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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Planets of the Universe

Well, as predicted, here is another track that sounds better ripped to the hard drive and played back through the DragonFly: "Planets of the Universe" from Stevie Nicks' 2001 Trouble in Shangri-La http://www.amazon.com/Trouble-Shangri--Stevie-Nicks/.  Better how?  The vocal track seems to have have a distance from the backing tracks that gives it a very pleasing 3-dimensional quality while listening through headphones.

The Audioquest DragonFly and 1980-1984

Merry Christmas, all.  I am prompted to type this entry by the fact that I was given an Audioquest DragonFly USB digital to analog converter as a gift: http://www.amazon.com/AudioQuest-DragonFly-Asynchronous-Digital-Audio-Converter/.  Thousands of words have already been written about this device, so this will not be a formal review per se.  I am not a computer music guy.  I think MP3 and the cult of the iPod suck.  Go ahead and listen to LMFAO and Lady Gaga played back by an algorithm that costs you hundreds of dollars to own/implement and approximates the wave form with less quality than FM radio (yes I am aware that the user can choose better, but we both know that most do not). I will not listen to Sibelius that way no matter how convenient.  So, on its face the DragonFly may seem to be a waste on me, but au contraire, thus far it has lead me to some conclusions that you might find interesting.

Again, I am not a computer music guy, so I had to actually upload some tunes and determine how I would manage them before I could really use the DragonFly.  Without going into all of the boring details, I decided to use Media Monkey (feel free to go on about how I should have used something else, but don't waste your time recommending iTunes).  I then set about randomly selecting some discs and ripping them as lossless files to my laptop.  More on the tune selection in a bit.  Once that was accomplished (about 150 tracks), I popped the DragonFly into a USB port.  The device itself is the same size as any USB flash drive and has a nifty dragonfly emblem that lights up depending on the sampling rate (44.1kHz-green, 48kHz-blue, 88.2kHz-yellow, 96kHz-white, although this setting looks a bit pink to me), and I was able to cycle through all of them except 88.2 on the fly (so to speak).  It is covered with a black rubber coating that probably has some fancy name and can be found on the dash boards of expensive cars.  Your headphone mini jack (3.5mm jack- LEARN IT, Best Buy staff) plugs right into the end.  Complaint Numero Uno- sticking out from the side of your laptop, this little guy is asking to get bashed into, probably also damaging your USB port.  It is easily weighed down by a decent headphone cord.  I prop it up while in use, and I have ordered some kind of "dongle" from Music Direct to protect it: http://www.musicdirect.com/p-114596-audioquest-dragontail-usb-20-extender.aspx although I am sure it will ruin the music's "microdynamics and pacing."  Whatever.  Anyway, installation was a breeze, as the DragonFly pretty much takes care of itself, and all you need to do is save its profile in the "sounds" section of your control panel, and opt out of Windows sending system noises to it.

The DragonFly contains an ESS Sabre chip which, (HA!  "Chipwhich!"  YUM.  Should I have typed "that" instead?  I am far too lazy to look) is renowned for being of high quality for audio playback (Oppo uses them in their Universal players, for example).  On top of that, the DragonFly also uses its own clock as opposed to the one in your computer, therefore keeping the delicate audio signal free from interruptions from those bastards at Norton and McAfee (how weird is THAT guy?) and anything else that your computer's internal clock has to deal with, such as backing up your porn.  That being said, let me state that which most of us know is true: computer music, like most other things that have to do with computers, is FREAKING MAGIC.

So how does it sound?  Okay, I guess, given that I have no frame of reference.  Better than tape.  Much better.  Better than a record (although that's not too hard to do- don't believe the hype).  About the same as the source CD through headphones SO FAR. . . with one major exception.  For some reason, "Men At Work's:  "Business As Usual" sounds better through the computer than it does on disc. I have absolutely no idea why.  it is a pop disc of average sonics at best, but it sounds quite a bit cleaner through my Grado/DragonFly set up.  So much better in fact, that based on that I would unreservedly recommend the DragonFly, especially because I expect to find more pleasant surprises as i experiment with it.  Eventually I will hook it up to the Yamaha A-S2000, and I will have to dig through the collection to see what needs to be listened to.  Which leads me to the most interesting part of this post, in my opinion. Completely by random, here are the discs that I initially pulled to upload to my Media Monkey library:

Emotional Rescue, the Rolling Stones
Empty Glass, Pete Townshend
Permanent Waves, Rush
Bella Donna, Stevie Nicks
Tatoo You, the Rolling Stones
All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, Pete Townshend
Security, Peter Gabriel
Signals, Rush
Long After Dark, Tom Petty & Heartbreakers
The Wild Heart, Stevie Nicks
Undercover, the Rolling Stones
The Unforgettable Fire, U2
White City: A Novel, Pete Townshend
Thriller, Michael Jackson
Business As Usual, Men At Work

So. . . what do we have in common?  All recorded between 1980 and 1984.  Sure it's a function of my age (44), but when I look at the complete 150 song list, 80% falls between 1977 and 1986.  With the exception of a couple of Rush tracks, nothing from 1991-2000. I always felt that the nineties were for the most part a wasteland for rock music, and I guess I voted that way with my money.  Don't get me wrong, I have every Alice In Chains album recorded, and I am not including bands one might drink and dance to such as the Cure in my calculus.  Not sure what to think of this, but one thing is certain- neither Guns N Roses nor Pearl Jam are likely to show up in any future posts, thank goodness.