Good audio

If you have ever had the idea in your head that you need to hear Dead Can Dance’s Rakim on a stack of Naim gear with Spendor D7.2s, you’re my spirit animal.

Funny story. I was talking to a shop owner and my wife, Eliza, was still in the listening room with a pair of Spendor D7.2s, an Audio Analogue Puccini Anniversary amplifier and some Lumin streamer.

I don’t recall exactly what she was playing, but it was either coronation anthems by Handel or the Carmina Burana.

While I was talking to the owner, she kept turning up the volume and later when we joined me, with an innocent look on her face she told me:”It did not distort at all.” It was hilarious.

Find the stack that suits you. It is not easy, but is it not a grand journey?

Roon and NAS SSD cache

Using a dedicated NUC for Roon and a Synology DS918+ NAS as the storage for all music seemed like the perfect solution. After a while something started to annoy me.

The four spinning hard drives in the DS918+ fell asleep after twenty minutes. So if I had not played any music for twenty minutes they would have to be spin up again, before I could hear any music. This process takes probably less than a minute, but when encountered often enough it started to feel like an eternity.

I had already expanded the DS918+ with a 4GB SO-DIMM and even though the extra memory is allegedly being used for cache also, I did not notice any improvements. My thoughts turned to the M.2 slots at the bottom of the NAS. Also, memory uses was quite low.

In articles and posts I read about the vulnerability of SSD caches, but wondered how serious of an issue this would be. Especially considering my use case. I would use a read only cache that would not have to deal with a lot of constant and intensive reads and writes . The idea being that it would only be filled with albums I regularly listen to.

So I ordered a Synology SNV3400-400G, which is a 400GB M.2 NVME drive. The install was a piece of cake. No screws needed. Just pop out one of the covers on the bottom of the NAS, install it, return the cover and start up your NAS. After that I only had to assign the SDD to cache duties.

At first, of course, the cache was empty, so when I played some music after the drives had gone to sleep, I still had to wait for the one minute spinup cycle. Even after playing the same album several times, I could hardly see the cache growing. I felt a bit disappointed.

I have no idea how the caching algorithm works, but I am starting to see a change. After a week I do not experience the lag anymore. Albums I play frequently start immediately. The cache hit rate over this week is over 80% which sounds good, no pun intended. The user interface of the NAS also feels snappier.

It is a bit surprising to see that the cache size is still only at 4.6GB. I play a lot of hires audio and I would expect a larger cache size. Let us see how this cache evolves with longer use.

Next step?

COVID-19 and the possible financial ramifications made me back off big investments in audio. The physical size of my home did not help either.

An audio system made up of individual components takes up a lot of space. Something I tend to forget when I am listening to shiny speakers and a big stack of components in an audio store. The speakers I could easily place in the room. I would just have to remove my current speakers and the makeshift stands they are on.

Putting the amplifier somewhere is a different story. The cupboard under the tv is just too shallow to house a decent amplifier. For example a Naim Supernait 3 is over 30 centimeters deep and that is without cables connected to the back. Under the tv is practically the only place where I could put audio equipment. A solution would be to remove the cupboard under the tv and replace it with something else, but will cost extra money.

Also, should I start my journey with getting my end game rig? A Naim Supernait 3 and a pair of Spendor D7.2 speakers cost close to 10.000 euros and that is without any cables. Should I not start a little smaller? Work my way up and learn what I like?

Would big speakers like the Spendor D7.2 even work in my small living room?

These complications continuously make me rethink what I should get. Should I start out simple, with for example a Cambridge Audio CXA81 with a pair of KEF R3s?

Or should I look at active speakers again? My mind wanders to the KEF LS50W again, but I am afraid the little drivers in that speaker would give me an underwhelming amount of bass. If only KEF made a wireless version of the R3.

Chord Mojo Poly case

The Poly and Mojo combination is a powerful bit of hardware, but you need a case. The two fit snugly together, but I did not feel comfortable to walk around with them without a case keeping them fixed. So I ordered the case. At 95 euros it is not cheap. It also took a month to arrive at my doorstep. According to the retailer where I bought it, this was due to COVID-19. Oh well, in the end I got it.

Chord Poly

After setting up Roon I searched for the best way to use Roon and be sort of mobile with my Sennheiser HD 660 S. With mobile I mean having high quality audio that I can move around the house with relative ease. I started out with my iPhone connected to the Chord Mojo. This was not very convenient. The Roon app on iPhone crashes a lot. Moving around a phone connected with two cables to a DAC was quite inconvenient.

On Chord Electronics’ site I saw their Poly, a streaming attachment to their Mojo DAC, is Roon ready. At €599 it is not exactly cheap, but it seemed like just the solution I needed.

So I ordered it and waited… I ordered it at wifimedia.eu and they didn’t have one in stock. Which is fine, it happens, you cannot have every product on the shelf. Unfortunately it was sent to me through DHL, which in my country isn’t exactly trustworthy. I stayed at home all day on a Saturday and they did not show up and then told me on their tracking site I was not at home that day.

When it finally came on Monday. I had to wait another six hours for it to be charged. I then plugged it into the Mojo and set it up through a bit of a clumsy app over bluetooth. I set it to Roon mode, added it to Roon and that was that.

My first impression was that the music now sounded a lot better than when I had the Mojo connected to my phone. Tighter, more balanced, voices sounded more lively and instruments more real. I did have an issue with playing DSD. It stuttered. Not quite sure what I can do about that or what was the cause.

I am not sure how battery life will be. I do not think I will get the play time as advertised by Chord. Time will tell if charging takes too long. The Poly manual states you can charge will listening, but that charging will be slow. I also wonder about how much heat will accumulate playing and charging at the same time.

If you get the Poly also get a case, because dust can get in between where the two connect and it will make sure the Poly and Mojo stay connected. That will set you back another 90 to 100 euros…

Roon outage

It seems it’s the second time this week that Roon is have trouble with their systems. I’m playing Bob Dylan’s Desire as we speak over Tidal and Roon, but I’m reading lots of articles about an outage. I also can’t reach their knowledge base.

I’ve just read it’s due to a Google Cloud Platform outage. Let’s hope things get fixed soon.

Roon

About a month ago I tried out Roon on the fastest NUC I had, a 6th generation i5. Not exactly a recent machine. It had 32GB memory and a 256GB M.2 hard drive.

I downloaded Roon ROCK, the Roon distribution specifically made for the NUC and burnt it to a USB stick. In less than 15 minutes Roon was up and running. Quite a small and quick install indeed. It immediately noticed the Bluesound Node2i and Naim Mu So QB Gen 2 on the network.

After reformatting a two drive Synology I put all my music on there and configured it as a source in Roon.

Then I ran downstairs to check out the sound. The audio systems I have aren’t anything special, so I mostly enjoyed the ease of use of the Roon app on my iPad.

Just when my trial was up I came to the conclusion I couldn’t miss that little old NUC as a server, so I ended the trial.

Then followed two weeks of missing the convenience of Roon. I had gotten used to sitting on my couch in the evening with a good glass of wine, going back in time and listening to a lot of music I loved, but had forgotten.

So I ordered an eighth generation NUC with an i7, 32GB of memory and the fastest 500GB M.2 drive I could find. It’s overkill, the 500GB and 32GB, but better safe than sorry. ROCK must do caching, right? It’s running on Linux after all.

When the parts arrived I put them together and immediately ordered a year’s subscription to Roon.

I can’t say it’s all running flawlessly. The iOS apps are the biggest problem. The iPhone app crashes quite often and it lacks a lot of features the iPad app has. The macOS app is brilliant though.

One day when I was listening the music just stopped and the Roon Core seemed to be unreachable. I could reach its web server and restart it, but that hasn’t happened again. Ever since the latest update it’s been clear sailing. Not for all though. There are a lot of articles on the Roon community site about Roon breaking its connection with Qobuz and Tidal.

Spendor D7.2, Focal Kanta 2, B&W 804 D3, PMC twenty5.24 and Audiovector R3

The other day I was finally able to listen to the Spendor D7.2s on the Naim Supernait 3.

I walked into a store, talked to a guy working there and another customer interjected us. He told me he was going to listen to everything on my list and asked if I would join him. Talk about being lucky.

The other customer first wanted to listen to the Audiovector R3 Signatures. I had heard them before and I found them a bit fierce in the highs. A lot of control and detail though. I was a bit shocked at the low bass loudness, but this turned out to be the overproduced pop we were listening to. When I played Steely Dan on them there was good balance in the sound.

Then the Audiovector R3 Avantgardes were hooked up. Quite an improvement over the Signatures. More control and tighter in the highs. There is something about the Audiovectors I do not like though. Maybe it is just the looks that put me off. I just think the metallic rim around the drives looks a bit cheap.

Then we listened to the Focal Kanta 2s. There was a lovely warmth and fulness to the sound, but the bass was woolly and not very well controlled. Which to me is quite a turn off. I dislike muddy bass in a speaker.

After the Kantas the Spendors sounded very detailed and in control, but a bit on the light side. They do not have the warmth of the Kantas. The detail though, the clarity… It is a lovely speaker and I think I could be very happy living with them. Still, they make me wonder if there is something better out there. I guess that is the typical pitfall for the audiophile…

We then had the PMC Twenty5.24 set up and they just did not have the control of the Spendors. The lows just weren’t as clear and defined. Not a bad speaker though. They just did not do much for me.

We then had the B&W 804 D3s hooked up to the Nait. I quite liked them. Warm, detailed, but not as much control as the Spendors. I might listen to the B&Ws on the Hegel H390. Maybe that is a better match.

We listened to all these speakers at quite high volumes for hours. It was good to see the Supernait did not have any trouble driving them. Or did it? Did the 804s need a bigger amplifier? And with that bigger amplifier, would they sound better than the Spendors?

I should give them a try on that Hegel, but something tells me it will not be better than the combination of the Supernait 3 and the Spendor D7.2s…

Moonriver Audio Model 404

I listened to the Stirling Broadcast and Spendor speakers on this amplifier. The Moonriver Audio Model 404. Moonriver is a Swedish company and this is their first and so far only product. it’s got a really high end feel. It looks expensive, classy and retro. It’s modular, so you can add a DAC or phono stage.

About the sound, I only heard this one amplifier connected to the speakers, so it’s hard to say a lot about its character, but the speakers sounded lively and it was able to bring out the clarity of the Stirlings.

Stirling LS3/6 and Spendor A7

Spendor was a brand that I had had in the back of my mind for some time. It became a renowned name in audio with its thin walled BBC style speakers. I though, was more interested in their modern speakers. I had the opportunity to have a listen to the A7.

The A7 is an almost 94cm tall, but just 18cm wide tower. It’s just 30cm deep, so it can be easily placed in smaller living rooms. It looks gorgeous in this dark walnut finish.

Its sensitivity is 88db with an impedance of 8 ohm. So it shouldn’t be too hard to drive. I think I have read somewhere Spendor makes an effort to make their speakers easy to drive.

This speaker sounded smooth. The highs weren’t piercing and the mids clear and precise. The bass didn’t extend too deep down. At least that’s what I could perceive. To be honest I think I was sitting a bit far away to get a precise feel for it. Still, it was enjoyable and engaging. I think this speaker is great for long sessions.

After listening to the Spendor I mentioned the thin walled BBC style speakers behind it. I made some remark about this ‘old fashioned’ things to the guy working in the shop and he insisted I have a listen. So he set up the Stirling LS3/6 speakers. It was quite an experience. Voices and strings were so lifelike. So gorgeous. I was not too sure about the bass though. It wasn’t very firm or deep. Somehow though I feel I should get them, but not as my main speakers.