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Audio Music Personal Computing Uncategorized

An Inexpensive Streamer

Featured image courtesy of Darko.Audio [1]

I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and recommend a piece of kit that I don’t actually own or use but that is a close cousin to kit in use here at Dismal Manor.

When Jason Stoddard, co-founder of Schiit Audio, has one of his periodic ask me anything interviews, a viewer invariably asks if Schiit will make an inexpensive streamer. Jason invariably answers, “no, that’s not our thing”. Jason has wisely chosen to avoid all the pain of what works with what in Linux Land.

But the question comes up sufficiently often that folks might like an answer. Back when I was looking for a streamer to replace AirPort Express and ChromeCast bits, I happened to discover John Darko’s Darko Audio YouTube channel. One evening, John reviewed the Allo Digital DigiOne Signature streamer and gave it marks that placed it firmly in high end sonic company with the Bluesound Node. After a bit, I ordered the boards and enclosure and put one together that I use in my lounge as my main stream receiver. I have a secondary HiFiBerry stream receiver that I use with the TV and video players.

In this article, I’ll tell you about a newer Allo Digital product that takes a bit different tack that will work nicely with today’s kit. That product is Allo Digital’s USBRIDGE Signature [2]. We’ll also look at what the more commercial products offer that is not part of the DIY streamers.

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Audio

OMG, Apple Music is Good! But not Perfect

For a million years I’ve been scowling at Apple Music and the iTunes Store as Apple sold lossy-compression renderings of all of the music offered. All of the gripes to Apple Feedback finally payed off somewhat with the initiation of Apple Music Lossless. An earlier article explained the switchology of setting up Lossless streaming and downloads. This article talks about the results. It’s simple, Apple Lossless delivers the Red Book original. Spatial and Dolby Atmos are another thing. It’s all about the mastering, who did it and their goals for the mix.

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Audio

Apple Music Lossless?

Apple now offers bundles of online service under the Apple One logo. Here at Dismal Manor we have

  • Apple TV+
  • Apple iCloud storage
  • Apple News
  • Apple Music

Since my storage plan was $10/month, Apple TV+ was another $10, and Apple News another $10, changing to Apple One Premier was the same out of pocket and allowed me to add Apple Music to the mix. Read on to learn my impressions of the new Apple Music Lossless offering.

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Audio Personal Computing Video

M1 iMac Pre-Purchase Planning

M1 iMac stock image courtesy of Apple.

I expect Apple Silicon to have a major impact on the functionality of the iMac. The addition of the custom rendering and custom machine learning hardware resources places the desktop Macs on par with the iPads and iPhones opening possibilities for audio and video processing on the new products. So I decided to be an early adopter while my 2017 iMac had some trade-in value.

In this post, I’ll talk about some things to consider in the pre-purchase planning phase.

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Audio Personal Computing

Roon Core Saga

Our Roon Core was last installed in 2018 using Ubuntu Cosmic Cuttlefish. This was a fall version with only 2 years of support available. Given that it had dropped out of support, I decided to reinstall the VM’s Guest OS. This post shares what I learned.

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Audio Personal Computing

Roon Core on a NAS???

Roon Nucleus image courtesy of Roon Labs

After commenting on several posts regarding running Roon Core in a TrueNAS BHYVE VM in the Roon Community Forums, I get the occasional request for help troubleshooting a colicky Roon Core installation. Please stick to Roon recommended configurations unless you are a computer systems professional. Installation of Roon on Linux hardware or in a storage server virtual machine requires familiarity with the host operating system, host OS package manager, host OS virtual machine manager, creation of guest environments, and installation of Linux and applications in the guest environment. This is a lot to learn for non-professionals.

For DIY Readers

Most DIY-minded readers would be happiest running Roon Core on a Mac Mini backed up by a TrueNAS SOHO file server configuration. The Mac Mini can perform media management. The Mac Mini can back up your external media to TrueNAS using Time Machine. iX Systems ensures that TrueNAS is easily configured as a Time Machine storage server supporting encryption at rest and encryption in transit.

For My Other Readers

Those not members of the DIY gang would be happiest using Roon Nucleus as their Roon Core. Roon Labs has designed Nucleus to be a no fuss appliance that keeps OS and Roon Controller up to date software wise. Roon Nucleus is audibly and electrically quiet as a result of its fanless design and custom power supply that replaces the laptop switching power supply used with similar systems.

After the break, we’ll look at the alternatives in more detail.

Categories
Audio

Maggie Extends Her Dismal Manor Visit

A few days ago, I watched a young gentleman comment on selection of amplification for Magnepan Magneplanar Loudspeakers. He is a Maggie fan and has owned a number of Maggies and paired them with various new and used amplifiers. Although a good presenter, he managed not to offer much insight into Magneplanar speaker behavior. So, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned in the 5 months or so this pair has been here.

Categories
Audio Personal Computing

Roon with TrueNAS

Roon and TrueNAS 12 coexist nicely. Here at Dismal Manor, I have a TrueNAS 12.0 server that has two jobs, to serve music and to provide Time Machine storage for MacOS Big Sur. In this episode, I will describe the TrueNAS configuration used here at Dismal Manor. This arrangement is not particularly elegant as I was learning to manage TrueNAS as it was evolving from FreeNAS 9 to the current TrueNAS 12 core.

References

All references were retrieved on Ground Hog day. Well across the date line.

  1. https://www.truenas.com/docs/hub/intro/glossary/
  2. https://www.truenas.com/docs/hub/initial-setup/install/firsttimeinstall/
  3. https://www.truenas.com/docs/hub/sharing/smb/
  4. https://www.truenas.com/docs/hub/tasks/advanced/virtual-machines/
  5. https://help.roonlabs.com/portal/en/kb/articles/linux-install

Pools, Volumes, and FileSystems

TrueNAS functions in terms of pools, volumes, and filesystems. As I understand it, a pool is a TrueNAS container that combines multiple physical disks in a manner that lets TrueNAS use them as a virtual block device. Within the container, TrueNAS can create a volume which behaves like a block device. The volume can contain one or more file systems. The pool can also contain filesystems. File systems can contain file systems. File systems may be exported as network shared file systems.

Dismal’s primary storage pool

Use a volume when you want to limit the size of the dataset. When you create a volume, you set a maximum size for it. ZFS uses lazy provisioning. It will add blocks to the volume as needed until the size limit is reached.

Most of the time you will create a filesystem or dataset because the object is expected to grow and you want it to have file system sharing semantics.

Sharing in Apple Land

ZFS exports are always at the filesystem node level as identified by a filesystem path. This is in keeping with the original NFS model for which ZFS was designed to provide storage support. TrueNAS, to my knowledge, does not export block devices as a network service.

Dismal Manor is thoroughly modern so our Mac runs Big Sur. Dismal (our server) serves music, photos, and a couple of Time Machine spool volumes. Everything is in the primary ZFS Pool. Within the pool, individual datasets hold media, photos, and Roon Backups. One volume in the pool serves as the block device used by the virtual machine in which Roon runs.

The media dataset is further subdivided by iTunes (ALAC), HD Audio (ALAC and FLAC) purchased music from CD, HD Tracks (ALAC and FLAC) purchased music from HDtracks.com , and Qobuz (mostly FLAC but some ALAC) purchased music. It is only recently that iTunes and iThings tolerated FLAC and I’m not completely convinced that iThings like FLAC. So ALAC is kept separate for transfer to iThings.

The FLAC is kept separate by where it came from. HD Audio is FLAC from records. HD Tracks is media purchased from HD Tracks. Qobuz is media purchased from Qobuz, my current favorite source. The HD Audio is mostly direct purchases from artist websites, usually as media. The commercial services track purchases and allow transfer of media to a revived host in the event of media loss.

The figure below shows our shares. As you can see, the Time Machine spool is now SMB. There is a share for virtual machine installation media, one for Roon backups, and one for iTunes and other media, and one for photos.

Dismal’s configured exports

Photo storage for MacOS

The photos share is somewhat confounded by MacOS design. MacOS replication services expect the Photos AppLibrary to always be accessible (ie mounted at boot or is it login? Its Apple). So iCloud and the iThings do their thing to the thing-owner’s directory structure.

The Sony “real camera” is transferred twice, once into Photos App and a second time into ZFS photos file system. I’m slowly abandoning this practice as it is much easier to find an image in Photos, select it for editing, and pass it off to Luminar AI for editing.

Photos passes the raw file to Luminar. Luminar returns a TIFF with the edits back to Photos. As Firesign Theater was fond of saying, “When you are two places at once, you are no place at all.” It just became too hard to find stuff. Luminar has OK image management but for a hobby photographer, Big Sur Photos is champ.

The Roon Virtual Machine

Dismal runs a Roon virtual machine. In 2017-2018 I’d tried to run Roon on a Mac Mini running MacOS and that same Mac Mini running Ubuntu. Each time Dominion glitched us, I’d have to intervene on the Mac to get Roon up. Roon on the Mini was restarting before the shares came up so the mounts would fail.

Virtual Rocky Roon VM

So, I installed Roon in a VM on Dismal. This works nicely as TrueNAS starts the virtual machines after the file services are ready to go. The TrueNAS design enforces this sequence as hosting storage for zillions of virtual machines running Windows is a major TrueNAS use case. The data-less client rules in cubical land today.

This explains the ISOS dataset shared with Trey, this iMac. We fetch the appropriate installation media, copy it to ISOS, and specify it as the VM installation media. Once the OS is installed (Debian server is a good choice but also Ubuntu), download the Roon installation script and follow the Roon procedures.

Create the VM following the reference. Boot Linux from the ISO image and run the installer in the normal way following the TrueNAS VM creation instructions. Once the VM is ready, open a shell in the VM’s web interface and add the required packages to the distribution. The Roon installation procedure clearly explains the packages needed and lists them in an order that satisfies dependencies.

Once all of the dependencies are aboard, fetch the Roon installation script and run it as described in the Roon instructions. It will set up Roon as a service on the VM.

Roon Storage Organization at Camp Dismal

Then follow the Roon setup instructions to add media, create a place for configuration backups, etc. Once installed, your 2 week trial starts. The figure below shows how we configured our storage

Rocky’s storage configuration

Our music storage is partitioned into separate trees for iTunes media (mostly ALAC, but stuff that may be transferred to an iThing), HD Audio (mostly FLAC), and Q0buz purchases (mostly FLAC). I keep these last two separate so I know what came from where should something need replaced down the road.

Note that Roon Focus will let you select items by format and also by where they came from. Click Focus On to bring up the Focus view. Toward the left, there are buttons to refine the focus. Bring up this view, then slide left to bring up the format inspector. This will let you identify Tidal tracks, Qobuz tracks, etc. You can also view by location in the local library.

Roon Focus dialog showing the Format inspector

Roon can also run things down by location using the Inspector.

Inspector lets you search by storage location

Once you have your search criteria set, you can export as a list for record keeping purposes. This is a useful thing to do occasionally should your library go missing. But ZFS is robust and you are satisfied with your backup. Aren’t you?

Backups

TrueNAS replication is a wonderful thing. Together, Snapshots and Replication let you deal with most file system misfortunes. If you accidentally delete something, it can be retrieved from a prior snapshot. If the local media becomes corrupt, the replication media should have a sound copy.

The purpose of snapshots and replication is two fold.

  • Provide protection against disk failures
  • Provide protection against user mistakes
  • Replication is a convenient way to fill a newly commissioned server

Keep in mind that snapshots and replication may not protect you from the local processor slowly going batty. This is extremely rare. Disk problems are most common, memory problems less common, and processor problems least common. I’ve yet to see one in integrated processors.

Back in the old days, our trusty work CDC 7600 started misplacing files. OS required files would go missing. The divide unit was miss-calculating hashes so the filer was retrieving random data when a disk directory record was expected. The OS (CDC Scope 2) would trap. The techs living inside the 10×10 paneled office quickly tracked down the divide unit as the problem. A fix took a bit longer as the divide unit was several racks of cigarette pack size modules and cabling to troubleshoot.

Here at Dismal Manor we have the following backups in place.

  • Time Machine to a ZFS share.
  • ZFS pool replication to a second ZFS pool inside the server. No fancy raid here but ZFS checksums and checksum verification.
  • BackBlaze backup of the Mac disk to an off-site facility

Note that we don’t treat iCloud storage of photos or data as a backup.

Copy on Write?

Both APFS, the new Apple File System, and ZFS are copy on write file systems. That means that when a file is updated, only the changed blocks are written to disk. The unaltered blocks remain as the were. So both ZFS and APFS permit retrieval of earlier versions of a file as recorded by snapshots. APFS is snap shotting for Time Machine. Time Machine, like ZFS replication, transfers the most recent snapshot to the backup device by writing just the changed blocks. Pretty slick? Yes actually. So Time Machine is writing to the ZFS SMB_TM dataset which is in turn backed up by ZFS replication to a second pool in our server. And just the changes are transferred!

Categories
Audio

Thoughts on Schiit Audio

We sure have a lot of Schiit Audio about Dismal Manor. How did it happen? More importantly, why did it happen? The Schiit Audio product line, especially the headphone amplifiers have a similar sound as co-founders Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat are largely responsible for the sound of a product. Although they like different sorts of music, both have a strong preference for a neutral voice, focused image, and a good bit of depth in their DACS, preamps, headphone amps, and speaker amps.

Jason has written extensively

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/schiit-happened-the-story-of-the-worlds-most-improbable-start-up.701900/

about his odyssey as a practicing audio design engineer, Schiit Audio’s design philosophy and business principles, and about the development of individual products. Schiit began business in the desktop audio space offering DACS and headphone amplifiers. Schiit then expanded into the main system market offering first an integrated amplifier, then preamps and, in 2017 or so, its first speaker amp. In 2019 and 2020 Schiit entered the vinyl space with a Mike Moffatt phono preamp that is wizard and a turntable for the ages.

Categories
Audio

Freya+ A Week Later

Freya+ has been here a week, has shown a movie or two and played quite a few records. This post recounts our experiences to date. Associated equipment are Schiit Modius, Gumby Multibit, and Vidar. Most media was Qobuz or Roon disc library based. I also talk about the new speaker placement I settled on.