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  1. Great, complete, wonderful review ! Thanks, Rajiv ! For what it’s worth, I’d like to add something for the appreciation of the quality over price ratio of the Bartók. This device is, in essence : a network bridge + DAC + headphone amplifier — I don’t add “preamplifier” to the equation because, nowadays, most desktop DACs do have a variable output capable of feeding an amplifier directly. The point I’d like to make is that when you’re comparing Bartók with seperate gears, you have to factor in also the cables cost ! If you where to add a separate headphone amplifier to another DAC in the same quality-range as the Bartók, you’d have to add at least, I think, a 1'000 USD cable to get an equivalent SQ ! That’s why one can say that the 1'500 USD option for the headphone amp in the Bartók is very reasonable in cost indeed ! (The Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold Headphone Amplifier is around 6'000, by the way.) The same can be said of the network bridge part : the equivalence to what is inside the Bartók would be around 4'000 for the device PLUS 1'000 for a decent XLR cable. Substract this from the 13'500 price of the Bartók and you’re presented with a DAC (+preamp) costing 8'500 USD. Never until now, could we have the sonic qualities and musical grandeur of the Bartók this side of 10K ! About the “gap” between Bartók and Rossini : it can be diminished by adding a Rossini Clock to the Bartók. I didn’t have the budget for a Rossini anyway, but I could afford first the Bartók and, later, could add the Rossini Clock. I’m more than delighted with the results and, as I do also listen quite a lot with headphones, the great headphone amp inside the Bartók abolishes any beginning of “frustration” I could have. My two cents… Olivier :-{)
  2. 1. Sonore UltraRendu / Rendu Signature 2. Audirvana’s move to support UPnP/DLNA, thus Sonore's “rendu” range (micro-, ultra-, Signature) I once thought that Amarra Symphony on a MacMini was the best I could have to feed my Bel Canto 3.7 DAC (through REFlink). Then I tried the microRendu. I was hooked and went up the path: → Signature power supply → UltraRendu (≈ Signature Rendu). I wouldn't have believed how much I could still gain in the purely “0 and 1” realm! Cheers. Olivier :-{) PS: my signature needs an edit… when I’ll have time…
  3. Let’s be plain: I’m more than happy with the sound coming out of my MacMini through Amara. But, I’m pretty annoyed — to say the least — with the direction Apple is taking with iTunes, if we can judge from their latest update, iTunes 11. I won’t elaborate here, but they are breaking the library management in worrying ways. And, for me — and I guess for many audiophiles —, iTunes is good for not much but library management. Luckily, I didn’t “upgrade” iTunes on my music server. But how long will it be possible to keep iTunes 10 in working order, through upcoming system updates? Who knows… Maybe not very much. So, I’m starting to consider switching over to a Windows 8 server solution. The simple fact that THE Computer Audiophile (hello Chris!) is using one is soothing to some of my concerns. However, before the “big step”, I’m wondering if I may investigate some points by installing Windows on my machine. So, I’m posing a series of simple questions to those in the know. I know it’s possible to install Windows 8 through Boot Camp on the internal SSD. (Correct?) But I’d rather install it on an external drive and boot Windows from it. Is it possible? Does Windows 8 Pro have the necessary drivers to output bit perfect audio through the USB interface of a 2012 MacMini? The most recommended player seems to be JRiver. Provided points 1. and 2. are fullfilled and JRiver is operational, will I have a valuable evaluation, through my MacMini, of the sound I could get from a C.A.P.S. server? Or there are so many issues that it’s an unfair comparison with Amarra? Yes, I know, JRiver is coming to the Mac. But I’m asking anyway. I thank very much in advance those capable and willing to give reliable answers to these questions. Olivier Spinnler
  4. Dear fellow computer audiophiles, I’m about to replace my iMac music server with a Mac Mini. I don’t want to bother you with the whole debate once more. I’m not a techie so Linux and highly tuned Windows systems are out of the question for me. So, a Mac Mini is a no brainer, with 8 GB RAM and SSD. Where I do have a (slight) doubt is with the CPU options. Currently (July 2012), there are three options: 2.3 GHz i5; 2.5 GHz i5; 2.7 GHz i7. Is there any argument NOT to go for the fastest, more powerfull option? We can consider the price difference as totally irrelevant in regard to the system this server will be feeding. Let me just add that yesterday, I replaced a Halide Bridge with a Stello U3 and the difference was significant enough as to confirm — at least to my understanding — that we definitely have to chase the absolute last word in timing. That’s why I’m very inclined to think that the more processing power the server has, the more at ease it will be for feeding bits through the interface, however small the difference. Will a more technical guy tell me wrong? Thanks in advance for your help and insightfull advices. Regards. Olivier Spinnler :-{)
  5. I was interested in a Mach2 Music Server. I don’t know if I am anymore, because they didn’t bother answering 3 emails I sent them over the last 2 weeks answering very simple questions. My last attempt was just inquiring wether they would deliver to Switzerland. Very simple to answer “yes” or “no”, don’t you think? Has anyone have any positive experience with this company? My general policy is that if the pre-sale service is not up to par, it doesn’t augur well for the after-sale. Thank you for your feedback. Olivier Spinnler
  6. In the never-ending quest for the best possible sound without breaking the bank, I recently remembered that someone, in this very forum, had suggested we could try and play with the priority of the processes at the operating system level. Well, I’m not a computing engineer, nor nerdy enough to play with command lines in the Unix console. But in one of those forehead slapping moments, I happened to connect the former suggestion with the capabilities of App Tamer. App Tamer is a program designed to put to sleep background applications you are not actually using right now. It also allows you to adjust the priorities of the processes. It’s kind of an interactive “Activity Monitor”. You can try it free for 15 days and fiddle with the different settings. But the most radical twist, and dramatically sound improving, is this killer feature: tick the “Gaming Mode” checkbox and come back to Amarra (Cmd-Tab, or click on the Amarra window). Then, what happens is that Amarra gets to work undisturbed by irrelevant (to music playing) background tasks. And, in my experience, the improvement in sound is really not small: more small details, more microinformation, instantly translating into more life-like sound. What happens also, is that the whole Amarra user interface seems to freeze. Needless to say, so does iTunes. So, you have to reserve this hack for serious listening — from cache and in playlist mode. What I find also interesting, is that the user interface of Amarra seems to be so separate from the sound engine that the sound engine is the foreground task and the user interface a background task. Not a casual fact, IMHO. Discussion: I know there are disbelievers who argue that a modern computer has more then enough processing power to animate simultaneously email + downloading + uploading + disk access + desktop animations + video rendering… yes, yes, BUT: the processing is shared between the tasks and, macroscopically, it doesn’t matter if a download or an upload stream is interrupted for some microseconds. Not so with a digital stream meant to represent a soundwave. I’m pretty sure the only situation where this phenomenon is irrelevant is when the DAC (I mean the hifi gear, not the actual chip) is designed in a way to be immune to the temporality of the incoming bits by buffering and reclocking them. It’s not the case with mine, that’s why I think I can still improve sound with such tweaks. It’s also possible that the more powerful the computer (CPU + bus + memory access +…) , the less obvious the effect of tweaking process priorities. But it’s interesting to notice that even the asynchronous USB of the Halide Bridge seems to benefit from a steadier stream of bits. Or is it still another effect? All I can say is that I — and my wife too — can definitely hear the sound improvement and that it all makes a lot of sense. NB: I’m pretty sure other music players (PM, Decibel, etc.) might also benefit from this hack. But I haven’t tested yet, as Amarra remains my current favorite. I welcome your feedback and I’ll be happy to read some prose more technically grounded than mine. Olivier Spinnler Switzerland
  7. Hi to all, New member, but avid reader for 6+ months. I’ve learnt a lot about computer audio through this site and his forums. Thanks very much, to Chris in particular. Now, I’d like to share my experience so far. Regarding Amarra, I tend to share the appreciation of the majority here: great sound, but not very convenient and rather buggy interface, with all due respect to the engineers at Sonic. Nirvâna would be iTunes convenience and rock solid stability with the sonic engine of Sonic Studio. But up to now, it’s not there… Here’s how it goes with my 0.02. Amarra is very «touchy» about different aspects of the system. So: • It’s very worth it to go through every possible step to assure it works in the cleanest possible environment. In short: 1. Computer connected to hifi, 100% dedicated to audio reproduction. 2. Clean install of the system. 3. As few background tasks as possible, as recommended by Sonic Studio. No Spotlight, no Time Machine, no Spell Checking, no keyboard macros, etc. 4. One further hint: with a tool such as Onyx, it’s possible to even install a “Quit” menu choice into the Finder. It’s worth quitting the Finder, as soon as you’ve fired up Amarra. 5. Check the “Accounts Preference Pane” and remove any “Login Items”. It’s OK to let Amarra startup automatically here, though. Thus you comply to the rule “Amarra before anything else”, and you give it the maximum chance of getting a “clean, single uninterrupted block of memory” for cache playing. 5. I’ve found it’s possible to let VNC (i.e. screen sharing) functionality ON. I’m using a Macbook Air as a remote and I haven’t found any adverse impact on SQ. For things that do, read on. • Up to now — January 19th, 2011 — it’s impossible to get clean reading (beginning and end of tracks) or gapless playing in “follow iTunes” mode. For casual listening while washing dishes (you see what I mean), if you can live with the stuttering, let iTunes choose your tracks and hand them over to Amarra. For any serious listening, forget it and go into “Playlist, Cache Mode”. Also true with Amarra Mini. Now for some conveniences «tricks». 1. In the Keyboard Preference Pane, you can reassign the menu shortcuts of any program, Amarra included. You don’t need a keyboard macro program, thus you spare CPU processing power. The two I’ve found tremendously useful: Cmd-0 (zero) to clear the playlist and Cmd-L to load selected tracks from iTunes. 2. So, playing any album, any symphony or string quartett, goes like this: - select the tracks in iTunes (Shif-click does the trick) - Cmd-Tab to get into Amarra - Cmd-Zero (in the case you have a non-empty playlist) - Cmd-L (to load the tracks) - wait a few seconds until the tracks are loaded into Cache - space-bar to begin playing Complicated? Convoluted? Fatiguing? Irritating? Frankly, I don’t think so. It’s nothing compared to all the gymnics you have to do with an LP (cleaning the disc, the needle, and so on…) And well worth it for the sound improvement over «straight iTunes»!! (Sidebar note: in case you want to update the reading statistics in iTunes, it’s easy enough through a script, also triggered by a keyboard shortcut.) About the trouble with the track names in the main window or in the playlist window getting out of sync with what is actually played: you may consider it’s a bug (tongue in cheek). But you may also consider it’s a symptom the memory is getting “dirty” (read fragmented, discontinuous. My guess, I’m not a computer scientist). Anyway, log-out (Shift-Cmd-Q). Log back in… and… snap… everything’s working fine again. With a clean, clean, clean system as advised, it takes just a handful of seconds. As an added bonus (???) I also noticed that the sound is generally improved after this. Which appears to me — and you, I think — like bad news, if we have to do this, from time to time, to get pristine SQ. But maybe, such is life… maybe it’s the digital equivalent of demagnetizing the heads of a tape recorder? At least until someone comes up with an automatic (I mean, in software) way of doing it. Which brings to me to this point: how “clean” is your system, when you do the comparisons between softwares? More than once, I’ve noted that rebooting the system seems to do the same kind of “magic” as upgrading the interconnects or dealing with the micro-vibrations (spikes, wood-blocks and the like). Anyone else with me? When I do serious listening, as mentioned above, the only software I have running are Amarra and iTunes, not even the Finder. Plus screen sharing. Activity Monitor confirms there’s absolutely no disk access, thus cutting short any discussion about the music on SSD drives. Thank you for reading this long post. Olivier Spinnler Switzerland
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