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April, 2009:

Wolfgang’s Vault

This site should truly sort the music lover from the hi-fi lover.  Register for free on www.wolfgangsvault.com and listen to a choice of a huge amount of live recordings of great bands from years ago.  So far I’ve listened to Elton John, Black Sabbath, Little Feat and  Grateful Dead.  There’s enough music to keep me listening for weeks.

Sound quality is generally rather good.  Good in a bandwidth limited, obviously live but solid sort of way, but one recording did sound as if it was made of a fluttery cassette.

I played it back from my HP2133 into a M-Audio Transit into my Behringer SRC2496 upsampling to 24/88 all feeding my Naim system.  Maybe a bit OTT but well worth the effort.

Thanks to John Atkinson, editor of Stereophile mag for bring this superb resource to my attention

Highly recommended

Ripping and Computer Audio

These two subjects seem to be the most contentious around in the world of audio now. Both centre around sound quality and both somehow seem to bring out the most passionate views, often different to mine.

Theory one, is that it’s possible to get good sound from a computer feeding a DAC.  The debate tends to be as much around whether a Mac is better than a PC as a source as which DAC is ideal.  The general feeling seems to be that a Mac Book with a DAC costing around a £1k is cable of delivering better sound that a serious or very serious CD Player.  I agree a Mac and a DAC is cable of delivering a very good sound – but not a great one.  The Mac/DAC to my ears delivers a polished performance with poor dynamics downwards and little soul.  A great CD player adds back the soul, and reaches down into the quiet to somehow increase the space between the notes.  I’m sure it is possible to get a great sound from a ‘puter but it am sure it’s going to take a bit more effort than just plugging a DAC on to the output of a Mac.

Theory two, is that if a rip is perfect it should sound the same as another perfect rip of the same CD.  Seems pretty logical to me but somehow it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Listening blind and sighted to different rips which are identical, according to CRC and EAC’s file compare, they seem to sound different.  Consistency of results leads me to believe I’m not fooling myself.  Now, don’t expect these differences to be huge and obvious.  And don’t expect these to hear differences unless you have a revealing system and time.  If you have both and are willing to try a few rips then relax and let the tracks play through and observe your reaction to each track from an emotional level.  You need to be relaxed and not trying too hard – tension and stress are great ways of hearing less. When last trying this blind Malcolm Steward and I found differences in the rhythm of the track.

My conclusions are the same as usual with serious hi-fi.  The more I understand the more I realise I don’t know.

iBotnet – my chance for humour

A once only comment, purely for fun, in a small way payback for all my Mac owning friends that have pushed the virus free credentials of the Mac for years.
Now it seems that Mac owners downloading and installing pirate copies of iWork 09 and possibly Photoshop 4 are also installing some malware.

Welcome to the club. Time to invest in some anti-malware software maybe?

Back to first principles – system setup

I’ve owned a Naim system for somewehere around 15 years and have learnt a lot about set up mainly over the past five or so handling Naim’s PR. Jason, Naim’s Southern Area manager has taught me that there is no such thing as too much attention to detail.
Yesterday I learnt that, the problem in one’s own system is that, it’s easy to forget the basics.
Normally I don’t change my main system as I have another in a differnt room to evaluate products and to run things in.
After HDX was launched I decided to put it into my main system along with a PS555 – the PS555 coming along later.
What I forgot was, that in my haste to get the PS555 into the system, I put it onto the only spare Fraim level which was directly under the HDX and next to the NAC 552.
Yesterday, I decided to move the PS555 to a newly created spare level around 40cm lower. Unbelievable: the upper bass thickness that I had been trying to sort for a couple of months went away, the system opened up and became a real joy to listen to. But the change wasn’t just on playing from HDX it was on vinyl, FM and CD.

To quote quite a few forums posts that I have read over the years I have been playing all sorts of music and it’s like it’s all new stuff.  What an amazing change for so little work.

So now all I have to do is find the time to take the whole system apart, tighten up all the Fraim bolts, redo all the Mains wiring so that I can try Power-Line, give it all the clean and reassemble in perhaops a slightly different order.  After the High End show in Munich perhaps.  More then.

HDMI cable silences my listening room

Having a PC in my listening room was convenient as I have often been experimenting with different audio playback apps, sound cards, and all the various drivers like ASIO and Kernel Streaming.
The problem though was the noise of the PC. All that investment in a great hi-fi system and a signal to noise ratio destroyed by computer fans.
The solution came to me last week and it was simple.
OK, I have an advantage: a cable company as a client. Nigel at Chord was kind enough to send me a 5m HDMI Silver Plus cable and two DVI to HDMI adapters.
The experiment was to move the PC outside my listening room and then to use a 5m Chord HDMI and 5m USB cables to monitor and control the PC.
The worry was running a good monitor at 1920 by 1200 over a 5m HDMI cable. Would the image quality be reduced? The image was absolutely fine and so much so that I temporarily tried a 10 m cable which worked just as well.
Definitely a result. Noise removed from my listening room, the hi-fi sounds significantly better. The computer is no harder to use. I’ll use a USB DVD drive near the monitor for normal stuff but walk the few metres to use the Plextor Premium CD drive for serious ripping.

Why 45rpm is essential

Elbow’s award winning album The Seldom Seen Kid is available on vinyl.  It’s heavy, split onto two records, and is 45rpm.  None of the reviews I read on Amazon mention that it’s 45rpm and neither does the album sleeve or even the Amazon details page.

Don’t get caught out like me wondering why the beginning sounded so odd.  Luckily my Funked LP12 with its DC motor and clever power supply can be switched to 45.

The album is truly stunning.  It has been mastered with care, it’s not compressed to hell, and its quiet.  What’s really wonderful though is the music.  It’s true poetry set to to music.  Maybe it’s not the most uplifting album in the world but it’s definitely the best album I’ve bought in the last couple of years.

Worth playing very often and very loud.

The Thorens 25th anniversary triple album is in the same class, but I didn’t have to buy that one, I’m glad to say.  More on that another day.