The Songs Remain the Same, Only Better

[This article previously appeared on the "Talk of the Mountain" Blog]

Over the last couple of years I converted my compact disc collection to digital files. This allows me to enjoy the music in whatever venue I happen to occupy: car, living room, basement lair (aka the "country bunker"), MARC train, interplanetary shuttle or molecular transport. No need to lug the discs and player with me and through the magic of miniaturization I simply plug a AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC (digital-analog converter) into the lightning connector on an iPad. Said iPad reads the files from a terabyte-sized storage device and to the headphones via the DAC which happens to include a headphone amp.

Apple has presented a bit of a hurdle in connecting high capacity storage to their portable devices. You cannot just plug something in. In this case a tiny RAVPower FileHub connected to a 1TB external storage device is wirelessly sending files via a built-in wi-fi. Does one terabyte seem like overkill? Au contraire, so far my music collection consumes over 250GB. To date this does not include video but someday ...

Once down the path of hosting a file-based music collection, purely digital distribution attracted my oft fleeting attention. These days my favorite purveyor is HDTracks who has become one of if not the largest seller of digital music files. My travel system is optimized for 24 bit/96kHz and the remastered version of the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club" album presents an incredibly clear sound at this bit depth and resolution. At this point let me say that not all recordings will present in an improved fashion in uncompressed format(s). Something that was heavily manipulated, compressed during recording, mixing or mastering, or otherwise adulterated may not offer a perceptible sonic improvement at 24 bit/96kHz (or for that matter anything over the lowly CD's 16 bit/44.1kHz) and occasionally one may even prefer the MP3 rip. YMMV but modern recordings and remasters from quality source material including HDTracks cofounder David Chesky's Binaural+ Series do quite well in the upper stratosphere of lossless file containment.

Of course after I had "ripped" all the discs to digital files using MP3 encoding, the benefits of a lossless format became obvious as my audio playback chain improved. Nothing wrong with MP3 when listening in a noisy environment but with KEF headphones running through the Dragonfly, baby wants, even needs lossless compression. So a second pass was made of digitizing the CDs using the dBPoweramp CD Ripper and saving to the Apple ALAC file format. In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished department, I now wish I had used the open-source FLAC format but hey, who's to say I won't re-re-rip all those disc or simply convert from ALAC to FLAC using the dBPoweramp Music Converter?

[Quality Update: added an Audioquest "Jitterbug" USB data & power noise filter which purports to "reduce the noise and ringing that plague both the data and power lines of USB ports." I like the sound but have not yet done extensive A/B tests. Stay tuned ...].

[Added a 2nd Jitterbug to the portable system so now they are on the file store and DAC. Subtle improvements but definitely there for at least some of the recordings I listen to. Sampled the remastered Parton/Harris/Ronstadt "Trio II" recording and Tom Cunningham Orchestra "Swingin' and Singin'" to positive effect. The bass is more open, highs are clearer and separation between multiple vocalists and instruments is enhanced.]
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chipgallo
Internet user since 1989, computer IT specialist on the contracting and acquisition side nowadays, HD music and video enthusiast, enjoys the company of canines. Self-exiled, born-again Facebook user; blogger and writer/documentary producer. Olympus OMD E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera
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For additional information on digital audio, I recommend Mr. Spoon's articles at this link. He is the developer of software that does the "heavy lifting" in moving CDs to the digital domain.

Spoon's Audio Guides
 
I switched to an Android phone as Apple seems to be going crazy with the iPhone prices and I wanted to use the full 3-transmitter solution offered by Google Fi. This changes the play back and file storage equation but, in a wonderful way, simplifies things. You engineers out there will understand that simple = more reliable.

Anyway, the Moto G6 phone and Android 8 will support up to (at least) 512 GB of micro-USB storage (Motorola ads claim to support up to 128 GB which ain't true and it appears that Android will do 512 GB on most phones). Don't over invest with too much more than you will use in, say, a year though. The costs of storage always go down. I got a 256 GB SanDisk Ultra Micro microSDXC card and copied the bulk of my digital file library there. No more portable drive/WiFi box. Then over to the Google Play for the USB Audio Player PRO program, which leverages both the external high-resolution Dragonfly Red DAC mentioned above, but with a USB-C adapter; or the internal audio chip on the Moto G6 for Bluetooth streaming to the car radio. This solution really rocks. Don't forget to select the memory card when installing the audio player so the files get scanned into your library.

An added bonus to the USB Audio Pro app is that it can play music from the local UPnP/DLNA server when the phone is on the house WiFi.
 

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Streaming the Steven Wilson remix/remaster of “Chicago II” which historically had a flat, muddy sound according to pundits. Not now. Play it loud though for the best impact.

I may seek out the legacy vinyl for a true A/B eval. Stay tuned.
 

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