Coffee Table: Boston Start-Up U-Turn Audio Develop Audiophile Turntable For $150

I just caught word of this ambitious project the other day by Boston start-up group U-Turn Audio. Despite how late to the party I am (this made the rounds on CNET, USA Today, and Stereophile several months ago), I had to post something about it here as well.

Vinyl records have been making a massive resurgence in recent years. Traditional audiophiles have always preferred the format and can justify the purchase of an expensive turntable. However younger, budget-minded people are now also flocking to vinyl in droves, but have few affordable options available to them when it comes to a turntable. Sure, you could buy a plastic, generic deck (probably made in China) with bells and whistles, but the sound and build quality will be compromised.

Enter U-Turn Audio. They’ve conceptualized, engineered, and figured out how to mass-produce a great-looking belt-drive turntable for $150. Knowing the turntable market well, there has NEVER been a turntable designed for audio quality that sold at this price range. Lower-end audiophile decks generally start at a price point almost double this. Called the Orbit, it is a great looking deck that will be manufactured right here in the states with the highest of quality control.

This being a site devoted to dance music, I know a lot of DJ’s are probably reading this and thinking “But it’s belt drive! I’ll stick with my Technics 1200 K THX.” The Orbit isn’t a deck designed for spinning records, it’s designed for straight playback. All high-end audiophile decks are actually belt drive. This is because the belt absorbs the noise from the deck’s motor, and the playback speed is actually a bit more accurate than direct drive (which is prone to occasional wow and flutter). 

Without getting too far into the technicals, check the video out above, visit their website for more info, and have a look at their Kickstarter. Donate $150 and you’ll get one of the first decks they manufacture shipped right to you, donate more and they’ll custom build one for you! Right now they’ve FAR exceeded their goal, and wish them the best of luck getting their product off the ground.


Featured Video: From Jack to Juke: 25 Years of Ghetto House

I come across a lot of documentaries on YouTube and Vimeo, some very insightful, many not so much. Yesterday I stumbled across a 1-hour documentary called “From Jack to Juke”, concepted and produced by Sonali Aggarwal, about the history and culture of juke music in Chicago. This video goes straight to the source, highlighting interviews from the pioneers who were instrumental in helping pioneer the sound: Slugo, Godfather, X-Ray, Deeon, and Manny Mohr, amongst others.

There are plenty of documentaries that focus mainly on Chicago house, relegating Juke as a mere footnote by merely a couple of casual mentions. Not only do we get some insight behind the Juke’s pioneers in this video, but the second half really emphasizes the music’s culture and dismantles many of the stereotypes that critics have plagued Juke with from day one. (Especially in regards to the sexual themes.) 

From Jack to Juke ends on a high note, highlighting how Juke’s producers, promoters, and dancers are working together to help bring the sound to a broader audience than Chicago. 


Coffee Table: You Don't Even Have To Know the North Star to Appreciate "An Astronomer's Paradise"

Stop whatever it is you are doing right now and check out this video by Babak Tafreshi. Hit the full-screen button, and double check to make sure HD mode is on. You might think this is just silly footage of a bunch of auxiliary telescopes in Chile at first, but just look at those stars and you’ll change your tune real quick. Tafreshi’s awesome video was shot with an extra-wide fisheye lens, which just seems to swallow up the entire sky and compress it all down to the panorama you see here. 

The colors in the night sky are beautiful; if this was made 15 years ago you probably could’ve sold it as a screen saver and made decent bank off it. Oh well. I can never get enough quality time-lapse videos, and “An Astronomer’s Paradise” is no exception. 

Tafreshi works full time as a journalist in the science and astronomy professions, and spends much of his free time with photography and serving as the director of The World At Night (an organization that captures time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks)


Sketch Pad: Adobe Revamps Interface, Photography Workflow In Upcoming CS6

Graphic design and photography junkies have patiently been waiting for Adobe to release their latest (and greatest) version of Photoshop (CS6) for quite some time. Updates are generally a semi-annual affair, with Adobe spending many months beta-testing the features and remaining as secretive as possible regarding the details. When CS5 came out in 2010, Adobe did promote several of the cool tricks the program could do over YouTube and Twitter, such as the puppet warp and enhanced brush tools. And with CS6, Adobe posted a nice video nugget the other day showing their revamped RAW workflow.

I find it particularly interesting how Adobe is managing to completely improve the Camera RAW plug-in with each iteration of its flagship program. The preview video, albeit brief, shows how a photo from even a cell phone can allow under or over-exposed data to be recovered more accurately than before. It also hints at the revamped graphical user interface, which is much darker and matches Lightroom and After Effects. (I like this a LOT, but opinions will vary I’m sure).

Much word on the street regarding CS6 is unofficial, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was released at some point during the first half of 2012. There was a lot of intense debate regarding the upgrade price; Adobe initially only allowed CS5 owners to pay the reduced price. Anyone with CS4 or prior would have to shell out the full price. They have since reversed their decision after a myriad of open complaints; CS3 & CS4 owners can pay the lower upgrade price to CS6 before the end of 2012. So let’s hope it gets released before December 31st ;)

Update (2/1/12): Another video just leaked from headquarters. They have officially announced background save in Photoshop CS6 (where the program saves your file automatically every few minutes so you don’t lose your work in the event of a crash), as well as a dramatically enhanced liquify tool. Nice.


Coffee Table: Miss the Snow This Winter? Here's Some Awesome Time-Lapse Footage From Montana to Make Up For It.

There may not be much snow in Boston right now, but I don’t see too many of us non-skiers complaining now do we. If you’re one of the few who misses the snow, today’s your lucky day: thanks to videographers Preston Kanak and Eric Hines, you can enjoy some stunning time-lapse visuals of a place far colder than even New England right now. Preston and Eric recently spent a full week in Montana, presumably using the majority of it to capture the footage you see in the four minute video above. Be sure to watch the whole thing: the lenses get wider, the visuals more eye-popping, and even the music more dramatic as you dig further into it. 

Some great work here; these guys must have had an endless supply of patience enduring the harsh elements for hours on end just to capture mere SECONDS of footage at a time. And the vast majority of us who HATE snow will be sure to find this video pretty awesome as well.


Coffee Table: The Phantom HD Camera, From Hotel Rooms To 50 Ft. Tahitian Waves

More Surfing Videos

Last week I posted a video demonstrating the mindblowing technology that is the Phantom HD camera. At thousands of frames per second, watching a glass of water shatter on a hotel bathroom floor was a pretty interesting thing to watch. So it only makes sense to up the ante this week, and post another video with the Phantom at work, this time filming the movement of about a BILLION times the amount of water. 

Billabong hosts a pro surf competition every year in Teahupo’o, a small village in Tahiti. Teahupo’o is renowned for its infamous waves, which can easily reach 50 FEET in height. The slope of the reef beneath the surface of the water causes the wave to hollow out in the center once it breaks. And like climbing to the top of Everest, very few people will ever get to witness it first hand; those that do risk death with even the smallest screw-up! 

Although wiping out on a Teahupo’o wave would be akin to falling off a five-story building, film maker Chris Bryan lets us safely watch other people surf these monsters from the safety of our desk chairs. And thanks to the Phantom, those wave breaks just became that much more epic. Full-screen this bad boy.

Thanks to Dave Foresman for sharing this


Coffee Table: Stuck in a Hotel Room With Nothing But a $100K Video Camera Ain't So Bad

As a budding photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to borrow some pretty powerful lenses and camera bodies over the past few years to shoot with. But a $3000-a-day video camera like the Phantom Flex which is capable of shooting over 2,500 frames per SECOND is, unfortunately, a little out of my price range (and probably yours too). That’s why we can thank Boston-based sports TV videographer Tom Guilmette for putting this video together, showing some very cool footage of the Phantom Flex working at full power. 

Tom didn’t even need some exotic tourist destination or elaborate Hollywood-scale studio to wow people with the Flex: he did just that by capturing the footage with everyday items in a typical hotel room!

The Phantom Flex retails for over $100k, and is able to capture the 2,500 fps rate at a resolution of 1920x1080. Video junkies might be even more impressed that it can handle over 10,000 fps at 640x480! To watch water drop out of a faucet any slower would require some cough syrup sipping, and we don’t condone that around here now do we. The Flex also has a built-in image stabilizer to keep the video smooth and sharp; the capture rate does drop a bit with this turned on however. Bonus: it also handles a variety of different lens mounts from Canon, Nikon, and others.


Sketch Pad: One Skater, One Canon 7D, One Plug-In & One Dubstep Song = Slow-Mo Montage

This video was posted about a year ago but just caught my attention now. What we have here is a short piece by Tanner Merrill of a skater, shot with the fastest video settings possible on one of Canon’s best SLR cameras designed for video work: the EOS 7D. He used a very fast shutter speed, coupled with a 60 frame-per-second rate and a fast prime lens to let as much light in as possible. But that’s not enough! 

Following the capture, Merrill used a plug-in called Twixtor to make each video sequence run even slower. Twixtor uses interpolation to take an animation and make it run drastically longer or shorter in duration, while still ensuring it looks good. It’s essentially timestretching the video, only it uses tracking technology to analyze each pixel to ensure everything runs super smooth. And as the video demonstrates, it seems to do a pretty damn good job of it.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack just so happens to be a dubstep song: Jakwob’s remix of “Starry Eyed” by Ellie Goulding. Just to ensure this is still somewhat relevant to the site ;)

If you want to learn more about Twixtor, here’s a link to their site.


Sketch Pad: Wacom's Inkling Makes Instant Digitization of Your Drawings a Reality

If you like to draw, as well as work in Photoshop and Illustrator, you’re going to be in luck here. Manufacturer of the industry-standard Intuos and Bamboo tablets, Wacom announced another tool that has plenty of merit for designers and creatives. Called the Inkling, this device allows you to use a ball-point stylus with ink (similar to a pen) to digitize any drawings sketched with it to your computer. 

This is a pretty cool concept. I know, I know, it isn’t revolutionary. The Wacom tablets do just about the same thing. However, many professional designers or artists perfer to break away from the computer when concepting new ideas. They often obtain a fresh prespective on what to create when not tethered to that giant glaring screen (with constant distractions, such as “urgent” emails that really aren’t all that urgent). The Inkling allows them to sketch their ideas on any paper stock they want with the stylus, then bring back to the computer where they affix a small receiver to the substrate. The receiver attaches to the computer via USB, and the Sketch Manager software imports the drawing. Walla. Old school concepting with a new school twist.


Inkling lets you import your drawings as separate layers for Photoshop. I’m not sure if the Sketch Manager takes the drawing and breaks down the drawing into pieces to determine the layers, or if the person drawing hits the “import” button on the receiver each time they want a piece of the drawing to become a layer. Either way, you can further refine your layers in the Sketch Manager program, as the second video illustrates. You can also import the sketch into Illustrator, where it can be converted to vector art. Being familiar with this program’s Live Trace tool, who knows how accurate the vector re-creation is actually going to work. At least you’re dealing with a single dark color ink on a white background; tracing always tends to be more accurate when the contrast is higher. 

Be aware that the Inkling requires batteries, plus the pen uses actual ink that is proprietary to Wacom. These are a few hidden costs to think about. Overall, the $200 price tag is not bad at all for what the Inkling can do however. If you have a flatbed scanner that you use ONLY to scan new drawings, the Inkling will save you a ton of desk space right off the bat.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether or not the Inkling catches on. Wacom has a pretty good track record with their design gear (but their Nextbeat DJ controller I blogged about a couple years ago, not so much.)


Sketch Pad: A Sound Designer's Work on an Academy-Award Winning Film

“The Lost Thing” is a 15-minute Academy Award-Winning short animated film released earlier this year. The video above (forwarded to me by AbletonTutor on Twitter) is an inspiring look on how John Kassab, the Supervising Sound Editor and Designer, crafted the sound effects in the film from scratch. He speaks more of the concept itself rather than the technical side of it, making it a straightforward and interesting video even for someone without sound design experience. 

A lot of things go into crafting the audio effects in films, and in the case like “The Lost Thing”, which included over 72 different characters and very heavily developed, industrial backdrops, Kassab was certainly presented with a challenge here. As the project came together, he was often layering different sounds on top of eachother, thus creating more complex (yet transparent) sounds that mirrored the complex world of a boy trying to interact with a creature he discovers that the rest of the world could care less about. Definitely check out the last two minutes if anything, because Kassab discusses the importance of tight execution and sacrificing some work at the benefit of using only content that fits the overall theme of the movie.

SoundWorks, the company Kassab works for, is responsible for generating the sound and effects on a variety of motion pictures and TV shows.