Summerbreeze by DuckToller
Great sound against global warming 😉
How to establish a low cost, high quality system for your deck & desktop costing less than $350 USD
"If you've forgotten what I'm naming
you're gonna long to reclaim it one day
Because that summer feeling is gonna haunt you
One day in your life."
(Jonathan Richman, That Summer Feeling, 1983*/1992)
* The original version of "That Summer Feeling" was included in Richman's 1983 record with the Modern Lovers called "Jonathan sings". I did not know in 1992, and after listen to it on Qobuz, it is clear to me, that "my" favorite version is a song that has transcended from a somehow fragmented one into a personal classic.
Jonathan Richman's song does haunt me as well - in an enjoyable fashion, though - since August 1992, when I was a sleep deprived young father - my first son was just 6 month old then - and the CD "I, Jonathan" arrived uncalled as a review sample in my postbox. Looking at Jonathan's face on its cover was a “life changing” moment for me:
A portrait of Jonathan in his beloved "mariniere", the expression of the French cool), this French navy inspired - usually blue and white striped t-shirt - is strongly connected with Pablo Picasso (another song by Jonathan, better known sung by John Cale, The Talking Heads, David Bowie or Jack White)(2). That precise t-shirt, I may have read somewhere in the ocean of myths, he has personally propelled back into the attention of Haute Couture designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier.
I felt that this guy I am looking at oozes positivity, he was just looking utterly sympathetic and at least 5 years younger than me. Which was before I realized by reading the info sheet, that in fact, he carries a big dozen years more. As a consequence of my then raised curiosity, I decided that it was NOW: the time to buy my first CD transport and that evening I came home with a SONY CDP 597.
Jonathan Richman, born in '51, was witness of history to the last gig of Velvet Underground with John Cale and part of the entourage surrounding Andy Warhol in the late 60's/early 70's. He is known to a greater audience for two "minor" hits with the Modern Lovers, "Roadrunner" and "Egyptian Reggae", though to the younger generation possibly more through his appearance in the Farelly Brothers's comedy "There's Something About Mary.” More about his (to me) interesting vita you may find here. He lives in Nevada and still does live gigs, for example in California in September, sometimes even wearing his famous shirt undercover.
Listening to Jonathan Richman's record that late night just left me beaming with joy & happiness. Simple chords, clean arrangements, fairly good production compared to his older work, a voice to recall his positive attitude and song titles & motifs with which to connect. On Pitchfork, they regard it as his self-defining and best solo record. One of my 50 records for that island, you know …
Jonathan Richman - “That Summer Feeling”
I, Jonathan - Rounder Records 1992 - CD/Streaming - only available via Amazon
It still touches me deeply today, when I listen to his voice with my newly arranged low cost, high quality system I came to call the “Summerbreeze." A small audio chain, that can alternatively be used at the desk or on the garden deck. A system, with precious but reasonable priced parts will be outlined in this review.
While I was enjoying my summer playlist with the Summerbreeze, I was contemplating that this fine solution would have significance. Not only to downgraders like me, but as well for newbies with limited budget and enthusiasts looking for a reasonable priced secondary system for office duty, poolside amusement or cabin equipment. These are all requests I came across recently in the Audiophile Style forum.
I will run through some serious reasons why the use of that low cost solution in the European summer time does have a great significance for me personally and why this has value for you as well as for the greater good.
If you are a consistent reader of Audiophile Style's front page articles, you may have noticed that there is a good number of articles this year, that cover the lower priced end of the audiophile market, which may explain why some topics of this review had been independently covered and developed by my colleagues during preparation and reviewing.
To name some: Downsize to Upgrade, Volumio, Radiohead, the ESS9038Q2M DAC chip.
I started with article preparations in February/March and was amazed seeing the coverage our staff was giving to these subjects. This article shows you in addition an alternative to the recently reviewed 25k Playback Designs unit with 192/24 PCM playback and DSD64. It does not have its praised CD transport - but holds its own with 384/32 PCM and DSD256 native. (please don't take that too serious!;-))
The plan for this review had been in the drawer since the end of February, when I started thinking about what I would do with my playback chain in the summer, when the temperatures would have even higher impact on our in-house climate. This was the simple starting point for my research: Looking for a solution that supports the objective of low energy consumption and minimum heat dissipation, but gives me the pleasure of “high” quality music reproduction when working at my desktop. Some important questions occurred:
- What if I could use that solution as well with my headphones on my garden deck?
- Potentially with some small speakers for times when my friends are around for wine tasting & BBQ?
- Can I make sustainable use of (non-used) devices already present in our household ?
It came in handy that I had read since November raving reviews about some reasonable priced units, that measured excitingly well: The Khadas Tone Board DAC and the JDS Labs Atom Headphone Amp & Pre-amplifier
were indicated as devices punching above price points and thus were selected for my audiophile system on a budget.
My "summerbreeze" audio chain basically consists of one core system, plus some associated equipment:
- The Swiss Media knife - a RPI3b as Logitech Media Server & Squeezebox device (80$ with Power supply, FLIRC-Case, SD card and USB-Wifi)
- A real steal with 2 shortcomings: the USB powered Khadas Tone Board DAC (around 135$ with aftermarket aluminum case)
- Closed in-ears with a touch of high end: The T20 from RHA Audio, exquisite In-Ear-Monitors (from 110 - 135$ A-Warehouse-deals)
Without headphone amp and speakers, which are included in the review, but are optional to the core system, the basic cost for the Summerbreeze [RPi-KTBD-RHAT20] system does not exceed 350 $ !!!
(Prices are 08/2019 and may vary, details listed at the end of this article)
Consequently, I decided to associate accessories lingering in the closet, i.e. the handheld control unit, that formerly had been my Android smartphone : A Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. that I once had to pick up from my cellar stairs, with partially shattered screen and a broken camera, but fully functional otherwise. Or the power bank from Anker.
Likewise, the Raspberry Pi3b in a FLIRC case, that was last used in November 2018. The software of choice had been the PiCorePlayer 5.00 as Logitech Media Server and Squeezelite output interface, and Squeezeplayer/Orange for Android on phones as control points.
A list of associated equipment options for your enhanced & personal flavor:
- lightweight, clean and playing the C-note: The JDS LABS ATOM Headphone & pre amp. 99 $.
- active Speaker are as well a way to go if you like to share your music with others, or if it is just that you love the music resonating on your skin ;-). In my case the marvelous ABACUS C3
- The Headphone upgrade, the flavor is up to your personality, I have the HD 650's as open back cans and I tested the system with the highly endorsed FOCAL Elegia as closed headphones
- Another smart option for IEMs could be using a system that allows you to switch between BT and cable (i.e. Shure)
- A power bank for smartphones, allowing mobile use of the RPi (20 USD).
- The iFi Power supply for the RPi (50 USD)
- A 2nd RPi as LMS server (separation of duties)
- During the time I wrote the article the RPi 4 had been announced officially -> organic upgrade I
- I did also notice that the Khadas DAC will have an upgrade and a Gen2 KTBD is announced without specific date confirmed as of end of tba) -> organic upgrade II
- To your liking, you may choose a different flavor for the software used on the RPi.
- Depending on your personal taste of AC/DC Adapters, Ethernet, USB and Cinch cabling flavor, you may add approximately 25 or 2500 bucks to the mix
For my setup, I've decided to go with an iFi ipower 5V/2,5A for the RPi-LMS/SqueezeBox, a NETIS WiFi adapter, Amazon CAT-7 Ethernet and 50 cm Oehlbach Master-1 cinch cables, which add roughly another 100 USD of
Variations on a theme: Heat by Apocalyptica
Reflections / Harmageddon Records 2003 / Qobuz / 16-44
2003 was one of the hottest years in Europe I can remember. The year my youngest son was born in September and my wife suffered a lot during the heat waves we've experienced in Germany and France during spring and summer
"Heat", an astonishing vibrant performance, was released on Apocalyptica's disc "Reflections", a short time from the European heatwave in October 2003.
An intense song that oscillates between hammering rock rhythms, tribal broken beat electronica elements, reminiscent of Radiohead's oeuvre, and seducing cello sequences. While the music resonates punchy and intensive, the song lasts not more than 3 minutes and 22 seconds, which seems just about right for this type of music. In the best case, speakers perform profound & peerless during its swift attacking metal moments and do not fail to pronounce the enveloping sound quality of the percussion and strings.
However, the piece of music was solely chosen for its name and provenance as an introduction to more serious considerations.
As a matter of fact, in 2003, in official statistics, France alone listed more than 14,802 heat related deaths, a death toll in a single year, which de facto doubles the cumulative ten-year figure (1999-2008) of the US in comparison.
THE HEAT: In France, 2019, summer came early this year ...
The first impact of a changing climate arrived in the Loire valley for the commonly named "Winter school holidays" in February. 71.6°F/22°C in the centre of France, and before month's end, we noted 82.4°F/28°C at the bedrock of the Pyrenees, the alpine range of mountains dividing France from Spain and touching the Atlantic Ocean on one side while the Mediterranean Sea on the other. You may be surprised to read that I happened to ski there with my now teenage son 3 times in the last 5 years, always mid February.
Later this year, when the chronological summer were just about to start, we did not deviate smoothly into a period of pleasing sunshine and long evening hours. We started with another heatwave, that brought us an average 101°F/ 38°C and some 113°F/45°C in the peak. Followed by a 4-week streak of 86+/30+ degrees without rain.
Most European countries are unacquainted with these high temperatures in the summer, which were relentlessly peaking the high scores from last year, a fact that lead to several serious problems in infrastructure: from melted motorways, bush fires along high speed train tracks and peaking usage in the power grids causing partial black outs, due to all the units that produce coolness, ventilation and refreshments.
From the outside, it looks like Europe is not prepared for the heat, you could say.
What importance does the weather (or change of climatic conditions) have for us audiophiles, you may ask? We have power conditioners, linear power supplies, solid state amplification and power hungry transducers, just because we can and we want to! ... And, if there has been a wise SO, our system is accompanied by a nearly noiseless AC in our condo. Albeit, you are lucky ...
Here in France, we usually have to deal with limitations in the grid, because some of the nuclear plant's reactors have been proven less resistant against overheating than expertly expected and thus have the need to be shut down more often for grace periods during the summer. I've noticed that ain't different in Germany and Belgium. Given that obvious vulnerability in European power resources which came to light, some people wonder why the French Nuclear Power lobby had successfully dichotomized the once so promising DESERTEC project during the last decade: Solar and Wind power for the European markets originated in the Sahara?
As an Audiophile, I really appreciate the idea of regenerative clean power from sustainable energy sources, even more, if the system is able to improve energy supply to North Africa and the Sub-Saharan regions!!!
Who would imagine that shareholders, for example of Siemens, GE, Trane and Goodman, or other companies that profiteered from shareholder value proposition/generation based on cheap & limitless consummation of energy sources for cooling aids, would stand up with their accumulated wealth to take on responsibility for environmental issues evolving as a consequence of these profits? I'd reckon, they would rather pay their advocates to prevent them of the obligation than to support victims of the existing/coming climate change.
In short, there were billions in wealth made for investors and companies with engineering, manufacturing, installing and supplying HVAC systems, not only in the USA, but the environmental costs externalities, social & opportunity costs related to their economic success are usually distributed to the public budget. Which nowadays is forced to invest into a "big, beautiful wall" rather than support climate change prevention.
It is not only a European problem alone, that available knowledge and wisdom haven't been used sufficiently to avoid a crisis that can't be controlled by state forces or conglomerations. In an age of denial, watercraft & wind energy nowadays are often criticized for their environmental impact and the unbearable costs of the future deconstruction. This argument didn't stop past decisions to build fossil fueled or nuclear power plants and gas & oil drilling platforms.
It's 2019, the year when SHELL is using the uncertainty about Brexit to circumvent European legislation in order to back away from the formerly planned environment respecting deconstruction of its outdated oil-drilling platforms in the North Sea. Leaving an "estimated 11,000 tonnes of raw oil and toxins remaining" within the Brent oilfield between the Shetlands and Norway's west coast, as its removal would be "too costly and risky".
Elsewhere in the USA, Floridians still believe it is God's will to get plagued by hurricanes, which are growing more destructive every year. You may wonder, if the long time denial of climate change and the discombobulating treatment of the science and scientists behind its explanation, has led people to believe, its consequence is now an inescapable doom. And can no longer be reversed by human action and decisions or, for example, by executing the idea of re-size & de-growth .
"... any serious proposals to change our lifestyles – cutting down on driving, flying or imported avocados – are considered “beyond the pale, heretic, almost insane”. This is especially true of air conditioning, where calls to use it less are frequently treated as suggestions that people should die in heat waves, or evidence of a malicious desire to deny other people the same comforts that citizens in wealthy countries already enjoy" (The Guardian,2019)
As counter argument often the low-efficiency use of energy for heating during the wintertime in cold cities like Minneapolis appears valid, as long as you do not put it into perspective.
Although my family uses only ventilation in-house, nonetheless, I do not condemn air conditioning, overall. It has enormous positive effects on wellbeing and productivity in several countries, including the USA. In my personal conviction, this much desired effect of local cooling just unfortunately (too often) delivers an irreversible effect on global heating, with exceptions granted for cooling systems run by sustainable power generation.
Still, the penetration of AC usage in European households north of the Mediterranean Sea is about a quarter compared to data from the US, and it differs a lot between the south and the north. Especially Germany and its neighbors having been traditionally outspoken critics of personal use of air conditioning, while the northern countries have nearly no usability scenario for AC. This is the cultural background for my personal assessment. Another point is to review the impact it has on our resources and climate change. I fully advocate solutions that would be as close as possible to a net zero carbon footprint.
Correspondingly, the change of climate we have experienced during the last years, made me think not only once about a cooling project @home (en liaison e.g. with a much desired swimming pool and a new fancy heating system), which we have faint-heartedly abandoned due to its undesirable long term financial impact by local tax legislation.
In fact, I personally would genuinely profit from that idea, as I am not that much different from the arc-typical Audiophile you can see walking in a rush (not) down the heated floors of expositions exhibiting HiFi gear around the world: Usually a bit overweight and wearing glasses. In other words, heat does not really accommodate me, never has, and it leads more often than not towards some undesirable effects. Inelegantly slipping of varifocals down my nose is the least disturbing one I'm aware of, when room temperature conquers the 90°F barrier (32°C).
Unfortunately, my audio chain does experience the impact of climate change locally in my office/listening room (direction south-east) almost unfiltered. When the average temperature rises to 97°F/36°C degrees inside, my NAS starts sending me hot disk messages, informing about the risk of overheating (it runs 6 x 12cm ventilators and is usually below 24°C on average). Time to act, ladies, sirs & gentlemen!!!
We, my audiophile companions and comrades, are obviously a small group of highly educated & successful consumers with an advanced age average and a limited lifespan but excellent hearing abilities. HOWEVER, we could seriously spearhead a movement announcing "Saturdays for Stereo" within a campaign like
"Great sound against climate warming"
if we only could find effective ways to hibernate our Mark Levinson Nº53 Monoblock Power Amplifiers (likewise Pass Labs, Constellation, Emotivas or Krells) and feed our sensitive ears with some "lighter" summer systems, that helps us to leave a nearly carbon neutral footprint for those hot periods. Our energy economics per capita will definitely & thoroughly impress these billions of undereducated Beats Power Pro users by the sheer numbers of savings!!
Serendipitously, this article and its author show no formal interest to force you into that fictive movement, neither would I vote for socializing your high end equipment into the neighborhood's youth & social club, these ideas won't be in the cards today. Though, having a peek into a light build, reasonable priced, low carbon footprint audio system, which delivers a decent sound quality, that's my agenda until the end of the article.
The weather, climate change, the politics of sustainable energy usage and the limit of growth may not be solved by a single review, however, if it leads already to a small image how to act "more" sustainable for some, we have found common ground to share.
Some considerations, disconnected from the big HEAT:
Installing a cheap system is easy, and the topic has been discussed more than once in the forums.
I did choose components with considerations of quality and assumed reader interests, the DAC and the Head Amp are obviously stars of 2018/2019 low cost audio. The IEM's were flagships in 2015, and up to date they are a great value considering the tuning and fit options, moreover for their SQ and comfort, once you have them installed in your ear. My aim had been clear:
A desktop system for the summertime, allowing me to be surrounded by music with a minimum of heat dissipation, probably more advantageous if it's a bang for the buck. However, I wished to have this sound system as well on my garden deck. Even better: for enjoying these qualities with my friends & family at BBQ evenings.
- Using gear I already own for a good part, RPis for example, and my Android tablet & broken phones.
- Using the streaming services of Qobuz and eventually, Tidal.
- Integrating the SQL-player into the ROON ecosystem and the DLNA infrastructure of JRiver.
Now let's get into details:
The Core & The Breeze
1) Raspberry Pi 3b with PiCorePlayer & Logitech Media Server & Squeezelite
I made a decision for the Logitech Media Server (LMS), because I felt the options of seamlessly integrating most of my audio units and different applications are best served with this software developed by slimdevices and maintained by Logitech.
I started my LMS adventure with a container install on my NAS (Unraid. 6.7 with Dockers) but quickly decided that for music serving purposes bringing in an unused RPi 2 as LMS server would be a game changer in terms of size and heat dissipation. This positive experience led me as well to format an SD-card with Raspian Buster for having a functional desktop with low energy footprint during the dog days on another RPi. Using Chromium and G-Apps for productivity on my screen, minus the 500w power supply (80 plus Gold) as it is used in my 2012 Windows PC. This cheap invention also reduces the noise in my listening room significantly 😉
It's important to note that operating the most recent Logitech Media Server 7.9.2 software, you will control the chain with your phone, or tablet, using tailored apps for Android or IOS, namely Squeeze Player and Orange Squeeze or iPeng for IOS. You could always succeed with other free apps or - as on PC - doing it browser based or deploying Squeezelite-X for Windows.
Initially, I was using the LMS version integrated in the AroioOS from ABACUS Electronics from Germany, which does work in English and was developed by Abacus for the use in their RPi-based streamers. It is a small LMS/Squeezelite fork, that allows you to use room correction based on AcourateCV. Only downfall for us, the support is genuinely in German, that's why I welcomed the PiCorePlayer, which "runs out of RAM" and offers a pretty well maintained interface and some remarkable support inside the slimdevice forums. I have also tinkered with Volumio before, just that lack of free native support for streaming clients like Qobuz or Tidal guided me towards the LMS ecosystem.
The Raspberry Pi3b is the tiny heart of the Summerbreeze chain. It was already far away from being new and fancy before it was pushed even further down the ranks of single-board-computers with the arrival of the new Raspberry Pi 4b at the end of June 2019. Which could be the first option for you: to pay 50 quids more in order to get the more future-proof model, when it will be completely available throughout the Raspberry standard distribution in your country towards the end of the year.
Disclaimer: If you have a mobile phone with OTG no RPi as endpoint is needed, using your RPi as LMS server (only). For the use of LMS the RPi is still indispensable.
Luckily, this (old) board does everything we need to start our adventure, and if it sits in a FLIRC case, it's kept cool and even looks nicely in an elegant way. I have disabled the internal Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, connecting it to my network by Ethernet and utilizing the USB storage option for my music. Alternately, I've used a hardware compatible USB stick (NETIS WF2123, 802.11b/g/n,up to 300 Mbps, 10 $), that allowed me in the best case to double the connection speed of the PI-internal Wi-Fi chip.
When it comes to the use of an RPi3b as a streamer, the musings of our colleague Archimago are quite an interesting bit to read. Not everyone digests reading his blog with the same pleasure as listening subjectively to their own audio chain, which is absolutely fine for my view towards this hobby. Objectively you can have a flying start for your journey into audiophile pleasures with the RPI and the Core system, while subjectively there is nearly no open end to enhance your experience and supporting the industry with your disposable income. That's objectively valid, too.
A complete technical description of the unit you can read here, in our case the software I used is the most important factor for the versatility of this audio chain: The PiCorePlayer, which runs purely from RAM, allows us to set up the Pi as LMS and use it as squeezelite media player for the digital output to our USB DAC. Optionally, it can operate as well only one of these tasks, for example in a dual setup containing one player and one server in the same room, or having a multi-room setup with multiple devices using 1 server and x players.
The setup is processed in a typical way for the RPI, download the image of the software, extract it to an SD card, that is put into the RPI sd card slot, start the RPI, connect it to Ethernet or use the inbuilt wifi , detect the IP address, connect your browser with that IP address, start configuring.
You may want to ask why I did not used the once beloved Volumio Player, which is a remarkable versatile application for Audio on RPi and which I still favor by design, ease of set up and usability? Quick answer: Within the development of myVolumio the use of plug-ins for native Qobuz and Tidal has become a supplementary paid service. I decided for a donation to PiCorePlayer instead. I understand the need to monetize on features, but was personally more inclined to support the PiCorePlayer way.
Getting started with the PiCorePlayer is as easy as you can imagine and everything you need/want to know you'll find at their homepage, including the “how-to” for the manual update to LMS 9.2.
There are tiny bits I've added here for you, in case you are new to the LMS ecosystem and you want to know these basic settings information before you use the server:
You need to define your media folders via the settings interface.
The tricky thing is, your device's access to these folders must be defined in advance in the LMS interface (Logitech Media Server (LMS) operations) of the PiCorePlayer.
- As a prerequisite, install and enable additional FileSystems, then mount your USB disk or setup a Network Disk Mount for your source in the network. Only then use the LMS Web interface under your "LMS-IP":9000/Default /settings/index.html and browse for your playlist folders. (see slides)
- If you unmount the USB connections or network disks, make sure that you restart the PiCorePlayer to avoid running in a network error information
I tried to succeed without mounting USB and network disks the first time and got caught. So much for the Specialist …
Finally, I found out that I could use the LMS with Android or IOS apps to stream my content remotely, and even download it remotely to my android device in case, I feared the loss of connection in remote territory, both options are NOT covered in this article.
During the process, it was clearly perceptible for me, that the LMS is not only a fork, but a Swiss army knife. Personally, I feel the multiple options possible for the LMS are "too much,” too detailed for my small brain and my limited lifetime, though others may love to tinker around with them and be happy to give them more than one reason for existing.
Keeping it simple has been thoughtful advice, which is indeed very helpful when it comes to customize your LMS/squeezelite combination. Once you get through the LMS setup and you have decided what exactly you want for configuration, you are all set with my simple list: (alphabetical order, bold=important, see slides for the full list)
Additional browse mode - Auto rescan - Band's campout - Bookmarks - Custom Scan/Browse - Drag& Drop - DSD Player - Full text search - Image Browser - Material Skin - Playlist Manager - Power Safe - Qobuz - Remote Music Library - Rescan - Save Playlist - Tidal - UPnP/DLNA functionality
- The DSD setup for the Khadas Tone Board DAC
Another tricky point to face is enabling the unit to play DSD256 with the Khadas Tone Board DAC (KTBD).
Kudos to the PCP-Team and LMS forum member Ronnie (Man in a Van), without their help I would have just played DSD64. Their support led me to find the settings necessary for the KTBD in the squeezelite player output menu, which are documented below and in the screenshots.
- Set your PicorePlayer Interface from Basic to Beta using the menu tabs at the very bottom (Slide 1)
- Install the DSDplay plugin with LMS (Slide 2)
- Install PCP-DSDPLAY.tcz for the PiCorePlayer using “ADVANCED MODE OPERATIONS” on the main page (Slide 3)
- Set SQL-binaries to Native/DOP DSD Squeezelite in the Squeezelite Settings tab (Slide 4 )
- Mount your USB after installing and enabling additional FS (if you did not already at the beginning) (Slide 5a)
- Set you Media Folder correspondingly (Slide 5b)
- Set your "File Types" in "Advanced Setting" for LMS correspondingly (Slide 6)
- Set your Squeezelite output to USB-Audio (Slide 7)
- Set Output setting to "hw:CARD=Control" for the KDTB on the RPi3 (i.e.RPI4 has different settings, other DACs will have different settings!)
- Set your DSD settings 0:u32be for the KTBD and you are all set to play DSD256 flawlessly via Ethernet or USB to your PiCorePlayer/KTBD
Subsequently, there are tons of PlugIns for the LMS. It’s about your own preferred flavor which ones you want to install. I had singled out a basic LMS with “DSDplay” (see screenshot) and this small setup has sounded fantastic listening to Patricia Barber's version of "The beat goes on" in DSD64. Or the wonderful "Antiphone Blues" soundscape by Arne Domnerus in the DSD128 version from Native DSD, who are as well the place to find native DSD256. I utilized some files from their free sampler to test the ability of the KTDB to perform this task correctly (and with verve)!
2. The Khadas Tone Board DAC - a real steal with 2 shortcomings
The Khadas Tone board DAC is a DIY circuit board, delivered by (WesionTek) Khadas, either for the use with the company's KHADAS VIM SBC or in a generic version, prepared to be used with aftermarket cases like the Audiophonics.fr aluminum case which I've applied for this review.
It has one SPDIF socket that's by default configured as input up to 192kHz, but can be switched for use as output, if necessary (not tested!). 2 RCA outputs and USB-C-type connection to the USB port of your music source and/or the power supply complete the connections. The USB-C to USB 2.0 cable is supplied. The KTBD is not RPi compliant, usage through USB connection is advised.
This DAC achieved his fame already in several well known audio related forums and was discussed eventually in our speaker & headphone section.
When I first contacted Khadas in May, I was told (mid June) that they will refer my request to the new next gen board, which then was announced for the end of July. I decided to support this review with acquiring the KTBD online, a decision that allowed me to gather my personal experience during the summer instead of waiting for a DAC, which is still not rfm at the time of publishing.
The Tone board, which found its incarnations with Sonore and March Audio, has some certain qualities, while it carries along some minor unsolved hardware problems when you chose the KTBD from WESION. However, we need to take into account its price point short of the 100 $ mark, for which the sound quality IMO is nothing short of excellent.
Khadas uses the measurements from our colleagues over at ASR in their product description, and these are really impressive. The main point of critique about the unit is wrapped into the so called "ESS-Hump" issue, visible in intermodulation distortion measurements plots, and dedicated to the Sabre ESS9038Q2M chip, which other manufactures in the meantime were able to extinguish for their recent models.
For Khadas it's an acknowledged problem, that, according to their support forum, should be solved in the next generation of the KTDB. If this visible anomaly is effectively audible as well, it can't be confirmed from my side. Possibly, I haven't pushed the volume hard enough or my ears are just not qualified to identify humps like that.
The other zone of discomfort with the unit pops up only when you want to listen to native DSD files.
The KTBD does not allow software volume control from the host, while its own hardware volume control only outputs at maximum level for the bit-perfect presentation. Consequently, I can't recommend playing DSD files without an external volume attenuation, because it plays the bit streaming only at 100 % of the volume (if internal volume is lower than 100, there is no output other than white noise and hiss). The unit was updated & tested with latest available drivers.
I asked Khadas what's the problem with hardware volume control and in their response they explained to me, that "regarding the KTBD, the volume control could be supported under DSD Soft Solution, but volume control could not be supported under DSD Hard Solution, so these audio system you used maybe use different DSD Mode Solution". This kind of erratic answer didn't fully suit my request for a workaround, but HEY!, there's hope for the next generation KTBD, that may support DSD512 (without the ESS hump) and possibly have balanced outputs.
During our conversation from May to July, the new unit's RFM date was pushed forward from initially "End of July" towards "We are so sorry that we cannot provide any news for it now".
Let's clean our mind and ears and have a look on its real life performance:
This DAC can drive easily both the RHA T20 IEM's and the Focal Elegia headphones "en direct", while the 300ohm HD650's were gently asking for the JDS ATOM headphone amp, a solution which concertedly solved the inherent DSD volume problem of the KTBD. However, the performance shown by that DAC in my Summerbreeze system, had been nothing short of satisfying, especially after I finally got DSD256 running on the squeezelite player.
In short, the KTBD does sound better (clarity, very low (black) noise floor, more pronounced upper midth, better detail & excellent separation) than the AQ DF Red (with an older SABRE DAC chip, but triple the price in 2017). That finding is also validated in regard to the Topping NX4 DSD, which carries an equal DAC/XMOS configuration as the KTDB, just sans problems in the HW volume control as it is a HP amp as well. Though it is a valid alternative and I’ saw it last week for approximately the same price as KTDB (with case) in the A-warehouse deal.
The KTBD unsurprisingly does not best my ifi iDSD BL, but at a 5th of the price it punches clearly above price point and is and is a keeper after all! Under certain conditions I can recommend the Khadas Tone Board DAC in regard to its excellent price/performance rate wholeheartedly:
- 1) You don't plan playing DSD directly to your headphones
- 2) you don't bother with the weak communication of the manufacturer in after sales
- 3) you don't bother to screw the board into an aftermarket case. (the DIY factor!)
I did my final listening session having the Pi3/Khadas combination connected with the Oehlbach Master-1 cable to my front-end NAD/PS Audio catering the B&W805 S standmounts.
Radiohead - "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box"
Amnesiac / XL Recordings 2001 / Qobuz / 16-44
The 2001 end of the year music charts were “packt” with accolades for Radiohead's Amnesiac, the album that only lets you wait about 2 minutes and 42 seconds to detect well placed guitar noise in its opening track, which makes it remarkably different from its predecessor, Kid A, which was recorded during the same recording sessions.
"Packt like Sardines ..." has a strong reference to waiting . It could be in a traffic jam on your daily way to work as it is referenced to Thom Yorke, or it could be, as it was suggested by Reddit user ponylauncher, that made me smile wildly, "about 90s Radiohead fans waiting for more rock but instead getting Kid A".
This song features a tribal electronica swing as intro, a repulsive and monotonous rhythm and Thom Yorke has definitely found a mantra to repeat. I selected it due to its wide soundstage and warm immersive performance, which was presented with an accurate width but in a tad bit too unconvincingly clean way by the Khadas Dac. I remembered this music as somehow more distorted, which imho straightens the impression of being more involved into the soundscape.
The Pioneers and Sydney Crooks - “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
Give and Take - The Best of the Pioneers / Trojan Records 1973 / Qobuz / 16-44
For years, I always had the "Was Not Was" version of this classic on any party playlist. While I was reading on Gov't Mule reggae escapades, I found out about the Pioneers and Sydney Crooks, in turn I stumbled over this funky and soulful version on Qobuz, which marvels particularly through its underlying reggae backbeat and the space filling but effortlessly separated instrumentation. It is reminiscent of the well worn, but beautiful original, though the special groove & the voices really make it distinctive in my opinion. The combination of the PiCore LMS with the Khadas DAC does not hide any of the entry points for the short instrumental sequences and puts together a sublime and pronounced soundscape.
I compared the duo to my Topping NX 4 w/ S7 Edge, UAPP and its integrated Qobuz application and would find the LMS/Khadas pair as more pronounced and dynamic, though I feel that there is some difference between local flac files and Qobuz streaming in regard to the less defined but more discernible bass I've noticed with the internet streaming service. It contains a lovely presentation of the voices, and while the organ and the rhythm section are decent in a hypnotic way, the accentuated instrumental sequences arrive straight to the point in an overall well dosed stereophonic presentation.
I’ve never felt comfortable wearing them.
That's why I use my Sennheiser HD650s for my desktop environment.
Indeed, facing summertime and rise up to 90°F, my enthusiasm for the RHA T20 was soaring with each degree scaling up the columns. Obviously, in spite of their comparable sound signature, there is a worthwhile difference in SQ between the HD650s and the T20's. However, these IEM's simply do leave me with some more (important) airflow around my head, which at certain temperatures does beat the SQ advantages of the cans, justified by more than a single drop.
These IEM'S, manufactured in China and designed by independent headphone designers & entrepreneurs RHA Audio, which was established in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011, have made it - to my purely subjective notion - nearly every IEM top list between 2015 and 2018. An honorable position well earned with impressive build quality, excellent comfort (when properly set up into your ears!) and exciting qualities regarding sound options and performance. The package contains a set of ear ctips and premium case as well.
2 DualCoil drivers are covering the frequency range from 16hz up to 40khz, which earns them the "Hi-Res Audio" credentials, and along with three changeable tuning filters (flavors are bass, treble and reference) they perform with surprising depth in bass, a good soundstage and a strikingly dynamic presentation. In connection with the medium sensitivity of 90db, the low impedance of 16ohm does provide a very balanced tonal performance with the KTBD line out. In fact, there's no need for an external HP amp to drive them properly clear and loud.
Sonny Clarke - "Voodoo"
Leapin' And Lopin' / Blue Note 1962 / Qobuz/ 24-96
Driven directly from the KTBD, using either a battery supplied RPI3b/LMS/SQL or my Galaxy S7 edge Smartphone with Orange Squeeze, the closed form RHA T20 gave me some very enjoyable moments on my garden deck, listening to Sonny Clarke's "Voodoo" using Wi-Fi streaming from Qobuz during hot summer nights.
It felt like being captivated peu-a-peu (bit by bit) by the hypnotizing soundscape and being liberated partially from time and space. This was the last record made by pianist Sonny Clark, who died in January 1963. It was encapsulated to tape on a reel-to-reel machine 1961 in Englewood Cliffs, produced by Blue Note's president Alfred Lion, featuring Tommy Turrentine on trumpet and Charlie Rouse on Tenor Sax. Recorded by Rudy van Gelder, it breathes the Blue Note sound genes, presenting the brass passages prominently with tickling piano notes and flying cymbals.
Regrettably, the impact on temperature and stinging insects interested in my blood sugar couldn't be stopped, neither by Voodoo nor by the T20's. In fact, I found there's still room for improvement for them in that regard 😉
Hugh Laurie - “St. James Infirmary“
Let them talk / WM UK 2011 / Qobuz / 16-44
Listening to Dr. House aka Hugh Laurie's version of the classic American jazz song St.James Infirmary from his 2011's " Let them talk" album, arranged by Allen Toussaint and Joe Primrose, didn't fail me a single time, while developing an intense acoustic soundstage during the three-minute entry, dominated by Laurie's piano and echoed with acoustic tidbits of bass, slide guitar, mandocello and percussion, before the bass player introduces us to the real start of the chanson and Dr. House starts singing.
The soulful and punchy performance simply gave me great moments of pleasure with my Summerbreeze system. Well done, Mr. Laurie.
Vincent Peirani - "Kashmir to Heaven: Stairway to Heaven"
Living being 2 / ACT Music 2018 / Qobuz / 24-88,2
Though, the most remarkable sound bite experienced with the RHA T20 has been Vincent Peirani's accordion sequence during the second part of his Led Zeppelin homage "Kashmir to Heaven: Stairway to Heaven" from last year's "Living Being II" recording with the Munich based ACT Label. This tender solo passage, lasting just ten second, starting exactly after the first minute into the song, instantly transcended me to Montmartre, onto the stairs climbing untouched & untouchable upwards to the famous Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, le Sacré-Cœur. These are the moments I adore most listening to music, when the sound unexpectedly not only enters my ears, but opens my mind & senses in an utmost adventurous way.
The RMA T20 (2nd gen) have been around 200 $ upon introduction, but nowadays, given the hard rivalry of ear buds for wired IEM's, they can be found in A-warehouse deals below 110 USD (August 2019), which in my opinion is quite a steal, because I bought them in France from a warehouse for about 140 Euros back in June.
The Breeze (aka associated equipment)
4. The JDS Labs ATOM - lightweight, clean and playing on a C-note
I started the review actually with that unit as a baseline as you can see in the visuals provided, it has been proven as absolutely excellent in driving Ohm-hungry headphones and indispensable for listening to DSD audio with the KTBD, nonetheless, for the 2 reasons I will explain below, I have excluded it from the core during the process:
- Firstly - the Khadas-DAC can drive a lot of headphones with ease "en direct", which makes any HP amp simply for Ohm-starving cans, which feels more like a choice than a must have for the core with the RHA T20s.
- Secondly - with the JDS Atom inside in the chain, a portable use with power bank supply can't put into practice, which made me finally consider the lightweight unit as my first amendment to the summerbreeze system!
Excluded from the core first hand, The JDS LABS ATOM headphone amp (99 $) is quite a beneficial add-on, because it allows you to drive high ohm-ed headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650 and gives you an excellent sound level control with its enlightened volume knob.
Ostensibly, using the ATOM opens the obvious upgrade track towards driving better (often more expensive) headphones, as this always seems a valuable path to wander.
Likewise, the Core system benefits from volume control in the signal path before it reaches its output devices, which the ATOM does effectively well with its Taper Alps volume potentiometer. This comes in particularly handy when your DAC bitstreams your DSD file only on 100% volume and denies software volume control. ;-).
I preferred the sound without the +6db gain available, and perceived its sonic performance as noiseless, neutral, dynamic and vital. The sound reviews can be found ensemble with the Focal Elegia.
JDS Labs were the first company I've contacted to prepare this review, and I got the review unit free of charge, taking the shipping costs on my account (a third of the net value). During the heatwave end of July the fuse of the AC power unit was blown, and substituted free of charge by JDS.
5. The Abacus C3 Active speaker - a rare breed
During the first system testing, I felt that having speaker on the desk as an option to the headphones would suit my desktop nicely, furthermore it would give me the chance to share the Summerbreeze's qualities with friends and family on the garden deck. I started to contact almost every single company producing active speakers which you'll find on this list for bookshelves in 2019, and some. But to no good avail.
When I ran out of time, I contacted ABACUS, a German manufacturer, specialized in amplifier and active speakers, as I had seen their home testing offer for some small active speakers, while I was checking out on their AroioOS . Testing is usually limited to Germany, however, a good & friendly talk with them allowed me to use their C3 transducers for about two weeks with the Summerbreeze system here in France.
This decision had a major impact on the setup for several reasons:
- The use of Dolifet-Amplifier (Drain-Output Load-Independent Field Effect Transistor) with an output of 25 W/RMS. Abacus says, their technology does control the transducer perfectly: "When the speaker diaphragm moves, it generates a voltage in the voice coil. This voltage is the exact mirror image of all movements of the diaphragm, no matter how this came about. This " back-emf" (emf) feeding ABACUS the 100% control. The output of the ABACUS amplifier functions as a constant voltage source and is mandatory in synchronism with the input voltage. A change in the predetermined signal is excluded. The amplifier provides (or feeds) always exactly so much power that the output voltage remains constant . So the ABACUS amplifier controls the speakers - just "like on the bar." Moreover, the ABACUS control works not only in some areas perfect, but all over the transducer frequency spectrum equally. Each membrane movement is exactly synchronous with the useful signal - not a "ringing" and not a "resonance ratio". This scheme works with all conventional transducers." (from their website).
- The accuracy and speed of the small units was impressive, bass was grip, the soundstage was very good, while not as excellent as you may achieve with AMT tweeters, which seem to have a comeback in 2019 speakers design book.
- While most of the modern active desktop speakers have one active unit and another passive speaker connected to the electronics, which may offer multiple connectivity and perhaps a phono stage, each C3 is purely prepared for one task: genuine audio reproduction. It has one RCA line-in, plus two knobs, one for volume, one for the bass eq.
- Frequency range runs from 35hz to 20khz. Just by numbers that's an 14hz lower than my B&W 805s standmounts. My desk and I are convinced that we do not need more bass frequency for the near field.
This speakers have convinced me with an impressive low range and their controlling of the music in a way I did not expect from transducers in this price range (699 Euro/pair). On desk, in the nearfield, it was lacking a tad bid of clarity and airiness in midrange and top end, compared to my B&W's, though their overall performance was very precise and never without PRAT.
Using them at the garden deck with some friends at a specially themed barbecue event proved as dead right, and an experience worthy to recount.
We listened to some rocking parts from my playlist using the Summerbreeze core with the ABACUS C-BOX 3 actives and felt somehow disentangled from real life during that evening, as my usually noisy neighbors were looking for refreshment at the Atlantic coast, some 200 miles away. Profiting as well from a family free weekend, we found together on this one special, but extremely hot Saturday evening in July. Only for us, the Weber and the Summerbreeze system. We did decide to go for a MAS AMIEL themed soirée, appreciating some finger food with the Rosé, grilled sardines from the Weber in Greek style & Salad with nuts & Roquefort Cheese for the Maury Vintage white.
Our meridian (sic!) was left to the end: A dark chocolate & cherry cake from the local patisserie for the bottle of Vintage Charles Dupuy 2005, a sweet red wine of the Maury appellation from the southern French Region of Roussillon, well decorated by critics and even more delicious in the glass, accompanying our dessert. No blood samples were taken, but our mood, despite a mocking 32°C one hour before midnight, was nothing short than excellent during the whole evening.
Anna von Hausswolff - "Red Sun"
Ceremony / City Slang 2012 / Qobuz / 16-44
We started with the atmospheric "Red Sun", played on an Annedal Church Organ by the Swedish artist Anna von Hausswolff.
"Despite possessing a name that evokes images of yodelling nuns running gaily through Alpine valleys, Von Hausswolff actually hails from Gothenburg in Sweden and her music is anything but joyful" wrote Chris White hilariously in 2013 for musicOHM. I couldn't help myself and was totally obliged to use this line.
Anna von Hausswolff creates an incredible low organ timbre while her voice opens up in a specific, melodramatic way. This song, though only composed from said organ and her voice, use the lowest frequencies of the organ pipes to invite you in the soundscape, and so did the small friends from Abacus fed by the core.
The C3 were naturally less immersive than some horn speakers I've heard performing this song, but nonetheless atmospheric dense and with a breezy presentation.
Rodrigo y Gabriela - "Tamacun"
Live in Japan / Rubyworks 2008 / Qobuz / 16-44
The younger of my guests, who both are musicians in local bands, plays the cornemuse (bagpipe) in a local Breton folk ensemble. He, Jean-Bernard (JB), was completely surprised by my choice of music, except of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Tamacun", a song that he knew from their "Live in France" record, which is exceptionally good, but does not exceed the performance of their live recording made in Japan. Therefore he supported their acoustic stage work frantically with us.
The other, Martial, who - in my personal view - is a jazz musician and works in Paris for his own security net, accompanying teenager through their progression in one of the local music academies. I saw, some years ago, at school years end, a musical performed by his students and prepared by him, based on his transcripts of music from Queen for the chorals and played by a professional band. He explained to me then, that he did that already before using the works of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, which earned him an endless lot of my respect.
His third area of affection, after his family and his music, is wine, not audiophile technology, which unfortunately makes him kind of agnostic to my writing and recommendations. Though he loved the acoustic performance of "Stairway to Heaven", which had set up the scene quite masterfully for "Tamacun" from Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Live in Japan" record that was streaming from Qobuz. When we had a first stop of our banging heads, high hands and air guitar playing, having a breath during Gabriela's percussive interception @ 2:25 min, we were already mentally preparing for shouting out loud the starting two-liner by Rodrigo, because JB had enthusiastically demanded a second round.
The C3 was involving, exciting and loud.
The Vivaldi Metal Project - "Vita - Spring #2 - Largo, Pt. 2 (Vocal Session)"
The Extended Session / Pride and Joy Music 2018 / Qobuz / 16-44
The control of fast music is what essentially resonated with me, listening to the C3. We heard the Vivaldi Metal Project, unknown to both of my friends, but wholeheartedly appreciated.
This oeuvre was masterminded by metal keyboardist Giuseppe Iampieri, better known as Mistheria, who had invited the crème of the European metal scene to contribute to his project. Collaborating with choirs and orchestras from Poland, Bulgaria and Croatia, the project involved about 130 metal and classical artists and 10 arrangers, who transformed Vivaldi's masterpiece into a metal meisterstück. The first and most notable effect had been with my black Labradora, who constantly arrived at my desk when she heard the VMP starting with a shout out into the performance. The skillful metal passages show lots of pace and rhythm, a task where the C3 excels with verve. I noticed the low end a bit more prominent with the speakers although I perceived the soundstage convincingly wide.
I had Vivaldi at my wedding for the church walk-out, though I have serious doubts my wife or my mum would have nodded to this speedy version of "Vita - Spring #2 - Largo, Pt. 2 (Vocal Session)". We didn't nod either, as it was already late and we were concentrating on our serious head banging.
The C3 was inspiring, exciting and loud.
Brass Against - "Killing in the name of"
CD/LP only via website / 16-44
Martial, who plays trumpet in big bands and jazz quartets because he loves music and to cover the costs of having a high living standard, loves Rage Against The Machine. I am aware about that fact, because he revealed it once to me, albeit I gave him my account of the painfully missed opportunity in May 1996 at the Rote Flora in Hamburg, where RATM played this small venue I had called my 2nd living room sometimes, as our free radio project studio was just down the road. This was an act of active solidarity from RATM to support German journalists, who were under arrest for their publications, which under the Germans terrorism act were deemed supportive of homeland terrorism.
I had dee-jayed the Rote Flora crowd into the first hours of '96, although that precise evening was undeniably dedicated to my son, then 4 years old, as his mother was having a bar shift at the Flora for that namely event. She had known first hand and did not tell me anything at all before, bc it was kept a secret secret until 2 days before the event. Sigh, what a consequence of being separated! Martial showed a great understanding about my pain of missing out, and told me he would dream to enhance his school choir musical idea with RATM, but he couldn't find any support in the academy. So sad!
That evening I surprised him with "Brass Against The Machine" from Brooklyn, NY, introducing him to their wind instrument driven version of "Killing in the name of". The C3 again was able to control the high levels of speed characterizing the brass equipment and leave the deep pitched & angry uproar of singer Sophia Urista enough space to express her willingness to be the best female cover voice of Zack de La Rocha. Ever.
A moment to remember, these three guys on the deck performing their imaginative RATM show with Sophia's outburst from the C3. I'd say, in that moment, aggregated, we felt substantially somehow 50 years younger ;-).
It may not be the utmost elegant audiophile style by far, but at least a fair use of any audiophile equipment.
The C3 was resolving, exciting and loud.
Calvin Russell - "Play with fire"
Le Voyageur / Last Call 1995 / Qobuz / 16-44
Fading out on our excellent evening with the Abacus C3 & the Summerbreeze core, we listened to another interpretation of a well worn classic, "Play with fire" from the early deceased American troubadour Calvin Russell. This version is quite rare, and I would never have known it, if I didn't visit by chance a late club, where he performed, some 3 years before I missed out on RATM. Contrary to the gig of Jonathan Richman, which I saw at the same venue completely smoke-free, the room was uncomfortably clouded by plumes of cigarette smoke as it is pictured on the cover sleeve, and Calvin Russell showed a fascinating stage absorbing presence, even he didn’t move too much apart of his fine guitar playing. This version is taken from the 1993 live recording of his French tour called "Le Voyageur".
His voice has touched me then and I love his guitar playing style, this had been my favorite version ever since. The lossless version available @ Qobuz recently substituted the old MP3-file I had listened to for several years. We listened to it likewise two times, only humming along the 2nd time. Sometimes you need to pay tribute with silence & listening.
This evening was, like the C3: pronounced, exiting and loud.
6. The ifi 5v power supply - audibly better
When I cranked up the power of the left C-Box 3 to 8/10, I heard that EMI/RFI noise. HELP!!! I cried, and found that it disappeared using my power bank instead of the AUKRU power plugs, which I had bought by a lot of 5 for the use with all the RPis @ my home. When none of them supplied power to the device without notable interferences in the C-Box, I decided to check out the iFi power way, I have read several times in the forums, ordering one power supply 5v to test and possibly send it back if that noise remains. Thus, its effect was so convincing that I decided against returning it.
Audibly clean sound, free of artifacts. Fits 49 $ to the bill, if you despise the standard 5v RPi power supply. For an alternative please have a look at the ALLO website.
7. The Focal Elegia - Welcome to the pleasure dome (in your head)
"...for anyone looking for neutrality above all in a sub-$1,000 closed headphones, the Elegia is perhaps the best choice currently on the market." wrote my colleague Josh this April.
This is the reason I decided to ask Focal to use one of these cans as a reference units for the evaluation of the Summerbreeze's core ingredients and its peripheries.
Listening with the Focal headphones to the qualities of the Khadas DAC driven by the RPI en direct or via the Atom headphone amp allowed me to sense how good the Summerbreeze system does sound with USB and local/internet streaming, deviating from the minimal price-point to a mid-priced unit for 800$ MRSP, that bears a great value proposition.
In combination with the ATOM, I was entitled to enjoy DSD-files at a proper volume and some of my favorites streamed from Qobuz.
Dominique Fils-Aime - “Nameless”
Nameless / Ensoul Records 2018 /Qobuz PCM 24-88 or Bandcamp 16-44
Dominique Fils-Aime, a singer/songwriter from Montreal/Canada has presented with "Nameless" - in my view - one of the most stunning albums of 2018. Produced and engineered by bass player Jacques Roy, I tend to believe that there must have been a very fruitful and inspiring collaboration between the two and the other musicians to accomplish such an outstanding piece of mostly acoustic music (production).
According to the colleagues @ highresaudio.com, the title track is a "song, in which the singer is accompanied exclusively by a violin" and which should be regarded as the most compelling of the album.
I fully agree with the second part of the assumption, while I would tend to contradict the first statement.
Firstly, listening to my bandcamp 16/44 PCM version somehow excited me more than high resolution version from Qobuz in 24/88, I need to admit.
I do love in particular that moment, when shortly after a minute and a half of voice(s) and violin, drums & a deep tuned didgeridoo are kicking in sparsely but distinctive until the song finds its end two minutes later.
In my ears, the performance is more pronounced in the redbook version from bandcamp than in hi-res, which also shows a lower dynamic range according to my assessment with JRIVER 24 library tools vs Roon streaming.
Obviously, the Focal Elegia together with the ATOM & KTBD, could have done a good job with my colleague @HRA, because as a team they were able to reveal parts of the music, which evidently were not present to them before, even the audio chain has only been the Summerbreeze core consisting of an ole' RPi3b with LMS/SQL and KTBD .
That was quite an easy point to make, my friends.
Truth is, the trio gives an excellent impression with good material, be it Redbook, Hi-Res or be it DSD!
Patricia Barber - “The beat goes on”
Companion / Premonition Records 1999 / DSD64 here and PCM 16 -44 via Qobuz
The aforementioned live version of Sonny & Cher's "The Beat goes on" by Particia Barber from her record "Companion" on DSD64 just shows everything you could wish for: placement of instruments, depth, pace, rhythm and a fidelity to kneel down. Songs like that bring people to turn their heads to you and just tell you how good it sounds, because it's pronounced musicality touches our soul. I have bought the CD in 2001 and since then have had several encounters like that, when I played the song to the public or to friends.
In comparison, I strongly prefer the DSD64 file to the PCM version local or streamed from Qobuz, with Summerbreeze, ATOM and Focal Elegia.
Breno Virícimo Group - “Samba de Rei (Quinteto Para Instrumentos de Sopro I. Allegro)”
Just Listen - 8 ENSEMBLES IN 1 BIT / NativeDSD - DSD256 2018
For testing the DSD256 functionality of the Summerbreeze system I went back to Native DSD sourcing the Album “Just listen - 8 ENSEMBLES IN 1 BI” and more specifically the young & very talented Brazilian Double BAss player Breno Vicricimo with his sweeping &effervescent interpretation of “Samba del Rei” from fellow Brazilian conductor & Cellist Mario Tavares.
Did I already write that I adore compositions, interpretations and productions where musicians & their instruments are introduced in smalls sequences with fluidity and grace, not being shy to get altogether in a final salutation to the listener? This is a very balanced and sonically wonderful example of it, with a Samba standard giving room to the Acoustic Guitar, Drums & Percussions, Bass Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone, Violin and Double bass. The recording shows a Dynamic Range (DR) of 16, which allows the Violin, the Wind and some Percussions to resonate in the more vibrating range of the sound spectre while the Guitar and Double Bass play distinctive but less dominant & loud. The placing of the instruments in the soundscape is excellent and “The Samba del Rei” is pure pleasure to listen to, even if you are not into Latin music encounters.
The recording in quad rate DSD was done in legendary Studio 2 in Hilversum’s “Muziekcentrum van de Omroep” (MCO) in a stereo & multichannel setup through a custom made analog mixer and a Merging Technology Horus ADC by Jared Sachs and Daam Van Aalst. (More detailed information to be found in the booklet accompanying the recording)
Talk Talk - “Desire”
Spirit of Eden / Parlophone 1988 / DSD64 - Qobuz 24-96
Marc Hollis, the singer and mastermind behind Talk Talk, died this February. He was apparently retired from Pop-Stardom since 1991, and preferred to have a quiet life with his family in London.
On his Album “Spirit of Eden”, which had a significant importance to modern rock music, he did everything the way he wanted to, liberated from the corsettage of his collaboration with the EMI label. Pitchfork describes the oeuvre as “masterful, groundbreaking sound that laid the foundation for post-rock”. I have attached another source on the subject of how this album was produced and which had been the mindset of the musicians, it is quite well documented on the net, and Mr. Hollis, relaxing in the shadows received much love and respect from influential musicians and produces like Radiohead or Steven Wilson.
The 7:17 min long piece “Desire” extracted from SACD to DSD64, has an atmospheric instrumental setting albeit showing some minor dynamic assaults on your system during its first half, after which we hear a growling pulse announcing the exoneration of sound into a 2 minute period filled with feedback trenched bluesy influenced arrangement, that imho could be interpreted for his inner disruption deriving from his dealings with the music business. He acted consequently.
I love the delicate production and the setting, and I can stand his voice much better here than listening to Talk Talk’s biggest hits. For a stereo system the dynamics are quite challenging. And I need to admit that the Summerbreeze core shows clear signs of struggling in the most dynamic moments to reproduce a clear separation of instruments. It is just overpowered by desire. The atmosphere, nonetheless, is matched considerably well.
I could confirm these impressions finally with my personal reference system, NAD Pre, PS Audio 300S power amp and the 805s at the last leg of the review, when temperatures went down to 20°C.
It was astonishing how good the RPi 3b with LMS /PiCorePlayer sounded for that price point, even better with my beloved iFi Micro BL in the chain. I sidelined my RPI streamer with Volumio 2.2 on the bench for several months, as I found it did not live up to the W2016/AO2.5 driven I4790 based server, which generally was more focused and dynamic, with clearer expression, and I love the black background I experience with my main system.
The PiCorePlayer could not better my streamer, and that by a noticeable margin, but let's face it: for about a tenth of the investment it would create approximately 70 % of its sq performance, so the law of diminishing returns kicks in directly after this RPI/LMS solution.
The summerbreeze core/system may not be regarded by some as high end audio as such, though it is mainly an affordable "high res" solution and an audiophile entry level system with a plethora of possibilities in relation to upgrades. Which makes it a great starting point for the adventure into audiophilia.
It underlines the convenience to create reasonably priced solutions for starters and 2nd or 3rd systems, desktop based or mobile, not hiding that at this cost level perfection and usability will come at extra expenses, and some compromises need to be accepted to achieve the price point.
After all I am quite satisfied with my journey through the low cost area of audiophilia and will continue to work my way up to the realms of the upper end of mid-fi in the coming reviews.
Concerning global warming and activities for a better future, in our wonderful hobby and for our descendants, I feel that it is time to support anyone who is providing different thinking & options, even if it may be costly or painful for our own beloved privileges & living standards, instead of denying science, building walls and opening the next natural reserves for deploying fossil resources. I am very doubtful that industry sponsored inventions will arrive in a timely manner, which limits the options for the next generations, unfortunately. Just my 2cents on that subject.
It's hot. The future will be even hotter.
We better use Saturdays for Stereo.
Greta sounds against climate warming can be had, starting 350 $,.
Details in the article 😉
Hardware under review:
The RPi PiCorePlayer, Logitech Media Server (LMS) and Squeezelite- Player (SQL)
- Raspberry Pi 3b+ - 37 USD
- FLIRC CASE - 12 USD
- Generic Power Supply - 10 USD
- SD-Card Samsung Evo+ 9 USD
- THE PI: Total order cost PI: 68 USD (all prices 08/2019 -> amazon.com)
If you want to use the Wifi Dongle & the iFi 5v power supply as I did, you need to add 49 USD (59-10), so we are at appr. 120 USD in total for the RPI3b.
- Wifi-Dongle Netis 300Mbit/s 10 USD
- iFi 5v power supply 49 USD
The Khadas Tone Board DAC with Case is about 125 Euros in France and as single generic board version about 99 USD with ECCgeek. The aluminium casing on the pics is 18 Euro + Delivery
The best deal for the RHA T20 were found here ->115 $ warehouse deal, 08 2019,
Comparative rehearsal and associated equipment:
- JDS LABS Atom Headphone & Preamplifier
- Abacus C-Box 1
- Focal Elegia
- Sennheiser HD 650
- Oehlbach Headphone stand ALU STYLE
- Oehlbach Cinch cable NF1 Master
- Topping DX 4 DAC & Headphone Amp
- iFi iDSD Black DAC & Headphone Amp
- iFi 5v power supply
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge as squeezebox
- LG G4 as squeezebox
- No-Name Cinch cable for active speaker connection
- Rufus USB Disk creator
- piCorePlayer 5.0 with LMS 9.2 and squeezelite
- Squeezelite-X for Windows
- Orange squeeze , Android APP
- Squeeze Player, Android App
- Qobuz for Android
- JRiver 24
- Audiophile Optimizer
- Bower & Wilkins 805s
- Dynavox Perfect Sound Speaker cable
- PS-Audio S300 Power amplifier (on loan)
- NAD Bee C165 Pre amplifier
- iFi iDSD Black DAC & Headphone Amp
- CAPS ZUMA w/PPang USB V2 card, WIN10/WS2016-AO-JRIVER-ROON
- HDPLEX 100w linear power supply
- Oehlbach NF1 MAster Cinch Cable
- UNRAID 6.7 NAS 12 TB