cyberkrunk labs

Things are humming along, and the bf album release is getting nearer. Maybe this year.

The labs have had a major influx of new gear of the past year. The most recent addition is a pair of Dynaudio BM 6A mk II nearfield monitors. Now, back in the day, many happy hours were spent in the depths of UTEMS in front of a pair of Genelec 1030as, which have served as my high water mark for nearfields ever since.

Well, let’s just say that Denmark is not too far from Finland: the Dynaudios are a perfect match for my space, I absolutely love listening to them. They are small, but the bass is accurate and the imaging and detail are bang on.

“Pusherman” just came on iTunes, and the sound of Curtis in my head is what prompted the post.

Notes on the new Home Theatre

I spent spare moments this summer researching the state of the art in home theatre, reading endless forum posts, product reviews and spec sheets. The end result is that by early September, I had replaced every single element in the home theatre setup. Not a single cable from the old system remains. After two months with the whole system together, here are some thoughts (a bit technical at times).

Media Player: Sony Playstation 3. One of the first steps was to cast a vote in the latest format war: Blu-ray disc (BD) vs. HD DVD. My take is that Blu-ray will win. Blu-ray has the better technology with twice the native storage capacity as HD DVD. Plus, Blu-ray has more studio support. Having made that choice, the ps3 becomes the perfect option for a BD player. Prices all around have come down a bit since the summer, but at that time, the ps3 was one of the least expensive BD players around. It’s essentially a media player with a gaming system thrown in. We’re not big gamers, but I did spend a two-week break from work playing Oblivion IV almost non-stop.

AV Receiver: Sony STR-DA3300ES. I probably spent the most time researching AV receivers, which is maybe the most FUD-ridden part of the home theatre world at the moment. The selection criteria boil down to these points: sound quality, power, HDMI support, format support, useability.

Sony is not generally thought of as a manufacturer of high-end audio equipment. Initially, I was leaning heavily towards Onkyo and Denon. In the end, I decided to audition the Sony ES-series at home, and was pleased enough with the sound to keep the unit. This receiver delivers 100W per channel, which seems like a lot, but, in practice, is about right for my relatively small viewing space.

HDMI is the current single-cable digital interconnect of choice. Passing audio and video on a single cable is a great step towards reducing cable clutter. The key is that the AV receiver should have enough HDMI inputs to accommodate all of your input devices, and can then connect with your display device using a single HDMI interconnect. The 3300 has three HDMI inputs, which seems to be plenty for me, and can take a BD player, a DVR and still have an open slot. Where the FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) starts to creep in is the HDMI version. Only the latest version of HDMI, 1.3a, will pass the latest audio codecs (Dolby TruHD, DTS HD Master Audio) in their native bitsream format, allowing the receiver, rather than the player to do the decoding. This fact has a lot of people confused, but for the moment, it is inconsequential, since there is currently no player available, nor any content that will allow this kind of setup. As it happens, the 3300 is HDMI 1.3a.

Format support ties in with the HDMI issue. It’s really not much of a matter of concern, since it is the role of the player to decode the formats. The decoded audio is then passed to the receiver in a multi-channel linear PCM format. Moreover, it seems that the emerging high-definition audio format of choice is straight multi-channel LPCM, which requires no decoding whatsoever. Being a sound guy, I have been absolutely thrilled with some of the sound environments that are coming out of this system now, thanks to non-compressed LPCM (usually 48/24).

Useability is much more of an issue for a multi-channel AV receiver than for a simple two-channel stereo. In addition to all the various formats and processing available, the AV receiver acts as a digital hub, interconnecting all the input and output devices. For theses reasons, it’s important to be able to quickly manoeuvre and make changes. Sony is actually a leader here, and has the same nicely-designed Xross-bar menu system in its current crop of players, receivers & display devices. This is one advantage of having an all-Sony system.

Display Device: Sony KDL-46XBR4. Two big choices to make here: screen size and LCD vs. plasma. Until very recently, plasma was the clear choice for picture quality, but the latest LCD panels have mostly caught up, and offer a few advantages. LCD offers incredible sharpness, a bright picture in both daylight and darkened room settings, with almost the same level of deep, rich blacks as plasmas. One crucial factor for me was 24p support, which keeps the frame rate at a stable 24 frames per second throughout the entire chain from filming to authoring to playback. DVD and broadcast television must go through contortions to convert the frame rate from 24 fps to NTSC color televsion’s native 29.97 fps. This is all obviated by 24p support. The end result when watching a BD, for example, is that you see the exact frame sequence that was put on film. This is huge. The XBR4 does another neat trick: in addition to supporting a 120 Hz refresh rate, it will actually interpolate extra frames to give a surreal smoothness to the picture. This is quite useless and distracting for filmed content, but looks phenomenal on some HD TV broadcasts, especially sports.

As for screen size, nothing is too big when you are watching a film, but when the set is off, you don’t want to dwarf the room. 46 inches is, for us, a good middle ground. The XBR4’s attractive floating glass design also helps. Overall, this is an excellent, though not perfect set. The screen is not uniform and will not display a perfectly black background, there is some splotchiness. From time to time, there are picture artifacts, but these are minimal on well-authored content.

Speakers: KEF KHT-3005. These are beautifully designed, great sounding speakers. Not much else to say. The subwoofer, in particular, is a work of art, and has enough power to blast open a steel door, or at least really, really annoy your neighbors.

HT Furniture: BDI Cielo 9324. This piece does a nice job of holding everything in an attractive, not-quite-but-almost-furniture-quality design. But why is the back covered? This makes cabling more of a chore than it needs to be.

Overall thoughts: when you put it all together, it works! BDs look and sound incredible. DVDs run the gamut from almost great quality to rather disappointing. It’s surprising how much variation there is in the quality of DVD authoring. Newer DVD titles tend to be mastered in HD and this makes a big difference. So far, all of the Criterion edition DVDs I’ve viewed are quite good, which is a relief. But is the picture still has a way to go, the sound is about as good as I want to get in a noisy midtown apartment.

Some RSS Evangelism

A while back, I wrote a piece singing the praises of CSS, a great technology for developing web content. Now, I’m passing on the tip about RSS, a great technology for accessing web content. RSS, and it’s first-born son, Atom, are feed technologies that generate updated XML whenever a web site posts updates. You can view this XML directly of course, but the real payoff is to aggregate all your favorite feeds into a single view. Now you can instantly scan all of your daily blogs in a single session.

How to do it? Well, for starters, you are using Firefox, aren’t you? Start out with Firefox’s Live Bookmarks. This may be all you need. You won’t see all your feeds in a single view, but you can do a very quick scan. Really want to see everything in a single pane? You can add feeds to both My Yahoo and Google. Or, you can use Newsgator (which adds its own comments section to your posts–definitely don’t like that).

A la recherche du vinyle perdu

My passage into adulthood was marked in a manner appropriate for suburban youth in a consumerist culture: my first solo flight to the mall. Or, at least, the first one that was fully sanctioned by the authorities. And I had a mission, to buy a record album–another first. For the sake of posterity, I’m glad it was a worthy choice, one that can be remembered without embarrassment: the White Album.

And so began my days of collecting vinyl, which could be described as a 20-year binge-purge cycle. I spent the summer of my 15th year in England. The treasures I brought back included suitably mod clothes, Joy Division t-shirts never before seen on my side of the Atlantic, and a big stack of vinyl. A lot of Joy Division and Bauhaus, including a picture disc of “Burning from the Inside”, and assorted others. But within a couple of years, I had eschewed my disaffected friends, was sporting a crew cut and playing jazz on my ’59 Guild with Joe Edmonds and his London Youth Jazz Band. I couldn’t listen to enough jazz, so I hauled my pile of angst-ridden hip alternative vinyl to Dr. Disc and traded it all in. My high-priced imports bought me a huge stack of bargain bin jazz.

A few years later, and it was time to do it all over again. This time, out went the “Moe Kaufman live at George’s Spaghetti House” and in came the Beethoven, Bach & Brahms. I should say, that during each purge, I held on to a few precious discs. The stack never surpassed three feet, but had it not been for the two great purges, the pile would have been unmanageable for someone who was accustomed to moving every two years or so. By the time we left Toronto in 1997, vinyl had already becom somewhat antiquated, and the process of CD-ifying had already been underway for a few years. So we found a good home for everything that was left. An audiophile friend, heavily into vinyl, with a sound system that included tube amps, Thiel speakers, and a good turntable that was rigged onto some kind of plutonium bracket on his wall (so that a car could crash into his front door and not cause the record to skip, I guess). And there it all sits to this day.

Now if everything that was ever released on vinyl was re-released on CD, there’d be no problem. But sadly, that’s not the case. It’s mostly old jazz records that I’m pining for. In some cases, the re-releases are done in tiny runs and then go out of print. Such is the case for “The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau Live.” A great album by Canada’s finest jazz guitarist, and it’s no longer available.

Bill Rue, on the other hand, is someone who never got rid of any vinyl. Already famous in some circles for the cleverly-curated mix CDs he puts out every year, Bill now runs Vinyl Haven, a vinyl transfer service. No doubt, if I had held onto that Lenny Breau disc and all the rest, I’d be one of Bill’s customers right now.

iGarbage

No posting lately, due to extreme business, which is always a good thing. What drew me out of seclusion? After having fooled around with iTunes for a while, I’m worried that some might construe this as a tacit endorsement. Hardly! I’ll tell you why. For some reason, I was just now struck with the need to listen to “The Prophet’s Song” from A Night at the Opera. Arghh! Something’s wrong! Where’s the k-boom? Where’s the creamy indulgence? I ran to the CD rack and started A/Bing between iTunes and the CD. No comparison whatsoever. The reverb is gone, the stereo image is messed with. Sorry kids, if all we ever had was mp3, we never would have had A Night at the Opera.

Clickradio back in the news

How does that song go, “Do you remember rock-and-roll-Clickradio?” Maybe not quite. Clickradio may have died young, but the fight over the beautiful corpse it left behind continues. The New York Post (ick) reports that a trial opened April 5th in Manhattan Supreme Court to settle whether the company was scuttled to allow a group of investors to buy its assets at firesale prices. The piece goes on to tell the story of the rise and fall of our little startup:

Clickradio was founded in 1998 as a free, advertiser-driven, digital radio service that played over the computer and downloaded programming from the Internet.

The company held licenses from six of the seven largest record companies in the U.S. and several independent labels. Before it went under, Clickradio had signed potentially lucrative distribution deals with Kmart and Wal-Mart, and its software was being bundled with new Gateway computers, according to the suit.

Sensing Clickradio’s promise, Drazan’s firm Sierra Ventures invested about $8 million and took a stake in Clickradio in 1999. Baystar pumped more money into the firm in 2000. The investments gave Baystar and Sierra majority ownership of Clickradio and two seats on its four-member board of directors.

Philips Electronics also put $8 million into Clickradio and Merrill Lynch threw in $2.5 million.

When they took control, Syncom claims, Goldfarb and Drazan conspired to oust Williams and Clickradio co-founder David Benjamin, repeatedly lashing out at Clickradio’s Williams in meetings, calling him “a moron” and working behind his back to kick him out as CEO. An e-mail from Goldfarb to Drazan read: “I would like our first action to be to fire Hank and David.”

By May 2001, Goldfarb had installed himself as chairman of Clickradio, as the company added new subscribers and geared up for a massive distribution campaign.

All the while, Drazan, Goldfarb and Hicks were consolidating control and scheming to sink Clickradio and buy its assets out of bankruptcy, the suit alleges. This time they would own the firm outright, dispensing with other shareholders and minority investors with whom they might have to share profits.

In August 2001, Clickradio’s board notified other investors that the company needed an immediate infusion of cash to stay alive and recommended the company try to secure a $5 million bridge loan. Hicks, who had not invested in Clickradio, was asked to provide cash for the bridge loan but passed on the chance.

And we all know what happened right after that. Suddenly, after September 2001, investors, some of whom had just had their offices blown up, were in no mood to re-up their investment in a risky start-up. A handful of us kept things running, pro bono, right through the first three weeks of October.

Critical listening

Headphones are something of a necessary evil. For listening to playback, nothing beats good bi-amped nearfield monitors in a near-anechoic chamber. I look back fondly on the nights I used to spend in UTEMS listening to my work on a pair of Genelec 1030a nearfields. Genelec stopped making the 1030a last year–something kind of sad about that (underscored by Coltrane’s recording of “Lush Life” which just popped on as I write this). The Tannoy Dual-concentrics we had in the MIDI room weren’t too bad, either. Tannoy, a Canadian company, came up with the idea of placing the high-frequency driver right in the center of the low-frequency driver. This creates a single point source. Neat idea. But the Genelecs are a dream; the Finns know how to do good audio.

So what if you don’t have a quiet room–no outside noise, no worries about your sound leeching out and bothering people (a concept I’ve tried in vain to explain to my downstairs neighbour for the last four years)? Well, then it’s time to slip on this cans. So, I like the Finns for their powered speakers, but when it comes to microphones and headphones, there’s only one place you need to visit, and that is Austria! A good pair of AKG cans, mine are the K240s, are as ubiquitous in studios as an old Strat, a pair of Yamaha NS10Ms, or a coked-out groupie. And for good reason. First, they are beyond comfortable. They actually feel good on your head. That’s important for when you’re doing a 10-hour session. Second, they sound good. It’s too bad they discontinued the 600-Ohm version of the 240. Only professional equipment can drive it to loud levels. At least that way, you can only burn your ears out on good-quality audio.

Cans have one legitimate, important, use in audio, and that’s in quality checking. You more easily hear detail on them that can be masked by nearfields. Unless you have your nearfields running at a crushing SPL. Bad edits, small clicks, pops, weird vocal noises, all these tend to leap out at you on the cans.

But cans can also give you special treats. You can sometimes hear comments, jokes–audio Easter eggs–especially during count-ins and fade-outs. This morning, I heard something I had always missed on a song that I’ve heard a million time before, which is what prompted this little foray. On “Back in Black”, on the final upbeat before the first E Major chord, you can hear someone way in the background say, “four”. I’m not sure why, but there’s something special to me about that.

Firewire audio interfaces & such

An anonymous friend, who still prefers that quaint old techology, email, writes: I’ve got a tech question for the computer gurus over at krunk audio (that would be you). I’m just assuming you know more about digital audio than I do these days. Is it safe/advisable to run both one’s audio interace and one’s audio recording HD off the same firewire interface? I’m finally in a position to spring for a computer recording setup, and I’m thinking of doing it by having an Edirol FA-101 and an external HD both into the firewire. That way I can have all the audio hardware and storage outboard, and move freely between my laptop and desktop for recording/mixing. Any glowing pearls of wisdom you have would rock…

OK, great question. FireWire is Apple’s trademark, so let’s refer to the standard by its official name, IEEE 1394. 1394 offers maximum bandwidth of 400 Mbps. What kind of bandwidth are you trying to push? That’s simple, in 24 bit 96 kHz mode, you have a maximum of 10 tracks. Your bandwidth would then be:

24 x 96,000 x 10 = 23,040,000 bps
= 21.97 Mbps

This means you have oodles of available bandwidth on the same bus. For realtime applications, IEEE 1394 offers an isochronous mode, which is clocked at either 100, 200, or 400 Mbps with no dropouts. This makes it ideal for both audio and video. The FA-101 also can do 6 tracks at 192 kHz. If you do the math, the bandwidth requirement is only a little higher. You should be able to plug that 1394 drive into either your PC or the second connector on the FA-101 without any problems.

Now, some questions for you! I see this unit listed at about US $500, but it doesn’t seem to come with any software. If you don’t already have good DAW, software, remember that purchase will drive your price way up. The Digidesign Digi 002 Rack is more than twice as expensive, but comes with Pro Tools LE and a few plugins.

Also, what are you planning on plugging into this thing? Did you notice that inputs 3-6 run at +4 dBu, which is the pro input level, rather than -10 dBu which is prosumer. Your synths & such might not like that. Only inputs 7-8 are selectable to -10 or +4 dBu. The SP/DIF I/O is optical only (kind of lame).

Personally, I would stay away from Edirol and stick with a company that specializes in audio and has lots, and lots of users, like Digi or even Tascam, which has some neat looking new stuff. But whatever you wind up getting, we want a full report, and of course, lots of audio to hear!