Ooooh.

So, today’s blog entry is about HiFi. Not High – End with its speakers for £200,000 and cables for € 5000, but High Fidelity. Pieces of technology – new and old – that make music sound like the listener likes it and are a step up from sound bars, transistor radios and sodcasting with your mobile. A part of my personal setup until recently was a magnificent power amp, the mighty Marantz SM-80. I always wanted to own a big piece of solid state eighties hifi, as much for sheer power (150w per channel) as for the aesthetics. Just look at it. Isn’t it gorgeous in its monolithic beauty with it’s magnificent layout?

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This magnificent beast has been sitting amicably next to the universal disc player and the audio/video receiver. It’s main purpose is to create enough power to make the speakers sound good, both when played loud or on low volumes. There are some speakers who need that much wattage to perform at their best, but here’s the rub: my don’t. My horn based Klipsch speakers only need a fraction of the power of what the SM-80 has to offer and so it has been bit like a rugby player in charge of tackling a gaggle of ducklings and just wasted a huge amount of energy for not doing much at all. I looked around for an alternative piece of of technology that could take over the role of the Marantz, still sound as brilliant as the monster but with a fraction of the energy usage. Turns out there is such a thing, and it even sounds darn good. So good in fact, that the people of 6Moons (who usually don’t review anything that’s not hand soldered by a farmer in Styria, costs less than 500,000 Swiss Franks and has been made with the blood of a virgin goat) gave it a prize. Yes, it’s that obscure (and good).

And small.

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Yes, that’s it. It’s tiny. So if your stereo is all about the looks, this probably won’t do.

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What is it ? It’s something called a Class – T amplifier designed with a pretty nifty chip by Tripath (no, me neither), made by Hong Kong outfit Trends Audio and has been reviewed to death by every hi-end website out there (always positive). It costs about as much as 1 cm of high end cable and was with me 3 days after the order, all the way from the Pearl River Estuary.

And it works. Really well. I knew that it wouldn’t have a problem with my highly efficient Klipschs but I wasn’t expecting it to beat the sound of the chunky Marantz, but suck me sideways, it does. I used the work related absence of the best girlfriend ever to crank up the volume and threw it a volley of my favourite tracks, be it Coltrane, Mahler or Matt Bianco: it dealt with all of them beautifully, produced a crisp and competent deep bass and outperformed the Marantz in clarity of the upper registers.

The best girlfriend ever loves it already as it managed to eradicate one big black metal box from her living room, as the Marantz is now in storage and the TA-10.2p (that’s it’s name, though I’m thinking of calling it Tarquin) is hidden by the Calvin and Hobbes collections.

A perfect metaphor.

I rest my case.

 

 

The FX-9590: A Whole New Dimension In Madness

While observing me losing against a 14 year old in a Squash game, a friend of mine once commented ‘That Fordie doesn’t have a competetive fibre in his body’. That might be correct when it comes to meaningless things like games in which the main goal of the players seems to sustain a ligamental knee- and/or ankle injury as quickly as possible , but when it comes to the performance of my computer, I do start to get a bit twitchy and keep a virtual eye on the performance of the rest of the users out there. Not that there is a iota of common sense behind behaviour like this, but for goodness’ sake, if a man is not allowed to engage in some primal chest beating about the speed of his computer, what else is there left for us Y chromosome carriers. At least I don’t drive a sports car, have a hair piece or play golf. Fortunately the best girl friend ever (BGE) regards the whole thing as some sort of occupational therapy and is probably quite happy to have me locked away in my play room office for an hour or so, so she can watch Paul O’Grady.

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Paul O’Grady and a Dog

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An AMD FX-9590

 

 

 

 

 

I always thought that my gaming rig office computer had quite a bit of oomph (Sabertooth 990FX 2.0, 16GB Ram, 250 GB SSD, 2x 2 Terabyte HD, R9 290, Asus Sonar Essence for those who really want to know), but it turns out that it’s processor really doesn’t hack it anymore in today’s world of games advanced real word graphic simulations. Because I have a smidgen of loyalty and and I am stuck with an AM3 socket motherboard, there was only one alternative: get a quicker processor from AMD Piledriver’s architecture. So I acquired their quickest one.

The FX-9590 is a bit of a beast. It’s power consumption and heat dissipation is legendary and I was worried that I might overwhelm the local electricity provider but all I did was overwhelm my already massive cooler, as benchmarking resulted in my motherboard shutting things down. So, after getting the only air cooler that apparently handles the heat from the 9590 without it destroying the rest of the motherboard, I spent two very meditative hours trying to hitch the bloody thing up to my motherboard without destroying things (trust me, it has happened).

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Before 9590 implant. Note already quite beefy cooler. iPod classic for size comparison.

 

 

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After successful implantation. That pink thing is a Phantek PH-TC14PE. Sorry for the cable disaster.

 

Ok, so it’s not pretty, but is it working?

Fortunately I can confirm that everything seems to be working spiffingly. CPU temperature at idling (Word, iTunes, Power Point, Firefox and Outlook running parallel) is 32 Celsius, and so far the maximum temperature recorded was during a session of Titanfall at maximum resolution, and at 52 Celsius that was still pretty balmy (especially as the R9 290 gets really hot as well).

So, I still only have a second-rate processor compared to the new generation of Intel’s products, but at least I don’t have to worry heating the house ever again.

 

The 50 Euro tablet

So I was ambling through the bottomless pit of despair that is Frankfurt Airport’s Terminal 1 to pass the time before my Lusthansa flight back to civilisation, when I felt the uncontrollable urge to enter one of those ‘duty free’ electronic shops sprinkled freely around the airports of this world, drawn like a particularly stupid fly to a liverwurst roll to its earphones, cameras and Iphones of pure gold. After ignoring the usual offerings by Beats for the 3gazillionst time, my eyes swiveled to a table that was decked out in tablets, particularly to one that was rather small and looked a bit podgy (the tablet, not the table). This was the Denver TAC-70111 , a 7″ tablet running Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) by the Danish importer DENVER, sold new for 50 Euro (£ 41). I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist. This was just too tempting. While the best girlfriend ever rolled her eyes, I jumped like a little puppy to the check out, where the manager knowingly commented that they had tested the device at their shop and pronounced it better than expected.

As we had a good hour to wile away before our departure beyond the channel, I unboxed it and started to play around with it. First thoughts were obviously underwhelming: no Bluetooth, no mobile data, no camera on the back of the device. No home button. 512 MB DDR3 ram and 4 GB storage. But, it booted without problems, updated itself quickly and was by all means a fully functioning tablet, albeit with the speed of a pony that is carrying an overweight, hippophobic American tourist on Blackpool beach.

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Quick size comparison: Note 3, TAC-70111, Ipad Air

The screen is not particularly bright and has a sub-par resolution of 800×480, but is moderately responsive. There is a micro-SD card slot that will expand the built-in storage, a micro-usb adapter and a AC adapter, so the bare necessities are certainly there. The main problem is undoubtedly though the CPU: a single core allegedly running at 1.2 GHZ and there is no specsheet on the net that actually names it which is decidedly dodgy. JFDP Labs’ Hardware Info gives the following specs and makes the hardware manufacturer out as another Shengzen company, Itek :

Processor: ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)

Cores: 1

Max Frequency: 1200 Mhz

After many hours of research and downloading more hardware info proggies I am now convinced that this is a Allwinner A13 platform, a Chinese all-in-one computer that pretty much runs half the entertainment infrastructure of the world. Now this isn’t the world’s fastest processor and Mobo, but together with a mali 400mp graphic unit, the little thing is able to play content on the BBC’s Iplayer without hitch:

 

If this is stuttering, it’s your connection, not the tablet.

Now, for 41 quid I already had hours of geeky fun, a functioning toy to play with on the train and a possible gift for my nephew, though he’s not going to get it before I installed Cyanogenmod on it. Would I advise you to buy one? If there’s only a smidgen of nerdblood (technical term) in you, you’ll fire up your browser now and buy it this very second.  You might have more fun than that time when you tried to install OpenBSD on your first Gameboy.

Stay tuned for the report on Cyanogen insertion.

The Pursuit Of Making Your Favourite Music Sound Better

So I recently bought a SACD player.

A what?

A Super Audio CD player.

Why?

Good Question. There are a few albums that I like so much, I would really, really like to listen to them as close to the original as possible. While I do have my trusty turntable, some albums are just not available (or very expensive) on vinyl. There are also some albums that were recorded so perfectly, that a crap transfer to CD with loads of compression on the way can just ruin your listening experience. That’s where the SACD player comes in. The main difference between your normal CD and the SACD format is bandwidth: A CD packs ca 400MB of digitized music, while a SACD contains 3.7 GB. There is also a difference in encoding (PCM vs SDS) but that would be too technical. Anyway, the ultimate selling point is that the listening experience is much closer to the original recording (especially for old material that was recorded analogue) as the format is almost lossless. So yesterday my poor postman brought another package to chez fordie, containing this:

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It looks very nice on the mantlepiece, next to the royal family  next to the other gear and so far was has been given the nod by the best girlfriend ever. The first SACD I bought was of course my all time favourite, the original Bossa Nova album by Getz/Gilberto. The experience is indeed impressive, with Astrud and Stan even more present in the room and now I am on the hunt to find my top ten albums ever on this format. My current charts on Last.FM suggest that I am going to struggle to find the majority of the albums I have listened to most over the last 5 years, as the chart looks like this (and yes, I know, my taste in music is atrocious):

  1. Matt Bianco
  2. Incognito
  3. ABC
  4. Steely Dan
  5. Pet Shop Boys
  6. Crowded House
  7. Mezzoforte
  8. The Style Council
  9. Was (Not Was)
  10. Level 42

There doesn’t seem to be any SACD releases out there by ABC, Incognito, Pet Shop Boys, Was (not Was) and Level 42, but there are plenty of great jazz and classic recordings out there, and as the Steely Dan records are really the most important (as most meticulously produced) I am sure I’ll be able to gather a nice little collection. There is quite an active community around SACDs and I’m sure that I will be able to source everything I need to be an even happier listener.

Now all I have to do is find the 40 quid for the Japanese SACD of Aja.