Friday, May 05, 2017

Bang & Olufsen's Stylish New Speaker Cluster Impresses

A few years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I was invited to a small demonstration of Bang & Olufsen's new speaker. There were about half a dozen of us seated in the small room with twice as many B&O representatives eager to impress us with their Danish company's latest, greatest product. When the music was triggered my ears experienced something they never had before. The sound was truly amazing on a level I'd never experienced previously. At the end of the demonstration I asked how much a pair of these gorgeous speakers cost. When I was told I could have two for $85,000 (US), I thought I misheard the representative through his thick accent. Nope. That was the cost of the BeoLab 90s and I was left trying to think of the type of audiophiles who invested this much money in their speakers.

Fast forward to late March when I found myself on a guided tour of Bang & Olufsen's factory in the outskirts of Denmark. Aha, I thought to myself. I figured out how this company gets away charging as much as it does for its speakers. The craftsmanship, attention to detail and the number of PhDs contributing to the perfect sound quality all combine to make these the most impressive (and, yes, expensive) speakers on the market.

Courtesy: Bang & Olufsen

I was impressed with Bang & Olufsen's new BeoSound Shape speakers, which were unveiled to our group of tech writers (mostly European) the night before the tour of the aluminum factory and sound lab. However, what really impressed me was the commitment of the engineers to build a beautiful speaker (over the course of four years of development) that transcends the listener to another place. Such was the case with the new BeoSound Shape because they were setup in such a way to fill the room with music in a flawless fashion.

The unique quality of the BeoSound Shape speakers is its ability to be customized for ultimate sound quality. They are cool to look at over the sofa or conference table, but the most spectacular aspect is the sound that emanates from these colorful pentagon shaped speakers. The high quality fabric covers come in ten different colors, including exclusive wool fabrics from Kvadrat, Europe's leading manufacturer of design textiles. The Shape is controlled with the BeoSound Core connectivity hub, which lets you stream music directly from your phone or tablet via Chromecast built-in, Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth.

The BeoSound Shape will be available in August and as with most of B&O's speakers it will not be for the faint of heart. Figure standard setup will cost around $4,245 (US) and that's just for a few of these speakers. Had I not seen the factory in Denmark where B&O makes its magical sound products with my own eyes (and ears), I would still be scratching my head at their hefty price tags. Such is the price one pays for precise, crisp audio on a completely different level.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Israel's 7 Day Baseball Miracle of 2017

In the foyer of my home hangs a large piece of art featuring the most successful Jewish baseball players of all time. Most die-hard Jewish baseball fans would struggle to name every player in the rendering and there aren’t even enough uniformed players in the group to field a full roster. However, for seven days in March, young Jewish baseball fans like my 13-year-old son could name the entire starting lineup of Team Israel. This underdog group of a few former major leaguers and career minor leaguers took the baseball world by storm going undefeated in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.

This team made up of all Jewish players (at least one grandparent would suffice) and a few actual Israelis was unique. Some referred to them as the United States JV squad, but as Team Israel player Nate Freiman wrote in a Player’s Tribune article, “The Mensches of March,” these guys wouldn’t even make that team if it existed. Freiman beautifully summed up what this experience meant for him, his teammates and Jewish baseball fans around the globe. “So there we were, flying high and talking nonstop about whether they’ll make a movie about us someday.” Someone even suggested calling the movie “Jewsiers,” a play on the popular mid-1980s film “Hoosiers” about Indiana high school basketball. The team that had to get batting practice from local coin-operated batting cages before the World Baseball Classic began somehow became a miracle team during those seven days of March.

Israel Baseball Team with Mensch on the Bench 2017

From the team’s iconic large stuffed “Mensch on a Bench” doll to their decision to exchange their baseball caps for team yarmulkes during the playing of Israel’s national anthem before games, Team Israel became a source of pride for the Jewish community in the days surrounding the holiday of Purim, remembered as a miraculous triumph over a wicked persecutor who sought to exterminate the Jewish people. (Freiman compared the team’s success with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, albeit a seven day miracle instead of eight.) I was curious about how this team of MLB has-beens and never-will-bes embraced their Jewish heritage and represented Israel, a country many of them had never visited. I also wanted to know if the team experienced any anti-Semitism or criticism for representing Israel, the little nation that so many love to vilify. I had the opportunity to talk to Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, and ask him about the making of this Jewish baseball team that was compared to the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team.

First of all tell me a little bit about your role with Team Israel and how you got involved with the team?

Peter Kurz: For the past 4 years I’ve been the President of the Israel Association of Baseball and before that I was the Secretary General of the IAB for 8 years. So obviously when I came down to get a general manager for team Israel 5 years ago for the qualifiers, the president at the time said you’re the only one left standing so you might as well be it. So I started right away and I’ve been in that position ever since and I’m very happy with it.