Hearing test

This was on the Wheatstone news letter a few months ago. NPR has an interesting test to see if one can hear the difference between various quality .mp3 and .wav files.  There are six cuts with three versions each; a 128 kbps .mp3, a 256 kbps .mp3 and a .wav file in no particular order.

That NPR article can be found here: How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?

I listened to all of them and found the 128 kbps .mp3 was pretty easy to pick out.  On the newer material, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the .wav file and the 256 kbps .mp3.  Keep in mind that most radio stations stream at 64-128 kbps.  Online music services like Pandora (64 kbps for free listeners, 192 kbps for subscribers), Spotify (96-160 kbps for free listeners, 320 kbps for subscribers) and Apple (256 kbps for everybody) offer slightly better quality, especially for paid subscribers.

It is too bad one cannot simulate 15 IPS analog tape.  I would bet that a well mastered recording on analog tape would stand out above anything even remotely compressed.

Others have compared streaming audio to analog FM audio and found that fairly high bit rates are needed to make the quality equal: What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?

One more thing to keep in mind, HD Radio runs 96-144 kbps on the main channel and 20-60 kbps on the sub channels.

I think I’m in love

After strenuously resisting, I have began to see the beauty of on line radio.  I have been a short wave radio listener since I was a wee young lad.  After many years of declining listening options, I have finally broken down and started listening to radio on line.  I am not disappointed.  Because I need my main computer to do things on, I decided that I should have an internet media computer.

I took an old dell PC and repurposed it as an online tuner.  This particular unit is rather old and once belonged to my mother.  It is a P4 2.8 GHz with one gigabyte of memory and had a bad hard drive.  It was completely submerged for almost 24 hours during the flooding following Hurricane Irene in 2011.  After examination, the BIOS battery was corroded and dead, there was some dirt and junk in the bottom of the case, but otherwise it appeared functional.  Even the DVD/CD drive worked.

Dell Dimension E310 computer
Dell Dimension E310 computer

The 19 inch Dell monitor was found at the dump.  It had the classic flashing power button with no picture problem.  I took it apart and found a bulging 1000 µf 25VDC electrolytic capacitor on the power supply board.  Replaced that and a few other suspicious looking electrolytics and it works as good as new.  There are several youtube videos on how to get a LCD monitor apart which were very helpful as it is not at all intuitive.

Dell 19 monitor, found at dump
Dell 19 monitor, found at dump

Thus, cleaning and repair work completed, I purchased a new 80 GB SATA drive and a new CR2032 BIOS battery then got started.  Somewhere around here, I have some Windoze XP CD’s which I was going to use to reload the operating system.  Then I thought, what fun is that?  Instead, I downloaded the latest Ubuntu ISO and made a live USB device.  I have messed around with Linux before; it is fun and full of geeky wonderfulness, that is true.  Ubuntu is a whole different ball game.  The software packages included in the 12.04 distro are pretty impressive.  It is very easy to install and get the feel for with out worrying too much about command line issues.  All in all, highly cool and highly recommended.

The one thing I will say about Ubuntu, it is processor intensive.  With 2.8 GHz of single core blazing speed, some of the radio station stream players were running 95-100% processor utilization.  Many of these are the pop up web browser units with the fancy spectral display.  The work around is to go someplace like tunein.com and grab the .pls (playlist file) stream from there.

Screen shot, Ubuntu desktop, Audacious media player
Screen shot, Ubuntu desktop, Audacious media player

This is the Audacious media player streaming the WXPK HE-AAC stream found here:

http://provisioning.streamtheworld.com/pls/WXPKFMAAC.pls

I also listened to the BBC for a while, which was a pleasant change of pace.

Once the .pls file is in Audacious as a play list, just click on it to start streaming.  You can save as many .pls files as you want, thus Audacious can keep a list of your favorite radio stations.

This is a project in development.  The family is away on vacation and left me home by myself for a week.   Next up, I think I will get a 54 inch LCD screen and a VGA to HDMI converter.  Then, this will become part of the media center for the house, replacing the old CRT TV set and DVD player in the living room.  At that point; goodbye cable TV.  Boy are they gong to be surprised.