I wasn’t allowed to touch my father’s record player and it has shaped the course of my entire life. That odd-looking contraption with an arm of some sort spinning huge black discs fascinated my young brain. “What is this magical machine?” I must have thought.
“Why is it so sacred to my parents?” “Why am I not allowed to touch it?” Being forbidden to touch it turned it into a thing of worship, perched on its stand with wires dangling from the back of the player connecting its output to my father’s Lafayette receiver (made by Pioneer or Luxman, depending on the model). We placed our records in its magical grip and out came beautiful music to which we went about our day. The audiophile seed was planted in me early and has been watered regularly ever since.
As I have grown, so has my record collection as well as my parallel passion for well built, high performance AV components, which is how I found my way into the Custom Electronics business. To put it simply, there were things I wanted but could not afford and I figured the only way to enjoy these expensive components was to sell them to those that could.
My passion for music and for high performance gear has blossomed into an exciting and enjoyable career. I have spent the last decade designing, deploying and programming automation systems and high-end two channel systems of all sizes. And, in spite of selling home theater systems professionally, I have maintained a two channel system in my own home for as long as I can remember. (I love home theater, don’t get me wrong, but you need some very specific conditions to truly get the most out of one, whereas a two channel system is easier to integrate into your living room and, let’s face it, 90% of the time, sounds better. I know you all agree.)
So, what of it? Why am I writing in this magazine? Who cares about my lineage? Well, for the last five years, our company, Access Networks, has been leading the charge in the CE/AV industry as we integrate the IT infrastructure in our homes into our entertainment systems. Simply put the component that we all have added to our stereo systems that the Audiophile magazines have all but ignored is the network itself. What most will tell you is to buy an Apple something or other or a Linksys WPA-Whatsit, plug it in and it all works. If only that were the case …
The truth of the matter is that the IT industry has done a bang up job of convincing consumers that networking is easy, when it is anything but. So, my aim here is to help all of us audiophiles make sense of this new stereo component.
Essentially, there are two levels of networking gear that relate both to the build quality and the overall performance expectations of the equipment. Consumer level/Over-The-Counter equipment is found in big box stores, Office Depot, Radio Shack, and places of that nature. This equipment is designed to be installed in small environments and to provide a basic networking feature set for something like 9-15 devices. On paper this sounds like a perfect match for our homes, until you start to understand all the ins and outs of how much a network needs to deal with in today’s modern homes.
This plays into our audiophile world in a very unique and exciting way.
In the case of PS Audio’s Perfect Wave DAC, or Linn’s Klimax, a radical innovation has been added to the Digital-to-Analogue converter: network connectivity. By connecting these new streaming DACs onto our home network, we have opened the book on an entirely new era in high end audio.
Today our music can live on a hard drive on our computer or, better yet, a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive and afford us the luxury of scrolling through our music libraries at the touch of a finger. Now, some of you out there will point out that this is not new and has been available for some time, but I would argue that the new breed of high-end streaming DACS like those from PS and Linn represent a new wave of DACs. Whereas we typically expect technology to trickle down to lesser expensive, less capable products, in this case the opposite is true – we have trickle up! No longer is the ripped CD captive to our desktop/laptop and no longer do we need to accept any performance compromise from streamed audio. This truly is a new day.
It is due to this revolution and the addition of the network as an infrastructure on which our modern stereo systems are dependent that I will address through this monthly magazine. Over the course of the next few months, I am going to take you all through a series of articles uniquely focused on the network itself: Proper network topology, configurations, concepts and more. It just isn’t as simple as many of you may think and I am here to take the mystery out of it.
As a member of the professional CE community, an audiophile and an advocate for the network to be viewed as an essential component in today’s stereo systems, my frame of reference is one that affords me a very unique perspective.
In this forum, I will try to bring you some real information regarding the ins and outs of the network itself. I will do my best to deliver this information in ways that are relevant to the challenges we face as audiophiles and consumers in this new networked world.
In the next article, I am going to start by breaking down the individual components that one needs to properly appoint their homes network and the basic configurations you need to understand to create a successful networking platform in your home. If there is anything specific that you would like to better understand, please feel free to drop me a line.