A random Weblog


The Rialto 400 and Sonos Connect – a near perfect marriage.

Sonos owners know that the Sonos Connect is the tool to plug into your existing hifi.  Basically it absorbs the Sonos audio (wirelessly or via Ethernet) and sends it into your existing stereo – voilà, a simple and effective way to extend your Sonos system and use the good equipment you’ve already invested in.

Sonos describe the Connect as follows:

Turn your stereo or home theatre into a music streaming system

  • Stream all the music on earth to your stereo
  • Wireless, easy to set up music player
  • Play alone, or link to other Sonos music players in your home
  • Control from anywhere with your smart phone or tablet

They also have the Sonos Connect Amp which (surprise surprise) includes a built-in amp, so all you need to do is add your own speakers.  But my guess is that the Connect is likely more appealing as a lot of us own existing stereo’s.

So, a Connect entered my life.

In mere moments the easy set-up that Sonos is famous for had things up and running.  And the sound? Well it was good but not super great.  Nevertheless, it was a welcome addition to my system.

Sonos users know that turning the devices on and off is simply a matter of starting or stopping the music via the app on their phone or tablet – but with the Connect there’s the added step of turning on your amp (and turning it off when done).  It’s not a problem, but strangely clunky when the rest of the system is so seamless.

This led me to do some more research – and in doing this I came across the Rialto 400 – an integrated amp from a company called Audio Control. The Rialto 400 is designed to partner with Sonos and it includes input triggers that allow it to start and enter standby based on whether it’s getting a signal from the Connect or not.  Perfect, now the home stereo replicates the behaviour of the entire system (i.e on/off via the Sonos app)

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Better still, the Rialto packs some serious pedigree inside.  From the AudioControl web site:

The AudioControl Rialto 400, is a compact, high-powered amplifier with a built-in audiophile-grade DAC (digital to analog converter) designed specifically to provide greater performance and higher sound quality for all analog and digital systems, including Sonos® home entertainment systems.

The Rialto 400’s amplifier delivers over 100 watts of power per channel into 8 ohms and 200 watts per channel into 4 ohm loads. Features a built-in high-performance Wolfson® DAC that drastically improves audio quality, digital and analog audio-systems can perform with better speakers across the home. This choice of an audiophile-quality DAC allows connected digital audio sources such as Apple TV, Pandora® and Spotify® to provide higher quality acoustics with clearer, more accurate analog signals during playback.

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Introducing the Rialto was no placebo, I could immediately hear an improvement over my prior amp – so this enthused me to keep looking at ways to tweak things some more.  FYI,  the DAC in the Rialto will take 44.1-192k with the only exception being 176.4, which Wolfson specifically states is not supported (a very uncommon sample rate).

A friend told me about his “Cullen Modified Sonos Connect”, so he brought it over to try with my Rialto.  Once again, a positive step that was particularly noticeable when I was playing music off my NAS.

The Cullen Mod is described as follows:

This version of the Connect has been modified to improve sound quality, using Rick Cullen’s modifications – this is achieved by re-clocking the digital data and upsampling it and thereby both reducing jitter markedly and offering higher resolution. This of course results in smoother texture in the high frequencies, better definition overall, and more spacious soundstage – in short a more complete and improved rendition of everything! Provided you’re using a good DAC, and feeding it from the coaxial output of the Cullen, you’re going to get extremely good sound

So, with a Cullen Modified Connect, partnered with the Rialto 400, you’re really getting some impressive quality out of a Sonos system.  I was convinced enough to replace my Connect with the Cullen version – and a final tweak may be to wire it to the Sonos Bridge via Ethernet, as I’m getting the odd audio drop out and I’m sure it’s related to the wireless.  At first I thought it was the Rialto overheating (I have it inside a cabinet, but it’s pretty well ventilated in there and doesn’t get overly warm)

All up, I’ve become a Sonos fanboy thanks to the easy set up, quality experience, and shockingly huge range of music options (even the alarm function is awesome – waking to new audio sources every day of the week is great) but now the Cullen modified Connect coupled with the Rialto 400 have raised the bar to a level I wasn’t anticipating – as a bit of a hifi nut I feel I have achieved a lot here.  I’m sure a higher bandwidth system such as those offered by Naim or Linn (and others) would sound better, but the Sonos app and it’s connections to the outside world of music trump any arguments about the finer points in top few percent of the signal. Right now my system is blasting me with some quality audio – in fact our house has heard more music in the last month than in the last two years.  A Sonos system will do that to you.

If you’re in the market for a wireless music system you have a number of choices. I opted NOT to use Airplay or Wifi for many reasons, and I’m pleased about that – but the secret sauce with Sonos is their app and it’s offerings.  And if you’re an audio junkie, it will allow you to add folders from a NAS (and even if not, you can still point the app to your iTunes library as another source).

If you already own a Sonos, think about the Cullen Modified Connect and the Rialto 400 amp.  For me, money happily spent – this has been, and continues to be, incredibly enjoyable, it has made a significant difference in the house – what’s not to like about that?



Weary Gehry
December 18, 2010, 10:35 am
Filed under: Architecture, Media, Technology | Tags: , ,

I felt for Frank Gehry yesterday.  Here was an 84 year old architectural genius battling through an interview in front of 600 people, despite being clearly exhausted. He was generous with his time, but clearly after a busy week in Sydney to launch the design of a stunning new “tree house” building for UTS, he was ready for a quiet lie-down.  And who can blame him? Running a business of 150 staff working on projects in multiple countries and time zones would be hard work for anyone – let alone when you’re 84.

But, weariness aside, under the questions from Geraldine Doogue, Gehry offered some amazing insights into his life, and his pursuit of perfect design.  It was interesting to listen to the points he made in respect to creativity – to consider how these observations could apply to other arts such as photography, music, and so on.

Some observations from his comments:

  • Creative projects work. The Bilbao building paid for itself in eight months.
  • Simple things require more precision than the complex
  • There is beauty and energy in collisions of spaces and design
  • Always be yourself – and then you will be the expert in your work.  Your signature is your own, no one else does it like that – so do that in your work and don’t think about it.
  • Every new project is a challenge.
  • The constraint of the budget is a welcome challenge
  • Be childlike, playful, and free of constraints as you design
  • Encourage push-back from the client, it helps him find the edge
  • Too many colleagues don’t challenge the clients early optimism on costs. You need to do that at the outset
  • Get out of the project if the client is not engaged.

A word that Gehry used repeatedly was “engage.”  The work has to engage the client, it has to engage the users, it has to engage the community. It has to engage him as the architect.  He kept coming back to this word – and it surely applies in all creative pursuits.

When asked what he wants his legacy to be, he responded, “Well since I’m not going to be here, I don’t care.”  I think he meant it – he simply designs and creates without worrying what the naysayers and critics care to focus on.  That to me, is a sure sign of a great mind at work.

A model of architect Frank Gehry's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, dubbed The Treehouse. (Gehry Partners)