Tuesday, 27 September 2016

PREVIEW / SET-UP: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B & HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro

As you know from discussions a few months ago, I'm a fan of the credit-card sized SBCs (Single Board Computers). I've already spent time discussing the inexpensive but powerful ODROID-C2 and the setup of this computer as a streamer to my TEAC UD-501 USB DAC using Volumio 2 including the excellent measurements one can get with this combination.

Today, let's talk about this very affordable combination:
Pi 3 Model B (left), HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro (right) boards.
What you see above are 3 items:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B - SBC computer, <US$40
- HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro - DAC "HAT" (Hardware Attached on Top) <US$60
- Inexpensive Raspberry Pi case with allowance for the HAT - ~US$10 - red to remind me I have a Raspberry in there :-) - here's a black version

Basically, we have here the hardware for a high-resolution audio streamer with integrated DAC for around the US$110 price point before taxes and shipping.


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

MUSINGS: 4K UHD TV, HFR, 3D, HDR, etc... Thoughts on video technology and the consumer.

As you saw a couple weeks back, when in China, I visited a number of electronics stores, especially the "big box" places in Beijing and Guangzhou. Many of these stores had on display a whole floor of 4K TVs made by all kinds of brands (many local China brands like TCL, Hisense, Skyworth, Changhong as well as the usual Samsung, LG, Sharp, Sony, etc...) and one could easily walk around and compare image quality. Of course, this is ultimately a limited comparison because the TVs are all displaying the manufacturer default settings and this usually means extremely bright, color saturated, extreme sharpness, and max'ed out contrast settings playing typically pristine demo videos so as to catch the consumer's gaze.

Even though this is primarily an audio blog, I see no need to confine ourselves to just one sensory modality... I've been wanting to upgrade to a 4K TV for awhile, certainly since my 4K computer monitor upgrade early last year. For today, I thought it would be good to think about the world of TVs and where the home visual technologies are leading us. Let's talk about some of the technology around visual quality and the parameters we should be keeping in mind, and perhaps even consider the future and what's down the pipeline. Perhaps most importantly, I like to think as a consumer in the big picture and even speculate a little bit about what might happen down the road.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

RETRO-MEASURE: 2006 Apple iPod "Classic" 60GB 5th Generation

Here's a very cool Steve Hoffman forum thread I came across a few months back which "inspired" this post.

I appreciate the iPod. It was quite the gadget back in the day, foreshadowing the rise of touchscreen "gesture" devices. I remember being impressed by the intuitive scroll wheel (introduced in late 2001) which over time transformed to the "touch wheel" by 2002 then the "click wheel" by 2003 and of course "multi-touch" by late 2007 as it joined the family of touch-screen devices. By the time it became the Touch the iPod basically got transformed into an "iPhone Lite".

Looking through my box of gadgets, I found my old iPod "Video" 5th Generation (model PA003LL) from back in July 2006 (I know this because I got free engraving on it). It's got a 60GB original hard drive installed. Color screen, 2.5", with 320x240 resolution. Firmware version on this baby is 1.3, presumably the latest version since iTunes didn't ask me to update. It still charges fine but there is noticeable degradation with the battery life. The central button feels a little "sticky" these days after many many hours of use over the years, but still functions well. This is the penultimate hard drive based iPod superseded by the iPod "Classic" (6th Gen) in 2007. It has been said that this 5G and "late 2006" 5.5G models with 80GB HD were perhaps the best sounding on account of these models being the last to use a Wolfson DAC internally.

Of interest I think is that Stereophile reviewed and measured an older version of the iPod back in 2003. That was the 3rd Generation they looked at with of course earlier DAC chips.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

MUSINGS: A Technophile's Breeze Through Asia 2016...

Hey guys, as I've noted over the last while, I've been in Asia over summer. I spent some time in Taiwan, then China, and ended the trip in Vietnam. As usual, when I travel, I keep an eye open on interesting technology sights and sounds, especially what's new and available in the world of audio; if anything.

For fun, here are a few pictures and comments from the places I visited that might be interesting from the perspective of a consumer technophile... A "streetside" spectator's view if you will. Not intending to be extensive of course, but a sampling of thoughts over the month overseas.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

My Favourite Movie Audiophile Scene

Well, I had a great time away in Asia and glad to be home in Vancouver!

Just wanted to share with everyone my favourite "audiophile scene" from a movie :-). It's at the start of the Chinese movie Infernal Affairs (無間道, 2002). I remember watching it at a buddy's place when it first came out - maybe around 2003 and was just blown away by the movie! I guess Martin Scorsese must have been impressed by it as well to come up with The Departed in 2006 which of course won him the Best Director and declared Best Motion Picture in the Oscars.

As often happens with first impressions, I much preferred the original movie situated in Hong Kong - shorter, more concise, less of Leo DiCaprio's brooding, more cinematic than gritty realism - all subjective of course. Starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung, the opening scene where they meet each other in an audiophile store is a "classic" for me as an audiophile moment... Featuring a vacuum tube amp, audiophile female vocal, "transparency", soundstage and imaging, veils lifted with small tweak, uncontrolled sighted listening and $4000 cables :-). But at least the guy got a tip on where to buy cheaper speakers! Also a nice view of the electronics street in HK circa early 2000s.

By the way, the song is "The Forgotten Time" (被遗忘的时光) by Cai Qin (Tsai Chin / 蔡琴). Available here among other similar compilation CD's...

Enjoy as we end off August and the summer vacation season... :-(

Thursday, 18 August 2016

MUSINGS: Convenience, lossy audio, societal trends, and worsening sound quality?

IMO, a realistic graph of audio formats and quality first discussed here.
Last week, as I was browsing the internet catching up on the news after a long day out doing touristy things in China, I came across this interesting post on Stereophile. A whimsical look at the proverbial crystal ball and presenting a rather dystopian audiophile future of 2116. For some reason, the protagonist seems to be a hippie and references to Baby Boomers are made. As if these terms would even be of contemporary significance by that time! Plus it's presented as if high quality sonic reproduction would be absent in a century's time!

The basic lament is the tiring belief that we don't seem to care about sound quality any more as a society, the quality is "deteriorating", and that ultimately it's all got to do with "convenience".

But is this true?

Short and sweet:
NO, I don't think so.

I suspect it's much more complex and worth putting some thought into...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

MUSINGS: Do "audiophile" computer-based players make a difference? On "Everything Matters" and wisdom.

Since publishing the results from the NUC measurements a week back, permit me to discuss the topic of "audiophile" music servers, streamers and transports - specifically addressing the idea some have that they make a significant sonic difference.

As audiophiles, we've all seen them reviewed in the various websites. Names like Aurender, Antipodes, SOtM, Small Green Computer, Baetis Audio for machines that run either Windows or Linux, or more customized non-PC looking devices like the Auralic streamers, SONORE microRendu (Wow! So much hype!), and established audio companies within the arena like PS Audio, Ayre, Bryston, Simaudio, etc. Even JRiver sells their customized NUC server/player, called the Id.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Intel NUC [6i5SYH] (and Audio)

Packaged contents of the NUC - mounting screw, universal power jack attachments in the bubble wrap, metal VESA mount plate under the power supply, basic instructions.

Like most of my computer upgrades lately, it's not because I need the speed, or expect much power saving, or necessarily to silence a noisy machine... Speed, efficiency, and quietness have been achieved to the level I'm satisfied with for years now! No... It's because I wanted to upgrade my work computer to something that handles 4K resolution :-). As discussed here and here, over the last year, I've been transitioning to what I think is going to be the target resolution for the foreseeable future (in a way very much like how audio CD resolution has been completely fine for decades). Beyond 4K, the reasons for even higher resolutions drop off exponentially based on the physical limitations of vision. (Of course, beyond spatial resolution, HDR color range and contrast ratios are important and those are catching up nicely.)

A few months ago, I decided to upgrade an aging 24" Dell monitor with a new ASUS PB287Q - quite a nice reasonably priced 28" 4K unit. (If I were to buy today, I would take a good look at the LG 27UD88 or consider the 21:9 LG 34UC98.) Alas, for the last while, I've been running the monitor at 1200p resolution with the current work computer. Though the upscaling doesn't look bad, it's noticeably compromised compared to actual native resolution of course.

As a simple way to upgrade instead of buying all the parts and assembling a new computer, I decided to go with the current generation Skylake NUC "Next Unit of Computing" - the Intel NUC6i5SYH which houses the Core i5-6260U processor with the Iris Graphics 540 integrated GPU. This NUC case allows for a 2.5" SSD/HD and M.2 SSD. If you want an even smaller, flatter unit, consider the similarly-priced NUC6i5SYK, the same innards but with a smaller case removing the 2.5" bay so the internal SSD will have to be an M.2 card.

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Response RE: MQA, "blocking" of Meridian's responses, and A/B Tests...

Just a quick note (remember... I'm on summer holiday and all!). Someone passed along to me this article from Hi-Fi+. It's an interview with Bob Stuart and Morten Lindberg (2L) apparently conducted in May. I'm bringing this up because the first Q&A is about "detractors" and there's this curious response:
BS: We’ve had some detractors, but frankly where we sit, we’ve been actually rather pleased how few. We’ve come in with an inconvenient truth – digital audio hasn’t been done right – so we thought the community might attack us. And one person put up a long blog about MQA that was just inaccurate, but blocked all our replies. As we say in England, “That’s not cricket!”
Now I don't know if this is definitely in reference to this blog and specifically to posts here and here but over the last few months I have heard this claimed... That somehow Meridian tried to post a response but the message was "blocked" (presumably by me) and that presumably the message would have contained corrections and answers to the issues raised.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Focusrite Forte USB Audio Interface (ADC & DAC) + Summer Musings

Product shot from here.
A few weeks back, I mentioned that I grabbed one of these Focusrite Forte USB2 audio interface units for some home recording projects I wanted to do. Beyond using it as a measurement device, my old Creative E-MU 0404USB was being used for some of these recordings and I figured it was time to upgrade to something new since a couple of the analogue pots were getting a little scratchy and I figured an all-digital device like this would allow me to more accurately adjust the volume on the microphone pre-amps (indeed it has worked out very well!).

A size comparison.