Sierra Nevada
Audiophile Society

Our next meeting will be at the home of Dave Marihart in Colfax at 1pm on Saturday September 16th. Members can log in for more detail. 

Sierra Nevada Audiophile Society provides support to Capital Public Radio-quality music for Northern California at 88.9 FM Sacramento, 91.7 FM Groveland/Sonora and 88.7 FM Sutter/Yuba City.

The Newport Show

THE Show Newport Report 2015

Hi Everyone! I am finally recovering from THE Show in Newport and the long drive home to Texas, so I thought I would put together a report, so that those who could not attend will have an idea of what we did and how things went.

Profundo had two rooms this year, each ably manned by our dealers from Northern and Southern California. 

 

In the first room, with the immense help of Alan and Jordan Fong of Syncopation of Stockton CA, we had two complete active systems running and alternated between them. One system had a Funk Firm LSD turntable with the wonderful Transfiguration Phoenix into a Heed Audio Thesis Pi/Phi phonostage combo as an analog source and the Heed Audio DT/DA combination supplying the digital. Providing the spectacular amplification was the Viva Audio Solista integrated driving the small but mighty Trenner & Friedl Art standmount loudspeakers. This combination was pure musical bliss: dynamic, natural, harmonically rich and dead-on accurate. Anyone that might have doubted this had only to stay in the room a bit and wait for Anne Bisson to arrive. Anne is a delightful and talented singer/songwriter from Montreal, introduced to us by Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies, who dropped by a number of times, providing the lucky folks in the room with impromptu performances, where she would sing a duet with herself, from her Blue Mind album playing on this system. With eyes shut, it became difficult to identify Anne from her (superb) recorded self. As the system settled in, and when the electricity was at its cleanest, the veils cleared away and there really seemed to be two live Anne’s in the room. Everyone listening commented on how incredibly accurate/good the system had to sound to dare such a feat. 

The next system in the room, on the adjacent long wall, were the giant-killer Heed Enigma loudspeakers, driven by an all-Heed Thesis system (Alpha pre/dac, Phi/Pi phono, and Omega monoblock amps), with a Funk Firm Vector TT with the incredible little Transfiguartion Axia in front. The sound was rich and alive with bass underpinnings that belied the very modest size of the Enigmas. And, while there were some differences in the presentation of the two systems, both excelled at putting music into the room, that left listeners amazed and full of compliments, regardless of which system they happened to be hearing. Alan and Jordan (and I, when I could) took turns at the DJ duties, playing “real” music, instead of the usual show/audiophile selections droning from so many rooms. I have always said that the mark of a good system is how well it plays “regular” music (that is, the music music lovers love), allowing the listener to immerse him- or herself into the musical performance, regardless of whether the recording is flattering or not.

In our other room, which we referred to as “The Lounge,” we demonstrated “personal audio” systems, from the very affordable, to the best that money can buy. Thanks to the primarily headphone-centric theme of this room, we were able to set it up in a way that actually resembled a very cool living space, rather than looking like the usual “hifi church,” where the gear demands all the room and attention. 

 

Many thanks to Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio in Santee CA, and Gary Koh of Genesis for all their work to make this room such a success. It seemed jammed full of people the whole time, either curious, or anxious to hear the new HiFiMan HE 1000 (utterly breathtaking), or Audeze LCD-3 headphones with either the Viva Egoista 845, or the brand new Viva Egoista 2a3 headphone amplifiers, which pretty much define edge-of-the-art performance in high- and lower-powered headphone amplifier design. Both made the headphones sing like nothing else: the 845 with power and authority, the 2a3 with finesse and stunning harmonic texture. Amedeo Schembri has done it again. Many thanks also, to Sergey Porotsky of Viva, for arranging to get the new amp to us from the Munich show (just) in time. Source material was provided by a Basis 2200 turntable sporting the Transfiguration Proteus cartridge…no words to describe… Also, on the digital side, the Viva Numerico and Gary’s Genesis Muse music server both showed just how far digital technology has advanced, approaching the very best that analog has to offer (see above).

 

Dan with Dave Gordon of Audio Research

 

Bob with Gary Koh and AJ Conti of Basis Audio. Two very smart guys who speak the same language…

Elsewhere in the room, Heed Audio DAC’s, Transports, CanAmps and Canalots made tons of music with the more affordable phones from HiFiMan and Audeze.

 

The last system in the room was a real shocker. A brand new (arrived Monday, just like the Viva 2a3 Egoista) little gem from Heed Audio, the Elixir integrated amp ($1195, including dedicated onboard class A headphone amplifier) powered the HiFiMan HE 560’s to great heights from a Heed DT/Dactilus 3 combo. Then, providing those that just had to hear some speakers a reason to come into the room (and STAY…), the Elixer lit up the Trenner & Friedl Sun’s. Just plunked down in a corner, this diminutive speaker, which perhaps might best be described as a “micro-monitor,” no larger than a pair of computer speakers, these little coaxial wonders absolutely filled the room with rich, full music. NO ONE could believe the deep, articulate and solid bass these 4 ½ inch woofers pushed out of their gloriously constructed and finished cabinets. Make no mistake, the level of musical resolution and refinement this little system produced could seriously make you wonder about the value of all those systems along the halls that were 10, 100, maybe even close to 1000 times bigger and more expensive. Game over.

 

Most of all, though, what really made the show the huge success it was, were all the people and personalities behind it. Dan, Alan, and Jordan proved once again that it is entirely possible to be warm, kind, welcoming and gracious; playing “real” music that made people close their eyes, tap their feet, and sway to the rhythms. And it was such a great pleasure to meet and work with Gary Koh. His brilliance (it felt like grad school again…soaking up knowledge and ideas as fast as I could) in explaining complex design and theories, was only eclipsed by his down-to-earth kindness and roll-up-your-sleeves hard work. This on-site team was simply remarkable and a true joy to work with. They actually made it possible for me to stick to my pledge of “no stress,” even though I felt like I was sprinting the whole weekend, providing support to both rooms, stepping in for DJ duty, having meetings with other dealers, supporting other rooms displaying Transfiguration cartridges…Whew. Finally, thanks to all the rest of the teams that made this show possible, all the great people back in Italy, Latvia, Hungary, Japan, and Austria, who commit themselves every day to producing products that are different from all the others, that dedicate themselves to helping people connect to the core of the music they love.

 

Bob in the lounge with Colleen Cardas and Marc Phillips drinking the morning coffee, courtesy of the wonderful Jura coffee machine they stashed in our room.

 

The show itself was a bit different this year. Yes, the stereotype of the aging-white-male audiophile was certainly present (though “aged” or “ancient” now seems more accurate), but there were a lot of younger people, a lot more women than I ever remember seeing at a US audio show, dads (and moms) with their kids (boys AND girls in their early teens—some even younger…and they LOVED what we were doing. If this is the demographic of the future, we, and all our products, are going to lead the way. New game.

Velodyne Headphone Review

Headphones from Velodyne by Craig B.

Bass-ic expectations are high as I unpack the Velodyne vTrues. Will Velodyne apply some form of its trademark, industry-leading subwoofer technology to this flagship product at the top of its new headphone lineup? A clue appears on the back of the vTrue box, “Accurate sound is produced through a 50mm driver tuned to the exacting standards of Velodyne's trademark low-distortion bass reproduction.” 
The vTrues sport what I would call Euro-sleek style. Stamped brushed aluminum housings sport tasteful brown leather-y ear and head pads. The 'phones are comfortable, are not too tight, and do a good job of isolating the signal from the sounds of the outside world. They're not small, but their sleek design makes them less geekily obtrusive than some studio units. But in the end what matters most, of course, is how the vTrues sound.
After a break-in of 40 hours, the vTrues are put to the test through a system comprising a MacBook Pro running iTunes with Audio MIDI Setup upsampling to 88.2/24 and feeding, via Toslink optical, a Benchmark DAC1 with the HPA2 headphone amps. Music files are mostly CDs ripped to ALAC or AIFF format and stored on the Mac. AudioTest 2.0 is used to generate test tones and noise. This software, by Katsura Shareware, is distributed through the Apple Store. It's a $4.99 download.
In the ring with the Velodynes, for comparison, are open-back AKG 702s and Shure SRH840s. Overall, very open and analytical sounds can be expected from the AKG 702 'phones. Razor sharp transient response and an emphasis of lower treble and treble can make the 702s rather bright at higher volume on some songs such as Tom Petty's mandolin-laden 1987 “It'll All Work Out.” But when it comes to retrieving detail, the AKG 702s will get you listening to your music collection in search of recorded cues you may have missed in the last 20 or 30 years.
The Shure SRH840s are similar to the vTrues in that they are closed-back circumaural 'phones. Accurate from top to bottom, they have a monitor quality that invites analyzing the sound while listening. As with the AKGs, it is nearly impossible to read, for instance, while listening to these 'phones—a quality that is not present with 'phones that render sounds in a more easy-going manner. The Shures present bass that is clean and clear, but that is not especially full or weighty.

BASS—Whether acoustic bass, electric bass, voice, synthesized sound, organ, or percussion, the Velodynes consistently deliver bass that is distinctly present, and that often seems to exceed what you thought was on the recording. It is bass that is rich, supple, and clean, preserving/revealing all the low-frequency air and space present—and that is an important and all too elusive quality of good bass. It is bass that lives up to the copy printed on the box, “…Velodyne's trademark low-distortion bass reproduction.” 
Pulling up Willie Nelson's Teatro album I am blown away by the bass reproduction in the vTrues. The extraordinary quality of the bass plays out on Willie's (with Emmylou Harris) “My Own Peculiar Way.” The powerful, close-mic’d bass drum is conveyed through these 'phones like no other I've heard. The ambient quirky detail of the Lanois-produced sound, however, is not as ambient or as quirky overall through the Velodynes as it is with the other 'phones. Air and space are somewhat lacking.
The Velodynes do amp up the fun factor, though. Where the AKG 702s are overwhelmingly detailed, and the Shure 840s are monitor-true almost to the point of enough already, the Velodyne vTrues convey the fun factor of this work.
The vTrues show the same set of characteristics on “Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me” from Zoot Sims's Zoot At Ease album as reissued on a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab disc. Pliant and articulate vTrue bass opens this track, with a full-bodied sax sound. The brushed cymbals, however, lack the shimmer that floats them in space and Hank Jones plays a rather distant-sounding piano. The bass remains prominent throughout—very forward with a robust yet supple quality. Overall the sound is integrated and blended, in contrast to a sound that opens up the spaces and allows inspection of every detail, as with, especially, the AKG 702s. In the AKGs Zoot's front and center reed sound is noticeably more whiffy and aspirated and not quite as mellow as it is on other 'phones. The Shure SRH840s present a clean, open presentation with a balanced mix of elements (tone, weight, leading edge crispness, and reed texture), but at the same time, a slightly clinical sound compared to the Velodynes. Bottom line: not all 'phones do everything perfectly but the quality of the Velodyne's bass carries the day for them.

MIDRANGE—Carole King said of Peter Keane: “What a perfect example of music for its own sake—pure and simple…” From his 1996 Flying Fish album Walkin' Around Austin, Texas-based Peter Keane spins a clubby, folksy sound that gives the vTrues a chance to show off their ability to present a full bass sound with nicely defined attacks and good pitch definition. The cello on “I Want You” is rich, with lots of body, but that last bit of the cello's rosiny buzz (present on the recording and audible with the other 'phones) is MIA in the vTrues.
Overall the vTrues, on this recording, show their proclivity for pulling the parts of a recording together into a whole. The AKGs sound clear and crystalline with superb definition of mids and highs, but fail to deliver quite enough of the recording's body. The effect is somewhat ethereal. More bass foundation is expected but never materializes beyond an outline form. The Shures, on the other hand, sound as if they are plugged in to the mixing board. You can't help following the different feeds, jumping from one to another—listening more to the parts than to the whole. The vTrues’ strong midrange wraps around the acoustic pieces of this recording pulling them together into a cohesive song.
The Eagles's live “Hotel California” from Hell Freezes Over gives components a chance to show, among other things, their ability to deliver what I call “attack force.” Definition of leading edges is one thing, but punching out energy on attacks is something a little different. The Velodynes deliver lots of attack force weight in percussion and string plucks and strums—overall a pulsing, energized sound that really draws you in to this live recording. Comparatively, the AKGs are thin sounding. There is little body or mass in the drum sound, only skin. But, as usual, with these 'phones the transients and attacks are very sharp. This track plays well, apparently, to the Shure's strengths. The sound is balanced with exceptional force and abundant spatial information. The sound is both open and immediate—the usual up-close perspective of the 840s. The winners here: the Velodynes for a balanced, forceful, natural presentation with realistic midrange body; the Shures for their ability to convey a live “space.”

TREBLE—“High Life” from Jazz At The Pawnshop is one of my go-to tracks for judging resolution. The tambourine that opens this track is a high frequency challenge for many components. The best systems will deliver clean definition in the metallic tambourine cymbals while preserving the percussive skin sound that underlies the tambourine's percussive quality. I’m thinking this recording will be a high hurdle for the vTrues—and I am right, sort of. Full metallic detail is not present in the tambourine, a clue to resolution. However, the applause sounds very natural, not high-pitched as it does through the Shures and AKGs. And the energy in the drumstick-cymbal strikes is very alive, as is the ringing as the cymbal strikes decay out. Overall the sound has realistic mass and presence, but the air and hence some of the ambience of the venue is subdued. Still, a very listenable presentation. 
As is often said politely of good components that are a bit short in one area: it is a sin of omission rather than commission. And so it is with the vTrues. They don't deliver the upper octave air and resolution of some other 'phones, but they are careful not to put hash in its place. Many listeners may find that the vTrue's upper octave reticence is just fine. I enjoyed hours of pleasant listening.

AUDIOTEST 2.0—In order to compare the headphone trio in more absolute terms the AudioTest suite is rolled out. Each of the 'phones is set at a comfortable volume at 440 Hz . Tones are then generated at frequency intervals while assessing the relative perceived volume increase or decrease. This, of course, is subjective analysis, but useful under the circumstances as ancillary information.
The Velodynes produce weighty audible tones down to 32 Hz and very audible tones to 28 Hz, continuing but tapering off below that. Signal level is “even” up to 10 kHz, but at 12 kHz there is significant rolloff, and not much audible above that. For comparison the AKGs start to noticeably roll off low frequencies at 120 Hz. Significant output is gone at 60 Hz when compared to reference volume at 440 Hz. Tones in the 1600 to 3200 Hz range are emphasized. The Shure's bass output reaches down to 40 Hz. They seem fairly even throughout the range of frequencies with a slight bump around 3200 Hz. 
Of all the tests the pink noise signal reveals the easiest-to-hear difference between the three headphone models. The AKGs, of course yield the lightest, brightest pink noise sound followed fairly closely by the Shures. The Velodynes are a world apart on pink noise, rendering a much darker, weightier version of the pink noise, with the range containing the static-y crackle noticeably subdued. 

CONCLUSION—The packaging and marketing of the Velodynes makes no claim that these are intended to be professional monitoring headphones, and they are not. It may be stating the obvious, or at least the expected, to say that the Velodyne vTrues excel at bass reproduction—they do. But that high-quality bass is part of a package aimed at what I would call listening enjoyment—rather than brow-wrinkling analytical inspection of the music. If you want to play the role of studio engineer with your music there are many other 'phones that allow you to put on that hat. But when you want to settle back for an evening—even a quiet evening—of personal listening wherein you can enjoy ample, high-quality bass without cranking the volume knob, then the vTrues are worth your consideration. If you are a bass nut that demands quality to match bass quantity, you have a very good reason to check them out. Really, would you expect anything less from Velodyne?

--CraigB, Sierra Nevada Audiophile Society

TIDAL

My first exposure to a music streaming service was MOG and I loved it. The library was huge and I discovered lots of new music as well as countless old favorites. The UI was simple and I could easily find what I wanted. However, it was compressed music so the sound was not as good as either a CD or music played via JRiver. Therefore, when I discovered something I really liked I would buy the CD. MOG was then bought out by Beats, the headphone company who, in turn, were acquired by iTunes. They changed MOG quite a bit, the UI was less user friendly, they used the "push" music method similar to Pandora which meant that I could not play a full album. As a result I moved to Spotify, very similar to MOG and for the same price i.e. $9.99 per month. I was happy again. I did have to rebuild my playlists but that wasn't a bad thing because it allowed me to clean them up e.g. get rid of a lot of stuff I didn't listen to. Again, if I found something exceptional I would buy the CD although this was getting rarer and rarer.

Thru all of this time I read about Lossless Streaming from several places, the most popular being Qobuz and Wimp. Qobuz is a French operation and Wimp originated in Norway. Neither were available in the US although both were promising to open shop here soon. Thru a little technical magic I could have subscribed to either (it would have meant providing a false IP address and paying in Euros) but I decided to wait and continued to use Spotify. By this time my listening habits had swung to 90% digital and 10% analog. Of the digital, 75% of that was via Spotify with the rest being JRiver.

A few months ago Qobuz announced a digital lossless download capability as a precursor to them providing streaming. I didn't go there for various reasons. Not long after, they announced that they were filing for bankruptcy and would reorganize, not a good sign for the streaming business. I'm not sure where they are at now with their streaming capability in the US.
Then TIDAL Hi Fi was announced. It's Wimp but for obvious reasons they rebranded when they launched here and in the UK. It's $19.99 per month but I jumped straight in after my 7 day free trial. Again I had to rebuild playlists but again that wasn't a bad thing because I cleared out a ton of stuff I no longer listened to. As an aside, TIDAL do offer a Spotify to TIDAL conversion tool which will rebuild your playlists in their system.

I have now been using TIDAL for about 3 months and I love it. There are 3 ways I can stream from their service. The first is via an Apple Airport Express using my iPad or iPhone as a remote, the second is via a desktop app on my laptop and the third is using their web site via Google. All 3 are very easy to use. I eventually settled on the Google method for several reasons. I got a lot of dropouts using the Airport Express which I put down to my wireless network because there is no such problem from my Laptop although it too is wireless. I read a few reviews of the service and in one it stated that the desktop app is not lossless i.e. it is compressed wheras the Google player is lossless. I couldn't hear a difference but I still went with Google. I do have an app (Jump Desktop) on my iPad which i can use to control the player so i do have a remote, sort of.
As to quality, I think that it's as good as playing a regular CD thru JRiver so I'm no longer buying CD's. Their library is enormous, 24 million tracks and growing daily. They also have music DVD's which can be streamed but I haven't tried this yet. They do create a lot of plalylists which you can use for various reasone e.g. they have several Christmas playlists which were useful during the holidays.

My listening habits are now something like 95% digital and 5% vinyl. Of the digital, it's mainly TIDAL although I do have a few high res files on JRiver which i will occasionally play. I have built several playlists although I have one which is over 10 hours long and growing. I build this playlist by regularly adding tracks from albums I find thru various means. I play it on shuffle and I can then sit back and listen for hours.

Overall I'm a happy camper. I probably spend 10-15 hours a week listening to TIDAL streaming and rarely have an issue, and, if I do it's usually something to do with my end e.g. my network. Is it worth $19.99 a month? It certainly is for me. Am I concerned that they might go away because of lack of demand? Sure, but something will replace it and I have already been thru two transitions (MOG to Spotify to TIDAL). Do I think owning the CD is important? Not any more. My personal opinion is that the quality of streaming will get better as wider bandwidths find themselves into more homes. Pretty soon I expect Hi Rez to be available for a price. However, I am not convinced that the general populations will move to lossless despite the best efforts of the likes of PONO. I think MP3, lossy or whatever you want to call it will dominate the listening market for a long time to come. Why? Because most people listen to music and not equipment. I appreciate that there is a contradiction here i.e. the quality of streaming will get better but most demand will be fulfilled via a compressed source. I don't have an answer to that contradiction other than to say that I am still a happy camper listening to a Roy Orbison track from the 60's ot the latest release from Shelby Lynne.

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