February 10, 2010
Donald North Audio Sonett
I just picked up a DNA Sonett headphone amplifier. I first heard it at a headphone trade show last year and was extremely impressed. I currently have it hooked up at my workstation and being fed by a Neko Audio D100 Mk2 DAC. The higher output voltage of the Mk2 is necessary because the Sonett's gain is limited; I usually have it set to a volume level around 4 out of 10. I'm using AKG K 702 headphones.
The Sonett is a class A triode design and the first piece of tube gear I've owned. The nicest thing about it is the lack of obvious and subtle smearing so music is quick, accurate, and I can hear more of what I'm supposed to. This is partially due to the zero-feedback design. It also has absolutely no noise floor. The D100 has no audible noise floor either, and so the music is the only thing you hear.
Another interesting feature of the Sonett is the ability to switch its output impedance from 28 ohms to 120 ohms which matches the IEC 61938 specification. The HeadWize Headphone FAQ mentions this, and in particular says well designed headphones should have a fairly flat impedance curve. In that case, the higher 120 ohm output impedance shouldn't result in a difference in the frequency response. The AKG K 702 sounds pretty much the same with either output impedance setting, which implies its impedance curve is basically flat and thus "well designed" according to that FAQ.
January 27, 2010
Speaker Wire Haiku
This comes up every once in a while during conversation, so I thought I'd make sure not to forget it anymore. I wrote this haiku as part of a contest run by Audioholics and won a 1000' of 14/4 Class 2 in-wall speaker wire from Impact Acoustics.
Here's my winning Haiku:
Speaker wire roots
Blossom into gorgeous notes
Hear the sound of life
January 26, 2010
While visiting various audio boutique shops a while back, originally to audition some amplifiers, I happened across a stellar setup at Audible Arts. A large room with decent acoustics was running a pair of Analysis Audio full range ribbons, driven by a VTL TL-7.5 and Spectron Musician III Mk2 amplifier. The Analysis Audio speakers need an amp like the Spectron because their impedance drops so incredibly low. I was using my Neko Audio D100 DAC for the source.
There was a very specific sweet spot, but it sounded amazing. Hearing this setup sold me on full-range planars without an enclosure (i.e. dipole). Not because I wanted the rear wave, but because they are just so quick and the smear goes away. Of course the electronics need to be free of smearing as well, but with planars the whole boxy sound goes away and everything is incredibly crisp and tight.
I have had some experience with ribbon and planar audio technology since I have Onix Reference 3 and Strata Mini speakers. But a real dipole planar was just so much more impressive. I'd originally picked the Reference 3 in part because I wanted a ribbon tweeter, and that was a nice improvement over other tweeters I had heard. But this was no comparison.
I started shopping around to see what sort of planars would work for me, given my budget. I listened to some Martin Logan speakers but was disappointed by the lack of bass control. Except for the CLX, the Martin Logan speakers incorporate a cone driver for the low frequencies. The integration at the crossover point didn't impress me, and I did not hear the tight control I had heard with the Analysis Audio speakers. They were being driven by Pioneer's flagship receiver, so that may have had something to do with it.
Then I stopped by The New Audible Difference to check out the Magnepan line. I listened to the 12, 1.6, and 3.6. This was a sound that I loved. I decided then and there that this is the speaker I wanted to get. The Magnepan sound quality was very close to the Analysis Audio ribbons, and much more affordable. :) I also felt the Magnepan off-axis behavior was slightly better than the Analysis Audio speakers, which would make things a bit more enjoyable.
There was a significant difference between the 12 and 1.6 in large part due to the different height. The 12's made everything sound like they were coming from some point near the floor, while the 1.6 and 3.6 presented a better height. I didn't feel there was much difference between the 1.6 and 3.6, and in truth after speaking to Magnepan I decided I could not run the 3.6 speakers because I would risk damage from my subwoofers.
After setting things up at home, I am extremely happy. As I mentioned earlier, I was not particularly interested in the rear wave acoustic signature, and I like the sound much more without it. So I've placed acoustic panels almost immediately behind them to absorb the rear wave.
I am using the Magnepans with my subwoofers and an 80Hz crossover. The Magnepan speakers won't play very loud due to their low sensitivity and physical limitations, and of course they do not extend as low as my subs. But the integration is extremely good. There's no way I could run Magnepan speakers for home theater, but for music they're absolutely wonderful.
May 28, 2008
I picked up a pair of Rosewood AV123 Strata Mini speakers at the end of last year because they were having a special and the price was too good to pass up. After reading spectacular reviews and lots of good things, I've been wanting to get these speakers for about a year, possibly a little longer. I replaced my Castle Avon speakers with these hybrids, and the first thing Luna said after hooking them up was that the sound was so much clearer and she could understand what people were saying a lot better.
The Minis have a ribbon tweeter, planar magnetic mid-range, and a rear woofer. They're rear ported. Specifications list them as going down to around 27Hz, which probably means the usable low point is around 40Hz. I have to place them close to the wall anyway, so there's a lot of bass reinforcement&emdash;kind of sloppy and boomy as the bedroom isn't well treated.
They're certainly better than the Castle Avons, but not as good as the Onix Reference 3 speakers. The planar magnetic mid-range doesn't seem much quicker or cleaner than the Ref 3 mid-range, although I suspect there is less boxy sound if you turn up the volume; the Ref 3's will start sounding boxy if you turn them up. The ribbon tweeter is excellent though. And very sensitive to placement because moving up and down or side-to-side the tweeter response falls off quickly. I am not using the front spikes so that the front plane is perpendicular to the floor and the tweeters aim at my head. I'm sitting slightly off-axis, as the high frequency response rises a bit more than it should when on-axis.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the Strata Minis in my second setup, and really like their sound. I've been waiting on this review until after I could get some better gear to drive them. I'm now using a Parasound Halo P3 pre-amp and Halo A23 amp, along with my prototype DAC. The DAC and amp made a huge difference. Unfortunately I feel as though the P3 adds a little bit of veil across the entire spectrum. Things sound much better if I connect the DAC directly to the A23, but then there's no volume control. Since this is my second system, I can live with the pre-amp.
April 27, 2008
New Leather Chair
I finally found the leather chair I've been looking for after weeks of visiting random furniture stores. I knew the style I wanted. Somewhat squarish with good armrests, and it needed to be leather so it would be easy to clean and the cats won't damage it. But they're always expensive.
But, I finally found a single chair that was in the back, marked down because it didn't get purchased as part of the set by someone else. Needed some cleaning, but only $200. Now I'll finally have a chair for upstairs. I've been sitting on one beanbag instead of two lately because Chie peed on one of them.
March 24, 2008
Trane XV95 + XL15i
After suffering through incredibly hot summers, I've finally installed central air conditioning and a new high efficiency furnace. I ended up picking Allied Aire based on their quote and professional service; they were recommended to me by Paul.
The Trane XV95 is their newest and most efficient two-stage variable-speed furnace, although the low speed is only available when heating, and their top of the line model. The XL15i is not their top of the line model but very efficient without increasing the cost too much.
Now I just need to replace or re-insulate the doorways to finish making the home environmentally comfortable. The rear windows should get replaced sometime too because they are not airtight and sometimes water can get through their weep holes or condense on them too.
December 19, 2007
The last load of dirt and rocks from our backyard's makeover was hauled away this afternoon. Our backyard has been neglected since I moved in three years ago, mostly because I have no real interest in using the backyard. However, I should have hired someone to maintain it right away, rather than letting it get out of control. I have tried each summer to clean things up, but that only succeeded in making it possible to see where you were going.
Originally we were planning to hire someone to do the work. The same company that I hired to fix up the front lawn and install the sprinkler system there. But the total cost was about 1/3 more than the maximum I was hoping it would be, and we have other home improvements that should also be done. My mom said she and my dad would like to visit us for a few days to do it themselves, because they thought it could be done for a lot less and be finished in maybe 3-4 days. Once they got here, though, they found out it was going to be a lot bigger job.
In total, I think it cost us a little more than the maximum I was referring to above, but still a decent amount of money less than if we'd hired a company to do all the work. The problem really is there was a lot of stuff that needed to be dug up, hauled away, and fixed up. A large portion of the backyard was covered in dirt-grass-filled rocks, overgrown, and not level. We got some people to do a bunch of the leveling and hauling both away and to the backyard, as well as the sprinkler system based on a plan my mom put together. We did the rest ourselves, which was basically most of the sod, all the landscaping fabric and bark, and also some digging up of rocks and putting down new rocks.
My mom originally had the idea of keeping some of the old rocks and just cleaning them up to save money. But it really wasn't worth it at all. We should have just dumped all the old rocks and it would have saved us a lot of time. Luna was spending days and days trying to clean the old rocks up, until I decided it just wasn't worth it and ordered a cubic yard of new rocks. We shoveled up the old rocks and replaced them with new rocks in one day. In total, we had to spend three weekends working on the backyard ourselves. It was very exhausting work, and left me feeling very tired and physically fatigued when I had to go back to work on Monday.
Everything is done now though, and we did save money. I just need to make sure someone comes on a regular basis to maintain it. The sprinkler system isn't actually complete either; I need to attach the control unit and another valve to run a drip-line to the banana tree. But that will wait until later, since the rainy season is starting now.
December 3, 2007
4" Subwoofer Legs
A short while ago I mentioned how watching THGttG popped my subwoofer grilles and a desire to do something about it. So over the weekend I increased the leg length of the subwoofer base to 4" (I would have gone with 5" except Home Depot doesn't sell screws longer than 6") and created new end plates and legs for the top of the subwoofer as well. There are no longer any grilles in use.
Increasing the leg length to 4" is based on allowing enough cylindrical surface area for the air displaced by the driver to freely move back and forth. It might have been ideal to go with 5" legs but that would have required 7" screws. As it is, the 6" screws only came with hex heads and required me to cut a little depression into the plates for the head to run flush with the plate surface. The top plate provides protection for the driver in a sturdier and more reliable manner than the grilles and allows the driver to reach its xmax without any interference. The grilles were impeding the surrounds. I do think it looked better with grilles though.
November 25, 2007
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
High-energy excitement. That's how I would explain the contemporary film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike the earlier BBC attempt, which may go down in history as one of the most disappointing adaptations of all time, this version comes with good actors, a good screenplay, and the budget and production quality this book deserves. Complete with rodent overlords.
The movie captures very well the characters created by Douglas Adams. I thought the actor choices were apt, especially for Marvin who truly comes across as a depressed robot. Alan Rickman is just the perfect voice for that role. The only thing I found a little disappointing was the way Zephod's twin heads was done. It's certainly a lot better than a fake rubber head perched on the actor's shoulder, but it didn't play that much of a role in the film; you could have simply ignored that aspect of his character for the most part.
I did feel a little weird that the story and plot elements of the film didn't match up with how I remembered the book, and Wikipedia points out that I wasn't just imagining things. I think the movie is very good, but I wonder if I would have liked it better if it held closer to the original story. It's hard to say, because on its own this version of the movie is very strong.
The visuals and costumes were very good. I particularly liked the construction of Earth. That visual sequence was vast and contained some of the best exhibitions of natural beauty found on Earth. And the way it was put together looked believable, even if at the time I was thinking to myself how it wouldn't hold up to scientific analysis. :p
THGttG is considered an excellent subwoofer test, and I have to agree. The sound production is great. Very immersive and unique with great sound effects that are fun but fit right in. And completely full spectrum without holding anything back. The grilles on the top of my subwoofers got pushed off by the driver excursion which tells me this is the first movie that has actually driving my subs close to their limit. I plan to address that problem soon.
I'm sure real fans of Douglas Adams works are going to find a number of nits to pick about the movie, but I really enjoyed it and would watch it again.
October 31, 2007
An earthquake just shook our house, making it rock back and forth with loud audible groaning. At first I thought Luna was playing something in the theater really loud, because our subwoofers are technically capable of doing that, but it was too loud and lasted too long and I realized it was an earthquake. For a brief moment I thought something weird had happened just to our house, like something outside had damaged it, because I've never been in as strong an earthquake before. This is only the second one I've felt, and the first was much more mild. But there's no way an external force could have made the house move that way, unless it was trying to rock it back and forth.
The cats got a little freaked out, although afterwards Kiba was still calmly sitting downstairs. He's really the bravest of them all. Luna was very scared for a short time though. She was shaking on the floor and wanted to get out of the house until I calmed her down and she could look out the window and see everything was okay and nothing was damaged. There was a lot of rocking, but only a few of the models in the display cabinet fell over near the end and they were mostly the ones that aren't very stable anyway. Nothing else fell or got dislocated, including the speakers which are wall mounted and on stands.
I immediately went to the United States Geological Survey Earthquake web site and entered in my experience of the quake on their Did You Feel It? survey. This lets them gather information about who felt what when an earthquake happens, and also tells you a rough estimate of what the magnitude was. When we first went to the site, the magnitude of the quake had not yet been determined, but by the time I finished the survey (along with about 350 other people) the magnitude was recorded as 5.6. The quake was asigned ID NC40204628.
Tintin lives closer to the epicenter, and she IMed me because her phone wasn't working anymore. She got pretty scared and hid under the table, and then tried calling her landlady and parents to let them know what happened but couldn't get outgoing calls to work. She said a few things got knocked over and maybe damaged, where she's staying. My phone worked fine though, and I could call her so incoming calls were no problem for her.
October 27, 2007
24kW of Power
Finally. After getting this whole process started back in February of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric has run a new cable to the side of our house, capable of feeding a new 200A panel which is more than enough power to run everything at the same time.
It's been a frustrating process. Not because of the people of PG&E, but because of the process. For the most part, the people I had to talk with were very helpful and friendly. They often did everything they could to help me out. In particular, when a crew didn't show up to disconnect the power on Thursday morning, John Herbner at our local service center did went out of his way to make sure we could get the work done and power back before the weekend. And Diane S. at the San Jose service center helped me out earlier on as well. However, both of them are managers and it was upon me to get ahold of them to move things forward. I suspect things would have been fine even if I didn't talk to them, but it would have taken longer and there would have been additional delays. The crew that came out were always friendly and helpful as well.
But it always just took a long time for things to move from one step to the next. Typical time between stages of the process were on the order of weeks, rather than days. I had to constantly call and leave messages, and then try to find other people to leave messages with, in order to get information about what I needed to do and move things forward. In fact, on that Thursday when I got ahold of John, it was only because I tracked down the physical address of the local service center and then ambushed an employee entering the building that I could tell someone that no one had come to disconnect the power. No one at the San Jose service center which I was previously communicating with could help me.
Anyway, I'm glad it's over with, and hopefully someday solar cells and electronics will be efficient enough so we can all live directly off the sun.
August 11, 2007
StudioTech SP-36 Speaker Stands
I won a 20% off coupon several weeks ago and used it recently to purchase a pair of StudioTech SP-36 speaker stands. I replaced the 30" tall Plateau speaker stands I was using for the two surround speakers with these stands, which are 36" in height. With the Plateau stands, I had a cinder block underneath to raise the speaker over the top of the couch. Overall build quality of the StudioTech stands is superior, and the base plate and top plate both seem denser. The pillar itself also seems to be stronger. Although hollow to allow sand or shot filling, the ends are capped off which acts a little like an additional brace. The foam pads that are included with the SP series stands are also a little thicker.
I do have two complaints about the SP stands though. The first is the wire clips. They actually have a very nice clipping mechanism that lets you push the wire into it, causing the clip to close and grip the cable. However, the only method of attaching those clips onto the stand is by its sticky backing. This backing really isn't very strong, so my 14/4 speaker cable keeps pulling it off. My second complaint is the single screw used to attach the plates to the pillar. With only a single screw in the center, you cannot easily align the top plate and the bottom plate with each other. This makes it a lot harder to align the speaker with the bottom plate and floor. On the other hand, this does allow you to toe-in the speaker without toe-in of the stand, which might look better.
The stands do need to be filled to increase their weight, mostly for safety's sake. Otherwise it is easier to tip over the speaker and stand. I looked for some lead or steel shot, but about the only place to purchase it in large quantities is off eBay. Instead, I ended up getting eight bottles of Crosman Copperhead BBs. Each bottle is about 4.5 pounds, and exactly the diameter of the speaker stand pillar. I think you could fill the pillars up with eight bottles each, but in my case I put four bottles in each pillar. The BBs were are more cost-effective than actual shot, but I haven't calculated if they're actually lead or not.
August 3, 2007
6Mbps DSL Line Testing
Raw Bandwidth just announced availability of 3-6Mbps down, 512-768Kbps up residential DSL service. With increased use by Luna, my desire for a more visually rich personal web site, and expectations regarding video download in the near future, I decided it was worth the additional monthly cost. However, my existing Alcatel 1000 was not getting good enough sync, and the Westell modem Mike sent me was also having sync issues. So with Mike on the phone checking sync, I tried a bunch of stuff to try and get a better signal.
The first thing we tried was hooking the Westell directly into the line at the outside box. That connection had good sync readings. But plugging directly into the line upstairs did not. At that point I went around trying different telephone jacks and it turns out the upstairs jack (which is a pair of jacks) is somehow wired to the kitchen jack but I'm not sure how. The kitchen jack has a huge mess of wires behind it, none of which is clearly connecting to the upstairs jacks. The left-hand jack in the new extension of the house is on a different pair and had really good sync.
But since the downstairs jack would be inconvenient, being no where near our computers, on Mike's advice I disconnected the wire between the two jacks upstairs. So now that pair runs through the kitchen to one jack upstairs, instead of two jacks upstairs. This change made the signal good, and when I attached a 3-way adapter with a pair of filters for the computer modem and telephone, the signal got even better (for some strange reason). So that's the configuration we are using now.
July 5, 2007
Fixed Refrigerator Line Leak
Instead of hiring a plumber, my mom suggested I try and cap off the leak ourselves. I managed to find a 1/8" copper cap at Orchard Supply Hardware (Home Depot doesn't care them) and used a pipe cutter to cut the refrigerator line below the point of the leak. My first attempt at soldering the cap onto the pipe didn't take. What did work, however, was wrapping the end of the cut pipe with teflon tape after rubbing it down with some pipe cleaning cloth, and then sticking the cap on with some Copper Bond. After setting for about 20 minutes, we turned the water back on and the seal was good.
July 4, 2007
Leaking Refrigerator Line
Luna and I checked behind the refrigerator today, to see if there was any food back there which needed to be cleaned. What I found instead is that the water line to the refrigerator, which I did not connect, has been leaking for some time now and there is water damage to the wood floor there. I managed to shove the part that is leaking down through the hole in the floorboards so it is leaking into the crawl space, but I will have to call some plumbers tomorrow to see about permanently removing that water line.
June 5, 2007
We have power again! After speaking with the supervisor, Diane, at the PG&E service planning office things moved forward pretty well. I'd previously had problems being shuttled back and forth between various people, and having a hard time getting people to call me back. Around 8:45am, one of the field technicians came out and took the meter off the panel, cutting power to the panel. Our electrician came out and replaced the bad breakers, and then in the afternoon a different technician came out to reattach the meter. Everything is working again, so we can cook, do laundry, use the garage, and turn on the lights at night.
This is just a temporary solution. The breakers are going to get worn down again because the current draw is too high. Using two or more major appliances, like the stove and the dryer, at the same time pushes current draw very close to 100A. Plus, we have other things on like lights, and the aquarium, and computers. So for now we are only using one major appliance at a time. We'll do laundry at night. That should help prevent drawing more than 100A, and keep the breakers going a little longer.
PG&E tells me within a few weeks they can get the contract and other paperwork to us, so we can go ahead with upgrading the panel to 200A. I'm still a little concerned about how much it's going to cost. All they will really have to do is pull the new cable through the conduit and energize it. Cost of materials would be the cable, and then some labor costs for actually pulling the cable and attaching it. But I suspect the majority of other costs will be related to all of the paperwork and bureaucracy that was involved in just getting them to do that.
May 6, 2007
NewAir AC-12000E Portable Air Conditioner
We won't be able to afford installation of a new more efficient central heater and air conditioning system this year, and with summer coming up the second cooling upgrade is a NewAir AC-12000E portable air conditioner (ordered from the link provided). The specifications on this unit are extremely good, under the assumption they are accurate since I could not find the manufacturer's web site. EER is 14.46 with 12,000 BTUs for 830W/7.9A. We are going to keep this in the computer room, since that's the hottest room in the house and also the one where overheating will cause material damage.
Since the unit does draw 8A, and the computers already draw close to 15A on their circuit, it's sharing a circuit with the other bedroom outlets where the upstairs A/V equipment is plugged in. We will have to swap in and out with the upstairs microwave, since the microwave uses 10A.
The plastic window bar is a little strange. I'm not entirely sure I've installed it correctly, but the instructions aren't completely clear on how it is supposed to be used, with respect to the inner-sliding plastic. There is some foam provided to try and keep the window seal intact, but I couldn't get it to be 100% tight vertically, and the inner-sliding plastic is slightly narrower than the outer-sliding piece, so the seal is not air-tight. It should be good enough though.
I did read some people talk about having to insulate the exhaust hose on different brand and model portable air conditioners. I'm not going to bother doing that unless we have to. So we'll try it without insulation for now, and see how hot it gets. The hose is only about five or six feet long though, which means you do need to be able to place the unit very close to the window. As you can see in the picture, we did have to remove one of the computer monitors to make room for the exhaust hose, but we don't use that monitor much anyway.
For the price, this unit is probably the best value I've been able to find, looking at various others online. We're only going to use it on hot days to keep the computer room temperature at around 77°C-80°C, when the outside temperature is warmer than that. So it shouldn't be in use a whole lot. It can only be used for the one room though, since it doesn't have enough BTUs to cool the entire house. And certainly cannot be used in the downstairs theater since that's open and cannot be closed off. So there may still be days we cannot operate the theater due to excessive heat. But at least we won't suffer any computer equipment damage due to overheating this summer.
April 4, 2007
It's been a while now, but I haven't written about it, since we actually started having electrical problems at home. Several months ago, there started to be some glitches in the electrical system. The DVD player would reset, and then later on the receiver upstairs would lose power and then turn back on a couple seconds later. It started getting worse a couple of months ago though, with certain circuits in the house losing power for a fraction of a second. And then a few weeks ago, one or two circuits would kick out for a few seconds. Finally, things just went bad and we've lost a number of circuits completely.
We are working with an electrician now, and the conclusion is that the 100A panel needs to be upgraded to 200A. Things like the washer, dryer, fridge, and stove can already put a decent load on the system. And adding idle draw and then active draw from the home theater, computers, and upstairs A/V setup all adds up to some continuous strain on the system. The electrician showed me some ash and occasional arcing and sparking at the main breaker when we performed a load test.
So right now we don't have use of some appliances and lights. Not being able to use the stove is the biggest problem, since it means we can't cook anything. I have also started going to the laundromat to take care of our clothes.
Unfortunately, Pacific Gas & Electric estimates 16 weeks before a line upgrade to the house could be finished, providing enough power for a 200A panel. It'll also be expensive. Plus, the electrician needs to upgrade the panel which is also going to cost a lot of money. But we don't really have a choice about that, so we'll have to get it done.
In the meantime, the electrician says we can replace the worn out breakers in the existing panel to get a little more life out of it, until the upgrade can actually happen.
February 25, 2007
I was lucky enough to win one of the gracious prizes given out this past holiday season by Secrets, a Rocket UFW-12 subwoofer. This is a 12" sealed design in an enclosure with internal volume somewhere around 4.5ft3. It's powered by a 1000W RMS plate amplifier that includes one band of parametric EQ, and is veneered in South American Rosewood with piano black top and bottom caps. It also weighs 137 pounds. I replaced the Velodyne SPL-1200 Series II subwoofer I was using upstairs with the UFW-12. This is sort of a horizontal upgrade, rather than a vertical one.
The reason I consider this more of a horizontal upgrade is because while I think the UFW-12 provides better performance than the SPL-1200 Series II, it also includes a 23Hz, 10th order subsonic filter. I believe the SPL-1200 Series II incorporates a slightly lower filter, possibly set around 20Hz. The difference in frequency response can be seen in the Secrets UFW-12 measurements and a brief statement in the Audioholics SPL-1200 Series II conclusion. So you get better performance above 25Hz and one band of PEQ with the UFW-12, but the SPL-1200 Series II goes a little lower.
Irrespective of the above, the UFW-12 performs excellently from 25Hz and up. It seems to reproduce sounds with more authority than the SPL-1200 Series II, although perhaps they are fairly equal in terms of distortion and maximum SPL. Certain low frequency sounds simply sounded better and clearer with the UFW-12. But the difference in low frequency extension can be audible. I found my in-room response matched very closely the measurements at Secrets, although with some peaks and dips due to the room.
The included PEQ may help tame a peak if you have a large one, but you need closer to five or seven bands to produce a really flat response in most rooms. Having to select the center frequency, Q, and amplitude via analog dials means you do have to go through some trial and error to get your desired filter set up. I used the PEQ to fix one of the 5dB boost, but overall the response was very good even without EQ and it would have been good even without that filter.
Overall, I find the UFW-12 to be a good subwoofer for its current duty, which is as part of our secondary system used for video games. I would not, however, be satisfied with it or even a pair of them in our home theater setup. This is mostly for cutting out so quickly around 25Hz, because above there I think the performance is excellent as long as you have enough of them to meet your SPL requirements without distortion or compression. I think for most music the UFW-12 would be an excellent choice, but you need something that goes lower if you enjoy large drums, pipe organs, or electronic music with deep bass lines.
Cosmetically, the UFW-12 is beautiful. It's also large and could be used as a low end table if you wished. The only drawback is it makes the Castle Avon speakers look too small.
February 23, 2007
Onix Reference 3
A couple of years ago, Kris Deering wrote a glowing review of Onix Reference 3 speakers. Since then, I've seriously considered them as my ideal upgrade step, in part because at Internet-direct pricing they provide a lot more value than anything else. I've just completed that upgrade with excellent results. Our theater now runs Onix Reference 3 for mains, Onix Reference 100 for the center, and Onix Reference 1 for the surrounds.
In comparision to the Onix Reference 1 (read my impressions), the Onix Reference 3 has better very high frequency reproduction, better off-axis response, and feels less dry to me without losing any of its accuracy. The Ref 3's happened to arrive in the middle of a smoke alarm sequence and the alarm sounded more realistic on the Ref 3 than the Ref 1. I feel the Ref 3 audio reproduction is slightly better, probably due to the smaller operating range of the two woofers. That may be why the sound was less dry.
I have also set the Ref 3 crossover at 50Hz, although 40Hz was a close contender and in other rooms I'm sure you could look at a 30Hz crossover. In comparison, the Ref 100 crossover point is 70Hz which is also close to where you can set the Ref 1 crossover. I try to avoid using ports because of the issues with group delay and in my room ports don't contribute much at these high frequencies. I've only experienced rear-ported speakers in this room.
I did some non-blind subjective comparisons of tweeter response with and without the grilles using one of the early scenes in Moulin Rouge where they're first rehearshing Spectacular, Spectacular. There are some strange high frequency sounds there and at this scene I found the very high frequency reproduction to be slightly attenuated with the grilles on. My non-blind grilles on/off tests on anything below may have revealed a slight difference but I can't be sure. I am fairly sure on the very high frequencies as without the grilles my ears felt a little harsh. I have since removed all grilles from all of the speakers.
The Ref 3 and Ref 100 reproduce the vocal range extremely well. It is much easier to distinguish and also identify in the first place when there are multiple voices singing together. This can be heard on any music tracks that involve a backup singer who was put in to add body or character to the primary singer, and also in Moulin Rouge where many of the pieces are sung in chorus. Cabinet resonance is very good although not completely inert at normal volumes.
I was a little worried that the Ref 100 would not match as well with the Ref 3, but the timbre is pretty much perfect so far as I can tell so far. The Ref 100 may be a tiny bit off from the Ref 3 and closer to the Ref 1, but I have only heard that phenomenon a few times and it may have been due to Dolby Pro Logic decoding. Using Dolby Pro Logic IIx decoding removed that symptom. I was also a little concerned about the MTM design of the Ref 100 over a WMTW design, but it doesn't seem to be an issue after all. It was definitely an issue with the Monitor Audio Silver SLCR center chanel; the SLCR sounded closer to the Monitor Audio Silver S8 when positioned vertically instead of horizontally.
Overall, the Ref 3 provides very accurate audio reproduction across its entire operating range including over the very high and low frequency bands, great off-axis response, and a seamless soundstage. My recommendation is to remove the grilles but you'd be hard pressed to consider it a real issue when the grilles are on.
February 16, 2007
Logitech Harmony 550
I got a Logitech Harmony 550 remote for my birthday, to control my second setup which consists of a GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Dish Network. It was the addition of Dish Network that brought the number of remote controls from two up to four. And made things annoying. The remote is very good and very convenient though, and a great birthday gift. Thanks Alla, Dantam, and Ellen. :)
I had some trouble with software installation on Mac OS X when using a user account that has its home directories NFS mounted. This user is also not in the group that allows administration, so the software was actually installed as a different user. Basically, the software would just quit or sit there doing nothing without crashing or any messages at all, after it started up. So I ended up having to install and run the software as the non-NFS mounted user that also has administrator privileges.
But once that was done, it was very easy. They've got a huge database of devices, including the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Sony STR-DE597 receiver, Panasonic PT50LC13 television, Impact Acoustics 3-Play, and Dish 381 set-top box. So I didn't have to make the remote learn anything manually. I even gained remote on/off access to the PlayStation 2, which doesn't come with a remote by default.
Now things are very nice with four macros: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Watch TV, Listen to CD. It works extremely well and I just hit one of the macros to start up the components and set their inputs/settings automatically, and everything's running.
Even though I didn't do any heavy customization, the software does allow for it. You can assign different functions to different buttons in any of the modes. And if you choose not to use macros, you can still access devices directly by pressing the Devices button on the remote.
January 27, 2007
I've been using Grant's Kills Ants baits for a while now, and when I first bought them they worked decent. Not atomic halocaust quality, but not bad. However, the old baits I still have from two or three years ago aren't as effective anymore. So Luna and I went to the hardware store and ended up picking some Terro liquid ant baits on the suggestion of a store employee. These do in fact end up destroying the ant population like an atomic bomb. I put out five baits, and they were filled with ants for a couple of days. Once the ants disappeared, I threw away the baits and I'm fairly certain the nests have been wiped out.
January 24, 2007
Sealed Sonotube Subwoofer Graphs
I've been using a program called Room EQ Wizard to perform subwoofer equalization, level matching, and crossover/phase measurements. It's a very useful multi-platform program that's also available for free although donations are welcomed. Since building my sealed sonotube subwoofers required measurements below 10Hz, I managed to get a beta copy of REW 4.0 that would measure that low. I haven't posted the following graphs until now because the program was still in beta, but now that it's officially released I can post my measurements.
These measurements were done with a Behringer ECM8000 microphone, and REW was loaded with a microphone calibration file made available at the Home Theater Shack. The ECM8000 isn't super high grade so the calibration file of someone else's mic is probably good enough. I extrapolated below 10Hz since the calibration file was only down to 10Hz, based on a converstaion with the person who performed the microphone calibration, and also my subjective listening.
I used a M-Audio MobilePre USB preamp to supply phantom power to the mic and serve as an outboard input and output audio interface to a laptop. The MobilePre doesn't perform super well in the very low frequencies, with a measured drop off by REW, but at least it can be perfectly measured and compensated for by REW.
Here is the measured room response for the subwoofers in conjunction with the mains, crossed over at 70Hz after equalization and boost was applied. There are about 16 filters being applied to boost below 20Hz and flatten the response with the lowest center frequency at 20Hz.
Onix Reference 1
I was very lucky to find a pair of Onix Reference 1 monitor speakers in piano black from someone who was upgrading at an incredibly good price. These are two-way rear ported speakers with a 5.25" woofer and Vifa XT concentric ring radiator tweeter and a fourth-order crossover at 4kHz. Luna and I listened to these side-by-side with the Monitor Audio Silver S8 speakers. Personally I prefer the Reference 1 over the S8, although some people would not.
In my opinion, the Reference 1 features a more even overall frequency response, which allows for more of the original material to be heard. This means detail is not lost across the entire spectrum. I also think the tweeter behaves better in comparison to the S8, although that may also be because the frequency response appears flatter on the Reference 1. On the other hand, the Reference 1 sounds somewhat dry or empty compared to the S8. This actually translates to more accurate audio reproduction, but may not be what everyone is looking for.
The S8 has a mid-range boost, which I think ends up masking some of the higher frequencies, and also more cabinet vibration which may contribute to the more full and warm sound which is one of their attractive characteristics. It is a little similar to what I heard when I placed the Monitor Audio Silver SLCR center channel in direct contact with its stand; the stand vibrated in response to the speaker enclosure and the sound was less clear.
The S8 also goes a dozen or so hertz lower than the Reference 1, and I think handles the frequencies below 100Hz with a little more ease. That's not too surprising considering the difference in driver complement, but both the Reference 1 and S8 should be paired with a subwoofer.
I do think the S8 has better off-axis response than the Reference 1. Moving in either the vertical or horizontal direction off-axis had a very audible effect with the Reference 1, while it was not as much of an issue with the S8.
January 21, 2007
Luna's been a little homesick lately, and she really wanted to have some Chinese television programming to watch. So we looked around at some satellite dish services and found a package and channel she wanted from Dish Network. We ordered only the Chinese package, and the installer showed up today to get everything set up. He was quiet but did a good job and wore booties over his shoes while inside the house. It took a while to get the dish pointed correctly, with me inside reporting on the signal test results.
Installation required drilling a hole through the exterior wall and running a coax cable. So, the satellite dish is really only available from one location right now: the bedroom. Moving the TV would require running coax through the floor or walls or something, and I'm not going to do that anytime soon.
Another issue is the set-top box itself. It's a Dish 381 unit, and it's hot even when turned off. No components can be placed on top of it, even with some breathing room. I had the Playstation 2 on top of it for a short time and that caused it to shut down while I was playing a game, even though the Dish 381 was off.
The Chinese picture and audio quality isn't that great. You can see compression artifiacts, and most of the time the picture looks worse than local channels. But it's real Chinese television so Luna is happy.
January 1, 2007
War of the Worlds
I put War of the Worlds on my queue mainly because it's a movie that has caused many a subwoofer to bottom out. And I wanted to put my new subwoofers to the test. If I'd done everything right, I'd be able to listen to this movie at reference levels and my subwoofers should not bottom out and instead capture the earth-shaking intent of the sound mix. I was very pleased to discover that my subwoofers were up to the task.
There are many sequences in the film where the characters are experiencing what are essentially mini-earthquakes. I played the movie at perhaps -5dB from reference, not entirely sure, but those times the subwoofers really did recreate the earthquake experience in my primary listening position. It felt like an actual earthquake, although not as high on the richter scale as if I was actually in the movie (which would be bad, if my house collapsed), still something that would have been recorded and felt by seismologists.
Anyway, with regards to the movie, it was a decent action movie but there isn't much of a plot or anything really going on except for mass hysteria and a general fleeing from the aliens by the public. The acting is okay, but it's not like any of them have to do much except be really scared and run away a lot. Nothing else happens, since all of humanity's efforts are in vain, and the audience is not involved with any plans to fight back.
But it's an excellent movie for exercising your subwoofers, as long as they can handle it instead of breaking.
December 30, 2006
Dark City Movie Night
I had a bunch of new people show up to tonight's movie night, since Wendy and Brian have too many friends and so always have more people to bring. Although all of their friends do happen to be Asian. Anyway, Alla also showed up, and so did Thomas. New people Anh, Kristina, Roger, and Naomi showed up as well. Alla didn't stay for the movie though. This was the first movie night I've held with the new subwoofers, and I played back the Irene scene from Black Hawk Down as a demo. I'm not sure they felt as much as they could, because everyone was sitting in the second row during the demo.
We ended up watching Dark City, in large part because Kristina thinks Keifer Sutherland is really attractive from his role in 24. He plays a completely different kind of character in Dark City though, so I don't know if that worked out for her. Naomi actually only showed up shortly before the movie started, and left right after.
Most people left after the movie, but Wendy, Brian, and Thomas stayed longer. We decided to watch another movie, and Wendy picked The Avengers. She found it amusing in the beginning, but both she and Brian fell asleep pretty early into the movie, since it was so late. I was pretty tired too, but I stayed up to watch the whole thing.
December 19, 2006
Sealed Sonotube Subwoofers
In my quest for the ultimate subwoofer (restriction being no infinite baffle) flat to 5Hz, I purchased four 15" TC-2000 single voice coil drivers. After going through WinISD Pro and forums and gathering information and advice from many sources over a few months, these are the drivers I ended up with and the enclosure design would be to use sonotubes. I decided to use a sealed enclosure rather than a ported one because the port volume would be too great and a passive radiator would have too much group delay and somewhat extreme mass requirements for reaching 5Hz. I've put up photos of the construction process.
The sonotubes are approximately 4' in length, and 20" in diameter. Each endcap is three layers of 3/4" MDF, with two layers inside and one layer outside. Having three layers for the endcaps posted a problem because you cannot purchase binding posts long enough to go through that far. So what I did is run brass bolts in from the inside to meet with short binding posts run in from the outside. The end caps, dowels, and protective grille over the top driver brings the total height of each subwoofer to approximately 4.5'.
Most people cover their sonotubes with a black fabric "sock". I wanted something that would look a little nicer, so I covered mine with cherry veneer. Unfortunately, due to bumps in the outside of the tubes, there are some ridges in the veneer. And Alla and I had some issues with the glue, so there are some glue marks on the outside near one of the endcaps. We also had glue on our hands for a few days afterwards. So overall the finished look is not commercial quality when seen up close, but from a distance they look very nice.
The project as a whole took a few weekends to complete. A lot of time was spent waiting on the endcap paint to dry, and sand, and recoat. I purchased a high quality mask to protect myself while cutting the MDF, as MDF creates a very fine sawdust when it is cut, and contains carcinogens. It's really best to cut MDF outside in the open air, rather than in the garage. I wish I'd found and purchased a larger circle jig though, because my makeshift one was not perfectly accurate.
I am driving the finished subwoofers with a Behringer EP2500 subwoofer and giving it low-pass boost and equalization to mimic a Linkwitz-Transform using a Behringer DCX2496. You can accomplish the same thing with a cheaper unit, but the DCX2496 provides some additional flexibility. The cables were cut from a spool of Impact Acoustics 14/4 (four runs of 14awg in the sleeve) I won in a contest a while back. I'm doubling up the runs so the signal path is 14/2 each. Each channel of the EP2500 is driving two drivers in parallel, for a ~2Ω load.
Using a Behringer ECM8000 microphone with an M-Audio MobilePre, I calibrated and equalized the subwoofer response flat down to somewhere below 5Hz, possibly even 2Hz, because of room gain benefits. The subwoofer can be driven to reference levels without clipping.
At reference levels, it's a tiny bit noticeable. It's possible to increase the low-pass filter to boost those frequencies several more dB, in which case it really feels like there is a rotor passing over you. I'm not really sure what the dB level is supposed to be; 0dB implies 115dB to me, which I don't necessarily think I can reach at 5Hz, but at ~105dB it's already vibrating the entire house. The whole movie plays way loud at reference levels though, since it's all gunshots and explosions.
Regardless, at this point I feel like I've accomplished building the ultimate traditional subwoofer, and can reproduce all the infrasonics I might need. Now I just need to get much better speakers that have flatter overall response and can reproduce high frequencies well. :)
December 2, 2006
12V Trigger AC Outlet
So I purchased a Behringer EP2500 and also a Behringer DCX2496. The EP2500 is rated at 9.7A, and the DCX2496 pulls approximately 12W. I'm assuming the 12W off a 120V line equals 0.1A. Grand total is 9.8A. However, the problem is both of these units do not have a trigger. You turn them on and then leave them on. I don't really want to do that since most of the time the home theater is off. There are some Xantech products that can help deal with this, but they're expensive. The cheap DIY solution is a relay switch.
One of my coworkers, Po Chiu, has a strong EE background. So I asked him if he knows that sort of box I need to build this 12V trigger so that when my processor turns on the AC outlet turns on as well. He explained the different types of switches to me. From there I found an article called How To Power Your MAME Cabinet. There are very simple instructions on that site for building your own relay switch.
So I went to OSH and Radio Shack and picked up about $20 in parts. With a wire stripper and soldering iron I was able to throw everything together in about 20 minutes. End result is a 12V trigger from my processor that will turn on a pair of regular AC outlets to power on the EP2500 and DCX2496.
My parts list is:
Radio Shack DPDT Plug-In Relay (Part #275-218)
Leviton 2-Pole, 3-Wire Grounding Duplex Receptacle (BR15-W)
Some sort of blue outlet box
Prime 3' Garbage Disposal Cord (Item #PS210603)
Some 16awg copper wire
The 16awg wire is only rated at 13A, and the DPDT relay is only rated 10A, but that's good enough to meet the 9.8A required by the EP2500 and DCX2496. Assuming those are the maximum current draw numbers, and not just nominal numbers.
November 24, 2006
Thanksgiving with Alla
Thanksgiving 2006 is over, and I spent the majority of the day working and continuing to spray paint my DIY subwoofer endcaps. I've found that the best results come from painting, letting it dry, then sanding, and then painting again to cover the exposed or roughened parts. Then repeat. You can use successively finer grit sandpaper and in this way end up with a very smooth (visually and physically) finished product. Then just cover with sealer. For dinner, I went to Alla's house in Fremont. I spent most of my time helping her with her business school applications, when we weren't eating. The food was really good. I had some mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, turkey, potato salad, some purplish beats salad thing, and bread.
November 11, 2006
I picked up some 20" diameter Sonotube round concrete forms, in 4' lengths, from Westside Concrete Materials today. They are one of the few concrete supply companies in the area that is open on Saturday, although they're only open for a few hours. I'd originally tried arranging for purchase and delivery with Muller Construction Supply, but after two days where they twice promised to return my call but did not, I decided to look for a different supplier. The two guys I talked to at Westside were very friendly and helpful, and I was able to fit both sections in the Beetle although it was a tight fit.
I'm going to use these round forms for the enclosures of the subwoofers I am going to be building over the next couple of months. Sonotube, or one of the comparable products made by other companies, provides a rigid enclosure without extensive bracing or many layers of MDF. MDF is very heavy, and requires you to build a box, so it's a lot of effort to build something that then becomes very hard to move around. The downsides to Sonotube are that you can only place drivers or anything else at the ends, and it has to be round or you don't get the rigid behavior.
October 31, 2006
TC Sounds is having a sale on some of their drivers for a limited time, and since I'm trying to replace my 16-46PC+ subwoofers with something that will go lower, faster, and cleaner, I picked up some 15" TC-2000 drivers.
As part of my cost analysis, I calculated the cost per liter of displacement for various TC Sounds and SoundSplinter drivers. Here's my breakdown (hopefully the math is correct):
Surface Area: ------------- 15" = 1140.09182796937 cm2 18" = 1641.73223227589 cm2
September 7, 2006
Replacement Plus 12.3 Driver
The replacement Plus 12.3 driver I requested from SVSound arrived today, although it didn't get sent to my office like I'd asked. I guess that change got lost in the RMA shuffle. Anyway, swapped it into my subwoofer and the rattling is gone. I played back Kodo's Ibuki and the two tracks Dub Gusset and Swords off Leftfield's Rhythm and Stealth. No rattling from those tracks or the startup thump either.
August 21, 2006
Shaun of the Dead
I just watched Shaun of the Dead, a movie that Anthony from work said was really good and funny. It's an odd sort of movie, mixing zombies with a sort of casual attitude and British humor. For example, instead of running away from the zombies, Shaun and his friend decide to sit on the couch and figure things out. I enjoyed it, and it was fairly amusing at times although yucky at other times.
One unfortunate thing I discovered is that one of the Plus 12.3 drivers I received from SVSound is defective. It rattles sometimes, and I found it even rattled when out of the subwoofer just from the initial turn-on thump. I thought this was due to a loose screw or loose fastening before, but turns out it's a defect in the driver itself. So SVSound is shipping me a replacement. They do have some of the best customer service I've experienced.
August 6, 2006
So a poster at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity asked for speaker recommendations in the sub-$3000 range. I originally suggested he go and listen to a bunch of speakers, but he's interested in getting some more brand names under consideration, I guess. So I replied again with some of my speaker impressions. I've decided to copy that portion of my second reply into my blog.
For myself, I have Monitor Audio Silver S8/LCR/Sfx 7.1 for my home theater. They are overall a little warm, and have some cabinet resonances. The LCR isn't superb, but it's okay. The S8's aren't as precise in sound reproduction as I'd like (maybe cabinet resonances or just the drivers) but they sound pretty good overall. The Sfx speakers are okay. All of them roll off more than I like as they approach 20kHz. However, all of my friends are not audio enthusiasts so everything sounds exceptional to them.
I also have Castle Avon speakers, graciously given to me by JJ, which I also enjoy. Their cabinet build is a better than the S8s, so there is less resonance. But there are only two drivers, the tweeter is located a little low (which is okay because of how I listen to them with my head kind of low) so normally would need stands, and doesn't have as good off-axis response as the S8's, I think. But because of how I use them, that doesn't really matter.
When I auditioned the S8's a few years ago, I also listened to Klipsch speakers in the same room. They seemed too bright and harsh for me. Possibly the horn design being a bad choice in my price range. Possibly the tweeter construction. However others think those Klipsch speakers are perfect for them.
I listened to some B&W 805 (I think) speakers about a year or so ago at a boutique store. They were nice, and did the job very well. I don't have a lot of opinion on them though, as I didn't spend a lot of time listening and was mostly interested at that time in finding an amplifier.
I also helped a friend set up a Hsu VT-12 system. For the money, they are a great deal, but noticeably lower in quality than the other speakers I've mentioned. Especially at high volumes. The sound isn't as realistic or enveloping to me, maybe due to tweeter response. His room has more reflections than mine as well. I pretty much don't have any first-order reflections except off the front wall which is covered in velvet drapes, and my sofa back if I slouch. He's quite happy with them though, as far as I know.
If I were to buy new speakers today, I'd be looking at either the AV123 Onix Reference line or asking James Salk about a Veracity HT3 with higher efficiency (maybe by including a second woofer). And a ribbon tweeter is a requirement for me now. However, I haven't heard any of these speakers or a ribbon tweeter, so I still need to do some of my own listening research. Both of these are outside your price range though.
If I were to buy speakers that I feel are equivalent to my Monitor Audio Silver speakers, I'd be looking at the AV123 Onix Rocket line just to save money by going Internet Direct. But I don't feel the Rockets are a significant upgrade from my current system to justify a purchase. Also, this is not based on personal listening and I'm sure they would sound different than my current speakers but would be relatively equal in compromises. The Rockets are in your price range.
August 5, 2006
I watched The Incredibles again today. That's probably the fifth time I've watched it. I would have continued watching the anime series I started, except Netflix is taking too long to deliver them. Anyway, The Incredibles has some incredible bass sequences and gave the new Plus 12.3 drivers a workout. One of the drivers wasn't screwed in tight enough, which resulted in some problems during high excursion, so I had to pause the film and fix that.
SVS Plus 12.3 Drivers
The two SVSound Plus 12.3 drivers I pre-ordered to upgrade my pair of 16-46PC+ subs arrived today. I've just finished replacing the db12.2 drivers with these new drivers and recalibrating using my Velodyne SMS-1. I found that I could lower the overall gain by maybe one decibel, but that for two of my low-end filters I had to decrease the magnitude of cut by about 2dB. I don't really hear any improvement otherwise.
I think the Plus 12.3 drivers are a little heavier than the db12.2 drivers, but otherwise very similar in overall appearance except that the Plus 12.3 driver is black without any logo and has a rubber shell on the outer rim. I also think the Plus 12.3 magnet is a little deeper.
I'm hoping I can use the db12.2 drivers for a DIY subwoofer, but I doubt I'll have funds for that anytime soon.
July 27, 2006
So I'd been using the Behringer FBQ2496 to equalize my subwoofers but just got a Velodyne SMS-1 mainly because I thought it would allow filters to be set as low as 5Hz. Turns out that's not the case. Filters can only be set down to 15Hz, which is still better than the 20Hz limit of the FBQ2496, but not as low as I'd have liked. But the measurement system and real-time feedback turned out to be an plus that really made the SMS-1 worth it.
The first thing that the SMS-1 allowed me to do was identify the ideal crossover point for my speakers. By adjusting the crossover point and then going back to the SPL graph, I was able to determine that my ideal crossover is at 60Hz. Lower or higher results in a bigger cut at the crossover. I did find the automatic EQ to be less than ideal, mostly because it doesn't bother to move off the standard 1/3 octave frequencies. Instead, I got the best results by manually setting parametric filters at the precise locations. Another benefit is I was able to match the subwoofer volume to the mains volume a lot better. The DMC-1's subwoofer calibration signal is a little messed up.
The 1/3 octave smoothing issue mentioned in the Audioholics review is an isssue. I would suggest verifying the response using Room EQ Wizard's signal generator to see if your filters have done anything undesired. But, if you try to make your filters have as high a Q value as possible, you can probably avoid that anyway.
June 29, 2006
Front Yard Cleaned Up
Over the past month or two, I've had my front yard cleaned up by one of my neighbors, Del Sol Landscaping. They topped the four 45' Italian Cypress trees that run alongside my driveway, pulled all the weeds and laid down landscape felt, and put bark into the non-grass areas. They also installed a sprinkler system and automatic timer.
They did a good job, although spread out over a somewhat extended period of time. That's okay because I wasn't in any hurry and let them know that. I'm having them continue regular maintenance on the front yard because I would just never get around to spending the time myself. The automatic sprinkler system solves my problem of watering a brown lawn.
June 21, 2006
The fence on one side of my house had been falling into disrepair recently. A small portion of the back fence fell down completely. Several weeks ago, the landlord of the house behind replaced that small portion of the fence. And yesterday my neighbor, who runs Bow Construction, finished replacing the side fence. I paid for materials, and he and his crew put the fence up in two days, including a gate which I didn't have before. I was surprised at how quickly the fence went up, but it looks very well done. I just need to get a better gate-pull because right now it opens with a short wire.
June 2, 2006
Today I finally finished sewing blackout cloth to the last of my upstairs curtains. There are a total of ten curtains, and I used about 13 yards of blackout cloth and a few hundred feet of thread to sew blackout cloth onto the outside-facing side of each curtain. Now, the sun is completely blocked in both bedrooms and the computer room. This should do three things: keep the overall heat down during the summer by reflecting more light back out, allow me to play video games during daylight hours without being blinded, and keep the sun from waking me up too early in the morning.
May 28, 2006
Surround Acoustical Panels
Several weeks ago I was patching an anime which had the voices sometimes move into one of the surround speakers as a person moved off screen. When this happened, I immediately noticed a problem. It sounded like those people suddenly moved into a completely different, live, room. And so I decided I needed to put some acoustical panels up to tame the surround speaker acoustics. I was able to go back to California Central Insulation and get some IS300 2.5" semi-rigid fiberglass and then some cotton cloth from the fabric store. And then I started to work on building the acoustical panels.
I built a total of eight panels. Four 2'x4' panels for the ceiling, and four 1'x4' panels for the walls near the top of the ceiling where there would be interaction with the speakers. It probably took me about ten or twelve hours to sew the sleeves for the fiberglass and then mount them on the ceiling and walls, but the results have been worth it.
Mounting the panels onto the walls was not too difficult. I threaded some steel wire through the sleeves and then hung them off eyebolts I screwed into the walls near the ceiling. However, mounting the panels onto the ceiling was very difficult. I could not run a screw through the fiberglass, as it would just go through the entire thing and then the panel would drop. I couldn't hang the panel from the ceiling because there was nothing to attach a hook or eyebolt into on the panel.
So I ended up having to get some transparent plastic wire and screwing four hooks per panel into the ceiling. Then ran the transparent wire between the hooks as a support for the panels. To ensure the panels stayed as close to the ceiling as possible (with some air to serve as a trap), I had to pull the wire extremely tight. Needless to say this was very tiring and hard on my hands. Since there was no one to help me, I often had to use my head or back and stand on the furniture to support the panel as I was pulling the wire.
Unfortunately I don't have the disc which originally made me want to do this to test how well that voice would sound now, but so far I've been very pleased with how much better the surround speakers sound. They are slightly less enveloping but I would say in a good way as the sound is more distinct and clear now. It is too bad that my surrounds happen to be bipole speakers (dipole operation possible) which is good for ambient sounds but bad for distinct sounds. The acoustical panels are making the tweeters on the surrounds much less useful. If I have the chance to upgrade my speakers, I will go for direct firing surrounds. Bipole or dipole operation is not as great in my open room anyway.
May 27, 2006
I was driving out this morning when my neighbor told me that my rear passenger tire was flat. So I had to change it to the spare, and then drove to Wheel Works (how come their web site is so bad?) to see if they could patch it. They said they couldn't get to it for a few hours, so I left the tire there and went to work.
Around 4:30pm they hadn't called me back yet, so I gave them a call and asked what was going on. I saw this morning the damage was to the side wall and so I had to buy a new tire. I drove back and bought a new tire but took it home myself so I could save the money and install it myself. They placed the new tire onto my wheel and the mechanic was kind enough to balance it. Once I got home with the replacement tire, I jacked up the car and swapped the spare back out.
April 27, 2006
I purchased a Behringer FBQ2496 to act as a parametric equalizer for my subwoofers. I managed to get it for a great price, and after spending a few hours with my SPL meter, got measurements for input into Room EQ Wizard, a freeware (donations appreciated) audio measurement and correction tool. This software is amazingly good, runs on many platforms, and has just about every feature you'd want. With the FBQ2496 and Room EQ Wizard, I managed to flatten my subwoofer response quite well, although it would be better if the FBQ2496 could go below 20Hz.
This graph shows the measured frequency response of my subwoofers on the top purple line, and the corrected frequency response on the bottom purple line. The target response is the horizontal blue line, assuming a 150Hz cutoff. I performed my measurements with a 160Hz cutoff, to flatten the response as much as possible and allow the processor to handle the different cutoffs. Plus, the LFE channel is not cutoff at all.
The PEQ filters in the lower-right were automatically calculated by Room EQ Wizard, specifically for the FBQ2496. In other words, Room EQ Wizard knows the options available via the FBQ2496, and uses those constraints to determine the correcct filters. No boosts are assigned, as that can be a very dangerous thing to do.
Unfortunately, since my subwoofers are tuned to 12Hz, there's a huge 12Hz bump which the FBQ2496 cannot address. I tried tuning my subwoofers to 16Hz, but that resulted in a fairly gradual decline from 16Hz down, rather than a flat response due to room gain. This is because my subwoofers are ported, and so the frequency response will drop off dramatically once you hit the tuning frequency. You can see this at the 12Hz point in this graph as well.
So for now, I'm keeping that 12Hz bump, until I might be able to purchase a Velodyne SMS-1, which supports filters as low as 5Hz.
April 2, 2006
Center Channel Stand
I built a new center channel stand today which has an adjustable tilt. So I can precisely angle the speaker up towards my head when the center channel is laid horizontally. I've been using the center channel vertically because it sounds much better when sitting directly in front of it, but this does mean people off-axis don't get as good of sound. But now I want to lie it horizontally again because I also lowered the projector screen. I lowered it by about eight inches after making sure people in the back row will not be blocked by the front row heads. This screen height is much more comfortable for the people in the front row.
The center channel stand is made of two 10"Wx24"L pieces of shelving, and an odd connection between them. One of the shelves serves as the base. To this I attached two 8" angle brackets in the center, lengthwise. The top shelf had two pieces of 2"x6"s screwed into the bottom so that they would fall right inside the angle brackets rising from the base. I could then shoot a 5/16" hex bolt through the angle brackets and through the 2"x6"s. Now the top shelf can freely rotate using the hex bolts as its axis while the base remains flat. To lock the shelf's angle, I can tighten the hex bolt and nut, and I placed locking washers on both sides of the 2"x6" to keep it tight.
It's works very well, although you have to be certain to tighten the nuts and bolts enough to prevent the stand from rotating while the speaker is on it. I used some mounting stickies to keep the speaker in place on the top shelf. To put the stand at the correct height, I bought some 6" tall cinder blocks and placed them on the floor below covered in some leftover black felt. I spraypainted the wood and the brackets black to prevent reflections, although I didn't spraypaint any of the nuts, bolts, or washers because I didn't want them to get thick with paint or stuck with paint either.
Got up a little early this morning and patched up the small drywall hole the plumbers had to cut above my shower to reattach the 90° pipe. Based on a suggestion by Ruben, one of the plumbers, I stuck a piece of 2"x6" into the wall through the hole and attached it to the existing drywall using drywall screws. Then used that to support the piece that was cut out and screwed that piece into the wood as well. Then used spackle to cover everything up. It's not perfect, and you can see the outline where the spackle caught, but if you painted it over, I'm sure it would disappear.
March 31, 2006
The water leak came back two nights ago. After showering, I noticed a dripping sound downstairs beneath the upstairs bathroom. The entire closet had been soaked. It looks like water had been gathering in there for a long time, with some of the non-reactive insulation absorbing it, along with cloth and cardboard boxes I had in the closet. I managed to clear out the closet and start mopping it up, and also found the leak location as the part right behind the shower knob. I called my mom and she was able to tell me where to find the water main in the garage to turn off water to the entire house. Then I called a plumber.
I called P.H.A.T. Crack because the owners live down the street from me. Their web site explains how they've been in business for almost eighty years, and recently changed their name. I gave them a call that night and Jim returned my call very quickly to schedule two of his guys to come out the next morning.
Since I was all dirty from water falling on me and clearing out the closet, I didn't want to sleep in my bed. I couldn't shower because the water main was turned off. So I slept downstairs on one of the recliners. It wasn't the most comfortable sleep, and I was tired the next day.
Anyway, the two guys Ruben and his son Santiago showed up the next morning at 8:30am. Ruben has been working for Jim for twenty years, and Santiago for seven years. They were both extremely polite, dedicated to their work, and genuinely wanted to do a good job. They even took their shoes off before coming into the house.
The leak turned out to be quite complicated. Instead of the 90° connector between the valve and the hot water main leaking, it was actually the valve itself. So they had to open an even bigger hole in the wall and replace the valve. A two hour job suddenly turned into a five hour job. Replacing the valve required disconnecting the showerhead pipe as well, and when they managed to rotate that, the 90° on top of that pipe fell off. So they had to cut a small hole into the drywall above the showerhead hole to attach a new 90° onto it. Then they finally got the valve replaced, and that was no longer leaking, but a union in the hot water pipe a little below it started leaking. Probably from all the rotations going on. So they had to detach the valve and retighten that union. So much work, and the two of them did such a good and thorough job.
Anyway, I just finished cleaning everything else up tonight, and putting everything back into the closet. Things are good again although my cardboard boxes are a bit ruined. And there's a kind of ugly face plate behind the new shower/bath knob to cover the hole they had to make. But at least the leak is fixed.
March 26, 2006
New Root Disk
I woke up today to find the hard disk in my Linux server had crashed again, and was making the noisy clicking and clacking sounds. My disk has been doing this for a few years now, and seems to recover just fine. But I decided I'd had enough of that and went to Fry's to buy a new SATA/300 Seagate Barracuda drive on rebate. Got everything moved over, and GRUB likes living on this disk better, but unfortunately something doesn't seem to like mounting /dev/sda1 as my root.
March 23, 2006
As an experiment, I purchased a Hosa GLT-255 adapter and found that it reduced the noise coming out of my Emotiva MPS-1 when I placed it into one of the amp module inputs. The noise did not go away completely, but it removed the noise being contributed by that connection to the Emotiva DMC-1. I received seven more GLT-255 adapters today, and have managed to completely rid myself of the noise.
What is interesting is that I cannot use GLT-255's on every amplifier module input. Placing a GLT-255 on three specific modules, which correspond to three specific channels from the DMC-1, removes the noise. Placing it on any of the other modules or channels has no effect. However, placing it on the left front channel, which is also the module closest to the MPS-1 power connection, introduces crazy amounts of noise, as with the ART T8. I suspect the T8 I purchased earlier and returned was in fact no defective, and instead my specific DMC-1 and MPS-1 units need to have the left front channel and/or that module grounded to each other.
March 19, 2006
This morning I woke up early, not on purpose, and started working on building a pair of subwoofer isolators/bass-traps. I'd been following a discussion thread about the Auralex Subdude/Gramma's benefits under subwoofers. I didn't feel like spending $150 for three Subdudes, and I still had another 2'x4' sheet of rigid fiberglass. So I picked up some 2" insulating foam, a pair of 18"-diameter pine circles, and a couple yards of black felt to build myself a pair of insulation/bass-trap risers custom-fit to my 16-46PC+ subs. Total materials cost was about $30.
It took about 2.5 hours to put together the isolators, and I've put up some pictures of the construction process. The majority of time was spent sewing the felt wrap, as I had to do that by hand. Cutting the foam and rigid fiberglass was very easy using a hand saw and liquid nails worked perfectly as a bonding agent.
So far, I've tested the results and found that the subwoofers are indeed isolated from the floor, and thus the house. Instead of feeling the floor vibrate right next to the subwoofers during heavy bass sequences, all vibrations are due to air pressure interactions. I doubt this means the subwoofers can operate more efficiently, as the energy that was previously being sent into the floor should now be absorbed by the isolator. Maybe the isolator is rejecting energy transfer, but that seems unlikely.
Instead, I hope the primary benefit is reducing boominess that might occur due to vertical standing waves at the subwoofer locations. The rigid fiberglass and insulating foam should help trap some of that energy, and the riser will move the subwoofer drivers farther away from the floor. I haven't tested this yet, but I plan to do so.
March 16, 2006
ART T8 Noise
I've been trying to get rid of the last bit of buzz and hum in my system, which seems to be due to some sort of strange electrical circuit behavior between the DMC-1 and MPS-1. Only when the two are interconnected in a particular way does the MPS-1 output noise on specific channels. I found that inserting a Hosa GLT-255 into the amplifier input removed the noise contributed by that channel. So I decided to purchase an ART T8 under the assumption that would work even better with full isolation. Unfortunately, the results were horrible.
Inserting the T8 between the DMC-1 and MPS-1 resulted in immediate noise at least 30dB higher than the previous noise. I tried this with just one channel connected between the DMC-1 and MPS-1 as well, and the noise was still there. Without the T8, a single channel connection results in no noise. I can't figure out how the T8 can possibly introduce noise like this, as it is a passive device containing some transformers and is supposed to eliminate noise due to ground loops and completely isolate the source and destination devices.
Anyway, I've sent the T8 and the 8-channel XLR snake back for a refund, and instead ordered seven more GLT-255's, which actually seem to work and cost much less as well.
February 5, 2006
Emotiva Hum Fixed
I mentioned earlier that I was having some difficulty with hum between the Emotiva DMC-1 and MPS-1. I tried all the usual ground loop hum tests and solutions I could think of, as well as trying individual channels over balanced XLR. None of this worked, until I tried something a bit more drastic.
I removed all of the unbalanced RCA interconnects between the DMC-1 and MPS-1. Then used a single XLR cable to connect only one channel between the two. And there was no hum. So I went and bought a Hosa XLR-803 snake. Using balanced XLR for all the channels has greatly reduced the hum, although it is not completely gone.
Swapping amp modules, interconnects, channels, and speakers didn't solve the hum problem. In fact, the hum seems to be a result of interference between amplifier modules, mostly in amp banks 5, 6, and 7, that goes away for a single channel if there is no RCA input to that module, and decreases for a single channel if the neighboring module has its RCA connection removed.
Moving to a fully balanced audio path has solved the problem, although the hum is still there. The DMC-1 and MPS-1 support a fully balanced path, according to the manuals, as the balanced and unbalanced stages are kept separate.
February 4, 2006
Emotiva Big Dogs
I purchased the Emotiva DMC-1 and MPS-1 pair on Tuesday of this week, and all of the hardware arrived today, three days later. The DMC-1 is much better than the Yamaha RX-V1400 I was using before as my pre-amp, and the MPS-1 provides twice the power of the Outlaw Audio 7100 in a much nicer chassis.
I ran an extended test of Moulin Rouge, which is my reference audio evaluation disc. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to turn back on the subwoofers during this time. However, I was extremely pleased with the audible improvements I heard from my speakers.
For starters, sounds were much more distinct. The start and end of any audio was sharper and more clearly defined. Less blurring between sequential sounds. There appears to be better channel separation too (at least what I understand to be channel separation); it was a lot easier to localize audio than before. I also heard more detail from all speakers, which might mean the DMC-1 has a better frequency response from its pre-outs, or might just be a result of no longer having the RX-V1400's parametric equalizer, although that seems counter-intuitive. In short, performance was noticeably improved. I do need to do some more listening with my subwoofers turned on though.
The only problem I've got is a hum from the pair. Once the DMC-1 is on, the hum is audible and annoying. I need to figure out how to fix this problem.
January 18, 2006
Popping In Car Grille
I saw today that the exhaust grille on my car had popped out. Looks like at some point the front driver-side edge of the bumper had rubbed against something because there were some scratches. And that may have caused the grille to pop out there. It took a while, but I was able to get the grille back into place and get the tabs to latch. I had to jack the car up to make it easier to see and manipulate, as well as reach my arm under to the backside of the grille. But it's good as new now.
January 10, 2006
Shanghai is Cold
Over the new year, I visited Shanghai which was my first time in China (excluding Hong Kong). I stayed at my dad's place because he has an apartment/office there, and went because I wanted to visit Luna. Shanghai is a lot like New York City, only more so in the ways I don't like New York City. It is even more crowded, dirtier, and noisier. Buses were frequently packed way past capacity, and no one obeys simple traffic rules like driving in one lane or not running red lights. So it is also pretty dangerous because you can be easily hit by a motorist and people can steal easily on the buses.
Despite that, the city planners have done a good job in many ways. There are separate lanes for bicycles and motorcyles in many areas, and raised or subterranean walkways for crossing busy streets. You can also find completely underground strip malls. And the traffic cops are doing their best to enforce good and safe pedestrian and motorist behavior in many places.
The biggest problem for me was the extreme cold. Temperatures hovered very close to 0°C or only a few degrees higher for the majority of my stay. I ended up getting sick on Wednesday or Thursday because it was raining heavily at freezing temperatures with strong winds and I got very wet while walking around. Plus, my dad doesn't like to use the heater so even on the 23rd floor when it is so cold outside, he had the bathroom window open and the heater set to 18°C or 20°C in the main room. So I would be really cold when there, and also when sleeping. He only turned up the heat later after I got sick. It was warmer to leave and get on the bus or go to the shopping mall.
Food is cheaper there, and of course there is a great variety of authentic Chinese food available. But if you decide to visit one of the new Western chains such as Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald's, or Burger King the prices are the same as what you'll find in the U.S. (The same goes for any other imported brands of clothing or electronics.) But the menus are very different, and more like restaurants rather than fast food joints. You will find yourself waiting for a table at Pizza Hut, and the menu is Chinese-flavored at all of these places. I did really like the food at Ajisen Ramen though.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have a strange sort of competition going on though, with Coca-Cola clearly spending much more on advertising. Both of them have created "teams" of celebrities to promote their brand, and you can find their faces pasted all over the place individually or as a team with their respective company brand in the background.
While I was there, Luna and I visited the TV broadcast tower, which is the 3rd tallest tower in the world or something like that. We also went to the museum which was featuring the paintings of many renaissance artists, but Luna wasn't interested in seeing any paintings. Plus the line was really long. Instead we looked at the gemstones, which she really liked. Shanghai also has a really cool aquarium with lots of different types of fish and other ocean and river life. The introductory exhibits are not that exciting, but later on you go down deep into a really long underwater tunnel so you can see all sorts of animals up close.
One thing that I did get a chance to do was visit a HiVi store and listen to a pair of Swans 2.2. These are amazing speakers featuring ribbon arrays for the tweeter and midrange, and four woofers. What I heard was excellent. Unfortunately, no one in Shanghai knows how to sell speakers. The room was acoustically horrible, and the salesmen did not know what they were doing (the DVD player and integrated amp were not configured correctly). The salesmen didn't even turn off the nearby television or close the doors into the rest of the mall. The room was glass walls and a hard floor, although there was a suspended ceiling. The speakers are rear-ported, but were placed way too close to the wall.
December 22, 2005
December Gas Usage
I've got my next Pacific Gas & Electric bill today, and I used 2.2 therms/day this year compared with 4.0 therms/day last year. My electricity usage is up, however, at 20.2 Kwh/day this year compared with 17.7 Kwh/day last year. According to Weather Underground, last year had 427 heating degree days and this year only 277 heating degree days. My uneducated calculations would imply a 20% savings cost due to the insulation.
December 18, 2005
Ellen invited me to Huong's potluck tonight. Mei-Ling and Yvonne went to her company holiday dinner, so around 5pm Shannon and I went to Huong's house and brought an apple pie from Bakers Square. A lot of people were there; much more than Ellen said were going to be there. Besides Huong and her boyfriend, there were Ellen and Rita, Alla and Georges, Brian, Karissa, and some other random people that I don't know.
Besides food, I played a round of DDR. Then Rita and Karissa started playing Karaoke Revolution. Shannon wouldn't do either of them in front of anyone. So we ended up playing Cranium Turbo. Shannon and I were on one team. Karissa ended up joining our team when she helped me cheat. But people started to lose interest and instead wanted to go play poker or watch Karaoke Revolution singers. We were winning when we had to leave though.
Shannon and I had to leave at 9pm to get back to my place at 9:30pm because that's when Mei-Ling and Yvonne would be done and they needed to go home. Their dinner ran a little late so Shannon and I started playing DDR at my place.
Only when I got home, I found that there was a really long line of ants going from near the fireplace to the sink, because the ham stew pot had been sitting in the sink all day.
December 17, 2005
Need New Vacuum Cleaner
Looks like I need a new vacuum cleaner. About two years ago I bought the cheapest bare floor and carpet vacuum I could find at Sears. But the belt broke a couple of times on the motor. The friction burned through the rubber belt. The other day I bought a replacement belt and I put it in tonight. As soon as I switched to bare floor mode, the belt burned through. I think there is too much dried gunk on the spindle and that is generating extra friction with any new belts I put in.
December 11, 2005
Subwoofer Phase Adjustment
A few nights ago, I noticed that the bass on the 4 Strings Turn It Around album was not synchronized with the higher frequencies. And today, while playing DDR, it was sometimes hard to keep the beat. So I decided to investigate.
As it turns out, Kodo's Ibuki album is an excellent source of material for determining subwoofer phase. With my previous subwoofer phase setting of 0°, a fair portion of this album seemed muddied. It sounded like there were a lot more drums than there actually are. During busy sections, it became hard to distinguish individual drumbeats. Switching my subwoofer phase to 180° immediately cleared up the entire album.
It was a lot harder to use AVIA to determine the correct phase, even though it can be done with very careful attention to the subwoofer phase calibration tone and corresponding description. The beats on Turn It Around are much better aligned now as well.
December 10, 2005
The passenger side headlamp in my car went out the other day. I originally scheduled an appointment for tomorrow morning at Bob Lewis Volkswagen, and was told it'd take about forty-five minutes to an hour, and cost about $55. But I then called the Kragen Auto Parts that is near me and they said they had the replacement bulb in stock for $10, and could show me how to replace it.
I got to Kragen and bought the bulb, but the guy who said he could show me how to replace it wasn't there anymore. So I also bought a the Chilton New Beetle Repair Manual. Total cost was about $30. It took me some doing, but I was able to replace the bulb myself. It was a little tricky because it didn't move super smoothly, and a lot of the black sealant gunk came off in my hands. But it's all done now and my headlamp is working again.
December 6, 2005
Destroy All Ants
The ants have been invading my house since the rains started. I've been in a constant war with them over the kitchen and the cat food. If I leave anything out, they'll start gobbling it up. Even an empty cup or a spill on the stove might contain enough for them to start swarming. Today when I came home, there were thousands on the garbage and recycle cans. Boric acid powder isn't doing much at all. So I've put down a couple ant baits in the closet. Last I checked, there was some activity on them. Hopefully the colony will be killed.
November 23, 2005
November is the first month that Pacific Gas & Electric bumps up the baseline quantity by a lot, to match the increase in heating requirements. It also means this is the first month that I can see the benefits of the insulation I had installed earlier this year.
I am using the same thermostat setting as last year. Data from the Weather Underground indicates much warmer daytime temperatures this year. My hot water and central heat is gas-powered. This year I used 1.0 therms/day compared to 3.2 therms/day last year. However, I used 18.6Kwh/day this year compared to 15.6Kwh/day last year. I could probably save more by replacing the front and interior garage doors. My back downstairs windows are okay, even though they weren't replaced when the rest of the windows were, because I have them covered in blackout cloth which prevents a lot of air movement.
November 10, 2005
Repaired Garage Door
When I came home this past Sunday, I found out that my garage door would no longer open all the way. Turns out one of the high-tension springs had snapped while I was away. Possibly the last time I closed the garage door. It may have been weakened due to the water I was using in that area while using the hole saw on the hushbox acrylic, although that seems unlikely since that was three or four days earlier. Anyway, I bought a replacement spring tonight and the garage door is working perfectly again.
November 4, 2005
Projector Mount Improvements
I finally got around to fixing up the annoyances of my projector mount and hushbox. The mount was causing a problem by being too short to drop the projector below the support beam that cuts across the theater. To fix this, I stuck a 2"x6" between the mount top and the ceiling. It doesn't look great, but I can cover with some black felt to fix that. The other problem was the small rectangular hole in the hushbox acrylic glass. It was too small and blocking some of the light. So I purchased a 5" hole-saw and enlarged the hole, using water again to keep the temperature down. Although I did overdrive the drill motor. I also took the time to level the projector using the mount. The end result is a much nicer picture.
September 25, 2005
Linux Server Hardware Failue
On Friday, I noticed during work that my server was no longer available for remote access. When I got home that night, I discovered it was powered off. I was able to coax it back to life via some power-on sequence magic, but it died again shortly thereafter. So I decided this is finally the time when I need to upgrade my hardware. I went to Fry's Electronics to buy a new processor, RAM, motherboard, and power supply. I found out later that the motherboard doesn't support 3V AGP cards, so I ended up having to buy a new video card too.
Unfortunately, it seems Linux is not too happy with my new setup. I purchased an Athlon 64 processor, and a motherboard using the NVIDIA nForce3 chipset. I seem to have two problems. First, GRUB will no longer load off my hard disk. I can only bring my system up by booting it from the SuSE DVD. Second, at times it seems the system enters some sort of slow period. Commands that should execute quickly become delayed. And it doesn't appear to be hard disk related.
September 20, 2005
I got blown-in insulation for my house today. I hired a company called Universal Insulation, off the recommendation of Dave Duggins over at Central California Insulation. If you look earlier, you'll see that Dave helped me out when I was building my home theater panel trap. But CC Insulation only does commercial buildings, so Dave recommended I contact Jim at Universal Insulation.
The guy who came out to take a look and give me a quote, Kevin Byler, was very nice and courteous. He even took off his shoes before coming in the house without me asking. The main guy of the three-person team who did the insulation today also took off his shoes once he saw I preferred them to not walk on the carpet, and they ran tarps inside to keep the floor clean. They did a good job and I'm looking forward to much more comfortable summers and winters.
September 17, 2005
Katrina Donation Raffles
A few AV companies are holding Katrina donation raffles. So instead of donating directly to a charity and taking a tax deduction, you can enter a raffle to win something (raffles involving non-charity organizations are considered gambling and as such are not tax deductible) but still have 100% of your donation sent to the organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or Save the Children. Here are some links: Rotel RMB-1075, Epiphany Audio 12-12, pro gear + cash, Talisman SE. These are all legitimate. Be wary of scam sites claiming to accept donations or holding raffles.
July 31, 2005
I bought a used sewing machine today. I should have done that in the first place, instead of buying the cheaply-constructed Handy Stitch. I opened the Handy Stitch after the motor burned out, and saw it is a simple arrangement of plastic gears and a cheap motor. That machine is fine for extremely small jobs that just need to be fixed up temporarily. But this sewing machine is simply so much better. It produces quality stitches very quickly.
Using it, I was able to finish the black polyester ceiling for my home theater. Now the light reflected off the screen does not bounce off of the white ceiling. The polyester does reflect some of the light, unlike my velvet side curtains, but it is better than the white ceiling. I hope it stays up though; the cloth is pulled pretty tight and there is a fair amount of stress being placed on the closet poles. I assume it should be okay, since the strain is probably very similar to what would be there due to lots of clothes. Only my poles are 100" long without a center support.
July 29, 2005
New DVD Rack
I received the media tower I ordered today. Hard work assembling it, but it looks pretty good. It will hold 587 DVDs, so I am set for a good while on space. I had completely run out of space on the racks I was using for my CDs and DVDs. I'm still using that primary rack for my CDs, and I've moved the other display-type rack upstairs, to join the display-type rack I moved up previously.
July 26, 2005
Improving the Ceiling
One of the things that has been bothering me about my current setup is the white ceiling and ceiling fan, right above the projection screen. The reflections can be distracting, especially as the bottom of the fan is several inches drop from the ceiling. So I removed the ceiling fan on Saturday, and bought some fabric and closet poles. I'm going to try and drape black fabric across the ceiling.
Unfortunately, the motor in my Handy Stitch burned out while sewing the fabric. I opened it up and it's just a basic gear system using a small motor. So I took one of the motors from Shannon & Yvonne that they were using for their motor boats and am going to try and fix the Handy Stitch. Just need to solder and it should be good as new.
July 9, 2005
Final Weed Wahcking
I did some more weed whacking today, what should be the last bit of weed whacking that I need to do. Now I need to hire a gardener to keep the backyard clean of growth, trimmed where appropriate, and the front yard well kept.
July 3, 2005
Cable Staples & Tie-Downs
I have been having lots of problems keeping my cables attached to the walls and ceiling without falling down. I did use some double-sided adhesive before, which works great until you want to remove the cable. Then it rips off some of the drywall, and needs to get painted over again. I've been using white duct tape instead, but it tends to lose adhesive fairly easily and then the cable will fall off. So today I went and bought some cable staples and cable tie-downs. The staples nail into the wall and the tie-downs are attached using screws or nails. Works perfectly. I don't have to worry about the cables falling anymore. And if I cover it up with white duct tape, it looks as inconspicuous as before.
Killing More Spray
I sprayed the rest of the backyard today. Used up the rest of the concentrate, and technically I needed like one or two more gallons of the concentrate for the area I'm trying to treat, but I did see that the areas I sprayed before are clear of growth now. I also found that the ants are going into a crawl-space vent and also into a loose lighting fixture. I can't block the vent, but I caulked up the gap around the lighting fixture. So hopefully that eliminates one of the entrances for the ants.
June 18, 2005
A few days ago, I stopped by Orchard Supply Hardware and picked up some liquid for killing grass and weeds. I bought one that would sterilize the ground completely for a year, and one that would just kill whatever it touches. Today I used the latter to spray some random places in the concrete and in the backyard, near trees and near my neighbor's property. By tomorrow evening, those plants are supposed to be dead.
June 16, 2005
On a hot day, the hushbox I just made can be a problem for the Hitachi PJTX100's fans. The heat will be generated faster than it leaves the box, and the fan will start working harder, thus more noisily, and the bulb lifetime will be decreased. So I rigged together a computer case fan, 9V battery, and switch that will turn on a fan to pump air into or out of the hushbox, depending on its orientation and position. This does help, but I need to figure out the best arrangement. Ideally, I will want to add more fans and replace the switch with a thermal trigger.
June 14, 2005
Ceiling Mounted Rears
I stopped by Good Guys today and picked up another pair of OmniMount 20.0 Ceiling speaker mounts, for my rear surround speakers. I pulled them out 18" from the back wall and they are now suspended about 6" inches lower. The sound is much clearer coming out of them now. A significant improvement. I've also got all the surrounds pointed directly at my primary listening position now, instead of mostly parallel to the ground plane.
June 7, 2005
I cleared the last of vines out of the backyard today. The ground is pretty yucky looking, with all the dead vegetation and leftover bits, but at least it isn't overgrown. I'm going to have to do something more to make sure it stays that way, as tall grass is already starting to grow back in the areas I cleared out weeks ago. Next stop is to buy some of that grass and weed killer stuff and spray it everywhere. I do still have to clean-up the plants growing in the little shelf area along the back fence.
Unfortunately, today I saw that part of my back fence had fallen down. It looks like the entire back fence that is adjacent to one of the houses is almost completely rotted away and the rest of it is likely to fall soon. The back fence that is adjacent to the other house is still in good condition. It doesn't look as old.
June 5, 2005
Hushbox Acrylic Cut-out
I discovered yesterday that the acrylic front to my hushbox was creating a ghost image, due to the index of refraction and slightly imperfect positioning. Unless the incoming light is exactly perpendicular to the surface of the acrylic, a ghost image would be created. Since I cannot perfect the position, I decided to cut out a hole. I used a circular saw to cut out a rectangular hold in the acrylic. It's not very pretty, but it works.
June 4, 2005
I finished building my hushbox and it looks and works pretty well. The acrylic plastic is held onto the front using some construction brackets I spray-painted black. By applying pressure onto the plastic when screwing in the brackets, I was able to get the plastic pushed tight against the frame, to minimize any air leakage between the plastic and the frame. Unfortunately, the plastic makes the front heavy, so I added a couple more brackets into the rear interior to hold a large block of mass. I used the push block we used to install the wood floor as the mass. Photos are up in my gallery.
June 3, 2005
I started building a hushbox for my projector today. I am using 1/2" plywood for the base and sides, 1/4" plywood for the top, and 1/4" acrylic plastic for the front. The inside will be lined with 1 1/2" insulating foam. I'm letting the foam stick out a little bit in back so I am less likely to bump my head on the wood. Plus, if the hushbox does get knocked, the foam should protect the projector. I used liquid nails for the initial construction, but need to add some metal bracing to make sure it stays in one piece. I'm going to try and cover the outside with black felt so it doesn't look too bad. The finished unit will hang off the projector mount; I just hope it isn't too heavy.
June 2, 2005
SV Subwoofers Exchange Good
I received my replacement 16-46PC+ today, and set it up exactly as the one I sent back to them. This one is indeed moving an amount of air equal to the one I kept from the original pair, and it is working great. The guys at SVS have been absolutely great throughout this, and I can't thank them enough.
June 1, 2005
Vines Almost Gone
I've got almost all the vines out of the backyard now. Created another huge car-sized pile of plant material in the street again this evening. I also killed the remaining two pricker bushes; the last one was almost 7 feet high. I used my soil spinning tool to get out the roots for the original pricker bush and one of the ones from today. But the last pricker bush's roots are still deep so I wasn't able to get it out this time. I have about 40 square feet of vines and plants to get rid of. I also trimmed the banana trees so they don't look so horrible anymore.
Tiger is Faster
I have an old iBook Special Edition that I bought back at the end of 2000, and I'm currently using it as my music console in the home theater. I was running Mac OS 10.3 on it but 10.3 was slower than 10.2. So I downgraded to 10.2. Unfortunately, support for AirPort Express streaming music was added in 10.3. So I decided to try loading Mac OS 10.4 on it and it is actually faster than 10.3 and 10.2. Apple continues to make me happy.
May 26, 2005
SV Subwoofers Exchange
When I received my new 16-46PC+ subwoofers, I noticed that one of them was not moving as much air out of the top ports as the other. The difference in air flow was very large; placing my hand over the port of one would create a loud chuffing sound, while doing the same over the other would have no effect. However, he generated SPL levels appeared to be the same for equal gain settings. Anyway, SVS has decided that the best thing to do is exchange the one that is not moving as much air so they can figure out what is wrong. A replacement 16-46PC+ is on its way to me now.
May 25, 2005
Giant Pricker Bush
I cleaned up more of the backyard today, creating a huge pile of vines and other stuff in the street. The pile of vines is about as long as a car, and almost as wide. But only about 1.5' tall. During this backyard cleanup, I started running into pricker bushes. And there is one giant pricker bush that I had to use the hedge clippers on. Unfortunately, this one had grown so big I could not pull out the roots, especially with all the prickers on the trunk. I tried wedging out some of its roots using the hedge clippers, but ended up just bending the blades.
I sold off some of my home theater components, now that I purchased newer and better things. The first was the Monster Cable MonsterBass™ 400 subwoofer cable I was using with the Velodyne SPL-1200II. The second was my JVC XV-SA602SL region-free DVD player. And the last was the Alesis DEQ830 I had only recently purchased.
I moved the Velodyne upstairs after receiving my new 16-46PC+ subwoofers, and when ordering subwoofer cables from Blue Jeans Cable I ordered a replacement one for the Velodyne. So I sold off the MonsterBass 400.
The JVC XV-SA602SL was of course replaced by the OPPO Digital OPDV971H. That JVC model is currently selling for $100 refurbished online region 1 only. I sold mine for less than that, so the purchaser got a real good deal.
And I finally decided to sell the Alesis DEQ830, because while I did like having thirty bands of 1/3-octave EQ, I felt the benefit was outweighed by the raised noise floor and ground loop hum. Especially since my Yamaha RX-V1400 provides seven bands of 1/3-octave EQ. As a side-effect, I returned the Hosa interconnects I purchased, and am using RCA-brand interconnects instead. I only had six of those, so I'm actually using one of the RCA-brand component video cables for the center channel, now that I'm using DVI for the video. Interestingly enough, the noise floor with these cables is lower than when I had nothing on the Outlaw Audio 7100 inputs.
May 20, 2005
SV Subwoofers 16-46PC+
I just received a pair of SVS 16-46PC+ subwoofers. These two are replacing a single Velodyne SPL-1200II subwoofer. The Velodyne is going upstairs into the video game setup to be coupled with a pair of Castle Avon speakers. The two 16-46PC+ subwoofers are together in the same price range as the single Velodyne. But they perform at least an order of magnitude better.
The 16-46PC+s are extremely large. Each subwoofer is approximately 17" in diameter and 4' tall. The basic construction is a single cylinder with a down-firing 12" driver at the base, and three flared ports at the top that are tubes down the length of the cylinder. The driver is protected at the bottom by a solid base, which also serves to make sure the sound is produced correctly regardless of your floor material.
They are covered in a very nice black cloth, and the construction appears excellent. The top ports are protected by a nice metal grille that fits snug, but can be removed to plug one of the ports to tune the subwoofer at 12Hz. At the base is the SVS logo.
The back of the integrated amplifier contains all of the inputs, outputs, and dials you might want. Some nice features include full-range phase control and auto-on. There are both line-level outputs and speaker binding posts if you need them.
SVS packages their subwoofers nicely, using stiff styrofoam, and the entire unit is protected from the elements and dirt during transit by a sealed bag. The bag is reusable. You will want to save the boxes, but of course the boxes are huge. I had to rearrange some things to fit them into my closet.
I have them tuned at 12Hz, and removing the top grille is easy once you realize that is what you're supposed to do to access the ports. The port plugs fit very tightly in the ports with moderate compression, so they are doing their job right.
During calibration, I discovered just how impressive subsonics can be. I was playing 10Hz through these subwoofers, feeling it come out, and hearing the house respond. I've discovered new things in the room that will rattle, including the sliding glass door to the backyard.
I am extremely pleased with these new subwoofers. The impulse response played back during my calibration seemed perfect. The Velodyne did not recover as quickly from this same impulse response. While playing sources with low frequenices, I am not hearing any harmonics that I don't think should be there.
On a side note, I also had a very nice experience with UPS when my packages were accidentally delivered to Ultimate Control this morning. The customer representative, delivery center, and driver were very friendly and helpful.
May 15, 2005
Yet More Vines
I pulled even more vines out of the backyard today. There's a pretty big pile out by the curb, and I only cleared off about 30 square feet of the backyard. Probably about another 100 square feet to go. I also pulled out some vines from one of the three trees next to the driveway. The vines were starting to climb up the tree and that probably isn't healthy for the tree.
May 14, 2005
OPDV971H DVD Player
I bought a new DVD player yesterday, the OPPO Digital OPDV971H. This player scored 94 on the DVD Benchmark, second only to the Denon DVD-5910. But the 5910 is over fifteen times the price. After hooking up the OPDV971H to my Hitachi PJTX100 via a DVI-D cable, I calibrated the picture and watched the Avia reference videos. The picture was a step-up, much like going from S-Video to component. I also tested the player's audio side with a DVD-Audio copy of In Blue from The Corrs. The audio was just as excellent as the video.
The OPDV971H allowed me to get an excellent level of sharpness. I was unable to reduce the sharpness enough on my previous player, the JVC XV-SA602SL. The edging on diagonals is much smoother. And the de-interlacing and upscaling to 720p features allow me to send a native image to my PJTX100.
The unit was packaged extremely well, and enclosed in a fabric bag. The front is slim, stylish, and minimalist. The LCD display is very clear and displays feedback for any button pressed on the remote. The back is well laid-out, all connections are clearly labeled, and there was absolutely no flexing as I pushed cables into it. The remote is just as slim as the player and has a brushed metal face. There is a remote button for just about every function the player provides. And the player provides an excellent number of features. More features than I would expect from any player at any price.
I actually picked up the player by driving to OPPO's office in Mountain View. This let me save on shipping, not have to wait for a delivery at home, and also to get the player right away. I spoke there with Sally Li, about the player, their products, and why I decided to purchase their DVD player. She was very friendly and helpful, and that was also a nice side-benefit of picking up the player in-person. OPPO is very responsive to feedback, and my interaction with Sally only made that even more clear to me.
I also asked them about the lack of support for 2-2 cadence, as tested by Kris for the benchmark. The other guy there informed me that the 2-2 cadence flag only applies to certain older PAL sources that have been converted to DVD. So I don't have to worry about it for watching NTSC 30fps video sources.
May 13, 2005
AV123 is having a raffle with all net proceeds being donated to The Jimmy Fund. In case you are interested in supporting it but also would like the chance to win a nice prize. Raffle ticket sales are non-deductible. The tickets are found on their Rocket by Onix page.
May 12, 2005
More Yard Work
I worked on my backyard a little more today. Finished pulling out all the weeds from the main dirt area, and started pulling some of the vines away near the edge of the side area. The vines have taken over the side area, which is partly the cause of my banana trees slowly dying. Also because I haven't watered the backyard ever. Maybe one or two more days to get rid of all the remaining vines in the side area.
May 10, 2005
More Weed Wacking
Last week, I bought a weed wacker and used it to clear out some of the tall grass in my backyard. Today, I did some more, and finished up the area around the greenhouse shed. I also started pulling out some of the weeds that have grown in the dirt area behind the house. I figure a few more days of this work, and all that will be left are the stubs of all the vegetation. Then I can buy the plant killer stuff and spray everything back there.
I had a termite inspection today by Larry Gulling from First Choice Termite Control. They are the ones who fumigated my home before I bought it about a year and a half ago. I called them because there were some pellets on my windowsill and I thought I saw a flyer. Turns out termites are much larger than the bug I saw; people had told me they are small but I guess my definition of small is smaller than everyone else's. Anyway, doesn't look like there are any termites here.
Larry was very friendly, courteous, and professional. We actually talked about my home theater for a bit. He's looking into buying an HDTV in the near future to watch sports in high-definition. After explaining to me what termites actually look like, and describing things about the previous inspection and fumigation to me, he was kind enough to caulk up the crack around one of my windows with clear latex. This way, if I see new pellets on that windowsill, it will have to be from new activity.
If anyone in the Bay Area is looking for a termite control company, I would highly recommend First Choice Termite Control.
May 2, 2005
I mentioned earlier how adding the Outlaw Audio 7100 and Alesis DEQ830 introduced some hum. Well, today I grounded all the component chassis to each other and the wall using 12-gauge wire, and replaced the flimsy Pyle 1/4" Male to RCA Male interconnects with some Hosa CSS-800 snakes which seem better constructed. The ground loop hum is reduced but not completely gone, and the sound seems clearer and more distinct now.
May 1, 2005
Outlaw Audio 7100 & Alesis DEQ830
I purchased a couple of new components for my home theater setup. The Outlaw Audio 7100 is a seven-channel 100W power amplifier. The Alesis DEQ830 is an eight-channel 30-band digital graphic equalizer with constant 1/3 octave Q. Now my Yamaha RX-V1400 is connected to the DEQ830, which in turn is connected to the 7100. I also removed the tweeter meshes from my Monitor Audio S8s and SLCR, as suggested by some people.
Since the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer is an auto-calibrating equalizer with 1/3 octave Q, running the YPAO equalization several times allowed me to transfer the adjustments from the RX-V1400 to the DEQ830. Thus giving me what is equivalent to a 30-band YPAO. By the end, YPAO was only listing one or two adjustments per channel, and for some channels, absolutely no adjustments.
The end result is a much nicer frequency response, although the warmth I was hearing from the speakers doesn't seem to be there anymore. YPAO also decided that it was okay to lower the subwoofer crossover from 100Hz to the THX standard 80Hz. Playing through some audio CDs and my reference Moulin Rouge, vocal separation and clarity was very much improved. The bass response was more apparent. I was able to hear a lot more of what was previously inaudible or muffled. Ambient noises and minor sound effects was clearer.
I haven't actually measured the resulting frequency response though, so it is quite possible that the new plot is actually not great in some places. But overall I'm pleased with the result and I have some faith in the YPAO system for picking up what it can.
Unfortunately, I am hearing some noise from both the 7100 and even more from the DEQ830. Turning off the DEQ830 lowers the noise floor. Placing the DEQ830 on the same circuit as the RX-V1400 and 7100 actually produces a loud hum. So it is on a separate circuit right now. I will probably have to purchase a power conditioner to reduce the noise.
April 20, 2005
A Little Cleaning
I did some cleaning today, including the upstairs bathroom. But I also grabbed out some of the vines and plants I cut off from the backyard. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like I can do this in little steps. The grass has already grown back just as tall as from when I attacked the backyards a while ago. I'm going to have to pull out as much as I can, then maybe look around for a landscaper to do the rest. If I can just put in grass, then managing it shouldn't be as much of a problem.
April 17, 2005
Fixed Leaky Toilet
The upstairs toilet tank was leaking all the time because the flapper was no longer creating a perfect seal. So I bought a new flapper from Home Depot today and installed it. The flapper does not come with a floatation bob, which is necessary for keeping the flapper open while the toilet flushes. But I was able to reuse the existing floatation bob with the new flapper and the toilet no longer leaks. I will have to buy a new floatation bob for the downstairs toilet because when my Dad fixed that one (same problem) I think he did not save the bob.
April 6, 2005
I went over to Bryant's house yesterday after work to calibrate his new home theater setup. He just ordered some new equipment: an Onkyo TX-SR502 receiver, Hsu VT-12 6-speaker system, and a Hsu STF-2 subwoofer. We spent about four hours calibrating his audio and video.
His room has a pretty big peak in subwoofer output (or dip everywhere else, depending on how you look at it) at the mid-bass range. It also has a big dip around 70Hz. I think the 70Hz dip is due to the room. His bass response may also be compromised by placement on the thick carpeting.
The remainder of the 1/6 octave test tones played decent with a few peaks and dips. The VT-12 sounds great for such an inexpensive system with satellites. The satellites can't compete at full-range, but for the price they sound a lot better than other satellites. The subwoofer is also very nice.
We also calibrated the video on his Samsung TX-P3075WH television. The basic settings were easy to set, however there were a couple of issues. First, when turning the set off and then on, it seems to switch off of the custom settings and back to dynamic. Second, there is some visible bending of the picture in one corner, which I was unable to correct from the service menu. Fixing one corner would bend the other corner.
April 5, 2005
I received the color-correcting 40-percent red filter for my Hitachi PJTX100 projector. I ordered this filter based on a review by John E. Johnson and Steve Smallcombe. I adjusted the gain values on the projector to match those identifed in the review with this specific filter. The goal of the filter is to improve color balance across all IRE levels. I can see the picture is slightly different. I suppose the new picture is more accurate, but I have become more familiar with the previous picture.
April 4, 2005
I found a program called ToneGen today that lets you create a few different types of audio tones and custom frequencies. I generated some tones and burned them to a CD to test my subwoofer placement. Turns out my placement was pretty bad for the 20Hz range. I had a significant dip there. So I placed my subwoofer in the primary listening seat and used my Radio Shack Digital-Display Sound-Level Meter to identify a better location on the inside of the left main speaker. This fixed the 20Hz range dip, but I still have a major 80Hz dip.
I'm going to perform some additional testing with new 1/6 octave tones I just generated. To find out the proper frequencies in terms of octave fractions, I used the standard octave bands information from Prosig. I have sixty-six 1/6 octave tones starting at 10Hz to 20kHz at thirty seconds each. Should make for a good test CD.
March 24, 2005
Projector and Screen Photos
I've taken some photos my my DIY screen and the ceiling mounted Hitachi PJTX100. The photos are in the Home Theater gallery. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the screen construction. I also updated the thumbnails for the riser construction gallery.
Return of the Ants
Spring is back, and with it have come the ants. I found them today attacking the cat food. I've removed the cat food and placed some fresh cat food with boric acid powder on it near their entrance, in the kitchen closet. Hopefully, they will take the bait and kill off their colony.
March 13, 2005
Belt Drive Garage Door Opener
My garage door opener stopped working earlier this week. I opened it up and the motor and gears just wouldn't turn anymore. Since having someone come out to fix it would cost a little bit, and I expect I would just have more problems with it after fixed, I went to buy a new garage door opener. I found a Craftsman 1/2hp Belt Drive garage door opener on sale at Posted by josuah at 3:03 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 12, 2005
The other day, I finished sewing blackout curtains for three windows and the sliding glass door in the area surrounding the home theater. The cloth was about $6/yd. at Hancock Fabrics and I spent about $50 total purchasing all of the cloth and white thread. I also had to buy Because there was so much sewing to do, I bought a Handy Stitch. This made it a lot easier to sew the curtains. Now the projector is usable during the day.
March 7, 2005
Leather Bean Bags
I went a few places today looking for seats for both my bedroom (for the video games setup) and happened across a furniture store called Ramos Furniture on Monterey Highway. I decided to go in because they had a big sign announcing a clearance. Turns out they had a couple of leather bean bags on their floor without any price tags on them. The saleswoman told me each was $80 and I bought the two for $150 total. These are patchwork leather bean bags, but it is a really good deal. They are very comfortable.
March 6, 2005
Center Speaker Stand
I built a stand for my center speaker today. The top and bottom are 8" square cuts of 1/2" plywood, connected together with a 4"x4" piece of wood (actually one of the legs I used to raise the sofa before). To increase the mass, an 8" cube cinder block was put around the 4"x4" before screwing on the top plate. The entire structure is covered in black felt and there are some plastic floor protectors on the bottom. The speaker is placed on top vertically.
Right now, I have a bunch of shims stuck on the bottom to make it level and to tilt the speaker up towards the viewers. This should reduce reflections from the screen off the top of the speaker. If it turns out there aren't reflections, or the speaker is unstable this way, then I'll move it back to level. I could place black felt on the top to reduce reflections instead of tilting it.
March 5, 2005
Since I moved the Panasonic PT-50LC13 into my bedroom along with my GameCube and Playstation 2, I haven't had anything hooked up as I was waiting for the Sony STR-DE597. It arrived earlier this week and I was able to get it hooked up today with my Castle Avon speakers. The system works as good as I expected, and does everything I need it to do.
There were a few things I found inferior with this receiver, but nothing I wouldn't expect for such a low-end product.
Attaching the connections to the back of the receiver caused the back-plate to bend in. It's attached very well, but not very stiff. The unit is not particularly heavy, although the side with the power supply and amplifiers is heavier, making the unit off-balance in terms of weight. It is also pretty large for a such a low-end unit.
The inputs labeled DVD only accept coaxial digital audio, and not optical. This isn't entirely bad, as the receiver still includes two optical digital audio inputs: one for SACD/CD and one for Video 2. So instead of having both coaxial and optical audio inputs for DVD, which would only allow you to use one of the two inputs, I could make use of both of them. However, I won't be, as I have the GameCube going to the DVD inputs and the Playstation 2 going to the Video 2 inputs so I can use the optical audio. I may use the SACD/CD optical audio input with another Airport Express at some future time.
The LCD display is a bit limiting in terms of available pixels, and the user-interface a little confusing as a result. A lot of words need to be abbreviated making the manual a necessary reference. I also tend to dislike units that have a lot of buttons or controls on the front panel, preferring to use the remote or to have those controls hidden behind a faceplate.
The included remote is not a universal remote, for obvious reasons at this price point. This means I have to use both the television and receiver remotes to control things.
I did discover that the receiver includes three light output settings for its LCD display, which is a very nice bonus. I have it set to the lowest setting so it does not distract as much. Although, due to the size, I was forced to place this on the very bottom of the stand, so it isn't near the screen anyway. I can drive the Castle Avon speakers, which are rated at 8 ohms, at my desired volume level without pushing the receiver too hard.
All I need now is a subwoofer, as the Castle Avon can only handle down to about 50Hz before dropping off.
6" Ceiling Mount Extension
The 6" projector ceiling mount extension I ordered arrived today. I attached it to the kit and the projector is at a perfect height now. I was even able to raise the screen a few inches higher, allowing me to improve the front speaker arrangement and making it easier for people in the back row to see over the heads of the first row.
I have the projector cables running along the ceiling. The power goes to the back wall where it plugs in beneath the panel trap. I ran the 25' component video cable I purchased from Fry's Electronics along the ceiling next to the speaker cables.
After setting all of this up, I did some listening tests. With the projector screen raised, I can try placing the center speaker vertically instead of horizontally. I listened to Suzanne Vega's Solitude Standing in straight and DPLIIx Music modes. Szu-Huey agrees that it sounds better with the center speaker positioned vertically, and she was about 30° off-axis.
So, I need to build a 12" or 13" inch vertical speaker stand for the center channel. I'm afraid any I purchase will not be heavy enough to withstand a pounce from the kitties. At this height, the center speaker will be a few inches below the front speakers, and the center tweeter will be several inches below the front tweeters. But that's the best I can do with my setup.
March 1, 2005
Screen Weight Slipcovers
Since the projector screen weights I constructed were made out of black ABS piping, the outside of the pipes do reflect light bounced off the projector screen. Not a big deal, but something that distracts every once in a while. So, to reduce the amount of reflection from the screen weights, I sewed some black felt slipcovers today. Placed over the weights, the reflection is greatly reduced.
The only problem remaining is the high center of gravity these weights have, making it them someone ineffective. To remedy this, I will buy some 8"x8" cinder blocks to slip over them. Once in place, it will be extremely difficult for the screen to push the stabilizing weights over.
February 28, 2005
Yesterday Szu-Huey and I watched Terminator 2. She liked the first one, so we watched the second one. It was great on the 92" screen. We will watch the third one next.
I did notice that the dark scenes had a blue emphasis. This is what I was told to expect at Secrets of Home Theater based on their review of the Hitachi PJTX100. It should be fixed with the color correcting filter that I have on order, assuming those dark scenes were not supposed to have the blue cast.
February 27, 2005
A while ago I posted about how I completed a DIY projector screen. What I didn't mention is that it was not perfectly planar. To try and correct this, I braced it against the back wall with some 13" rods and the left, center, and right speakers pushing up against the frame. But I didn't want this to be the final situation, as that meant vibrations in the speaker cabinets would be affected by the frame and the other speakers. So today I built some weights to take the place of the speakers in pushing against the frame.
I built two of these weights. The construction is very simple. I purchased two 12" diameter melamine boards to serve as the base, and screwed a 3" black ABS cap into the center using 3/8" machine screws, washers, and nuts. I then leveled the base with level-adjusting floor protectors, 120° apart and 2" in from the edge. A 3' long section of black ABS pipe was inserted into the base cap, filled with sand, and then I put a cap on the top to close it off. No glue necessary; everything fits snug.
The resulting pipes are not very heavy, but have decent mass, and are capable of holding the screen's frame against the 13" rods. So the four corners of the frame are equidistant from the back wall, and the plane of the frame is relatively parallel to the back wall.
February 24, 2005
6" Mount Too Short
I ordered a cheap Cinemagear 6" Universal Projector Mount to try and save some money. Unfortunately, I should have spent more getting a higher quality mount. This cheap projector does not provide what I need for a correct ceiling mount.
For starters, the Hitachi PJTX100 uses metric M6 screws. This mount doesn't come with those screws, and the adjustment screws it does include are not compatible with the thicker M6 diameter. I had to jury-rig a solution using M6 screws and locking nuts, but I spent way too much time driving back and forth from both The Home Depot and Orchard Supply Hardware buying random screws to try. I didn't want to actually bring the projector to the store as it might've gotten damaged.
Secondly, the 6" ceiling drop provided by the mount is too low because there is a drop in the ceiling of my home theater where the house used to end. The front half of my home theater room is an extension that was added to the house several years ago. This drop is quite large at 14" and right now, the projector cannot get past this with the lens shift. I would have to lower the screen almost to the floor for this to work, and then use digital keystone correction which will degrade the image quality.
So I've emailed the company I purchased the mount from to see if I can exchange it for a 12" projector mount. Same brand, different model with an extension arm. Then I should not have any problems with the drop in my ceiling where the previous exterior wall was located.
If I can't do that, then I have two options: I can either eBay the 6" mount and order the 12" mount, or I can purchase a wooden block to extend the mount point from the ceiling. If I wrap the wood in black felt, it won't look so bad.
February 22, 2005
Szu-Huey and I watched The Terminator yesterday. It looked really good on the big screen. However, the projector isn't mounted yet so there was very audible fan noise behind us during quiet parts in the movie. Plus, light is still reflecting off the top of my center channel, causing extra light on the screen and also serving as a distraction. Hopefully some of thes problems will be fixed once I have the projector mounted.
RPTV Gaming Setup
Since I got the Hitachi PJTX100, I no longer have the Panasonic PT-50LC13 in the home theater. Instead, I've moved it into the bedroom and I will play video games on that since the bulb will last longer and is covered under the Sears warranty. So they should change the bulb for me if it breaks or burns out. I'm setting up the RPTV with the pair of Castle Avon speakers I got from JEJ. Szu-Huey's landlords work for Sony and have ordered a receiver for me: the STR-DE597. I need a full home theater receiver because I want the video switching and optical audio inputs, even for just 2-channel audio.
DIY Projector Screen
I completed building my DIY projector screen and it is now hanging from the ceiling in the home theater room. It consists of a 2x4" fir frame, held together using a pair of L-brackets in each corner. This frame was covered with black felt, and blackout cloth (free of blemishes) was stretched across the back using a canvas puller and staples. The frame is hung from the ceiling using eye-hooks and steel cable rated for a total maximum weight of 240 pounds. It is stablized against the wall using the speakers and 13" wooden rods.
Szu-Huey helped with screwing together the frame, pulling the blackout cloth, and hanging it from the ceiling. We've watched a few things so far, without calibration, and it looks excellent. The screen has a very good level of uniform gain, and the viewing angle is extremely wide. I think blackout cloth must be better than professional projection screens, although I haven't seen many.
February 16, 2005
Ellen and Alla gave me my birthday present today: a remote control light dimmer. I installed it in the home theater today and it works great. The previous incandescent lights were making a lot of noise when dimmed though, so I went to The Home Depot and purchased some expensive high-quality halogen bulbs and checked the filaments by shaking them at the store. The noise created during dimming is sometimes called humming or singing.
These new halogen bulbs have a short neck, however, because the long neck ones rattled a lot when I shook them. Probably because there is a longer binding post for the filament in the long neck bulbs. Since my recessed lighting receptacles are built for long neck bulbs, I had to take them apart, bend the insides with pliers, and now the short neck bulbs can fit although it looks a little funny. The noise is greatly reduced when dimmed with these bulbs.
So I've finally got a remote dimmer for the home theater lights. No more getting up to adjust the lights. It's very good.
When Alla and Ellen gave me the present, they wrapped it in a bag that says "Party Girl" or "Pretty Girl" on it. And then Ellen crossed out the Girl part on one of them and replaced it with Boy. Jeanne helped them plan this gift wrapping.
February 15, 2005
I found an amazing deal on eBay this morning for a Hitachi PJTX100 projector. It was a one-day auction and I grabbed for about half list price, and several hundred below street price. This won the Secrets' award for 2004 LCD projector of the year (review).
I was originally looking for a Sanyo PLV-Z2 as this has a street much cheaper than the PJTX100, but this deal allowed me to get the PJTX100 for a couple hundred more than the street price of the PLV-Z2. Hopefully the projector will arrive soon, as looking at the seller's feedback, it seems he may be slow to ship.
February 14, 2005
I met up with Mehnaz today and we went looking at television sets. She wants to get a flat-panel set for her apartment. Looking at a bunch of models, it narrowed down to an open-box 42" Sylvania 6842PE or a 26" Panasonic TC-26LX20. Going with the open-box Sylvania would get her a much larger picture and save her several hundred dollars. However, the picture of the Panasonic does appear better, and there is no risk of burn-out as her primary viewing patterns are for standard-definition.
While we were there, I looked at some of the audio gear in Good Guys. The Monitor Audio speakers I bought last year have gone down in price. I would be interested in upgrading my speakers, but I don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon. I'd want to go much better, which means several thousand dollars more than what my current speakers are worth.
February 13, 2005
I went to The Home Depot today and bought a cheap rake, manual soil tiller, and electric hedge trimmer. The hedge trimmer was a really good buy for only $30. I used it to trim the flower bushes outside the living room window and also to kill the vines that have been taking over the backyard. These vines have been growing like crazy and they're eating up everything back there. I killed the ones that took over the side fence today. It's a lot easier to move around there now.
December 24, 2004
Riser Photos Posted
I've put up photos of the riser construction in MyPhotos. Three days of work, approximately 1300 pounds completed, total cost about $500 not including auxiliary tools or the leftover carpeting.
December 23, 2004
Rope Lighting Installed
I finally got the riser rope lighting put in. I purchased 24' of clear rope lighting from Home Depot, along with the clips and a portable dimmer. I had to get some #4 x 3/4" screws because the ones included with the clips were only 1/2" and would not have gone through the riser's carpet into the frame as well. Everything is attached and with the dimmer set about halfway, it works perfectly.
December 19, 2004
Today Everend and I watched the entire Lord of the Rings extended editions in sequence. Took a total of almost 12 hours, due to minor breaks and some technical difficulties.
For starters, MPlayer either did not correctly capture the DTS-ES soundtrack, or is incapable of playing it back through the optical output. It only played 2-channel audio, which I matrixed out to 6.1 channels using DPLIIx and Neo:6. I tried both and DPLIIx seemed better. But either way, the matrixed audio didn't sound as good. I don't think it can do a good job on speech, as sometimes it moved between the fronts and the center channel based on the frequency. And since my center is much higher than my front tweeters (and the Monitor Audio Silver LCR is not the best, this movement was audible.
On the second disc of The Return of the King, MPlayer dumped a bad audio stream. The sound was attenuated way too much, and full of noise. We switched to the physical disc at that point.
MPlayer's playback and video suffered too. Between VOB file changes, MPlayer displayed a green-screen temporarily as it resized the overlay window. This was disrupting. Not as disrupting as having to change the disc, but annoying nonetheless. Plus, there were some scenes where the entire background was posturized. I think I would have noticed this on the physical disc, and it was pretty bad looking. MPlayer also froze the machine at once point.
Also, for some reason the screen saver kept popping up even after I'd turned it off. Eventually a combination of fiddling turned it off for good, but that was annoying in the beginning.
Using my phone as a remote also proved a little cumbersome. Although the remote functionality did work, my phone went into auto-lock mode after a few seconds and I would have to navigate back to the remote menu. Running down to hit keys on the keyboard proved more convenient, and necessary at times to adjust the screen saver or rearrange the playlist.
All-in-all, I wasn't very pleased with the playback features and quality or the technical problems due to MPlayer. If I didn't have to cut out chapters and join the movies together without menus or credits, I could have simply created a disc image of the movie and played it back using Apple's DVD Player (which doesn't have the greatest quality either).
For now, I'll have to wait on any sort of DVD jukebox system. The playback software isn't as good as a good DVD player such as a Denon, the audio didn't play back correctly when ripped using MPlayer, and there were too many MPlayer interface issues.
I'm not interested in getting a Denon player right now though, because there isn't one with DVI and a zero-second layer-change. I'll find some seats for the riser, and then look at a projector and screen. Then a DVD player if one meets my criteria. Otherwise a 7-channel amp (e.g. Gemstone Audio, Anthem/Statement, ATI). Last would be a pre-amp.
December 9, 2004
I watched The Terminal tonight. Was quite enjoyable. It wasn't what I was expecting; I was thinking romantic comedy. But it really isn't that. Tom Hanks plays a foreigner trapped in a NYC airport (I don't remember if it is LaGuardia or JFK) because of a promise he made. Because he is such an honest and compassionate person, he makes the airport better just by being there.
Steven Spielberg did an excellent job directing this movie. There are specific shots that show off his skill. The people were excellent and honest, experienced actors but really wonderful in what they do. And again, Spielberg hired John Williams for the score. Williams is the only movie composer I know of who still does the really traditional character-melodies. Like Peter and the Wolf. All other movie composers score the scene or the film. Williams scores the characters.
Oh, and for this movie, I spiked my two front speakers and placed the spikes on moving coasters I purchased from home depot. The speakers seem a little more prone to up-and-down movement now (probably due to the springy nature of the coasters) but I'm wondering if things will sound better. It's too early for me to make any conclusion, especially since I'd never listened to The Terminal before.
Riser Construction Complete
I completed the riser today, as expected. It looks pretty good considering this is the first time I've ever put down carpet. After finishing the last side of the platform, I created the steps in the same manner as the platform: roofing felt on the bottom where it touches the floor, the rounded lip (only on 3 sides), carpet padding, and then carpet. Ran out of the dining room carpet leftovers, so I used the carpet leftover from covering the wall behind my refrigerator. Different pile but same color. I'll put up pictures soon.
December 8, 2004
Riser Construction Continues
Today I continued construction of my riser. I got the top platform complete and placed on the bottom platform, and finished that off. The sand is inside and everything is screwed down. Covered it with carpet padding. Then I took the carpet which used to be in the dining room (I had the workers save it when they put down the hardwood floor) and got it stapled down on three sides. Not the nicest looking job but I didn't want to deal with carpet tacks and my lip is too short for a really clean fold. I should be able to finish tomorrow, but I still haven't found any rope lighting.
December 7, 2004
Riser Construction Begins
Today was my first official vacation day. I'm on vacation until next year, since I hadn't taken any vacation days until now. And, today I began construction on the riser. I cut most of the 2x6's and all of the plywood. The lower-layer platform frame has been completed, and the bottom plywood floor attached and covered with roofing felt. The platform is in position, ready for the sand and further construction to take place on top of it.
I built the frame in the garage, only to discover that it was way too heavy for me to get inside. So I bought a pair of rolling wheels from Orchard Supply Hardware which made it much easier. I attached the plywood base and roofing felt inside, then flipped it over with Szu-Huey's help.
I really need a new power screwdriver. The one I have right now is portable with a rechargeable battery, but that means if I use it too much, I can no longer screw things in even when it is plugged into the wall. I need one that is always plugged into the wall, for projects like this. I ended up placing the philips head bit into the drill that my dad left here and used that to screw everything in. Not the best solution but it works.
November 22, 2004
The ants finally attacked the entire bag of cat food. This is the first time this has happened. I did a lot of vacuuming and had to vacuum some of the cat food out of the bag, because there were so many ants inside. I've rolled up the top and placed the bag on top of the refrigerator. The ants must be killed.
So, I have created a trap as suggested at the Berkeley Parents Network: Getting Rid of Ants. I took some cat food, dumped it into a cardboard box (one of the leftovers from the GFCI outlets) and then dumped a bunch of boric acid powder into it as well. I closed this inside the closet, so the cats can't get to it. Hopefully the ants will start munching on the cat food and bringing back the poison to their nest. I'll have to leave it there for a long time, so enough generations of ants from under the house are killed.
Water Heater Blanket
I installed a water heater blanket today, with Szu-Huey's help. I also insulated the hot water pipe that leads out of the tank. Hopefully this will help cut down on my gas bill during the winter months. I also decreased the heat temperature on my thermostat a couple of degrees and lowered the water heater temperature. This time of year, my gas bill will triple. I also installed the two GFCI outlets in the kitchen today.
November 21, 2004
Today I installed GFCI outlets for the aquarium and all three bathrooms. GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupt, and these are the outlets you usually see in bathrooms with two buttons on them: test and reset. These outlets are now a code requirement for any location where water is likely to be on the floor or near electrical equipment. e.g. bathrooms, kitchens, garages. When an electrical appliance is attached to a GFCI outlet and falls into water, the circuit is immediately cut off before any harm to a person. It also means if water starts leaking from the aquarium, the electricity will cut out before the fish and turtles are electrocuted. Also likely to help prevent any harm to my cats.
I still need to install some GFCIs in my kitchen, and I'm going to want to install one in another location in the living room. I couldn't install in the kitchen yet because I don't have the correct faceplate for the outlet. The one near the sink is a double duplex outlet. There's also the outlet beneath the sink which the disposal and dishwasher is hooked up to, and the outlet right behind the sink in the sitting area. Unfortunately, it appears all the outlets are currently wired in parallel rather than series, so I can't just put one GFCI outlet in to protect them all. Rewiring would be a lot of trouble.
The other one I want to install in the living room would be for a future aquarium. I would like to get another 55 gallon hex freshwater aquarium. I would be able to put community and schooling fish in there without them being attacked by the turtles or the aggressive tiger barbs and cichlids in the turtle tank. I can use the hexagon mahogany cabinet-table I purchased from the previous owners of my house for the stand. But this will still have to be a long ways off because it will cost several hundred dollars to put together. Plus, I do still want a reef aquarium. Unfortunately, I think a reef aquarium might be a lot of hassle.
November 20, 2004
Sold Blue Circle MR1200
November 14, 2004
I finally figured out how to force 5.1 playback to 6.1 playback out the rear surround channels. There's a separate button on my Yamaha RX-V1400 remote that will allow me to force Dolby Digital EX or DTS ES. This will create a more enveloping surround experience for people who are sitting on the second row of seats, as my speakers are placed and calibrated with my primary seating position in mind.
November 13, 2004
Too Fast? Too Slow?
I decided to compare the picture quality and performance of MPlayer against VideoLAN. The results are a little interesting. For starters, MPlayer advanced the film slower than my computer clock. But VLC advanced it faster. Playback side-by-side made this very obvious as the skew grew larger and larger and VLC played back the film faster. Color saturation was higher in VLC, and detail and smoothness was better in MPlayer both with and without post-processing on. Unfortunately, slight tearing is visible in both applications.
With both applications running, MPlayer was getting about 70% of the CPU, and VLC about 20%. Once VLC was stopped, MPlayer took the remaining CPU. VLC would peak at about 30% of the CPU. This is a significant difference in processing time. My PowerMac G5 is a dual 2.0GHz with 2GB of RAM.
Mac OS X LotR HTPC
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King extended edition DVD will be coming out next month. That is the perfect excuse for a LotR marathon. However, the problem with such a marathon is that all three films are on six DVDs. I don't want the marathon to be interrupted by having to get up and change discs. Thus, I need some way to play back all the discs, in order, without pushing any buttons, and without disruptive credits. The solution? Mac OS X on a PowerMac G5, my Sony Ericsson T616, Romeo, and MPlayer OS X. The result is the perfect custom Mac OS X Home Theater PC (HTPC).
The first problem is how to get all the DVDs onto my Mac in a format that I can play back. If I just copy the VOB files straight off the disc, no player will be able to do anything with it. Plus, the audio and video won't be in sync. But, thanks to Jon Johansen (a.k.a. DVD Jon) I can read DVD movies from devices and software that the MPAA doesn't want me to, like Linux or the open-source program MPlayer. [Note to the industry: libdvdcss has resulted in me renting movies from Blockbuster, the exercising of my fair use rights, and my purchase of DVDs. So sue me.] Using MPlayer on my Mac and Linux computers, I dumped the non-credit chapters of the movies to disk.
In case people are wondering what commands I used to pull out what I wanted, here's the command I used for the first disc of The Fellowship of the Ring:
./mplayer dvd://1 -aid 2 -chapter 1-27 -dumpstream -dumpfile /Documents/LotR-FotR-1/lotr_fotr_1.1.1-27.vob
This dumps title 1, audio track 2 (DTS ES) into the file lotr_fotr_1.1.1-27.vob.
So now I have the capability of getting all three films on my hard disk in a format I can playback using MPlayer. If I put them all into a playlist, they'll play one after the other and it will appear to be a relatively seamless change. But what if I need to control the playback? I don't want to have to get up to use the mouse or keyboard. That's where my bluetooth phone comes in.
Bluetooth on my phone lets me sync its contact list and calendar with my Mac wirelessly. But more than that, bluetooth is a general communications protocol. That means I can send arbitrary signals and files between my computer and the phone. I've used bluetooth before to copy photos to and from my phone, but today I would copy some instructions to it.
There are two primary choices for Mac OS X bluetooth phone communication. Salling Clicker is a polished piece of shareware that's won a few awards. This is usually the software recommended when people are looking to turn their bluetooth phone into a remote control. The other choice is Romeo, which is an on-again off-again open source project. The only real developer is the author, but that may just be because it works so well in its current state.
Anyway, Romeo is a regular Mac OS X application that connects to my T616 using bluetooth. By sending commands back and forth between the phone and Romeo, I can control several different applications, including MPlayer OS X, turning my phone into a regular remote control for my Mac. And I'm done.
November 11, 2004
Blue Circle MR1200
I just posted a classified for my Blue Circle Music Ring. I purchased an MR1200 back in May and it was a wonderful addition to my home theater, but I need something that can handle more than 1200W. So I'm selling my MR1200 on AudiogoN.