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Bose QuietComfort 20i

I’ve been away in Darlington most of the week and I’m on the train home knackered. I had the foresight to use Radio Paradise’s version 3 on my iPad to download six hours of great eclectic ‘radio’.  Radio is great for travelling and when tired, as it takes away the need for decision making – just let it play and if a song comes along you don’t like, another will be along soon.

The real key to me relaxing on the train is not the choice of music or the sound quality whether it be the 320kbps AAC of Radio Paradise, or the 24/192 wavs I sometimes play on my Fiio X3, it’s my Bose QuietComfort  20i noise cancelling headphones.

The QC 20i’s noise cancelling is superb, they take away most of the roar of the train, the clatter of the tracks and some of the noise of the louder passengers, however there is one small foible with the noise cancelling: on a train when another train passes in the opposite direction the QC 20i’s pop. The odd pop is a small price to pay for the amazingly good noise cancellation.

Sound quality of the QC 20i’s is very good. It’s not quite as good as say my Shure SE535s or even my Etymotic ER-4Ps but still very good.  They don’t quite have the transparency of the best in-ears, they have low colouration once they have run for a few hours. But, and it’s a huge but, they are very comfortable – they are ear bud style rather than true in-ears but Bose have included some little soft plastics wings that mean for the first time ever I can wear buds without them falling out.

In conclusion, the Bose QC20is are my choice for travelling earphones.  Great noise cancellation, truly comfortable, good sound, what more can you really want?

It’s no surprise if you look around at an airport or train station to find the people who look like seasoned travellers are mainly wearing Bose cans.

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Amazon Fire TV in, Apple TV and Sony SMP-N200 out

The Amazon Fire TV arrived on Friday and immediately replaced both the Apple TV and the Sony network media player in my family room system. One box instead of two, one SMPS instead of two and one ethernet connection instead of two.

The beauty of the Amazon Fire TV box is that I can now easily watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video without changing inputs on my DAC or TV. Less chance for a macro to go wrong.

Harmony Remote with HubThe Amazon Fire TV is fully controllable from my Harmony Remote with the exception of voice search.  For the convenience of only having one remote control for the whole system, I can live without voice search.

The sound quality seems to be as good as the Apple or the Sony and I think the image quality is better than either. No network glitches or buffering so far so it seems well sorted from a networking point of view, which is a little more than I can say about the Sony.

The screen saver images are also stunning.  Super sharpened but without any MPEG/JPG style artefacts that I can see.

I’ve seen complaints about the menu system, the fact that it favours Amazon products (Duh) but it’s easy to use, works well and in two days I’m used to using it.

Highly recommended.

All for £49 delivered if you have a Prime account.

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Hi-res digital recording of vinyl: Is it needed?

Having purchased a Thunderbolt ‘sound card’, the Zoom TAC-2,  to make life easier when measuring loudspeakers it was too much of a temptation not to try recording some records.

Previous posts have talked about Record Cleaning and Do turntable belts sound different. Both posts have included downloadable samples of music to illustrate the differences.

This post is even simpler, linked below are four recordings of an excerpt from the same Nat King Cole track. The only change between recordings was the sampling rate.  All are 24Bit Aiff files, one is 44.1, one. 88.2, one is 176.4 and the largest is 192kHz sampling.

The differences are not massive, don’t expect night and day differences. But there are differences and the better the system on which these are played, the easier they are to hear. The record is another charity shop purchase, so it’s not perfect but in some ways the clicks help to show the changes.

Nat King Cole 44.1kHz

Nat King Cole 88.2kHz

Nat King Cole 176.4kHz

Nat King Cole 192kHz

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Record Cleaning: worth the effort and cost?

I’ll start with what I do and then try to give some simple reasoning behind the thinking.

About half my total vinyl purchases are from charity (thrift) shops and from secondhand (used) record shops. Most of these shops are not the type that clean and grade their stock. The best indication of likely quality is a clean sleeve, not too much dust and not too many finger marks on the record itself. I always clean these records before playing. They usually end up looking really good and sounding somewhere between fabulous and OK.

Sometimes the best looking example is the worst sounding, but until I get to play them there is no way to judge.

Once cleaned a record is given a new polylined inner sleeve as there is little point in putting a clean record in a first sleeve.

New records are rarely cleaned before first play and only maybe 20% are cleaned at all when new. If they are significantly noisy and from a reputable supplier they go back for replacement. If they are from a less easy to communicate with source such as a stall at a hi-fi show or a record fair they will get cleaned.

So does the record cleaning help? A simple answer: yes. It doesn’t make damaged records perfect, but it does clean out crud, whether that is excess mold release agent, leaching plastizers, or just dirt. On some records is removes a good amount of the clicks and pops and on others it just removes a level of low-level masking.

My Rega RP6, Audio Technical OC9II combination is very enjoyable to listen too but it is quite sensitive to click and pops. Unfortunately, no cleaning will remove those that are ground into the surface of the grooves. Some great looking records sound as if they have been played with a knitting needle.

I don’t believe it’s a good idea to clean records too often (once a year is as often as I will ever contemplate), as I believe that over cleaning, whether too often or with too strong a cleaner, is the reason for some enthusiasts saying cleaning makes records sound worse. I believe an over cleaned record, which has had too much plastizer stripped out of the groove, just wears too quickly and becomes noisy quickly.

I’ve linked below to two zipped files. Both the same section of a Bryan Ferry track. The first recorded as the record came out of the sleeve after buying it at my local Cancer Research charity shop. The second, the same record, after a clean using Keith Monks Break the Mold fluid on the Keith Monks Classic Record Cleaning machine.

The recording was achieved using the Pure Vinyl 4 app on a Mac mini.  The ADC was a Zoom TAC-2 set to 24bit 88.2kHz, chosen at it is an easy down sample to CD resolution for anyone without a hi-res DAC. The files are zipped aiff.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions but may I suggest that you concentrate less on the clicks and pops and more on the inner detail, the tonal quality of the backing singers and the way you may find you interact differently to both track excerpts.

Bryan Ferry as purchased

Bryan Ferry cleaned

One small but essential piece of advice. if you decide to invest in a Record Cleaning Machine make sure it’s a quiet one. An afternoon cleaning records wearing ear defenders is not fun. An afternoon cleaning records listening to the record you have just cleaned is great fun.

If you don’t feel the expenditure is worthwhile consider visiting a hi-fi retailer or record shop that offers record cleaning services once in a while.  Start with a couple to check their care and attention and if all’s well get a few of your noisier, muckier records cleaned.

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Do turntable belts sound different?

I’ve come to the conclusion that on a good hi-fi system every change to anything is audible.  Not necessarily an improvement, just audible. The better the system, the more audible but below a certain quality changes are masked.  Looking back at my experiments with a budget system it is clear to me that it’s possible to put together some quite good sounding systems, that have low resolving power, for a pretty low cost. Unfortunately good sound and resolving power – the ability to hear small changes and fine detail within the music – don’t come nearly so cheaply.

Rega_RP6

 

 

 

So, an experiment. I recorded the output from my Dynavector P75 phono stage at 24/88 using Pure Vinyl 4.  The turntable a Rega RP6 was fitted with a Audio Technica OC9 Mk II. The track excerpt was from Jambalaya (On The Bayou) from a copy of the Carpenters second hits compilation  I picked up at a charity store. Sorry I didn’t have time to run the Keith Monks so it’s a bit noisier that it will be when I do.

You can click on the links below and download around a minute of the track recorded using the standard black belt or the optional white belt. No other changes.

See what you think.  Any difference?

Rega_White_Belt

Black Belt

White Belt

 

 

 

 

Mu-so by Naim, now featuring Spotify Connect

Today, Naim Audio confirmed that its new wireless music system, mu-so, will feature Spotify Connect functionality.

 All the power of Spotify, built in

Mu-so can now add native support for Spotify to its long list of music streaming features. Spotify Connect gives premium subscribers the ability to stream millions of songs to mu-so wirelessly via the Spotify app on a mobile device. Mu-so communicates directly with Spotify’s servers, preserving the battery life of the device and leaving it free to open other apps and take calls without interrupting the music.

Naim is working towards introducing streaming services to its wider range of streaming products.

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Three new colours

Naim also confirmed that mu-so will come with a Classic Naim Black speaker grille as standard with optional custom grilles (sold separately for £69.95). Customers will be able to add a new dimension of colour with Deep Blue, Burnt Orange and Vibrant Red available from selected retailers at launch and direct from the Naim website later this year.

The Naim mu-so will be available at specialist audio retailers, John Lewis and JohnLewis.com, and select Apple stores and apple.com for £895 this autumn.

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Mu-so, the features

AirPlay – Stream music from iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch or from iTunes.

UPnP™ (Universal Plug ‘n’ Play) – Stream music from a PC, Mac or network-attached storage in high-resolution ‘better than CD’ quality.

Bluetooth – Pair with a Bluetooth device to instantly play music. Also compatible with aptX for high-performance audio.

Internet Radio – Access to thousands of internet radio stations. Favourite presets can be saved for easy access.

Spotify Connect – Built-in support for the world’s most popular streaming service to play millions of songs from a mobile device.

USB – Play music from and charge iPhone, iPad, iPod and many other MP3 players.  Playback from USB sticks.

Digital Input (Optical) – Play audio from digital sources such as TVs, set top boxes or games consoles.

3.5mm Analogue Input – Play music from other digital and analogue sources including MP3 players.

Multiroom – Play to multiple mu-so devices simultaneously via Airplay or link with other Naim streaming players as part of a Naim multiroom system.

Six Naim Speaker Drivers – Custom-designed dome tweeters (x2), mid-range (x2) and bass drivers (x2).

450W of Amplification – Six 75 watt digital amplifiers drive each speaker unit independently.

Naim control app – Custom-designed Naim app to control mu-so and explore music via iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android devices.

Touch Panel Volume Control – Innovative touch panel volume control (patent-pending) with 11 sector display. Also controls standby, input and preset selection.

Remote Control – Remote control to put mu-so into standby, adjust volume, change track (next/previous), pause and adjust the illumination level.

Room Settings – Two different room EQ settings to optimise sound when positioning mu-so near or away from room boundary.

Loudness Control – Mu-so intelligently boosts bass and treble at low volumes to ensure a full musical experience at all sound levels.

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