September 2020 Editorial

Adventures in the World of Digital Audio


Author: Roger McCuaig - TNT Canada
Published: June, 2020

Digital music has taken over. Of course there are still the die-hard vinyl devotees and people still have their CD collections, however, many have done as I have and ripped all their CD's to some digital storage medium. If you want to listen to new music, in most cases you are limited to a digital download or a streaming service. What follows is a couple of stories of my recent adventures in the world of digital music.

Back in February I got the idea of replacing the old, noisy PC that had become my digital music server with a new, much quieter model. This PC sits right beside my audio system as my DAC does not like a long USB cable. Of course the noise from the PC was not sitting well with my inner audiophile. Eventually a very good deal was found on a PC with no CPU fan and a very quiet power supply. A 1 T-Byte SSD (Solid State Drive) was added and the noise problem was solved. The whole package cost $180. Great! Now the adventure starts. With JPLAY FEMTO and JRIVER loaded up, licenses installed, everything was ready to go. Well not exactly, the new PC would not communicate with the DAC! Déjà vu all over again (impossible to pass up an opportunity to use that famous line from Yogi Berra).

I am referring, of course, to the problems I had getting the DAC to talk to my PC two years ago when I first installed the Doge 7 DAC. Over the next 3 weeks, countless hours were spent in trial and error and researching the Web until the problem was identified. Recent editions of Windows 10 are equipped with a USB Audio 2.0 Driver!!! “So what?” you say, well without getting into the details, of which there are a lot, the Windows USB Audio 2.0 driver interfered with the installation of any third-party USB Audio driver.

As the readers may remember, the XMOS chip in the Doge DAC requires the installation of a specific XMOS USB driver. An email to Doge resulted in an automated response as they are in Hubei province, the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak. An email to the maker of the XMOS chip in Germany, and the creator of the USB driver I was using, had no response at all! Possibly also a Covid-19 situation. At this point in the story there is a very long and complex tale that could be told about the technical challenges and the dead ends encountered along the journey back to a fully operational music server PC.

You will be happy to know that you will be spared this ordeal and we shall skip to the end of the story. A solution to the driver problem was eventually discovered, by me, almost by accident, and the PC music server is now back in service. There immediately followed a period of several days of binge listening to digital music from my PC.

Which brings me to the topic of listening to digital music, and more to the point, finding new music. Before the digital age, we turned on the radio, tuned in our favorite channel, and got a steady stream of the latest music. Nowadays, at least where I live, if you want to hear new music other than POP or Country music, you can pretty much forget about the radio! We used to go to the record store, browse the new releases and listen to what was playing in the store. OOPS, not a lot of that happening any more!

Back in the early days of the internet everything was free, now, anything that's free is packed with pop-ups and advertising and anything that is any good has some kind of payment attached to it. I may be old fashioned, well I certainly am old, but I have a problem with the concept of paying to browse for music like I used to do for free on the radio or at the music store. So what's left? The free version of Spotify, LastFM, SomaFM, internet radio, podcasts... I have discovered that there is a lot of interesting sources of free music out there, it just takes a bit of work sometimes to find them. Of course if it's free, it's not hi-res music. All the sources that I have found are 128 kbps (kilobytes per second) and lower, and a lot of sources make it very hard to find out the bit rate they are streaming! OK for browsing new music if I suppress my inner audiophile.

© Copyright 2020 Roger McCuaig - -