Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Together In Perfect Harmony

May 25, 2008

Above pictured is the Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote Control

After 8 plus years of using my trusty old war horse, the Marantz RC2000MKII, I finally decided it was time to upgrade my universal remote. I knew I wanted another programmable one, with macros, I just wasn’t sure which. I had heard some good things about Harmony, and decided to take the plunge Friday. I just want to say, that I’ve NEVER had ANY consumer electronic be so intuitive and easy to operate right out of the box! I usually judge how simple a product is to use, by counting the amount of profanities spewed during installation. The more curses, the less usable. Well, I am proud to say, after 3 days of setting up, (which actually only took 15 minutes, I like to tweak) and use of this device, not even a “gosh darnit” has been uttered from me! EVERYTHING, and I do mean EVERYTHING had worked as advertised and has been a joy!

I have had tons of remotes over the years, and all have claimed to have ways to alleviate complicated, multiple button presses. You sit for hours programming each step for a Macro. Turn on this, switch to that input, turn TV to another input, only to hit the button to find NONE of it works because you forgot to add a 2 second pause or some other inane reason. If, after all that, and you aren’t discouraged, you’ll still never use the Macro, because you have to create another one to get out of the first one! Or shut everything off to start over another ma…..AHHHH! See what I mean?!?! Those days are over with the Harmony One. I actually use Macros for the first time in my life, which Harmony calls “Activities”. It truly is as simple as touching on the screen, things like; Watch a DVD or Listen to a CD. You can even customize those labels! For Instance, mine says “watch a Blu-Ray” and so forth. If you are doing one thing, and hit the Activity for something else, the remote KNOWS it, and switches accordingly. Best thing of all, it has a help button that actually helps!

The true test of a remote’s worth is the WIFE test. My wife came up to see what the fuss was about this thing. Guess what? She loves it! She can actually enjoy the best theater in the house now without my help! She loves the feel of it, the fact it has actual nice buttons, is light, and how simple it is to use without having to ask me what input, etc. If you are thinking of getting one, the only thing to keep in mind, is that it is infrared only. No Bluetooth, PS3’s or radio frequencies. But if you are like me, with an infrared system (including climate controls) you are in for a treat. I don’t think I can rate this product any better, I give it a solid A, an A+ if it did Bluetooth or RF. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Blu-rays to catch up on this holiday weekend. -C

Taking it all too hard…

May 18, 2008

Well, after months of pondering, and a surprising number of requests to review the second box set, I purchased it. Sadly, I just could not justify spending so much to get the SACD box versions imported, and I wanted the bonus discs. I just don’t see why I should buy some of these albums for the 8th time, and spend 300 dollars plus. I found the sound to be quite good in the DTS 96/24 versions. On the last set, the DTS versions were quite good as well, and I doubt anyone but a nit-picky audiophiles could discern a difference. The best album of the bunch was by far, the 1982 album, simply titled Genesis. It’s quite nice to hear Mama in a version that gives the drums justice. That song was built for surround, and makes me ache for the final set coming later this year. Invisible Touch sounds great, but not the leap forward I was expecting. We can’t Dance (which I’ve always felt kind of petered out in the second half), was good, as was Calling all Stations. but most of these albums are more modern, and truly the surround was the only draw. I haven’t had time to dabble in the bonus disc yet, and from the interview I have seen with Ray Wilson, I remembered why I disliked him. One minute he was Genesis’ greatest fan, and the next, he had never heard of them. Sour grapes I suppose.

There is a new DVD coming of there latest concert reunion, it will be released during my vacation, and I will try to be more timely and post my comments on it. Looking back on this post, I don’t see or feel the same enthusiasm I did with the first box release. I think it’s a combination of lack of SACD, missing the bonus discs from the first set because of getting the SACD single versions, and the sheer number of times I have had to purchase the discs in the second volume. The Peter Gabriel era will cheer me up, regardless of  format I get them on I am sure. The Lamb in surround coming soon!

Does it Float?

February 12, 2008

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This is VERY good! They totally nailed the taste of a root beer float! Smooth, decadent, creamy, PERFECTION! What are you waiting for?!?! Go drink this now! Nothing short of Diabetes should keep you from tasting this! Quite frankly, I think it would be worth one measly diabetic coma if you are.*

*Carnell, A&W ® , WordPress.com, or the American Diabetes Association do not condone, endorse, or suggest the actual ingestion of this product if you are in fact, diabetic. Check with your Physician if you suspect that you are. Check your blood sugar, check it often, with or with out the help of actor Wilfred Brimley. Diabetes is a serious disease and the preceding was a joke. If you were offended, or did not in fact find this post funny, please find a brown paper bag and breathe into it repeating “I need to fucking learn to take a joke” seven to eight times. If you actually take advice, and act upon the ramblings of some random asshole’s blog, please do the following. Find all United States currency in your residence in denominations of ten dollars or more, and mail it immediately to the writer of this blog. Some restrictions may apply. A&W® Bottled Floats may not be available in your area.

Kill To Get Crimson Review

September 30, 2007

Knopfler cover

Mark Knopfler has released his fifth solo album Kill To Get Crimson last month, and I am pleased as punch. I find this album to be possibly, the most “normal” solo album Mark has made since Dire Straits. I should clarify, Mark usually goes through “spurts” of different genres. Be it country, traditional Irish, or even old time Americana. This album really doesn’t have a Donegan’s Gone, or a Fare Thee Well Northumberland. Alas, don’t jump up yet, ye old Straits fans! There are really no rockers here either! Not even a slow building crescendo like Speedway! Now you would think I was giving it a bad review, I am not. In fact I can’t think of a Knopfler album I have enjoyed so instantly, but nothing grows on you like those tracks I mentioned. Much of the fun, is similar to a Peter Gabriel album, where you return again, and again and find new gems, or songs click with you that didn’t before. It gives the album depth and a soul. This album didn’t do that for me.

Punish The Monkey was the choice for North America’s first single. I understand why. It has, what I read described as, a “slinky” riff, that is quite catchy. And an all too brief harmony that was very first Dire Straits albumesque! There is also fun to be had with the infectious, We Can Get Wild, which is wonderful song about coming of age, discovering the joys of adulthood, and sexual freedom. Behind With the Rent is a jazzy song, with much like most of Mark’s songs, a title that is not quite accurate about the songs true meaning.

There is plenty of delicate, meticulous, guitar work on this album, and it further solidifies my opinion of MK as the best guitarist on the planet. Like all of his albums, the fidelity is recorded with reference quality, and perfect clarity. This is a smooth album, that fans of both of Straits, and solo stuff will appreciate. You will enjoy it, your parents will enjoy it, not sure if your kids will, but what do kids know? Just don’t go it hoping for Sailing II or anything remotely like Brothers in Arms or Love Over Gold, and let the album sweep you away, and remind you that excellent songwriters still exist.

Bioshock Xbox 360

September 17, 2007

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I am not going to remotely waste everyone’s time with a review of this game. You all know it’s damn good. I must admit I never heard of it before I bought the 360. The demo totally sold it for me and I got it the day it was released. Nintendo, please do demos or something with your online. I have never criticized Nintendo before, but Xbox Live has made a believer out of me about online gaming. While Bioshock is single player, I am finding it fun watching the progress of people on my friends list. I know they are much better gamers than I am and will blow through it quickly, but it’s still fun to track them.

On an unrelated note, Mark Knopfler’s new album will be released tomorrow, and I will post my thoughts on it. Don’t expect it too quickly though, as I like to hear it 2-3 times on my home system before writing anything formal.

-C

Brothers in Arms

July 15, 2007

Brothers in arms DS

Not only is Brothers in Arms one of my favorite albums, it’s swiftly becoming one of my favorite DS games. I am not a huge fan of first person shooters (FPS), but I am having a blast (pun intended) with this quick, and fun little war game. Graphics are really impressive (for a DS) and I am surprised how many sound effects and voice recordings they used. I highly recommend this for times when you get that itchy trigger finger on the go.

In other news, I finally got around to watching Nintendo’s E3 2007 press conference. While it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat like 2006 did, I am quite excited about several things coming. I know Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, will eat up most of my spare time soon. I find myself curious about Wii Fit, and think the pad can really be used for a mind boggling array of things. Next month’s release of Metroid Prime Corruption has me chomping at the bits also. If you don’t have a Wii yet, get on it! I don’t think they will be easy to come by this Christmas, and this summer lull might be your only shot.

Abacab SACD Review (short and sweet)

June 25, 2007

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Genesis, abacab SACD review.

If the three previous albums did not prove that this wasn’t the old prog rock Genesis we were all accustomed to, abacab did it. Known to the band as their “punk album”, this was the first album recorded in Genesis’ “The Farm” studio in Surrey England. Also, the first album engineered by Hugh Padgham, known for his work on Police albums. This album originally had that tight, rapid bass sound with little reverb, that is Hugh’s signature style. That sound remains, and truly has a live studio feel to the entire disc. Once again, there really is not a track by track difference in quality as reported on some of the other SACDs. I believe this is due to the fact that the band was in there own studio at this point, with better quality control. Or perhaps the previous tracks on earlier albums were recorded at different times. Heck, maybe its just the tech was getting better and better, and the guys were feeling comfortable about being a threesome now. I don’t know, nor will I try to guess, all I do know, is this is a Damn fine disc.

Vocals soar, horns blat with quick confidence, and drums kick with authority. Even the worst song ever made in the history of mankind (next to Les Boys by Dire Straits) Who Dunnit sound absolutely tight and wonderful. Of course, that is my opinion about those two tracks, your mileage may vary. That being said, of the 5.1 remasters, this album is by far the best, of those released so far.

Turn it on again!!!

June 16, 2007

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Genesis, Duke SACD review.

1980’s Duke has our friends starting to turn the page from Prog Rock, to more of the radio friendly tunes. Now don’t get me wrong, Duke has some fantastic, tightly written, long pieces that are quite satisfying. However, we start seeing more of the pop ditties that turned off so many of the old school fans. I for one, enjoy both sides of Genesis and find this to be a near perfect album. Sure “Alone Tonight” is a little sappy, but the Duchess Suite, and Duke’s Travel and End, makes up for any of the album’s misgivings.

Alas, I am here to review the album’s sound and not the content, so I will give you that.

I cannot review this album without referring back to the awful time I had with”… And Then There Were Three…” “Three” had such an awful sound, that I needed a breather and palette cleanser so as to move on. I listen to Duke quite often, almost as much as Trick, so there aren’t many nuances I am not thoroughly familiar with, this disc brought out all of that and more with a wonderful, bouncy, live sound that impressed me from start to finish. In fact, the sound is so solid and consistent, I see no reason to go track by track on this release. I will return to that format, if future releases have variations in perceived audio quality track to track, but this is a solid album.

Describing this album the word “live” could be used a lot. It describes not only the lively sound of the more upbeat material, but also the entire collection of songs sound like they were recorded live, within a short amount of time at the same studio. The bonus DVD all but confirms this. The members  all had solo experience at this point, and there maturity shows here. Sparkling vocals, tight bass, crystal clear instruments, and great surround use is the norm here.

Notable stand outs are on Behind the Lines, which is a stark contrast from the last SACD, grabbing you and letting you know that you are in for an enjoyable ride. Man of our Times finally loses the garbled crunch of previous versions and really opens into something musical. Heathaze, lets Phil’s voice warble on the quiet intro enough to where you can almost hear the tears in his voice. Turn it on Again, is perfect single material, and the final Duke Suite envelops you and makes you want to hit the repeat button on your player to experience it all again!

It pleased me so much to know, that one of my favorites was treated with so much care, and sonically will stand the test of time unlike the thinner versions I had before.

I am optimistic now for Abacab, and if it is half as good as this, I should be very pleased. I don’t anticipate any sonic problems with the releases after this, Genesis has always been a band concerned about good sound. Technology may have finally caught up to them in the later releases, with much newer and solid source tapes. The Gabriel years are truly going to be a treat to revisit in hi-rez, I just pray the original sources are going to stand up to modern scrutiny. Should be a fun journey regardless, and I will never complain for having an excuse to hear these gems any chance I get.

…And Then I Was Ill…

June 10, 2007

Genesis, …and then there were three… SACD review.

 

 

  In 1978 Genesis found themselves without a lead guitarist, a vocalist who wasn’t entirely sure he wanted the job yet, and members who were all around becoming a bit credit hungry. I should start off by saying that “Three” was always one of my least favorite in the catalog. I have never found any of the songs particularly interesting, with the exception of the hit single “Follow You Follow me” and “Many Too Many”. I used to skip this one all together. I tried to leave my bias at the door when sitting down to listen to this one. As I recall, I have always thought it was a poor sounding, garbled sort of album. I had hoped that the SACD release would clear that up, and make this a more enjoyable experience. I was wrong.

 

 

1.) Down And Out- Not nearly as much sheen and sparkle as was heard on Wind and Wuthering. Recording is quite harsh actually. Compared to the original CD release and the remaster, it has opened a bit more, but still muddy.

 

2.) Undertow- Grime? Grain? You can hear the track sounds strained. Vocals sound like Phil used a budget Microphone.

 

3.) Ballad of Big- This track is far more open than any other release, and still manages to be a clusterfuck.

 

4.) Snowbound- Much clearer vocals, Far more open with some decent imaging. I was losing hope. This is much better.

 

5.) Burning Rope- None of the realism I am used to hearing on SACD. Sounds like a mediocre CD. Wondering if it is my bias against this album. Lord, will this song end?

 

6.) Deep in the Motherlode- Direct quote from my notes “Little or no bass definition. No sheen on cymbals, sounds like static. CD quality at best. Messy surrounds just spread the mess.”

 

7.) Many To Many- I think I like the CD remaster version better on this one. Phil was clearer.

 

8.) Scenes from a Night’s Dream- Quoting my notes again, I wrote; “Am I listening to a CD?!?!” At this point I physically confirmed I was listening to the surround layer of an SACD via my players on screen menus.

 

9.) Say It’s All Right Joe- C’mon Joe, say this is a bad joke, and my real disc is in the mail. Ugh.

 

10.)The Lady Lies- We have digressed to Early ‘80’s CD quality now. Surrounds are unnecessary which magnifies the problems. Main Vocals clearer, but still get lost in the chorus. Cymbal crashes sound “crunchy”.

 

11.)Follow You Follow me- Phil said that when they originally recorded this album, that they knew it would be a hit, so they returned to the studio, rerecorded it, and polished it up. It shows. He must have bought a new microphone on his way back. Sounds much better than the rest of the album, and that ain’t saying much.

 

 Was I too hard on this? No, I think not, if one of my favorites like “Selling England by the Pound” or “Duke” comes off sounding like this, I won’t be terribly pleased. As far as a letter grade, I think I will cop out, because of my dislike for this album. Some albums like “Wind” grew on me as I got older, Check back with me in a decade, it might take that long.

 

 

Entry for June 08, 2007

June 8, 2007

Genesis, Wind and Wuthering SACD review.

 

Genesis’ 1977 follow up to “A Trick of the Tail” found themselves settling into there new style. Phil was getting cozy with doing vocals after the departure of Gabriel, and Tony Banks is really coming into his own, with pretty much carte blanch to do his beautiful, structured song writing. Steve Hackett really shines on this release also. Such a pity it would be his last studio album with the band.

 

Wind and Wuthering was one of my least favorite of the catalog as a kid. Within the last decade, it has really grown on me, and I find new things to enjoy about this crafted disc on every listening. Not really the album to reach for, when you want some hard rockers like Squonk. It’s really an album that reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Not so much the scale, but the material is a somewhat British look at life and truly the second most “British” Genesis album next to “Selling England by the Pound”. Here are my views on the sonic quality of the 2007 SACD remaster.

 

 

1.) Eleventh Earl of Mar- Right from the start I am impressed by the all around sound and surround usage. This album has always been high, and slightly shrilly to me. And several tracks used to have me turning the volume down over the years from fatigue. I detect none of that here, highs are smooth, and the entire track is far more musical and pleasurable than before.

 

2.) One For the Vine- I find that Phil’s voice is not as clear, solid, and fixed as it was in Trick. There is sparkling clarity otherwise. Phil’s voice might be a matter of the original source tapes. It is not a bad thing, just very prominent after listening to Trick only yesterday. Much better use of the quiet passages now. There is a section half way through the song that has “racket” which makes excellent surround effects. That, once again has me chomping at the bits to hear “The Waiting Room” from The Lamb. As the song comes to a close, I realize I just had the best time ever listening to this song, and will be revisiting it again very soon.

 

3.) Your Own Special Way- Meticulously mixed. Perfect. The track comes alive like never before.

 

4.) Wot Gorilla?- This wasn’t the drum powerhouse I anticipated. Stellar surround use again however. Song is opened greatly, always sounded claustrophobic before. Lots of separation and imaging. Will be revisiting this one in SACD stereo. Bells tinkle with sparkling clarity.

 

5.) All in a Mouse’s Night. Here is what I wrote in my note pad while listening to this rather twee, cute song. “PERFECT! A true SACD demo track! DAMN!” this is the kind of track that makes the money, and time I spend on this system worth it. I would like to thank Bowers and Wilkens for making wonderful speakers, and for making moments like these possible. There is a tear in my eye.

 

6.) Blood on the Rooftops- This is the track that brings you back for more helpings of this underrated album. Perfect again. Perfect.

 

7.) Unquiet Sleepers for the Sleepers…- This track is far more musical than I have ever noticed before. I always used to think of this as a throw away, transitional, build-up track. This changed my mind, and this mix has really opened up this track, and gave the guys elbow room to work.

 

8.) …In That Quiet earth- Every time I heard this track in the past I have always had to bump the volume down a bit. This track has always been shrill and harsh to me. My thumb was poised over the volume down button. Low and behold, it was not needed! Clear with clean highs, but not rolled off. Drums were not as powerful as they should be.

 

9.) Afterglow- A bit more subdued than I expected for a closer. Gorgeous none the less.

 

 

Well there you have it. Another A performance, I am starting to think I am going to have to have another sort of ratings scale. I think it could have been an A+ but some sonic limitations hindered that. I believe that the recordings were utilized to the best. I will check and see where Trick was recorded in relation to this, which might explain the difference in quality on the vocals. It was the most enjoyable time I have ever had with this album. Thank goodness for Genesis.