Saturday, March 19, 2011

the lowdown on tires

a friend wrote me a short email regarding her upcoming tire purchase decision.


The last time I got my oil changed, they guy told me that I needed to change my front tires ASAP. I did some yelping and decided to go to Paul's Batter & Tire Shop. I don't want to get swindled, but don't know the first thing about cars. So here are my questions:
  1. Is it recommended that I get Toyota tires for my Prius?
  2. If I don't, how do I go about choosing a tire? Does it really matter what brand I get; and if so, which brand should I get?
  3. Are there other services I should request in addition to the tire changing? Like are they supposed to include an alignment or rotation? (whatever those really mean hahah)
  4. What is a typical price for tires and how do I know if I'm getting ripped off?
Any advice/insight you could give would be golden.

my reply:

you should probably grab a bite to eat before reading this novel i just wrote.

1.) Toyota doesn't make tires! Toyota does have their "recommended" tire, they sell the vehicles with. but you never know what deal Toyota and that tire manufacturer have. The toyota dealer will tell you that they only carry XYZ brand, but that's because they are only allowed to contractually. it's pretty much retarded if you ask me, but that's the business side of things. your car is sold with Bridgestone Tires that are approx $77 each. a quick read on the net and most prius owners aren't in love with these tires per say.

2a.) Choosing a tire can be an overwhelming task. first things first, you need your tire size. once you have that, you're technically good to go, just get that size! your size is 185/65/15. it's just like shoes! however, as you have probably suspected it's not that simple.
2b.) Tires have a balance of performance and longevity. you can have one, but not both. i'm assuming that performance isn't a top priority for you, so i'd recommend you choose a tire with a high tread-wear rating denoted by the UTQG#, the higher the number the longer it lasts. another factor is road noise. more expensive tires will have a lower road noise factor. all of these options are noted when buying tires. i would find out what type of tire you have now (high-performance, touring, all-weather, , etc) and make sure to match your new ones to the existing ones.
2c.) Brand of tire can be misleading. while some brands are overal more expensive than others, each brand has their cheaper and more expensive line of tires. i go about choosing a tire based on size, price, performance/tread-wear rating balance, and then brand.

3a.) Tires on the front wear faster than tires on the rear, for two reasons. Tires on the front turn, and tires on the front carry the weight of the engine (which is far heavier than the load on the rear tires). When getting 2 new tires, you usually put the new tires on the front and the best two (of the 4 tires currently on the car) on the back. this is called 'rotating' the tires. when the fronts start to wear down, you put them on the rear and move the rears to the front so that all four wear as even as possible.

3b.) when tires are put onto the rims, they have to be balanced so that they don't wobble when spinning fast. this is a service all shops will do when putting on new tires, it's a small charge per tire $10-20ea. An alignment doesn't have to happen after replacing tires, but you should be extra sensitive the week or two after putting new tires on, to make sure your car doesn't pull to one side. this will cause uneven tire wear and you'll have to replace tires much sooner than expected. if you do experience pulling then you'll need an alignment -which usually doesn't happen.

4.) tires for your car range from $58-$109 per tire on there are many types and brands of tires that fit your car. some are winter, some have better performance. The shop will charge you around $20 per tire to mount (put tire on the rim) and balance (see 3b). Personally, i purchase tires online and have them shipped to my mechanic. when the tires arrive i get a phone call, and bring my car in. this way i get the tires that i want, at the best price i can find. if you go this route you should make sure that Paul's allows this by calling ahead. if not, then your options are limited to the tires Paul's has in stock, which may not be bad as you have a very common car for SF. i would recommend my shop, but they only service vw and audi vehicles :( and i love them!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the McIntosh

this past thanksgiving my parents visited. i had asked my father to bring up his old stereo that was being stored in the garage. the mcintosh!

it had been sitting in the garage for at least 5-6 years. though, for a piece of equipment that is slightly older than me, and has been sitting in a garage for the past half decade, it was in decent cosmetic condition.

my father purchased the mcintosh ma6100 integrated amplifier in the year 1978. my earliest audio memories involve this very piece of equipment. one can easily recognize it's signature walnut case, brushed aluminum knobs, black glass face, and green backlight. a couple of cerwin vega house speakers accompanied the amplifier during my days of growing up. when mom and dad left me home alone, i'd put in my favorite tape (and eventually cd) in and crank the amp to just over 1/2 volume. this is the point in which the china in our china cabinet would start to dance around on the shelf due to massive vibrations. i was literally rocking the house. needless to say i loved the power of the mcintosh.

but as i got older, and technology pressed forward i started to realize what was really important about home stereos. the mcintosh didn't have a remote control, nor did it have an lcd screen. my friend's parent's house systems had more lights, buttons, and do-hickeys than the simple 1970's style mcintosh amplifier. most of these systems were sleek black plastic, space age, not old and made of wood. i eventually started to despise the mcintosh for being outdated and ugly. soon after i was granted my own stereo, complete with digital tuner and all the cheap plastic crap that comes along with low budget audio. i loved it. this must have been the early 90's.

though soon i realized that the sound from my plastic and portable sony stereo was nowhere near that of the mcintosh + cerwin vegas. dad's system would literally bring the house down at 3/4 volume. (a few wall hanging items did fall off during one of my listening sessions). at 3/4 volume my sony made all songs sound like a microphone held up to a whoopie cushion at best. this is the first time i took notice to sound quality.

it wasn't until an earth shattering day in san diego a few years ago that i put 1 and 1 together. i was at my friend's house. he had just spent a bit over $3,000 on a pair of speakers. and the second i heard these speakers, i knew exactly why he paid what he did. i was changed from that moment on. i was only able to listen to three or four songs on the $3k speakers, but i was hearing songs that had 40-50 play counts on my ipod, for the first time.

it took me almost thirty years to fully appreciate audio quality. following this event was an 8 month search for a pair of studio monitor speakers, resulting in the purchase of my mackie hr824 mki's. which to this day, i love. in fact i'm listening to them as i write this post.

around this time is also when i understood and appreciated the mcintosh. i recalled my father telling me that before the cerwin vega speakers, he had some bigger and better mcintosh speakers. at the time i didn't really care, those pink rimmed cerwin vegas pumped louder than anything i had ever heard, or cared to. but somehow i held the information that dad once owned mcintosh speakers in the recesses of my mind.

fast forward to this past thanksgiving. i hauled the 40lbs mcintosh amp up two flights of stairs only to find out that it was completely inoperable when connected to speakers. a few weeks later, and my wallet $465 lighter, the amp was back in my possession. but an amp is no good without speakers to accompany it. i immediately started looking at the going price for cerwin vegas. that is, until i got the idea to search for mcintosh speakers.

this is when i came across a craigslist posting for two mcintosh xr-5 speakers, the exact model that my dad originally purchased with the ma6100! i went to alameda on a rainy night with my brother riding shotgun and $450 in cash. i came home with two 76lbs. speakers in tow. i forgot my cd for testing audio in the car, so i was forced to test the speakers to fm radio. 96.5 had a nice strong signal, and luckily they were playing bryan adams - "everything i do, i do it for you". so i blasted it, and listened for any imperfections. then madonna's "borderline" came on, and i blasted it again in order to detect any possible speaker distortion. i guess if a pair of speakers can play those two songs loud and well, then they're good enough for me.

i had successfully recreated the system that my father had purchased in the late 70's.

i'm still far from done, as you can see there's no shelf in this picture. but i'll save additions to this setup for future blog posts.

oh, and everything sounds fan-tas-tic!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

pics of your listening space

recently i joined a forum for audio junkies like myself. i've been visiting the forum for some time, in search of the answer to a specific question, or browsing pics of new equipment. but i had never felt the need to join until now.

upon joining, one thread caught my eye, then soon grabbed a hold of my spare time and rung it try like a used shop rag. the thread title is "pics of your listening space". at the time of writing this post (or starting the draft a week ago) the thread boasts 7,835 posts, 523 pages, and countless pics of listening spaces.

i went through e v e r y s i n g l e o n e.

it took me well over a week, and as i stated earlier, took most of my spare time. i started at the most recent posts and moved backward chronologically.

while combing through this massive thread, i couldn't help but make some observations. first of all, audio knows no boundaries.

here are some pics i stole off the thread and my observations alongside:

if you aren't a pink floyd fan, then this may look like a tasteless piece of art in a somewhat conservative home. i think this is magnificent! and i also love the dark side album.

this picture may not be impressive to the average joe. but those who are in the know understand that each of those black boxes with pretty blue lights costs many thousands of dollars -and is worth every penny.

there's some fun pics, like this one. only an audio geek...

some listening spaces aren't as organized and clean as i'd prefer for my own.

some contributors have more speakers than i would know what to do with.

some are in college dorm rooms.

there were a few "with the lights off" shots. i especially like the tube amps when lit.

some audio rigs look like they came from outer space.

and then some pictures made me feel as thought i was looking at art. instead of looking at electronics that reproduce pre-recorded art.

i need to tidy up, and purchase a thing or two before i contribute my listening space(s) on this thread. i'm sure if you comb through my blog you'll find some here and some there of my personal listening space. and besides the love of music and audio equipment, the other similarity that almost every single contributor to the thread agreed on is the fact that their listening space is never quite done.