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Computer Audio Novice


Art_Russell
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I've lurked on the sidelines of audio for many years and although never having a bleeding edge system, mine was always "good enough." After getting married my audiophile interests took a back seat and as gear failed it either wasn't replaced or my wife's lesser equipment "took up the slack." Along the way I've embraced iPhone (and previously iPod) delivered music with Sennheiser 280 Pro and Etymotic ER4 systems, both of which I've replaced after wearing them out (staring with initial purchase in about 1998).

 

 

Now we are in the midst of the computer-audio revolution and for all intents I'm at best an "informed novice." Don't ask me for an opinion about high-rez audio - I haven't heard it and wouldn't know it if it bit me. BUT, I am interested, although wondering all the while whether my ears would be able to tell the difference.

 

 

At this point I effectively have two different systems:

Mobile - iPhone 6 (128GB), Sennheiser 280 Pro (Office), Etymotic ER4

Home - Linn LP12, Sansui TU-919 Tuner, NAD 106 Preamp, NAD 206 Poweramp, Realistic Optimus 1B speakers; Airport Express; home office Mac mini (2012) broadcasting to Airport Express using iTunes and Apple Remote, 2x1TB internal drives, 7TB external and off-site storage, 16GB RAM; or iPhone 6 and 6+ broadcasting to Airport Express using Airplay on 5G wifi system

As an aside, my home office consists of the Mac Mini system described above; MacBook Pro 13" (2010), 1TB internal HD, 16GB RAM; Etymotic ER4, and 2 unattached Warfdale kit speakers (that I built circa 1966[!]).

 

 

As an observation on the iPhone 6, Sennheiser 280 Pro (Office), Etymotic ER4 - I believe the sound isn't as "clean" as it might be and that the sound needs to be "opened up." Is this DAC or high rez audio territory, and if so, can the iPhone take me there? If so, what's the best path?

 

 

So where is this post going? I have a couple of objectives, but don't know where to start given the wealth of possibilities.

 

 

Objective 1 - Configure an easy to play Compter-based audio system for my wife. She hasn't expressed any interest in the 100+ vinyl albums we have, and truth be told, wouldn't understand how to configure the stereo in order to use the LP12.

 

 

Objective 2 - Clean up the sound in my iPhone-based system.

 

 

Objective 3 - Get the Home Office into stereo sound as well.

 

Any thoughts about how to achieve the stated and implied requirements I've defined?

 

Thanks for your comments, observations, and recommendations.

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I've lurked on the sidelines of audio for many years and although never having a bleeding edge system, mine was always "good enough." After getting married my audiophile interests took a back seat and as gear failed it either wasn't replaced or my wife's lesser equipment "took up the slack." Along the way I've embraced iPhone (and previously iPod) delivered music with Sennheiser 280 Pro and Etymotic ER4 systems, both of which I've replaced after wearing them out (staring with initial purchase in about 1998).

 

 

Now we are in the midst of the computer-audio revolution and for all intents I'm at best an "informed novice." Don't ask me for an opinion about high-rez audio - I haven't heard it and wouldn't know it if it bit me. BUT, I am interested, although wondering all the while whether my ears would be able to tell the difference.

 

 

At this point I effectively have two different systems:

Mobile - iPhone 6 (128GB), Sennheiser 280 Pro (Office), Etymotic ER4

Home - Linn LP12, Sansui TU-919 Tuner, NAD 106 Preamp, NAD 206 Poweramp, Realistic Optimus 1B speakers; Airport Express; home office Mac mini (2012) broadcasting to Airport Express using iTunes and Apple Remote, 2x1TB internal drives, 7TB external and off-site storage, 16GB RAM; or iPhone 6 and 6+ broadcasting to Airport Express using Airplay on 5G wifi system

As an aside, my home office consists of the Mac Mini system described above; MacBook Pro 13" (2010), 1TB internal HD, 16GB RAM; Etymotic ER4, and 2 unattached Warfdale kit speakers (that I built circa 1966[!]).

 

 

As an observation on the iPhone 6, Sennheiser 280 Pro (Office), Etymotic ER4 - I believe the sound isn't as "clean" as it might be and that the sound needs to be "opened up." Is this DAC or high rez audio territory, and if so, can the iPhone take me there? If so, what's the best path?

 

 

So where is this post going? I have a couple of objectives, but don't know where to start given the wealth of possibilities.

 

 

Objective 1 - Configure an easy to play Compter-based audio system for my wife. She hasn't expressed any interest in the 100+ vinyl albums we have, and truth be told, wouldn't understand how to configure the stereo in order to use the LP12.

 

 

Objective 2 - Clean up the sound in my iPhone-based system.

 

 

Objective 3 - Get the Home Office into stereo sound as well.

 

Any thoughts about how to achieve the stated and implied requirements I've defined?

 

Thanks for your comments, observations, and recommendations.

 

You need to do some listening because everyone is going to give you a different answer. I would say to not worry about high res for now. Its better, but you really won't notice a difference until your system is set up is set up properly. That's why so many people call it snake oil.

 

Maybe start with something like an AQ Dragonfly DAC/headphone amp. You can try it with your iPhone and whatever computer you have. Its cheap and you can get one at Best Buy. They'll take it back if you don't like it. It also plays high res, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to download a couple of albums just to give you an idea of what you can realistically expect.

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At this point I effectively have two different systems:

Mobile - iPhone 6 (128GB), Sennheiser 280 Pro (Office), Etymotic ER4

Home - Linn LP12, Sansui TU-919 Tuner, NAD 106 Preamp, NAD 206 Poweramp, Realistic Optimus 1B speakers; Airport Express; home office Mac mini (2012) broadcasting to Airport Express using iTunes and Apple Remote, 2x1TB internal drives, 7TB external and off-site storage, 16GB RAM; or iPhone 6 and 6+ broadcasting to Airport Express using Airplay on 5G wifi system

As an aside, my home office consists of the Mac Mini system described above; MacBook Pro 13" (2010), 1TB internal HD, 16GB RAM; Etymotic ER4, and 2 unattached Warfdale kit speakers (that I built circa 1966[!]).

 

Objective 1 - Configure an easy to play Compter-based audio system for my wife. She hasn't expressed any interest in the 100+ vinyl albums we have, and truth be told, wouldn't understand how to configure the stereo in order to use the LP12.

 

Objective 2 - Clean up the sound in my iPhone-based system.

 

Objective 3 - Get the Home Office into stereo sound as well.

Welcome, Art! You have a lot of the hardware you need to make a fine system - your Macs are good, and you have plenty of storage. But there are many options to meet your objectives, depending in large part on specifics you left out of your post. No one can address your objectives in any detail without knowing a few things:

 

 

  • Do you want to provide your wife with a stand-alone 2 channel audio system? her own zone on a networked system? a phone or tablet based system of her own? a system based around her computer? other?
  • How do you want her to access and control the system - desktop / laptop? phone? tablet? other?
  • Do you want a simple control interface (e.g. nothing but transport controls) or do you want a serious display with album art, EQ etc?
  • How much computer setup and tweaking do you want to do? Do you want a download / install / use interface or are you willing to configure multiple settings and make decisions?
  • Your Wharfdales and Realistics are sufficiently long in the tooth to suggest that they've deteriorated well out of spec, and they're simply not worth trying to refurbish with new drivers and Xover components. Are you planning to replace them? If so, with what - traditional passive speakers? powered monitors? other?
  • What kind(s) of music do you want to play and in what setting(s) - desktop system? small den? large living room?
  • Is your "mobile system" actually mobile? Do you travel with it and need as little physical bulk as possible or is it a stationary system (e.g. I used my iPhone 4S through a NuForce iDo DAC / headphone amp on my bedside table for a few years but rarely listened to music on the phone when traveling)?

 

These are probably the major questions, but there are many more sets of alternatives for you. If you just want to improve the sound quality from your iPhone thru 'phones, a Dragonfly's certainly a good way to do it (I'd use Apple's new Lightning-to-USB3 adapter for a power connection while you listen). But only you can decide if an external DAC improves things enough for you over the iPhone's internal DAC (which isn't bad at all on my 6). If your iPhone is the source in your stationary audio system via a wireless connection, I don't see a DAC in your equipment list - so you must be using the audio outputs from your Macs to drive your NAD electronics, and that's a weak link. You need a better DAC than the internal one, and (once again) any Dragonfly is a great starter choice that's good enough to keep when you upgrade your electronics and speakers. Yes, I said that the iPhone's internal DAC is pretty good - and it's OK for casual listening from your phone. But if you want truly good sound from an audio system driven by a Mac (Mini, 'book etc), you really need a good external DAC - and you can get one for well under $200.

 

I've used a single networked system approach for years. The current incarnation is based around JRiver Media Center on my main PC, with DLNA players in each room (currently residing in 2 Chromecast Audios, an Asus Chromebox, a Raspberry Pi, a Beaglebone Black, and an old Sony network player) and on our laptops, phones and tablets. So my wife can listen to the music of her choice on her iPhone or iPad or on an audio system in any room and control it from any of the devices, while I listen to something different on one of my devices or the main computer. We can listen to the same program simultaneously in multiple rooms, and we can stream from our server at home to our mobile devices anywhere there's an internet connection using JRemote to control and play. To do this, all you need is good player software (e.g. Foobar2000, JRiver etc) on one computer (either of your Macs is fine), DLNA renderer ("player") software on each device where you want to listen, and a DAC-driven system to accept the output. If your wife is comfortable with the interface, she should have no problem with the above approach.

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Your existing equipment is good enough to suggest that you already appreciate music and good sound.

 

The best way to improve the mobile system is -- lossless files on the iPhone, and either a DAC/amp combo or at least a line level doc on the phone and a headphone amp.

 

The Mac mini makes a good server, but you need a wired connection to the stereo. Unfortunately the Airport Express doesn't make anything more than mid-fi.

 

If you like the results of the (relatively) inexpensive changes above, then bluesman's questions become the basis for further upgrading.

 

Greg

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I see lots of good suggestions. But what I didn't see is OP's budget. Regardless, this would be my approach if I were to think about it.

First, I love low-hanging fruit. And the easiest thing to upgrade is the DAC for iPhone.

If money is tight, I agree with everyone, Audioquest Dragonfly Black is probably the best way to go. You will need to buy the Apple Lightning to USB Camera adaptor to attach your iPhone to the Dragonfly. You're off to a great start.

But if you have more money, I would buy the Chord Mojo and the Apple Lightning to USB Camera adaptor. I think you'll be quite surprised by the sonic upgrade. (Assuming you don't get tempted to upgrade your headphones, I did shortly after)

Now here's the real kicker. If you do end up buying the Mojo, what you can do is to buy a digital Toslink cable that has a 3.5mm jack to plug into an Airport Express on one end and regular Toslink output on the other end to plug into the Mojo. And then if you have a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable, you can run it to your preamp or even directly to your amplifier. That way, you can just Airplay your music at home from the Airport Express via Toslink to the Chord Mojo DAC to your preamp/amp. Most people probably won't want to use this as a permanent home setup but it's a great start and a great way to experiment at minimal cost.

One thing I find with audio upgrades is that even when we think we know what we want, sometimes we are not sure so there will be experimentation, mistakes, financial costs for getting the wrong gear for a little bit. It's nice to try things out first and getting a feel of the lay of the land before settling down on a more permanent setup.

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My thanks to everyone for the welcome and your comments. Your response has given me more to think about than I had anticipated. This is of course, all to the better and the benefit of a community such as that at Computer Audiophile. Again, my thanks.

 

 

Your suggestions are on-target and to that point, today I received an AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC. My first audition of the DragonFly is with my ER4PT IEMs, Mac PowerBook, and iTunes playing a CD rip of Claude Bolling's 1975 Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio, No. 2 with Jean-Pierre Rampal. As background, I use my iPhone 6 and either Sennheiser headphones or ER4PTs to create a "cone of silence" (recalling of course Maxwell Smart) at work. This is one of my favorite pieces, as a result, I know this piece intimately. Moreover, I listened to it today in anticipation of the audition. Was there a difference? Yes and immediately. The DragonFly opened up the trap-work and brought it back where it should be with a full expression of note decay that I'd missed in comparison to vinyl. Unfortunately, in previously listening to the piece, the trap-work was pushed into the background and "mushy" - Not So with DragonFly Red! This is a very nice improvement and I look forward to seeing how well it performs with the iPhone when my adapter Camera Adapter cable arrives in the next day or so.

 

 

Bottom Line: Thanks for the DragonFly Red recommendation. I performed very nicely indeed.

 

 

So some thoughts about refinement of my goals, but before doing so, a quick remark on observations about the median age on CA members; guilty as charged, over 50. I recall fondly listening to Don Shirely's wonderful "Waterboy" from my father's stereo in the mid 1960s. I of course have that album, as well as several others by Don Shirley, as well as another hundred-odd vinyl jazz and classical music titles.

 

 

Reviewing Objective 2 - Clean up the sound in my iPhone-based system. This problem may be solved in so much as if the DragonFly Red performs as well with the iPhone as with the MacBook Pro, then I'll have experienced a welcome improvement. Of course there is always the question of a better headset in the $400 range (but don't tell the wife!), but perhaps that should wait until later.

 

 

With the thought that I want to see how the DragonFly Red performs with the iPhone, I'll wait to think about how to approach the remaining objectives. However, I again want to thank those that responded. I've still got a lot to think about and appreciate the framework you've provided.

 

 

Thanks,

 

 

Art

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I upgraded from my Sennheiser HD280Pro to an Oppo PM3 at work. I needed a closed headphone so I think that's pretty much the only choice in that price range.

 

I'm partial to closed headphones at work, hence the Sennheisers HD280Pro. It does the job nicely.

 

In considering alternatives, I was thinking about looking into open-back circum-aural headphones, perhaps in the $400 range. This is of course with little real knowledge of the differences.

 

Thoughts and recommendations?

 

Thanks

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

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Regarding "Objective 1 - Configure an easy to play Compter-based audio system for my wife."

 

I'm currently streaming iTunes over Airport Express. My wife is able to control it using "Remote." Unfortunately, even though I'm using a 5G rated wireless system, the signal drops out repeatedly. At the same time, I've shown here how to successfully run "AirPlay."

 

Unfortunately, the house is not wired for speakers or cable. The only system we have is Plug-Link for wired Internet access via the house AC circuitry. Consequently, short of punching holes to run CAT5 (not going to happen), are there any good solutions to get music from my office situated Mac Mini to the stereo in our den that offers better playability than the current Airport Express Approach I'm using?

 

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

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I'm partial to closed headphones at work, hence the Sennheisers HD280Pro. It does the job nicely.

 

In considering alternatives, I was thinking about looking into open-back circum-aural headphones, perhaps in the $400 range. This is of course with little real knowledge of the differences.

 

Thoughts and recommendations?

 

Thanks

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

 

Sennheiser HD600/HD650 are slightly more than $400 but reasonably safe bets.

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Others may have a better solution, but perhaps the simplest one is to install Jriver Media Center on you office Mac, and JRemote on a phone or pad, and connect your portable device to the preamp using the DragonFly. JRMC will catalogue your collection, and JRemote allows you to search and playback the music on the device itself. I think this will probably work much better than AirPlay, which I find hard to deal with. It's a cheap but decent-sounding solution.

 

A more permanent and satisfactory solution would be a small laptop, mini-PC or Mac Mini connected to your stereo with an affordable USB DAC. Connect the laptop/PC to your network with Plug-Link. Keep your music on a NAS in your office and it will always be available to your stereo via Jriver or Foobar or whatever network-friendly playback software you want to use.

 

A laptop is probably the easiest, since it has a built-in screen. A headless PC like the Mini can be controlled with a phone or pad app. The new laptops and PCs with solid-state drives are very quiet and reliable, and you can pretty much leave them on. Just my two cents. :-)

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Thanks. I'll take a look when I have an opportunity.

 

I see you live in the US. You can always call The Cable Company (thecableco.com). They specialize in lending out demo components and accessories. I'm sure they can send you a pair of 600's or 650's to try. They have a lot of other stuff as well. I know them for 20+ years and they have an extremely good reputation.

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Thanks for your comments re: Pluglink. Have you worked with that system for audio applications? In concept, I've already got my MacMini on the network and thought I could run CAT5 from a plug link to the AirPort Express. Your thoughts?

 

Yes, you could do that. It would ensure better transmission of hi-resolution files to your stereo setup. In theory, using JRiver to stream files to a portable device is fine as long as your wifi is robust. I've found Apple routers to be a bit on the puny side, but it's been a while since I've used one. With a laptop/PC wired to your Airport via Plug-Link you would get a much more reliable connection to your music storage. Plus it's always there and ready to play.

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Super. I already use PlugLink throughout the house to provide printer and internet service. I'll simply have to pickup another unit and length of CAT5 cable to make the connection.

 

Your thoughts on JRiver? I'm running iTunes with thoughts of transitioning to something that will allow me to explore High-Rez. However, it must be simple as the intended user is my wife, who is decidedly non-technical. She simply wants it to work without "fiddling."

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Super. I already use PlugLink throughout the house to provide printer and internet service. I'll simply have to pickup another unit and length of CAT5 cable to make the connection.

 

Your thoughts on JRiver? I'm running iTunes with thoughts of transitioning to something that will allow me to explore High-Rez. However, it must be simple as the intended user is my wife, who is decidedly non-technical. She simply wants it to work without "fiddling."

 

Yah, Plug-Link is a boon to us folks in older houses. :-)

 

JRiver is pretty straightforward. And it sounds much better than iTunes. And it plays any kind of file, so yes, you can start enjoying some hi-res downloads. Once you get it set up it's pretty straightforward. There's a comprehensive wiki online, and it's not difficult. If your wife has a portable device, load it with JRemote, set up the connection, and she can have music anywhere in the house. If she's on a computer, install JRiver there and point it to the music storage. She can start it, click on "Audio" in the sidebar, do a simple search and she's ready to go. The thing I like about JRiver is that it's very unfussy about perfect tagging. And I don't get paid for promoting it, I just find it so convenient for when I don't want to fuss with anything.

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"Your thoughts on JRiver? I'm running iTunes with thoughts of transitioning to something that will allow me to explore High-Rez. However, it must be simple as the intended user is my wife, who is decidedly non-technical. She simply wants it to work without "fiddling."

 

Download an open source (free) music player called Clementine. I'm willing to bet that she will like that one the best. Its kind of like what iTunes should be. Also, there's no reason why you can't have a selection music players on your computer. A lot of people overlook that, and spend a lot of time trying to find that one perfect player.

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"Your thoughts on JRiver? I'm running iTunes with thoughts of transitioning to something that will allow me to explore High-Rez. However, it must be simple as the intended user is my wife, who is decidedly non-technical. She simply wants it to work without "fiddling."

 

Download an open source (free) music player called Clementine. I'm willing to bet that she will like that one the best. Its kind of like what iTunes should be. Also, there's no reason why you can't have a selection music players on your computer. A lot of people overlook that, and spend a lot of time trying to find that one perfect player.

 

Clementine is very good, but JRiver has a considerable advantage in terms of remote usabilty, IMO.

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@Art_Russell,

If possible*,

1) Consider moving one of your Macs to the den**.

2) As per ecwl’s suggestion, get a Chord Mojo ($599).

3) Get two cables:

Cable A: Micro USB <——> USB A, and

Cable B: Stereo 3.5mm male <——> L/R RCA cable.

3) Use Cable A to connect the Mojo USB input to the Mac-in-den's USB output***.

4) Use Cable B to connect one of the Mojo’s headphone outputs to your NAD pre-amp.

5) Play music using iTunes or JRiver (or whatever playback software you like).

⤴︎ Approach optimises all existing hardware... without home hacking.

System can be set-up to be as user-friendly as you wish.

Mojo may be used with H/Ps as/when you wish, in or out of home.

Chances are, you may end up spending more time in the den with wife, with music.

And, you are ready to go high-res... up to 768KHz PCM and DSD256 (depending on software/PC capabilities).

*If not, perhaps time to invest in a new Mac for home office? ;)

**Data from Mac-in-den can still be accessible via wi-fi to home office.

***Or, to a iPhone/iPad via data-capable Lightning <——> USB adaptor.

 

HTH.

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