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Month: January 2017

Gear Review: ZT Club

Gear Review: ZT Club

Bringing an amplifier to gigs is a great way to be able to get a consistent sound wherever you play. But the hassles of lugging them around from room, to car, to bar, isn’t half as enjoyable as hearing them sound. I’ve been using a  50 watt tube amp which is already relatively light, but still considerably hefty.  While I really dig the way it sounds, I find the back breaking lifts quite a nuance.

So I thought that I needed something lighter and smaller, but at the same time, can give an uncompromised roar during live performance. Searching the web for some leads, I found out about the ZT Club. It’s a small solid state amp, 14″ x 15″ x 9.25″ in dimensions, and weighs only 22 lbs. ZT claims this little guy to be really loud, as concurred with by the few reviews I’ve read online. It got my interest. However, despite gaining a handful of following, the amp has been discontinued by ZT in favor of their smaller Lunchbox model.

I’ve searched around local distributors, but since it’s a discontinued model, availability has been a problem. Determined to get the amp, I turned to the used market via eBay and Reverb.com, lurking regularly for the chance that something might just pop up. Persistency paid off when I was able to score a Club for about $ 400. The cosmetics were far from top notch, but the function was superb. Besides, amps are made to rock; a treat for the ears rather than the eyes.

So it arrived, and it was time to test it out. I live in a 36 sqm flat, and with the volume and gain knobs at just about 8 ‘o clock, it was enough to be loudly and clearly heard in every corner of my condo unit. I couldn’t pump it more than that so as to not disturb the neighbors. I had to wait for band rehearsals in a studio to be able to gauge the true potential of this amp.

Come band rehearsals, bringing it along was a breeze. The size and weight was so convenient for transport, saving my now grateful vertebrae. I plugged it in with my pedal board and my PRS Paul’s Guitar. The drummer and bassist played to their usual levels as I dialed in the knobs to get the sound I wanted. First thing I adjusted were the volume and gain controls. I was able to match the levels of the band with the volume knob at 9, and the gain knob at 10.

The volume and gain knobs work just like with any other amps with this type of feature, but the application here is rather different. With the Club, the gain knob gives the amp more of a tubelike push, rather than a real distortion. Turning the gain knob past 9 is where the convincing “tubey” character begins. It’s got the distinct voice, push, and density we look for in tube amps, and it is seriously convincing. Pushing it past 12 is like using a tube screamer for a clean boost. Going past 2 and maxing it to 5 gives it a little over driven grit. I’ve found my perfect mix to have the gain at 10, just enough for a tubelike character, and the volume at 9, just enough to level with the rest of the band.

The rest of the mixing is for the tone controls. The Club only has knobs for treble and bass. Dialing the tone knobs is very responsive and super excellent for tone shaping. With both knobs at 12, the Club sounds very fat and beefy on the low and midrange.  I set my treble to 3 and bass to 11, giving me a brighter sound, while still maintaining some of the fat. The amp also responds well to stomp boxes. I got the perfect crunch I wanted from the Jekyll & Hyde, and the delays and modulation effects sounded crystal clear. Turning the volume knob a little more further pushes my levels beyond the rest of the band even with the drummer not holding back. Going past 12 would probably be enough to shatter glass. This thing is really loud! It also has reverb, but I didn’t find any use for it since all of my reverb comes from my pedals.

Convinced of its tonal prowess, I was confident enough to take it to its first gig, so I unleashed it at a local bar. The place was about 60 sqm in size with full band set up and acoustics for ear bleeding rock and roll. I didn’t mic the Club as to have all my sound be heard from the amp itself. I found myself adjusting the volume knob between 9 and 10, depending on how pronounced I had to be. With gain fixed at 10, I never went past 11 for volume as it would be too loud for the audience already. The size of the Club’s speaker was also enough to push air giving a good sonic distribution allover the place. It clearly stood up at par, if not better, against the in-house tube amps there. Given my first gigging experience, I’m confident that the club can definitely handle much bigger venues without a problem.

There are limitations to consider though. Its reverb is just on the mediocre side, and those who prefer built-in amp distortions should definitely look elsewhere. But for guitarists like me who get all those from pedals, the Club’s limitations are non-issues.

All in all, I am very pleased with the ZT Club. Its size is perfect for transport without compromising tone and output power. The bass and treble controls’ responsiveness allows for flexible tone shaping, making it very adaptable to various musical situations. And its tubelike sound is highly convincing despite being a solid state. It is not without question that there are so much better sounding, real tube amps out there. But considering the Club’s portability, price, and overall great sound, this thing can definitely be a serious go-to amp for both the bedroom and the gigging musician.

 

Food Tripping in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

Food Tripping in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

If you’re looking for other must see places in Kyoto that isn’t a temple, a shrine, or a castle, then head downtown and check out the Nishiki Market. A good walking distance from the Karasuma train station, the market is a long straight stretch of food stalls selling traditional street foods and ingredients.

Items here can be bought either raw or ready to eat. There are seated eateries here but I think that the best way to maximize the market experience is to stroll the entire stretch and try bits and pieces of different stuff from the wide array of vendors.

One of my favorites here is the Takoyaki. The lines can be a bit long for these goody balls though, but the wait is definitely rewarding.

If you want something quick and ready to eat, the Yakitoris and other on-stick snacks are instant gratifications.

You can have them reheated first…

Or eat them outright.

They come in different shapes and sizes from meats, seafoods, and vegetables. As long as it’s small enough to be skewered, you can probably find it there.

One of the oddest things I’ve eaten so far are those small octopus with quail eggs. The quail eggs are stuffed inside giving them their voluptuous figure.

Some stalls allow you to sample a few pieces first before you buy. This is one way of knowing what you’re getting into before you decide to dive in.

One of my personal favorite Japanese desserts here is the Matcha. These are green tea powder extracts, usually infused on drinks, pastries, rice cakes, or anything edible that they can make of. I love it when Matcha is infused on ice cream. There’s a stall here that lets you choose the intensity of the infused Matcha to your liking.

If you pick the highest matcha level, you will notice that the ice cream is much darker has a bit of a powdery consistency from all the infused matcha. This is something not for everybody as the matcha taste can become too strong and bitter, which I personally prefer. Note though that matcha comes from green tea, so those with caffeine issues should beware as too much can leave you jittery.

If you just want to buy something you’d want to prepare yourself, there is also plenty of fresh selections and raw ingredients to choose from.

You can also find other souvenir items such as trinkets and refrigerator magnets here.

Nishiki Market offers a fun food tripping experience. It’s the best way to experience the diversity of Kyoto’s street foods & snacks all in one place.

It’s open from 9AM to 5PM. Admission is free.

 

 

A Taste of a Legend. Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan.

A Taste of a Legend. Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan.

Steaks are some of the rare foods you just can’t go wrong with. Just season with salt and pepper, grill over open flame, or fry with a little butter. It doesn’t take a five star chef to turn the simple choice cut meat into a gastronomic delight. It’s safe to say that all steaks are delicious, but not all are equal. Beef comes in many choices and most of them I’ve already been acquainted with. But there’s one beef that’s said to sit high up on the echelons of prime steaks that I’ve been wanting to try for so long: the Kobe beef. It’s a meat that’s so praiseworthy as it is controversial. It’s a legend that keeps being told by those who have tasted its glory.

Hearing so much rave about the legendary beef, it’s been on my bucket list for such a long time. It was only until last year during our trip to Japan that I was able to tick it off. Traveling across Japan’s Kansai area, I made a quick side trip to the home of Kobe beef: Kobe. There are plenty of restaurants in Kobe offering their famous delicacy so I searched online for some recommendations. Since it was only a quick side trip, I’ve narrowed my search down to the ones that topped reviews but close to the train stations.

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The searching led me to Ishida. It’s about a five minute walk from the Kobe-Sannomiya station. I was lucky to get accommodated as a walk-in customer as reviews warned that reservations are a must as they get really packed most of the time. So with mouth watering and stomach grumbling, I went in with high expectations.

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Steaks in Ishida are cooked right in front of you. As they present the meat, the beautiful marbling is clearly seen spread evenly across. Once the teppan grill is heated, the meat is then cooked over animal fat. The best doneness to steaks is always around rare to medium, so I had mine rare like I always prefer.

The steaks are cooked in batches and served in cutlets. This means that you get just enough at once, then wait to enjoy the next serving. This also means that you always get your steak fresh from the grill. Nothing gets cold in your plate. You can opt to eat the steak as is, or dip it in their sauce and sprinkle with a little salt. Whichever way you wanna enjoy your steak, you just can’t go wrong with either.

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Initially, I thought that the cutlets were a bit too small, but upon first bite, I discovered that it’s the perfect food to mouth ratio. Every bite lets the meat secrete its juicy goodness. That juice joyfully plays around your tastebuds as it fills up every corner of your mouth while you chew. The meat is so ridiculously tender, it makes chewing such a pleasure.

The flavor? It is simply out of this world! The tiny cutlets are succulent and densely filled with flavor. It’s like an entire slab of steak has been juiced down into every one of these little cutlets. It’s packed with all the beefy goodness we all know and love, but with a slight uniqueness that’s just hard to describe. It is just that good! In fact, it is phenomenal! I tried it with their sauce and a little salt, and the flavor oozed out even more. Adding seasoning actually draws out and highlights more of the natural flavor instead of masking it. The perfect combination. Finished with my first batch, I moved on to enjoy the next succeeding batches. The taste doesn’t seem to get mundane at all.

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I went inside Ishida with expectations set high, and came out having them exceeded. The legend about Kobe beef is true, and now I’m one of the few who get to tell about it. Having Kobe beef in Kobe was definitely the perfect Kobe experience.

Ishida serves complete course meals. Average price is around 2,500 JPY for lunch and 8,000 JPY for dinner. 

 

My Deer Nara. A Side Trip to Nara, Japan.

My Deer Nara. A Side Trip to Nara, Japan.

Nara is one of the prefectures in Japan’s Kansai area. We were able to make a quick side trip here during our Japan visit last August. Coming from touring Kyoto’s historical shrines & temples and Osaka’s cosmopolitan sites, we were in search for something else— something different that the Kansai area had to offer. This lead us to go to Nara to see the famous Nara Deer Park.

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The Nara Deer Park isn’t your typical park. What makes this different from any other parks are the deer that are native to the place.

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Allover the park are plenty of them— herds upon herds of adorable furry creatures. They roam freely around the park and are actually protected by law as national treasures.

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From the Nara train station, going to the park is just about a five minute bus ride. There are special roundtrip bus tickets for tourists visiting the park that can be purchased from the station.

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As the bus nears the park, you can already start spotting deer scattered in the streets. You’d be mystified at first, but after a while, they pretty much become a common sight.

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The deer are used to mingling with people and you can even touch them. It’s ok to pet the deer, but it’s best to not be over confident with them as there are some rare occasions when they try to nab from your stuff thinking it has food.

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Or if you’re eating, make sure to keep your food away from their reach as you would not want to tempt them. Check the warning signs posted allover.

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But generally, these guys are a really friendly bunch and so fun to be around.

Another attraction to see in the park is the Todai-ji Temple. There are other temples in Nara, but for just a quick side trip, we were only able to visit the Todai-ji.

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The Todai-ji Temple houses the great giant Buddha. We weren’t able to get inside the temple itself since we got there a bit just in time for closing, but we were able to enjoy the entrance and temple grounds.

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What’s amazing about this temple is that everything here is really huge. The pillars that make up the entrance gates are massive columns of logs.

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The entrance gates have two giant statues of Kongō Rikishi (Nio protectors of Japan according to ancient Buddhist beliefs). They’re also made of wood, painted for color.

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It’s really amazing looking up the scale of these two giant statues. What’s incredible is that the entire temple complex and everything in here have been constructed during Japan’s ancient times, thousands of years before machines have been employed in building construction.

Another thing to see around the temple is a boat by the lake.

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Not sure though if the boat is actually functional or just for display, but it does look majestic.

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And of course…

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More deer.

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The side trip to Nara was definitely a worthy quick-stop destination. The deer were a uniquely fun experience, and the Todai-ji Temple was something that had its own “massive” charm, different from any other temples we’ve seen in Japan so far.

A Night at Azumi Boutique Hotel.

A Night at Azumi Boutique Hotel.

It’s everyone’s favorite holiday season again, and this year, my wife and I decided that we will be spending our Christmas somewhere else aside from our house. We thought about going out of town but didn’t want the hassle of the long drive. What we wanted was a quick and convenient getaway, somewhere not too far, yet not too familiar. The solution was obviously a staycation.

Living on the North side of Metro Manila, going South was already conveniently foreign enough for a quick getaway. So I searched Good Ol’ Google for a place and stumbled upon Azumi Boutique Hotel. It’s small hotel in Alabang by the Filinvest district. The booking site offered a queen sized room for just about Php 3,+++ a night which included breakfast so we went ahead and booked a stay for Christmas eve.

THE LOBBY

Since it’s a boutique hotel, there’s no huge lobby with a grand staircase. The lobby is small, just enough for a reception desk and a lounge with a few couches. The lobby is design is modern.

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The black walls are adorned with mementos reflecting different places and landmarks from allover the world. The theme gives a more casual and cozy atmosphere rather than being stiff and intimidating.

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THE ROOMS

The room has a very pronounced rectangular dimension. From the door, looking straight is a complete full view of the edge to edge glass doors and windows to the balcony.

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I like how the wood motif makes the room so cozy and homely.

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The Queen room comes with a Queen sized bed and a mini bed that also doubles as a couch. TV and refrigerator are pretty standard, along with the sink and microwave.

The bathroom is just a little awkward though. It has a window by the shower area so you can clearly and openly see, (or watch) whoever is taking a shower, or even doing business. There’s a roll down blind which can cover the glass part of the wall, but it’s controlled from outside the bathroom.

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This is particularly awkward since privacy controls are usually inside the bathrooms instead of outside. Also, when closed, there’s a tiny gap between the blinds and the walls. This tiny open spot may not be too bothersome as one can only see through this if done intentionally. But still, no one likes a “peek-able” bathroom. These would not be an issue to couples, but for friends and colleagues staying, this might just be seriously awkward.

The prices of the minibar are fair. This is swell as typical hotels would usually jack up the prices, but Azumi kept their prices just about convenience store levels.

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This means guests can enjoy the minibar items and not have to walk outside just to avoid paying for an overpriced soda.

THE POOL AREA

The pool area is located by the roof deck. The pool is narrowly stretched, spanning end to end of the building’s edges.

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The greens are courtesy of the fake grass which is a good idea. Beside the pool are futon-like cushions good for lying around and sun bathing. Since the pool sits is by the edge, this gives a great infinity effect. There are no tall buildings close by so you could get a wide clear view of the Alabang cityscape.

THE BREAKFAST

The breakfast is nothing fantastic, but isn’t bad either.

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It’s a really just a simple no-frills buffet just right to get you going for the morning. Nothing to complain or rave about here. Besides, breakfast always tastes good.

OTHER MENTIONS

The Hallways & Elevators

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I like how there are parts of the hallways that are open. The hallways can be a little tight but the openings create a sense of space. Also, it’s always good to have natural light and ventilation. Just to note though, the elevators are really slow as there are only two elevators that service the entire hotel.

Pocket Gardens

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There are pockets gardens by the lower floors. These are open balconies with more of the fake grass. Just like in the pool, the grass may be fake, but it just works.

Parking Area

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I’d also like to make a special mention about their parking area. Unlike most hotels I’ve been to where their parking spaces are normally shoved deep down in the basement, Azumi allots for podium parking. I’ve always hated going down deep basements which are usually poorly lit, hot, claustrophobic, and under-ventilated. Azumi’s podium parking is just none of that.

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My wife and I really appreciated Azumi Boutique Hotel.  It’s reasonably priced, cozy, and convenient. Definitely enjoyed our Christmas here!