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  • Newsletter Issue #1054

    May 14th, 2024


    As most of you know, I’ve been in the radio business for some 30 years. My first foray into the business occurred more than 50 years go. Over the years, I worked in various capacities at radio stations around the country. Before I left the field, I had been working as a News Director at a local station in the Philadelphia suburbs.

    That was then.

    In 2002, I started an online show, first called The Mac Night Owl LIVE and later renamed to The Tech Night Owl LIVE to reflect a wider area of coverage that often extended beyond Apple Inc. Three years later, we became one of the first podcasts to support Apple’s iTunes platform. By 2010, with an expanded audience, the show joined The Paracast on the Genesis Communications Network (GCN). But in 2019, I hung up the towel on the tech show, largely because of changes at GCN that made it more difficult to produce.

    GCN folded on May 5th of this year, so I took The Paracast with me to an independent podcast system, a venture known as Podethics which rides on the SoundStack platform. It made a world of difference because we weren’t tied into that vast number of radio spots typical of terrestrial radio — we run nearly two-thirds less — with better quality audio. Already listenership is up, so I felt it was time to catch up with the past.

    Thus, The Tech Night Owl LIVE is back! The first new episode will premiere shortly, probably May 18, 2024. The basic format is essentially, the same, with a focus on consumer electronics plus pop culture with a sci-fi and tech slant. It means we’ll cover topics ranging from the next Apple iPad, classic radio and even Star Trek. And lots more!

    It’ll be a tighter show, running an hour per episode. We’re rarin’ to go, and I welcome all you loyal listeners back.

    Check us out at our updated show page at The Tech Night Owl LIVE.


    Before I get going with this review, I need to explain where I came from when it comes to home audio history. Back in the 1960s, my brother gave me an automatic turntable (make that a record changer), and one speaker. I made it the second speaker for a stereo system cobbled together from my vintage VM tape recorder. Chintzy, yes, but it worked well enough for my modest needs.

    In fact it was the system I used to listen to one of the greatest albums of all time, The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It seems only yesterday when my wife and I opened a small package containing the album, and give it a spin. At the time, I was actually the morning disk jockey at a country radio station in Tuscumbia, AL. But we didn’t listen to the record at the radio studio; instead, I used my own paltry audio system. Clearly audio quality was not much better than that of a portable radios, but I relied on it for over a decade.

    I didn’t have the budget buy a proper audio setup until half a decade later, when I got a loan to finance a stereo setup that consisted of a Dual turntable, Dynaco build-it-yourself electronics and EPI speakers. Among audio components, it had decent quality audio. But the Dynaco amp, the ST-120, had a penchant for blowing out, thus taking out the tweeter on one of the speakers. After a few years, I found a repair shop willing to take the time to figure out the problem. In passing, they told me it was a design problem that they hobbled together a fix for.

    Although I held off for as long as possible, that amplifier had to go, and I ended up with one of Carver’s M4.0t, which not only pushed out up to 350 watts of power per channel, but was, according to the manufacturer, designed to emulate the sonic signature of an expensive tube amplifier, notably their Silver Seven, available in separate units (monoblocks) for each channel. It sold for $17,500 the pair. That would be the equivalent to over $48,000 today. Ouch.

    Somehow, Bob Carver, long recognized as a legend and innovator in the home audio industry, discovered an article I wrote about his politically incorrect efforts to make solid state gear sound like tube gear. He wrote me, and I called him back. After a brief conversation, we arranged for him to send me pair of his Carver Amazing ribbon loudspeakers. This was the platinum black version, standing six feet tall. In turn, I wrote manuals for Carver for several years, some of which went towards the wholesale price of the system.

    Yes, audio quality was, as the name implies, amazing. Indeed, Carver himself dropped over my home shortly after they were delivered, while on a trip from his Washington State home to New Jersey, and took pains to set it up for me.

    Over the years, even after that writing gig ended, I continued to acquire Carver gear, along with some products from a successor company, Sunfire.

    But no more. Over the years, our living habits more or less made it a chore of sitting in the living room to listen to music. After buying a low-end home theater system for the bedroom, I decided there was no point in keeping costly gear merely as a decoration. So when I had to raise some cash, I sold it all off.

    Maybe it was a mistake, but I wasn’t going to alter my lifestyle just to get state-of-the-art sound.

    Indeed, these days my music sources consist of a VIZIO soundbar connected to a VIZIO smart TV, and a set of computer speakers in my home office area.

    Over the years, I’ve both tested and purchased computer audio equipment. I recall writing a roundup of such systems for Macworld magazine more than 25 years ago. They arranged for me to receive over half a dozen systems, making a huge amount of clutter in the living room. I think I know what to expect.

    That takes us to the present day.

    After doing some cheapskate upgrades for my Mac system, I considered my options for audio. It was, after all, a business expense as host and executive producer of The Paracast, and the revitalized Tech Night Owl LIVE. I don’t need anything close to state-of-the-art, but accurate reproduction — particularly for voice — was extremely important.

    That said, I chose cheap once again, because my money was needed elsewhere. I settled on a set of Amazon Basics, a three-piece system that included a subwoofer. All told, it cost less than $40, but wasn’t near as bad as its low price implied. With judicious placement and adjustments of the woofer, it wasn’t bad. It had few obvious flaws. Sound was reasonably clean, although bass reproduction was more or less a thud rather than distinct notes from such instruments as a bass guitar.

    For a talk show, it was just fine.

    And it hasn’t stopped me from seeking something better and, with my return to more active tech coverage, I took the opportunity to try out a fairly low-cost 2.1 system from a prestige manufacturer whose lineage dates back to World War II.

    That takes is to the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 THX Certified Computer Speaker System, which lists for $149.

    THX? Yes, it’s a set of audio and video reproduction standards originally designed for use in movie theaters, but its use has extended to home systems of all sorts. That means for computers, home theater, gaming consoles, and so on and so forth. It was designed by Tomlinson Holman during his time at Lucasfilm, the George Lucas company, to make sure that the audio quality for Star Wars films sounded similar to or identical to that heard in the mastering studio.

    In other words, studio quality. Allegedly.

    But what this means is that you ought to depend on consistent audio. Or at least that’s the promise of THX certification for loudspeakers and other gear.

    That takes us to that Klipsch system.

    Klipsch’s original horn-based designs worked well in movie theaters, because they played real loud without notable distortion. Indeed, the current home audio version of a top-of-the-line Klipsch two-piece system, the Jubilee, costs over $35,000. I’m quite serious.

    On the practical level, I didn’t expect a whole lot from the ProMedia 2.1, not for a tiny fraction of the cost of a full-blown Klipsch system. But the specs seemed decent enough.

    So the two desktop satellite speakers cabinets are thick and robust. With the supplied rubber feat attached to the bottom, they hold steady and aren’t easily removed. The woofer module is 6.5 inches, side-firing with a huge port. Supposedly there’s audio down to the 30-35 Hz range, which is quite impressive and more than sufficient for a portable setup. The control module slides into the bottom of the right satellite, and consists of a main volume and a woofer gain control. Wiring is traditional 22 gauge, common for decent level speakers cables. Supplied electronics are rated at up to 200 watts of peak power, and supposedly can play as loud as 114 dB, more than sufficient for rock music.

    Designed for near-field listening, where you maybe a foot or two from the satellites, requires different voicing than a traditional listening environment, where you may sit several feet away. What it means is that the satellites cannot depend on wall reflections to optimize sound. There are plenty of options for placement of the subwoofer, however, and it may take time to balance its gain with the overall volume.

    In my setups, I usually set woofer level to a level just below the rumbling, booming sound when bass-heavy content is being played. Over time, I might fine tune it a little more, as I did with the ProMedia 2.1 systems.

    I won’t claim golden ears, but I think I know what music and voice sounds like. Obviously I have no way to compare the quality of the THX tuning with the source, but there’s nothing overly wrong with its audio character. Mids and highs are clear and smooth. Bass is solid, although obviously not as robust as what you’d find on a full-size subwoofer, or even those Carver Amazings I had years ago, which featured multiple subwoofers. I can also run them loud enough to fill a couple of rooms.

    Now the Klipsch system is nothing new. It was released more than 20 years ago, but it’s not as if home audio has improved all that much. At present, you can buy a set for $119.99 at Amazon, at least as of the present day. Prices are apt to change, and I can’t account for they cost in another country. But you want something that will really show off your favorite music and games, you’ll be pleased with the ProMedia 2.1. Check it out.

    Note: As to Bob Carver, after producing high-end tube gear for a number of years, he appears to be all or mostly retired. But I talked with him a few years ago, and his enthusiasm for making a difference in the home audio business has never wavered.


    Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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