Monday, November 21, 2011

Kindle Fire Side Load Apps

I’ve been playing with my new Kindle Fire since I received it last week.

It’s a nice tablet. You can check reviews elsewhere. I was a bit concerned about the limited Kindle Fire approved apps in Amazon’s App Store. I have a few key apps that I would like to run.

PC Magazine has a very good tutorial on how to add third party apps.

I have been able to load and run the following apps:

  • HBO Go
  • Squeezebox (Logitech Squeezebox Controller App)
  • Squeezebox Commander
  • Twit on MediaFly
  • WSJ Mobile
  • Nook (Barnes and Noble Reader App)
  • Bing
  • iHeart Radio

So far, so good.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Pat Metheny & Larry Grenadier–Strathmore 10-04-2011


Just a year after the amazing Orchestrion tour, Pat Metheny returned to the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland for a fantastic evening of music featuring Larry Grenadier on Bass.

The evening began with a series of Guitar/Bass duets covering a wide swath of Metheny originals including Sirabhorn, Question and Answer, and James. Pat and Larry had an electric synergy that was captivating to watch. Pat then gave some opening remarks which led to some acoustic guitar and bass duets. Larry left the stage and Pat launched Into the Dream featuring his Pikasso harp guitar. This was a real crowd pleaser.

Larry returned to the stage and Pat initiated a series of loops using his midi equipped Ibanez guitar. This abstract space jam with Larry providing bowed bass effects eventually blossomed into the “mini-me” Orchestrion setup that had been hiding behind a curtain for the entire concert. Pat added layer upon layer of loops to trigger the midi accordion, glass harmonica, drums, and glockenspiel to create a full working band to accompany Larry and Pat. Having seen the full Orchestrion show just a year earlier, I was thrilled at the spectacle once again!

Pat and Larry returned for two encores and completed the show on a high note.

I first saw Pat Metheny with his original Quartet in the late 1970’s at the famous Cellar Door club in Georgetown (Washington, DC). I have seen nearly every incarnation since. It is wonderful after all this time that Pat can still hold an audience in rapt attention.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Low Output MC Cartridge, USP-1, and SUT

I've long been a vinyl-phile since I was a kid (now 51). I've got a few thousand records, some are over 40 years old that I bought as a kid and still sound great!. I also run a linux based (vortex box distro) Squeezebox server with about 5,000 FLAC albums. Over 1.5 tb of files! I'm not a luddite, I just enjoy the sound and experience of vinyl.

I recently upgraded to a Dynavector DV-20x2 which has an output of only 0.3 mv. Previously, I had been using a medium output (0.9 mv) Benz Glider on my stock VPI scout turntable into an Emotiva USP-1.

After setup and taking time to assess the new cartridge, I started to wonder if I could improve things. My main assessment of the DV-20x2 into the USP-1 was that the sound was okay but maybe lacking in extension on both the low end and high end frequencies. I was especially concerned that I was not retrieving all the high end information I knew to be on the recordings I was very familiar with.

After further research, I decided to try a SUT (Step Up Transformer) and chose the $395 Cinemag 3440A model from Bob's Devices. I consulted by email with Bob about my exact setup and which of his devices would be recommended. A quick PayPal transaction ensued and less than a week later I had this little magic box in my hands.

Paying close attention to cable layout using my own custom cables (Gotham GAC-4/1)with the shield attached only at the source end only (as recommended by Bob) resulted in a very quiet installation with no evident hum whatsoever. Only a small amount of hiss is evident but inevitable when dealing with such minuscule voltages. In case it is not obvious, the purpose of the SUT is to magnify the gain from the cartridge to a sufficient level to drive the moving magnet stage of a preamp. The SUT I bought features a 10x and 16x option and it was recommended I use the 10x selection.

The positive change the SUT brought to my vinyl playback chain was very dramatic to say the least. All reservations I had before were erased and my records now had the frequency extension and dynamic impact I longed for and expected. Some may say that spending an additional $400 for a device attached to a $400 preamp is a lopsided expenditure. All I can say is my vinyl now sounds exceptional and I can't stop listening.

You can read all about Bob's Devices here.

Also, there was a good write-up not too long ago in Stereophile.

One other advantage for using a SUT is that the MM specification seems to be more standardized which I think my contribute to the quality of what I am hearing. I gather MC stages are less standardized and thus more susceptible to sound variations like I experienced. I surmise that when dealing with such low voltages, that cartridge loading (100 ohm, 1k ohm, 47k ohm) becomes ever more critical.

So, for those of you that continue to explore the vinyl world and have ventured into using low output MC cartridges, you may want to add a SUT device like Bob's Devices to your toolbox.

Friday, September 09, 2011

BSO & Marin Alsop 2011-12 Preview Concert

2011-09-08 21.21.58
Last night, I attended a wonderful concert at the Strathmore Music Center. Marin Alsop led the BSO in a sampler concert featuring excerpts of works that will be played during the forthcoming 2011-12 season. Highlights for me included a sublime Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy. Alsop provided informative program notes before each piece and pointed out the scandalous for the time “Devil’s Triad” of notes. I was also thrilled to hear the powerful Thus Sprach Zarathustra also known as the theme from the Stanley Kubrick movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. The opening Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland was very powerful and moving as was his theme from Appalachian Spring. Is there any more quintessential American Music?

The BSO under Ms. Alsop’s direction was in top form and based on the smiles on their faces seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Capital Audiofest 2011

Yesterday, I attended the second annual Capital Audiofest. This year the event was hosted in a hotel in Rockville, MD. A very wide selection of audio equipment was on display and available for audition. Several audio industry celebrities were on hand including John Atkinson (Stereophile), Peter McGrath (Wilson Speakers), and Dan D’Agostino.

Additional show coverage can be found here.

Congratulations to show organizer Gary Gill for another outstanding event.

I have posted my pictures of the event for others to enjoy.

Capital Audiofest 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nordic Jazz 2011 – House of Sweden

Nordic Jazz 2011 Banner_

Another wonderful concert at the House of Sweden on the shores of the Potomac this past Sunday – June 19, 2011. On tap were three Nordic Jazz bands – In the Country (Norway), Tonbruket (Sweden), and the Andres Thor Trio (Iceland).

I enjoyed all three bands and was able to capture pictures and sounds with my LX3 and H1.

In the Country had a cool mellow vibe that quietly ebbed and flowed with adroit use of piano, bass, and drums accented by burbling ambient electronics. Quite effective!

Tonbbruket used an interesting sampling of instruments including piano, bass, drums, guitar, and pedal steel to achieve both calm and driving sounds that were very engaging.

Andres Thor was the most traditional of the three bands and explored the classic bass, drums, and guitar trio sound to full effect. As I confirmed in my conversation with Adres Thor afterward, he cites John Scofield as one of his influences.

This is the fifth year for Nordic Jazz. I am pleased that I have been able to attend the last three of these years. I have high hopes for this series going forward.

Nordic Jazz 2011 - Andres Thor

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kuára at Finland Embassy 06-14-2011

Per Jørgensen with Kuára at Finland Emabassy 06-14-2011

Last night, I attended a wonderful jazz concert at the foliage filled Finland Embassy in Washington, DC. The music was part of the annual Nordic Jazz week that marshals the resources of the Scandinavian embassies. The series concludes on Sunday 06/19/2011 with an outdoor concert on the rooftop of the Swedish Embassy along the Georgetown waterfront.

The concert at the Finland Embassy featured ECM recording artists Kuára with Per Jørgensen on trumpet. This was their first concert in the United States. True to the ECM sound, the music mixed jazz, folk songs, and ambient sounds in an exciting and dramatic fashion. What a delight.

The concert gave me an opportunity to try out my newly purchased Zoom H1 recorder. My brief listen of the result sounds very good. I will now have to hunker down to perform the post editing to bring out the best results. Based on this test, I believe the H1 is close to equal to my H2 that has served me so well.

I also took many pictures with my trusty Panasonic LX3. Even with the challenging light situation, I captured a few good shots.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Reverb – Pierre Bensusan @ IMT 03-16-2010

Pierre Bensusan @ IMT 03-16-2010

Last night Pierre Bensusan returned to the DC Metro area with an exhilarating set of acoustic music. Dubbed the “KIng of Reverb” by Dave of the Institute of Musical Traditions, Pierre played to a nearly full house in the intimate theater at the Takoma Park Community Center. The reverb remark was a running gag throughout the concert much akin to the “more cowbell” joke made famous in an SNL skit. At one point, I shouted “more cowbell” and Pierre responded with bemusement to the unfamiliar concept and added it to his ongoing humorous remarks between songs. Even though he was near the end of this tour, he was clearly in a jovial mood!

Pierre played his trademarked open tuning guitar based music that shifts seamlessly between medieval folk songs, celtic reels, wordless jazz singing, and middle eastern sonorities. Because of his long association with the open tuning style he could also be dubbed the “KIng of DADGAD”.

I first encountered his music while travelling in France in 1982 and stumbled upon his Solilaï album that I bought in an FNAC in Paris. I still have that LP today and enjoy listening to it along with his numerous other releases since then.

For me there was never a wrong note in the evening’s performance and this was probably the best of all the times that I have seen him perform.

Pierre concluded the evening with an encore medley of celtic tunes which was thrilling to me and was the perfect conclusion to a flawless performance.

Bravo Pierre Bensusan.

Friday, March 11, 2011

iPad 2 = Best Buy Fail

Just got back from purchasing my iPad 2. Only spent about 1.5 hours in total on this exercise.

I first went to my local Best Buy store which is less than a mile from my house. I had called the day before to get a feel for their expected supply and was told they had 20 pieces of multiple sizes to sell. Armed with this information I took a chance. Well I arrive and am told at 4 pm they have 10 and are already sold out! I then go to the back of the store and ask to speak to a manager for clarification. There were already 20 people in line that had been waiting since 12 pm! I start asking questions about their expected stock and they can’t answer and don’t know anything. They then said that if I kept asking questions they would escort me from the store!

Best Buy, your customer service is horrendous. You should be able to answer basic questions without threatening your customers. Give people enough information to make informed decisions. Stringing people along is not beneficial to your business or customers. If it’s too much for your business to handle something like this then just don’t bother.

So, I abandoned this Best Buy failure and headed to my local Target store less than a quarter mile away.

I arrived to find that they only had 5 of the 32 gb model. I only wanted the 16 gb model but adapted to this new reality. I want to give high kudos to the Target staff in Wheaton, MD who were courteous and and honestly answered questions without equivocation. I later learned that they had been trained by their management for this occasion. It showed and is appreciated by this customer. Being honest with your customers is the only proper and appropriate way to behave. Target understands this – Best Buy does not.

I was fourth in line and so I was able to purchase an iPad 2 without drama and was on my way by 5:10 pm.

If I had gone to one of the two Apple stores in my area, I would still be in line waiting although it has been stated online that Apple stores have plenty of supply.

I think the very small allocation to the non-Apple stores is poor planning by Apple and is mostly an exercise in frustration for customers. Either ship sufficient stock to partner stores or just only sell them at Apple. Apple could do better but it is a game they seem to enjoy playing?

Update: I just saw this article that points to Best Buy sales shenanigans and Apple being none too pleased. If this article is accurate, it explains my experience and further reinforces my belief that Best Buy is on a downward spiral and will fail in the not too distant future.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

California Guitar Trio at Wolftrap Barns 2011

At the last moment, I decided to attend a CGT performance last night at Wolftrap Barns. The band was in good form as usual and played a nearly perfect set. They were in a reminiscent mood since this is their twentieth anniversary tour. Paul Richards commented that they had a lot of history playing in the metro DC area and recounted these concerts plus their involvement in the Guitar Craft directed by Robert Fripp. He mentioned their early Crafty Guitarists concerts at George Washington University over 20 years ago that I also attended.

As in the past, they also recorded and burned CDs of the concert directly after the show. In my opinion, this should be standard practice at all concerts.

I absolutely love the Wolftrap Barns hall and it’s always perfect acoustic sound. I’ve had seats all over the hall and there isn’t a bad spot anywhere.

Next week I have tickets to the incomparable Pierre Bensusan at IMT. A great couple of weeks for guitar music.