Category Archives: Audio

EarStudio – firmware update 1.3.2

After skipping 1.3.0, which brought the LDAC codec (among other tweaks) to the ES100, I decided to apply the latest update via my Mac mini. Fortunately, Radsone has improved the instructions for entering DFU mode and it worked perfectly.

Once finished with the update, the LDAC codec was automatically selected and I must say, it sounds fantastic paired with my Pixel 2. For those unfamiliar, LDAC supports 24/96 over Bluetooth. Bravo!

MHDT Lab Pagoda

MHDT Laboratory Audio Devices has been producing their line of affordable NOS (non-oversampling) DACs since 2002. The Pagoda was introduced in 2014 and is a bit of a departure for MHDT Lab with its use of dual PCM1704 R-2R DAC chips. These chips are legendary (bordering on cult status) for their superb sound quality. It’s most unfortunate the PCM1704 family of chips are no longer being manufactured.

Some specs

  • 4 digital inputs (BNC, USB, RCA, Toslink)
  • 24/192 max on all inputs
  • no digital filter
  • no op-amps
  • no feedback
  • tube buffered output (GE5670 3 mica)
  • output level is 3.0v

With the current breakneck pace of DAC development the Pagoda might seem a bit long in the tooth for those who seek extremely high-res PCM and DSD rates. Obviously, this DAC is not for them. This DAC is for folks (like me) who find the NOS approach to sound more natural and engaging. Good design and implementation is key, of course, as it is with any audio component and my ears tell me the wizards at MHDT Lab know exactly what they’re doing.

With the vast majority of my music files being CD rips, getting 16/44.1 right is of utmost importance to me. Additionaly, I’ve explored the high resolution landscape in earnest over the course of several years and have acquired some nice downloads ranging from 24/44.1 to 24/384 and a smattering of DSD titles as well. I’ve found anything beyond 24/192 (or maybe even 24/96) is lost on me, as is oversampling to extremely high rates. I don’t care about DSD and care even less about MQA. Horses for courses.

While there’s been quite a bit written/shared regarding various DACs in the MHDT Lab line, the Pagoda has seen little online chatter. IMO it deserves better. The Pagoda paints a wonderfully analog sonic picture with gobs of detail, great dynamics, and no digital harshness. The sound isn’t mushy, soft, rolled-off, or “tubey” in any way. There is a certain rightness to the sound that is just remarkable regardless of bit depth/sample rate.

If you’re in the market for an affordable R-2R DAC you might want to give the Pagoda a listen.

MHDT Lab

Nice comprehensive reviews can be found at Head-Fi and TNT-Audio.

 

Schiit Audio Eitr

I’ll say it up front .. Schiit Audio’s $179 USB-SPDIF converter is the best bang-for-the-buck audio component I’ve come across. In fact, I would say the same if it were 3 times the price. If you’re in need of a device such as this, don’t hesitate to order one. They offer a 15 day return policy (15% re-stocking fee) if you don’t like it. Find it here: Schiit Eitr.

From their FAQ:

Eitr does three things:

  1. It offers electromagnetic and electrostatic isolation from the USB source via a unique transformer-coupling method. This, we’ve found, is superior to optocouplers, which are inherently high-jitter devices.
  2. It eliminates any connection between the USB power and ground and system power—Eitr’s low-noise and reclocking sections are completely self-powered.
  3. It provides much higher quality, independent crystal-based clocks for the USB input and SPDIF output, operating at both 44.1 and 48kHz multiples.

 

 

eitr_back_1920

 

EarStudio – another follow up

On May 8th Radsone delivered their 6th firmware update adding DFU support for macOS users (among other features). A welcome update indeed. Previous firmware updates were available only through a Windows PC.

The update instructions were not difficult, just a bit confusing. The update is run in Terminal and when I got stuck I emailed Radsone support for help. They got back to me with the solution a few hours later.

Thank you Radsone!

You can find the download at EarStudio by Radsone

 

Speaking of synergy

While many of my audiophile brethren have continued using their CD players during the past decade, I have not. The convenience of streaming and computer-based audio is just too compelling for me to bother with physical media other than the occasional CD rip, thus my CDs and CD player went into storage long ago. Never looked back. Well, the time has come to revisit my almost-forgotten CD player and spin some CDs. How retro.

Why after all this time? I have a musician acquaintance who is interested in hearing my system. He’s somewhat fascinated with the path I’ve taken, which is in stark contrast to his own. Being firmly in the CD camp, my friend eschews streaming services and has virtually no interest in having a computer in his system. He’d like to bring some of his favorite CDs along for our listening session so I unpacked my 15 yr. old Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 and dug out some of my CDs.

The Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 (pronounced “New Tube”) is a modified Marantz CD player from The Netherlands. The refinements include a tube output stage which presumably has the most significant impact on the sound. Less digital. More goodness. In keeping with the KISS principle I connected the CDP directly to my amp. 

Being a jazz fan I first grabbed a smattering of familiar old favorites .. Chet, Miles, Stan Getz, and Bill Evans. I think my jaw actually dropped. I’m FLOORED with the sound quality. Next up .. Steely Dan, Mark Knopfler, and The Doors. I can’t recall my CDs ever sounding THIS good. Please don’t misunderstand, I always enjoyed the great sound from this CD player, but this is quite a surprise. So, what’s the deal? What’s changed since this CDP was last in the mix? Well, everything .. amp, speakers, cables .. everything.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle 

Achieving system synergy is often an accidental affair, but not always. Thankfully, many audiophiles on this same path to audio nirvana happily share their experiences. A perfect example is the countless reports of the near “magical” synergy between Decware amps and Omega loudspeakers and from recent personal experience, I concur. Apparently, the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 is a great match as well. Synergy by accident? Yes indeed, a most happy accident.

 

A couple of old reviews can still be found on Enjoy The Music and Stereophile if you care to read more about the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000.

 

 

EarStudio follow up

Radsone recently announced the EarStudio is now available on Amazon (only in the USA for now):

Amazon

Some early reviews are starting to come in so I thought I’d share them here. I’ll add to this post as time goes on. I’ll also throw in some forum links for those interested.

Steven Stone (Audiophile Review) 

Nargalzius (blogger)

Forum threads:

Head-Fi

Computer Audiophile

 

Audiophiles – a rant and a wish

Audiophiles take a lot of abuse. Why the hate? Perhaps it’s the snobbery often associated with us that puts people off. I don’t really know for sure. What I do know .. we love music and persue the fidelity of it to the extreme (at least by some standards). Like most hobbyists we enjoy focusing on the minutiae. Such is the world of the hobbyist whether you’re into collecting coins, building model airplanes, or whatever floats your ship-in-a-bottle. Nature of the beast.

Sure, there are some audio snobs among us who spend $10,000 on a cable and tell us lowly enthusiasts our systems aren’t “good enough” to hear into the recording. Yeah, okay. Fortunately, said snobs are few and far between. I find most audiophiles are first and foremost music lovers and are a rather helpful lot .. we love to chat about all this stuff.

On a number of audio forums as of late audiophiles are spewing vitriol at one another with increasing frequency. This is disheartening to me. Where’s the friendly banter? Isn’t it enough that non-hobbyists take pot-shots at us and think we’re crazy? Healthy debate is one thing but the nastiness has gotten out of hand.

I’m not an engineer. I have no training in audio production. Nor am I an authority on anything audio. I’m just a music lover; thus, a subjectivist. As long as I’m not declaring absolutes (i.e., the best amp/DAC/cable, etc.) what’s the harm in sharing my highly subjective opinion? No, I won’t be setting up double-blind tests with golden-eared 18 year old virgins but I will be listening with attentive ears. My ears. My system. My room.

The beauty of audio forums lies in the sharing of experiences and information with other enthusiasts from around the world. This sharing helps to guide us through the myriad of choices available, especially in this noisy internet age we live in. Such diversity only adds to the collective knowledge of the community, of which, I’m happy to be a part of.

So, my (audiophile) wish going into 2018 is for less nastiness and more camaraderie.

Cheers!