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Welcome to Connoisseur Corner - Luxe Consulting and Executive Services

Marty Feldmann, The Connoisseur, is the highly sought after consultant who assists businesses and individual clients with the acquisition of the finer things life has to offer. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway to wine country, selecting audio equipment to outfit your home, planning your dream vacation or purchasing your ultimate transportation, Marty is your personal connection to the good life…

Marty can be contacted at: 916.952.9529 Marty@ConnoisseurCorner.com

8/29/15

Phorus PS5 Speaker – Music Everywhere pt. 2..!


For my second review of products from the folks at Phorus, I’ll talk about the PS5 speaker. 
Phorus, as you may recall from my earlier blogs on the PR5 receiver and also the DTS Play-Fi technology, are the folks that came up with Play-Fi and then joined forces with audio powerhouse DTS.  The PS5 speaker leverages the Play-Fi wireless tech as a building block for whole-house or portable music. 

The speaker itself is a well-designed oblong shape with black grill material covering the front and back, a high-gloss black top surface with a grey control rib running the length of the top.  The design should be at home in pretty much any room décor.  At just over 11” long, 5” wide and under 3” tall, it certainly will be easy to place. 
The PS5 employs a dual-speaker setup along with a rear-firing port to supplement the lower frequencies.  Music processing is done by a Wolfson DAC and power provided by two class D digital amplifiers. 

OK…  enough of the geek-speak!
Well, actually a bit more…  The PS5 Play-Fi control allows you to put up to 16 devices throughout a house and each is controlled wirelessly from the Play-Fi app on your phone, tablet or PC.  You can play speakers individually, all at once or in zones with groups of speakers, all with perfectly synced sound.  You can even use two of the PS5 speakers in a single room as a stereo pair, configured by the app. 

Geez, can they be more flexible..?  Nice…
As for the sound…  Let me first clarify that this is not audiophile hardware.  What you are getting for $229.00 is surprisingly good quality sound perfect for background music, or wake-up music, or shower music, or party music, or…

I played a variety of music through the PS5 via my collection of FLAC files including jazz from Brad Mehldau’s Ode CD, some Beethoven solo piano works courtesy of Yundi on a Deutsche Grammophon recording, and even plenty of old-school rock and roll.  All were handled in a pleasing manner and filled the various rooms with sound.  The one caveat: I did encounter distortion at what I will refer to as ridiculous volume levels.  The deepest bass and highs were of course rolled-off, but as I stated earlier, this is not audiophile territory. 
My final summation here is that this is a highly configurable product with excellent ease-of-use, is well designed and certainly well priced.  If it fits a need, I would highly recommend a look and a listen…


8/27/15

Casamigos – George Clooney Does Tequila



Being a rather conspicuous tequila consumer, which is apparently what everyone does while sitting around at a Lake Como villa, George Clooney and his buddy Rande Gerber decided to make their own, by golly..!

After a few years of trial and error, and working with their chosen master distiller, they arrived at their target recipe. 

Say "hola" to Casamigos
The tequila has been available for a couple of years, but these guys have been on a bit of a media blitz lately, so I figured I would add to the fire…  it is alcohol, you know!

The blanco, reposado and añejo are all represented, so you can take your pick.  For a quick primer on the differences between each, read my tequila lesson here.  Made in Jalisco by the same distillery that produces Avion and Clase Azul, the Casamigos team claims a slow cooking and fermentation process with proprietary yeast.  Does this process make a difference in quality..?  Your tequila taste test will be the judge…
If you decide to pick up a bottle, you are looking at mid-40s in price, depending on source.  Give it a try and let me know what you think…

Cheers..!     (Legal disclaimer:  no limes were hurt in the research for this article.)
 
 

8/26/15

Mercedes-Benz GLA250: Notes on a Drive



Luxury crossovers here, luxury SUVs there…   All you see any more are luxury crossovers and SUVs..!

Well…   maybe not…
It sure seems like it though.  The luxury SUV/crossover market may be the hottest segment in the automotive realm.  All the higher-end marques are building them.  Even the likes of Lamborghini and Bentley are getting in to the game. 

Today we are going to visit the entry-level side of this world.  The place where the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Lexus NX roam.  Today’s focus:  the Mercedes-Benz GLA250.
Built off the same platform as the diminutive CLA sedan, the GLA is part of that concerted push to appeal to a younger, more active demographic.  Both interior and exterior design have that softer design language seen in all recent Mercedes vehicles. 

The base engine in the GLA250, shared with the CLA counterpart, is a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder motor with 208-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque along with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.  Enough grunt to scoot the mini-ute to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, according to the Benz team.  Safety features include a 10-way airbag system, collision prevention assist plus and more...  Typical of Mercedes.  4-Matic all-wheel drive is also available for a $2,000.00 surcharge. 
So how does this cute-ute drive, you ask?  A bit like Mercedes light, but Mercedes nonetheless.  You detect a smidge less of that vault-like solidity compared to the upper model ranges, but the MB DNA is still certainly present.  The 4-cylinder motor has plenty of pep for daily use.  If you want to tear up the tarmac, pony up for the substantially more expensive AMG version.  Ergonomics are good and for the vehicle size, utility is decent as well.  The driving position had plenty of adjustability and the view outside was not noticeably constrictive. 

My bottom line is that there is value to be had here.  Keep your options reasonable and you end up with a mini-ute with the Mercedes caché and plenty of utility for an excellent all-around daily driver.
Well done…!




8/22/15

The Gin Diaries pt2: G’Vine Nouaison




From the Cognac region of France comes…   a gin…   using grapes…
Confused yet..? 

Let me try to remove your fog.  In the fall, the grapes for the gin are harvested and wine is made.  The wine is then distilled into a grape spirit, producing a somewhat smoother result than the usual grain spirits.  The infusion process then begins with the grapevine flower – this is the flower that produces the grapes.  In a rather complex process, the timely harvested flowers and 9 other botanicals are individually macerated and blended into the grape spirit and further distilled. 
What other botanicals, you ask..?

Juniper (duh..!), nutmeg, ginger root, cubeb berries, licorice, lime, coriander, green cardamom and cassia bark.
Yep, that’s all nine..!

Two final products are bottled by G’Vine.  The first is Floraison, which is based on a slightly younger grape flower.  Second is Nouaison, which is the flower just before the grapes appear.  Nouaison is the subject of this review and is a bit less floral and leans a bit more toward spice and juniper.
The nose is certainly different than most gins, with floral tones, but the juniper notes keep it structured.  On the palate, it starts with those floral grape-flower notes, then that pesky juniper and a touch of spiced heat appear, albeit somewhat muted.  The finish is well-balanced, but again, different from the typical London Dry style. 

The product is well made, but a bit off the beaten path, style-wise.  Worth a try if you want a change of pace. 
G’Vine  -  the wine-lover’s gin..? 

Cheers..!
 
 

8/21/15

CAS6 – The 2015 California Audio Show Recap


The 6th annual CA Audio Show is in the books, and music is in the ears and on the brain.  It was a highly enjoyable and successful show, allowing long-time audiophiles, as well as folks with a budding interest in music, time to hear dozens of systems from manufacturers and vendors all in one location.  A special thanks to Constantine Soo and the folks at Dagogo for yet another well-done event! 
And now for a few takeaways from the weekend…

·         Portable Hi-Fi and headphones are en fuego..!  “Cans” from HiFiMAN, Audeze, Oppo and others were playing tunes from portable players such as Pono or Astell & Kern, along with computer audio through various top shelf headphone amps. 

·         Active electronics are creeping in to the audiophile world.  Designed to correct room resonances or speaker output, technologies once frowned upon by the golden ear crowd are now gaining acceptance with substantial improvements in technology and application. 

·         Vinyl continues to expand its hold on the audiophile crowd and casual listeners alike.  Turntables and records were everywhere, and sounding good..!

·         Not only is the audiophile world thriving (once considered endangered courtesy of the mp3), but the future looks bright as well.  I observed plenty of the younger set in the crowd, and even several parents with their children in the listening rooms.   
A few pictures from the show.  My apologies to those rooms not included.  They were all top-shelf...

(Above is the Pass Labs room with YG Acoustics' Carmel 2 speakers and the new Pass Labs INT-60 integrated amplifier - spinning some Johnny Cash on vinyl with excellent results!)

 
The MIT Cable room with Magico Q3 speakers, Constellation Audio electronics and of course, MIT Cables.  Killer sound..!


The author (left) along with the affable Ze'ev Schlik, CEO of Pure Audio Project, with the Trio 15TB Open Baffle speakers.  Great sound and an incredible value..!


The folks from Bricasti Design used their electronics and Tidal Piano Diacera speakers to produce some of the best sound at the show..!


The system from Andrew Jones at ELAC (left) and Peter Madnick of Audio Alchemy was one of the most talked about at the show.  The room was always crowded and the sound was always excellent from these budget-minded products! 


Headphones and cables and bears, oh my..!


Excellent budget systems from Joseph Kwong and the folks at Napa Acoustic...


The Zu Audio room was rocking with vinyl from Rush and others.  Pass Labs and Whammerdyne electronics took part...  

Until next time...   Cheers..!

8/12/15

Review: The Phorus PR5 Receiver – Music Everywhere!


In a recent blog, I talked about the DTS Play-Fi music streaming technology.  Today I want to cover a product from the Play-Fi creators, Phorus.  That product is the Phorus PR5 Receiver. 

At home you likely have a home theater system, stereo, whole-house audio, or some combination thereof.  Can you connect it to the endless universe of Internet tunes? 
Now you can..! Simply, easily and elegantly.
The Phorus PR5 is a clean and affordable way to drag your existing audio gear into the Internet age.  All you need is a home wireless connection.  Connect the PR5 to your audio system with the supplied RCA cable and connect the power adapter.  The PR5 powers up automatically and with the built-in 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi in setup mode, you are almost ready.  With your Android or iPhone, download the Phorus app and fire it up.  The app will search the network, find the receiver, prompt you for some information, and you are now ready to roll with rock…   or jazz…  maybe some R&B… whatever suits your fancy.  You can even run the app from your PC or laptop and connect to any media server you may have running.
The Phorus app is simple to use and allows you to tap into Internet radio, Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, Deezer, NPR and more…  And don’t forget streaming music files from your phone or tablet via Airplay or Bluetooth. 
I used the PR5 connected to my B&K home theater processor and ran tunes through zones 1 and 2 in different configurations.  Performance of the built-in Wolfson DAC was up to snuff, with good sound quality.  I even ran 24/96kHz FLAC files from a Logitech media server just fine.
The downside…   not much of anything, quite frankly.  I do happen to have a rather archaic home network and did experience a few dropouts when my controlling device (cell phone or tablet) ventured a bit too far away from my router, say in the garage or out in the back yard. 
The Connoisseur’s bottom line here is that this is a well thought-out, user-friendly and inexpensive way to add a great amount of flexibility to your enjoyment of music at home.  For an outlay of $179.00 you get a lot of performance for the buck.  I recommend a look-see at the Phorus PR5 and Play-Fi.  You will like what you see  hear..!
**Next up, a review of the Phorus PS5 speaker…  No stereo required..!
 

8/11/15

The McLaren 570S – An Affordable Supercar..?


Yep…   I fully realize that the words “affordable” and “supercar” simply don’t belong in the same sentence.  Well, maybe in relative terms..?
What we have here is British manufacturer McLaren’s new entry-level line of supercars, referred to as the Sports Series.  Meet the 570S…

In reality there really isn’t much that is “entry-level” about the 570S.  The folks from Woking, England have delivered a stunning car, in the McLaren way.  The 3.8 liter twin-turbocharged V-8 sits behind the driver in a mid-mounted configuration.  562 hp, supreme aerodynamics and extremely light weight will get the McLaren to 60 mph in about 3.0 seconds and top out at 204 mph, should you be crazy enough to hold down the right pedal that long. 
Moving inside the cockpit delivers the expected luxurious hand-crafted leather available in 930,002 different color choices.  (Not really quite that many…)  Add in the appropriately British Bowers & Wilkins stereo system, a 7-inch touchscreen with sat nav, Bluetooth and WiFi, and you are ready to hit the road.  Then you have the cherry on top:  The dihedral doors – guaranteed to draw out the smartphone cameras at every opening of a door at the gas station. 

Affordable..?
With a base price of $187,000, the McLaren 570S substantially undercuts anything from the prancing horse or charging bull folks in Italy, without a performance deficit or lack of “look at me” street cred.  McLaren will surely sell a boatload of these cars, so get your order in now..!

8/7/15

Light Me Up – The S.T. Dupont Rolling Stones Lighter Collection


Simon Tissot-Dupont was born in Savoy in 1847.  Suffice it to say, Simon was not a fan of the Rolling Stones…  (Keith Richards isn’t quite that old.)
He did however, engage in handcrafting briefcases and travel cases.  The company he founded continued through the years and evolved into a producer of luxury lighters, pens, wallets, watches and even fragrances. 

Today’s subject is lighters.  It is estimated that S.T. Dupont is responsible for 70% of the luxury lighter market.  When you dominate a market so thoroughly, one might as well do something a bit out of the norm…  how ‘bout pay tribute to one of the great rock bands – the Rolling Stones. 
Let’s focus on the Rolling Stone miniJet collection of lighters.  S.T. Dupont has four versions, two in black and two in white.  Each lighter has the famous tongue-and-lips logo as well as the song title “All down the line”.  One of the black lighters and one of the white are available with Swarovski Crystals on the logo. 

Bling...

Starting at $180.00 and going up to $330 for the Swarovski models, you can now light your cigar with a little Sympathy for the Devil…   Stones style..!

8/5/15

The Brando – An Extraordinary Tropical Resort


Yes, that Brando…

The year was 1960, and Marlon Brando was filming a little film called Mutiny on the Bounty.  While on location he discovers an atoll called Tetiaroa and falls in love with the place.  Well, interesting fellow that Marlon was, six years later he buys the atoll for a tidy $270,000.

“Mine, all mine!”  or something like that…
Over the years Brando’s plans for the small chunk of paradise changed and evolved, and before he passed, he decided it was to become a resort to share with the world.  Construction began in 2009 and now we have the luxurious eco-resort known as The Brando.

One look and you will know why the man fell head over heels for the place. Truly a tropical paradise. 
33 miles north of Tahiti, The Brando is made up of 35 villas, each privately tucked away in the thick foliage.  Most are of the one-bedroom variety, but there are also four 2-bedroom and one 3-bedroom.  Take your pick… 

The one bedroom villas are 1,033 sq. ft. and include a King bed, wi-fi, outdoor tub and private plunge pool.  Other amenities include a pair of restaurants put together by award-winning chef Guy Martin from the two Michelin starred Le Grand Véfour in Paris. Of course you can always dine in room.  If you need to relax even further, pay a visit to the Varua Polynesian Spa.  The stress is guaranteed to melt away… For the more active type, snorkeling, diving, bicycling, paddle boarding and kayaking are available.  Or maybe just sit in the sand under a palm and do… absolutely… nothing…
All-inclusive rates are available, starting at Euro 2,400/day for the 1 bedroom villas during low season.  That’s roughly $2,600/day.  Not cheap, but nobody ever said that paradise came easy…  

For what may be the ultimate in private relaxation and full-on getaway, book your stay now. 
Extraordinary indeed..!

8/4/15

The Palmer Johnson 48m SuperSport – Simply Stunning


I don’t know about you, but my yacht cannot look like a floating tin can.  It absolutely must be sharp and crisp.  It must be… sexy!

Enter the Palmer Johnson 48m SuperSport  157 feet and 490 GT of floating style. 

Fast and efficient, the 48m will scoot rather nicely with a top speed at 32 knots.  You want more? How about a width of 36 feet and a fuel capacity of 25,000 liters.  The innovative hull design provides greater stability, spaciousness and efficiency.  This baby has a transatlantic range!  
Did I mention carbon fibre?  The hull and superstructure are made of it..!
And now the important stuff.  A crew of 9 is required to get you and 11 of your closest guests around in high style.  The main cabin is full-hull width and 732 sq. ft.  There is a bounty of places to relax or party, with a sky lounge, salon, beach club and of course the main aft deck all at the ready.  And should you ever desire to head for shore, simply use the available 22 foot tender to get you there. 

Since 1918 when founders Hans Johnson and Herman Gmack began building boats, this company has been at the forefront of technology and design.  Manufactured in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and with showrooms in Ft. Lauderdale and Monaco, you now have 3rd and 4th generation family involved in Palmer Johnson, keeping the original vision alive.
Simply Stunning..!

8/3/15

Turbo Chef’s Fire for the Perfect Pizza Pie




Wasn’t this a droid from the first Star Wars movie..?
Uh…    no…     This is a pizza oven…

Since 1991 Turbo Chef has been building robots…  er…  restaurant grade ovens.  If you’re like me and enjoy a fine artisan pizza, then I have just the tool.  Remember, in the kitchen one must have the proper tools to make edible art.  I present to you… the Turbo Chef Fire!
Using a pair of heating and convection elements, the Fire will cook up to 14” inch thick or thin crust pies in short order.  With temps reaching nearly 850° F, a 14” thin crust can be ready in as little as 90 seconds. 

Hope you’re hungry..!
6 preset timers, easy cleaning and ventless operation make using the Fire a snap.  It even comes in a veritable rainbow of colors.  Red, yellow, green, white, black and blue are all on the palette.  Pick a hue, fire it up and ready, set, bake! 

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the scalding hot Turbo Chef Fire will set you back a cool $4850.00 from a kitchen store near you…
Mangia..!

8/1/15

DTS Play-Fi – Wireless Hi-Fi for All


 
Fee Fi Fo Fum…  What the heck is DTS Play-Fi..? 
Let’s talk a little wireless home audio.  Some folks just don’t want to mess with running wires and cables all over the house.  Too messy… too scary… whatever.  The current king of the hill in the wireless audio world is Sonos.  They have had a few competitors over the years, but now there is a serious threat to their niche domination.  That challenger is DTS Play-Fi.
Why, you ask..?

One major reason, Sonos technology is proprietary, meaning if you want a Sonos home audio network, you have to buy Sonos products.  Sure, these are nice products, but let’s face it, you are limited as to what you can buy.  Play-Fi does not have this limitation and can be licensed by any audio company for their own products.  Well-known audio companies such as Polk Audio and Definitive Technology currently have Play-Fi gear available.  Other manufacturers such as Paradigm and McIntosh are slated to join the party soon. 
So now for a quick rundown of the Play-Fi story…   A gent by the name of Dannie Lau, founder of a company called Phorus, came up with the technology.  DTS snapped it up (handed over a bunch of cash stacks) in mid-2012 and has proceeded to license and market the technology. 

In sum we have a streaming audio technology, a powerful backer in DTS, and buy-in from several audiophile companies.  It doesn’t hurt that Play-Fi is very user friendly and flexible in setup and configuration.  This sounds like a winning combination to me.  If you are in the market for a wireless solution with audiophile aspirations, be sure to give Play-Fi products a look.
Coming soon:  reviews of the Phorus PR5 receiver and PS5 speaker…