Conditions Suck

Have you listened to 40 meters lately?Solar_Flare_1718789c

If you’re hearing an S-9 buzzing sound, welcome to the most recent solar flare.

After years of low activity, the solar weather has kicked into high gear with numbers not seen in years.

How bad is it? There have been more than 10 M-class flares and a G4-level (severe) geomagnetic storm on St. Patrick’s Day.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been some very freaky long and short path propagation around the world as there has been some amazing reports during the last contests but overall conditions suck.

Here’s Dr. Skov and her only solar weather report.

Audio On The Cheap

I’m getting ready to do some reviews of some new equipment that’s being sent to me so in the interim I’ve been listening and swapping and comparing various setups here at the ranch.

This morning’s audio is coming from the free service of Spotify (you get to listen to an ad every three songs) through the MacBook Pro and into a Fiio Olympus and out to my Seinnheiser HD-439 headphones.20140710114627

The Fiio Dac/am is $75 and tiny and the HD-439’s I got on a Midnight Madness sale for $50 or so (sells new for $150) and the sound is amazing.

I’m listening to up-and-comer Sarah Jarosz’s new album Build Me Up From Bones and I’m loving what I’m hearing.

The setup is producing a very warm, deep, even spooky soundstage which (you need to close your eyes) is like I’m sitting in the band.71KxEY5V0oL._SL1500_

Is it perfect? Not even close but perfect costs about $4,000 to approach and, curiously, perfect can be…well, too perfect.

Too perfect is precise, fast, detailed and can be overwhelming or even fatiguing. Perfect can demand too much of your attention when what you wanted was something else.

Perfect can cost what a good European sports car costs.Sennheiser HD590

Swapping out my elderly HD-590s (a highly controversial choice in the audiophile world as too close to the legendary HD-600s…now supplanted by Sennheiser’s state-of-the-art HD-800s) the soundstage expands and the bass deepens and, yes it sounds better, but if I didn’t do the comparison the less demanding 439s would be great.

That’s the trick to high-end audio. If you don’t compare your old stuff to some new stuff you’ll never know what you’re missing and this can be a very good thing especially when it comes to your pocketbook.

It’s cleaning day at the ranch and I’m the cleaning lady so further tests will have to wait. Now where are my in-ear headphones and my Apple Shuttle?

Here Be Dragons

Several years ago my favourite headphone shop in the world (It’s a hole-in-the-wall joint on Yonge Street south of York Mills on the hill across from McDonalds) sold me a tiny Fiio E-11 headphone amplifier (about $60).IMG_0001

The E-11 is a pretty basic and cheap add-on that makes your tablet, IPad, smartphone or IPhone’s audio sound much cleaner and much more detailed in the music. A small headphone amp like the E-11 or any of the others here can make difficult to drive headphones just sing on portable devices.817189

(In Photo above: left to right – That’s my MacBook Pro with a second monitor with Tidal running. On it are the Sennheiser HD-439 headphones, the Audeze LCD-X and Grado 60s headphones with Apple earbuds on the far right. On top of the Tivoli Audio receiver are an old Apple Shuttle, the Olympus E-10 and on the table the Olympus E-17.)

At under $100 it’s worth the experiment to see if you can hear the difference and I sure could. Using the E-11 with a decent set of headphones (Grado 60s at $99 are a great start  and just about anything costing around $200 will sound amazing and is at least a 10-year investment in your listening pleasure.20140710114627

I particularly like my Shure in-ear headphones but at $500 they’re not cheap and like most decent in-ears are so sensitive that they can pickup some background amplifier noise.) and my IPad movies from Netflicks sounded as good, if not better, than the sound system in the movie theatre.Side Bronze

I’m doing some experiments right now between my new Fiio Olympus II E-10 which sells for around $75 and my older Fiio Alpen E-17 ($180) into the Shure 535s.

The Olympus connects to the MacBook Pro via a USB connection while the Alpen has a digital in which I’m using. (The Alpen can also go USB and is a highly rated and overall really nice DAC/amp which will work with just about anything.)Unknown

I’m losslessly streaming from Tidal and I’m really enjoying listening to Mathew E. White’s Fresh Blood album. I keep switching between the D-10 and D-17 and for this music I’m preferring the less expensive E-10!

The E-10 is more relaxing to listen to while the E-17 is more precise. Both have a very very low background hiss when using the extremely sense in-ear monitors. This is a hiss that comes from the amplifiers and I can barely hear it (to not hearing it) if I change over to my Senniheiser HD-439 and due to the Sennheiser’s lower sensitivity I’ve got to crank the volume up. (I bought the $150 HD-439s for around $50 at a Future Shop Boxing Day sale a couple of years ago and for the money they’re not bad at all and way cheaper than most to buy.)

There’s still a hiss way way back in the background which is immediately covered up any sound whatsoever.

So now I’m getting curious. I wonder if my Audzee’s LCD-X headphones will hear the hiss and on the Olympus it’s there but so far down that I’m thinking it’s an artifact coming from the MacBook Pro as stopping the music stops the hiss?LCD-X-3Q-Left

The Audeze’s are perfect BTW. Exceptionally detailed and big sound stage with this music. Aside from being physically enormous, the sound is while not fatiguing very demanding. For example, listening to some of the more famous opera arias can bring tears to your eyes despite not knowing the opera, the singer or the tune. Honestly this is the best audio experience you can have next to sitting on stage with the singer and the band.

Listen to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky or Shelby Lynne’s Revelation Road with your best headphones and be prepared to be amazed especially if you’re using a service like Spotify or Tidal.

(BTW I saw Shelby Lynne live here in Toronto. I think she Shelby Lynne Google Images_1378412819528was singing in some bar on Queen Street in Toronto. A very underrated and very complex and highly talented singer she’s not to everyone’s taste but her music is insanely good.)

Just for fun I got my Shure’s back on and the noise hiss has increased but so has the presence. The music sounds snappier and there’s a whole lot less base which is to be expected. I’d be quite happy listening to this setup all day long. The musicians sound like their right there in front of you.

Again just for fun I put on my Grado 60s and the music is much more listenable and laid back. The sound much less demanding and very pleasant to listen to. The noise hiss is still there but it is way down and kinda matches the overall musical sound and is thus masked to the point I don’t notice it.

You’ve got to remember I’m 66 and I’ve got on-and-off moderate-to-loud tinnitus which sounds like background hiss or when it ramps up to a single high-pitched note. Tinnitus drives some suffers nuts but I’ve managed to tune it out most of the time.

So what’s this all about?839353

There’s a huge wave of people moving back to listening to really good sounding music that’s being streamed over the Internet.

My Tidal subscription is $20 a month but for that I’m getting an enormously cheap first-class listening experience. I likely wouldn’t buy the Matthew E. White album but I’ve listened to it three or four times in its entirety over Tidal.

You can have much the same experience listening to Spotify for free (with ads) or going for the $10/month ad-free subscription. Spotify steams at a lesser speed than Tidal and it’s tough to tell the difference most of the time.

Using anything better than $10 earbuds that came with your smartphone and an inexpensive DAC/amp can revolutionize the way you listen to music and it’s the way of the future.

Of course here lies dragons and madness as there is much much more expensive stuff out there. (We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars folks.)

As I finish typing this post I’ve settled on the Fiio Olympus and the Grado 60s ($150 all in if you shop around). I can think and type while listening to this setup where the Audeze or Shure units are a little too demanding on my being deeply connected to what’s happening in my ears,

BTW there are pieces of music that are recommended for testing your system and your own ears that you can find online.modest_mouse372

I’m ending up listening to Modest Mouse (I’m not kidding.) Strangers To Ourselves with the  Fiio E-10 (which BTW has a gain switch which I need for the less efficient headphones) and a bass switch (which provides a nice bass boost which some headphones need) and my HD-439s (which needs both switches on).

Modest Mouse is a pretty good find. Formed in 1993 Tidal commenters call them the most surprising commercial success stories of the new millennium. Who knew?

Using the RBN as a Frequency Counter

After mashing the tuning capacitors on my CKR-10a for 40 meters into mush (my mistake), I finally got around to replacing the components with two new ones from Netty Electronics located in Elliot Lake in northern Ontario and the rig works fine.crk10a_front

But I wasn’t sure where I was in the band. I wanted to be on 7030 but I wasn’t sure where I was for certain using the Drake receivers. Trying to match up the receiver and transmitting frequencies I used my NorCal 40 into a dummy load and with a little tweaking here and there I figured I was pretty good.

Still i wasn’t sure where I was on the band so using my Butternut vertical I fired off the rig’s one memory in the keyer which sends CQ CQ CQ and your callsign. Pretty good for a $75 rig you can carry in a shirt pocket.

Watching the reports on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was transmitting on 7030.1 which is close enough for me. So I fired off a couple more CQs just for fun an Italian station came back to my three watts into the ground-mounted vertical. We couldn’t complete a QSO but I was amazed he could hear me at all. Remember this is 3-watts into a ground-mounted vertical located on the low ground on the north shore of Lake Ontario.rbn

This morning as I listened to some other guys in the US sending CQ, the RBN spotted them any where from 7029.8 to 7030.4 so I now know my receiver and transmitter are within a few Hz of each other and I should be able to work anyone I can hear if they’re close enough to 7030.

Just for fun I again let the little rig send CQ and a couple of nearby US skimmers heard my signal and posted to the RBN showing I was being heard but not by much. So I switch antennas to the extended 40-meter dipole elements on the Hy-Gain Explorer beam at 16 meters and suddenly I had 11 stations reporting that they could hear me. The K1TTT machine was hearing me at 32 db so I was loud there and even machines in 4-land where hearing me pretty well.

Using the RBN as a frequency counter works great. Just make sure you’re not causing any QRM to QSOs in progress and get on the air!

The Good Times Never End

Here are two awards that arrived yesterday. The top one is First Place, Greater Toronto Area Section Single Operator, QRP in the ARRL DX Contest CW.

4The second award is for the same contest but it’s First Place, GTA, Single Operator Unlimited, Low Power SSB.

5Really pleased to have more wallpaper for the shack and it makes getting into the contest a little more fun.

It’s the SSB Phone ARRL DX Contest this coming weekend. If conditions are as good this weekend as two weeks ago during the CW Contest be prepared to work the world!

Burlington Flea Market

While there weren’t the crowds we used to see a decade ago, the Burlington Flea Market yesterday for me was excellent as I sold all but one Vibroplex bug.


The rest of the guys staffing the Oakville Amateur Radio Club table had much the same results as we sold tons of stuff in the first hour and then the buyers left and the tourists arrived 🙂

By 10 am I was ready to go with a pocket full of cash and a lot less equipment piled up around the station.

It didn’t hurt that I’d advertised most of the stuff on the Ontario Swap Shop site and several pieces of equipment went even before I arrived at the flea market.

Now I’ve got to think about my next Ham Radio project before I head off to Dayton.