the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: Audio

byopc 2022

With the arrival of Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, aka Jammy Jellyfish, it’s time to build a new Linux box. Hard to believe that another four years has already passed. I’m still happy with the old one, but the fans are a bit noisy, and I’d like to up performance. Note that this computer is an “always-on” dedicated music server for Roon software, containing a 4TB RAID1 with my music collection. And that’s just about all I use it for: ripping CDs to the library, running Roon server, the occasional DVD or CD burn, and of course, having the Linux environment at home to keep my itjerk skills up.

Over the years, I’ve found myself gravitate almost exclusively to the Windows environment for “day to day” computing. Why? It’s just fine for me. Other than running a few applications (mostly InDesign), the vast majority of my desktop experience is inside a web browser. Yours too, probably. And as someone that’s spent the past 20+ years in desktop support, I’m completely agnostic about Mac vs Windows vs Linux. Whatever costs less should be one’s top choice, not some brand fetish. Whether it’s a Dell or any Apple, Windows or macOS or Ubuntu, a properly maintained computer is both safe and secure. “Better” is subjective.

I’ve chose an Intel i3-10105 processor for the computer because a) it’s the cheapest I could find ($89) and b) it gives me plenty of “boost” from the current G4400 Pentium; more cores/threads/cache, faster clock, and only mildly less power efficiency (65w vs 54w). For the motherboard, I’ll need an LGA 1200 socket and a quick look at the Microcenter website yields the ASUS H510M-E Prime Intel microATX for $85. I’ll throw in a very fast 256GB NVMe M.2 drive for $32 for the boot drive and that’s about all I need. I have 8GB of DDR4 2133 RAM from the previous build that to reuse (along with case, power supply, etc). That’s a total bill of $202 for new computer “guts”.

The very first thing to do is ensure I have a backup of the RAID1. I’m going to transfer the RAID card and drives to the new mobo, which should go without a hitch (it did), but having a fresh backup gives me 100% peace of mind. I’m getting a new M.2 boot drive, so I’ll have the previous SSD to copy things over. Then, I’ll be sure to get a list of programs I’ll need to reinstall along with bookmarks, config files and my bash history (a wealth of knowledge!). With an initial minimum install of Ubuntu, I’ll need a few things, but mostly they and their dependencies relate to Roon, CD ripping and playback (notably Fre:AC and it’s config files!), plus a few DVD programs like Handbrake, DeeVeeDee and DVDAE. No need to bring extra software baggage to a clean install; if I forgot something, I can always install later.

One thing about the installation: maybe I’m getting old or maybe the lighting was just bad, but I did have to recheck some of my connections inside the case. RAM wasn’t clipped completely, USB header was off and I didn’t push the audio plug in all the way! The old SPDIF card I had doesn’t have the right pin config, so I’ll splurge $17 for a new one.

After downloading Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, I burned a DVD of the iso but it didn’t work. So I quickly made a USB drive and installation was fine. I did a minimal install, no encryption (PITA to enter a password and no way to do it remotely). I did get a couple boot warnings, but after I updated the mobo’s BIOS and the ACPI warning went away, while enabling VMX in the BIOS advanced settings corrected that. Still have “SGX disabled in BIOS” to deal with. One other thing, when the computer boots, it doesn’t display the RAID card’s screen. Hmmm.

Now on to Jammy Jellyfish!

roon 1.8

Five emails from Roon Labs announcing their latest version, 1.8. Take a look below, that’s the home screen. Seriously. A big “one step back.” No additional features, a horrible UI and UX that’s shaky. Is Roon becoming nothing but a frontend for streaming services? Well, like any other old component in the rack, it’s time to look for the next one and upgrade.

dr14.tmeter

Wow, figured out how to install this nifty python program that calculates dynamic range on flac files. Ubuntu 20.04 ships with Python3. There’s some drama between python versions 2 and 3 (e.g. latter merely a release candidate), so the best way is to first get pip and use it to install the program DR14-T.meter:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install python3-pip

Now we can use pip3 to install the dependencies, and then dr14.tmeter

sudo -H pip3 install numpy scipy
sudo -H pip3 install DR14-T.meter

Alternatively, you can use pip3 to install just for a specific user (in ~/):
pip3 install DR14-T.meter --user

Edit 04/2022:
To install on 22.04 LTS, I had to copy source code from github to local computer and install:
pip3 install -e dr14-t.meter-1.0.16

to calculate the dynamic range of an album, switch to the directory and run
dr14_tmeter ./

Scan Dir: /Music/Yes/1971_The_Yes_Album

02_Clap.flac: DR 15
01_Yours_Is_No_Disgrace.flac: DR 11
03_Starship_Trooper-_a._Life_Seeker_-_b._Disillusion_-_c._Würm.flac: DR 12
04_I’ve_Seen_All_Good_People-_a._Your_Move_-_b._All_Good_People.flac: DR 10
05_A_Venture.flac: DR 11
06_Perpetual_Change.flac: DR 11
DR = 12

– The full result has been written in the files: dr14.txt
– located in the directory:
/Music/Yes/1971_The_Yes_Album

Success!
Elapsed time: 5.60 sec

On the web:
DR14_T.meter

uncomplicated firewall (ufw)

RoonUFW
I run a Roon Server or “Core” on my Ubuntu box to supply music to various endpoints on my local subnet. Because the computer also has a window to the outside world, I run a firewall, ufw. Like its namesake, it’s easy to configure, you can get the basics here. Anyway, I need to open a few ports so Roon Server can be discovered on my subnet, by creating an application profile and then adding a rule to the firewall.

First, we’ll create a file “roon” in the following location:
$ cd /etc/ufw/applications.d/
$ sudo touch roon
$ sudo nano roon

Here’s what’s in the file:
[Roon]
title=Roon Server
description=Roon Labs Core Music Server
ports=9003/udp|9100:9200/tcp

Note the context of the ports entry: The pipe separates udp from tcp, and ranges are set with a colon (and individual ports with a comma). Once you create the file, you can quickly check syntax by running ufw status, and it will let you know if you made any errors, which is handy. Once that’s created, it’s easy enough to add the rule to ufw, and check status again to see it working:

$ sudo ufw allow from 192.168.1.0/24 to any app roon
$ sudo ufw status

Status: active
To Action From
— —— —-
Roon ALLOW 192.168.1.0/24

I should note that the reason I’m doing this is because Roon doesn’t document what ports need to be open, and I’m having an issue with one piece of hardware being recognized on reboot. There’s probably another series of ports that I need to open up, so having a profile is an easy way to trouble shoot; once I make changes, I can edit the profile then update ufw with the following command:

$ sudo ufw app update Roon

Since Roon uses randomized ports, my interim fix is to allow access to the server from the endpoint in question:

$ sudo ufw allow from [endpoint ip]

Nothing scary here folks, just some computer and network basics.

spotify

rekkids

I come from the age of vinyl. I love my physical formats. Mix tapes, not playlists. I never really considered paid streaming services, mainly because I own all the music I listen to. But things change… When we purchased our new vehicle, we were presented with the convenience of bluetooth. My daughters had been using Spotify for years, albeit with “free” accounts. They’re really not into music that much, so I guess not being able to skip songs and having to listen to ads are no big deal – much like when I was younger, back in the days of FM radio.

Anyway, we purchased a Spotify “Premium Family” plan for $15/month (with the first three (3) months free). It allows up to six (6) family members the ability to play any song ad-free, any time, with the added convenience of offline listening. The last item is key, because it avoids data charges when not on wifi or ethernet – like in the car. So, at the cost of roughly one (1) new CD per month, Spotify is not only inexpensive, it’s good for everyone in my family.

So how’s Spotify?

1. Foremost, the vast majority of artists don’t earn much by having their music streamed on Spotify. Why? Spotify pays out their revenue “pro-rata” vs “user-centric” – the more streams one has, the bigger piece of the total Spotify revenue pie one earns, as opposed to the latter method, where my $15 would be split among what my family listened to that month. There are a lot of arguments, moral and otherwise, around this, and I’ll save that for another post. But make no mistake, if you want to support musicians, go see them live and buy their merchandise with cash. Period.

2. The Spotify app for Android is the worst app of all time. I can’t say anything good about it, other than it works. You’d think being the single point of contact between the company and its consumers, that Spotify would put some effort into the app, you know, a better user interface, personalization options, alternate layouts, etc. Nothing. Total crap.

3. Spotify works with bluetooth. I don’t really listen to music directly on my phone or my computer(s), but I can stream to the car’s radio, my Google Nest Mini, my kid’s Google Home Mini’s (if I really want to pester them) and my Hifiberry. I imagine there’s no need for a portable MP3 player either with Spotify, phones have plenty of storage these days. Also, Spotify does not integrate with Roon, the music management software I use in my house. Why? My guess is the terrible sound quality Spotify serves would be even more terrible on a great hifi. But there are other services that offer high-quality streaming.

4. It’s all about selection. As an aficionado of a rather specialized genre of music, I am astounded at what’s available on Spotify. Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Wales’ Man, Finland’s Tasavallan Presidentti are right beside the catalog favorites (Yes, Genesis, Renaissance) and classic rock I would expect to find. But what’s most frightening, is that it’s all there – there’s no need to buy anything. For a guy that spent decades hunting dusty record bins for every rarity he could find, just about everything, right there, instantly, for $15 a month. Wow.

5. Whatever your take on it, paid streaming services are the future. That’s the big curve of technology – from recording, to physical format, the internet, data files, wireless and now streaming – all the part of one big continuously evolving arc. And in addition to Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, I Heart Radio, Pandora, Qobuz, and Tidal are ready for you to sign up.

The future now. A big, endless plate of all you can eat music.

Spotify

hifiberry os

Recently, I came to the conclusion that Chromecast and Roon are just not compatible. While I’ve had issues with connecting the various Google Home Mini’s to my Roon Core Server, previously I never had an issue with my old Chromecast Audio device. The original Beep-killer, it was my go-to wifi device for my upstairs system where it was connected to a Schitt DAC.

After I updated to Roon 1.7 across the board, all my Chromecast devices appeared as available audio devices. I thought the problem was solved. But after a couple of days, the Chromecast Audio no longer appeared, and the Mini’s dropped off one by one. That was the last straw – screw it, enough with the “Roon-tested” gear. I plugged in the old HifiBerry and was instantly streaming music.

Being a Raspberry Pi day already, I decided to update my HifiBerry to their latest software, the new “more user friendly” HifiBerryOS. After downloading and installing it to an SD card, I connected the HifiBerry to ethernet and booted it up. Then, I navigated to it’s local IP (the http://hifiberry.local URL didn’t work) and configured Wifi. Once configured, I powered it down via the software (!!!), and moved it to its new home upstairs, where I now have a reliable Wifi streaming device again for Roon. Also, note that HifiBerryOS is small image, far under 1MB, and supports Apple Airplay, Bluetooth, MPD, Roon, Spotify and Squeezelite as a player.

Checkout how elegant this HifiBerryOS UI is:
hifiberry
hifiberry1

And here’s what it displays when playing:
79369530_225666125088882_7592120681622405120_o

Thank you Daniel and everyone at HifiBerry!

On the web:
HifiBerry OS

roon 1.7 update

Woke up in the middle of the night and for some reason I discovered that my Roon app needed updating. Did that, updated the core, then went down to my PC to update the Windows application. Today on Facebook, I see post from Roon that touts the new “Valence” feature, one of those “expert” algorithms that people that don’t love music use to figure out what to play or buy next. The algorithm has been recording over 100,000 Roon users play habits (did I opt in or out?). Okay… that little search icon in the upper right is all I need.

On the upside, all the Google Home minis in the house now show up as available audio devices. That’s a fix, I also think that the playback on Android phones has been improved.

But the big disappointment is that the update did not include the ability to add reviews, bios, notes, links etc. Now having that would make it “expert.”

Sony Walkman 40th

2019-09-06-image-7

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Walkman, Sony will release a specially branded edition of the NW-A100 Media player. The coolest feature, undoubtedly, is the Cassette Tape UI, a nod to the original Walkman, the TPS-L2. The NW-A105 base model is an Android 9.0 based music player that supports just about every format (including hi-res and flac), and with wifi, bluetooth, USB-C and a stereo mini-jack, it’s nothing short of awesome. Full review when I receive it (first order from eBay was cancelled by seller).

I purchased my first Walkman in the summer of 1981, while living in Germany. For many years, it was a trusted companion, and I still have some of my cassettes from back then. Be sure to check the first link, it contains a video with the story of the creation of the first Walkman. Congratulations, Sony. You did good.

On the web:
Sony Global – WALKMAN 40th anniversary
NW-A100 Walkman® A Series Media player with MP3 and Hi-Res Audio | Sony Asia Pacific

status, third edition

Sorry if I’m going dark for a while, but I’m working on a third (and final) edition of The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock. Writing is complete, re-learning curve for InDesign is complete – funny how you forget to do things (index, master pages) after a year or so – and figuring out how to make the cover/spine look fool-proof. Then it’s on to the never-ending land of proofreading. And there I will be for a while…

lumin d2

Now that I’m all-in on a digital music and streaming with Roon, it was about time that I upgraded from my “science projects” and bought a “real” DAC/Streamer for my main system. First up was deciding a price-point. Most of my equipment falls in the “couple thousand” dollar range, so it only makes sense that the $100 dollar streamer wasn’t quite up to the rest of my system. Thus, I set a budget of $2000 for the purchase.
As for features, I use ethernet to connect to my home network and Roon core (no real need for wifi), and want to use the balanced outputs to my pre-amp. Displays are pretty cool, but honestly, they’re not that easy to see from a distance. Cambridge had a nice model, CXN, but unfortunately it does not carry Roon Ready credentials. So after posting to the Roon Community website, I landed on the Lumin D2. The company makes much higher end devices (and is known for set-top video boxes in Asia), but all are highly rated, and after scoring a deal at Axpona 2019, I made the purchase. Immediately I heard an upgrade through my system, and I also get the benefit of upsampling to DSD quality.

57176941_175440723444756_5269423198536990720_n

On the web:
Lumin D2