Quarter Notes, Volume 5, Issue #1

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Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the seventeenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on July 29, 2015. Quarter Notes is a newsletter for Get Better Sound and Through the Sound Barrier owners, expanding on both, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.

 

Best email address

Since you’re reading this, the e-mail address with which I sent this QN must have worked. However, the only e-mail address I have is the one associated with your initial Get Better Sound or Through the Sound Barrier order. If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to jim@getbettersound.com. Be sure to include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

 

Better sound for your computer audio – without breaking the bank

Uptone Audio USB REGENA few months ago, several threads began on the forums at Computer Audiophile.com. They were discussing a new device, the Uptone Audio USB REGEN.

I ignored the threads at first, but they continued to grow steadily. Finally, I took a look and discovered who was behind this tiny upstart audio company. Without going into those details, let me simply say that it turned out that I personally knew and respected one of the two principals, and I knew the other by his excellent reputation.

I am not going to waste your time listing all of the reasons why this item works so well. At the end of this article, you will find a link to the Uptone Audio website and two of the CA threads about the REGEN.

However, a few observations might be useful.

First, this only applies to those systems that use a USB cable to their USB-asynchronous-capable DAC, typically from a computer. For example, I use a MacBook Pro Retina with SSD, stripped down for only audio, sending the music signal via a Light Harmonic Lightspeed split USB cable to my Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC.

The REGEN is a small device that plugs into the DAC’s USB input. It gets fed the USB signal from my computer.

The REGEN is $175.00. It makes a difference - comparable in most systems – to components costing many hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars!

Frankly, I didn’t expect much because my digital components were very good. That’s probably why I was shocked at how greatly the REGEN improved my system.

And I still don’t see how it could make such an easily audible difference. But it does.

Bass is not just more tuneful and agile, it’s more powerful. As I am sure you do, I have a number of recordings that I thought I knew how strong their bass drum or organ notes were. This was not a subtle effect. In fact, I would wager it may even be measurable.

Instruments and vocals have a greater sense of palpability. Sounds such as guitar notes have a greater harmonic density. There seems to be more presence and even more spatial cues as well. From what I can surmise, these effects may vary from system to system, depending on the computer, DAC, and USB cable.

I bought mine directly from Uptone Audio, just like everyone else. At $175, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for an industry discount. And from what I now know that it does, I’d easily consider paying 5-10 times that price.

Apart from Get Better Sound or maybe a RoomPlay session (OK, I am hopelessly biased), I cannot think of a better buy in audio just now. And Uptone has an affordable power supply upgrade in the works as well. I definitely plan to buy that - if it does anything like I suspect that it might, I’ll report back on it in a future Quarter Notes.

In these times, when audio components are sold at amazingly higher and higher prices, the reasonable price for this item makes it a best buy. REGEN sales are way ahead of production. When I ordered mine, I paid and got in line. Don’t be put off by paying and waiting a bit. The combo of performance and price may keep this item back ordered.

I hope the audiophile community will support Alex & John. My highest recommendation.

http://uptoneaudio.com/products/usb-regen

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f6-dac-digital-analog-conversion/uptone-audio-regen-listening-impressions-24078/index23.html#post418118

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f10-music-servers/uptone-audio-regen-22803/index57.html

Better hearing = Better Sound

I have begun to be aware that we have a number of audiophile readers who are enduring some level of hearing loss. In fact, recently I have had two visitors here for RoomPlay Reference sessions that exhibited fairly substantial hearing loss.

Many of you have spent a not-inconsequential sum on your systems. As I write this, I know of several audiophiles around the USA who continue to search for (and purchase) the very best components, but they have noticeable hearing loss. They will spend many thousands of dollars on individual components, but to date they have done little or nothing to address the fact that they are missing so much music.

If you have any doubts about your hearing, may I suggest that your next expenditure be a good full-spectrum (details in interview below) hearing test? Why not be sure that you can hear as much of your music as possible?

The following interview took place a few days ago. My son Randall (of podcast fame) interviewed Ken Sheehan, a well-regarded audiophile who was concerned enough for others to come out and tell his story, along with details that you might find especially useful.

Please, do not take this lightly – Ken doesn’t, and now I don’t either.

Randall: Ken, you're kind of an anomaly. No one would expect an audiophile with hearing loss issues to keep going. When did you first realize that you had hearing loss?

Ken: I'm currently 77 years old. I've known that I had a hearing disability since I was eight years old. My first hearing test was done in 1946; in those days, they rarely tested hearing beyond 8000 Hz, because speech typically ranges from about 200 Hz to 4000 or 5000 Hz. Most people don't realize it, but even today most hearing tests don't run up to 15,000 Hz. And with a lot of audiophiles, their hearing starts to roll off as they get older, especially in the upper spectrum.

Randall: Was there a time when you thought, “music is not for me because I have this hearing disability”?

Ken: I never looked at it that way. I always said, “I have hearing and I'm going to make the best of it.” I started when I was about 12 years old. And at that time, my hearing loss in certain bands was down about 20 dB. Now, at 77, I've moved into one spectrum where it's down as much as 50 dB.

But during those days I found jazz, and I started getting interested in music: 78's, tape recorders, all things audio. I had a very supportive dad who was interested in music too.

Randall: So when did you first experience high-end audio?

Ken: My first real experience as an audiophile was in high school in Greenwich Village. This was in the days of mono; there was a place called The Electronic Workshop I used to walk by, and I got interested and went in. The proprietor was fairly friendly and tolerated all of my stupid questions.

My first introduction to high-end audio was hearing the Klipschorn, with Marantz and McIntosh electronics, driven by Linn turntables. And my own first real high-end speaker was a Tannoy Concentric; I had a (mono) McIntosh M30 amp and one of the Marantz audio consolettes, and a Thorens record changer: but I also had a table which was fitted with a Gray Research damping tone-arm and a GE cartridge.

Randall: What about your hearing aids?

Ken: Hearing aids didn't advance much until the digital age. Analog instruments simply amplified the overall sound. But most people have a hearing curve – certain frequencies are depressed in different dB levels. So you need an instrument that doesn't just amplify the sound equally across the whole audible spectrum, but instead, you need an instrument that manages the sound.

Of course, that brings a dirty word into it: equalizer. Much as they are not given their due, if you have hearing loss and you want to boost certain parts of the frequency band, they're the best things to have. Today, with digital hearing aids, you can program your hearing curve based on your actual hearing loss. It does take you out of the analog world and puts you in the digital world, together with all of the pros and cons of that.

Randall: And how do you listen now?

Ken: Most of my speakers have been and continue to be Proac speakers. During the last ten years I've used tube electronics. I still play vinyl records, and I'm a big tape recorder fan: I have a couple of professional tape recorders and a number of master tapes. All during my years I've had one foot in the hearing technology world; a lot of the concepts you encounter in audio have ramifications for hearing technology.

Randall: How about hearing aids?

Ken: In terms of hearing aids, the brand doesn't matter so much; what matters is what the circuitry of the hearing aid should be, and how the mics are set up. I currently have two programmable hearing aids from General Hearing out of Louisiana. They use Mead Killion's Digi-K circuits. They each have two mics – a directional one for everyday use and an omni-directional one for music listening. (Jim says, “As someone who has made countless master and broadcast recordings, this is fascinating – I always preferred omnis whenever possible for their more natural sound.”) I have three programs in each ear, one of which is a program specific to listening to music.

People think you need to spend $3-5k to get good hearing aids. You don't need to go there; a thousand or two will suffice. You want an in-the-ear instrument, and also one that is vented. A lot of it has to do with the fitting of the instrument and the programming of the instrument specific to your needs.

It's the music that matters. In the end, that's what hearing aids will do: allow you to listen to music longer.

Randall: How supportive do you find that audiologists are toward someone who is interested in customizing their listening for music? Is that even a focus for them?

Ken: Usually it isn't. So one of the first questions to ask your potential audiologist is: “How many of your clients are musicians?” That puts them on the spot, dealing with people whose professional lives are very much affected by what they hear. Musicians have good ears, and they know when things are missing or not right.

One of the things that audiologists often say is that what they do will not restore normal hearing. And with that, you need to then ask “okay, what will I be missing?”

Randall: What advice do you have for audiophiles who suspect they may have hearing loss?

Ken: They have to get themselves a good audiologist. Often you're going to find this in university settings. Maybe the first step is to tap into that kind of resource – where you have a bunch of people who are professionals, and interns who are more forgiving of stupid questions and will work with you.

Most importantly, a university's audiology program is maybe the best way to get a broadband hearing test: one that tests your hearing all the way up to 15k. But you really have to tell them that you want a broadband test, because most people only think about testing the spectrum insofar as it affects speech.

So, find a good audiologist. Then get a good full-spectrum hearing test. Until you see your hearing curve in both ears, you're going to wonder what is it that you're really hearing: unless you know what you can hear, the reality of what you are hearing is a mystery.

Thanks Ken & Randall. If even one audiophile takes us seriously and makes the next step, we will have done a good service.

If you are interested in exploring this further, I have taken the liberty of finding some hearing aid info written for musicians:

https://generalhearing.com/professional/hearing-aids/musician-aids/

And, as I was just about to send this Quarter Notes, Ken sent me this article:

http://www.hearingreview.com/2015/07/back-basics-heads-finally-water-hearing-aid-processing-moves-new-era/

Better health

It is no secret that I have had some health issues in the past few years. Through it all, my wife Pam has served as my ever-ready - and caring - caregiver.

Now it’s my turn to serve Pam. We just returned home here in Georgia. We were at a hospital in Florida where she spent five days with a fairly serious issue. Now she is on the mend, but it is a slow process.

On August 12, she is scheduled for dual knee surgery (unrelated to the most recent hospitalization), with the surgeon’s caution of a likely 6-week recuperation. I don’t know about you, but I personally have found that the Doctor’s estimated recuperative time period has been understated every time that I have had surgery. Maybe it’s good that the surgeons are optimistic!

Anyway, I believe that it will more likely be the end of September before she is back to her old self again. And that leads me to the TTSB update and a special announcement.

TTSB update

AFAIK, all of the Through the Sound Barrier CD licensing issues are settled. I now have on hand the 3rd effort at mastering. If approved, we’ll be good to go on the CD.

Book One is in layout – all of the editing and proofing have been done.

The DVD can be done rather quickly, but not until Book Two is complete.

The smaller and more technical Book Two is still a work in progress. Frankly, I thought I would have gotten it further along, once the CD was generally ready. But that hasn’t happened. I estimated the time I’d need based on my experience from when I worked solely on Get Better Sound. However, with my current workload (massive e-mail correspondence and a large number of phone calls), I need to take some drastic action to get TTSB completed. FWIW - I can put in full workdays every day without ever touching TTSB. ☹

Quasi-leave-of-absence

Therefore, I cannot be as responsive to e-mails and calls as I have been. Between serving as Pam’s caregiver and needing to wrap up TTSB, I MUST cut back the daily routine here. 

Due to the quasi-leave-of-absence that I am taking, between now and Sept. 30, 2015 (unless I announce a different end-time), try to e-mail me only if the topic is of exceptionally high importance to you. Please enter IMPORTANT (all caps) in your e-mail subject line.

The Breaking Through podcast

We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the Breaking Through podcasts. These sessions were promised if we met our funding goal.

Of course, back then, I had no idea that we would have produced Nine(!) podcasts and still not be shipping the product yet.

These podcasts do take time and energy, but the audio tips (generally unrelated to the status of TTSB), have been widely acclaimed. A few folks have complained, saying that they do not listen to podcasts.

In defense of Randall’s and my efforts, please be reminded that the TTSB status report always comes first – if you believe that you don’t need the tips about music & sound, at least check out the updates, which have been faithfully delivered as promised. Although I must confess that I am not sure why an ardent music lover and audiophile would not want to hear and benefit from the tips contained in the podcasts.

Finally, they got better and better (with #1 being a sort of learning experience for me) as yours truly became more confident in their production.

If you haven’t heard them yet, I suggest you give them a try – you might pick up a useful tip or three.

Here is a link to all of the Breaking Though podcast episodes on iTunes:

The Breaking Through Podcast (iTunes)

Previous Quarter Notes

  • Volume 1, Issue #1
    Topics: Tesa tape • Master the mister • Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so good • Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so bad • Bi-wiring • Room temp/humidity/Rives • The Concert Experience • Twenty Minutes vs. Two Hours to Nirvana? • Small, medium and large listening rooms • CES 2009 quick note • Laser distance measurers and levels • RTAs • House calls
  • Volume 1, Issue #2
    Topics: A question about CD technology • Bi-wiring, part two • From common sense to sixth sense – Srajan Ebaen • Three common-sense tweaks • Tweaks to watch • Tweaks to try • Sensitivity to sensitivity? • Top 10 standards of quality for high-end audio retail specialists • Message boards • Sad, but true • Hourly rate for consulting
  • Volume 1, Issue #3
    Topics: The top 3 tips I keep hearing about from readers • Vinyl 101 - A few tips on the return to vinyl – Jeff Dorgay • How to Eat an Elephant • Computers and Audio – Charles Hanson
  • Volume 1, Issue #4
    Topics: From recent experience • On-the-job observations • The sound of rooms • Hard drive housekeeping • Ear protectors, new basement, fluorescent lights • AC polarity tip • Questions from Italy • Music review – Geoff Poor • Absolute polarity -- controversial, but worth checking out
  • Volume 2, Issue #1
    Topics: The ACK Attack and un-common Knowledge • Basics re-visited  - a little more info: subwoofer set-up, speaker separation and staging, long wall or short wall?, affordable RTA, absolute phase/polarity, sliding base for spiked speakers, rack in the middle – AGAIN!, spikes – AGAIN! • Stacking the decks with DEQX • Demystifying room acoustic treatment
  • Volume 2, Issue #2
    Topics:A reader teaches me a lesson – Computer Audio • New room designs • Set-up diagrams • Stereo subs • Audio forums • Back in the saddle again
  • Volume 2, Issue #3
    Topics: The new Get Better Sound DVD! • Computer audio, part two - the sound, better recordings, more involving sound, Redbook CD, Pure Music, five easy pieces, computer hardware upgrades, interview with Rob Robinson – CEO of Pure Music
  • Volume 2, Issue #4
    Topics: Get Better Sound DVD • Introducing RoomPlay™ • A surprising story about voicing • Room eq systems, and a brief story • How far is too far? • Uneven speaker wire lengths • Fuses as tweaks • Sliders • Degrees of separation • Subs for every system? • Computer audio and absolute polarity • Rack ‘em up one more time!
  • Interim Volume 3, Issue #1
    Topics: Nothing much to see here – just a report about some health issues that were interfering with my work.
  • Volume 3, Issue #2
    Topics: Health issues and your correspondence • It’s not just babies that take nine months – the 1st comprehensive GBS DVD review is born! • Best coupling to the floor • Speaker sliders – a better solution • When sound is foremost • Mini-breakthrough in my Computer Audio system – and a tip even if you don’t use computer audio but you have a TV connected to your system • Apology re RTAs • Balanced outputs – better or worse? • When do the best measurements NOT yield the best musical involvement? • Another instance of technically correct set-up at the expense of the music • RoomPlay Reference
  • Volume 3, Issue #3
    Topics: Half Notes, anyone? • RoomPlay & RoomPlay Reference update • New – StraightTalk • The 83% rule – NOT! • Clever and entertaining blog • SPL meter • Full-range speakers need subs too… • Auto EQ & bass levels • How to voice subs (2, not 1, of course) with full range speakers • Listening seat not always against or near the back wall • Effects and proper usage of Tube Traps • My computer audio settings – NOT • Three good questions • Effects of ear wax • Near-field listening
  • Volume 3, Issue #4
    Topics: Through the Sound Barrier • A different kind of Sound Barrier • Kickstarter
  • Volume 4, Issue #1
    Topics: Our FIFTH Anniversary! • Internet message boards and a continuing invitation • System priorities • Organic EQ vs electronic EQ • Ultimate tweak for Macs when used as computer music servers? • Tweaksville • Latest developments with Through the Sound Barrier • Inside info about the delay
  • Volume 4, Issue #2
    Topics: Finding old newsletters • Inexpensive RTA that works • Soulless • The High Fidelity Report • New sound room & office • Just a little loving and moving • Large items between your speakers • Quiet and efficient HVAC • Duelund outboard crossover • Laser info • TTSB updates • StraightTalk • More…
  • Volume 4, Issue #3
    Topics: Mail servers • Light Harmonic Light Speed USB cable • Listening room dimensions • Can't get no satisfaction? • Second that emotion • Can Jim voice your system when he is in the area? • In the crosshairs • Links to Breaking Through podcasts if you cannot use iTunes • How do you know if your TTSB pledge is on file?
  • Volume 4, Issue #4
    Topics: Audiophile angst • Greater isolation for RoomPlay Reference sessions • Invitation • Breaking Through podcast #7
  • Volume 5, Issue #1
    Topics: Better sounding computer audio • Better hearing = Better Sound • Better health • TTSB update • Quasi-leave-of-absence • Breaking Through podcasts

 

Questions or comments?

E-mail me: jim@getbettersound.com

Reminder

Due to the quasi-leave-of-absence that I am taking (announced in Quarter Notes newsletter above), between now and Sept. 30, 2015 (unless I announce a different end-time), do try to e-mail me only if the topic is of exceptionally high importance to you. Please enter IMPORTANT (all caps) in your e-mail subject line. 

If you call and get my voice mail, be sure to mention in your message that the topic is “IMPORTANT”.

As someone who receives hundreds of e-mails and many phone calls daily, I need to be available for the most important messages where possible while completing the projects mentioned above.

That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!

Jim Smith

 
     
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