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Letters to the editor – Week #2, 2021

  • Keith C. writes…

    Good day, John

    Keith from Malta, love the channel mate. I’m on a journey to build a modest streaming system over the coming years or so. On my bespoke ‘to include’ list is to play my music in different rooms, ideally synchronously. An ex Spotify subscriber I currently use Tidal via Volumio. Naturally, I’ve looked at Roon but couldn’t work out if it did this so kept looking.

    Low and behold, whilst using Balena Etcher to flash a few cards, to pass the time I followed the link to their other open-source projects and came across Balena Sound. I’m sure you can find the URL.

    Don’t know why but thought you might be interested.

    Regards,

    Keith

    Chris C. writes…

    Hi John,

    I write today to inform you that the HiBy R2 now has the firmware update available that allows users to stream Qobuz directly to the R2 (previously only Tidal users could stream directly). Given that you turned me on to the product, I thought you may want to let you readers know of the development.

    Cheers and Happy New Year,

    Chris C., Boston, USA

    David M. writes…

    Hi,

    It is unfortunate that products like the Schitt Modi 3+ DAC are essentially unavailable in Europe. I say this after waiting weeks on their waiting list.

    When you look around here:

    https://www.schiit-europe.com/

    One sees, at least in the 200 – 300 Euro range, nothing is available.

    Ouf, unfortunate.

    Kind regards,

    David

    Conor P. writes…

    I adore your work. It just has to be said. I’m just getting into the hobby, and your taste in music and equipment constantly expands my ideas of what is possible in the world of audio. Furthermore, your production value? God-tier. Shout out to Olaf. Thanks for your work, any day with a Darko post is a good one!

    Best,

    Connor

    Me: Thank you, Connor. Very kind of you to say so. 🙂

    Bruno H. writes…

    Hello John,

    Following your recent video in the title, I could not help but reach out to you to bring this compilation to your attention:

    https://www.discogs.com/Various-Ambient-4-Isolationism/release/72804

    It’s in the vein of Selected Ambient Works Vol.2 (heck, Aphex is included in it). You may know it already but just in case, I wanted to bring it to your attention. It’s dark, cold. You might need to pause listening (I know I do sometimes). The other three volumes are great too but maybe in a more traditional ambient sense.

    Also, and I just checked the website is down: ambient-nights.org but they have a page on Mixcloud:

    Their Sol System collection is really good. Another favorite is the Ethni-City series. Oh and now they have a Berlin series which might be appropriate for you being local 😉

    Cheers, thanks for your work and your videos and Happy New Year from a french man in Nevada.

    Best Regards,

    Bruno

    Johan V. writes…

    Hi John

    I was watching your video on Electronica for Audiophiles, where you, at the end, mention that CD listening gives you a private listening session. I’d like to add that streaming (same goes for all cloud computing actually) is not environmentally friendly at all. Keeping content ready for streaming 24/7 requires huge amounts of electrical energy. Just thought I’d mention this.

    Like your work!

    Cheers!

    Johan

    Me: Yes, indeed, there are a few articles out there about this very issue: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/environmental-impact-streaming-music-835220/

    Dan. J writes…

    Hi John

    I hope you’re well.

    I’m a longtime reader of your blog and love the films you, Olaf and Jana make.

    There’s no particular purpose to my email except to say that you’re an absolute mind reader.

    Over the last month, I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge of electronic music using your blog posts on the topic and your Insta feed as my way in. I find you as useful as a source of new music (as well as an interesting voice on music I already know) as I do a source of hifi knowledge.

    For instance, I have you to thank for discovering Global Communication’s 76:14, a record I now love.

    Anyway, like you, I find that the seasons hugely influence my listening. For the last three years winter has seen me seek out glacial, atmospheric, narrative-less music that gives me headspace to “cogitate” (!).

    A lot of this is electronic music without vocals. I like its clean lines and its ability to be ice cold one minute and warm as a duvet the next. I love it when the music tells a story. But I also love it when music invites me to tell a story about it.

    And now, with perfect timing, you’ve made a film about this very topic, with (it sounds) more to follow. I’m really looking forward to seeing which records you recommend next.

    Many thanks

    Dan (a music first audiophile)

    P.S. I totally agree with you that different digital sources can sound very different. I have a Node 2 streamer and an Audiolab 6000CDT CD transport both feeding a Roksan K3 DAC. The streamer sounds really good. The CD transport sounds thrilling. I’ve brought tons of CDs in the last two years for the simple joy of hearing how extraordinary they sound. I trust my ears. The difference is real.

    Ioannis A. writes…

    I do not see any Marantz or Denon reviews with HEO ecosystem. Aren’t these gear worth a review? What is your opinion for . It is a super flexible streamer preamp in a very low cost compared to similar products. Can you please advice for its quality?

    Me: Can you PLEASE read the FAQ above the contact form. These types of questions are answered there already.

    I A: I haven’t read anything answering this. I read only that the is no reviews for product that has no value. Is that the case?

    Me: Let me help you with a little copy/paste:

    “How come you haven’t reviewed anything from brand A?
    There’s only one of me (and a handful of guest contributors). We must pick and choose our review subjects carefully. In a year’s worth of new product announcements, we have time to cover only a handful. We choose products that interest us the most. It’s also worth noting that I don’t have access to every piece of hi-fi gear on the planet. Far from it: I only have media contacts for a small percentage of the world’s hi-fi manufacturers.”

    “Have you heard product Y? Can I get your opinion on it?
    In the first instance, please use the search box here on Darko.Audio. If you find no review, I’ve not heard it and therefore, regrettably, I cannot offer a reliable opinion.”

    Tim H. writes…

    Hi John,

    I really enjoyed watching your Electronica for audiophiles video, being a huge ambient/Biosphere/Aphex Twin fan myself. There were a couple of CDs there that I haven’t heard so I will definitely check them out.

    Annoyingly “Stone In Focus” is my favourite track from SAW II, and I searched high and low to find it back in the day. You might know this already, but it is available on CD, on the very excellent Excursions In Ambience (The Third Dimension) compilation CD:

    This is one of my favourite 90s electronic compilations, along with the first volume of Trance Europe Express.

    I did buy the FLAC version of SAW II, incl #19, when Richard finally made it available on his website.

    I also want to thank you for inspiring me to buy new gear through your videos, and the system I ended up with (quite recently) was partially based on your reviews of those products and ALOT of research.

    So now I have the following two-channel system:
    Bluesound Vault 2i (so I can stream Tidal Hifi and rip all my CDs in FLAC on the same device)
    Audio Quest Carbon optical cable
    Hegel H95 amplifier
    Pro-Ject speaker cable
    Kef LS50 Meta in black (been a long time KEF owner, but these are something else)

    And I am waiting for the new Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable so I can play all my 12″ from the 90s and all the Led Zeppelin/Stones LPs from the 70s I inherited from my mother.

    I am very happy with this system, the Hegel/Kef combo is outstanding. And I have re-discovered the joy of two-channel listening through it. This combo keeps revealing things in tracks that I have heard a “million” times before, and I’m sitting there going “oh, they used a different synth on that bridge, hadn’t noticed that before”.

    Anyway, take care and keep up the good work, I have to go back to stuffing CDs into the Vault.

    Auf wiederschon.
    Tim
    Kristiansand, Norway

    Me: Thanks, Tim, for the reminder about Excursions in Ambience 3. I used to own it and have just ordered another copy from Discogs. 🙂 The TEX series — I was all over those in 90s and still play them to this day. I even have vinyl copies, which sadly are still languishing in Melbourne. Trance Atlantic is where I checked out. Here’s something for you: Dream Injection. Terrible artwork but some real gems on volumes 1, 2 and 5.

    Harald Å writes…

    Hey!

    Love the reviews you make.

    Can you make and/or comment on some cheaper ways to interface Roon. I’d like to use a more dedicated device, like Raspberry Pi with touch screen or maybe a touch screen connected to a PC. Know I use my laptop which isn’t great since I find myself online browsing audio gear instead of just listening to music.

    Best regard

    Harald

    Me: Hi Harald — you’re definitely gonna dig my next video. 😉

    Brady W. writes…

    Hey John.

    The channel is a real go-to for me and is relaxing watching in these current times.

    I have a playlist of your electronic tracks on Spotify, and recently watched your upload of the more ‘ ambient’ thoughtfulness sounds.

    New to the streaming market, and inspired by your ‘Pi’ information, and made myself a streamer using the newest Pi4B 4GB, and an IQaudiO DAC….how good are they!!!!! CD-quality thro’ my setup is an absolute pleasure. No worries about how it might sound to others here- My ears are the ones that matter.

    Anyways, thanks for the no-nonsense, straight-up eloquent thoughts and reviews- including the well description get-out clauses of ‘non-advice to buy’ (this kit, or that kit..). Always amusing.

    If you’re liking the 90’s almost ambient.. have you tried Nightmares on Wax, Kruder & Dorfmeister, or LTJ Bukem? Worth a browse.

    Best regards chap, stay safe.

    Brady
    Harpenden, Herts. UK

    Frank D. writes…

    Mr. Darko,

    Guten tag.

    While watching your “Product/s of the year 2020,” I spotted your brilliant record storage solution and acoustic room treatment. In your video, it’s located at 11:25. If it’s not too intrusive, could you please share the manufacture of the furniture and acoustic treatment you have on the wall that is at the same timestamp?

    Prost,

    Frank

    Me: Hi Frank. The acoustic panels are from GIK Acoustics and the vinyl storage is IKEA’s Kallax. Check out my video on Kallax-Fi for more info.

    Zane K. writes…

    Just wanted to say thanks for your X video. I agree 100% with each of your 10 observations (except Bluetooth and CD which I don’t happen to use anymore.)

    I enjoyed the video, not so much because I agreed with you, but because all of those points were so clear to me once you had stated them. I even went back to using Audirvana despite the bugs 🙂

    Thanks again

    Zane

    Ken C. writes…

    Hi John,

    First of all, I hope all goes well with whatever procedure is being done with your eyes,

    As usual, your short film on the RME Adi-2 Dac fs was good but I feel you left out the most common use case for those using that dac – which is using it as a preamp as well. Most of the dacs these days have high enough voltage output for them to work.

    Since the Adi-2, Matrix Sabre X dac and Benchmark dac3 all have hybrid versions of voltage attenuation it would be your most popular video IMO to compare these as preamps using as a control a highly regarded preamp of your choice. By the way most people who buy the ADI-2 use similar attenuators as this directly into their power amp so the dac is operating at its optimal level:

    https://m.thomannmusic.com/jts_ma_123.htm

    Best Wishes
    Ken

    Me: Hi Ken. The eye is ok for now, thank you. A bit of vitreous self-detaching instead of – mercifully – the retina. Per my ‘X’ video (‘a straight wire with gain is overrated’), DACs with (digital) volume controls rarely sound as meaty or as tonally satisfying as when an analogue pre-amp is inserted between the DAC and the power amp. And the RME is no exception.


    Paul W. writes…

    John, thank you for your ELECTRONICA for audiophiles d[-_-]b video.

    I would like to recommend the excellent website: https://headphonecommute.com/

    I have discovered a lot of great artists and a lot of music thanks to Headphone Commute.

    All the best…


    Mike O. writes…

    Hi

    I subscribe to your RSS feed, old school I know, but you should probably update your copyright message as it’s currently saying 2010-2020:

    “No part of this RSS feed to be reproduced, recycled or re-purposed without permission. For private use only. Copyright 2010-2020 · Darko.Audio · All Rights Reserved”

    Cheers

    Mike

    Me: Thanks, Mike, you’re a champ. That should now be fixed. 🙂

    Dr. Ludger R. writes…

    Dear Mr. Darko,

    Upfront, I should like to say that your website and its contents do provide a very good source of information, insight and valuable reference. Thanks a lot, and keep up the great work!

    And another upfront: Please protect my name and e-mail information as strictly as possible, according to your policy. I am writing to you in order to make the streaming services Qobuz and Tidal better, given that you have a great public voice and might be heard more easily than me as “just another paying customer”.

    I would like to approach you and bring some issues with respect to the current streaming services to your attention. I do think these issues need remediation. And with your previous coverage of streaming services, I do feel you will understand what I will be talking about. Ultimately, I might hope you could lend a helping opinion and voice.

    To set the grounds: I am concerned about issues with respect to Qobuz and with Tidal, both of which I subscribe to. My issues with Tidal are general, not depending on any particular platform / Operating System. My issues with Qobuz are really serious, and I am in particular concerned about the Android App. To be clear: I am NOT talking about any sound quality aspects, which have been discussed a lot. I am going to talk about “hard facts” and not subjective impressions.

    Let me start with Qobuz. My issue with that streaming service starts from using a Digital Audio Player (DAP), not a PC/laptop or phone. (Actually, I am using both Qobuz and Tidal stand-alone as well as within Roon on my PC, too.) Think about DAPs whatever one likes, I think that such a player is a tool that is very suitable to the demands of the Qobuz target audience. Such DAPs share some common aspects: (1) As a niche market as compared to mobile phones, their manufacturers have access only to “state-of-the-art minus one or two generations back” or “one or two tiers below state-of-the-art” electronic components, in particular CPUs and display screens. For example, only less than half a handful of DAPs came out very recently using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, and Android 9 only very recently came to the world of DAPs. (2) Since DAPs almost exclusively rely on WiFI for internet connection, i.e. they have NO mobile phone-type connection, streaming via the web is limited to use at home or by tediously using a separate phone as a WiFi hub when out of the house or in the office. Thus, the offlining function of the streaming services is a MOST important feature of both Qobuz and Tidal.

    So this is the first big issue I want to bring to your attention: Qobuz has a concept for its offlining function (which they call import) which is terribly impractical and renders it almost useless. For reasons of copyright protection, Qobuz splits every imported track into so-called chunk files (following a Youtube concept, *.exo files) which are only 2 MegaBytes in size. In that way, one HiRes track when imported ends up as dozens to hundreds or more of those tiny chunk files. Example: I wanted to give the Keith Jarrett discography a good ear and imported most of its albums as Qobuz offline, HiRes whenever it exists; plus some more albums. Now I have 100 albums with typically some 10 tracks each, i.e. some 1,000 tracks, which occupy 100 GigaBytes in total – nothing too serious. But the serious issue is that these are stored as 50,000 of these tiny 2 MB chunk files, instead of being stored as 1,000 files = tracks only.

    With such an offlining storage concept, my Android Digital Audio Player has a very hard time, it is getting almost impractical and useless. My Player is a Cayin N6ii (not too old a model, just a bit more than a year or two, but a top-notch DAP anyway), CPU Snapdragon 425, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB internal storage, and a SanDisk Extreme Pro 1 TeraByte microSDXC card (best available), run on Android 8.1 Oreo. Of course, it is the SD card which holds all audio files, and in particular that huge mass of Qobuz offline chunk files. The effects of the chunk file concept are felt heavily in several instances: Android itself takes about 30 minutes to read the SD card at boot. Then the Qobuz Android App at launch takes several minutes to access the offline contents. Each time I want to access one of the imported albums in a listening session, the Qobuz App takes another minute to find out what tracks belong to that album. And finally, while listening, skipping between tracks or fast forwarding / fast reversing within a track takes long times again, destroying the listener’s attention. All in all, the Qobuz concept of chunk files for offline (imported) contents is no fun at all.

    I did write into the Qobuz general support and in particular to the Android software team at Qobuz. Yes, I did receive responses to my various e-mails, but unfortunately nothing (yet) to the tune of “oh well, we’ll think about our concept of how to store offlined tracks”. Of course, I reckon it has to do with copyright protection, and I can even imagine Qobuz would have to talk to the music industry / rights holders in case they would want to change that existing concept.

    And that is the point where I would hope you might come in helpfully … Either by politely publishing a bit about such severe issues for the users, or by talking to someone at Qobuz, or whatever.

    For comparison, Tidal has implemented its offline function differently – they simply have one file per one track, which is GREAT. I can only guess as to how they implement copyright protection then. So I would like to get Qobuz pushed towards what Tidal does.

    The second point of concern I want to bring to your attention is with both Qobuz and Tidal, actually with Tidal in particular. I am not happy with their providing metadata for each album. It seems they all get (i.e. license) the metadata and album reviews from All Music. I must say these metadata are strongly incomplete; e.g., no recording dates and no locations / venues at all, and many times only limited / incomplete / wrong artist / musician / orchestra etc information. In short: I am so sadly missing the old LP gatefold information and even the CD booklets! Qobuz does provide CD booklets for a limited number of albums, depending on the record label – I like that effort very much. Tidal on the other hand has NO booklets at all. Please, let your voice be heard to urge record labels and Qobuz as well as Tidal in particular to provide pdf files of the CD booklets for more albums and at all, respectively!

    Thank you very much for taking your time to read all this. I would be very happy for receiving a reply and any feedback, for understanding my issues, and maybe for lending a helpful voice. (Of course, I will provide you with my e-mail exchange with Qobuz in case you might want to take a look.)

    Kind regards,

    Dr. Ludger R.

    Me: Dear Mr Ludger

    Qobuz is designed mainly for smartphones where the record labels insist that the offline content system is fully secured against piracy. Qobuz has opted for the chunked method and probably don’t think it’s an issue because it is invisible to all but a few of its users.

    DAPs probably only make up a tiny minority of the Qobuz app user base: a niche (high-end head-fi) within a niche (portable hi-res) within a niche (DAPs). The key to change is complaints in numbers: if enough DAP users like you register a complaint with Qobuz about their chunked offlining system, perhaps they will do something about it. Until then, your solution for the immediate future is right in front of you: use Tidal.

    And yes, streaming service metadata can be patchy. But again, how bad is it? I only encounter issues every so often, and not enough for me to complain about it. And if I want an album streamed the way I want it streamed, I rip the CD and tag it myself. Have you considered this?

    L. R: Dear Mr. Darko,

    Thank you so much for your answer, both regarding contents and speed.

    Just a few comments to yours:

    Regarding Qobuz, it looks like “complaints in numbers” will eventually be THE way towards a solution. Maybe I can get one or two folks on Head-Fi.org to write in … Tongue-in cheek: I had entertained the hope you might be one person in that number, too …

    Until then, and probably “forever”, Tidal is part of my solution, too. Anyway, using both Qobuz and Tidal is almost a must despite the doubled investment: Repertoires, offline storage systems, availability of pdf album booklets do all contribute to their distinguishing pros and cons. And then there is sound quality …

    Actually, it all comes down to what you called micro-management of audio in your PlexAmp/Plex review. Those occupations have the tendency to grow all too quickly, and one has to choose wisely.

    (1) Selecting and micro-managing audio contents, be it ripped CDs (where I do come from), purchased hi-res stuff, or contents from the two streaming services as CD quality / MQA / HiRes.

    (2) Managing the metadata tagging for ripped CDs and purchased stuff myself whenever I feel the need; but, to be honest, that loving care and diligence I had for a long time does indeed fade with the increasing number of albums (I have some 2,000 CDs of which the majority hasn’t been ripped yet).

    (3) Wrt booklets, I even thought of building a library of album booklets myself which increases management duties again; such a collection would be based on web content, booklets taken liberally from Qobuz (alas, at least one advantage of renting music), or even based on scanning owned booklets myself.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments to me.

    Cheers, and all the best in these times,

    Ludger

    Me: You’re absolutely right: micromanagement of a DAP library (a second device!) is a pain in the rear and precisely why I’m a cheerleader for Plexamp. 😉

    Pete W. writes…

    Well, it’s taken me a while, but I have finally discovered you and your YouTube channel. Really enjoying your presenting style and working my way through your back catalogue. Given your experience of the Sonos Connect referenced in the Back to Basics videos I am hoping you might be able to clarify something for me. I use my Connect (Generation 2) to feed a digital signal via Toslink to my AVI DM10 speakers. The DAC in the speakers does the conversion and according to the manual supports “24 bit 96 khz (limited by Optical Connector 24/192 DAC)”.

    In your video, you confirm my understanding that using the digital output from the Connect bypasses the Sonos DAC, but are you able to tell me if there is ever any appreciable difference between the digital stream as it enters the Connect and the digital signal that leaves the Connect, or am I right in thinking that the stream just “flows through” without any processing by the Connect. I thought you might be able to answer this as you use Roon and that seems to provide details of the stream at each step in its journey. All I really want to know is if the Connect is limiting the quality of the sound I hear and whether I should be looking to use another streamer. I like the usability of the Sonos as I have other Sonos speakers around the house, but I don’t want to limit the quality of the music on my main system. Many thanks if you have read this far and I look forward to watching more of your videos. Only complaint so far is I now want a pair of the Buchardt A500s. That said my DM10s and matching sub bring a smile to my face on a daily basis so I can wait.

    Regards Pete

    Me: I believe the answers you seek are here: https://en.community.sonos.com/wireless-speakers-228992/what-are-the-dac-specs-of-the-connect-6818757. 24/44.1 is what comes out of you Sonos Connect’s TOSLINK output so hi-res audio is a no go. But hey, CD quality is good enough when the mastering matters more. 😉

    Garry C. writes…

    Hi John,

    Your videos showed up on my Youtube page not long after I started looking around for some new speakers. I really like your video’s and appreciate the production quality – even for things that I’m not interested in buying. (I bought a pair of Neat Motive SX1’s to go with my Linn system, a Sondek and DS)

    What I’m writing to you about is the music, I’ve always maintained that the most important part of a hi-fi is the record collection, so when I saw your video ‘Electronica for Audiophiles’ I thought I was in for a laugh, I mean the last place I would go for music reviews is the hi-fi press, unless I want to look at waveforms of Norah Jones records that is.

    My taste in music has always been a bit ‘different’ than most peoples so when I saw you with a Monolake CD in your hand at the start of the video I knew that you were coming from the right place. I loved the video and I then went back and read the other articles (and added a few other records to my must playlist). When I bought my new speakers I had the dealer more interested in finding out about Alva Noto, The Ozric Tentacles and Radian than anything else.

    So thanks for being about the music and not just the equipment, and keep up the good work.

    Kind Regards

    Garry

    Me: Ooooh – I’m a big fan of the Alva Noto stuff! Check out his remix of Kangding Ray’s “Pruitt Igoe”.

    John M. writes…

    Just wanted to send you a comment to say that:

    1. I love what you’re doing on YouTube. Love your approach to equipment reviews.

    2. I was checking out some of the CDs you had recommended in your recent review and realized that I had heard Antennaria by Biosphere somewhere before. It was driving me crazy until I realized that a Mac game I had been into a few years ago uses it on one of its levels: https://www.osmos-game.com/ (It also uses other similar artists which are identified at that link.)

    I am NOT a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’d like to check out a video game that matches that calm winter vibe you were talking about in your video, I HIGHLY recommend this game. It has been out for years, but still gets great reviews — totally unique. Check it out.

    Cheers!

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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