The Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player is my current favorite thing in the world. I really hate junk electronics, but I also have a very low tolerance for overpriced gear. Well the folks at Oppo have once again proved that there's still really excellent gear out there without the huge price tags. I have to warn you up front that you can't buy Oppo gear in Bakersfield, which is a crying shame. But you can order direct from Oppo, and they're in California, so you'll get your gear in a day or two. I've had equipment from every major electronics manufacturer, and I've never seen anything that comes close to Oppo. My last Blu-ray player was a high-end Denon model. It cost more than a house payment, was the size of a breadbox, and weighed 30 pounds. I know this because I got to box it up and send it back to Denon. Twice. The thing would freeze up in the middle of a movie, which would be bad enough from a bargain unit, but in a flagship piece it's just ridiculous. I still have it, because I figure that if a burglar breaks in, he'll injure his back trying to steal it, which will make him easier to catch. So if you want great build quality and top-shelf performance, you can get it for a very reasonable $499. Oppo only makes one thing -- Blu-ray players -- and they only have three models. I did a ton of research and quickly realized that their bargain unit, the BDP-95 would meet my needs. It's the first thing I've bought in some time that I actually felt was underpriced. Get one! Don't bother trying to get one at a discount, because they cost the same everywhere, like Apple products. Get yours at Oppo.com. You'll thank me later.
Ever wondered why you can't use your computer or iPod for all your music? Well you can, and it sounds fantastic. Just grab yourself an Audioengine W3 and plug it into your PC or Mac's USB port. It highjacks your sound card and sends the signal via Bluetooth to the receiver, which will plug into anything with audio inputs. Want to enjoy your entire music collection while you're lounging by the pool? Plug the W3 into your boombox and you'll have access to everything on your computer from inside your house. Hook it up to your home theater receiver and your old stereo in the garage -- wherever you like to listen to music. It's fast, it's incredibly easy, and it will replace every CD player in the world. And it will stream anything on your computer -- Internet radio, satellite, movies, TV shows -- anything. These things are really cool, and cost around $150. There's another version for iPod users for about the same price. If you have a lot of music on your computer like I do, this has to be the best way to access your collection anywhere on your property.
'Love for Levon'
The coolest thing I've discovered in the entertainment world is a new CD/Blu-ray set called "Love for Levon." Late last year, after the death of the great Levon Helm, a bunch of very talented artists gathered at The Barn, Helm's New York home and concert venue. The idea was to raise enough money to preserve the place as a landmark so it didn't get turned into a Starbucks or a strip mall. If you're a fan of Helm and The Band, there's a lot to love on these discs. There's John Mayer, My Morning Jacket, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Warren Haynes, Gregg Allman, Roger Waters and many more. The best thing is, they all sing and play their hearts out; Helm was clearly a very big deal to all these artists, and it shows.
A word of warning to all you audiophiles out there: You have to look at this collection as a historical performance, not as a technological masterpiece. The sound quality is a bit underwhelming. Truth be told, the sound is intermittently awful. A lot of the songs sound like they were recorded on a cell phone. It's disgraceful, really. This show was a once-in-a-lifetime tribute to a true legend, and it deserved proper engineering. That said, "Love for Levon" is still well worth the $24 I paid for it on Amazon. If you don't already have it, get Scorsese's "The Last Waltz" -- The Band's 1976 all-star concert film -- when you order "Love for Levon." Both are great to watch, even if only one of them is great to listen to.