Another Day Another Time

Initially trumpeted by critics as an Oscar contender and a thematic relative of the Oscar-winning directors/screenwriters’ smash O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis failed to win over public interest.

The soundtrack, designed to channel the vibe of the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961 and anchored by contemporaries such as the Punch Brothers and Justin Timberlake (who starred in the movie), disappeared nearly as quickly from view.

It seemed, however, the project’s overseers knew such an undertaking would remain under the radar. Having admitted as much, and to create additional buzz, the Coen brothers and producer T Bone Burnett staged a benefit concert at New York’s Town Hall in September 2013. The affair featured actors and musicians from the film as well as a cadre of artists that trade in the sort of roots fare—old and new, traditional and original—connected to or informed by the scene that attracted Bob Dylan to the East Coast and, ultimately, changed the course of culture.

While such one-time events often poorly translate to records and video, Another Day Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis” retains a curious allure thanks to the consistency of style and performances. A host of marquee names—ranging from Joan Baez and the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy to Elvis Costello and Jack White—supply star power and bow with expectedly solid turns. Highlights include Baez delivering a stark “House of the Rising Sun” and White, refreshingly free of shtick, transforming his own charmingly innocent “We’re Going to Be Friends.”

Yet this acoustic-based set succeeds most between the lines, via several up-and-comers that take full advantage of the platform. Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens transcends what she’s shown thus far with her main group on the antebellum-informed “Waterboy” and Celtic standard “S’iomadh rud tha dhith orm/Ciamar a ni mi ‘n dannsa direach.” The arresting readings reveal a voice pregnant with gospel, texture, grace, and power. Similarly, the manners in which the Secret Sisters dial up tender harmonies on the mournful “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” and Lake Street Drive skit through “You Go Down Smooth” give more reason to be optimistic about the health of traditional-minded folk in the 21st century.

And while he’s already familiar to Americana aficionados Punch Brothers member Chris Thile again proves he’s ready for an even bigger stage throughout. Along with Gillian Welch, who is superb both in small (“The Way It Goes”) and ensemble pairings (“Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby”), Thile functions as the evening’s jack-of-all-trades. He grooves with his main group on “Rye Whiskey” and shines in a variety of settings in which he carries the instrumental weight.

At more than two hours, the 34-track collection occasionally suffers from momentum losses. The Avett Brothers stick out as revivalist pretenders and actors Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan add little to the proceedings. Still, the spirit of the past, promise of the present, and hope of the future in the form of Welch, Thile, Giddens, and Co. make it easy to overlook such temporary flaws.  —Bob Gendron

Various Artists

Another Day Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Nonesuch, 3LP or 2CD

Purchase this from Music Direct on Vinyl here:

Stream in 16/44.1 at Tidal here:

Microsoft Surface 3 Pro

As a dyed in the wool group of Apple enthusiasts, it’s tough to ignore the new Surface 3 Pro from Microsoft.  We can argue the Windows vs. Mac interface until we become exhausted, so let’s leave that out of it, shall we – that’s a great way to waste hours of your life on an internet forum some evening.

From a strictly hardware perspective, both the Apple MacBook Air and the Surface 3 Pro fall down for the power user, only offering 8GB of memory as the maximum.  And, neither allows you to upgrade the memory once you’ve made your choice, so there’s no point in getting less than 8GB.  However, if you can live with 8GB, the Surface is an intriguing way to bridge the gap between laptop and tablet in more ways than one.

First, the Surface 3 Pro is almost a pound lighter than the 13-inch Mac Book Air, though its screen is an inch smaller – not a deal breaker, but those doing a lot of intense Photoshop or Excel work will grudgingly give up that extra inch, begging the question, why don’t these guys make a 17-inch version?  Where some audiophiles like to argue that bits are bits, many computerphiles will argue that pixels are pixels.  However, the Surface 3 Pro’s screen looks a lot more like the Retina display on the MacBook Pro, with more snap and saturation than what’s fitted to the MacBook Air.

Connectivity is roughly the same, as is processor speed – the Mac using the Intel i7 processor and the Surface 3 Pro the i3, i5, or i7, depending on model chosen.  Again, computer geekazoids will argue this point, but casual use of Word and Photoshop proved equally perky on both platforms.  The Surface 3 Pro claims a battery life of 9 hours, losing a bit of ground to the MacBook Air, but still more than enough to go from New York to Europe with ease.

The keyboard is critical to any laptop, and unlike all of the dreadful iPad keyboards we’ve auditioned, the keyboard/case cover offered with the Surface 3 Pro is exceptional, feeling better than the Apple laptop keyboards albeit with keys a little bit closer together – but not too much to stop you from typing frantically.  What the cute ads don’t come right out and tell you is that the keyboard is another $129, pushing the top model over the $2,000 mark and straight into MacBook Pro Retina territory.  Food for thought.

Extra touches abound that make the Surface 3 Pro a highly sophisticated portable computing platform.  The ability to fold it into a tablet, and one that is slightly larger than an iPad is extremely useful.  Using both a Mac Book Pro and an iPad on trips, the ability to have one device that only weighs 1.76 pounds than can perform both duties is very enticing indeed.

Even though Microsoft’s Surface 3 Pro is a better portable computing device than the MacBook Air, dedicated Mac users probably won’t switch. – Jeff Dorgay

Microsoft Surface 3 Pro

$799 – $1,999

Bowers and Wilkins T7 Portable Speaker

Listening to Bryan Ferry’s recent release through the T7, it hits me.  Bowers and Wilkins has finally outdone Apple.  The fit, finish, quality and packaging exceed everything I’ve come to know and love from the Cupertino giant. Like Apple, B&W completely understands that in order for a product like this to be fully integrated into your life, it needs to be seamless in every way – and the T7 succeeds brilliantly. You’d expect one of these to be in a Grammy award ceremony gift bag.

An iPad like quick start guide is included, but setup is as easy as pairing a phone with your car’s audio system.  Plug it in, turn it on, hit the Bluetooth button on top of the T7, enter the code in your device’s Bluetooth menu and go.  It’s that quick and that easy to enjoy music on the T7.  Those with non-Bluetooth devices can connect to the T7 via the analog mini jack on the rear panel, though this does take away from the compact ethos of the device.  Just for giggles, we hooked up a VPI Nomad turntable, going from the mini headphone jack out on the Nomad to the T7 and it made for a pretty cool, impromptu record spinning session.

Streaming 16/44.1 content via Tidal through the T7 provides the highest quality playback, yet streaming 320kb/sec MP3s from various streaming provider isn’t all that bad either –the T7 does have enough resolution to tell the difference.  Fortunately, the T7 uses the latest aptX Bluetooth drivers for the best sound possible.  Unfortunately Apple isn’t using this Bluetooth protocol yet, so you’ll get even better sound from your Android phone or other device so equipped.

With 12 watts per channel, the internal class-D amplifiers power a pair of bespoke 2-inch drivers with a pair of square, auxiliary passive bass radiators that produce ample low frequency output, especially in light of the T7s diminutive size.  This can be augmented somewhat when put on a tabletop or on the corner of room, to pick up additional room gain.  Brad Roberts’s deep baritone on the classic Crash Test Dummies track “mmm mmm mmm mmm” is easily convincing with plenty of weight to adequately convey his quirky vocal style.

The T7 does have some limitations, but they are to be expected with such a diminutive enclosure.  You won’t be playing Iron Maiden at earsplitting levels, but Pat Metheny at a moderate level will thrill you.  Kept within reasonable limits, the T7 is impressive, throwing a large soundfield into the room. Fortunately, battery life isn’t a limitation.  We can confirm the claimed 18 hour battery life, so the T7 should outlast any party you can throw.

The only quandary facing the potential T7 owner is the price, at $349 it is a premium product and priced thusly, leaving you with the ultimate question:  supreme portability or the ability to play bigger and louder.  If you want B&W quality and ease of operation in a tiny package that you can put in a suitcase and take with you wherever you are, the T7 is unmatchable.  However, those really wanting to rock the house and have the additional counter space to do so will be better served with a B&W Zeppelin for $399 – but you can’t take it with you easily. I know I want one.  – Jeff Dorgay

Dynaudio XEO 4 speakers

Dynaudio made a big splash with their wireless XEO speakers two years ago, but their engineering staff has not been sitting on their laurels.  The new second generation speakers feature more wireless bandwidth, better drivers and more extensive tuning.  Our recent visit to the Dynaudio factory in Denmark found their engineers intensely involved in wireless development, so you know this is a solid path for Dynaudio’s future.

The new XEO range, introduced at this year’s Munich High End show builds on Dynaudios initial success, making wireless audio a much higher performance option than ever before.  Watch for a full review soon.

Dynaudio XEO 4 speakers


Marantz 2215B Receiver

Every now and then, smaller is better.  Such is the case with a lot of the Japanese receivers from the ’70s.  Pioneer, Marantz, Sansui and the like were on a power race similar to the Cold War of the same period, releasing receivers with more and more power all the time. Some of the large models went up to and even exceeded 200 watts per channel, yet their smallest offerings had a special, almost delicate sound.

Two of my personal favorites were the Pioneer SX-424 and the Marantz 2215.  In this case, we have the later 2215B model, and while you can start a major argument on any hifi forum as to which model was better, the 2215B is still pretty sweet indeed.  Without schematics and parts count in front of me, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that with these amplifier sections, in the early days of solid state, simpler was definitely better.

In tandem with the pair of NOS JBL L26 speakers I wrote about back in issue 49, the mellow sound from the 2215B is beguiling in the sense that it’s not quite as warm as a Dynaco Stereo 70/PAS 3 combination, yet is still very smooth.  When listening to a modern 24/96 recording via the OPPO 105 disc player, the Marantz’s modest power rating is fairly easily exceeded, even at a modest listening level.  Yet, with your favorite classic rock records found in the budget bin or thrift store, played via a Shure M44 cartridge which is already somewhat warm and round in its presentation, nothing sounds bad at all.  Even the Eagles classic Hotel California (there, I admitted it) sounds pretty damn inviting, but whatever your fancy, the 2215B will never come across as harsh – even with an early-generation CD player.

15 watts per channel won’t power a pair of Magnepans, but a pair of Klipsch Heresy’s, JBL’s or even a pair of Dynaco A25 speakers makes for an incredibly pleasant system that might even have you questioning why you’re chasing the hifi grail in the first place.  Keep it simple and you’ll be well rewarded.

Blending the old and new worlds even further, streaming from Spotify, with its slightly underwhelming 320kb/sec audio quality, is definitely embellished by the lack of resolution that this vintage Marantz offers.  This makes the 2215B a perfect anchor for a dorm room, garage, office or den system.  Its bass and treble controls are especially useful, extending the capabilities of whatever inexpensive speakers you might pair up with it, and the phono section is surprisingly quiet.

The FM Tuner section, while not as good as the legendary Marantz tuners, is still quite good –– and if you live in a market where there are still good stations to be heard, the 2215B fits the bill.  Local stations with a modicum of signal strength here in the Portland area are clean and clear, with more than ample stereo separation.  Way better than what you’ll ever experience with satellite radio.

As with any piece of vintage gear, try to shop for the cleanest one you can find cosmetically, as all the trim parts are long gone –– it’s like trying to buy parts for a Porsche 356. Those vintage items that have the nice bits command a premium price, making a $50 budget find a $400 receiver in a hurry.  The example you see here fetched a price of $215 on Ebay and not only features a slew of new capacitors under the hood, but a fresh set of aftermarket LED lights, assuring that the blue Marantz glow will be intact for years to come.

– Jeff Dorgay

Unboxing Dali Epicon 8 Speakers!

It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a new set of speakers arrive at our door! I asked managing editor Rob Johnson to come over and help me get these beauties from Dali out of their boxes and into the listening room. Here are a few photos my wife Pam took of life behind the scenes of a product review…

Yes, these are some substantial  speakers, weighing in at 105 pounds (47.5 Kg) each. Here we are, attempting to look muscular. Clearly, it’s time to hit the gym again! Speaker ports can serve as much-appreciated handles.

Getting ready to unveil our guests from Denmark…

First glimpse of the gorgeous wood finish…

Here’s Rob, considering a trip back to Denmark in the Dali box. Hmm…I guess that explains what happens when TONE staff go missing.

Here’s the pair of speakers, free of their crates, and ready to have their bases bolted on. We’re excited to get to work on this review!

Bob Dylan – Shadows in the Night

Bob Dylan’s 2009 album of holiday standards could be seen as an example of the Bard having a little fun with the public, but make no mistake: Shadows In the Night, the 73-year-old’s stripped-down set of songs largely popularized by Frank Sinatra, is no laughing matter.

Nobody is going to argue that Dylan’s weather-beaten, gravel-textured voice belongs on the same level as Ol’ Blue Eyes’ baritone, Tony Bennett’s crooning, or even many of the contemporaries that tackled Sinatra projects. Yet the Minnesota native’s measured, cautious pace—and equally importantly, elastic phrasing, gentle timbre, and seeming self-awareness of his own abilities as a balladeer—begets an emotional honesty lacking on many of the forgettable Great American Songbook efforts released during the past several decades. Via restrained arrangements and resigned moods, the music often falls in line with several of Dylan’s better late-career records—including parts of Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft.

Focusing on Sinatra’s alone-at-the-bar saloon fare and wisely steering away from upbeat swing, Dylan succeeds in peeling away the big-band layers to leave minimalist arrangements that frame his vulnerability, regret, and loneliness. He expresses the latter feelings by taking his time with the lyrics, be it stretching syllables like taffy or drawing out spaces between words.

Having eliminated the traditional string elements—and save for three tunes, the horns—Dylan needn’t compete with a band. Rather, one complements him, with his longtime touring mates supplying discreet backgrounds salted with country and blues flavors. Donny Herron’s aching, gliding pedal-steel guitar lines mirror the singer’s loneliness on material such as “Full Moon and Empty Arms” and “What I’ll Do.” Dylan even manages to bring fresh perspective to “Autumn Leaves” and “That Lucky Old Sun,” investing each standard with a sense of tragic certainty Shakespeare—surely, a peer in spirit—would’ve appreciated.

Captured at Capitol’s Studio B, a location Sinatra frequented, Shadows In the Night claims no overdubs or separate tracking. Dylan and Co. recorded live, with no headphones or vocal booths. What’s in the grooves is basically what went down, and most songs were completed in one or two takes. The resulting intimacy and spontaneity lend further credibility to an album that, by looking to the past, speaks volumes about the need for more musical truthfulness in the present. —Bob Gendron

You can purchase the vinyl HERE at Music Direct…

And, you can stream it on TIDAL Here…

MartinLogan Motion 35XT Bookshelf Speakers

Many people know MartinLogan for its svelte, even avant-garde-looking electrostatic floorstanding speakers, which have earned the company a large and dedicated fan base. But, like a good scientist at work, MartinLogan does not rest on their laurels, continuing to experiment with new designs, like the Motion 35XT, that give potential customers great sound for the dollar. These speakers are designed to sound great as a stereo pair or with other speakers in the Motion line as part of a home-theater setup.

Under the Microscope

These mini Martins combine the brand’s Folded Motion Transducer tweeter with a more conventional-looking 6.5-inch woofer sporting an aluminum cone and ported out the back. The 35XT specifications state that the frequency response ranges from 50 Hz all the way up to 25 kHz. Into a 4-ohm load, they can handle amplifiers delivering 20 to 250 watts. Each speaker measures 13.5 inches tall, 7.6 inches wide and 11.8 inches deep, including the length of the binding posts. With solid construction and a substantial magnet for drivers, each weighs in at 18.5 lbs, which is relatively hefty for speakers this size.

Appearance-wise, the speakers don’t command the sculpture-like attention that their big electrostatic brothers do; the XT form factor is nondescript by comparison. ML finishes the cabinets in piano black or black cherrywood gloss. The last visual element to consider is the metal perforated grilles, which lend the speakers a look similar to ML’s electrostats, though they are magnetically attached and can be easily removed if desired. (Sonically, I found little difference with the grilles on or off.) But if you have small children who enjoy pushing elevator buttons and doorbells, the exposed center of a woofer cone can look mighty tempting.


As with ML’s ESL speakers, the XT’s manual offers concise setup instructions. Each speaker comes with four adhesive pads for easy grip on a shelf or a speaker stand. Once the general location is determined, ML suggests toeing in the speakers directly at the listener, which works splendidly in my listening room with the tweeters at ear level. The size of your room will determine how close you place the speakers to the side walls to maximize imaging and bass performance.

The speakers are easily connected to an amp, with ML’s oval-shaped five-way binding posts making light work of torquing down the speaker cables without damaging the cable or binding post. Two sets of binding posts allowing for bi-wiring or bi-amplification, should the listener prefer that configuration. The binding posts are offset on the speaker body, which makes this task even easier, whether you choose bi-wire or single-wire operation.

Testing in Vivo

The MLs immediately impress with their ability to disappear into the soundstage and music drifting in all directions around the speakers. The resulting sound portrayal enables a wide left-to-right stereo image complemented by an equally compelling sense of depth. Depending on the recording, there are some instances where musical elements project well in front of the speakers.

The 35XTs uncover a lot of fine detail and nuance in recordings, which contributes to the sense of ambient sound around them. At the same time, they do not lean toward ear-singing fatigue, a testament to ML’s years of ESL design and voicing. In the context of gear at my disposal, female vocals retain a natural, non-exaggerated musical presence, as demonstrated through Pink Martini’s album Hang On Little Tomato. Cymbal shimmer, horns blasts, harp plucks and piano notes showcase the speakers’ high- and mid-frequency extension.

As with most small-box designs, bass has its limits, so those craving deep and powerful bass might consider alternate or supplemental speaker options. Below 50 Hz, bass loses its growl through the 35XTs and a subwoofer like those offered by ML will pick up the slack. But what bass the 35XTs do reproduce comes in tight and tuneful. Like a seat further back in an auditorium, drum impacts sound quite real, but they lack an up-close level of punch and slam. Electronica tracks from Deadmau5 and Armin Van Buuren offer plenty of snap and excitement.

The balance of all these elements proves delightful during long listening sessions. These speakers do offer some surprises, as guitar strums and background vocals spring forth from the blackness and into the periphery.

Perpetual Motion

Though ML is known better for its more expensive ESL speakers, it’s marvelous to see the company price a set of speakers under $1,200, putting them into the reach of many audio enthusiasts seeking high-quality monitors. The gloss-finished wooden cabinets and metal speaker grilles alone give the outward impression of a more expensive design. And of course, fantastic sonics for their price point reinforce that assessment.

Used as a stereo pair, the ML 35XT speakers offer a lot of sound for the dollar. Other than limits to bass frequencies, the rest of the audio spectrum proves very enjoyable. The speakers may even beguile a listener toward couch-lock, repeating the phrase, “Okay, I’ll play just one more song.”

For those who want a stereo pair of speakers now, but are considering a home-theater setup in the future, it’s also great to know you are preserving your speaker investment. If budget allows later for the floorstanding version of the XTs, the smaller speakers can always be utilized as surrounds. In that scenario, a user can also rest assured knowing that the common drivers used in the Motion XT series speakers will offer a perfectly synergistic match. Our publisher has also mentioned that the XTs work very well as rear speakers in a multichannel system with MartinLogan ESLs as the front channels.

By simply filling out the warranty card and sending it to ML within 30 days of purchase, an owner receives a five-year insurance policy against problems with the speaker, which underlines the company’s commitment to its customers’ long-term satisfaction—whether an owner chooses the high-end or entry-level models. With that level of confidence behind the speaker, and the marvelous sound they produce, these ML speakers are a great option to consider.

Martin Logan Motion 35XT bookshelf speakers

MSRP: $1,200 per pair


Digital sources Mac Mini    dCS Debussy    JRiver Media Center 20    Tidal music service
Analog source SME 10 turntable with SME 10 tonearm and Dynavector 17D3 cartridge
Amplifiers Burmester 911 MK3    Benchmark AHB2
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Speakers Sonus faber Olympica III
Cables Jena Labs
Power Running Springs Audio Haley     RSA Mongoose power cords
Accessories ASC tube traps    Mapleshade Samson audio racks

iFi Audio iPhono Mini Phonostage

When the little iFi iPhono box first landed on my desk, I thought it was my wife’s new iPhone. From its outer appearance to its packaging to its name, the iPhono could indeed be mistaken for an Apple product. The $399 iPhono is part of the iFi Microline series of affordable palm-sized products made by the U.K. firm Abbington Music Research (AMR). It was designed by Thorsten Loesch using technology trickled down from AMR’s nearly $12,000 Reference PH-77 phonostage. The iPhono may be small, but it is loaded with features that you will be hard pressed to find in other similarly priced phonostages.

The iPhono offers both MM and MC inputs with 40 dB and 60 dB of gain, respectively. The underside of the device has three banks of DIP switches that offer myriad adjustments. You can even add an extra 6 dB of gain to the MC inputs, for compatibility with 0.3 mV output cartridges. The MM section features five capacitance choices (100 to 500 pF) to help match your phono cable, and the MC loading choices have an equally wide range, with settings at 22, 33, 75, 100, 250, 300, 1K and 47K ohms. Don’t know which settings to use? Let your ears be your guide.

Furthering its appeal and flexibility, the iPhono makes the RIAA, Columbia and Decca curves available. This is a feature rarely seen on phonostages priced less than $5,000 and is very impressive in this application. As many users may not be familiar with these curves, start your journey with the DIP switches located at the rear for the standard RIAA setting, since the vast majority of modern LPs are produced with this equalization. In general, unless you are playing a pre-mid 1950s recordings, you should be safe with the standard RIAA setting. As with all things audio related, it is better to spend time enjoying the music, so if a particular record sounds better to your ears with any given equalization setting, there is no harm in using it. (Once you get comfortable and feel more adventurous, you may want to research the various online descriptions of the different EQ curves.)

In terms of performance, the iPhono meets my number one requirement of a great phonostage: It is quiet. Unlike most phonostages in the sub-$500 category, the iPhono does not portray noticeable white noise or hum. However, the iPhono is not without its imperfections. While it can run MC cartridges as low as 0.3 mV, it failed to deliver enough dynamic contrast and rhythmic pace when playing large-scale orchestral performances via my 0.29 mV Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent BC cartridge. The results were much better when paired up with the Dynavector XV-1T (0.35 mV) and the Clearaudio Goldfinger (0.9 mV). I found that cartridges with an output level upwards of 0.4 mV provided the most favorable response.

The iPhono does have a couple of other minor shortcomings. Its diminutive size positions the RCA inputs extremely close together, making some RCA plugs difficult to insert. Also, the owner’s manual is overly simplified, making it difficult to decipher the various DIP switch combinations.

But sonically, the iPhono exceeds all my expectations for a phonostage of its size and price. Compared to the $599 Project Tube Box Phono SE II, the iPhono is considerably less warm, with a wider frequency response and great high-frequency extension. It lacks the harsh graininess associated with competitively priced solid-state phonostages and carries some of the organic characteristics of the much more expensive AMR PH-77, doing so without grain or edginess.

The iPhono is a fantastic anchor for your first analog setup. Few others can compete with its sonics and there is nothing near it’s price that can compete with its feature set. It also offers a great way to experiment with the various EQ curves for those with a wide range of recordings in their collection. All of this considered, we are happy to award the iPhono our last Exceptional Value Award of 2014.  -Richard H. Mak