Saturday 27 May 2023

REVIEW: Beelink EQ12 Mini Computer - Intel N100 CPU (12th Gen, 4C/4T, 24EU iGPU), 8GB DDR5, 500GB NVMe. And on journalistic objectivity, truthfulness and non-neutrality.

For more than a year now, since the MeLE Quieter2Q, I've transitioned media playback away from the Raspberry Pi system in my main sound room as I've explored options in the MiniPC world. This is the result of technological progress as x86/x64 processors have become significantly more energy-efficient, available in smaller packages, with increasing processing speed, access to the huge library of PC software, and capabilities including support for multichannel HDMI audio output and 4K video decoding.

Yes, we could easily build massive "He-Man" computers these days sucking hundreds of watts to power fast CPUs and modern discrete GPUs, even as "audiophile computers", I believe these are clearly inelegant solutions for AV playback or even as a media server.

Today, let's look at a new entry - the Beelink EQ12 (currently just around US$250-300 depending on deals, with 8GB of DDR5 RAM, 500GB NVMe storage as tested). This machine uses the latest 12th Generation 10nm "Alder Lake" quad-core Intel N100 low-power processor running at up to 3.4GHz turbo. With this new generation, Intel has moved away from names like "Celeron" and "Pentium". While the specs say TDP of 6W for the part, in real life the computer does suck up more power.

For audiophiles thinking of using HQPlayer, these new processors feature the AVX2 instruction set; opening the doors for using the new versions of that software under Windows again should you desire. For the record, this machine was purchased through the usual retail channels.

Let's have a look today at this hardware, and evaluate the speed compared to previous reviewed machines on this blog.

Monday 22 May 2023

Retro DIY Headphone Amp - The Audio Amateur, Gary A. Galo design, built by Mitch Barnett circa 1991.

Every once awhile, I think it's fun to try something a little different!

While the vast majority of us audiophiles buy our stuff, as per all tech hobbies at one point, this began with hobbyists in their workshops, basements, and "caves" putting together electronics parts and enthusiast kits with soldering irons making their own stuff. I remember the days in the early '70s as a child when the hi-fi system at home was put together by my dad based on designs he found in the magazines. A time before commercialization of consumer electronics was anywhere like it is today.

With miniaturization and economy of scale, these days, it's more expensive to build one's own components (both time and money) and more than likely the sound quality would not be as good. Of course, there is an element of lasting pride in building something oneself which we can never really capture when purchased with a credit card. Major respect to the DIY guys and gals out there still designing and making their own gear.

So instead of a commercially available product, let's have a look at the device shown above. It's a home-made "prototype" headphone amp lent to me by Mitch Barnett (of Accurate Sound) built on a wooden board (I guess there might be some vibration control with that ;-). He built this something like 30 years ago based on a design published in The Audio Amateur (4/91, predecessor to today's AudioXpress) by Gary A. Galo. For a bit of background on The Audio Amateur, check out this thread and post from Palustris.

Sunday 14 May 2023

RESULTS: Internet Blind Test of 24-Bit vs. Dithered 16-Bit Part Deux - Daft Punk Edition

Well ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to reveal the results of the 2023 24-bit vs. 16-bit Internet Blind Test as laid out in the post: "Internet Blind Test: 24-Bit vs. Dithered 16-Bit Part Deux - Daft Punk Edition!".

This test was launched on March 4th and remained open to May 5, 2023; plenty of time I trust for folks who wanted to perform the test to listen and give me their results. As indicated in that invitation post, this test was created as a response to discussions on a message forum where it was said that 24-bit audio could be audibly differentiated from 16-bit files. It was offered in the discussions that the Daft Punk track "Giorgio by Moroder" from Random Access Memories, an album well-known to audiophiles, is an example of a well-produced, modern recording that benefits from 24-bits "high resolution". For years, it has been available for download at places like HDtracks, and Qobuz.

In this post, let's discuss how the test samples were created, reveal which sample is the high resolution version, and results from the respondents. Grab a drink, let's have a peek... ;-)

Sunday 7 May 2023

Audiophile Survey, early 2023: Who we are (including age and gender). What we use. How we think.

Well ladies and gentlemen, thanks to all who took the time to complete the information in the open "SURVEY: What audio playback system and/or streaming music service are you using in 2023?" post. The survey collected responses from February 11 to May 5, 2023 on this blog, and as usual, the responses came from audio lovers around the world, receiving in total 1330 entries with general information on demographics, broadly what kinds of systems are being used, multichannel playback, interest in masterings, and for those using streaming subscriptions, which ones.

As with any survey, we have to start with some context for the data. Obviously, the individuals who submitted results to me would have been primarily the viewers on this blog although I know the survey was advertised at various audiophile-related forums. I did not do any special advertising personally, other than mentioning it on a few forums I visited like Audiophile Style or Steve Hoffman Forum. I don't maintain much of a social media presence so basically just let the survey diffuse across the Internet.

Given the nature of this blog and its contents, I'd like to think that this survey will tell us about some of the characteristics of the subgroup of intelligent, reasonable, balanced, technically savvy, prudently skeptical, practical audiophiles around the world in the first half of 2023. ;-)

Monday 1 May 2023

Musings & Meditations on the intersections between clinical care and audiophilia.

The "Monastery" of Petra (Jordan); carved out probably around 1st Century CE. Harder to get to, but I thought this was just as awe inspiring as the "Treasury" made famous in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

In the last month, I had the pleasure of travelling through Jordan and Israel. As I pondered on some of the sights and sounds of the ancient civilizations, I wondered among other things, perhaps not surprisingly, on the audiophile pursuit for the purposes on this blog. :-)

Regardless of culture, we as humans share the same universal hopes, fears, and desires as we carve out a place in this world for our families and ourselves. Whether it's with a street vendor in Amman or some guy in a Shanghai night market, haggling over the best price for a souvenir T-shirt is essentially the same process. Nobody wants a bad deal, or items below expected quality.

We can discuss academically about the mechanisms of price discovery, study the complex verbal and nonverbal negotiation techniques, or explore macroeconomic determinants of supply and demand. Whether it’s getting a decent T-shirt or purchasing "high-fidelity" audio products, as consumers, value is always a core consideration as I've discussed many times over the years as a recurring theme (including here, here and here).

Coincidentally, a few weeks prior to leaving on vacation, I had a discussion on Audiophile Style with Andrew Quint who writes for The Absolute Sound. Like him, I work as a doctor and engage in the art and science of clinical care of and with people every day while pursuing the audiophile hobby in my free time. Over the years, I have virtually met some of you on forums and through E-mails also coming from clinical backgrounds whether as pharmacist, psychologists, therapists, nurses, etc. This article germinated during my travels as I thought about the complexity of clinical care and likewise some of the complexities that arise in audiophile discussions. Thankfully, related themes are nowhere as complicated or potentially perilous for us audiophiles and the epistemological debates among us seem safely parabolical of more significant ideological differences beyond just this little hobby sandbox

Since clinical care is a huge topic, permit me to talk somewhat loosely about some points of intersection since I think these factors have affected my attitudes toward the audiophile hobby and informed the judgments I make when reviewing products contained in these pages. These ideas may resonate with your own thinking as an audiophile.

(Along the way in this article, let me show you some pictures I took during the vacation!)