Most of you
didn't even realize that I'd been gone I'll bet. For the past four months I have
been on a combination retirement-forced vacation. Three of those were spent on a
desert island in the Caribbean reconstructing a house, which shouldn't exactly
sound like torture, but it was in a way. I was away from my beloved media room.
Of course I did have all of my music and movie files recorded
onto 9 terabyte of hard disk, so I didn't have to resort to a few "desert
island recordings", and had brought along a NUC mini-computer from Intel
(more on that below), an Oppo BDP-105
disk player, Smyth Realizer
Headphone unit and Stax 404 headphones and amplifier. Thus I could
recreate in a fashion my listening room every night minus the bass, but it just
wasn't the same.
This was proven, when on returning home early
May, on turning on the system for the first time in three months, the music
reproduction was overwhelming in its intensity, sounding far superior to
anything I remembered hearing previously from the system. This always happens on
returning from vacation, but not to this level. Whether it's due to some
physiologic process in my body or some resting change in the system or a
combination I'm uncertain, but I'd give my right arm to be able to recreate that
feeling every time the system plays.
The three months away from the cold convinced me that the southern climate in the winter is the way to go. The wife and I were even discussing selling the house in New Hampshire, but that night's gorgeous sound, which had been created through 30 years of trial and error, and probably could not be reproduced again in my lifetime, considering the logistical problems of shipping 7 horn speakers weighing several hundred pounds each with their amplifiers and ancillary equipment, has put a damper on my moving ambition. What's a fellow to do; drive the family into poverty carrying two properties for the sake of the music, or live out the rest of my life without this glorious sound? Oh well! Enough of feeling sorry for myself!
EP2050 Wave Form Corrector
The first thing my electrician down there said when he saw my equipment was ask if I had any surge protection. Yes, I did, as I had had problems in the past with cheap electronics like clock radios and even a refrigerator, which burned out after only 4 years. Before leaving, Environmental Potentials was contacted EP2000, the company that supplied the surge protection many years ago for my main house, which is still working effectively as we haven't had any damage to electrical components since its installation.
They have come up with a new unit, called the EP 2050 1S Wave Form Corrector which prevents damage from surges and spikes, and attenuates line noise at 20 dB per octave beginning at 2.5 kHz. The unit is attached to the top circuit breaker slot in your service box to be the first thing to absorb any surges. While I had my electrician do it, it should be a reasonably simple job to place their wiring on the top left and right circuit breaker and the grounds.
In addition to supplying me with one of these, they also sent two of their EP-Digiplug Stationary wall units, pre-production surge protectors which are made to fit into a dual wall outlet right next to the AC outlet for your equipment, and I'm told have a similar effectiveness to the 2050, but only on surrounding AC outlets. On installing them, my electrician was so impressed in their construction that he asked for a contact number to make a purchase for his home and job.
While on the island we had three blackouts with their come-on surges and not one piece of equipment was damaged. I can't comment on their effect on the sound as they were put in before I assembled my desert island system, but for their selling price of $173 for the wall units and $729 for the 2050, they should give you many years of protection. The original unit in my house is still functioning properly after 7 years.
Intel NUC Computer
The unit consists of a 4x4x2 inch black case
containing a mini motherboard with a soldered on Core i3-3217U Ivy Bridge dual
core hyper-threaded processor with built in processing for high definition audio
and video playback without the need for a graphics or audio card. (They now also
have somewhat more expensive units with a Core i5 chips.) There are two models,
one having two HDMI 1.4a outputs and the other with one HDMI and one Thunderbolt
port for those wishing to hook it up to a computer monitor. Each has an Ethernet
and Wi-Fi port and three USB 2.0 ports, two So-Dimm slots for RAM and an mSATA
slot for an SSD.
The cost for the above was $290 list, now for as low as $260, to which one has to add a solid state drive (240 GB), one or two RAM modules (16 GB) and the operating system (Windows 7) for a total cost of about $600. That makes the cost equivalent to a fairly good notebook, and one still needs a computer screen, but the unit has the major advantages of size, the lack of any fan noise in a media room's quiet environment, and it will be hooked up anyway to the home theater screen.
Over a two hour period, the RAM and SSD were placed in their slots, a Bluetooth wireless keyboard-mouse was attached to one USB port Windows 7, J. River Media Center 18, Any HD-DVD, JPlay, and Windows Security Essentials software were loaded, and all updates were installed. A pair of three terabyte hard drives, one with my music files and one with my music and movie video files were attached to the other two USB ports. One can also use a USB emulator to add as many hard or Blu-Ray DVD drives as necessary.
So how good was it for music and video playback. In a word, great! One of its HDMI outputs went to my projector monitor and the other plus a USB output connected to a USB to S/PDIF unit to my Classé preamp-processor. The NUC played back everything I could throw at it including 1080P Blu-Ray video with 24-bit/96kHz DTS audio, and up to multi-channel DSD and two channel 24-bit/192kHz music files without a hiccup. A couple of years ago, this would have been difficult if not impossible to do with a high end graphics and audio card. While the unit doesn't have an S/PDIF output, the asynchronous USB connection functioned superbly.
In the Caribbean, it was hooked up in a similar fashion to a 63" plasma television and the Oppo BDP-105 disc player, again without a problem with audio and video playback. In addition, both the Ethernet and Wi-Fi hookups allowed very good reception of the myriad television and radio stations available on the internet, a definite boon for a desert island retreat.
While not inexpensive for such a small object, its advantage of no room noise, size, ease of connection to both playback equipment and as many hard drives as you wish with a USB multiplier add up to significant advantages over a full size computer or notebook.