Q: What Windows program do you recommend for easy photo editing? My primary goal is to improve skin tones to give my photos a more professional look. My weekend passion is photography, so I really want to take the final product up a notch.

A: Adobe Photoshop Elements is an easy-to-use, much less expensive version of the industry standard, Photoshop. Photoshop Elements 11 retails for about $80. Given that photography is your passion, you might want to upgrade to the full version of Photoshop someday. Using Photoshop Elements now will make you familiar with the layout of Photoshop, its workflow and how to use many of the tools. It’s my strongest recommendation for you, and it’s well worth the investment. Download a trial version at www.adobe.com.

There are free editing programs that are worth a look. Zoner Photo Studio Free (free.zoner.com) has received excellent reviews worldwide. GIMP (www.gimp.org) is meant for more advanced users than the other programs listed here. I’ve tried GIMP and never really warmed up to it, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t, and the price is certainly right.

For you, spend $80 on Photoshop Elements 11. Other readers might find the free programs are all they need.

$500 speakers for tube amp

Q: I bought a Neuhaus Labs T-2 vacuum-tube amplifier. In researching speakers, Axiom’s M2v3 looked interesting. I’m also considering the Arx A1b, because you liked the match of its leaf tweeters with the T-2. What are my best choices for $500 or less?

A: There is a real treasure trove of incredible $500-and-less speakers. Here are speakers I have tested with the T-2 (www.neuhauslabs.com) and know to be a good match.

The Axiom M2v3 ($338; www. axiomaudio.com) and Arx A1b ($299; www.theaudioinsider.com) are precise, detailed speakers that mate well with the warm, lush sound of the T-2. The Arx is only available in a black cabinet, while the Axiom is available in dozens of finishes.

Polk’s outstanding LSi7 bookshelf speaker (www.polkaudio.com), which retails for $799, can be purchased from Amazon on closeout for only $399, which is a tremendous bargain. The LSi7 speakers have beautiful, genuine wood side panels in a choice of ebony or cherry wood.

Bear in mind that with the Arx A1b, Axiom M22v2 and Polk LSi7 you will need speaker stands, adding $50 to $100 to your final cost. This brings the final cost close to the $499 price of the Arx A3 towers, which could well be the best match for you. The A3s will have the same physical footprint as the bookshelf speakers but play louder, sound fuller and have more bass.


Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.