21st Century Stuff

Scientists have steered lightning bolts with lasers for the first time in the field, according to a demonstration performed during heavy storms at the top of a Swiss mountain.
The Guardian

Audio Nerdery

Early December, while I was in Lisbon, I noticed write-ups about a new digital-analog-converter from Astell & Kern, called the HC3 – link. It uses the ES9219MQ chip from ESS, is very small, and can be plugged into laptop with USB-C. The HC3 also comes with an adapter for the iPhone’s Lightning port. Price is around $200 and available sometime soon, in February I think. While looking into this DAC I came across this one, the Go-Link, made by an English company called ifi-Audio.

The chip in the Go-Link is the same one that powers the HC3. The Go-Link comes with a USB-C plug plus a Lightning adapter for the iPhone and an adapter for a USB-2 port, for computers that don’t have USB-C. I found the Go-Link at BH-Photo (link). The price is $59. The A&K looks cooler, perhaps, but is it nearly four times cooler? Plus, the Go-Link is available now. I pre-ordered in December and it arrived this morning.

I immediately plugged the Go-Link into my phone and used my Euclids to listen to a variety of lossless files (16/44.1 downloaded files on Apple Music, 24/96 files on Dropbox) and, while direct comparison is not possible, my impression was that the music felt more alive, more present, more dimensional. I really think this is the tool we were waiting for to be able to listen to high quality audio while on the move, without breaking the bank. Only a year ago, listening to this level of quality meant having a DAP (digital audio player), which costs at least $500 and can go up to $3,000 and more. And it’s one more thing to carry around. Now that Apple Music has caught up to Tidal and one can download hi-res files and play them back on the phone, or if one uses Dropbox in conjunction with a player-app like CloudBeats, the last barrier was how to get digital sound from the phone to your headphones. Bluetooth is practical, and I use it myself, but doesn’t sound very good. There were DACs, of course, but they weren’t tiny and they weren’t cheap. This Go-Link is the missing link, perhaps. I am psyched.

Liquid Congas

I worked out a new setup for my beloved Stax headphones, which I have used on every album for more than twenty years. Since my Weiss DAC2 uses FireWire and my new laptop only has UCB-C I had to find a new way to get digital audio from the computer to the balanced analog inputs of the Stax headphone tube amp. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I wanted something versatile that I can tote with me, if necessary. I settled on a CEntrance DACport Pro, which, at $370, doesn’t break the bank. I found the DAC waiting for me when I returned from Lisbon late on Thursday. The next morning I connected it to the laptop and the Stax.
IMG 8155
The DACport Pro is small, smaller than my phone and a little more than twice as thick, looks well built, and gets power through the USB-C connection with the computer. Compact. I opened the album Cachaito and gave it a listen. Nice. Listening to the second track of album, called Redención, I had the impression that the congas sounded liquid, like a river playing in time. So I looked up the conguero, who was Angá Díaz. Then I discovered his solo album Echu Mingua. Very nice. And so a few hours passed… Nice to be able to listen to the Stax again.

The Loudness Wars Are Over

And just like that the loudness wars are over. Honestly, I only found out about it this weekend. I was having lunch with Jon Gagan and he informed me about this, apparently not so new, development. Yesterday I did some research and reached the conclusion that I will have to mix several different versions of the new album, one for streaming, one for CD, and perhaps a third one for HD files.

How did the loudness wars end? It was the logical result of so many millions of people subscribing to streaming services, like Apple Music or Spotify. Whether one listens to a personal playlist or a curated stream of music, it’s not fun to have the volume go up and down with each track. In fact sudden changes in loudness are the #1 source of user complaints. The same is true for watching a bunch of videos on YouTube. It would be annoying if some of the videos were much louder than others, right?

As a result the streaming services came up with guidelines and are turning down loud songs. Here is an article about loudness normalization across different platforms. This has been going on for a while now. Here is an article about YouTube normalizing volume since December 2015.

If you want to see what this means in practical terms, go to the website Loudness Penalty and drag and drop any mp3 file on it. It will show by how much that file will be turned down by streaming services.

Here are a few links to posts I made about this subject in the past:



Editorial Notebook; Life in the Information – New York Times
Commercials no longer sit still and beg to be looked at. Instead, they become fly-like robots that perch on the pillow and whisper sweet nothings while you sleep. The next morning you wake up craving foods you’ve never eaten. Mr. Dick’s characters defend themselves by keeping their windows closed — and making heavy use of fly swatters. The idea is to get them before they get to you.

I remember them from his books as gen-manipulated flies, that is bio flies (grown) rather than robotic flies (built).

They are still much bigger than flies, more like bats, but they are coming:

Inhabitat » The Solar Powered COM-BAT Spy Plane
In this season of specters and spooks, what could be scarier than a steel-winged robotic spy plane shaped like a bat? The aptly named COM-BATis a six-inch surveillance device that is powered by solar, wind, and vibrations. The concept was conceived by the US military as a means to gather real-time data for soldiers, and the Army has awarded the University of Michigan College of Engineering a five year $10-million dollar grant to develop it.