A Place to Start

My work desk with DAC/Amp and headphones.
iTunes -> FiiO E10K Olympus 2 -> Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

This is an picture of my current music setup at work. Right now I’m using iTunes for playback into an FiiO E10K DAC/amp driving a pair ofr Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones. While this setup doesn’t have the quality of my home setup I find it does the job. Having over the ear headphones with good pads helps isolate me from the office noise.

We’re Back!

Hello everyone! I’ve decided to resurrect this blog. It won’t be about just music but as that’s still my primary hobby you will still see a lot of it. In fact here’s a short post about music to get back into the swing of things.

Why do I weep for the future of prog? A majority of posts in every group I’ve joined are from bands that are long gone or riding on the coat tails of nostalgia. They haven’t released any new material in decades. This is why I focus on newer bands and the ones still putting out new music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics, but how many times do I need to hear Close to the Edge or Aqualung again?

Off we go!

I’m in the SeaTac airport lounge enjoying a nice Black Butte Porter while waiting for boarding to start. This is my pre-flight tradition and I don’t exactly remember when or why I started doing this. It has been a great idea as I find it a great way to mark the beginning of a journey. Though looking at the clock I see boarding is about to start so I need to head off.

Pre-Flight Tradition

See you all on the other side!

Anoraknophobia and Marbles

Marillion has announced that the two albums they will highlight for Marillion Weekend 2015 are Anoraknophobia on Friday night and Marbles on Saturday night. I was hoping to get some quality listening time for both of them in the next few days. Sadly I moved last January and I seem to have packed both of them in a box that I have yet to unpack. I hope I can find some copies in my digital library tonight but that’s another thing that is in pieces while I reorganize from a HD crash. (Save early, save often folks!)

While going through my packing list I went browsing for some lists that other people have posted online. I was amused that almost every list included an alarm clock. Has no one updated their list since the 90s? Sure, it used to be a good idea but these days I’ll just use my phone. After all, if I lose my phone I have much larger problems than oversleeping.

Marillion Weekend 2015!

Dear Brendan Leber

We are writing to confirm that your booking has now been paid in full.

With that little nugget arriving in my inbox I’m now confirmed for joining a few hundred of my friends for a weekend of fun, music and friendship. My flight leaves a week from today and while I’m ready to go I’m so unready to go. With a week to pack I’ll be ready when the time comes, but for now there are so many details left to handle.

If you haven’t heard of Marillion Weekend before, it is a weekend long festival hosted by the band Marillion every other year. While the weekend happens in three different locations I’ll be attending the one in Holland at CenterParks Port Zelande. While I’m sure the Weekends in Montreal and the UK are wonderful events, I will always head to the Netherlands because of the friends I have in the area. (Friends means free places to sleep if you didn’t know. 😉

This will be my fifth trip to the Netherlands. Though far from being the usual there is always more to explore and do. For example, this will the my first trip there since the Van Gogh Museum has been remodeled. I also have plans to see Steven Wilson in Utrecht, a city I’ve never visited before. Of course I’ll have to visit my favorite cigar/chocolate shop (not chocolate cigars, La Casa del Habano sells cigars and chocolate bars). Some of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever had in my life. A visit to the Netherlands is never complete without some kibbeling from Simonis in Scheveningen and a dinner of reijsttafel.

Normally I fly Delta/KLM because they offer direct flights from Seattle to Amsterdam which saves me from the possibility of missed connections. This time though the flight on Iceland Air was $600 cheaper than Delta/KLM. With $600 more in my budget I took advantage of their stopover program to spend three days in Iceland and Reykjavik, which I can finally spell without looking up. I’ve made some plans such as reservations at Dill, a walking tour with I Heart Reykjavik, going to elf school and a visit to Blue Lagoon.

That might sound like I have the entire trip planned out but I’ve learned to leave a lot of slack in my travel schedules. I make reservations for the things that are on my “must do” list and I have a checklist of things that I’d really like to see but I don’t plan every minute. When I used to plan everything I found that I was super stressed for the trip and didn’t enjoy myself as much. Having down time I can rest in the hotel if I’m tired. I can sleep in one day and walk around to see what the night life has to offer and not feel like I missed something. Those unplanned moments are where the magic has happened. Eating in a local joint I can strike up a conversation with other people, really talk with them and get a feel for the places I visit. If you are one who plans your trips down to every moment I encourage you to plan some unplanned time on your next trip. Take a walk through the market, wander around the area and see what you find.

I will be writing about my experiences during this trip. Keep watching for more.

Starting 2015

After years hearing it I finally decided to complete a goal go jump in a lake.  Not just any lake and not just any day, I joined over a thousand other people at Matthews Beach Park for the Seattle Polar Bear Plunge.  So on January 1st my brother and I headed out early to get a parking space and meet our friends for the plunge.

Luckily I was warned by a friend who had done the plunge before that the parking lot at the park fills up well before the plunge so we left two hours before the start to get a space and also check out the event before it became too crowded.  As we pulled in to the parking lot we found that our plan had worked as there were a few spaces left.

Our first stop was to “register” for the event.  Registration usually means filling out papers and signing waivers.  However, for this event all we had to do was go get a wristband showing that we were going to participate in the plunge and accepted the risks that might be involved.  The next thing that caught my attention was a display that showed the air and water temperature.  So we had a good hour to ponder jumping into 47F water.  Well above freezing but well below what I consider comfortable.

Temperature Readings
The sign showing the air and water temperature.

True to Seattle, a lot of people dressed up.  I saw more than one tiara, a couple of Waldos, a tentacled creature and more.  I was kicking myself a bit for not bringing my outdoor camera.

The wait passed quickly as we chatted with people nearby and helped take photos for groups.  Before I knew it the announced warned us that the plunge for people needing extra time was about to begin, which meant we had only 15 minutes left to wait.  Several people in the crowd told us that we should divest our extra layers at this time to not be stuck trying to pull off clothing while the hordes were pushing past us to jump in the lake.  Also it was a good chance to acclimate to the colder temperature and not feel as much of a shock going from warm clothes to cold water.

I had chosen to wear a pair of swim trunks and some crocs to protect my feet from rocks under the water.  At first it was quite chilly to stand there in the 36F air with a light wind.  However, as people moved closer to prepare for the plunge the mass of bodies around me blocked the wind and provided enough warmth I was actually comfortable.

Suddenly everyone around was counting down.  The shouts of “ten, nine, eight…” let me know we were about to go and I prepared for the shock of the water.  I say we jumped in a lake but it wasn’t like that.  Really once we reached zero everyone ran forward on the beach down into the water.

To get credit for the plunge and earn the badge I had to go to a depth up to my neck.  I didn’t relish the idea of getting my glasses wet so I was going to walk out until it was up to my neck and walk back.  As I moved forward with everyone around me didn’t have time to worry about the temperature.  That is until I reached a depth that put my tender bits in the water.  My giblets!

I reached the depth I wanted, turned around and headed back to shore.  There on the beach my towel and dry clothes waited for me.  I quickly dried off with a towel and headed to the registration tent to pick up my badge.  Then we headed back to our gear and I removed my wet trunks and replaced them with a couple layers of dry clothing.

First Plunge.
Me after my plunge with my badge.

I think that I worked myself up for a much colder experience than I had.  Was it cold?  Yes!  Was it painful or uncomfortable?  No, not really.  I found it refreshing actually.  Then again, I didn’t stay for a long swim and Seattle has mild winters so the water was warmer than those at plunges where they have to carve a hole in the ice.  So I’m sure it could have been much colder and I’ll have to find one of those for a future plunge.

Pono Player

I’m an unabashed fan of high definition digital music.  Once a friend sat me down in his listening studio and played some music for me off of SACD, DVD-A and Blu-Ray Audio my future became set and I had to setup my own system. Since then I’ve been slowly building it up and yesterday another piece of the puzzle came home. The Pono Player, which I picked up from the Kickstarter project, arrived and I was able to unbox it and give it a listen.

Pono Player Box
The nice bamboo box that contains the Pono Player and it’s accessories.

Pono Player Box Open
Your view after opening the Pono Player box. The player is in the middle, the manual on the left and the leather case on the right.

Pono Player Open Box 2
Under the manual is the wall charger and a micro USB cable, used to charge and load music onto the Pono Player.

These first three images show the box which came with my Pono Player. I found it to be an attractive bamboo box and great place to store the Pono Player and its accessories on my shelf.

Pono Player Front
The front view of the Pono Player. Very sleek and simple. Volume up, power/play/pause and volume down buttons and the touch screen display.

Pono Player Back
You can see the engraving marking that I have the signed CSN version of the Pono Player. Limited edition number 1 of 494.

Pono Player Case
The leather carrying case that comes with the Pono Player. There is room for the device and two SD cards.

These images show the player and the leather carrying case that was included in the box. I have heard a lot of complaints about the shape of the player but after a few days of carrying it with me and using it during the day at work I had no trouble with the shape. In fact the triangle shape works great when the player is sitting on my desk. I can see what’s playing on the screen and the album art behind it. It’s quick to access the controls so I can press pause when someone walks up to my desk to ask a question.

That’s great, Brendan but how is the sound quality?

It’s amazing! I only use FLAC format audio files and I use the best mastered albums and high definition audio if I can get it. For the standard mass marketed CD using the Pono Player would be overkill and I wouldn’t spend the money. However if you, like me, have a taste for the good stuff this player blows the doors off of any portable players I’ve heard before. Having ordered the Crosby, Stills & Nash version mine came loaded with Crosby, Stills & Nash [192 kHz 24 bit] and CSN 2012 [192 kHz; 24 bit] and Neil Young‘s Harvest. I have the Crosby, Stills & Nash album from an Audio Fidelity SACD release and I think I’ll go pick up the original mass market CD so I can do some A/B testing for a later more detailed post about the audio quality. The version of Crosby, Stills & Nash that came loaded on my player sounds awesome. Very clean with a good dynamic range.

So far I’ve only found two minor issues with the Pono Player. I listen to albums not songs and so I use album shuffle a lot. So that would be a nice addition to a future firmware update. The second problem is the battery doesn’t last a full day of listening. I work in an office and spend most of my time working at my desk. Sure, I could plug in a spare cable and charge it during the day but when I’m travelling I might not have that option so a larger battery capacity would be welcome.

All in all I’m very happy with the Pono Player and it has replaced my iPod and phone for my on the go listening. I would recommend the Pono Player to anyone who was interested in high definition music on the go. We spent that much collecting the high definition music doesn’t it deserve a high definition player?

Next I’ll perform the A/B testing with some albums and also review the sound quality of a purchase or two from the Pono Music store.

A new home!

Getting ready for the festival and travel I’ve got coming up in 2015 I’ve moved to a dedicated blog.  With this new platform I should be able to post pictures, stories, reviews and such more often.

Not only will I post more about my current travels, I hope to go back and post stories from events that have happened in the past that haven’t been published.  After all, what good is a permanent record if it isn’t all captured?

Here’s looking to a wonderful holiday season and another year of travel and music!