NEWS / BLOG

Coming to a Stream Near You – Lossless Audio!

The music you play is as important as what you play it on and what you play it through. The truest, cleanest, highest bit rate content will yield the best sound under all the right conditions (connections, components, calibrations). Analog may be the “original”, but access and format are a challenge. So, how can you enjoy truly lossless audio?

What’s Missing?

We want our music and we want it now…but are we willing to compromise on quality? That answer seems to be yes, but to a point.  While earbuds and a smartphone can produce rather impressive sound, we understand that digital content is compressed and that we’re missing out on some of the depth (think standard definition vs. 4K). Portions of the music that have been deemed indiscernible to the human ear have been carved out.  This may be acceptable for casual on-the-go listening or while at the gym, but not when you want to really experience music. But that’s about to change.

On a mission to make available top-quality digital sound at a reasonable cost, rocker Neil Young is preparing to launch a high-quality streaming music service, Xstream. Xstream is based on a technology developed by Orastream and will be an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth. His feeling is that the higher bit rate will provide a more authentic analog sound vs. the more “squared-off” (more compressed) bit-rate which loses, in some ears, the essence of the music. While the technology behind the service is amazing in that it is capable of complete high resolution playback, Young himself expressed doubts that smartphone chips could adequately decipher the high-quality files.

Making a splash in the streaming service is Tidal.  Tidal is the first subscription streaming service to offer High Fidelity music along with HD music videos. Their lossless audio will stream on Apple devices and Android systems, as well as on a PC or when integrated in a wide range of hi-fi network players. To really appreciate the difference, they offer an audible demonstration of Lossless 1411 kbps (kilobits per second) music, as compared to the Vorbis 320 kbps of Spotify’s desktop version and iTunes’s AAC 256 kbps*.

Popular streaming service Spotify is reportedly testing the market for lossless audio too.  The service tier referred to as Spotify Hi-Fi would be competively priced between $15-$20/mo. Great news for those who want to access a vast library of tunes on a quality sound system.

If you’re one who enjoys hearing every note that every instrument plays which, until recently has meant analog, then these new streaming options are music to your ears. What you play it through (hi-end audio system) is another story, and one in which we at LaScala are eager to assist!

*As reported by Tidal

Additional References: 

How to Build the Ideal Audiophile Listening Room

Bowers & Wilkins Blog: Digital Music – a Quick Guide to the Best Lossless files

Sony Music Goes Back to Vinyl Records

The Home-Field Advantage

Why go out to the sports bar, when you could build one in your own home?

What comes to mind when you think of college football in Canada? Does the image of a crowded sports bar, or your friends and family struggling to view the same television screen come to mind? What about the ultimate in-home sports bar? Now, finding the best seat for the University of British Columbia game means never leaving the comfort of your own home.

When it comes to designing the ultimate in-home experience for game day viewing, a personal sports bar, with comfy furniture and lots of space to entertain, is highly sought-after. But what really matters is creating an immersive experience, complete with a large projection screen and high-definition projector or a huge flat screen television, and a complete surround sound system to bring the sights and sounds of the stadium into your home.

With your own in-home football zone, you never have to worry if the bar will be playing the right game, or if you’ll be entering into enemy territory. Your space can be designed around your team’s colors and memorabilia. Just think: acoustic paneling, comfy theater seating and wall art tailored for the ultimate UBC fan. Integrating your memorabilia and colors with the best audio and video can transform game day into an ultra-engaging sports experience.

Are fantasy sports more than just a hobby for you? Consider opting for multiple screens and watch multiple games at once, so you never have to miss a play. The ability to view multiple games and toggle between audio at the touch of a button gives any fantasy player an advantage on tracking stats.

And the options aren’t just limited to your home. Consider taking your dedication on the road with you, and deck out a mobile home like these Auburn football fans did, so that you always have the home-team advantage. Regardless of where you wish to create your personal “home team advantage,” give us a call and we’ll get your project kicked-off!

What’s Trending in Home Automation? Luxury

Gone are the days of home automation and luxury being two separate conversations and design concepts. More and more, luxury living is embracing home automation in order to provide optimal comfort solutions.

Imagine walking into your home, and the first thing your eye is drawn to is the artwork in your foyer – highlighted using experienced lighting design. Entertain guests with your high-tech wine cellar, complete with automated climate control and inventory management system. Even more, control the quality of the air inside your home.

And the options don’t end on the inside. Control luxury water features, audio and video entertainment systems, even operate a summer kitchen by the pool.

Home automation technology provides the epitome of luxury when combined with your own design style. The right technology will allow you to personalize your system to suit your lifestyle, giving you control of everything in your home – from the window shades, to the temperature and air quality, to your lights and even your security system. Advances in this technology provide you easy access to your entire home from your phone or tablet, and some systems can even operate via voice-activation.

With today’s trends in home automation luxury, nothing is off-limits. Whether you want a top-of-the-line smart kitchen, an all-encompassing security system, or an over-the-top outdoor movie theatre – there is a right mix of home automation technology for you that can be designed to suit your individual home design style.

How to Build a Listening Room, Part 2

We talked about performance speakers and the importance of proper speaker placement in Part 1 of our Listening Room feature. We also covered the acoustic properties and critical dimensions of the room design. Now, let’s dive into what drives the sound!

Key Components

The heart of your system driving sound to each channel is the amplifier.  Unlike your Home Theater’s AV Receiver that houses an all-in-one pre-amp, amplifier and processor for surround sound, hi-end audio systems have dedicated amplifiers, often one per channel. A more sophisticated set-up will have 2-way or 3-way amps that support each speaker. A pre-amp serves as the input device. It will convert signals from all audio sources such as a tuner, turntable and streaming devices to the signal that the amp wants.

It’s essential that the amplifier be matched to the specifications of the speaker to provide optimal output. LaScala can guide you through your choices and design to your listening preferences.  Our go-to is Classé, part of the B&W Group. Their line of components offers exquisite sound to complement any hi-end audio system. Check out this recent review of the Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier by Stereophile.

Connections

It is common knowledge that HDMI Cables are required to pass 4K and hi-end audio has similar requirements. Like video, quality cables are recommended for a solid, clean connection.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive, just of good quality and appropriately sized for the given application. We can calculate the appropriate gauge cable that will deliver the necessary wattage to the speaker based on the distance. As for the connectors, gold are preferred over silver or other metallic. Locking connectors are a good choice for equipment that is seldom moved.

Having sufficient, clean power is paramount to the sound quality. Every AV system needs a name brand, purposely built, surge protector. Surge protection will remove artifacts from your power, filtering out spikes and dips. Insufficient power can make the amplifiers put out harmonics that will “color” the sound, creating unwanted distortion.

Commissioning

Once the system has been designed and the components selected, the next step is installation and commissioning. Measuring and testing the room’s characteristics, reverb, etc., we’ll “tune” the room to enable undistorted sound.   By adjusting equalization (EQ), gain structure and speaker placement, we target a flat frequency response.

Content in Controversy

We often hear that a turntable’s needle against vinyl is the only way to listen to music. It can be argued that the harmonic distortion created introduces a mild alteration that is perceived by many as warmth. The pops and crackles the needle yields evoke a “vintage” sense that some find pleasing and quite authentic. However, according to Mark Slee of Facebook, “In terms of fidelity and accuracy of sonic reproduction, CDs outperform vinyl in significant ways. With that said, there are sonic artifacts and emotional attachments with vinyl that many find pleasing. This creates a preference for vinyl – which some would describe as better, but this is a subjective quality as measured by the ear of the beholder.” With turntable sales up 16%, there’s apparently some “old schoolers” out there that agree.

The higher the bit rate of the audio, the more accurate the sound. Analog is uncompressed and the format truest to form. Overly processed audio, on the other hand, can mask or cancel parts of the music, eliminating the ability to hear everything as it was mastered.

All things being equal, the more information a format can transmit, the better the sound produced. For the best listening experience, the sound transmitted should pass through quality cabling and components and be listened to in a space that is purposefully designed to capture every nuance. Are you ready to hear what you’ve been missing? Let our award-winning team at LaScala help design or retrofit your personal listening space and enjoy music as it was intended to be!

Additional Resources:

Is the sound on vinyl records better than on CDs or DVDs?

Vinyl Vs CD/Mp3: Insights into Music Formats & the Metaphysics of Our Music

24/192 Music Downloads…and why they make no sense

Sony Music Goes Back to Vinyl Records

What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?

 

 

Move Over Man Cave, The Lady Cave is here to Help Her Disconnect

Men aren’t the only ones to enjoy their personal space. She Sheds, Woman Caves, Lady Caves are throwing the man cave a “curve.” Feeling a need to escape the chaos and disconnect from the disruptive, hyperconnected world, the woman cave provides a soft sanctuary that continues to grow in popularity. Despite all the talk of “disconnecting”, many technologies can actually add comfort, convenience and the fun-factor to the space that is “for girls only!”  Here’s some things to keep in mind as you contemplate designing your personal corner of the world.

Choose your space

This is where the creativity begins. She caves are as varied as their female occupants. A spare bedroom with sunny windows that look out across the harbor may serve as a charming, relaxing haven while an outdoor she-shed (a transformed utility shed) may suit the clever crafter or budding artist quite well. With a little renovating, the attic could become the perfect refuge for the creative writer or provide some quiet “me-time” of yoga. Even a generously-sized closet or dressing room can become a cozy reading nook and, of course, the basement can make the ultimate gal-pal hangout, complete with wine frig and big screen.

Yours and Yours Alone

So, what’s your plan? Your space may require some outfitting or updates to make it comfortable and offer the amenities you desire. Disconnecting doesn’t necessarily mean a space void of any and all connectivity either. If you’re a fitness fanatic or serious music lover, you’ll want your she cave decked out with a nice sound system and HVAC control. The work-from-home entrepreneur will need to rely on a solid, secure network and the wine enthusiast may wish to consult her eSommelier or favorite Vivino app.

Additional smart technologies such as lighting and shade control, remote-controlled fireplaces and water features and user-friendly access to music or video streaming (yes, Chic-flicks!) can actually make things simpler and more comfortable.  And, while you may not want disruptive emails in your sanctuary, you do want to be reached if needed – safety first! And speaking of safety, nothing is more “glam” than security – both physically and digitally. Home technology can help you keep an eye on things – the front door, the crib-cam – which is comforting. Automating tasks such as locking all the doors, lowering all the window shades and turning on the alarm can instill a sense of calm after a chaotic day.

Design

No matter the look or theme of your space, properly planned technologies will not distract from your Zen. Whether working with your designer or putting the space together on your own, we can help by introducing you to gorgeous framed artwork that lifts to reveal your on-wall LCD and speakers that disguise themselves into the ceiling or wall without detracting from the décor. And imagine replacing that unsightly bank of light switches with an elegant keypad or touchscreen!

So, curl up on your chaise, grab your tablet or mirror your laptop on the big screen and scroll through these inspired spaces.  Imagine your perfect little getaway from the everyday and give us a call. Mom cave, shabby chic she shack…whatever suits you, and let’s get started!

Additional Resources:

At Home: The “she-shed” – women’s answer to the man cave

“She Shed:” The Answer to the Man Cave, WSJ Video

Today: Introducing the “She-Shed”: Women’s answer to the man cave