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A simple streaming solution proves to have exceptional sound!


mayhem13
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So an older friend of mine and avid audiophile for many years recently asked for my help in a digital streaming solution to simplify life a bit and jump into the 21st century pool. For him, sleeving vinyl has become less timeless than today's hipsters portray and my incessant iPad clamouring has raised his suspicions a bit that things really do progress with technology! So on to the solution......

 

Needing to keep this all simple and unobtrusive to his already 'timeless' environment I sourced him an entry level pre owned Mac Mini. We installed the unit in his existing entertainment unit along side his cable box and IP provider's router and connected the video display to his existing TV. We share a liking of quite a bit the same recordings so I brought over a binder of CDs and over lunch, dinner and a few drinks we ripped him a nice collection of redbook classics at 16/44.1. Getting wired internet into his dedicated music room was gonna be a bit time consuming so we saved that for the following weekend. Before leaving, I showed him how to rip to iTunes and in the passing week, he managed to amass quite a few of his favorites on used CD which apparently are really plentiful and cheap in NYC if you know where to look!

 

So the following Sunday we surface mounted some Cat5 around his baseboards nice and clean and passed through an interior wall into his music room and hooked up the most recent Apple Airport Express via the analog out to his early 90's McIntosh preamp and matching power amp. Speakers were same era Martin Logans. Sorry I didn't take note of the models but I can only say I've always been seriously impressed with his system and well cared for vinyl. Some of it is the room and it's high ceilings, hardwood floors and thick plaster walls.......early 20th century apartments in NYC are pretty robust by today's standards with exterior walls of brick or stone so nothing to resonate like today's cheap Sheetrock and young growth wall studs and tin.

 

The final step was the inclusion of an iPad mini strictly for Library control and such. A quick configuration within Apple's Home Sharing ecosystem and we were up and running in less than an our. So I let hi have at it navigating through the remote App on his own and within a few minutes, he was jumping across tracks like a seasoned pro. The smile on his face told most of the story and we spent some time discussing the sound......which to both of us sounded quite astonishingly good, even from the Airport's analog out. I chose this route after reading and researching just how good the Airport's on board DAC was reported to be. In all honesty, my Airports are all older gens using the digital outs to various receivers and DACs so I've never given serious considerations to the on board decoding.

 

So in a word, the system overall and the Airports analog outs sound?.....astonishingly good. In his room with a low noise floor, system noise between tracks pushing volume levels to plus 100db was silent.....or at least below the ambient room noise of our breathing and the like. Of course within an hour, the inevitable question arose.....how does all this compare to his existing Vinyl playback? Not being versed in the virtues of a vinyl front end, I'll just assume that after 50 years of flipping vinyl, my friend knew his stuff and his tuned and tweeked Sota turntable with custom tonearm and insanely expensive cartridge was near state of the art as far as vinyl aficionados would be concerned. We were fortunate enough to have some great comparison material on hand with a Japanese vinyl pressing of Elton John's Goodbye Yellowbrick Road and a ripped equivalent of the same CD. We AB'd the tracks back and forth with familiar passages using the McIntosh preamp's input selector with the tracks playing parallel. Level matching wasn't possible but I can say for the sake of this post, it was 'close enough' for what we were listening for past dynamics but listening close for detail and sibilance. So how did the streaming solution compare? I gotta say, after an hour or so before fatigue began to set in, the streamed content was every bit as detailed and smooth as the vinyl through his system and all in all, we both preferred the Airport over the vinyl. Not by much mind you, but the midrange seemed a bit more focused and the bass extension was a bit lower and tighter. I attribute this to the inherent succeptibility of turntables to subsonic resonance and these solid built NYC apartments have plenty to go round as the walls and floors don't flex and absorb in room pressure changes.

 

Overall, a very successful upgrade with ease of use and access and insanely inexpensive given the usual audiophile approach to anything with a signal chain. No additional DAC, interconnects, power supplies, USB contraptions, Software player add-ons......zilch, nada, nothing but the iTunes/Home Sharing system and a classic two channel audio system plug in. We'll be comparing more tracks in the coming weeks when we have time to get together so I'll update this thread from time to time with more subjective babble if anything interesting arises. I highly doubt an upgrade is in his cards with an external DAC or direct USB playback or anything of the sorts.....the simple signal chain and amazing sound appeal to his sensibilities just enough to leave well enough alone.

 

Thanks for reading......

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i'v been using moded Airport express many years , last models sounds good but when feeded with a nice clean 3.3V DC supply it can make marvelous sound ..

PC audio /Roon + HQPLAYER / HOLO Spring 2 / / DIY AD1 SET tube amp  /  DIY Altec 2 way horn Speaker

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i'v been using moded Airport express many years , last models sounds good but when feeded with a nice clean 3.3V DC supply it can make marvelous sound ..

 

Hey Juanitox - I'm really interested in the upgrades to the Airport Express and the clean 3.3V power supply you mention. Can you reply with some addition information, or links to point me in the right direction?

 

Thx

Kenreau

Synology NAS> Aurender W20> AQ Wel AES/XLR> Devialet 200> AQ Castle Rock Bi-Wire> Vandersteen 5As.

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Hey Juanitox - I'm really interested in the upgrades to the Airport Express and the clean 3.3V power supply you mention. Can you reply with some addition information, or links to point me in the right direction?

 

Thx

Kenreau

 

http://weblog.rogueamoeba.com/2012/06/19/airport-express-disassembly/

 

The new gen Airport is pretty easy to come apart.....the old one had to be broken apart! lol

 

......the power supply board is seperate and easily disconnects and can be replaced with an external 3.3v if you can source one. It's a mod I'd try IF I thought there might be some interest from the CA house but I really think the thought of a $99 multi purpose router/server and DAC is too much to swallow as being the real deal.............I mean, what would they do without an extended signal chain of 3-4 devices and interconnects with LEDs, switches, PSU's and USB conditioners?

 

Heresy!

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So an older friend of mine and avid audiophile for many years recently asked for my help in a digital streaming solution to simplify life a bit and jump into the 21st century pool. For him, sleeving vinyl has become less timeless than today's hipsters portray and my incessant iPad clamouring has raised his suspicions a bit that things really do progress with technology! So on to the solution......

 

Needing to keep this all simple and unobtrusive to his already 'timeless' environment I sourced him an entry level pre owned Mac Mini. We installed the unit in his existing entertainment unit along side his cable box and IP provider's router and connected the video display to his existing TV. We share a liking of quite a bit the same recordings so I brought over a binder of CDs and over lunch, dinner and a few drinks we ripped him a nice collection of redbook classics at 16/44.1. Getting wired internet into his dedicated music room was gonna be a bit time consuming so we saved that for the following weekend. Before leaving, I showed him how to rip to iTunes and in the passing week, he managed to amass quite a few of his favorites on used CD which apparently are really plentiful and cheap in NYC if you know where to look!

 

So the following Sunday we surface mounted some Cat5 around his baseboards nice and clean and passed through an interior wall into his music room and hooked up the most recent Apple Airport Express via the analog out to his early 90's McIntosh preamp and matching power amp. Speakers were same era Martin Logans. Sorry I didn't take note of the models but I can only say I've always been seriously impressed with his system and well cared for vinyl. Some of it is the room and it's high ceilings, hardwood floors and thick plaster walls.......early 20th century apartments in NYC are pretty robust by today's standards with exterior walls of brick or stone so nothing to resonate like today's cheap Sheetrock and young growth wall studs and tin.

 

The final step was the inclusion of an iPad mini strictly for Library control and such. A quick configuration within Apple's Home Sharing ecosystem and we were up and running in less than an our. So I let hi have at it navigating through the remote App on his own and within a few minutes, he was jumping across tracks like a seasoned pro. The smile on his face told most of the story and we spent some time discussing the sound......which to both of us sounded quite astonishingly good, even from the Airport's analog out. I chose this route after reading and researching just how good the Airport's on board DAC was reported to be. In all honesty, my Airports are all older gens using the digital outs to various receivers and DACs so I've never given serious considerations to the on board decoding.

 

So in a word, the system overall and the Airports analog outs sound?.....astonishingly good. In his room with a low noise floor, system noise between tracks pushing volume levels to plus 100db was silent.....or at least below the ambient room noise of our breathing and the like. Of course within an hour, the inevitable question arose.....how does all this compare to his existing Vinyl playback? Not being versed in the virtues of a vinyl front end, I'll just assume that after 50 years of flipping vinyl, my friend knew his stuff and his tuned and tweeked Sota turntable with custom tonearm and insanely expensive cartridge was near state of the art as far as vinyl aficionados would be concerned. We were fortunate enough to have some great comparison material on hand with a Japanese vinyl pressing of Elton John's Goodbye Yellowbrick Road and a ripped equivalent of the same CD. We AB'd the tracks back and forth with familiar passages using the McIntosh preamp's input selector with the tracks playing parallel. Level matching wasn't possible but I can say for the sake of this post, it was 'close enough' for what we were listening for past dynamics but listening close for detail and sibilance. So how did the streaming solution compare? I gotta say, after an hour or so before fatigue began to set in, the streamed content was every bit as detailed and smooth as the vinyl through his system and all in all, we both preferred the Airport over the vinyl. Not by much mind you, but the midrange seemed a bit more focused and the bass extension was a bit lower and tighter. I attribute this to the inherent succeptibility of turntables to subsonic resonance and these solid built NYC apartments have plenty to go round as the walls and floors don't flex and absorb in room pressure changes.

 

Overall, a very successful upgrade with ease of use and access and insanely inexpensive given the usual audiophile approach to anything with a signal chain. No additional DAC, interconnects, power supplies, USB contraptions, Software player add-ons......zilch, nada, nothing but the iTunes/Home Sharing system and a classic two channel audio system plug in. We'll be comparing more tracks in the coming weeks when we have time to get together so I'll update this thread from time to time with more subjective babble if anything interesting arises. I highly doubt an upgrade is in his cards with an external DAC or direct USB playback or anything of the sorts.....the simple signal chain and amazing sound appeal to his sensibilities just enough to leave well enough alone.

 

Thanks for reading......

 

sounds like most sessions with prolonged digital playback ... listening fatigue set in. With vinyl there is no listening fatigue... only the certain knowledge at 2AM that its going to be a hell day in the office if you don't go get some sleep.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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