audio technology

Best Buy

While I was waiting for my stereo to be installed, I wandered around Best Buy. I hadn’t done a full store tour in a while, and it was illuminating. After hearing about all of the tablets released at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (I think it was 40!) I wanted to see what a non-Apple one looked like. I could only find one tablet computer, the iPad. I think the competitors are going to have a difficult time, the iPad has a significant lead right now and it doesn’t sound like a lot of them will be out before the middle of the year. There was a lady getting some information about the iPad there. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Best Buy guy not talking nonsense. I deliberated a little, but decided not to be the jerk that cost him a sale by mentioning the free set-up at the Apple store:-)

Best Buy might as well be called the TV store. TVs were easily the biggest part of their sales floor. Once again, I was blown away at how good some of them looked. I had to keep repeating the mantra “You don’t watch TV, you don’t watch TV” in order to avoid buying one. I caught myself thinking that $2000 really wasn’t too bad a price for that TV… Yes, Hockey would be amazing on one of those, but really, I can spend my money on better things. If I were a bigger movie kind of guy I probably would already own one… I checked out the 3d TVs too. Some of them, especially from Panasonic, were impressive. I really can’t see wearing glasses all the time though. The LED backlit displays really do seem to be worth saving up for, there does seem to be a real difference.

Of course, places like that have always played games with TVs in order to mover certain ones. It was fairly obvious as I walked down the aisles that some TVs had their saturation turned down, brightness lowered, etc. There were several others that had the video equivalent of “boom and tizz.” In the audio world, speakers that have impressive bass and sizzling highs really stand out. Of course if you listen to them for a while, you get tired of them. The most natural speakers sound boring when you first hear them. People tend to buy the speakers that get their attention, subtle loudness adjustments are all it takes to steer people towards certain speakers. The same goes with TVs. The classic ploy was to bias the pictures towards blue, guys seem to be attracted to that. Nowadays, excessive brightness, garish colors, and lousy comparisons are the things used to get people to pick one TV over another. The TV section was the only place where people made eye contact with me, let alone offer any help.

What else… I saw several audio bits that were interesting. They sell Martin Logan and B&W speakers, both brands have long been high end audio staples. While I know that the models they sell at Best Buy aren’t their best models, it’s good to know that you can get decent speakers there. I also saw a pair of active speakers I had briefly considered getting called Rokit. They have gotten pretty good reviews… They are also carrying electronics that have always been considered solid mid-fi brands like Denon, Marantz, and Yamaha. Pioneer is still there, but I no longer see any Onkyo, or Kenwood. It looks like you can get a nice sounding system there. When I used to sell this kind of equipment, you really couldn’t.


I was shocked at how many of their electronic displays simply weren’t working. All of the cameras I picked up were dead, and all of the smart phones were static displays only. You couldn’t try any of them out, they just had a sticker showing you what it could look like. Pretty lousy way to show stuff. Honestly, after walking through there, I’m saddened at how low the bar is set in electronics retail. No wonder Apple is kicking tail. I don’t think I’d go there for anything but a TV. Even then, I’d have to have my guard up so that I’m not unduly influenced by their display antics. Are there any other big electronic stores around anymore?

audio technology

New car stereo!

I have been enjoying playing my iPod in my car ever since I got it. The factory CD player had an auxilery port in it and it allowed me to listen to whatever I wanted. After some early issues, I got the sound quality to as good as it was going to get. It was miles ahead of using an FM transmitter, but there were still a few problems. Factory systems are never any good. Even if you get a decent sounding one, you pay way too much for it. The amplifiers in those things are anemic and lead to irritating and headache inducing distortion when you turn them up. I was also using the headphone output from the iPod which while it worked, was hardly ideal from a sound quality perspective. Going though the iPod’s amp before the main one just added to the noise. The biggest issue was a control one. The only way to really change stuff was to pick up the iPod and fiddle with it while I drove. Hardly a safe situation. Well, all of that has changed…



This thing is awesome. There is no CD player in it. Along with plugging in my iPod, I could use the analog input, or pop in an SD card. It sounds like I could potentially plug a flash drive or portable hard drive into it as well, I’ll have to explore that a little bit more. The sound quality has gone up a ton, tighter bass, louder, cleaner, and more understandable. I can control the iPod with it, so no more fiddling with touch controls while driving. It also has some sound shaping controls, their “sound retriever” really does smooth out some of the rough edges that you get with compressed audio. I’m also looking into getting a microphone they make. Using it, the deck can create a custom EQ for your car. For $20 or so, it is probably worth it.


I had considered installing this, along with a pair of speakers, myself… for about 10 seconds. Crutchfield has assured me that it was no problem, but after looking at the instructions I decided that discretion was the better part of valor. I had Best Buy install it instead. Good thing too, they had to do a few things to make stuff fit, I wouldn’t have had the ability to do it. it’s funny, in these days of $300 headphones for iPods, installing a stereo that can control it in your car would seem like a no brainer. All told, the deck, a pair of new speakers, the hardware for installing it, and the install came to a total of $350 or so. If you didn’t get new speakers, it would probably only run a little over $200. Very, very excited about this. Oh, and thanks mom for the great Christmas present!



My stereo

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath waiting to hear what I’ll be doing next with my audio gear… Well, you’ll be able to rest easy now, now more sleepless nights worrying!

I’m still enjoying the heck out of my Squeezebox Touch. It is the digital front end I have always wanted in a system. Instant access to all of my music, and really good sound quality to boot. It is capable of playing back up to 24 bit recordings, so if I ever get any of those, I can go to the realm of hi-rez playback…

The problem is that my system is “too big.” My room is small, too small for my amplifiers and CD player. Now that I’ve replaced my CD player (and with something that outperforms it…finally), the speakers and amps were the issues. I had originally thought of getting some active speakers. having the amps and speakers in the same enclosure would really improve the space problem. There are also some potential technical advantages to them as well. I was coveting some speakers that were a little over 2 grand. I had rationalized that the price wasn’t too bad considering that I would be getting a good quality set of speakers, a good DAC (Digital to Analog convertor), and a good preamp. That was all true, but it was still 2 grand…

So I started thinking about some single driver speakers and a really cheap amp. That combo would give me some sound that was decent, would be small, and would satisfy an audiophile itch. That was going to run about $400. Better, but it would be a pretty limited system. The speakers wouldn’t have any real bass, and single driver speakers have a rather unique sound. I was worried about them only being good for certain types of music.

Going back to the active speaker sites, I found some active monitors that were in the $300-$400 range. These would not have any of the limitations of the other speakers, but they would still have the limitations of being cheap speakers. Considering that my speakers were in the $1500 range when I bought them, I didn’t really want to take such a big step down.

And then it occurred to me. I had discounted using my speakers because they were too big. True, they are on the large side as far as monitors go, but they would be on stands. Here’s the thing, once you put speakers on stands, they all take up the same amount of space.

So, I am going to use my old speakers, but with a new, smaller and cooler amp. It is what as known as a gainclone amp. Yet another piece of equipment that I have wanted to hear. I hope to have a good sounding system up within a week! I’ll let you know how it goes.

audio technology

I have music again!

So, my Squeezebox Touch got here today. In a lucky break, so did my switch and ethernet bridge. To recap, the SB Touch is a network/internet music player you can hook up to your stereo. I can stream the music from my computer via the network to it, or I can use it independently to listen to internet radio stations.

Here’s how I set it up. Since I’m on FIOS, I was able to use a MOCA ethernet bridge to get the internet from the coax cable in my room. I took that ethernet cable and attached it to a 5 port switch. That gave me 4 more ethernet ports. I then simply hooked the computer and the SB Touch into the switch and I was done. I now have the music from my computer going over our network in the house.

I have been enjoying listening to my music without having it bog down my computer. I’ve also been enjoying the radio. I listened to my college’s radio station WICB for hours, they are still one of the best college stations I have heard. I can also get all the worthwhile local stations like WTOP for news, and the Public stations too. I need to figure out when a Prairie Home Companion comes on so I can start listening to it again… All of these sound much better than regular FM, and as far as I can tell I can get damn near any station in the US.

Of course the other great thing that internet radio allows is the ability to use services like Pandora or Slacker. Slacker is a really good internet service. They sound great and have a lot of diverse stations. Pandora is a service that allows you to make your own stations based on an artist or song. It will pick others like the one you picked and then you can tell it what you like and don’t like to narrow the view down. So far, I have made Buddy Holly radio, Silversun Pickups radio, Tito Puente radio, Beck radio, and Where is My Mind radio (from the Pixies song).

I overspent on all of this, but I am already really enjoying the experience and plan on taking the radio around the house since it ties into the wireless network as well. My iPod touch controls it through the wireless as well. This is the first audio toy I’ve bought in years, and it’s a winner. I’ll let you know if I find any hidden gems out there while “twisting the dial….”

audio odds and ends

You never know when you’re going to be an idiot

I’m a huge audio geek. I’ve been pouring over amp schematics for years, I’ve listened to more systems than I can remember, and I love reading about all the new tech in audio. I’ve been troubleshooting audio problems for oh, 20 years or so.

I had been mildly disappointed in the audio quality of my iPod touch hooked up to my car’s stereo. It was still better than FM, but there were problems. There were times that I just didn’t have enough gain, I couldn’t turn it up loud enough to get the volume I was looking for. Plus, when I did crank it up, I heard all of the nastiness in my car’s stereo, including engine whine as I accelerated.

Well, imagine my surprise when I hooked it up the other day. I had been demoing it to a customer in the store and had to turn up the volume all the way. Guess what? If you TURN THE VOLUME UP, it gets louder. Sheesh, audio 101. Now there is decent bass response, there is no engine whine, and I can play plenty loud.


Moral of the story, even if you’re an expert in something, it doesn’t mean that you won’t overlook the obvious from time to time. I’ll remember this until the next time I catch myself being stupid…

audio technology


I went into Best Buy today looking for a particular item. They weren’t really helpful, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but I did get a chance to wander around a bit. I hadn’t been in one for quite a while. The TVs were, as always, quite impressive. If I actually watched much, I would have bought one straight away.

The LPs surprised me. They didn’t have many, but there they were. I had heard that vinyl had made a comeback, but I had assumed that it was mostly for DJing. They had a Springsteen, GnR, and something else that didn’t really lend itself to mixing. Later o, I also saw about 5 or 6 record players, most with USB outputs.

The oddest things I saw were both from Sony. Did you know that they still make a cassette walkman? It’s 40 bucks! I don’t think I saw any cassette tapes around, but there were the players. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to use a cassette deck these days, mp3 players are around the same price and are oh so much better. Even the LPs included mp3 downloads of the albums. Why cassette?

The other oddity was a 300 Cd changer, it was around $300 if I remember correctly. If this was 1995, it would be the most amazing thing ever, but now? It would be far better, in all respects, to simply rip those 300 cds to your computer and then hook that up to your stereo. Even if you ripped them in a lossless format to preserve the sound quality the cost, the reliability, and the functionality would be far higher with the computer.

The sad thing is that the record players seemed more sensible than the cd players these days, how’s that for irony?

audio music technology

Radio reborn!

App Gallery – Welcome to!: “”

I had heard about the Squeezebox from Logitec for years, but I never paid any attention. My loss… Listening to the radio was always fun in the past. Part of it was the thrill of the hunt, cycling through different stations in order to find something that fit my mood was a common pastime. The problem is that FM is a total wasteland now. Even the satellite stations don’t do much for me.

Here’s where the squeezebox comes into play. It is a device that allows you to stream your music collection to a sound system. No big deal, right? An airport express will do the same thing. Ah, but the squeezebox allows you to stream internet radio, even if your computer is off. In addition, it is easy to move it around or add more devices in your house. These can be linked together or operated separately. Logitec makes devices that you would hook to an existing system or stand alone devices much like a table radio.

There are over 20,000 stations by my quick count that you can get on there. In addition, there are services like the BBC, classical music organization, and the live performance archive that you can play on there. Then there are the customizable stations like Pandora, Last, and Slacker. You pick a song or group and they will play songs similar to them.

I love the music on my computer and listen to it all the time but it is nice to be able to get exposed to new music too. I think the squeezebox touch (as well as an app for my iPod touch) will be my next audio purchase. I’ll hook it up to a table radio I own right now and in the future I’ll hook it up to a pair of active speakers via its digital output. Stay tuned, don’t touch that dial! I’ll be back soon with more exciting audio news from Isaac!:-)

audio music

Itching for a stereo system

Being cooped up in the house for so many days in a row has made me start missing my stereo system. I still own a really nice one. The trouble is that I don’t have the space for it, so it has been at a friend’s for the last three years or so. One day I’ll have space again, and then I’ll be able to listen to it again.

But in the meantime, I need something to listen to. And I want it to be a real system, one that this audiofool can appreciate. It needs to be small, inexpensive (in audiophile terms), and suited for my cramped living space. Here’s what I’ve come up with…

My music source will be my computer. I will simply play the music I have on it. Over time, I will get access to my CDs again and do proper, lossless copies for the best sound quality. For an amp, I will get one of those cheapie, but decent tripath amps that put out around 15 watts a side. For the time being, I will just use the analog out from either my computer or an airport express. Eventually I will add a digital to analog convertor in the chain to improve things more.

I think I’ve settled on the speakers. They are going to be a bit of a departure from my usual type of speaker, but that has a lot to do with my current situation. I’m going with some full range, single driver speakers from Tekton. I’ve been talking to the builder and he thinks his 4.1 speakers will be the best fit for me.

Here’s what I like about them:

1) The price. These will be new speakers, and they will be built for me. I’m still trying to decide on the finish, I’m leaning towards either cherry or walnut.

2) It is easy to drive which means I can get decent sound from a 40 dollar amp.

3) This type of speaker is supposed to excel in low volume listening.

4) They are small enough to work well in my room.

5) And finally, they are a type of speaker that I want to own at least once.

I have a few things to take care of before I do this, but I will at some point in the near future have a working system again!