February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

The internet is an endlessly fascinating place. It has made finding new wonderful musicians easy and immensely satisfying. I could not begin to name all of the musicians who have crossed my path, quite by accident, over the last decade or so.

The odd thing is that occasionally one of them (or two in this case) will go missing, leaving only the music that led me to them in the first place.

The first is Brendan Campbell. He may have had another record at some point, but the only one I know of is Burgers & Murders. I’m listening to Pleiades right now. This guy is so gone that he doesn’t even have a licensing deal with iTunes anymore. I found that out when I realized that none of his songs were on my iPhone. Had they not been downloaded to my MacMini years back that music would have been gone, maybe forever.

Brendan Campbell

The other musician is even more obscure. All John Danley left behind are a handful of videos. He was (is?) a wonderful finger-style player. From what I’ve been able to find he’s totally done with the whole music deal. The last reference I saw about him mentioned that he’d turned to a career in psychotherapy.

John Danley

A handful of years ago, he had a working website. What must have happened for him to let both his website’s eponymous domain and the site itself slip below the electrons of the internet? I just don’t get it. It’s just too easy and inexpensive to keep a website online to let one slip away. I actually mentioned Danley’s name to Will Ackerman a couple years back, along with a link to one of his videos. I had a kind of fantasy that Will might have recognized Danley’s talent and would want to set about using his industry connections to get him discovered, but Danley’s anonymity remains frustratingly intact.

How many more wonderful musicians am I doomed to find and lose? To put a tiny spin of optimism I could say I’m fortunate to have found Danley & Campbell at all, and that’s true. It’s always hard to keep from wanting more, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Had I been willing to let this post wait until tomorrow I would have done a better job. For some reason tonight the WordPress desktop app will let me do everything but write a post.

The optimist would say how lucky I am to be able write what I have on my phone.

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

January 12: A fresh air

I’m writing early today for two reasons. One’s not so pleasant. I woke up with a bit of stomach upset. This has kept me indoors and forced me to move my hike to the late afternoon, or more likely tomorrow.

Annoying.

The other reason is a bittersweet one. I have brought a new computer into my small livery of Macs. It took me a while to decide on another MacBook Air. Part of the delay was caused by me not quite being able to face reality. You see, my previous MacBook Air, or what I have been calling my new computer is now 11 years old. The nice folks at Apple must have heard it was still running strong so they decided to force my hand by disallowing further upgrades of the Safari browser. That, among other things, made it difficult to access and use the WordPress UI and dodgy sites like Wikipedia.

Well, that’s a pisser.

My old new MacBook Air; not quite ready for retirement.

No, I don’t have any micro brewery stickers on my new Mac…yet. It’s Space Gray, fast, silent and seems just dandy so far. It and my other (can’t quite say old) MacBook Air have helped solidify an evolution of sorts when it comes to how I use computers. There was a time when I stuffed my Macs full of everything; photos, files, music. In fact, in my office is an even older MacMini with a 1TB SSD. It’s full of music and photos and pretty much everything you can imagine. But lately, really since I bought my old-new MacBook Air, I’ve reversed that process. I have a paid subscription to Flickr so most of my photos live there. The Word docs of my books exist on various computers and GoogleDrive and in a host of email accounts. Word files are neat since they’re so small. Storing them is really no problem.

Music presents the biggest challenge and you know I’m not done figuring it out. Every CD I own has been uploaded to the MacMini but how long will I have access to them? The Mini’s ancient OS is getting more hampered by the passage of time every day. It’s only a matter of time, but that’s a worry for another day. For now, it makes it impossible to bring myself to selling off my CDs, which I would really like to do.

So, I have no plans to activate and authorize my iTunes account on my new computer, let alone store any music on it. My iPhone is right here and so is much of my music and everything on the MacMini via Home Sharing is available so long as I’m on my home WiFi.

No, no access to my LPs but that, too, is a subject for another time.

If things follow the plan, there really won’t be much stored locally on my new MacBook Air but I still intend to get a lot of use out it, as I have all of my Macs going back so many years. Most have been great computers, though there were exceptions like a Graphite iMac that liked to power down whenever it wanted and its replacement, a G4 tower that decided powering up wasn’t all that important.

The Macs I’ve owned since have been universally good, but they, like their owner, get old, do less and eventually get put out to pasture. My worst Apple disappointment had to be my iPhone 8. What a great phone, until it unceremoniously failed to work one morning. It sits, still, on my CD shelf; now a very expensive paperweight, but let’s not focus on the negative.

My other MacBook Air is now renamed the Bedtime Surfer, since I anticipate it will spend most of the rest of its days under my bed, waiting for me to use it in those minutes before I put out the lights.

I only wish it had room for a few more beer stickers.

Oh yeah, today’s writing soundtrack is Sometimes Just the Sky by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I’ve heard her name spoken for years but never really listened to her music until recently.

This record makes me realize I’ve been missing something special.

January 12: A fresh air

Something everyone (no one?) wants to read about: Microphonics in earbud cables…

People are always telling me that I should blog about things everyone wants to read about.

So, I thought about it and I came up with the subject of microphonics, so-called cable microphonics specifically. Those of you who read (over and over, I’m sure) Wires, Baby! know I’ve recently slipped the bounds of the 21st century and gone back to wired earbuds because for the most part they simply sound better.

Now, oddly, inexplicably I’ve found that a good number of wired earbuds suffer from what’s been called in many corners microphonics.

When people say this they referring to hearing extraneous bass coming through their earbuds, such as the sound of their own footsteps, as they walk.

It can be damned annoying and some decent buds are let down by this. The problem is that it’s not actually microphonics. As pretty much all of you know, microphonics are when a mechanical/acoustic object generates an unintended electrical signal that’s amplified and heard during playback.

The oldest example of this is in relatively high gain small signal phono tubes. The 12AU7/ECC82 was notorious for this, but any small-signal tube that is part of a circuit with enough gain could suffer from this effect. And, as an aside to you tube guys, the 12AU7 is really not appropriate for use in a phono circuit when there are so many dandy 12X7 and 6922s laying around.

Just saying.

A more recent example is the stylus/cartridge assembly of a turntable being excited by in-room low frequencies that looped those frequencies right back through the system with predictable non-musical results.

In contemporary parlance the word microphonics has been applied to the cables of IEMs and earbuds but that’s not truly what’s going on.

The thud effect is induced by at least these factors:

1 The profile of the cable, with so-called tangle-free cables (often those with a roughly rectangular cross sections) being especially likely to exacerbate the problem.

2) The durometer of the cable’s exterior jacket and to a lesser degree its dielectric (if it’s separate from the jacket, which it usually isn’t). Harder and stiffer make it worse where usually they make things better.

Go figure.

3) The degree of the acoustic seal that the earbud tips create within the ear and/or ear canal.

What this means is that what is heard is a simple drum effect, not actual microphonics. This can be proven quite easily. Simply tap on your earbud’s cables with your device on mute, or even turned off.

Yup, thud, thud, thud.

What’s interesting is that some brands (Apple) figured this out years ago. The cables on their modestly priced buds don’t suffer this kind of annoying drum effect at all. Other brands like Beats (one wonders why didn’t they just ring up their cousins over at Apple for help with this) and Skullcandy can’t be bothered to eliminate such a simple mechanical problem.

I also understand that Etymotic Research is plagued with this in their $300 ER4SR IEMs.

Come on, folks. You have the word research right in your name so go do some!

Look, personal audio has come very far very fast and we’re all loving it. But let’s not be so focused on making the world a better place that we miss fixing easy problems that ruin the music.

Something everyone (no one?) wants to read about: Microphonics in earbud cables…

Wires, Baby!

I know, it’s been a good long while. The good news is that Cottonwood, the sequel to my first novel now tips the scales at over 150,000 words. The pandemic initially quickened my productivity but in the end slowed it down significantly. Oh well, it’s only time and we all have plenty of that (he writes sardonically).

Even less interesting is the fact that I managed to lose my Apple AirPod Pros. Actually, they weren’t exactly lost. After all, the Find My app showed their last position (laying helpless and pitifull in a parking planter) but they were unable to find their way home. So, I tried other Bluetooth buds from Skullcandy, Sennheiser and Jabra but was disappointed badly each time. The AirPods were disappointing, too, I never did like the way they sounded though their feature set was impressive.

So, I’ve gone wired. I’ve decided that it’s better to battle a wire than it is to have marginal sound. I use a pair of now-discontinued Beats urbeats3 and a pair of Flares Jet2. The Beat’s rather enthusiastic bass is tamed nicely and easily via my iPhone’s EQ while their native midband and treble is surprisingly good out of the box. The Flares are more balanced overall if a little less musical (and less fun) than the Beats. Both of them whip the pants off of any of the expensive Bluetooth buds I’ve tried. I also keep a couple pair of old-school Apple buds for emergencies. Someday I may go wireless but not today. Why switch when you can fight?

Wires, Baby!

Wires, Baby!

Is the Apple HomePod a genuine threat to high end audio?

Yes, it is.

No, it’s not a real high end product.

No, you won’t be replacing your real system, assuming you still have one, with a HomePod.

Yes, you will be impressed by how fundamentally musical it is.

HomePod

The Apple HomePod is the first mass-market product, designed by a company with real engineering wallop, that was actually designed by people who wanted it to sound good and that fact should put existential fear into every high end company that’s still on the right side of the grass.

Let’s talk about setup. It’s OK, but like all new Apple products it entails a few more steps than it should and Apple’s Home app is kludgy. Bummer, that, but once you’re done with it you’re done with it, or so it seems so far.

On the operational front I’ve observed that Pandora skips momentarily about every ten to fifteen minutes. The funny thing is that it never skips on my iPhone or when I’m using my Air Pods.

What the?

That problem gave me the chance to test Spotify.

Odd, no skipping whatsoever.

Who knows what’s up there but I’m willing to blame Pandora until and unless it starts to happen with other sources. Not surprisingly, playback from iTunes / Music is just dandy.

What the folks at Apple have done here is to swing a big, heavy hammer at what should be an easy target, and for them it was. The HomePod is a technically and acoustically complex product. They’ve crammed a bunch of drivers into that little pod. If a high end company, or a lesser tech company, tried to do what Apple has done the result would have been a sonic or functional mess and probably both.

The HomePod sounds remarkable coherent from top to bottom. Even though I’m using it as what would be regarded as a monophonic speaker the result is quite natural from a spatial perspective. Remember, stereo is a trick. This kind of mono is simply another kind of trick, and it works because Apple figured out how to make it work.

But wait, let me talk about why I felt I needed a better speaker in my office than my beloved Soundfreaq Sound Spot Wood + White. There are two reasons, really. The first is that I need a speaker in my bedroom, and the Sound Spot is perfect for that. The second and more important reason flows from the damn book I’m writing. This whole book-writing thing entails seemingly endless hours of ass sitting, which I already hate. I’m actually thinking of hiring a personal trainer so that all this extra time sitting doesn’t knock too much time off my life expectancy.

The HomePod’s fundamental listenability and (comparatively) full range presentation brings just enough music into my office that I’m not constantly driven to get up and change the record or put in another CD or whatever. I can turn it up to annoyingly high levels when the music or mood calls for it or turn it down to the edge of silence when I’m trying desperately to think and it stays musically convincing.

The Pod simply sounds good. Yes, it takes some liberties and creates a sould-warming upper-bass hump so you won’t notice the lack of mid and lower bass. And, yes, all those drivers lead to an occasional if surprisingly minor megaphone effect that’s especially noticeable on female vocals.

But then, something will come on that will catch your attention. Right now that’s Telegraph Road from Dire Straits. The cut has a lot of electronically generated space and a fairly high dynamic range for a rock recording. But, the Pod pulls it off. Somehow, especially at rational volumes, the musical presentation holds together is the exact way you need to draw your attention into the music.

Wow.

$250?

I cannot think of a $500 pair of stereo speakers from any high end manufacturer of any era that can match the Apple HomePod’s essential musicality.

That fact, all by itself, is why I regard the HomePod and all of the amazing stuff that will surely come after it such a threat to what’s left of the high end.

In closing, I’m trying to imagine what would be involved in streaming to the HomePod from an analog turntable. Obviously, a really good phono preamp (got one) and a really good DAC (ditto). Then, all I have to do is trick AirPlay2 into streaming the resulting data at full resolution to the HomePod.

Hmmm…

Who knows? Maybe this will be possible by the time I’m working on the sequel to the sequel.

All you high end audio folks should have heard this kind of product coming and from this kind of company because it’s already too late for you to get out of the way.

The Apple HomePod is simply good.

 

Is the Apple HomePod a genuine threat to high end audio?

The software I’m using to write my new book is…

I’ve been making good progress on my new book, especially considering the hodgepodge of software I’ve been using.

I wrote my first book in Microsoft Word and it was a harrowing and creativity-sapping process. Word is like a huge Swiss Army knife of a word processor. A knife with a shit-ton of tools can be impressive. You look at it wondering how many tools there are and whether you’re likely to use most (or any) of them.

Then you realize the damn thing’s heavy. Then you realize that using any of the tools except the main blade is a fiddly and frustrating experience.

In the end, you leave the knife at home more than you use it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that Word exists. The choices made by the folks who created it result in a benchmark product. I would never refer to Word as a bad piece of software. It’s simply a bit of software that’s unsuited to the creative flow of my writing.

A while back, I was prattling on about Ulysses and iA Writer. Later, I discovered and used Bear for a while. I deemed each of them as interesting but not quite useful enough. Each design is good at pretty much keeping out of the writer’s way.

It’s the issue of sync that settled the matter, and not in favor of iA Writer, Ulysses or even Bear.

Each of those platforms rely on iCloud for sync. That’s OK if the writer uses the same Apple ID across all devices and the iTunes Store. There’s the problem for me. Also, I think the software companies should use their own system and servers for sync rather than relying on iCloud.

I think WorkFlowy does sync right. Their ingeniously simple software is truly web-based, syncing by username, seamlessly.

I encourage those folks to develop WorkFlowy for Writers and let me know when it gets to beta. If they can build on the way WorkFlowy works and apply it to the work of long-form writing it would be a real game changer.

The software I’ve chosen to write my book in is Apple’s very own Notes. File organization is simple and straightforward. You can choose your own font and basic formatting is a snap. I will continue to use Word as the destination software (and archived backup) for the eventual manuscript. Importantly, documents created in Notes paste cleanly into Word without any weird or unexpected formatting problems. Notes also syncs both immediately and perfectly across all devices, as one would expect of one of Apple’s own creations operating in their own ecosystem. The UI is clean and uncluttered and this helps me to focus on what I’m working on. 

I’m glad to be watching that hodgepodge of software vanish into my rearview mirror. I’m also glad there are software folks out there who are trying to make the challenge of writing easier and I’m really happy Apple did such a marvelous job with Notes.

The software I’m using to write my new book is…