In a few minutes, I’m expecting some important guests for lunch, some discussion, and of course a demonstration. These are industry guys that have probably heard it all but no one comes to the AIX studio without hearing a few tracks in full 5.1 “stage” perspective surround. I was just in the studio making sure things were good to go…it’s always embarrassing when a patch isn’t patched right or the system is not properly configured. However, today my Ferrari is firing on all cylinders.
I lowered the 146″ Stewart filmscreen, let the JVC 4K projector warm up, and patched the analog outputs from my Oppo BDP-95 to the analog patch bay in the corner of the studio. After double-checking the digital patch bay (yes, there is a virtual patch bay associated with the Euphonix System 5 console), I selected the External source on my Control Room Monitor system and hit play on the Oppo. Right on cue, the room was filled with Hanna – McEuen singing and playing “Prayer for You” from the latest sampler.
As I said yesterday, playing an optical disc with surround music track is very easy. It’s especially easy if the output from the disc player to your A/V Receiver is connected using analog cables. Each of the 6 channels of information coming from the ESS Sabre DACs on the BDP-95 become the “external” sources for your preamplifier, amps and speakers. Using HDMI is a little tougher because you have to configure the digital inputs to the right digital source and make sure you’re detecting the right type of digital stream (bitstream etc).
But I’ve decided to play a few very special 5.1 surround tracks that exist only as interleaved .WAV files (FLAC is fine too) during my demonstration this morning (some of my long time customers and friends will know which tunes I will be playing here). I walked back up to my office and pulled the PC-formatted 16 GIG USB stick that I use to “sneakernet” files from place to place. The files are on the stick.
Rather than boot up my computer and locate the original surround files, I decided the easiest thing to do would be to plug the USB stick into the front of my OPPO BDP-95, access the right folder and files and hit play. This method is the simplest way that I can think of to play 5.1 surround music downloads in full 96 kHz/24-bit fidelity. A recent iTrax customer was downloading DTS files, which also played flawlessly through the OPPO but when I told him that those were compressed with a lossy algorithm, he upgraded to the FLAC versions.
Years ago, I actually built a HTPC to handle my high-resolution surround music files. I called it the “Mozart 1756” and dragged it to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest a few years ago. It had a Lynx sound card in it that could output both analog and digital signals in full surround. The problem was that the on board DACs were poor. So I got my hands on three Benchmark DACs and distributed the digital signals to them as three stereo pairs (this is not an unusual technique…it’s done all the time in professional audio). The only problem that I was worried about was the clocking of all three units. After a discussion with Lynx and Benchmark, I was assured that the clock would be sample accurate across all three DACs. It was and the result was terrific. At that time the world wasn’t ready for surround sound and the “Mozart” server never happened.
But building a HTPC and using a Lynx or Creative Labs multichannel sound card is still an option for fans of 5.1 music. As for me, I’m sticking with the USB (or eSata) Hard Drive attached to the back of my OPPO unit.
This should get you started with 5.1 surround listening using downloaded files. Just to make sure you’re doing things right, I’ve added a 5.1 surround FLAC file of Mosaic to the FTP site. Go ahead and download it and chek thing out for yourselves.