Audio Bit Schlepping

I’ve been an audio hobbiest for 40 years. I began by building a Dynaco Stereo 70 power amplifier and PAS-3 preamp from kits in 1967. Over the years a Conrad Johnson PV-1 preamp, Gas Ampzilla power amplifier, and Dhalquist DQ-10 speakers have come to stay. Sources have come and gone over the years with a Cambridge Audio 610 tuner and Cambridge Audio DacMagic being my current sources. Much of my music lives on a Drobostore storage array connected to a Mac Mini running OS X Lion (10.7). How do the bits get from the Drobostore to the DacMagic?

A local electrician and I wired the house for video, voice, and data back in 2006. A 1 Ghz switch distributes data to 3 locations in the living room and 3 bedrooms. The Mac Mini is on one port of the switch with satellite switches in the audio cabinet and video cabinet in the living room These switches serve a couple of Apple TV 2, a TiVO HD, a Panasonic ST30 plasma TV, and a Logitech Sqeezebox Classic.

One Apple TV connects by optical cable to the DacMagic. The second Apple TV and the Squeezebox connect to the other port (only one at a time please or the DacMagic gets confused). This provides stunning TV sound and record reproduction. The Warrior sound track was awesome with its tension building tympani beats shaking the place. Cat Steven’s Tea for the Tiller Man is lush and authoritative and Cowboy Junkies Trinity Session shows off the Trinity Chapel acoustics and Ms. Timmons’ rich voice.

Studio Master Digital

Linn Audio, Chesky Records, and others have realized that current trends in recorded music favoring convenience over fidelity have endangered high fidelity audio. Why have a hi-fi when all there is to play is brittle MP-3 audio and Clear Channel’s drek. This realization gave birth to studio master recordings. These recordings are PCM audio at word lengths and word rates higher than the CD standard of 44 kHz 16 bit samples. Most recordings today are recorded at 96 kHz 24 bit samples and this sample rate and word length can be maintained through the mix. Suppose we had a standard for distributing the master? Would people buy. Would they pay $18 for superior sound. It turns out that enough people are willing to do so that and are able to make a living and offer wonderful recordings. HDtracks concentrates on HD product from US record companies and is busy reissuing all of our old Mobile Fidelity friends. Linn Records is busy developing European talent, God bless them. Linn also distributes the fruits of independent record labels including Delos and other small American and European labels.

To make these recordings convenient to store and deliver, both HDtracks and Linn compress the product using Free Audio Lossless Codec. It encodes the channel common signal and the lower amplitude channel differences in a space-efficient manner that permits reconstruction of all of the original bits of each channel. The FLAC format permits encoding both stereo and muti-track recordings in a space-efficient manner. No lossy approximation techniques are used. Thus, a studio master recording delivers the producer’s work directly to you!

Yes, You Can Hear the Difference

I have a 44 kHz 16 bit transfer of Kind of Blue that I made from the most recent Columbia CD. HD tracks offers a 96 kHz 24 bit final studio master and you can listen to the previews. I’m 63 and I could hear the difference! The bass (stand up) had that nice acoustic richness, the cymbals had more air and shimmer and the image was a bit more lush. This on a pair of Monsoon Audio desk top speakers fed by a PreSonus 1394 singer-songwriter audio interface. This is modest stuff but revealing. If you enjoy a fine recording of a fine performance, studio masters are worthy of your consideration.

Schlepping the Bits to the Living Room

I have 2 studio masters right now, Tea for the Tiller Man and Pete Alderton’s Cover My Blues. I’d like to get the full 96kHz signal to the DacMagic. How do I drag the bits from the Drobo to the DacMagic? Right now, iTunes can’t convert FLAC to PCM so I’m stuck there. Logitec Media Server can but my Squeezebox Classic tops out at 48 kHz. So, agian, I’m stuck.

I’ve crawled the Internet high and low looking for a way to get a full 96k signal to my DacMagic with my present kit. It looks like sneaker net is the only way at the moment. Carry the Mini into the living room and connect it to the DacMagic USB port.

Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

I have 2 old dog computers gathering dust, a dual G4 Mirror Door Power Mac running Leopard and a Frankenstein machine running Ubuntu Linux. The Leopard machine can’t read today’s iTunes format. The Ubuntu machine can read the music and ignores iTunes’ proprietary metadata. I just may dig it out and put it in the rack to play the studio masters. This is a bit of a kludge. I don’t want to leave this machine running as the power management is not too bright with home brew hardware. There are just too many system power controllers out there to support them all correctly.

OS X Third Party Audio Players?

Several small companies have nice audio players for Lion and a couple of good ones are available from the OS X App Store. These are reasonably priced ($20) and will play music from multiple libraries. None support Air Play but the Fidelia folks are working on it. Fidelia’s makers also offer an IOS remote. This looks like a near future solution.