Happy New Year!

Here's a small, simple, fast, low-cost HDPC configuration:
LITE-ON Black 4X Blu-ray iHOS104-08 $59.99
G.SKILL 4GB DDR2 F2-8500CL5D-4GBPK $84.99
AMD Athlon II X4 640 Quad-Core Processor $99.99
WD5000AAKS 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache $49.99
Shuttle SA76G2 V2 $209.99
The processor in this configuration scores a 3474 on the Passmark benchmark.


An all-time favorite book is Replayby Ken Grimwood. A number of years after loaning our prized copy to an acquaintance and after they moved away from the area, we were browsing a second-hand bookstore and found a copy of this book. Imagine the surprise of finding your own name written in the book and having to buy it back. Oh, the irony!


Merry Christmas! Looking forward to the total solar eclipse in August 2017. Check out the interactive map.

Frozen Mocha: Boil 100ml water and then add 14g freshly-ground (finest grind) coffee and reboil twice or thrice. Within two minutes, strain coffee into mug and stir in 6g sugar. Bring to room temperature. Add coffee ice cream to fill mug. Stir carefully with coffee to create a smooth blend. Enjoy!

Playing: Michael Stegner Trio - Fantastic Adventures of An Amphibian Named Jamal


Studio Update: Delighted to report that the new studio computer scored a 7380 on the PassMark benchmark. This exceeds the reported speed of a stock Core i7 975 which scores a 7026. The Xeon W3520 processor costs less than 1/3 of the i7 975. We're overclocking the Xeon a modest 25%.

Now performing research to configure a new workstation for the design studio. The i7 950 and the Xeon W3550 are looking rather attractive at this point.

Playing: Madonna - Confessions on a Dance Floor


Make-A-Thon 2010: Interesting event, but the name is odd. Attended three breakouts: Gestural Ideation, Radically Agile Design, and Conceptual Models in Interaction Design. The last two sessions took opposing sides, one preaching to just jump in and design and make and do while the other reinforcing to think deeply first.


Coffee Break: Although the studio's Tassimo machine has performed well for the past four years, 50 cents-a-pod espresso is growing tired. A quick cost analysis reveals that we can whittle that per-cup cost way down to about 17 cents, not counting the cost of the espresso-making machine...still hunting for a good affordable unit. Meanwhile, after learning a little more about the espresso-making process, we've created an alternative recipe.

Smooth Turkish Mocha: Heat/stir 100ml whole milk with 3g of 100% cacao until smooth and set aside.
Boil 100ml water and then add 14g freshly-ground (finest grind) coffee and reboil twice or thrice.
Within two minutes, strain coffee into milk and stir in 12g sugar.
Perfection every time.
Option: Try hazelnut-flavored coffee.
Simple filter trick: use a quarter of a white paper napkin inside a conic strainer


Studio Update: New system flying at 3.52 GHz stable and now very quiet at idle running at about 41°C (40% fan) after a little rewiring of the existing fans (until a few pwm fans are obtained). Pulled out the noisy Antec tri-speed fans. SuperPi 1M is 11.122s / Cinebench 6.07. Remoting into Cubase is pretty cool! Oh, and the whispering cow is now being retooled as a streaming music file server.


Studio Update: The new DAW is performing well. Authorized Steinway from Garritan no longer sputters due to a lack of computing horsepower. Finding the x64 driver for the M-Audio Midisport 2x2 was challenging. (If you happen to need it, look here. Although it is beta as of this writing, it appears to be working.)

BTW: This is a new version of the Xeon W3520. The box was marked as V2 batch 3001B720.


Studio Update: We built the new system yesterday and powered up without a glitch. Now running at 3.37 GHz. The Asus Rampage III Gene operates with the Intel Xeon W3520 perfectly so far. Looks good in the Antec case. Not quite there yet with the silencing, but the performance is responsive. SuperPI: 12.455s 1M / Cinebench: 5.56 (scoring just above the Core i7 960). Below is the new heatsink.


Studio Update: Although the Gateway 700X is now super-quiet, the Pentium 4 that powers it can't keep up with Cubase and the Garritan Steinway. Running a single core (Northwood processor) at 2.26 GHz with only 1 GB memory just doesn't seem like much compared to today's multi-core wonders. We finally decided to advance into the 21st century with a new quiet digital audio workstation for the studio. After two months of intensive investigation into sources, options, and compatibility, here's today's order:

Mobo: ASUS Rampage III Gene link
RAM: Mushkin Redline 6GB DDR3 1600 link
CPU: Intel Xeon W3520 2.66GHz link
HSF: Noctua NH-U12P SE2 link
HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 640GB link
ODD: ASUS Black 24X DVD Burner link
GPU: ASUS EN8400GS Silent/P/512M link
Case: Antec P183 Black Mid Tower link
PSU: Antec CP-850 850W Modular link
Fans: Nexus 120mm Silent link
LCD: Samsung BX2235 21.5" LED link

That's an eight-thread quad-core system with 6 GB and a nice monitor for $1,327.39 and some labor. (The old Gateway cost $2K!)

The Xeon W3520 was selected for its higher "binning" - passing a higher quality test and intended for workstation computers. Essentially equivalent to a Core i7 920, it adds ECC (error correction code ) capability, but the reviews on the various motherboards persuaded us to go with the R3G, opting for performance over ECC. We aim to reach almost the speed of a Core i7 975 for 1/3 of the cost.

Check out this inspiring video on Youtube by trubyd44: link


Studio Update: Opted for the PATA version of the WD3200, hoping for a single platter and low noise. Used the Acronis True Image software from the Western Digital site to clone all of the data from the old 120GB disk after updating the BIOS first so that the full disk space could be recognized. Pulled the old disk out and made the new disk the primary and did another sound reading of the system from 1 meter. Fairly quiet now. Below is the spectrograph as it stands today. The blue line is the current machine noise level. The yellow line is a measure of noise outside of the studio, away from the original unmodified machine. The red line is the noise level of the pre-modified Gateway 700X. Overall, it appears that the changes have yielded about a 20dB drop across the spectrum. Much more tolerable, since now there is only a hint of moving air.


Studio Update: The main Digital Audio Workstation at Studio J is presently a Gateway 700X. Ever since its arrival many years ago, its been a source of extra studio noise. After much research about quieting PCs (see SilentPCReview and EndPCNoise) and given that a new system is just a bit out of reach, we decided to try picking up a few tools to quiet it down. This computer has a Pentium 4 processor with a noisy little 60mm fan attached to a heatsink which Gateway recommends NOT removing. Well, for a mere $66, we were able to pick up a couple of 92mm fans, a 120mm fan, and a 60mm to 92mm adapter. The 92mm fans are Noctua NF-B9 and the 120mm fan is a Noctua NF-S12B ULN. These are packaged with soft fan mounts and Ultra-Low-Noise Adapters (3-pin in-line resistors). The fans are rated to be very quiet and have self-stabilizing oil pressure bearings.

First to be removed were the old 60mm AVC (ball bearing) fan and the 92mm Sunon (sleeve bearing) fan on the power supply. Next, the 92mm Noctua fan was connected to the 60mm fan adapter (available through SVC). The assembly was then attached to the heatsink, using a screwdriver carefully between the fan blades. The other new 92mm fan was attached to the old power supply, and the 120mm fan was placed on the inside back of the case (blowing out of course).

During the initial test of the system, there was a significant reduction in overall noise...notably, the elimination of the 60mm fan noise. After a little sleep, it became clear that there was one further avenue worth exploring - that extra fan controller on the motherboard (mobo) which Gateway says it wasn't using. Well, the CPU cooler was specified to be plugged into the fixed voltage pins next to the processor, but we discovered that the extra fan controller over by the memory sticks can indeed be controlled by SpeedFan. BINGO! We installed the ULN adapters on the PSU and case fan which run at fixed speeds fairly quietly. Meanwhile, the processor cooling fan is now plugged directly into the extra fan controller. The lowest set point in SpeedFan is 20% to start the fan and keep it turning. On heavy load, the fan will speed up to 100%. According to SpeedFan, the sensor is indicating 570 RPM at idle and 600 RPM at full tilt but these seem low since you can hear the fan when running faster. (BTW, the Terragen renderer is a great tool for loading your processors.) The CPU temperature runs between 37°C (20% fan) at idle and 50°C (100% fan) loaded. Prior to the modification, the CPU ran under 30°C at idle.

A little rewiring, and behold, a nearly silent machine. Doing another ambient recording of the computer and comparing to the original spectrogram indicates about a 15dB reduction across the spectrum. The red line in the diagram is the original ambient noise from the unmodified machine. The blue line is the modified version. The yellow is the background noise measured outside of the studio and away from the unmodified machine.

A note about the disk. This Gateway 700X came with an EIDE 120GB Western Digital drive. After learning about how the computer case acts as a loudspeaker, amplifying the sound of the disk drive, the old 3-bay 3.5in containment structure was removed and replaced with a smaller, more compact 3-bay structure and placed on the floor of the case, seated on a bed of bubble-wrap and rubber. There is still an audible whine of the 7200 RPM drive, so the next upgrade will likely be a SATA controller card and quiet drive.

Photos: before and after.

Update: Turns out that the CPU Fan socket is providing the RPM reading, so this is the speed of the case fan which is plugged into that socket. The controllable Fan1 socket is apparently not providing the RPM reading. When the CPU fan speeds up, its proximity to the case fan affects the RPM slightly. Also, the motherboard is wired for additional fans, but Gateway or Intel did not install the extra sockets.


Pandora Internet Radio: If you haven’t been introduced to Pandora, this is amazing and FREE. ABC’s Nightline did a story on it a few weeks ago which enlightened us here in the studio. Through their Music Genome Project, Pandora analyzes the musical qualities of every song into 400+ attributes. As a listener, when you create a custom radio station, you pretty much get exactly what you want to hear.

To test this, we created a own radio station called Phutura based on Phutureprimitive whose music is described on Amazon as “subterranean electronic tribalism, combining elements of organic downtempo, ethnic breaks, and sensual atmospherics. Ethereal vocals soar over dubbed-out basslines, and live percussion unfolds over odd time signatures creating a groove that is influenced by the synthetic textures of psychedelic trance as well as the kinetic grooves of world music.” Pandora describes one of the trakcs as having the following features: trance roots, electronica roots, downtempo influences, trip hop roots, rap influences, dub influences, danceable beats, subtle buildup/breakdown, use of tonal harmonies, minimalist arrangements, a bumpin' kick sound, a synth bass riff, arpeggiated synths, synth riffs, affected synths, a highly synthetic sonority, a wet recording sound, subtle use of noise effects, and tripped-out production.

Based on this radio station definition, Pandora has been playing a variety of selections from artists such as Air, Bassnectar, Bluetech, Entheogenic, Sasha, Sounds from the Ground, Ulrich Schnauss, among many others. We're impressed with the results: an endless stream of interestingly beautiful downtempo music. Only occasionally must a song be given a “thumbs down,” but this further improves Pandora’s ability to play what we want to hear. Since creating the Phutura station, we've also made a few more calculated tweaks to improve the station's seed songs. Pandora recommends creating a station based on a set of songs rather than an artist in general. You can read more about this in their extensive help area.

Give it a listen or try creating your own station. They have almost every genre of music including classical, jazz, you-name-it. The free version has a 40-hour listening limit per month and every so often, they play a very short ad. Pandora also works with iPad, iPhone, and many other mobile devices.

If you want even more, you can also upgrade to PandoraOne for $36 a year. This gives you commercial-free music and higher quality (192kbps) music. We like the service so much, we decided to go for it. Also, the standalone desktop version consumes less computer processor resources.

Update: If you're an independent artist, you can submit your music for consideration, however, be forewarned, Pandora is not friendly to indie artists.


New Photo Available on dpcPrints: adorn your office or home with a nostalgic slice of mechanical history. This high-quality professional print is available in two panoramic sizes 12"x6" or 24"x12". The matte version is recommended. 

This colorful photograph was taken in Snoqualmie, Washington at the Northwest Railway Museum.


Rösle Tea Strainer: If you prefer brewing leaf tea, such as Indian Assam, this little gizmo is impressive when it's time to strain the elixir from the source. The mesh is fine enough to catch 99.44% of the unwanted matter while allowing enough liquid flow to execute a perfect pour every time. Highly recommended!


One of the cooler blogs: Stuart Hobday
Stuart often switches from one blogging platform to another and shifts domains from time to time, but his posts are always interesting observations.

Additional impressive design sites:


Studio Log 20100405: Here is a 51 second stereo audio sample (a two-tone sweep from 440 Hz to 40 Hz – one linear, the other logarithmic – followed by studio silence). The tracks were recorded using two Bluebirds from Blue Microphone. (Left channel mic serial #xx2763 and the right is #xx3183.) The mics were positioned next to one another (1¾” gap) 8 feet away from a single speaker. Note the difference in background noise between the two mics, especially through a spectrum analyzer. The recording was made through a Yamaha AW1600 with mic gains set identically (at max).

Bluebird xx2763 has not been used due to its higher noise floor (by about 10 dB). Instead a substitute Blue DragonFly works nicely for Piano recordings.



Studio Log 20100403: Installed the latest version of the M-Audio driver for the FireWire 410. Cubase Studio has been hanging a few times during the day and it seems that the 410 was the culprit. Also, testing both Bluebird mics to locate that 13kHz anomaly. One of the Bluebirds has a much (much) higher noise floor that the other is not really useful in this test. Reporting the mic problem to BLUE. The one quiet Bluebird is just that...really quiet...perfect for measuring the studio background noise...which measures 14dB on a still night.


Anomaly Detected: We're detecting a high frequency in the area at about 13 kHz. This is both measurable with a sensitive microphone and with the naked ear when all is quiet. Our hypothesis is that there are two RF carriers that are creating this 'beat' frequency. We first noticed its presence following the digital television conversion last June.

Update: interesting research article about hearing RF read more


The Quietest Place on Earth: The anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories is the Quietest Place on Earth, as awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records.


Frustrating: We have a six-year-old Linn Classik system with bi-wired Katan speakers. We've been quite happy with this over the years, but the majority of the time it has been in standby mode. The problem is that lately the receiver tries to reset itself, going on and off, flicking out of standby, etc., and finally settling on displaying "11C". We can get it going for a couple of days by unplugging and resetting everything, but after a day or two, there it is again. Also, the CD player does not display status anymore such as track number or time remaining. If anyone has an idea how to fix this, let us know.

Update 20100412: delivered the unit to Definitive Audio for service

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