The Audio Geek!

I am in love... well nearly!

It is not often that I get truly excited… But today was almost one such day.

Let's start with the good news.

After some due consideration I decided that I should complement my ROON subscription with one from TIDAL HiFi as well in order to get the full benefit of CD-quality music streaming, library organisation and new music discovery. Reports were generally most favourable but I was not ready for the ease of setup and the total fun of chasing new material. I thought it would be a chore and take away the 'the thrill of the chase' of finding new artists and albums the 'old fashioned way'. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have spent a couple of hours today just searching for music and albums that I didn't have in my collection but wanted to listen to. I have added at least 60 albums to 'My Music' tab in TIDAL HiFi so far. And this is all before TIDAL starts to make recommendations about what other related stuff I might like.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 9.48.04 pm
So much music, so little time - 2017

Did I mention that some titles are 'Masters' versions which I believe means MQA encoded. Whether my software and hardware can decode MQA-encoded files is to be determined but it is still (potentially) exciting. The file / data integration with ROON appears seamless.

I have heard TIDAL HiFi on similar equipment to mine and have been impressed so I will settle back tonight and listen via my MacBook Pro w/Retina display (mid 2012, 16GB memory, 512GB SSD), AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amplifier, Jitterbugs and Grado RS 2e headphones, then follow up with the 'big rig' evaluation later in the week. I am on the 30 day trial but it would to have to suck big time from here for me to cancel my subscription.

Now for the challenges.

Update 1: The headphone session is now underway running TIDAL HiFi 'inside' ROON and the results are mixed I am sorry to say. CD-quality albums (44kHz/16bit) appear to play fine but the larger files generated by the 'Master' MQA process (48kHz/24bit) only seem to last a bit less than 30 seconds before causing an unrecoverable network error and drop out requiring a track restart. But the same track will fail again at or around the same spot. I have logged out of all other applications, no strange processes seem to be taking up disk, memory or network traffic according to Activity Monitor so it might just be a function of my poor internet connection. I will do more investigation on 'stripping back' my operating system and user account to see if that is possible and if so if it makes any differences. Perhaps a full shutdown and clean restart might help.

Update 2: After a full shutdown and clean restart, TIDAL Masters play successfully in the TIDAL desktop app. That is some good news, but from what I could tell from the 30 second samples previously with ROON, the latter's sound quality was clearly better. Cleaner and more vibrant (top and bottom) with a bigger image. Interestingly, the TIDAL app takes a lot longer to load a track than ROON, making me think it loads more into cache / buffers before playing therefore buying itself more time to refill the cache to keep continuous playback happening. Maybe… OK, now tried ROON again, and the chosen track gets to the 2 minute mark before failing. And no question, ROON was a significant step up. CD-quality played mostly OK but had one drop out. All this is going on at around midnight my time. That is the end of testing for tonight!

Update 3: A few options to consider to solve my problems came to mind after sleeping on it. NBN is at least nine months away so an immediate internet performance fix is not imminent. I could always use my iPhone as a modem to access the streams via a 3/4G cellular internet connection. I had heard that ROON is CPU-intensive and this may be impacting performance. This led me to consider 'lightweight' options. I have always enjoyed the sound of Audirvana Plus which has TIDAL integration and from V3 also MQA software decoding. My sense is that code is pretty lean with not much feature bloat so it might be a chance. Worth the approx. $A50 investment to try (I know, I know there is a trial available). Lo and behold the software ran perfectly and is way superior to the TIDAL app and hard to say if it is better or worse than ROON from a sound quality point of view. One nice feature is that in the playback window there is an embedded progress bar indicating the status of the stream giving some prior warning of 'connectivity' loss, but I did not experience any. I am sure that I can fine tune the sound a little more with the A+ preferences options but I am very happy so far. Negatives? I have over 200 albums in my TIDAL 'My Music' list and all album art has not loaded fully in the Album List window and metadata is not available for TIDAL albums or tracks. The 'normal' TIDAL album text and info windows are present.