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Dell Inspiron Mini 9

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If you don't want to follow the standard advice and "get a macbook or mac mini" (which I've no problem with by the way, it's good advice especially for those who want something that works out of the box) and would rather stay in Windows land, I can recommend the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 via USB as a replacement for a CD Player transport.


To be clear, I'm talking about playing back material in the native CD bit/sample rate of 16/44.1. It seems to me a lot of the complexity with computer audio right now is with playing back higher resolution material with sample rates as high has 192kHz, which perhaps requires a machine with a bit more memory and processing power to avoid dropouts, which can be a bit hot, which needs cooling, which can be noisy, so put it in another room, might need to access it wirelessly then, etc., or over-engineer it to quieten it down sufficiently for the listening room etc etc. And in any case, there simply is not enough high resolution material around right now that's of interest to me. I have an SACD player and a number of SACDs acquired in the past so that's the extent of my high res listening right now. In the meantime, 16/44.1 is where the majority of computer playback seems to be at and as it happens, most any computer can handle this without even raising a sweat.


Some good things about this Dell:

Cost is low;

It's robust and surprisingly well made considering its cost should you feel the urge to poke about inside;

comes preinstalled with windows XP and is upgradable to Windows 7;

Has a small footprint;

Has a built in keyboard and mouse;

Boots up really quickly, being ready to play in abut the same time as it takes my tubes to warm up ;-)

Performance is very good - this machine runs surprisingly fast;

No moving parts, no fans, no optical drive, solid state drive so no spinning hard disks, which makes it SILENT (with a capital A for audiophile quiet); and most importantly;

with bitperfect playback, the resulting sound is as good as a CD player transport.


Bad things:

It has a native WSVGA display meaning the aspect ratio is distorted. This is great if you like your men short and fat, but it annoys me (however, it has dual monitor support and when outputting to an external monitor, the aspect ratio is correct, i.e. true 4:3 rather than 4:3 squished down to look like 16:9 ish. I use a wireless keyboard/mouse and connect to the 46 inch LCD TV, which has a VGA input. Result is very good);

The 9 inch display is small when viewed from across the other side of the room, although if you're listening with the CD cover taking up the full screen, the image is about the same size as the actual CD;

This is for use with USB DACs only. If you're looking to output a digital audio stream via a computer's soundcard, you need to look elsewhere;

No firewire input;

No built in optical drive - you'd need to add one via one of the USB ports (although personally I like this - again, NO moving parts with this machine).


Listening impressions:

I compared with my Toshiba Satellite 5200 (which cost 10 times as much) and configured identically with the same software and DAC, they sounded exactly the same.

Both the Dell and Toshiba resulted in slightly better playback sound than using CD transports (in this case Oppo 981 and Rotel RCD965BX) over SPDIF into the same DAC.


I took me a while to reach the above conclusion because at first the Dell sounded worse than both the Toshiba and CD transports. I couldn't think why and after trying everything I could think of I finally read a post by BobH and realised what it was: I had been using the left-hand-side adjacent USB ports for my USB external drive and the USB DAC. Being adjacent, the two ports shared the same power hub and it didn't sound pretty. By switching over to the lone right-hand side USB port for outputting to the USB DAC, snap - playback was what I had expected. So, You MUST use the RHS USB port with this machine. BobH, if you're reading, thanks for the tip!


Configuration options:


1. Most simply, attach a USB optical drive for ripping your CDs, connect to the Internet, download and install JRiver mediajukebox and ASIO4ALL - both free. Attach a USB drive with/for your music, connect your USB DAC. Turn off all equalisation and DSP settings in JRiver, choose ASIO as the playback option. In ASIO4ALL, set the latency settings to maximum. In control panel devices, disable the internal soundcard, select your USB DAC as the sound device (Windows treats this like an external sound card). D for Done.


2. If you're a PC tweaker you can use it as player only. Configure as above but this requires you have another machine for connecting to the Internet and ripping your CD's. This is the way I do it but it requires a bit more technical ability (or it's more hassle, depending on your point of view). The advantage of doing it this way is you never need to connect to the Internet (and I have never, ever connected this machine to the Internet) which means you can if you want to:

uninstall all programs (other than JRiver and ASIO4ALL of course);

Disable just about all services (many services are network and Internet related);

disable and unistall antivirus software.

Basically, this is treating the machine more like an appliance that stays in more or less a constant state, rather than something that's "alive" and being constantly updated via security upgrades etc. as a consequence of being Internet-enabled. Whether any of this geeky stuff is even audible can be debated. I don't hear the differences myself but being a geek, I like to have everything as cut down as possible. Cutting out the fat helps me relax more :) And in the unlikely event of something going amiss I can restore the environment from an external drive in under 10 minutes as the entire contents of the Dell drive is only around 2Gb.


That's about all I'm going to say, really just as an alternative to the standard "get a macbook or mac mini" advice. I've no problem with that advice if you can afford to go that route but if not, or you don't mind a bit of configuring, this machine is pretty cool. To be honest, I get satisfaction out of needing to do a bit of work to get things just "so" exactly as I like, rather than do it all the Apple Way.


IMHO, YMMV, etc etc. If anyone's thinking of buying this machine or has and wants more details on configuration etc, just post the question here.


Bye for now,






hFX Classic fanless i7 SSD > Locus Nucleus / SW Diverter HR > RWA Isabella LFP-V Pro / New Sensor Genalex Gold Lion E88CC > ALO Sennheiser HD 800 balanced[br]

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