Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, January 03, 2004

  Noise pollution

Twas a dark and stormy friday night. Rain poured down so thick that the smoke from my woodstove immediately cooled and swirled around the house like a grey blanket, and I had the urge to stop - to take some time, sit down, and reflect. Usually you try to do this so you can make New Years resolutions, but I've been running behind.

This week it was impossible to get outside without a wetsuit, and I was kind of burned out on programming computers. I busied myself with some belated house tasks, and simple stuff like wiring.

Tuesday I moved the kerbango memorial radio (kmr) upstairs to where I could reach it easily from my workstation...

Wednesday I tired of the noise from my multi-media box (boogieman) - even in the other room I could hear it still - so I installed a Zalman butterfly cooler on the cpu. Much better - the power supply (still configured to blow rather than suck) was now louder...

Thursday I rewired the stereo to have a pure digital path from the amp, kmr, the 24 track motu, and the sacd player, and moved my stereo speakers so the sweet spot was my favored sleep spot on the couch (next to that warm, cozy, woodstove). Mmmmm... audiophilia....

Friday night I was ready for some down time. I loaded up a stack of soggy wood (I like soggy wood! - it lasts longer and dries out the house less when burning) within easy reach... poured myself a cup of tea, and got my notebook out. I started to outline the past year, and my plans for the next, and clicked the remote to flick on my playlist for the evening.

It was the kind of night, with the rain pounding down, that was perfect for Shostokovich's 11th symphony. I expected before long to close my eyes to an orgasmic session of envisioning the story behind that magnificent opus - the cold snow, the gunfire and artillery going off, the deathly silence of a long slow march... but

There was something wrong.

Some noise - in my head? - that made the music seem flat... I couldn't figure out what it was. The rain died down, so I had to get up to really listen to my house...

Some of the X10 converters I installed this week emit a slight buzz when on - so I turned the lights off... that helped. There was still... some kind of noise... somewhere...

Damn it, two monitors, the amp and the 24 track - all have transformers that emit that dreaded 60 hz hum. The 24 track is gonna have to move into the laundry room now, too (I couldn't hear it when it shared the same room as the computer) - The amp is going to have to go in a wall up high, but not now - I want to listen to some MUSIC! I flicked the two monitors and the 24 track... OFF... and cursed edison and his promotion of alternating current. Some days I can forgive him - who was he to know that one day every house would have to have something like 18 AC-DC wall warts spread throughout it, 4 DC fans, 5 computers and an X10 system in it?

I restarted the symphony, and sat down... right about then, the fridgerator kicked on, and I had to get up and turn that off.

there was still something wrong... I got up close to the speakers, and now I could hear it, clearly - a faint, ringing, bell-like tone preceded the horns, and the strings were fuzzy and the overall sound quality just seemed worse than an mp3... and here I was, with a pure, all digital path, playing the third movement of the symphony directly from a wav file ripped from a clean cd, and it SUCKED.

Was it the cd? the file? the player? the driver? the audio hardware? the cable? the amp? the speaker cable? the speakers?

I just wanted my brain to stop - my brain had stopped - so I decided to try hardware first. I plugged in my headphones to the amp - same problem - that ruled out the speaker cable and speakers... I switched out the composite pcm to toslink converter - same problem. I spied the composite cable - was it really 75 ohm? - it didn't have any markings on it - was it really 75 ohm? My multimeter was 200 feet outside in my office, and given a choice between running to that in the rain and mud and testing, and going to radio shack in the rain and landslides in my car and getting a new one... I went to radio shack.

Remember... my purpose this evening was to sit down and reflect on life....

I realized halfway there that I could have tried the cd player's pcm jack, almost turned around, went on to radio shack anyway (I like radio shack). Picked up some pizza next door... came home, plugged the new cable in, and...

same problem. great. Now I have two cables that don't work... or there is something more subtle wrong. Finally, after some digging, I found the original cd, and plunked it into the cd player - wham! it sounded great - the speaker placement was perfect - I could hear the conductor singing parts, the slight scraping of strings, the creak of a chair, and the music, oh the music! The snares - machine guns, the drums - artillery - the fear, the adrenaline of war and mortal combat, the sudden stillnesses, the... I sat down, with tears running down my face at times, and let myself get carried away by the entire symphony.

Shostokovich's 11th is about surviving the 1905 russian war, and it fit with my state of mind - as I had survived 2003. Ahhh.....


After the record was over, I put the 3rd movement on repeat while I went about debugging the sound problem. What about the analog output from kmr? Now that I knew exactly what to listen for I could still hear it slightly. Damn it. The audio hardware, driver, rip, or player is screwed up...

The phone rang. I pulled the plug.

I go over the the multimedia box, fire up that 24 track pro gear and winamp. the driver hangs on output. What's wrong? the thing is 6 feet off the floor now, hard to get to... I can't deal with it. I sit down, google, fiddle with the drivers (all the while repeating the third movement which by now is starting to really get on my nerves), the hardware, pull stuff out of the linux kernel...

and finally, I give up, at 11PM, and watch 3 hours of the amusing and mind dulling firefly... on headphones.

I think this says something about my year, my ability to prioritize, my creativity, and my curses more than the outline I had started something like 8 hours prior...

but I am not sure what.

In the meantime if anyone out there has a clue as to how to make an epia-m sound good under redhat 9.0 with the viacombo drivers (my theory is that it is upsampling from 44khz to 48) playing wav files I'd love to hear it. I will try the alsa drivers and a 48khz rip next...
 
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