Hello Vinyl (Part II)

I initially left the turntable in the trunk of my car. Upon returning to SoundHounds, I didn’t see the gentleman who helped me on my previous trip. Nevertheless, I got talking to one of the guys about my interest in the Rotel A12 and a pair of ELAC-UNIFI bookshelf speakers, primarily for listening to music including vinyl. He said that’s a good setup, but for a similar price I might prefer pairing the Rotel with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins S685 R2s. I should give ‘em both a listen and see which set I prefer. I asked if he would mind if I got my turntable and some records out of my car? No problem at all, he’d get the rest of the kit together.

Set up in one of the listening rooms, we switched back and forth between the sets of speakers. During this process, he uncovered an issue with the way I had configured the balance weight on the turntable as well as my lack of sufficient pressure while applying the head / phono cartridge to the tone arm. After successfully troubleshooting the setup, we got busy switching between speakers and testing between the ELACs and Bowers and Wilkins across a few of the records. In the end my take on the speakers were the the ELACs were more “responsive” and “punchy” but the Bowers and Wilkins were “warmer” and “fuller”, which I preferred. Having come to agreeable pricing including some custom speaker cables, which I had no interest in doing myself with 4 banana plugs on one end, we had a deal. 

The speakers were on-order, the cables had to be fabricated; though not instant gratification, the timeliness of everything was reasonable – a week? All went to schedule. In the meantime, I ordered an in-wall rated optical cable from Amazon to connect the TV. Now to set all this up and get to listening to records – comparing that sound to the sound of Apple Music via an AppleTV 4K and a Sony XBR65X930D.

My verdict, with this setup, was that whether the record or the digital sounded better depended on the record. Of my four records only one sounded noticeably better on vinyl than digital. The Zhu, GenerationWhy, Limited Edition Coloured Vinyl was noticeably better sounding than the Apple Music Version. The horns seemed fuller, or further forward in the mix than the digital variant. The nostalgic love was real; but I was perplexed as to why the other records fell flat…

Hello Vinyl (Part I)

As much as vinyl may be a superior way to listen to music, the internet is a fabulous medium for initial research. My web research, on modern hi-fi, was buoyed by the Audiophiliac on Cnet. I found his articles entertaining and full of genuine voice as well as a passion for his subject matter. This article, in particular, was my jumping off point.

From that article the Pro-Ject Carbon Debut caught my attention; of course, I knew NAD amplifiers, but I didn’t like the idea of preamps, one for digital and another for analogue records cluttering up my already cluttered media centre. The Magnepan speakers weren’t going to work in my space as I needed something that could be close to the wall but not mounted on the wall and thereby competing with the TV for wall space. Bookshelf speakers were the thing. Though I have a lot of respect for Klipsch components, I would be replacing a set of powered Klipsch 2.1 computer speakers after 15+ years – I was looking for something different.

I learned about ELAC and their newer higher end Uni-fi series. I was enamoured with the story of Andrew Jones, a Robin Hood / Johnny Ives of speaker design taking his high end experience and making affordable hi-fi speakers. 

To address my clutter conundrum, Rotel seemed to be my knight in shining armour, yet another hi-fi brand I hadn’t heard of, with only one authorized dealer in my sleepy hometown – SoundHounds.

SoundHounds has been around longer than me. My parents bought their Harmon Kardon and Boston Acoustics hi-fi system there more than 30 years ago. I headed down to the spot they’d been situated at for the shop’s whole existence and looked around. ELAC – check, Rotel – check, Pro-Ject check… no prices on anything but I had an idea of MSRP and as I talked to one of the gentlemen working there, the prices seemed in line. The service was friendly, encouraging a try before you buy, listen to various components, bring your own pieces if you like mentality. However, nervous of the mounting price of my bundle I started to wonder if there might not be a more affordable turntable with a staged roll-out, rather than a big bang. I left the store without making any purchases or having them hook anything up for me to listen to.

Back home and online, after looking at more reviews, I settled on the Audio Technica LP3. I could get that as a first purchase, use the built-in phono amp to use it with my powered speakers, as an interim setup, and get to listening to my brother’s records sooner rather than later, or at least with a smaller initial price tag. 

Ordered from Amazon the turnable arrived super quick, and as I went about setting it up and connecting to my powered speakers, all sorts of static and issues ensued while trying to get it working. It was time to open up the wallet and re-visit SoundHounds, and this time I would bring the turntable and records with me…

Hello Darkness

On January 26th my wonderfully millennial younger step brother, at the age of 36, passed away. For less than a year, he knowingly fought skin cancer that had metastasized. In life he had succeeded where boomers and us x-ers had largely given up. He had avoided falling prey to the contemporary iteration of the ’50’s suburban dystopia and its creature comforts. Millennials, it seems, by and large have taken up this struggle in their own way. Many are narrowly avoiding life in a cubicle. My brother, in his last few years, was a successful entrepreneur, his own boss, and had succeeded in living his life his own way, on his own terms, and thereby having many adventures in his relatively short years.

For what would be our last Christmas gift exchange I had drawn his name. Knowing he hadn’t much appetite, nor the ability to consume alcohol, I had suggested to him that I could select some records. Despite years of near nomadic living, he had always been a connoisseur of vinyl, including a stint as a DJ; he was stoked on the idea.

With records recently outselling digital, excluding subscriptions/streaming, it was a simple matter of visiting my local purveyor “Ditch Records”. The last time I was in a record store, I wasn’t yet tall enough to see above the bins. Though, I had my very own version of Corey Hart’s record with the hit “Sunglasses at night” on it, most of my music as a youth was on tape cassettes and later CDs; my first CD being a Christmas gift – Tom Cochrane, “Mad Mad World” circa ’91.

For my brother’s 2017 Christmas, I picked out some of my recent, favourite albums, which happened to be in stock at the local shop.

Zhu – Generationwhy*

*with a “Limited Edition Colour Vinyl” sticker on it.

Allan Rayman – Roadhouse 01

Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams 

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom 

So I’d spent more than our alleged limit – so what. These were some of my current favourites, and I had hoped he would enjoy them.

Following our family Christmas festivities, my brother returned to his new hometown, and four weeks later passed away. I was shocked. Post death, the records were returned to me, sad and still shrink-wrapped. Having no record player myself, but having long held a curiosity regarding my brother’s interest, a new exploration beckoned… What is a good beginner audiophile setup? Why is vinyl the new hotness? Does it really sound better? What is this limited edition colour vinyl? Does it matter? How does this all work? What does it all mean? And what was my brother on about?

Our next instalment on exploring [the] art [of vinyl] will be on my process of researching and buying a Hi-Fi, which, as in most things, wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound.

Join a collective!

Because work, school and life aren’t busy enough, as evident by a complete lack of activity on your blog, you should join a collective. No seriously, trust me – I joined one and it has been great!

Continental Shelf is a writers’ collective formed by some feisty University of Victoria undergraduate writing students.  Why that name? Because we’re on the edge; the edge of our writing careers, the edge of academia, the edge of western Canada, and also because of books!

Last night at Solstice Cafe, Continental Shelf orchestrated its first public event, and it was a fabulous time.

Sean Michaels from Said The Gramophone read two excerpts from his debut novel Us Conductors. Jo, from the collective, led a fantastic interview, touching on what drives one to write and the phase shift form writer to novelist. Munro’s was there selling copies of the beautiful book, and Sean got busy writing inscriptions. Lastly theremin art-pop band Cleopatra & the Nile finished off the night with a performance encompassing a backdrop of black and white films, projected off a reel, while the duo channelled haunting theremin and synth sounds.

Also don’t be fooled by Solstice Cafe’s website – they’re licensed for more than just beer!

For me the highlight of the night, other than camaraderie of course, was Sean’s commentary, and yes I’m paraphrasing, on the cacophony of thematic interrelationships that drove the creation of Us Conductors. For me it was a glimpse into the magic actions, and interactions, that engenders something greater than the whole, pulsing electricity, that overcomes the many barriers and ultimately creates art.

 

Auditory Journeys – Back to Back Standout Albums

I love music, and I know what I like. I am free with both my positive and critical opinions, which unfortunately results in many people thinking I’m a snob. In particular when a band has a breakout album and then their next ones in my opinion aren’t as good, I come under fire for being either too committed to the earlier sound, an un-loyal fan or too sub-pop, or just plain elitist.

Currently I have two artists on the stereo regularly each of whom has two stand out albums. Queue up the listed Iron & Wine albums chronologically and the Parov Stelar albums in reverse chronological order, as depicted below, and be prepared for an auditory journey worth the trip.

Iron & Wine

Our Endless Numbered Days

Kiss Each Other Clean

Parlov Stelar

Seven and Storm

Shine

This isn’t to say that either artist’s in between albums aren’t good; they are good. However these two albums, in each case, stand out as particularly brilliant. Queue them up in iTunes and let us know what you think!

Tofino Waves

I was recently extremely fortunate to be able to spend 3 nights at the world class Wickaninnish Inn located in Tofino BC. My wife’s and my first trip out of town together was to this Relais & Chaeteaux independently owned and operated resort. So, four years later we returned for an anniversary celebration.

The resort is nestled into a wild, seaside landscape on the wonderful Chesterman Beach, and all rooms have water views. The waves are absolutely mesmerizing. I could literally watch them for hours. With a glass of champagne in hand, sitting in an armchair or double soaker tub situated in an expansive window, I could watch the waves come rolling in indefinitely.

At breakfast one morning in the onsite restaurant on the pointe I decided to film the waves from my table by the window so I wouldn’t miss any of the brilliance. I discreetly set my iPhone on the windowsill and hit record. Atttached is some of the footage set to one of my favourite songs – Monkeys Uptown by Iron & Wine. I’m sure it’s not as good as the real thing but I hope you find it mesmerizing nonetheless.

Creative Challenge: Create a Playlist

The days of mixed tapes and burnt CDs seem like ancient history. They surface in pop culture like bubbles of ironic reference through vehicles like Bored to Death or Nick and Norah’s.

Today we’re more likely to just tell our phone to “play more like this” than we are to set aside the time to sit, listen, curate, construct, review, re-listen and repeat. Because who has the time? And why when there’s a trillion pre-made channels and pre-made playlists would you bother to make your own? Why would you? When instead you can just channel surf through near infinity. Why create when you can just consume?

Well I’m glad you asked… you create because in creation it is the journey and not the destination. You pause the stream of consciousness that would beg the question what’s next just to embrace, revel in, and enjoy the now. Listen to that song, listen to that beat and repeat. Everything else is paused when you’re in the creative flow. It’s beautiful.

To reflect the tone of the blog lately, I’ve crafted “Moderne Melancholy & Optimistic Overtures” (iTunes Link). The playlist features some of my favourite artists channelling everything from folk, choral and synth. As much as creation is about the journey and not the destination, I must say I’m really enjoying this playlist.

Create a playlist and post it here! This is your weekly creative challenge.

Albums of the Year

I’m a huge fan of music – listening to it, not making it. With the exception of An Artist I Admire post featuring Zoe Keating, music has not enjoyed much of the spotlight here at exploring-art.com. Primarily this is because exploring-art is about investigating my less developed interests in the arts. That said, I feel the need to highlight my favourite albums of 2011.

Album of the Year: Kiss Each Other Clean

I am an Iron & Wine fan, but to me Our Endless Numbered Days stood out as the epoch of his achievement. Kiss Each Other Clean is at least on par with Our Endless Numbered Days, and it’s musically very different. It is a beautiful thing, dramatically different yet aesthetically alike. You’ll be left wondering why isn’t there more? Left wishing there were more, and yet you’ll be pleased to play it again.

Canadian Album of the Year: Land & Sea

I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah’s; I learnt of her in the early 2000’s living in Toronto, and I haven’t stopped buying her albums. With Land & Sea, an ambitious double album, Sarah shows off her spectacular vocals, as well as her meticulous compositions and arrangements. This album is one of my favourites, but why is it not at the top of the heap? Since it’s not the performance or the production, I suspect that it may be some of the lyrics that hold it back from perfection. But let’s not forget that Sarah is seen here towering over Feist for Canadian album of the year- No small achievement! For lovers of instrumental collections, I’d highly recommend Sarah Slean’s String Quartet Part II, it’s wonderful.

Underrated Album of the Year: Ceremonials

With headlines like, “More is Less”, I feel Ceremonials was unfairly treated in the press. I must admit after the single Shake it Out, the rest of the album wasn’t what I was expecting… but it grew on me, and now it’s a regular on the home stereo as well as my iPhone. With this album Florence and the Machine progress towards a sound that is more choir inspired and less modern bass line and alternative driven. The resulting sound is slightly reminiscent of the 80s, and more specifically, the Eurythmics; however, the music maintains its own identity, and more crucially, it is an evocative and enjoyable album.

Christmas Album of the year: Michael Buble Christmas

One of my wife’s nephews gets credit for this recommendation. He is a wonderful singer in his own right and performs in a number of High School ensembles. I’m not a Buble fan, so I was a bit of a skeptic. As it turns out Michael Buble Christmas is a fun, upbeat, and musical album which carries the possibility of  winning over even the biggest scrooge. Merry Christmas!