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Archive for April, 2017

Ask most people what makes quality music, and inevitably they reply that it’s the speakers. I’m not sure whether that was ever true, or if the speakers were simply one of the few pieces of hardware that users could choose, but it’s definitely not the case in this age of digital music.

Speakers do matter, of course. However, thanks to printed circuits, selecting them is no longer a matter of the larger the better. Today, you can get the same sound from a eight centimeter high wireless speaker that you once needed a seventy-five centimeter wired speaker for. And, although you still can’t go astray with traditional quality brands such as Bose, other brands like Logitech’s UE (Ultimate Ears) are also worth considering.

If you use headphones or ear buds, the headphone amplifier on your music player takes the place of speakers. For example, Fiio, an up and coming Chinese maker of audio equipment makes several different amplifiers for different listening preferences to accompany its top of the line music player. The cables used to connect headphones or ear buds can also make a difference, with those made from metals like titanium being at the high end.

Then there is the digital file. A 32 bit file is going to capture more nuances than an 8 bit one, and a 192K sample rate more than a 42K one, regardless of what hardware you play them back on. Format also matters, with FLAC being preferred by many audiophiles because of its advanced capabilities.

Still another consideration is the DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), which turns the digital file into sound. Unlike with speakers, with DACs, size still matters – a music player the length of your thumb does not have room for a first-rate DAC, which currently requires a device about the size of a cell phone. Even so, modern DACs deliver quality that was once only available with several bulky boxes many times their weight.

All these considerations are often bundled for you. Download sites, for example, often offer low quality files in MP3 formats, with occasional special offers of files with a higher sampling format. Similarly, headphone amplifiers and DACs are usually not compatible with other brands, or even other formats, although headphones, ear buds, and cables generally are.

If you are ripping your own digital music or selecting a music player and its accessories, take into account where you will play music. An apartment dweller will have little use for Fiio’s A5 headphone amplifier, because they are unlikely to be playing music loud enough to appreciate its ability to keep the bass from distorting at high volumes. Instead, the less specialized A3 headphone amplifier is probably a more reasonable choice. Similarly, if you want music for riding the bus, even with noise-canceling headphone, you will probably have enough external noise that you can’t appreciate a 32bit FLAC file, and it will simply take up extra storage space.

Sorting through all these considerations can be complex. All the same, don’t just stop with the speakers or headphones when you are considering how to play your music. Today,  focusing on the speakers is only part of what you need to consider.

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At the start of February, my parrot Beaudin died. It was unexpected, because to all appearances he was healthy and active until his last few hours. Suddenly, for the first time in decades, I was sharing the townhouse with a single parrot, and the silence was unsettling.

A few people suggested that I was becoming too old to get another parrot. Besides, some said, pets would only tie me down. However, chances are that I have several decades left, and, really, what worthwhile choices don’t tie you down?

Moreover, the number of abused and neglected parrots made me determined to do what I can to help without becoming a Crazy Old Parrot Man. After mourning Beau, I contacted Greyhaven, the adoption agency from which he had come, and asked whether it had any conures who needed home.

Greyhaven is still reeling from the collapse of the World Parrot Refuge, a well-intentioned effort to provide for domestic parrots that ended with neglect and larger parrots preying on smaller ones, and at first I was told that no smaller birds were currently available. However, then the staff remembered Morrison, a brown-throated conure who had been with the agency for almost two years.

Morrison had been abandoned by his person. His person had not seen fit to take the little bird when he separated, and the wife had no interest in keeping birds. Greyhaven’s volunteers had seen to his basic needs, but his noisy and curious personality was too demanding for most of them to give him more than minimal attention. But that same personality is what has always attracted me to conures, so I agreed to consider him.

Greyhaven’s adoption policy can be rigorous – and rightly so, since the point is counter the cruelty and neglect that domestic parrots often face. I was prepared for questions about my lifestyle and knowledge of parrots, but the adoption coordinator remembered me from Beaudin’s adoption, and the interview was largely a formality. One look at Morrison was enough to delight me, and to let me know that he should have no trouble settling in. Smaller than a nanday, he almost seems delicate, except that is active, almost hyper personality dominates the space around him automatically, with the slightest need for aggression. I had expected some objection from Ram, my remaining parrot and the victor of many dominance competitions, but he is largely indifferent to having a stranger around — perhaps because Morrison is a different species.

I was prepared to spend hours feeding Morrison to help him accept me, teaching him to step up and coaxing him to eat fruits and vegetables. But none of that proved necessary. He was under-socialized, but not abused. Within a few hours, he was sitting on me, and in less than a day eagerly exploring the living room.

He was eager, too, to start what is apparently a ritual with him: exchanging whistles and his limited vocabulary of “Hello” and “Pretty bird” with a person over and over. Probably, he has little understanding of the words, but just as obviously he knows the important of verbalization in human socialization. Pleased with the attention, he will keep the ritual going for as long as ten minutes at a time if I continue to participate.

If anything, he is almost too eager to settle in. He has the habit of flying to Ram’s cage, an invasion of privacy that Ram does not appreciate. Several times, I have had to lunge across the living room before Ram could make his objections known on Morrison’s person.

Still, perhaps I worry too much. After less than a week, Ran and Morrison were sitting on me as I lay watching a video. And as I type now, Ram has claimed my right shoulder and Morrison my left. Sometimes, they studiously ignore each other, each preening his back and making happy chirps while watching intently, and I have to be watch that Morrison keeps to his own side – but mostly all is right with the world, at least when the two birds are on neutral ground.

In years of working with parrots, I have never met one who adjusted so easily as Morrison has. If the first ten days are any indication, I look forward to years of his company. Morrison is nothing like Beaudin, and certainly not a substitute for him, but he is very much his own person, and someone I am overjoyed to know.

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