This has been a very interesting year in my household. It certainly seems to have flown by as well. I’ve been fortune enough to have discovered some really cool stuff this year, and they certainly show where my priority lies outside of the office and family. My wife was charitable enough to let me travel back home to Chicago to attend this year’s Axpona where I discovered what would become my favorite thing of this year, the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones. I’ve really enjoyed Axpona over the last few years, lots of incredible audio systems on display and a really welcoming community. This year the seminars were very disappointing compared to previous years, but they made up for it with more live music acts. One of my favorite things about Axpona is the Ear Gear Expo, a great collection of booths from the growing headphone community. I’ve gotten a lot more into headphones the last several years since my wife has trained my daughters to complain every time my system got above a whisper level. I wish I could find out how she bribed them. I took the move to Scotland as an opportunity to get rid of my two channel set up and refocus on headphones, and another system I’ll talk about in a bit. The Ear Gear Expo had a great demonstration from the folks at Kimber Kable this year and showcased their amazing Axios headphone cables. Everyone had Focal Utopia and Audeze LCD-4 headphones to show off their cables, amps, or DACs. The Kimber Kable had them too, but they also had a pair of the Sony MDR-Z1Rs, and the director of the Axios business recommended I try them. Wow. Compared to my Audeze LCD-XCs that I got rid of because they were nearly unwearable these were incredibly light. They did a great job of noise isolation as well, and were really comfortable. And they sure didn’t sound like closed back headphones, they were really airy. I was impressed. I wasn’t sure how much of the performance was related to the top of the line Axios silver cables they were using, but I was intrigued. The next morning I saw the Kimber guys walking out of the hotel and the head guy was wearing the Sonys, seemed like a really good recommendation, the guy could use any headphones he wanted and these are the ones he chose. I picked up a pair and haven’t looked back, they’re amazing and I’ve set aside pretty much the rest of my headphones for them. They run great off of my Onkyo DP-X1 DAP on the go and are even great with the Meridian Explorer2. They really shine when connected to a beefier amp like the McIntosh MHA-100 or Mytek Manhattan II. They don’t replace the Focal Utopia by any means, but they are something I can listen to anytime and anywhere, something you can’t do with an open back headphone. I’ve logged a lot of hours with the Sonys this year and I look forward to even more time with them in 2018.
As I mentioned, I got rid of my two channel set up in 2016 as we were in the process of changing continents. I bought a pair of the Devialet Phantoms after we arrived in Scotland and have been using them as a family room system, driving the TV and Tidal streaming when we’re in the mood for some music as a family. They sounded pretty good and I was happy with them and they’ve got a good wife acceptance factor, but they weren’t blowing the doors off by any means. Then I got an email from Devialet this fall that they were running an upgrade promotion and I could turn my Phantoms into Gold Phantoms, their new ludicrously overpowered system at 4500W per device. It was a good deal and I jumped at it, and the difference has been major. There’s definitely more of a rumble watching movies, Bladerunner 2049 sounded incredible, and they are really very musical, they get the whole family singing and dancing along. Another favorite thing this year has brought us.
Something else that’s given me that real “Wow” reaction is our new network from Ubiquiti, an upgrade that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. The system is really slick, it just works, and the performance is a huge upgrade from our Netgear Nighthawk based system. We’ve now got full coverage all over the house and a much better firewall system to go along with all that wireless wonderfulness. And the controller and iOS app are outstanding, very intuitive and powerful. The price on the access points has continued to come down and the integration with the security controller is flawless. I’d highly recommend their Unifi system to anyone looking to step up from consumer grade gear. And their new Amplifi system looks really intriguing as well.
I’d like to call out “Men without Women” by Haruki Murakami as another favorite thing. I’ve read pretty much all of Murakami’s work and it always provokes a really unique emotional response for me, it’s really hard to describe, but I feel transported by his stuff. It’s deeply affecting to read his work and these short stories are no exception. It’s a thought provoking and beautiful collection and I’m glad to have taken the time to read it. I’ll also add “Batman/The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition” as another great read and favorite thing for this year. The book is just gorgeous and the story is really compelling, it’s worth it for the cover alone 😉
And finally, two movies that I am sure I will continue to watch again and again, that were made that much better by being able to share them with my daughter this year: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Thor: Ragnarok”. The character of Ego annoyed me to no end, and the horrible flashback with its crappy CGI didn’t help matters, but Yondu saved the movie IMHO. He does a much better Mary Poppins than a certain force-aware General from another recent sequel. Thor for me was a pitch perfect outing, I loved every minute of it and wish I had seen it more than once in the theaters. It gave me lots of stuff to talk about with my daughter and even inspired her to spend some time with me watching some of the other Marvel movies, which has been a treat.
All in all a rather great year, with many things that I am grateful for! I wish you all an incredible 2018!