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Friday, 09 October 2015


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Hi there.

Zounds!! The Audioengine D1 DAC is the equivalent of US$253 here at Amazon Japan.

And my Audioengine P4s are the equivalent of US$624, vs $325 in the US. Very happy I didn't buy them here.

The Saturn Run event at The Poisoned Pen bookstore was recorded and can be viewed in their archive. If you are interested in learning more about the book and behind the scenes of John and Ctein's collaboration, it's worth checking out.

It's always a pleasure (and relief) to see those things called books get such exposure. So many have left the tactile environment of paper for Kindle.
Nothing will ever replace a book...(he said with trepidation).
mi dos pesos

Onboard DACs have improved, but the insides of a computer is a horrifying place to try to do good quality analog audio electronics.

Basically anything that moves that step outboard is likely to create a modest improvement.

Add to that the fact that they sky is basically the limit on good quality preamps. Handling that fragile tiny thread of analog signal from the moment it comes out of the DAC until it reaches the relative safety of line levels is a place you can spend essentially infinite effort, to some worthwhile effect.

Thanks for the Hugo pointer. Just purchased his album. Nice stuff.

Very interesting set-up for desktop audio. Of particular interest is the DAC which appears to consume so little power that no external power source is required and yet outputs so much current that welding cables are required to transmit the signal to the speakers. Gotta be violating some kinda law here.

[Most of that thickness is insulation and isn't carrying signal. --Mike]

Note also in the Hopper painting that the perspective is not "correct" for some unspecified value of "correct." He has rotated the right side of the building toward the viewer, which makes a better painting but not necessarily a better house, if you had to live in it.

That Hopper painting is haunting my thoughts, now. Perhaps it's the season of golden light, or the color palette, but it's a reminder of the light I want to look for. Now I have a weekend plan of looking at Hopper works - poor me! Thanks for the inspiration!

I'd be the last one (these days) to debate with an sudiophile but for anyone sceptical about the value of expensive DACs, I can point you to an interesting Tom's Hardware article where they compare audiophile targeted devices to a $2 alternative:


For what it's worth I invested £99 in an Epiphany built ODAC - not because I think an ODAC sounds better but because it is well made and I like the open source design philosophy,so refreshing in today's insane high end audio market.

The designer made the designs available for free to any company who wanted to build and sell it because he had looked at a number of expensive and highly praised audiophile DACs and was so disgusted with the rip-offs he discovered, he felt he owed it to the community to offer a well designed competent DAC that could be built and sold for a modest price while offering sound as good as anything out there. There are a number of companies around who are making them, google ODAC for more info if you are interested in the story. It's an interesting read, if nothing else.

It never ceases to amaze me how Mac people seem to believe that everything should cost so much!
There are plenty of sub $100 DACS on ebay and Amazon that are quite good enough.

[It's not a "Mac" thing at all. Replacement soundcards are more prevalent in the PC world, but you can use an outboard DAC with any digital source, including a CD transport. And "quite good enough" is of course entirely subjective and up to the individual to decide. --Mike]

I love the Audioengine speakers, but tend to use them hooked up to my Airplay wireless streaming boxes. This way I can put them almost anywhere I want in the house, not wherever I put a computer.

I happened to have a shoot Wednesday evening in downtown San Francisco and was killing time in the Ferry Building before it's start. As I left, headed for the gig, I saw the familiar face of Ctein dining out back.

Being that we have an asymmetrical relationship – I "know" him, he's not aware that I exist – I didn't bother to say "hello." It wasn't until 50 or so yards later that I realized that he must have been there for the book launch.

I hope it went well and that it was well attended. Sorry I had to miss it.

Just finished "Saturn Run" - perhaps a slightly longer sitting than usual, but who could put this down? 476 pages before J. Sandford and Ctein lay out "The Science Behind The Story".

Will it dislodge high-school discoveries: "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" (R. Heinlein), "Red/Green/Blue Mars" (K. S. Robinson), "Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang" (K. Wilhelm), "Rite of Passage" (A. Panshin), "Dune" and "Hellstrom's Hive" (F. Herbert), "White Lotus" (J. Hersey), and... above all... "The Man In The High Castle" (P.K. Dick)? Yes, these tattered paper-backs still live on my shelves.

Maybe, maybe not. But I must say, this is perhaps the best "hard science" story (Ctein's influence, I suspect) eutectically combined (yes, they use that word) with Sandford's gifts for plot/characters/dialog... that I have ever read. The individuals - Sandy, Crow, 'Becca, Martinez, The Prez - are so vivid that you root for every one of them, every step of the way. Except when you hate the political machinations so much you want to...

The endless (less engineering-oriented readers than I will surely complain) pages of technical exposition are positively breathless. Yes. You can visualize it all as it unfolds. There is exactly one diagram of "Richard M. Nixon" included. It's quite unnecessary.

Best of all, it's brilliantly scripted... to be scripted. Scene, scene, scene. Act, act, act.

OK, movies. Yes, I've followed every single "Ars Technica" interview about "The Martian". I concur that Andy Weir's accomplishment is amazing. I've seen the 3D film three times.

But, but, but... "Saturn Run" operates at a different level. I simply love how Sandy, an apparently over-rich slacker, becomes a supremely accomplished videographer. "Red" and "Leica" technologies feature strongly in the narrative. You don't know how strongly until the last page. Photographers rule!

Read it, folks. It's the best.

...Michael Miller, Atlanta, GA

Hi Mike -

I'm new to this computer audio thing, so I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around some of this.

What I'd like to do is run a DAC out of my Mac mini into my existing system: Advent 300 set up as a pre-amp, running into a Dynaco ST-70. and Klipsh KH-4's.

Am I correct in assuming that I would make the requisite setting in Preferences and then run to DAC straight to the AUX inputs of the pre?


[Sure Jon. I did that for years. I used a headphone amp with a volume control that had a built-in DAC. I ran USB from the computer to the Musical Fidelity X-CAN V8P, selected it in System Prefs > Sound > Output, and then ran a pair of ordinary interconnects to a power amp across the room. Worked a treat. Of course you can also get a plain DAC and run interconnects into your existing preamp as well. The only real difference is that the volume control would be on the preamp. --Mike]

I was having a conversation with a client on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle Thursday afternoon when I saw Ctein and who I presume was John Camp walk by. I'm guessing they were in town for the next round of their book tour- being a photography geek and avid follower of TOP I was torn between keeping the business conversation going and making a fool out of myself like some girl chasing the Beatles in 1964. Fortunately they are fast walkers and I'm slow to react so they got away. My client did not appreciate the moment as I did and there was no explaining it to him. I hope the tour is going well and they enjoyed Seattle.

Hi Mike, the Audioengine A2+ speakers do in fact have an internal DAC but can benefit from an external one (which is how I run them at my office). From Audioengine's FAQ:

The A2+ already has a built in DAC. Does that mean I cannot use another one?
While the DAC in the A2+ is better than what might be built in to most computers, adding a 24 bit DAC like our D1 or D3 would still be a benefit to audio quality. With a DAC like the D1 you also add features like a headphone output and optical input.


I hope you can hear my long, slow, head-nodding in great appreciation applause for Roberto M's. Hopper comment all the way up in the executive suite of TOP HQ.

I use the audioengine dac with the A2s. Works good for me on the computer. But then I went crazy and put in a Sonic Frontiers tube amp with a pair of Focal 807Ws.

On another note, Mike, I don't think I'd store my speakers in the frigid cold. With the lightweight materials they use in the tweeters, might they crack?

I have a Lynx Hilo (designed and manufactured in the USA) which is a sublimely good DA and AD converter. It also has a user transferable USB or Thunderbolt LT slot cards, so works well with any setup. In the digital world, (my analogue side has Quad, Revox, Spendor, Thorens etc.), it is the best I have come across.

I'm not an Audiophile by any measure. Although by listening to my friends who partake in the hobby, it's a rather productive one. An Audiophile, it seems, has a requirement for an individual to develop skills in electrical engineering, the physics of acoustics, an understanding of sound based metrics, as well the the subjective understanding of good music. That's a broad breath of knowledge!

I brought the Audioengine D1 2 years ago and the improvement in 'quality' felt to me, apparent and noticeable. It's well worth the investment, even for a novice like me!

I am about to wrap up Saturn Run (40-odd pages left) and gotta say it's been quite the enjoyable read. Might have to have a look at some of Sandford's other books now; been mostly reading Alistair Reynolds for my sci-fi fix the past year or two.

Dear Phil and Kirk,

All right, the way in which TOP readers keep popping up is getting really strange. You guys are everywhere! Yes it was John and me in Seattle walking to the Seattle Mystery Bookstore to sign their stock. It would not have been an awful intrusion for you to come up and introduce yourself. Ditto, when Paula and I were having dinner at the ferry building for our event there.

But I do appreciate your courtesy and sensitivity. Generally it is not a good idea to bother "celebrities" (even with the very smallest C) when they're engaged in another activity like dining. Especially so, the larger that C becomes. At this point in my life, though, the number of people who "interrupt" me doesn't come close to being onerous. If I'm busy with something I'll politely thank you and greet you and quickly let you know that I need to continue with whatever business I'm engaged in. It's only a problem if someone doesn't take the hint. (Not even really a hint – – a pretty straightforward please excuse me now.) With both your sensibilities, this is hardly ever likely to happen.

Further in the vein of the ominous presence of TOP operatives… I did a stock signing at uncle Hugo's bookstore in Minneapolis yesterday afternoon. It was announced but we didn't really expect any large number of people to show up, because it is really the least of the three events happening in Minneapolis and people have lots to do on weekends. It was mostly about me being available while I'm signing stock. Nonetheless, three people did wander in to meet me, buy a book and get it signed. All of them were TOP readers and none of them were previously known to me.

pax / Ctein

The AVI ADM9 and DM10 speakers with the 24 bit DAC, amplifier and crossovers all built in, matched and close coupled seem to get a good press here in the UK. I'm not sure about their ability to crank out large numbers of them, though. My hearing is pretty shot, but I'm still havering after these.

Dear Michael,

Thank you so much for that exceptional praise. You might be well interested in reading this “Big Idea” column I wrote for John Scalzi's blog:


It's about how the novel came about and includes more background material that John and I haven't covered here. It is a fun read.

You might be surprised at who wrote what. There are some reviewers out there who think that I provided the hard information and John did all the writerly stuff. I consider that a huge compliment. I worked very, very hard to make sure that my writing style was compatible with John's and we both worked very hard to ensure that the final result looks seamless. Stylistically, I'd call it 80% John and 20% me, because that's what John's readers are going to expect and there are 10 times as many of those as there are of mine.

But in terms of actual wordage, I wrote about two thirds of the book and John wrote about two thirds of the book.


The way that works is that about a 3rd of the material in the final book is very close to word for word what my first draft was, another 3rd is clearly John's creation, and the remaining 3rd is such a mashup of both of us that we share the credit equally.

You might be interested to know that John wrote all the photography scenes. They were his idea, and I made very few changes to them. Occasionally inserting a bit of technical jargon like “false color infrared mapping.” Conversely, most of the characters are mine. The surfer-dude protagonist is a compromise between the two of us because I hated his idea for the character and he hated mine. I say the final result is about two thirds Sanford/one third Ctein. The anthropologist is also mix, more me than John. The other characters? Becca, the Commander, all the Chinese, those are entirely my creations, personalities, styles etc. and John didn't mess with them at all. The spy guy we share equally; we consensed from the beginning on what he would be like and he was very easy to write.

But I am getting a real kick from the readers who are sure they can figure out what passages John wrote (he wrote a few of the science ones-- I just made sure he didn't make any mistakes) and what I wrote. They are right no more often than the flip of a coin. Because, yeah, it means we got it right.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear folks,

On the subject of DACs…

I explained in a comment to Mike's previous column on that subject why these can be very expensive and why it is not a case of stupid-rich. Anybody who thinks it is (or, worse yet, thinks it's because Mac people are stupid about spending money)–– well, you are simply wrong. Factually wrong. I'm not going to repeat the reasons. Go back and read.

It's very unlikely that many of the readers here would be able to hear the difference between a $200 and a $2000–. I certainly can't. I know a few people who can. I have merely a good ear. But I can sure hear the difference between a $2 DAC or a built-in computer one and the D1. It's not even a subtle difference. I simply disbelieve the test results that were linked to.

Hearing varies a lot between people. I'm sure some readers here can't hear the difference between a $2 DAC and D1. If that's the case, those people also really don't need to be spending $300-$500 on a pair of good bookshelf speakers like the A5s. They won't sound any better to you. If speakers like that do sound markedly better to you, then you're going to be able to hear what a good DAC does for sound.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

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