It makes my head hurt

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If you are anywhere near the San Diego area tomorrow, Wednesday, come by Stereo Unlimited at 7pm if you'd like to hear DirectStream. The San Diego Audio Society has invited me to pay them a visit. I'll be bringing the Mac Mini server we've been writing about building as well as DirectStream. I hope to see you there.

Yesterday I waxed enthusiastically about creating an ad hoc network with the Mini to communicate with the iPad controller. This setup to keep the number of pieces in the system low and easily transportable. But the connection method has been less than reliable, a bit slow and not up to my standards. I went and purchased a $99 Airport Express from the store, plugged it in and configured it in about 30 seconds right from my iPad. I then plugged the Mini into the Express via a Cat 5 cable, the AE communicating with the iPad wirelessly.

Two observations with this and a thanks. First, it is a far better, more reliable connection. Secondly, when I turned off wifi on the Mini the sound took a small jump in quality. Not huge, but noticeable and repeatable. My thanks to PaulR for pointing the possibility of the AE to me. It was a good suggestion and one I am thankful for. The thing is tiny, unobtrusive, bonehead easy to setup and just works. My kind of tweak.

Here's another: RAM. Bit Perfect, as well as the highly acclaimed Pure Music, are both memory players (and so too are others). This means they send the data to the computer memory first to buffer it from the hard drive, like a PS Audio Digital Lens. When I first setup the server Bit Perfect offered the option of setting how much RAM to use. So, naturally, as any good tweak would do, I chose more, rather than the recommended. The default for Bit Perfect is 512mB, I choose 1Gb. After listening for a while I felt the sound was somewhat forward and fatiguing. I then did what I should have done in the first place, read the owner's manual at Bit Perfect (I am a guy after all, and the owner's manual is whipped out only in times of desperation). When I reset the RAM to 512, voila! The fatigue was gone, the sound closer to what I was hoping for. Next step for me is to add more RAM (which is easy to do). Get as much as you can. I'll probably go for 16Gb. The guys From MG Audio Designs (who make the interconnects I am using) recommend this much, as does my friend Walter Liederman.

So, now we have a Mac Mini, iPad, power cable (I am using one of our Jewel C7 cables), short Cat 5 and an Airport Express. The Cat 5 is just off the shelf since no audio is streaming through it. But then there's the USB cable connecting. I will be reporting in the coming days some surprising findings about this subject. I am quite befuddled over the entire matter.

So far, in my experience, not many cables have made much of a difference into DirectStream. Using the Bridge, different Cat 5's seem to make little to none. S/PDIF, AES/EBU and even I2S seem to have small differences, but far less than any DAC I have ever played with. And then we come to USB.

My head is hurting over this.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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