What 2 Watch 4

My posting has been sparse at best lately. Reason is I am tied up in negotiations on a new house. The good news? When this is all said and done I should have plenty to post about in way of home renovations and home decor as we will have a whole house to fill.

I am not saying it will all happen overnight once we close, after all, your home should be an evolution of your style over time- you truly cannot rush and throw every room together, hoping you find all the right pieces at once to complete the puzzle (despite what every HGTV or TLC show attempts to prove to you).

Anyway, stay tuned...


Gimmick Schmimmick. It's 25 Free Songs!

I am not usually the "free gift if you sign up now" type. But in this tub of downloadable content that many of us bathe in, I can honestly say I'll "buy" what eMusic is sellin'. Specifically- get 25 free songs if you sign up now for a 7-day trial.

Granted, you have to do the following:

1. Sign up for the trial.
2. "Agree" to one of their paid monthly music subscription packages (that you can cancel after you DL 25 free songs).
3. Put up with the B.S. of their ads to upgrade and/or sign up for other services during said sign-up process.
4. DL the emusic file downloader (5.5 MB).

So, yes, there are a few minor inconvenient steps. But they pave the way to 25 free downloads of audio goodness of your choosing. Not to mention eMusic's really cool features like free daily music download that's part of a plug-in for your Web browser or suggestions that other users DL'd, should a given search not yield any pertinent results- think iTunes' Genius feature, but with- you know- brains.

You may not like every song they offer for free in the daily free download, but hey, by signing up you get 25 other chances to get at least 1 song right- all for free! That is, if you don't wallow in buyer's remorse for that moment of weakness where you bought the entire "Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber" Volumes 1, 2, & 3. (What the hell were you thinking?!!)

I recommend the really sweet Dark Was the Night (Red Hot Compilation) by that famous band they call Various Artists. Contributors to the 29-song (YES, 29!) album include Feist, The Decemberists, Spoon, and Cat Power just to name a few.

See below for a comparison of eMusic's service versus the big boys. With a library of over 4.5 million titles, it's worth the trial- just stay away from the musicals/sountrack section, Broadway Boy.


Surround Sound. Where Height Matters.

Take a look at this...

This is a rendering of an Onkyo 9.1 surround system using the new Onkyo TX-SR607 A/V Receiver as the "engine" for the new proprietary Dolby ProLogic IIz sound processing, to utilize high and low vertical front speakers.

Without getting into minutia, but for those who need to be brought up to speed or are in need of a refresher course:
  • 5.1 Surround Sound is 5 channels for speakers (front center, left front, right front, left back, right back) and the .1 for your subwoofer.
  • 7.1 Surround Sound is 7 channels for speakers (front center, left front, right front, left back, right back, left side, right side) and the .1 for your subwoofer.
NOW, the TX-SR607 will be the first receiver to feature Dolby ProLogic IIz sound processing, which can expand existing 7.1 soundtracks to 9.1, routing some of the audio to "front high speakers," which are positioned above your standard front speakers. Dolby ProLogic IIz sound processing is the TX-SR607's most touted feature in the news release. (courtesy CNET).

Um, I do not know about you, but if I have the ridiculous inclination to have a 7.1 surround system in my home theater setup to begin with, chances are I do not need to have my ears blown off my head from above and below.

It's like going back for the second helping at the all-you-can-eat casino buffet. Sure, I got roped into paying 9.95, I heaped my plate with sub-one dollar per unit items that filled me up and I feel good, but DAMN, this is an all-you-can-eat-buffet! I gotta get me some VALUE, so let me just soak up the grease in my stomach with this last morsel of bread at the table and go back for another heaping pile of pre-pressed riblets and STPP-riddled Coconut Shrimp skewers!

Get the point? There should be a warning label like:

"WARNING: Creating excessive enjoyment opportunities may cause permanent hearing loss, dizziness, and a complete lack of reason."

Maybe it's just I'm jealous because I'm still living the Napoleanic complex-inducing 5.1 dream. It could also be my anger over the picture above inaccurately representing either 7.1 or 9.1 (notice, no L/R side speakers). It's actually a hybrid 7.1 system that is capable of high and low front action, but no side audio. Or maybe it's just some deep-seeded resentment from my childhood fear of being yelled at for having the TV turned up too loud, manifesting itself into my hatred of audio bliss.

Whatever the reason, I think if I see an 11.1 system on the mass market soon, I may just go numb.


These Buds Are For You.

There seems to be a lot of buzz and hype and time and peoplepower spent lately on reviews and discussions of headphones. Which are the best? Which are the worst? How much should one spend for a pair of buds? In-ear or not? Noise-canceling? Best value? The list of models has become endless, keeping pace with the questions people now have about them.

I myself have these...

They are the Ultimate Ears Super-fi 3's that I bought a few years back (before there were a gazillion options in headphones). That is not to say there have not always been options, but the proliferation of MP3 players, PvP players, Satellite radio, and multi-media cell phones/smartphones/PC phones have generated an unbelievable amount of choices in the last year.

The folks at CNET do a decent job of keeping track of everything in this "budding" category (see how I did that?) and typically have a post comparing various models like this one that covers cheap (under $25) models. Or this Top 5 list. Or this ridiculously overzealous "geek out with your iPod lossless audio" featurette.

I will admit my Super-fi's are nasty good (despite low bass levels) and you can hear even the slightest off-mic cough, sneeze or hiccup from an artist. But after all this is said and done- with all this coverage and focus on our listening pleasure- is it really worth the extra coin and aggravation (in my case, the jumble of wiring the Super-fi creates) for better sound quality?

Case in point... if I am just hanging around or clomping down to the basement to work out, or go outside for a run or even to the supermarket for groceries, I do not usually grab my good pair of buds. And, no, I do not reach for the standard iPod buds that game with my 5G iPod (broke those long ago). What do I use? These bad boys.
They are an older pair of Sony in-ear headphones I bought over 10 years ago for my cassette player and CD player (imagine that?). I do not even know if this is the exact pair I bought- it was so long ago and, though more knowledgeable about it now, I am not an audiophile and I will never profess to "get it" when it comes to the acoustical intricacies of said audiophiles.

I bought them back then because I did want a better pair of buds than the piece o' junk over-the-ear, super-fragile, plastic, uncomfortable, and cheap headset all old players came with. Do not forget, this was long before "portability" became ubiquitous in tech. But it was not so much about the sound as it was about convenience. And these puppies are convenient.

Even back then, Sony nailed the portability factor- the smaller buds, the strong yet flexible cord and the great winding case- so compact and transport-friendly, I am surprised more copycats were not made at the time. They are comfortable long before this was an issue. And they were not expensive, I think I paid like 20 bucks at the time. Simply put- they rock. Their sound is pretty damn good- not my Super-fi 3s good, but better than stock buds included with players nowadays. And this is after 10+ years of use and abuse. If I had a
Top 10 Essentials list, my Sony buds would be on it before my Super-fi's.

Bottom line is, don't believe the hype. All the focus and attention of superior sound amounts to this: "Superior" is relative- at the end of the day how do you listen to your music?


If the Shoe Fits...

So I picked myself up a new pair of dress shoes to compliment my wardrobe. I had been looking and looking for just the right pair of dress shoes in a nice, walnut-like color and, after trial and error with some pairs, I got lucky.

I was returning a pair of this "error" variety that I had ordered online to a brick and mortar location, and lo and behold, these Bostonians jumped out at me. They are their "Fremont" model in brown (I would call it a "walnut" or "oak" even). I had not seen them in store before (believe me, I would remember). So I tried them on, and jackpot. The right color, the right look, and- most importantly- the right fit. They go great with navy and gray suiting and are a great addition to any wardrobe.

Upon browsing some more of Bostonian's other offerings I also caught site of my next pair of true Oxfords. By "true Oxford" I mean the vamp (tongue and "upper" of the shoe) has only a slit where the laces attach to tie the shoe versus 2 separately stitched pieces of leather attached to the vamp. That type are called "Bluchers"- like the above Fremont model I purchased. A lot of companies today market shoes as Oxfords, but in reality they are Bluchers ("open laced"). Here's the "Canton" model I am considering. See how the vamp (upper) is one piece with the laces going through it? That is a true Oxford and not a Blucher. You may also notice I have a thing for details on my shoes. While neither of these pair are full out "brogues" (think wingtips), I do prefer a little detailing to give the shoe a little oomph. The first pair- the "Fremont"- has a little more to it beyond just the cap toe being perforated. But the sleek look of the black "Canton" Oxford model is not lost with lots of detail- minimal perforations on the cap toe and along the side accent this great looking shoe, but do not overwhelm the beauty.

The best part? Bostonian makes these quality shoes for anywhere from $75 to $130. For a good dress shoe, that's cheap. How long they will last remains to be seen, but they do have a sole that seems ripe for replacing in the future so I just have to keep the upper nice (read: shoe shine periodically). You can find them at Bostonianshoe.com (powered by Zappos) or any of their affiliated partners. You can also find Bostonians at their eponymous brick and mortar stores or department stores like Macy's carrying their line (click on the "Where to Buy" tab at the Bostonian website for a store location near you). Many of these sites and stores I am sure will also have some discount, coupon, or other deal at any given time (I got $10 off at the time), so the price point may be even sweeter.

Remember, if the shoe fits, it doesn't mean you should buy it. Think about the fit absolutely, but also make sure you are getting a style you like and one that wears well both in style and color with whatever clothing with which you are trying to pair them. Lastly, the quality makes a difference. Pick up a decent pair like these Bostonians or even Florsheim, Johnston & Murphy or Banana Republic for fair money. You can also go high end on the likes of Aldi or Ferragamo, but then you are talking an entire other post on price vs. quality and I am out of time.