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Positive Feedback ISSUE 36



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Save money AND improve your sound.

I have been on a personal quest to significantly reduce the cost of my 2 channel audio system with minimal sonic sacrifice. In the last 6 months, I have shaved some 3 thousand dollars with another $2K FS heavily discounted, to go. Joyfully, my musical enjoyment has increased! How can this be so?

Companies with huge advertising budgets and distribution networks aren't necessarily great (Bose...). Indeed, the high costs of business ownership have driven many audio manufacturers underground (home-based).

The good news is that many underground products sonically rival the far more recognized choices. How do I know this? See below. Of course the prices of all products could come down by at least half if not for steep distribution discounts and advertising costs.

Countering the counter culture, most advertising dollar- based magazines do not report on (or review) underground manufacturers. Consequently, said manufacturers must rely on word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers. But isn't that the most effective advertising? If such was the norm, maybe the hobby wouldn't be on life support!

For those who think only brand names are viable, I say "Jump in, the water's fine!"

I offer my own personal examples for comparison as they were/are all highly regarded (and rightfully so):

  • 7 sets of Stillpoint/Risers (@$400/ set of 3)

  • Sound Fusion Columns for the Stibbert ($1100)

  • Harmonic Tech Pro 9 speaker cables ($900- biwired)

  • 6 PS Audio eXstream power cords (@ $550)

  • Lector 7T, Bluenote Stibbert Mk II- @ $4K

  • PS Audio GCP 200/GCPS $2995

  • PS Audio GCA 250 with Level 2 Underwood mod $3995

Within the last 6 months all have been replaced as follows:

  • Herbies isocup/balls (@<$65/set of 3)

  • Machina Dynamica Promethean springs

  • Clear Day Solid Core Speaker Cables- Silver Shotgun (<$300/10ft pair)

  • Morrow Audio MAP 2 power cords (@<$200/2 meter)

  • Raysonic 168 CD player $2500. The tube output is so good, I eliminated the PS preamp.

I also made the jump to bi-amping for my Maggies 3.5Rs and got Wyred4Sound SX 500 monoblocks $2200 
Each replacement has either been a sonic revelation, or at least comparable. Combined, my system sounds better than ever, and by a wide margin! One of my tube-biased audio friends recently said my system sounds very tube-like, but there are only 4 tubes, these in the 168 output.
Robert Hart

Mr. Kaplan,
I asked you to put up or shut up. Apparently, you are incapable of either. Indeed, you've once again failed to provide even one example of the music you tout in such fantastic, unrealistic, extremely inaccurate terms. That really is the end of our exchange.

The emperor has no clothes. You are all talk. Have you tried ballooning with all that hot air?

The identity of this Holy Grail of rap is a big mystery you must save so that we will all read your "series of pieces". And you presume that I am "along for the ride". Think again! You've exhibited your ignorance of music, sociology, and now economics. Why would I, or anyone, want to read your nonsensical ramblings about the world's most boring music?

But then, if you are anything but ignorant, it is presumptuous. You presume to know the readership of PFO. We are a bunch of white, middle-aged, upwardly mobile folks, who listen to music that you consider "dead". WRONG! We are a community of audiophiles, who share an interest in sound reproduction. Our ages, colors, economic backgrounds, and musical tastes are quite diverse. PFO's record reviews are dominated by classical and jazz recordings mostly because they are the best sounding ones available - those you will use to tune & tweak your gear, and those you will get the greatest sonic pleasures from.

You've underestimated—and insulted—not just me, but all of PFO's readership. One thing most of us share, which you clearly do not, is a musical background that allows us to understand how silly your original letter was. And as a group, we are far from closed-minded. Many of us listen to music that is far to progressive and modern for you to appreciate, understand, or even sit through. In fact, that music is as forward-thinking and "alive" as your rap-crap is regressive, primitive, dumbed-down, and dead.

Now, let me address the "largest point of [your] second letter", that the more accessible something is, the "less good" it it. For some inane reason, you think this theory of yours relates to economics. (And as usual, you "have no doubt" of this. I understand. Doubt comes with maturity and wisdom.) But your argument is cynical and stupid. It supposes an ignorant and tasteless audience... which, admittedly, may be true for rap. But the most popular jazz artists in history are Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, both brilliant and ground-breaking musicians. Is their music any "less good" than the less accessible work of Charles Mingus or Thelonious Monk? The most popular and well-known classical composers are, no doubt, Beethoven and Bach. Is their music "less good" than that of Thomas Tallis or Alban Berg?  Gee, I guess that theory only works when the audience is composed of idiots!

So, thanks for the offer to introduce me to rap music so good I can tolerate it... because that's what I truly desire, to fire up my audio gear and sit down to immerse myself in the glories of music that is... barely tolerable. Oh, joy!

OK, I'm done. And please don't bother o respond. You've had your chance, spread your manure, and now I'm done with you. Many years ago, my father taught me a little poem that ends, "He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him."

Good advice! Consider yourself shunned.

Happy listening to all... except Mr. K. To him, "Turn that $%#@ crap down!"

Art Alenik

I am really frustrated by the theses of several readers that are raising walls against reviewing expensive equipment. What is expensive, and what is cheap ( or better, fairly priced)?

Something that is either out, or within the reach of the writer. No?

That is wordplay in ignorance and inability to understand what is going on. Please allow me to explain. The world is filled with rich people with loads (not lots) of money, and poor ones with little or no money. But I think that they know it. They don't seem to know, by the way, that the first group of people lives in areas and houses and buy things that the second group considers EXPENSIVE. And expensive they are by their measures. But for those that can enjoy them is merely small change.

I do not want to steal your space and time by blah, blah, and philosophies of a certain well known kind.

Keep on with the presentation of what there is and how it is made, and please ignore those that believe, for example, that tanga bikini is a product that is targeted to the 4 billion humans on Earth. For their information, this specific product is the for the ladies of this world. And not all of them.

The same goes for our subject.

The 100,000 US dollar loudspeaker, amplifier, CD player or turntable, is for the audiophiles that have the money, not for all the audiophiles.

To add a line that seems to escape.... Many of these products are mere exercises in technology and not full production items.

Take whatever tickles your fancy: experimental or bankruptor. Why in the name of audio gods this product is forbidden for a periodical to test it?

Best regards

V. Lamprou

Mr. Clark,
Perhaps the readership of Positive Feedback is very wealthy, with a lot of big spenders willing and able to spend thousands of dollars on a wire. But my vote would be for reviews—and especially for awards - going companies and products meeting some standard of economic reality.

Kenneth Adams

Bethesda, MD

It might be worth noting in instances like this that I cover the budget segment exclusively. I don't think I've ever reviewed anything over $4000 and have found many very musical components, from cartridges to speakers, in the $60-$1000 range.


Ed Kobesky

Hi guys [sent to Chip Stern via PFO),
I was avid reader of Stereophile for many years and quit. Why? Because everything they and now you are writing is so sugary, I want to....

Guys, please stop serving the manufacturers, I know, they pay you money, but still you have to serve the readers and only them! Believe me, you will be bankrupt in no time if you continue to sing songs about $1500 power cords and $7000 mini speakers!

There are many idiots in this world, but the majority are not going to buy this nonsense. That say, I'm not into cheap hi-fi electronics so please don't think that I'm from "another camp". I have quite expensive gear which sounds exceptional. After a while of living in US (I'm originally from Russia), one thing I've learned is that it is not an achievement to by good expensive things but that it is most enjoyable to buy them when you think you have made a great deal. Please visit Audio Critique. That's when I understood why I quit reading Stereophile. You just mimic them in every aspect of your reviews! Everything is great! Yeah, sure.

ladislav Yeliseyev

Dear Yell-At-Us,

What, pray tell, inspired this barrage of...I don't even know what to make if it, save that you are convinced that I am a whore and that I like everything, and nothing is bad. I'm impressed that you have expensive equipment. Why don't you go out now and get a really great deal on some really bad equipment so that you can hate music for the next six months and thus inspired, can go on at great length to tell all of us how awful the gear is and to prove categorically what an honest, principled man you are compared to sugary Chip and all of those suckoff Stereophile guys.

Explain to me now, how there is anything constructive in this message that I should take away as a guiding principle, save that if I like an expensive piece of gear, I am likely bending over for a manufacturer, while if you like expensive gear, it is because you have exquisite taste and got a really great deal?

Is this what you trying to tell me? Please clarify. I would love to correspond with you and share ideas, but based on this letter, I am not sure what your point is supposed to be. If it is that I should check out Audio Critique, might I suggest you have a gift for marketing language and should seriously consider becoming a motivational speaker.

If it is that I am a useless sack of shit, well then, thanks for writing and you have a nice day.

Warmest regards,

Chip Stern

Hey, Rick:
In your experience, how does the SA-7S1 stack up to first-rate analog sources? Is it punching out of its class at that point, or is it more a matter of different (not necessarily better or worse) sonic signatures and tradeoffs, like those that distinguish digital from analog reproduction? I vaguely remember a favorable comparison you made between it and the Walker 'table. If I'm recalling incorrectly, I stand, er, corrected.

I have somewhat of an interest in rediscovering analog, but to afford a serious setup (and a vinyl collection that rivals my 6000 CDs), I'd have to sell off most of my current equipment and pretty much all of my CDs-and invest a ton of money in addition to the proceeds garnered from the sales-thereby essentially switching completely over from digital, which I actually like quite a bit.

It doesn't strike me as a particularly wise move-especially financially-and I wonder if you have any sage advice to share. If you weren't already heavily invested in LPs, would the SA-7 be enough to satisfy your sonic requirements? Thanks!

Andy Claps


I had some friends over for my birthday, this past weekend. We listened to a bunch of different things ...Stacy Kent, Joe Weed, Strauss ...moving back and forth among CD, SACD and vinyl.

I can't afford a Walker, or I would sure as heck have one ...but my custom Technics SP-10 based deck (with the yummy Cardas Heart cartridge) through the redoubtable BAT VK-P-10 SE phonostage isn't a sneeze.

There are those who say you must choose ... you must pick a path and forever after, you must walk this way.

I think that playing records is one of the great pleasures of audio ...sonically, tactilely, visually. It is replete with sensual pleasure and calming ritual. I adore combing used record stores for that "find" and casually inquiring from strangers if they still have their records.

But, for a lot of reasons, digital is my primary. Just as I have both solid-state and tubes in my systems, I find that "and" is a pretty good word. BUT, the selling out of one medium into another seems a bit daft (yes, in spite of all the lemmings who shed their analogue in the digital transition).

If I were a serious digital buff on a budget and wanted to dabble, dabble I would, but in something modest know, just to get the feel of it.

I suspect you will find, like most of us do, if we've the experience and the honesty ...that they are simply different experiences, and constantly facing the internecine crotch kicking from the analogue Luddites and the shiny digital futurists is, at best, twadde. Of course, it's quite possible you will develop, or maintain a preference, but if you can ...having more of a good thing, is a lot like having more of a good thing.

Dr. S.

Mr. Kaplan,
Who told you that Kenny G plays jazz? He plays the saxophone, an instrument often associated with jazz. So did Boots Randolph.

Neither he nor Kenny G could ever be called jazz musicians. They do not speak for the genre, because they are not part of it.

Please refer to the description of jazz in my previous letter.

But I get your point (as well as your attempts at sarcasm). I simply haven't listened to the RIGHT hip-hop. All I've heard is what is what's on the radio... and the TV... and in the movies... and coming out of cars and boom-boxes everywhere you go. I've only heard what 99% of your brethren listen to... constantly. (The jazz equivalent would be Diana Krall, and she's not half-bad!)

So what is this RIGHT hip-hop that I should be listening to? Where is all this original (not sampled or stolen), musically sophisticated (not simplistic and boring), new music? You've written two very long missives on this subject without mentioning a single artist or recording. So who should I be listening to? Usher, Juvenile, 50-cent, Ja-rule, Gnarls Barkley, Jay-Z ?? C'mon, put up or shut up. Go ahead and name the innovative, creative, talented, multi-instrumental geniuses we've all missed out on. So far, you haven't. I say you can't. There is no filet, only McDonalds. The moment we listen, we will know what nonsense you are spouting.

So "My Humps" is not hip-hop? Let's see... Fergie rhymes to a beat for the verses, and there is a sing-song 'melody' for the choruses, What makes this NOT hip-hop... from a musical perspective, please? (BTW, I've noticed that you use the terms hip-hop and rap interchangeably. Is that just sloppiness, or don't you know the difference?)

I was using those lyrics as a humorous and benign example of what you called precise, sophisticated, and razor sharp poetry". If you prefer, I could have quoted some flowery lyrics about "bling", "rippin' ho's", or "bustin' a cap up yo' ass", for a slightly more extreme example of hip-hop's intellectual and cultural milieu.

I brought up Coolio for only one reason. He famously threatened violence against Al Yankovic over his parody 'Amish Paradise', claiming that Al stole his "intellectual property"... which Coolio had stolen from Stevie Wonder.

Maybe I'm missing the 'poetry' in these current hits (from the top 25 at, 'I Get Money' (50-cent), 'Back that Ass Up' (Juvenile), 'Ms New Booty' (Bubba SparXXX), 'Sexy Lady' (Yung Berg), 'Touch It' (Busta Rhymes), 'Smack That' (Akon), 'Body' (Ja-rule), 'Party Up' (DMX), 'Have a Party' (Mobb Deep) 'Party like a Rockstar' (Shop Boyz), 'It's Goin Down' (Young Joc), and of course, 'Pop, Lock, and Drop it' (Huey). Why do I not sense the transcendent spirituality here?

Your Chuck Berry reference was hysterical. I don't think the novelty piece, 'My Ding-a-Ling', was much of a hit.  'Johnny B. Goode' or 'Rollover Beethoven' were, of course, more musical and much more fun. But there are plenty of rock songs with silly lyrics. And there are some which are musically primitive by design, like 'Wild Thing' (Troggs) or 'You Really Got Me' (Kinks).

But even in the 50s and early 60s, the body of popular rock 'n roll never had the mind-numbing sameness that is hip-hop.

Yes, let's forget the words and talk about the music, because that's really what this is all about, and that's where hip-hop really sucks. It lacks creativity, sophistication, and imagination. It's simplistic, repetitive, primitive, boring, and in a word, anti-intellectual. Sadly, this is all by design., because hip-hop is meant to reflect the culture of its intended audience. (And if the shoe fits, Mr. Kaplan... I am so, so, sorry for you.)

Mr. Kaplan, you've accused me of prejudice, ignorance, and intellectual laziness - insulting, but empty, attacks. I won't respond.

Better to let our mutual readers determine who here appears to be ignorant and closed-minded. But for everyone's benefit, I'll repeat my challenge. Where, Mr. Kaplan, are the musical, sophisticated, artistic hip-hop creations we've been missing? 

Contrary to your self-serving assumption, I'm willing to listen to anything... once. I don't hear anyone telling you what music to like, so stop telling us what we SHOULD appreciate... and WHY. Give us some examples, and let us make up our own minds. Aren't you anxious to enlighten us all with the music you love and admire so well? Which brings us full circle...

Put up or shut up!

Happy listening to all,

Art Alenik

Mr. Alenik,

For the first time, you are right. I have not mentioned a single artist or album you should spend some time listening to in place of the dreck with which you seem to be familiar. In reading your response, I think you have missed the largest point of my second letter. That point, and I have no doubt a skilled economist can prove this, is the more accessible something is, the "less good" it tends to be.

This exercise, a letter to the editor and the indignant response it was sure to generate, was a way of introducing what I hope to be a series of pieces justifying the merits of music that has been condemned far too easily.

You happened to mention it was repetitive, lacked sophistication, and recycled intellectual property. My father used to say he could not understand the lyrics. Dr. S., called it misogynistic and violent. But, if to any of those complaints you ask, "what have you listened to that allowed you to form that opinion?" the answers lack evidence that support the passionate conviction. Imagine the responses you would get if you walked through your local shopping center and asked random teenagers what they felt about classical music or jazz and which composers or musicians made them feel that way? I am willing to bet money you would largely dismiss many answers because of ignorance about the genre.

Unlike you, nine times out of ten, an older, upwardly mobile person cannot name a rap musician beyond the most recent or most popular of the day. In your case, I underestimated you entirely. You know quite a few very popular hip-hop acts. That they were all chart toppers who made god-awful songs is largely beside the point. Among the list of challenges I face I can now add, "Deprogramming" to the list.

What you can look forward to is an introduction to musicians who make music you will be able to tolerate, respect, and perhaps even enjoy. Rap comes from a perspective much different than your own. Hell, it comes from artists who look nothing like many of the readers of Positive Feedback. However, the vast differences that exist between those who make and love rap and those who dislike it does not stand up as a reason not to listen. It is, conversely, precisely the reason to listen.

I am glad you are along for the ride.


Michael Kaplan

Ps – you are also right about using the words "hip-hop" and "rap". I will be more precise in the future. I am merely speaking about "rap" and do not want to confuse the argument or the message.

Hi Gary,
I currently own a First Sound 4.0 Delux MKII and was about to go to a Conrad Johnson CT-5 or to another preamp—I am wondering if this would be a wise move. In your experience, how did the FS fared along others you have reviewed, in sound, reliability, etc..



Hello Victor,

I no longer own the First Sound preamp, but I will be glad to state that it was, and still is, the best preamp I have owned or heard. It was dead silent and never had any reliability issues. If you have read my PFO article about
the First Sound, then you know how I thought it sounded—very natural and extended, yet didn't impart much of own sound on the signal.

I have not heard the CJ, and admittedly, I have not heard many high-end preamps in my own home. Here is a list of those I have owned or had in house for review; McCormack TLC-1, AI Modulus A3, VAC Standard, Blue Circle (I don't remember which model, but it was not the top of the line), Yamamoto CA-4, and my current preamp, the Audio tropic Moebius. I have enjoyed each, but the First Sound was the best (in my opinion) by a fair margin. I only sold it because at the time I felt I did not need all its varied capabilities. It certainly was my loss when I sold it...

Good luck in your search, I hope you find what you are looking for!



Thanks Gary,
Why isn't the First Sound so widely review... I always hear good things about it....



Hi Victor,

That is a good question of course. I know that Todd Warnke at Soundstage has always been a fan of First Sound and has done a couple of reviews and I think he owns a FS Statement at present , other than that, I really don’t know. They are great preamps.



Dear Davids... 
After reading this and that audio magazine taken to task for expensive equipment, biased reviews, bad measurements, no measurements... I feel the reader's pain, and I believe I have a solution from personal experience.

Here is my guide to annoyance-free reading ...

1. Note author ...if you don't like or agree with him/her/it ...move on.
2. Note Subject: if you don't like, or agree ...etc.
3. Note Price: yadda yadda

and so on ...

I stopped watching TV and reading the newspaper, 'cause it all annoyed the crap out of me. I am happier, and I don't write them anymore complaining about not being happy, so I assume they are happier too.

Just one man's stance against unnecessary annoyance.

Rick Gardner

Mr. Clark,
Perhaps the readership of Positive Feedback is very wealthy, with a lot of big spenders willing and able to spend thousands of dollars on a wire. But my vote would be for reviews—and especially for awards - going companies and products meeting some standard of economic reality.

Kenneth Adams
Bethesda, MD

Congratulations! Another great, if slightly long winded, review by the Chipster.

I sense, however, a subliminal message that these amps are very speaker sensitive, as all the ravishing expletives were addressed with the Dynaudios as the transducers of choice for this review. What about the other great speakers in your stable?

Hey, 4,000 maracas is a lot of hoot for a biased amp - and while I'm at it, I hope you are far from Florida, as I'm also trying to sell a kidney!—so, a short (or long) disclaimer is very much obligatory here.

I found funny that on paragraph #58 (whew!) you dropped so many hi-end names, it would make any audiophile out there not only salivate, but also have any million dollar bank account drop to less than a share of Bear&Stearns if anyone were to acquire a handful of all of those fine brands. Stop teasing, will ya?

Finally, will be waiting with baited breath your upcoming epic review of the Bel Canto digital mono amps. I guess they are ICE based, so BASED on my short listening session, many years ago, with the first ICE based Jeff Rowland pint sized mono's, I certainly hope the technology has advanced significantly since. At the time I thought Mr. Rowland had disgraced his storied career in the Hi-End music reproduction business.

I'm hopeful that newer designs don't sound as sterile as those pint sized featherweight boxes did. So far, it seems that the NuForce lightweights are the heavyweights in the switching amp world.

Hey buddy, can you spare $15K for that Bryston 28SST...

Regards and be well,

Jaime Ballester

Audiophile #185 of the last 500 stil left in good 'ol USA.

P.S.: Everyone else has gone MP-3, and Jap receiver based systems - sad!

Hmmm, color me confused. Chip roves slightly long-winded, and yet you crave even more detail. You might need a 12-step intervention.

I went on at considerable length to explicate the interaction of the M-150 and the splendid Acoustic Zen Adagios in an even longer review for 6moons.

I don’t go subliminal ...what I hear is what I write. There is no coding at work.

I’d say that the Dynaudio Confidence C1 are roughly middle-of-the-road in terms of sensitivity, and just about a perfect loudspeaker.

And while they do like some current, I’ve driven them quite happily in my main room with a 50 watt Music Hall Trio, a $999 CD Receiver, which says something about both the C1 and the Trio, the Trio being next up at Positive Feedback, if you want to talk about a price-performance impact you can wrap your arms around, without your wife going home to her mother.

The tiny Bel Canto amps are quite warm and musical and dynamic. There. More to come after the Trio.

And yes, while $4000 is indeed a considerable sum of money for most carbon-based life forms, the Rogues do represent terrific value in terms of no-compromise performance. I dropped many of those other amp names at the end just to indicate that I did not believe that Rogue was the only audiophile company on Earth making a quality amp, and also to indicate a number of happy experiences I had with gear which cost more and displayed sonic signatures I found musically involving and pleasing. You ever hear a VTL Siegfried? Marone! And I still miss the McCormack DNA-500, which was a dandy amp, back when my Joseph RM25siMKII were first among equals.

Still, I’ve had some inquiries about my kidney, so I might just have another shot at the M-150.

Thanks for your kind thoughts, Jaime,

Chip Stern


Dear PFO,
After reading Michael Kaplan's celebration of hip-hop… well, I just had to respond. So here is my open letter to him.

Dear Mr. Kaplan,

First of all, let's dismiss the whole ‘misogyny and violence' argument. The fact that film directors, authors, and musicians do not regularly murder each other does not prove that rappers are inherently violent, only that some of them are products of a very sick sub-culture which does not value human life. Let's move on…

My problem with hip-hop is that it is generally neither creative nor interesting. The music is boring, the lyrics are worse.

Sampling is NOT composing. It is not creative; it is copying someone else's creation. Sampling a Coltrane solo or a Herbie Hancock riff does not make you a musician. Stevie Wonder wrote the song "Pastime Paradise'. Coolio wrote new lyrics, and renamed it "Gangsta's Paradise". He essentially stole Wonder's intellectual property. No, he didn't expand on it, improve it, or even change it significantly. He just re-packaged it with new (silly) words. There is nothing creative in that. It's copying. You could do that. So could I. No talent or creativity required, only greed.

You wrote that hip-hop is "uniquely American" and "the child of jazz and blues". Here you simply have no idea what you're talking about. There is nothing "uniquely American" about hip-hop, and for that matter, nothing new. It's roots are in African tribal chants, the same as work-songs, hoots, and hollers. Rhyming to a beat is a folk tradition that long predates America. Jazz and blues are fundamentally different – almost the opposite of – rap music. They require improvisation – that is, real-time composition of new melodies. They eschew the repetition and rhythmic simplicity that are the basic requirements of hip-hop. That is why I, for one, find jazz fascinating, and hip-hop so incredibly boring.

No, worse than that, it's mind-numbing. You wrote that rappers are "limited only by their imaginations". For once, I agree. They have INCREDIBLY limited imaginations! And let's examine some of their "precise, sophisticated, and razor sharp poetry". Here's my favorite, courtesy of Fergie and the Black-Eyed Peas:

They say I'm really sexy,
The boys they wanna sex me.
They always standing next to me,
Always dancing next to me,
Tryin' a feel my hump, hump.
Lookin' at my lump, lump.

My hump, my hump.
My lovely little lumps.

Ahh yes, poetry! Frost, Eliot, cummings, all stand aside. You have met your match!

Excuse my sarcasm, Mr. Kaplan. Would you like to provide your own sample of hip-hop "poetry"? Please, be my guest. Seriously though, can't you yourself see the difference? If anything, what you see above is not poetry, or even a decent song lyric, but an indication of just how dumbed-down our culture has become. And this has nothing to do with music that you may consider "old" or "dead". There are plenty of talented and creative musicians around right now! But the crap above is what sells. How sad!

In closing, I'd like to say that then most important and essential aspect of music, new or old, simple or complex, is how you connect with it emotionally. Beethoven, Gary Burton, or even the Beatles can uplift my spirits or bring tears to my eyes. But when I listen to rap, I just want to hit somebody.

It is what it is, Mr. Kaplan. Word!

Happy listening to all!

Art Alenik

Mr. Alenik,

I do not begrudge your choice to stop listening to hip hop music because of acts like Coolio and Fergie. It makes about as much sense as the reason I no longer listen to Jazz.

In the early 90s, I had the displeasure of hearing Kenny G's "Songbird" and immediately knew that Jazz was not worth my time. Jazz is obviously boring. It has none of the improvisation and electricity that people claim. Actually, now that I think about it, I have also sworn off any musical genres that feature pianos. I heard a John Tesh composition and thought, "if an instrument can produce that slop, I wouldn't have it any where near my ears."

Okay, I am done with the sarcasm.

No, I am not. I have also sworn off filet mignon because I happened to try something called a Big Mac a few weeks ago. Blech!

Now, I am really done with the sarcasm. I promise.

If you choose not to listen to Hip Hop, that is certainly fine by me. However, if you choose to ignore an entire genre of music, you should do so for the right reasons and having listened to the right songs. Rejecting Hip Hop because of Coolio is as silly, as I have already mentioned, as jazz for Kenny G. Neither artist speaks for the genre. There is a difference between what sells and what is important.

Oh, and before I forget: while Fergie's lyrics to "My Humps" were convenient for your argument, I hate to break it to you, but she is not a Hip Hop artist. "My Humps," is not a Hip Hop song. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of songs that have horrible lyrics. Would you condemn Rock and Roll for Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling"? I doubt it.

I am eager to have this argument. I depend on you and other readers to fire back at my assertions. However, intellectual laziness will not be tolerated. If you want to keep this up, you may actually have to listen to hip hop that you have not heard on the radio.

This brings me back to Coolio.

In 1995, the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle "Dangerous Minds" premiered. The movie, based on the experience of LouAnne Johnson, is the story of a teacher instilling the love of the English language in her students using the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Except, in real life, LouAnne Johnson used rap lyrics in her classroom. Why did this narrative change occur? Well, using Bob Dylan lyrics was the safer, box office friendly choice. Coolio, relatively fresh off his crossover hit "Fantastic Voyage", contributed the song, "Gangsta's Paradise", to the movie's soundtrack. His song, as you pointed out Mr. Alenik, was Stevie Wonder's work with new lyrics on top. The video to the song featured Michelle Pfeiffer in dark make-up, strutting menacingly around the screen. Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, quite simply, to let you know that "Gangsta's Paradise" was a song designed and marketed to promote a movie. It was supposed to appeal to as many people as possible. It was supposed to get airplay on stations that did not play hip hop, to an audience that did not typically listen to rap. Shockingly (damn I broke my no more sarcasm promise), it worked. People everywhere lapped it up. It was so popular in fact, that some 13 years later, "Gangsta's Paradise" served as evidence in a letter suggesting that Hip Hop was bad. Mr. Alenik, you cited a 13-year-old song manufactured for popularity. It was not a relevant rap song then, it is not a relevant rap song now.

This is a caveat I should have included in my initial letter: nine times out of ten, you are going to have to forget the hip hop you have already heard. Chances are, I agree with you already, those songs suck. They were songs featured in movie soundtracks that were supposed to appeal to broad audiences. They featured samples from popular artists from the 60s or 70s and had non-threatening, fun, and easy to understand lyrics. In other words, you could sing along with them in your car. Those songs do not deserve your attention.

If you like jazz, you do not listen to Kenny G. if you have something by Charlie Parker to enjoy instead. If you can afford Peter Luger, you do not dine at McDonalds. Mr. Alenik, you are more than welcome to dislike hip hop. I only ask that you dislike it for the right reasons. Prejudice and ignorance are not the right reasons.

Huzzah. (I figured that your pointless and silly attempt at slang should receive a response in kind.)


Michael Kaplan

A Manufacturer's Response to Peter & Dave Clark's review of the model "55"

I would like to thank Peter & Dave Clark for their insightful review of the tec•on model "55" and for publishing it in the well-respected Positive Feedback Online.

We are of course delighted by the very positive reaction to the style and ease of use of our mini amp, and particularly by the description of its sonic performance: transparency, clarity, musicality are terms that confirm that the "55" is definitely meeting the goals that we had set-up for it. We wanted to offer a unique product, with modern design and quality electronics delivering the solid sound staging that we call our "pristine soundscapes"©, all in a compact package and at a price point that is considered "affordable". The review makes it clear that this has been achieved.

Beyond these positive aspects, as Peter notes, the model "55" is quite revolutionary. The unique USB input and on-board DAC makes it possible to link directly to a computer or music server. Here, our original objective was to extend the concept of an existing, conventional mini tube amp with a direct link to a computer for "multimedia". A Burr Brown PCM 2702 chip set, considered one of the standard for 16 bits stereo 44.1kHz DAC by audiophiles, was used to link to the USB port of a computer or server.

The implementation of the USB interface appears to fall short of Peter's expectations. However, given the vast range of computers, operating systems, media players and servers, we knew that complexity could sink the execution quickly. We wanted to have an [almost] foolproof solution, at the cost of flexibility or even some functionality. This was a basic decision, made to keep the product easy to use and affordable.

For instance, it was decided that USB would have priority, and that the USB cable would have to be disconnected to play through the RCA inputs. This was done, with due respect for audiophiles, to positively avoid "clicks" that may happen when spurious signals come through the USB from poorly controlled programs and to avoid early cut-offs from end-of-tracks fades.

Also, the USB Audio Device as implemented is not programmable: it is automatically detected by the computer and, hopefully, will successfully run through a "plug-and-play" routine to make the system as easy and robust as possible. USB devices are supposed to hot-plug without problems. Unfortunately, programs misbehave, and it is not unknown for "freezes" to happen. We have extensive experience with Windows operating systems for which no problems were encountered. On the other hand, misbehaving of OSX and iTunes has been reported by others.

Peter's vision is from someone who comes from the computer side and wants to extend functionality of the audio capabilities. Our original vision originated from the audiophile side, with an attempt to extension to digital capabilities. Thus, Peter might find that the "computer-ability" of the model "55" does not go far enough, however for audiophiles or music lovers with more limited PC abilities [myself included!], we hope to have made it easy to run a digital input without sweat! There are of course many opportunities to develop devices that are more directly "software controllable", but surely they will be more complex and more costly.

Concluding with PFO Editor's own words describing the "55" as "mighty impressive and worth an audition", I would like to again extend my sincerest thanks to the wonderful father & son reviewers' duo for their informative and very positive review!

Pierre Tecon

tec•on audio