Monthly Archives: February 2018

A/B/C testing: August and Everything After, in 24-bit, 96kHz FLAC vs. 16-bit, 44.1kHz ALAC vs. 256 kbps AAC

I’m listening tonight to a “hi-res” 24-bit, 96kHz lossless version of “August and Everything After” through my good headphones, DAC, and amp tonight. I love this album. It helps that I was 15 when it came out, of course. But still, I think it is an emotionally rich artistic achievement. It surprised me when such an earnest, heartfelt record became wildly popular; only in the 1990s would that happen, I guess.

I compared this hi-res version, track by track, with two other versions I have on hand:

  1. my 16-bit, 44.1kHz ALAC rip from my original CD from 1992, and
  2. the 256kbps AAC version available through Apple Music.

Overall, all three versions sound almost identical, which is kind of what I would expect, actually, given that Apple Music’s lossy AAC encodings are of a very high quality, and that the bit rates and bit depths for CD-quality recording and iTunes AAC encodings were chosen very carefully. We are far from the world of mushy, sizzly 128kbps MP3 files now. That said, the lossless versions do sound a tiny bit better. They reveal more detail than the lossy version, notably in the snap of the bass guitar and in the attack of the snare drum. The difference is slight: you have to listen very carefully to hear it, and you need equipment sensitive enough to reproduce the sounds accurately.

The main improvement the hi-res version brings over the CD-quality rip, to my ears, is a lower noise floor. Otherwise, it sounds the same as the CD version. You gain about 1-2% in fidelity at the price of lot of extra bits on the hard drive, and, perhaps, more dollars out of your wallet. This is true even though the 24-bit version was mastered to be a little quieter than the original CD and iTunes versions. You have to turn it up a notch to match the others’ volume. Even with more amplification, the hi-res version’s noise floor is incredibly low, and everything sounds fantastic.

Overall, I would prefer to listen to all my music in lossless quality, in as high fidelity as possible. It can sound better than lossy rips, and, even if I can’t hear the difference on a particular track, why not listen to the best version available? That said, I subscribe to Apple Music, which serves AAC files, rather than Tidal, which has a lossless streaming plan, primarily for convenience. Fortunately, for me, Apple’s 256kbps AAC files are completely adequate substitutes for lossless rips. I do think, though, that if Apple offered a lossless plan at a slight up-charge, I would subscribe to it.

My slide into audiophile territory, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about my realization that I have become an audiophile.

Introduction

I have realized recently that I have slowly but surely slipped from the category of “normal person” to the category of “audiophile”. I never would call myself an audiophile before, so this is somewhat shocking to me.

I always thought that audiophiles were people who threw away thousands of dollars, unnecessarily, on audio equipment–speakers, headphones, DACs, and so on—to “hear” “something” that I could never, ever hear myself, and was probably not even there. After realizing that I spent, probably, $1,000 or more on audio equipment last year, I think I need to brand myself with the “audiophile” label. I am listening to lots of music and enjoying it immensely, but there is something clearly wrong with me. (Just kidding—I think.)

A princely four-figure sum over the course of 2017 netted me some great equipment:

  1. Apple AirPods
  2. Oppo PM3 headphones
  3. an Oppo HA-2SE DAC/headphone amp combo, and
  4. a BeoPlay M3 wireless speaker.

Even with all that great stuff at my listening desk, I am still dying to buy a HomePod (or two, even), open-back headphones from HifiMan, B&O Play headphones of some kind (did they just discontinue all their wired models?), and maybe a HifiBerry or a piece of Schiit to turn one of my old Raspberry Pis back into an AirPlay receiver.

I have no idea why this is. All I know is that the good audio equipment I have now has made all the other speakers in the house sound like garbage to me. In a way, I am glad I don’t have the money right now to buy any of this stuff. I certainly don’t need any of it, and it won’t make my life any better.

What the hell happened?

How did I slip from being a normal music listener to an audiophile or audiophile wannabe? I have a very good excuse—or, more likely, a series of somewhat poor excuses that snowballed into $1,000+ of spending on audio equipment in one year:

  1. I adore listening to music, and spend a lot of time doing so.
  2. I got, for free a couple times, better headphones than the ones I had before.
  3. I started to hear “something” that these better headphones brought out of my music that I never had heard before. The sound of the music became as important to me as the content of the music.
  4. And then, those headphones broke, and I had to get new ones. This has happened multiple times to me over the past five years, which is a bummer and encouraged me to try to buy higher quality headphones each time.

So what?

I thought it would be fun to write about all my gear from one the years, from the first crappy boombox to the amazing headphones and DAV/amp combo I am rocking these days. This is the first post in that series.

Strategies to increase diversity on Micro.blog

Jean McDonald, Community Manager of Micro.blog, posted an essay today entitled “Diversity and Inclusion at Micro.blog: Where We Are, Where We Want to Go“.

The question comes up regularly: to what extent is there diversity in the Micro.blog community? We only ask for a name and an email address to register, so we don’t have any demographics on the users in our community. But I do know, based on skimming the names of those who register, that the percentage of users with typically female names is very small. When I look at users whose avatars are photos of themselves, I suspect the percentage of people of color is also very small.

I have been thinking about diversity on the platform since I started using it, the day it opened to the public in December 2017. Jean’s essay inspired me to publish some of my thoughts.

What do we expect?

The Micro.blog service has not been a publicly available for long. At this point, it is understandable that the first wave of users would be primarily composed of fans of its founder, Manton Reece. Manton is an iOS and macOS developer who blogs and podcasts about his development work and the indie web. If you have come across his work online, you are probably very much like him: an iOS or macOS developer, or at least a passionate user; a tech podcast listener; or a passionate blogger or IndieWeb aficionado. This core group is, for reasons related to historical and cultural biases, not a particularly diverse one.

This core group describes me, and certainly does not describe everyone on Micro.blog, but it does describe a lot of the users I found on the service’s Discover page. Manton and Jean have expressed, from the very beginning, an earnest desire to create a safe community of independent micro blogs—”safe” from the abuse that silences disempowered people, women, and minorities on dominant social media platforms. They, along with the users of the platform, have openly discussed how to increase diversity, and the challenges inherent in doing so. I have learned a lot from reading these blog posts and discussions. Like them, I wish for Micro.blog to attract and retain a more diverse user base. The question we all face now is: how?

Here are a few ideas.

Recognize and publicize that community guidelines are intrinsic to the product

Jean McDonald:

No one should feel unwelcome here.

This should be one of the public-facing mantras that applies to the entire project, much like “Don’t be evil” was to Google for many years. Jean’s quote should be atop the “Community Guidelines” page, and a link to that page should be near the top of the “help.micro.blog” page.

I think Micro.blog should put a lot more focus on the community guidelines and whatever technology or processes are used to enforce them. It’s a key feature of the platform. People behaving well together is the core of the product for me, and a key differentiator between it and Twitter.

Refine the marketing message

What is Micro.blog, anyway? To IndieWeb people, it’s kind of obvious. To everybody else, maybe not.

If asked, today, to sell it to someone, I might say: “It’s the good parts of Twitter, with none of the bad parts.” I might explain that microblogging is simply sharing something about yourself in public, and that Micro.blog is a safe, respectful place to do so, because it has protections against abuse, and strict community guidelines. If they are unsure why they should share thing in public, I would explain that it is empowering to do so. It is putting your best foot forward online.

Promote on podcasts

Having a simple, concise marketing message is essential, but that message needs to be spread somehow. One of the best ways to market these days is on podcasts.

Manton has a podcast and a microcast, which have brought a lot of people to Micro.blog thus far. I think podcasts are a great opportunity to promote the open, inclusive, but safe nature of Micro.blog. While podcast audiences may, as a whole, skew white, male, and wealthy, there are tons of podcasts out there that are hosted by, feature as panelists, and cater to women and minorities. I’m sure that Manton is adjacent enough to other tech podcasters to get some guest spots on tech podcasts that feature or cater to these groups.

Ask users for help

Micro.blog users are all, at this point, early adopters, and most of us are especially committed to the platform and want it to succeed. Ask us to publicize the service. Give us some ideas how to do that effectively, and in ways that will increase diversity. Provide incentives for us to sign up new people, such as additional badges (which are free to provide) or free months of Micro.blog hosting (which of course incurs a cost). I’m sure something will come of it.

Closing thoughts

My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, and Manton and Jean are likely in a better position than I am to understand what they need to do, and what they can do. I do want to express that diversity is important for all of us, even white, male, Americans such as myself. If all people are treated with dignity and are allowed to participate in something (work, society, etc.), outcomes will be better, and life will be richer, for all of us. I have seen that firsthand at a small scale, and wish to see it at a much larger scale. Micro.blog is a good place to start.

SwiftoDo Developer Notes, February 2018

SwiftoDo is a passion project for me. I love working on it, but, due to work and family obligations, I have very little time to do so. Consequently, I am way behind schedule in adopting features introduced in iOS 11. I also learned, the hard way, that lots of minor UI-related bugs popped up when I changed the app’s target iOS framework from 9.0 to 11.0. I have been slowly discovering and cleaning up those bugs, and adding minor features here and there, for the past two and a half months.

Release cadence

I have decided to release working code as soon as possible, rather than trying to batch features and bug fixes into larger releases. Therefore, I have been issuing new releases about once per week, the past few weeks. I will not be keeping up that release cadence, but I do want to reflect to my customers that the app is actively developed. More importantly, I want bugs to be fixed for all my users. I would much rather have a rock-solid, very simple app than an unstable one with lots of bells and whistles.

Features

That said, I do want to keep adding bells and whistles. I am working on adding drag-and-drop support at this point, and plan to look into adding clickable URLs and Siri support. I have a long list of other ideas and concepts drafted, too.

I would like to add additional data providers, other than Dropbox, but I have little exposure to coding networking code, and the third party libraries I’ve looked at look like more trouble than they are worth. For some perspective, Dropbox’s SwiftyDropbox library, which powers file sync now, is a great library, but is also the source of most of the mysterious crashes on startup that a small number of people have reported. What is frustrating to me, as a developer, is that I can’t really fix those crashes, because I don’t fully understand what causes them, and the code is in a library. I don’t want to open my app up to more instability just to add a data provider. Also, I have been loath to support iOS 11’s Files app integration, up to this point, because I don’t see how the todo.txt “Archive” function, which moves completed tasks to another file, would be able to work with it.

Current focus

I have way more ideas for features and improvements than time to complete them. My focus in the near term will be on stability and satisfying user requests that seem like they would be useful for a majority of my users. Hopefully that is good enough for now. It’s amazing how much work my simple, text-based task list app has been!