Archive for February, 2009
Nope, it’s not the neat real-time spectrum analyzer (RTA). Nor is it the tone generator.
It’s the “Electron Tube” of course!
Who would have thunk it? (My guess is that the candle was its inspiration.)
Yours for only $0.99 (plus an iPhone).
Most of us blogged about the “big audiophile toys” at CES – as it should be.
But there was lots of other interesting stuff, some of it relevant to our hobby.
One such device was the Pogoplug, which – coupled to a suitable micro-hard-drive and USB DAC – promises to become the world’s smallest music server.
Also, check out the SheevaPlug (pictured).
As is usual, new sources have popped up disparaging some aspects of our hobby.
The latest that I have encountered is from the ILikeJam blog, which sports one of the more unique “mission statements” that I have seen (not repeated here).
That blog’s links lead to the “usual suspects”: a cable autopsy, Doug Self on subjectivism, and Ethan Winer. I must add that I find some humor in the names in this context – “Self” and “Winer” – but that’s just me.
I will also hasten to add that I agree with very little of what is said in these pieces. But I do consider the claims as important reading to the serious student of high-end audio.
We all know that there are many great places to download hi-res music. If you don’t know them, Dan Weiss has published a nice list here (bottom of page).
But did you know that there is also tons of FREE music, including hi-res, just waiting to be downloaded?
And legitimately – not through Pirate’s Bay/Torrents.
Let’s use this thread to start a list. Anyone knowing of a good free downloads site, please post it as a comment. Hi-res (at least 24/88) sites preferred, but CD-quality (16/44) is OK too.
Enjoy the music – and post some sites!
I recently ordered the very inexpensive M-Audio Firewire 410 ( $299.95) in hopes of finding a cheap way to get high resolution sound out of my computer.
It was a bit of a hassle setting it up properly. The sticker on the equipment said to install the drivers first, before hooking up the Firewire 410.
I first had to juggle around Firewire connectors, and eventually went from my primary Firewire connector (4 pin) out to the Firewire 410, then via a separate Firewire connector to my Firewire external drive.
Since 4-pin Firewire connectors do not provide external power, I then had to connect the external power supply. I turned it on with the button on the upper right of the unit.
On restart, Windows XP found the new hardware, and it went through the driver installation again. When it indicated that the drivers were properly installed and ready to go, the computer had to be restarted before the drivers took effect.
I had already connected my ER-6i earphones hooked up to one of the two headphone connectors, and I got the Windows startup wav clearly through the earphones.
Then I just had to go straight to the HRx example I had previously downloaded from my Crown Imperial HRx disc. I played the Strauss Festival Intrada file as clear as a bell with wonderful power. There seems to be a much cleaner sound coming through the Firewire connection to the Firewire 410 with virtually no interference from my router, which is only about 4 1/2 feet away.
The setup with a Mac will undoubtedly be easier, and here you probably really will need to have the drivers installed first, as indicated in the instructions. By the way, I have read horror stories about using the other included software for producing your own music. I only installed the Firewire drivers, and that’s all you need to use this wondrous device as a DAC.
Only Line Outputs 1 and 2 (and the headphones) can output 24-bit 176.4 kHz and 24-bit 192 kHz, but all the others can apparently output at 24-bit 96 kHz, so you can output sound for a complete surround system, at a suitable sample frequency for the AIX surround files.
Tomorrow I need to go and buy at least 2 of the male mono phono jack to female RCA connector adaptors so that I can output to my sound system, but in the meantime I have been blown away listening through my earphones to the various 24-bit 96 kHz high res files I have downloaded from HDTracks – really hearing the wonders of them for the first time. I have other stuff I need to do tonight, but I can’t take the earphones out.
I previously listened to these files diluted via the USB connector of my computer to only 48 kHz – they sound amazing via the Firewire connectors and the M-Audio Firewire 410.
I LOVE THIS! THERE IS JOY IN MUDVILLE TONIGHT!
Based on my experience, I’ll bet the RME Fireface 400 and Apogee Ensemble work very well indeed when used as the system DAC.
Now here’s what happened the next day….
I thought I would post what I having been experimenting with for a music server. I started with an Intel Duo-Core Mac Mini that I purchased on Amazon last December for $550.00 (no tax or shipping). I upgraded it with a 60GB solid state drive (SSD) from NewEgg.com that was $150 delivered. Also added 4GB of memory which cost $40. The SSD seemed to improve the sound, but I was unable to A/B it so not really sure. Lee Mincy who is running one of those fanless all-out pc’s and the Berkeley dac, tried an SSD and felt if the song was played from it there was definitely and improvement. In any event, it appears to be faster.
I store my music files on an Iomega Home Server, 360GB. They had them on sale last December for $80. It will not do AFP so I am connecting to it as an SMB server. As long as the music server is the only one connecting to the drive, it works flawlessly. If another user tries to use it, it suffers dropouts. If I were going to use multiple users, I would use a LaCie 500 GB, cost $150. I purchase smaller drives and replace them often rather than buy giant drives and wait for them to fail. So far my strategy has worked.
As you may infer, I wanted to do this cheap as I am not totally convinced that the quality of the server is up to my vinyl rig. So far, it has been a total barrel of fun.
The Mini is really a connection machine:
photo courtesy of Apple’s web site.
As you can see, 4 USB ports, a firewire port and an optical port hiding in the headphone jack. In addition, it also has Ethernet, Blutooth and Wi-Fi.
You can connect the Mini to a Chord dac with Blutooth, to other dacs with either usb or optical and probably connect other devices with eithernet (Squeezebox) and wi-fi – just haven’t tried that yet.
I can control the mini with my Treo cell phone under Bluetooth using the Salling Clicker program, $23.95:
The program will display iTunes on the phone including album art. It will search iTunes using its own search program which can be slow if there is a lot of music – my library is approx 10,000 songs, 225GB. The better way is to setup Playlists and then select them. It is loads of fun to play with.
You could also control the Mini with an iPhone or iPod Touch with wi-fi and probably have a more stable longer range connection. Haven’t tried that as I am waiting for my Verizon contract to end.
The Mini also comes with its own IR remote and mini media program, Front Row. I have the usb out going to my tube dac and my 2 channel system and the optical port goes to my 5.1 home theatre system. When using the 5.1 system, I sometimes run the Front Row program which works pretty well. The display of iTunes changes every few seconds so that one doesn’t burn one’s plasma, which is good for my ISF calibrated 58” Samsung.
The output is controlled by an Apple Utility program called Audio Midi. You can use this program to change the output, say from usb to optical or Firewire. The program reads the receiver chip in the dac apparently and you can see the highest rate possible with the dac by clicking on the properties button:
The Mini can also record high def video over the air with EyeTV and do the other more mundane Mac things.
But if you are missing Windows, the Mini will also boot natively in XP or Vista using the included Boot Camp program. You have to allocate part of the hard disk which it does on the fly with no data lass and you have to supply the Windows program of at least XP service pack 2 or higher – you cannot go XP only and upgrade. I can confirm it works well with XP service pack 3 as I use Windows to run the XTZ room measurement program.
Currently my dacs are limited to 24/96 and I can play the Reference Recordings 24/176.4 music but down converted to 24/96. I have not purchased a better dac yet as I believe that field is still pretty fluid. It appears from reading this thread on Audio Asylum:
that the high end audio world may be waiting until Windows can output 24/192 through usb without custom drivers ala Emu and others. Probably a good business decision, but it doesn’t really effect the mac world as we already can do this, albeit with custom drivers for firewire.
Bob and Ori at the last demo had indicated that the Mini could output 176.4 through the optical port without custom drivers, but it was not reliable. Bob can you further expand on this with your experiences? Also, Gordon Rankin of Wavelength has posted that the Mac can output 24/192 through usb without custom drivers now, just no dac to take advantage of it yet. Seems like a great business opportunity.
[Actually, it's the Fireface 400 that can output up to 192khz on optical, but most receivers only go to 96khz reliably. - Bob]
The Mini has been running 24/7 for the last 40 days or so with no problems. I am having a ball using it as it sounds pretty good and the convenience and “toy factor” is outstanding. If you haven’t checked out computerAudiophile.com or the PC Audio forum at audioasylum.com, they both offer a wealth of info and plently of people ready to answer your questions.
The next project wil be to see if I can record my vinyl with the Mini and higher quality than my current Alesis Masterlink recorder. There is a new program Pure Vinyl from Channel-D that looks pretty cool.
[Thanks, Peter. Hopefully more members will donate tips and reviews for BAASnotes!]
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