All posts by davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.

Gumby is a good gumby

I’ll try to avoid the schiit puns as Gungnir Multibit (Gumby) arrived and is settled in my audio rack. Gumby is a good Gumby! Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat founded Schiit about a decade ago to scratch their audio design itch. Schiit has an unusual philosophy and take on high fidelity audio equipment, that it exists to serve the love of music and not to be techno-sculpture in the lounges of the rich. Rather than making a big statement piece for the wealthy, they began by making affordable $100 devices for those wishing for more than headphones plugged into an iBook. And they set out to show that you could build here of mostly US made stuff and be profitable.

Continue reading Gumby is a good gumby

Home Networks for Streaming Audio

I’ve not written on audio and networking in a while but over the holiday I read Jason Stoddard’s Schiit Happens about his return to the high fidelity equipment industry as co-founder of Schiit, a maker of personal audio and value oriented high end audio. I found the book after I had ordered my Schiit Gungnir Multi-bit DAC. Over the break I had also watched a video in which Mike and Jason (the founders) talked about how Schiit came to be and this, that, and the other thing. They are toying with the notion of offering a new product which Mike kept calling Schiit Pi. This got me thinking I should write about my streaming environment again as I had improved it significantly in 2018.

References

  1. https://youtu.be/IUBFtqNpC7U — the video
  2. https://darko.audio/?s=schiit+gungnir
  3. https://www.hifiberry.com/products/digiplus/
  4. https://www.ubnt.com/

Mike’s Schiit Pi Musings

In the video Mike and Jason speculate about what they might do with a Raspberry Pi. Mike, in true company spirit, referred to the mythical product as a Schiit Pi. Mike did not want the new device to be a general streaming client as he didn’t want to support multiple streaming service protocols on the device or do significant UI development.

Rather, he was contemplating a device that would connect between a streaming client and a DAC and would perform some digital signal processing magic to decrapify the streamed source. He tossed around a number of ideas. It will be interesting to see Mike’s ideas evolve into a product.

Mike’s musings prompted this article as network performance significantly affects the behavior of network audio devices. As we will see, network issues may be the result of an ill-behaved application on any network endpoint.

Before Roon

Originally, I used iTunes and Apple AirPlay to an Apple TV to play music. I didn’t like the requirement that I leave the Mac up to serve music. Apple just plain got iTunes architecture wrong and has not seen fit to fix it because it works for the masses.

Back in ancient history an Nvidia Shield appeared in the TV rack. This impulse purchase device picked up music serving duties using Plex to stream from a copy of my iTunes library on an external disk. From time to time, I would move the disk to my Mac and rsync the iTunes library over.

I quickly discovered that Plex supported Chromecast Audio as an endpoint so I gave it a try. Wow, what an improvement in sound quality. The image solidified and the sound became crisper. Hearing Thile-Mehldau Scarlet Town on this line-up was a revelation. Clearly, Apple was doing one or more things badly in AirPlay or Apple TV.

But there were random fades. After several months of this, I realized they were happening while using my iPad and were noticeably more frequent using the iPad Facebook app.

The HiFiBerry Digi+

Manually syncing my music library to the Nvidia Shield was getting old. As I was planning for a new iMac in the fall, I built the FreeNAS server and a HiFIberry Digi+. The FreeNAS box was slotted to become a media server and Time Machine spool volume. The HiFiBerry was to replace the Chromecast Audio with something more robust and durable. Google was pimping the little Chromecast gadget pretty hard, it ran warm, and I was concerned about its future support.

In 2017 I built a HiFiBerry Digi+ to use as a streaming endpoint. I placed the HiFiBerry in service connected to a Burr Brown based DAC in my Parasound P5 preamp. The sound was good but there were still drop outs.

When I moved the streaming endpoint from an Apple TV to the Raspberry Pi, both on the wired Ethernet, I began to experience network fades. Apple AirPlay had covered these up by using a 2 second fade buffer.

My old network topology

In an effort to stop the fades, I tried moving things around. At the time, the cable modem fed a Netgear Orbi WiFi router which, in turn fed the network core switch. Each equipment rack in the living room (audio rack and TV rack) had its own rack top switch, an Netgear 8 port gigabit unmanaged switch. The music server was in one rack and the player in the other. Music sample packets had to travel back to the core switch (also an unmanaged Netgear switch).

The first thing I tried was to connect the Roon Server and the Raspberry Pi to the same rack top switch. In theory, Roon packets would enter the switch and be forwarded directly to the Pi. But fades still happened.

Undesirable #1

Every time I touched the iPad Facebook app, there would be a music stall. This happened before any experimentation and continued to plague every every experiment going forward. Part of the solution was to drop Facebook and Instagram for other reasons (corporate miss-deeds, sock puppet memes, precision guided propaganda delivery system).

UniFi Switch 8 150 Arrives

In 2017, a local electrician installed 3 network cameras for me. These were Ubiquity UniFi Video G3 cameras that required power over Ethernet. I purchased a Switch-8-150 to power these cameras. This switch replaced the unmanaged network switch in the core network closet (my closet).

The Netgear Orbi continued to have routing and WiFi duties. One port on the Orbi connected the core network switch. The second connected a rack top switch in my study. Still fades.

UniFi EdgeRouter Arrives

While researching networking for my church’s move to a new clubhouse, I discovered the EdgeRouter Lite and ordered one for home. This router replaced the Orbi in the Internet access router role. I reconfigured the Orbi as WiFi only (no DHCP, DNS, or routing chores) as these moved to the EdgeRouter Lite.

In this arrangement, I used 2 lines from my study to the core switch. the first connected the router to the core switch. The second connected the core switch to the rack top switch in my study equipment rack. Surprise. No streaming fades. Nary a one. Orbi just did not have the processor horsepower to handle the WiFi and route packets both

UniFi Switch-8-60 Arrives

I’m slowly converting all of my Ethernet equipment to Ubiquity UniFi. The next change was to replace my study switch with a new Switch-8-60 to power a UniFi Cloud Key G2 that picked up network management duties formerly performed by a VM on my FreeNAS box and NVR duties for the cameras. I changed the topology to make this switch my core switch and the Switch-8-150 remained in the role of tying everything on the wired Ethernet together.

The router now connected to my study rack top switch. This study switch now served the CloudKey G2+, my iMac, and a new printer in my study and connects the wired Ethernet core switch and the Orbi as WiFi access point to the access router. This arrangement continues to provide fade-free music streaming both to the wired Ethernet and the WiFi

Final Topology

Final Network Topology

The diagram shows the final topology that I adopted. This topology has proven robust. Music is fade free. YouTube video is fade free. The Cloud Key G2+ and Switch-8-60 are on the study rack where I can check their indicators. The only real disadvantage to this topology is that NVR video passes over to the study switch to reach the NVR.

Roon and Tidal

About a year ago I installed Roon Audio and began using it without Tidal. In my original configuration, Roon Audio ran in a VM hosted by my FreeNAS storage server. It delivered audio to either an Apple TV or a Google Chromecast Audio. Both were connected to a Cambridge DACmagic converter by TOSlink. For the first year I passed on the Tidal subscription, assuming that it, like Apple and Amazon streaming, sounded horrid. Then I got curious.

Continue reading Roon and Tidal

2018 Holiday Letter

Best wishes for a wonderful 2019. Boy has it been a busy year. As 2018 closes, Dave, Nick, and Missy are well. Dave remains busy with club activities while the Greyhounds continue to keep our garden zombie free.

I’m now officially a Moocher

I turned 70 and started collecting Social Security. This should be a good bet as monthly benefits increase by about 30 percent. The design is neutral from an actuarial vantage point. Social Security will pay out the same total from commencement to median life expectancy. The bet you make is that you will live past median life expectancy, a good bet as most relatives who dodged early canecer have done so on both sides of the family. Most cancer cases involve risk factors like tobacco use, agent orange exposure, or alcohol abuse.  I now actually have some income. Surprisingly, Social Security covers about 1/2 of my income needs.

Continue reading 2018 Holiday Letter

UniFi Updates

A new switch, cloud key, and updated network video recorder joined the Dismal Manor UniFi stable this October. The Moocher checked firmware to discover that updating the core POE switch to the latest firmware required updating UniFi Controller. At that time, UniFi controller ran in a FreeNAS jail. So, the cheap intrepid Moocher tried to update UniFi controller in the jail. He quickly discovered he was in dependency hell. Find out how he got out after the jump.

Continue reading UniFi Updates

Moose’s Sight-hound Trust

Moose, one of my Twitter buddies, is a disgustingly cute Italian Greyhound (I believe) who has attracted an unseemly number of Twitter followers. Somewhere along the way his minions had the notion to start a Sighthound Welfare Charity in the UK. Being in the UK and (for the moment in the EU) my peeps are well aware of the plight of the Spanish Glagos (a field bred coursing hound) and the UK is awash in lurchers (deliberate greyhound crossbreeds bred as field dogs). Strong regulation and a strong network of adoption charities support the UK racing greyhound population but the hunting bred dogs are not well regulated and don’t have the industry assisted adoption network enjoyed by the racing dogs. It is with the field bred Galgos and Lurchers where I see Moose’s Trust filling a need.

Continue reading Moose’s Sight-hound Trust

Furman Power Elite 15 PFi Listening Impressions

Featured image courtesy of Furman Power. This is the Elite series over-voltage protection board.

The Furman Power Elite series of power conditioners features a modular design that easily allows Furman to offer products with differing capabilities. Furman Power offers 3 versions of the Elite 15i

  • The Elite 15i is the base version with series over-voltage protection, extreme voltage protection, and linear filtering of line noise. This device includes an AC voltmeter showing line voltage.
  • The Elite 15 DMi provides the same power conditioning but adds a second meter showing the current being drawn. This is of interest if the outlet or the Elite 15 is heavily loaded. You can identify the straw breaking the camel’s back
  • The Elite 15 PFi removes the meters and adds power factor correction to the standard protection functions.

Continue reading Furman Power Elite 15 PFi Listening Impressions

Furman Power Elite 15i Impressions

Background

Although the house has full-house surge protection in the panel, I elect to use a second line of defense for the computers, network electronics, and audio and video systems. In the past, I had used APC power conditioners for this task but another 5 years had passed and it was time for battery replacement. Being tired of messing with lead acid gel cell batteries, I looked around and settled on Furman Power conditioners. After all, something robust enough to protect a $40,000 church PA should be good enough for home, right? Turns out, it was more than good enough. Product impressions and listening impressions follow plus a bit of EE tech.

Continue reading Furman Power Elite 15i Impressions