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First Impressions: Audioengine A5 by sadd3j

So it’s been a long time coming but I finally made the jump to replace the Klipsch Promedia 4.1s that I bought sometime between 2000-2002, paying somewhere in the ballpark of $600 at the time and having to go to an actual audio store. Staying true to that vein, pretty much the only store in the GTA which carries Audioengine is Computer Systems Centre. I actually found the brand and these speakers a few months ago but the price (CAD$349 at Canada Computers, $359 at CSC) and not wanting to trek down to CSC to try them out deterred me.

Well now that I work near CSC and in light of recent employment events, I decided to indulge a little bit. Due to streetcar traffic I ended up walking there (15 minute walk) and it was absolutely frigid. Once I got there, I plugged my iPhone in and tried out a few choice tunes including and not limited to: Sound of Silence, Coachella, Your Latest Trick and Sultans of Swing. The speakers were placed a little high in the store and the environment in general wasn’t ideal for critical listening. I have to admit I wasn’t really wowed on first listen. I could tell they were on par with the Klipsch, but didn’t sound any better. After a good 25 minutes of listening, I was satisfied and so picked them up. Partially persuaded by the long trek there in the cold.

An hour later when I got home, I began the unbox!

The ugliest box ever. Straight out of China.

Guest unboxer!

Nicely bagged and wrapped. They’re actually upside down in this photo. A felt layer on the bottom of each speaker to help with isolation and reduce vibrations etc.

Ta da! Can’t judge a speaker by it’s box; it’s a very solid, nicely finished speaker in a satin black.

The first thing I noticed is that they’re too big for my desk and because they’re so deep, you’re definitely in front of the ideal soundstage, but it’s tolerable. I can’t point them in too much due to my weird desk, so I may look into finally replacing what was supposed to be a temporary table top.

I’ve been playing a variety of music through it over the course of the evening, from Broadway soundtracks to Erin Bode to Starfield to Keith Jarrett. It sounds far better now than in the store.. I’m also listening at a more reasonable level and that may have something to do with it. These speakers are *extremely* musical. They don’t have the same oomph of the Klipsch but that was typically wanted in games and movies and not so much in music. I can finally agree with the other reviews I’ve read and say that the A5s pack more than enough bass for music.

One thing that happens often with a 2.1 computer system is that when you listen at extremely low levels (late night) there’s an obvious separation between the (typically) 3-4″ satellites and the subwoofer. One advantage for the A5s is that even at low levels, the bass is still present and mixes smoothly. I’ve not tried pushing them too loud since it’s late, but at comfortable volumes for near-field listening, the A5s are really outstanding and very full sounding.

I was deciding between the M-Audio BX5a’s and these and while I still haven’t listened to the BX5a’s, I definitely don’t regret picking up the A5’s. Reviews/comparisons for the BX5a say that it’s extremely light on bass and much less forgiving (as they should be, being monitors) and so including the cost of a sub, getting the BX5a’s would cost far more than a pair of A5s. I did listen to a pair of AV40s that JV lent to me and while they were pretty adequate for near-field use, they just didn’t do it for me.

Anyhow.. to end my rambling, very happy with the purchase (as non gadgety as speakers are) and now it’s only a matter of them lasting as long as the Klipsch did! Will try games and movies soon.


Next to Normal – Seattle, Mar 2, 2011 by YFA

Next to Normal

I walked into this musical with high expectations, and it surprisingly did not disappoint. Some background – Next to Normal deals with the subject of the effect bipolar disorder has on one’s family, so it is definitely a heavier subject matter. It won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2009 Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Lead Actress – making it one of the rare few to get both Pulitzer and Tony awards. To set the bar for comparison, Rent was the last musical to get this achievement. Did I also mention, Michael Greif, who directed Rent, also directed this musical? The composers (music, lyrics and book) actually came from Issaquah, WA, which is one of the suburbs of Seattle – so there was definitely a lot of excitement when Next to Normal made it big out east on Broadway (it did lose Best Musical in 2009 to Billy Elliot, which I’ll be catching in April).

I don’t want to give away the plot in case you do catch it (and I strongly recommend you do, the US tour ends in Toronto in June 2011), the plot is straightforward and easy to understand, so please do NOT pre-study this musical as it will ruin the surprises and affect the overall experience.

The stage design is reminiscent of Rent (definitely has the fingerprints of Michael Greif’s direction) – the orchestra is all on stage, and intriguingly they are split up on the left side and right side. Stylistically it is not rock like Rent, but it is not traditional classical like Wicked either… in fact, if I were to describe the orchestration, I’d say it is like… worship team style 😐 It basically consists of a 4 piece band (keys, drums, a/e-guitar, bass) and some strings (think 1 violin, and the bassist switches to cello/double bass at times). So the instrumentation is very much broken down (which seems to be the modern thing to do as it keeps production costs low) but it does not take away from the musical at all. The stage is divided into 3 levels, much like a house with the walls taken out, which reminds me of August: Osage County. I commented before the show started that this setup is more common for plays than in musicals, because they can do scene transitions easily by moving the spotlight between levels while the other floors are getting setup, but this is less of an issue for scene changes as they can tide it over with a song. To my surprise, Next to Normal uses the multi-floor setup brilliantly to do a lot of parallel movement across levels, notably “Why Stay?/A Promise” when the daughter/boyfriend and husband/wife sings the same song across different levels and expands on two different relationships at the same time.

I generally liked Act 2 more than Act 1 (though fellow musical goers disagree on this one) because Act 2 has the hallmarks of what any amazing musical should have – it reprises a LOT of musical themes from Act 1, and brings them back with different meaning because of the plot (much like Wicked’s “I’m not that girl”). The musical structure is very tight as there are a lot of overlapping vocal parts, but not to an extent that it gets confusing as to what is going on. I was a little concerned as to whether they would drag out the ending, but I think looking back the musical ended at the right spot as it built up to the grand finale necessary to close off a musical.

The musical also contains a few references and allusions – the ones I caught were quotes from Catcher in the Rye, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

Next to Normal also has a few memorable, catchy numbers that I can hum to as I exit the theater. The only downside is because the subject matter is so serious, the songs are hardly reusable in everyday life (unlike Rent’s “Seasons of Love” or Wicked’s “Defying Gravity”) – thought I suspect if I were to let the experience settle and if I study the soundtrack more, I’ll find good use of their songs. This is the tiny ding to the musical for me – hopefully one that will get fixed over time :). For this reason I’d rate this musical a 4.9, if that’s at all possible… but for all practical purposes it is a 5-star musical for me, joining in the ranks of Rent and Wicked (finally!)

One parting note – instead of getting Alice Ripley (the Tony winning lead actress) I got the understudy Pearl Sun, which could have been a blessing in disguise. Checking out youtube clips, Alice Ripley definitely is a stronger actor, but apparently she has been suffering from vocal issues on this tour and can get quite pitchy and raspy, as reported by other reviewers. The understudy (or standby for this role) did a great job with the vocals – although being Asian, there’s that advantage of looking younger than your age which worked against her in this case as it made her role as a mom less convincing for me.

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It’s here! by sadd3j

Full review to come.

Thanks to my beauteyful wifey for the awesome Christmas present.

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Something in the Water by YFA

Oh but who can resist bumping the cute photo of Burton down?

Brooke Fraser’s new single, album coming out in Oct. “Something in the Water” – heh not sure what to think!

Oh – found another single that’s more what I’d expect:


The Generous Mr. Lovewell by sadd3j

Been listening to the new MercyMe album for about a week since it’s come out and of course after the first listen, nothing immediately jumped out at me. Since, however, I’ve really come to like the album in it’s entirety.

It’s not the most “original” album, but honestly, I like my artists to do what I like them for (ahem Norah Jones). The Generous Mr. Lovewell is definitely original enough that the songs don’t sound rehashed, but it’s still got that melodious MercyMe style. I haven’t identified each track but I like almost all the majority of the songs.

Here’s a sample, in no order:

The Generous Mr. Lovewell – the title track .. would be great for a good times video, very uplifting, works well for driving/moving scenes. Verse/prechorus/chorus dynamics are very polished.

Crazy Enough – Slower, darker.. reminds me of the mellow alternative music that I was a fan of. Some Beck or Eels, The Refreshments and other kinda fringe alternative bands.

All of Creation – probably getting the most air time on the radio, the most worship-worthy, but verse is mercyme-range singable. Chorus is catchy.

I also like Move, Free, Beautiful, This So Called Life.. etc. If I had to sum it up, I’d say it’s an excellent roadtrip album as a number of the songs are good driving songs. Don’t look for something to blow you away, but definitely enjoyable listening.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 rolls!

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