Update: Free Kindle Book -- iHi-Fi Audio Setup Guide

just the facts about how to get the best sound that any audio system can play.

just the facts about how to get the best sound that any audio system can play.

New Update Posted 10/2/2015

After over 50 free downloads and 3 sales, all in 3 days, this new Kindle book is doing well.  Five reviews exist and the average is over 4.5 stars out of five.  If you'd like to learn about how you can easily and affordably make the audio system you already have sound as good as it can, grab a copy and dig in.  It's less than 100 pages including images so it's a quick read but you'll gain much more than it costs you in time and cash.  

Only $2.99 on Amazon or borrow it out of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library free.

If you have been waiting for the print version, it won't be long now until that is ready.  Print book formatting is in progress so the paper edition's launch is imminent.  I'll announce again when it's ready.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to all who have reviewed this book.  If you secured one of the free copies, please remember to post your review on the book's Kindle page when you are ready.  Even a one-liner will do.

I hope you enjoy your upgraded music,


Update posted on 9/22/2015

This free Kindle e-book offer has gone live on Amazon.  For the next 3 days (today, 9/22 through the day after tomorrow, 9/24) anyone can get this title for zero cost by logging into Amazon and finding it under Books.  The ASIN is B014TULXXO or you can search by title.  When you land on the book's Amazon page, note the price is $0.00 during the promotion period.  Simply follow through with a no-cost "purchase" and you'll get the Kindle edition FREE.

Amazon offers free apps that enable you to read a Kindle e-book an any computer, phone, or tablet.  Click the link on the book's page to get the app for your device.

If your friends would like a copy as well, please send them an email with a link to this post or to the Amazon book page for this title.

When you have read enough to gauge the reading experience, please leave an honest review on Amazon.  Your review will help spread the word and help me get this book out to the audio community.  Thanks in advance for your interest and for your feedback.  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, by all means please email me using the Contact form on this website.

Happy reading and system tuning!

Joseph Riden

My new Kindle book about audio system setup is chock full of details that reward a listener far beyond the effort and cash required to implement them.  It will soon launch on Amazon.  It's about doing things that help achieve the best-sounding music any given Hi-Fi system can play.  I've realized iHi-Fi's niche in the audio business naturally includes focus on system level audio performance tuning.  That's how my recent focus on specialty audio furniture design fits in.

The book launch will happen exclusively on KDP Select when the secret date arrives.  Right now, I'm looking for a few interested souls who would like to receive a free copy of the Kindle version in exchange for an honest review posted on Amazon.  If you email me I'll put you on the distribution list.  Please use the Contact page on this website and mention you want a free copy of the book.  I'll send you a link to an Amazon.com page to get a free copy when the advance distribution begins.  Your review can be as short or as extensive as you prefer.

You don't have to use a Kindle reader.  Amazon has made sure that if you have a device, they have a free app that enables you to read Kindle books.  All free downloads, in case you haven't heard.  I got the Kindle app for iPad.  It works well.

The free copy will be available as part of a promotion I'll be running.  This book will be available exclusively on Amazon as a KDP Select Edition.  When the promotion date is set, I will send you a link and you can download the book FREE for a limited time.

This book presents tried-and true, tested and proven setup methods that many listeners have confirmed are very worthwhile.  Eventually, it will also come out in paperback but the content is the same in Kindle.  The table of contents includes ten sections about focus areas where attention to details, and possibly some investment of time and a little cash, achieve wonders with any audio system that has true Hi-Fi capability.  Without good setup, no audio system will ever make the best music it can. Yet you can do a lot without spending much.  Some tips are free to implement.

A few other books about audio setup are out there but I made sure my focus gives you better value.  For one thing, I don't offer advertising for gear I don't carry on iHi-Fi, so I don’t constantly try to get you excited about spending big money on new audio components.  My purpose is to help you get the best sound possible from whatever system you have.

Also, this book lays out as much detail as possible in one volume rather than splitting audio setup into fragments so you have to buy several books to get all the information you need.  This book doesn't dive deep into scientific theory or heavy jargon and there's no math in it.  It's simply the facts about what works well to get best sound and how to do it.

I'd surely appreciate an honest review, so let me know by email and I send you a copy.  The form is available on the Contact page HERE.

This is a limited offer.  It will expire when my window closes for offering the book FREE on Amazon.  If you've been thinking you'd like better sound from your system, don't dawdle.  It only takes one email.

Thanks in advance for helping and I hope you enjoy the book.

Superb Tube Buffer from iFi Audio

The Micro itube buffer / preamp from ifi Audio is highly recommended. photo by ihi-fi.

The Micro itube buffer / preamp from ifi Audio is highly recommended. photo by ihi-fi.

I recently added the iFi Micro iTube Preamp/Tube Buffer to my computer audio setup with exciting results.  Every aspect of audio performance improved with addition of this device.  In particular --

  • Soundstage became wider and deeper.  Now it escapes the bounds of speaker placement.
  • Instrument and voice separation, placement, detail, and clarity all improved for a better illusion of the performance.
  •  Speed -- (attack, decay, and sustain of musical notes) are more accurate.
  • Complex instrument timbres became even more lifelike with cello, piano, guitar, and assorted percussion instruments.

These aspects of music are what high fidelity to the original performance is all about. I've used tube buffers before with good effect but this one is "the kind."  Critical listening began without allowing a break-in period. It's possible further improvement may become noticeable over the next few days.

I heard things in familiar recordings that did not notice before.  This is a benchmark experience and so welcome each time it happens yet again.  When I feel compelled to go back and listen to test music to assure what I am hearing, I know I'm into something special.  Not surprising, though, for a new venture of world-class AMR.

Incidentally, there is no connection whatsoever between iFi Audio, a British company, and my US venture, iHi-Fi, despite some phonic coincidence in our names.

This little tube buffer (dimensions: 6.9" x 2.6" x 1.1") is made with exceptional build quality.  Fit and finish are superb.  You'll feel proud to display one in your system. The metallic look resembles Apple's metal-case computers. The entire iFi Micro and Nano lines matches across all components with standardized packaging -- a smart move.

However, the real news is about musical functionality.  The iTube brings more improvement to computer audio than its cost would imply. I'm a tube nut from way back and pleased to configure a system with a dual triode where it matters most and doesn't detract from bass performance -- at the preamp stage.  The General Electric 5670 is new to me but it delivers the goods like a full-sized tube preamp stage.

Test System Setup


Audioengine D2 DAC includes Sender and receiver.  Highly recommended, up-samples to 24/96 and breaks any ground connection with your computer to eliminate digital grunge.

Audioengine D2 DAC includes Sender and receiver.  Highly recommended, up-samples to 24/96 and breaks any ground connection with your computer to eliminate digital grunge.

Computer: MacBook Pro Late 2011
DAC: Audioengine D2 (up-samples to 24/96) connected via standard USB 2.0 cable.
Tube Buffer: iFi Audio Micro iTube set to Buffer mode, zero gain, no volume control.
Amp/Speakers: Audioengine A5+ Bamboo and S8 Subwoofer, both self-amplified.
Anti-vibration Damping: Herbie's Audio dB neutralizer pucks under all speakers and the iTube.  Experimental damping sheets under the D2 DAC Sender and Receiver.  The four stick-on silicone feet that come with the iTube were not used.
Room Acoustic Treatment: Acoustic System International Sugar Cubes & Diffuser, Silver and Basic (copper) Resonators, and 4-piece Phase Corrector Array


Audioengine A5+ Bamboo speakers have plenty of power to drive even a large room, are very well reviewed, and highly recommended for cost/performance value.

Audioengine A5+ Bamboo speakers have plenty of power to drive even a large room, are very well reviewed, and highly recommended for cost/performance value.

Music and Source

Streaming from Spotify.com (Ogg Vorbis file format.)  I selected known excellent recordings of masterful performances that are familiar and timbrally complex --

  • Adam Hurst, Cellist, Elegy
  • Dustin O'Halloran, Piano Solos, Vol. 1 & 2
  • Niklas Aman, mostly acoustic guitar, The Meeting and Light and Water
  • John De Kadt, complex percussion, Rhythms of the Infinite
  • Mo Foster, bassist, Bass Themes

. . . and many others.  If you have not heard Spotify streaming music through a quality up-sampling DAC and a great pair of powered speakers, you may be pleasantly surprised by how great that combo can sound.

Summary Results

I believed I had maxed-out the Audioengine A5+ speakers' performance.  Happily, to sound even better, all they needed was a dose of "tube magic" on the front end.  The iTube in buffer mode makes beautiful music.  It's an incredible value (at $329 on Music Direct) for those who truly love music, have trained their ears, and want their computer audio to sound as much as possible like original performances.   

I experienced sound quality at least equal to any high end system I have owned or heard.  Especially notable were soundstage and timbres for astonishing realism -- truly holographic music.  Thanks, iFi, you hit the ball out of the park with this component.

In my system, the "Digital Antidote" feature seems to have little effect.  What it addresses is ground loop digital noise carried into the analog section via the USB connection.  This is a good problem to not have, probably made moot by the D2, which is a two-piece radio DAC running DLNA -- similar to typical home Wi-Fi.  The radio link between the Sender and Receiver breaks any ground connection between my laptop and the audio analog section.

Audioengine S8 Powered Subwoofer fills in the lower bass beautifully and is another great speaker value for building a complete computer audio hi-fi setup.

Audioengine S8 Powered Subwoofer fills in the lower bass beautifully and is another great speaker value for building a complete computer audio hi-fi setup.

I'll end with a teaser.  My readers are aware I have ventured into specialty audio furniture design as shown in several recent posts on this blog.  The main reason I acquired an iTube unit is for fit-check and mechanical verification of a new design -- the iHi-Fi Originals MicroVybra Audio Rack, made specifically to house, integrate, and enhance performance of all the iFi Micro and Nano components.

To me, the iFi plastic-shelved iRack -- with rubber O-rings, loose metal parts, and spikes-and-cups -- is a disappointing, atavistic design that leaves room for improvement.  Apparently AMR's "trickle-down" technology does not include advanced vibration damping and other mechanical tech, given the spikes, rubber, and plastic shelves that, for me, spoil the brew.  

The iHi-Fi Originals MicroVybra Audio Rack takes a whole different approach with real wood shelves of Birch and Maple (frequently chosen to panel concert halls;) molecular-engineered, purpose-formulated vibration-dampers; improved mass grounding; and resonance suppression.  Each iFi component is isolated and so is the entire rack as a whole.  The iHi-Fi MicroVybra Audio Rack design is complete and moving into production and possibly a crowdfunding effort.  

Even pocket-sized components benefit from a properly designed audio rack.  This design phase includes the NanoVybra, probably the world's smallest audio rack, made specifically for iFi Nano components. The NanoVybra is compact enough to be portable.  It affords battery powered, headphone listeners opportunity to listen with all the benefits of iHi-Fi Originals acoustic technologies.

The physical prototypes will arrive soon.  After final design verification comes product release.  I anticipate re-listening to the iTube Buffer when it's properly isolated and receiving benefits of iHi-Fi technologies.  Even higher levels of audio perfection should be reached as iHi-Fi MicroVybra and NanoVybra Racks make it possible for iFi's superb audio gear to reach it's highest potentials.

When the new iHi-Fi Audio Racks are ready to pre-order, I'll post more about them here.  In the meantime, enjoy your listening and look forward to even better-sounding music.

How to Get the Most from Digital Music

A Computer, Digital to Analog Converter (DAC,) and headphones can get you started But how do you source enough music you really want to hear?

A Computer, Digital to Analog Converter (DAC,) and headphones can get you started But how do you source enough music you really want to hear?

Computer audio delivers easy, low-cost alternatives to obsolete analog music source technologies, offering higher fidelity, greater portability, massive music library capacity, and easy music management, including affordable wireless music throughout your home or business.  Digital music technology keeps thriving and growing despite slow audio market conditions. What we used to call “computer speakers” have evolved into full-fledged Hi-Fi audio systems that achieve a high-end listening experience at all-time-low, affordable costs.  

Computer-based music technology improves your whole listening experience, offering –

  • Music quality that sounds closer to performances
  • Fast and easy music storage, selection, and playback 
  • Affordable music and component costs
  • Playback mobility with speakers or headphones
  • Gigantic streaming libraries with vast selection

 Many early adopters are convinced computer audio has become the best Hi-Fi music technology ever and not just for listening with ear buds from a phone, tablet, or dedicated player.  New digital audio systems bring excitement and some growth in a generally stagnant industry. Geek Audio, Sony, TEAC, NAD, iFi (from AMR,) Audioengine, and other significant brands are introducing new generations of digital components.  Some brands generate entire product lines to test this emerging sub-market and claim a slice of computer audio business. 

Although the audio gear has passed a tipping point, listeners (and sales) are constrained by an archaic music distribution model.  Economical access to high-res recordings lags behind growing demand.  Computer audio obsoletes physical media -- the legacy spinning plastic LPs and CDs. Yet Big Media’s piracy paranoia and profit-hungry price control strategies apply brakes to music sales. Many enthusiasts are challenged to acquire enough digital-format files to keep their audio systems playing despite the variety of excellent audio gear becoming available to this active new market sector.

Music distribution could match newer, more compact audio systems with better, lower-cost access to high quality music files.  That strategy would heat up audio sales and drive increasing vitality throughout the whole audio ecosystem but distributors want to keep music prices high long after production costs and sizable profits are captured.  The lure of making a piece of media once and re-selling it forever has to be hard to resist.

Until music distribution improves, we need a strategy that works.  Many savvy buyers have moved beyond reflexively paying a dollar per song.  You can get streaming access that sounds quite good thanks to the Ogg Vorbis format on Spotify.com, my current favorite streaming site.  This is a great strategy for exploring new music and expanding your library.

Excellent-sounding powered speakers will put real ih-fi in your whole room

Excellent-sounding powered speakers will put real ih-fi in your whole room

The Typical Legal Option

Present legal music choices are limited to tactics like transcribing LPs and “ripping” CDs – converting the music you can access on plastic to digital files.  With good process and technique, nothing is lost in translation.  In fact, digital files can be enhanced during transcription to produce a superior listening experience. 

Collectors who have the stamina and the right gear can acquire LP records and CDs, re-record the music digitally, and then resell the hard media to recover some cost if you can find buyers for the plastic.  In this way, you can generate a growing music file library and acquire some recordings of excellent performances.  But it's hard work.
Vinyl LP-sourced music can be enhanced and stabilized so it stops suffering from scratches, dust, dings, an wear.  Quality USB turntables an be found at affordable prices.  Good transcription software removes the surface noise and any need for RIAA equalization during every playback.  Issues with turntables, cartridges, record wear and maintenance, etc., instantly go away.  You can always keep the vinyl and jackets in storage.  A lot of album art is available digitally now and can be added to certain file formats.

Some CD ripping software includes access to “extra” musical data that is usually lopped off by filtering during standard CD playback.  Due to acoustic energy interactions, even sound that is far beyond the human hearing range affects audio playback in any listening room.  So everything recorded is part of the performance whether audible or not. Musical fidelity rises audibly when this hidden music data is up-sampled into 24-bit hi-res formats.  Unfortunately, the "Exact Audio Copy" software only runs on PCs but there is a good (also free) alternative discussed HERE -- called "X Lossless Decoder."

However, CD-ripping, even with format conversion, doesn’t provide access to enough new music to satisfy most listeners.  Transcription is a slow, arduous process in bulk quantities.  When I switched to digital, I started ripping my way through my CD library.  Discovering how much work is involved, I fatigued after a few dozen CD's and started seriously exploring streaming music.  Now some friends own my library of plastic and I listen to digital files exclusively, one way or the other.

More Legal Options

Purchase Digital Music Files – I haven’t discovered any physical retail stores offering digital format music.  Sales seem to happen just online via download.  There are many sources on the web, including Linn Music, HD Tracks, and Qobuz.com.  However, these may be far too pricey for your home audio budget at up to $25 or more per 24-bit digital album.  Lower resolutions cost less and 16-bit may be acceptable for some music.  However, we can stream unlimited music for 2 to 3 months non-stop for the typical cost of a single 24 bit digital album file. The music available in this form is quite limited.

Download Free Files Online – A dedicated, resourceful and skilled web researcher can find many scattered caches of free high-res music files all around the Internet.  A few are listed on iHi-Fi.com.  You may even find you enjoy ferreting out free music files, downloading, and trading with friends to build up your library.

The issues to consider are selection and convenience.  Free music you can find is very limited so this really isn’t shopping.  It’s more like archeology -- collecting discoveries you dig up.  You may experience searching as I do – too frustrating.  You can find a lot of old jazz, folk music, and new indie musicians trying to make it but it's hard to find what you are really looking for, music that matches your tastes and preferences.  I have difficulty settling for less than what I really want to hear. 

Stream Music Instead of Buying – With on-demand streaming, we’re talking stupefying mega-selection and satisfaction for any musical taste at very low cost.  I greatly value the option to save music to my devices for offline play.  You just queue up music you want to hear later and it copies down as you listen to other streaming files.

The greatest advantage of streaming is how it can expand your listening horizons.  Searching for artists or genres usually turns up music you want to hear.  You'll want to add lots of new artists to your favorites.  You won't even scratch the surface of what’s available streaming in many months of daily listening.  

However, the trade-off may often be to lower fidelity, the best common quality being compressed 320 Kbps CBR Mp3.  Such a lossy format produces an audibly inferior listening experience compared to 16-bit/44.1 KHz true CD quality, and above.  However, it exceeds most lossy music downloads presently available at commodity prices.  Some folks find 320 KB Mp3 music passible for casual or background listening.  Tolerating some of this quality can part of the streaming experience.  

On Qobuz.com (from France,) I find more higher-fidelity music. I often locate 16-bit music I can stream or save to my device but I’m often confronted with pressure to buy overpriced files.  Most selections I would like to hear in 24-bit formats are blocked except for file purchase.  In the end, this site is too full of sales traps to be conveniently useful and too annoying to tolerate, long-term.

There are also some radio-style streaming sources that don’t allow music selection beyond genre preferences.  These hold little interest for more serious and adventurous listeners who like to engage deeply and explore for new finds.  For that, you need the advantages of on-demand music streaming and a great suggestion function based on your listening habits.  MOG.com had that previously and now Spotify.com still offers something comparable though it lacks the genre breakdowns that MOG.com had.

So far in my exploring, Spotify.com is the bright spot.  It definitely sounds a cut above on my gear and in my ear.  I maintain a library of selected 24-bit reference quality files in parallel.

Outside the Law

Supplemental Music File Sources – Let’s stay real and admit many listeners feel driven to step outside the law to overcome the general lack of selection in affordable, high resolution, yet convenient music.  Some listeners hold “backup libraries” of their friends’ audio files.  Of course, these caches require “periodic review and validation” via playback.  

While we’re getting honest, let’s also admit many listeners know what "bit torrents" are and some resort to them.  I only support legal listening.  Yet I deplore the distribution industry's inability to step up to the utility and economy of streaming at higher fidelity.  Instead, they use IP rights to hold high-res music we want hostage until we pay a ransom.  I believe this practice does not help the rights owners as much as it holds them back.  There's an underlying fallacy that supporting inflated prices will make more money.  What is really needed is for artists to become more popular.  For that, one must study the strategies of The Grateful Dead.

Big Media’s current policies and archaic business model are causing the music piracy black market to flourish.  Pirate music will lose appeal when affordable, desirable music becomes conveniently available legally. 

A wireless DAC sends music across the room or through the whole house or office

A wireless DAC sends music across the room or through the whole house or office


What serious listeners really want is simple and obvious – a rich, rewarding, no-hassle experience of music you can afford to indulge in all day.  This musical experience includes variety, choice, convenience, immediacy, quality, discovery, and low cost.

  • Variety – access to all musical genres in a giant database with excellent discovery tools for finding new music
  • Choice – self-determined selection of music files on-demand, with genre-based streaming as a selection but not the only listening mode
  • Convenience – fast and simple music selection and playback, with encrypted file downloading for offline playback
  • Immediacy – a here-and-now streaming experience, not waiting for downloads
  • Quality in music and delivery –
    • Selectable file densities up to 24 bit master file formats
    • Continuous streaming without annoying gaps, noise, dropouts, etc.
    • Accessible through an attractive, intuitive interface
  • Discovery -- technology that suggests more of whatever you like
  • Low Cost – Something like $10 per subscription month satisfies the masses yet enables gigantic profits when a cloud based system implements delivery at scale.  

With transcription, you only get your own library plus any music you can borrow, at the fidelity recorded, or somewhat enhanced.  However, it’s so much continuous work to acquire and transcribe enough music, it’s impractical.  If you already have the players and plastic, the better course may be to go with a hybrid approach combining analog sources for legacy media and digital sources for new library additions.

With purchased music files, you can get superb fidelity, quality, and some selection, but price gouging rules. Downloading delay is also required.  At some affordable price point, buying music starts to make sense but that level is far below current typical asking prices for denser files.  If you're willing to pay and don't mind the hassle, this works for acquiring "reference music."

With free files, some are out there but their provenance is uncertain and downloading is more effort than I’m willing to sustain even when the files are free.  Not to mention you can only get what you happen to find rather than what you want.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to select something wonderful, listen soon, and get it playing with minimal fuss and bother.


Music piracy is the market’s response to present distribution schemes and pricing.  Until music distribution modernizes and gets real about what consumers want to pay and the limited effect of holding price lines, we have limited means available for personal music acquisition, even if we step outside the law.  When and if Big Media learns to out-pirate the music pirates by selling low enough, we’ll have legal sources for all the digital music we want at good prices and with easy access.  It’s probably inevitable but when?

The stupefying variety of streaming music compensates for the shortcomings.  With on-demand streaming, you get the best overall compromise from sites like Spotify.com.  There are many more streaming sites of variable quality.  You can find more options at DreamStreaming.info. The ability to mimic typical music downloads is a big plus -- when you can save encrypted music to your device without paying to own the files.  As long as you are subscribed you can still play saved files.  You just can't copy or re-sell them which seems like a great IP rights-satisfying solution to me.

At present, for all but the most discerning listening, one option still stands out -- online streaming audio.  Spotify is the best streaming experience I've found and quite satisfying for exploration and discovery.  Augment your streaming with a superb, smaller collection of select high-res files and try to get by until a day when the IP rights holders stop hoping Big Media will make them rich despite lacking talent and without doing the touring work to become popular.