Category Archives: Technology

Online music services sound quality: MOG, RDIO, Amazon Cloud Player

I will try to make this a short post today.

I’ve made a discovery all of them sound bad until…

About the test

I’m on a quest to select an online music service that will provide me with the best sound quality. I’m RDIO subscriber and started MOG trial this week since they promise 320kbps MP3 for all their content. I’m using my old, but very trusty ultra-clear Sennheiser HD497 headphones (my Denon AH-D2000 don’t have clarity that HD497 offers, so they are not as good for comparing sound quality).

I mainly concentrated on a few albums and songs: Jean Michel Jarre’s Téo & Téa (all songs have something to hear), Michal Jackson’s remastered Bad (the first song on the album) and Kraftwerk – Man Machine (the last song on the album). I’ve selected all of them since I have original CDs that I have recently encoded with AAC TrueVBR Q110 (using an outstanding XLD application) to upload to Amazon Cloud Player.

Finally all tests were performed with Google Chrome browser version 13.0.782.112 as well as RDIO Desktop client version 1.16.

The test results
I’ve listend a few times and each time each song from each of the services (except Amazon Cloud Player since it was not in the scope of my test) and was comparing them to the AAC version that I’ve played through iTunes. Each time I would hear great detail in iTunes, but RDIO and MOG versions would sound with major detail loss. I could not understand how MOG can claim they are using 320kbps MP3 and for files to sound so bad. MOG was definitely clearer than RDIO (Edit 2011-08-17: today I absolutely can’t tell the difference between the sound quality of the two services), but nowhere near AAC version in iTunes. Frustrated I decided to have a sanity check and started listening to my uploaded files in Amazon Cloud Player. That’s where I’ve made a discovery…

The Discovery
Even though Amazon Cloud Player was playing the same file I had in iTunes, it sounded with the same loss of detail that I heard in MOG. That got me concerned, as you might imagine. A short look all all these websites and I found out that all of them play back music using the piece of software that Apple can’t stop fighting with – Adobe Flash. I wonder, if it is possible that Flash just does not decode compressed audio properly? I don’t know answer – but iTunes 10.4 in OSX Lion definitely sounds MUCH better (at least to me).

More discoveries
So I decided to experiment a bit more. I’ve played Man Machine in VLC and MplayerX, while both sound better than Flash player they did not sound as clear and as punchy as iTunes version. After these discoveries iTunes 10.4 is now a king of audio players for me. I can easily with this single track hear how much better it decodes music (and I assume all CoreAudio/QuickTime based players).

Conclusion
My strong advise for both MOG (before they finished their desktop software) and for RDIO to modify their software to use QuickTime/Core audio on Mac OSX, instead of Flash that they currently use. Yes, even desktop version of RDIO uses Flash to play back music.

Enjoy iTunes… (the post ended up longer than I wanted).

Music Services in Canada

One disadvantage to living in Canada is living in a digital ghetto due to the oppressive regime of oligopolies that have vertically integrated over the last few years. These are now controling content distribution and delivery, limiting new entrants. But there is another disaster – CRIA and SOCAN both charing exuberant fees for opening modern music services in Canada. Did you know that if you want to play music on your birthday party or christmas event you had to pay? Consult the fee schedule.

Recently in the US of A Spotify launched their amazing music delivery service and I decided to check out if anything is available here in the Great White North. Most music services are not available (just to many to list), but I was happy to discover that Last.FM would gladly accept my money and so did RDIO. Of two, only the latter is the innovative new service that can really curb piracy among us – cold northern people. The northern people who still don’t have a variety of services to conveniently and legally get audio and video content, the same way warm people of the USA can. Unless you a couch potato who considers watching TV through an overheating cable set-top box with ugly menu a convenient way to access videos or listening to the AM/FM radio with 2:3 ratio of commercials and music collection that is shorter than the list of discounted CDs in a Walmart bin.

So back to the subject of this post. I’ve signed up for both RDIO and Last.FM. For Last.FM I’ve payed $3 USD and for RDIO I’m still on trial, but will have to pay either $5 or $10 per month (depending on features I want to have). Now what I care the most is music selection and audio quality. In my iTunes I have 8000 songs that I’ve ripped from my own cds in AAC True VBR @ Quality setting 90-100 (via the excellent XLD app). RDIO allowed me to match my collection. Unfortunately it was able to find only 1024 songs in its own catalog (this just shows how much music is available). What’s more I don’t have any obscure stuff, mostly classic rock that I’ve got from Columbia House when it was still operating. However, in the first moments of using the RDIO service I’ve discovered a great new artist – Adele – which is incorrectly labeled R&B, which I usually associate with noise previously called RAP.

Last.FM service is much easier. Back in 2008 (when they were still free in Canada), I’ve pre-selected artists that I like and instantly you can listen to a recommended stream of songs from similar artists. You can’t listen to full albums with Last.FM! Thus, they function more like a normal radio, but without commercials and music that you more or less will like (mostly they guess my tastes correctly).

Now to the second item that is as important to me – Audio Quality. I did some listening tests comparing three things: last.fm, rdio and my own rips. Based on this I have the following conclusions.

  • Last.fm is pretty terrible in terms of detail loss, not only it is 128kbps, but it is poorly encoded 128kbps. I bet I can encode with LAME using proper presets and have better quality.
  • RDIO is no way 256kbps, just there is no chance, as some reviewers of the service assumed based on the FAQ which refers to purchased songs. There is also a loss of details, but not as bad as Last.FM. It seems to me, that what they are doing in their software is either some sort of equalization and/or one of the “audio restorer” algorithms. As soon as I touch music by Jean Michel Jarre RDIO sound quality completely falls apart. Just try Téo & Téa album song #8 – Chatterbox
  • My own encodes at ~200kbps VBR AAC or VBR MP3 sound MUCH better, in fact I can’t tell them apart from the original CD sources (from my past tests).

Conclusion: unfortunately, in Canada, in my opinion, you have to use Amazon Music Player (via Amazon Cloud Drive) service to upload your own music and listen to it on desktop – no mobile app for iOS. That’s what I will be doing as I’ve already got Cloud Drive account. However, the day RDIO improves their quality I will subscribe for full 10$ per month. For now I most likely will not renew my Last.fm subscription but will pay 5$ for RDIO as I feel it is a better value, since I really don’t listen to much music in my car. However, what I will be waiting for is the day when another service will come to Canada – MOG – today they are offering 320kbps streaming in the USA and also have a catalog of 11 million songs, where I was able to find even some Russian bands.

P.S. Also while trying to find music on RDIO to listen I discovered that a lot of artists and albums are “Not Available in Your Region” (greyed out) – which very sad. Can anyone from the USA confirm that they can play and listen Traveling Wilburys albums?

Poor state of tech journalism in Canada

Today have read this poorly researched and clearly misleading article:
What’s Clogging Up the Pipes. I’ve posted a comment on their website, but it seems to me went directly to /dev/null. So since it is pretty long, I’m repeating on my blog.

This article made me laugh so hard… especially the part about BOINC and SETI@HOME. HA-HA-HA. Again no research made on the part of the journalist or may be just another “press worker” paid by RoBeLus (Rogers-Bell-Telus) mafia cartel. Both projects barely use any traffic at all. What they do use a lot is CPU/GPU cycles. It takes hours (or days on slower machine) to compute a single work unit.

Also let me bring you some news to you, tech writer. MPEG4 is not latest greatest, at least not in the last 5 years. H264/AVC is the latest greatest codec that most video streaming services use (however it is can be referred as MPEG4 part 10, but nobody does, as usually MPEG4 is associated with MPEG4 part 2, old stuff that almost nobody is using like DivX and XVID).

Another hole in the argument is that adaptive H264 streams do not full up all the bandwidth available. The statement is incorrect as well: server just keeps a fixed number of bitrates pre-encoded say 500Kbps, 1500kbps and 4000kbps (each at different resolution). So the max usage is 4000kbps, it will never go and fill your 10Mbps uplink.

Nice try lady, next time try to write about topic you might know a little bit or may be just specify who paid for the article, if you don’t want your reputation destroyed.

Who programs Adobe products?

In my previous Twitter postings I’ve voiced my support for Steve Job and his open letter about Adobe (before Macromedia) Flash. I was mildly happy to see Microsoft joining the camp (though they have a hidden agenda of getting rid of Flash and pushing Silverlight). But today I have to start questioning another Adobe product – Acrobat Reader. Just a few days ago I’ve installed my copy of Windows 7 Ultimate on my PC and installed the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat reader (it was on Friday, I think). Today, on Monday, I see a balloon saying that an update is available. I happily click, agreeing to get up to speed with Adobe fixing holes in their cheesy software. It takes a few minutes to decompress (this is on Core 2 Quad 3.86Ghz) and it installs. What do I see next?

A prompt to reboot my computer!

WHAT? Just a small file viewer now requires me to reboot my computer? Starting that point on I’m beginning to question quality of Adobe software engineers and if they are capable of writing any remotely good piece of code. Just amazing how this company is still able to produce Photoshop and Illustrator. Time to find alternative to Acrobat Reader on Windows real soon: on my Linux I’m already happily using the great Okular and on my Mac I’m using Preview.

Patriot XPorter XT Boost 32Gb Benchmark

During the last Dell’s “Days of Deals” I’ve bought myself a new USB flash drive. My old but good Patriod 8Gb started to fall apart and there was a need for a more rugged flash disk. Also needed some more storage to move all the files I have for home and work. Even though it claims amazing 200x (what is their 1x?) speed my benchmarks are as follows.

Read speeds:
hdparm -tT /dev/sdf
/dev/sdf:
Timing cached reads: 5326 MB in 2.00 seconds = 2663.99 MB/sec
Timing buffered disk reads: 68 MB in 3.02 seconds = 22.53 MB/sec

Write speeds (for ~512Mb):

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdf bs=1024 count=500000
512000000 bytes (512 MB) copied, 11.5051 s, 44.5 MB/s

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdf bs=2048 count=250000
512000000 bytes (512 MB) copied, 14.6622 s, 34.9 MB/s

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdf bs=4096 count=125000
512000000 bytes (512 MB) copied, 27.8725 s, 18.4 MB/s

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdf bs=8192 count=65000
532480000 bytes (532 MB) copied, 13.6919 s, 38.9 MB/s

Conclusions
So format your disk either 1Kb or 8Kb blocks to achieve maximum speed of about 40MBytes/s write speed and read speed around 50Mbps.

Benchmarks were performed on Kubuntu 9.04 AMD64 edition. Note: benchmarks are not really accurate (as OS caching might be involved here and there) but give clear guidance about which block sizes I should avoid with this drive.

Electronic Rust Protection?

Finally we bought a beautiful new 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5S. I’m not a big car reviewer, but if anyone even considers buying Camry – they MUST test drive Altima on the same day right after they test drive Camry.
You will understand that Camry is a couch for elderly with a steering wheel. Anyway, today I’m here not to write a review – I have a question. With only one car garage it means one of my beloved cars will stand outside in the awful weather offered by Southern Ontario. For the four years I had X-Trail I did not want to protect it with something like Krown spray or similar – what a mess. I find this solution way too antique. For the longest time I was looking, but delaying installation of an Electronic module that would protect my car all around.
Google search being my right hand tool uncovered a few choices that I can find in Canada, though I’m still looking for the actual place that will install them.

One is Final Coat with a Canadian office located in the neck of the woods – in Concord.

Another device is sold at Canadian TireCounterAct.

The third is a device I would have to order online, but which has some limited “trust level” is RustStop. Low trust level is mostly due to this informative article.

Unfortunately, I can’t find real independent source of information, like Consumer Reports that independently tested these “gadgets”… so I’m asking you – my dear visitor to contribute your thoughts. I really want to know which one is better? Did I miss one that is worth checking out?

Latest Adobe Flash (10.0.0.569) player on Ubuntu 8.04 AMD64

Tired of having jerky YouTube video playback on your AMD64 version of Ubuntu Linux 8.04? Want Flash release that promises to be hardware accelerated? Wait no more, you can get latest beta from the Adobe Labs website, currently version is dated from August 11, 2008.

How are we going to do it? Let’s tee-off from Adobe Labs Flash download page. And download latest version for Linux in TAR.GZ format. (I assume that you had previously installed Ubuntu’s flash-nonfree package which contained version 9 of the flash player).


wget http://download.macromedia.com/pub/labs/flashplayer10/flashplayer10_install_linux_081108.tar.gz
tar zxvf flashplayer10_install_linux_081108.tar.gz
sudo cp install_flash_player_10_linux/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/flashplugin-nonfree/
sudo nspluginwrapper -i /usr/lib/flashplugin-nonfree/libflashplayer.so

This should work in the perfect world, however we are not there yet, so you will be greeted with this helpful message:

*** NSPlugin Viewer *** ERROR: libcurl.so.3: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
nspluginwrapper: no appropriate viewer found for /usr/lib/flashplugin-nonfree/libflashplayer.so

Yeah, that essential library is missing… but why? Because this is a new dependency on the Flash side which is a 32bit library and needs corresponding lib32 versions of already present AMD64 versions. Unfortunately, libcurl and other Flash 10 required 32 bit libraries are not bundled by Ubuntu AMD64 team. But that’s easy to solve.

Download latest i386 versions of the following libraries (download them to a clean folder which you can delete later):

Now you have to extract the files by performing the following operations:

ar x ./libcurl3_7.18.0-1ubuntu2_i386.deb
tar zxvf data.tar.gz
ar x ./libssl0.9.8_0.9.8g-4ubuntu3.3_i386.deb
tar zxvf data.tar.gz
ar x ./libnss3-1d_3.12.0~beta3-0ubuntu1_i386.deb
tar zxvf data.tar.gz
ar x ./libnspr4-0d_4.7.1~beta2-0ubuntu1_i386.deb
tar zxvf data.tar.gz

We will have to copy all these libraries to your lib32 storage location and create required symlinks.

sudo cp -a usr/lib/ /usr/lib32/
cd /usr/lib32
sudo ln -sf libnss3.so.1d libnss3.so
sudo ln -sf libnspr4.so.0d libnspr3.so
sudo ln -sf libnspr4.so.0d libnspr4.so
sudo ln -sf libssl3.so.1d libssl3.so
sudo ldconfig

Yahoo… we are almost done. Just a final command to make Linux browsers find our plugin.
sudo nspluginwrapper -i /usr/lib/flashplugin-nonfree/libflashplayer.so

Now restart your browser and enjoy crappy YouTube video quality :); real man download .MP4 H264 versions of YouTube videos (but that’s another story).

Best Flickr photo Uploader for Gnome/Linux

I was struggling to find an application that would be as simple as Flickr native Uploadr but would provide me with an option to change permissions before pictures are uploaded. Finally I’ve found Ross Burton‘s Postr – GNOME Flickr Uploader.

Ubuntu 8.04 already comes with package called “postr“, however it is a very outdated version 0.9 from more then a year ago and did not have the features I wanted. Current version is 12.2 and it has a much improved feature set. It definitely belongs to Ubuntu backports, but as always with Ubuntu you will have to wait until the next stable release Ubuntu 8.10 (codename Intrepid Ibex).

For now you will unfortunately have to install it manually from console

tar zxvf postr-0.12.2.tar.gz
cd postr-0.12.2/
sudo python setup.py install

A bonus is that this program is written in my favorite Python.

PS3 Firmware Upgrade 2.42

Again, just after finishing watching another Blu-ray disk – “Road Warrior” I was greeted with a message that a new update is available, this time it was 2.42. No details available, though I really hope that it will resolve choppy MP4/AVI file playback issue that plagued my Playstation ever since I’ve installed long awaited 2.41.

Other than that I still have to inform the great Internet why I was out of blogging for so long…