The other day, my sister Nanette reminded how much my younger self bore some (let me editorialize fleeting) resemblance to singer John Denver. During high school chorus trips 40 years ago (or so), somewhere, somewhen, […]
I started writing song lyrics around age 14, when given a typewriter. I long had fancied myself a lyricist, and you can be the judge by reviewing some of the verse. Songwriting was harder, but the first song came to me while walking home from high school (gasp) 40 years ago—perhaps a May day like this one, year of my graduation. I don’t recall the date. All my writings from the 1970s and 80s were left, and later lost, in Vermont circa 1989.
“Joe College” is simple, purposely repetitive, and peppy. I remember trying to hold the melody and words together in my head as I rushed back to my bedroom. The tune, as first inspired, changed because of short-term memory loss before being committed to permanent neural storage. Strangely—and I do mean strangely—the inspiration came from an animated Peanuts special, which in part featured Snoopy the dog as Joe Cool attending college.
After Grado Labs shipped to me the GS1000e headphones, but before they arrived, I realized my mistake. Big sound comes in matching size. So used to the Brooklyn-based company’s signature on-ear designs, I somehow overlooked that the pricey Statement Series audiophile cans are over-ear and overly large. It’s all about the earcups and pads. The RS1e, which I previously owned and sold, measure 17 x 8 x 19 cm (6.69 x 3.15 x 7.48 inches). The GS1000e: 23.11 x 8.89 x 23.88 cm (9.1 x 3.5 x 9.4 inches). As I feared, the Grados look enormous on my head, unbecoming. But, Hell, I accept the indignity of a big slab of iPhone against my face—why fuss?
Size isn’t the only difference from other Grados. I don’t hear the classic audio signature, but something else. Something better. Out of the box, with no burn-in, sound is smooth, expansive, and detailed. Well-rounded. Finely balanced. The open-air, over-ear styling truly is circumaural, spreading soundstage in placement you can close your eyes and see. Feel. There is an audio authenticity unlike any other headphones ever to touch (or cover) my ears—and that’s with less than 10 hours use. Cans like these improve with age; burn-in is everything.
BTW, I used the Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR lens to shoot the Featured Image, which I considerably edited to remove some of the yellowish tint from the Jan. 25, 2017 evening capture (8:26 p.m. PST). Vitals: f/4, ISO 5000, 1/60 sec, 35mm.
Headphone manufacturers must make deliberate audio signature decisions when crafting cans. Some shops, like GradoLabs, adopt a house sound. Relative newcomer Master & Dynamic‘s design ethic seeks to equally please eyes and ears. As such, its flagship wired headphones (MH40) and wireless (MW60) share similar industrial design. Aluminum, lambskin, leather, and stainless steel combine in rugged style that evokes aviators of a bygone era. The newer MW50 Bluetooth headphones strongly resemble the other two, but they’re tuned for younger listeners on the move.
M&D’s earlier cans are over-ear—meaning they cover the lobes, while the MW50 rest on them. The headphones are smaller and lighter than either the MH40 or MW60, but with most of the overall benefits of the latter, including excellent wireless reception. On-ear headphones can be uncomfortable to wear and leak in too much ambient noise. The MW50 push past both typical limitations, which, honestly, surprises me. I personally don’t find the design to be as attractive as the over-the-ear cans. It’s about the earcups, which function matters more, however. The lambskin-covered ear pads are immensely comfortable, and the MW50 arguably are better all-around-wear than their siblings. I would take them outdoors on a walk, for example.
That didn’t last long. My cancelled Tidal account was set to end January 11th, but late this afternoon, I reactivated, giving the streaming service more time to keep—and even increase—my affections. During Consumer Electronics Show 2017 today, in licensing partnership with MQA, Tidal announced the new audio-fidelity tier “Masters”, which is available for free to existing HiFi subscribers. Early album selection is extremely limited as is access option: macOS or Windows application. Both will expand in time.
But wow! I tested skeptically, wiring up my studio cans—Audio-Technica ATH-R70x—to 15.4-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to hear the difference. Hehe, if any. I deliberately started with Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” from album “Rumors“, which released 40 years ago on February 4th. Tidal claims that Masters recordings deliver “an audio experience exactly as the artist intended”. The band spent nearly a year painstakingly recording and engineering the disc, making any, or all, the songs great test cases.
I would never guess that the grey metal Master & Dynamic MW60 headphones purchased in December 2015 would match my new 15.4-inch MacBook Pro a year later. But here they are, together, shot on Dec. 30, 2016, using Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR lens. Vitals: f/4, ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 35mm. The Featured Image is cropped but otherwise is as captured. Broad bokeh is deliberate, with focus on the Apple logo, as are the dark hues.
The MW60 make me think about Apple Music, which begrudgingly replaces Tidal as 2017 begins. The HiFi streaming service delights with fantastic audio fidelity—difference I can hear, starting with vocals. But Apple Music’s catalog is broader, and the curated playlists are superior, for my tastes. Consider “Best of 2016: Alternative“. I couldn’t have picked better, and I was a radio deejay in my college-age years.
I am a big fan of on-ear headphones, which attitude bucks the noise-cancellation trend. The design is a nice compromise between over-ear and open-back styles—the latter of which can present the best soundstage. Cans that rest on the ears, rather than cover them, tend to be lighter and confer airier, more natural sound. However, they also leak noise both ways, which makes them less appealing for commuter trains or air travel.
Since I reviewed MW60 Wireless last week, I simply must point out that Master & Dynamic launched MW50 on-ear Bluetooth headphones today. Yes, I plan to review them in the near future. The company says the Fifty is one-third lighter than the Sixty, while adhering to the same, retro-design ethic and modern materials—aluminum, lambskin, leather, and stainless steel.
As a Tidal subscriber. I welcome Apple acquisition—asssuming lossless tracks are made available through the fruit-logo company’s music services. Not that anyone should seriously believe the rumors. But one can hope.
Merger talks are typically silent affairs. When they’re serious, you don’t hear about them until there is a deal. Reasons are many, with regulatory being among them when public companies are involved. Acquisition rumors often mean something else: Principal party leaks information about preliminary or ongoing discussions to gauge customer and shareholder reaction; one side or the other is dissatisfied with progress/terms and seeks to apply pressure.
For reasons even I can’t explain, I’ve slowly started to complete a number of lyrics with melodies written decades ago. The verse below is among them. I banged out the first draft, through to the chorus, during my senior year of high school. Today, I added two additional stanzas to finish the song, barring any future revisions.
“Noon is What You’re Waiting For” derives from two inspirations: My then, strong anti-religious sentiments and something discussed during literature class: Cycle of life as morning, noon, and evening (or is that twilight). Meaning: Noon doesn’t refer to time of day when the protagonist sneaks out to meet boys but to her coming of age and freedom from Catholic colloquial confines.
If you’re headed to London, or live there, the Rolling Stones have a new exhibit (opened last week) at the Saatchi Gallery. Exhibitionism will be there until early September. After which, the gala moves on to 11 other cities, including New York and Paris. Adults can expect to pay £22 (more than US $30, depending on exchange rate that day). VIP tix are £60.
The memorabilia-filled exhibit is meant to be a nostalgic look at the iconic, aging rock band, which youngest member is (cough, cough) 66. But Exhibitionism is as much about selling collectibles, one of which I can’t resist calling attention to: “special edition” MH40 headphones. I reviewed the standard set, which sound exactly the same, on March 29th.
Hashtag “perfect playlist” is my new thing—whenever I find a worthy collection. Today’s #perfectplaylist is “Sick of Myself: Teen Angst“, created by Tidal. The mix of alternative and pop punk ballads punctuates one of the reasons I stick with the music streaming service, despite the $19.99 monthly fee (that’s twice Apple Music and Google Music): Fantastic fidelity.
I am familiar with most of the 40 songs in the collection—from before subscribing to Tidal 12 months ago. The majority of the tracks sound so much better, I feel like a partially blind man gaining eyesight. (Apologies for mixing metaphor with real sense, but hey.) Some instruments I hear for the first time, booming sense of virgin listening to something thought to be known and familiar.
This afternoon I sold my Coachella 2016 Weekend 1 Pass to a young woman from Texas who relocated to San Diego about a year ago. Earlier in the day, she spontaneously decided to attend the music festival, responding to my Craigslist post about 10 minutes after I placed it. Disappointment goes with the pass, which I purchased during presales last June. The photo is the only shot of the kit—to accompany the ad.
The Weekend Oner was an unexpected extra. During presales, I bought a pair of Weekend Two passes for my daughter and companion, after being informed the other likely wouldn’t be available. While purchasing, I left the other browser tab open and unexpectedly got pushed through to sales with a single option: Weekend 1 with Shuttle Pass. I grabbed it, thinking to go myself.