May 102014
 

I have always held Oppo in high regard based on their extraordinary Bluray players, I have every reason to believe this new headphone amp/pre-amp with HT bypass will operate at the highest quality level.

From Oppo:

Shortly after the successful launch of its PM-1 planar magnetic headphones, OPPO Digital released another member of its family of personal audio products today – the HA-1 headphone amplifier.

Oppo-HA-1-and-PM-1OPPO Digital is well known for its reference quality universal Blu-ray Disc players, and the HA-1 headphone amplifier builds upon the success of the BDP-95 and BDP-105 audiophile players. Drawing upon the proven circuit design of these award-winning players, the HA-1 combines an uncompromising analog audio section with the latest technology in digital audio.
The analog audio section of the HA-1 is a fully balanced design with an emphasis on keeping the audio signal in the analog domain once it leaves the DAC. The HA-1 is anchored by a hefty toroidal power transformer, and linear power regulators and filters with custom made capacitors ensure that the headphone amplifier has a clean power source with plenty of reserve energy. The fully balanced Class A power amplification section uses hand-picked and paired discrete components to ensure symmetry, and a motor-driven precision volume control knob allows for both manual and remote control volume adjustment while keeping the audio in a pure analog audio path.

The HA-1 is especially suitable for high-resolution digital audio playback. Its digital inputs include coaxial, optical, balanced AES/EBU, and an asynchronous USB DAC. It is easy to connect the HA-1 to digital audio players or to a computer running the listener’s favorite playback software. The USB DAC supports PCM audio up to 384 kHz 32-bit resolution and DSD audio up to 256x the CD sample rate. The same ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC and output driving stage used in OPPO audiophile Blu-ray players ensure extremely low noise and low distortion performance. The HA-1 is compatible with Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad for use as an external DAC, enabling the listener to directly tap into digital music played from these devices. For additional convenience, the Bluetooth audio transport with high quality aptX CODEC sets music free from your mobile phones with a performance boost.

OPPO designs the HA-1 headphone amplifier with the same versatile approach as the Blu-ray players. The HA-1 is a high performance headphone amplifier, and it doubles as an asynchronous USB DAC, a stereo pre-amplifier, a digital audio dock for mobile devices, and a Bluetooth audio transport. Users have a choice of using the 4-pin balanced XLR or the traditional quarter-inch headphone jack. Line level analog inputs and outputs are provided with both RCA and balanced XLR sockets.

The HA-1 sports a classic design with contemporary elements. It is a desktop component housed in an aluminum chassis, and the familiar volume and source selection knobs are complemented by a 4.3-inch color screen for easy operation. While music is playing, the screen can show a classic VU meter, a modern spectrum display, or detailed technical information about the audio signal. A supplied IR remote and a smartphone app provide complete control and convenience.

With its exemplary sound quality, versatile connectivity, and energetic driving power, the HA-1 headphone amplifier is a good match with any high performance headphones or stereo sound system. The black version of the HA-1 is available now directly from OPPO Digital’s web site at a retail price of $1199, and the silver version is estimated to be available in June.

How to Deactivate Your Laptops Closed Lid Sensor

 Budget, Computers and Technology, Home Theater  Comments Off on How to Deactivate Your Laptops Closed Lid Sensor
May 012014
 

I haven’t done many technical posts for some time but I have spent a great deal of time looking for a solution to using Wake on Lan (WOL) on an Acer laptop when the lid is closed. In my case it sits in an entertainment center and I have to pull it out and open the lid to wake it, but I want to be able to wake it up remotely with WOL.

benturrin460I found posts that said to use a registry hack with the ‘LidAlwaysOpen’ command and the ACPI lid fix, neither of these did what I wanted, WOL would not work when the lid was closed. No power settings or bios changes fixed the problem.

I knew from searching that the sensor for the lid position on the Acer laptops is magnetic so after more than a year without a fix I got brave and started looking around inside the laptop, which incidentally is a 5552 but this should be the same for most Acers.

I gently, GENTLY pried the plastic back from the bottom of the screen, on the left side (when you are facing the screen) and found a small bubble of masking tape. I picked at the tape with a paper clip and uncovered a rectangular magnet, which I easily removed with a small pair of computer pliers.

Fixed, it works like a charm, the computer no longer knows when the lid is closed and WOL works like a charm. The screen snapped together again easily, it is a super easy fix.

  1. Shut down the computer and remove the battery just to be safe!
  2. Pry the plastic away from the bottom left of the screen
  3. Locate the magnet (may be covered with tape) just to the right of the hinge
    1. If you are unsure it is the magnet, use a paperclip to see if it sticks, if it does, well that there is a magnet my friend.
  4. Remove the magnet, being careful not to scratch the screen or plastic bezel.
  5. Snap the bezel back in place and you are good to go.

If you are careful and keep the magnet you will be able to reverse this very easily.

Jul 212011
 

Spotify is now available in the United States so it seemed appropriate to do a comparison with iTunes. For serious listening in my main system I do not use iTunes, the sound quality even with lossless files is terrible in my opinion. I do however use it on my computers, day in and day out. It has been a constant companion since the day it was released. For ease of use it has been tough to beat iTunes.

Enter Spotify, a free service that gives you access to a virtually unlimited catalogue of music. Yes, I said free and unlimited. You can also load any of the music you find on Spotify onto your iPod or other MP3 device, stream your and their collection from your iPhone or Android device. In short it does for free what so many, like Rhapsody, have been trying to get paid for.

Like anything online free comes with a couple of gottchas. You will be forced on occasion to listen to short advertisements. This isn’t bad and over the last few weeks I have found them to be fairly unobtrusive. If you are listening to your own library you do not have to listen to the ads, they only appear when you are dipping into the seemingly infinite Spotify catalogue. So let’s get down to business.

iTunes VS Spotify

In order to compare iTunes and Spotify I lived with both, side by side for a couple of weeks. Being so familiar with iTunes I focused more on Spotify for much of the testing, simply trying to see if it would become as second nature as iTunes had. All comparisons were performed on Windows systems, XP and Windows 7.

Installation

Installing either software is as easy as clicking NEXT a few times. Spotify is a much smaller application and thus installs and loads faster, uses fewer resources, and is less likely to mess with the rest of your system. On my slower XP machine I found iTunes to be a sluggish beast but it works.

iTunes and Spotify both want to know where your music is however, Spotify automatically finds your iTunes folder among others and imports them, without moving them. This allows you to continue using iTunes without the fear of changes.

Spotify found and loaded my collection of 40,000+ songs in about 1 minute compared to the hour or more with iTunes. Once either application has found your files, you are ready to rock. Overall, Spotify is faster to install and run than iTunes.

Using the interface

I have been using iTunes for so long it has become second nature, let’s face it, iTunes is simple to use even for my mother. Setting up playlists is a breeze, the Genius feature is brilliant, and you have a lot of options in how you want iTunes to look and behave.

Spotify on the other hand took a little getting used to. Nothing about it was difficult, it was just different, but that isn’t a bad thing. The differences are there because in addition to your own library of music, Spotify lets you listen to just about any piece of music you can think of. You don’t have to go to the Apple Store to add music (and pay for it) you simply search for music and add it to either a playlist or your queue.

Spotify playlists are easy to create and add music to, plus you can mix your own music with songs or albums you find on Spotify. Let me get back to the queue because it rocks. One of the things I love most about the software I use in my main system (Ultimate Jukebox) is that I can create a queue instead of creating a play list. A queue allows you to move songs up and down, insert where you want, add one to the top of the list, and in general control what you hear as you feel like hearing it.

Overall, I give iTunes the edge for simplicity of use while Spotify nudges iTunes out for actual control.

Sound quality

I have to admit it never occurred to me that Spotify might sound different from iTunes. My MP3 files are all 320kbits and Spotify free version uses Vorbis format, 160kbits. I have been vocal about the iTunes software sound quality for some time. Anything you play through iTunes loses life however when you play a file purchased through iTunes on other software, it sounds better, meaning iTunes software sucks for sound quality.

I expected the same, more or less from Spotify but as soon as I played the first song I was shocked. Spotify seemed to bring David “Fathead” Newman to life through my AKG 702 headphones. It sounded much more open, faster, and more detailed. David sounded much closer to the FLAC files I use in my main system. Not perfect by a long shot but much, much better.

To verify all of this I level matched iTunes and Spotify, to remove any possible preference based on the brains preference for louder music. it was night and day as I switched back and forth between the two.

Now I moved to my main system, fired up my XP box feeding an analog signal through my ASUS Xonar STX sound card into my Emotiva USP-1, XPA-1 amps, and sat back to listen through my Magnepan 16QR speakers. Through this system the differences between the two were even greater. iTunes was like nails on a chalkboard. I have never been able to listen to anything, including Apple lossless files on this system, through iTunes.

Spotify on the other hand was smooth, open, listenable, but not audiophile. I would never sit and do any serious listening to either but for background music, Spotify is more than capable. Eventually I will get a premium account and try it again but I am seriously doubtful it can match my lossless FLAC files through Ultimate Jukebox.

Conclusion

If you care even a little bit about the sound quality move to Spotify. It sounded better even on the worst set of earbuds I could find in the house. It sounded better over crappy desktop speakers, it always sounded better. The slight learning curve associated with Spotify is well worth the boost in sound quality.

For a free program to do so much is impressive and the best part is that you will never have to pay the Apple Mind Control Group another penny for music. As an added bonus, it will sound better too.

Mr. HDMI’s Wild Ride

 General Ranting, Home Theater, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Mr. HDMI’s Wild Ride
May 112010
 

Adding new equipment is supposed to be fun, exciting, and if done well, an improvement. I recently upgraded most of my system, new Epson 9500ub projector, Emotiva XPA-3 for the fronts, UPA-2 for the rears and the long anticipated UMC-1 pre/pro. For those of you familiar with the rocky start of the UMC-1, I haven’t had many problems; it has been more of a learning curve. I will be doing a full review of the UMC-1 in the next few weeks.

This is about HDMI, something that sounds so perfect for this hobby, a single cable that handles every connection. I have waited for several years to upgrade to HDMI, I didn’t have a real need or an HDMI capable receiver, so I used alternative connection methods. Now I am ready to step into the modern world and boy am I… terribly disappointed.

HDMI is supposed to simplify my life, clean up the rats nest behind the component stand, and allow everything to communicate in an effort to make things work. It is so simple in theory, it’s a damn cable, you plug it in to each component and pass glorious 1080p images and Dolby TrueHD sound. If only it worked as advertised.

I was ready to blame everything on the UMC-1, and I will admit, it hasn’t made things easier but it isn’t the culprit. Despite every manufacturers promise that their components adhere to the rigorous specifications of HDMI , in this case HDMI 1.3, they don’t play nice with each other. Sony plays nice with Sony, Samsung plays nice with Samsung, but when you start to mix and match within a complicated system it all falls apart.

I set everything up and tested, it was all working beautifully, I basked in the brilliant sound of my Magnepan 1.6qr fronts while streaming FLAC. My wife was out of town and I was confident we would sit down and enjoy a movie when she got home. The first attempt was with my DirecTv HR21-100 DVR. I mashed the remote button and everything came to life, that was the end of my enthusiasm as the picture cut in and out, sound squawked occasionally from each speaker. No matter of playing got it to work until I did a reset on the DVR. After the 10 minute reboot cycle, everything was fine, it played nice but I could see the frustration in my wife’s eyes. This was not something she was willing to tackle on her own.

After considerable research I found that when you place the DVR in standby it continues to output video through HDMI. When turned back on it doesn’t perform a proper handshake and you get a pink image and odd behavior in general. Now I have to leave it on all the time. That doesn’t make me feel all green, even my strict adherence to recycling doesn’t make up for leaving the DVR on 24-7.

I have now convinced my wife that everything is working, the problem has been found and we will be able to enjoy our new Blu-Ray copy of Paul Simon’s Library of Congress show. Again, everything fired up, the flashing lights on the front of the rack were impressive, then the picture and sound vanished, the components all groaned and crackled as they fought to make nice with each other. The picture and sound returned, for a minute and the cycle started again. This continued through the show and ruined what was supposed to be a night we had waited for. My wife’s face said it all, I, the all knowing guru of home theater had let her down. The medals on my shirt were removed, the halo around my head vanished, and I sighed. I had let her down.

I played and researched, swapped cables, swore, tested, retested, swore some more, researched, tested, and swore, and so on. Every time I think it is working, it fails me when I need it most, when the woman I love, and who trusts me to make anything with a power cord easy for her to use.

I bypassed the UMC-1 for testing purposes and quickly found the video problems still existed. HDMI sounds great, it should be great but the manufacturers have fucked things up to the point that it only works in the simplest systems, if at all. I know many people that have no problems with HDMI, most connecting components directly to a TV. I have found HDMI problems discussed with every receiver, pre/pro, from every manufacturer. Unless you get lucky, you are eventually going to have an HDMI induced problem.

So what is a guy to do, component cable and analog multi-channel are an option but using component cables will be an issue soon because of the new copyright restrictions, no more HD over component. The simple fact is that manufacturers need to get their act together and ensure everything works with every other thing. I am hoping I get things figured out soon but I have my doubts.

The Second Half of the Film, The Soundtrack

 Blu-Ray, DVD, Home Theater  Comments Off on The Second Half of the Film, The Soundtrack
Mar 122009
 

Movies are designed to place you deep inside their world, well good movies are. Watching a movie on a large television or even projector is a wonderful experience but the picture only tells half the story. Movie soundtracks envelope you, they bring out emotions, surround you in their make believe world, and complete the fantasy.

If you are listening to movies on the speakers in your television or on a cheap, uncalibrated sound system you are missing the movie. From the explosive sound effects to the softest whisper, a good sound system brings the movie to life.

Films are NOT a visual medium, they are a combination of video and audio. If you haven’t watched your favorite films, no matter what the genre, in the theater or a home theater with a full 5.1 sound system, then you need to do so, right now. The difference is night and day. The importance of the sound track to telling a story on film was known even before talkies came out. Music was always played during the showing, music designed specifically for the film and timed to elicit the emotion, the action, the laughter being displayed on the screen.

Don’t cheat yourself by cutting out the second half of a film, bring them to life in a whole new way. Experience the entire artistic vision of the director and invest in a sound system worthy of the movies you love.