Welcome to my
New Years / pre-CES post three weeks vacation column. For the first time since
entering college, I had a full three weeks in a row off to relax and rejuvenate.
My wife and I, for the first time, spent a full 22 days in the Caribbean at our
retirement home which weíve had for 21 years, but have only been able to spend
a total of nine weeks at during that time. Happily, due to its being rented out,
itís paid for itself.
Of course, it was my typical vacation, with me doing painting, staining, and repairs to the place to get it ready for the next renters, but Iíd go bonkers if I had to sit on a beach for that amount of time. Unhappily by the third day I was going crazy without my audio system. I should have brought along my Stax headphones and amp along with the Smyth Realizer A8 Headphone Audio Processor and my netbook computer to reconstruct, at least aurally, my media room, but the baggage needed to be filled with household items.
So first lesson for today; while packing for a vacation, the ability to listen to music should be above all else for an audiophile.
Second lesson for the day revolves around what
you should do before a long vacation.
On my return on turning on the audio system, it was dead. We had a massive, never seen before in October, snow storm in New Hampshire just after we left, which turned off the power for two days. I first thought that there must have been a voltage spike when it came back on, as both 30 amp circuit breakers in the media room were off. But on flipping those back on one immediately faulted again. After about an hour of systematically evaluating the problem (actually rummaging around, trying this and that) and a few naughty words, it turned out that my AdeptResponse aR1 power conditioner was defective, possibly taken out by the turn-on surge from the power company.
Once the aR1 was removed, the system came on, but
the music, which was excellent before I left, sounded like shit. This is very
out of the ordinary, as normally, after the system has been off for several
days, it sounds far better than normal. Whether itís due to a change in how
one perceives the sound, with the ears being acclimatized to the normal crap one
listens to, or a system change I know not. But it happens regularly.
For some reason, there was a fairly loud 60 Hz tone, suggestive of a grounding problem. After spending another two hours grounding, un-grounding, star grounding, etc., the hum had improved in the right speaker, but was still there in the left. More on this later!
At that point, I threw in the towel and went to bed. After ruminating for 24 hours, the decision was made to repeat the dismantling of the system done only two months ago, re-clean all contacts, and re-set it up in such a way as to minimize length of interconnects rather than continue to do half-assed trial and error. Six hours later the system was back together again, and except for moderate hum with my ear against the midrange 107 dB/watt horn, the system was silent. Of more import, all seven speakers and five subwoofers were functioning properly, an unusual occurrence when rebuilding a complicated system. Of greatest import was that the system sounded almost good as Iíve ever heard it. Thank God!!
So whatís the second lesson for the day?
go away on a three week vacation with an impending snow blizzard, or shut off
the circuit breakers to the system before leaving; a good rule to remember,
especially with the overtaxed electrical grid in this country.
And This Leads Up To...
They came over last Saturday and after evaluating my electric service, we sat and listened for three hours to music, actually playing most of the non-audiophile pieces straight through. A great time was had by all, and having been impressed by Mr. Mroz, and never having been led wrong by Steve, I decided to have the project done. As an added advantage, due to resistance decrease, my electric bill should improve.
Mr. Mroz and his associate came over last Friday and spent approximately 11 hours taking apart my electrical system from the feeder of the electric meter through all of my service boards to the circuit breakers and electric cords. They cleaned and polished all contacts, then applied a proprietary silver paste to all contacts, then reconnected everything.
While performing this, they found that many of the contacts in the main 200 Ampere service, including the ones connected directly to my media room, had become severely corroded and pitted, probably leading to micro-arcing which can produce RF noise in the circuits. Whether this occurred over time or secondary to the power outage mentioned above was undetermined.
According to them it should take about 6 to 8
weeks for the improvements to show themselves as the silver paste settles in,
but my wife and I instantly noticed a brightening in all of our fluorescent
lamps and my wife had to turn down her clothes iron and oven from their normal
levels. My projector had to have its brightness turned down from 55 to 46 to get
black levels to where they were previously and the soundstage on the audio side
opened up somewhat. The biggest change was a complete loss of the noise in the
left channel and a significant decrease in the total noise floor of the system.
Even a transformer hum which happens every once in a while has not appeared
since. On the other hand, the next night some of the audio soundstage
improvement had disappeared, so weíll have to wait the required time to give a
full report. More in a couple of months.
Normally, in past years, the remainder of this column would be on a product that Iíd want to feature prior to CES so all of you going to the show would look it up. Unhappily the two units which were supposed to show up here and be evaluated, didnít. Such are the travails of an audio writer. On the other hand it was probably best for them to wait considering how long it took for my system to get back to decent sound.
And Of Course Some Music
On the other hand, there is only one American orchestra, Tillson-Thomasí San Francisco, which has done any Blu-ray recordings, and those recorded in San Francisco are very good sonically, but the one (their Shostakovich Fifth Symphony) recorded in Moscow, suffers from the same problem. At least none of them suffer from digititis.
Iíll report further on this next month but I do want to suggest that if you have a Blu-ray player, that you go to your favorite disk purchasing site and get the Blu-ray recording of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4 through 6 with Valeri Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. This is the first European orchestra that I know of that has opened its own Blu-ray label, and this is the second best recording that Iíve heard on Blu-ray.
Finally, Iíve had what at least I consider to be a brilliant idea on how our major orchestras can add some much needed funds to their budgets. It came upon me as I was listening to a Boston Symphony concert a few weeks ago from WCRB in Boston, 45 miles away. The concert was superb, but the reception sucked, with much hiss and with their volume limiter was working overtime squashing the dynamics. Even the low bit rate web transmission of the performance had better sonics. I immediately thought about the BSO Recording Trust which has every concert performance recorded at least since the 40ís, and their web site where one can download their latest recordings in 24-bit/96kHz surround sound, and earlier recordings in mp3.
So whatís my idea? Since theyíre recording every concert, and have the mic's already there to do both stereo and surround recordings, why donít they allow subscriptions to download the high def recordings which should sound far superior to the FM programs. They could wait a week or two after the concert, to assuage the FM station and PBS, I addition, they could have someone at the concert selling codes to download at a later date, possibly at a reduced cost from the non-concert goers, what they just heard. Since there would be no cost for album production, the downloads could be sold for a reasonable amount, say $10 to $15 per performance, or an annual subscription fee of $100 to $200. Thatís what one pays now to go to just one concert a Symphony Hall. If thereís a problem with copyright, have them share the proceeds with the guest conductors and soloists and the orchestraís pension fund.
In addition, why not record the best concerts in
high def video-audio like the Europeans and sell them as Blu-ray rather than
audio-only SACD. The Russian Mariinsky orchestra and the San Francisco are doing
it. The Boston Pops the and the New York Philharmonic already do TV
concerts for PBS, but with atrocious sound and video, so why not come into the
21st century with one or both of the above methods of spreading the
classics to the masses. Oh well, just thoughts. Doubt any of the American
orchestras will come into the 21st century and slowing fade into
bankruptcy and oblivion. Their and our loss!