The Best & Worst Gifts this Holiday Season!!

Okay first lets start off with what not to get people this holiday season… smart devices!

With the rash of recent lawsuits regarding Smart TVs actually spying on people, you would have thought the public would have gotten the message.

What’s the message?

 

If it is not family or not paying rent, don’t let anything in your house that is smarter than you.:) That means saying ‘no thank’ you or ‘good buy’ to all these spying devices marketed as amiable servants or harmless entertainment.

That means no ECHO, no ALEXA, no XBOX, no Smart TVs. It means trading in your Roku or Amazon Fire microphone remote for a regular non-microphone remote.

 

Here is the thing… you want to know what the weather is… do the search yourself!

Same with the news, or the traffic. Do it your effing self. There is a point where convenience becomes a cage, and ease of access a trap.

Every camera in your house (laptops, phones, TVs, smart refrigerators, etc), should have a lens cap. And every microphone in your house (xbox, phones, laptops, alarm systems, smart thermostats, etc) should be able to be physically disabled/disconnected. Being able to determine yes I want this camera off, and yes I want this microphone off, and being certain that they have turned off, that is owning things. Having to trust in the hardware or the software that it is not recording you, and delivering that info to marketeers… that is being owned.

And increasingly in ‘Smart’ homes, the homeowner finds themselves in the latter category.

So yes those are the things not to buy this or any holiday season.

So what are some things worth buying? Well this installment let us discuss…

Portable DVD/CD players

The music industry is happy to get high quality physical music out of the hands of consumers, and especially the ability for them to burn their own discs; and to take us back to the 1950s in returning us to the inherently inferior medium of vinyl. And if you don’t know vinyl is inherently inferior, than you missed the previous paragraph about being smarter than the technology. 🙂

And sure we have streaming. But streaming is largely a gatekeeper format. We empower gatekeepers to store the media we pay for. That media can then be changed or deleted as commerce demands. Even deleted not just from the cloud, but from your media player.

Music thus becomes reduced to something, that though you pay for it, you do not in any substantial way control the thing you paid for. A CD (full WAV, not that MP3 nonsense)and a portable CD player, and a good pair of headphones… returns that control to you. That is what I call a priceless gift.

Here then are my recommendations for portable CD players, headphones, and great quality CDs to test out those headphones.

WONNIE 7.5 Inch Portable DVD Player with Swivel Screen, USB / SD Slot and 4 Hours Rechargeable Battery, Perfect Gift for Kids ( Black ) – While marketed as a gift for kids and the aged, this is actually a great compact portable DVD/CD player that plays a variety of formats at a ridiculously low price. And comes with great extras including a carrying case.

Now while it comes with basic headphones I would recommend the following headphones and amp combo when ready to take the sound from this portable to a better level.

HIFIMAN HE-400I Over Ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones– Not cheap at around $200 but it is actually nearly 60% off of its retail price.

A slightly lower cost, but still well reviewed and lauded headphone option would be:

Fostex T50RP MK3 Professional Studio Headphones, Semi-Open

And while not necessary, an amp will help deliver quality sound to your headphones. Get yours at the link below:

FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Finally here are some must own CDs for testing out your headphones and just hearing great music:

Human

Up Close

Get Up With It

Midnight Matinee (XRCD24 Master)

That’s it for this installment. Follow our suggestions and you’ll have a portable system that will offer superior sound for a fraction of the cost of other options. And if you liked this post drop me an email, subscribe, use the above links or leave me a comment. or do all of the above! 🙂

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Music of the Day: The Essential GREGORY PORTER!

So if new to the Grammy winning Gregory Porter, begin with his Grammy winning Album LIQUID SPIRIT(2013).

A mix of blues, soul, jazz and a touch of bop, and lifted by one of the most amazing voices and crooners since Nat King Cole, LIQUID SPIRIT is one of the best albuns of the young 21st century.

Now once you’ve listened to LIQUID SPIRIT, an album you can listen to from beginning to end, repeatedly… what’s next?

I would say listen to his singles 1960 WHAT? and FEELING GOOD off of his first album WATER(2010).

From his 2nd Album BE GOOD (2012) standouts are ON MY WAY TO HARLEM and REAL GOOD HANDS and BLING BLING and GOD BLESS THE CHILD.

We have already discussed his third album LIQUID SPIRIT, his next album is the collaborative GREAT VOICES OF HARLEM (2014)with notable song being MOANIN.

2015 Saw his rerelease of LIQUID SPIRIT with additional songs.

2016 saw the release of  TAKE ME TO THE ALLEY, highlights being HOLDING ON and FRENCH AFRICAN QUEEN (A song, in its phrassing, very reminiscent of  the late, great Terry Callier).

 And bringing it up to date, his 2017 album is NAT KING GOLE & ME and it is easily Porter’s best album since LIQUID SPIRIT. Every song is a winner. Even in the age of Itunes and Digital those two CDs are must haves. Andin addition they both make great gifts this holiday season.

Liquid Spirit

Nat King Cole & Me

 


 

Gift Idea/Product of the Day! LIFESAVER Systems 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle

I just watched an excellent Michael Pritchard TED Talk on making filthy water drinkable. At only ten minutes you can view it here:

As someone who has always been concerned with the quality of drinking water, and has over several years tried various remedies to ensure clean water, the talk was of definite interest to me.

Especially as I see more and more companies pressure nations and communities to privatize their water infrastructure; I think water, clean drinkable non-contaminated or tinkered with for taste water (Dasani I’m looking at you)… is going to increasingly not be guaranteed. Water, in this ‘tail wags Dog’ America and World, Is going to start being a luxury item you have to pay for, rather than a basic necessity that should be freely available and provided.  And those who can’t pay for clean, non contaminated water, will not get clean contaminated water.

A Trumpian Dystopian Orwellian future, made ever less far-fetched as the more passionate among us do nothing, while the venal and greedy and ignorant among us, shout loudly.

Michael Pritchard is one who did not stay quietly on the sidelines, turning his outrage on tragedies of nature, and failures of governments and men, such as Katrina… into action.

In this case a portable water filtration system called LIFESAVER that checks a lot of the boxes, that others miss.

  • One it requires no external power source.
  • Two it is designed to catch just about everything, rather than just a few, and
  • Third and most importantly, and the one that most water filters fail on… it shuts the water filter off when it has reached the point of failure.

A water filter is only as good as that point of failure, and a system that lets you know when you have reached that point of replacement is indispensable.

In my house I use the zero pitcher, for this very reason. It’s a quick and easy test you can run on every glass of water, and when the meter hits that number of 006 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) you know it is time to replace that filter.

LIFESAVER offers a similar level of confidence, where it matters even more… when you are on the go; away from your house. And I don’t just mean camping, I mean anyplace outside your home where you need to get a drink of water, whether that be the water cooler at your job, a public fountain, or a friends house.

I work for a billion dollar company, in a fantastic high rise in the middle of a major city, and way too often the water out of the tap, for the whole building… comes out brown. That is just not acceptable. And yes the company has mounted water filters, but are the filters getting changed as they should be? When the municipality of a so-called 1st World Nation can’t provide its citizens clean drinking water from the tap (or don’t prioritize such water), you begin to question the capability of every part of that chain.

We have this delusion in America, like so many delusions that allowed otherwise sane people to actually cast a ballot for Trump, we have a delusion that water quality is a third world problem. When the truth is, through the greed of billionaires, America is quickly becoming a third world nation. The problems of Mexico, and Sudan, and Kosovo, and Nigeria and India… these are quickly going to become American problems. Because we are allowing slavers and Robber Barons to make policy, that inevitably is designed to make the few masters and the many slaves.

Some of that you can combat through legislation, though voting, through boycotting, and some of it you combat by taking an active role, in making sure the basic necessities of life… clean water… in a pinch you can provide for yourself.

That is where the LIFESAVER System comes in. Its company grade is an A, and its Amazon Reviews have been vetted and are accurate (A lot of times they are not, don’t just assume a company with 4 or 5 stars on Amazon is a slam dunk of a product. Unfortunately unscrupulous companies use robots to pad their page with tons of fake 5 star reviews.)

You want to vet the company and vet the reviews, to see if the company is legit and the reviews are legit. There are various sites that will do this for you. I’ve checked the most reputable ones, and LIFESAVER as a company is an A, and its Amazon reviews get an A for being accurate, and non robot generated.

All this to say, this is the gift giving season, Dickens’ sweet story of a carol at Christmas, has been turned by savvy businessmen into a retailers dream, the need to purchase and buy, affecting all during this time of year, more like a fever, than anything to do with faith.

A compulsion.

Whether Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Vodun or Festivus you celebrate; we are all swept up in the compulsion to spend. All to some point swayed by the marketing push and Black Friday sales, or Amazon Monday sales.

But perhaps we can do better than the usual suspects of gifts. While the kids want (and deserve) their toys, for the adults give them the LIFESAVER. It lives up to its name. It is something that should be in each car you own, for emergencies, and one in the house as a backup filtration system. Essential for any bug-out bag.

And the lifesaver while impressive, no product should be considered an end all and be all. I would recommend having a UV pen water sterilizer as well. It is just a good one-two punch to get in the habit of doing. Especially as your filter gets close to its end of life.

Is it overkill? Probably. But considering it only takes seconds more to UV your drink after filtering, it is probably just a good routine to get into. But even without the UV step, I consider the LIFESAVER absolutely an indispensable purchase in 2017 and beyond, and a fantastic gift.

Get yours here:

LIFESAVER Systems 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle

You are going to also need to have replacement filters on hand (In the words of Nick Nolte, from EXTREME PREJUDICE [one of my favorite movies, and easily his most iconic role] ‘One without the other, ain’t no damn good.’)

Lifesaver Bottle Ultra Filtration Water Bottle Replacement Carbon Inserts (4-pk)
And here’s the recommended UV pen:

SteriPEN Adventurer Opti UV Water Purifier

And here’s the pitcher for your kitchen (and you could also use an additional one for your bathroom or just go with an on tap unit for your bathroom faucet):

ZeroWater 23 Cup Dispenser with Free TDS Meter (Total Dissolved Solids) – ZD-018

Or more convenient for your bathroom would be a on-faucet filter, that also offers a end of life replacement light, which would be the below:

PUR 3-Stage Horizontal Water Filtration Faucet Mount Chrome FM-9400B

So that’s it guys. When I started this blog, far more than a decade ago, one of my early concerns was water quality. I had tried distillers, table top water filters, and tons of options in between.

And all of that research has brought me to the recommendations above. You want to give a gift this holiday season, give the gift of clean water.

It is… a start.

Use the links above and help this blog earn a few pennies with your purchases.

Enjoy!

 

Currently Listening to Jacob Banks THE BOY WHO CRIED FREEDOM

I absolutely hate the fact that some musicians are only releasing their music in streaming MP3 compressed format. It is such a disservice to a musician and music lovers not to have that music on Gatekeeper free, high-quality, well mastered full range CD. It’s a crime, especially with a singer of the strength of Jacob Banks. Go ahead and discover him like I did, courtesy of MP3 or streaming, but hold out for a full range CD to buy.

Some standouts from this musician…

MONSTER 2.0 his single from 2015 PARADOX release.

And the five songs on his latest from 2017 THE BOY WHO CRIED FREEDOM. Includes the sterling CHAINSMOKING and the smokey PART TIME LOVE. A top notch singer deserving of a top notch mastered CD.

Until then, sample him here:

The Paradox [Explicit]

Another great discovery of 2017.

Currently Listening to Rag N Bone Man’ s HUMAN

So I’m listening to the album HUMAN, which is a phenomenal album, the calling card of a towering Negro voice, that happens to be coming out of a 32 year old, 6’5, Anglo Saxon Britisher named Rory Graham.

It’s am amazing, soulful album, complete with hymns pulled from the land of dixie and cotton and blood. But it is that delivery that really elevates this album. A familiar delivery that comes to me the third listen through, it is the King of Soul I hear, the late, great Solomon Burke even to the pacing and phrasing, and the unbelievable power.

Rory Graham is channeling the great Solomon Burke, but with enough of his own spin to make it not mimicry, but I would like to think homage. Toss in some of the storytelling chops of Nick Cave (Burke himself was a fantastic storyteller) with just enough pop sensability to galvanize the younger, indie crowd, and you have an album deserving of its praise.

A new musical discovery for me, as 2017 winds to a close. And well worth seeking out if you haven’t heard of him.

And make some time to become aquainted with the source of such abundant soul, the source for all of us… the lengthy discography of the late, great, Solomon Burke.

Human

YouTube vs Roku/Fire TV YouTube! CDs vs Records! And the de-evolution of America. Winner? MUSIC COMPANIES!

So i hate YouTube on the web.

I hate anything with an unmoderated comments section, that revels in talk show idiocy, or ‘attention through controversy’ or bad behavior.

But thankfully YouTube via streaming devices Roku or Amazon Fire TV, is actually devoid of those moronic comments and is more signal rather noise.

This week it has been brilliant helping me research and scratch my hifi/ audio need.

And by far, by far, the Youtube Channel I found the most useful of all, is the s)mply fantastic channel AUDIOHOLICS.

These guys can clearly call bs on the fuzzy thinking that makes up too much of hi-fi marketing and hype.

Such as the sillyness of various Youtube channels going on about the superiority of LPs over CD (I don’t care if you like LPs better, that is subjective. But LP/wax is an inferior medium, (I stress MEDIUM) that is not subjective, that is a fact.)

Talk about lossy system, LP is the original lossy system. It can’t handle the highs or the lows that CDs can, so has to be mastered in this very midrange sweet spot. Which is fine, in that midrange, if you’re good with that, and that sounds ‘warmer’ to you than a   CD, whatever. In the midrange if mastered right it can be perfectly fine. But one thing you lose in addition to those highs and those lows, that get clipped on wax, you lose the ability to reproduce the listening experience.

By that I mean, if you play a CD the first time, or the 500th time, and the hardware, the cd player, the speakers, amp, being the same; the quality of that recording will be the same as the first time you listened to it. That listening experience is reproducible.

Not so with wax/lps, like vhs tape or cassette tape, the LP playing experience is one of degradation. Everytime you play the medium, your start wearing it down minutely, and evertime you play it (though no one wants to think of it) it sounds worse than the previous time, because you are scraping into that signal, that medium.

I come from the analog generation, I played records, and vhs tapes, and cassettes until the quality noticeably started grinding down. And it didn’t then, and it doesn’t now, take too many plays, for that quality to start noticeably degrading.

So I have an experience with LPs and Cassettes, and in its time it was great, and it is still something to be said about large beautiful album covers and liner notes, the tactile process of it. But don’t confuse immediacy, with sound quality. And that immediacy doesn’t outweight the glaring flaws and problems with wax, in terms of sound quality, albums always getting futz on it,needles getting futz, the threat of warping, pops and cracles appearing out of nowhere.

We loved LPs because it was the best we had. But it was always a bit of a chore as anyone can tell you who grew up with them.

And I am not an LP hater. I think it has a place , and I still get the occassional LP, but generally these are recordings only available as LPs, or were mastered direct to wax.

The former being a lot of Quincy Jones stellar 60s and 70s avant garde film soundtracks such as the seminal IN COLD BLOOD. As far as the latter, I’m a purchaser and supporter of Jack White’s THIRD MAN RECORDS. This label goes to the stunning step of recording performances live and pressing directly to vinyl. You stilll lose some highs and lows when recording to wax, but in that midrange you get something very unique and original, you get a live concert experience unmoderated by overproducing.  That”s something very unique, and while I don’t see anything particularly superior in the sound, this at least has validity as something distinct from the CD. Unlike others taking tracks mastered for  a CDs range and just chopping off the highs and lows and slapping that on vinyl.

Vinyll can be great for these very unique niche projects. But as as additive to what should be a strong and healthy and forward looking digital market. To include CD and DVD and and SACD market.

It shouldn’t be this very cannibalizing either or scenario, in which music and choice….and the consumer… loses.

So when LD, CD, DVD came on the horizon it was then, and is now, a revolution, because suddenly you have something  you can buy that will rather than lasting 25 listens or views , if you are very careful and meticulous in keeping it cleaned and dust free,  before quality suffers, you have something that will keep its pristine quality, with just normal care for a minimum of 25 years. Not 25 listens like an LP… TWENTY FIVE YEARS! Minimum.

Now add greater dynamic range, larger capacity, and vastly increased lifespan and you have a medium,The CD/DVD, that by any definition is superior. And is by any measure the greatest boon to the video and audio consumer since the advent of recorded sound.

Now if a new generation gets sold on mp3 CDs and mp3 streaming and some badly mastered cds (and LPs can be equally badly mastered, any medium will have those who use it well and poorly. The difference being we have not yet exhausted the limits of how far we can take the CD and DVD and SACD. We are abandoning those formats before wecreach their limits. In favor of going backward to a medium, wax, whose limitations were always a source of frustration to audiophiles and engineers), and this young generation is bamboozled into writing off the most astounding and groundbreaking medium produced in the 20th century and goes backward to the flawed and not copyable ,and needing replaced often, analog medium, then who benefits?

I’ll tell you who… The RIAA and the music companies, who always viewed Digital with fear for the freedom it brought the consumer.

I tell you this new generation is giving away the baby with the bath water. Privacy, oh who needs that, put everything on facebook. Put surveillance systems in the guise of game consoles, and music players and smart devices in our homes.

Here’s the thing about smart devices and trusted computing, its about the companies being able to trust you, and not the other way around.

Conglomerates, are the ones benefiting from DVDs and CDs removed from the consumer and the return to records.This creates a model where the consumer owns music or video only on flawed, finite, non high-quality medium, and must go to the content provider for anything superior.

It is not only politically and morally and spiritually that America is devolving as a nation, but also in terms of technology.

 

My response… don’t let it.

Don’t buy the marketing and allow your rights to the future, be swept away by someone selling you the past. Continue to support full spectrum DVD, CD, and BluRay. And more than that let us continue to innovate, if people like the large LP format, lets give it to them, but in the superior medium.

I was a huge fan of Laser Disc, which works very much like a record, but using a superior medium, and a laser pickup instead of the horrible wax and needle medium.

Lets offer that as the 21st century version of records, to those who want Analog playback but with the benefits of digital transport/reproduction. That is a record I could get behind. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

p.s. And avoid youtube morons attempting to review speakers and amps by just playing music (uh, moron, if I could hear the quality of your system just by listening on my system… they would call that magic. How do you not realize that?)

This is the lack of common sense mentality  that has idiots ditching CDs for flawed LPs, and spending thousands to try and make those LPs reach a dynmaic range, that is beyond them.

 

Okay here endeth my rant!

 

AMAZON PRIME vs NETFLIX! Fun MONSTER Movies on VOD this Weekend!

AMAZON PRIME vs NETFLIX! Fun MONSTER Movies on VOD this Weekend!

For this comparison I’ve left out vampire, zombie, werewolf and ghost/possession films, concentrating on the more niche sub-genre’s that make up horror movies.

AMAZON PRIME HAS:

    

 

NETFLIX HAS:

 

 

EASE OF SEARCHING: Amazon wins. You can type in a generic term and Amazon will search for it. Netflix’s app by default just searches by title

RATINGS: Netflix previously did helpful star ratings, but since has replaced it with utterly useless percentage rankings. Netflix desperately needs to go back to star ratings and IMDB scores on films. Amazon is the clear winner here, offering usually pretty spot on ratings to help you locate your next obscure or recent find.

TRAILERS: Netflix except in a few cases, with mostly their produced content, does not offer trailers. And the few they do offer take multiple clicks to locate and play. I love watching trailers, they can save you a lot of time by, along with the rating, quickly helping you determine if a movie (or show) is worth your time. Another HUGE fail for Netflix, and big win for Amazon Prime.

A ‘VIEWERS ALSO WATCHED’ OPTION – Again it helps emulate the video store dynamic, by putting on your radar options and selections you otherwise would not have thought of. I spend probably 4 times longer on the Amazon app, because it offers this rabbit hole feature. One selection, leading to another, leading to another.

Add all the above, to Amazon Prime’s massive back catalog which dwarfs Netflix’s options, and you have the fun video store experience improved on and ramped up by a factor of ten.  Amazon may be producing the superior new content, and branded shows, but as a central distributor of all things VOD, how it made its name initially, it Is falling way behind.

This week’s clear WINNER…. AMAZON.