Red Beans and Rice…and Vinyl

If you’re from New Orleans and “…you know what it means to miss…” then you’re not alone. I learned at a young age that nourishing one’s body requires some key ingredients. Never short on this list was love, dedication, and soul. Pouring yourself into the cuisine or music of New Orleans is a birth right, and I dove right in! Rather, I swam in the swamp water funk and filled my belly with meal after meal of soul satisfying cuisine. After leaving my hometown, these experiences found their way into this portable homesick remedy. The two key ingredients are: a record of  The Meters (yes, it should be the vinyl version), and Camellia Red Beans

These two homegrown items serve a joint purpose: they transport your senses back to the Big Easy. The correct vinyl mixture with an authentic bowl of red beans can cure all that ails you. This is about as close to a soul cleansing as you’ll get without an all night gorging and dancing in the Crescent City.

What do red beans and rice have in common with vinyl records you ask? More than you would think, my friend. Both The Meters records and red beans should be lovingly cared for and cleaned thoroughly. This ensures that all the soul and flavor is readily available and able to be extracted. Secondly, they both take time and patience. Whether it is soaking your red beans overnight to make them tender or selecting your Meters record rotation for cooking, these activities cannot and must not be rushed. Most importantly, red beans and rice require specific spices to achieve peak flavor. Seasoning your vinyl album and stylus tip with the appropriate amount of “spices” (Last Stylast) will allow all the analog tone to come through. I almost forgot, Don’t forget to save your bacon drippings and ham hocks, you’ll be needing those essentials to pull this off!

Both red beans and The Meters provide that quintessential staple of southern comfort. Once combined, you will know what I’m talking about. Unlike many audiophile recordings, these Meters albums aren’t sonic intricacies that are meant to be distilled through super critical listening sessions. Rather, the heart and soul of this music is felt – this is music without all the additives and preservatives. With your red beans simmering and The Meters laying it down, you will surely be in a happy place.

Click here for the receipe for Red Beans and Rice

The Meters on LP:

The Meters              Kickback

Rejuvenation         Cabbage Alley

Look-Ka Py Py      Fire on the Bayou

-C‘est le bon ton roule!

Another killer live recording of The Meters here!


Getz/Gilberto on 45 rpm

The Glossy Gatefold of Getz/Gilberto made by Analogue Productions/QRP

Getz/Gilberto* trulystands out as a timeless masterpiece of the Bossa Nova genre.

I’ve had CD re-issues of this famous album, even 24 bit digital remasters. Most recently, I even tried the HD Tracks Hi-Res version. From decent NAD CD players, to a separate Benchmark DAC-1 doing the conversion, my sonic impressions of this album changed with improved audio technologies through the years. While digital music files provided obvious conveniences, it wasn’t until I heard the 45 rpm vinyl that my audio senses were fully nourished. Playing back this record on a modified Rega P3 was breathtaking. Instruments and voices appeared from a black backdrop, and the low background noise seemed to only be the recording electronics of the time.

The piano playing of Antonio Carlos Jobim is gentle and impeccably timed. Joao Gilberto hand-picks the nylon string guitar and sings. Stan Getz plays on the song melodies with his trademark breathy/reedy sax, and Milton Banana fleshed out that quintessential bossa nova groove via drums.The glue holding this quintet together comes from the subtle but deep double bass of Sebastião Neto…And who can forget Astrud Gilberto’s soothing and sexy vocal gracing us on two famous tracks; The Girl from Impanema, and Corcovado.

Sure, I knew that this album contained those intimate recorded memories…but did I? That kind of musical cohesion and graceful bossa nova style sounded like it never had before! Not only could I hear all the intimacy of the recording session, but for the first time, the music was unforced. I heard these musicians playing together in a studio space that was until now merely a facsimile. That being said, Sonically, this 45 rpm vinyl record brings me closer to the live event than any earlier version (save for an original mint pressings).

-This is a must!

*This version was produced by Analogue Productions. Without any sonic strain, your ears will bend back with approval. No digital copies here, this was caringly transferred and mastered by George Marino.

Signal path:
Turntable: Rega P3 w/ groovetracer subplatter, carbon fiber mat, Benz Micro Silver MC

Phono Pre: Sim Audio Moon LP5.3 (hifituning fuse) (Shunyata Black Mamba>Hydra 2)

Pre Amp: Crane Song Avocet (hifituning) (Shunyata black mamba CX>Hydra 2)

Amp: Anthem MCA 2 285 watts per channel into 4 0hms (Power via Shunyata HC VTX>Hydra 2)

Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Eos HD

Power: Shunyata Hydra 2 x2 Black Mamba CX for Digital and Line Level, Hydra HC VTX for Amplifier.

Cables: Audio Magic Excallibur II Balanced XLR/Audio Magic Sorcerer speaker cable

T.H.E. Show’s best demos

While hearing lots of different hi-fi stereo setups is tons of fun, it really grabs me when a demonstration allows listeners to discern sonic differences in audio equipment and formats. Several companies (Sony, Hegel, and Kimber) provided demos that allowed show goers to get a better grasp of different technologies. This type of informative listening session creates a better trust with potential customers.

Walking into the Hegel room at T.H.E. Show Newport was certainly fun, informative, and worthwhile. Rather than just hearing more music, we were treated to a full description and demo of the electronics. Music certainly played a roll, but it was used as a tool to show the differences in their various DACs (digital-to-analog-converters). This kind of demo can leave a lasting impression on our short audio/sonic memory.

Sony demonstrated the differences between PCM and DSD digital audio in an effective setup consisting of Meitner and Mytek DACs. While sonic differences between the DACs certainly exist, it was more startling to hear the 24/96 PCM vs the DSD. The DSD wins, every time! I am certainly looking forward to more USB DSD DACs in the future!

Kimber Cable did a fantastic demonstration of their Isomike recordings. The exhibitor demonstrated how the unique baffle of the Isomike allows four omni mics to pick up the full recorded event (4.0 surround). Both the directionality, and the space/depth of the recordings were rendered very well. To further prove the baffle’s effectiveness, we were treated to a race track recording. The wizzing by of race cars was quite realistic! I left with an excellent understanding of Kimber’s production methods.

It’s easy to jumble all the sounds of a hi-fi show. When trying to recall room after room of audio gear differences, I must always consult my notes… Except when a demonstration is done so well that it leaves a lasting sonic impression.

-untill next year!


MBL of Germany at T.H.E. Show Newport 2012


Walking around T.H.E. Show Newport this year was certainly a trek, and it definitely requires more than one day to see a good chunk of exhibitors. While the Atrium hotel didn’t have exhibits spread out on 10 floors like the Hilton, there were hidden nooks and crannies of audio fun waiting to be discovered all over.

One room that proved to always be full was MBL of Germany. Their unique Radialstrahler speaker is usually a hit at hifi audio shows, and this time was no exception. I brought a Bill Frisell CD along (Gone, Just Like a Train), and asked if I might hear a track through the MBL system. The gentleman representing MBL obliged, but only after he told me that it must be demagnetized first. I smiled, and apologized for bringing stray magnetic fields into his room. After the cheesy audiophile banter, I sat front center and took off into the recording. The depth and width of the soundstage was exquisite. Not only could I localize all musicians, but the space around them was natural and not exaggerated. From top to bottom I heard all of Frisell’s stereo guitars, the thunderous deep bass of Victor Krauss, and Jim Keltner playing the drums in just the right space.

While these speakers sounded thrilling, the reproduction of sound was something of a fantasy- dispersing sound in 360 degrees while bass is fired below- this creates some low mid mud that is minor, but discernible.

The MBL audio experience is a must for any visitor to a hifi show. I have never heard a grand piano sound so convincingly real than when they play one over the MBL full range systems. This is the kind of excitement and realism that fools the ears into believing a live music performance is actually taking place! Involving, fun, fun, fun for millionaires!

Although the MBL audio systems are extremely expensive, it’s always fun to walk in and hear a demo! I must say that the smaller version of this speaker did not impress very much. It was my experience that the large floorstanding Radialstrahler has much better depth and evenness in frequency response than the stand mounted MBL speaker. Here is a pic from last year’s show in Newport.

The Dark “Man Cave” aesthetic – so prevelant at hifi audio shows

Photos taken by Vahan Baladouni

Hegel Music Systems

On my last day at T.H.E. Show Newport I walked toward the light.  Literally, the only audio exhibitor who had the beautiful California sun filling the room was Hegel Music Systems of Norway. Hegel electronics paired with Amphion speakers produced a clean modern aesthetic that made me feel welcome. I soon learned that the technology behind Hegel amplifiers was truly unique.

Eileen of Hegel really took her time to demonstrate and explain the technologies contained within their product line. The demonstration focused around using a Hegel CD player, 2 different DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and the H70 integrated amp to power the Amphion speakers. The idea was for a listener to become familiar with a CD music track (converted by the CD player’s onboard DAC) then hear the same track converted through the two different outboard DACs made by Hegel (the HD11 and the HD20). The sonic benefits in jitter reduction and power supply design were readily noticeable. Well Done.

Hegel H70 Integrated Amplifier

The amplifier technology from Hegel was impressive in that it is able to maintain a high damping factor *(greater than 1000) while using a class A/B design. I was told that by eliminating feedback loops associated with other amp designs, the Hegel amps are able to have less distortion. They use what they call a “feed forward” design. I can certainly attest that this little H70 integrated amp (70 watts a channel into 8ohms) was truly a beast! I can imagine that speakers with decent sensitivity will love the H70’s control and articulation. Most importantly though was the fact that the Hegel amplification seemed to get out-of-the-way. It amplified music effortlessly and seemed to sonically disapear. The H70 also provides analog rca inputs and even a balanced pair of inputs. Hegel even gets you set up to receive digital inputs like coaxial/spdif, optical, and even a USB input for computer audio.

While I have not had a chance to fully review these amps with speaker I am familiar with, I have a good sense of the sonic picture since the Amphion speakers were used  – A Finnish company that has ties to Genelec from the professional speaker world.

Below please find some pictures of the Hegel designs:

Hegel H20 amplifier

Hegel H100 integrated amp

*See my post on Green Amplifier Technology

Hegel amps are GREENER *It should also be noted that the Hegel Class A/B amplifier designs use 60-70% less power than traditional Class A/B amplifiers. This is due to Hegel using a lower bias current on the amp’s transistors.

Here is a video about the Hegel design.

Audiophile Music Tastes – UPDATED

I blogged and tweeted about peculiar audiophile musical tastes at T.H.E. Show Newport, and the exibitors responded with a great selection Rock and popular selections. My first shout-out must go to Optimal Enhancement of Santa Monica for playing some great Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin records today. You musically nourished me enough to make through the…The Vinyl sounded great through your Audio Research Tube monoblocks.

I would also like to send a sincere thank you to JM Lab/Focal for playing some great music. I walked in to hear the Utopia III powered by two mono-block Devialet- D amplifiers and was surprised to hear The XX’s song VCR

The room which employed Lynx AD/DA converters with Joseph Audio monitors sounded great with the Neil Young that was briefly played – before a return to…

Thanks for Keeping it Rockin’, well a little anyways


Stay tuned for a review from the folks in Norway – Hegel

Audiophile Music Tastes

T.H.E. Show Newport 2012 Update:

People: please bring a good variety of recordings to demo. The only exhibitors thus far, who had good modern recordings like Jack White’s 100% analog signal path-Blunderbuss were Centrance- yep the computer audio desktop people. By the way, the dual concentric Centrance speakers had great imaging for the nearfield monitoring of music. Great for the office.

I like all kinds of music, and I wish the audiophile market realized that young people will always want to hear current music releases too. Even though many modern recordings are over compressed and limited to death, current pop releases exist that would stir the young audiophile market more than hearing a wind quintet or a super quiet piano solo on full range speakers. Radiohead In Rainbows on 45 rpm or the Blunderbuss release from Jack White would certainly perk my ears up…even Getz I love so much.

T.H.E. Show exhibitors please ROCK the house on Sunday!!!

Channel Islands Audio at T.H.E. Show 2012

Channel Islands Audio Room

Walking around T.H.E. Show in Newport revealed a fair amount of over the top flashy audio systems. You’d think that this gear was a status symbol or something, oh, yeah…It Is for a lot of people! Without going into the aesthetic issues that plagues hi-fi equipment, I will mention that some companies do get it right. Case in point, Channel Islands produces some fantastic sounding USB DACs, Class D amps, and even headphone amps. Having steel metal face plates, these audio pieces remind me of vintage Marantz gear with a modern sleekness. It’s worth mentioning that the designer also built his own simple (first order crossover) speakers to realize the full potential of his electronics. This created a synergy that few other computer audio rooms could compete with.

HIFIQC…Cause we want to listen to music, and even dance sometimes!