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?

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Tweeter fingers (or “think carefully before committing to B&W”)
December 24, 2011, 11:32 am
Filed under: Media, Music | Tags: , , , , ,


B&W’s Diamond tweeter range of speakers are amazing, likewise the new PM1 – pictured above (which was really, really impressive when I auditioned it). I was heading down the B&W way for an overdue speaker upgrade, and was really pleased with what I had learnt and heard about this brand – and the in-store audition was fantastic. But then a final question about the nautilus style tweeter on the top – “I understand the grill cap on the tweeter is held on by small magnets, so it’s readily removed – but can you fix it in place if you wish?”

The salesman rolled his eyes. Long story short, no you can’t, and he confirmed the tweeter is a “kid magnet” with the ones in-store frequently being grabbed by children coming in with their parents. They are readily damaged and as a result, after a recent product refresh, the store contacted B&W to order replacement tweeters to repair their demo stock – but there was a three month delay as stores all over the world were doing the same.

Sadly, this is a knock-out for me. Your circumstances may vary of course, but its something to consider for sure. A shame the grill can’t somehow be locked on as an option, as these speakers are great value, the technology is impressive, and they sound absolutely beautiful.



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)



One of these is, not like the other one
April 27, 2010, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Amazing really.  What else to say about this MASSIVE fall in hard drive price over time?

Lemme see now, 3+ grand for 10 MB back then, or $95 today for 1TB from Officeworks. Gob-smacking, that’s what it is. (Some of our email attachments exceed 10MB today!)





Don’t want to sound like a fanboy, but…
February 27, 2010, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

Been using Macs for 5-plus years, still have to use a PC for some apps at work – so I am still current on a PC – but today was a kind of shock to me.

I helped a friend set up a new Toshiba Net-book, and the whole experience felt like one of those kids games where you hit the gremlin each time he appears out of his hole. There were pop-up windows for something called the Toshiba Message Board, warning messages for all kinds of crap, and a desktop littered with icons and “Recommended” shortcuts and URL’s. Naturally a Net-book has a small screen, but much of the available browser space was given to oversize icons, multiple tool bars and the likes. I spent a while trashing this mess finally getting clarity from chaos. Surprise Windows messages, tips and hints continued to annoy me – but one by one I think I nuked them all.

I know that stuff is well intended, but it really underlined for me the simplicity and beauty of the Apple experience. It was Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Making something simple is hard work and takes a lot of testing – but it’s something Apple clearly frets about, whereas the Windows family seems to get close – but never quite there, and never with any sense of sophistication. The result for me today was chaos and frustration.

The good thing is, my work is done and I got to hand the Net-book back. Happily.



Aperture 2 goes to Aperture 3 (sorta)
February 14, 2010, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Media, Photography | Tags: , , ,

A recent Twitter post summed things up when the writer said, “Apple Aperture is like your dead-beat dad who shows up late on Christmas day. But he has EVERY present you ever wanted.”

There’s some truth in this because Apple are kind of slow at releasing updates – and they struggle to keep up with RAW formats for new cameras – much to the frustration of many a new camera owner.

I had decided that failing anything new from Apple, I would switch to Lightroom 3 when it come out of Beta in April. Aperture 3 therefore surprised with it’s “200 new features” so Apple delivered, and big time. This is really quite an impressive upgrade.

Sadly actual upgrade process was incredibly painful – there is some suspicion on web forums that there’s a memory leak – and as a result there are many posts about the amount of time it takes to complete an upgrade (and the fact that computer resources are so heavily drawn on that the computer is useless for many hours). Hopefully a fix will come soon, but if you persevere with the upgrade and cycle through a series of re-starts, things seem to come right. And that’s when all is forgiven (new users probably won’t have this upgrade hurdle of importing and converting their old files)

It’s clear that Apple have been listening – and while this is still not quite the DAM manager I’d like it to be, it’s much improved on many fronts.

While Aperture was down for me, I used Lightroom 2 to finish a project I was working on. Granted it is a while since I used LR, but it proved to me just how much more I prefer Aperture. Lightroom’s “module” based approach is frustrating – chopping and changing my workflow to suit the software is not how I want things to work. Also, the cluttered interface was annoying – urgh, you have to click so many things to get the panels out of the way. By contrast, Apertures F key (for full-screen) is sweet, and now on A3 you simply hold the shift key while making your Adjustment and 99% of the HUD vanishes (it just keeps the slider you are using). This is very cool.

There are many great new features in Aperture 3 – thanks Apple (and perhaps thanks to Adobe too, as some of the new ideas appear to have been inspired by Lightroom). It’s a pity the upgrade path is so onerous, and that updates to the RAW engine seem to take so long to be released, but all in all this is an outstanding application.

UPDATE

Hmm maybe I spoke to soon. Things slowed down again – had to crash out of an export session that A2 would have done easily (seemed the CPU creep thing was happening again). And brushes, woah those things are slow and clunky on me.

Oh well, I await a fix – am sure they’re working on it at Apple land. Just hope it’s soon as this is frustrating (and damaging for them too)

UPDATE 2

Well it is a week later as I write this and I have just had A3 crash three or four times in a row as I try to work on a clients shoot. I guess the fine print says I can’t sue for lost income and time, but professional quality this is not. C’mon, where’s some info on patch/fix please???

UPDATE 3

A major patch came out today (taking Version 3 to 3.0.1), about two weeks after my problems started. I think this is a good fast response from Apple – hopefully it addresses the issues, I’ll give it a good workout over coming days…

UPDATE 4

MUCH improved in many area (thanks!), but Faces is frozen and won’t re-start (after initially working for about 10 minutes), brushes still too clunky to be of any use, random crashes continue – and there are other “issues.” As twitter message said, “Aperture 3 was Alpha and 3.0.1 was Beta” – so hopefully we get a release candidate soon…

UPDATE 5

Another patch duly applied – this time to Apple Pro Apps (to address a “memory leakage”) so hopefully the cumulative effect of these fixes is helping. I still find the bushes too slow to be useful, and faces has given up on me – but the main features I relied on with Aperture 2 seem to be going OK. So far anyway.

UPDATE 6

A patch that upgrades Aperture to 3.0.2 came out today.  According to Apple’s release notes it appears to address quite a list of bugs – and even adds a new feature (iPad support).  So, kudos to Apple for continuing to address their screw-up’s – they’re making an effort to get this right and I imagine there will be more of these yet.  Shame it wasn’t right when it shipped – but they’ll learn from it and someone will be updating their resume I guess.  Meantime, I’m running Faces again overnight to see how it performs this time around…

Later: Well after two nights and all-day in between, Aperture picked six more faces out. As a result, I’ve once again disabled this feature

UPDATE 7

After downloading an OS (non-Aperture) update I decided to re-activate Faces.  Woah, looks like all that processing the other night did something.  It seems to have located most faces, and correctly named a decent chunk too.  OK, so this is progress.   The only footnote to add is that I am testing this feature on a small library – hate to think how long it might have taken on my main Aperture library, but hey Faces is finally starting to make me smile.



Bare Bones software – Yojimbo
February 7, 2010, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Media, Technology | Tags: , , ,

Yojimbo has earned a lot of fans for Bare Bones software. It’s a nice app for the Mac and probably has many uses as there are users – because there are countless ways to organize notes, clippings, passwords, in fact any kind of information.

Sadly there’s no iPhone version. Two years after the iPhone launched the Bare Bones site FAQ simply implies “don’t count on it”. I imagine there are plenty of challenges around syncing the database (maybe use Mobile Me?) so I’m not saying it’s easy, but now I’m looking for an alternate solution as I really want this kind of app sync’d on iPhone and Laptop. Surely there is a revenue stream in the iPhone App store waiting for them, as people are prepared to pay $39 for the desktop version of Yojimbo.

Yojimbo will sync (via Mobile Me) across multiple computers, but I would like it on my phone. There’s also a product called Webjimbo for this need – but you have to leave your Mac turned on – which is not ideal.