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CATFLAP

MacBook Pro - TOSlink Optical - HeadRoom Ultra Micro Amp & DAC - DIY Acoustic Dampener/Angler - Bose SoundLink Mini II - DESKTOP GOODNESS

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Hi all. This is my first post here which I hope someone might find either useful or at least a good laugh. :) I've been into portable and desktop audio for the last couple of decades. I just posted a thread on another forum which I thought some might find interesting here, too, so here it is:

I've been mulling this desktop computer setup for a while now and finally decided to make it happen.. and it's far, far better than I'd imagined. Sometimes audio separates just synchronise very well together and this is one of those setups. Audio chemistry, I like to call it.

 

The Goal

My aim was to create a desktop speaker setup that would make me want to listen to music whilst working and stop me "analysing" both the music and equipment, which whilst I thoroughly enjoy doing, I find very distracting and counter-productive to working.

To try to extrapolate here, I've used many different desktop separates, often using full-size CD sources from Arcam or Naim combined with analytical headphone amps and headphones. The fact is, I love sitting there dissecting music, listening to the positions of various instruments and musing over subtleties that I'd never before noticed. I have a pair of extremely neutral and analytical Genelec monitors and whilst I love them they also put me into "analyse music" mode and once again distract the heck out of me.

Whilst in this mode I cannot do two important things which are normally my aim when I take my seat at my desk:

 

1. Work.

2. Just enjoy listening to my favourite tracks in the background.

 

So my goal here was to create a desktop setup that sounded great, produced a good quality sound, got my foot tapping but allowed me to work, whilst keeping the amount of audio bits and pieces on my desk to a minimum; I like my desk space to be uncluttered with room for documents as well as my iPad and phone, keyboard, mouse and light.

 

BOSE-3.png

HeadRoom Ultra Micro Amp & DAC

I bought this tiny stack nearly a decade ago when they were first released. Since, I've owned a plethora of ultra portable amps and DACs as well as several desktop versions from tube/hybrid to solid state. All have eventually left the building with two exceptions. The above HeadRoom combo and my goto portable Ray Samuels "The Predator".

The Ultra Micro Amp/DAC combo has, for me, always been the most musical of the portable/desktop combos I've listened to. Yes, it's coloured and no it's not the most detailed but it's extremely enjoyable to listen to with a reasonably but not overly tight base, silky mids and enough highs to make you smile without making you want to start taking notes. For the above reasons the Ultra Micro stack became the base for this setup.

 

BOSE.png

 

Bose SoundLink Mini II

This speaker commands a very small footprint, it's well made and with the built in mic it doubles as a very nice Skype setup, too. Bose doesn't have a great rep on forums such as Head-Fi and IMO sometimes because people's evaluation is flawed. If you enjoy analysing music, as I often do, the SoundLink speakers are not going to do it for you. They're detailed but if you're looking for Genelec monitor, Sony MDR-R10 or even HD650 type detail you're not going to choose Bose, period. If you're looking for a solid speaker that will have you dipping your shoulders and wagging your head whilst tapping away on your keyboard with a smirk on your face, Bose suddenly come into their own.

My desktop computer setup is a 15" MacBook Pro placed under a very old antique desk connected to an Apple Cinema screen and a wireless keyboard. Consequently, I didn't want the hassle of a sub-woofer competing with my feet for the last few inches of floor space. Out of all the small speakers of this type I'd auditioned the SoundLink Mini was the only one with a "good" amount of bass response that was still reasonably tight and pleasing without being overpowering. On inferior source components they can sound a tad muddy but in this setup they are spot on to my ears.

 

BOSE-2.png

 

Source, connections, angler & acoustic dampener

Because I do also enjoy analysing and dissecting music I'm used to attention to detail. Without going overboard, I use quality leads and try to eliminate as many possible negative variables as possible. Whilst the benefits might be fairly minimal in a system like this I personally find it fun and without spending a wad of cash I wanted to play the game and get the most out of this little setup as possible.

The source was always going to be the CD player of my MacBook Pro so nothing to think about there except how I'd connect it to the Ultra Micro DAC. I've found the best results to be via TOSlink Optical cable so this is the route I went. I already owned an exceptional optical cable so I adapted this to work in this system using this TOSlink-3.5mm adapter. I used an old 4" LaRocco Audio Silk 3.5mm copper cable to connect the Ultra Micro Amp to the SoundLink Mini Aux-In and a very high quality 5" pure silver cable to connect the amp and DAC. (I can, of course, at any time, connect the iPhone or iPad via bluetooth and can also connect the iPad directly using the camera attachment)

 

BOSE-1.png

 

Finally, the SoundLink Mini II is a directional speaker and will always provide the best results when angled directly at your ears. It will also vibrate and that could be slightly problematic when placed on a wooden desk, the draws of which are full or rattly little items. So I wanted to solve two "problems" with one hit: acoustic vibration and speaker angle.

 

There are a multitude of quite expensive off the shelf options which cost anything from $35 - $200 a piece but most are essentially a cheese wedge shaped piece of hollow rubber or foam. After a little research and out of the box thinking I came across these small trailer wheel blocks. At $15 for the pair they were very reasonable and can be probably picked up for half that in the US. I used instant gasket to bond the two blocks together, covered the resulting block in 7mm foam from the hobby shop and low and behold I had the perfect acoustic angler/dampener. I ran a thin strip of foam from right to left on the top side of the finished block, just to stop the speaker sliding backwards down the 35 degree incline. This block allows me to mount both the charging dock and the speaker and angles the speaker straight at my face effectively.

 

Result

The result is a really pleasing little setup with minimal footprint, ideal for those who like good quality sound but want to just enjoy their music instead of analysing it and be able to simultaneously work whilst at their desk. It looks good, sounds good and won't cost an arm and a leg to put together, either. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the most musically enjoyable desktop setups I've owned, despite it being the cheapest by a country mile!

Edited by CATFLAP

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.....Finally, the SoundLink Mini II is a directional speaker and will always provide the best results when angled directly at your ears. It will also vibrate and that could be slightly problematic when placed on a wooden desk, the draws of which are full or rattly little items. So I wanted to solve two "problems" with one hit: acoustic vibration and speaker angle.

 

I did an EQ curve for my Bose Sound Link Mini - here's the graph of the settings:

 

http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Bose_Soundlink_Mini.jpg

 

It pretty well takes care of the problems....

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Dale, I checked out your site and it was fascinatining! We seem to have a few common interests! You might find some of the stuff on one of my blogs fun:

 

http://thirtyfivemill.com/

 

I've shot a Leica M6 TTL for many years and I own the MUGers Yahoo group which has been going now for 16 years. I also shoot Nikon, Minox and a Fuji X100. You'll also quickly realise I have a passion for watches and other miniature marvels.

 

I just downloaded the EQ apps you recommend from Audioforge. I've been looking for an EQ app of that exact kind over Christmas so many thanks for the pointer!

 

Have you reviewed your Soundlink Mini yet?

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From my experience- I cant work with a great desktop system or great headphone system. It would be too much of a distraction. So in my case I just use the koss porta pro headphone (which are not bad) while listening to the local classical station mostly for background music and also for my gym break. Now at home is another story, i have a full desktop system that i love. just my two cents

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Hi Dale. Could you decipher that graph for me, please? What is it telling us?

 

What I first try to do is suppress the worst deviations from flat or neutral, which we usually call colorations in speakers or headphones. Once that's done more-or-less, then listening and comparing it to other speakers (or headphones as appropriate), some fine tuning usually gets the best natural sound out of it. Perfectly flat via test tones almost never gets the best sound, even when flat can be determined empirically. In headphones, colorations are big soundstage killers. I can't say that much about speakers, but someday I need to try EQ'ing a full size system in a room. I think I can get better results than most people get with room treatments and sonic meters etc.

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Dale, I checked out your site and it was fascinatining! We seem to have a few common interests! You might find some of the stuff on one of my blogs fun:

http://thirtyfivemill.com/

I've shot a Leica M6 TTL for many years and I own the MUGers Yahoo group which has been going now for 16 years. I also shoot Nikon, Minox and a Fuji X100. You'll also quickly realise I have a passion for watches and other miniature marvels.

I just downloaded the EQ apps you recommend from Audioforge. I've been looking for an EQ app of that exact kind over Christmas so many thanks for the pointer!

Have you reviewed your Soundlink Mini yet?

 

You have lots of interesting stuff in that blog. My guns, knives, watches etc. are on my youtube channel (dalethorn2), but I had to start over a month ago and much of mine aren't reposted yet. I haven't reviewed the fishing gear yet, but I've gotten a couple of nice rods put together by a famous guy here in S. Carolina. I've tried youtube videos of the small speakers with mixed success - I'm having problems with video corruption now. The text reviews I do generally only for headphones, and sometimes for amps. One review is about 24 hours work (3 days), so that's why I don't review everything. But having done 150 headphones, that experience has taught me how to get better sound through many different kinds of comparisons, with multiple headphones.

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Thanks for that, Dale! I'm going to spend some time with the Audioforge EQ and see what more I can eek out of the little Bose. Should be fun whilst the weather here in the UK is a tad stormy.

You're right with reviews. Few understand just how much work goes into them. I don't get time for too many real reviews at the moment or I'd never get out and do anything. Young children have that effect!

I also enjoy the great outdoors with my 7 y/o son off-roading in the Jeep, messing with our Ham radios and fishing and catapult (sling shot) shooting (targets only). I blog about ham radio and vehicle dependent overland travel here:

 

http://4wdx.com

 

Anyways, it's morning here and I'm babbling whilst half way through my first coffee. :) Thanks again for the info. I've bookmarked your blog and will be reading more of your stuff this evening.

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From my experience- I cant work with a great desktop system or great headphone system. It would be too much of a distraction. So in my case I just use the koss porta pro headphone (which are not bad) while listening to the local classical station mostly for background music and also for my gym break. Now at home is another story, i have a full desktop system that i love. just my two cents

 

Yup, I hear ya. Because I run my own company my home desk is also my work desk which is sometimes good and sometimes bad! I have a set of the Porta Pros myself with a pair of replacement soft leather pads that work great. I use them when listening to talk radio, audio books and light music before sleeping or when I'm camping or in the bush. Agreed, they're great little headphones!

 

I find I cant concentrate with headphones or earphones when I'm supposed to be working. They inject way too much info into my brain which is obviously too easily distracted. :) Hence my preference for speakers in this scenario.

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