Shiny new things to play with and listen to

By: Gary Steel

DOW brings the latest in music and technology for this October

Thorens 309 Tri-Balance turntable

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Hi-fi gear so often comes in plain black or anodised silver that it’s no wonder it lacks in bling factor. Why not get a bit of brazen colour in your lounge with the Thorens 309 turntable? The Swiss company has been making record-playing contraptions since 1903, so they should know what they’re doing.

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The 309 Tri-Balance is Thorens’ mid-range turntable, and apart from appealing innovations like its three-point suspension design, it wins favours with its easy-peasy set-up (believe me, turntables can be a pain in the posterior on that count) and electronic speed control that few other turntables offer at its relatively modest price of $2999. Also groovy is that the 309 comes with quality cartridge included in that price. Sonically, it’s beautiful, and aesthetically, it’s just the bee’s knees.

Oppo R11 Smartphone

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Smartphones have become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to get excited about even the most daring entries in this super-competitive field, but the R11 really is something a bit different.
Chinese company Oppo wowed the audio-visual crowd with its superb universal Blu-ray players and award-winning headphones, and now its mobile division is asserting itself in the New Zealand market with what they call ‘camera phones’.

The R11 takes all the usability we might expect from a premium brand like the iPhone, adds a few killer surprises, and wraps it up by charging less than half the price of that exalted player.

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Key features? How about the two 20-megapixel cameras (yes, even the selfie camera is top quality), with incredibly fast response times and effects to beautify portraits. Or its very useful ability to handle two SIM cards simultaneously, which easily deals with roaming expenses when overseas or allows you to switch service providers should reception be a bit doddery in some areas. $769 and it’s all yours.

Iron & Wine—Beast Epic

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Sam Beam started out in the vanguard of the alt-folk/country scene early this century with his acoustic-based band Iron & Wine but quickly got more ambitious, adding ornate instrumentation and electric firepower to the band on his major label albums.

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Beast Epic sees one of the best American contemporary singer-songwriters go full circle back to his roots on a record that’s mostly quiet and thoughtful and spare of instrumentation—a tactic that empowers the songs themselves rather than hiding them behind layers of fancy stuff. Anyone who loved early Dylan or Neil Young or simply has a hankering for the authenticity of alt-folk, will find something to chew on here.

MartinLogan Impression ESL 11A Electrostatic Speakers

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I’ll admit I’m biased. I own a pair of Martin Logans, and in all my years of testing loudspeakers of every shape, description, and price, I have yet to hear a more captivating sound. While enthusiastically recommending any 21st century iteration of Martin Logan, its new premium model takes the cake. As you can see, the only cones on the Impression are for deep bass notes—the mid to highs are all handled by the see-through electrostatic panel, and it’s an amazingly holographic sound stage with pinprick accuracy across the sonic spectrum that takes the breath away.

With powerful built-in amps controlling the prodigious bass and ARC room optimisation so that the speakers sound their best, they’re not only one of the most forensically detailed models around but also one of the cleverest. And while close to $20K ($19,995, to be exact) might sound like a lot, the Impression will easily compete with speakers of at least twice the price.

Available to audition now at the new Audio Reference showroom in Auckland’s leafy Devonport.

Sneaky Feelings—Progress Junction

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Nearly 30 years since their last album, the Flying Nun band that sounded least like a Flying Nun band, returns with a comeback album that boasts all the characteristics that people loved the first time around.

Influenced by American West Coast groups such as The Byrds, Sneaky Feelings still has a sunny disposition and a melodic bent that makes their songs not only catchy but also like a person you want to get to know. Yes, they’re older and probably paunchier, but there are advantages: their songs now sound more lived-in and delightfully wry. And adding wee snatches of Kiwi historical dialogue is an ingenious touch.

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