Audio: Listen to this article.
In June of 2020 Audiophile Style published articles and videos about CAPS Twenty (Part 1, Part 2), an update to our music server and audio endpoint project that began a decade earlier. CAPS Twenty consists of a main powerful music server and a low power audio endpoint computer using a Streacom DB4 chassis. One unique feature of both CAPS designs is the use of analog gauges for GPU, CPU, RAM, and Network activity.
Today, Streacom officially announced its VU1 Dynamic Analogue Dials, and gave a tip of the cap to both our CAPS project and engineer Sasa Karanovic who helped immensely with the implementation of the original and new gauges.
The VU1 was inspired by a hobbyist project called CAPS which used analogue dials to show network, RAM, CPU and GPU activity. The dials were incorporated into a Streacom DB4 which is what caught our attention and led us to reach out to Saša Karanović who developed the firmware, hardware and software for it. Needless to say, we shared a lot of common ideas and passion, all of which laid the foundation for this collaboration.
Much like the original project, the initial concept was to use off-the-shelf gauge dials to display typical PC hardware information, but the question soon arose, what if someone wanted to show different information? How could we make it easier for people to customise what each dial was labelled?
The breakthrough happened with the idea of using an e-ink display to serve as the dial face. This transformed the singularly assigned display into a highly versatile one, capable of representing virtually any numeric information from any source via this retro analogue gauge format.
Having this dynamic dial face also meant it was important for it to be an open platform with support for 3rd party applications, enabling it to be used in scenarios that are beyond our limited imagination. The VU1 was born, its name a reference to the standard ‘VU – Volume Unit’ labelling on audio gauges and a phonetic play on the word ‘view’ as it will be used to view real-time data.
I've worked with the Streacom team for many years to obtain review samples and product information. These guys are great to work with, are very knowledgable, and represent terrific products that music lovers have depended on for a long time. The Streacom team has even reached out in the past to ask how it could better cater to the needs of the Audiophile Style community. This morning I was trying to remember all the different Strecom products I've used over the years. The more I thought about it the more products came to mind. It's a great company with great products that I highly recommend. I hope to get my hands on the new VU1 dials soon!
More information from Streacom:
The VU1 is housed in a 55mm cube, machined from extruded aluminium and finished with our signature sandblasted & anodised surface giving it a premium look and solid feel. There are two types of device, a HUB and a DIAL and whilst they share the same design and construction, the HUB features an additional USB port for connectivity to the device that will be supplying power and data, e.g. your PC or Raspberry Pi.
There are 3 elements that make up the visualisation of the VU1, the moving coil, the e-ink display and the Dial Face RGB illumination.
The moving coil - For those unfamiliar, it consists of a wire coil on a spindle positioned inside the magnetic field of surrounding permanent magnets. When a current is applied to the coil, a magnetic field is created that repels against the field from the permanent magnets. The resulting torque makes the coil rotate, moving the pointer through an angle proportional to the current applied. These types of moving coils were extremely popular in the era of analogue electronics and were a common feature on audio devices to represent the volume (VU for Volume Unit). Unlike traditional coils the VU1 coil is fully configurable, meaning the movement properties of the needle can be adjusted.
The e-ink display - Commonly used in e-readers and designed to mimic paper, they provide excellent contrast in natural light making them easy to read and comfortable on the eyes. Unlike traditional display technology, they don't light up and require no power to maintain an image. This makes it the ideal choice for the VU1 background scale, it is clear, dynamic and not distracting, as the moving coil should be centre stage.
Dial face RGB illumination - Anyone familiar with Streacom knows our thoughts on the PC RGB craze (aka unicorn puke), so when you see that the VU1 has RGB lighting, you know there must be a very good reason for us to include it. As e-ink displays don't emit light, visibility in the dark is limited without an external source. The RGB lighting provides subtle illumination for the e-ink and can also be used to provide additional feedback based on colour, e.g. turning red when the value is above 90%.
The VU1 features a lightweight, platform-agnostic Server App that runs in the background on your local device to control the dials and act as gatekeeper to all other applications/data sources that have suitable information to display.
Rather than developing a parallel or competing application for every possible use case (which would be impossible as there are so many), our focus is on ensuring the ease of integration with the Server App. It uses the industry standard REST API making it easy for 3rd party developers and the VU1 community to create new and innovative uses for the dials.
Whilst the end goal is to incorporate VU1 support natively into existing apps, making it a seamless experience, in the interim, we include a PC Hardware Monitoring App to cover the most requested use case for the VU1.
We have done our best to avoid anything proprietary and that extends to the cables. The included type A-C cable for the HUB and short type C-C cable for dial-to-dial connections are all standard USB. This means it should be possible to replace them with any other USB cable if you require an alternative length or prefer a different style of cable.
It's also worth appreciating that a single USB cable to a single HUB will be able to drive multiple dials and additional dials can be added anywhere in the daisy chain without impacting existing dial configuration.
The VU1 was envisioned to be primarily used as a desk accessory and features non-slip strips on the bottom for this purpose and to allow stacking. Every VU1 also includes an angled stand that provides an alternative viewing angle.
In addition to the ‘typical’ desk placement, the M3 mounting point on the back allows the VU1 to be secured to other surfaces or devices.
A great example of using the M3 mount is in combination with the DA6, attaching the VU1 to the case to create a stunning open frame PC with integrated hardware monitoring.
VU1 Product Page:
Price & Availability
Pre-orders are now open with shipping expected to start at the end of December 2023 and includes free global shipping. The following options are available in both Silver and Black:
130EUR for the 'Starter' Kit
125EUR for the 'Expansion' Kit
42EUR for a single HUB
38EUR for a single DIAL
Pre-orders can be made in the onine shop here - VU1 Order