Monday, 27 June 2016

The Vancouver Audio Show 2016 (June 25): Pictorial & Comments (the MQA Demo, and Show Musings)


As I mentioned a few weeks back, the folks at the Chester Group have put on the Vancouver Audio Show again this year at the Hilton Metrotown (in Burnaby). I must admit, it's not the ideal weekend for an audio show. Summer holidays starting, weather getting better, this is also the opening weekend for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival... I guess the "music lovers" can enjoy the great outdoors while "audiophiles" can hang out indoors checking out the gear :-). Last year, they had it in May which probably makes more sense.

I spent most of Saturday at the show. It was a blast meeting up with Mitch (aka Mitchco on Computer Audiophile, recent eBook on the use of DSP in the listening environment) and wandering the hallways through the various showrooms with my buddy Phil and catching up with my dad who was there as well. As I mentioned before, I think Vancouver has the luxury of a decent selection of "high end audio" stores already but it's certainly nice to be able to come to one place to check out the gear and listen to what's new.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 (Creative Recon3Di) - Motherboard DAC / Audio Output

A number of months back, I rebuilt my HTPC set-up to run the new Skylake i5 processor. I thought it might be interesting to measure the motherboard audio output of the Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 to have a peek at what a typical modern "gaming" motherboard's audio output performs like. Here's the back panel and a picture of the MoBo:
Rear panel - note the blue TosLink cable, beside it the analogue phono plug for stereo out...
As I described in that article, the Gigabyte motherboard forms the foundation for the the new build. Technologies built into the new "consumer performance" Intel Z170 chipset includes compatibility with the new Skylake processors of course, more PCI-E lanes, up to 10 USB3.0 ports, up to 3 M.2 interfaces for SSD storage, etc. As I mentioned previously, this motherboard also has HDMI 2.0 + HDCP 2.2 capability (firmware upgrade available now and ready to go), plus there's Thunderbolt 3 out from that little USB 3.1-Type C port - very cool.

If you look at the Gigabyte literature on the website, you see that they're also hyping up the audio output somewhat. Upgradable opamp, Creative Sound Core3D quad-core processor (for 3D positional sound), high-end capacitors (Nichicon MUSE MW "Acoustic Series"). After installation, the audio device is identified as the "Sound Blaster Recon3Di" [presumably the 'i' indicates "integrated"].

How good is the analogue output from a modern computer motherboard like this?

Saturday, 11 June 2016

MISCELLANY: Vancouver Audio Show, Focusrite Forte Ahead, HEVC, Surround Audio CODECs...



Hey there guys, life and work is busy so I thought the post this week would be to cover a few miscellaneous thoughts from the last few weeks.

First, as you can see in the picture above, it's coming again this year! I guess the Vancouver Audio Show went well enough last year that we're going to see a repeat performance with the Show this year... Nice. I remember that there was no mention of the Show at the usual audiophile websites so I figure I'd let everyone know it's coming. Thankfully here in Vancouver we do have a few audiophile stores with good showrooms. Plus with the city (as well as much of the West Coast of North America) being a place where rich Asian investors like to park their cash (just look at the housing market!), it's a nice place to show off the goods... Of course, it also doesn't hurt given the relative strength of the US dollar to attract a few Americans up from nearby Seattle.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

MUSINGS / ANALYSIS: Is there any value to 176.4 and 192kHz Hi-Res audio files? A practical evaluation...



Check out this article from 1998 written by the founder of Earthworks, David E. Blackmer (1927-2002).
 
Although I believe some of the contents in the article above are debatable, in the years since 1998, high-resolution, high samplerate audio has of course become common-day reality for audiophiles. As I expressed years ago, I do like the 2xCD samplerates like 88 and 96kHz. But as a result of realizing that 176.4 and 192kHz songs were not being streamed properly with my Logitech Media Server with BrutefirDRC set-up described a few months back, I started asking myself, what is it we would be missing if these albums were downsampled to 88.2 and 96kHz?

Put another way, we could ask "Is there something musical about the highest octave in these 4x samplerate files?" This highest octave for 176.4kHz files would be audio containing 44kHz to 88kHz, and in 192kHz files from 48kHz to 96kHz.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Updated Room MEASUREMENTS & MUSINGS on Importance of Sonic "Accuracy" and the Audiophile.

Chapter I: Another Round of Room Measurements...

Recently, I acquired some more LP's, got a few more IKEA Kallax storage units for said LP's and put up some art as well. Here are front and rear shots of the sound room the other day...


With the physical changes and reviewing my post from last year regarding the use of (((acourate))) along with suggestions made by Dr. Uli Brueggemann and Mitch Barnett (aka Mitchco), I decided that it was time to re-do the room measurements and see if I can incorporate the important suggestions - 48kHz sampling rate for the measurements, sweep range of 10-24kHz, and incorporation of the subsonic filtering at 15Hz. If you're wondering, the dimensions of the room are ~20' x 15' x 8' with a slight frontal tapering as shown; not a huge room by any means and not ideal dimensions but at least it's not squarish/cubish (here's a study on room dimensions and acoustics). It's in the basement of my house, built as a family media room with extra thick walls to reduce sound leakage when the kids are asleep at night (I pretty well can run the sub at reference levels with kids asleep upstairs at night so long as I close the door to the basement). The main speakers - Paradigm Signature S8v3's - are 7.5' apart up front, and the sweet spot is approximately 9' from the speakers arranged like an isosceles triangle. I make sure there is decent amount of space between the couch and the rear LP storage (>3'). [As you can see, I have the ~15-year old rear full-range Paradigm Studio 80v3's back there.]

Saturday, 7 May 2016

MEASUREMENTS: ODROID-C2 with Volumio 2, and USB digital music streaming.

ODROID-C2 & unused "Fujifilm" 5V 1.0A wallwart ready for testing...
For those following along, you're recall back in March, I purchased a Hardkernel ODROID-C2 Linux-based credit-card sized single-board computer; the hardware described in my preview. I loaded up and customized the machine with Volumio 2 (RC1) a couple weeks back. And now as promised, I'll be showing some measurements using this machine with my TEAC UD-501 DAC. (Note that there has been a new Volumio image update since my last post. The current version is "VolumioRC1-fix-2016-05-03-odroidc2.zip" found here. Only fixed some boot issues apparently.)

Before I begin, let's discuss what we're trying to figure out objectively here... It has been claimed by some that the USB interface (which the ODROID will be streaming through to the DAC) can be "bad". Supposedly, it's electrically "noisy" (of course a noisy fan and spinning hard drives are also very bad). And, this is especially "bad" with computer audio because computers are electrically noisy devices and will end up polluting the output from your DAC. Hence, by this reckoning, a general-purpose computer isn't supposedly a good thing to have doing high-fidelity audio duties. Furthermore, it has been surmised by some that power supplies can be problematic. Specifically, an inexpensive switch-mode power supply (like the one in the picture above) can be noisy and again, will have deleterious effects on the sound quality.

It has been said that devices like the recently released Sonore microRendu among more fancy audio streamers like the Auralic Aries line of devices can "sound" better because they reportedly take into account the various sources of noise and supposedly have optimized hardware/software. True or not, the price of such "audiophile" grade devices can be rather substantial especially when it's a device without internal storage and acts as a digital conduit to feed a DAC.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Music servers possibly using UDP packets? Issues for music streaming?

Original from Obaida's Blog.
Qmax last week raised an interesting question about UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and DLNA/UPnP servers, one of the basic "Transport Layer" protocols for data transmissions used for Internet communications. We are likely very familiar with TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) in our day-to-day lives. This is the transport protocol that carries data off our NAS drives, transmits the web pages we read, and ensures integrity of our E-mail data...

What we might not be as familiar with is this other UDP protocol of communication. Whereas TCP is "connection-oriented" and "unicast" sending data between a server and a client through handshaking, UDP is a "connectionless" system where data is "streamed" across the network with potentially multiple destination addresses ("multicast") but without a need for bidirectional communications to address re-transmission in the event of errors detected in the stream. UDP is typically used in broadcast streams like Internet radio, streaming video, VOIP telephony, and multiplayer video gaming because the occasional data error is acceptable and doesn't require re-transmission. Or in the situation with video games, it's all happening in real-time and it's actually preferable to drop a packet here and there than waste time re-transmitting and potentially causing a deterioration in the action. Another use for UDP is with DNS service using small packets. It's faster, and uses less data bandwidth across the worldwide network overall.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

SET-UP: Low Power Linux Audio Player (ODROID-C2 & Volumio 2)


As you know from a few weeks back, I got myself one of these little single-board computers (SBC) - the Hardkernel ODROID-C2 - and posted a PREVIEW on it. As described in that article, I had flashed a copy of Volumio 2 "Release Candidate" (0.861RC1) to my SDHC card and have been streaming music to my TEAC UD-501 DAC in the music room for the last while.

Originally, I was going to publish both the contents in this post as well as measurements but it quickly became obvious that this was going to be too unwieldy (plus the day job got very busy)! As such, let me talk about the basics of the setup here today along with a few changes you might want to try if you're streaming from one of these Linux-based network machines. Then later, we'll get to the measurements...

Note that although I'll obviously be specifically addressing the ODROID-C2 I have here, the software is portable and at present, the good folks at Volumio have software images for many low-power computers including: Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone Black, Cubox, ODROID-C1+, etc... Just check their site to see if your machine is supported with a ready-to-use OS/app image. I've been informed that RuneAudio will also have ODROID-C2 support ahead (maybe as early as this weekend), so keep an eye on that one as well!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

RETRO-MEASURE: 1994 Sony MDP-750 LaserDisc / CD Player [and further thoughts on the importance of objectivity]

Okay everyone... For this week, let's go old skool! Feast your eyes on this baby:

Notice the microphone input to the right - karaoke, of course...
That, friends, is the Sony MDP-750, a "vintage" LaserDisc (LD) player manufactured in February 1994 "Made in Japan" according to the label on the back. My dad bought this unit when I was still in university.

In 1994, S. Africa held interracial elections and Mandela won. The IRA declared a cease-fire in Northern Ireland. Kurt Cobain committed suicide. ER and Friends debuts on TV. Doom became a hit videogame launching many future FPS's. W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) was founded. Netscape was founded. Yahoo was launched. The Pentium was found to have some flaws in math calculations! Of course, who can forget? O.J. Simpson gets arrested for murder charges after driving around L.A. in his white Bronco. My, how time flies!

Although my family had owned a couple other CD players before this device, all the previous optical media machines have since died. This machine is built like a tank (weighing in at >21lbs) and still plays LaserDiscs like a champ! I opened it up to check on the gears and cleaned up some dust accumulated over the years.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

PREVIEW: ODROID-C2 Single-Board Computer... [And an obligatory MQA addendum.]

Over the last year, every once awhile someone will come and ask me when I was going to try out a Raspberry Pi as a streaming replacement for my Squeezebox systems... Certainly I've been looking around and while I was relaxing in Puerto Vallarta a few weeks back, I decided to leisurely check online the varieties of these low-cost single-board computers (SBCs). Here's a pretty good list of recent SBCs on the market to get a feel of what's out there in early 2016.

Without a doubt, the Raspberry Pi computers are the current reigning champions in popularity. They announced 5 million units sold back in early 2015. The recently released Raspberry Pi 3 looks excellent. Plenty of support, reasonably fast quad-core Broadcom BCM2837 64-bit ARMv8 1.2GHz, decent but not impressive 1GB RAM, OK 10/100Mbps ethernet, and convenient wireless 802.11n WiFi with Bluetooth 4.1. The list price should only be about US$35 for one of these but due to worldwide shortage, there's a bit of a markup currently (very common supply-demand issue of course).

But looking around, another little computer caught my attention - the US$40 ODROID-C2 from Hardkernel, a South Korean company. This was just released in March 2016. I was able to get it here in Canada from Diigiit Robotics but I see that they're now out of stock and like the Pi 3, prices have become elevated. Here's the block diagram for the C2:
All technical details including schematics can be found here.
As you can see, it's a reasonably powerful little unit which easily can outrace the Pi 3 computationally (some benchmarks here compared to Pi 3). Quad-core Amlogic S905 CPU with 64-bit Cortex-A53's running at 2GHz, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, Gigabit ethernet, and a video subsystem capable of HDMI 2.0 4K/60fps output and hardware decoding for H.265 (750MHz Mali-450 "pentacore" GPU). Unlike the Pi 3, this unit does not have built-in wireless communications. Micro-SD card (supports UHS-1 speed) can be used or faster e.MMC 5.0 (400MB/s interface) module for flash storage. There's also an IR receiver built-in for remote control of features like volume adjustment.

So I figured... Why not? Let's get one of these little guys with the goal being to run a simple Volumio streamer out of it (I think we'll be seeing RuneAudio on this device soon also). Here's what I got:
The ODROID-C2 with clear plastic case. Note how small this computer is - about the form factor of my Costco card :-). Around the same size for the Raspberry Pi...