination by the noise generated as a result of AVR's digital signal processing (DSP) mechanism. Pure Direct mode sends input signals straight to the amplification stage without deteriorating the signal quality.

What is missing in an AVR ?
The biggest problem with AVRs is lack of power among many other things resulting inaccurate music. You could certainly hear some "sound" but that isn't what actually the corresponding music instruments' music sounds in real. The depths of vocals, warmness of music, the tone, real spectrum of drums and heavy bass are just a few missing bits when you listen to music on an AVR.

AVR distributes its power to various other segments although you don't use them while listening to audio in pure direct mode. This is one of the key reasons why these AVRs don't sound good. The AVRs by design cut corners and the power isn't necessarily sufficient to drive speakers for good music reproduction even if it does, it lacks musicality.

With the storm of Audio Video Receivers (AVR), most people found AVRs a great way to listen to music via multiple speakers. The AVRs appeared to be a cheap, cost effective way of enjoying both worlds; audio and video. However, this trend crippled the HiFi stereo component market. The stereo aka two channel amplifier market plunged almost to its extinction as many manufacturers quit bowing to the declined sales.

AVR vs Stereo Integrated Amps

Just like many, I've been using a receiver for audio and changed a number of receivers in the space of 5 years starting with Yamaha RX-V 663, Marantz 7002 and Yamaha RX-V 2073. It didn't take much time for me to realise how bad the AVRs are for music, since I have extensively used a two channel integrated amplifier before moved on to AVRs. I almost stopped listening to audio on my AVR since music sounded crap.

I checked a few audio forums on what others say about two channel audio on an AVR. Quite surprisingly, many commented that there wouldn't be much of a difference in sound quality given most modern AVRs are powerful enough to deliver quality audio, which turned out to be an utter rubbish theory. 

Yamaha RX -V 2073 known to be a very good AVR in its league and its specs are promising on the paper but wasn't delivering the goods on pure direct mode for audio. I generally tend to do what mass majority thinks wrong. A good two channel integrated amplifier could outperform any AVR twice the cost of an amplifier on real music reproduction.

Why Yamaha A-S1000 ?
I short listed a few integrated amplifier brands, such as Rotel, Krell, Naim and Arcam but at the end I bought a Yamaha A-S 1000. I'm not a Yamaha fanboy but Yamaha outperformed many over hyped big names on the paper and on sound quality. The retail price for Yamaha A-S 1000 is ~$2500 but I got a nice discount from Todds.

 I've got a couple of turntables but I hooked my old Sony PS 3300 turntable to Yamaha A-S 1000; connected Klipsch F30 speakers with oxygen free four core cables using banana plugs. Powered the system and dropped the needle on one of my favourite records. The sounds were amazing, the sound quality difference between A-S 1000 and the AVR is like cheese and chalk. Some claim Yamaha amps are bit bright but I guess it all comes down to the speakers. The Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge known to be on the bright side too but the highs aren't bright as bleeding as some say. The clarity, tone, details, depths are amazing. The sounds are very neutral yet natural and of course, I didn't touch the tone controls and I doubt I would ever.

Look and feel and sound quality
The A-S 1000 has been built like a tank, weighing 22.5kg. It has the retro 1980s look with a few modern twists built into it. The damping factor is pretty decent at 160 amongst many other little things, that are collaboratively effective in generating quality vibes. The THD is pretty low and the giant capacitors are yet to warm up to reach their peak. The S/N ratio is excellent at 93dB on the paper for my main music source, phono. For a moving magnet (MM) cartridge, it's an excellent figure. Importantly it runs at ease at a very cool temperature to my surprise, thanks to the Thor power board. This is my second integrated amplifier since Kenwood KA 4040-R in 1993 and the best to own so far. Finally, hifi music has arrived at its best. Now I hear music as it is in detail :-)