All posts by raphbaph

in search of the ultimate Headphone

Since I’m working in the field of audio recording and reproduction in its various forms for more than 12 years now, I often find myself in the need of an excellent headphone. Checking signals, tracking, mixing, or just listening to music while traveling, I often need headphones.

Working in studios with excellent monitoring for years, my demands are quite high, and so far I haven’t been fully satisfied.

But let me tell you my story here:

I started out with Sennheiser HD 250 II headphones, which were excellent, although really large. I used them for 8 years and loved them. Then I lost them, tragically, at a ball in Viennas City Hall I was working at.

Next came my quest for headphones with, what I call, active isolation. Bose QuietComfort 3 were first. They did an excellent job in noise cancellation, to the point where plain rides were really quiet. But the actual headphone, while quite pleasant to wear, sounded really, really bad. Individual notes on piano sonatas (like Rubinstein playing Chopin) jumped out of context, sometimes distorting (and I don’t listen very loudly).

So I sold those on eBay, and bought a pair of Monster Beats Studio by Dre, that I imported from the US (They weren’t available in mainland Europe at the time). Excellent headphone. Fantastic noise cancellation, especially in the lows (Bose were better in the mids and highs). The sound was great too. But: After about 3 months use, the right earpiece sometimes made mechanical noises on certain notes. It wasn’t a linear process. Listening to uncompressed live signals would trigger the noise more often than compressed CD playback. Also the whole soundscape seemed a little hyped and strained.

At the same time I got a second piece of headphones: AKG K702. I had the K701 before for home listening and the 702 were altogether better. A brilliant, lively headphone, especiall with a tube headphone amp. Just one flaw: Little bass. Maybe I’m too used to closed headphones, but the AKGs didn’t cut it for me in that regard.

So, the quest continues, with me selling the Dres and buying Beyerdynamic DT-150s. Soundwise the best headphone I had so far. Perfect, in my opinion. Pronounced midrange, tight bass, not too bright like Sennheiser HD 800s or the top-of-th-line Ultrasones. Just right. Problem here: they clamped down on my head pretty hard, hurting me after 30 minutes of wear, which happens, on planes and on trains.

Sold those and just today got a brand new headphone: Aiaiais TMA-1. A danish manufacturer. The pretiest headphone so far. Clean, understated design. No logos, no gimmiks.  A beauty. Sound: Voices sound great, fantastic even! But: no highs. And I mean: no top end, period. I should have known reading the frequency chart in some reviews. So, I’m sending them back today, and still searching for the ultimate headphone. Any suggestions? Shure’s new line is supposed to sound great! I’ll let you know.

building a home WFS system

I’ve been into spatial audio and especially Wave Field Synthesis, ever since my neighbor Simon Katzböck introduced me to the concept in Mörbisch, some years ago now. There, at the Seefestspiele, I was stunned to see how well it worked, how the voices seemed to originate from the singers, not the PA, and how realistic the LARES system there made the orchestra feel like it would in a concert hall. Mörbisch doesn’t feature a full fledged WFS installation, it’s more like a high order Ambisonics system that is quite unique and proprietary with a lot of fascinating technology supplied and programmed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

So, since no WFS installation is available in Vienna to play around with, I decided to build my own. I went for the minimum design first, to get some experience, and also to keep the cost (A/D converters especially) down. 16 channels would do for a first. I’m quite proud of how low I have been able to keep the costs till now. Here’s what I use:

  • 16 Visaton K50 speakers (250 Hz to 12kHz).
  • 8 2x 3W 5V powered amp boards fromSingapore, that I got on EBay (see photo below).
  • 2 8A 5V power supplies, also from Singapore, also source via EBay.
  • RME Multiface I that a friend lent me, for 8ch analog out, plus ADAT out.
  • Behringer UltraGain 8000 for additional 8ch.
  • a wood box with padding inside as a cabinet.

Total cost so far: less than 300€. I’m just assembling the whole shebang, and very excited to hear the first tones. On the software side I’m using PureData as a signal source and Marije Baalmans sWONDER WFS software for rendering.

Both are open source. PureData and SuperCollider will be running on my laptop (Lenovo X220 8GB i5, Win 7) and sWONDER on a Core2Quad PC with Debian 6 installed. Below some photos that I took so far, and as always, keeping you posted on the progress.

custom ROM for my HTC ChaCha pt2

So, after some fretting, and woeing why I hadn’t backed up my original ROM I finally got to the heart of the issue. The SuperDroid 1.0 ROM I installed on my ChaCha comes with A2SD baked in. A2SD or App2SD is a beautiful little app, that moves all of the apps to a ext3 partition on your SD, that you first create on with ClockworkMod (here’s a nice How-To). The problem here: my SD is a very, very cheap, very, very slow SanDisk microSDHC. So Apps like Messaging, Phone and so on take a very long time to load, making my phone very sluggish.

I deactivated A2SD with the GUI that you can download on Google Play and installed Link2SD, a beautiful tool that let’s you put programs on an ext3 partition of your SD and then creating symbolic links in Androids app directory. The advantage of partitioning your SD is, that, once you select the Disk Drive option when USB connecting, your phone only ejects the FAT32 partition of your SD card and not the ext3 partition, thus keeping all of your apps useable.

Now my phone is working really nicely, has lots of features it didn’t have before, like Titanium backup, or SSHDroid and AdFree. Next Step will be getting a fast SD card and then reactivating app2SD.

custom ROM for my HTC ChaCha

I really like my ChaCha, but one thing I got really fed up with is that it runs out of memory very often, so I can’t install some apps, like Instagramm or can’t update to the newest version of Google Maps. So after researching it a bit, I decided to install a custom ROM, SuperDroid, that would allow me to remove some of the built-in apps like Facebook and add a few others like Link2SD.

So I began, and altough my phone was S-ON, for whatever that means, which supposedly makes it more difficult to root it, I succeeded by doing this: (I exclude all the missteps and stepbacks, so it seems like one seamless, easy process, which, believe me, it was not)

  • Converted a microSD card to a gold card, so I can flash another version of the ROM, than the one, that I had.
  • Installed the newest HBoot from HTCs Dev site. (RUU_blabla.exe, before the actual unlocking begins)
  • Unlocked the Bootloader, as discribed in great detail on HTCs Dev site.
  • Installed CWM as described in this post, the XDA method failed me.
  • Installed my SuperUser.zip as described in same post.
  • Installed the SuperDroid ROM as described here.

So, I’ve been using it for a day now, and… IT COMPLETELY SUCKS!!! The phone is slow, drains battery, SMS take 2 minutes (yes that’s 120 seconds) to load, and contacts don’t display correctly!

Unfortunately it’s not easily possible to reinstall the stock ROM, since the HTC Rom Updater won’T flash, for security reasons. So, I’m currently searching for someone who was smart enough to backup their stock ROM before flashing.

Keeping you posted.

building the perfect NAS

I recently bought a Zyxel NSA 210 NAS, which, truth be told, really really sucks. No telnet, No ssh, you can only administer it via a rather slow and cumbersome web interface, that takes all of my patience just to copy all the music I have to the folder I wish to.

I shortly experimented with using an FFP stick, but the system wasn’t that stable, leaving me unable to login to the web interface after a couple of days use for more than once.

So, I decided to get rid of it, and finding QNAP and Synology a little expensive for my liking I found I could build my own NAS. The ingredients:

  • Intel D425 KT Desktop board – Atom processor, 10W TDP, passive cooling, 50€, yes!
  • The 1,5 GB Samsung HD that I have in my Zyxel
  • picoPSU 80W power supply
  • TP-Link Gigabit NIC
  • 1 GB SO-DIMM DDR3 RAM

Total cost will be about 110€ – on par with the small QNAPs – but I can install the OS of MY choice, Ubuntu Server, Fedora, Debian 6…. even Win Server if I wanted to. Eat that run-of-the-mill NAS!

I’m going to put all that in a soapbox for some gritty industrial good-looks. Stay tuned for pics!

crowdfunding and the JOBS Act

In the last couple of days, I’ve been researching about crowdfunding and related internet sites. Kickstarter, IndieGogo, CrowdCube and Seedmatch, all very exciting platforms. Kickstarter and IndieGogo raise funds for small, creative projects mostly. Although IndieGogo is not so strict on letting just creatives raise funds there; as seen by Nicholas Merril – raising 43k$ in just one day for his privacy-protective ISP.

CrowdCube and Seedmatch (Germany) raise capital for business ventures mostly. Seedmatch only has one active project at this moment, and at CrowdCube I noticed a large gap between some (6-8) fully funded projects and active projects that had 46% funding – max. That made me wonder if it’s really taking hold in the UK as a viable platform that attracts investors in the first place. Maybe the completed projects brought their own investors to CrowdCube, and just used it instead of a traditional investment bank, that wouldn’t have bothered with small amounts like that.

The House of Representatives in D.C. recently passed the JOBS Act or crowdfunding act, opening up regulation of who is allowed to invest in small startups. A domain that was closed to the public until now, potentially creating a multi-billion dollar investment market.

The pivotal point here is trust. How can Joe Doe, investor, be confident his investments aren’t just complete rip-offs? This question will no doubt get flaunted by banks and investment outfits (it’s already happening) fearing for their fund-dollars. But then, how can I be shure the money manager in my fund does well? Especially in times like these?

I personally think that whoever can create an environment of trust, that attracts masses of investors, has a goldmine on his hands.

long tail – dead end

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with Christian Pirkner, who told me that Amazon actually doesn’t reference it’s long tail as part of its suggestion mechanism. In case any of you are not completely clear as to what I mean, I refer to long tail as in the Blook by Malcom Gladwell, wired magazines chief editor.

Gladwell suggests that aggregator services like iTunes or Amazon increase their revenue as they sell ever more different items, because its customers know they can find almost everything.

But what about the items on the long tail, how do they get found? It turns out that Amazon doesn’t help those at the far end of the long tail to sell. It’s suggestion mechanism is based on actual shopping by prior customers. That means if an item is listed on Amazon, but bought only by very few customers, it almost never gets suggested.

Thereby leaving the far end of the long tail a dead end.