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Post Travel Review

It’s been a week or so since I got back from my road trip through a few states.  I got to spend some time in a couple and just passed through another, but still, during death plague, travelling is a luxury, or at least it should be.

Anyway, a lot of my time was spent in TX.  I was in a somewhat smaller town surrounded by other smaller towns, but I did take one day to drive to Dallas.  My overall impressions of the state?  I don’t really like it.  It seemed more expensive, for one.  Sales tax was higher and the cost of things in general seemed higher as well.  Gas was cheaper, but not cheaper than other states I went through.

On dining.  It’s nothing I can really fault them for, but there was less for me to eat in TX.  I don’t eat Mexican, and well, TX has a lot of Mexican food for whatever reason.  I lot of the brands I enjoy also weren’t there (at least in the smaller towns I was in).  One other thing is that every restaurant was jam packed.  Actually that was a theme my entire trip.  I regularly found myself eating at my third or less favorite choice just because I couldn’t get in anywhere else.

On shopping.  I had plenty of time to hit all the stores I wanted.  I hit thrift stores, which were generally disappointing, pawn shops, which were universally, exceptionally depressing, and used CD stores, which were generally positive.

On driving.  I was warned beforehand that TX drivers drive fast.  This is true, but despite that, they are still courteous.  I’ll save my ranting for the end, but I will say, Dallas rush-hour traffic is heaps better than normal FL traffic.  For one, drivers choose a lane and stick with it.  They allow you to have a safety buffer in front of your vehicle without having an irrational need to fill that space.  TX drivers don’t ride in the passing lane (of course there are exceptions).  When you only have 2-lane highways, maybe this is more normal.  The one notable exception I recall is someone who rode the passing lane and varied his speed between 65 and 85.  He wouldn’t pass me, nor would he fall behind me.  He was building up a line of cars behind him.  So in an open stretch, I chose to accelerate to over 100 to build a gap between me and him so that the cars he blocked could pass him on the right and get around him.  As far as I know, he’s still driving in the left lane today.

Oddball observation: There are a lot of redheads in TX.

The next state I spent the most time in was LA, an hour away from where I was staying.  My general impression: a poor, sad state.  I hit some thrift shops, which had nothing of any value, some pawn shops, which also had nothing of value, and a record store.  I saw a dead dog in the street and no one seemed to be concerned by it.

When I was coming through LA into TX, I didn’t get a very good vibe from the state.  I mentioned this to my host who commented that her impression of LA people is that they were "crooked".  I thought that was sort of a unique observation, not one you usually make on a group of people.  Then I went to the used record store in LA and I learned.  I’ve heard about stores like this before, but this was the first one I’d experienced. 

When I got there, the building was sketchy as fuck.  There were no windows – none.  The signage was uninviting.  When I went in, the place was like a maze of boxes and rooms.  The first person I saw asked what I was looking for, then had to lead me through the maze to where the CDs were.  I’m not adverse to mess, after all, I shop at thrift and pawn shops and flea markets.  As I looked over every CD they had, there wasn’t anything of real interest, only mild interest.  The couple I did pull out to inspect closer, I noticed there were no price tags on them.  This gave me an uneasy feeling.  Like I said, I’ve heard of this before.  Against my expectations, I hoped they just had a flat price for CDs.

On my way from one section to another, a person I assume was the owner asked me if I was finding everything I was looking for.  I asked what the prices were for CDs and he confirmed my worries.  He said would look up the prices at checkout.  Uh huh.  I pretty much knew I wouldn’t be buying anything here.  But I still looked at everything.  In the end, the only thing in the entire shop that caught my eye was a gold Pink Floyd CD.  Knowing the store’s pricing policy, I looked up the price online.  It sells for an average of $75.  I mentally set my max price for $50.  I took it back to the owner and he saw it and said, "Oh that’s going to be an expensive one.  If you’re interested, I can look up the price, but I can tell you it’s going to be at least $60."  I replied, "Not if it’s going to be $60."  And he left the CD on the table and dismissed me.  So I left.  Crooked?  Maybe, but definitely not someone I want to do business with. 

So anyway, after a couple weeks away, I return to FL.  Immediately, as soon as I cross the state line, I mean, right then, traffic started acting differently.  The highway opened up to three lanes and it became a free for all.  Drivers switching lanes constantly, people weaving through traffic, driving 20 miles faster than the flow, just total insanity.  Then, later on, the density just grew and grew.  Three lanes fully packed with cars, which obviously left no room for passing, making those that wanted to speed and pass even more dangerous, swiping the small gaps between cars left and right to push themselves further ahead.  It was absolutely infuriating.

In the time since, I’ve been very critical of the driving in FL.  Although I haven’t been to CA yet to experience that driving environment, I can say FL has the worst driving of any state I’ve been in, and that does include MA, specifically, Boston.  My experience in Boston was that yes, it’s hectic and rude, but it’s not at 80 mph.  All that jostling happens in city environments at slower speeds.  Driving in FL is like a real-life Grand Theft Auto game.

On a positive note, I did get a lot of CDs.  It’s taking me days and days to give each a full listen.  I did have a great find of over a dozen new SACDs in a thrift store.  I bought them all for $1 each.  SACDs will sell for $40+ easily.  Because I am not of the LA mindset, I did sell off all the extra copies I had, but for $10 each including shipping.  Maybe I made $50 profit total.  But I kept a copy for myself, so my collection is $40 richer, too.  And the buyers (who were as knowledgeable as I) were understandably appreciative of the good price.  That gratitude is worth more than the money.

While I was gone, I had a sitter for the cats.  Unfortunately, Spock never warmed up to her and hid every time she was in the house.  Sky, on the other hand, developed a new language to talk to the sitter.  Sky tried using all her new words on me when I got home and I had no idea what she wanted.  Spock took a few days to get over his pain of abandonment.  My first night back in bed, he crawled up on my chest, which is something he’s never done before.  He’s back to his usual asshole self now.

Currently, I’m waiting and hoping for my turn for the COVID vaccine, so I can have more road trips like this on weekends.  As fun as that was, I’m sort of dreading it as well, because there are a lot of people travelling.  Right now, they shouldn’t be, but when we get safer, I’m afraid it’s just going to be madness on the roads and hotels.  The hotel I booked was sold out both times I was there.  Is it going to be like my dining options, having to go to my third best option for lodging?

Decisions

As mentioned in previous posts, yes, I’m re-exploring music.  I have purchased and set up my recording PC and now I have to focus on the devices.  This had led me to a difficult decision.

I have a keyboard that has been with me for over 20 years – the Roland RD-600.  It’s been an excellent device and I am very familiar with playing it.  However, over the years the keyboard has worn out.  Some keys will break, or more specifically, the hammers on the keys will break.  I’ve dealt with this for many years, replacing hammers one by one as they break.  It’s an annoyance for sure.  I even have a small cache of spare hammers that I purchased from the manufacturer when this first became a problem.

And it’s still a problem.  On day two of having my rig set back up,  I broke a hammer.  I took the RD-600 off the stand, flipped the board over, and undid all the screws to open the case.  Replaced the hammer and flipped it back over to resecure the case.  Put it back on the stand and another hammer had broken during the repair of the first.  I give up.  I put the kb back in its road case and brought out the other keyboard.

Now this other board is an Alesis QS8.  I bought it at a thrift shop for $100.  It had issues right out of the gate with being out of tune.  I was loathe to throw it away though and figured now I could do some tests on it.  I determined that the MIDI functions still worked (that they were sending the right notes), which is what I primarily needed for recording.  I also found the setting where I could retune the device, and things were looking a lot better now.  However, further testing showed that the pitch problems would randomly reappear, requiring another manual retune.  And as far as the MIDI was concerned, there was some random data being spewed out from a wheel controller that I had previously physically disconnected.  So, this device is not suitable for recording either.

I have two bum devices.  My choices are, replace or repair.  Buying a new device of the caliber of the RD-600 or QS8 is a $1600-$2700 purchase.  Along with that purchase comes a new keyboard action, which I may hate.  Obviously there’s going to be more modern features and technology involved which is a distinct positive, if I wasn’t planning on using virtual instruments anyway.

I investigated replacing the hammers in the RD-600.  I can’t recall how much the initial batch cost way back then, but on eBay, each hammer is currently about $10 plus shipping.  It’s probably looking like about $1000 to replace all the hammers in my 20-yr old keyboard.  I contacted Roland directly to order the parts and they simply refused to sell any replacement parts to me and told me to take to an authorized repair center.  Bastards.

So now the question is, spend $1000 or $2000?  To complicate the matter, if I do refurbish the RD-600, I’ll never get that money back.  Street value of an RD-600 has to be well south of $500.  Hell, I only paid $650 for it twenty years ago.  I would spend more on refurbishment than I did when I bought it used.  But, this is a board I am intimately familiar with, and if it lasted 20 years once, it will last again until I’m long gone.  The alternative?  I can buy a new keyboard with new technology (maybe more durable, maybe not), may have better action, maybe not, may be a lot of things and may not.  If I don’t like it, I can sell it.  Sell it for what, 80% of its purchase price?  75%?  Less?  Will I lose more than I would pay for the RD-600 hammers?

And it’s shit like this that keeps me from going anywhere.  Weighing the pros and cons and never making a decision.

Oh, what about the other kb, the Alesis?  Well, I have an open inquiry to a repair shop to see what it will cost for repair.  I’m sure I’ll have to pay a bench fee, but that’s reasonable to know whether the kb should be repaired or checked.  The problem isn’t mechanical like the Roland, but it is electronic.  That could be better or worse.  But it won’t be $10 88 times over.

But I made a decision anyway.  The Roland is going to get refurbished.  I think it deserves a second life and I’ll be comfortable using it for recording.  My decision was made on a few different points.  First, Roland makes no mention of the RD-600 in their support pages, so I don’t think the hammers will be available for too much longer.  Second, I found an eBay seller selling one octave of hammers (7 white/5 black) for $120 with free shipping.  With 7.2 octaves in a piano, I would be pretty safe buying 7 of these, for a total of $840.  That’s not $1000 and it’s not $2000, and it’s not $2500, which is the price of the new keyboard I tried that had a hammer action I liked.

The seller was unwilling to discount his price for a purchase of seven octaves, because he knew what he had.  He knew the part was either discontinued or was soon going to be discontinued and told me as much.  I paid his price.  And I still will pursue repairing the Alesis, for the right price.  There’s a small part of me that wants to rebuild a whole studio with racks of 80’s and 90’s physical keyboards, but holy shit is that an expensive idea.  Obviously, a lot of those sounds are coming back into vogue with new music, so prices have been soaring.  Pawn shops used to be used device gold mines, but I can’t imagine any shop not doing their EBay research and finding out the value of what they have.  So virtual devices will still be the way, with a solid controller.

One More Time Before I Go

A little more information on something I hinted at in a previous post… I’m still quite reluctant to say much about it because I’ve done this time and time again with no success or completion.  Hopefully, without having any expectations, I can meet my expectations.  The "news" is that I have pulled my music gear out of storage and set it up again, with tentative plans to do some recording.

There were multiple reasons I came to this.  I had some inspiration listening to some albums and wanted to see if I could still compose.  I wanted to do some justice to older pieces by re-recording them properly.  My hands and fingers are getting old and weak and I thought maybe playing would return some strength to them.

The last recording I had done was in 2008, when I wrote a bunch of heavy guitar songs for an album.  My voice was unable to perform well enough to do the vocal tracks and the audio was marred with recording glitches like audio bleed from other tracks.  But, the point is, I haven’t done music in over a decade.  Obviously things have changed since then, but I will still be doing things the way I have always known.

Step one was to see if I could even still play anymore.  I pulled out the keyboards and set them up in my music room.  With some headphones plugged in, I tried playing some familiar songs.  To my surprise, the muscle memory was still there.  I remembered most of my old songs, with some stops and pauses to refigure out bits here and there.  The playing was sloppy as I expected and my stamina was greatly reduced, as I also expected.  I only spent about 30 minutes or so that first day to get familiar with the keys again.  The next day I spent another half hour or more with other songs and my stamina had jumped surprisingly just in that one day.  Now, here on day three, the joints in my left hand are sore AF, so maybe I overdid it.  But, the future is somewhat promising.

If I’m going to do this, I’ll need a new computer for recording.  The second computer I had laying around was converted into a web and email server a while ago, so I need to make another purchase.  Here’s the thing.  Technology has advanced SO far since I was last doing this (13 years!), I don’t need to buy a 4-figure computer.  I don’t even have to buy a full-size computer.  I bought a refurbished mini computer for $300 that exceeds the power of any computer back then.  And of course, I needed a new monitor and keyboard.  This time, what I am doing is buying a floor stand for the monitor and a bracket to mount the mini PC behind the monitor.  I’ll place the stand behind my keyboards or mixer and can move it as needed.  New technology is really cool.

Without any real goals or timelines, I’m going to relax and get familiar with the software again.  That has always been an issue with me – the process of recording gets in the way of recording.  There’s a universal image of artists working in a home studio, laying down tracks and fiddling with effects and editing and whatnot, but the notion to me of having an engineer handling and managing all the recording process where the musician can focus on actually playing and making music – that’s the real thing.  And sadly, the evisceration of the recording industry has made that concept a rarity.  Still, I am a one-person team, so I have to do what I can.  In the past, I have rushed all my projects because I have had to wear multiple hats and if I spend too much time wearing one, the others suffer.  In the end it all suffers.

So, It was 2000 when I did my last keyboard album, 2006 when I finished my last Sequence album, 2008 when I finished my hard rock guitar album, and I’ve been wanting to start the loop over again for a long time.  Looking back in the journal, it seems like I had recording aspirations in 2014, but I had other interests going on at the time.  It seems the only time I can really compose and record is when I’m single.  So, now’s the time!  Still, no promises.

The Absurdity Of Auctions

eBay.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Which is probably for the best.  Although monopolies are bad, it would actually be worse for everyone if there were multiple auction sites.  It benefits both the buyers and sellers to have consolidation and concentration.

But anyway, I do like auctions, both as a buyer and seller.  As a seller, I prefer to use an auction in cases where a) I don’t really care about the item being sold.  That is, the trash is just as good as selling it.  And b) when I don’t have any idea of what it’s worth.  I’m fine with letting the market decide.

As a buyer, I like auctions because I very rarely lose at them.  And that is where the focus of the absurdity in the title is from.  There are people, still, who do not know how to effectively win an auction.  It’s not that hard.  The only thing that should stop you is someone who is willing to pay more.  And that is the only time I lose, and I am not a sore loser at all in those cases, because I would not pay what the winner paid.

Here’s stage one of bidder dumbness.  Making the first bid and that’s it.  Or making one of the first bids and that’s it.  These happen early in the listing’s lifetime.  The auctions I participate in are for collector-grade CDs, so that’s going to be my references.  Apologies to those who don’t really understand.  So you have a lot of 10 CDs that’s ending in 6 days and you can generally assume each CD would fetch at least $5 individually.  So you can predict the final price is going to be north of $50.  These people who bid $1, $3, $4.45, and nudge the price up are doing themselves no favors.  They are helping the seller, though.  If the number of bids (albeit tiny) gets high enough, the listing is considered hot or popular and gets a little extra promotion.  But the fact they expect they are going to win and never do any follow-up bids is just dumb.

In reality, auctions really are 6 days of waiting and 1 minute of real bidding.  Today I was wondering if there could be a format that could exploit that design.  Maybe I’ll write something up later.  But yeah, everything leading up to that last minute is just play.  The people that really want the item are going to be lurking and will jump in at the end.  And most, if they are smart (like me), will not have made their presence known through "Watching" the listing or making a previous bid.

The second stage of bidder dumbness is not using eBay’s Max bid feature.  Ideally, you should only make one bid on an auction.  You should know exactly how much you are willing to pay and stick to it.  Why people don’t use this confuses me.  Maybe they think there’s a way to make your bid jump to the max right away?  I’ve seen this in live auctions with absentee bids and it infuriates me.  "We have an absentee bid of $10.  Who’ll start the bidding at $11?"  But eBay doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain my technique in opposition to how the other bidders operated.  In this most recent case, I returned to the auction with 15 minutes to go, and the current bid was $60.  So I was correct about the price ending north of $50.  I didn’t visit the listing at all since I found it and I put the listing close time in Outlook to be reminded instead of using eBay’s "Watch" feature.  As an aside, what I do use the Watch feature for is to get a better deal on Buy It Now items.  If you Watch an item, eBay will sometimes send an email to the seller saying someone is watching the item and you should try to close the deal by offering them a special price.  If the seller is motivated, then I get an email saying I can buy the item at this new, lower price, which in most every case, I accept.

Back to the auction.  It’s at $60, 15 mins left, and has 20 bids.  I scan the bids and I see the dumb initial bids that can be ignored.  Looking at the last bidders, there are 2 active, interested bidders that I will have to compete with.  I can see that one started at $40 and was currently the leader at $60.  He had clearly set a Max bid and was automatically outbidding the other person as they increased their bids.  Now, was $60 his actual max bid or was it higher?  No way to tell yet.

As time ticked down, the price changed to $61.  A new bidder has joined in.  This exposed that the previous high bidder’s max was $60 and exposed another dumb bidder move – bidding in round, even numbers.  I’ll explain that when I bid, but time is still ticking.  It’s silent until 20 seconds left to go.  That’s when I make my move.

I place a bid for $86.80.  The most I’m willing to pay for this lot is $85, and the extra $1.80 protects me from anyone who tries to bid (or had a max bid) right at $85, a fairly round, even number.  I’ll explain that here.  First, the new bidder is shown to have a max bid of $65.  I beat him with my max bid.  I’m leading at $66.  The former high bidder jumps in and shows his ignorance.  He makes a bid, which is outbid by my max, then bids again and is outbid again.  The new bidder tries to get in a bid in the final second, but is outbid by my max.  I win the auction.

So let’s review those final seconds.  Both of those bidders were not committed to their max price.  They kept upping it as they went.  This probably really hurt them to lose this auction because they kept making sacrifices to their commitment.  But also from a practical standpoint, every bid they fail to make, they have to make a new bid.  That is valuable time they are losing.  We’re in the final 20 seconds of the auction.  There’s no time to make mistakes like that.  That is why I bid odd amounts.  If I automatically outbid someone by 80 cents, they lose the same amount of time as if I outbid them by $20.  It’s just one extra delay for a small amount of insurance.

And the guy who bid in the last second?  Again, he didn’t have a max bid in mind.  There’s no time to evaluate, "Am I willing to pay more" when you’re down to seconds.  So he bid a max of $65 earlier, then made his last pitch at $77.  That last bid was smart, as the current bid at the time was $74.  If my max had been at $75 (a round number) and I was outbid, I might have rebid by the minimum $1 increment, which he would have automatically outbid and made me lose time.  But it wasn’t to be.  I won the auction at $78, a price under my max of $85 and only $1 more than the other bidder.

So my strategy boils down to only a few points.  Stay quiet, bid late, bid once, bid with enough buffer to delay minimum upbidders, and use an odd bid amount to possibly get one extra delay in.  Go win some shit now.

I Love My Country

Yeah, that title is a tough one right now.  But I suppose it’s true.  It’s not that I love the country right now, but I love what the country can be.  Things change, things get worse, but there are still bright spots to focus on.

Anyway, remember a while ago when it was really fashionable to protest something by supporting a business?  Well, that wasn’t really it, but remember when a bunch of people did a bunch of virtue signaling by making a particular business really profitable?  Weird?  Yeah it was.  I’m referring to the religious people spending tons of their money at Chick Fila because of something that Chick Fila was taking heat for.  I’ve forgotten all the details of it.

Who would’ve thought I would have a cause to do a similar thing?  My cause is the US Postal Service.  I did a little griping in my last post about them and while I am inconvenienced by the situation, I understand it’s not their fault directly and they’re being played for pawns.  And when that sort of injustice happens, you have to step in and help out.

Now, just as an aside, I have no problem with trying to make the USPS financially solvent.  That’s something for another discussion.  But, I do have a problem with what has been instituted recently.  And even completely setting aside the conspiracy nature of it all, for all of the supposed business acumen of the people in charge, there could not have been a worse time to implement these changes.

I mean, aside from impacting the next election, which they swear it won’t, but uh huh.  This is going to impact the Christmas shopping/shipping season.  Not to ignore the fact that it’s impacting small businesses right now.  And we know how much the government loves to promote how they love small businesses.  I haven’t heard anything yet about delayed social security checks or medical deliveries, but I suppose that will come soon enough.  No, I’m not a business guy, but even I can see this is a poor decision, especially for someone who just walks in to a job and says, "Here’s what we’re going to do".

First off, new kid on the block should have taken a couple of months to learn about the internal workings of the business and formulate a plan, even if the plan was to fuck everything up.  Then the best time to implement the plan would be at the beginning of the year.  First off, it’s a great timeline marker.  Second, you don’t fuck with the election or holidays. 

But, is there ever a good time to slow mail?  At the beginning of the year, there’s going to be arguments that the mail is being slowed and it will impact tax refund check deliveries.  This is a good opportunity to promote direct deposit of refund checks.  Not only is that faster and better, it will save the IRS money from having to print and mail checks.  But what about the unbanked?  They can’t get direct deposit.  Well, remember that story from a while ago about how the USPS was considering becoming a national bank?  Remember how it was going to raise money for the USPS?  Well, this seems like the perfect time to implement that.

Sorry for the major side story there.  The point of the post was how to support the USPS in the present, not some fantasy future.  The answer came from, of all places, Car and Driver.  Their suggestion, buy toy cars from their online gift shop.  Cars, of course.

This solution made a lot of sense to me.  You can’t just donate money to a business.  That’s weird.  You don’t want to buy up a shitload of stamps just to give them money either.  That’s weird, too.  But buying something from them, where they get the profit, that’s fair.  I get something, you get something.  Actually, they get a bit more, even.

So I went to their website and to their gift store and picked out a nice little car.

image

It was only $6.  That’s not too bad.  I’ll chip in $6 to the cause.

Checking out, I kind of chuckled to myself about having the item shipped.  "Whenever it shows up…"  And it wasn’t lost on me that they would be shipping the product.  So hey, they do get some extra.  They get the shipping cost, too.  Then the website calculated the shipping cost for me.

$8.45 shipping on a $6 item.  Good god.  It’s like buying a $2 pen from a homebrew online shopping cart site.  But I do want the USPS to succeed, as much as God wants Chick Fila to succeed, so I made the purchase.  I have a little 2" Jeep coming in the mail sometime.

Godspeed, USPS.

Stages Part 4.5

In previous posts on this subject, I’d been advancing my home stereo towards some goal of having big, energizing, musical sound.  The "final" step in the process was buying tower speakers for the amplifier.  I’ve come up with a step in between.

I was skeptical of the claims made that putting your bookshelf speakers on stands would improve their sound dramatically.  I was proven wrong.  The change was highly noticeable.  So much so, that it made me wonder if I really needed tower speakers.  At the very least, it would delay their purchase for a while.  The improvements got better when I separated the speakers from the stands with silicone buttons and added the floor spikes to the stands.  Both are things that audio fetishists go crazy over.  Not as much the spikes, but to read about the "isolation" and "decoupling" of the speaker from the stand using (only) sorbothane balls or brass spikes gets a little weary.

And I thought I had taken things about as far as I could with what I had.  One of the improvements I got with my changes was improved bass.  I could hear the bass and slightly feel it, too.  And you know, once you get a taste of something good, you want more.  That was going to be taken care of by the tower speakers, when I bought them.  But I wasn’t ready to buy them yet, because I liked what I had.  Well, I guess I wanted to like what I had more, so I had a choice to make.

That choice was whether to add a subwoofer to the system for the extra bass.  I read a lot of articles.  I researched a lot of products.  I reviewed my budget.  In the end, it felt like a "fuck it" decision anyway, so yeah.  Subwoofer it is.

Here’s the catch.  Based on what I’ve been reading, having a subwoofer is just not enough.  A very well-written article by a generally polarizing individual explained the technical reasons for subwoofer use in the 60’s, 70’s, then 80’s and beyond.  And that article, along with other higher-end articles stated pretty simply: you need multiple subwoofers.  At a minimum, you need stereo subs, because although it’s popular to say sub=bass is mono, it really isn’t.  But as long as you’re entertaining the idea of multiple subwoofers, having four is not out of the question.

Now, four subwoofers was not and would not be my plan.  But, while researching products, the subwoofer model that I settled on (due to price) did not have stereo inputs.  That would mean that I would have to buy a cable to merge the left and right channels to go into the sub.  I’m not a fan of that idea; it just seems wrong.  So the evidence is stacking up for getting two subwoofers.  The budget doubles.  So which one (or which two)?

You can get subwoofers with speaker sizes of 8", 10", 12", 15", or even 18".  I start small, looking at 8".  I need two of them.  The more I look at them, the less I am convinced.  My bookshelf speakers already have 6" drivers, and the tower speakers I was looking at for the future have multiple 6" drivers.  Is an 8" really going to provide the depth I should have?  So, I look at the 10".  That’s about as far as I will go.  There’s no way I can reasonable justify having two 12" or larger subs in my little listening room.  I wouldn’t even have room for them.  I’m already looking at compact subs because of space concerns.  But, if the future means I have a larger room for my listening hobby, then the 10" subs will be able to handle that growth.  If I do go with the tower speakers in stage 5, the subs will complement them as well.

So the retail price difference between 8 and 10-inch is $229 vs $344 – $115 dollars to upgrade to the larger sub with the bigger amp.  Because of sale prices, the prices are now $126 and $189 -  a bigger discount on the bigger sub.  Now, the upgrade cost is $63.  Still, I need two.  And after looking back and forth and back and forth at numbers in both my web browser and in MS Money, I reached the "fuck it" point and bought two 10" subwoofers.

Fortunately, the subs do come with cables, but I did need to buy two splitter cables, to send the low-level output from my pre-amp to both my bookshelf speakers and the subs.  And what have I ended up with?

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Also new in this picture is a switched power strip mounted below the amplifier, which turns all four speakers on and off.  Since all the controls for the subs are on the bottom of the units, and I was getting concerned and also annoyed by pushing the power buttons on the speakers each day, a single switch should help everything.

Now, how does it sound?  I started my test with all knobs set to the minimum and put on Rush – Signals as my first test.  I went through a few tweaks, raising the crossover, raising the input level, lowering the crossover, and back and forth between the different possibilities.  The result was nice, but not earth-shattering, nor room-shaking.  I was underwhelmed.

Then I thought maybe my choice of album wasn’t that great, so I put on Edgar Meyer – Dreams Of Flight.  Holy shit.  Now I was shaking the walls, which was actually hilarious to see the cat repeatedly alerting on the sound of the pictures vibrating on the wall.  With that album, I did a few more tweaks and lowered the levels a little.

The next test was Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever.  Being produced by Jeff Lynne, certainly this album would have a lot of things happening everywhere in it.  And I wasn’t disappointed at all from the results.  My expectations were being tempered by reality.  Where I expected kick drums to hit me in the chest, that’s not how (decent) albums are mixed.  But what I wasn’t expecting was the loss of the shrillness.  When I would turn up the stereo before, I sort of had to grit my teeth and suffer the high end to get any power.  With the subs hooked up, It was like the high end was tamed.  I don’t want to say "lost", because I don’t think it sounded any duller, just less piercing.

The last test was Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.  I didn’t get the sound I expected, but the sound I got was excellent and very engaging.  My ears weren’t ringing at the end either, which was a blessing.  And it seemed like I was able to go louder than before, probably because I wasn’t getting ice picks in the eardrums.

I’m actually thinking there may not be a stage 5 now…

Stages Part 4

In the previous post on this topic, I discussed the stereo buildup to the point where I had a good listening system.  The next transitional step would be to physically prepare it for the tower speakers, which will be stage 5.  I had made another post about the fortunate timing of my speaker stand purchase, which saved me around $50 or almost a third of what I had budgeted.  So the items have come in and are ready for implementation.

The first piece that came in was the stereo rack.  All black glass and chrome, it allowed each component a shelf of its own, but I still kept the amplifier and equalizer together.  Quality-wise, the stand is a big meh.  I didn’t pay a lot for it, so I can’t be disappointed, but I expect at some point, I’m going to be getting a better rack.

The next day, the speaker stands come in.  Heavy steel plates and posts, which are supposedly the key to keeping bass and separation.  No disappointment here.  We’ll have to see how they perform.

I disassembled my setup and moved the current table out of the way for the new pieces.  While behind the system, I did a little wire management for tidiness sake.  This is what it looked like.

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What did it sound like?  Well, I don’t want to get into all the audio snobbery adjectives, but I will say it sounded better.  Significantly better.  Of course, maybe it’s a placebo effect, I’m not going to rule that out, but I tested out two different CDs, with widely differing musical styles and both sounded more impressive to me than I remembered before.  So I will call it a success.

What’s stage 5 again?  Tower speakers.  Well, that can wait for some time now.  I’m going to have to get tired of this new sound, which could be a little while.

Collection Completion And Expansion

I want to start off by mentioning that CDs are collectables.  There is one irrefutable reason I can make this claim.  That reason is the irrationality of the pricing of any particular CD.  While it shouldn’t be a surprise that any particular thing can be collectable and priced unreasonably high when it becomes scarce, sometimes, the outrageous prices set a particular expectation when researching and shopping.  In this way, I suspect there are a lot of dealers of collectables who will list items at outrageous prices to get people’s expectations set, then actually sell an item (maybe even as a different vendor) at a price less than that expectation, while still being somewhat unreasonable.

So anyway, this is about the last CD in a series that I need for absolute completion.  I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve had so far because those that I have are all of the retail versions out there.  The one I have been missing is a promo-only copy.  Not only a promo-only copy, which could include retail copies with a "Promo, not for resale" sticker or stamp on it, this is a promo-only version.  Obviously far less available and made in much lower quantity.  All this time, there has been one seller of this disc, offering it for $50 plus shipping.  The guy knows the scarcity.

Very recently, a new seller popped up, selling it for $30.  This guy knows, too.  And he’s looking to make a sale based on the one and only one person who has this CD in his wantlist (me).  And you know what, he almost had me.  I was getting ready to buy it when I decided to do a quick sanity check on eBay.  eBay has never had that CD before, but you never know.  And amazingly, it’s on there now.  And only $10.  It’s an immediate buy for me.  Sure, I just paid a decent amount for a used CD, but it’s been unavailable for years and has had an unflinching price of $50.  And now, my collection is absolutely complete.

Do I have other discs in my collection like that?  Yes I do.  Will I be fortunate enough to reap the benefits of scarcity when I sell?  Collectors don’t sell.  That was a trick question.

So, like I said, that completes the collection.  The IRS NoSpeak series is now complete.  The original CD collection that got me into being a completist was the MCA Master Series, which I’ve posted about many times.  Out of curiosity, I did a search to see how much of that series was available for sale on eBay right then.  That would give me an idea of the scarcity of my collection.

I would say it was maybe 50% available and of those, many were double-digit prices, so that’s actually pretty promising, from a value perspective.  But as I was browsing the results, I didn’t have any category filters set, so I was seeing CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.  But there was another product that was in the results – a promotional poster from the record label for the MCA Master Series. 

Well, now.  There’s a product you don’t see very often.  In fact, I’ve never seen one ever, nor heard of it existing.  And that would be understandable.  Posters are given to record stores and other record label contacts, are hung up until they fade or rip (or the label goes out of business), and are discarded.  No one keeps promo material like that.  But here was a surviving example.

I’ve posted before about my big artwork project of scanning, printing, framing, and hanging all of the MCA Master Series album covers as art in my house.  There should not be any doubt whatsoever that this poster must belong to my collection.  And so it became.  I don’t buy a lot of posters.  I don’t really know how much they go for.  But I got this poster for $16 shipped.  Considering the thing is over 30 years old… I don’t think that’s too bad.  It’s a decent size, also:  28" x 26".  I have a place picked out and expect I’m going to spend the big $$$ on a professional framing job.  Once stores open again, of course.

In all, this has been a spendy weekend.  But, a lot of stuff is changing in my music room.  Now stands for stereo speakers and components, a few new CDs are on the way, and a neat poster to hang in there.

It’s Never Been A Better Time To Buy…

…from someone other than Amazon.

It was about a year ago I had made a post about how I’ve wanted to try and reduce my dependency on Amazon.  For the most part, I feel like I’ve been successful.  Sure, there are still things I buy from the empire, usually quick-need things or small trinkets that they’ll ship free where other places couldn’t be bothered with such a small order.  Seriously, I’m buying an electrical wall plate for $2.50 and you’re going to drive it to my house, tomorrow, for free?!  That’s just dumb.  But I’m sure they’re getting it back somehow.

Anyway, since everyone is stuck at home, Amazon is the place for supplies now, right?  And everyone is also trying to scratch their consumer itches, too, so there’s Amazon, again.  But, if you do your research every time, you might just find that there are other options that are just as good and many times better than the empire.  Let me illustrate.

Example 1.  I’ve been without a microwave for quite some time now, maybe 8 months.  How I’ve survived without my dedicated popcorn maker, I don’t know.  But I figured enough is enough.  I want popcorn.  So I went on the hunt for a microwave that was simple and basic-duty.  The options: Amazon, Target, Sears, and Lowes.  Because I’m a brand whore, my preferred brands were Panasonic and Kenmore, which ended up excluding Target and Lowes.  But would you guess?  The winner was Sears.  Sears!  And get this – no free shipping!  But, even including the shipping (a whopping $15), the price was the same as Amazon and I still got it in two days.  Who says only Amazon can do that shit?

Example 2.  I’ve had some stereo speaker stands on my Amazon wish list for some time, just waiting for the right time to make that move.  Today, I decided to make that move.  The stands are made and sold by Monoprice, and sold through Amazon (as well as through their own website).  The stands on Amazon?  $76 each.  The stands on Monoprice?  $55.  Both with free shipping.  I work at a company that sells some product through Amazon and I know it’s not exactly a win-win to make a deal with the devil.  You may gain a lot of eyeballs, but your profit margin is going to suffer greatly from the cut they take. 

And that leads me to example 3.  eBay has become my primary Amazon alternative.  Just some simple hair product purchased today.  $18 at Ulta, $12 at Amazon, and $10 on eBay.  Ok, so I’ll get 3-day instead of 1-day delivery from eBay, but this isn’t a need-now product.  More importantly, I think it’s important to buy from eBay because it’s smaller retailers or even individuals doing a hustle.  You’re more likely to be helping people than a company.  And while eBay is a company and yes, they do take fees for their service, it’s not a egregious as the empire.  Plus there’s the whole flea-market atmosphere which has a slight appeal to me.  There’s less Ai involved, so when you find something you like and a great price, it’s because you’re smart, not because the empire’s computer knows everything (fucking EVERYTHING) about you and tossed you a biscuit.

And speaking of eBay, I need to go now and buy the stereo stand that is also in my Amazon wish list.  Same product, same price (actually 9 cents cheaper on eBay), free shipping.  Why not patronize the little guy?  Make them happy in these bleak days.  Amazon is going to do just fine.

Stages (Parts 1 – 3)

Being cooped up in the house with the COVID stay-the-fuck-at-home orders has led me to express my shopping needs in other ways.  The subject at hand is my stereo system.  An earlier post reminded me that I’ve had this goal to recapture the stereo excitement of my youth for quite a few years now.  And that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made – it definitely has.

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It started with a cheap thrift store stereo, a tape deck, and headphones.  Then a CD player was added.  Then another CD player was added.  But still, very little listening was being done.  Then the milestone of having a dedicated room for listening was reached and I cobbled a new and different stereo system together using my powered studio monitors and a new preamplifier to handle inputs and volume.  A dedicated listening chair completed the arrangement.  This setup has worked very well for over a year.

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But I’ve been envisioning the real stereo experience, with a powerful amplifier and full-size speakers to go with it.  However, in these uncertain times, I don’t want to blow a wad of cash all at once, so I’ve planned out a phased approach to get there relatively quickly.

The primary hardware to complete the goal is really only two items: the amplifier and the speakers.  There’s also some ancillary bits as well, including furniture for the hardware.  I’ve kind of been stalled on progress because I didn’t want to buy the amp and the speakers all in one go, but I didn’t want to buy either one and just have it sit unused until I bought the other.  Then, I had a revelation, which came late, but probably at a better time.

If I buy an amplifier, it would be a waste until I bought my speakers, because my existing speakers have built in amplifiers without any way to bypass them.  My revelation made me realize that although the amplification in my speakers can’t be bypassed, the amplifier circuit in the right model of amplifier could be.  That would reduce the amplifier to only preamplifier functions, just like the preamplifier I currently own.

The search was then on for a receiver that had preamp outputs on it.  And the critical decision needed to be made: do I go vintage or modern?  In my original plan, I had current, modern products picked out and a pretty large budget for them.  And now, after experiencing a number of vintage CD players, I’m not sure I need anything more modern than them.  So vintage it is.  And in keeping with my nostalgia, I’m going to choose the Technics brand.  Justly or no, Technics has a bad reputation for their 80’s gear.  There are fans out there as well, but they get shut down often by "the ones who know better".

The model I picked was the SU-V98, which has the required preamp outputs and will also be suitable for my future speakers with 110 watts per channel.  That’s actually pretty respectable as many of the amps I had been looking at were 30-50.  As luck would have it, a listing just popped up on EBay selling one for $70.  Others were priced in the $150 range, so the purchase was made.  Step one complete.

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Now, the last step in the transition will be the purchase of the speakers.  I’ll be able to run everything right the way I have it now, simply substituting my preamp for this new Technics amplifier.  But, it’s not going to be a viable long-term option.  See, my stereo setup is on a long Ikea table.  Ikea stuff isn’t known for its durability and even with only a couple of CD players sitting in the middle of the span, I can see the slightest bit of sagging happening.  Adding a 15lb amp to the table isn’t going to make that any better.  So step two in the mid-term is going to be new furniture.

Replacing the Ikea table will require a new stereo rack and stands for the studio monitors.  In the final stage, the studio monitors and stands will be replaced with tower speakers.  Since the speaker stands are only temporary, I can skimp out on them, but I should get the stereo rack with the goal of having it be suitable for the future.  However, when shopping for speaker stands, there is a clear distinction between "good" and "good enough".  That difference is the size of the mounting plate on top.  In most all affordable stands, that plate is 5"x5".  My speakers are about 8"x10".  Balancing those heavy, expensive speakers on a tiny platform 32 inches off the ground doesn’t sound appealing to me, especially with cats in the house.

That alters my plans a little bit.  It essentially doubles the budget for the speaker stands.  But, to remain positive, the stand quality will be excellent and the speakers are already excellent, so there won’t be any unnatural need to rush to the last step and buy the tower speakers.  There will be time to enjoy and appreciate the configuration as it is. 

And that’s really the plan:  to enjoy the upgrade journey.  Sometimes when you get the end result all at once, you can’t appreciate al the elements involved, because you have no history of change to compare it to.  This is really the best way to grow a stereo system.  Will it ever end?  For a lot of people, it never does.  In fact, I do know one more step I can take after "the last step".  If I find my amplifier doesn’t sound as good as I think it could, the preamp outputs in the SU-V98 can be used for what they were designed for – running an external amplifier.