Recently, my friend and Audiophilia colleague, Karl Sigman reviewed the Mojo Audio Mac Mini server as well as the Joule V power supply. I joined him in the Mojo Audio room during our trip to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. It was my first meeting with the Mojo’s very enthusiastic owner, Benjamin Zwickel.

We spent a considerable amount of time in the Mojo room discussing Zwickel’s design goals, design philosophy and listening to his very interesting music system. He has some very interesting and quite strong views and opinions concerning digital music reproduction.

Zwickel had been modifying and upgrading power supplies for computer systems for many years before starting Mojo Audio. The current line of Mojo’s power supplies is a direct result of this experience. In addition, Zwickel’s many years spent modifying the power supplies of vintage audio components contributes greatly to the current line of the company’s products.

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The American guitarist Bill Frisell has been a favorite guitarist (and musician and composer) of mine for many years, but something very recent in his repertoire from his newest album ‘Guitar in the Space Age’ (2014) tweaked my imagination and led me to realize something special about him that I had never given any thought to before: His talent for taking a classic American hit (pop/folk/etc.) from the late 1940s, 1950s or 1960s and replacing its vocals/lyrics with his extraordinary jazz improvisational guitar playing. Guitar as vocals. The track in question ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, with its rich history going back to the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger who, in 1955, used lines from Ecclesiastes as lyrics.

This is not a new idea in general for jazz musicians. Frisell, however, is unique in his way of doing such things for several reasons. He is not trying to be controversial, he does his versions using classic ‘Americana’ as his specialty (mainly taken from acoustic folk/country music), and his guitar-playing style is deceptively simple in the way he strips things to their bare essentials while conveying the emotional content and complexity of the music. Also, he adds a kind, gentle aroma as a unique embellishment. He is also one of the first to use jazz guitar as a solo instrument; analogous to the way that (say) the saxophone evolved. Frisell uses chromatic improvisation and does it uniquely. As such, his playing is easily recognizable.

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We received a SONOS system for review just before Christmas. The review of the three-piece set (Playbar, Sub, and Play 5) continues. Happily, there is a lot of free repertoire and my own library that is helping to evaluate the system, but I’ve been using two paid services, Google Play Music and Tidal, to best complete the review. Both services, and many others, are accessible directly from the SONOS app.

There are many services like Pandora, Spotify, etc, that can be accessed for free, but if you are an audiophile and like classical and jazz repertoire, you will probably prefer a paid service. Rdio and Deezer are two other services I’ve tried, but both Google and Tidal seem to have the strongest lists of the music I enjoy.

The highend is embracing streaming. How can it not? I heard several streamers from quality audiophile companies at last year’s Denver show. I’m expecting to hear a great many more at the upcoming Los Angeles and Vancouver shows. As for the downloading v streaming debate? There’s a reason iTunes is down 13% this year. Let there be no doubt, streaming is the future. The kids have spoken! Remember the CD v LP debate? Cute.

Tidal is the second company to offer lossless playback (Deezer was first).

We have reviews of Tidal and Google Play Music upcoming, with the SONOS review shortly thereafter.

For the streaming uninitiated, there’s a clear description on the BBC website.

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I felt compelled to write a brief addition to this mini review that we posted in 2013. My 23 year old nephew has been bitten hard by the audiophile bug. His budget was set and Christmas money was saved, and he asked for a suggestion to jump into the high end. He loves vinyl. It was an easy choice. With his budget, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable immediately came to mind.

Through the kind graces of one of our sponsors, Ian received a good deal on a piano black copy and the very fine Pro-Ject Record Puck.

He’s driving it with a tiny, no name phone stage and through entry level Focal lifestyle speakers. What we heard out of the box was nothing short of remarkable. I cannot emphasize enough that all young people rebuilding the vinyl numbers and shouting its praises should invest in one of these turntables. Very highly recommended. And, I’m adding it to our Star Components list.

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Schumann – The Symphonies [2 SACDs – 133 mins]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Ticciati
Linn CKD450 (2014)

As previewed in this column last month, Linn’s recording of the four Schumann symphonies by wunderkind British conductor Robin Ticciati has shared the rapturous reception given his previous work for the label. Just like Beethoven before him, Schumann did not tackle symphonic composition until he had turned thirty. The first attempt flowed quickly; the powerfully emotive, joyful “Spring” Symphony of 1840 was enthusiastically received and a second work quickly followed. This did not go down so well, and eventually saw the light of day over ten years later, heavily revised, as the magnificent 4th Symphony.

Last month, I mentioned how these works have received a fresh lease of life in recent years through their performance by smaller orchestras, which correctly balances the orchestration. Comparing the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln’s recording, another to utilise smaller forces, of the 2nd and 3rd Symphonies under Heinz Holliger (Audite 97.678) with the same works here (using the CD layer of Linn’s SACDs, to maintain parity), left the verdict in little doubt.

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To add to Sony’s ‘Life Space UX’ (its ‘everything connected to your smartphone’ attempt and unveiled at CES), Sony has designed lights (hanging or table) with a built in speaker. Hardly audiophile, but how many times have you sat in a kitchen design store with your significant other nodding in passive agreement over the latest pendant choice? Now, you can suggest one with purity of heart. ‘That one, dear. I love that one’.

Sony uses wireless technology and the glass tube as passive amplification. They are being hush hush about the technology and the price.

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When our writer Andy Fawcett suggested a Recommended New Releases (RNR) post nearly six years ago, little did I know it would morph into one of our most popular recurring features. As such, we felt the natural progression was to institute the recording equivalent of our very popular Star Component moniker. Thus, the Audiophilia Star Recordings of the Year was born. We have Star Components, now Star Recordings.

The staff of Audiophilia listened to hundreds of new recordings this year and published reviews of almost sixty in RNR and as standalone reviews. Some recordings nominated were not reviewed, but were in heavy rotation as review repertoire. The staff whittled the many nominations down to twelve we thought worthy of our Star moniker. There were so many incredible recordings this year. If you hunt through Audiophilia, you’ll find a treasure trove of recordings from which to build or add to your collection.

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After my introduction to London Philharmonic Orchestra Label recordings — the Jurowski Brahms 3/4 — I was a little concerned that the tricky (read awful) acoustic of London’s Royal Festival Hall may get the better of Bruckner. For what’s needed is a crack, in tune band (the LPO is surely that) and a refulgent acoustic. One out of two is not good enough these days.

Happily, this LPO sounds much better than the Brahms (a different engineering team was used). Adding to the fine engineering is a superb performance conducted by long-time Brucknarian, Stanisław Skrowaczewski. Skrowaczewski has never been in the top rank of conductors, but much like his B List counterparts Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Volkmar Andreae and the like, he consistently draws out fine performances of the Bruckner symphonies.

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