Monday, December 06, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

... Or at least a topic I haven't touched on for quite a while. But the nasty cold weather is back so once again I get the urge to listen to music.

Most of the hifi equipment I've collected over the years has been in the cellar, in boxes, gathering dust when it really needs to be listened to and cherished.

So with a view to setting up some sort of permanent set up, I've bird's nested up the essential components - minus the record turntable - on the coffee table. And it works ... and how. Okay, it's not "audiophile", whatever that is, and thank goodness for that, but a means of making nice music sound nice. Of course, by nice music, I mean music I like, and by sounding nice I mean, sounding like I think it ought to sound. What's wrong with that?

This is the hub of it. At the moment the system consists of two digital audio input devices, a Little Dot CDP_I disc transport - not a CD player - and my Dell Inspiron 1420 laptop. These are switched through a Cambridge DacMagic through to a Marantz PM6003 integrated amp which handles the Quad 11L2 speakers. Sennheiser HD580 headphones are driven by a Little Dot MkIII valve amp.
Here you can see the resulting cable matrix. The CDP_1 (centre) outputs raw numbers only to the DacMagic (right) via a ChunkyCables' s-pdif cable (grey). You can also see a toslink cable running from my laptop into the back of the DacMagic. I'm playing with the laptop output at the moment.

I am also trying a direct usb connection, but the toslink enables me to try a s-pdif connection from the computer using a TurtleBeach USB sound card which produces the maximum bitrate from a USB source - 48kbps - as opposed to the 44.1kbps rate from a vanilla usb socket. The Inspiron can also be persuaded to produce a true s-pdif output via its S-Video socket, but I need to investigate pin-outs and stuff before I can either source or make my own adaptor,

The analogue output from the DacMagic is taken care of by a pair of ChunkyCables' phono cables (black).

The Marantz handles output from the DacMagic, directing the power amp to the Quads via Chord Carnival speaker connects and tapping the line source through to the Little Dot head amp for headphone listening via QED Silver Spiral connects.

Virtually all my music collection has been ripped via a lossless codec to my music server. I also have a few very high bitrate files but until I figure out true s-pdif from the laptop it will be hard to tell if it's of any benefit.

Access and delivery is via my laptop using MediaMonkey. Currently, I'm playing with output methods, including waveOut and ASIO. ASIO seems superior, but can't handle gapless and since a lot of my music has this demand I'm currently using waveOut.
In the next few updates I'll cover some of this stuff in greater detail and in addition how to rip CDs perfectly using Exact Audio Copy and run a music file server.

Lastly, a quick word about cables or, if you like, audio interconnects. There is a load of rubbish spoken/written on this topic, and you could spend more than the cost of all the components in this system on just one pair of wires - and then some ... IMHO so long as you get well made connects made from good components you'll never hear any difference from mega-expensive "audiophile" cords. If you can hear the difference, then I'm delighted for you, the more so since there is a million dollar prize available for anyone who can tell an exotic connect from a mundane plain and simple cable ... go get ;-)