the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: Audio

rip logitechmediaserver, squeezebox

sqebay

It is with a touch of sorrow that I have retired both Logitech Media Server and my Squeezebox v3 Network Music Player, and all ancillary programs. Not only was it my gateway into all things Linux, but it was also my introduction to streaming music. The interface remains stuck in the 00s, and my other hardware have eclipsed it; perhaps this is a problem with opensource. The interface does need a major, major refresh. Ultimately, I have just moved on with Roon server. So for all your names, Slimdevices, Slimserver, Squeezeboxserver, Squeezelite, Logitechmediaserver, I loved you all.

Originally purchased in April 2007, I have my Squeezebox up for sale on eBay:

On the web:
eBay

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cd audio

Now that I’m in the midst of library building from my CD collection, it’s a good time to reflect on the merits of CD audio. Decades later, it is a funny thing, this compact disc. Just like various pressings of a vinyl record, some sound great, some sound less than great; but all of them avoid the surface noise that will always plague vinyl. Let’s remember, CDs were innovative and neoteric, and incredibly convenient: no flipping sides, no fast-forward or reverse. Just a small, shiny disc that contained an entire album’s worth of music (but not liner notes) that one could manipulate with a remote control from the comfort of, well, on one’s backside.

My time with CDs goes back to the mid 80s, when a VEAP check afforded me my first CD player – it was a Yamaha, and while I don’t remember the model, it had a feature called FTS: favorite track selection. Some of the earliest discs I still have are Roxy Music’s Avalon, Peter Gabriel’s Security and The Sugarcubes debut album. BTW, I’d also like to debunk the myth of “they don’t last forever.” All of my discs have ripped. The only two that I haven’t been able to read are because they were physically damaged. I will admit that some read slower than others, but I have yet to find this so-called “disc rot”. Touch wood?

As a collector, I find myself gravitating back toward the earliest CD pressings, the so-called “target” era, when discs were made in West Germany and Japan, and were essentially “flat-transfers” of the original recordings. A lot went into making a CD sound good. Initially, it was finding a suitable source – an original 1/4″ stereo master, as opposed to some later generation – and let’s not pretend that those pioneer engineers weren’t good at what they did; but I also imagine the lack of computer tools to manipulate those source files owes to the “purity” of the early discs. That said, some don’t sound so good: Who’s Next on MCA comes to mind right away. I’ve scanned the bargain bins for the 80s and very early 90s pressings of Van Der Graaf Generator discs (on the Caroline Blue Plate label) which avoid the harsh sound of later remasters, and cherish the fact that I did keep the original Line pressings of Gentle Giant’s first four albums.

Why is this? The so-called loudness wars. CD “remasters” are a tricky thing. Ostensibly reissued to provide better sound, they don’t always sound better than earlier pressings. Why is this? In an effort to make things sound better in earphones and compete with “modern” recordings, mastering engineers have made vintage recordings “louder” by compressing the music’s dynamic range, the difference between the loud and soft in a recording. Does this mean they all sound worse? Well, that’s matter of preference, but categorically I can say this: The beauty of the flat, non-compressed music is the ability to crank up the volume on a good system and enjoy the dynamics of the original recording. Take a look:

DRloudness

With the DR14.T Meter program (and help installing it from here), you can even check this with your own files:

dr14_tmeter
------------------------------------------------------------
> Scan Dir: /mnt/data/music/ripped_archive/Gentle_Giant/1972_Three_Friends_[Line]
01_Prologue.flac:        DR 13
02_Schooldays.flac:      DR 13
03_Working_All_Day.flac:         DR 12
04_Peel_the_Paint.flac:          DR 12
05_Mister_Class_and_Quality?.flac:       DR 13
06_Three_Friends.flac:   DR 11
DR = 12

- The full result has been written in the files:  dr14.txt
- located in the directory:
/mnt/data/music/ripped_archive/Gentle_Giant/1972_Three_Friends_[Line]
Success!
Elapsed time: 3.71 sec

As a format, CDs are just about done, now eclipsed by streaming. Long live CDs.

On the web:
Album list – Dynamic Range Database
DR14 T.Meter

hifiberry dac+ pro

Now that I’m committing to Roon as a music server, I’d thought it would be nice to take a look at my streaming hardware. I like the idea of using my preamp’s analog stage, because it has a great analog stage; I can also output directly from my computer (where my music resides) via optical or USB. So rather than spending money on a Bluesound or Auralic device, I think I’ll go DIY.

The old Squeezebox 3 is of course a cherished relic, and in the living room it will sit forever. I also have a Chromecast Audio there, both connected to a Schiit Modi 2 DAC. In the man cave, I have plenty of options. Roon is very good at dealing with heterogeneous outputs; it recognized most every device on my network. But I am looking for a dedicated device, because, well, just because. I had an old Hifiberry DAC running PiCorePlayer – a very worthy software package – from the days when Raspberry Pi’s didn’t have the “+”. Yep, that’s the one to upgrade.
RoonHifiDac
The good thing about Hifiberry is that they are Roon Ready partner, and have their own Roon Bridge image for their hardware devices. I decided on the DAC Pro +, which adds “integrated dual-domain low-jitter clocks and gold-plated RCA connectors.” Coupled with a new Raspberry Pi 3+ board, I was completely surprised at what a musical player it was: crisp, detailed and very easy on the ears, it’s an absolute delight to listen to.

Hacker note: It’s easy enough to ssh into the Hifiberry/Roon Ready image. Touch a file named “ssh” into the bootloader partition, then login with the user “pi” and password “hifiberry”. Oddly enough, if you do an apt-update/distupgrade, the thing shows up a little differently in Roon’s audio settings (see below image). Why do this? I can think of a couple reasons, including doing updates, turning off HDMI output (/opt/vc/bin/tvservice -o) and of course, changing the default password. Is the Hifiberry/Roon image any better than using a standard Raspbian image with Roon’s Bridge installer script? Maybe I’ll ask Hifiberry.
Hifiberry

I went cheap on the acrylic case, which unfortunately snapped when I went to put heatsinks on the rPi, so I’ll be upgrading to the metal case shortly. Also, I’m going to upgrade to a low noise switching power supply, because that’s really the last thing to do get the best sound from the Hifiberry/rPi combo. Or spend $$$ on a linear power supply!

All-in-all, a very impressive digital streaming device for under $100.

On the web:
HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro | HiFiBerry

rippin’ good time?

Now that I’ve started my 14 day trial to Roon, I have begun digitizing my record collection in earnest. What fun! Not really. Pretty boring to be honest. There’s no real fast way to do it; I guess I could use one of those services – pack up my CDs and mail them to someone who will rip them – seriously, no way. So it’s to the grind: take a bunch of CDs off the shelf, open the case, open the drawer, insert, press rip, get artwork, eject, repeat. About 4,000 times.

A couple of things: First, don’t use “CD Paranoia Mode” because it’s slow. Just let them rip and deal with potential errors later. Ripping is a marathon and it isn’t pretty. Second, check metadata as you rip: titles, dates, artwork, m3u file, etc. Remember, you’re building a Library, and it’s much easier to do now than later. Third, the CDs I am ripping were all entered into discogs.com. I can sort my collection by “date entered” which approximates the listing by what’s on the shelf: very convenient for collecting artwork, checking dates etc.

Finally, rip everything, even that crappy Badfinger live CD on Ryko. If you don’t want to rip it, ditch it (and delete the files, lest you be in violation of copyright laws!). Seriously, this is a good time to pass judgment as to what is “on the shelf.” It’s also a great time to look for holes in the collection, especially with that discogs page open.

This will take substantially longer than the 14 day trial to Roon!

roon labs

Roon is paid software. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Roon. Roon is software for managing and accessing your disk-based music library. There is a server aka “core” element, as well as “endpoint” apps for (nearly) every OS, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, etc. Some like to think of it as a component of your audio system, albeit one of the software variety.

roon

Why use Roon? I have to admit a directory tree isn’t the most elegant way to view ones digital music library. And that’s what Roon does: it scans your digital music, applies rich content – pictures, text, weblinks, etc – and puts it all together for a paid subscription-like experience. It even fills in the blanks on missing artwork, etc. I don’t use Spotify or iTunes, but Roon provides a very similar interface.

I installed RoonServer on my linux box with ease. When I ran the “easy install” script (remember to chmod +x first), it alerted me that I needed cifs-utils installed first. That corrected, the script downloaded and installed the server software, and set itself up as a service. But that’s it as far as linux goes. It’s a headless game, no native app, no web interface, from here on out I’m off to my phone or computer to control my music.

On the Roon app for Android, I logged into my Roon account and gave them my credit card number. Viola! it all worked. I then setup a music “zone” (an odd choice of word), which is an audio player. I was a bit shocked by how many appeared: my Pixel 2 phone, the (four) audio outputs from my linux box, Roon Bridge which I installed on a new RaspberryPi (more later), all my Chromecast devices, and lo and behold, my Squeezebox3 and Squeezelite players. In order to use the latter, one must enable Squeezebox support AND stop the LMS (Squeezebox) server. Once you select something to play, you can then choose where – including simultaneously – to play it.

I’ll write up another post as after a week or so of my free 14 day trial, but initial thoughts are mostly positive. It is a great interface, and it brings the whole digital music experience up a level. However, I really am disappointed there is no native linux app, and I still haven’t figured out how to add my own rich content, other than pictures to artists and albums to the library. (Hey, of course I’d like to add my Strawberry Bricks reviews to my collection!) The Android interface could sure use refinement (separate player from config mode, easier access to artists) but I suppose this is a forever work in progress.

Screenshot (Aug 22, 2018 5_10_04 AM)

Roon all sounds fine, and it all looks great; the question however is simple: is it worth $119 per year, let alone $499 per lifetime?

On the web:
Roon Labs

aries mini vs node 2 | roon

Two very popular streaming devices, one from Auralic, the latter from NAD/PSB affiliate Bluesound, are very tempting to purchase at $499. While neither have displays, they have all the guts of a good streamer, perhaps an update to my decades old Squeezebox, or better version of my Hifiberry Pi. I’m a bigger fan of streaming every day, because, it sounds just as good if not better than CDs, and is so, so convenient. Plus, playing music directly from my computer is getting… passé?

But there are some downsides to these streamers: Foremost, no display; to get visual, I’d have to spend more money. Also, each of these players has a serious fault: The Aries Mini has no native Android app, while the Node 2 doesn’t support UPnP/MiniDLNA. Sure, I could fork of some $$$ for a Roon Core, which both support, but I’m not sold on that either. I’d like to use an existing music server (UPnP, Logitech), and I have only Android devices in my home.

I’ll admit, Roon is tempting. At $499 for a lifetime license, it could be the future of my streaming server. Or at least, another one. It supports Linux, it’s got a good UI, combining the rich content of the web to file names and folders. But wouldn’t it be even cooler if I could pull up my music collection via Roon on my TV and use that as an interface, instead of a little phone screen? Tell me it’s so Roon, and I might sign up!

On the web:
Node 2
aries mini
Roon Labs

Oppo BVD-103

Yep, time to get into Blu-ray. This was mostly precipitated by the imminent arrival of a new Gentle Giant compilation, Three Piece Suite, which features 5.1 remixes of tracks from their first three records. The Oppo BVD-103 had been on my radar for a long time… so long, that it was discontinued in favor of the newer UDP-203. But the newer model doesn’t support older formats like HDCD and VCD, so I was off to find the older model.

As much as I thought it could be found for less than the newer model ($550 MSRP), the reality was that I really couldn’t find one. However, Amazon did have a few listed as “Warehouse Deals,” so purchased one for $430 that was listed in “very good” condition. I figured if it didn’t turn out OK, I would simply return it – the beauty of dealing with Amazon!

I received the player with Prime shipping the following day. It was complete with the exception of a manual (which I downloaded from the Oppo website), and the battery contacts on the remote needed a little scrubbing. Otherwise, it was in top condition, and immediately upon connecting the player to my (wired) network, it set opon upgrading its firmware — definitely a good sign. I disabled HDCD decoding on the Oppo to get those discs to play right, and went pretty much default on the other settings for the player.

In addition to providing me Blu-ray capabilities, the UDP-103 is definitely a step up from my previous Oppo universal player, which I purchased about 9 years prior. It sounds better, especially the analog output from the Oppo (which I run through my stereo system), and this funky issue I had with the output volume between digital and HDMI appears to have vanished.

minidlna

When talking about digital music servers other than Squeezebox Server, I feel like a cheater. It’s been my reliable go-to method for serving up my ripped and downloaded music for over a decade now. But not every piece of hardware speaks to it; Beep appeared a while back and saw me install miniDLNA on my linux box, where all my music files reside.

The Digital Living Network Alliance is a trade group that certifies compliance to a standard for delivering digital media. MiniDLNA is an implementation for Ubuntu, and mini it is! No interface (save a bare bones web page at port 8200), it is configured by editing /etc/minidlna.conf.

Set the path to your music; I’m only looking for audio files, so I mark the directory with an A.
#media_dir=/var/lib/minidlna
media_dir=A,/mnt/data/music

Set the database cache directory (important!) and enable logging:
db_dir=/var/cache/minidlna
log_dir=/var/log

Tell it to look for new files or not:
inotify=yes

Set the name of the server presented to clients. This provides a simple way to check if you’re connecting to you server.
friendly_name=My-MiniDLNA

That’s it! Restart the service after you make changes to the configuration,
sudo service minidlna restart

or rebuild the database if you’ve changed or added music.
sudo service minidlna force-reload

There’s a ton more it can do, including serving videos, pictures, etc, and it also offers per-user configuration as well; but for my purpose my newly acquired Oppo BVD-103 can now stream all the music on my computer.

EDIT: Also including a link for the bubblesoft add-on server. I use this with the Bubblesoft app to access MiniDLNA on my Android phone. Uses java and requires port 58050 to be open.

On the web:
MiniDLNA Ubuntu
ReadyMedia
bubblesoft

record cleaning

If you didn’t know, I’ve got a lot of albums, the earliest of which I started collecting in the early 1970s. They’ve been through a lot – teenage years, moves, and many of them were bought used. As I catalog them on discogs.com, I’ve been looking at each and every one. Most look pretty good; very good plus or even mint minus; others, not so much: finger prints, dust and who knows what! A record is made of polyvinyl chloride – PVC. It’s pretty hardy stuff, most modern plumbing is made of it. The grooves are more fragile, and once scratched, scuffed, etc, it cannot be undone. Yet anything that gets into those grooves that makes for a less than perfect playing experience can be rectified with proper cleaning. But please have realistic expectations about $3.00 records from Salvation Army. You can’t undue wear to vinyl – scratches and scuffs are permanent – dirt and dust are not.

Now let’s talk about money. If one had unlimited resources, they could just buy a better copy of an album. Or a $5000 ultrasonic record cleaner. Or even pay someone to clean their records. But I didn’t spend 40 years collecting records just to replace them; that wear and tear is my wear and tear, and those records and all they’ve been through are part of my story. And cleaning them, is my work.

The best way to clean records is by using a wet solution and then vacuuming it dry. Record cleaning machines start at about $500, and go up, though the Record Doctor V is only $200. A product like Spinclean handles the washing part, but not the drying; microfiber clothes are okay, but they don’t provide the “lift” that vacuuming does.

The $29 Vinyl Vac is not only one of the least expensive ways to get into vacuuming records, it’s also one of the best! It’s a PVC tube that attaches to the end of a shop vac, and over the spindle on a turntable. The tube has a slot cut into it, with felt around the edge that rides over the vinyl – pictures speak a thousand words, so here it is:
6183536_1
One can absolutely shine in all their obsessive-compulsive glory when talking cleaning habits; my record cleaning regime may not be yours, but if you’ve made it this far, you must be interested. Make no mistake, ideally, I’d prefer to never clean a record. If it was purchased new and handled properly, there shouldn’t be any need to. But my records are road-hardened. It’s time to clean!

The solution: Guess what’s the most effective cleaning chemical in the world? Water! Yep, all the other stuff – surfactants – just help water do its job. I use a 3:1 mix of distilled water and 91% isopropyl alcohol as the base, and add a minute amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid, and Photoflo, a Kodak “wetting” agent, which helps the water spread across the vinyl as well as aide in drying. Isopropyl Alcohol is a solvent for cutting grease, aka finger prints, and dries quickly. While some consider this controversial, it’s diluted, and PVC is thermally bonded. Plus, it’s only on the record for a few minutes at most.

The tools: I use a flat paint brush to scrub the records on my lazy susan, and a 4″ sponge brush to rinse the records. The Vinyl Vac and a shop vac dry the records. After vacuuming, I let them air dry for a short while, before I return them into the sleeve.

The process: Here’s the video.

The result? The records that needed cleaning are now clean. It’s mostly a one and done process, as I don’t expect them to get dirty again. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but these are my records, scratches, scuffs and all.