Saturday, 24 September 2022

HOW-TO: Roon 2.0 with ARC released, running Android ARC on Windows. Roon's "grace period". And how about more audiophile remasters of music from the '80s onward?

The big news this week among the audiophile channels I think is that Roon 2.0 has been released which allows remote access to your Roon Core when on-the-go. Nice, it's about time considering that I've been streaming off Logitech Media Server for ages to my phone and at the office! The app that allows access remotely is something called Roon ARC - available for 64-bit Android in Google Store and for Apple devices.

This is a nice step forward and now I can listen to my music on the smartphone. However, I want to also play the music at my office on the Windows 10 computer. However, when remote desktop streaming was discussed with the company, the official answer has been "Roon ARC is mobile device-only application". Well, that's not a completely acceptable answer, I'm afraid. :-(

For the time being, you could run the Android app in Windows with BlueStacks 5 - 64-bit Android 9 Pie edition. Here's a look...

Saturday, 17 September 2022

MUSINGS: Regarding the MoFiGate class action document, the love of analogue master tapes (on recent Bernie Grundman interview), and reminder of digital developments. [Yes, Canadian iPhone 14 still has hardware SIM tray.]

There are "hot topic" debates that stand the test of time, never truly resolved as it were. Typically, these debates are arguments of subjective ideologies (thus never fully resolved even if some elements can be shown to be clearly false) rather than explorations of nuanced facts. The "Analogue vs. Digital - which is best?" debate remains popular among audiophiles since the dawn of CD consumer audio in the early 1980's. As if there is ever only one single answer to such a broad topic with various pros and cons. I suspect most of us these days have grown at least a little tiresome of the topic even if we recognize that this "issue" will inevitably arise along our audiophile journeys interacting with others.

In the last while, there have been items in the news related to analogue audio, and by extension this whole debate, I think worth examining honestly. Let's spend some time to talk about this, consider some facts, and address a few of the unsubstantiated beliefs often perpetuated even among some respected members in the audiophile pursuit.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

RETRO: Beyerdynamic DT 990, 600Ω, classic open-back circumaural headphones (circa 1991).

This week, I thought I would do a "retro" measurement of and listen to a headphone from the days of the Cold War. ;-)

Above, you see the 600Ω impedance Beyerdynamic DT 990 (forefather of the current DT 990 Pro, ~US$150), a pair of headphones lent to me by my buddy linnrd that he has had in his archives of audio equipment for quite awhile. As you can see on the box, these were made in W. Germany and purchased back in 1991, a couple of years after the fall of the Berlin Wall; either in Düsseldorf or nearby Essen I was told. The history of these headphones began back in 1981.

For headphones of this vintage (>30 years old), they are in great shape although in the image above, notice that I had replaced what used to be a thin layer of disintegrating black foam inside the earpiece with some bluish 1.5mm felt which I had used in my Dekoni Blue mod last year. So, not exactly a "stock" unit but pretty close.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

As We Hear It: An audiophile comments on the Taiko Audio computer. The Mark Jenkins / Antipodes Audio Darko interview. On MoFi's One-Step DSD. And optical HDMI.

German "ear horns" circa 1917.

It's great to look inside my mail bag and post comments or questions here from readers once awhile. I must say that the clarity of thought and insight from readers have been inspiring over the years.

With permission, here's a comment from an audiophile in Europe regarding his direct experience with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme "audiophile" computer server/streamer.

Since this reader has quite a unique high end system which can be easily traced, this message has been anonymized in a number of ways. Without further ado, a comment from SonicDeepThroat (SonicDT):

Received: July 2022 

Hi Archimago,

I thought I'd drop you a line as I found your blog post about the Taiko SGM Extreme very interesting. I auditioned this machine a few days ago and thought I would share my conclusions with you. (I tried to leave a comment on the relevant blog post, but Google wouldn't let me sign in to do so.)

Saturday, 27 August 2022

REVIEW: Sabaj A20d 2022 Version DAC [Part III] - DSD, Headphone Out, AMPT, Subjective Impressions and Summary. (And some more Peru pictures!)

Okay, we're in the final stretch of my measurements/review series on the Sabaj A20d 2022 DAC. This time, let's finish with some measurements around DSD performance, the headphone amp output quality, and let's talk about subjective listening impressions before the final summary on my impressions of the device. (See Part I and Part II for earlier instalments in this review.)

Friday, 19 August 2022

REVIEW: Sabaj A20d 2022 Version DAC [Part II] - Resolution & Distortion. (Windows 11 22H2 available. Greetings from Peru!)

Let's continue our discussion of the Sabaj A20d 2022 today as we dive into the core of  the DAC's PCM resolution characteristics. You might want to review Part I as I had discussed much about the hardware itself, the filter options for the device, and jitter already.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

REVIEW: Sabaj A20d 2022 Version DAC (ESS ES9038PRO) [Part I] - Hardware, Filters, and Jitter.

[Disclosure: Most of the products I review have been purchased personally or loaned from friends. On occasion, a manufacturer or seller will contact me about a device which I might have an interest in. This Sabaj DAC is one such device which was sent to me from the company for an honest, independent review. As I have done over the years, my review process focuses mostly on objective performance with some subjective listening opinions. Objective data rather than pure subjectivity I believe will help substantially mitigate bias.]

Over the last few years, we have seen an impressive proliferation of high resolution DACs at very reasonable price points coming from audio companies in China. In the world of consumer electronics, this should surprise nobody given that much of our technological products hail from that part of the world. Everything from Apple phones, to computer motherboards, to high-tech multinationals like AMD and Intel having manufacturing and assembly lines there.

On the test bench, we have the Sabaj A20d 2022 Version (currently ~US$420). Make sure to take note of the "2022 Version" because there is also the original A20d "2021 version" which clearly looks very different, does not feature headphone outputs, but is also based on the flagship ES9038PRO chip.

At the heart of this DAC, the ESS ES9038PRO is aided by the ES9311 "ultra-low noise" linear regulator to provide reference voltage to the DAC. Headphone amplifier is based on the TI TPA6120A2.

As I have been doing in the last year (like with the Topping D90SE, and S.M.S.L. DO100 previously) I think it's good taking my time with multi-part reviews to examine the various facets of these modern devices. Unlike back in the "old days" of digital where CD players only handled 16/44.1 content, modern DACs provide a whole host of samplerates, PCM + DSD, filtering options, potential noise and jitter variation, headphone output and input options typically USB and S/PDIF variants; even with these tests, as an audiophile who prioritizes sound quality, I haven't even seriously examined the Bluetooth audio options available in these devices over the years.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

REVIEW: iFi GO Bar - Portable DAC / Headphone Amp (Cirrus Logic DAC, Balanced & Unbalanced).

My friend AudioPhil is really into his headphone gear. Recently he acquired the product above and asked if I might want to play with this for a few days... Sure, this looks interesting!

This is the new iFi GO bar (around US$320), a portable headphone DAC/amp. The USB interface is a USB-C form factor (480Mbps USB2.0 Hi-Speed), and there are outputs for single-ended/unbalanced 3.5mm TRS and balanced 4.4mm pentaconn. Interestingly, the company (iFi, subsidiary of AMR/Abbingdon Music Research) does not specify which DAC chip is used inside. Suspicion is that it's likely the Cirrus Logic CS43198 or CS43131, both are recent chips circa 2017 capable of "pseudo-differential" outputs and low-power consumption <40mW with rated THD+N of -115dB, DR 130dB, maximum PCM 32/384, and DSD256. The specs look good but don't get too excited about these ideal numbers when implemented in a USB dongle.

I don't know what's the point of being so secretive about the DAC chip used (Crutchfield says it's the 43131).

Monday, 1 August 2022

Pacific Audio Fest 2022 (PAF 2022) - Concluding observations and thoughts... (MoFi One-Step DSD controversy, and a few videos!)

Well, the first PAF 2022 is now in the record books (see Day 1 and Day 2 for context). I honestly hope that the organizers, companies showing off their goods, and attendees all had a great time. I regret not getting the RMAF2019 T-shirt so made sure to grab one this time around and will wear it with pride among fellow audiophiles. ;-)

As I was driving home to Vancouver, BC, I was thinking about audio shows in general and also specifically about the PAF... What was seen, the experience of these shows as an audiophile, stuff like that.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Pacific Audio Fest 2022 (PAF 2022) - Day 2

The elevators heading up to the 13th & 14th floors of the PAF, and a view from elevator. Glorious hot 25-30°C weekend. IMO, we who live in the N.W. / Western Canada should never complain of the few days we get every year of the heat! So long as we don't hit closer to 40°C like last year's "heat dome"...

In total, I spent 2 days at Pacific Audio Fest 2022. The pictures and comments here will cover some of what I saw and general impressions for those rooms. See the Day 1 post as well.

Let's get going!

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Pacific Audio Fest 2022 (PAF 2022) - Day 1

Hey there everyone, it's Pacific Audio Fest 2022 time here in Seattle! Since it was just a 3-hour drive from home in Vancouver, I figure it would be fun to check out the inaugural PAF this year. The last time I was at an audio show was back in 2019 for what would become the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest - who knew!

My understanding is that PAF under the direction of Lou Hinkley brings with it experience from Capital Audio Fest held in Washington DC (which will be held this year November 11-13).

I think the audio geeks here in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada appreciates the availability of an easily-accessible show in this part of the world to check out and listen to some of the latest (and greatest) the industry has on offer.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Summer Musings: On Stereophile's "Quackery, Gullibility, and Open-mindedness". Nature of audio devices. Truths in audio (and medicine).

Well ladies and gents, I guess it's official. Stereophile, at least in part, is not a journalistic venture based on a recent "My Back Pages" article. In the opening 3 paragraphs of "Quackery, Gullibility, and Open-mindedness", Rogier van Bakel basically discards the importance of skepticism as a journalist, and seems to set the stage for audiophiles to accept basically all manners of quackery and snake oil.

For those who have been on this blog over the years, you probably know that I'm a physician working here in Vancouver, Canada. I write these audio musings and technical review articles as part of my audio hobby/journey to go beyond enjoying the music as a consumer, towards further understanding of how the technologies work, with the hope that the results of the explorations may be helpful for other pilgrims along this path as we discuss hardware and improving sonic fidelity.

On quiet evenings when the kids are asleep and my wife is enjoying her TV dramas, examination of electrical devices and their waveforms can provide a much-needed distraction from the marvelous yet frequently incomprehensible complexity of human physical and mental states.

Saturday, 16 July 2022

REVIEW: MeLE Quieter3Q (Celeron N5105, 8GB DDR4, 256GB eMMC) MiniPC: Fanless, 4K/HDR streaming. Getting closer! (Thoughts on Apple's M1 Mini as HTPC.)

Yeah, that's an old XBOX 360 Kinect camera back there! Hey, there are cool things you can do with this as a 3D scanner...

Greetings ladies and gents. In the posts for both the MeLE Quieter2Q post as well as just last week with the Beelink SER4 Ryzen 7 4700U computer review (BTW, I added an addendum - HDR10 works on that machine), I noticed questions, comments, and E-mails about utilization of these MiniPCs in the home theater setting; specifically video and HDR features.

Recently, I saw the availability of the MeLE Quieter3Q fanless MiniPC (currently around US$250). With the various feature upgrades, I figure that this is one which might qualify as a reasonable HTPC computer given that it features HDR video capabilities and a bit more CPU processing power. As such, I decided to take it for a spin. I bought the slightly more expensive 256GB eMMC storage model; since I am targeting video playback, it might be nice to have some extra storage for local data.

Much of what I said about the Quieter2Q applies here, so let's focus on performance differences and discuss this machine as a video streamer beyond audio purposes...

Saturday, 9 July 2022

REVIEW: Beelink SER4 Ryzen 7 4700U (8C/8T) MiniPC - A small, quiet, fast, general "workhorse" PC... [Addendum: HDR works.]

These days, if we look around most homes, I think we'll see all kinds of computers used for different purposes in the rooms. I've talked about my main Workstation, the Server machine, even my Gaming rig a number of years back (much of that upgraded since). And a few months ago, we talked about the very low power fanless Celeron MeLE Quieter2Q which functions as a very stable stereo/multichannel streamer for Roon.

[BTW, there is an upgraded MeLE Quieter3Q now which is faster by ~30-40% featuring the Celeron N5105 processor for a few more dollars, but still no AVX2 if you're thinking about Windows HQPlayer as discussed here.]

Recently, I've been wanting to upgrade my 2016 Intel NUC 6i5SYH which in the last few years has been the heart of the audio measurements rig. Over time, as my measurement regimen has become more detailed, often using larger FFTs parameters, once awhile, I've started noticing that the old i5 CPU isn't keeping up with the processing needs and this shows up as glitches in the data such as when running multichannel REW "stepped sine" captures. Obviously, this will not do. ;-)

To remedy the situation, I got one of these Beelink SER4 Ryzen 7 4700U-based MiniPCs (8-core, 8-threads, currently less than US$450 for the 16GB RAM/512GB M.2 SSD model). There is also a more expensive SER4 with faster 4800U processor (8-core, 16-threads) if you need that extra speed.

This machine was purchased from standard retail channels; this review was not sponsored in any way.

Friday, 1 July 2022

Hi-Res THD(+N) vs. Output Level Measurements (ESS "HyperStream" vs. AKM vs. TI/Burr-Brown). And a bonus R-2R!

Notice last time as I ended off the post, I showed what I think is an interesting "high resolution" graph of THD(+N) vs. Output Level for the Topping D10 Balanced which uses the ESS ES9038Q2M chip. This was spurred on after some discussions on glitches and anomalies one might see due to the "HyperStream" architecture of the ESS chip.

These days, other than the occasional fully multibit or discrete R-2R DACs, the vast majority of what we're using are multibit/multilevel sigma-delta devices. This includes the brands I have listed in the upper graphic; Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), ESS Technology, and Burr-Brown (which was acquired by Texas Instruments in 2000). We'll also talk about the Philips later. ;-)

Today, let's have a look at "high res" THD(+N) vs. Output graphs (XLR output where possible to keep noise as low as possible) comparing different DACs from these companies...