Jim Austin

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Jim Austin  |  Dec 04, 2018  |  16 comments
If there's one thing audiophiles agree on, it's that snake oil is bad—even if they can't agree about what snake oil actually is.

In audio, snake oil means fake science or fake technology—anything that's claimed to improve the sound of a system but that looks like an obvious rip-off. For some people, expensive speaker cables and interconnects are snake oil. A few objectivists consider AC power treatments snake oil: most modern audio components, after all, can correct for AC line-voltage flaws and reject "ripple" in a power supply's output. A handful of hard-core objectivists maintain that every new digital technology since the advent of the Compact Disc is snake oil.

Jim Austin  |  Nov 14, 2018  |  15 comments
Late on Friday at the New York Audio Show, I found myself explaining to an audiophile friend, also in attendance, my reaction to the big room sponsored by ESD Acoustic, and to their huge, extravagant, ostentatious five-way horn system—the one my colleagues Sasha Matson and Ken Micallef described in detail, and about which my colleague Herb Reichert contrasted his favorable experience here in New York with his unfavorable experience at the 2018 Munich show.
Jim Austin  |  Nov 12, 2018  |  13 comments
The last time I covered the New York Audio Show it was not, frankly, a great experience. The show was really small. It seemed like everyone was playing Diana Krall or some pop-classical piece from an audiophile label. Nobody, it seemed, dared to play interesting music.
Jim Austin  |  Nov 06, 2018  |  5 comments
When I reviewed PS Audio's PerfectWave P10 Power Plant AC Regenerator,1 I found that it significantly improved the way music sounded through my system. I bought one. The main limitations I found with the P10 were its power—a maximum continuous load of 1200 volt-amps (VA, footnote 1)—and the number of AC outlets it provides: 10. When driving a 4 ohm load at even half its rated power, one PS Audio BHK 300 monoblock consumes 800W—and while 10 outlets sounds like a lot, I've run out more than once.
Jim Austin  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  10 comments
Virtually all of the active components in your system—DACs, preamplifiers, power amplifiers—work by modulating the DC output of their power supplies with an AC music signal. Surely, then, the more perfect your household AC is, the more perfect your audio system's output will be. Analogies abound—to dirty water used in distilling good whiskey, to inferior thread used to weave fine fabrics—and all amount to the same thing: you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Jim Austin  |  Oct 02, 2018  |  43 comments
The most notable aspect of Benchmark Media Systems' DAC3 HGC ($2195), which I favorably reviewed in the November 2017 Stereophile (footnote 1), is its low noise floor. John Atkinson's measurements corroborated Benchmark's claim that the DAC3 is capable of "at least" 21-bit performance. While significantly less than the theoretical potential of a 24-bit data format, 21 bits is still the state of the art, and corresponds to a dynamic range—the ratio of the highest achievable digital-domain volume to the DAC's internal noise—of 128dB. That's well above the dynamic range that most power amplifiers can achieve. A good-measuring high-end solid-state amplifier is likely to have a dynamic range—the highest attainable ratio of signal to noise—of about 100dB ref. its maximum power.
Jim Austin  |  Sep 18, 2018  |  70 comments
I attend at least a couple of dozen classical-music performances each year. I also read reviews of recordings and live performances, and have even dabbled in writing them. Why, then, do I find classical music reviews so frequently annoying?

It's the vocabulary. In these reviews I often see words that I rarely see used elsewhere: scintillating, irresistible, delightful. One venerable reviewer for Gramophone magazine has used the word "beguiling" 100 times in some 900 reviews. When I read such words, I envision the poor music critic writhing in his (occasionally her) listening chair, approaching an involuntary state of aesthetic ecstasy. It isn't a pretty image.

Jim Austin  |  Aug 21, 2018  |  45 comments
I listen to music in all formats, but my most ecstatic home listening experiences have always involved vinyl. It's probably something to do with the fact that, like most people my age and older, I grew up listening to LPs—in my case, played on a Technics SL-210 turntable, and through an Aiwa receiver with beautiful green tuner lights and a pair of early Polk Audio studio monitors. I'm drawn, surely, to an improved version of the sound I heard back then. It's a powerful sentimental connection.
Jim Austin  |  Jul 17, 2018  |  71 comments
It's after 5pm on Wednesday, and I'm finishing up the listening part of my review of Apple's wireless speaker, the HomePod ($349). On a whim, I've just asked Siri to play me some drinking songs.

I mention this because the HomePod's "smart" features—its integration with Siri and the Apple Music streaming service—is a big part of its appeal. In its natural element, the HomePod provides a way of accessing music that, although as old as our century, to me is still new and unfamiliar: Forget your hoary music collection, your Rolling Stones and Beethoven. Decide what kind of music you want to hear—a genre or a mood—then leave the choice to Siri and her algorithmic minions.

Jim Austin  |  Jun 19, 2018  |  45 comments
Photos: Jim Austin

I'm sitting in a rented Nissan just off Highway 61—yes, that Highway 61—looking out at a Shell station through the bug-stained windshield and across a litter-strewn, not-yet-planted cotton field. It's late March, and I've just left Clarksdale, Mississippi, on my way to Memphis. Leaving Clarksdale made me thoughtful, so I've pulled over to jot down a few notes.

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