BAAS members were treated to a great program at last Saturday’s listen & learn session at Century Stereo in San Jose.
Multiple well-appointed rooms were in play, staffed by knowledgeable experts from the vendors. Highlights included:
- All about room treatments (PMI). Why passive treatments still matter, even when EQ/signal processing are used.
- Power conditioning intro (Furman). Is there a difference? Is the conditioned sound truly better? At what price?
- McIntosh Line Array Loudspeakers and Lyngdorf technology. Ever heard a line array? Ever heard these? 110 drivers! Also, how digital signal processing (DSP) can auto-EQ and adjust/widen the “sweet spot.”
- Audio cable technology update from China (Tributaries/Clarus). Video conference with cable pioneer Jay Victor. Why geometry matters, and where Chinese (and Japanese) manufacturing fits in.
- High Resolution Video/Audio by Kaleidescape. What Bluray brings to digital audio, and how the Kaleidescape technology can make powerful video/music servers easy. amazing system.
A ton of great learning, pleasurable listening, and audiophile camaraderie.
Thanks to Melinda and Century Stereo (link at right)!
Note that this ad hoc demonstration does not represent proof, let alone applicability to home playback environments. Also, extensive use of caching in player software would seem to negate this effect in sound systems.
However, perhaps this is why some austensibly-sensible audiophiles report better sonics with solid state drives (SSDs)?
Thanks to PeterT for pointing this out to me, from reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle.
A new product has just been released by Ear Machine. It’s called iQ (as in “I equalize” I guess), and it makes EQ easy – fun even! (See video.)
You don’t need a real-time audio analyzer. You don’t need Golden Ears (but you do need yours). And you don’t need to read a lengthy manual.
But you do need a computer-based audio, because iQ works as a plugin to your favorite music playback software (iTunes, Pure Music, Fidelia, etc.).
Installation is Easy. Mac or PC. 14-day free trial available.
PS If you’re on a Mac, you may want to try Fidelia….
I just wrote a lengthy post about digital crossovers and EQ over on the Computer Audiophile forums (click here to read it).
Bottom line, while not for everybody, DSP technology can revolutionize the way you interact with your system.
I also make some specific product recommendations that I thought would be inappropriate for BAASnotes (being as how we’re Switzerland and all….
Stephen F. Booth, the prolific work-in-his-spare-time Mac audio coder, has publicly released beta code for the successor to Play – AyreWave.
Taking the same lean-and-mean approach as Play, AyreWave keeps the interface simple and adds ‘hog mode’ and ‘memory playback.’ The results are impressive. (I have been beta-testing the product for the last few weeks.)
I doubt if AyreWave is specifically targeted at Pure Audio and Amarra (it’s free after all), but this release closes the gap with those two products.
Stephen has agreed to do a future BAAS event.
You got me.
But at had fun today hooking one of my (excellent) Verstarr Grand Illusion cables into one of my company’s security appliances.
Web traffic has never flowed smoother here!
Not only did we have the fine Amarra software on hand, but the Amarra team arrived in force to teach, answer questions, and evangelize computer playback. In addition, we sampled the Sonic Studio 305 ADC/DAC and brand-new (and uber expensive) linear power supply for same. Both were excellent IMO – powerful features and great sound.
And members were literally raving about the Salk speakers (see forums). At their $10K introductory price (internet-direct), many members considered them a huge value as well.
Great stuff – and many thanks to the Amarra team and Jim Salk!
As I expected, all feature Firewire 800 ports.
So the (audiophile) rumors of Firewire’s demise are greatly exagerated…
I’m using a used 15″ Intel-based Macbook from late 2006. I know other models would give me the best sound from a Mac, but I can’t afford them.
You should get excellent sonics from the MacBook. It should not be the weakest link in the digital chain.
Do you use an external drive and software other than iTunes to rip CDs to your Mac computer(s)? Some folks use a Plextor PX-Premium CD-RW drive and AccurateRip XLD software (or something like that). They say the sound is much better.
I use the standard Mac internal drive (which is quite good). I also own a Plextor, but cannot hear a difference when using it (one exception below).Using my library (~1600 disks) for the samples, my own (informal) testing yielded the following results for Mac ripping software:
- By far the easiest and fastest, but 2-3% of disks have an audible error (which I find unacceptable)
- Rip takes 1.5x longer than iTunes, but error rate far less than 1% (acceptable to me)
- Fairly easy to set up
- Rip takes ~3x longer than iTunes, but no errors encountered
- Somewhat difficult to set up, and some manual reconfiguration necessary for every disk
- I find both the rip times and difficulties unacceptable for normal use – I only use this for “problem disks”
A note about the ‘audible errors’: In my experience, these only occur in the first several seconds of “Track 1.” They are most commonly momentary dropouts. This behavior suggests to me that they are caused predominantly by “disk offset” issues. XLD explicitly allows the (power) user to compensate for the offset. It has other cool error-avoidance features as well. But it’s hard to live with….
Do you use a special USB cable? From whom?
I run Firewire, which I generally recommend for Mac users. I have never heard a USB or Firewire cable make a difference. But some in-the-know folks claim that they do. (If so, this would be another ‘audiophile mystery’ to scientists.)
Is it FLAC files that won’t play with iTunes on a Mac.
Correct. (iTunes can be made to play FLAC, but it’s not worth the effort!)
What converter do you use? I tried hunting for one, but couldn’t get it to work.
Max does a great job (as does XLD). I recommend using MP4/Apple Lossless format. I have never heard a difference between lossless compression and no compression.But a Mac using Firewire is a far more robust machine than PC/USB. To give you an indication, I often receive email, browse the web, download a file, and backup a hard drive simultaneously – while listening to flawless 24/192 (losslessly compressed). The only way that I’ve been able to adversely affect playback is to play (at 1x) the same CD that I am ripping (at 4x)!
Early last year I began listening to a number of dac/music server combinations with the hopes of discovering a better alternative to my 16 bt/44k cd player. I’d already been considering a used turntable and phono pre as one possible option. But I had sold all my records years ago and the thought of buying back into vinyl all over again was a tough swallow. Fact is, my modified Shanling cdt-100 tube player sounded pretty good and was silky smooth, even did upsampling to 24/96k and native HDCD. Well, that player is now for sale on Audiogon. In the end, my listening and research paid off and now I have a pretty solid music server storing all of my 500+ cd’s and much downloaded music on a 4TB NAS drive (along with reams of photography).
Now, is that really such a big deal you might think? So, my cd collection is now ready for eBay. Yeah, I’ve got my Redbook collection, along with a handful of HDCD albums and HRx DVD’s, accessible from a networked hard drive. Big deal. So what’s it sound like? Well, my answer to that is pretty darned good, significantly more analog than my previous digital rig (to get the attention of some of you vinyl hard-liners) but more importantly, the collection is unified, like a jukebox, so that I find myself playing all of my music, discovering stuff I didn’t know I had, and actually feeling so in touch with my collection that I actually want to commence lessons in guitar (yet again). And piano. And maybe after that, sax… It’s amazing! Read on. You might too…
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!]
Dave Clark at Positive Feedback recently interviewed 12 experts, asking 10 questions on the trends in digital playback.
The result is a valuable compendium of info on topics such as:
- USB or Firewire
- “Pro” gear vs “Audiophile” gear
- And much more….
If you are thinking about computer or ‘music server’ sources, then this is highly recommended reading.
Click here to read….
by bob walters
PC World has a very nice article on their site that details how to get a perfect CD rip on Windows using the free program EAC.
I good primer, even for Mac folks, or users of other software programs.
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