#1062. Streaming high end audio. You can’t be serious. Really? Part two.

By Paul Perton | Related Off Topic

Nov 19

A couple of weeks in and the audio drop outs suddenly seemed to be getting worse. It’s streaming was more reliable, so I found myself listening to Spotify rather than my preferred Roon/Tidal/Qobuz triad, while I attempted to solve the problem.

Initially, I pointed finger at the MacMini and got within millimetres of buying a new one, thinking streaming was just too much work for its almost decade old infrastructure. Unusually for a Mac, the newest release of MacOS also couldn’t be used for the same reason.

No. I decided to hang on to my cash until I knew exactly what the problem might be and reverted to running Roon as a server on my Mac notebook, which made almost no difference to the dropouts at all. By elimination and a fortnight of experimentation, router re-booting and other fiddling, I had to conclude that there was clearly something amiss with our broadband wi-fi setup. After a the best part of a week attempting to get to speak to a human at Sky Broadband and when I finally reached a living, breathing human being, possibly from a Spanish-speaking cheapo phone centre outpost, help seemed further away than ever. You can imagine how the conversation went.

More head scratching.

For a reason I don’t recall, One morning I pulled down my wi-fi menu and saw more than twenty other wi-fis available in close proximity. Were they fighting? Is this where my signal was going?

£29 and a following day delivery from Amazon and I plugged in a wi-fi extender. It took a while to work out that it had a different address on the network, but once that logic was in place, the drop outs were gone. Except for Qobuz, which to date, has sullenly resisted every effort to deliver any kind of stable connectivity. My account with Qobuz is heading bin-wards.

Like photography, being an audio hobbyist is beset with GAS. If anything, its attacks are  even more pernicious, as more and wider choices make the reading, planning, listening, testing and overall experience even more time consuming and fun than cameras and lenses.

Now, with uninterrupted streaming available, I wanted to stretch out a bit. The GAS was upon me.

At a similar time and place, Steve was having a flirtation with Naim’s Uniti Atom streamer, a 40W per channel amp and player, which I was sore tempted by myself. Steve had endless mains hum problems with the unit he’d bought and which seemed insoluble without a serious additional investment in a mains cleaning device. In the final analysis, he opted for a swap to a Rega streamer/amp without the hum and possibly nebulous additional capex.

I had slightly different plans. I’d spotted Cambridge Audio’s CXN (V2), streamer and pre-amp, mated to a matched Cambridge Audio 60W per channel power amp. I auditioned this highly rated duo attached to a pair of KEFs Q550 floor standing speakers and liked what I heard – if in-shop listening can in any way resemble one’s home. The streamer and amp were new and the KEFs were ex-demo, visually a bit the worse for wear and as a result, nicely priced. A no brainer and until I have more time and space, will do me just fine.

Cambridge’s CXN enjoys an excellent reputation and ships Roon Ready and Spotify capable. In that mix are the leading on-line radio stations I prefer, including The Times and BBC’s Radio 6.

I’m no audio expert and originally wanted the benefit of a good DAC (see part 1) and as much audio quality as possible. 24bit 192kHz seemed the minimum, which the KEF LSX were able to deliver, albeit with an Ethernet cable connecting the otherwise, wireless pair. The sound, sound stage and positioning of musicians on that stage is fantastic, certainly better than I’ve heard with previous systems.

The more conventional Cambridge/KEF floor standers set-up is crammed into a tiny space and waiting for more room to show off its real potential.

With everything ready to go, my listening was suddenly very focussed on getting Roon/Tidal to deliver what I wanted. Except that I quickly realised that I didn’t. Want and know, that is.

Every album Roon plays is accompanied by a sidebar that is Recommended For You, two albums Roon’s algorithms feel I might enjoy. And, as if that weren’t enough, the Play drop down from any track offers Roon Radio, which like the abovementioned Recommendation, matches what I’m listening to and offers an alternative.

Four and a half decades living in deepest, darkest Africa has narrowed my musical horizons drastically – almost every track I heard was someone unknown to me. So, to avoid being overwhelmed, I started a New Listens playlist – tagging one track per album I like so that I can easily return to it later when this first rush of new audio experiences is over.

That playlist, augmented by recommendations from the press and mentions of favourite songs by audio reviewers, is now nearing 900 albums/CDs – lots of winter listening.

While I’m doing that, I’ll assuage my GAS-iness with an idea to replace the KEF floorstanders with a stand mounted wireless pair. Admittedly, that’ll mean a return to a Spotify type 24/96 delivery, but as audio maven John Darko points out in a recent video, using Tidal with MQA unfolding, delivers up to 24/384k performance over that same 24/96 wireless link.

More to explore in those chilly winter months.

Sidebar – In November 1970, Stanley Turrentine recorded Sugar for Creed Taylor’s CTI label, most likely in Rudy van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. If you’re a hard core jazz buff, stop reading now. If you’re like me and base your enjoyment on the amount of fun the musicians making music are having in the studio, the this is possibly the acme.

Turrentine kicks into the title track and the atmosphere in the room darkens; there’s just candle light and barely enough to penetrate the cigarette smoke. It’s late and the audience is readying for home and other plans, but Turrentine, George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, and Lonnie Liston Smith have ideas of their own. Your libido will have to wait.

Ten minutes of exquisite late night jazz doesn’t get much better than this.

Not until track three that is. Led off by Lonnie Liston Smith’s vamps and accompanied by Ron Carter’s bass, John Coltrane’s Impressions gets Mr T’s unique working over and suddenly you’re another fourteen minutes late heading home.

So, I’ve several hundred new listens and a pile of vinyl-era music to work my way through. In the early ‘70s, the CTI label also played host to Astrid Gilberto, Airto Moreira, Hubert Laws and George Benson to name but a few. Given a decent source, the Cambridge’s DAC chips are sending a 384kHz analogue audio stream into the partnered amp and into my KEF Q550s. And it sounds brilliant.

It’s going to be an interesting winter.

 

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  • Yung Persohn says:

    Oh dear.

  • Brian G says:

    Hi Paul. I’m the retired owner of an electronics systems integration company that has done property-wide integration & private theatre projects both in and outside of North America. Inevitably, I was forced to be involved with solutions for WiFi environments, when streaming audio became advantageous for various reasons, as compared to hard-wiring within walls.
    The most common cause of the general type of problems that you’re experiencing is interference in the WiFi band, from various devices throughout the property that all compete to transceive within the spectrum. I can’t say that this is your issue, and you may well have tested for this, but I would see it as the first thing to manage.
    There are various free apps that you can install to view the WiFi spectrum in your home, how many devices are transceiving and with what relative signal strength, and to what degrees they overlap. Essentially you want to “direct” key devices to one portion of the spectrum, while assuring that the major competitors are assigned to a different area of the spectrum. (In North America the conventional WiFi spectrum is sub-divided into channels 1 through 11.) Wireless residential telephones often also broadcast in the same spectrum, and are one possible source of interference. There is more to this, but beyond a brief note.
    Note that WiFi extenders are a good news / bad news scenario. On the plus side, they receive the signal and amplify it. On the negative side, they cut the available bandwidth in half. An option is a type of wireless router that becomes part of a mesh network, with two or more matching devices to create a mesh. These tend to be a bit more costly, but nothing like the commercial-grade WiFi extenders that you might find used in large-area commercial venues such as sporting stadiums, airports, etc.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Brian. If this had been a problem in South Africa where I usually live, I know all manner of people I could have asked and got what I expect would have been much the same response as your own. As it’s turned out, COVID has marooned me in London for the best part of a year and I’ve had to fight this battle for myself.

      I tried switching the router channels, but the Sky set-up is not for the ill-equipped, living in a rented flat. I’ve managed to get the set up to work at what I feel is about 95%. There are still multi-minute outages once or twice a day, but I’ve found that if I change my wi-fi link from the extender to the master address, the problem goes away and then later in the day, I can switch back.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    It’s all utterly incomprehensible to an ageing idiot like me. So I’m going back to where I started. The piano is close to replacing the dog, as man’s best friend.

  • PaulB says:

    Paul

    With everyone working from home WiFi systems easily get overwhelmed. For an easy and inexpensive potential solution I suggest connecting your streaming device (receiver) to your router/modem using an Ethernet cable. Wired connections are much faster than wifi and eliminate the constant search/verification for the correct connection.

    PaulB

  • Jim Baldwin says:

    Enjoy your journey. I’m enjoying the learning following along. And thanks for the Sugar!

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