Last.fm

People often ask me what I’ve been listening to recently. With my bad memory, I usually struggle to recount most of what I’ve been jamming out to! Fortunately, nearly everything I listen to gets tracked through a service called Last.fm. It’s a site that has apps that you can download to track the music you play on your computer or on your phone and gives you recommendations based on what you’ve listened to. Each time you play a song and it is tracked, it’s called a “scrobble”. I will state that I do not have experience using Last.fm on iPhones or Macs, so I can’t tell you how well it works there. However, I can tell you it works great on Windows and Android. Some services even have built in support like: Spotify, Deezer and Tidal.

With my setup, I use the following:

Android
Simple Scrobbler – a third party scrobbling app that is compatible with many music apps and can track any app that uses notifications

Windows
Foobar2000‘s Audioscrobbler component – my favorite extremely customizable music player
JRiver – paid iTunes alternative that includes built-in Last.fm support
Deezer – has built-in Last.fm support

Here is my profile page. It’s the best way to keep on top of what I’ve been listening to! You can look at it organized by month, artist, album, or by song!
https://www.last.fm/user/mhanna49

Yaqin SD-CD 3

Tube devices, such as amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, and buffers, are prized for their unique sound signatures. Different equipment and tubes impart different qualities to the sound of the music that is being reproduced. It’s comparable to the use of analog tape vs. digital recording in that the old tech is often favored due to the pleasant qualities that it gives to sound. After doing some research over the past month, I decided to give tubes a try in one of my systems. I bought the Yaqin SD-CD 3 and have listened to music with it for the past week.

The Yaqin SD-CD 3 is a tube buffer processor that you put in-between a source (PC, CD player, etc.) and an amplifier. Its primary use case is to give the sound of tubes to a solid-state amplifier. It IS NOT a phono preamp that you would use to connect to the phono output of a turntable. You could put in in the path of a turntable after a phono preamp, though.

The device is simple in terms of connections and function. There is an on/off switch near the rear on the left side of the unit. It uses a standard power cable and has 1 RCA stereo input and 1 RCA stereo output. The device comes with two preinstalled 6H8C tubes and a power cable. I had to supply the RCA cables. In my case, I have mine installed between my PC and my Sony STR-DH190 solid-state amplifier at my desk.

For reference, here is my signal path: JRiver Media Center, Foobar2000, or Spotify in Windows 10 –> MPG X570 Gaming Edge WIFI motherboard –> Yaqin SD-CD 3 –> Sony STR-DH190 –> 2 x KEF Q100 bookshelf speakers

Setup is dead simple. All I had to do was plug in the power, route the PC audio to the input of the device, and route the output to the input of my amplifier. After turning it on, I can see the glow of the tubes and the Yaqin logo lights up with a blue light. Shortly after it turns on, you can feel the heat coming off of the tubes. You definitely don’t want to touch them while it’s on.

During my research of tube devices and reviews for this tube buffer, I found that most people preferred to buy other non-stock tubes that give better characteristics to the sound. There are two types of tubes that are available for purchase nowadays. There’s NOS (new old stock) and new tubes. NOS tubes made in England and the US and audiophile tubes made in Russia and China go for exorbitant sums of money. I bought 2 Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 EH tubes from VIVA TUBES at the same time I bought the Yaqin SD-CD 3 from Amazon. The stock 6H8C tubes appear to either be from Russia or China. The Electro-Harmonix tubes I bought to replace them are new tubes made in Russia and were reasonably priced.

I don’t have a setup to do A/B testing so I can only provide my impressions of what I think changed with the sound. Also, I haven’t done any deliberate burn-in process with the device. I only keep it turned on when I’m using my computer to watch videos or listen to music. I generally think burn-in as a concept is just one’s brain getting used to a sound, but I’ve read that burn-in with tubes is a real thing. Supposedly, the more you run sound through the tubes, the better the sound becomes. I’ve used the Electro-Harmonix tubes for longer than the stock tubes at this point. I’d say the difference between the two sets of tubes was subtle with the Electro-Harmonix tubes imparting slightly more “tube” character to the sound.

Well, how does it sound? I DO think my music sounds different with the device in the signal path. There are 4 things that I think have noticeably changed.

The first is the treble or high frequencies of the music. My speakers are KEF Q100 and are known to be a little bright in treble. The treble seems to be noticeably “tamed” or reduced now. I see that as a plus, but I could theoretically do the same thing with an equalizer like Equalizer APO.

The second is the bass of the music. Music has a “warmer” feel in that there is more bass. The bass doesn’t seem to be as “refined” or “punchy” though. Things seem a little too boomy on modern volume compressed music. Music with a thin sound like 80s new wave and pop definitely benefits from the bass boost and warmer sound.

The third is sound staging. The placement of your speakers is incredibly important for sound staging or being able to hear the stereo position of instruments, vocals, and effects in music. With my speakers already positioned optimally with a little bit of “toe-in” or angling towards my listening sweet spot, I was looking for alternative methods to increase stereo spatialization. With the SD-CD 3, it sounds like everything has been pushed back further in the sound stage, giving it more “depth”. I think this effect can result in increased realism in the stereo image.

The fourth is the noise floor. If I crank up the volume on my amp beyond my normal listening level with nothing playing, I can hear a lot of static noise. I think the noise is due in large part to how many cables I have lying next to each other in my small setup with my computer and the close proximity of two LCD screens. For instance, when I move windows on my screens with my mouse, I can hear noise that seems to correlate with the movement. I’m not sure if it because the device itself or some of my cables in my setup lack the proper shielding. At normal listening levels between 10 – 27 volume on the amp with music going, you cannot hear this noise.

In reviews, some people have reported hearing no change with this device in their signal path with some types of tubes. Overall, my impression is that this device DOES change the sound. Rather than simply sounding better or worse, I’d say it sounds it mostly just sounds different. In my situation, I think it’s a tradeoff of the “accuracy” of my solid-state amp for the “warmth” of the tubes. I think it’s a worthwhile and interesting tradeoff, but it probably isn’t for everyone.

I bought mine at the price of $180 on Amazon. If you’re looking to add the tube sound to your solid-state amplifier instead of buying an expensive tube amplifier, this is the route to go.

My images are featured on Black-Sabbath.com!

My images are featured on the Dehumanizer and Lock Up The Wolves pages on Joe Siegler’s Black Sabbath fan site! His site and the Timeline page are the reason I am such a huge Black Sabbath fan of all eras. The site is also honestly part of the reason I became such an avid music fan and collector. Thanks, Joe!

Weekly Picks (3/13/2020)

Deap Lips – Deap Lips
This is a collaboration between Deap Vally and Flaming Lips that fuses experimental rock with psychedelic pop.

Circles Around The Sun – Circles Around The Sun
Instrumental rock with a psychedelic fusion twist chills you out. This project was started as the prelude music to Grateful Dead concerts?

L.A. Takedown – Our Feeling of Natural High
Have some chill (mostly) instrumental synth driven rock that is perfect for driving with the windows down.

The Golden Fleece at Rozz Tox (3/12/2020)

Emily and I went to Rozz Tox in Rock Island, IL for the first time yesterday to see The Golden Fleece and Holy Wave. Rozz Tox seems like a nice little hipster bar in downtown Rock Island. I’d estimate that there were a few dozen people at the venue for the show.

The Golden Fleece’s set started late at about 8:30 PM and ended at about 10:00 PM. We decided not to stick around for Holy Wave as it was Thursday: a work night. I listened to both bands’ music on Spotify during the day and they both sounded great.

The Golden Fleece put on a good show, though. They are a psychedelic rock band from Peoria, IL. Their set consisted of long psychedelic jams in front of a screen showing some trippy visuals. I took some pictures in the dark venue. You can mostly just see the outlines of the two guitarists, while the drummer and bassist are lit by the projector.

I left and forgot to buy some merch so I’ll probably download their discography off of their Bandcamp. Overall, it was a good time and a good night.

Audio Basics

Simply put, there are plenty of sources out there to learn about how analog and digital audio works. If you want to dive straight into the deep end of audiophilia, I highly recommend Mark Waldrep’s book: Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound. It’s about $20 for the ebook in PDF form.

For those of you who want a simpler and cheaper introduction, I recommend typing “digital audio basics” into your favorite search engine. I can recommend the following article: Digital Audio Basics: Sample Rate and Bit Depth.

For those of you who want answers NOW, think of digital audio in simplified terms like below. There are two things that need to be captured together to be able to reproduce audio.

First, you need the sample rate. The sample rate is the rate at which a system measures an signal and is measured in kilohertz. According to the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem, you need a sample rate of twice the frequency that you want to capture. CDs have a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz and as a result, can reproduce frequencies up to 22.05 kHz.

Secondly, you need a bit depth. While the sample rate determines the frequencies that you can capture, the bit depth determines the volume of the frequencies. If you understand binary, you would understand that 16 bits (the bit depth of CDs) has the potential to store 65,536 different values for the amplitude.

Essentially, higher sample rates let you capture higher frequencies, and higher bit depths let you capture audio with a lower noise floor.

What is the noise floor and what causes it? Digital audio cannot “perfectly” capture audio amplitude. No method of audio capture, analog or digital, can. Digital audio samples an analog signal at regular intervals. The amplitude of the samples do not align perfectly with original signal, causing values to be rounded to the nearest value in the last bit. This rounding process is called quantization. This process creates noise and to make a long story short, 16 bit audio allows 96 decibels of dynamic range.

I’ll post my opinions on audio formats and get into DR numbers at a later time.

An Introduction to FLACMAN.RIP

My name is Mike. Today, I’m making my goal of sharing my love, thoughts, insights and analysis of music a reality through this web site. I’m an IT guy that’s proficient with computers. I’ve always held a fascination for technology and what it can do for us. Years ago, I realized that my passion for technology directly intersects with my passion for music.

I found myself using computers to manage a massive music library, share that library across networks and for waveform and spectral analysis. At some point, I took an interest in masterings and how multiple masterings of the same album affected waveforms, spectrograms and most importantly, how it affects fidelity and perceived sound quality. My interest in masterings of music albums made me an avid reader and occasional poster on the Steve Hoffman Forums and consequently, I’ve become an audiophile that seeks out excellent masterings for music that I enjoy.

My primary goal is to share my interest in music with others, but that’s not all that I have planned for the site. I’d also like to share my burgeoning interest in writing and reading poetry with others. I understand that poetry isn’t for everyone, but neither is writing about music and audio equipment. In short, we’ll see how it goes.

I used to keep personal journals of musical analysis and poetry. Why am I β€œgoing public” with it all? Quite simply, I want to connect with friends and with new people that may be interested in my insight on these topics. Maybe you’ll learn something new and I’ll learn something too?