Does lossless audio guarantee good sound?

It took a long time for me to work up any enthusiasm for the original digital consumer format, the CD. Coming from an all-analog perspective, first-generation CDs and CD players in the early 1980s didn't light my fire. The problem wasn't that they sounded "bad," it was that CDs robbed music of its soul and emotional connections. LPs' sound engaged you; the CD's sound was too easy to ignore. People put music on, and started reading, talking, working, anything but actually listening to music.

That's why I waited six years to buy my first … Read more

Anthony Gallo Acoustics: Changing the shape of speaker design

Since the company was founded in 1994, Anthony Gallo Acoustics (AGA) has specialized in designing spherical speakers. I've recounted the reasons for eliminating box, wood-based cabinets in most of my Gallo reviews, but for now let's just say that getting rid of the box can be a huge plus for the speaker's sound. So, why after so many years of dominating the round loudspeaker market would the company dare make a traditional wooden enclosure speaker?

"We learned how to really make it work," says Anthony Gallo, founder of AGA. "Since its inception, the box … Read more

Higher-fi, making the best-ever sounding recording

It may be a lofty goal to try to make recordings that sound as close as possible to real, live music. But every now and then the state of the art advances.

I attended such a recording session in mid-December and was treated to the best, most realistically natural sound I've heard. Over monitor speakers the sound was excellent, but the sound over my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor in-ear headphones was vastly better. I could listen to the music "live," and then rush back to the control room and don the headphones. The gap between live and … Read more

Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor headphone: Ultimate perfection?

Ultimate Ears' new Reference Monitor in-ear headphone is a very different take on the state of the art. UE collaborated with EMI Music's Capitol Studios to design this headphone for recording, mixing, and mastering engineers. The UE engineers submitted a number of prototypes to Capitol and other beta testers for feedback before arriving at the finished Reference Monitor. I'm no engineer, but I think the Reference Monitor is the best, most accurate-sounding in-ear headphone I've heard to date.

Right, I know some of you must be thinking, aren't all headphones designed to be accurate? Once you … Read more

A totally tubular headphone amplifier

Headphones can sound only as good as the amplifier they're plugged into. The difference in sound quality between the built-in headphone amp in a typical receiver or computer and a high-end amp can be surprisingly huge. True, the very best headphone amps can get expensive, but Schiit Audio's made-in-the-U.S. amps' prices start at $249.

I was blown away by the sound of Schiit's solid-state Asgard amp ($249) a few months ago, and now it's happening again with the new Schiit vacuum tube Valhalla amp ($349). Which one sounds better, the solid-state or the tube design? Read on.

The Valhalla's chassis is a near twin to the Asgard, except for the four tubes peeking out of the top panel. The brushed, all-metal chassis' fit and finish are excellent; the Valhalla looks like an expensive high-end component. The rear panel houses stereo RCA inputs, an on/off switch, and a power connector. The chassis measures 9 by 6.75 by 3.25 inches, and it weighs 7 pounds.

Technically speaking, the Valhalla is a Class A, single-ended triode headphone amplifier with no overall feedback. The amp's innards are stuffed with individual resistors, capacitors, etc,; just like a no-holds barred high-end design, and it delivers classic tube sound. The chassis, circuit board, and power transformer are all sourced from American suppliers, and the amp is hand-built in Newhall, CA; though the vacuum tubes are made in Russia. Like most high-end designs, the Valhalla is built to last a long time; it should have a useful working life of 10 or more years.

The tubes probably won't make it to the 10-year mark; they're rated for 3,000 to 5,000 hours of use, so if you listen to your headphones for 10 hours a week, you won't have to replace the tubes for at least 6 years. The tubes are guaranteed for 90 days, and Schiit sells replacement tube sets for $40.

I spent some time comparing the solid-state Schiit Asgard with the Valhalla, with my Grado RS-1 and Sennheiser HD-580 full-size headphones, and the brand-new Ultimate Ears UE Reference Monitor in-ear headphones.

The Valhalla warmed up the Grado's sound; the Asgard was leaner-sounding, but more transparent. The Valhalla's soundstage depth on the Walkmen's excellent new "Lisbon" CD was more spacious than the Asgard's, but don't get the wrong idea; the tubes didn't soften detail, and the band's guitars had plenty of bite. The Valhalla/Grado sound is fuller-bodied and organic; the Asgard/Grado combo offers greater clarity. … Read more

Beef up your bibliographies

Mac users have several good choices available when it comes to bibliography-management applications. Bookends is among the best, and its trial version certainly merits a look from anyone who spends much time working with large numbers of academic and technical citations. This app makes it easy to search for, download, and organize reference materials, as well as quickly create tightly formatted bibliographies in a variety of word processors--including excellent integration with Mellel and Word 2008.

You can search across and save documents from any standard source, from PubMed, JSTOR, and the Library of Congress to Amazon, Google Scholar, and even … Read more

Software nightmare

We are of the humble opinion that Mystic Board publishes some of the worst software available on; they are almost without exception poorly designed and utterly useless. Nonetheless, we always try to approach each program with an open mind and a positive attitude. So we did with MB Dream, but to no avail. If anything, this program is one of the worst of the worst, and that's saying something.

MB Dream bills itself as three programs in one, containing sections for Dream Interpretation, Dream Dictionary, and Inner Dreams Number. We started with Dream Interpretation, which is set … Read more

Time-intensive timesheets

The publisher's description of Senomix Timesheets claims that it's designed for "engineering or project-based offices." We think this is a good thing, as it will likely take an engineer to figure out how to use it.

It's not that the program lacks instructions. The problem, in fact, is that the publishers have gone to the opposite extreme. Who has time to read a 31-page "getting started" guide? Better yet, who has time to read the full 84-page user guide, or the admin user guide, which weighs in at a staggering (and ridiculous) 256 … Read more

Tarot terminology tool

MB Tarot Dictionary conveys an incredible amount of detail about Tarot, the fortune-telling cards of legend and lore. This listing of terms is simple to use and is written in a straightforward way even newcomers can understand.

The program's interface is sparse but functional. We would have liked a more professional layout than its black-and-white display, and maybe a more insightful Help file instruction, but the functions were so basic that it took us practically no effort to get going. The dictionary consisted of an alphabetical listing of a few hundred Tarot-related terms. From Abysmal Tarot to Zodiac Pack … Read more

Leonard Maltin Movie Guide packs 24,000 films in your iPhone

Scan the bookshelves of any serious movie buff and you're almost certain to find a worn, dog-eared copy of "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide."

Of course, just as encyclopedias work far better as interactive, online guides like Wikipedia, so do reference tomes like this benefit from the digital treatment.

Enter Leonard Maltin Movie Guide for iPhone ($4.99), which not only reproduces the full text of the print version, but also delivers some interactive "plot twists."

In addition to 24,000-plus capsule reviews, the guide provides a couple dozen of Maltin's latest reviews (full … Read more