Friday 16 October 2015

MEASUREMENTS: A Look at Linux Audio (ALSA, PulseAudio)

What is that you ask? Well, it is the slowest computer in my house :-). It's a "vintage" HP Mini 110 from circa 2009. I decided recently to stick Linux on there just to see how well it ran... Here's the System Information:

As you see, I've got Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (updates current as of Sept 2015) loaded up on the old machine which has been sitting around unused for a few years. It's one of the early Intel Atom N270 CPU's (32-bit, single-core hyperthreading, 1.6GHz), 2GB DDR2 RAM. Slow 16GB SSD as the main drive. Whole OS loaded up on the tiny storage, no problem. Linux runs fine on the machine but it's obviously not fast, but works for light web surfing, E-mail, word processing... Now, how about for audio?

Thursday 1 October 2015

MUSINGS: Meditations on the limitations of hearing & listening.

For today's MUSINGS, let us take a few moments to think about our sense of hearing. Though the auditory system is not as complex as the visual architecture, the extensive interconnections and association areas they intersect with of course provides us with an altogether unique experience integrating emotions and memories. The "drug of choice" for us audiophiles is in the auditory domain. The music we hear adds to the quality of life, and in so doing, satisfies at least to some extent a sense of meaning to our existence. Much of this is a mystery which perhaps in time with the development of neuroscience, secrets may be unlocked... But even if these remain impenetrable mysteries, there is of course no denying the value and truth to human subjectivity. That joy and meaning is wholly ours alone, it is our right as sentient beings to own and cherish.

As humans, we also recognize that we are limited in every conceivable dimension and sensory modality. We cannot smell as well as dogs, we cannot see as well as cats, we cannot hear as acutely as bats, our proprioceptive abilities pale in comparison to even more primitive primates swinging in the trees... Over the years, I have posted on the importance of being aware of these limitations so as to be insightful about our abilities especially when making claims about what is heard or not heard. For example, I think it's useful to try something like the Philips Golden Ear Challenge as a way to evaluate our own hearing acuity. Having an appreciation of dynamic limits also helps us appreciate the importance of sound levels and silence in the listening environment. Knowing the limits as a human being helps us to understand the importance (or unimportance!) of developments like high-resolution audio and what we should expect.