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Re: OT question about sound cards/chip-sets and high-end music systems

On Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 08:51:52PM -0600, Paul E Condon wrote:
> I have been out of touch with the high-end audio world since I bought
> this system. I had never heard of Pass Labs until you mentioned them
> in your email. Wikipedia puts them in the class where Adcom was when I
> bought. I don't want to re-join the craziness of puriest hi-fi audio,
> but I do want to investigate upgrading the way that the digital music
> that I have now on CDs is stored.

Nelson Pass did have a hand in a few Adcom circuit designs. I
would say the the Pass Labs equipment is a bit more expensive
although higher performing than the Adcom stuff. Mr. Pass is unique
in that he is heavily involved in the DIY community and many of his
desgins are released (for non-commercial purposes) to the community.

>From the Wikipedia article:

"Unusually for a leading figure producing commercial equipment, Pass
has also long been very supportive of the DIY audio community, by way
of published articles (Notably in "The Audio Amateur") and schematics
of out of production models on the Pass Labs site and more recently
the First Watt site. Extremely unusually for such a noted figure, he
is readily contactable and frequently interacts directly (if tersely)
with audio hobbyists individually: all of which hobbiests are
extremely grateful for and for which he is held in very high
esteem.[5][6][7] His nickname among the DIY audio community is "Papa".

You can find at this forum: http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/pass-labs/
His DIY website: http://www.passdiy.com/default.html

> I think it ought to be possible to copy data that is now on CD onto
> modern hard-disk and play it with quality that is no worse than I have
> now. 

Yes, I agree. You can use programs such as grip to get accurate rips
of your CD's and store them as FLAC files on really big cheap hard
disks. Some people swear by EAC (Exact Audio Copy), but it only runs on
Windows. Not an option for me no matter what they claim. 

> I accept the inferiority of CD to true purist hi-fi. (CD is good
> enough for me, but I can't abide earphones.)

In my humble listening, CD's ain't all that bad considering that
they've have a long time to smooth out a lot of kinks. Besides, you
can get a good amount of music in high resolution (24 bit/96kh and
greaters) formats these days, e.g. http://hdtracks.com Trent Reznor,
of Nine Inch Nails fame, released one of his albums for *free* in a
variety of formats including 24bit/96khx FLAC and WAV. 
Link: http://theslip.nin.com/

> I believe in free speach, free beer, and caveat emptor. If you have an
> idea that involves Debian, please discuss it here. I may not be able
> to use it myself, but it might be helpful to someone else. 
Ok. Simply, Voyage Linux + MPD + PC Engines Engines ALIX single board
computer = audiophile grade open sauce goodness at 4 watts total power

Voyage Linux is a Debian based distro modified to run on
embedded and low power x86 machines. It's desinged to run entirely in
RAM and can load from compact flash cards as small as 128MB. Images
are available for the PC Engines ALIX series boards. Link:

MPD is music player daemon. The daemon runs on the the headless ALIX
boards and plays your FLAC files. The client which controls MPD can be
on any other machine on your network. This can be your PC, laptop,
PDA, bluetotooth phones, IRDA remotes, etc., etc., etc. There are web
clients, Java clients, ncurses clients, GTK and QT clients, Windows
and Max OS X clients, iPod/iTouch clients... In other words, you have
many options for how you want to control your music. 
Links: http://mpd.wikia.com/wiki/Music_Player_Daemon_Wiki
The PC Engines ALIX single board computers are small, power efficient,
AMD Geode x86 based single devices. They are totally fanless and dead
silent, a prerequisite for my dedicated listeing space. They're mainly used as
firewall/routers and wireless access points. I had been using one
their previous WRAP boards (and still do!) with m0n0wall as my primary firewall. 
When PC Engines started to offer the ALIX, which now sports USB ports, I
got the idea to use the board as a USB music server feeding an external
USB DAC. I use both the ALIX 2d2 and the 3d2 as music servers. The
boards are relativley inexpensive (approx $125 USD for the board &  $15 for case) 
for the flexibilty that they offer. Links: http://www.pcengines.ch/alix3d2.htm

Other reasons I am fond of the PC Engnines boards are their power
effiecncy and their general purpose desgin. My ALIX never draws more
than 4 watts of power (using s Kill-A-Watt meter) when playing files,
and they're general purpose desgins means that, in the future,  I'll be 
able to recylcle them for other uses in the event that i stop suing them as
music servers.

My setup is as follows: My Debian desktop, which resides in the
bedroom, is where I rip all my CD's to FLAC, and is also setup as an
NFS server. The ALIX resides in my listening room where is is
connected to my router via a CAT5 cable. The ALIX boots into Voyage
Linux and MPD starts up. MPD fetches FLAC's via NFS on my desktop. The
ALIX feeds an external Wavelength Audio Brick USB DAC; the standard 
snd_usb_audio module is all that is required. Music is controlled from
any computer in the house, i.e., you can, if you wish,  have mutiple clients
simultaneously controlling one mpd server, For example, I can use my
Nokia N800 tablet or my Thinkpad to control the music. Song changes
are nearly instantaneous over 100Mb network. The ALIX also sports
mini-PCI slots in case you want to implement this in a wirless fashion.

You can just about use any decent quality USB DAC that fits your
budget. Most are Linux friendly. Current versions of MPD support 32
bit audio, if you're considering high-resolution files in the future.
An upgrade of the USB DAC is all that would be required. 

There are many high quality USB DAC avialble.



Less pricey: http://www.devilsound.com/DAC/

You could also use a USB to S/PDIF converter to feed a S/PDIF DAC. I
used to use a Trends UD-10.1 with my Adcom GDA-700 HDCD DAC before I
purchaed the Brick DAC. The Trends also as a DAC built in as well as
it is baed on the Burr Brown PCM2704 chip. 


There's one on sale at Audiogon for cheap:

> So far the responses that I have gotten comfirm without a doubt that
> what I was told by the sales person in Best Buy is not at all the
> whole story. There is *a lot* more to the solution than just buying an
> adapter cable. Mention of Burr Brown 24bit ladder DACs brought back memories
> of technical problems that simply have no solution via software alone.

Ack! Best Buy? Danger Will Robinson!

> Even if this information doesn't fit with your expectations, please make
> your recommendation.
This is my recommendation. And with a decent USB DAC it sounds
absolutley wonderful. So much that my Theta Data Basic CD transport
hasn't been power up in almost 18 months.

I hope this helps.

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