Speaker Placement: Image is Everything

“Image Is Everything!”

How to squeeze every drop of performance from your speakers….

By Anthony Chiarella


In nearly two decades as an Audio Reviewer, I wrote hundreds of articles and, as I look back, most of these were written about speakers. Whether listening to them, evaluating them, or moving them around my room, loudspeakers have consumed more of my attention than any other part of my audio systems…and with good reason! The performance of no other component in your system is more sensitive to proper placement than your speakers; in other words, speaker setup places the sound of your system largely under your control. Here’s how….

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Roughing-In for Bass

The art and science of speaker placement involves a series of adjustments, beginning with “Roughing-in” speaker positions by finding the location where bass response is smoothest. (Note: assuming your speakers have spiked feet, Nordost’s Sort Füt units, or some other type of interface with the floor, you can retract these to make it easier to move the speakers. Near the end of the process, we’ll level the speakers and will adjust the feet at that point.) Start with both of your speakers about three feet away from side and rear walls, pointing straight ahead. Play some music with deep bass content (pipe organ, double bass or prominent electric bass) and move the speakers out of the corners until a natural bass balance is achieved. Don’t even think about mid- and high-frequencies right now: we’re dialing-in bass response. Listening to tracks with heavy bass content, disconnect first one speaker and then the other, moving each closer to, and farther from, rear and side walls until balanced bass is achieved. Now, connect both speakers and let ‘er rip! Is bass powerful and natural but without boom or overhang? When you’ve balanced the bass, it’s time to move “Onward and upward….”

Room Treatment

When it comes to Midrange and Treble, the room—specifically the reflective/absorbent characteristics of various surfaces such as walls, floors, windows and furnishings—is going to influence the sound at the listening position. If you find your mids and highs are bright and forward, try moving the speakers a little farther from room boundaries (but not so much that you compromise bass performance) and consider adding some absorptive treatments—wall hangings, carpets, plush furniture—at strategic points in your room in order to minimize reflections. At this point, you can also start toeing-in the speakers slightly.

Equilateral Triangle Approach

Years ago, British manufacturers including Spendor, Harbeth, Rogers and ProAc used a system whereby the two speakers and the listener formed the three corners of an equilateral triangle (all three sides being identical in length), with the speakers toed-in until only the front baffle of each speaker was visible from the listening position and both sides of the cabinet hidden from sight. This is a great way to control room reflections and focus central images for a solitary, centrally-seated listener; on the other hand, though you’ll wind up with razor-sharp focus, the soundstage probably won’t venture outside the speakers. What’s worse, the best seat in the house is the ONLY seat in the house, since this sort of positioning accommodates only one listener and is, to put it bluntly, anti-social.

Nearfield Listening

A similar approach—known as “Nearfield Listening”—involves moving both speakers and listener into the center of the room, father away from the four walls, with the listener sitting close to the speakers. Nearfield listening, which had its genesis in recording studios where engineers placed their “Nearfield Monitor” speakers atop the mastering console, goes even farther to remove room variables from the sonic equation. While this theory has many supporters, I always feel like the speakers are too close…almost like I’m wearing headphones. And of course, only one listener will enjoy properly balanced sound.

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Voweling

“Voweling” is a more recent tuning process. Developed by Wilson Audio, voweling involves moving the speakers a fraction of an inch at a time—forward and backward, closer together and farther apart—until you’ve achieved the best tonal balance and imaging. When I first heard about voweling, I dismissed it; after all, how could moving the speakers half an inch at a time have a dramatic impact upon sound? And then I tried it….

In a word, it works! Moving the speakers such a small amount influences the mids and highs without impacting the bass. Once the speakers have been “Roughed-in” for bass response, as per above, put on a recording of a solo vocalist and slightly toe-in the speakers until the voice is sharply focused. Using a tape measure, make sure the speakers are the same distance from the back wall. Maintaining the same toe-in angle, move each speaker about ½” closer to the other and re-audition. Experiment, moving the speakers very slightly closer together, farther apart, forward and backward, until you’ve achieved the most natural, pleasing tonal balance.

Fine Tuning

Once you’ve dialed-in your ideal tonal balance, it’s time to fine-tune spatial characteristics. The goal is to balance image focus, on the one hand, with soundstage size on the other. This is accomplished by gentle toe-in. Since you’ve gone to great lengths to pick the exact location for your speakers, you should proceed in a way that doesn’t negate your hard work. I recommend pivoting each speaker using the outer rear foot as the fixed vertical axis of rotation; in this way, the positioning (which you worked so hard to achieve) stays constant. (Consider putting small pieces of tape on the floor to mark the speaker positions.) Work in half-degree increments, focusing the image in much the same way as you would a pair of binoculars. If you’ve accomplished all previous steps properly, you should only need a small amount of toe-in to focus images while achieving a wall-to-wall soundstage.

Spikes and Feet

As a final step, you need to adjust the floor spikes or other speaker feet. There are two goals here: first, you want to make sure the speaker is completely stable and doesn’t “rock” back and forth; secondly, you need to make sure the speaker is perfectly level. Drop a spirit level atop each speaker cabinet until the perfect level is obtained and all four spikes or feet are in solid contact with the floor. If you find the sound to be bright or forward, you can tilt each speaker back slightly by raising the front spikes. (Again: a little is better than a lot!)  Or, if you have Nordost’s Sort Füt, this last step will go much smoother. The Sort Füt is adjustable so that you can level your speakers with ease, and their premium package comes with a laser level to help both with leveling and toe-in. If you have the funds, I strongly suggest a set of Sort Füt. This solution not only protects your speakers from external vibrations, but also drains the cabinet of internal vibrations generated from the speakers themselves, elevating the sound of EVERY speaker to a much higher level of performance!


 

For more even ideas about speaker setup, see our Speaker Placement Guide  

 

Dealer Spotlight: AudioNirvana

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By Michael Taylor

The High End industry in the Dominican Republic has a special shop available to them: AudioNirvana. Audiophiles there know that AudioNirvana is a place where they can get together to share their hobby and purchase the best products in the market, made by the best brands in the world. All of this is possible because of the efforts of AudioNirvana’s owner, Nelson Gomez.

Music has always been a part of Nelson’s life. Ever since he was a child he would sit in front of his father’s TUNER for hours, listening to all types of music. Even as a child, Nelson could appreciate that each genre of music created something special.

He entered into the world of high end audio in 1997 as an end-user, and ever since then, he’s made a point to attend industry shows around the world, creating and fostering relationships with key players in the hifi community. However, it wasn’t until five years ago that a friend suggested he turn his passion into his career, as an agent and representative for the brands that he loves.

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For Nelson, it is of the utmost importance that he identifies with the brands he represents. Nordost is one of those brands. He says, “Nordost permits me to demonstrate to my clients what their technology is capable of, with no limitations or anything that would change the characteristics of its sound”.

AudioNirvana has a unique business model.  Nelson often invites the companies that he represents to the Dominican Republic to engage in presentations and/or discussions about their products. This gives his clients the rare opportunity to have a direct interaction with the manufacturers of the products they love. Apart from these periodic discussions, Nelson also gives product presentations, teaches classes on technology, and entertains his clients in his shop, so that his customers have the chance to observe, and have a better understanding of, the products they are interested in purchasing.

In the Dominican Republic, the high end audio market has been growing consistently. That’s due, in great part, to the relationships that Nelson has cultivated with his clients, which are, according to him, his greatest investment.

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Nordost at Sound & Vision: the Bristol Show

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Please join Nordost February 24-26 for Sound & Vision’s 30th Bristol Show. You will find Nordost in room 210, on the second floor of the Marriott City Center Hotel Bristol. Show attendees will have the opportunity to experience Nordost’s famous product demonstrations and cable comparisons, as well as be some of the first to experience some exciting new Nordost releases like the Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 Cable and the Sort Lift. While at the show, don’t forget to take advantage of some unbeatable show prices on your favorite Nordost products, available on the Ground floor, Bay 4

Nordost at CES 2017 Recap

We started 2017 off strong this year at CES.  Industry attendees were the first to hear demonstrations of the new Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 Cable, which makes an astounding difference in hi-fidelity computer audio.  Throughout the show, Nordost was well represented in several fellow manufacturers’ sound systems.

Here are some images from Nordost at CES 2017:


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Simaudio used Valhalla 2 cables (supported by our new Sort Lifts) for the launch of their MOON 888 MONO AMPLIFIERS:IMG_9733 IMG_9772 IMG_9776

In the TAD/MoFi room you could find Nordost’s Tyr 2 Speaker Cable:IMG_9777IMG_9783

VTL used Odin 2 in their stellar system:IMG_9786 IMG_9787 IMG_9789

Hegel used both Heimdall 2 and Blue Heaven Cables along with Sort Kones:IMG_9800 IMG_9802

Our own room was set up with a full loom of Valhalla 2 cables to showcase our new V2 USB cable.  You could also find our entire range of QRT and Sort Products, making the system sound its absolute best!IMG_9866IMG_9815 IMG_9818 IMG_9823 IMG_9864   IMG_9867 IMG_9868 IMG_9869 IMG_9870

Nordost Playlist – January 2017

Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this January.

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  1. Downtown—Majical Cloudz—Are You Alone?
  2. Suis-moi—Cyrille Aimee, Nataly Dawn—Suis-moi
  3. 7 Years—Lindsey Stirling—Spotify Singles
  4. Surefire—John Legend—Darkness And Light
  5. No Roots—Alice Merton—No Roots
  6. All My Friends—Dylan Kelly—All My Friends
  7. Bang Bang Bang—Mark Ronson, The Business Intl—Bang Bang Bang
  8. Ave Maria (Ellen’s Gesang) D.839—Franz Schubert, Andrea Bocelli, Academy of Choir Art Of Russia, Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev—Viaggio Italiano
  9. Who Knows Who Cares—Local Natives—Gorilla Manor
  10. Reality Check—Noname—Telefone

NOVO’s Phil Gold Reviews Valhalla 2

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It is always great to start the year with an outstanding product review, and that is exactly what we are doing! Philip Gold of NOVO (previously Canada Hifi) had nothing but good things to say about our Reference range of cables in his review “Nordost Valhalla 2 Cables Reivew- Their Place in our Hobby”

“These cables bring out the music more than any others in my experience. They do this by offering the flattest and most extended frequency response, the highest level of detail, the greatest accuracy of the instrumental and vocal tone and full responsiveness to transients and sustained harmonics.”

To read the rest of this article on Valhalla 2 Cables, head to the review section on the Nordost website or just CLICK HERE!

Introducing The Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 Cable

Nordost is historically on the cutting-edge of the hifi audio industry. With the introduction of each new product, Nordost continues to push the “sonic boundaries” in every corner of the market it occupies: power, resonance control, analog and digital cabling, etc. However, there comes a point where simply increasing gauge size or changing materials will no longer lead to the level of improvements that Nordost deems worthy of a “step up” in range. In digital cabling, the Tyr 2 USB has achieved that level of greatness. In order to improve upon this already stellar cable and meet Nordost’s lofty standard for its Reference Valhalla 2 range, a total redesign was in order.

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The Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 is revolutionary in terms of USB cable design. For the first time, Nordost is introducing a flat, twin-axial geometry to its USB cables. This innovative layout allows the two signal wires to run parallel, compared to the standard twisted-pair configuration, shortening the signal path and drastically increasing transfer speeds. Another advantage to a twin-axial design is the ability to separate the power (positive) and ground (negative) legs of the cable, isolating them from signal and each other, minimizing the effects of harmful interference. The Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 then goes one step further, taking the precaution of isolating the signal conductors, by covering each power leg with a finely-braided, silver shield, as well as enclosing both signal conductors in their own braided, silver shields. Each shield is connected to the metal plated backshell, completely ridding the cable of any EMI or RFI and eliminating noise.

In addition to these advances, the Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 still uses all of the main technologies and design structures that Nordost has built its reputation upon. The V2 USB 2.0 is constructed using four, 19 AWG solid core, silver-plated copper conductors. Each conductor, both power and signal, is suspended in Nordost’s proprietary Dual Mono-Filament technology, increasing the dielectric and mechanical damping, while maintaining the overall flexibility of the cable. It also takes advantage of Nordost’s unique, mechanically tuned lengths, reducing internal microphonics and high-frequency impedance resonance.

Of course, as with all of our Valhalla 2 cables, the V2 USB is completed with a HOLO:PLUG® connector. Nordost purpose-built this fully shielded, low mass USB connector to ensure that there is no loss of signal transfer from the cable to the connectors themselves. The Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 is the only solution on the market capable of elevating digital streaming, attaining true, reference-quality results.

The Valhalla 2 USB 2.0 is now available for purchase at select Nordost dealers, worldwide. To find the Nordost dealer nearest you, visit the “Where to Buy” page on www.nordost.com.

Pictures from Nordost Nation! December 2016

Nordost is lucky to have such incredibly loyal and enthusiastic customers! One great way that our fans let us know that they are happy with the work that we do is by sending us pictures of their Nordost products in action. Here are a few photos that have been shared with us recently. Feel free to send us pictures of Nordost in your system, via Facebook, info@nordost.com, or #nordostcables on Instagram, so that we can continue to share them with the whole Nordost family!


 

@jwmacoustics808 in Barton Hills, Austin, Texas took this beautiful picture of Nordost Bi-Wire Jumpers and Red Dawn speaker cables.

@jwmacoustics808 in Barton Hills, Austin, Texas took this beautiful picture of Nordost Bi-Wire Jumpers and Red Dawn speaker cables.

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Woo Audio shared this picture of our Heimdall 2 Headphone Cable and USB Cable being put to work at a Head-Fi meet in San Jose.

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HembioConsult has their system set up with our Blue Heaven cables!

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This HembioConsult system takes it to the next level with Nordost cables, QRT, AND the new Sort Lift cable lifters!

Hifinesse is taking full advantage of our new Heimdall 2 Ethernet Cable, paired with a complete loom of Norse 2 cables.

Hifinesse is taking full advantage of our new Heimdall 2 Ethernet Cable, paired with a complete loom of Norse 2 cables.

 

Instagram user @timbretop shared this shot of our Odin 2 Analog Interconnects

Instagram user @timbretop shared this shot of our Odin 2 Analog Interconnects

 

"New system finally all set up and dialed in. #hifi #audiophile #sonusfaber #elipsa #mcintosh #siltech #nordost #obsession #benzlps #vinyl #analogue #highendaudio #audioporn #brinkmann #stereo #turntable #tubes" - @mtbguy on Instagram

“New system finally all set up and dialed in. #hifi #audiophile #sonusfaber #elipsa #mcintosh #siltech #nordost #obsession #benzlps #vinyl #analogue #highendaudio #audioporn #brinkmann #stereo #turntable #tubes” – @mtbguy on Instagram

McIntosh paired with Purple Flare

@americanwestphotos shared this image of McIntosh paired with Purple Flare

"Love it more n more each day" - @momiraza76

“Love it more n more each day” – @momiraza76

"Some of my favorites ☺️#highendaudio #hegel #dynaudio #nordost #tyr2 #hjemmekino #lydogbilde #music today- #metallica #beer #IPA #homebrewed #vestkyst #patekphilippe #5726 #pateknautilus #cheers #tidssonen #klocksnack #7fjell " - 7fjell Very nice!

“Some of my favorites ☺️#highendaudio #hegel #dynaudio #nordost #tyr2 #hjemmekino #lydogbilde #music today- #metallica #beer #IPA #homebrewed #vestkyst #patekphilippe #5726 #pateknautilus #cheers #tidssonen #klocksnack #7fjell ” – 7fjell
Very nice!

Audio Solutions in Indianapolis shared this great pic on their Instagram (@audiosolutionsindy)

Audio Solutions in Indianapolis shared this great pic on their Instagram (@audiosolutionsindy)

@musicalfaternity took this great photo of the Heimdall 2 Speaker Cable

@musicalfaternity took this great photo of the Heimdall 2 Speaker Cable

The Sound Environment is taking their Odin 2 Cables even further with the addition of Sort Lift!

The Sound Environment is taking their Odin 2 Cables even further with the addition of Sort Lift!

 

Nordost at The NAMM Show 2017

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Nordost is excited to participate in our second year at NAMM! Come and see us at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA January 19-22 in booth 3394. Last year, Nordost was proud to launch our first range of Pro Audio Cables, Ax Angel. Constructed using the same design philosophy and technology that has revolutionized the hifi audio industry, our Ax Angel range is comprised of five different types of cables: power cords, instrument cables, patch cables, speaker cables, and microphone cables. Visit booth 3394 to get a personal demonstration and experience how the cables that we make can take the music that you make to the next level.

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Looking for the perfect gift for the music lover in your life? Nelson Brill has some suggestions!

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill offers some suggestions for the perfect gifts the audiophiles in your life would enjoy this holiday season.  


HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR THE AUDIOPHILE UNDER YOUR MISTLETOE

DECEMBER 3, 2016
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Thinking about what your music maven/audiophile might like to find under her Christmas tree, Hanukkah bush or Kwanzaa candelabra? Here are some holiday gift suggestions from this year’s batch of audiophile quality recordings, equipment and accessories in heavy rotation here at bostonconcertreviews:



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For the vinyl lover, it is always a great gift suggestion to head over to support your local record store and peruse its record bins for a long-lost LP to gift to that special music fan. Maybe you’ll find a copy of vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s 1957 swinging Plenty, Plenty, Soul [Atlantic] or mine the pearlesque voice of Shelby Lynne on her steaming Just A Little Lovin’ [UMG Recordings] or the meditative strings of sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on his 1966 recording Morning and Evening Ragas [on the spectacular Connoisseur Society Label).  Or maybe you’ll unearth an original pressing of the knockout self-titled album by Taj Mahal [Columbia Records] plying his bluesy “Built For Comfort” or that swinging bluesman (hailing from Woonsocket, Rhode Island), the sizzling Duke Robillard on his jazzy 1987 recording, Swing [Rounder Records; www.rounder.com].



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Duke Robillard – youtube.comIn your search, always keep an eye out for an LP with a white “promo” label or “radio sticker”  (a great find that usually promises the best sonics because such “promo” copies were culled from early pressings of any given LP).If you do not have a record store to support nearby, then heading to one of the specialty audiophile stores online can be another great gift resource. You’ll find tons of great LP titles at www.acousticsounds.com a site that carries many audiophile quality labels and titles. One such label you will find there is Audio Fidelity (“AF”; www.audiofidelity.net), a company that I have highlighted often in these pages for their reliably quiet LP surfaces and their special way with producing remasters of old classic rock albums  that always succeed in capturing the elusive (dynamic!) sparkle of original performances.

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One of AF’s latest reissues is from the catalogue of singer/songwriter Jesse Colin Young, whose warm vibes (from his 70’s California roots) is a perfect uplift gift for this holiday season. AF’s re-mastering of Young’s 1973 classic, Song For Juli, is a cause for celebration. Its quiet surfaces contain many riches: the tactile nylon of Young’s burbling acoustic guitar (on his “Song For Juli”); the brass punches that carouse “Ridgetop” and “Country Home”; the playful deep bass and whip-sharp sax calls in the rollicking “Miss Hesitation” and the bluesy sway of Young’s version of the “T-Bone Shuffle” (that takes it all home with Young and his swanking band radiant and pumping). This superb AF LP captures Young and his band in all their creative flight: boisterous, contemplative and grooving. (Jesse Colin Young will play locally at the wonderful Narrows Center For The Arts in Fall River, MA. on March 4, 2017 – see www.narrowscenter.org).

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If your LP maven is a jazz lover, check into Newvelle Records (www.newvelle-records.com), another audiophile label that I have highlighted this year for its superb LPs and its unique business model that insures support for the artists through members-only  subscriptions. Now is the best time to purchase a membership at Newvelle’s website to gain access to their upcoming 2017 series of eclectic jazz performances recorded in intimate sessions at East Side Sound Studio in New York City. (You can also now purchase, while they are still available, the complete bundle of recordings from Newvelle’s 2016 season). I have been enjoying my latest Newvelle Records release entitled Quiet Revolution which captures all the intimacy and dynamism of a session with bassist Ben Allison, guitarist Ted Nash and saxophonist Steve Cardenas.

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A listen to this band’s version of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Pony Express” and his “The Train and the River” delivers crackling and symbiotic music making with Cardenas swirling on his clarinet or sax; Nash moving creatively on his sheets of sparkling acoustic guitar and Allison folding it all together with his pungent and funky bass lines. A Newvelle Records’ membership is a great gift to pass along to any jazz fan who would relish exploring such one-of-a-kind jazz sessions like this gem, ensnared on quiet LP pressings and accompanied by original artwork and poetry that highlight the tactile and visual treats of the vinyl experience.

To keep all this great vinyl sounding its best, another simple and affordable gift idea is to purchase some new accessories to keep your pal’s records sounding their best.

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The most reliable record cleaning brush that I have encountered is the Hunt E.D.A. Mark 6 brush (available locally at Goodwins’ High End Audio of Waltham, MA. (www.goodwinshighend.com; or at online stores like www.musicdirect.com). All it takes is a few rotations with this brush to get records dust free and ready for stylus action. And, to clean that stylus after every record or two, the best stylus cleaner around is from Clearaudio, their “Diamond Cleaner” (also available locally at Goodwins’ or at online stores like www.needledoctor.com). Any of these accessories would make great stocking stuffers for the vinyl maven.

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Turning attention to some CD’s for gift ideas, there is another yearly subscription gift idea that will surely send plenty of joy to those who love to rock n’ roll. A yearly subscription to “Dave’s Picks” (available at www.dead.net) (which purchases four CD releases plus a special Bonus Disc) opens up uncharted worlds of the Grateful Dead (the “Greatest Band In The Land”-Bill Graham) in all their splendor – warts, curves and rousing glory intact. This past year’s subscription to Dave’s Picks delivered such delights as a roof-raising “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On The Mountain” from the second set of the Dead’s powerful performance at the University of Boulder on 12/9/81 (Dave’s Picks Volume 20) to the filigree light of “Eyes of The World” from their 7/17/76 show at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco (with Garcia’s voice young and earnest next to his lithe guitar) (Dave’s Picks Volume 18).

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The crew behind Dave’sPicks deliver these new re-mastered recordings with a sonic immediacy and presence that invite the listener into the unfolding drama of the Dead’s 50 year journey- transporting us back to the thrill of those days when experimentation from chord to chord; from amp to amp; from ballad to soaring rock n’ roll was just another day at the splendid office for these roisters of musical glory.

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And, speaking of glory, holiday gift-giving would not be complete without a listen to the glorious creation from Tchaikovsky, his Nutcracker Suite, brought to sparkling life on XRCD24 (compatible with all CD players) from Hi-Q Records (distributed by Elusive Disc – www.elusivedisc.com). Hi-Q Records is one of my favorite audiophile labels for classical music because their re-mastering of classical performances deliver some of the most realistic orchestral colors, textures and volume/expanse of a real acoustic space that I have heard on CD.

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Hi-Q’s release of the Nutcracker [Hi-Q Records #51] with conductor Efrem Kurtz and the Philharmonia Orchestra (as well as their re-mastering and release of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake[Hi-Q Records #49] with these same artists) are taken from the original master tapes of the performances recorded at Abbey Road Studios in the 1950’s. Although there is some background tape noise from these old master tapes, (and cymbal crashes that will knock you out of your seat lose a bit of their natural decay and shimmer), this is as close as CD gets to vinyl’s great virtues for tactile details and capturing the natural acoustics of a recording venue.

When the chorus softly caresses from the far reaches of the stage (while flutes flutter high), the magic of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is revealed in all of its sparkling drama on this Hi-Q Record CD. Catch the dancing snowflakes (and the light tambourine at the rear of the stage) if you can!

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If your holiday gifting is for someone who listens to their music primarily on a portable headphone system, then a great easy gift might be to purchase a new headphone cable to upgrade those favorite pair of “cans.” I have been thoroughly enjoying the immersive experience of listening to music through my pair of Sennheiser HD 650 headphones (www.sennheiser.com) recently upgraded with a Heimdall2 headphone cable from Nordost (www.nordost.com).

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Heimdall2 with Audeze LCD-3 headphones

Substituting the Heimdall2 cable for the Sennheiser stock headphone cable delivered a remarkable increase in all of the sonic areas that make headphone listening such an immersive experience: music crackled with new life and tactile details; vocals and instruments were more deeply layered and images were more solidly anchored in their natural acoustic space. You could more easily hear  to the rear walls of a given recording space on recordings that allowed for such ambient details to be explored. The Nordost Heimdall2 headphone cable is available from any Nordost dealership (see www.nordost.com) and can be easily configured to swap out any standard headphone cable with terminations compatible with any major player in the headphone market.

To feed that headphone system a steady diet of superb three dimensional sound, grab a few titles from the venerable audiophile label Chesky Records (www.chesky.com) and their “Binaural+” series of recordings. The “Binaural+ Series” sessions were recording on high resolution 192-kHz/24-bit sound with a special “Binaural Head” (a model human head with specialty calibrated microphones where the ears would be). These remarkable “Binaural” recordings (produced in association with Professor Edgar Choueiri of Princeton University’s 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics Lab) bring the headphone immersive experience to another level of enjoyment with performances that jump out between your ears with thrilling realism.

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One of my favorites from the Chesky Binaural+ Series is singer/songwriter/guitarist Melissa Menago’s Little Crimes [Chesky Binaural Series JD384; www.chesky.com). Menago is a young artist who delivers a gold mine of expressive songs on this superb recording, surrounded by the airy space of The Hirsch Center in Brooklyn, New York. Menago’s voice and guitar are expressive vehicles that deliver punchy verve (on her originals “If The Fire Goes Out;” “Airplane” and “Smoke Signs”) or bracing intimacy, such as on her dapper version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Such Great Heights” or on her spritely “The Other Side of You”. The stellar imaging on this Chesky recording seats us right at the feet of Menago’s microphone and her voice and her tactile thumps of her guitar (or Keith Gill’s hand held percussion and shakers) are crisp and vital in the surrounding air. (The recording is so natural that at times, you can hear the rumble of a subway or what sounds like rain hitting the pavement outside the Hirsch Center in natural accompaniment to Menago’s spindly inflections). Menago takes us to another place, intimate and enveloping, in her stirring music. Her gorgeous slow rendition of Leonard Cohen’s stately and beautiful “Hallelujah” (the recently departed Cohen will be missed!) is delivered as a stark hymn by Menago: intense and powerful and glowing with Cohen’s contemplative mystery. A perfect “Hallelujah” to pass along in this holiday season.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.