Archive for the 'Music' Category

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DLO HomeDock for iPod is crap!

I got a 60GB Video iPod from my girlfriend for Christmas in 2005. I’ve been having a great time with it.

I bought a pair of DLO HomeDocks for it, one to use at home and one at the office. They’re a pretty good value for the money, compared to Apple’s equivalent offering (which requires assembling a whole bunch of separately purchased pieces to get the same functionaliy that the DLO HomeDock has out of the box.)

It’s a pretty good deal… but not good enough.

The sound quality from these things is absolutely appalling. We’re talking class-action lawsuit kind of appalling. The sound is so bad, it should never have made it past the first usability testing, let alone been unleashed upon unsuspecting customers. And they have the nerve to say on the box “Play your iPod’s music through your home stereo and hear how good your iPod really sounds.” Well, if a constant barrage of digital bleeps, buzzes, clicks and whirrs underlying every song sounds good to you, maybe you’ll agree with that statement. I would say I got a couple defective units, but apparently they’re all like this.

Not one to be defeated so easily, I thought I would take one apart to see what makes it tick. I have a feeling it may be possible to clean up the sound with some careful mods.

I get this feeling, because in my experience, this kind of digital noise leaks into audio in only a few ways:

  • Carried on the power supply lines to the analog chips.
  • Coupled across digital and analog lines that run in parallel.
  • Carried on the ground lines.
  • All of these problems, once correctly identified, can be rectified. Power supplies can often be cleaned up with additional filtering at the supply, and decoupling capacitors at each load. Sometimes, bus-topology supply or ground wiring can allow a noisy digital load with high switching currents to affect the supply and ground levels for all components downstream of it. This can be fixed by running separate supply leads back to a relatively noise-free central distribution point, making a star topology.

    As a last resort, it is probably possible to just bypass the electronics in the HomeDock that are creating these problems.

    So far, I haven’t been able to determine a whole lot in my examination of the innards of the HomeDock, but I have determined a few things:

  • The volume control feature is implemented inside the HomeDock, it is not passed through to the iPod itself. The level coming out of the iPod is constant. This means that if we bypass the HomeDock’s electronics, we’ll lose the volume control feature. That may not be a problem, especially if you connect your iPod to a receiver that has its own volume control.
  • It is built around a Microchip PIC16F630 microcontroller. It looks like there’s an in-circuit programming header on the board, which hints at some interesting possibilities if one’s kung-fu is strong enough.
  • The volume control feature is provided by a chip which appears to me to be a National Semiconductor LM4811 Dual 105mW Headphone Amp with Digital Volume Control.
  • There are assorted TL082 op-amps scattered throughout. A very common jellybean op-amp. A very nice chip, actually. I like it.
  • The PCB is a fairly simple two-layer job. A lot of surface mount components, though, which doesn’t make modification any easier.
  • So, that’s about all I’ve been able to glean so far. If I have any success in cleaning up the sound of this abominable piece of crap, I’ll post it here.

    Behringer Patchbay Labels

    I have added a page to my project-studio pages about how I created labels for my Behringer PX3000 patchbay. I have also provided the MS Word template for the betterment of mankind. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

    They look pretty good, if I do say so myself…

    Patchbay Labels

    Strange Noises in the Basement

    I have just updated my Music page, removing the links to a bunch of our crappier stuff, and adding a whole lot of good new material that was recorded over the last year. We’re getting better, I think, at making shorter pieces (where short means around 7 minutes… at least it’s better than 20.)

    I love this improvised stuff. It’s amazing sometimes what kinds of things can emerge spontaneously, once the right mood is found. Often, it takes hours of pointless noodling (all recorded for posterity, of course), to find that nugget of collective inspiration. Our best jams always leave me surprised and puzzled by what we just did. And often surprised that I actually found the talent to hold up my end of the music.

    The new music is mostly done by my brother, his friend Jari (who used to play bass for a fairly well-known band called Warsaw Pack), and myself. Matt and Jari play improvised shows in Hamilton sometimes, going by the name “Hellephant.” So, that’s the name I’ve given to these tunes. Other guests pop in now and then, most recently, Chad Faragher dropped by to add keyboard parts to Hancock Knot for us.

    The new Hellephant songs are Accelerando Jam, Plant Food – Phase I, Plant Food – Phase II, El Gusano, Hellephantom, and Hancock Knot (or it’s backing tracks).

    There’s more information about each track on the music page.

    Some updates

    I updated my kegerator page with a bit more detail. Namely, the actual part numbers for the Danby kegerator drip-tray, and the name of the parts supplier that I bought it from.

    I also updated my project studio page, with some of the new toys I’ve added recently. To whit, Cubase SX3, a Mackie Control Universal, a Presonus Central Station, and an inexpensive ART SLA1 100W power amplifier (driving an old pair of Paradigm Titan bookshelf speakers I had lying around).

    More copy-protection ranting.

    This whole End of the World Party episode has got me thinking more about this stuff. Was the CD I bought actually defective?

    Notice I said “CD”. I was under the impression I was buying a Compact Disc. It sure looked alot like a Compact Disc, and was displayed in a rack containing many Compact Discs. But, when I realized that it was copy-protected, I looked closely at the disc and the packaging. Nowhere on it does it say it is a Compact Disc. This is good for them. If it did, I would have much stronger case for saying it is defective. This product does not, in fact, comply with the published specifications of the Compact Disc standard. That is why it will not play in a DVD-ROM drive (nor, presumably, a CD-ROM drive.)

    I am reminded of a story on Slashdot some time ago, about Phillips (one of the original creators of the Compact Disc specification) suing a record company to prevent them from calling their bastard product a Compact Disc. Good for them.

    But not good enough to save me this hassle today. Should record companies be allowed to sell this product as if it were a Compact Disc? They did put a little “Copy-protected” blurb on the back, very small. Is that enough? It wasn’t enough to make me aware that I was buying a shiny $18 beer coaster. I thought it was a Compact Disc. Seems more than a little bit deceptive to me.

    Not wanting to interrupt a good rant, I will continue with another thought that has returned to my mind. Here in Canada, a law was passed some years ago, which adds a $0.21 levy to the cost of blank CD-Rs. This money goes to the Canadian Private Copying Collective, who will, presumably, give some portion of it to Alanis Morisette and Bryan Adams. A similar law recently passed in Germany.

    So, here’s the situation: you are guilty. You have been tried and convicted of stealing copyrighted music, and you have to pay a fine. There’s just one problem here… what if you’re really innocent?

    Defenders of this law will claim that it’s all about averages. Some people use every blank CD-R they buy to copy music, some people (like me) use almost none of them. But what do I care? What does it have to do with me that some guy down the road has a library of 500 stolen CDs? What does it have to do with me that it’s almost impossible to find and prosecute the true copyright pirates? We have lots of unsolved crime. How many murders are unsolved every year? Shall we go out and arrest 5 or 6 random people for murder every year, just to balance out the average?

    This has created a state of injustice in the world. Any good, right-thinking, freedom-loving person abhors injustice. Injustice must be corrected. Since you’ve already been convicted of this crime and been duly punished, it’s too late to fix the injustice at that end. The only way to correct the imbalance now is to actually steal some music. So, it is the moral duty of all justice-loving people in Canada to go out and steal some music. Only then will justice be restored.

    How much to steal then? Lets see… assume an average cost for a legally purchased CD of about $18 (they cost around $1 to manufacture, by the way). At $0.21 per blank CD-R, that works out to 85.7 blank CD-Rs per CD. So, you are morally obligated to use one out of every 85 blank CD-Rs you buy to make a copy of a copyrighted CD.

    I’m glossing over some details here, of course, like the fact that other people besides those represented by CPCC are entitled to a cut of your music-buying dollar, and they aren’t profiting from this injustice. But the point stands. Just make sure it’s an Alanis Morisette or Bryan Adams CD you copy, though, otherwise you’ll be creating more injustice.