The Jensen JTA-230: Plastic Fantastic? Feb10

The Jensen JTA-230: Plastic Fantastic?

If I asked you to guess what Amazon’s biggest seller of the 2015 Christmas season was in the home audio market, what would your answer be? A soundbar or a wireless speaker? Maybe an A/V Receiver? Nope. It was (if you haven’t already looked at the title) the Jensen JTA-230, a fifty dollar, self contained, all-in-one record playing music system. It seems then that the “vinyl fad” isn’t over just yet, and if you want dynamic vinyl masters, which are still largely the only way to get any kind of dynamic master, that’s good news. However, the fact that not just a record player, but this record player took the top spot is something of a mixed blessing. Reading the reviews on the Amazon product page, it’s clear that most buyers are aware that this is very much an entry-level product, but what they are probably not aware of is that it will actually damage their records while it’s playing them. All record players work by converting mechanical energy to a tiny amount of electrical energy via the Phono cartridge. By far the most common type is the moving magnet, (MM) which connects the vibrating needle to a set of magnets that in turn vibrate in next to coiled wire. The less common and more exotic type is the moving coil, (MC) where the needle instead vibrates, you guessed it, the coil, next to fixed magnets. The electrical signal produced by MM carts is generally much stronger than that produced by MC carts, making it easier to produce simpler and less costly Phono preamplifiers designed strictly for MM use. It’s certainly possible to get great sound out of both cartridge types though. Moving magnet Phono carts can only be made so cheaply, and the lowest cost models retail at around fifty bucks. That’s the entire cost of the Jensen, and so obviously the math doesn’t work there. Getting the price of a complete table that low requires a third, very old school type of cart, the piezoelectric type, more commonly referred to as a ceramic cart. In this type, the needle vibrates a ceramic rod, which is attached to a lightweight piezoelectric crystal that in turn vibrates and creates the electrical signal. When every component of your turntable has to be made as cheaply as possible, it’s likely going to be very sensitive to vibration, and this is an area where ceramic carts actually have an advantage over MM or MC carts as they are much less sensitive to vibration and mechanical feedback. This is doubly important when the turntable has built in speakers which will contribute even more vibration. On the other side of the coin however, ceramic carts are much more likely to jump the groove during heavy bass and drum sections, increasing the potential for scratches. They also tend to run out of steam at around 14kHz, though the speakers built into the Jensen probably can’t reproduce frequencies higher than that anyway. The biggest problem though is that they are essentially a relic from the pre-vinyl shellac days, when the grooves were stronger and could better stand up to the beating the ceramic carts dish out. In terms of precision, a MC cart is like a surgeon’s scalpel, while a ceramic cart is more akin to a board with a nail through it. Great for killing orcs or zombies, less great for playing records. This ultimately begs the question, why buy the Jensen? If you just want to play old, already worn records from flea markets or bargain bins, and you don’t care at all about sound quality, great, more power to you. If you’re contemplating playing $15, $20, or $25+ records on the Jensen though, you really should think about why you want to do that. While it’s certainly possible that those records may sound much better than the digital version thanks to better mastering,...

Megadeth – Dystopia

Angry Metal-Fi is a series of articles that are cross posted on Angry Metal Guy and Metal-Fi as a collaborative effort to evangelize dynamics in metal. “What’s your favorite band?” A question that I’m sure all of you have been invariably asked at least once in your life. The fact is over my illustrious metal listening career, my tastes have evolved and become so varied that I don’t have just one “favorite band” anymore. To make matters worse, most of the time when I am asked this question, it’s typically posed by someone who isn’t exactly a metal cognoscenti. So even though I could easily rattle off a few acceptable answers, I almost always deflect the conversation into some high-level talk about metal as a genre instead. Putting it another way, it’s been a long time since my metal collection consisted of just half of dozen bands who all played some flavor of thrash. I’m way past that now, and I’m fairly confident that if you are reading this blog, so are you. But if you must know, the answer to this inane question is Megadeth. The album, Countdown to Extinction. That’s the record that started it all for me. After Countdown, I immediately bought Rust, then Peace, and by the time 1994’s Youthanasia was released, I was a full fledged fanboy. In fact, one morning right before class, I heard on the radio that if you donated food to the Red Cross you would get a free backstage pass to that day’s Megadeth show and get a chance to meet the band in person. So like a dedicated droogie, I cut class, hopped on a train, and donated this ginormous can of tomato sauce to receive my backstage pass. That night I met Dave Mustaine, who proceeded to refuse to give me an autograph or shake my hand. He just stood there and nodded at me. I was so pissed. I mean I spent a good chunk of my pubescent years worshiping this guy and he didn’t even have the decency to speak to me. However, after recently reading his autobiography (of course!), I’m fairly certain now looking back that he was probably high as a kite and fighting just to stand upright that night. Don’t worry Dave, I forgive you! Anyway, as Angry Metal Guy reminded us in his wonderful and passionately written Iron Maiden retrospective, when you listen and follow a band for a good chunk of your life, you develop a certain kind of personal relationship with them and their music. So as you can imagine, the last two decades haven’t exactly been kind to this recovering Vic addict. In this fanboy’s opinion, the last great Megadeth record from soups to nuts was Youth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite cognizant of the fact that after 1990’s seminal Rust In Peace, Mustaine and Co. had begun their slow creative decent into radio friendly mediocrity, culminating in 1999’s Risk, one of 20th Century’s last recorded natural disasters. But to my ears, Youth is still at its core a thrash metal record, and remains to this day one of my all-time personal favorites. Since then however, Mustaine has really struggled to regain thrash metal supremacy, releasing a string of barely passable to just outright awful records in the process. Arguably the band’s last solid outing was 2009’s Endgame, which to be honest, I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as many of my fellow droogies did. However, the record was fast, aggressive, and had enough inklings of classic era Megadeth that I can see why a lot of fans were so enamored with it. At the very least, it showed that Mustaine’s riff well hadn’t completely dried up yet. Of course just when things are finally looking up for the band, Mustaine goes off and releases two of the worst Megadeth records of the last decade, 2011’s Th1rt3en and...

Brutality – Screams of Anguish

Over the course of their tumultuous career, Brutality have had the distinct and unfortunate honor of being one of America’s best yet least known Floridian death metal exports. Founded in 1986 by vocalist/guitarist Larry Sapp and bassist Jeff Acres, the band actually began life as Abomination, but quickly switched their name to Brutality before recording a few obscure demos under the new moniker. After several unsuccessful attempts to acquire a full-time drummer, the band’s line-up finally stabilized just long enough to record another crop of demos that were very well received within the fanzine community. However, at this point, the band was still little more than a novelty and not well known outside of their native Tampa. But then in 1991, Sapp, with the help of Jim Morris of Morrisound fame, set out to change all that by producing Brutality‘s first professionally recorded demo entitled Metamorphosis. The demo proved to be an underground sensation and caught the attention of Nuclear Blast, who signed the band shortly thereafter. But just as the band was about to reach critical mass, Sapp exited stage left due to artistic differences and was replaced with lead vocalist Scott Reigel and guitarists Don Gates and Jay Fernandez. So by the time their full-length debut arrived, 1993’s Screams of Anguish, only one original founding member remained. Despite its relatively obscurity, Screams of Anguish is still considered by many to be one of the best death metal albums to come out of the early ’90s Floridian death scene. No easy feat given the laundry list of famous acts to emerge from that era, including Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary, and Deicide to name but a few. If I had to sum up in one word why Anguish is such a magnificent record, it would be “variety.” Every single track on this record offers up a cornucopia of technical fireworks, blistering leads, and of course, sheer brutality (You couldn’t help yourself could you? -Dave), for your ears to feast on. Take for instance the album’s incredible opener, “These Walls Shall Be Your Grave,” which at first immediately sounds like it came off a Morbid Angel record, with Coker’s furious blast beat attack and Gates and Fernandez’s dissonant rhythmic interplay leading the charge. However, just before tinnitus begins to set in, the band immediately settles down and puts on their best Incantation impression, laying down a wonderfully doom-paced riff for you to hold onto. The track eventually picks up speed again though, as Gates, Fernandez, and Acres go all out Bolt Thrower and begin to chug you to do death. It’s a wild ride to say the least, and this kind of compositional variety is prevalent throughout, with each song containing the perfect balance of all out tech death and more accessible thrash based material a la early Death. Brutality also has a keen sense of melody too which is on full display in the two instrumental tracks on the record, “Symphony” and “Spirit World.” Both are lush, beautiful interludes that provide a break between the chaotic death filled mayhem that surrounds them. I’m positive that it will take you several spins for you to truly absorb and appreciate all of the little melodic and rhythmic nuances this record has to offer, making the sonic journey that much more rewording. The original CD and LP (…and tape, but we don’t talk about such things. -Dave) were released on Nuclear Blast in 1993. Both were produced by Jim Morris of Morrisound, with the CD clocking in at a healthy DR11. But in 2008, Metal Mind Productions of Poland licensed the original mix tapes from Nuclear Blast and had Studio Betowen digitally remaster it via 24-bit on golden CD. The new remasters were indeed compressed more as part of the process, but tastefully so, with the whole album clocking in at a respectable DR8. So which one should you buy? Well, I spent...

Phil Did It Again Jan14

Phil Did It Again

When I talked about Philharmonic Audio’s new BMR Philharmonitor back in October, I mentioned that Philharmonic was making noises about “eventually” bringing out a new two-way Philharmonitor model to replace the old, discontinued version. Well, eventually arrived sooner than I thought, as the new baby Phil is already here, and as per usual with Philharmonic, the value quotient is simply astonishing. As with its big brother, the new Philharmonitor uses RAAL’s 64-10 ribbon tweeter to cover high frequencies, here from 3kHz up since there’s no dedicated midrange driver. Below that is where the real story is. The bass driver is a 5.5” ScanSpeak Revelator, specifically the 15W/8530K-01. This means that the bass drivers alone make up nearly half of the Philharmonitor’s $1150/pr retail price. This is not normally something that happens. For a typical audio company that sells through a dealer network, the selling price to the dealer is likely somewhere between 2 or 3-to-1 over the build cost, and then the audio dealer will likely add a similar margin to the retail price. The margins need to be so large because there’s a lot of overhead: design and build costs for the manufacturer, distribution costs, advertising costs, etc. Factory direct companies can cut out a lot of those costs and pass the savings on to their customers, and Philharmonic is able to further reduce costs by using pre-fab Dayton Audio cabinets rather than building their boxes in house. Even still, a Revelator woofer in a speaker at this price point is pretty much unheard of. For those not in the know, the Revelator series is among the elite class of loudspeaker drivers available in the world, and prior to the introduction of the Illuminator series, was ScanSpeak’s top of the line. Ultra high-end companies like YG Acoustics, GamuT, and Sonus Faber have used Revelator drivers in speakers ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, and when Sony wanted to stake their claim at the top end of the speaker market, they used a Revelator midrange driver in their $27,000/pr SS-AR1. Since it’s a two-way design, the Philharmonitor is much more modestly sized than the BMR model at 14” high by 13” deep, and Dayton’s boattail shaped cabinets are just 4.5” wide at the rear. The standard model is rear ported, with usable in-room response into the 40Hz region. Philharmonic also offers a sealed variant for $1100/pr that allows for close wall placement at a cost of some bass extension. As with the BMR Phil, custom cabinets are available from Salk Sound if the standard cherry, maple, or piano black veneers aren’t to your liking. I realize that $1150 is a considerable amount of money for a lot of people, but if you are looking to take the next step from speakers in the $300-600 range, or you just want to see what high-end speakers can do, the Philharmonitors should be on your short list. Combine them with a modestly priced Marantz, NAD, or Music Hall amplifier and a Pro-Ject Debut turntable, and you could put together an absolutely incredible sounding system for less than...

Return Of The King Jan08

Return Of The King

Back in 2010, there was a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of DJs suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. What had happened? The Technics SL-1200, the weapon of choice for just about anyone whose job involves two turntables and a microphone, as well as many other direct drive enthusiasts since 1972, was dead. A number of SL-1200 clones from various companies sprung up to fill the gap in the market, but if you wanted the real deal rather than a knockoff, you were out of luck. Vinyl sales have exploded since 2010 as we’ve reported here many times, and a petition was created to demand that Panasonic, the parent of Technics, bring back the legend. A couple of years ago the Technics brand itself was resurrected with new electronics and speakers, and there was plenty of speculation that a new turntable wouldn’t be far away. Well, now it’s finally arrived. The new SL-1200 will be available to buy this summer in two variants as part of Technics’ Grand Class series, a standard SL-1200G, and a special SL-1200GAE, limited to 1200 units. Both variants use a new coreless direct drive motor, intended to solve one of the main issues with the original MKII, the supposed “cogging” or speed hunting effect which could reduce audio performance. There are also new processor-controlled rotational positioning sensors to further reduce possible vibrations, and a heavy brass layer has been added to the platter for better stability. The tonearm appears to be a fairly minor update on the original. The standard SL-1200G uses an aluminum arm with steel bearings and the traditional S shape, with better machining and tighter tolerances than the original. The GAE’s tonearm is instead made from magnesium, which is pretty much the only substantive difference between it and the standard G version. What we don’t yet know is the price. The limited GAE version is rumored to cost a hefty $4,000, but this has not yet been officially confirmed by the company. We’ll update once we know...

Dave’s Top 10 Metal Albums Of 2015 Jan04

Dave’s Top 10 Metal Albums Of 2015

With 2015 now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look back at the metal year that was. Like Alex, I think that this year was more egalitarian than recent years past in terms of really solid releases in pretty much all sub-genres. While there were some high profile disappointments (The Diary, Love, Fear, and the Time Machine, Songs of the North), there was also lots to enjoy this year, particularly after the winter blues subsided. In regards to the ever present Loudness War, I’m sad to say that if anything, we seem to have moved backwards. Things like Youtube gain-matching were supposed to bring about an armistice, but that has yet to come, and while last year we had a bevy of great sounding releases to choose from for our annual “Best and Worst” list, this year there were little more than a handful. If you’re a regular reader though, you know we’re not going to give up. We’ll keep doing everything we can to highlight great sounding releases and support bands that choose dynamics. If there is a positive that can be gleaned from this year, it’s that more people seem to at least be aware of this issue than ever. The Dynamic Range Database has also become a major resource with a massive amount of metal now represented there, so thank you to everyone who’s been measuring and posting DR scores there, you rock! Without further ado, here were my favorites of ‘15. As per usual, this list is in no particular order, with the exception of the final entry which is my album of the year. Gorod’s A Perfect Absolution was one of my favorites of 2012, and the French tech death metal masters again brought the heat this year with A Maze Of Recycled Creeds. Tech death can and far too often does fall into the trap of riff salad and “how many notes can I cram in this?” syndrome, but these guys never forget that underneath it all you need a bedrock of genuine musicality to make songs that actually stick with you. Italy’s Kingcrow have been releasing albums for a solid fifteen years, but until the release of this year’s Eidos, they were always under my radar. Eidos blends brilliant progressive songwriting with just the right amount of power cues, and the result is simply captivating. The excellent DR8 production certainly doesn’t hurt either. This is definitely a band I will be keeping a close eye on in the future. Do I even need to say it? After drawing you into its spell with the haunting, sorrowful “Dust and Crooked Thoughts,” Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth, grabs you by the throat and will not let go. This progressive/folk masterpiece is nearly flawless, and were it not for the irritatingly loud production (though I suppose it could’ve been a lot worse – looking at you Finsterforst), it might’ve been my album of the year. Despite that, if you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed this album, do yourself a favor and get on it. Now. A new Thurisaz album doesn’t come along too often, and 2015 was definitely made better with the triumphant return of these Belgian dark metal gods. The Pulse Of Mourning’s blend of melodic death doom and atmospheric black remains as infectious as ever. Check out “One Final Step.” Thank me later. While I suppose one could argue that the rest of the album isn’t able to reach the heights of the incredible “Drawing Down The Rain,” Beware The Sword You Cannot See builds on everything that A Shadowplay For Yesterdays was, and is definitely the band’s best work to date. And hell, “Drawing Down The Rain,” particularly in its second half, is worth the price of admission alone. Does Orden Ogan stick to their formula too much? Maybe, but the formula is still working. If...