Before I begin the main topic for today, I'd like to let you in on one of the best deals in classical music. About a month ago I was notified by Romy Bessnow, "The Cat", that the Boston Symphony, in honor of their 75th Tanglewood Season, has opened a goodly part of their archive of recordings from their summer home. They are allowing free mp3 downloads, changing each day, of what they consider to be their best performances. These can be found at this link. While the sound is less than audiophile quality, the music is for the most part great. Unhappily by the time you read this, they probably won't be available as the season will be over.
Now here's the real scoop. For $60, one can purchase for download the entire series of recordings, varying from early mono to recent stereo 16-bit/44kHz. Except for some mp3 offerings, this is the first time the BSO has opened its treasury of recordings of concerts from their recording trust dating back to the 30's. I'm hoping that if there's enough interest in this sale, they'll open up the archives further. Remember a goodly portion of the RCA recordings from the golden era were done with the BSO at Symphony Hall. Think of the possibilities. Such a steal!!
I must be becoming a true 'old fart'. While I'm
65 plus years old and certainly in that age group where the label would be
appropriate, I'm normally fairly even-tempered. But last month I railed against
Onkyo for their poor quality control and unavailability of circuit boards for
their top of the line less than 4 year old products. Steven R. Rochlin, our "Fearless
Leader", put me in contact with an Onkyo representative, to whom I gave all of
the information related to my problem. We'll see if by next month's column
whether Onkyo has worked out a solution.
This month the railing will be against audiophile
companies taking advantage of high enders lack of knowledge of the ability to
use decent computers to great advantage for the recording, storage and playback
1. CD playback.
2. Upsampling of the CD information to 24-bit at either 88kHz or 172kHz.
3. DVD-Audio playback. Unhappily, Sony won't allow SACD playback through a computer.
4. DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD Playback. Only fly in the ointment here is that 24-bit/96kHz is dropped to 16 to 20 bit at 48 kHz unless it is fed to an external pre-pro through an HDMI output or one uses a cheap sounding computer card from one manufacturer. The advantage is that, with a good video card, one can output 1080p/24 Hz for movies instead of using the DVD 60Hz. Also, 2/3 pulldown, but one can double or even quadruple that to 48, 72, or 120 Hz if your projector will allow one of those input frequencies, eliminating video jitter, judder and other motion artifacts.
5. Function as a pre-pro doing D/A and A/D conversion, upsampling, room and speaker correction, switching of multiple analog inputs.
6. Regular NTSC and High-definition ATSC video from off-the air television.
7. Act as a TIVO for recording and storage of regular NTSC and high definition ATSC video for later playback.
8. Both FM and web-based radio play and recording.
9. Web downloads of software updates for the computer and other equipment such as BLU-RAY players.
10. Game playing for those so inclined.
11. Act as a server for all audio and video systems spread throughout the house.
12. Transfer any music or video data to CD-R,
DVD-R or even an iPod for external playback.
This diatribe was sparked by three articles which I read this past month related to the use of computers for high end audio. I don't want to get sued, so I won't list the articles or their content. Suffice it to say that two discussed using very expensive servers sold by different high end companies. The third was about a company selling software downloads of high bit rate music which appears to be derived from low bit rate masters, and charging more for them, and taking two tracks from 5.1 track high bit rate digital recordings and charging the same for the two track downloads.
As far as the servers go, I have yet to hear any
difference in sound from digits derived from various servers that are run
through a good computer with either a very good audio card or asynchronous
output to a D/A converter. So except for the programming of the so-called high
end servers which may make it easier to store and obtain your files, you are
basically paying for the brand name.
Considering that most high enders don't want a system that broadcasts music files to various rooms, but rather have a purpose-built music room with their high end equipment, one should purchase or build a media computer with room for several 2 to 3 terabyte superb hard drives for storage, an SSD drive for running windows, and a video and possibly an audio card and motherboard that has the programming to either decode or transmit all possible bit rates. Why do I say all? Because there are boards and cards out there that will not decode or transmit 88 or 176 kHz. files, such as all of the video cards using Nvidia chips. Buy ATI Radeon video cards for across the board bit perfect 88 and 176 bit decoding or transmission.
Spend your money on the better hard drives such
as the Western Digital Caviar Black rather than their Green drives. They cost
more but have much lower failure rates. Also get matching drives which can be
set up in a Raid array so that both drives are written to at the same time, thus
removing the risk of drive failure or the need to spend hours copying an entire
hard drive to another one. Use one pair of drives for your music and another set
for your DVD or Blu-ray files.
For transposing all of your digital discs except
SACDs, which can't be saved to computer, buy a good Blu-ray disc drive, even if
you don't have any Blu-ray discs at present. For recording and playback of music
and video files, the best all around program I've found is MediaCenter 17 from J.
River, which will do just about everything that several other programs
would be necessary for and only costs $49. If you have any Blu-ray discs,
MediaCenter 17 can be run with ANYDVD HD to record them to a hard drive for
playback. I've found that the files actually sound better than playback from the
For two channel playback with analog output
either purchase a superb semi-pro sound cards from ASUS or @Juli,( watch out for
the ASUS cards, some of which can't handle 88 or 176 bit recordings) or a pro
card from Lynx or RME. For digital output to an external DAC, use either the
soundcard's or the motherboard's S/PDIF RCA output jack, or a USB output through
an asynchronous USB to S/PDIF adapter. For multi-channel output use either the
motherboard, sound or video card's HDMI output.
If one wants to transmit to other rooms in the
house, you are still better off using the computer's Ethernet output with CAT 5e
or even better Cat 6 cable to your house's network, rather than a server, as
computers using Windows can very easily talk to each other, and many
preamplifiers these days have Ethernet connections and can easily become part of
the home network.
About 10 weeks ago I had the bright idea that if
the paste worked so well on the house AC, how would it work on all of the system's
AC, interconnect and speaker cables. So I called Tim asking if it was possible
to experiment on the above, but he had already beaten me to the punch and used
it on his entire system including circuit board contacts with excellent results.
Therefore I went ahead and spent several hours about 8 weeks ago applying the
paste to every contact I could find except for my HDMI cables, where the
contacts are too close together to take the chance of shorting them with the
For seven weeks, no change was noted. Then the family went away for a week of supposed vacation with the grandkids, from which it took me another week to recover. Anyway, on returning, on first turning on the system it really sounded superb, with more there there. But this is normal on my system when it's turned off for a week and I'm away. Whether this is due to my ears being re-attuned to the normal garbage that's out there which makes the system appear to sound better, or whether something goes on with the equipment such that after resting for a while it does sound better, I have no idea.
But this time the superb sound has continued for
the past two weeks. Gone is more electrical hash that tends to obscure the
soundstage, opening it up and solidifying the imaging, especially on surround
recordings. There's also been an improvement in the high frequencies which
appear cleaner, even with 16-bit/44kHz recordings. So all in all the application
of the silver paste has caused a significant improvement.
The only hooker to the story is that I can't tell you whether it would be worth it financially for you as its cost will be based on whether Tim will have to come to your house for the application and what will be charged for the paste and the service. Maybe Tim will be willing to respond below. Anyway, the improvement in my system would be equivalent to spending several thousand dollars for a new preamplifier or amplifier.
By the way, my electrical bill is still running
about 15% lower since the first application of Tim's paste, except for one
exceptionally hot month here where the AC was running continuously. So in the
long run, the paste may pay for itself.
And now a few words from Tim:
Thank you Bill
We have provided a few customers with the
compound to address the micro arcing in their systems, as long as they are
comfortable with opening up their gear, which is a whole different ball game,
then treating plugs, cables, and ac prongs as there is no margin for error. For
the non DIYer, Perfect Path will gladly offer to do it for you reasonably on a
system to system basis.