Sometimes you can go home

In my last blog, I mentioned I was upgrading my stereo and was waiting for my final (for now) purchase: a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7A loudspeakers.

To my aural memory, as unreliable as that can be, those were the best sounding speakers I’ve owned.

They arrived yesterday and I set them and you know what? They do sound beautiful.

For the last eight years, my main speakers were a pair of NHT SB2 loudspeakers, and to be honest, they did the job. For their price at the time, they are a great value and if someone asked for a speaker recommendation, I wouldn’t hesitate to list NHT as a possibility.

But in comparison to the Polk Audios? The NHT has a 1 inch tweeter and a 6.5 inch mid-range/woofer, but the Polk has a 1 inch tweeter, a 6.5 inch mid-range, and additional 10″ woofer. The Polks have more bass, but because the mid-range only has to handle mid-range (whereas the NHT’s mid-range is also it’s woofer), the sound is fuller in the middle frequencies. Plus, for whatever reason, the sound stage is wider.

These are just awesome speakers and I can say that now because I again own a pair and I’m not relying on my memories from 39 years ago.

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Polk Audio Monitor 7A (grill removed)

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Comparing the NHT SB2 (top) to the Polk Audio Monitor 7A (bottom)

So for the time being, I’m very, very happy.

Life is good.

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Upgrade!

I’ve gradually been working on upgrading my stereo system.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m moving away from Home Theater and back to where I belong: vinyl two-channel stereo.

It’s where I began my journey into hi-fi back in 1977 while in the Navy. One day, while I was in Radioman school in San Diego, I went out to a stereo store just to look around and walked out with my first stereo system. I had a Yamaha natural sound receiver, a Dual turntable, and a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7 loudspeakers. (Not owning a car then, I’m at a loss as to how I got that stuff back to my barracks dorm room).

To this day, I still think those were the best sounding speakers I’ve ever owned. Now I understand sound memory and how you tend to color things with your emotions, but everything I’ve read seems to indicate those were some damned fine speakers and possibly the best Polk Audio ever put out.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, over the last few months I’ve been upgrading pieces, starting with the source end of things. I had a Technolink TC-753LC phono preamp (that’s an amplifier that boosts the weak signal that comes from your turntable into something your receiver can use. Now I’ve heard a lot of good things about the TC-750LC phono preamp, but I found that none of those applied to this one. This one hardly boosted the signal enough for my receiver to use and I had to crank the volume up inordinately high and the sound was still barely there. Plus, there was a horrible background hiss.

So that was the first piece I swapped out. I got a used Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Special Edition. The difference was night and day. The hiss was gone and it boosted the signal significantly better than the Technolink did. For equivalent sound levels from the speakers, I used to have to crank my receiver to -10db and with the Graham Slee, I only had to crank it to -22db.

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Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE

And the sound was full and open, giving a much wider sound stage.

Next, I replaced the cartridge. The old one was very old. I couldn’t even find a replacement stylus for it. It was an Audio Technica AT-4414S. Since I did like the Audio Technica house sound, I stuck with them and picked up a new AT440MLB. If I thought the phono preamp improved the sound, this cart really made the music come alive! I could hear highs like cymbal crashes that I’d been missing all this time.

As far as my turntable and receiver, I’m still happy with both. The turntable is a vintage AR XA and it still plays beautifully. The receiver is a Marantz, and even if it’s a home theater receiver instead of a true stereo receiver, it is very nice. Maybe one day, I’ll try to pick up a vintage tube amp or something, but for now, the Marantz stays.

And I just won the missing piece off of eBay. Yes, I am waiting patiently now for my pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7A loudspeakers to be delivered.

Then, I’ll be happy. Or as happy as one can be in this hobby.

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My kind of salesman

I’ve been researching new turntables and new phono preamps. I’ve read reviews, compared stats, all that fun stuff and narrowed my choice of turntable down to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC after eliminating several options, such as:
• U-Turn Orbit and Orbit Plus. Probably the most affordable beginner audiophile table out there and American-made.
• Rega RP1. This is Rega’s entry audiophile turntable.
• Denon DP-300F. They make decent AV receivers and amps.
• Teac TN-300. Teac used to be the go-to maker of reel-to-reel tape decks back in the 70s.
• Audio-Technica AT-LP120/USB. The only direct drive turntable on my list. They make competitive phono cartridges.

So I had made my choice and had reached the saturation point of just reading about turntables. I wanted to see one.

I took a drive over to Ultra Fidelis in Tosa. I hadn’t even know they were there, until few weeks ago when I drove down North Avenue.

Inside, the sales area is, for lack of a better term, cozy. Speakers are lined up along the walls and components sit in racks.

I was looking at the turntables when Bob, their only salesman besides the owner, walked in.

He asked what I was looking for and I mentioned I was in the market for a new turntable and phono preamp and was interested in the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

It was gorgeous in bright yellow.

Bob asked what I had now and why I wanted the change.

So I told him I had an Acoustic Research XA and I wanted to get something newer. The AR XA doesn’t have a cue lever and it lacks anti-skating.

He explained that if the tonearm is set up correctly with a quality cartridge, anti-skating wasn’t necessary. As for cueing, that shouldn’t detract from what a great turntable my classic was.

He also said that he could take a look at my turntable, add a high end cartridge (he suggested a Grado Blue), and tweak it up so it would run and sound as good as any new turntable I was considering.

He also showed me some phono preamps, then told me that Cambridge Audio was releasing a new moving magnet preamp which they’d be getting in a few weeks if I’d like to look at that.

Then he asked if I’d ever heard the Vandersteen speakers. I said I’d heard OF them, but had never heard them.

He proceeded to set up a pair of the Model 1Ci and we sat back and listened to them sampling different types of music, playing them at low volume and high, and before I knew it an hour had passed.

The Vandersteen speakers were the best I’ve heard in a long long time and I left amazed and drooling.

And it occurred to me, Bob had talked me out of buying a new turntable, he had told me to wait until a $50 cheaper (but just as nice) phono preamp came in, and he’d earned my future business just by sitting and listening to music with me.

That’s salesmanship.

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I was sold a bill of goods

Music has always been important to me. Even as a child, I had a large collection of records that I played on some sort of children’s record player. It had one of those little flippy styluses, one way was for 33-1/3, the other way was for, I’m not sure, 78s? 45s?

My record collection contained a set that featured the great music of the world. Each record contained something different. Like classical. Or folk. Or musicals (I believe there was one devoted to Rogers and Hammerstein). Or historical (music of the American Revolution, Civil War, etc.) And so on.

I also owned records like “Peter and the Wolf” and my all-time favorite, “Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties” as performed by Captain Allen Swift and his crew. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy playing “What do you do with a silly sailor” over and over and over and over and over and over again. By the way, I still have it.

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Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties

As a teen, I got a sort of real, kind of, phonograph: a Realistic Clarinette III. That’s also when I discovered Black Sabbath and I cranked up those six inch paper cone loudspeakers until they distorted.

Anyway, time passed and I had purchased a somewhat decent stereo system in the Navy (well, I purchased several and managed to blow most of them up), which I brought home and then played the hell out of, until 30 years I realized my system was now archaic. Worse, the speakers just didn’t sound right any more. Either age or abuse had taken it’s toll on the tweeters of one of them. Not to mention my turntable had been destroyed in a horrific accident.

I needed new speakers. But this was 2008. Nobody just had a stereo any more. Everyone had a HOME THEATER SYSTEM! (Say that in a deep, loud voice.) So I bought into the whole booming explosions and surround sound thing and spent almost $2000 on a system. At first, yes, I loved the hell out of it. I’d watch the beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan,” to hear the deep boom of explosions, the lobby scene in “The Matrix,” and the depth charge sequence in “U-571.” That one gets down below 25hz!

But now, a decade later, I’ve come to realize that the bloom is off the rose. I hardly ever use my system to listen to movies or TV, mostly because the only time I ever watch movies is when the family has gone to sleep and then I can’t crank it for fear of waking people, but also because I don’t really watch a lot of current movies. I like vintage black and white movies and classic television and they don’t usually have surround sound.

But I still love my vinyl. And I’m realizing that it was peer pressure of a sort that got me to buy a home theater system when what I really only wanted was a vinyl audiophile system. I have five speakers when I only need two (six if you count the subwoofer, but you always need a subwoofer). I have a complicated audio video receiver when all I really needed was a stereo receiver, or even just an integrated amp.

So let my tale of woe be a lesson to you. Don’t buy more than you need. Except for subwoofers, bigger is always better.

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Getting my groove back

A few days ago I had a wonderful feeling of deja vu. I did something that I haven’t done in years, maybe even decades.

I went into Barnes & Noble and thought I’d look in their music section. Surprise! They had a decent sized rack of new vinyl records. I flipped through them with an eagerness I haven’t had since I was a teenager and used to stop at the 1812 Overture record shop on the way home from school.

Granted then, it was an extended proposition since all they had was vinyl in those days. Now, my perusing took all of say, 20 minutes. But it was enjoyable.

I’ve waited 30 years or so for the return of vinyl.

Does anyone recall the first vinyl album they ever bought? The first I bought (that wasn’t childfare, like The Archies) was Black Sabbath’s eponymous first album.

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Black Sabbath

I wonder if people who buy CDs remember their first purchase? I really wonder if people who download MP3s have any sort of connection like that.

I believe that vinyl is special. There’s more to it than just so much black wax. There’s great artwork published at a frame-able size. And listening becomes an active experience.

Sure, I have MP3s on my phone, and I listen to them walking at the mall, but I’m not really listening. The music is just there. It automatically shuffles songs. There’s no thinking involved.

But vinyl? You have to choose the music. Choose the album or song. Then you pull the record out of the sleeve. Gently place it on the spindle. Most of us have some sort of brush or cleaning solution that we use prior to placing the needle upon the vinyl.

This is all part of the experience. To those who just don’t understand the appeal of vinyl, all that is considered work. Unnecessary work, they believe. And they look at us as though we’re just plain weird.

I don’t want to get into the digital versus vinyl debate. I’ve read all the science behind it, the statistics, and cold, hard facts. That doesn’t change my opinion, my feelings, my hearing that I happen to think vinyl just sounds warmer. Music is, after all, analog.

So seeing vinyl, new vinyl in the store makes me very happy. A part of me that I thought was lost is found.

Now all I need to is to replace my crappy phono preamp with a better one. It is a TCC TC-753LC and it has weak output, so I have to turn its knob up to past three-quarters of the way to get it to sound loud enough and then it has this hiss. It’ll have to do for now.

It’s good to get my groove back.

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Decades, Lord of the Misinformation

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On Thursday, January 7, 2016, Decades TV aired a couple of episodes of “Tarzan,” the 1966-1968 television show staring Ron Ely. I was pretty psyched about it. I haven’t seen that show since I was a child and it’s never been available on Netflix or Hulu or even YouTube.

As is Decades way, they also made a few statements about the show and its history. Those statements about Tarzan however, made me wonder just how well they research and brings into question all of their statements.

The statement that bothered me? They stated that Tarzan’s first appearance was on January 7, 1929 in the comics.

That statement is partly correct. January 7, 1929 did mark Tarzan’s first appearance in comics with artwork by the great Hal Foster, who later went on to create his own hero, Prince Valiant. (Although Wikipedia says this is the date of the first comic strip on their Tarzan [comics] page, on their Hal Foster page they state the comic strip actually started on October 20, 1928. So as my Econ Professor always says, you pays your money and takes your choices.)

Either way, by 1929, Tarzan had already appeared in thirteen novels written by his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.He would end up writing a total of 24 novels based on his famous vine-swinging character

The jungle lord had also been adapted in film in 1918, portrayed by Elmo Lincoln. In 1921 there had been a stage play based on the Ape Man played by Ronald Adair.

Sorry Decades TV, but you screwed up.

Currently, if you would like to see Ron Ely in his role of Tarzan again, it is being shown on Heroes and Icons Network on Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy.

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Adventures in ADHD: Self-publishing

As you recall, in my last blog post I talked about learning more about self-publishing. I tried to Google it and unfortunately, that didn’t go so well.

Do it. You end up with 139,000,000 and if you suffer from attention deficit, that comes to about 138,999,995 too many.

I mean, where to start? It’s too overwhelming. I need a limited number of choices or my eyes start spinning like rocket-powered pinwheels.

So feeling as though I were cast adrift at sea, I did what any drowning man does: got a book on the subject.

Luckily, Half Price only had two to choose from and I picked the latest of the two, published in 2014.

It’s “Self-Publishing Your Novel Made Easy” by Richard N. Williams.

I took it home and dove right in. Williams has an easy style and the information was readily understood so that by the time I finished it, my head no longer felt like it had been stuffed with cold oatmeal and the anxiety attacks stopped every time someone said, “eBook.”

I understood the terminology used in self-publishing, I had a good grasp of the eBook publishing platforms available, and knew the difference between a direct vendor (Amazon’s KDP, Apple iBooks, Kobo) and an aggregator (Smashwords, Lulu), who will distribute your eBook to many vendors. I learned about copyrights, ISBN numbers, and a lot of the jargon the Annointed throw about.

Now when I Google self-publishing and get 139,000,000 hits, I’m not so overwhelmed because I can separate blogs offering information from vendors, and so on. The stress headache is gone.

Leaving me free to decide what route I want to take to start the process of publishing my novel.

It’s a novel that I wrote years ago, and has been edited and reedited, beta-read, and submitted to numerous agents.

It was publish-ready, or so I thought.
I have nearly two dozen versions on my hard drive. Each an improved version of the last as I got feedback. But as I looked at it, it hit me.

I had started the story at the wrong point!

In my first draft, I had the main character and his daughter driving to school. I figured some character development would be nice, an introduction, and then later, he gets a phone call about a murder.

But that turned out to be …. well, dull because nothing really happened until the second chapter.

So I added another chapter where my character hears a psychic scream and goes to investigate. This introduces him as a sorcerer and there’s finally a little action. Fine, except now the arrival at the murder scene is two chapters away.

Also, someone said, “I’d like to know how he got his powers, how he came to be.”

OK. OK. So I added some back story that answered his origin and added a little humor to it, but now the murder was three chapters away.

And now, just minutes ago, it hit me. The story is about the whys and wherefores of the murder so, start with the murder!

It seems so obvious in retrospect.

Start with the murder.

So I’m off to revise the story once again.

And then, I can start the self-publishing journey.

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