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Comments on iTunes, Amarra, Apple, active speakers, etc

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A few thoughts:


• While I know iTunes' audio performance is flawed, there is one big reason why I haven't bailed on it: the ability to manually level match and EQ every song. To my knowledge, there is no other Mac audio player that allows you to equalize each song and level match them. Outside of dedicated listening to a single album (which I don’t do much anymore), the majority of my listening is done using the random play or genius features in iTunes. A decade ago when this feature revolutionized my listening experience, a lack EQ presets would have, for me, negated any reason to use the software. There has been a lot of great music recorded that has less than stellar low end. It’s amazing sometimes how good an old gem can sound when you give it some serious bass enhancement (The Tubes and early Van Halen come to mind). While Amarra is probably fantastic, I’m not going to be purchasing it until it has the ability to apply level and EQ presets to each song. I refuse to go back to a dozen years ago when random play meant one song with a moderate level and very little bass being followed by one with a high average level and tons of low end (or vice a versa). Just so you know, I got in touch with the people at Sonic Studio about this and got no reply.


• My frustration with Apple’s lack of development and improvement of both iTunes and Core Audio is getting greater with each passing month. I’m feeling disenfranchised.


• After reading Chris’ article on his chance to audition the new Magico M5, I feel the need to editorialize. Not discounting Mr. Connaker’s experience, the M5 is inherently flawed (as is any passive speaker) due to Magico’s insistence to use passive crossovers. The simple fact is that, all things being equal (other than price), a passive loudspeaker will never outperform an active one. Of course, when you’re talking about a $50k loudspeaker, hitting a price point is no longer a consideration like it is with speakers going for $2,000 a pair. While I’m not advocating that people do like me and design and build your own active speakers (which isn’t as hard as it used to be), I would suggest that anyone thinking about dropping over $5,000 on loudspeakers seriously consider active solutions by Sonicweld, Legend Acoustics, Meridian, B&O, Arvus and Emerald Physics (to name a few). I had a chance a few years ago to hear active B&W 801's with a DEQX processor and Bryston amps versus the Meridian DSP8000's versus passive 801's with Bryston monoblocks. The passive B&W’s sounded incredible, but the exact some speaker with DEQX & multiple amps or the Meridians were an order of magnitude better. Now, imagine how much better the M5 would sound as an active speaker (let alone a digital, active speaker).


• I’m sick of reading reviews of $5,000 speaker cables, interconnects and power cords. The latest idiocy is a guy on Audiophilia.com stating that he’s burning all of his store bought CD’s to “black” CD-R’s because he’s found that they sound better ( whaa?! ). I learned a long time ago to never argue with imbeciles and mad men. Bargain with them, sure, but arguing with them is a waste of time. I’ve stopped going to several web sites because these types of reviews indicate that they know nothing about the science of audio and have no common sense. Are good quality cables necessary to get the most out of your audio system? Absolutely, but when you try to tell me that a power cord or interconnect has transformed your listening experience, sorry, I’m just not buying that shit. That indicates that you are either a schill or moron. If CA starts extolling virtues of $500, gold, half-meter USB cables, I'm out of here, too.


Happy New Year,

jeff henning (a bored web designer who loves listening to and making music with his Mac)


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Hi Jeff - Your thoughts are always accepted and appreciated here at CA.


Your statements about active loudspeakers are right-on. I've yet to hear any that sound better than the Q5, but I agree the path to better sound is via an active system.


I don't blame you for being sick of reviews of the items you mention. I've been there before and for some of the stuff I still am there. I have done extensive listening and research talking to AES Fellows and brilliant engineers about some of these things and the results were interesting. Here are a couple examples, not meant to step on your points or opinions rather I'm only sharing my experiences.


In the past I have never been a big supporter of spending thousands of dollars on power cables. I do believe everything in a system matters, but I've always held power cables way way way down on the list of "everything." Last week was a real eye-opener for me. While listening to a couple DACs I noticed the sound of one was very lackluster and not what I would expect from a $25k component. After a few minutes of music, the power cord was switched from the stock cable that shipped with the DAC to a Nordost Odin power cable. Let me make this clear, I didn't want to believe, I tried not to like it, but the sonic benefit couldn't be ignored. This change in sound quality, was huge. I don't care what anyone thinks about that previous statement. It's 100% true and was the opinion of a colleague listening to the system as well. Reasons for the sonic difference aside, the difference was awesome. Before experiencing this myself I would have never believed anyone who said what I've just said.


Your comments about black CR-Rs echo those of most people. However, there can be differences in sound between the regular and black CDs. Part of the difference comes from massively more jitter / timing errors that can't be corrected in real time with a CD player. Switching to a different CD medium may change the sound but not always for the better. One CD can cause the servo in the CD player to move very rapidly which increases the jitter greatly. It can sound different, some may think it sounds better. The same can be said of the colored pens people used to use on the CDs edges. They increased jitter tremendously and some people like the sound better. I didn't invent this explanation. It was told to me by one of the most respected audio engineers in the world. I like the explanation because it is based on objective science and is easy to back up with measurements.


Thanks again for sharing your comments. I like when the CA readers step on their soapboxes and tell it like it is. People's opinions are wonderful to read and part of what makes the site fun. A well thought out opinion that doesn't attack anyone personally can expand one's mind and open them to other possibilities.


Have a great day and happy new year as well.








Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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Guest Claude

Well, I guess it wont take long before you read about 500 $ gold usb cables here. ;-)

No need to leave, we all still have much to learn about computer audio and this is a great place to do just that.

By the way, I am one of these mad guys, who believes in power cables to transform listening experiences and you can argue with me, as long as you dont call me a moron.


And there is a very easy explanation for self burned CDs sounding better. Havent heard about the black ones, but have experience with gold CDs. Even absolutely new CDs might have errors, this has something to do with the production process. For sure, the quality of the pressings differ. E.g. Sony introduced "Blue Spec" which uses a blue laser which makes more precise pits on the glass master and hence in the pressed cd. The result: better sound with CD Playback, because the laser can read the pits more easily.


If you rip a cd with e.g. exact audio or db poweramp (Bitperfect) and burn it on a gold or other very good cd (low speed and good cd writer like plextor!) and play it back on a cd player you will often hear improvements, because the cd will be easier read.

I agree with you, that this is kind of crazy, but it works!



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It may be quite late at night here in the UK but I can't quite let the comment below pass away into the night without some comment.


"The simple fact is that, all things being equal (other than price), a passive loudspeaker will never outperform an active one."


Whilst it is true that a speaker drive unit driven directly from an amplifier rather than through a crossover will perform better, that increase in performance is only meaningful if the negative impact of placing a relatively complex active piece of circuitry between the source and amplifier is less.


And this is not a given.


I have heard a high spec passive crossover (Silver inducters/Decent caps) run circles round high end 'active systems'.


Interestingly that passive crossover cost around the $3000 mark!(check out the prices of Mundorf Silver Foil Inductors!)


A passive solution will always be much simpler than an active one and therein lies it's strength and elegance. Less can be More!


What is more with increasingly sophisticated speaker driver units appearing on the market and better components the balance of performance may be moving further towards passive solutions.


I may never hear the speakers Chris has reviewed but to assume because they are not active means they are inherently flawed is an illogical assumption as assuming any active speaker is, by this fact, not flawed.


Speakers should be judged on how they sound, and that alone.




Trying to make sense of all the bits...MacMini/Amarra -> WavIO USB to I2S -> DDDAC 1794 NOS DAC -> Active XO ->Bass Amp Avondale NCC200s, Mid/Treble Amp Sugden Masterclass -> My Own Speakers

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I have to say that I agree with Jeffca regarding active speakers. I have never had a chance to listen to a $50k pair of speakers active or passive but at $5k and under, from what I have heard active speakers far outperform the passive ones. I own a pair of under $5k active speakers and cannot believe how good they are. I can only imagine what a $50k active speaker system might sound like. I have read people say that a top Meridian system is the best they have heard.

I do find it disturbing that very expensive speakers are not active since a good speaker designer must know the benefits of active crossover speaker design. Perhaps it is simpler to concentrate on only the speaker and passive crossover as a whole as opposed to concentrating on electronic design of crossovers and amplifiers to drive them, etc.

I might add a few names to your list such as: Adam, Dynaudio, ATC, Genelec.




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I never wanted to believe that delivery of power would make a difference especially when you see $1000 power cords and $5000 power conditioners.


But a few months ago i had to consider a strip for surge protection, and it made a difference. The biggest for audio was a huge drop in the noise floor.


Then i bought ESP MusicCord Pro power cables - the difference in my amp wasn't too large, but into my subwoofer...wow...it's like listening to a different setup. Its much faster and tighter. I didnt spend that much on all of this (

[br]Mac Mini > Lio-8 > Graaf Gm-20 > Stax ESL-F83x[br]Ipod / Wadia Dock / Wadia 830 > ULN-2 > Krell KAV400xi > B&W 805

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With regards sound quality from iTunes, it's always educational to try other players and see if you can get better results. However, if you're using EQ and matching volume between tracks (and I totally understand the desirability of this) I'm pretty sure you're not getting the best that iTunes has to offer.


I took a similar approach when I first started using iTunes... but then found the music to be a little dried out as a result. It lacked some excitement and just seemed to lack the right "tone" -- even though my EQ settings had seemingly added a lot of desirable color. Sorry -- not quite sure what words to use. What I mean to say is that the EQ did what I was expecting, but the net result didn't sound true to the instruments and flow of the music. Something like that.


So... you may not want to go there in the end, but you might try disabling all of your eq and see if this makes an improvement.




2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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I'm not trying to get into a pissing contest, but I think you're missing a few things.


Yes, an active system is more complex to implement (of course, if you've seen the passive x-overs for some high-end speakers that isn't necessarily true), but the decrease in distortion and phase anomolies are so great that it more than offsets the deleterious effect of one extra, active item in the signal chain. The extra db or two of noise is well worth the trade off. And, don't forget that, in essence, you're just moving the filters to a part of the signal chain where they can do there jobs much better and more efficiently.


When you're talking about a $3,000 passive crossover, going active is a no brainer. In the pro arena, Yamaha, BSS and Xilica make some fantastic loudspeaker management processors that give you everything that passive will, plus a whole lot more (EQ, dynamics, etc) and they're less expensive. One other huge benefit is the stability of an active x-over vs. a passive. Capacitors slowly change value over time and, if stressed, can do it quite rapidly. This isn't a even a consideration with a digital LSM.


With Xilica's top end units (which start at $2,250), you can get transient perfect crossovers using 1st order or FIR filters. For an extra $2k or so, you can go the full DEQX active route and get room correction as well.


Also, a well executed powered loudspeaker can offer a great deal of value due to the synergy of perfectly matched amps and speakers in the system. You are paying for watts that aren't needed. The end result can be way better than separates for the same price (as is the case with my rig).


I've owned a pair of Paradigm Reference Active LCR-450's and two Servo 15 subs for a decade. While not as powerful or as clean as the Meridian DSP 8000's or the DEQX'd 801's I heard, within their envelope, they offer about 95% of the performance of these killer active systems. I was amazed at how much alike they sounded.


And there is one other thing: it's almost impossible to get a passive loudspeaker to have a frequency response in a plus/minus 1db window (hence the $3,000 passive x-over).


Since I'm a nut and have the technical where-with-all, my replacement for the LCR-450's are DIY's using Dayton cabinets, BG Neo planar magnetic drivers and a Xilica xD-4080 x-over. The biggest challenge for me is learning to do quality work with a router for the mounting holes on the front baffle! Think of a planar, 3 cab-per-side version of a Duntech Sovereign (it's a LM-M-T-M-LM design).


Ultimately, I want to do dipole line source with 16 BG Neo-10's & Neo-3's per side to go with the Servo 15 sub's. Basically, my own update of the legendary Infinity Servo-Statics.






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with regard to power, has anybody tried any of Mapleshade's power products? I've got a pair of their double helix speaker cables on order to try out in my system (Macbook w/iTunes/Peachtree Nova/Totem Mite's). (They offer a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee.) Will let you know how it goes.


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