• The Computer Audiophile

    by Published on 04-28-2016 07:27 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Digital Interface Converter,
    3. USB Interface,
    4. UPnP / DLNA,
    5. RoonReady
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    In mid 2014 I received a call from Sonore's Jesus R. He wanted to discuss an idea. Jesus and his team had decided they needed to move the needle, in a huge way, with respect to computer audio playback. They had built, sold, and supported custom high end music servers for years, but were ready to innovate beyond this somewhat traditional approach. Jesus told me they wanted to design and build both the hardware and software for a tiny microcomputer the size of a credit card, that had a single purpose, to reproduce the best sound quality possible. Then he semi-jokingly asked me if I knew anyone with really deep pockets who'd like to bankroll the endeavor. At the end of our lengthy conversation I concluded that this was another great idea that would never come to fruition because it was simply cost prohibitive for a boutique manufacturer.

    Fast forward to summer 2015, when I received an email from Jesus with the subject, code name = Toaster. The first two sentences said, "For your eyes only. The small board goes on top of the larger board and it's to scale if you want to print it." Attached was the schematic for prototype units numbered 1, 2, and 3 that were already being made as I read the email. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. Jesus and his team had successfully pulled off the initial hardware design phase of a project I never thought would see the light of day.

    Seeing a product brought to life from its infancy was pretty cool, at least for me. Readers putting two and two together are probably asking what happened from mid 2014 to mid 2015 to the end of April 2016. As anyone with knowledge of hardware design, prototyping, software development and testing, and sourcing components can tell you, there are more trials and tribulations involved in bringing a high precision product to market than Joe Sixpack could ever imagine. But, that's an interesting story for another time. Today, April 28, 2016 marks the launch of the highly anticipated custom designed Sonore microRendu, a purpose-built audiophile microcomputer designed to unprecedentedly process USB audio. ...
    by Published on 04-07-2016 08:16 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Q & A
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    Shortly after attending CES 2016, where MQA was a very hot topic, I realized that there was more speculation about MQA than available facts. Nonetheless, it seemed like everyone had an opinion about MQA. Most people had never heard the final output of the MQA process, an actual song or two, but they were still very eager to render an opinion. Some armchair engineers jumped at the chance to speculate what was going on, based on little to no information. In addition, other learned folks even rushed to judgement about MQA without fully understanding what they were "analyzing." Once I started to see this speculation controlling the narrative and leading interested CA readers down a path that wasn't necessary illuminated by facts, I figured it was a good idea to go right to the source. I talked to MQA's Bob Stuart about some of the questions people had and some of the speculation that was swirling around not only CA but the entire HiFi community. I proposed a question and answer "session" where the CA readers could ask anything they wanted, without censorship, and Bob would respond. Without hesitation Bob agreed. In order to accumulate a good number of questions and to give Bob a decent amount of time to formulate thorough answers, the questioning period was open for one week, after which Bob curated the questions and started writing his responses. Bob was the first to say, "All questions will be answered." As such, the time between the end of the questioning period and the publishing of the answers needed to be ample. I'm sure Bob could have whipped up some talking-point type answers in a day or so, but that's not what he wanted to do and that's not what those asking the questions wanted to receive. Fortunately good things come to those who wait. This week Bob sent me a thirty page document, including eighty-two questions, graphics, references, and a glossary. What follows is a word-for-word reproduction of this substantial document. ...
    by Published on 03-30-2016 10:51 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Bits & Bytes
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    In 2006 Peachtree Audio started bringing its first product, the Decco integrated amplifier with USB input, around to dealers in the US. Most of the dealers initially told the Peachtree Audio team that the product would never sell and that nobody was going to connect a computer to piece of HiFi equipment via USB. Dealer Stereo Exchange in New York City completely understood the impact computer audio would have in the high end sector and jumped onboard right away. Not too long after, 300+ dealers took on the Peachtree Audio products and the company was off to a blistering start. After 10 years, and a learning experience or two later, Peachtree Audio was back at Stereo Exchange to launch version 2.0 of the company and kick things into high gear with some major changes to the product line and the way its products are made. ...
    by Published on 03-11-2016 12:20 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Network Audio
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    I recently received a message from a service touting online storage of one's music files and streaming of those files to almost any device. I took a look at the service, its apps, and its pricing and thought about whether the CA Community would be interested in the offering. Most of it looked good, but when I considered the monthly charge to store files online for streaming, I started to think about what's already available to many CA readers without adding another monthly charge to their bills. I also thought about the sizable number of readers who don't subscribe to music streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify, or Apple Music. Then I thought about those of us who have subscriptions to one or more services, but are still unable to stream our favorite remaster of Kind of Blue, Dark Side of the Moon, or any number of Mobile Fidelity albums that will never hit streaming services. I was pretty sure JRiver Media Center had a solution for this problem, but I didn't know how great it was because I honestly had never given it a spin. While testing this JRMC solution, I stumbled on an absolute gem involving JRMC and Chromecast Audio devices. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to write about streaming our music collections around the globe to almost any device for no additional cost to many readers, and sending audio around our homes to $35 endpoints all from the convenience of the JRemote iOS/Android app. Come along and be prepared to spend little-to-no money while increasing your enjoyment of this wonderful hobby. It's not often I get to say that around here, but it's so satisfying. ...
    by Published on 02-29-2016 09:54 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Bits & Bytes,
    3. Network Audio
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    Got a USB DAC that you'd like to put on your network? Been looking for a network DAC that supports a plethora of sample rates and protocols? Want to remove a Mac or traditional PC form your listening room? The Sonicorbiter SE may help you with these first-world problems. The Sonicorbiter SE isn't a DAC but it can breath new life and capabilities into almost any DAC available.

    The Sonicorbiter SE is an Ethernet to USB (or TosLink) converter. It uses software developed by Andrew Gillis of Small Green Computer / Vortexbox fame, that runs on unmodified Cubox hardware. Sure the tiny ( 2" x 2" x 2") Cubox is a neat piece of hardware, but the Sonicorbiter SE is all about software. This is where the real value lies. It's possible to duplicate much of the Sonicorbiter SE's functionality on one's own by purchasing a Cubox or Raspberry Pi based solution, but let's get real. Nothing is more expensive than our time. If people want to spend countless hours trying to duplicate what's already available, then more power to them. I however, highly recommend outsourcing this work to Sonore by purchasing the Sonicorbiter SE (likely sold out as we speak). Plus, as of right now Joe Sixpack or Joe Bloggs can't create their own RoonReady device without working with the Roon Labs team to get the license and to get the product certified. Sonore had those boxes checked before any other company in the world.

    I've been using a Sonicorbiter SE for a few weeks and totally love this little device. What's not to love about a $300 network endpoint? Well, there are a few items but I don't believe they are show stoppers. Again, this thing is $300! In this hobby that same $300 won't buy you one meter of cable. ...
    by Published on 02-12-2016 10:05 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Digital to Analog Converter,
    3. USB Interface,
    4. S/PDIF (RCA) Interface,
    5. AES/EBU Interface,
    6. S/PDIF (TosLink) Interface,
    7. Preamp
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    Ask yourself a few questions: Would you rather have the photographs produced by Ansel Adams using an iPhone or the photographs produced by your great aunt Betty using the new Phase One XF 100MP, 100 megapixel camera system? Would you rather have a remaster of your favorite album done by the late Doug Sax using subpar equipment or the same remaster done by an armchair engineer using the best equipment money can buy? All parts and materials being equal, would you rather purchase an analog audio component designed by John Curl or an electrical engineer who has read "all" the books? If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably answer these questions with, "Ansel Adams, Doug Sax, and John Curl." This review has nothing to do with photography, remasters, or John Curl, but the questions above illustrate a point that’s relevant to the review (all reviews to be frank). The point? The most important part of product creation is the people creating the product. In many hobbies people look at the specifications of parts and bills of materials as the indicators of product quality and performance. Unfortunately this can lead down some unsatisfying and expensive roads. Specifically, selecting a digital to analog converter because it contains a specific DAC chip, a specific brand or type of power supply with great measurements on paper, or it supports the highest sample rates known to man, can lead to a quick product flip on Audiogon because the whole was equal to or less than the sum of the parts. A far better way to begin the component selection process is to research the companies or designers of the products in a specific category. Put your trust in people not parts, smarts not specifications, and intellectual property not possessions. I selected the products that are the subject of this review because all the audio stars aligned. I did my homework on the designers, then the company, then the product. Based on my research, everything looked good. I trusted that those involved could use the same physical components available to everybody else, but make the product as a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. If I was right, I’d be able to introduce many in the Computer Audiophile community to a great product, and so much more. ...
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