Letters to the Editor – Weeks #26 & #27, 2021

  • Nigel writes…

    Hi John.

    Cheers from Sydney Australia. I know this is a triggering subject among some audiophiles, so am cautious raising it. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to whether you would ever do a Youtube video on making your own speaker cables. The reason I ask is that I have recently given it a crack, inspired by some other Youtube videos on the subject, and I have found the results quite astonishing and also the process a lot of fun. I thought I’d raise it given in the past you’ve shown a penchant for ‘home brew’ in building a Nuc/Roon Rock, and I guess there is also that aspect of mucking around with Raspberry Pis. I came to making my own cables as an experiment, partly inspired by your tendency to suggest going out and giving new things a go, and because I felt my system was presenting a somewhat ‘constrained’ sound quality – to me, it had a sort of suffocated sound that had been puzzling me for months. I had been curious about whether it could have been a speaker cable issue. I had tried (and spent quite a bit of money on) two other name-brand cables, was reluctant to spend even more and stumbled across a few ‘make your own’ videos on the subject. The cost is giving it a go didn’t seem outrageous and the process looked fun, and it was! The thing that has struck me though is the positive effect on sound quality, doing away with the ‘constrained’ sound I felt I was experiencing, with a new level of detail and presentation that must have been lurking in there somewhere, but which I feel the new cables have set free. To some people, it probably sounds crazy, but if you’d told me beforehand I wouldn’t have believed that some home-built speaker cables could make that amount of difference. I’ve now made a second pair for my desktop system, and they have markedly improved its SQ as well. Anyway, I guess the point is that I’d be fascinated in a video exploring the ‘Darko perspective’ on making your own cables, as I reckon you’d bring a lot of well-considered thought and perspective to the idea that other Youtuber’s haven’t, as I find you normally do.

    Me: DIY isn’t really my thing. Neither is discussing cables on YouTube. The longer I run the YT channel, the more I want to focus on components that make significantly more of a difference to sound quality, especially those that point to the future of hifi (ergo: Future-Fi!). By the end of this year, I hope to be done with much of the tweaky-geeky stuff. Those investigations will continue on this website but with the YT channel now closing in on 200,000 subscribers and crossing over increasingly more into the mainstream, I need to make sure, more than ever before, that the video content serves that more mixed audience.

    However, it’s great to read that you had the strength of mind to put your prejudices to one side to give (DIY or not) different cables a go for yourself. One of THE most important personal qualities we can bring to hifi – and to life in general – is to always keep an open mind until we have gone deeper experientially.

    Ross writes…

    I’m sure your followers would benefit from a foray into the balanced power transformers available. I have been using these for about 15 years ever since I found out that Roger Nichols (Steely Dan engineer) made them a first step-item in setting up for recording. They fundamentally change the whole way a system sounds by producing a clean power source that has a jet black background and all power nasties are just gone. just saying…

    Me: You don’t think such a topic is too obscure or niche for a YouTube audience that’s as much “man in street” as it is “die-hard audiophile”?

    R: A balanced power supply will improve any audio system and any component. It should be an audio enthusiast’s first port of call when designing an audio system. After all, it is the first link in the chain. And there are Chinese-made bi-filar boxes available now that are very reasonably priced. I don’t know if you have one or have tried one but it solves 99% of all power-related problems.

    I use them for my power amp, preamp, DAC, PC, other power supplies, wall warts etc.

    You should try one and evaluate if it’s worth it to tell all.

    Just a thought.

    Mark writes…

    When I connect my Moto G Power to my Burson desktop DAC/amp and start up the Android Tidal app I too get the notification and allow Tidal to use the external “HD” DAC. My equipment has no readout indicating bitrate, but I find that when I get a text/email notification the volume of the music lowers and I do hear the notification sound in through the external DAC. To me, this indicates that the Tidal stream is indeed being processed through the Android sound mixer – i.e., not bit-perfect. Further, comparing it to that of my desktop streamer connected to the same DAC, the Android is harsher.

    James writes…

    Thank you for teaching me about the world of digital audio and filling the Covid days with interesting information. Love the attitude. Fuck the whiners and tools. Keep u the good work. Now delete this message and get back to work! (:^)

    Jon writes…

    Thanks for taking the time to review audio gear. I have been following your YouTube channel for over a year and now been listening to your podcasts.

    Your information helped me really think about why I would purchase certain gear. I now base my decisions on what I think will make ME happy, not what others are purchasing. Thank you for your insight.

    Ian writes…

    I mentioned to my wife, in passing, your description of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers button/function which you like because of its benefit of skipping straight over an offending track. I did so because I found the description amusing.

    Now my wife is not really into hifi (she likes music but doesn’t really care about what it is played on) so I expected the mention of this phrase to pass by her.

    To my surprise she has now taken to using the term frequently – when in the car and she does not like what I am playing, when we have a mixed playlist running on Roon or anytime my musical taste offends her she demands the use of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers Button. So that particular Darko-ism has become part of the general vernacular of my household.

    Even better, last night we were listening to some vinyl and she looked at me disappointed and said – this doesn’t have a Red Hot Chilli Peppers button does it?

    Kent writes…

    I hope this message finds you well, even amidst the ongoing troubles the world is having.
    I have enjoyed your format and reviews for some time now; very much liking the music you highlight in your reviews.

    I am forwarding you my Bandcamp page because I believe that my music (which is wholly electronic) would be a good test for the equipment that you are reviewing. My music requires a lot from the playback system, in frequency and in detail resolution – of course, the music is not made with this in mind, but, it seems to happen this way more often than not.

    I am not messaging today to receive any feature or in search of some kind of backhanded advertising. I like your videos and thought that you may enjoy my music. If you do not like what you hear, no worries – I am not made of porcelain.

    Here is the link:

    You can also listen on Spotify, all the other major platforms as well.

    Thanks for your time and I look forward to your future content.

    Wishing you and your team very well.

    Ben writes…

    Gnedby is still on display in-store and available online at IKEA here in Australia. Another option is using the Kallax glass shelf kit as seen here in the second photo. Also food for smaller width components:

    All the best

    David writes…

    Let me first say I appreciate your approach to all matters audio! I think this might interest you, even though it’s hard to believe US$169 could perform well in both headphone amp and simple line amp roles. I’m waiting on a 4-pin XLR cable before trying the balanced headphone amp role, but have to say I’m impressed with its sound as a preamp. I feed it from an RME ADI-2 Pro FS, which gives me volume control (allowing me to leave the dual pots on the device in a channel-balanced state) as well as relying on the RME to handle input selection, possibly equalization (I haven’t used that feature yet). My regular preamp is the exclusively analog, fully balanced differential Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2, which is no longer sold by Emotiva. That pre may not impress many audiophiles, but it has served well in my system (was about US $1300 direct from Emotiva, mine was 2nd hand). I will say I’m really enjoying the “tube sound” this little device provides – it’s subtle, but to my ears takes away the “metallic sheen” you have referred to in your videos, to which I, like you, object. I’m not asking for anything from you, just thought you might be interested, although, given your thoroughness, you may already be aware of this device.

    Nicholas writes…

    Thank you for your recent videos on this subject. You have previously extolled the virtues of the Cambridge Audio CXN V2. I bought an Azur 851N as it promised even better quality sound. However, as far as I can see, neither will be able to stream Apple HIRes as the only way to connect will be via AirPlay. This may well apply to other network streamers. I don’t think your videos cover this issue. Cambridge Audio says that the issue stems from Apple’s not, thus far, offering provision for integration of the sort that they have with Qobuz. I wondered if there is any way you or your contacts can put pressure on Apple and the HiFi industry to ensure such integration occurs. This seems to be a neglected issue and irritating after investing in quite an expensive piece of kit.

    Me: The limitations of AirPlay were covered in one of my Back to Basics videos.

    However, Cambridge is correct in asserting that AirPlay’s features are wholly determined by Apple. Streaming hardware manufacturers like Cambridge can only implement what Apple gives them.

    N: Thank you for your response where you mentioned that the limitations of AirPlay had been covered in your videos. However, it wasn’t AirPlay I was referring to when I commented that Cambridge Audio says that the issue stems from Apple’s not, thus far, offering provision for integration of the sort that they have with Qobuz. Cambridge Audio streamers can connect to HiRes streaming services if those services allow them to integrate with their machines, as Qobuz do. Connection is made through the CA StreamMagic app and as far as I can tell, this doesn’t rely on AirPlay. But on my CA Azur 851N streamer, HiRes connection in this way is only possible with Qobuz. The one alternative is Tidal, but HiRes is then not possible without the use of MQA. So I was hoping to see this greater level of integration of streaming services with the streaming devices.

    Me: In-app integration falls to Cambridge — but also Apple providing the necessary software kit for them to do that. As far as I am aware, Apple hasn’t yet made available any such software kit. Kindly contact Cambridge for more info on this as I feel a bit weird talking on their behalf. 🙂

    JB writes…

    The future of home audio-video is shaping up to display some trends. First, desktop and mobile devices are the primary sources. I believe that UHDTV will increasingly be added to this mix. Second, displaying one’s gear will fade with the baby boomers. In-room loudspeakers may hang onto a niche. However, the in-wall loudspeaker will become ever more of a factor.

    The audio-video system will become just another endpoint on home networks. As Amplifiers are hidden the demand for over-engineered models will decline. Class D amplifiers are ideally suited to storage closets and other enclosed spaces.

    I think Head-fi will change very little.

    I enjoy your work.

    Erich writes…

    Hi John,

    Just offering some personal observations on the Audioquest Evergreen interconnects. I found them to be somewhat harsh sounding in the treble across multiple systems in multiple rooms. Switching to either a cheap interconnect or up the AQ line to the Cinnamon appeared to smooth things out nicely. It was always hooked up between a DAC and an integrated amp in my usage. I’d be curious if you’d notice similar effects next time you have a component that sounds a bit edgy. I wouldn’t recommend making a video about it though unless you want to be written off by the measurement crew!

    Appreciate what you do.

    Doug writes…

    Greetings from London…

    I’ve recently discovered your website and am writing to say how enjoyable and informative I find it.
    As a longstanding vinyl and cd listener, I was confused by all things streaming. Your videos explain streaming in an easy to understand way, so much so that I’ve put together a Raspberry Pi/AudioQuest Dragonfly Black/Tidal/Volumio system and I’m very much enjoying the fruits (pun intended) of my labour.

    Even though my taste in music is different to yours, I love that you audition and describe what you observe in relation to your own situation and taste, and encourage us to do the same.

    After watching your electronic music suggestions, I bought the Bowie collected instrumentals on cd. I love it. Thanks for that.

    Are you into Half Man Half Biscuit? Can I recommend their most recent album ” No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your F***in Hedge Cut”. It’s one of my current favourites.

    Keep up the good work.


    Me: Oh wow. I’ve not heard anyone mention HMHB since their “Dickie Davis Eyes” single. Props to you.


    David writes…

    Hi John. I’ve just recently come across your YouTube channel and I’m really enjoying it. I love your attitude and delivery. Also want to thank you for your ‘Electronica for Audiophiles’ posts. As an old fart who didn’t know where to look to get past the DUFF DUFF, I’m extremely happy to have had my eyes opened to the likes of Ochre, Eat Static and Biosphere etc.

    And finally, I think I’m going to have a go at building a RaspberryPi streamer, just ‘cos.


    Kyle writes…

    I was wondering if you’ve tried using the spatial audio feature of Apple Music? On Reddit and from my experience, the spatial audio feature won’t work on external DACs … and as you pointed out, you need the DAC to get the lossless audio. There doesn’t seem to be many experts chiming in on the issue of Spatial Audio not working with external DACs and I’m hoping to see a video from you (maybe with a solution).

    Me: Sorry, Kyle but whilst the library of songs remains (according to Apple) ‘in their thousands’, I’ll not be touching Spatial. I’d want to see hundreds of thousands before I’ll take a look at it. This could VERY easily be yet another here today, gone tomorrow format.

    Gary writes…

    My stereo system is fairly well established, but I do like to skim/gaze at a few articles about stereo equipment. However, I will NEVER sit and watch a video about the subject. Either I read it at my own pace and skip the parts that don’t interest me, or not at all.

    Me: Then it’s clear for both of us: you are not my audience.

    G: I guess not.

    JC writes…

    Hi John,

    I recently saw one of your videos where you bemoaned the tragedy of dongles/adapters when trying to use a USB-C dongle DAC with an iPhone. Until Apple chooses to bless us with a USB-C port on iPhones, I have been making do with the tiny Lightning to USB-C adapter included with my Zorloo Ztella dongle DAC. Fortunately, Zorloo also sells the adapter by itself. I can confirm success connecting my iPhone to my DragonFly Cobalt (w/ Dragontail) and my Chord Hugo 2.

    Zorloo Lightning to USB-C adapter:


    Jeroen writes…

    Dear John, I have a question.

    I would like to know if there are projects about how to use Raspberry Pi (with Volumio) as a music transporter with I2S out over HDMI. DSD Direct is now available on Volumio. The formats supported in the new Direct DSD mode are:

    DSD64 (Single-rate DSD)
    DSD128 (Double-rate DSD)
    DSD256 (Quad-rate DSD)
    DSD512 (Octuple-rate DSD)

    This only can be connected with audio HDMI I think? (other options do not make sense with DSD).

    So I don’t want to use the Raspberry as I2S DAC, but only as a music player that sends the I2S data to it’s HDMI output. Hope you find this interesting.

    Me: Sorry, but I’m not really qualified to answer this. I don’t do DSD, let alone DSD over i2S out of a Pi. 😉

    Written by John

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    A short film about a kick-ass €1000 hi-fi system

    Future-Fi from Roksan: the Attessa streaming amp