Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A Rose with a few Thorns



I borrowed a HiFi Rose RS-150B to study for the weekend. The unit needs to be back in the store on Tuesday in keeping with my shorter overviews. 

First things first, let's get some storage in this thing.  2TB SSD is enough to test with. 

The cover screws are threaded into a relatively thin base-plate, and care should be taken not to cross-thread them—a tiny thorn.


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my eye says this is beautiful. A full display for video playback by attaching a monitor/TV (up to 4k).  And a nicely adjustable display for Music playback.  Yes, you can change the meters!  If you do not want the external display, the screen on the Rose works well.  This makes me want to get one of those Samsung Frame TVs to replace the mirror on the wall with something active.  But, the longer I watch the still frame of an album in front of me, the more I want it turned off.  Maybe the on-screen display is enough for music. 
And you can toggle the front panel display on and off from the App.  The display is very bright and readable from a distance.

I have been using both the iPhone and iPad apps to operate the unit.  With just two days to play with a complete system like this, I can only hope to hit upon the highlights;  And maybe point out some of the anomalies.  



The onscreen VU meter system might be a bit skeuomorphic for me; interestingly, it is also interactive. 

Many interesting linguistic choices are made on the user interface that can be confusing and should be improved.  Some may be placeholders that have not been “fixed.”  Again small thorns poke in you.  
Visually both the iPad and iPhone apps are pretty nice.  A lot is going on there, requiring significant software development time.

On the “Rose Home” screen, there are several items that I am hot and cold on.  There are two sections: User Picks and Manage Friends that link to Tidal, etc.  There is also this Rose account that I do not understand and will not investigate for now.  I am not sure I am interested in a “social account” in a brand-specific music system.  

I am using my iPad mini as a control device, and the user interface fits the mini nicely:

I need to talk about sound quality just a bit.  This thing sounds very, very good.  I know that tells you nothing.  Get out to a store that sells these and listen to it.  I can tell you that into my 517 speakers over single-ended outputs. This sounds better than a couple of the streamers via direct AES into the speakers.  Not a lot, but better.
 I am trying hard not to overstate differences, and on Friday, I spent the afternoon with a Kitsune Holo May DAC connected to my Mercury streamer; that was the best thing I have heard in my home system.  But that is another story!
I am enamored with Raspberry Pis and the Mercury Streamer, which are already paid for.  I am having too much fun playing with software.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Mixing the old and the new.





 I am building a new system in my basement office.  IT is rather Eclectic. There is a Raspberry Pi 4 with a Pi2AES feeding any Ayre Codex into a pair of VTL Monoblock tube amps to a pair of Reverence 3A Veena speakers.  From about 1990 to about 2020.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Mercury Rising


Pi2Design has developed a new streamer, the Mercury Streamer. Based on the Raspberry Pi CM4, with the features of the famous Pi2AES HAT and more, including an M.2 2280 slot for NVME SSD, the Mercury is a fully assembled commercial product.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Heavenly Soundworks 517 Speakers

 I have had 517 speakers in my system for almost a year, and it is time for a short testimonial. From listening to and reviewing some prototypes to the final hardware and firmware, I have never had a better experience with a product or company. 

I am in the process of developing and testing digital streaming systems, and the 517 speakers are the best tell-all I have ever had. They tell me when things are bad and reward my work when I have done the right thing. Each incremental change is laid out for me to evaluate. I have not found the peak of their ability to reproduce music. 

The speakers themselves have eliminated complexity in my system, stimulating my work to do the same with other components. My journey continues, and the 517 speakers prod me to do more and enhance my listening experiences!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A little look back may shed some light on today

 I have an obsession with music playback systems dating back to the 1960s. 8-track tapes, Akai 4 track reel-to-reel tape, and Koss Pro-4aa headphones!

It was not until 1985 that I started to understand what clean-sounding systems were: Thiel CS 3.5 speakers, Bryston 3B power amplifier, APT Holman Preamp. Set up in the basement because it was too big and "ugly" to be a part of the family life. I started learning about room reflections from the paneling on the walls and the low ceiling.  
Fast forward to the '90s and the system was allowed in the living room because we had more space in the new to us house. We upped-the-ante a little bit with a better CD player and a Threshold FET-9 Pre-amp! The family could play CDs and records. Then the CD player gave up, and I said, Hey let's rip the CDs and play them from the computer! Instantly the system was too complex to use. iTunes was not friendly like a CD. The machine had to be on, and you had to log in! I do not think that this was or is progress.

Then there was this side trip to Sonos speakers in the living room that nobody listened to because they could not run them! NOTE TO SELF: Never run beta software on something that others have to use!

The last five years have been a classic case of "Audiophilia Nervosa." There has been a constant stream of speakers, amps, pre-amps, cables, DACs, and the like. I settled down on Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, and Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated with B&W 804S speakers using Transparent Cable throughout.

Then there is the computer side of things. Laptops, MacMini, Sonic Transporter, custom-built server, custom build D-to-D. Four different operating systems! Oh, and do not forget the networking issues! And maybe a small light at the end of the tunnel.

Digital Audio playback software is starting to get a lot better and presenting a user interface that almost anyone can use. As an example, Roon Labs software gives you a friendly interface to your local music, Tidal, and Qobuz along with a limited interface to internet radio. Jriver Media Center is continuously improving. Audirvana is expanding to new platforms. What a great time to be able to listen to almost any of the music the world has to offer!

There are a lot of rough spots, and it can be hard to access content such as Bandcamp or YouTube on your stereo system. There are still issues around the complexity of managing a local music library.  

Today you can tell "the lady in the can" to play some music, and the "super" computers at Google, Apple, or Amazon will typically present you with what you asked to hear.  

Taking all of this knowledge, services, systems, and individual requirements into consideration I have built a set of audio playback systems that will work in virtually any home, can be operated by almost anyone, and provide not only sit down performance listening but add in the virtual assistant integration and casual around the home background information delivery and music.

Enough gazing fondly into the past. Next time I will write more about what is going on right now with a complete redesign of the audio system. We will eliminate a lot of the complexity and take the sound quality to another level! 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Shared Listening

 Last time I discussed some of the issues about building systems in your home. Today I want to talk a bit about creating a shared listening experience.

Some audiophile systems have an accessibility problem. Either the system is not accessible by others or nobody else has the ability to run the system.

I regularly find issues like these:
• The system is located away from family life.
• It has a very complex setup and operation
• Equipment is too fragile to let "just anyone" use 
• The "owner" does not let anyone touch the system.
• The system design only provides a single person listening position.

These issues can create hidden or public tension and stress around music where there should be none! So the shared listening experience is not there. Now I may be a little harsh here, but I think it is crucial. I do not intend to denigrate the audiophile who has a personal need to build systems for whatever reason! Please enjoy the music but think about including others in the musical experience.

The stand-alone system is not the only culprit. Devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod all provide instant music that has an almost magical feeling. The sound can be a bit like elevator music or the old Intercom system with terrible little speakers around the home. Just not great for "Performance" listening experience.

There is another trend in stereo called multi-room audio. Companies like Sonos, Bluesound, and others have created system designs that allow you to place speakers around the home and synchronize the music playing on them or to play different music as desired in each room. The system designs are a great way to get music everywhere. While the quality can be pretty good, there is still no drive to take time to listen to music together as an experience.

The technology companies named above have also started providing multi-room audio and are very serious about their work, but they do not appear to be serious about the listening experience. Their voice activation systems are very compelling, and it will be fascinating to see where this all goes.  

Do not take me wrong here; there are Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod devices in my home. They all fill some valuable roles in our day-to-day lives. The incumbent multi-room systems like Sonos and Bluesound are most likely feeling the pinch.  

Next time we will take an abbreviated journey through time and start experiencing the future today!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Three Challenges

 Building a new music system in our homes today presents both technical and personal challenges. We need to make sure that a few things are ready before we start. 

The first challenge is the local network in the home and the feed from the Internet.  While audio is not as intense as say video streaming they both require a stable, consistent internal network.  If the system streams files from the Internet, then some additional requirements have to be met.

The second challenge is placement and system requirements.  Where does the system go to encourage maximum use and enjoyment?  Will it go in a shared space such as a living room?  Is there a spare room dedicated to music?  

The third challenge is the people and adds what additional audio systems are required?  Google Home, etc.  It is best to build a plan and stick with it.  Get everyone on board, set up, and taught how to operate things, play music, etc.

I will address these challenges and much more. You can subscribe to the RSS feed and follow along on Social Media, see the links in the footer.

A Rose with a few Thorns

    I borrowed a HiFi Rose RS-150B to study for the weekend. The unit needs to be back in the store on Tuesday in keeping with my shorte...