welcome to sherm's high-end digital audio website!

question: why did the philosopher cross the road?
answer: to get a computer engineering degree from ucsc!

let me tell you a little story ...

my first college degree was in philosophy.  i love philosophy!  my first reality byte was venturing out into the world.  i soon discovered that this is a typical day for a philosophy student after graduation:

"will argue for food"

after returning to college and getting an engineering degree, life improved quite a bit in the material sense.  specifically, the stereo system of my dreams was now within reach!  so, i use this website to shamelessly show off (er, i mean display) the current incarnation of my audio system.  and, i can still think philosophically as much as i'd like.  QED.

Plugs and Announcements

i am entering phase two of my Quest For Audio Perfection.  :-)

phase one was journaled by my original mcintosh website, frozen as of march 31, 2014.  i will always keep that page available and intact.

during phase one, i acquired audio hardware (much of it McIntosh), and gained a lot of experience with audio gear.  over the years, however, i have moved away from a mostly-McIntosh audio system.  audio technology, and my tastes, have changed.

i have a McIntosh tuner and power amps, but all the other gear comes from other manufacturers now.  it's no longer accurate to call this a McIntosh website, thought it is still All About Audio.

my hardware focus has shifted towards high-end digital audio.  digital audio is an entire world unto itself.  the goal, however, remains the same: the enjoyment of music on great-sounding stereo gear.

i am keeping the same single-page website design.  i've reorganized the information into categories appropriate to a digital audio system.  and, i still use vi to edit the site's html code directly, on unix terminals.  some things don't change ... :-)

The Structure Of A Digital Audio System

a digital audio system is divided into two main parts:

the Front End consists of musical "source gear" (i.e., tuners, cd players, streaming music players), the digital to analog converter (DAC), and digital interconnect cables to connect the source gear to the DAC.

the Back End consists of the power amplifiers, loudspeakers and the speaker cable which connects them.

and then there are the "Middle Ends".  :-)  the Middle Ends are the Audio Interconnect Cables which join the Front End to the Back End, and AC Power Generation and Delivery, for the all the AC Ends.

i have been guided by these Axioms while building my digital audio system:

  1. the shorter the signal path through the audio system, the better
  2. the goal is to hear music exactly as recorded by the artist

Signal Path Through A Digital Audio System

in a digital audio system, each piece of source gear produces a digital output.  a single digital interconnect cable carries digital data from the source gear to the DAC.  digital data contains both the left and right audio channels, and signal timing information.

some DAC's have analog inputs, and can accept left and right channel inputs directly (e.g., from a turntable).

the digital to analog converter is the logical and physical centerpiece of a digital audio system.  all musical sources plug into the DAC.  the DAC selects which piece of source gear to play, and also converts its data stream into music.  what you actually hear in a digital audio system is the DAC.

the Front End sends the finished, engineered analog audio signals through audio interconnect cables to the Back End - that is, to the power amplifiers.  the analog music is amplified by the power amplifiers, sent down the speaker cables and played through the speakers.

System Component List

my system is made of the components listed below.  click on a component name to read more about it:

the Front End:

the Back End:

the Middle End:

the Loose Ends:

Front End Gear:
Digital to Analog Converter

the Beating Heart of any digital audio system is the Digital To Analog Converter, or DAC for short.  all musical sources plug into the DAC.  you hear the analog music produced by the DAC (amplified by your power amps).  the characteristics of the DAC become the characteristic sounds of your audio system.

i am using MSB Technology's Diamond DAC IV select as my digital to analog converter.  MSB Technology currently holds the top honors in digital audio technology, and this DAC is their reference machine.  it uses exact-value components, each one hand-selected and hand-assembled.  the physical d-to-a modules inside the DAC are cooled with copper pipes to ensure temperature stability during operation.

this d-to-a converter includes MSB's FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock, capable of 77 femtosecond accuracy!  most of us know about nanoseconds, because of our computers.  a nanosecond is one billionth of a second.  a picosecond, the next smallest unit, is one trillionth of a second.  femtoseconds are smaller still - quadrillionths of seconds!  light travels the diameter of a virus in one femtosecond.

So, that said, what's the big deal about the FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock?  Why would it make a difference in how the music sounds?

Answering this questions leads back to the beginning of the process:  How is music digitized, and what's supposed to happen to it then?

Music is digitized by this process:  a measurement of the musical wave, called a sample, is made at specific time intervals:

each blue arrow in the graphic represents one sample, i.e., a measurement of the music wave's height at a specific point in time.  the series of samples (the strings of 0's and 1's representing the height of the wave, as shown on the left side of this graphic) are all stored in a computer file.  not surprisingly, this file is often called the "dot wave" file, or .wav for short.

the Digital to Analog Converter's job is to start with the file of samples, and re-assemble them back into the original musical wave.

Imagine that we are doing this process with a mirror, rather than a musical wave.  The digitization process would slice the mirror into strips, and store the strips in a container, let's say, rather than a computer file.  To use the mirror again, we'd have to re-assemble the strips back into a coherent state.  Consider what might happen if we line the mirror strips up in the right order, but do not get the edges aligned perfectly with each other:

a mirror who's edges are not well aligned in space

a mirror with closer alignment of edges, but still shows a very distorted image

In both cases. you can see what the image ought to be, but the precise alignment of mirror edges distorts the original image.  the same thing happens to musical waves when the digitized samples are not aligned precisely in time.  you can hear something that sounds a lot like music, but actually is a distorted rendering, based on the alignment of the digital samples back into the analog musical wave.

MSB's amazingly precise FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock enables (previously) unattainable accuracy regarding the timing of digital data streams.  The FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock places each digital sample back into the original analog wave within 77 femtoseconds of where it should be.  Such incredibly precise timing leads to music with audible harmonics and nuance, rather than music which sounds muddled, harsh or "sterile".

on the practical level, and speaking of music :-), there are currently three sources of music feeding the MSB DAC:

i use an Analysis Plus TOSlink cable to connect the tuner to the d-to-a converter.  electrical interference is reduced to zero with fiber optic cables!  :-)  i'm using an Analysis Plus Digital Crystal cable between the digital disc transport and the d-to-a converter (XLR-XLR), and an RCA-RCA Digital Crystal cable for the Squeezebox.

see MSB Technology's home page for more details about this standard-setting digital to analog converter.

Back to the component list

Digital Disc Transport

i have completely re-thought my approach to digital discs.  i am now embracing a more generalized concept than "single disc cd player or transport".  i'm thinking more about computer playback of digital audio.  that's why i bought a PS Audio PerfectWave Transport, sometimes called a "Memory Player".

the PerfectWave Transport is really a single-function computer.  the single function is to play back most kinds of digital audio discs, perfectly.  ps audio achieves this in a novel way for audio, but in a typical way for computers: they buffer the data, and operate on the buffered data only.  "buffering" is a fancy way of saying "store in computer memory".

the PerfectWave Transport reads a digital disc bit by bit, and copies the bits verbatim into a 64MB memory.  the data in memory is then error-corrected and digitally timed to reduce jitter to ultra-low levels.  the ultra-low-jitter bitstream is sent from memory through a digital interconnect cable to a d-to-a converter.  the music you hear is always played from memory, never from the disc itself.

the PerfectWave player will play back most kinds of digital audio discs - from a standard cd, to a dvd with "24/192" WAV files on it (24-bit data, sampled at 192khz).  this disc transport lives right at the bleeding edge of audiophile digital music playback technology.

i'm using the PerfectWave's AES/EBU output connector (balanced digital) to connect it to the MSB d-to-a converter.  the AES/EBU connection allows for 192khz data rates.

i'm betting that so-called high-resolution (24-bit data, 96khz sample rate) and ultra-high-resolution (24-bit data, 192khz sample rate) WAV and flac files are the future of audiophile digital music.  i'll even go out on a limb, and predict that the sound quality of ultra-high-resolution digital recordings and DAC's will exceed that of vinyl lp's, turntables and vacuum tube amplifiers.

previously, i thought that due to the availability of music online, i'd hardly need a cd player or a cd transport.  however, now that a computer can play back digital discs (and ultra-high-resolution WAV files), an audiophile-quality digital disc transport takes on a brand new meaning.

i've had this digital disc transport for many years now, and it has shown itself to be a serious piece of audio gear.  i am hearing new sounds in music i thought i knew well.  there are lyrical accompaniments to what i thought previously were just instrumental solos.  small tonal nuances and musical details are not only revealed, but are revealed clearly and distinctly.  i am mightily impressed with this machine.

see PS Audio's home page for more details.

(this component purchased: audio video logic, urbandale, ia)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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Radio Tuner

this is the McIntosh MR88 AM / FM / XM / HD stereo tuner.  while the MR88 has a retro look and feel - the old linear dial with numbers has returned - it is a modern digital tuner through and through.  the dial pointer is not a physical pointer, but an array of vertical glowing bars that look like a moving dial pointer!  only one bar glows at a time, providing the illusion of motion.  there's a weighted flywheel tuning knob, providing the excellent tactile feedback of an old-tyme tuner.

the tuner seems to pull in stations just about as well as any other tuner i've used, including other McIntosh tuners.  i live in a deep, narrow valley, and reception is spotty, at best.  i'm using the McIntosh-provided RAA2 antenna for AM, and a Magnum Dynalab ST-2 antenna for FM:

on the FM side, i can get the local college station (which plays the best music anyway), and a few other very strong stations.  on the AM side, i get a few local stations, plus an emergency station, which is important.  i've tried XM satellite radio, and while it did have a clear sound, ultimately there were too many reception (drop out) issues.  so for me, a tuner is really just historical gear:  all stereos must have tuners.  :-)

though i do not use it much, no matter which radio band i do listen to - AM or FM - the tuner itself connects to the d-to-a converter at 48khz (and with 24-bit samples!) through the digital optical output over a TOSlink cable.

see McIntosh's home page for more details about this superbly engineered tuner.

(this component purchased: house of music, san francisco, ca)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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Home-built Digital Music Server

i decided to build my own Digital Music Server from available technology.  the system needed a heart, a brain, and some brawn.

the heart of the music server is the Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player.  the Touch player turns 802.11g wireless data streams into analog and digital audio signals, suitable for input to a d-to-a converter, a preamp or even a power amp.  i use the digital coaxial output, and feed the signal to a d-to-a converter over a digital coaxial cable:

i chose this network music player for many reasons, but first and foremost, the Touch music player supports native (in hardware) flac decompression.  as a self-deluded audiophile, i could not abide my music collection in mp3 format - "lossy", by definition.  flac, on the other hand, is lossless, so the original bit stream of the cd is restored during playback.  the trade-off is disc space.  flac files tend to be much larger than their mp3 counterparts.  flac files on hard disc are about half to two-thirds as large as the original cd.  mp3 files are about one-third the size of the original.

i recently played some 24-bit data, 96khz sample rate, flac files through the Touch player - WOW!!!  the music was extremely detailed, with very, very subtle tonal variations.  the musical depth went way beyond that of standard cds.  standard cds are recorded using 16-bit data, at a 44.1khz sample rate.

in essence, the Touch player acts as a high-speed "decoding tube" between the digital data on disc (flac files), and the digital-to-analog converter.  the more detailed the digital recording, the better the player appears to sound.  but it's not really the player per se.  the Touch player is delivering digital data with a greater number of bits per sample - and a greater number of samples per second - to the d-to-a converter.  the d-to-a converter can produce a better analog output with richer digital input.

there are three brains to the music server:

1. logitech's media server software (bundled with the network attached storage device - see the brawn section, just ahead)
2. logitech's browser-based interface to the media server, which also runs directly from the network attached storage device
3. the unix shell script abcde (A Better CD Encoder)
media server scans a music library and creates a music database, streams digitized music to the Touch player, and manages playlists, artwork and genres.  the browser interface to media server lets you choose what music to play and shows you what's coming up on the playlist:

abcde transforms cds into music files, and requires a pc with a cd-rom drive.  i use a 1GHz dell pc, which easily runs my favorite distribution of linux:

abcde calls 4 other programs as it runs:

1. cd-discid to grab the cd's numerical disc id.  abcde then sends the disc id to the Gracenote cd database on the internet, and receives back track and title information
2. cdparanoia to turn the tracks on cd into .wav files on hard disc
3. flac to encode the .wav file into a flac file
4. metaflac to tag the flac file with the track and title information retrieved from Gracenote
abcde, cd-discid, cdparanoia, flac and metaflac are all available from the debian linux distribution websites.  after some initial configuration, i've been able to rip and flac-encode thousands of cd's with relative ease.  here are my library statistics as of november 30, 2014:
a Netgear readyNAS Duo network attached storage device holds the processed music files and the music database.  this black box is the brawn of the system:

this little NAS sports 256MB of RAM, a 2T Seagate disc drive configured to use netgear's XRAID-2 technology, and a Marvell ARM processor chip capable of running the linux operating system and other linux binaries.  i use the readyNAS itself to run the media server and the web interface to the media server - there's no need for a pc!

since this is a one-disc NAS, i use an external usb drive to backup the music files.  XRAID-2 system or not, a single disc NAS presents a single point of failure, so backing up is critical.  i do not want to lose all that music due to disc failure or laziness!

you're probably thinking "this is all fine and dandy - but how well does it really work?"  i'm glad you asked!  the answer is: "it works really well!"  the older squeezebox2 network music player had problems staying connected to the server across a wireless link.  in contrast, the new Touch player has had zero connectivity problems.  upgrades to the readynas firmware and slimserver software over the years have made a BIG difference!  it's ready for prime time.

the more i use a music server, the more i am convinced this is the way to store and access music.  the sound is quite good, though the ps audio perfectwave transport has the clear edge.  a music server is a convenient way to listen to a lot of music and still maintain very high audio quality.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS:  june, 2013:  netgear has end-of-life'd the readynas duo, and logitech no longer makes the Touch player.  :-(  please read my blog entry to see how i am handling it: i'm paranoid!

here's a breakdown of the music server costs, including taxes and shipping (i have donated my labor):



purchased from

Netgear readyNAS Duo v1 with one 1T disc (may, 2011)



Netgear readyNAS Duo v2 with one 2T disc (june, 2013)



Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player (may, 2011)



Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player (june, 2013)



10/100 network switch & 802.11g wireless access point


fry's electronics

1T usb external hard drive, for backup


fry's electronics



for two servers

here's a network diagram of a previous incarnation of my music server.  connections are the same in the current server - i'm just using newer versions of the hardware and software.

see logitech's homepage for more details about their current offerings.

see netgear's homepage for more details about their current offerings.

see debian's homepage for more details about debian linux.

(these components purchased:  mostly online, but i did go to fry's once)

(repair record:


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Digital Interconnect Cables

Analysis Plus Digital Crystal
Interconnects (Coaxial & XLR)

Analysis Plus TOSlink
Optical Cable

digital interconnect cables connect digital source gear to the digital to analog converter.  i use Analysis Plus Digital Crystal cable (coaxial and XLR), and also their TOSlink Optical cable.

the PS Audio PerfectWave digital disc transport has an AES/EBU balanced digital output, so i'm using an XLR-XLR Digital Crystal cable between the transport and the DAC.

the Logitech Squeezebox provides a digital coaxial output, so i'm using a coaxial (RCA-RCA) Digital Crystal cable between between the Squeezebox and the DAC.

the McIntosh MR88 tuner has digital optical and coaxial outputs.  i am using the optical output (and the TOSlink optical cable) to connect it to the DAC, mostly because the DAC has an available optical input.  the DAC's coaxial input already hosts the Squeezebox.

see analysis plus' home page for more details.

(cables purchased: silent lucidity, san francisco, ca)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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Back End Gear:
Power Amplifiers

the workhorses of my system will be a pair of Karan Acoustics M 900 mono blocs - they are currently on order.

"Anticipation ... It's making me wait ..." - Carly Simon  :-)

see Karan Acoustics's home page for more details about these amazing power amps.

(these components purchased: silent lucidity, san francisco, ca)

(repair record: no repairs needed)

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Tannoy Definition 900

B&W 800D

the tannoy Definition line of speakers were perhaps one of the warmest and smoothest lines of speakers ever made.  shown above on the left is the tannoy D900 speaker, with its 12" drivers.  sadly, the Definition line is no longer produced.

the upper driver is the tannoy patented Dual Concentric driver (midrange and tweeter).  the lower driver is the bass speaker.  the dual concentric driver provides a point source for the mid range and high frequencies, allowing for wonderfully imaged stereo sound, no matter where you are in relation to the speaker.

to make the most of the large McIntosh amps, i needed speakers which could both handle high power, yet faithfully reproduce sound at the 1 watt level.  tannoys do it in spades.  they have a warm, tube-like sound at any volume level.

in england, the home of tannoy speakers, the word "tannoy" refers to the speakers in a public address system, like those in a railway station.  a typical usage would be "did you hear what just came over the tannoy?"

another factoid is that most recording studios do their audio mastering using tannoy speakers.

the big deal about these speaker is this:  the "D" in 800D stands for "diamond."  the tweeter diaphram is made from diamonds - but obviously not jewelry diamonds!  the hardness of the diamond is used to make the tweeter operate into the 70khz range, well beyond human hearing.  the advantage isn't in the range - it's in the ability of the tweeter to operate without distortion at the upper limits of our hearing, around 20khz.

most tweeters operate in their "breakup region" when they reach very high frequencies.  that's because the material they're made of is not hard enough to vibrate at 20+khz frequencies without losing its shape, thus "breaking up" (distorting) the sound.  the higher the "breakup frequency," the better the tweeter can reproduce sound with minimal distortion.

tweeters sometimes incorporate gemstone material to increase the tweeter's hardness, lowering distortion and pushing the breakup frequency higher.  b&w found a way to use diamonds, the hardest gem, and push the breakup frequency into the 70khz range!  a lot of the music i listen to has teeny, tiny high notes.  these speakers sound truly magnificent in my audio environment.

see tannoy's home page for more details.

see b&w's home page for more details.

(tannoy's purchased: house of music, san francisco, ca)

(b&w's purchased: online)

(repair record: tannoy d900:  no repairs needed)

(repair record: b&w 800d:  no repairs needed)

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Speaker Cable

Clarity Cable Organic

Analysis Plus Oval 9

see Clarity Cable's home page for more details.
see Analysis Plus's home page for more details.

(Speaker cable purchased: silent lucidity, san francisco, ca)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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the Middle End:
Front End to Back End Interconnect Cables

Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In Interconnect Cables

the Front End to Back End System Connection consists "merely" of joining the analog outputs of the DAC to the amplifer's inputs using Audio Interconnect Cables.

i use Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In Interconnects for the connection.  MSB Technology introduced me to Analysis Plus cables.  the Silver Oval-Ins do exactly what "ideal cables" should do:  act as transparent conduits for audio signals.  the cables should add nothing, nor subtract anything, and should deliver all electrical impulses accurately from one end of the cable to the other.

i am very impressed with Analysis Plus cables.  they perform the extra-critical function of delivering the engineered analog signal from the MSB DAC to the McIntosh amplifiers.  any signal loss or coloration at this point would be permanent.

see analysis plus' home page for more details.

(cables purchased: silent lucidity, san francisco, ca)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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AC Power Generation and Delivery

PurePower AC Regenerator model 2000

Clarity Cable Vortex AC Power Cord

previously, i used computer Uninterruptible Power Supplies to maintain a constant 120V AC to my audio system.  AC is so unreliable in my area (out in the woods) that i needed more than a power conditioner - i needed something that would generate power, even for only a split second, 2 or 3 times a day.  as there was nothing else, i put UPS's on my audio gear, which did indeed save the lives of all the components more times than i can count!  however, the price was always a very high frequency whine, similar to turning on a television set.  the trade-off was worth it.

however, there is a new product on the market which makes the trade-off unnecessary:  the PurePower AC Regenerator.  this is exactly what i have been looking for - and, apparently, so have a lot of other people.

the PurePower AC Regenerator takes in AC power from the wall, and converts it to DC.  the DC power is stored in large batteries, just like a computer UPS.  AC power is regenerated from the batteries, through an inverter, just like a UPS when it is in Battery Backup mode.  the difference is the quality of the generated AC; the amount of steady-state, short duration and momentary current available at the outlet; and line noise produced.

the AC power from the PurePower Regenerator is produced anew, right inside the unit, engineered just for audiophiles, and home theater enthusiasts.  the model 2000 produces a steady-state current of 16.6 amps (1,400 watts), short duration current of 25 amps (2,100 watts), and momentary peak current of 50 amps (4,200 watts).  AC current delivery exceeds the wall power by a gigantic margin!  this is useful for, say, turning on a McIntosh MC1201 Power Amplfier, which draws 30 amps of inrush current, and then settles down to normal operations.

the batteries inside the PurePower units allow them to act as uninterrupltible power supplies for those times when the power goes out.  the AC Regenerator effectively isolates audio and video gear completely from both the power grid, and the grid's anomolies, without adding high frequency line noise.

of course, fresh, clean AC power is no good unless you can get it to the audio gear.  :-)  that's where AC Power Cords come in handy.

in my previous website, i poo-poo'd interconnect cabling, and AC power cords in particular.  with my old UPS's, good quality AC power cords did not make much sense.  with the PurePower units ordered and on their way, however, i want to have proper audiophile AC power cords on hand, ready to install.

see PurePower's home page for more details.

see Clarity Cable's home page for more details.

(AC Regenerators purchased: PurePower LLC)

(AC Power Cords purchased: Silent Lucidity, San Francisco, Ca.)

(repair record:  no repairs needed)

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the Loose Ends:

Thorens TD 550 Turntable

the MSB DAC allows left and right channel XLR analog inputs.  the Thorens TD 550 turntable has both RCA and XLR analog outputs.  i may get a new turntable, now that it's possible again.

see thorens home page for more details.

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System Photos

most of my audio system, as seen from across the room

close ups of the gear:

PS Audio PerfectWave Digital Disc Transport

McIntosh MR88 Tuner

Left channel McIntosh MC1201 Power Amplifier

MSB Technology Diamond DAC IV select Digital to Analog Converter
(with optional Tibetan Prayer Flags)

click here for a large picture of the MSB DAC

the proud DAC dad.  btw, i ONLY own hawaiian shirts.
(photo taken by vince galbo of MSB Technology after DAC delivery)

Right channel McIntosh MC1201 Power Amplifier

Left channel B&W 800D Loudspeaker

Right channel B&W 800D Loudspeaker

Both Tannoy D900s, as they stand perched on top of the front door

Left channel Tannoy D900 Loudspeaker

Right channel Tannoy D900 Loudspeaker

network gear and music server.  the server stores all the cds below, with room for lots more.

about 1,800 cds, housed in 9 ikea cd towers, grouped in 3 places around my house

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Credits, etc.

site design and content copyleft (l) a.d. 932-2475 sherman amsel.  no rights reserved.

questions or comments?  please send me email.