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Jud the Prof

How to set up JRiver Media Center on Win XP Pro with a Music Streamer II USB DAC

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The new JRiver Media Center version 17 is not only well configured and beautifully presented, it sounds great too. I play my audio selections from JRMC via my USB port straight to the Music Streamer II DAC, and find that this arrangement makes for a fine, if unpretentious stereo system. But it took some time for me to get everything up and running and I want to tell what I did.

The situation? I have a Dell Latitude E5500 laptop (dual core processor with about three MB of available memory) that I wanted to use to make some music in my home office. I also wanted to exploit an old Cambridge Soundworks satellite-sub stereo system made expressly for computer audio. The subwoofer enclosure in this compact system packs a small stereo amp to drive the woofer and the two satellites, and the line-in wiring incorporates a handy volume control (a simple potentiometer to control both channels' volume simultaneously). Fed a stereo analog signal from my PC, it worked effectively enough. Even sounded promising (the PC boasts an IDT High Resolution sound card).

So I tried recently to improve it. I bought a 2.5 foot Audioquest Forest USB cable ($30) and hooked the computer to the High Resolution Technology's Music Streamer II's USB DAC ($150), then reworked the Cambridge SoundWork's line-in wiring supplying it with two Cardas phono jacks ($20). My computer recognized the Music Streamer at once and the programs (drivers?) built into the DAC took over "Sound and Audio Devices" in my OS quite automatically (the small speaker-icon in XP's tray with the pop-up volume slider just disappeared from the screen). I then went to JRMC to set things up.

But before I did, I downloaded two key bits of freeware from the web----the ASIO4ALL program (Audio Streaming Input/Output software) and FLAC (software for the Free Lossless Audio Codec).

Using Windows XP (Service Pack 3)with the Music Streamer requires one to choose ASIO as the Output Mode. In JMRC go to Tools, select Options, then Audio to open the requisite menu. ASIO channel offset should be set to 0; the channel swap to "none"; buffering to "more responsive"; volume to "Automatically try to change at playback time"; and Diagnostics set to "off." And this is when you should look in your XP tray to find the ASIO4ALL icon (or JRMC's version of it). It comes up automatically in this menu. Click on the icon in question and make sure that "Music Streamer" is checked in the box that pops up! Also set the slider for 1024 bits per packet (to take advantage of the 24/96k possibilities of the USB bus). This might be the time to check too that the Music Streamer is the designated USB device. Go to Control Panel, Sound and Audio Devices, and penetrate down through the menu boxes via the Hardware Tab digging out "USB Audio Device" and making sure, in the Properties box for that device, that XP "sees" the DAC. What you're doing here is making sure that digital audio signals are NOT processed in XP's kernel but go directly to the Music Streamer via the USB port for processing. Better sound is your goal.

In the Output Format menu JRMC allows you to choose the bit-depth: set it to 24 (and elsewhere in this box ask for "2 channel stereo" and "no upmixing or downmixing"). Here one can also set sample rates. Very important! I want my 44,100 tracks to go through the DAC at 44.1K, the 48K tracks at 48K, and so forth. But the Music Streamer II has difficulty on my laptop playing 88,200/24-bit tracks (I find them overlaid by a very annoying burbling sound---awful). The fix is easy. Ask JRMC to push 88.2K files to 96K. The Music Streamer II is limited to the USB Class 1 standard and cannot "do" any bit-depth beyond 24 or any sample rate over 96K. So I set 176K files and 192K files to play at 96K.

Use the "Play files from memory" option for best sound.

And a final bit of advice. Use the drop-down box that JRMC provides in its masthead for the volume control (click on the speaker icon). I set JRMC for "Disabled Volume" checking the appropriate box. The sophisticated 64-bit JRMC 17 volume control is not needed in a system that sends digital information directly to the DAC. By the way, I find that all other sounds that I need or expect to hear in my system now get played through the DAC faithfully. MOG tracks from the web, for example, come up beautifully.

How does this system perform? Amazingly well in the near field in front of the satellites. Nice treble to bass balance (and excellent bass for such a small sub--solid and satisfying from about 42 Hz up; I tested with an online frequency generator). The 96/24 tracks sound just that extra bit more vivid too--they have more tuneful bass and an added sparkle--which shows that the resolving power of this modest amp/spkr system is surprisingly high. It even sets a sonic spatial stage which, depending on the recording, can be quite palpable. The tiny system doesn't sound tiny any more! Absolutely worth the $200 I invested plus the time and energy to set it all up.

Updated 08-23-2012 at 01:32 PM by Jud the Prof (for accuracy)

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