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Thursday August 4 2005

If you're into your vinyl

then this lot are useful guys to know. Audio Origami are tweakers of tone arms, bearers of bearings and generally just into mucking about with high end turntables. Given the kind of time, money and effort I have expended over the years in trying to get digital audio to sound half decent, I often lament the skintness that led me to ditch my vinyl in the early eighties. I sold my records, paid the (bar mostly) bills, and looked forward to the day when I'd go and buy a shedload more records. By the time the happy day came when I had more money than sense again there was virtually no vinyl to be found. The bloody CD had been foisted upon us, the industry having realized that it was not going to sell half so well if vinyl were to be sold along side it in parallel. Just to make things worse, I'd bought most of my records in the States, where the vinyl was heavier and flatter and purer, and the cardboard sleeves were heavier and better printed. Think import. Think dickhead for flogging what would now be fairly valuable stuff.

Okay, so these days vinyl is back - and not just for DJs. There was always going to be a trade-off in quality, because CD gets you round issues like wow and flutter (speed instability to you) and rumble (rumble, to you) by not really having any - the quality of the original master notwithstanding. Stereo imaging (assuming you've rigged up your room around the stereo and not vice versa) and overall tone are rather more appealing on vinyl. Low end is rich, not lean and dry like digital, and treble rather sweeter. Generally, that is - not invariably. Early CD players sounded really horrid, and at the time that CDs were first being forced upon the public there were a lot of nice and relatively inexpensive turntables. Now, of course, there are some pretty decent CD players that go from three hundred quid or so up to house prices, and really good turntables are pretty much a grand and up. So the situation is a bit reversed. Mind you, of course, you'll find a way to pay for a good vinyl rig if you are one of those who really like the analogue sound...

I paid fourteen quid for my turntable nearly twenty years ago when I bought it from Tukey. It's a Hitachi direct drive thing which he'd painted with black Hammerite paint to get it to match the rest of his stuff - it was the eighties and it was all about the black at the time. It still works, and it still sounds okay. I have very few records, as previously stated, and most of them are the ones that I simply could not sell for love nor money. So although I'd like a decent turntable, I'd have very little to play on it. I'm considering buying a Technics 1210 deck, so beloved of modern DJs. If you get a decent non-DJ cartridge, these sound rather better than you'd think - they are, after all, almost exactly the same turntable that me and my friends used to marvel at in the mid-seventies. Never the highest of hifi, relative to a Linn or whatever, but a solid and competent piece of engineering. And in my tiny living room a Technics would work well, since the feedback resistance would be a real asset. Once I get the rack space organized, I'll get one strapped on there.

Off to the second-hand record shops for me now I think...


Posted at 11:45 am by Jim Woods

Tuesday August 2 2005

I really, really

like the look of this.


Posted at 7:01 am by Jim Woods

The lengths I go to

looking for new stuff to listen to. I'm just taking advantage of having got up early to get a few new tunes under my belt before breakfast, and while I'm at it setting up some hardware for a bit of mastering tomorrow night. When all your sound input/output goes through Windows own sound mixer and is then routed out of the computer via another (analogue) mixer to an amp and speakers it can be a right pain to keep an eye on levels and noise. Further to this, I have a two channel USB (M Audio should you care) interface set up for sampling sound into the computer. I was killing two birds with one stone by playing back a recently acquired Massive Attack album on one of the CD decks in the PC via Winamp while taking the record out from the mixer to the USB interface, thereby recording it to the hard drive. New tunes and recording level calibration in one operation. But can I keep track of what is being routed where? At this hour?

I am becoming a bigger fan of Winamp by the minute though. Once I'd managed to make my word law with regard to file associations, telling it that under no circumstances did I want it to play video but under all circumstances did I want it as my audio player, I've been very happy. I even managed to find a plugin for it to handle my Creative MP3 jukebox, so now all my audio is under the control of one piece of software. It's fantastic - I just fire up Winamp and decide whether I want to listen to a stream or something else that's already on my system. The only tiny fly in the ointment, and this is not an issue with Winamp per se, is that iPodder only allows iTunes or Windows Media Player to be used to play back podcasts from within it. Which is a bit of a pain really, giving that allowing any old media player to be fired up and chucked a file as a parameter is hardly rocket science. Perhaps they'll add that ability in a future release. Perhaps I'll ask them nicely.

Massive Attack's "100th Window" is a little dull, by the way. Maybe a better late night listen than an early morning one, but nonetheless pretty much the same old same old. That'll teach me to get carried away by the Virgin five-for-thirty-quid sale and buy a load of stuff I've never heard but think I should have. Perhaps I should just buy familiar stuff which I know I like. But where's the possibility for musical growth in that? It's not about enjoyment, it's about the journey. It's about not knowing what comes next. And I'm afraid that I find that with a lot of music it's all too obvious what comes next. I don't want reassuring, I want stimulating and teaching. At least from an album, that is.

I can't leave my three new Squarepusher albums alone. Squarepusher combines a broad palette of disparate sounds with a vertiginous sense of arrangement, and a dash of primal - er, cock, really. Maybe it's not fashionable to use gender-specific terms in relation to musical moods, and it probably never was, but let's face it - we know what's what. Drill and bass jazz. This isn't nurture, this is the sweaty dark part of nature best not dwelt on while using public transport. It's like having your head kicked through the wall of a pub toilet, but in the interests of further education. Or knocking all that's good and sweet and pure slowly into a marshy camping ground with a tent-peg mallet while reading Coleridge's "Aeolian Harp" out aloud to a purring semi-circle of appreciative fluffy kittens. It's a shortcut to a Lester Bangs lightning-laced perception of sound and social behaviour. On too much coffee. Brute force and tenderness combined, to the point where it's manifestly evident that it all wraps around and pops up unexpectedly at the other side. Like opposing magnets forced together, and then one flips - that same sense of opposites being volatile and ad hoc, rather than lastingly opposed. It's a cylinder, the range of emotions, like a barograph plot. Where the paper ends or begins can be arbitrary, and you have to change it periodically or all you get is an overwritten record of changes over meaningless time. Which gives me an idea for an installation which I'll never complete. Well, the idea's there.

I do like the Squarepusher. It's just the early rising that causes the trouble.

And I'm tired of editing this. So I'm going to go and eat crayfish and buy my sister some shiny stuff for her birthday. Probably not Squarepusher. The Sun Ra caused her enough discomfort.


Posted at 6:21 am by Jim Woods

Monday August 1 2005

Despite what one might cynically think about

this bugger, on the reasonable grounds that it is frequently sighted in electrical superstores and other places that the hard of thinking might be tempted to purchase their home entertainment gear, I have acquired one. And it actually has cleaned up my setup, both visually and sonically. I was in a "proper hifi shop" toying with the idea of some more glorious amplification, because I'm fairly sick that way, and I spotted it hanging up behind the counter. I idly asked them how much it was, chiefly because I was short of a few outlets and thought it might be a somewhat better bank than the cruddy £20 surge strip I'd exhausted the capacity of in my living room. As fast as they said £25 I said sold. I was pretty sure I'd seen them about for more, and I now realize that it's a £100 item. Very gratifying, especially given that it actually works as stated; they reckoned they couldn't shift it because anyone who's into their music knows a decent audio-grade power strip with effective isolation and filtering is in the £500-£1000 bracket. It was therefore seen by the cognoscenti as suspiciously cheap even at a ton.

I find it very handy, and frankly would be loathe to spend a grand on power conditioning for a three grand cd playing setup anyway, adhering as I do to the principle that cabling and accessories shouldn't be more than 10% of the total budget on a hifi to avoid purchasing a lot of pricey snake oil...

Without wanting to give the impression that this Monster device is a particularly good one of it's kind, I have to say that it has produced an improvement in my setup that would have seemed fairly impressive had I paid the full price for it though. If you have a decently high-resolution rig, I'd say play around with something like this. Surprising results! Then again, maybe I just have particularly dirty power. Anything involving computers in the same room as hifi is likely to sound fairly grotty though, and my TiVo and my sat box are of course both computers for practical purposes.

Heh. Boring enough?


Posted at 2:50 pm by Jim Woods

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