Saturday, September 8, 2007


Synthesizers used to be interesting. When they came to prominence in the early 1970s they were made wholly from analog circuitry and you were pretty much limited to a single note at a time, with a few knobs to change the sound of the note. So you had to be creative, and good musicians could get really amazing things out of them. Fast forward 35 years and they are all digital (actually there is a retro movement countering this), with much more polyphony (simultaneous notes) than you have fingers, you could even throw a few octopi on there and the CPU would still be yawning.

Modern synths have really great sounding pianos, and most other instruments under the sun, in their sample playback banks, and if you want to get deep and break out the manual they probably have multiple synthesis architectures for you to fool around with, with more parameters than the number of indie albums being released every year. So why does music sound so much worse these days??? Creativity must have something to do with restriction of options. That means you get down to making good melodies instead of trying out all 327 violin patches looking for the "perfect" one for your idea. I'm going off on a tangent, I really just found this Japanese website of some big band over there I think, with the most crazy display of vintage synthesizers I have ever seen, presumably all owner by the keyboard player. Major drool factor for those who are into such things.

Roland Jupiter-8, 6, 4

Moog Polymoog, memorymoog

Vintage synths are gaining ground on guitars on ebay, and the pros still use 'em, no MIDI, on sessions when it would be much easier to pull up a VST virtual recreation in the computer, but even though they may be capable of loading the original patches and sounding spot-on with an original, something, a lot, seems to be missing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

headphones galore part II - the pics

I know that web pages and urls are bound to change or go away so for posterity here are some pics that should stay around as long as the blog does...

dbi pro-705

Koss KSC75

Koss PortaPro

Sennheiser HD535

v-moda bass freq

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one really annoying thing about the Sennheisers; the detachable cables don't fit properly in their sockets, and sound cuts out from one ear or the other, or both all the time. I've tried to slightly deform the ends to get a better connection a few times but no luck. pressing them until the signal comes back and sitting still is about the only thing I can do with 'em.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

headphones galore

Recently I decided to get a new pair of headphones, which turned into 2 new pair. I wanted something cheap for the office that would be an open design, ie. something that I could hear through if someone came up behind me and and started talking. But still sound good.

The Pursuit
After many hours of scouring the net for info on anything that may fit the bill, I decided on the Koss KSC-75. I have had good luck with Koss in the past, and they clip on the ears without a headband which seemed like a good unobtrusive invention. Of course they may not have invented it, but whatever.

The next pair was to be an ear canal-type, as I have been curious about them for a few years. It wouldn't be the $300 or $4oo ones, but I didn't want the absolute bottom of the line either. But how much money could it cost to make these things anyway, they are so small! I figured the bass should be decent no matter what considering how close to the ear canal they are. Searching in parallel with the work 'phone effort, I stumbled across the v-moda bass fréq earbuds. The Skullcandy Smokin Buds were a close second in this guessathon. How do you interpret all these random reviews, do these people know what good sounds like? Do they leave the EQ flat or twist it all up and put on the xtra bass and fake 3-d surround sound too?

Then it came down to how to buy these things. Good old Amazon had the best prices on average, and selection. And free shipping over $25, but only if you buy the items they stock, not those 3rd party sellers, who may have cheaper prices. I saved $6 by buying both from Amazon at the same time, over the price including shipping that I would have paid for the 2 items had I bought the cheapest available, because they would have shipped from 2 seperate vendors. And I got a cooler colour for my v-moda's

How do they sound?
So, a few days later the phones arrive. Funny that they were sent separately according to the emails I received, but they arrived on the same day. Some optimization could be done there. Actually I think they came from separate warehouses so strike that. The KSC-75's were first. I stuck in my current fav, a cd reissue of Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I was disappointed. No bass! They are very light on the ears but that's no excuse really. Well, they will serve their purpose at work but I couldn't recommend 'em. Not to say all Koss products are bad, quite the contrary. I have had a pair of their PortaPro's for over a decade and they are the best all-around headphones I've ever had. Actually 2 pair, I took Koss up on their Lifetime free replacement warranty about 5 years ago. And I have a pair of their beefy rugged TD-series which have served me well for a lot of DJ and studio use.

Next up
... is the v-moda bass fréq's. Buying headphones without trying them is a real crapshoot, and I guess I did OK at 1 for 2 considering how cheap these things are. They stacked up well against the PortaPro's, although it takes a minute to get used to having music piped directly into your brain, I mean earcanal like they do. I sure would like to try a pair of the $400 Shure's to see what I missing out on, but I'm pretty sure stores don't have demo units, it would be a hygenics issue with everyone getting their earwax all over their nice expensive canal cleaners. The bass fréqs came with 3 different sized silicon fittings so you can find the right fit to your ear. Medium were good for me, they pretty effectively shut out the rest of the world and put a well balanced representation of the music in my head. You can forget about hearing the phone ring thru these things, and don't mess with the bass boost if you've got 'em up loud, talk about proximity effect! I would recommend them for an entry-level earphone.

Comparing to what
The Koss PortaPro's are the gold standard for me in headphones, mostly due to their sound (read neutral plus nice deep bass) but also their convenient size. I don't like to have to put some humongous cans on my head to hear good sound and I think they prove you don't have to. Too bad they're so ugly!

I also have a pair of now discontinued Sennheiser HD-535's, which were a step below the venerable HD-600's. I actually liked them better than the 600's, they seemed to handle the dynamics of modern music, ie. rap, reggae, etc. better. I think the 600s were designed for classical music. And I didn't mind that they were more affordable too.

Vancouver. The last pair of headphones worth mentioning are my dbi Pro-705's. I got these a while ago because I was always blown away by the sound of the listening booths at A&B Sound, downtown. Lucky for me they were made in Canada, as no store carried them, so I ordered them directly. Not cheap, and I didn't seem to get the sound, especially the thunderous deep bass that I was expecting. Maybe there was more to those listening booths that a straight wire from amp to headphone.... Or maybe they just need "broken in", ie. abused like the store ones were, to get them loosed up. Well, the dbi's in the store well eventually destroyed by the public and replaced by cheap things. My pair weren't bad, too much high mids and not the bass I was expecting, but great for the studio for singers/rappers on the mic because they are completely closed and clamp on to your ears like two limpets, so no leakage to the mic.