Tuesday, 2 August 2011

An active crossover for my 2.1 HiFi

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 7:55

It’s been a long time since my last post. I have been doing stuff, though, and I thought I would post about a modification I did to add a subwoofer crossover to my hi-fi system. It came out pretty well, I think.
What I have is an NAD C315BEE integrated amp. This is their entry model from a couple of years ago and it has no separate pre-amp out or subwoofer out. Speakers are B&W 685s with an ASW610 subwoofer. (A ‘2.1’ system.) I was using the subwoofer’s speaker-level inputs and internal low-pass filter and the system sounded OK. But I got to thinking that the low frequencies were also going to the main speakers and even though they can’t reproduce, say, 30Hz they still get the signal. So I thought about “bi-amping” with the active subwoofer amp and the NAD and with an active crossover. I got a hold of the service manual for the NAD and found that there are actually jumpers on the circuit board between the pre-amp and power sections, all I needed to do was build in some connectors for a pre-amp out/in.
First, I went ahead and built the crossover. It is a standard Linkwitz-Riley 24dB/octave circuit set for crossover at 59Hz. (I just added 10Hz to the -3dB frequency for the 685 speakers.) Graphing the response showed all was in order, no phase problems and crossover frequency just where I’d calculated. Cool!
Now it was time to open up the NAD and see about removing the jumpers and adding the connectors. Turned out that it was really easy to work on. They even have a panel on the bottom that, when removed, allows access to the underside of the circuit board. Anyway, once I got the covers off it looked like there would be room to actually mount the crossover inside. I knew from the schematic that there was +/-17V in there which could power the crossover (it only draws like 30mA so I wasn’t worried about that).
So, this last weekend I wired it all up and was truly surprised at how much clearer the lower notes sound. Whether rock, jazz, or concert orchestra, the low-end is just more transparent and real sounding.
I attached a few pictures. The first shows the added subwoofer-out jacks (lower-left) with the location of the two removed jumpers (upper-middle, just to the right of a tall heatsink). The two jumpers just above the upper removed jumper are +/-17V. I removed them and replaced them with new jumpers with a little loop to solder to. I also drilled 5 small holes in the audio ground plane for the ground wires. The second picture shows the wiring in place. The third shows the crossover in place. The last two show the amp with the crossover and the new backside.
Thanks for looking!

Sunday, 4 February 2007

The State of Audio

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 23:26

Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t play a musical instrument but I do listen to music of all kinds both live and recorded. (Well, that’s not strictly true. I don’t listen to all kinds, just good music.) Since I listen to recordings I have also had a parallel interest in sound reproduction. You know, hi-fi and all that. I have a technical background and am fortunate enough to have the skills needed to have built some of the electronics I currently use.
But of course I can’t build a CD-player or pair of headphones (well, I suppose I could if I had the necessary equipment but then that would cost way more than the items would) so that means occasional product research and purchase at the HiFi store and/or on the Web. Some of what I see there just amazes me. I don’t mean in the sense of the current state of the art in sound reproduction. That has steadily improved to a point where a modest expenditure can give you a system that will produce fantastic fidelity. No, what amazes me is the complete disregard for physics, and logic, that permeates the “high-end” audio market place. Vinyl records played on 10.000 dollar turntables. Tube amplifiers. (“Vastly superior” sound than from a CD or transistor, respectively.) Shielded power cords. Specially braided speaker cables. CD demagnitizers. And all for LOTS of money.
I recently ran across a Web-site, http://www.bruce.coppola.name/audio/wisdom.html, by Bruce Coppola that does a good job of bringing together information for the rational among us that just want the best fidelity for our money (and a laugh at the expense of the “golden ears”). Check it out.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Pamina, wo bist du?

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 23:10

I am always on the look out for recordings of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” that I have not yet heard. A couple of months ago, I purchased a new/old recording of a performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper (EMI 0946 3 58607 2 6). This is a re-release of a recording made in 1972. It is very good and has become one of my favorites. A surprise came in the second act when I heard something new. A duet by Tamino and Papageno, “Pamina, wo bist du?” sung at the beginning of their trials.
The duet is rather light and I personally question whether it was even written by Mozart. I searched the Net and found only references to this recording. The question remained, where did the duet come from? Well, I thought, why not write to Mr. Sawallisch? So, I did. And he was very kind to write back with an answer.
Apparently the source of the duet is an entry in the appendix to the complete Köchel catalog. Mr. Sawallisch said that since it is so difficult to do something new with such an often recorded piece such as Die Zauberflöte, he decided to include the duet in his intrepretation. And he knows of no other performance.
The next step is to track down a copy of the Köchel catalog. None of the on-line listings that I have found has this duet. The university library lists a print copy so, when time permits, I will follow this up and will post an update when I know more.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Records are better (?)

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 0:38

I recently purchased a vinyl record. In order to hear it, I had to purchase a record player. And a phono preamp to correctly apply the necessary emphasis/de-emphasis curve and boost the signal enough for my computer to capture. For the record (pun intended), the player is a Pro-Ject Debut III with an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge and the preamp is the NAD model PP 2. Basic, entry-level audiophile stuff.
I’ve listened to the album a number of times now on my iPod. In fact, I have not even heard the album via an analog signal path. I listened while digitizing but of course that was via the digital signal path in the Mac. Maybe I will plug my headphone amp directly into the phono preamp and see how that sounds. Or not…
I think I already know what the analog junkies are on about. Even on the ‘Pod the sound is indeed “warmer” than from a digital recording, i.e., CD. (Note that I didn’t say “better”. Read on.) So, apparently the medium itself (undulating grooves), the cartridge and the preamp are determining the “record” sound. So, what is the difference? I think that it actually has something to do with a slight lack of clarity and definition. There are probably a few more harmonics coming into play as well. That would explain the “roundness” that I see mentioned when people schwärm von (rave about) records.
But I don’t think that sound is what it really is all about. Playing a record is much different from a CD. It’s hands-on. Arguing that a record sounds better and all that is just an excuse. I think it is the physical act of preparing and playing a record that people don’t want to give up.
Compare:
1.
a) pop open a plastic container
b) take out CD
c) insert in player (CD disappears)
d) press button
e) hear music
to
2.
a) take up record jacket in left(right) hand
b) lightly press jacket against your bosom causing it to yield and open slightly
c) carefully insert right(left) hand and gently extract record in sleeve
d) set down jacket and transfer record in sleeve to left(right) hand
e) repeat forgoing procedure (more-or-less) to extract record from sleeve
f) gently cradling the record at center and edge, set down sleeve
g) now using both hands, touching the record only on the edge, center record over spindle and lower onto turntable (record remains visible)
h) press button (casual relationship), toggle a precious metal lever (relationship on firm ground) or rotate a hand-turned, oiled, rare-wood knob (mistress) to begin turntable rotation
i) clean record using a tactile and very personal technique based on your relationship and the needs of your partner, er, record (may involve fluids)
j) position the tonearm over the desired position on your record and gently lower the needle into place
k) revel in the THUMP delivered to your senses as your record receives the needle
l) swoon to the anticipatory hiss as the needle is guided to the beginning of your selection
m) hear music
Optional: Entertain yourself while listening by watching 1. cold blue digits incrementing or 2. the spectral play of light and the tone arm making subtle yet sensual undulations as your record spins.

Happy listening
— Michael

Disney Girls

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 0:02

On a recent getaway to Copenhagen, blackcat and I were out strolling, taking in the city (looking for a restaurant we’d eaten at before and enjoyed, actually), and passed by a used record shop. We were a few steps past it when something I had seen in the shop window registered. “Was that what I think it was?”, I said out load and turned back. Sure enough, it was a copy of “Surf’s Up” from the Beach Boys. That was once a favorite record of mine and I hadn’t heard it in years. Since at least as far back as Oct. 17, 1989 at 5:04pm. That was when my HiFi system was trashed by an earthquake. (We used to live in California, you see.) I didn’t replace the turntable and sold all my records.
Anyway, after blackcat listened to me going on for a couple of minutes about how great “Surf’s Up” is she said “just buy it” and so I did. I recorded it to CD (how is covered in another post) and have listened to it at least a half a dozen times in the last week.
So, after all those years, is it still as good as I remember. In a word, yes.
The track “Disney Girls (1957)” is brilliant. It was and still is my favorite track on the album. This is a very dark song, almost creepy. “For reality is not for me and it makes me laugh”. This is a ballad about image versus reality which itself has a real split-personality. Beautiful, almost sugary melody with those creepy lyrics. This song captures the culture so well. It plays with disheartening relevance today. These guys are (were) just a few years older than I and grew up in more-or-less the same generation as I did. The Hollywood movies of the ’50s and ’60s fed us their Technicolor vision of a life that we were led to yearn for but simply wasn’t true. “Patti Page and summer days on old Cape Cod…Fantasy world and Disney girls I’m coming back.”
A much different mood in “Take a Load off Your Feet”. This is a fun song. If there is a deep meaning, I’ve missed it. But then again that line “Take good care of yourself ’cause nobody else will” is a bit odd.
To the tune of “Riot in Cell Block No. 9” there’s “It’s Student Demonstration Time”. Listen to the lyrics. They really are pretty powerful. “The pen is mightier than the sword but it’s no match for a gun.”
And the Beach Boys also get in a couple of environmental messages with “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “Life of a Tree”. The former is pretty good. The latter is, well, kinda silly.
The title song and the one just before, “‘Til I Die” are both very sophisticated and very beautiful ballads. “Surf’s Up” is musically the better of the two, “‘Til I Die” lyrically.
One track, “Feel Flows”, sounds good but never really moved me. Ho hum.
It was great hearing this album again. If you only know the Beach Boys from their surfin’ music, this will surprise you. Good stuff even if a bit uneven.
— Michael

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 22:20

Hi, I have a couple of new domains, http://DieZauberflöte.info and http://TheMagicFlute.info (they both redirect to http://vondervotteimittiss.com/zauberfloete/). The Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. I have numerous recordings of this opera and I will shortly have reviews and other information about these on those sites. (A spreadsheet with the basic info for the recordings is there now at http://themagicflute.info/recordings.html.)
And, over time, I plan to add my own observations, and those of others, about this most excellent musical entertainment. I will keep you posted.

More on Opera

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 21:53

Along with my wife, blackcat, I have been going through a video course on Mozart’s Operas. The course is the work of Robert Greenberg for The Teaching Company. (I will have more to say about The Teaching Company and Mr. Greenberg in a future post. For now I will say simply that his courses are great.) In the course, Mr. Greenberg walks us through various Mozart operas, providing insights into the characters, the story, Mozart’s situation at the time he wrote the music, factoids about the librettist, and a lot of detail about the music. After all, an opera is all about the music, right? Wrong.
As I touched on in an earlier post, and something Mr. Greenberg stresses in his course, is that without a sense of the story and charactrs an opera is difficult to really appreciate. (I know I have never had much of an appreciation for opera.) One of the key points of the course is how good Mozart was at providing music that added depth to the characters and a clarity to the situations of the story. But without knowledge of the story or the characters we’re at a disadvantage because we won’t be able to truly appreciate how good a job Mozart (or any other composer) did.
For example, take Don Giovanni. Thanks to these lessons we now know the story and the characters and we have heard selections of the music. The story and characters are interesting and with Mozart’s music there is real drama. I can’t wait to see it in a live performance.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

What’s Opera, Doc?

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 21:51

Well, it is more than just the music.
As anyone from my generation will know, this post shares its title with a Warner Bros. cartoon. The cartoon, from 1957, is a spoof of Wagner’s “Ring” operas. It was directed by Chuck Jones and stars Elmer Fudd (singing “Kill the Wabbit” to the tune of “The Ride of the Walküres”) and Bugs Bunny (in drag, of course, as Brünhilde). I am pretty sure that this cartoon was my first exposure to opera. As I child in the 1960’s I spent a fair amount of time watching cartoons on TV and must have seen “What’s Opera, Doc?” dozens of times. However, as good as it was, it didn’t trigger an interest in other operas.
As the years passed I discovered concert music but the few times I had tried listening to opera recordings I had been, well, underwhelmed. By the late 1970’s I had traded the TV for the Camera One, a movie theater in my home town that showed foreign and classic film. In 1975, Ingmar Bergman filmed his version of the Mozart opera “The Magic Flute” (“Trollflöjten” in Swedish, original German title “Die Zauberflöte”). By chance, I saw “The Magic Flute” and was enchanted by it. Here was an opera for the eyes and ears with wonderful sets and beautiful music. I didn’t understand the lyrics (it was sung in Swedish but I wouldn’t have understood it any better in the original German) but the film had subtitles and I could kind of follow the story. Wow, great music, cool to look at and a story. Maybe this opera stuff can be OK.
Well, I tried listening to other operas (“Turandot” and “Carmen” come to mind) but I only had ears for “Die Zauberflöte”. Time passed and records turned into CDs. One of the first CDs I bought was, you guessed it, “Die Zauberflöte” (Neville Marriner conducting, Francisco Araiza as Tamino, Kiri Te Kanawa as Pamina—still have it, still one of my favorite recordings of the opera).
In the mid-nineties, my wife and I moved to Germany. How that relates to this story is that we learned German. Now I can actually understand the words! I rediscovered “Die Zauberflöte” all over again. And I wanted more. Hey, didn’t Mozart write another German-language opera? So, off to the music shop for “Die Enführung aus dem Serail”. OK, not as good as “Die Zauberflöte” but good. Really good.
And then there are DVDs. Of course, I bought Bergman’s “The Magic Flute” but I also bought every version of these two Mozart operas I could find. And my wife and I are always on the lookout for live performances of “Die Zauberflöte”. We have seen at least six productions (seven if you count the marionettes) in venues all over Germany.
The point I am trying to make is that in order to appreciate and enjoy opera you have to have at least some experience with the whole package. That means knowledge of the story (however implausible it may be) and a sense of the visual aspect, preferably from a live performance.