Tag Archives: WIFI

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Too wide of a gap

Between a high-performance audiophiles stereo system and the casual plop-it-down-and-listen setup, there seems to be a pretty wide gap.

Which makes me wonder why there isn’t something in the middle.

Imagine a single wireless all-in-one floor-standing speaker. You unbox it, set it up along a living room wall, connect to your WiFi, and voila! A great, full-range musical performance fills your room.

Instead, we seem saddled by Home Pods and glorified boom boxes that pretend to reproduce music as it was intended to be played.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a great two-channel audio system as much as the next. It just seems to me there’s a huge chasm between what we can plunk down and play versus setting up a many-box rig with wires and speakers.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Maybe someday someone will fill that gap.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Switch quality

Here’s one of those brave posts where I air my laundry and open myself to criticism and ridicule.

Ain’t life grand?

I am often asked if network switches and routers impact audio quality while streaming. And as a secondary question on the same subject, does it matter whether streaming is transmitted via WiFi or Ethernet?

I find this particular can of worms really intriguing because it’s close to the same question of whether power matters. So, let’s start with that.

The power debate often starts with the questioner’s arms folded, his head cocked to one side, and the mouth humorously pursed as if listening to a child explaining Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. “So, let me get this straight. The power coming into my house makes my system sound different than the power going into my neighbor’s house, right? And worse, my neighbor’s power usage might affect the sound quality in my house? And, we agree there are hundreds of miles of cables connecting everything together?”

I am just as incredulous when it comes to how bits get delivered from far away servers: servers that distribute those bits not in order like ants marching to food, but in chunks taking circuitous routes before accumulating at our DACs.

Tomorrow, let’s take a look at the question in more detail.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: what is it?

A NAS is a network connect hard drive. Which means it’s a hard drive that can be placed anywhere on your home network. Some have asked me what is a network? And that’s a fair question. A home network is simple. It’s what a router provides. And most of us have a router in our setups. Take mine for example. I have a Linksys router and a Comcast modem. The modem connects my house to the internet. The router connects everything in my house to the modem and each other.

This router couldn’t be a lot simpler. The ethernet port on the left connects to the modem so I can access the internet. The four other ethernet ports are where I plug in a computer, or two computers, or a NAS. The two antenna are for WIFI, which is a wireless ethernet port.

Imagine that in my home I have my laptop connected to this router via WIFI, and a NAS connected to the router through ethernet–using one of the ports pictured above. The router and NAS are in my office, the laptop is in the living room or the music room. I can easily connect the laptop to anything stored on the NAS. Voila! That is the essence of a NAS. Connect the hard drive inside to any device on your home network.

There are two basic styles of external hard drives we can buy: USB and NAS.

Above is a USB hard drive. It’s a case with a USB cable connecting it to your computer. Inside is a hard drive for storage.

Above is the back of a NAS. Same hard drive, different way to connect. See the ethernet connector? Instead of plugging into a computer, it plugs into your home’s router.

A USB hard drive is restricted. It can only connect to an external computer. A NAS is restricted as well. It can only connect to a router. But a NAS, once connected to the home router, can be accessed from anything else on that network. A USB drive, on the other hand, can only be accessed by the computer it is connected to.

What is inside the NAS that allows it to connect over a network is a full blown computer. Yup. So, think about this. A USB drive connects to an external desktop or laptop computer only. A NAS is really no different, only, it has its own built in computer. This makes the NAS an incredible bargain. For nearly the same price as a USB hard drive that can only connect to an external computer, a NAS has its own computer built in – thus eliminating the need for an extra computer in the mix.

And for music systems this is a real plus. A NAS, which we now understand is a hard drive and purpose-built computer in one affordable box, need little else to store and stream music. We’ll find out how, soon enough.

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the NAS we shall begin covering soon.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Double edged swords

NAS as storage devices sound pretty perfect from several standpoints, chief among them is isolation. They are not physically attached to a computer, like an external USB drive. Instead, they are isolated by the network cables or WIFI signals that connect them to computers sharing their services. This is a good thing because, as we know, physically connecting drives adds problems to sound. Power supply noises and ground issues are not benign to sound.

NAS have other advantages. Because they have computers built in, they need nothing more to connect to DACs in the right circumstances. For example, in our ecosystem, you can use the network Bridge to connect a NAS over the home network without another computer in the mix. In other manufacturer’s implementations this can also be accomplished with or without another computer.

But NAS are not the be all to end all that we might think. They have “issues” – issues that, like so many things in technology are both strengths and weakness. Let’s start with the first of those double edged swords, a 4-letter acronym of your choice: DLNA and/or UPnP.

NAS use a type of discovery protocol known as DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) or UPnP (Universal Plug and Play – though sometimes Play is comically substituted with the word Pray).

This complex system is how most NAS announce their presence on the network, as well as find other like minded machines. We’ll look to see what this means tomorrow.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Linux rules the world

You would think that Windows, Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system, is used by more computers around the world than any other, and you’d be wrong. Windows certainly dominates the desktop PC market, but when we view computers as a whole: phones, tablets, mainframes, servers, appliances, cars, and robots (yes, robots), Microsoft doesn’t hold a candle to Linux.

Linux, first released in 1991, is the most used operating system on earth. It is based on a platform called Unix, what Apple is based on. The man credited with writing Linux is Linus Torvals of Helsinki, it’s name a take off his his own.

Important to Torvals was keeping the new OS free and open. As a result Linux, the basis of Google’s omnipresent Android OS, is the most important operating system in the world. It can be said Linux runs the world. From mainframes, servers, super computers, routers, wifi, aircraft navigation systems, embedded products of all kinds, network switches, televisions, video games, spacecraft, mobile phones, watches, PCs and, relevant to our field, NAS and music servers, Linux touches everything. We hear much about Windows and Apple’s IOS, but PCs are only a fraction of the computers in use today.

Linux is popular because it’s free, but that’s only part of the story. Linux runs everything because much of the world is involved in making it better. And once you employ the world to program your product, you have far more resources than a few thousand programers in Redmond or Cupertino.

The subject of the next day’s posts is the NAS (Network Attached Storage) and Linux runs all NAS. So, when I start to write of the OS (Operating System) of a NAS, you’ll know it is Linux. Oh, and NAS connect over LANs (local Are Networks) and LANs (our home networks) run on Linux as well.

Thanks Linus, Linux is a gift that keeps on giving in a free an open world. Bravo!

Walnut Cove, Asheville and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Technology Train

MQA is coming, so too is Tidal, and then there’s the latest DAC, the brightest new invention. What wonders will we have tomorrow? Better wait, it’ll soon be a whole new world.
The pace of technology speeds by us like a freight train; we wonder when the best time to jump on board might be. Oh look! Coming ’round the bend, the exact car you were hoping to catch a ride on. Get ready to grab it! But no, in the distance appears yet another, even shinier object. You had better wait. Surely the approaching car is perfect for you.

There is no perfect, and technology will always change, the next object shinier than the last. The trick is to figure out what you want and go for the best available at the time. Waiting for something you don’t need to get better just because seems an endless, maddening loop, but one we all fall victim to. Just the other day I got wind of a new portable hard drive from Lacie called Fuel. It has WIFI built in, 1tB of storage, runs 9 hours on batteries, can stream 5 HD videos, or music streams, simultaneously, and it’s cheap: $179. I haven’t seen an object this shiny in, what… weeks?

I bought it. It does what it’s advertised to do. I don’t need another hard drive, but I could not resist the idea of its cool factor. I am returning it tomorrow.

The technology train seduces you to watch it pass, filled with so many new colors and shiny objects, like a circus train. When the car carrying that which you want and need rounds the bend, extend your hand and grab hold of it without waiting for the next.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Noise

This morning I awoke in Las Vegas at 6 AM and, after going downstairs for a cup of coffee, returned to my room to find I cannot use WIFI to connect to the internet; too slow. Okay, clever me, my phone has a hotspot feature so I turn that on. I can’t connect my laptop to the phone’s WIFI and it is three inches from the laptop. I have to resort to a tethered connection to make this work and even write this post. Now, you might ask, what’s going on? It’s called airborne pollution. There’s perhaps only several times a year this form of pollution hits Las Vegas: when CES comes to town and the other big technology centric conventions. The pollution is caused from too much WIFI, the radio bands get saturated.

This brings up the subject of noise pollution inside our equipment. Noise pollution caused by the power supply in our amplifiers and DACs; the same power supply that is the lifeblood of our amp’s operation. Remember yesterday’s post when I explained how we convert AC to DC? We pass the AC through a small and inexpensive component known as a diode. This innocent little gem is about 1/4″ long and retails for perhaps ten cents. It’s responsible for a lot of noise. Here’s a picture of the little devil.

The one I’ve shown is an industry standard known as a 1N4004. You use four of these to make your full wave rectifier, or you can purchase four of them packaged in a single container known simply as a ‘diode bridge’. Every time the AC passes through this one-way gate it sends out a small burst of noise. The intensity of that noise is dependent on the amount of power we’re asking of the power supply: more power, more noise.

This noise can be dealt with but many designers pay little attention to it. In our equipment, for example, we take the time to place small ‘snubbers’ near these devices to squash the noise. Why would we do that? Because adding noise that gets into your amplification circuitry is audible. It makes for a grunge to the music that’s not pretty.

Tomorrow let’s move forward to answer a number of questions about turning our rippled example of yesterday into a straight line.

Asheville Home Theater and Audio presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Is it possible?

We’ve been working, as of late, on a long term project to obviate the differences in digital audio delivery methods.

We all understand that audio sent over USB sounds different than the same bits sent over coax via S/PDIF or TOSLINK, or a balanced cable, or I2S over HDMI, or through a CAT5 cable, or WIFI over the home network.

But why?

Bits are bits.  Those bits should come out of each of these delivery “pipes” exactly the same regardless of the delivery method.  And they do.  Only they don’t.  Their timing is different, their associated noise levels are different and, clearly, they sound different.  But the bits themselves are the same.  Curious.

Think of it like this: I send an identical letter to someone through the post office, UPS, FedEx and DHL.  The letter is identical, the speed it gets delivered varies as does the amount of hassle getting it.  Same letter, very different experience in receiving it.

So the question becomes can we eliminate those differences?  Our long term research project suggests yes.  And if it becomes a reality, everything we think we know changes.  We came close with the Digital Lens.  We’re getting even closer with our project.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Changes of this magnitude are rare.