Jim Austin

Jim Austin  |  Aug 15, 2019  |  17 comments
If you're a music fan—and if you're reading this, you probably are—you've heard this already: On June 11, the New York Times Magazine published an investigative report about a 2008 fire that destroyed a vault at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

Workers were repairing a roof on an oft-reused movie set, heating asphalt tiles with a blowtorch. Protocol required the repairmen to stick around for one hour until the asphalt had cooled, to guard against fire. But shortly after they left, a fire broke out. Hundreds of firefighters fought it, pulling water from the lake once inhabited by The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Jim Austin  |  Jul 16, 2019  |  2 comments
By the time you read this, Munich's High End 2019 will be a distant memory. Yet as I write this, having just returned from Munich, the experience is fresh in my mind. It's the most compelling audio topic I can think of, crying out for commentary.

Munich is to audiophiles—to this one at least—what New York's 5th Avenue is to Black Friday shoppers. It's the audiophile version of flying through a canyon with a wing suit on. It's a giant rush, audio cocaine.

Jim Austin  |  Jun 20, 2019  |  27 comments
Mark Levinson isn't known as a budget brand, and most people would not consider $8500 a budget price for anything short of a new car. One could argue, though, that Levinson's new No.5805 integrated amplifier ($8500 with DAC and phono stage) is a budget component—combining high performance and build quality with a price tag that's moderate by hi-fi standards. Plus, there's a lot of functionality in one box.
Jim Austin  |  Jun 18, 2019  |  77 comments
Stereophile's first change in editorial leadership in 33 years calls for a restatement of the magazine's core principles.

Stereophile was founded in 1962 by J. Gordon Holt, on the premise that the best way to review an audio component is to listen to it. Following Holt as editor, John Atkinson turned that premise into a viable concern—a real magazine—and, in 1989, added a regular suite of measurements to Stereophile's otherwise subjective mix.

Jim Austin  |  May 17, 2019  |  63 comments
For those who listen with their ears and not their brain, perfectionist hi-fi offers many surprises.

A friend called me up a few weeks ago and asked if the DAC we both own had received an automatic firmware update he hadn't heard about; something had changed, it wasn't good, and he couldn't figure out what it was. His system's sound was suddenly pale and unfocused.

There had been no firmware update.

Jim Austin  |  May 16, 2019  |  9 comments
For sheer scale, perhaps the most impressive system I heard at the Munich High End show was in the room shared by Von Schweikert and VAC. The star of the show was—perhaps—the Von Schweikert Ultra Reference 9 loudspeaker, which sells for an impressive $200,000/pair. The Ultra series is, Von Schweikert says, a cost-no-object line. So far there are three speakers in the line: The 9, the $300,000 11, and the $90,000 55. Von Schweikert, of course, also sells more modestly priced loudspeakers; their VR-22 is under $3000 / pair.
Jim Austin  |  May 16, 2019  |  0 comments
Etienne Charles: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion; Brian Hogans, Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Sullivan Fortner, James Francies, piano, Fender Rhodes; Alex Wintz, guitar; Luques Curtis, Russell Hall, Ben Williams, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; D'Achee, congas. With: Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo, Laventille Rhythm Section, other percussionists.
Culture Shock EC007 (2 LPs). 2019. Etienne Charles, prod.; Glenn Brown, Christian Burkett, David Darlington, Mark Wilder, engs. DDA. TT: 67:20
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Etienne Charles, the Trinidadian trumpeter, percussionist, and Guggenheim fellow, has a knack for album concepts. His 2013 album, Creole Soul, starts with an incantation from an actual Voodoo priest and goes on to cover Creole-influenced tunes from Bob Marley and the Mighty Sparrow. Thelonious Monk is also in the mix, with his "Green Chimneys," which features a calypso melody Charles speculates Monk first heard in New York's San Juan Hill, a Caribbean neighborhood where Monk lived for a while.

Jim Austin  |  May 15, 2019  |  1 comments
It had been years since I last checked in with Totem Acoustic, the Canada-based loudspeaker manufacturer. When I showed up at the Totem room and was greeted by company president and longtime chief designer Vince Bruzzese, I didn't know what to expect. In the event, what I got was some excellent sound from two compact towers placed very close to the front wall, and a short introduction to what appeared to be some interesting technology behind those impressive loudspeakers.
Jim Austin  |  May 15, 2019  |  3 comments
In Munich, electronics company Constellation Audio was demoing with Magico M2 loudspeakers ($63,000 / pair with M-Pod footers). Spinning vinyl was the the job of the Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian turntable ($35,000) w/Viper Tonearm ($10,000) and Ortofon A-95 Cartridge ($6,000). Phono preamplification was by Constellation—their Andromeda phono stage ($18,000). On the digital side, the source was Constellation's Cygnus Media Player/DAC ($38,000). Constellation's Pictor preamp was in use ($18,000), as was a pair of their Taurus monoblocks ($39000/pair).
Jim Austin  |  May 15, 2019  |  35 comments
Playing in Room F210 on the top level atrium of Hall 4: Two pair of Focal Scala Utopia EVO loudspeakers ($39,995/pair) with lots of Naim electronics and cabling. Also in the system was a VPI Prime Signature turntable, but it wasn't in use when I was in the room. The key items in this room, though, were humble footers: specifically, IsoAcoustics GAIA-Titan Theis isolators—not so humble after all, on second thought, since they cost $899.99 for a set of four. The loudspeakers—white and green—were arranged in alternate pairs, their acoustical centers shifted by a few degrees.

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