Radiohead creates such complex webs of sound assembled from so many disparate elements and instruments that it can be hard to figure out the division of labor on any given recording. Bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Philip Selway have their assigned duties, but Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood each play a barrage of keyboards, and even their guitars are heavily processed. Ed O’Brien is primarily a guitarist, but also relies on effects to transform his guitar into other sounds.
I try not to take being an audio reviewer for granted. I examine, live with, and, most important, hear many audio products -- things most people don’t get to do. And I am never more aware of my privileged position than when I get my hands on a special edition -- models that manufacturers produce, often in limited numbers, to commemorate an anniversary or other occasion, and that typically are made to look and sound quite distinct. In this case, my privilege was to be one of the first reviewers to get their hands on the new Menuet SE (for Special Edition) minimonitor ($1799/pair, all prices USD), which its maker, DALI, expects to keep in production for a limited time.
Although I’ve been critically listening to speakers for almost 30 years, I’ve listened and measured for only the last two. I take my own measurements in my home listening room, and help out with measuring the speakers we review in the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), here in Ottawa.
About 25 years ago I was producing a very exciting project called “People”. It was based on a book and was going to be an animated film with an accompanying album with great special guests singing songs based in the movie. We were getting ready to go to California for an extended trip to record with a number of different artists and musicians and decided something fun to do would be if we could take a few days off beforehand and go skiing at Lake Tahoe. Since we hadn’t skied in a while and we knew a personal trainer we wanted to schedule a few sessions just to get limbered up and in shape. So here we were working with this lady, who is excellent, but then she opens her mouth and says, “It must be really exciting for you going to awards shows and concerts and hanging with all these stars you work with.” Well !! We explain to her that’s not part of our life in this business, that we make albums and we are in the studio and are always working and we don’t go to award shows and randomly hang out with music stars. She was truly surprised, but it made me realize that 98% of the people out there have no idea what it’s like to be in the music world and doing what we do. Yes, I have worked with some amazing artists and musicians but we are in the trenches in various scenarios and spend hours and hours perfecting our craft. So here is a little course based on what it’s like to really focus your life and try to make a career in the music and entertainment world.
The first thing to address is money. How are you going to support yourself in one’s quest to build a career and be recognized in this business and world? The late great piano player Don Grolnick said to me in 1974, “Be prepared to go for long periods of time without making money.” That was about as accurate a statement as one could make. The positive thing was that I was still very young and had the energy and the determination to start to make the journey. For five years I basically got very little work. I was just finding myself and meeting some great people along the way who were encouraging me to stay my course because I was in the right direction using electronic keyboards and synthesizer. There came a time, however, after years of scuffling, having my wife go back to substitute teaching and me doing gigs when I could come up with them, when we somehow made it by. The one thing that anybody getting into this has to know is that the arrow doesn’t always point straight up. There are times when it is definitely flat and there are times when it actually goes down and you struggle to try to find answers. How many can really hang in there for years to go and build a career?
One thing I can say is that you definitely need support and encouragement, especially from friends and family. If you are with a partner and they don’t support your journey and passion the relationship can’t work. My wife, who then was my girlfriend, never wavered in her belief of what my ability was and my talent was. I can’t say that about everybody that I knew and that’s why they are no longer together. You have to be a special breed to support that person and believe in them in the hardest business in the world to make it in. What I was happy about was when I started I wasn’t shy about meeting people and putting myself and my beliefs out there. What I discovered was that I had ideas that others didn’t and I started building on those. I immersed myself in the technology and the music and was always in the middle of the technology that was emerging for electronic musical instruments.
So this struggle had been going on for 10 years, but I still believed in myself as did my wife and we forged on. After years, I finally got the opportunity to work with Miles Davis and I was totally prepared for what was about to be put in front of me. It was those hours and hours of work and dedication that made it so when I was in there, I had confidence in knowing my ability and knowing what I could deliver to them, and to my joy and surprise it worked and Miles Davis got a hit record with “Tutu”. Then came Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and many other musical situations I found myself in the middle of because of my work on synthesizers. The one thing that I was always conscious about was that the highs never last as long as you would like them too. After 15 years of being in Studios and working with so many great people, I couldn’t take it any farther and had to make a change and that change was to become a producer.
That was always a great ambition of mine and I spent years watching great producers like Tommy LiPuma, Marcus Miller (A 10-year collaboration!), Russ Titelman, and others who were great influences on me. I found myself working with the elite producers and top artists but I always said that I was the low man on the totem pole of the upper echelon. Even though I was a part of these great albums and their production teams, I wasn’t going to advance any more in that situation and then after that, I also didn’t realize one thing; just because I was doing multi-platinum work with other artists, didn’t mean that I would be trusted as a producer. I basically had to start from scratch at the bottom and start proving myself as a producer. I was very happy that my friend Arnie Holland, who had Lightyear Entertainment, started to really trust me in making projects for him. Before I was to go and jump into the big time, I did a Jane Fonda workout for him as well as several children’s albums that did really well. I got several awards and he was convinced I was ready to do this major project “People”. It’s a two-year journey to make this album and score (and in a later column I will tell the amazing story of how it all came together) and I wound up with an Emmy nomination for best original song and lyrics in a show.
Even after that, it was still hard getting work as a producer. I took all the opportunities I could to prove myself. Did demos for Artists, produced a track here and there. It wasn’t until my friend Saxophonist Jay Beckenstein encouraged me to try to make an album based on one of our favorite bands that wasn’t around anymore, Weather Report, that I had another shot. Here we go again, making an album and having to shop it around to labels. That, by the way, is not very fun to do, as you are always open to a so-called expert’s opinion. You really have got to develop a very thick skin to take all of the criticism. No matter how much criticism I’ve taken over my career and lifetime, it is still very difficult to get used to and not be emotional about it, because of how close you are to the project and the music.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, AXPONA 2020 was rescheduled to 2021, or was it? In lieu of a show at a conventional venue where only the privileged few could attend (that could not be held anyway), AXPONA 2020 decided to hold a Worldwide Audio Fest on Instagram on June 18th and 19th and open it up to everyone. Each of the scheduled Manufacturers held a 15-minute live mini-virtual show on their respective Instagram pages. A quick rundown of the exhibitors is as follows:
One of the highlights for me was Nordost where Dennis Bonotto talked about QPOINT Resonance Synchronizer and QSOURCE fanless Linear Power Supply. The QPOINT is an active field generator designed to synchronize the electromagnetic fields inside your electronics. It has two settings, one designed to lower noise floor and one to increase dynamics depending on the preference of the user. As implied, the QSOURCE is a linear power supply to run multiple QPOINTs and also replace the switching power supply that is provided with a lot of audio components, again with the goal of lowering your noise floor.
Mat Weisfeld showed around his listening room featuring Nordost cable, Raidho speakers, and Sim Moon electronics. The focus for the presentation was the VPI Avenger turntable for which they are having a Father’s Day sale. An exciting upcoming addition to the VPI line that he pointed out was the VPI Sheila Cartridge, custom manufactured by Audio Technica, as well as a new VPI reference tonearm cable called the Weisline made by Nordost. He also had Harry Weisfeld demonstrate a new 14” tonearm with no offset and no skating force that he is working on, showing that the ground never warms beneath his feet.
NAD’s Marshall Currier espoused on their “Just Add Speakers” theme products including their amazing D3045 Integrated Amplifier which offers aptX Bluetooth, as well as, HDMI and USB inputs and a Phono stage, putting out a hearty 60Watts per channel in a small desktop-friendly size package. Of note was the C 388-BluOS which offers 160Watt dual mono amplifiers and NAD’s epic BluOS streaming. And on the coming-soon rack was the Master Series M33 Integrated Amplifier with the world’s first purify amps and a whopping 200Watts per channel. In addition to built-in DIRAC Automatic Room Correction featuring the ESS Sabre MQA DAC, BluOS streaming, Bluetooth, HDMI, AirPlay2, the M33 offers XLR balanced inputs.
Talking about BluOS, Marshall followed his NAD presentation with BlueSound. New to BlueSound is that they have added HDMI and BluOS 3.5 to the PowerNode 2i Wireless Multi-Room Music Streaming Amplifier for Dolby Audio and surround sound with Pulse Flex 2i speakers for the rear.
Jeff Coates talked about Pro-Ject Audio’s wonderful Phono stages, including their Phono Box Ultra 500. What I found of extreme interest was the fact that their turntables are set up with balanced outputs for use with their upper-end Phono Stages like the Phono Box RS.
One of the more exciting presentations was the Meze Audio prototype that they are working on for a new dynamic headphone that will come in both closed back and open back, a first for Meze. Interesting was the fact that the drivers have dual-material diaphragms to provide a more balanced tonality.
Klipsch focused their show on their new The Fives powered monitor. Introduced as part of their Heritage line, the highlights are biamplification with independent DSP for the woofer and tweeter, 192kHz digital input, HDMI , as well as, USB, Bluetooth 5, and phono inputs, Dynamic Bass EQ, and 320Watts of peak power.
Andrew Bailey and Ian Judson, industrial designers from Jerry Harvey Audio ran the audience through the process of machining custom IEMs, (their segment began with just a couple minutes of the CNC machine turning out an IEM) truly informative and interesting, making it one of the most memorable presentations.
Adam Sohmer took the stage for HiFiMan highlighting their new Deva Planar Magnetic Headphones (the subject of our recent Headphone.Guru giveaway) with removable Bluemini Bluetooth module. The Bluemini is a Bluetooth receiver, USB DAC, and amplifier all built into a simple plugin module.
I would like to thank Liz Miller Smith and Mark Freed for being excellent hosts and all of the participants that made the current dearth of HiFi exhibition a little more bearable, and am looking forward to AXPONA 2021!
Headphone Guru would first like to thank all the people who took the time to enter our contest in partnership with Hifiman. We received over 600 entries and we appreciate all the support from the HG community. We will be doing one contest about every month in partnership with our sponsors, so if you did not win this time stay tuned and try again next time around.
The lucky winner is Scott L., and he will be receiving one Hifiman Deva Headphone. Congratulations to Scott, and again thanks to everyone for entering. We look forward to our next contest and your continued support. If you entered, you will also be receiving the HG newsletter with more details about our reviews and perhaps exclusive deals and other promotions.
Blaž Erzetič is a designer who makes one of a kind headphones and amplifiers that can be taken with you anywhere. Thalia is the name of the all-powerful Zeus’s daughter. Designed as a small portable on-ear headphone that comes with a nicely designed copper cable and carrying pouch and offered in the United States for $699.
Designed as a small compact on the ear headphone the Thalia is a unique and different design in many ways. If you ever wanted a headphone specifically made for you and you alone, the Thalia fits the bill. Blaž handcrafts each Thalia with a choice of Natural, Dark Brown, or Black wood, and no two pairs are identical. Linden, a rare exotic wood, was used to create the cups custom made by hand. Silky smooth faux leather pads are installed for comfort. Chris Zainea, who is the US distributor, was kind enough to send me the open-back Thalia for review.
On-ear designs have at times been troublesome for me because of my large ears; however surprisingly, the Thalia presented no issues and made a positive impression immediately once I had them fitted properly. I found the Thalia to be comfortable with its light headband and nicely designed artificial leather which also showcased the company’s exceptional engineering so evident in the small compact headphone.
Notable was the big sound that came from the small 40mm driver right out of the box.
The Thalia was the first design of its kind from Erzetich. Blaž wanted a design that could go anywhere and more importantly play musically on any device without amplification. People in today’s society rely more than ever on phones and portable devices to listen to music. Companies catering to personal audio realize the need for excellent portable headphones that sound exceptional and can offer the mobility needed in today’s everchanging market.
The 32 ohm dynamic 40 mm titanium driver weighs in at 270 grams and is a lightweight design that plays like a heavyweight champion. Bass control is outstanding considering the size of the driver.
I was impressed with the control of bass and midrange transparency is beautifully rendered with musicality. The highs were never harsh and always believable and accurate. The Thalia had exceptional clarity in vocal recordings and sounded exceptional plugged into my iPad using the portable Audioquest Dragonfly DAC.
While amps are not necessary, using quality amplifiers with exceptional DACs increased performance substantially. Auris’ excellent Euterpe amplifier stepped-up performance with a better-defined soundstage with exceptional detail retrieval, that had outstanding bass texture and the extended sparkly highs were accurate and sounded realistic.
The cable used is a detachable copper OFC cable and the cups, as mentioned above, are custom, one of kind, handcrafted wood designs made using linden wood. The imitation leather pads were comfortable even over my large ears the sound was indeed big and sounded exceptional.
Using both the iPad with the Audioquest Dragonfly DAC and the Auris Euterpe streaming the library from Roon I have access to a large library of music to use for listening sessions. Once I sat down in my downstairs work studio I started using my iPad and went to Roon and dialed in Lucinda Williams’ new album “Good Souls Better Angels” and hit play on “You can’t rule Me”. Lucinda has a unique voice that truly is one of kind. Her vocal had exceptional clarity with articulationand detail rarely found in a headphone priced so reasonably.
The Thalia performed like a greek goddess on this track. Lucinda was centered with her badass band spread out in their own space in a wide and deep soundstage that had excellent air and space. Musicality was off the charts good with instrument tonality being especially good. Lucinda’s vocal was at times gruffly on this track and accurately portrayed using the little Thalia.
Switching to “Fogerty’s Factory” listening to “Centerfield” brought back memories to one of the greatest rock and roll performers whoever slung a guitar. Seeing John Fogerty do “Centerfield” live 2 years ago showcased a guitar gunslinger who plays with the best of them and is magnificent in concert. The Thalia took me back to that night in Camden, NJ. Rocking with Fogerty and listening to the track on the Thalia never compromised from what I had experienced live.
The Thalia’s dynamic performance once again was able to recreate an exceptional experience and delivered pristine sound. Once again, I noticed how big this little headphone sounded and my enthusiasm for this design was growing as I listening to excellent rock recordings.
John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” is a classic jazz recording and wanting to hear a great saxophone recording with exceptional jazz musicians I gravitated to this classic album. Coltrane performance is legendary on this classic all-time great album.
The musicians were exceptional, Philly Joe Jones’ excellent drums were masterfully reproduced with exceptional clarity. The tap of the drum sticks on the cymbals as well as the detail of the skins was a listening experience presented exceptionally live-sounding and captivating.
Paul Chamber’s bass was defined in his own space. The image of the bass was transparent and had excellent texture and the Thalia never left me wanting more bass while listening. Neutral sound was reproduced within the sound stage and Coltrane’s masterful genius in the middle surrounded by one of the best all-time great jazz bands created was fully realized. The Thalia once again proved to be a worthy contender for the portable crown of best transducer.
Holly Cole “I was doing alright” from her self titled “Holly” album of 2018 showcased her articulate vocal and the vocal duet was transparent with excellent piano that showcases the wide and deep sound stage of the Thalia. Bass control was evident and excellently controlled and went down deep with great extension. The trumpet on this track was never harsh and had a beautiful tone. The trombone sounded exceptional with a terrific extension and always was musical.
If you want to hear a recording that completely disappears you need to hear this exceptional Canadian artist through the Thalia. Seductive and enticing her vocal always has been one of my all-time favorites since the first time I heard her sing in the mid-’90s on a Cary tube amplifier in Rochester NY.
This current 2018 recording shows she is as masterful as ever and has not lost a step and the Thalia was able to recreate her performance flawlessly. Holly’s sexy seductive voice with the Greek goddess lured me in and consumed me with a monumental performance. Special Indeed!
“Beethoven: Lieder” is a rare piece of music. Songs for voice and piano,what many felt was inferior work by Beethoven, turns out to be a rare exciting listening treasure and a terrific listening experience. The Thalia is a captivating transducer that draws you into the performance and makes you forget you have a headphone on your head. Goerne’s tenor vocal is astounding and the synergy between him and Jan Lisiecki is exceptionally recreated with a musicality that is outstanding and beautifully presented.
Tonal accuracy is important to recreate the piano sound and the Thalia reproduced it accurately and had the rare ability to lure me into the performance. Playing this track on the Auris Euterpe, with its magical tube sound, presented a beautiful stage that had the performers in a 3D stage separated with air and space and spectacular imaging. The soundstage was exceptional and the vocal and piano sounded as separate instruments with beautifully composed music and lyrics. Truly an underrated piece of music, the sound the goddess created was as if Thalia had put a spell on me and lured me to a listening experience that was an “out-of-head” experience that I will soon not forget.
The Thalia was my first review of an Erzetich headphone. Headphone.Guru has reviewed a few of Blaž’s designs and Chris Zainea was so impressed with this design that he asked me to review the Thalia personally. Chris is the US distributor for the Ezertich products and I am glad he sent this unit to me for this review.
Blaž’s first attempt at a small portable design is a major triumph with its unique over the ear design. The Thalia is small and portable but in my sessions never sounded small and was a neutral sounding musical instrument that delivered beautiful big and enchanting sound.
The sound was always exceptional with a deep wide soundstage coupled with bass that at times, when the recording called for it, was explosive and the 40MM driver recreated bass with a timbre that was deep, textured, and controlled.
Whether I was listening to recordings that had a large soundstage or vocalist with a single piano, I kept on being impressed with the outstanding midrange and sound. Never did I feel the Thalia missed anything and always rendered excellent musicality. The impressive detail retrieval, and many times, the exceptional transparency equalling many if the top Planar designs instead of a small dynamic footprint.
The Thalis is a design for the listener who wants big sound anywhere with any device. Using high-quality DACs and amplification stepped up the performance significantly but I was perfectly happy using my iPad a dragonfly streaming from the Roon Library.
Ezertich’s Thalia may be small but the sound is big and the goddess makes its mark for an exceptionally neutrally balanced sound that never let me down. The Thalia is a headphone that needs to be heard to be appreciated and is highly recommended for anyone who wants an affordable one-of-a-kind experience. Outstanding design by Blaž and his company and created for the listener who wants to listen to music anywhere! Bravo!!!
Although Fyne Audio was founded in Scotland only three years ago, in 2017, they boast that their team has, collectively, “over 200 years’ experience” in all aspects of loudspeaker design and manufacture. Their website offers few details, but it’s my understanding that the design team mostly comprises people who used to work for Tannoy, plus a few from other UK speaker makers. A quick glance at their various models makes it obvious that not only do Fyne speakers pack a lot of leading-edge tech, they look the parts of high-end speakers.
Like their labelmates My Morning Jacket, the Oklahoma band Other Lives defies easy categorization. They’re less guitar-driven than Jacket, though even that band doesn’t hesitate to use other instruments to expand their musical palette. Other Lives arranges many of their songs for strings, and shows an affection for a broad range of music that includes 1960s orchestral pop and Ennio Morricone’s film scores. The result is stylistically fluid and sounds, at its best, as unique as it does familiar.
John Sayles’s Vision of 1920s West Virginia Rings True
The Criterion Collection 999 Format: BD
Independent filmmaker and screenwriter (and novelist) John Sayles has been interested in depicting social injustice in most of his films, and in none so prominently as Matewan (1987), based on a massacre that took place on May 19, 1920, in Matewan, West Virginia. On that date, coal miners organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) confronted 12 agents from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who were working for the mine owners. The mayor, two citizens, and seven agency men were killed, and others were wounded.