🎵 Today’s listen: Boston by Boston. I’m trying something retro for a rare weekend gym day.

 🎵 Today seems like a good day to listen to a ton of Lana Del Rey.

🎵 I’m just playing the hits today.

🎵 Today’s listen: Dog Problems by The Format. It’s a classic combination of feel-good music and “I feel bad” breakup lyrics. Nate Ruess, who fronted this band before he sang with fun., has a distinctive voice. Standout tracks include “Time Bomb,” “The Compromise,” and “Snails.”

🎵 Today’s listen: In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s an indie rock masterpiece. That’s all I can say.

🎵 Today’s listen, Groundhog Day The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording), composed by Tim Minchin. It is wonderful and timely.

🎵 Today’s listen: Come Get Your Wife by Elle King. Much of it is fun, “angry woman” country music. Whether you enjoy it or not probably hinges on how much you like its hit single, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” which is a duet with Miranda Lambert.

🎵 Today’s listen: John Coltrane and John Hartman I just learned about this album this week. As far as I know, it is the only vocal jazz/standards album John Coltrane ever made. John Hartman has a deep, silky voice that’s so good I am surprised I never heard of him before.

🎵 Today’s listen: Heaven or Las Vegas

🎵 Today’s listen: Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins. This is purported to be one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, and a foundation for the dream pop and shoegaze subgenres. I never listened to it before today. I liked it but didn’t love it enough to keep it in my library. I think its genre may not be for me.

🎵 Today’s listen: To Venus and Back by Tori Amos. I haven’t listened to this album in many years, but I remember liking it in 1999 and 2000. I remember Tori Amos being very divisive when I was in high school (in the mid 1990s); I can’t remember why.

🎵 Radio Paradise

One thing that has been making me happy lately is Radio Paradise, which is an Internet radio station. Several things about it make it special:

  1. It is completely ad-free. It runs on the public radio model, in that it is listener-supported. A DJ breaks in between songs a couple times an hour to say hello and remind listeners that they can donate. These breaks never annoy me.

  2. Its “Main Mix” is the best eclectic rock radio station I have ever listened to. The songs played on this station range from huge hits to album tracks I have never heard of. It has no pretentious or underground vibe: whatever is playing is always interesting, musical, and accessible.

  3. It streams high quality audio. I listen to its AAC 320 Kbps stream, because my Apple devices support it. There is also a lossless FLAC stream, if your hardware can play it. Most Internet radio I listen has much worse audio quality, like 64 Kbps or (if you’re lucky) 128 Kbps MP3.

  4. Its web player is great, it has apps for many platforms if you want them, and it can be streamed from third-party Internet radio apps as well.

I highly recommend giving it a try.

🎵 Taylor Swift Releases 7 New Songs Just Hours After New Album Midnights: Listen. Taylor Swift is crazy, y’all.

🎵 Who else is looking forward to Taylor Swift’s new album? My daughter and I are anxiously awaiting its release tomorrow.

🎵 Today’s listen: Autofiction by (The London) Suede. It’s really good! They went “punk” after 30 years. 😀

🎵 Today’s listen: Asphalt Meadows by Death Cab for Cutie. I’m excited to hear new music from one of my favorite bands from the aughts.

🎵 Today’s listen: Gold by Sister Sparrow. Apple Music labels it an “Alternative” album, but it is blue-eyed soul all the way. My favorite track is “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind”; it’s fierce and fun.

🎵 Today’s listen: firstborn by Nicolle Gaylon. It is a veteran country songwriter’s first album. It is full of autobiographical songs which are, interestingly, chronologically ordered from birth to death.

🎵 Today’s listen: Emotional Creature by Beach Bunny. I loved this emo-pop band’s debut LP, Honeymoon, a couple years ago. I didn’t know this album was out, so I’m excited to listen to it. The lead single, Oxygen, is good.

🎧 An update on the Sony WH-1000M4

A little while ago, I bemoaned that the Sony WH-1000M4 headphones were disappointing to me. I’m happy to report they have been working pretty well as my gym headphones. The fit is pretty good (they don’t fall off unless I’m practically upside down) and the sound plus noise cancellation are more than adequate. The creakiness I observed when they were brand new seems to have gone away. My only complaint is that, when I bring my iPad with me to watch TV shows while doing cardio, it can be a pain to get the headphones to connect to it. They seem to want to connect only to my phone.

My gym almost never plays music, which is great because everybody wears some kind of wireless headphones there. I mostly see AirPods Pro around the gym, but a few people have the AirPods Max, and I wish I did, too. Their tighter fit and punchier sound, compared to the Sony WH-1000M4, would be welcome. A handful of other people at my gym use the same headphones I do, so I don’t feel crazy for not using purpose-built workout headphones there.

🎵 Today’s listen, Stop the Clocks by Oasis. It is a greatest hits album that is supposedly curated by the band to resemble on of their live show setlists. It is all the Oasis I need, and maybe a bit more.

🎮 Today’s listen: The London Suede and Similar Artists Station on Apple Music. This is probably a personalized BritPop playlist. I’m discovering a lot of album cuts I didn’t know about or bother listening to in the 1990s. Also, I now think Blur holds up far better than Oasis.

🎵 Today’s listen: I Miss Britpop. Because I do.

Oh, Schiit

My Schiit Magni 3 amplifier is acting up again. Tonight it is ground loop hum. Before tonight, it has been annoyingly sensitive (that is, it pops loudly) to the tiny amount of static electricity generated by my feet scuffing the low-pile carpet when I rise from my chair. When I stand up while wearing my headphones, it pops very loudly, which is painful to my ears, and then it will hum angrily the rest of the day.

When the Magni 3 works it is sublime. Unfortunately, I can’t always use it due to electrical issues, and I wonder if the popping problem could blow out my headphones someday. Early in its life it got fried and I had to RMA it. I’m not sure it is worth spending $80 or more for a power conditioner to try to fix it. I think it may be more trouble than it is worth.

🎧 Sony WH-1000M4 headphones are just OK and that sucks

Listening to the AirPods Max for five minutes in an Apple Store ruined me for other noise-canceling headphones. Not because they sounded good. In fact, I listened to them only long enough to learn that they are bass heavy and exciting. What wowed me about them was the active noise cancellation. It was far better than anything I had ever experienced. It made the din of the Apple Store—all those human voices, which are difficult for ANC to cancel out—go away completely.

Sadly, they are $550 headphones (street price $479) that don’t even have an analog headphone jack, so they are both outside my price range and unsuitable–at least for me—for listening to lossless quality audio. Still, I wanted “industry leading” active noise cancellation, something better than I already have in my fancy Beoplay H9, for the times that I need it.

I read a lot of ANC headphone reviews and came to the conclusion that most reviewers recommend the Sony WH-1000M4 for its sound, excellent noise cancellation, and price. At $300 (street price $279) they are not cheap, but one could buy them and the AirPods Pro for cheaper than the AirPods Max (at its list price). Also, compared to the AirPods Max, the Sony WH-1000M4 is lighter, folds into a small, protective case, and has a headphone jack for wired listening.

I received them and immediately discovered that I don’t love them. They are fine, but that is disappointing to me. Perhaps they are overhyped by reviewers. Perhaps I am asking too much from them. For whatever reason, I, unlike most people, I guess, think they fall short of greatness.

This is my list of complaints that should serve as a counterpoint to all the glowing, uncritical reviews.

  1. They sound good, but not great. The nearest analog to them that I own is another Bluetooth ANC headphone, the Beoplay H9, which sounds punchier, tighter, brighter, and more exciting than the Sony WH-1000M4. I have three non-Bluetooth headphones that sound better than both the Beoplay and the Sony, too1. I have tried to EQ the Sony via its iOS app, but I have found no preset that I constantly prefer.
  2. The active noise cancellation has an audible hiss and creates a bit of ear pressure. The hiss is disappointing. You don’t notice it during music, and probably won’t notice it in loud conditions where I would use these headphones, but it is annoying during podcasts or TV shows.
  3. Active noise cancellation does not live up to the hype. I actually use ANC headphones a lot in my home office because they remove the drone from the window air conditioner I use when it gets hot. Sadly, I found that the Sony WH-1000M4, with its industry-leading ANC, blocks that noise no better than the Beoplay H9, which is an also-ran in the ANC space and has essentially no passive noise cancellation in its earcup design.
  4. They aren’t that comfortable. My biggest problem with the BeoPlay H9 that I already had is its hard headband, which hurts my head after a while. The Sony headband does the same thing, despite the headphone being lighter and the headband being covered with softer material. The AirPods Max headband is very comfortable, but its clamping force borders on the extreme, so I probably would find it uncomfortable, too.
  5. While their moving parts are silent, the faux leather ear cups creak and squeak when I move my head. It is infuriating. I have no other headphones that do this.

I probably should have returned the Sony WH-1000M4 while I still had the chance. While I do expect to use them during walks on the treadmill and for plane travel in the future, I find that I almost always choose the Beoplay H9 over them for my everyday home-office-with-the-air-conditioner-on listening.

  1. I realize that part of my problem is that I have too many audiophile-quality headphones already. If I were comparing the Sony WH-1000M4 with my aging (non-Pro) AirPods, I would probably think they sound great. ↩︎

Jazz music is tolerated by my children

To my amazement, my kids seem to like jazz. By “like”, I mean don’t seem to mind, which I will consider a win. They don’t mind when I play John Coltrane (who is one of my favorite jazz musicians) on the kitchen smart speaker. They don’t blink an eye when albums like Jazz at the Pawnshop or Kind of Blue are playing. Today, I put on a Louis Armstrong playlist during breakfast, told my kids about him while I was playing, and my daughter expressed actually excitement about it. She told us that had learned a little bit about Louis Armstrong in school.

Playing jazz at some of our family mealtimes started accidentally. One evening I was too tired to think of anything to listen to while cooking dinner, so I told our Amazon Echo speaker to play “cool music”. I thought it would return a playlist of avant-garde pop music or underground dance- or world-music artists I haven’t heard off. Instead, to my surprise, Alexa cooly replied, “Now playing cool jazz on Apple Music.” I thought that was hilarious. I grew up thinking that cool jazz music was terrible, hopelessly lame easy-listening crap, which is the furthest thing from “cool” you could imagine. It turned out that my wife and I kind of liked the cool jazz playlist; it made for pleasant background music. More importantly, the kids didn’t ask for it to be turned off immediately.

Since that accidental discovery, the breadth of jazz that I put on for them has increased dramatically. I think this is a great development because I grew up in a house without music, and had to learn about all the different genres on my own. I am still trying to work on introducing my kids to classical music, but that has been a much harder sell.