audio

Audio interface inspires lots of jumping

First off, let me say that any DJ caught complaining about the inconvenience of his laptop audio interface deserves to be smacked in the head with a record crate. That said, less gear to carry is always a good thing, and the fine folks at Native Instruments have found a way to shrink their premium USB audio interfaces down to a pocket-size four-channel dynamo, appropriately called the Audio 2 DJ.

This new little bus-powered breakout box is due out in September, runs $119 list, and uses a pair of stereo 1/4-inch jacks (one for cue, one for master) to … Read more

The 404 386: Where we get lost in the dream

It's Wilson's turn again to choose The 404 semi-weekly audio draft sponsored by Beck's Beer in conjunction with Last.FM, a subsidiary of CBS Interactive and CNET News and Reviews 5000, so naturally we're a little skeptical (but not nearly as skeptical as we are about the moon landing), but Mr. Tang comes through again with the beautiful music of Priscilla Ahn, a young singer-songwriter with a light, ethereal voice that drifts through the layered atmosphere of her acoustic folk melodies.

Like many of the artists featured on our Draft Pick, Ms. Ahn also brings several instrumental talents to her songs, incorporating her harmonica and even a kazoo on top of the gentle plucks of an acoustic guitar.

Today's featured song, "Dream," was recently featured in an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," and with good reason: the layered harmonies make the perfect soundtrack to quiet, rolling landscapes...also, I think it's pretty cool that's she's on Blue Note Records, the jazz label responsible for putting out albums by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis.

She put out her first record last year called "A Good Day," and is currently touring Japan and Korea before heading back to Los Angeles on August 1 to play at the Troubadour. Give her a listen and let us know if you're in love with her as much as I am!

As usual, this episode is also jam-packed with current newz, including MCA's YouTube announcement (get better soon!), Facebook self-love (not like that, dummy), and another Facebook story about the most EPIC PARTY EVER!

One final note: does anyone have the original text/code for our Wikipedia page? I know it's been awhile, but somebody must have it, right? Our intentions are secret for now, but we definitely have a stew a-brewin', so hit us up at the404(at)cnet(dot)com if you have a copy of it!

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Samsung adds high-end Blu-ray home theater system

Samsung already offers a pair of Blu-ray home theaters systems (the HT-BD7200 and HT-BD1250T), and the company is planning to add a third option in August, the HT-BD3252. While most Blu-ray home theater systems available from LG, Panasonic, and even Samsung, are aimed at offering Blu-ray home theater at the lowest price possible, the HT-BD3252 will carry an $800 price tag, pushing it out of the "budget" category.

The HT-BD3252 costs $250 more than the step-down Samsung HT-BD1250T, and it has a couple of important upgrades to justify the price. The most obvious difference is that the BD3252 … Read more

Zoom Q3 camcorder puts emphasis on audio

It used to be all about getting your band's music on the radio, but these days, it's all about YouTube. Producing the ultimate viral music video isn't easy, though. Video cameras like the Flip Mino HD, RCA Small Wonder, and Creative Vado have lowered the cost of entry when it comes to recording high-quality video, but the built-in mics leave plenty to be desired.

To answer the call for a musician-friendly video recorder, the folks at Zoom have unveiled the Zoom Q3--a $249 handheld camcorder with a built-in pair of high-quality stereo condenser mics. The Q3 … Read more

The 404 384: Where we're not spastic, we're just passionate

We have an especially fun episode for y'all today, with a comparison between Transformers 2 and GI Joe, a brief rundown of old video game movies, the decade's biggest tech flops, and OF COURSE: The 404 Semi-Weekly Audio Draft Sponsored by Beck's Beer in conjunction with Last.FM, a subsidiary of CBS Interactive and CNET News and Reviews 5000!

Man, the preshow this morning got HEATED! In a joking way, of course. You really have to be there for Friday morning preshows in the live chatroom. The buzz this morning was about Jeff seeing "Bruno," and actually LIKING IT! This is, of course, in contrast to Wilson totally despising the flick, blaming the overuse of phallic objects used only to make the audience feel uncomfortable. If you saw that movie and have an opinion, leave a comment on here and help us settle this argument!

That conversation in the preshow leads us to talk about the latest from AintitCool News, who claim that "GI Joe" is a better movie than "Transformers 2"! This is actually pretty surprising to us because we saw the trailer for "GI Joe," and it seriously looked awful, although it'd be hard to make a worse movie than "Transformers 2." I guess it's a "lesser of two evils" sort of thing. Early reviews coming in claim that the "GI Joe" movie should be taken with a large grain of salt, since the tone is similar to that of the original "Street Fighter" movie.

After talking about video game movies for awhile, we finally get to our favorite segment, the OFFICIAL 404 Semi-Weekly Audio Draft Sponsored by Beck's Beer in conjunction with Last.FM, a subsidiary of CBS Interactive and CNET News and Reviews 5000! Today's pick is Mayer Hawthorne, a 29-year-old music junkie from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who makes retro-sounding soul music in the vein of such artists as Isaac Hayes, Leroy Hudson, and Barry White. His music tips its hat to the old Motown days between 1966 and 1974, when scratchy instruments and smooth falsettos dominated the waves. Hawthorne definitely draws inspiration from those artists, but also layers his own style into the mix with breakbeat production and a gallery of horn instruments that every generation can get into. He's currently on the popular hip-hop label Stones Throw and has a few singles out, but his new album, "A Strange Arrangement," is due out in the fall. For now, check out his page and today's track, "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out," and let us know what you think!

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Are SACD and DVD-Audio dead yet?

It's interesting. Tens of millions of homes are equipped with multichannel home theater systems, but multichannel music is a dead issue. Stereo rules the roost, for going on 50 years.

Ten years ago it looked like stereo's days were numbered--the two new multichannel formats, SACD and DVD-Audio, were on track to be the next big things. Funny, it didn't work out that way. I cover the subject in detail in my "Whatever happened to 5.1-channel music?" article that appeared in the July issue of Stereophile magazine.

Obviously, 5.1-channel sound makes sense for movies and home theater, mostly because 5.1 was an outgrowth of theatrical film-sound technologies stretching all the way back to the 1950s.

Every attempt to bring surround music into the home without video has flopped, big time. Are you old enough to remember the rise and fall of quadraphonic in the 1970s? What was needed was a surround format that didn't require music lovers to invest in new playback gear. Surely such a format would prove the viability of music surround...wouldn't it?… Read more

$6,910 buys world's best headphone sound

Lucky me, I've reviewed most of the world's very best headphones, including the Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000, and Sennheiser HD 800. But now there's something even better: the Woo Audio WES headphone amplifier ($4,500) and Stax SR-007Mk2 headphone ($2,410). The complete review can be found on the Home Entertainment Web site.

Yeah, it's a lot of dough, but the Woo/Stax combo creams the other contenders for world's best headphone sound, and the pair goes for less than the price of a world class, high-end camera, like the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. The camera's great now, but in a couple of years it'll be hopelessly out of date. Great audio is simply a better long-term investment.

Stax headphones use a very different operating principle than dynamic headphones (pretty much every headphone from lowly earbuds to full-size headphones are dynamic designs). Stax has been making electrostatic headphones since 1960 in Japan, and the company's current flagship model, the SR-007Mk2, is what I'm using with the Woo WES amplifier. The Stax is a big and comfy design.

The Woo WES is an all-triode tube drive, fully balanced design; the prototype unit I'm reviewing has a total of 10 tubes (four EL34 power tubes, four 6SL7 drive tubes, and two 5AR4 rectifier tubes), but production models will have 11 tubes. It works with Stax and Sennheiser electrostatic headphones only. The machined, all-metal dual chassis is beautifully crafted.

The WES, like all Woo amps, was designed by Wei Wu, and handcrafted in Woo Audio's factory in New York City. Each WES will be built to order over a four-day period; it's slated for release in October 2009. The preintroduction price is $4,500, and full retail is expected to be $4,990. Woo prices start at $470 for the WA 3. All Woo Audio electronics are sold direct from the factory, the waiting list is three to four weeks.

A look inside reveals no circuit boards; all wiring will be "point to point." That's a very expensive way to manufacture amplifiers, but Woo Audio thinks point-to-point wiring makes for better-sounding amps. The amp also features handmade inductors, and even the machined cone feet are designed specifically for the WES.

The clarity of the Woo/Stax combo with acoustic jazz mimics the way live, unamplified music sounds in a good concert hall or club. The Woo/Stax is the closest thing to being there I've heard to date.… Read more

Music On The Pre

Palm did much right in the making of the Pre but none more astonishing than the multimedia feature. Not only does it offer a great look and style but it also functions smoothly and doesn't causes clashes or problems when multi-tasking. Navigation through the multimedia app is very easy with the expandable controls in the notification spot that surprisingly even tells you the song data across the face. Supported files are mp3 files, unprotected AAC, AAC+, AMR, QCELP and WAV formats. What makes this even a sweeter deal is that Palm was smart and added the 3.5mm headphone … Read more

Why this version of the Pre won't replace my iPod

I would really like to carry one device. Ideally this would be the Palm Pre: phone, email, sms, internet, calendar, contacts, and media player. I listen to a lot of podcasts and music on my 30GB iPod classic right now, and it would be great to not carry it around anymore since I have the Pre. … Read more

The 404 379: Where we have a ball with Steve Guttenberg

CNET official Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg guest hosts today's ball-busting show. Steve brings his usual brand of random topics to the table today that include the most bizarre festival you'll never want to visit and the world's largest ketchup bottle. We also introduce another awesome band in our Becks/Last.FM semiweekly audio draft!

Today's show is very important, for three reasons. First, we're stoked to welcome Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg who brings his expertise to answer all your high-end audio questions on the second half of the show, but not before introducing us to the most horrid festival that you'll never, ever want to visit. Let's just say that the subject matter of this food fair leaves room for plenty of punny jokes to be made, and we take that opportunity every chance we get (see:show title)--too funny!

Second, it's also a very important day because it's the first time we actually get a few bottles of Beck's Beer into the studio to sip on during the show! Don't worry though, we take things in moderation here at The 404 (yeah...), but no amount of self-control can prevent Wilson and me from getting the classic Asian glow.

Finally, all of us are caught offguard when Wilson Tang, infamous for literally feeling indifferent about any music made after 1791, makes an executive decision and chooses Grizzly Bear for today's Semi-Weekly Audio Draft Pick, sponsored by Beck's Beer in conjunction with Last.FM.

Grizzly Bear is a four-piece band out of Brooklyn here in New York that has been slowly gaining popularity for its dusty mix of folk piano and a mix of other instruments including whistles and an intermittent banjo. After releasing several albums in the past few years, Grizzly Bear just released a new one called "Veckatimest," which includes today's song, "Two Weeks." The album retains Grizzly Bear's unique low-fi sound--mixing airy vocals with refreshingly creative arrangements that are rare to find in today's soundstage. We hope you'll enjoy Grizzly Bear as much as we do!

(Last.fm is a part of CBS Interactive, which also publishes CNET News and Reviews.)

One more thing: We'd like to congratulate newlyweds Elizabeth and Ian for getting hitched recently. They're both avid 404 listeners and while we doubt that Elizabeth walked down the aisle to our theme music, we're swooning with you and wish you guys the best of love.

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