“Giant Killer” speakers for home theater and music

My recent post on the Ohm speakers made me come to realize this column did not make it to the archive when I was creating the site. So, from all the way back in 2004, here it is! It was nice to see that the Ohm, Polk and Axiom speakers are all still available in pretty much the same form as they were back then. Rather than be discontinued, the Ohms and Axioms were upgraded and refined and the Polk LSi series has carried on unchanged. Why mess with success?

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Friday, April 23, 2004

By Don Lindich
Q: I was really intrigued by the $16,000 Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 5 speakers, but I think my wife would shoot me if I spent that much. I’d like to spend under $8,000 if possible, particularly if the $2,000 speakers sound just as good (which is of course what any review of the latest greatest $2,000 speakers will promise, so maybe the $8,000 ones should really be as good as $32,000 speakers?).

-Ben Humphrey, Seattle

A: Bang & Olufsen recently introduced the $3,000 BeoLab 3, a very small speaker that uses some of the technology from the BeoLab 5.

Though the speakers are very small, they produce a very “big” sound that is musical, detailed and very transparent. They do not wow me the way the Beolab 5s did, but they don’t cost $16,000, either.

As for $2,000 speakers sounding as good as $8,000 speakers, this is often true. This is a testament to some exceptional performers at lower price ranges, and some real junk peddled in the higher price ranges.

The important thing to remember is that speakers are subjective, and you should buy what appeals to you. You can use reviews as a starting point; but do not let anyone tell you that you are wrong when you say what you like.

I receive more e-mails about speaker suggestions than any other subject. The speakers I most commonly recommend are from my own list of “giant killers,” products that to my ears sound much better than other speakers at the same price point, as well as those that often cost considerably more. Some of them are available only factory-direct, but come with a money-back guarantee.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering … what are these “giant killers,” my top recommendations?

Ohm Acoustics Walsh series: These are what I have in my home theater, my living room and my bedroom. Using them myself is about the best endorsement I can give!

The Ohm Walsh speakers use a special inverted cone driver that reproduces incoming electrical signals much more accurately than conventional speaker drivers.

The end result is wonderful sound quality presented in 3-D that seems so real you feel like you can reach out and touch the performers.

The Walsh series sells for between $750 and $5,000 and comes with a 120-day money back guarantee. No reader who ordered a pair upon my recommendation has ever returned them. (www.ohmspeakers.com)

Polk Audio LSi9 and LSi15: For years audiophiles considered Polk one of the better mass-market brands, but not competition for expensive high-end speakers.

This has changed with Polk’s LSi series. Polk Audio is an extremely successful business with tremendous financial resources, and they used these resources to develop the LSi series, which has received much acclaim in the high-end audio press.

These are one of those $2,000 speakers that sound better than many $8,000 speakers.

I use the bookshelf-sized LSi9s in my home office and am continually amazed at what Polk has wrought for around $1,000. The LSi15 towers sell for around $1,700/pair.

Center and surround speakers are offered to build a complete LSi home theater system. Besides the great sound, Polk’s service and customer support is a model for the rest of the industry. See them at www.polkaudio.com.

Axiom Audio: My top recommendation for people on a tight budget, this Canadian manufacturer sells only direct and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The $255 M2i, the $400 M22Ti, and the $1,100 M80Ti are the standouts in this line. Their home theater packages are exceptional values. Check out Axiom’s excellent products at www.axiomaudio.com.

If you have lots of money, check out the Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 5s, speakers from Nestorovic Labs, and the larger speakers from Revel.

Ohm Walsh speakers: unique technology, stunning performance

I’ve long loved the Walsh speakers from Ohm Acoustics and to this day, I haven’t found anything that can reproduce music and movies the way they do. Over time I’ve come to own several pairs of their speakers, ranging from their new MicroWalsh line to a pair of Ohm Fs and a pair of Ohm As. I now own a pair of Walsh 5000s as well.  The clarity, naturalness, imaging, and spatial properties of Ohm Walsh speakers truly must be heard to be appreciated.

This post, detailing the genesis of the Walsh speaker and what makes them special, first appeared on my old website. I’ve dusted it off and reposted it here for your enjoyment.

Unique Speakers

Some of the finest sounding, most critically acclaimed speakers are unique designs that operate much differently than conventional box speakers. Many of them are priced out of the range of most consumers. Fortunately, many are not, and can be had for the same price as more ordinary designs. You will not find them at mass market retailers. They are only sold direct from the manufacturer or at audio specialty shops. One of my favorites are discussed in detail here.


The unique Walsh driver in operation. A single pulse travels down the cone, reproducing the entire audio range with one driver.

The line of Ohm Walsh speakers use a unique driver designed by Lincoln Walsh. Lincoln Walsh was a brilliant engineer who was part of the engineering team that developed radar during World War II. He later designed audio amplifiers, and his final project was a unique, one-way speaker with one driver. It was a large cone that faced down into a sealed, airtight enclosure. Rather than move back-and-forth as conventional speakers do, the cone rippled and created sound using a principle known as “transmission line”. The new speaker created a single, perfectly rendered sound wave of remarkable clarity. A new company, Ohm Acoustics, was formed to develop and market Walsh’s new speaker design.


From left to right- Ohm Walsh 2, Ohm F, Ohm A

Lincoln Walsh died before his speaker was released to the public. After developing the Ohm A prototype, in 1973 Ohm introduced the Ohm F speaker to critical acclaim. The Ohm F could reproduce audio signals more accurately than any other speaker, and had a truly spectacular sound. (Thirty years later, the Ohm F still sounds better than many of today’s most expensive, most exotic speaker designs.) Unfortunately, the Ohm F was also a very expensive and fussy speaker. All the way back in 1982 they cost $4,000 per pair, and they required tremendous amounts of power, while being unable to handle high power continuously for long periods. The saying went, “250 watts to drive a pair of Ohm Fs, 300 watts to blow them up!”


A pair of Ohm F speakers. Note exposed Walsh driver on the left speaker. One cone reproduces the entire audio range seamlessly.

Ohm made the Walsh speaker a more commercially viable product by turning it into a two-way system. The Walsh driver still reproduced around 80% of the speaker’s sound, but a crossover and tweeter was added to reproduce the highest frequencies. The sealed enclosure was converted into a ported design. The added port reduced power requirements and supplemented the low bass produced by the much smaller Walsh cone. These changes solved the problems of expense, large size, high power requirements, and low power handling. First introduced in 1982 as the Ohm Walsh 2, the new design was not a Walsh speaker in its pure form, but a speaker designed with Walsh technology. Recognizing this, Ohm sometimes refers to this modified Walsh design as their “Coherent Line Source” driver.  (A little known fact is Infinity speakers once made a speaker that was the reverse of the Coherent Line Source, with a tweeter using a Walsh design and conventional cones for the rest.)


Cut-away drawing of Ohm Walsh 2 speaker. Note Walsh driver, figure 1.

If it seems like I know a lot about the Ohm Walsh speakers, well, it is because they have been my personal choice for over fifteen years! There are many great speakers at many price points, but the Ohm Walsh series is the one I have always liked best regardless of cost. Speakers are highly subjective, but to me, the Walshes do everything right and sound great no matter what kind of music you put through them, from heavy metal to Gregorian chant. The sound is incredibly natural and realistic, unlike any other speaker I have heard. When you listen to them, you do not hear speakers; just beautiful music appearing out of thin air. The sound is spacious and envelops you, but at the same time, the stereo imaging places performers and instruments precisely. This effect can be heard throughout almost the entire listening room. It all adds up to an exciting and involving listening experience. The great sound quality and spacious sound make them ideal for home theater, and with the precise stereo imaging, a center channel is not needed. The phantom mode places all the center sounds directly between the two speakers.

Walsh speakers are in very high demand on the used market, and command very good resale values. If you search under “Ohm Speakers” on Ebay, you will often find Walsh speakers that are fifteen years old receiving twenty or more bids. If you are a bit daring and willing to try used equipment, a pair of Ohm Walsh 2s can be purchased on Ebay for between $275 and $400. Support, service and upgrades are available from Ohm for all models, and over the years I have found their service to be nothing less than outstanding. If you call Ohm on the phone, the president and chief designer will probably be taking your call, and he will help you get the most out of your speakers, as well as the rest of your system.

The Ohm name is no longer common in the print media because their speakers are sold direct, and they do little advertising. As a result, few publications review their products these days. Those who do review Ohm’s speakers, however, consistently rate them highly. New Ohm Walsh speakers are only available direct from the Ohm Factory, and include a 120 day money back satisfaction guarantee. You can learn more at Ohm’s website, www.ohmspeakers.com.


High-speed memory cards, quick-acting digital cameras, and the best iPod dock is from Apple

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 29, 2007

Q: I am currently using a Kodak EasyShare DX 6490 camera and except for the very slow response time, I have found it to be easy to use and the pictures are sort of satisfactory, though a little grainy. Most of my pictures are of grandchildren who have moved on to other things before grandmother is ready to take a second shot. I have been told a new, faster memory card will speed up the process. I am currently using a SanDisk 128MB card. Is a new memory card the answer to my problem?

If a new memory card is not the answer, I m considering a new camera and would like to know what would be the best for me–not too confusing, takes great snapshots and close-ups, indoor/outdoor, has a zoom and quick reaction time. Am I ready for a SLR? I’m thinking of the Pentax K100D and 18-55mm which you recommend.

-Donna Swanstrom, Stillwater, MN

A: The high-speed memory card won’t solve your problem. It can help with some cameras, but your Kodak isn’t one of them.

When you take a picture, it is stored in temporary memory called a buffer. This temporary memory is built into the camera itself. The camera then transfers the picture from the buffer to the memory card, then clears the buffer for more pictures. Most cameras can contain at least three pictures in the buffer before it is full, so it will not help when taking two shots in a row, as you have been trying to do. Your problem lies with the camera itself.

Even with a different camera, high-speed memory does not help with shooting speed unless you are taking many pictures in sequence and your camera is designed to take advantage of high-speed memory.

The Pentax K100D is designed to take advantage of high-speed memory and will respond noticeably quicker with it . This will be especially noticeable when reviewing your pictures on the camera’s display screen or taking many photographs in rapid succession. I consider high-speed memory cards mandatory for digital SLRs. Otherwise when reviewing pictures on the camera you will be sitting there all day waiting for pictures to appear on the screen, and if you take more than a few pictures in succession the camera will lock up while it clears the buffer.

One area where high-speed memory will always make an improvement regardless of the camera you use is when you download pictures from a memory card to your computer, as long as you have a USB 2.0 memory card reader or a camera that supports USB 2.0. USB 2.0 is also referred to as “High Speed USB”. If you see a camera marketed as “Full Speed USB” rather than High Speed, it is probably a bit of marketing doublespeak used to get around the fact that the camera doesn’t support USB 2.0.

I do think the K100D would be a good camera for you. Just set it to automatic mode, then point and click for great pictures. It has more advanced modes, but it will work like a point and shoot if that is what you want.

Q: I have an iPod that I use with earbuds and also hook up via inputcables to my Sony receiver and small ceiling speaker system. I
wanted to have a dock that I would allow me to listen while recharging the battery. What docking system would you recommend?

-Eric Hanson, Minneapolis, MN

A: I recommend buying the docking unit made by Apple themselves, the company that made your iPod. The Apple dock will provide a line-level output and charge your battery at the same time, and is compatible with the Apple remote. The one you have sounds like it is meant only for their system.

Plasma TVs and Burn-In

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 28, 2007

Q: I started talking about plasma and LCD TVs with a man at a local electronics shop and he said that he has heard that by 2010 plasmas will be phased out due to their high cost of repairs. He went on to say that LCDs and DLPs are the wave of the future. If this is true I am glad that I found out before buying one. Your thoughts?

Randy J. Mogle
Homer City, PA

A: The year 2010 is only two and a half years away. It’s too early to say what will happen in the world of televisions.

It is true that plasmas do have high costs of repairs. LCDs also have high costs of repairs and so do CRT TVs. In short, all TVs are expensive to repair! Plasmas do seem to be more repair-prone than other technologies, and there is always the specter of burn-in, where a logo or image can become burned into the screen if you are not careful. Believe me, this CAN happen to you, and I can say it with some authority because besides being the columnist here, burn-in happened to me!

It was one of those things you never thought would happen to you, but it then it does and you feel dumbfounded by it. I have a high end CRT projection TV and recently discovered a very faint burn-in image of the “pause” icon from my DVR, obviously from all the times I paused playback to take a phone call or get a snack. It took a couple of years and it is extremely faint, but now it’s there and to replace the tubes would cost several thousand dollars. The burn-in isn’t visible during most viewing, but when one of the Apple “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads comes on with the white background, the burn-in is apparent. I really love that TV and you can’t buy premium performance CRTs anymore. If you are going to pause your DVR with yout CRT or plasma TV, turn it off after you pause it, then turn it on before you resume playback. It may seem like a bit much to do so every time you pause playback, but I believe the precaution to be worth it.

Plasma is even more susceptible to burn-in than CRT sets are, though some manufacturers have announced technology that is burn-in proof or can reverse the effects of burn-in. I haven’t seen these in action so I cannot comment on them. In the final equation, plasma usually beats LCD handily in picture quality and until that changes, plasma will be around. Major players, like Panasonic, are heavily invested in plasma, as well and they aren’t about to let their investment go to waste.

As for the wave of the future, the more I see of DLP the more I like it. I recently saw Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille (great movie- go see it!) at a theater featuring DLP Cinema projection. I was pretty much blown away by the sharpness as well as the depth and palette of color. If you are going to see Ratatouille, be sure to find a cinema that has DLP. When I go to the big-box stores to compare sets, it is the DLP models that always seem to stick out with their beautiful colors and sharpness. The prices are very reasonable, and thinner and thinner DLP TVs are being introduced and may one day rival flat panel plasma and LCD.

Lenses for digital SLRs, how to take a nice portrait with any camera

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 27, 2007

Q: I am looking to buy a new lens for my Canon Digital Rebel. I want to be able to take close ups, mostly portraits and have heard lots about the Tamron AF 18-250 F/3.5-6.3. I am also considering the Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro. What would you recommend for a good quick focus, lens that can zoom in for a good close up shot? I’d like to graduate to a Canon 5D eventually so I would like to get a great lens.

-Beth Kenyon

A: I’d avoid the Tamron 18-250mm under any circumstances. Wide-range zooms are usually poor optical performers, especially inexpensive ones. In your case, it is not compatible with the 5D so it is a non-issue. The 5D uses a sensor the size of 35mm film, so you must buy a lens that works on both digital SLRs and 35mm SLRs.

The Sigma would provide excellent performance, but at 70mm it would work OK for portraiture with the Rebel but not as well when you move up to the 5D. This is because of the Rebel’s “focal length multiplier”. Digital SLRs have varying sensor sizes and this changes the effective focal length of the lens. For the Digital Rebel it is 1.6x, so the Sigma 70mm behaves like a 112mm lens. With the 5D the multiplier is 1x, so it is just a 70mm lens.

Why does this matter? Portraiture tends to work best with 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 85mm and up. This is because the telephoto can blur the background and flatten facial features, which is flattering for most subjects. It also gives you some working distance with your subject. With the 5D the Sigma would be a bit on the short side.

If you have a compact digital camera, this knowledge can still be put to good use. Most compact cameras have an effective zoom range of 35-105mm. One of the best portrait lenses ever made is the classic Nikon 105/2.5, for its combination of outstanding optics and ideal focal length. As you can see, the long end of most compact’s zoom range matches this 105mm focal length.

To take a great portrait with your compact, first make sure your camera’s digital zoom is turned off and select the portrait mode if it has one. Zoom the lens to the end of its range, then back up from your subject while composing until they fill the frame. Focus on the eyes, compose, and click!

To see what a difference using a telephoto does to portraiture, set the camera to the middle of the zoom range and step closer so your subject fills the frame the same way, then take the picture. Then go full wide angle, get close to fill the frame, and take another picture. When you compare them the difference in the subject and background will be dramatic.

If you have the budget, your best choice would be the Canon 100/2.8 macro lens, available for under $500. I also recommend checking out the Sigma 105mm macro. It is very well regarded as both a portrait and close-up lenses and will work well on both the Digital Rebel and 5D. The Sigma is under $400.

If you don’t need macro capability and just want to do portraits, check out Canon’s 100/2 and 85/1.8 at $389 and $339 respectively. They are superb portrait lenses which will give you an extra f-stop over the macro lenses, for better low-light performance and the ability to create an even softer background by shooting at f/2 or f/1.8.

Product Review: Griffin iMic


Griffin iMic

Sound Buys Product Review by Don Lindich

Griffin’s iMic accessory works with both PC and Mac computers and adds analog sound inputs, a microphone input, and an audio outout via a USB port. It’s the answer many have been looking for as they look to make CDs of their vinyl record collection, transfer cassette tapes to their iPod, or simply archive their music on their computer or an external hard drive. As many have unwittingly discovered, most computers don’t come with analog sound inputs built-in, and adding an internal card can be inconvenient. With simple USB connectivity, at $39.99 retail the iMic is easy as well as inexpensive.

My Windows XP and Mac OS 10.4.9 computers recognized the iMic instantly upon connection. A detachable miniplug cable with two female RCA connectors is provided for connecting an audio output from a CD player, DVD player, cassette deck, or any other device with RCA analog audio outputs. If you are using a turntable (as many are apt to do with the iMic) you should use the receiver tape loop or a phono preamp.

An audio recording and editing application is required to best make use of the iMic. It ships with FinylVinyl, an original Griffin application for recording and enhancing audio, specifically vinyl records. It is for Macs only. Windows users are directed to download Audacity, a free application found online at audacity.soundforge.net.

I used the iMic to record from vinyl records and cassette tapes and found sound quality to be very good, if not up to the level of professional input devices. It should satisfy the vast majority of home users, the exact audience it is targeted for, and hence earns an easy recommendation. My biggest gripe is the Final Vinyl software isn’t available for Windows users, as I preferred it to Audacity.

If you’ve been wanting to bring your vinyl record collection on to your iPod, the iMic will make it easy. See it at www.griffintechnology.com.

Lenses and lens settings for portraiture

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 27, 2007

Q: I am looking to buy a new lens for my Canon Digital Rebel. I want to be able to take close ups, mostly portraits and have heard lots about the Tamron AF 18-250 F/3.5-6.3. I am also considering the Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro. What would you recommend for a good quick focus, lens that can zoom in for a good close up shot? I’d like to graduate to a Canon 5D eventually so I would like to get a great lens.

-Beth Kenyon

A: I’d avoid the Tamron 18-250mm under any circumstances. Wide-range zooms are usually poor optical performers, especially inexpensive ones. In your case, it is not compatible with the 5D so it is a non-issue. The 5D uses a sensor the size of 35mm film, so you must buy a lens that works on both digital SLRs and 35mm SLRs.

The Sigma would provide excellent performance, but at 70mm it would work OK for portraiture with the Rebel but not as well when you move up to the 5D. This is because of the Rebel’s “focal length multiplier”. Digital SLRs have varying sensor sizes and this changes the effective focal length of the lens. For the Digital Rebel it is 1.6x, so the Sigma 70mm behaves like a 112mm lens. With the 5D the multiplier is 1x, so it is just a 70mm lens.

Why does this matter? Portraiture tends to work best with 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 85mm and up. This is because the telephoto can blur the background and flatten facial features, which is flattering for most subjects. It also gives you some working distance with your subject. With the 5D the Sigma would be a bit on the short side.

If you have a compact digital camera, this knowledge can still be put to good use. Most compact cameras have an effective zoom range of 35-105mm. One of the best portrait lenses ever made is the classic Nikon 105/2.5, for its combination of outstanding optics and ideal focal length. As you can see, the long end of most compact’s zoom range matches this 105mm focal length.

To take a great portrait with your compact, first make sure your camera’s digital zoom is turned off and select the portrait mode if it has one. Zoom the lens to the end of its range, then back up from your subject while composing until they fill the frame. Focus on the eyes, compose, and click!

To see what a difference using a telephoto does to portraiture, set the camera to the middle of the zoom range and step closer so your subject fills the frame the same way, then take the picture. Then go full wide angle, get close to fill the frame, and take another picture. When you compare them the difference in the subject and background will be dramatic.

If you have the budget, your best choice would be the Canon 100/2.8 macro lens, available for under $500. I also recommend checking out the Sigma 105mm macro. It is very well regarded as both a portrait and close-up lenses and will work well on both the Digital Rebel and 5D. The Sigma is under $400.

If you don’t need macro capability and just want to do portraits, check out Canon’s 100/2 and 85/1.8 at $389 and $339 respectively. They are superb portrait lenses which will give you an extra f-stop over the macro lenses, for better low-light performance and the ability to create an even softer background by shooting at f/2 or f/1.8.

HD Radio: Not quite ready for prime time



Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD- a great product, but HD Radio technology has a ways to go…

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 26, 2007

Q: What do you recommend for a digital radio? The only one I could find was a Coby am/fm/digital table model for $69. (By digital I mean HD Radio.)

-Don Lehman, Northfield, MN

A) I could not find any Coby products offering HD Radio. (By digital, I believe they are referring to a digital tuner.) If a $69 HD Radio does indeed exist, at $69 the speakers and electronics behind it are likely to be of poor quality, which will compromise sound quality so much that any potential performance benefits from the HD Radio will be obscured or wiped out altogether.

One unit with HD Radio I can comfortably recommend is the $299 Cambridge SoundWorks 820HD. I have not heard it as of yet so I cannot comment on its sound quality or HD Radio performance, but my experience with other Cambridge SoundWorks products, particularly their table radios, has been very positive. The Polk i-Sonic has a laundry list of features such as HD Radio, XM Satellite Radio, a DVD player, and very fine sound quality. At $599 it commands a premium price, but is worth it.

That said, I don’t find HD Radio to be that compelling. The system is likely to get better, but for now I don’t think it is worth seeking out on its own. I have experienced it in automobiles and in table radios such as the Polk i-Sonic and have not found the sound quality to be dramatically better than regular FM. I have also experienced playability issues such as varying volume, which can be very distracting.

The difference from TV to HDTV is dramatic and plain to see. On a scale of 1-10, regular TV would rate a 4 and HDTV would rate a 10. With HD Radio vs. good quality FM, FM would rate a 6 and HD Radio would rate a 7.5… IF it is tuned in and working well. It would rate as a 4 if a drifting signal is causing the volume to go in and out.

If HD Radio is included as a feature on a product that is compelling without it, such as the i-Sonic) then sure, take it. If you are looking to upgrade your electronics or add something new there are many choices that are much better for the $300 and up that HD Radio is likely to cost you. Among these I would include an HD DVD player, a universal DVD player with SACD and DVD-Audio, a better quality table radio, a satellite radio tuner, a better monitor for your computer, better speakers, a universal remote with USB capability, or a turntable.

If it is better broadcast radio you are after, get a radio such as the one of the Cambridge Soundworks and add an external antenna. A good antenna will make a dramatic difference in sound quality and your radio’s tuning ability- you will be able to receive more stations and the ones you get now will come in more strongly and lock in easier. My favorite FM antenna is an ordinary, unpowered $10 set of TV rabbit ears, which are also designed for FM. If you are a radio fan and you can use an external antenna, it is the best $10 you will ever spend.

Product Review: Apple Safari 3 web browser for Windows


Apple Computer’s recent introduction of its Safari web browser for Windows is part of a continuing effort to grow market awareness and ultimately, sales of Apple products. Apple has seen Mac computer sales grow as of late, driven both by iPod users buying their first Mac and by Intel Macs that can run Windows as well as the Mac operating system. Given that Safari is a free download and pretty much everyone with a computer uses a web browser, it has the potential to make some tremendous waves in a market dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer much as Apple’s iTunes and iPod dominate the music market.

As someone who uses both Macs and PCs I was anxious to see how Safari made the trip from Mac to Windows. I found that exactly as they had done with iTunes, Apple has created a Windows version faithful to the original. And that is a very good thing.

Safari’s interface is very modern, minimalist and clean, avoiding stylistic elements for the sake of adornment. The toolbar is easily customizeable by dragging buttons from a palette to where you want them to be on the browser window. When setting up for the first time I recommend you select “View Status Bar” under the View Menu, as well as using the Customize Toolbar command to set the browser up exactly as you want. You will be struck by how easy and intuitive it is, just like using other Apple products.

Though I did not do any formally timed tests, it was obvious Safari loaded pages noticeably faster than Internet Explorer. The “Blazing Perfomance” claim at apple.com did not at all seem out of line. Combined with the easily customized interface and intuitive controls, it makes for a web browsing experience that says “high performance” in the same way driving a premium automobile makes you feel compared to the way you feel when driving a domestic rental car. The only disappointment was text seemed slightly fuzzy around the edges on some fonts and font colors. It’s a small tradeoff for a browser that is so fast and easy to use, and which I find far superior to IE7 for day-to-day web browsing.

Told of Windows users’ appreciation of iTunes as a Windows application, Steve Jobs said, “it’s like giving ice water to someone in Hell”. If iTunes is a glass of ice water, Safari is Steve Jobs hooking up a fire hose to a hydrant and aiming it at the same hellbound denizens… it can affect a lot more people, a lot more, a lot faster. It’s a brilliant marketing move and a boon to PC users looking for a better way to browse the web. Once Apple gets the text sharpened up a bit they will have a clear grand slam on their hands, one bound to bring more people into Apple stores to see what Macs are all about.

As a tool that can have a positive impact on your computing experience every day, Safari is an application that belongs on your computer. I strongly recommend you give it a try. It’s a free download at www.apple.com.

The best places to buy electronics online- great products, great service and bargains galore!

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 25, 2007

Q) Where does one go for electronic equipment? Circuit City just did themselves in again, I won’t go to Best Buy considering their “eminent domain” land grab and their return policies. Here in Connecticut we’re don’t have much for local audiophile or computer stores. Any suggestions about on line sites?

-Bruce Digerness, Windsor, CT

A) This partiuclar column could end up being seen a bunch of plugs for a bunch of places and products, but if that is what it is going to be I can say that all of these plugs have been earned over and over and are well-deserved. I buy a lot of electronics myself, and recommend products to readers as well as recommend places to purchase them. Over the past five years I’ve uncovered some great places offering quality products, excellent prices, and suprisingly, much better service than you are likely to find in stores. One would think that buying online or on the phone would be impersonal, but some of these companies are staffed with extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic people anxious to help you. So fire up your web browser and get ready to take an online tour of some of the best places to do business online.

In the world of home audio three companies immediately come to mind: Outlaw Audio, Axiom Audio, and Ohm Acoustics. All three companies sell only customer-direct and have extremely knowledgable and dedicated personnel to serve you. Outlaw makes high quality stereo and home theater electronics, Axiom and Ohm make home speakers. Their websites are www.outlawaudio.com, www.axiomaudio.com, and www.ohmspeakers.com.

Oppo Digital’s bargain-priced, high performance DVD players and outstanding customer service have garnered them praise throught the A/V world. They can be found at www.oppodigital.com. Cambridge Soundworks, known for their wonderful table radios, can be found at www.cambridgesoundworks.com.

If you are looking for full-line companies, start at www.onecall.com. I’ve found some fantastic bargains there and service is absolutely top-notch. Be sure to check out their clearance section. Crutchfield.com has great selection and prices and often has some wonderful specials on Polk speakers.

Looking for refurbs? One of the best buys anywhere can be found at www.harmanaudio.com, where you can buy a top-rated Harman/Kardon receiver for a fraction of the regular price. Excellent deals on Onkyo electronics (some of my favorites) are at www.shoponkyo.com.

Nauseated by $150 HDMI cables? Me too! Get a good one for $6 at www.monoprice.com and tell the big-box store what to do with their $150 rip-off. More great inexpensive cables and the killer $125 SUB-100 powered subwoofer can be found at www.partsexpress.com.

Some other great online places are www.jr.com, www.vanns.com, www.pcmall.com, www.tigerdirect.com, www.macmall.com, www.macsales.com, store.apple.com, www.keh.com, and www.bhphotovideo.com.

Introduce your children to the long-lost cartoons of your childhood with rare DVDs from www.wbcomics.com. Get a free office software suite at www.openoffice.org. It’s like getting Microsoft Office for free!

Just because a company isn’t on here doesn’t mean they aren’t good- I don’t have complete knowledge of everyone on the market. You can check out prospective companies by looking them up at www.resellerratings.com. It will help you sort out unreputable operators

In closing, if you have a good locally-owned independent retailer, be sure to visit them and give them a chance to earn your business.

Proper speaker placement when wall-mounting, using more than one HDMI source

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 24, 2007

Q: When we bought our home, it came with wires sticking out of the wall at about seven feet high for small speakers that were part of a home entertainment system. We would like to add speakers in that location. Do you have any suggestions as to brand or type of speakers?

-Michael Dole, Golden Valley, MN

A: With almost any speaker ideal placement has the tweeters at ear level. For the best listening experience use wire connectors to add to the wire and bring the speakers down closer to ear level. If you are going to place them close to the seven-foot high location, buy wall brackets that allow you to angle the speakers downwards. This will minimize reflections from the ceiling and ensure as much of the sound as possible makes it into the listening area intact.

With the proper bracket you can mount most any speaker you want. For the best sound quality avoid tiny, teacup-sized speakers and use small bookshelf speakers.

Axiom Audio makes excellent bookshelf speakers, as well as brackets for wall mounting. They also allow you to custom design your own speakers from dozens of different finishes and grill cloth. The M2 v2 is only $296 delivered and has great sound quality. You can see them at www.axiomaudio.com. Many of my readers have purchased Axiom at my recommendation and have been very pleased.

For good sound at a bargain price, check out the Insignia NS-B2111 at Best Buy. At only $79.95 per paid they sound and look far better than you would imagine. With some judicious component selection a wonderful system can be built around them. They may be a little harder to use with mounts because of their curved cabinet design, but given the great value they offer it may be worth your while to find a mount that works.

If you must go with very small speakers (smaller than bookshelf speakers), check out Polk Audio’s RM6801 for $220 per pair, and the Paradigm Cinema 70 satellites. With either of these you will need to add a subwoofer to fill in the low end of the sound spectrum.

Q: If my television has only one HDMI input and my satellite receiver has only one output, do I have to choose between my TV and home theater receiver as to where I route the satellite HDMI signal? I know they make splitter boxes that purport to sense which signal is active. Are these reliable? I know my wife doesn’t want to have to fire up the receiver every time she just wants to watch TV!

-Tom Strait, Moorhead MN

A: I cannot vouch for the reliability of the splitter boxes, as I have not used them. However, I have seen a lot of complaints on internet message boards about HDMI compatibility across components, including receivers.

With only one input, on the TV, you are going to run into trouble when you want to add a HD DVD player, upconverting DVD player or other HDMI component. Routing the signals through your receiver is really the easiest way to run the system, and it should not be to hard for your wife to turn on the receiver when she turns on the TV. If it is, then run the HDMI from satellite to TV and use a separate digital audio connection to send the audio to the receiver.

Product Review: Epson Stylus Photo RX580 All-In-One

Epson Stylus Photo RX580 Scanner/ Photo Printer/Copier
Sound Buys Product Review By Don Lindich

An all-in-one scanner/printer/copier is an excellent choice for many home computer users, though some compromises are usually involved. Most all-in-ones don’t perform quite as their standalone counterparts, especially in terms of photographic print quality. A dedicated photo printer usually produces more realistic, sharper, more colorful prints by virtue of a superior ink system that uses six or more colors instead of the usual four.

Epson’s Stylus Photo RX580 offers the convenience of an all-in-one machine with the promise of top-notch photo quality with its high-definition six-color inks and high-resolution printhead. Called Claria, the inks not only produce excellent prints but are long-lasting as well. Epson states a life of 98 years without fade in optimum storage conditions. Given that many people place pictures in places that would be considered less than optimum (such as on a refrigerator door) you may not get that kind of life, but they do promise to last much longer than the year or two most seem to last before fading.

In addition to “Ultra-High Definition Printing”, as Epson calls it, the RX580 has much going for it, such as a bright 2.5 inch LCD for menus and displaying images, memory card readers for most formats, the ability to print directly on CDs and DVDs, Automatic Photo Correction to remove redeye, correct colors, and improve photograph image quality. The scanner has a Full Auto for quick and easy scans as well as manual controls for more advanced users. A restoration mode brings life back to old, faded photographs, a feature sure to be valued by those archiving old images. The copier switches between color and black and white with the press of a button and the clear display with settings makes it unlikely you will copy in color when you mean to copy in black and white. Suggested retail price is $149. A Bluetooth adapter, $40, will allow you to print wirelessly.

The RX580 proved to be easier to set up than other all-in-ones I have used. The setup instruction sheet was simple and straightforward and everything worked perfectly the first time, the whole process taking less than fifteen minutes. Software installation could have been a little better- I would suggest Epson add a progress bar to show what has been installed and what has not, as there are several programs that must be installed to use of the RX580′s features.

I started my testing with the most demanding task, printing photographs, and found the RX580 lived up to its billing. Images printed on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper were colorful and incredibly sharp- the “Ultra-High Definition” moniker does not seem out of place here. Scenery showed every minute detail rendered with eye-bleeding sharpness and the pictures had a deepness and solidity that added to the realism. Beautiful as they were, I did not think the RX580′s prints quite matched the richness and beauty of those created with my old Epson 2200 professional printer, but the now-discontinued Epson 2200 was a stand-alone professional printer costing around $800. Suffice it to say that the RX580 made a great accounting of itself compared to the best of the best, and from a $149 all-in-one machine the results are simply spectacular.

Moving on to the scanner mode showed another excellent performance. I was especially impressed with the Full Auto mode, which creates a scan and puts the perfectly scanned picture in a folder with a single mouse click- no adjustments, no cropping, just excellent results quickly. There are two other modes, a Home mode that allows you to select the document type and the RX580 sets itself for optimum quality for the subject. It is well suited for home users, as the name suggests. Professional mode unlocks a full range of adjustments for advanced users to tweak to their heart’s content.

As a copier, it was a copier, plain and simple. Just put the document on the glass, select color or black and white, and press the button. Copies were clean and there was nothing to complain about.

All in all, the RX580 strikes me as a perfect choice for most anyone needing a printer or all-in-one device. Photographic print quality is excellent, the scanner is capable and its plethora of capabilities from CD printing to photo restoration all make it a versatile, high-quality tool like a Swiss Army knife. At its suggested retail price of $149, it is a true bargain. As I was finishing up this review I saw it advertised in Sunday newspaper circulars for only $99 after $50 instant savings. At that price, it is an outright steal and makes pretty much any printer or all-in-one selling for under $100 irrelevant. You can see the Epson Stylus Photo RX580 at www.epson.com.

Bose and Specifications- they don’t provide them!

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 23, 2007

Q: Why is Bose so secretive about the frequency response of their sound-cancelling headphones? Could it be because it’s not as good as they could wish?

-Steve Perry
St. Paul, MN

A: Bose has a long history of not disclosing specifications of any type. Wikipedia’s entry on Bose Corporation states Bose’s position, as taken from a paper published by the Audio Engineering Society, at aes.org: “The ultimate test, Bose insists, is your perception of audible quality (or lack of it) and your preferences. Unlike other major speaker manufacturers, Bose does not publish specifications relating to the measured electrical and objective acoustic performance of its products. This reluctance to publish information is due to Bose’s rejection of these measurements in favour of “more meaningful measurement and evaluation procedures.”

In other words, it does not matter what the scientific measurements say, it is whether you think it sounds good or not when you listen to it.

My own position, and that of most every audiophile, is that specifications are very meaningful, especially for loudspeakers and headphones. Audio is a science as well as an art, and accuracy is to be strived for.

You have touched upon the most important specification, frequency response, which is the portion of the audible spectrum that the equipment can reproduce. Humans can hear between 20 hz (deep bass) and 20,000 hz (very high treble) and you want the speaker to
reproduce as much of this range as it can evenly, without exagerrating any specifically part of it. A figure such as +/- 3db will be given with the frequency response to specify it can reproduce the spectrum without varying more than 3db softer or louder.

A test of Bose’s Acoustimass system’s cubes showed by far the worst frequency response I have ever seen: 280 Hz to 13.3 kHz at ±10.5 dB. If you compared it to audiophile, or even mass-market speakers of reasonable quality, a variation of 10.5 db is totally off the charts. I imagine the “incredible deal overstock” speakers you can buy out of the back of a cargo van would post better numbers. (In fact, if you own a set of these van speakers, write me- perhaps this would make an interesting comparison!) You can read a summary of the test at


Besides the incredibly huge variance in frequency response, the cubes cut off at 13.3khz, which means over 65% of the highest octave is unaccounted for, because the speakers are incapable of reproducing it. The audiophile phrase “no highs no lows must be Bose” certainly is relevant here.

Specifications don’t always tell all- for example, many audiophiles prefer the sound of tube amplifiers, though they have more measured distortion than solid state amplifiers. Still, smooth frequency response without huge peaks and valleys is ALWAYS desirable.

When I first received my Polk i-Sonic review unit I was impressed by how smooth, clean, and sweet it sounded. I mentioned this to Polk’s marketing manager, Paul DiComo, a month later during a visit to Polk’s HQ. Paul mentioned they were using digital sound processing to create very even response from bass to treble and produced a frequency response graph showing an almost flat line from left to right.

Only Bose truly knows the true reasons they do not publish specifications, but given how ridiculous they would look if they did (especially given the premium prices they charge) this sometimes-cynical columnist thinks they are hiding something.

In praise of Kodak’s P880


Last year I wrote a recommendation for Kodak’s P880 camera after some extensive testing. You can read it at the post linked below:


I had been looking for a small camera to use for general purpose shooting and for when I don’t want to drag my SLRs around. I recently found a P880 on sale at Ritz Camera for only $239, the last one they had- the display model, at what amounts to more than 50% off. Needless to say I snapped it up and have been using it for the past week. Using it reminded me of what a really unique and special camera it is and with deals on the P880 abounding, it’s a good time for me to talk a little bit more about it. If you are looking for a digital camera and don’t want the size and expense of an SLR, the P880 could be the camera for you.

The P880 is an 8 megapixel camera with an excellent Schneider zoom lens with a mechanical zooming ring and a 24mm equivalent wide angle. Schenider is known for excellent lenses and the P880′s lens is no exception. The mechanical zoom ring makes composition very fast and precise and I find a 24mm wide angle to be much more useful than the 400mm telephoto typically found on ultra-zoom cameras. There is no image stabilization, but you don’t really need it since the camera does not zoom out that far. It has a nice automatic redeye reduction feature that allows you to correct redeye digitally in-camera (a boon to those who print at the store from their memory card) and many manual controls as well as a point-and-shoot modes. An external flash is available as well. You can read more about it on Kodak’s website, linked below.

P880 on Kodak.com

What I like about the P880 is it delivers the goods time after time with little fuss and no disappointment, even with the external flash attached. Lots of compacts have a harsh or cartoony look to the images they produce- but not with this one. Color and contrast are spot on and reminiscent of pro cameras. It is obvious that the people that designed this camera knew what they were doing!


I recently put my Mini Cooper S on eBay as I have a new car on the way. I used the P880 to do the pictures for the listing. As you can see the photographs are very natural and look good whether in the shade, sun, or photographing the interior. I use the “High Color” setting which gives the images a bit more zing without making them look artificial and oversaturated.




I’ve seen P880s on sale all over the place for around $300, far under suggested retail of $499. That, my friends, is a bargain for a camera this capable. Best place to look is eBay. I have linked a sample ebay sale below.


P880 on ebay

The downside to the P880 is it does not focus and shoot quite as quickly as some of the more recent compact cameras or a digital SLR. If you don’t need blazing response times this camera is sure to satisfy in most every way.

HD DVD vs. Blu-ray (revisited), 1080i vs. 1080p on a 46″ screen

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 22, 2007

Q: I have a 46 inch Mitsubishi 1080 HDTV an need a new DVD player. Should I get HD DVD or Blu-ray? If Blu-ray, which one should I get, and why? If HD DVD, the Toshiba HD-A2 or HD-A20 and why?

-Al Szczepanski , Minneapolis, MN

A: You ask about the new, high definition DVD formats as if they are your only choice. The fact is that the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray is still far from being decided. It may be in your best interest to sit out this round and wait, perhaps not. I will bring you up to date regarding the two formats and offer my advice, as well as a few recommendations, then you can decide for yourself.

For those of you new to this subject, HD DVD and Blu-ray are two new disc formats that can play high definition content. They are battling to become the replacement for DVD.

About a year ago I reported on the rather dismal picture quality of Blu-ray compared to HD DVD’s outstanding picture quality. At the time I could not recommend Blu-ray at all given the expense and poor picture quality, and gave HD DVD a conditional recommendation for serious movie buffs or those with a large budget. Since then Blu-ray has closed the picture quality gap, though HD DVD is still widely considered to produce a superior picture overall. Another recent development is a combo players from LG that can play both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I still can’t recommend Blu-ray because of the high cost of the players. Blu-ray players start at around $800. A HD DVD player can be had for $400. Given that the battle is far from being decided, I don’t think $800 on a Blu-ray player is a wise investment for most consumers. The LG combo player is marred with functionality issues, so I can’t really recommend that one, either.

The much lower price point of high quality HD DVD players makes them much more viable from my point of view. You can get an excellent HD DVD player for $399, which is only $250 more than my favorite consumer DVD player, the $149 Oppo DV-970HD. An additional $250 to add HD DVD functionality seems like a pretty good deal to me.

This brings us to HD DVD and Toshiba’s $399 HD-A2 and $499 HD-A20. The units are pretty much identical except that the HD-A20 outputs at 1080p, the HD-A2 at 1080i. You did not say if your Mitsubishi was 1080i or 1080p, but it would not affect my recommendation that you get the HD-A2 and save $100. With a 46 inch screen I doubt you would see a meaningful difference between the two, if you could see a difference at all. If you are a serious enthusiast, consider the top-of-the line HD-XA2 with its top-shelf video processing. It’s a far, far better value than an $800 Blu-ray player. One thing I can assure you of is that with any of these HD DVD players the picture will look spectacular!

Which brings us back to the Oppo DV-970HD. It is going to produce a spectacular picture on your 46 inch screen as well, though it can only play ordinary DVDs. You may just want to get the Oppo and wait a little longer for the prices to drop and for more movies to be available on both HD DVD or Blu-ray.

Sound Advice Week 21: Using computer and turntable with sound system, Apple iMac computers and digital video

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 21, 2007

Q: I’m interested in getting my computer and my turntable (I have a Pro-ject Debut III) to use the same speakers in my sound system. Of course I don’t need it to be simultaneous but I’d like to not have to fuss with cords if its possible. Any help would be appreciated. I’d like to add that your website was of immeasurable help in narrowing down my search for a good turntable.

-Will Damon, Seattle, WA

A: Thank you for the complements. The Pro-ject Debut III is an excellent entry-level turntable, as you have discovered already. The computer and the record player will use different inputs on your receiver, so they can both be connected simultaneously. Just select the appropriate input to listen to either the turntable or computer.

There are several ways to connect your computer to your sound system. If you are mainly playing music from your iTunes library, Apple’s Airport Express will allow you to stream music wirelessly from your computer to your sound system. It also can create a wireless network or allow you to wirelessly share a printer between several computers.   It works with both PCs and Macs and is priced at only $99.   You can see it at www.apple.com.

You could also use the Terk LeapFrog. I’ve discussed the LeapFrog in the column in the past- it is a wireless transmitter that will allow you to send signals from, for instance, a cable box in the living room to a TV in a garage. Just use the audio connections of the LeapFrog at both the receiver and the computer. You will need a miniplug to RCA adapter cable to connect the computer to the LeapFrog. The LeapFrog is marketed by Audiovox, at www.audiovox.com.

Finally, you can use the miniplug to RCA adapter to connect the computer to the sound system. This may not be of interest to you, but readers who have a sound system in close proiximity to the computer may not mind the wires.

Q: My wife and I are about ready to purchase a new PC. You seem to recommend the iMac and that appears to be how we will be choosing to go. We’d be moving from Windows 98.
We also own a Digital 8 video camera. We have not used this video camera to any extent except to shoot video and watch on our TV. Will we be able to transfer past/stored (and future) home video’s onto the iMac with ease? Will we be able to edit etc. on the iMac? Or, is it time to purchase a new video camera also?
-Robert Koleno, Mars, PA

A: Home movie editing is what Apple does best. I am fairly system-agnostic and I use and enjoy both Windows computers and Macs. If I could only have one computer, however, it would be a Mac because I am so fond of the video editing capabilities of iMovie and iDVD. They are very intuitive and simple to use, and the finished results look polished and first class.

Your digital camcorder will connect easily to the computer using a FireWire connection anddownload the tapes into Apple’s iMovie software. After they have been transferred, you can edit to your heart’s content, then send the finished production to iDVD for DVD authoring. Just be sure to get an iMac with the DVD-burning SuperDrive, not the Combo drive.

Sound Advice Week 20: Digital Camera Recommendations

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 20, 2007

Q: I have never owned a digital camera before and I wanted to get some advice from America’s foremost expert to guide me in my initial choice. I read on your blog where a higher number of pixels doesn’t always translate into better pictures. I now understand why that’s the case.
That being said, here are the features that are important to me: 1) LCD screen of at least 2.5″; 2) image stabilization, preferably optical; 3) optical viewfinder; and 4) manual controls. Of course, picture quality is very important to me as well. While I don’t have an unlimited budget, a cheaper price would not necessarily be the determining factor in my decision.
Can you pass on several choices based on your experience?
-Bill Raw, Red Wing, MN

A: Wow, you seem determined to get your name in the paper! Your flattery and sense of timing has achieved your goal and is going to get your question in the column. I haven’t written about compact cameras in a while and there have been some changes on the market, so I will take this opportunity to warn readers about some deceptive marketing going on, as well as recommend two great cameras.

First of all, some of your features tend to exclude each other. For example, unless you are looking at a digital SLR, more and more cameras these days do not have an optical viewfinder, especially if they have a large LCD screen. The large screen tends to crowd out the viewfinder window, and not many people use it to begin with.

Your remarks about image stabilization are apt. Some companies are using buzzwords such as “digital image stabilization” or “electronic image stabilization”, which don’t stabilize at all. All they do is raise the sensitivity (which creates noise, grain, and destroys detail in the image) so that a faster shutter speed is used, which counteracts the effects of hand shake somewhat. True image stabilization uses motion sensors then either moves lens elements (optical) or moves the sensor (sensor-shift) to compensate. Some digital photography websites have given the manufacturers a verbal lashing for this shifty (pun intended) bit of marketing doublespeak. If it is “digital stabilization”, then it really isn’t stabilization.

There is a Canon model I can easily recommed to you, or anyone else in the market for a full-featured camera. The 7.1 megapixel PowerShot A710IS has a 6x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, manual controls, an optical viewfinder, and a 2.5″ LCD screen. Image quality is outstanding. I’ve handled it in stores and at trade shows and it responds quickly, as well.I have seen it selling on the web for under $300, which is an incredible value for a camera of its features and capability. In fact, looking at your questions, this camera is pretty much made for you.

My second recommendation is to consider a digital SLR. An SLR will provide the best image quality as well as future flexibility, an optical viewfinder that is big and bright, the ability to photograph inside or in available light without flash, and very fast focus and shooting performance. My favorite moderately priced camera continues to be Pentax’s gem, the K100D. I use a K100D almost every day and it continues to impress with its beautiful images, effective sensor-based stabilizer, and solid build quality. The K100D with Pentax 18-55mm lens can be purchased online for $534.00 after a $50 rebate.

Excellent article on compact camera noise and ISO at dpreview.com

Regular readers of my weekly Q&A column have probably seen me mention why more megapixels aren’t always better, mostly because of the problem of noise and its detrimental effect on image quality. The folks at Digital Photography Review just posted this excellent an about high ISO settings and noise in compact cameras. It’s a bit technical in nature (most of their writing is) but it shouldn’t be that hard for the non-technically inclined to follow, and the illustrations are very helpful. Read it at the link below.


Buying an inkjet for photo prints? Get one with at least six ink colors

Today’s inkjet printers can create photographic prints that rival or beat the image quality of a photo lab.   Some high-end inkjets produce the best image quality you are likely to find anywhere, and under proper storage conditions the prints will last as long as conventional photographs.    


Six individual ink cartridges in a Canon S9000 printer.   Yellow cartridge, far right,   is missing its label.

If  are going to print at home, be sure to get a printer with at least six colors of ink.   A four-color printer, using yellow, magenta, cyan, and black ink, can produce good-looking photographs, but they will lack the color range and realism of a six or eight-color printer.   A six color printer adds photo cyan and photo magenta inks to bring the prints up to the next level of photographic reality, and it is a difference that anyone can see.   Eight-color printers add either red and green, or a light black ink and clear ink to improve quality even further, but these are usually found in expensive wide format (13×19 inch) printers.   For most home users a six-color printer will exceed their expectations.   The illustration above shows a printer with six individual cartridges.   Please note that some printers have six ink colors, but only two cartridges- one for black and one for the colors.


Epson Stylus Photo RX580

All-in-one machines (scanner, printer, copier) have become increasingly popular for the convenience and value they offer.   In the past  I have shied away from recommending them because the print quality usually lagged noticeably behind a dedicated photo inkjet printer, but this may have changed.    I will soon have a review of Epson’s Stylus Photo RX580,   one of the only all-in-ones I have seen that uses six-color inks.      I have seen the RX580 on sale for as little as $99 and if the quality is as good as it is reputed to be, it’s hard to imagine a better  value in an all-in-one.  

Pentax K10D with “Pancake” lenses


Pentax K10D with “Pancake” lenses

Sound Buys review by Don Lindich

Pentax’s K10D is one of the leaders in the SLR market. Featuring a 10.2 megapixel image sensor, sensor-based image stabilization (which Pentax calls Shake Reduction) a bright, clear viewfinder, and an intriguing set of custom features and manual controls, it has the goods to compete with much more expensive cameras and is pretty much untouchable at its price point of $999 with the 18-55 kit lens. This is not much more than an entry-level SLR from any number of manufacturers, but the K10D’s solid build quality, weather sealing, and advanced feature set put it in an entirely different league, though it can be as simple as a point and shoot when placed in automatic mode. Pentax clearly aimed the K10D at the advanced and serious photographers, as well as more family-oriented types that wanted something a clear cut above the entry-level competition.

Many of these serious photographers look for something special in lenses, too, and that can be hard to find unless you have a large budget and a big camera bag. The market and the industry have been trending towards zooms for years, and though they offer convenience, they are bigger and heavier than fixed-focal length lenses that do not zoom in and out. Zooms also are not as sharp as fixed focal length lenses and they do not work as well in low light, either. For those looking for the ultimate in image quality and performance, a fixed focal length is the undisputed choice. Regrettably, with the zoomward move of the market many manufacturers have neglected their fixed focal length offerings, especially affordable ones.

Pentax has a long heritage of catering to lovers of photography, dating back to their K1000 camera of decades ago. It imagine it is with many of these people in mind that they intriduced their new “pancake” series of fixed focal length lenses… lenses offering incredible color and sharpness, high-quality metal construction, and as may be guessed at by their pancake nickname, extremely small size that barely sticks out from the lens mount.

There are currently three Pentax pancake lenses available. The wide-angle 21mm/3.2 lens sells for $419 after rebate, the “normal” 40mm/2.8 at $225 after rebate, and the 70mm/2.4 telephoto for $489 after rebate. While these prices may sound a bit high in these days of the $100 zoom lens, it’s like comparing a high-performance European sports car to an entry-level commuter car made in Korea. The difference in quality and performance is that pronounced, and the difference in the pictures is easy to see even with an untrained eye. A set of pancake lenses costs about the same as a K10D body, and as I have always told my readers an investment in quality lenses is always worthwhile as you can use them for decades, while digital camera bodies will go obsolete and be replaced over time.

Using the lenses with the K10D reminded me of the convenience and capability of a classic rangefinder camera. In one tiny bag I had a camera body and three top-flight lenses capable of creating incredible images, much as a Leica user would have. Though they do not perform in low light as well as a Leica lens, the ability to raise the camera’s ISO compensates in some regard. They create a brighter, clearer viewfinder image than the kit zooms, as well.

The serious photographers out there understood the mission and performance of the lenses as soon as they were announced, but the new digital SLR owner probably wonders if they are something appropriate for them. If you are a travel photographer interested in the best possible performance in the least amount of space, I would say they are absolutely the way to go. If you are a little less serious of a picture taker but wants to see how good it can get, the 40mm 2.8 is easiy affordable and I imagine once you have one in your camera bag you will find yourself reaching for it often. If people pictures are your bag, go right for the 70mm/2.4 as it is perfectly suited to creating flattering portraits.

If the K10D is a little too expensive, I found the K100D to be a nice match for the pancake lenses as well. Pentax is to be commended for creating such wonderful, yet somewhat offbeat photographic tools. You can see them at www.pentaxslr.com.