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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Audiophile Headphone Review!
Audeze EL-8 Planar Magnetic
Open-Back Stereo Headphone
"Stylish Look, Smooth PM Sonics"

Price: $699 retail
Likes: smooth treble, rich midrange
Dislikes: proprietary cable connector
Wow Factor: snazzy look, smooth sonics
More info: Audeze EL-8

by John Gatski
  Over the past few years, Audeze has made a name for itself in the hi-fi headphone community. Using planar magnetic ribbon technology, their high-end phones have garnered critical praise, and now their mid-priced HPs, the EL-8, is making some noise as well.
  Priced at $699, the EL8 is the company’s entry hi-fi headphone. The LCD Series, such as the LCD-3, range in price from $995 to $1,945. The entry-point EL-8, besides costing less is a versatile headphone that can work with not only high-end headphone amps, but also portable audio players, including the proliferating hi-res player. As a result the EL-8 is more compact and lighter weight than its costlier siblings.
  The EL-8‘s key design feature is the planar magnetic driver, which offers a smooth, even response — without peakiness in the treble. Planar magnetic speakers and headphones also project a wide and deep sense of space that is perfect for headphone listening.

  Planar magnetic design has been around for about 40 years. It is basically a hybrid design utilizing the principle of magnetic speaker design and electromagnetics. Like a dynamic headphone — with their standard magnet drivers — planar magnetic headphones use a magnetic field that surrounds a conductor, which has an electrical current flowing through it to drive the speaker diaphragm. Like an electrostatic driver, PM designs utilize a diaphragm consisting of a thin sheet of flexible transparent film. Additionally, the PM differs from the electrostatic by using thin, flat electrical conductors to charge the diaphragm. In my opinion, the proper implementation of planar magnetic technology in headphone creates an audio texture similar to what i hear in top-class, ribbon speakers and ribbon microphones: a smooth treble, rich midrange and good bass, combined with a spacious stereo image.
 The Audeze is a very good sounding, entry point, planar magnetic headphone that can be used as a HQ headphone for portable players, smartphones, tablets, etc., but also it fits right in as a budget audiophile set of 'phones.
  The EL-8 is an open, circumaural-type stereo PM headphone with individually adjustable ear pieces. Unlike other PM ‘phones I have auditioned, the EL-8 is not heavy, weighing in at 460 grams. The ear pads are plush and soft, as is the headband. Quite a comfortable ‘phone. The EL-8 comes standard with proprietary flat cables with a four-conductor end that slides into each ear piece. The device end terminates into a standard 1/8th-inch stereo plug; a 1/4-inch adapter is included. Optional cables are available for iPhone, Astell & Kern, Pono and Sony PHA-3 player are available.
  The drivers are planar magnetic utilizing Fluxor™ technology neodymium magnetics. Each driver measures 100 mm. Factory specs include a 10Hz-50kHz frequency response, no tolerance listed; 101 dB/1-mW efficiency, and a maximum level of 130dB. Maximum power handling is listed at 15 watts (very short duration of 200 m/sec), but a suggested range is 200 mW to 4 watts. The impedance is 30 ohms.
  According to Audeze, several innovations contribute to the EL-8's sound quality:
•Patent-pending Fazor technology, introduced in the LCD Collection, are special acoustical elements positioned on either side of the magnetic structure in each transducer that enhance transparency by influencing sound waves generated by large planar diaphragms. Benefits include extended frequency response, improved high-frequency extension, better phase response, and lowered distortion resulting in more realistic imaging.
•Fluxor™ Magnetic Structure — With new, patent-pending Fluxor magnetic technology, introduced in the EL-8, Audeze delivers nearly double the magnetic flux density or driving power of the highest-grade neodymium magnets. This  achievement is said to result in reduced weight with greater efficiency to play easily with mobile devices.
•Uniforce™ Diaphragms — The EL-8’s patent-pending Uniforce diaphragm features variable trace widths on the voice-coil that captures variations in the magnetic field in the gaps between the magnets thus equalizing the force of individual traces. This creates a uniform driving force across the diaphragm surface for dramatically reduced distortion, higher resolution and improved imaging.
  The snazzy, modern-shape aesthetic of the Audeze EL-8 headphone was done by BMW Designworks USA. And they did their job well. This is one of the best looking headphones that I have seen in a while.

The setup
  I tested the EL-8 with several headphone amp/DACs, two standalone analog headphone amps and four portable hi-res players. Music ranged from Pop to Rock and Classical and Jazz. Equipment included Oppo HA-1 headphone amp/DAC, Benchmark DAC 2-DX HP amp/DAC, Mytek Manhattan DAC/HP amp, and the portable Resonessence Concero HP amp/DAC. The standalone, non-DAC units included Rogue Audio’s new RP-5 tube audiophile preamp and the Bryston BHA-1 class-A headphone amp. Source music included hi-res downloads from HDTracks, Acoustic Sounds, my own hi-res recordings and some premium vinyl, which was played through a Clearaudio turntable, and the Rogue Audio RP 5 phono pre and the preamp’s built-in headphone amp.
  All components were linked through Wireworld line-level interconnects. Headphones included the EL-8, Sony MDR0-7510, AKG K702 Anniversary, Shure SRH-1840, Oppo PM-1 and PM-2 planar magnetic headphones.
Portable hi-res DAC/player iBasso DX-90 and EL-8
  Before I did any serious listening, I let the EL-8’s stew for a four day break-in with moderate level music and test tones run through the headset. Then it was time to seriously listen to these headphones.
  First up was a lengthy session with the EL-8s and the Benchmark DAC-2 DX, the successor to the DAC-2D (adds AES/EBU connection). Fed from an Oppo BDP-105 line out to the Benchmark’s line-in, I first auditioned the direct-to-DSD recording Anthony Wilson Trio - Our Gang (Groovenote SACD). The warm jazz guitar/Hammond organ/drum kit’s aural presentation has a detailed image with good spacing of the three instruments.
  The EL-8s relayed the album with a velvety richness in the guitar and organ, with a smooth, laid-back percussion character. Compared to the AKG-K702 Anniversary, the top end is not as bright, which I expected as the AKG is a conventional driver headphone.
  The EL-8 does brings the sound closer to the ear without the audio sounding exaggerated. Although it costs $500 more than the EL-8, I compared the Audeze to the Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphone. There is a somewhat similar richness in the midrange, but the PM-1 (and its $899 sibling PM-2) sounded a bit brighter in the top-end.
  Switching to Classical music, this is where I think the EL-8s really showed their character. On Janos StarkerBach’s Complete Cello Suites (Mercury Living Presence SACD), the vibrant, gorgeous cello tone from Mr. Starker was firmly out in front. Similarly, Jascha Heifetz’s RCA Red Seal recording of Brahms Violin Concerto was showcased in a strong presentation of the master’s rich, Stradivarius tone. These budget PM headphones really do shine on Classical and Acoustic music.
  On Pop and Rock music, the EL-8 has a smooth character and does not go crazy with bass boost that many headphones are engineered with these days. Again, the top end is not as bright as some of my conventional driver headphones, but on some types of music that is a welcome attribute, as modern Pop often is overly bright.
  On the high end DAC/HP combos and the audiophile HP amps, my conclusions were pretty consistent. Since the EL-8 is targeted to portable devices, I plugged into several hi-res portable players including the Astell & Kern Kern AK-100 and iBasso DX-90 and the TASCAM HA-P90SD, as well as the Oppo HA-2 portable DAC HP/amp HTC android phone player.
The EL-8's good looks, courtesy of BMW Designworks USA
  As with the audiophile gear, the EL-8 matched up well with the portables. Despite the phone’s low impedance, all the devices could adequately drive the Audeze to loud levels without audible clipping.
  Pairing the EL-8 and the iBasso DX-90 portable, with its ESS Sabre mobile DAC chip set, I heard a nice, detailed, rich soundscape with that aforementioned close-up focus on the midrange that I had heard through audiophile gear. The EL-8 does not have the high-end finesse of the upper end Audeze or the $1,200 Oppo PM-1, but then again it’s at a much lower price-point and positioning than those premium ‘phones. For the bucks, it’s mighty good and very comfortable. As a portable package, it was not a hard decision to pack the EL-8 and a portable player for a day at the beach.

The verdict
  The Audeze is a very good sounding, entry point, planar magnetic headphone that can be used as a HQ headphone for portable players, smartphones, tablets, etc., but also it fits right in as a budget audiophile set of 'phones. Easy to drive, comfy, available with various cable options and can be ordered as a closed-back for a bit more isolation or as the open headphone tested here. Overall, it earns the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.
 John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1992. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice and High Performance Review. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Home/Live Recording!
Audix MB5050 MicroBoom Mount,
M1250B Cardioid Condenser Microphone

"Perfect For Live Capture And Recording Choral Groups"
©Everything Audio Network

Price: $599 retail
Likes: stealth-like, good sounding mic
Dislikes: lacks separate stereo mount
Wow Factor: a staple for choir miking
More info: MB5050 Microboom

by Richard Alan Salz
  When the MB5050 Microboom™ System form Audix showed up at my door the first thing that came to mind was that someone had sent me a piece of artwork that was rolled up in a cardboard poster tube!. As I opened up the tube I said, hold on a second, I didn’t order a fishing rod!
  All kidding aside, the MB5050 System is an amazingly versatile microphone accessory/small diaphragm mic setup that I’ve found many uses for in the time that I used it on my studio and out in the field.
  The MB5050 MicroBoom with Audix M1250B Cardioid Condenser Microphone, priced at $599 retail, should be thought of as a modular system — in that it combines a 50-inches long, carbon-fiber microphone boom (with integrated internal wiring) and a microphone preamp/capsule. The included conversion cable is a must — as the output from the boom (and connection to the M1250B) is a mini-XLR.
  Various options are available with regards to the MicroBoom system, including a choice of 24- 50- or 84-inch booms, and microphone capsules of varying sensitivities. The overall fit and finish is up to the usual Audix standard — which in this era of cost cutting, outsourcing, and general de-contenting of products — is truly welcome. It fits on standard mic stand attachment configurations
Audio gets great sound from a small mic

  Without actually holding the cardioid (uni-directional) microphone body/capsule in your hand, it’s hard to emphasize just how small it actually is at just over two inches long and about the same diameter as an AAA battery! That said, it doesn’t feel fragile and should stand everyday usage by a professional. It should be noted that this small microphone also houses the mic preamp circuitry, something that is usually provided as a separate module for a condenser mic of this size.
  Specs include a frequency response of 50 Hz - 19 kHz (no tolerance listed), 150 ohms output impedance. The M1250B sensitivity is listed at 10 mV/Pa (C) @ 1k10 mV/Pa (HC). Signal/Noise Ratio (A-weighted) is 73 dB. Equivalent Noise Level (A-weighted) is 21 dB. The maximum SPL is greater than 140 dB.
Reeling in the tones…
  The usage scenarios of the MB system are many, but the main takeaway is that the MB system excels when you need full range sound in a nearly invisible form factor. The classic example of this kind of usage is, of course, a vocal chorus. Nobody wants to see a pair of AKG 414’s, or even traditional pencil-shaped, small-diaphragm condensers hanging down to (or rising up from) the stage or pulpit area. The form factor of the MB5050 renders it virtually invisible to the audience, and its incognito appearance makes it non-intimidating to talent, especially that of the less-seasoned variety.
  Additionally, the MicroBoom system because of its super maneuverability can simply fit places that no ordinary microphone can. Think the tiny gap between high-hat stand and snare drum, or buried deep in the strings of a John Cage-style prepared piano!
In Use
  I pressed the MB5050 system into use both in the studio and in live sound applications, and really liked what I heard. The sonics of the MB5050 are not going to match the tone of a vintage Neuman KM184 or a Schoeps, but the overall package pricing is but a fraction of those microphone’s cost — and let’s face it — you would not want to put those mics in “danger” of being damaged in the same way you’d put a modern microphone like the Audix. And ultimately, the sound of the tiny Audix MB mic is quite good.
Audix's Cliff Castle: "MB has become staple for choir miking"

  Used during a Bluegrass concert, the MB5050 system turned out to be just the trick for bringing the sound of a fiddle player’s vintage German instrument up in the house system — without drawing unwanted attention to itself, or sounding shrill and unnatural in the way that a bridge transducer might. With just a little bit of attention paid to the positioning and gain-staging, we had no problem with unwanted feedback, and the microphone seemed pretty tolerant with respect to the player moving around during the show.
  As a test, I brought the MB5050 system to my son’s school to see how it would do during their Christmas concert to provide a little bit of spot highlighting for the soloists as they came forward on the stage. Once again, the MB5050 (this time hung from the lighting grid) worked really well, and its matte-black finish and small size was not distracting to the performers or audience. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the MB5050 system has become a favorite for the worship market.
   Used during a Bluegrass concert, the MB5050 system turned out to be just the trick for bringing the sound of a fiddle player’s vintage German instrument up in the house system — without drawing unwanted attention to itself, or sounding shrill and unnatural.

  Back in the studio, the MB5050 found all sorts of interesting roles, ranging from overhead microphone to capturing the player’s perspective at the drum set. It would have been even better to have had a pair since the microphone’s 140-dB maximum SPL could allow some high volume recording for stereo work..
  I found the MB5050 to be relatively quiet (for a small diaphragm condenser microphone) and fairly balanced in its response (within limits). This is not the microphone for recording a baritone vocalist doing a radio spot, but neither is it peaky or unpleasant.
  I had good success threading the MB5050 into the depths of the back of a Fender silverface Quad Reverb amplifier (mounted in a Super Twin cabinet…don’t ask!) in order to capture the backwave from the JBL speakers. No matter how loud the amp was, the MB5050 did not appear to break up at all, and it was amazing how different the sound was — just by moving the microphone a few inches within the cabinet.
  The MB5050 system shined on percussion instruments, having a clean and focused presentation of triangle, shaker, and cabasa. I liked it less on cowbell, feeling like I needed a microphone with more bottom end response. Still, it did okay.
The verdict
  The Audix MB5050 MicroBoom system could easily find a home in most studios and in virtually all live sound venues. The MB system is a natural to serve for choir duties. It also works well for gentle amplification (or recording duties) in a praise band setting. According to Audix VP Cliff Castle, the MicroBoom Series is quite popular for miking choirs and other vocals music setups, due to its quality microphone and unobtrusive mount. Church choirs are big customers of the MB system.

  Though not a budget mic/mount system, the excellent fit and finish, versatility, and great sound make the MB5050 MicroBoom system a great choice for live sound reinforcement and recording studio usage! It deserves the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award for the mic’s sound quality, and the usefulness, versatility and quality of the build.
  Richard Alan Salz is a musician, recording/live sound engineer and the president of On-Site Acoustic Testing, based in headquartered in Vermont. He also has massed a collection of 30+ guitars and several collectible classic guitar amplifiers. He can be reached at his email: Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Home Theater Review!
Onkyo TX-NR737
Dolby Atmos-Ready
7.2 Channel Receiver

©Everything Audio Network

Price: $899 retail, $499 street
Likes: good sound, DSD,  great price
Dislikes: no Airplay audio playback
Wow Factor: bang for the buck leader
More info: Onkyo TX-NR737

by Russ Long
  I reviewed Onkyo’s flagship receiver, the TX-NR5010, two years ago and after spending time with the more affordable (list price: $899 — $500 street) TX-NR737, a 7.2-channel Dolby Atmos-ready Network AV receiver, I’m convinced that regardless of the price point, Onkyo does it right. All of Onkyo’s receiver models, including the TX-NR737, now boast HDMI 2.0 making the TX-NR737 the perfect affordable companion to a 4K display.Features

  The 25.4-pound TX-NR737 measures 17.1″W x 6.9″H x 15.6″D and provides 110 watts per channel. To boost performance, the front and center channels utilize discrete three-stage inverted Darlington Circuitry amplification. The 4K/60 Hz-capable HDMI 2.0 inputs are perfectly suited for Ultra-HD gaming and video at 60 fps, as well as support for HDCP 2.2 (a nice feature since several Hollywood film studios are adopting HDCP 2.2 copy protection for future Full HD and 4K releases).
  Qdeo 4K upscaling technology is also included, allowing the user to enjoy older DVDs and games in high resolution. Hi-Res music lovers will enjoy the TX-R737 as it has the ability to stream almost any 192/24 hi-res, lossless, or compressed file format (including 5.6 MHz DSD) from compatible network- attached devices using built-in Wi-Fi or via Onkyo Remote App 2, Onkyo’s free remote app that is available for both Android and iOS devices.

Onkyo's Well-Priced Dolby Atmos Receiver

  The app also plays a large role in multi-zone audio configurations, as you can easily hook up another small system located in another room utilizing the Zone 2 speaker terminals and then use the “Whole House Mode” to play the same track in all zones, or assign a specific source to each zone. The TX-NR737 also includes Bluetooth (version 2.1 EDR) making music streaming from a wireless device easy. Unfortunately there is no AirPlay support so Apple TV is still required for easy streaming from an iPhone or iPad.
  The TX-NR737’s rear panel includes six HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, which is more than enough connectivity for most configurations. Five of the HDMI inputs support HDMI 2.0 connections — meaning that all the HD media sources can potentially provide full 4K resolution at 50/60 fps. The HDMI Main output supports Audio Return Channel and is compatible with HDCP 2.2. This is important as it provides the ability to view upcoming 4K content from TV broadcasts and other sources that incorporates DRM copy protection. The third HDMI input port, which is designated for a DVR or set-top box, also includes this compatibility.
  The receiver has limited some of the connectivity offered by its more expensive siblings to keep the unit affordable but there is more than enough connectivity to facilitate most configurations: seven Audio/Video Inputs, one Audio-only Input, one Component Video Input, one Component Video Monitor Output, one Optical Digital Input, two Coaxial Digital inputs, two Subwoofer Outputs, one Ethernet Port, one USB Connection and even a Phono Input.

 With the TX-NR737, Onkyo has proven that it can deliver a feature-packed, non-compromising receiver at an affordable price. The unit sounds impressive, and its dual 32-bit processing engines allow it to easily handle hi-res audio, including 5.6 MHz DSD, making it a perfect option for audiophiles and high-res audio enthusiasts.

  The TX-NR737 is simple to navigate, a single-knob provides master volume control and a row of buttons along the middle of the receiver provides easy switching between inputs. A front-panel mounted MHL-equipped HDMI port appropriately accepts signal from any HDMI equipped device. If you’re not familiar with MHL, it stands for Mobile High-definition Link, and it is a specification that provides connectivity for connecting smart phones, tablets, and other devices to an HDTV, while simultaneously powering and charging the device. It supports 1080p video and 7.1-channel digital multi-channel audio, and it also carries control data allowing the TV remote to control the connected device. Even with MHL support, the TX-NR737’s Wi-Fi integration is a God-send, as it allows the user to enjoy streaming services such as Spotify, TuneIn, Deezer, etc. to be accessed without having to rely on a mobile phone or tablet.
  The TX-NR737 fully supports Atmos. If you have a pre-Atmos version of the receiver, Atmos support is simple and free via a firmware upgrade via thumb-drive or directly from the web. My review unit was a pre-Atmos, so I had to upgrade the firmware, which I found extremely simple. The receiver utilizes dual 32-bit DSP engines to decode and scale Dolby Atmos to the user’s home theater configuration, providing a much larger multi-dimensional sound listening experience with as many as 10 speakers. A Dolby surround up-mixer algorithm provides for current channel-based content that has not been mixed for Atmos (including 5.6 MHz DSD) to be expanded to fill a Dolby Atmos configuration.

The Setup
  The bulk of my testing was done utilizing the Onkyo TX-NR737 along with a 5.1 configuration of Episode 700 Series speakers (2 x ES-700-MON-6, 1 x EX-700-LCR-5, 2 x ES-500-SAT-4, and 1 x ES-SUB-12-300). My standard setup includes the ES-700-MON-6 speakers on a pair of 18” speaker stands with the ES-700-LCR-5 at the same height, mounted just below a Sony KDL-46EX640 LCD TV. The ES-500-SAT-4’s are mounted slightly higher at 36.” All five tweeters are focused at the listening position. The entire Episode speaker system, with the exception of the ES-SUB-12-300 powered sub was powered with the TX-NR737. Playback was primarily via the Pioneer Elite BDP-53FD Blu-ray player, Sony BDP-N460 Blu-ray Player, USB thumb drive and an Apple iPhone 6.

The Audition
  Before any listening or viewing, I calibrated my system using the AccuEQ Room Calibration utility, which was easy and straightforward to use. I used my staple pallet of evaluation material to test the receiver’s audio performance and ease of use. This includes Hi-Res music sources: Pink Floyd -Dark Side of the Moon, James Taylor - Hourglass, and Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road SACDs and a wide variety of DVD-A discs including The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds and The Beatles - Love.

Fewer connections, less-cluttered back panel

  I was thoroughly impressed with the receiver’s performance and sound quality. I used my MacBook Pro running Audacity to playback several high-res albums including James Taylor - JT, Roxy Music - Avalon and Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms and, again, was pleased with the results. The receiver utilizes TI Burr-Brown D/A conversion that make lossless formats (FLAC, WAV and ALAC) really shine. As was the case with the Onkyo TX-NR5010 that I reviewed in 2013, I found the Onkyo TX-NR737 to be perfectly suited for music playback.
  Moving onto movies, I auditioned Blu-ray discs of Hugo, Ratatouille, The Dark Knight and Hard Days Night and in each instance the TX-NR737 did a wonderful job reproducing the film’s audio tracks. These four films are among my favorites in regards to audio performance and they each translated beautifully with the TX-NR737. In fact, the sonic signature is similar to the flagship NR-5010, with a touch less finesse on the top when played at the loudest, listenable levels

The verdict
  With the TX-NR737, Onkyo has proven that it can deliver a feature-packed, non-compromising receiver at an affordable price. The unit sounds impressive, and its dual 32-bit processing engines allow it to easily handle hi-res audio, including 5.6 MHz DSD making it a perfect option for audiophiles and high-res audio enthusiasts. This audio engines also shines in the home theater realm, offering great value for its connectivity/sound and video quality, plus it is Atmos-ready. We don’t see many well under-$1,000 receivers we like but this one is a winner. An Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner that is.

  An avid home theater and audiophile listener, Russ Long makes his living as a Nashville-based professional audio engineer, who has recorded hundreds of albums for various artists, including Grammy Award winner Sixpence None The Richer. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.