• A Look At The Inaugural Computer Audiophile Symposium

    It all started with a simple idea and a few short emails between colleagues. What followed were four months of planning, testing playback and computer configurations, several trips to/from MSP, SFO, and LAX, renting the entire floor of Fantasy Studios, and truckloads of equipment shipped from around the country. I enjoyed every minute of the whole experience with the exception of moving components that weigh over 300 lbs.

    Rather than write about the inaugural Computer Audiophile Symposium solely in a standard high-end audio fashion I'm going to tell the story of the event and everything that lead up to the big weekend at Fantasy Studios. It's hard to do a traditional review of my own event because of the inescapable bias I'd have to overcome. Thus, this alternative format, is one I find more interesting every once in a while.

    A tremendous amount of research and work went into making this event happen. I'll tell the story of how the event came together and give everyone my own view of the inaugural Symposium. I also want to give credit where credit is due. The event sponsors had major roles in every piece of the Symposium. The event was all about sharing knowledge and giving people an opportunity to talk with many industry experts, and listen to demonstrations of computer audio concepts first hand. The idea was, what's good for the industry and end user is good for us. Plus, after the Symposium was over and the dust settled a donation was given to the Glide Foundation in San Francisco. Glide feeds 750,000 less fortunate people per year in the Bay Area (Glide Foundation thank you letter).

    I met some wonderful people along the way and during the event. Overall it was such a great experience I am already working on the next Computer Audiophile event :~)


    Chris Connaker

     

     

     


    The Day the Music Died and the Work Began
     
    "Chris I have an idea, check your email."
    - Tim Marutani, March 8, 2009
     

    The Symposium story actually began about one year before the event. Tim Marutani of Marutani Consulting sent me an email with a question about Macs and OS X. A couple days later Tim over-nighted some electronics to me for the weekend and our collaboration began. Tim brought decades of high-end audio knowledge and experience, and years worth of computer audio research to the table. My background in information technology, passion for high-end audio, and Computer Audiophile website was a perfect match. We both wanted great sound from a computer based system and we set out to get just that.

    Fast forward through several months of daily communication about everything imaginable related to computer based audio. January 2009, Las Vegas, NV at the Consumer Electronics Show. CES is where I separately ran into Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon. Maier and I briefly discussed Computer Audiophile, the Alpha DAC, and the Magico V2 loudspeakers. The key item for me was that Maier was a reader of Computer Audiophile (only kidding of course). But his interest in the site did show me his level of interest in obtaining the best computer audio playback available.


    After CES my wife and I headed to LA for a little break from all the action before going back to Minneapolis. Since Maier is based in LA we met for lunch and continued our computer audio discussion. It was really cool to hear Maier talk about some of his ideas using an ultra low powered Linux music server in addition to brainstorming how we could make several other ideas come to fruition. Before our lunch could come to a normal conclusion my wife called saying she'd been in a minor car accident. Fortunately Maier knew the area very well so we walked to the scene where Maier shot photos with his iPhone and stayed until the last form was completed. Granted this has little to do with computer audio, but it goes a long way to establish the character of someone. It was pretty evident that Maier was someone I wanted to collaborate with in the near future. A few days later the three of us, Tim, Maier and I, started talking frequently about computer audio. Where it was headed, how to get the best sound, how to make it absolutely simple for end users, how to disseminate information and get more people involved in high-end computer based playback etc...

     

     

    Date: Sun, Mar 8, 2009 at 11:52 PM
    From: Timothy Marutani
    To: Chris Connaker
    Subject: My latest idea.......

    Chris,

    Let’s orchestrate a “state-of-the-art” computer playback seminar in the bay area...

    Tim

     

    Date: Sun, Mar 8, 2009 at 11:54 PM
    From: Chris Connaker
    To: Timothy Marutani
    Subject: Re: My latest idea.......

    Tim,

    That would be really good.

    Chris

     

     

    March 8, 2009 is what I commonly refer to as The Day the Music Died and the Work Began. Of course I am only half serious with that comment. However, there was a lot less listening to music and a lot more working on the Symposium from this day forward. At first Tim, Maier, and I did not even have a name for the event. We only knew that we wanted to put on a state-of-the-art computer playback event in the Bay Area. The original idea started out very simple and grew into something much larger every time the three of us talked. From the very beginning a few things were clear in our minds.

     

    1. The event was about knowledge, not audio gear, even though the best audio gear available to us would be used for demonstrations.
    We had no interest in developing a show and tell type of event based on audio gear, high-end audio already has many shows throughout the world based on gear and we attend and enjoy these shows. Instead, we wanted to release information we had been working on for a quite a while. Many of the discussion points were to be derived from our own experience and from reading the conversations on Computer Audiophile. It was, and still is, very clear that there's a lot of confusion in the industry when it comes to computer based playback. We were achieving wonderful sound via several different music servers, yet many people were still questioning the use of computers in a high-end audio system. Those who had tried to use a music server often had many unanswered questions and received confusing and sometimes misleading advice from people speculating about theoretical situations. We, and many others in the pro and consumer audio industry, felt we could produce a win-win experience for everyone involved and the marketplace as a whole by putting on an event centered on disseminating knowledge.

    2. We kept it simple, and did not accept outside sponsorship.

    3. We exercised extreme measures to not shortchange attendees. In the weeks leading up the the Symposium there was some Internet chatter about the event being a marketing ploy and put on by stereotypical high-end audio dealers seeking to sell equipment to a captive audience. Hopefully those who were skeptical and unable to attend have read the reviews from attendees.

     

    Now that we had some guiding principles we started to put the event together. Tim, Maier, and I started with a small list of topics we could cover and a small list of things that would be icing on the cake if we could pull off. We also kicked around some possible venues in the Bay Area and talked about a date on which to hold the event. Once we thought we had a pretty solid outline of the event Maier and I flew up to Tim's place in Emeryville, CA to work out additional details and pitch the idea to collegues in the industry for which we have great respect. We also thought it was quite possible they could tell us we were crazy. We met for lunch at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley to pitch our idea. Invited to attend the presentation were Keith Johnson and Marcia Martin of Reference Recordings, Jonathan Reichbach of Sonic Studio, Matan Arazi, and Sean Martin. After lunch it was time to fully divulge what we had on our minds. What was very solid in our minds the weeks and days before was now a soup sandwich. We stumbled through it and had trouble finding the right words to describe this great idea we had been working on for weeks. The silver lining in this meeting was coming up with a possible format for the whole event. Tim mentioned recording a live performance and that started the wheels turning in each of our heads. We tossed around some good, some bad, and some crazy ideas. By the time I flew back to Minneapolis the following day the format for the event was set. We loved the idea of the whole musical chain from Performance to Playback.

    We had the event roughly outlined and we needed to select a venue. Several ideas were considered such as the scoring stage at Skywalker Sound, The Site, and Fantasy Studios. The decision was somewhat simple because of the logistics. Thus we selected Fantasy to host the event. The decision turned out to be better than we ever thought. As the event grew in size and complexity and the amount of equipment required to do things the right way increased we did not expand the number of setup days at the studio. Fortunately Fantasy was only five minutes from Tim's location where all the equipment was pre-staged in the weeks leading up to the event. We needed more than one truckload of equipment to get everything to Fantasy, thus a long drive to another venue would have made things extremely difficult.

    In the time between the selection of Fantasy Studios and the Symposium we visited the studio about ten times. For Tim a visit to Fantasy is a short car ride. For Maier a visit to Fantasy is a short plane ride. For me a visit to Fantasy is a trip across country. Even though I had seen several photos and diagrams of each studio it was still necessary to walk through the venue. Fortunately I am still young enough, according to Tim, where traveling isn't too hard on my body. Thus, I flew out to the Bay Area at 9 AM visited Fantasy, Magico, and a couple restaurants before flying back to Minneapolis at 12 Midnight. In the weeks and days leading up to the event the people at Fantasy were very kind to us. They let us roam around shooting photos and discussing potential configurations whenever we needed. I actually felt like a rock star as we received the rock star treatment from the Fantasy staff.

     

     

    Date: Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 12:05 AM
    From: Timothy Marutani
    To: Chris Connaker
    Subject: Word for the Day.

     

    Symposium

     

    Date: Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 1:45 PM
    From: Chris Connaker
    To: Timothy Marutani
    Subject: Re: Word for the Day.

     

    Love it!


    Chris

     

     

    Dictionary: sym·po·si·um

    n., pl. -si·ums or -si·a (-z?-?).

    1. A meeting or conference for discussion of a topic, especially one in which the participants form an audience and make presentations.
    2. A collection of writings on a particular topic, as in a magazine.
    3. A convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion among the ancient Greeks.

     

     

    We pitched the idea to friends and colleagues, decided on an event format and location, and finally settled on a name. The Computer Audiophile Symposium. After researching the word Symposium a little bit I knew Tim had hit the jackpot. Not only does the word describe our event perfectly, but the word's origins are wonderfully interesting.

    With the Symposium format in hand we set out to select panelists. We discussed the possibilities for hours on end as there are a plethora of very qualified experts who could cover everything from performance to playback. One thing Tim said during this process stands out in my mind clearly. "Remember this is my backyard, I have a lot of friends in the area." He wasn't joking when he said that to me. Tim grew up in Berkeley and has been involved in all aspects of audio for decades. In fact Boz Scaggs thanked Tim for "high-end audio consultation" in the liner notes of the album Speak Low. In a matter of weeks the panelists for the event were lined up. We were confident that any question an audience member might ask could be answered by at least one of the panelists.

     

     


    The Panel

    The formal panelists for the Symposium included:
    Keith O. Johnson - Recording A Performance and Interesting Topics in Audio
    Paul Stubblebine - Working With The Recorded Music
    Marcia Martin - Releasing Music; A Record Label Perspective
    Pflash Pflaumer - Digital to Analog Conversion and Working With Digital Audio - Popular and Important Topics For Computer Based Playback
    Jonathan Reichbach, Matan Arazi, Rob Darling - Music Playback Via Computer Based Systems
    Chris Connaker - Computer audio demonstrations and discussion

     

     

    The Moment of Truth / Reality Check

    It was time to prepare the Symposium announcement and start selling tickets to the public. We decided May 1st would be the big day. For Tim, Maier, and I it was the moment of truth, we commonly referred to it as our reality check. We really had no clue if our idea was preposterous or if the public would even be interested in such an event. We also were well aware that ticket prices were not inexpensive and people could get the false idea that we were out to make money from the event. All three of us were confident in what we were offering and would've been very interested in the Symposium ourselves had we not put it together.

    11:55 PM Central Time April 30, 2009 - My iPhone rang, it was Maier and Tim on a conference call. They read the announcement one more time before it was published and found a typo that we'd overlooked several times.
    11:59 PM Central Time April 30, 2009 - Typo was fixed and the as of yet unpublished announcement was completed.
    12:00 AM Central Time May 1, 2009 - The countdown clock on Computer Audiophile struck 00:00:00:00, the Symposium announcement was published and ticket sales were opened.

    The three of us called it a night, agreed to get some rest and talk in the morning. In the following days ticket sales were good and interest in the event was high. In addition to formal Symposium panelists the list of attendees and special guests started turning into a "who's who" in the worlds of pro and consumer audio and entertainment. Phil Edwards, Michael Romanowski, Betty Cantor-Jackson, Doug Botnick, Dan Schmalle, Alan Moulton, Andrew Jones, Dana Jon Chapelle, Jeffrey Ivers, and ASUS Computer representatives just to name a few. I was enthusiastic about meeting these people let alone putting on the Symposium. Needless to say we were pleased by the initial response. It was time to put our noses to the grindstone and get an enormous amount of work done before June 27, 2009, opening day of the Symposium.

     

     


    Plan Our Work and Work Our Plan

    The three of us knew what we needed to accomplish in the two month time span between the announcement and the event. Initially we had planned to rent one of the larger studios and use the lounge in Studio D for the breaks and eating area. As the scope of the event broadened we realized it was necessary to completely rent out Fantasy Studios to achieve our vision. The performance and Keith Johnson recording would take place in Studio D. The main event and state-of-the-art audio system would be in Studio A and two vinyl to digital workstations and audio systems would be housed in Studio B. We also planned to setup a very high quality computer based playback system designed for aesthetics and ease of use in the Studio D lounge area. This is where people would congregate before the event and during break times.

    Our goal was to design systems for each area without regard to manufacturer or vested interest. We wanted products based on performance and certain feature sets and nothing else. In fact many of the products we used were/are not sold by event sponsors Maier Shadi or Tim Marutani. The only products in use at the Symposium that the two dealers had in common were the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC and Sonic Studio's Amarra. During the system design phase it was hard to remain quiet here on Computer Audiophile about the audio systems being put together. This event was about sharing knowledge and we did not want to publicize any of the equipment we'd be using during the show. At least now I can spill the beans for everyone who could not attend.

     


     

    The Systems


    Studio A

    Early on Tim purchased a pair of Magico M5 loudspeakers for Studio A. The lead time on these speakers can be lengthy as they are highly sought after and are not built in one or two days. Fortunately the speakers were completed roughly one week prior to the Symposium, broken-in at the Magico facility, and delivered directly to Fantasy Studios. Selecting the components to compliment the speakers and the rest of the system was not as easy as it may seem. Gathering the best measuring components or components with the best reputation often leads nowhere in terms of complete system performance. The famous saying "The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts" rings equally as true for audio systems as it does with anything else. Plus, nothing was used during the event that was not extensively auditioned prior to opening the doors to the public. Powering the Magico M5 speakers was a Boulder 2060 stereo amplifier. Moving this amp from the staging facility to the studio and back was an absolute back breaker. Boulder builds "bomb-proof" components with incredible metal work. This specific amp weighed 332 lbs in the shipping crate and 240 when unboxed. Moving this amp in and out of the crate is a job for professionals, of which I do not consider myself. I take direction with the best of them when it comes to potential life threatening components. Complementing the Boulder amp was the Boulder 2010 Isolated Balanced Preamp. This is one preamp that can do it all in my opinion. Tons of inputs and options that should be configurable for almost any audio system. The selection of Digital to Analog Converters for the system in Studio A was fairly easy. Since Studio A was to house our state-of-the-art playback system we selected our reference converter, the Pacific Microsonics Model Two. The Pacific Microsonics Model Two is commonly referred to, in high-end audio and pro audio circles, as the best A/D/A converter ever made. Also, Northern California is "Model Two Country" so obtaining four Model Twos for Studio A was surprisingly easy. However, the transport of these units is no small undertaking. The Model Two has been out of production for many years and there is no such thing as picking up a replacement if one breaks or is lost. These A/D/A converters are incredibly rare on the open market and demand a large price tag when someone decides to part with one. The cabling used in Studio A consisted mainly of Wireworld and MIT interconnects and speaker cable. The Lynx breakout cables were the same custom built cables Tim, Maier, and I have been using for quite a while. These cables use Gotham wire with Neutrik XLR connectors.

    The music servers used in Studio A covered all the bases. We wanted to demonstrate the Windows and Mac OS X configurations we'd been researching for many months as well as Matan Arazi's all-out-assault custom music server that has no equal in my opinion. As a side note, Tim Marutani jokingly referred to Matan's server as a home built music server during the Saturday session. To us involved with the Symposium it is a common joke to call Matan's server a home built music server because we know the statement is preposterous and couldn't be further from reality. Matan's server has more engineering and thought put into it than many audio products on the market today. This server has been in the making for a few years and is the source Magico uses at all trade shows to demonstrate its speakers to the world. Call it what you will, it's the single best computer source I've ever heard, and it's not even finished.

    The other servers consisted of a Mac Pro, Mac G5, and Zalman fanless Windows XP based PC. Each of the servers contained a spinning hard drive and a solid state hard drive and each connected to a single Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. In order to demonstrate any configuration possible we installed the operating system on both the SSD and the HDD. This allowed us to boot up to either drive to compare the sound differences, if any, between an operating system installed on each type of drive. We stored the demonstration music on each storage medium, HDD, SSD, and NAS. The Zalman and the Mac Pro are fairly quiet music servers, but the Mac G5 can sound like the space shuttle at times. To silence the G5 we housed it in a Noren acousti-lock g-Cab hush box. The g-Cab is built specifically for this purpose and works extremely well. No noise can be heard outside the box and the server will not overheat as the box has a built-in cooling fan.

    Remote control of the Windows and Mac servers was done via a MacBook Pro with 17" screen as I had three different remote windows up simultaneously and needed the screen real estate. Control of Matan's server was done via an iPod Touch.

     

    Below is the list of components used in Studio A. (Photos below)


    1. Magico M5 speakers:

    2. (4) Pacific Microsonics Model 2 DA convertors to the Boulder 2010 preamp - 2 meter balanced wireworld silver eclipse 6

    3. (4) Custom HD26 to dual wire with clock break out cables from the Lynx cards to the Pacific Microsonics Model 2 converters.

    4. MIT Oracle MAX-Vee balanced interconnecting wire from the Boulder 2010 preamp to the Boulder 2060 Power amp.

    5. 2 sets of MIT Oracle V1.1 MA speakers wires, (Magico M5 were bi-wired).

    6. Noren Acousti-Lock g-Cab hush box for G5 Mac, (used to reduce the noise from the Power Mac G5).

    7. Matan proprietary cable from his server to Pacific Microsonics Model 2 converter.

    8. Symposium Acoustics - Precision Rack with 42" x 24" Ultra shelves. Unloaded, the rack weighed about 350 pounds

    9. JVC RS20 video Projector.

    Computers –
    A. Matan server used Lynx PCI card with custom player software.
    B. Power Mac G5, 2.7g processor, 4GB ram, Lynx PCI card and Tiger OS, Amarra and iTunes as player software. SLC SSD and Seagate ES HDD.
    C. Mac Pro, quad core 2.8g processor w/ 6GB ram, Lynx PCIe card and Leopard OS, Amarra and iTunes player software. SLC SSD and Seagate ES HDD.
    D. Zalman fanless PC w/ Windows XP and careful attention to terminal service setup, Samplitude 10 Master player software. SLC SSD and Seagate ES HDD.
    E. Thecus NAS drive, raid 5 using 7 Seagate ES HDD.

     

     

    Studio D Lounge

    An additional playback system was located in the Studio D lounge. With this system we wanted to demonstrate simplicity as well as great sound. The sound quality from this system was both impressive and entirely user friendly. The system was capable of full 24/192 playback via Firewire and up to 24/96 via the Ayre QB-9 Asynchronous USB DAC. I selected a Mac Mini and a MacBook Pro as the servers because either one can reside in a playback system without being too obtrusive. Also in this system was a Sooloos music server. The Sooloos is the ultimate in terms of graphic user interface and music management. There is nothing easier to navigate and I haven't seen a better system at tagging and managing huge collections of music.

    Below is the list of components used in the Studio D Lounge. (Photos below)

    1. Magico V3 speakers

    2. Ayre QB9 USB DAC with WireWorld prototype USB cable to the Mac Mini.

    3. WireWorld Silver Eclipse 6 Single-ended, (RCA), from the Ayre QB9 to Mbl 6010D preamp.

    4. WireWorld Silver Eclipse 6 balanced interconnect from preamp to Mbl 9007 mono power amps.

    5. Wireworld Silver Eclipse 6 speaker wire to the Magico V3 speakers.

    6. All power cords in this system were Wireworld Silver Electra Power 2 meter

    7. Sonic Studio model 303 custom DB25 break out wire to AES to Alpha DAC.

    8. Custom BNC – RCA spdif cable from Sooloos Source One to Alpha DAC.

    9. WireWorld Silver Eclipse 6 Single-ended, (RCA) from the Alpha DAC to preamp.

    10. Sooloos Control Ten, Twinstore (storage), and Source One to Berkeley Audio Alpha Dac.

    11. Mbl silver rack (legacy rack no longer in production).

    12. Thecus N7700 NAS drive, raid 1 with Seagate ES HDD.

     

     


    Studio B

    Due to a large number of requests by attendees to demonstrate vinyl to digital transfers we setup two different workstations for this purpose. One system was PC based and the other Mac OS X based. Since we are big fans of the PM Model Two A/D/A converter we just had to include one in the vinyl to digital studio. We were also very fortunate to have two Artemis Labs SA-1 turntables, including one with a Schroeder Reference SQ tonearm and another with the Tri Planar Mk. VII Precision tonearm. Studio B not only had some great equipment for the A to D conversion, but it also had some great people with impressive credentials. Mastering Engineer Michael Romanowski demonstrated the Windows based system while Jon Reichbach and James Anderson from Sonic Studio demonstrated the Mac based system with Sonic software.

     

    Below is the list of components used in Studio B. (Photos below)

    Mac Based System

    1. TAD compact reference monitors:
    2. WireWorld Orbit 16/4 speaker wire to the Pass Labs XA100.5 class A monaural power amplifiers.
    3. WireWorld interconnect - 2 meter Equinox 6 balanced preamp to power amp.
    4. Sonic Studio Model 4 AD/DA converter using Sonic Studio custom break out wires.
    5. Artemis Labs SA-1 turntable.
    6. Schroeder Reference SQ tonearm.
    7. 47 Labs Miybi phono cartridge.
    8. Artemis Labs PL-1 phono preamp.
    9. Tonearm to phono pre was an Artemis custom wire.
    10. WireWorld Equinox 6 from phono preamp and Sonic Studio Model 4, single-ended.
    11. WireWorld Aurora power cords.
    12. Sean. Martin's Isolation transformers used for common mode rejection for the Mac Pro.
    13. Mac Pro, 2.66 Quad core processor, Leopard OS and Amarra/SoundBlade.
    14. Pass Labs XA 100.5 monoblock amplifiers

     

    Windows XP Based System

    1. Barefoot Sound Micro Main 27 3-way self powered speakers:
    2. Zalman fanless PC with SLC SSD, Windows XP, Samplitude 10 Master software.
    3. Custom AES dual wire break out cable with word clock.
    4. Pacific Microsonics Model 2 AD/DA converter.
    5. WireWorld Equinox 6 balanced cables for the AD/DA converter to the Parasound Model JC2 preamplifier.
    6. WireWorld Eclipse 6 balanced interconnect from the preamp to speakers, (self-powered).
    7. Artemis Labs SA-1 turntable.
    8. Triplanar Mk. VII tonearm.
    9. Modified Denon 103 cartridge.
    10. Nagra VPS phono preamp.

     

    Designing these systems was a long process and some did not completely come together until shortly before the big Symposium weekend. As I said earlier all of this equipment had to be tested and configured before we even moved it to Fantasy Studios. Much of the pre-work was done during the weeks leading up to the event. Four days before the Symposium I flew out to the Bay Area to complete the music server setup and configuration. Tim had done much of this already but there were still some time consuming tasks to be done and finishing touches to be put on the servers. In addition the two Gigabit networks had to be setup and tested before the Symposium. If there was ever a time for good documentation and the scientific method it was now. I had switches, routers, wireless devices, and CAT6 cables running everywhere. Almost ten computers, two NAS units, and only one monitor were in use during this preparation. Yes, that's correct one monitor. Yes, it was challenging.

    The music selected for the demonstrations at the Symposium was mainly provided by Mastering Engineer Paul Stubblebine. We wanted to demonstrate differences between sample rates as well as hard drives, solid state drives, Network Attached Storage, and software players. Thus, Paul spent a complete day transferring music directly from analog tape to WAV files in five different sample rates. According to Paul, "After each transfer I rewound the tape, set the convertor and the workstation to the new rate, and played it in again. Three music selections, five sample rates: 44, 88, 96, 176, 192. None of the files were conversions from some other sample rate." Paul crossed every t and dotted every i for the Symposium as he does in all of his work.

    In addition to supplying this music in many sample rates Paul helped configure the playback systems for A/B demonstrations. This configuration was critical for accurate comparisons. In Paul's words, "Level matching. During setup we did in fact confirm that each of the servers was putting out the data unchanged, and at the same level. Then the level was checked at the output of the Boulder preamp, and it was confirmed to be the same within four one-hundredths of a dB."

     

     

    Friday June 26, 2009

    We arrived at Fantasy Studios on Friday morning with the first truckload of equipment. When moving components that weigh several hundred pounds and cost tens of thousands of dollars one has to be incredibly careful. We needed to get the truck as close to the service entrance as possible. The only problem was a long line of cars parked on the street that prohibited us from getting within a block and a half. Fortunately, with the clearance of the Fantasy staff, we backed the big truck on to the sidewalk between the cars and the building with about two feet to spare on each side. Thankfully I wasn't the one driving or the Symposium may not have happened. We spent the whole day and night setting up audio systems with the help of many colleagues from the industry. Without the experience and muscle from all of these people we could never have setup four great audio systems and refined the sound to meet very high standards.

     

     

    Saturday June 27, 2009

    We arrived at the Studio bright and early to refine the sound and make last minute configuration changes. For me the music server tweaking was simple. I was admittedly out of my league when people like Paul Subblebine, Phil Edwards, Al Moulton of Goodwin's High End, Alon Wolf of Magico, Tim Marutani, Maier Shadi, and others were making the final adjustments to the main audio system. The amount of experience between these people is enough to humble the most learned audiophile. As the clock ticked more toward the 3:00 PM showtime my memories get more and more blurry. Around 3:00 the attendees started arriving and gathering in the Studio D Lounge. About 3:15 Maier looked at his watch and said let's start in about five minutes. As you can imagine I was a bit nervous. The event we had been planning for months was finally upon us and it was showtime. At 3:20 I entered the Lounge and said Welcome to the inaugural Computer Audiophile Symposium ... and it's all a blur from that point on :~)

     

     


    Notes:

    In the coming weeks Pete Roth writer for Ultra Audio and Home Entertainment Magazine will be publishing a review of the event. Jason Victor-Serinus, writer for Stereophile, will also have is review published in an upcoming issue of Stereophile. It seems appropriate for these people to critique the event rather than inject my own bias view of how well everything went. In addition there are several attendee viewpoints in the Computer Audiophile forums and elsewhere on the Internet.

     

     

    Tim Marutani:
    Tim Marutani wishes to personally thank the attendees, panelists, Chris and Maier. In addition, a very special thank you to Winston Ma of First Impression Music for sharing his +40 years in the industry with me and greatly aiding with digital audio playback research.

     

    Maier Shadi:
    The development of The Symposium was an opportunity to see an accomplished group of Professional and Hi End industry members check their egos at the door and create a unique experience for the attendees. It is rare to work through such a challenge and find that you've developed even more respect for your colleagues. My sincere thanks to The Panelists, The Attendees, Chris Connaker and Timothy Marutani. A very special thanks to Marcia Martin, Keith Johnson and the team at Reference Recordings for their generosity and vision. To our recording artists Sean Martin and Nick Langhoff thank you for working so hard to nail your performances each time. I wish to thank my wife, son and extended family for being so understanding throughout the half dozen trips to Berkeley and the countless late night phone calls that competed for their attention. Finally I'd like to express my grattitude to the manufacturers, distributors and customers who have guided and supported me and The Audio Salon in a manner that lead to an event of this caliber..

     

    Chris Connaker:
    I would like express my thanks to the event sponsors and co-organizers Tim Marutani and Maier Shadi. These guys did so much more than write a check to pay for everything. It was a true team effort that all of us worked on for months. Thanks to Pete Dockendorf for the heroic effort leading up to and especially during the whole Symposium weekend. Thanks to the panelists for donating their time and effort. Thanks to Jeffrey Wood Studio Director at Fantasy Studios. Thanks to all who stopped by the studio to lend a hand and share interesting stories. Thank you to all the Computer Audiophile readers who attended or followed the event via the website. Without you guys none of this would have happened. Finally, thanks to Katie, Chloe, Wellie, and Archie for all the support.

     

    Tim, Maier and I would like to sincerely thank each of the panelists for their time and effort before, during, and after the Symposium.

    Panelists, in order of presentation:
    Keith Johnson
    Paul Stubblebine
    Marcia Martin
    Michael "Pflash" Flaumer
    Jon Reichbach
    Matan Arazi
    Rob Darling

    Piano: Nick Langhoff
    Drums: Sean Martin

     

    In addition Tim, Maier, and I would like to express our grattitude to the group of men and women listed below. Every one of them exceeded the level of assistance they were called upon for and we applaud them.

    Al Moulton
    Alon Wolf
    Amanda Howell
    Andrew Jones
    Dan Schmalle
    Dave Shackleton
    David Salz
    Desmond Harrington
    James Anderson
    Jan Mancuso
    Jason Victor Serinus
    Jeffrey Wood
    Jesse Nichols
    John Atwood
    John Greenham
    Michael Romanowski
    Music Interface Technologies
    Noren Acousti-Lock
    Paul Brownlee
    Pete Dockendorf
    Phil Edwards
    Rich Maez
    Richard Schram
    Sean Ta
    Steve Silberman
    Steven Jarvis
    Thomas Barefoot
    Tri Mai

     

     

     


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    Comments 26 Comments
    1. bachrocks's Avatar
      bachrocks -
      That is quite a masterful piece of writing Chris - what a post! Thanks for sharing the event with us.
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      but I went straight for for the pics....hehehe. I promise to read the article later today in full! <br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. Purite Audio's Avatar
      Purite Audio -
      An excellent piece of prose, well done Chris, I really feel I have missed something quite special .Keith.
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      Chris<br />
      Your summary on how you set up the Symposium was interesting and well written - thanks!<br />
      <br />
      However, I guess I was hoping for a little more:<br />
      Whether you learned anything new about computer Audio?<br />
      Whether you heard anything that sounded really great?<br />
      Where you think computer audio is up there with other audio sources?<br />
      What new insights into computer audio were gained by attendees?<br />
      What attendees were saying about the symposium and the quality of sound produced ....... Let's face you had some great gear there. Did it not produce the highest quality sound?<br />
      <br />
      I know other reporters will eventually comment, and that you walk a tightrope in being an organiser and a reviewer, but not to give any real insight into the quality of what you heard is a bit of a disappointment for this frequenter of ComputerAudiophile.<br />
      <br />
      Cheers<br />
      Frank<br />
    1. tranz's Avatar
      tranz -
      Thank you. Love reading the details.
    1. xenophilic's Avatar
      xenophilic -
      It's a real shame to see this site get in bed with the Industry through this "symposium." The stature of an independent source of information about what's good and what's not, what works and what doesn't, is clearly compromised from here on out. It certainly was an understatement for the site owner to suggest that "It's hard to do a traditional review of my own event because of the inescapable bias I'd have to overcome." I would go farther: "It's hard for me ever to pretend again that this is an objective website with the interests of its users at heart due to my newfound relationship as an industry promoter."<br />
      <br />
      It would have been better to call it a "Computer Audiophile Industry Showcase" along the lines of a "Boat Show" or "Home Improvement Expo". At least that way one doesn't add insult to injury by asserting an academic objectivity through using the word "symposium."<br />
      <br />
      This post will probably be censored, but I'm just saying what many people are thinking here. I'm not going to be baited into a flame war, either. I've said my piece and the folks who get it will be nodding their heads and the folks who don't want to face facts will go on the offensive against me and refuse to see what's going on in front of their faces.
    1. jivers's Avatar
      jivers -
      No flames, but I just don't get what you're finding offensive. There was a pretty good range of computers and storage media demonstrated and compared and certainly some excellent audio equipment to play it through. I don't see how Chris could be accused of being in bed with anybody. I think he chose equipment that he believed would give the best computer generated sound (including some DAC's that you can't even buy) in order to demonstrate and allow listeners to hear the differences themselves between operating systems, software and computer hardware. While Chris isn't shy abut his opinions, he doesn't sell the stuff and it seems that there's a pretty good diversity among his advertisers. I found it to have been an entertaining and educational experience presented in an even-handed manner.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Charlie (xenophilic) - You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Without further researching your comments it really does seem like you have a hidden agenda awfully similar to another site member who posted half-truths about the Symposium. Nonetheless, I am interested to learn why you think the way you do and how you are sure you know, "<i>what many people are thinking here</i>." Your comments seem very shallow without any detail to support them. <br />
      <br />
      <i>"It's a real shame to see this site get in bed with the Industry through this "symposium."</i><br />
      <i>"It's hard for me ever to pretend again that this is an objective website with the interests of its users at heart due to my newfound relationship as an industry promoter."</i><br />
      <br />
      Can you explain these two comments a bit more? Maybe it's just me but I have no idea what you're talking about. I put on an event with fellow colleagues who have been researching computer based playback for years. I will agree with you that I promote the industry 100%. I'm passionate about high-end audio and accurate music reproduction. I want the industry to flourish. All of us in this wonderful hobby would benefit from the industry advancing and continuing to open its doors to computer audio. I don't see how this in anyway compromises my objectivity. This site is open for anyone in the world to leave comments. Even if I wanted to forget about the interests of the readers there is no way I could get away with it. People would call that type of behavior out in a second. Plus, those who know me know that I do everything around here for the readers. Without readership the site would cease to exist. <br />
      <br />
      <i>"...At least that way one doesn't add insult to injury by asserting an academic objectivity through using the word "symposium."</i><br />
      <br />
      Again, where are you coming up with this opinion? If anything, the Symposium had an overload of objective academic information. Learning about how the human ear works, with slides of the inner ear projected on a large screen, is as objectively academic as it gets. There was even an Audiologist MD in the audience who could have correctly any misstatement. This was only one of many topics covered in just as much detail by some of the top professionals in the world.<br />
      <br />
      <i>"This post will probably be censored"</i><br />
      <br />
      No need to censor things around here. The truth comes out through uncensored conversations and comments from many persons. <br />
      <br />
      <i>"I'm not going to be baited into a flame war"</i><br />
      <br />
      Honestly it appears that you are the one baiting the hook here.<br />
      <br />
      <i>"I've said my piece and the folks who get it will be nodding their heads"</i><br />
      <br />
      I encourage all readers to post their honest opinions here. If they agree with you, so be it. If there are people who agree with you their opinions likely stem from a larger misunderstanding of what this event was about than anything else. Also, a hatred for the industry seems to be playing out in your post. An "Us v. Them" type of attitude seems to be emanating from your words as well.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Anyway, please respond. I honestly look forward to read why you think the way you do. <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. icebreaker's Avatar
      icebreaker -
      I think you should give the readers of Computer Audiophile a bit more credit. We are independent thinkers and not easily fooled by those who are only out to promote the audio industry's point of view. Chris does an excellent job balancing the interests of those who create audio products and those who want audio products. It is an extremely difficult task to provide reviews that are fair and informative. I've seen Chris stand up to individuals from the industry and from the readership when necessary. A moderator like Chris intervenes in such a fashion only on rare occasions. He knows that there is no need to aggressively ostracize anyone because the truth will win out if questions are allowed to be asked and given the space to be answered.<br />
      <br />
      Honesty, I fail to see how the Symposium could be compared to a trade show. Chris wanted something different than the usual audio show and came up with the idea for a Symposium (see definition and his stated goals). It was designed to explore a limited range of products with specific goals relating to the development of the fledgling field of audiophile quality Computer Audio. Comparison tests and discussion groups being two prime examples. It was not an endless row of showcased products. But then again I am interested in exploring the best products for computer audio reproduction. <br />
      <br />
      If anything the Symposium is a fine example of the industry and the hobbyist joining forces to explore their mutual interest in great audio reproduction. We both need each other!<br />
      <br />
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      Chris<br />
      <br />
      Are there are any members of this forum who attended the symposium who might like to detail what they saw, heard, learnt?<br />
      <br />
      I and others would like to hear from you.<br />
      <br />
      Frank
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Frank - There are many site readers who attended the event. Some of them post on the site while others just read to glean all the information they can.<br />
      <br />
      The Forum contains a few reader event reviews.<br />
      <br />
      In brief I demonstrated Macs, PCs, SSD, HDD, NAS, Amarra v. iTunes etc... Others spoke about recording, mastering, hi res audio, jitter, one-of-a-kind music servers, etc...
    1. nottlv's Avatar
      nottlv -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      The Matan music server sounds very interesting. Which device (or devices) is it in the event photos? Is this being planned as an actual commercial product or just a proof of concept or labor of love?
    1. tmfidelis's Avatar
      tmfidelis -
      Dear Frank:<br />
      <br />
      First, I need to inform you I comprised 1/3 of the symposium design team. This being said, a very interesting observation I will not elaborate further myself, concerns how differently audiophiles and individuals in the production side of music listen to and perceive differences listening to the same system and material at the same time.<br />
      <br />
      If you take the time to look up the background of some the individuals that attended, you may find years of music production were in the room along with product developers and serious audiophiles.<br />
      <br />
      This blending of skills in one room at the same time is very healthy for everyone. <br />
      <br />
      Regards,<br />
      <br />
      Tim Marutani<br />
      Emeryville, CA
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      Tim<br />
      <br />
      I am genuinely interested in comments about what came out of the symposium, whether from/for industry professionals or audiophiles.<br />
      The frustration is that I can't find any subjective comments from anybody who attended. I have searched this site and the internet and can't find any review by any attendees. Perhaps I am not using the right search criteria.<br />
      <br />
      So if you or Chris or anybody esle can point me in the right direction I would appreciate it.<br />
      <br />
      Cheers<br />
      Frank
    1. Kathy Geisler's Avatar
      Kathy Geisler -
      I was present at the 2009 Symposium. Besides the hands on demonstration of materials from sound to hi-res capture, the amount of information and the quality of content was impressive to say the least. But really for me the stand out of the conference was the people and the atmosphere of openness. There were no secrets and everyone was generously giving information and insights into any and every aspect of audio technology. All of the experts were completely accessible and willing to get into any area of their knowledge. Also, the quality of expertise was extremely high.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Frank - Here are a couple links.<br />
      <br />
      http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/messages/5/55409.html<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      http://www.computeraudiophile.com/search/google?cx=015618423534031991581%3Azroi2izgorq&cof= FORID%3A11&query=symposium+part&op=Search&safe=off &form_token=9d78b3505764b0196d9b1cca40f4bcf9&form_ id=google_cse_searchbox_form
    1. jivers's Avatar
      jivers -
      Frank-<br />
      <br />
      Here are my thoughts on what I heard:<br />
      <br />
      The sound in general was fabulous. Why not; Magico speakers, massive Boulder electronics, high res source, legendary processors and careful, highly professional set up. I've already become convinced that computer sources can sound as good as the best transports (I've listened to the $70k Dcs a number of times). I was also already a fan of Amarra; having demo'd it in my own system and bought it. In the comparisons between computers, I found the differences to be audible but not huge; The Mac's sounded very similar and better than the PC, the Matan sounded a tad better. Sorry I don't have the ears or the vocabulary to be more specific or objective. My bias is toward rubes and vinyl. I prefer my Audio Research DAC to the Berkeley. Among the storage sources, I thought the SSD sounded best (but not by a whole lot), with the spinning HD behind it and the NAS definitely losing something. I thought the Amarra just added to the music in each of the comparisons. The pros in the room, some of whom were quite impressive in their comments left me a little intimidated; very sophisticated, no BS kind of guys. They also seemed to prefer the Amarra across the board. <br />
      <br />
      The technology of Matan's server is clearly reaching for the max and I look forward to hearing more of it as he brings it closer to market. I imagine it will be pricey.
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      Chris <br />
      <br />
      Many thanks. That's exactly what I was looking for. Wish I had been there.<br />
      <br />
      Guess I will have to keep an eye on ComputerAudio forums in future!<br />
      <br />
      Cheers<br />
      Frank
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      jivers<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for your summary. Helpful in focusing on my own computer audio path.<br />
      <br />
      Frank
    1. astrotoy's Avatar
      astrotoy -
      I was an attendee at the Symposium and really learned a lot, including specifically what I wanted to know - what is the state of the art in converting vinyl to digital. I did not find the atmosphere "commercial", rather collegial and pretty academic. I can't think of a way to see what the state of the art is in hirez audio without seeing and hearing commercial products. Otherwise, this would be a DIY show. In fact, we did see some very high end DIY equipment that probably will never be commercial. What I find in the criticism is a sophistic "false dichotomy" argument. Either you agree with me and I am right , or you disagree with me and you are wrong. As a scientist, I look for arguments to be falsifiable. That is, the writer may be incorrect.