2017 InnerFidelity Holiday Gift Guide Bob Katz


Have an Out of Body Experience!
Merry Christmas everyone! It’s pretty hard to stuff your stockings with a digital download, but be sure to stuff your virtual stockings with this true binaural album: singer/songwriter Amber Rubarth's folk music album, "Sessions from the 17th Ward," captured by engineer Nick Prout for Chesky Records. I was the chief recording engineer for Chesky Records for 15 years, but I am not working there anymore, having left New York in 1996. But I’m still a fan!

The sound translates reasonably well to loudspeakers, but it shines in headphones, as a binaural recording should. This recording firmly settles the debate whether the audio experience should be "You are There" or "They are Here". Wearing your favorite headphones, you are definitely there, in a beautiful acoustical space, surrounded by four great musicians. The first note you will hear in track 1, "Hold On", signals you that something special is about to happen. This cello solo comes from in front of you, at the left side of a giant soundstage, definitely outside the physical periphery of the headphones.

If you haven’t heard solid out-of-headphone sound before then be sure to treat yourself with this recording. Its sonic picture is cinemascopic yet natural, transporting you to a true-to-life space that extends outside your head. It has one of the widest musical images I've ever heard. Wearing good headphones, the transducers disappear and what's left is the mesmerizing music and the gorgeous space. Only good binaural can produce this kind of "out of body" experience. Needless to say, the music is captivating, folky, natural, and sexy. You'll fall in love with Amber Rubarth.

It's available on CD from Amazon for $9.49, but you should splurge for the high res version as a download from HD tracks. I purchased the 2496 file for $17.98 or you can go full tilt boogie with the 24192 file for $24.98. But currently HD tracks is having a 15% off sale, so now is the time to indulge.

171124_2017HolidayGiftGuide_Photo_CheskySampler Test Your Imaging
Now that you've had your out of body experience, you may become curious how that can be achieved using just two transducers. Part of the answer can be found by playing test tracks available on Chesky Records Jazz Sampler and Audiophile Test Compact Disc, Vol. 1, Chesky JD 37. I produced these test tracks and recorded all of the music on this disc, which serves as an introduction to Chesky's earliest direct-to-two-track jazz recordings. As a bonus, the disc contains state-of-the-art listening tests for stereo imaging, absolute polarity, soundstage and other attributes. Most notable is Doug Jones' LEDR test, an early demonstration of the power of HRTF filters. One of the LEDR test signals travels up from the loudspeakers as high as six feet in the air! Provided that you have good speakers and good acoustics. (Read about LEDR in my Stereophile Article.)

After listening to the LEDR test on your speakers, and are either crying or laughing with glee about the listening results, ask yourself: Can headphones produce images above and outside your head? Does the shape of your pinnae matter? Are the imaging and depth affected by headphone type: on-ear, circumaural or in-ear? The LEDR test will help answer those questions and solve your room and loudspeaker problems as well.

The physical disc is no longer in print. I've seen some used offered on Amazon, but your best bet is to purchase and download the 1644 files from HD Tracks for $11.98.

171124_2017HolidayGiftGuide_Photo_LindsayWebster A Great Jazz Experience
There are good reasons why the album “Back To Your Heart” has scored two number 1 smooth Jazz radio hits in a row and multiple 5-star reviews on Amazon. Singer/Songwriter Lindsey Webster has a solid, infectious voice. The rhythm and instrumental lead players are the best in the business. I mastered the album, which was engineered by Mark Gray and produced by co-writer Keith Slattery. And the sound (if I may say so) is to die for. It sounds punchy, clear, warm, big and powerful on headphones and speakers.

The Shanachie Records CD can be had from Amazon for $13.79.

171124_2017HolidayGiftGuide_Photo_Oblivion The Best Sounding Blu-Ray Movie
If you are a home theater enthusiast (like me), then the movie "Oblivion" absolutely belongs in your collection. It sounds great in 5.1 and even better in 7.1. And the image is superb, with great tonality and video range. The colors are mostly muted befitting its post-Apocalypse landscape, except in certain scenes that merit and use brighter colors. Don't even bother watching this on a small screen or tiny stereo system, you'll be missing a jaw-dropping visual and aural experience.

No matter how you may feel about Tom Cruise (personally I dig his acting), he does a superb job in this sci-fi film. Every frame of this film has been lovingly refined, with perfect range from black through to white. The dialogue is clear and the sound effects noteworthy. The score is haunting, largely synthesized in the best Blade Runner tradition (but far more lively), composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese. The sound mix is A+++, making great use of dynamic range and using both music and sound effects to their full advantage. This is a riveting film: if you haven’t seen the end, I dare you to stop it in the middle.

The Blu-Ray is available from Amazon for only $5.99, so it will make a fantastic stocking stuffer for the video enthusiast in your pantheon.

Vinhcomputer's picture

But I've just bought NAD VISO headphone for $159. Is it a good deal?

John Grandberg's picture

... the NAD VISO HP50? If so, that's a good deal on a nice headphone. Original price was $299 and I have seen it as low as $180, but never under $160.


Vinhcomputer's picture

Great! Thank you John :).

gibtg's picture

I'm really thrilled about the home measuring unit, please do a follow up on this gentleman! I'm ordering one right now!

100VoltTube's picture

That thing looks amazing. I want.

Martin.'s picture

What a great introduction. Looking forward to more content. However, it pisses me off that I just found out that I shouldn't have bought the Magni 2 Uber 2 months ago for 150 USD! I waited so long to save up for it; too long apparently.

castleofargh's picture

some cheap measurement rig as a holiday gift and a Monty Python reference, I already like Grover. ^_^
as I'm the only "hardcore headphone enthusiast" in my life, I made that gift to myself. how generous of me.

John Grandberg's picture
Absolutely nothing wrong with that!
ixtayul's picture

I noticed at HDtracks that the DSD 2.8 and 5.6 don't say Binaural. Will they have the same "you are there" effect?

DigMe's picture

The binaural albums from Chesky are recorded binaurally so all versions will be binaural.