Category Archives: Causeries

Lossless audio explained

My favourite company and defacto curators of good sound, Bower & Wilkins, just published an article on their Society of Sound web site, explaining lossless audio in general and Flac in particular in what can only be described as kid’s stuff. One can argue whether digital sound distribution is difficult material, but I find it indisputable that the topic is notoriously hard to convey. It is this last bit I think B&W did better than anyone before them.

If you don’t know Flac, read it to get a non-technical explanation. If you do know the technicalities, read it anyway… if for nothing else, then to get an example of how to explain it yourself.

Danish High Fidelity shuts down

high-fidelity  A beacon in the Danish hifi community has decided to turn off the lights. Dating back to 1971, High Fidelity was the pinnacle magazine from Forlaget Audio for many years. In 1997 the magazine was sold to its editors and now a poor financial foothold turns the final page.

The Beatles Complete On Ukulele

cover

January 2009, Roger Greenawalt and David Barratt declared that by 2012 they would re-record each and every one of Beatles’ 185 recorded songs – on ukulele. Being a ukulele lover in general and specifically a great fan of Brook Adams’ highly memorable covers of, to name a couple, Django Reinhardt, Metallica and Jimi Hendrix, I immediately took a fancy to the idea.

Now the project has been under way for 6 months and I have to say that the results are impressive. Generally speaking the covers are great and some even surpass the originals. Excellent job!

“But 185 songs?”, you may say – “…on ukulele?”. Luckily they didn’t mimic aforementioned Brook  Adams. He gave us a variation of songs and put them in an unfamiliar setting. The range of styles and the limited number, made it work and very well so, indeed. It wouldn’t work with 185 songs. Instead Greenawalt and Barratt teams up with a multitude of musicians and it is they who are doing the actual cover – featuring Greenawalt on uke on all songs. That works. That works big time. Greenawalt, by the way, did something similar before, playing all 185 songs at a concert in benefit of fellow ukulele player, billionaire Warren Buffet.

The new project is based around a weekly recording accompanied by a causerie on said song and its history. These writings are hilarious! They alone could justify the project.

I urge you; go have a listen and a read. It is absolutely brilliant.

I may be transgressing the boundaries of this blog, writing about something so definitely not digital, but it is after all my own set of rules I am breaking.

Last.fm Radio changes channels

Last.fm The now CBS owned social media service Last.fm announced yesterday that they will stop their free services in all but three countries. From naught to €3.00/month.

Even if Last.fm is not even remotely hi-fi, it is a truly interesting service that lets you share with fellow members, what you play. From this information it will suggest music, radio stations, that others with similar playlists as you enjoy listening to. In other words a more-of-the-same service based on statistics rather than metrics.

Until now Last.fm has been free with a paid subscription offering extended services such as specific artist radio stations. With this new initiative, however, I fear that many freeloaders will abandon the station and thus reduce the statistic number soup and consequently turn Last.fm into more of the same instead of offering us more of the same.

While it is perfectly understandable that such an undertaking costs money and that a user base of 30,000,000 users world wide must mean a hefty royalty check for artists, the decision does cause some raising of eyebrows.

Lampizating a Squeezebox

Lampizator One of the all times most fascinating DIY web sites on electronics, has to be The Lampizator. Lukasz Fikus has made it his mission in life to put tubes into every half decent sound producing device on this planet. I am not sure when this happened, but at some point he started deviating, crossing the solid state line and getting dangerously close to SMDs and other very much untubular things. This is not a bad thing. Not at all. For now Lukasz Fikus has given us an extremely detailed view into how to tweak some niftiness out of the Logitech Squeezebox Duet. If you are interested in real modding, do yourself a favour and pay this man a visit and enjoy his ongoing endeavours.

Sooloos makes headlines yet again

Or one more headline, to be truthful. Stereophile magazine promoted the Sooloos Music Server System from editor’s choice to product of the year…!

Let’s try that again: Stereophile awarded a from-the-bone-out digital sound source one of the most prestigious  accolades of the business over a bunch of analogues. Now, that should raise some eye brows. Way to go, Sooloos.

Meridian to acquire Sooloos

Friday last, news hit the streets that Meridian, a genuinely household name in British hifi circles, had bought Sooloos. Meridian are renowned for their compact solutions but has little experience in streaming audio. The fact that Sooloos has exactly that and on top of that a compatible outlook on life, sound and what-not makes this a truly holy alliance. Sooloos is in itself an interesting system but what is really interesting in my view, is if Meridian will come up with a Sooloos compatible compact client to match it.

The jitter bug

Jitter is a term often heard in relation with digital audio equipment but not something easily understood. After all, Fourier transforms are not exactly the first thing we learn in school, nor is it math that most of us ever get to use in real life.

First of all jitter is not one thing. Not surprisingly jitter refers to the same thing in digital signal processing as it does when referring to neurological diseases – tremors.

Talking about music, there are two types of jitter that cause problems: Seek jitter and clock jitter.

Seek jitter occurs when a CD player encounters a read error and tries to correct the error. In the process the sample stream is stopped and restarted but the stream may not be restarted in exactly the same place it was interrupted but may start early by a couple of samples, introducing false samples into the stream, or indeed omitting some that should be there. Seek jitter manifests itself by a notable clicking sound and is only present with traditional Red Book audio CD players. A good reason for keeping your CDs clean and correction at a minimum.

Clock jitter is less obvious but at the same time more ubiquitous. The analogue carrier signal sent between components in the signal chain, is optimally a square wave. A high voltage signals a 1 and a low signals a 0. The problem is that this square wave is inevitably distorted in the passing and the vertical edges loose steepness and the time at which a bit change is detected can vary ever so slightly – a bit like balancing a ball. That means that the precise moment in time were a change should take place can shift. “Okay”, you might say. “We loose a bit here and get another there – big deal”. Well, it could be a big deal. We might loose a low order bit somewhere, having barely any impact in a 16 or 24 bit word. No, the problem is getting or loosing a high order bit. That could mean the difference between 65,536 and 0 in a 16 bit world or between 16,777,216 and 0 in a 24 bit word. Exactly how that would impact a sound sample I cannot say; I assume it would depend on the protocol. But negligible is not exactly a word that springs to mind. The audible error you would get is one of extra frequencies around the one you would expect adding noise. With clock jittering this noise is mostly either a white noise embedded in the music or a few dominating frequency ranges.

Most often caused by analogue noise introduced many places in the signal chain, clock jitter is not something you remove using purple markers or nano-covered CD weights. It requires a clean-up of the signal path and that most often requires extensive electronics knowledge. But accepting that jitter is not just a figment of some over zealous, hi-fi interested health fanatic’s mind is a step on the way of selecting the right equipment and honouring the part of the signal path you yourself have some say over.

This bird is flying

Hans Peter L'Orange and Morten Lindberg of Lindberg Lyd Norwegian recording and music production company Lindberg Lyd AS has expanded their online music store 2L to include 24bit Flac downloads as well – for the time being limited to a few selected albums. Their recording catalogue includes some rather impressive works and I simply cannot wait for them to be available in high resolution format for download. Albums can be downloaded in both stereo or 5.1 multi channel, either way in full 24bit/96KHz.

In their HiRes Download Test Bench, you can download individual tracks in several formats to judge recording quality, format performance or simply enjoy some wonderful music. Either way, expect some rather hefty file sizes that are just waiting to be thrown at a nice media streamer. Bon appetit!

By the way! 2L were responsible for releasing the world’s first Blu-ray music disc in May of this year featuring TrondheimSolistene playing 4 works at a blistering 24bit/192KHz resolution in stereo and in 5.1 surround. Slightly off topic but interesting nonetheless.

Music for Life

Ian Shaw …is what Linn label tag their record label. Some bold statement if you ask me but browsing their releases does indeed reveal some interesting recordings that would be nice candidates for that proverbial desert island you might end up on carrying only a record and an audio system, particularly SACD but also some more curious formats; not only can you buy Flac encoded downloadables, you can even buy complete NAS drives preloaded with with every single Linn recording available. One such drive is a 2TB QNap. Now, that is service – and novel. But for those of us less susceptible to quantity bargains there is still the option to download the records or individual tracks. One such album is Ian Shaw’s Lifejacket. Quite an interesting album slightly [remotely perhaps] reminiscent of a quirky fusion between Jethro Tull and Curtis Stigers, only much more lively. There are indeed some nice recordings there.

I already mentioned B&W Music Club where you can subscribe to special recordings from Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records. Linn’s initiative is rather of the same substance and just as focused on musical fidelity. Linn have won numerous critical acclamations over the years for their records – they too offer lossless downloads both in 16bit CD quality and 24bit studio master resolution. Needless to say, I am tempted to say – and thus do.

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