Review: B&W Z2 AirPlay streamer
“Hey, what do you recommend I get for speakers around $400?” A query I hear all too often from my fellaz. “Ok, let’s see here… do you expect magic?” Is, quite frankly, the answer I give back most of the time. I mean seriously, what do you expect to get sound wise for $400? Then again, technology has marched on considerably over the past decades, in particular as it relates to boom boxes, aka. that thang you use to listen to music… background music that is. After all, even as far as technology has progressed, it’s still – nearly – impossibly to recreate a true stereophonic image via a shoebox, no matter how many fancy drivers and DSP you put in there. Punch warp drive to read the rest...
Preview: Bowers & Wilkins Z2 AirPlay / WiFi Hi-Fi
The folks over at Bowers & Wilkins are busy. Back in the day they launched the Zeppelin all-in-one iPhone/iPod premium portable Hi-Fi. Having received tons of accolades over the years - who could beat the sound quality? - B&W does it again and recently launched the Z2 box which, considering it adds AirPlay and WiFi streaming (though the Zeppelin does that too now), becomes an even hotter SonicFlare recommendation. Typically B&W impresses with trickle-down technology to capture your latest beat. Let's see what happens, arriving sometime next week at SF headquarters for a full review. Stay tuned.
Audeze LCD-3Audeze. (n)ever heard of 'em? You better. iHi-Fi is the new deal, exemplified by all the 'cans you see on peoples heads these days. Walk down any mall, street, airport and someone will sport the latest head-fashion. It is as much a fashion statement as it is a statement and medicine for your ears. Music is in. Music is hip. Music is good for your soul. Scientifically proven. Alas, there's the good stuff and then there's Haute-Couture. There's Levi's and there's Balmain denim. Get the point? Audeze is clearly in the latter category. Best headphones I ever heard. Planar magnetic drivers, zero distortion, amazingly clear treble and otherworldly bass. Price? Who cares? They are that good. Astounding! Enjoy the show.
Coming Soon: B&W Zeppelin Air
When Zeppelin first launched some years back, I thought it was the best personal, quasi on the go, HiFi you could get. Clearly many others thought so as well and now B&W launches their follow-up, Zeppelin Air. Stay tuned for more info and a full-on SF review.
Review: B&W Zeppelin
New Apple iPod Hi Fi in the works
Apple is in the hiring mood, it seems. They're looking for acoustic engineers to "be responsible for the design and development of many aspects of consumer loudspeaker systems such as Apple’s Hi Fi - including enclosure design, passive and active filter design, transducer design, and design validation."
Apple's iPod Hi Fi boombox is currently number 4 in the iPod speaker accessory wars. While some consider the iPod speakers to be expensive at $350, we all know that $350 is power cable territory. But if anyone can get people interested in luxury electronic devices, it's Apple. Check out MacRumors for more.
The pic shown is luxury design house Dunhill's alligator skin mod. Personally, I think we need more animal coverings on our speakers. Nothing like a little hide to tame resonance.
The Chinese Tragedy
Ah, China. The American audio industry has been facing stiff competition from a seemingly never-ending supply of Chinese high-end import products. While American audiophiles and normal consumers are weary of Chinese brand names, a number of companies have taken to rebranding the best of China and offering them up to American consumers as "the next hot thing."
Witness the V.A.L. i5 Vacuum tube speaker system. A little 6V6 tube sits in the place of honor (the input stage) and sends a signal to a series of low-power digital amps that feed the little full range speakers and a subwoofer. So what's the deal? Click "read full article" to see all the variations using this exact design. The companies offering these new products are SonicGear with their iSteroid, Quest for Sound's iPod Partner and Gini's iTube. Notice the subtle differences? Different colors, different features, different prices (from $100 up to $350 or so).
The irony is that this thing sounds great. No, really. I had a chance to play around with one of these and it really does sound startling good, despite the price tag of a few hundred bucks. How so? My only guess can be the plastic single driver covering from 110Hz on up. If you're familiar with the famed Jordan full range mini drivers, these plastic cones from China work the same way -- spread them way apart, toe them way in, crank them way up and get hit with that single driver Jordan sound (otherwise, it sounds terrible). Paired with the little digital amp and the tube buffer stage, this little thing is good, scary good...
The other player in the clones wars is Dared. I have also had a chance to play around with the little Dared MP-5 and it's also a killer piece. Again, tubes in the input stage and tiny digital amps (like Tripath, supposedly) providing the juice. Really nice build quality and all the shiny chrome you can handle. Put this next to any Bose POS and the Dared will sell hands down, every time, for less money. The Dared amp should have taken off. But what happened?
Dared's own American importer botched the launch. Their website ranked among the worst in audio. So for people looking to jump from Bose to tubes, they were met with a marketing tragedy. And that's when the Dared parent company began selling MP-5s sans labels. Fatman, a brit company, slapped their own label on the Dared piece, calling it the iTube (sound familiar?). Sound By Singer out of New York City is calling his identical version the Sonic Integrity. And now there's Vuum. Again, nothing new, just a different label. Oh, and eyeTEK in Germany. Is a Kazakhstani version forthcoming? One can only hope.
So four companies all competing with the same products in the same market. Singer has the highest price at $1000 for the set (audiophile gouging?) with the others coming it at around $700. Then again, I wrote about an auction selling the Dared amps for just $179. Ouch.
The sad part is main stream sites like Gizmodo and iLounge are writing about these products and absolutely slaughtering them. Or, I should say, they post the raw news and the readers go "hey, I've seen that before! It's a knock off! Boo!" And that's when the pitchforks come out and the American market rejects the products outright.
Alas, both these products are damn good (with the usual price/setup caveats). The vacuum tube does, through its little distortion magic act, clean up some of the digital glare of MP3s, so it's not all marketing BS about tubes at this price level. It's a shame, really, that what could have been legitimate convergence products have instead become Chinese alphabet soup.
I do hold out hope, however, that this new generation of trickle-down high-end products draw more and more attention to hi-fi. Seems people are becoming interested, finally, even if it's still in the freaky products out there. Here's to hoping that someone releases a product with genuine high-end appeal with marketing to match.
Oh, and finally, there's the iClassic below. See those tubes? Can you guess what they are? KT88s? 300Bs (Western Electrics, maybe)? Nope, they're faux tubes but they glow like the real thing! Yup, the iClassic is basically a iPod dock/clock radio with fake tubes and real speakers. $180 to lose your audio soul.
Me, I'm hoping for stick-on tubes from China. You know, a little battery inside with adhesive on the bottom. Then everything can be tube powered! DVD player, plasma TV, four-slice toaster, toilet, dog, wife. It's a brave new world.
iPod jukebox and iWoogie
From the never-ending deluge of iPod accessories comes an old school jukebox with, shockingly, an iPod dock. Anything else for your $699? Cool LEDs and a 2.1 system. Here's how they describe the sonics:
...using a 6.0 -inch large diameter subwoofer, and two magnetically shielded tweeters, mid-range drivers and using wood's properties to work in synergy with quality electronic components enable the Jukebox Station System to provide a dynamic and high-quality bass sound.
It also has an FM/AM radio, remote control and something called a CD player. Get yours at Target in October.
Pacific Rim also makes the iWoogie Blaster, a $180 iPod HiFi competitor. Here's what they say:
Using only the highest quality micro electronic components, high technology manufacturing and sophisticated design techniques and a wooden enclosure system to create an audiophile quality speaker system.
Can we please retire "audiophile" already? Anything with the word "woogie" cannot be called audiophile.
I'll let the facts speak for themselves: iPod cradle, control pad and earbuds all built into the watch pocket of the new iPod jeans from Levi. Naturally, you're wondering how soon you can get a pair. Mid-september for the introductory price of only $250. Here are some choice quotes from the iLounge:
What’s next? An iPod compatible toothbrush? How about an iPod compatible toilet brush?
Great, so now instead of having just an ipod stolen, you’ll lose your pants too.
How are you suppose to wash these stupid pants?
Wow, the masses are finally raising their fists against the glossy white overlords. With daily releases of new iPod accessories and so-called accessories, how soon until we reach the saturation point?
Fatman Rebranded Dared Amp
Look familiar? This is the Fatman Tube amp that looks strangely similar to the Chinese Dared MP-5 making the rounds here in the states. Fatman is out of the UK and the only difference appears to be the grinning buddha slapped on the front and some minor input tweaks. Check out our original coverage of the Dared MP-5, the $559 tube hybrid amp with a USB input. Fatman is also pitching Dared's tubed iPod dock, again with too-cool-for-school graphics on the front.
This rebranding may be either a territorial identification or simple marketing since the Dared US website is just about one of the worst sites on the net and the MP-5 mini site is even worse. And check out eBay for a wonderful auction for a batch of ten MP-5 amps for $1790...which makes each amp only $179. Stuff like this isn't exactly confidence inspiring to normal consumers. The sad part is that the Dared MP-5 is actually a pretty cool little product, one that could potentially bring people back to high-performance audio if it were marketed correctly. Alas, another wonderful opportunity squandered.
Because Alcohol Makes Everything Sound Good
You know what they say: drink until it sounds good. Truer words were never spoken. The CucumberLab Sound Machine has an iPod dock, 5 disc CD player, turntable, horn speaker w/ 200 watts, 8" subwoofer and, most importantly, a rack for 12 bottles of your favorite bev. Frequency range is a respectable 45Hz to 25kHz (+/- 30 dB, I imagine) and the sound, after one bottle, is described as "oh god, where's the bathroom?!?"
You know, I'm thinking the desire for bizarre iPod sound systems should burn out in a couple years. At that point, people may actually start making products where the freaky feature is "good sound" instead of "gets you plastered." Actually, I'm just hoping some major audiophile shelving company starts integrating wine racks into their products. Audio and alcohol, two great tastes together at last. Story via Oh Gizmo.
iPod Piano Just Like the Real Thing!
Here's an example of the iPod culture going absolutely stark raving mad. Don't get me wrong, I believe the iPod will save high-performance audio. But when someone creates a baby grand with an iPod dock instead of keys and a 2 way speaker system instead of hammers and strings, it's clear we've taken a turn for the worse.
Lovegroove & Repucci (established 2003) have a background in some very cool interior design and apparel products, so it's understandable they'd do a retro/modern/dada/hybrid/iPod piece. It's kinda cool if you roll like that, and it billed as a piece of furniture, not a product that will "replace your home audio system." That said, I'm still having trouble figuring out what's going on. Where are the speakers? What are those silver things in the pic below? What does it cost? Why do I really want one? (news via Gizmodo)
American Wired Reviews iPod Hi-Fi
First Audiophile Approved review of the iPod Hi-Fi over at American Wired (new issue!). If you don't remember, His High Holiness Steve Jobs claimed in his keynote the iPod Hi-Fi will replace your entire music system, even if your system sports 300B tubes, diamond tweeters and extruded plutonium cables hand wrapped by Samoan virgins. Does American Wired agree?
Had Apple come out and promoted the Hi-Fi as a genuine step-up over traditional mini-systems with bookshelf speakers and a stepping-stone to even higher levels of fidelity, I would have embraced it with great enthusiasm.
Asking me to pretend that it even comes close to the sound of my Fi X and Cain and Cain Abbys or the Shindo Labs Montille, is like asking me to pretend that A&W root beer tastes like Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer, or that White Castle tastes as good as a double-double from the In/Out.
So the iPod Hi-Fi ain't no Double-Double. Naturally, the Apple boombox is a convenience device, regardless of Jobs' BS cannon. My hope is Apple has planted the seed that will get people to start talking about sound quality for the first time in their lives. If the internet chatter is any indication, people who used to think smaller is better are now talking about things like "treble" and "bass" and, gasp, "sound stage." Is there hope on the horizon?
Killer New Products
Say hello to the iZilla, surely the greatest convergence product ever. I'll let the stats speak for themselves:
Product Features & Specifications
2000 Gigabytes of storage
Built in CDRW/DVD-RW 52X/32X/52X/16X
Built in slot loading turntable with laser pickup
Plays back video and audio digital media in the following formats: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, AVI, WMV, Divx, MP3, MP4, XviD, DVD(IFO, VOB), Ogg Vorbis, ADPCM, WMA, AAC-LC
Rips video from DVD (downloadable software patch required for encrypted DVD media)
Rips audio from CD (.wav, mp3 or Ogg Vorbis)
Rips audio from Vinyl (.wav, mp3 or Ogg Vorbis)
Transfers music to and from iPod (All iPod models with dock connector. Music from iPod must be non-encrypted.)
Burns DVD, Audio and Data CD formats
7" TFT-LCD Touch screen 724x309 resolution
Touch-Screen menu system controls all functions
Wireless connectivity with wi-fi 802.11g and Bluetooth
Wired connectivity via gigabit ethernet, USB 2.0, and Firewire.
Wireless Bluetooth DJ style headphones included
Six speaker surround system offering 5.1 channel surround sound with up to 120 watts per channel.
Dimensions: 19" x 14" x 4.5", weight 32.8 lbs. with batteries installed.
Vinyl ripping, 7" screen, 2 tb storage, 5.1 simulated surround, DVD burner, wireless and more. Best part is the price: only $799. I think Apple is finished...
Get ready, folks. A much-requested product is finally available: wireless power cords. The best cable is no cable, right? Operating in the 7.2 GHz range, the wireless power cords disconnect you from noisy electrical interference for deepest blacks imaginable. How deep, you ask? Like 6 feet deep. Cryoed versions available this fall.
iPod Hi-Fi Reviews
iLounge reviews the iPod Hi-Fi and gives it a "B" rating -- solid midrange and bass but the treble is weak. Sound aside, the B rating is really for lack of ingenuity. The iPod Hi-Fi is basically just a shiny white boombox without any of the cool stuff people would want, like wi-fi integration. Though iLouge does make the mistake of believing EQ settings equal audiophile-approved features.
The really interesting element in all this is just how much ink is spilled on the sound quality. People are now using audiophile language like "sound stage" and, you know, "treble" to describe a product rather than "cute" and ""portable." In fact, if you read the comments, a number of people are upset that Apple didn't do more to advance the home stereo cause.
Also, an article over at iPodGarage postulates that Apple is releasing somewhat lackluster products (like the leather iPod case released along with the boombox) not to try and capture the accessory market, but grow it.
They want more people getting involved in accessories. It's a 1 billion a year industry but it could be more. By throwing some press at the accessory biz, they're really giving the other products in the same categories a lot more coverage. Of course, hard to see Steve Jobs as a benefactor but this may be a fortunate side effect.
The big question, of course, is if this will increase the exposure to high-performance audio.