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Posted in things we like by hemmant jha on March 31, 2009

Germain-Robin alambic brandy.

I first picked up a bottle of G-R brandy when I was looking for a good single malt. The refined and purposeful label caught my eye – I bought a bottle on instinct and have consumed and gifted quite a few since.

At $40, the basic bottle is not cheap, but perfectly reasonable for what it holds – a spirit of  delightful complexity and refinement, much more enjoyable than comparably priced cognacs. It is light on its feet and a perfect accompaniment to classic jazz of the highest calibre.

There’s something to be said for subtle variations in products, not as a result of lack of attention paid to production, but simply through human involvement – possible only in a small, dedicated producer [G-R]. Hubert Germain-Robin oversees the entire process, and Ansley Coale, co-founder, will take your calls. While consistency is seen as a virtue in mass production, it can often lead to products lifeless and uninvolving, especially in food and drink. G-R brandy has the very variations one looks forward to discovering, from one lot to the next [Lot 24 featured]. 

Buy a bottle of your own….or befriend this author.

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Posted in good design, the world around us, things we like by hemmant jha on March 30, 2009

2CV

“the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car” L. J. K. Setright.

Yet another populist people mover that’s still pretty valid in our time. Perhaps not the most crashtestworthy [it would certainly not survive a gentle brush with a hummer / humvee] the Citroen 2CV is a remarkable little car. That it was immensely popular and successful is an understatement – it was in production for over 40 years across the world in many, many iterations.

These images are of a pristine 2CV6 Charleston, seen in Chicago, IL. With loads of character, space, and engine sizes that compare favorably with those in scooters and mopeds, would you consider this a worthy contender for an in-city runabout? If so, maybe these fine folks could help you out.

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Posted in the world around us, things we like by hemmant jha on March 30, 2009

s-Cargo  | 2CV

Hardly ever seen in the US, the little Nissan s-Cargo seems like the perfect little runabout for creative types on the go. With enough character to be a head-turner and just enough oomph to be green, it’s a remarkable little transport. With only 12,000 produced, I doubt there are too many around in the US – the UK certainly has enough for a ‘NISSAN S CARGO VAN CLUB‘ and there’s always the wikipedia page.

I’m reasonably sure Niels Diffrient drives one – 

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Posted in good design, things we like by hemmant jha on March 28, 2009

grado SR60 headphones.

There are two kinds of people who have a real interest in music and its accurate reproduction – audiophiles and music lovers. Are they not the same? Generally speaking : no, but there are always statistically insignificant overlaps. The Grado SR60 satisfies audiophile sensibilities [it comes from a respected brand with remarkable lineage] and the generally less than full wallet of the ardent music lover on a budget.

According to Peter McGrath, a well known and respected recording engineer [he travels the country recording a diversity of orchestras and artists such as Renée Fleming and Martha Argerich – he has recorded for many labels, including Harmonia Mundi and Audiofon] as a group, audiophiles spend 100 hours reading about tone cones, speaker cables, and audio miscellany for every hour spent in the company of a flesh-and-blood orchestra, chamber ensemble, jazz trio, or blues group [distressingly thorough Stereophile piece in full here].

Of late, I have been busy establishing one company, then another. I’m going to use that as an excuse for not having visited a single live performance in the last two years. However, I do like music of all kinds very much [my collection on iTunes is now 4,884 songs – 14.3 days worth of music, all in ALC format]. My collection of music on vinyl and cd / sacd is probably ten times that. I prefer listening through tube amplification and generally large speakers, like Klipsch LaScala or stacked Quad57s, relaxing with a nice brandy, with playback on lovely turntables [shameless plug here]. However, in the real world, when I’m working at my laptop and need isolation from the goings-on around me, I usually immerse myself in music with the $69 pair of Grado SR60 headphones that I bought at a hifi store in Brooklyn, NY in 1999.

The headphones are still in production and available for the same price. I’ve owned many headphones since, some many times the price, some more refined, some very different –  and remarkably enough, the SR60s still sound wonderful and special after all these years.

Corey Greenberg spilled some ink about these in 1994 over at Stereophile, where they still make it into the list of Recommended Components, 2009.

Delightfully simple design and implementation – there’s not much to break from repeated use. The earcups swivel 360 degrees on pivots – pull down to extend for larger heads, push back for smaller ones. I’d suggest replacing the stock foam pads with ones from the slightly more expensive Grados [cost $15]. The better pads are slightly larger and do not cover over the drivers, which makes for cleaner sound and just feels better. The enhanced pads are made from two kinds of foam of different densities, which makes for a more supportive fit – there’s a reason they’re standard on the Grados starting at $200 [and up].

This is a product that I would encourage you to try immediately – if you have a portable music player or a laptop with a headphone jack and a desire to listen to your tunes played back in a very enjoyable, very musical, full-bodied way with all color and tonality intact – audition these at your nearest brick/mortar hifi store [circuit city and best buy excluded, of course] or get them online

I’ve had mine for ten years now. USD69 spread out over ten years is about USD0.55 per month [and less with every passing day]. I’ll try and not make the inevitable comparison to the cost of that one cup of Starbucks coffee or daily NPR programming – if you’re a music lover or budding audiophile, you’ll want a pair.

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Posted in in heavy rotation, things we like by hemmant jha on March 25, 2009

Kind of Blue : Miles Davis

When all else fails, I go back to this. It is the most reliable standby, along with Martha Argerich+Bach. There’s nothing I can say about this disc [the musicians, the making of] that has not already been said. Full history on Wikipedia, and the NPR program [available as a download] on the making of Kind of Blue.

If not vinyl, please get the CD version [a steal at $5.99] – heavily compressed music aka MP3=bloodless / lifeless / no good.

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