Monday Jun 29, 2009

Online-Workshop: Besserer Klang mit wenig Aufwand von der niche09

This post is in German because it's about a Podcasting workshop in German language. If you want this workshop to be in English, feel free to gather a bunch of people and invite me to do it for you.

Constantin beim Workshop-ModerierenAm 20.6.2009 fand in München das Podcamp München statt, besser bekannt als niche09. An diesem Samstag trafen sich über 100 Podcast-Begeisterte in München und tauschten sich zu verschiedenen Themen rund um's Podcasting aus. Das Programm bot einen schönen Querschnitt durch das Thema und im http://www.niche09.de/">niche09-Blog kann man sich die Workshops noch in Form von verschiedenen Aufzeichnungen auch nachträglich und online kostenlos zu Gemüte führen. An dieser Stelle vielen Dank an Alex Wunschel, die Sponsoren und die vielen Helfer, die diese wirklich schöne Konferenz zustande gebracht haben!

Alex war auch so nett, mich einen Workshop zum Thema "Besserer Klang mit wenig Aufwand: Tipps & Tricks beim Podcast-Produzieren" moderieren zu lassen. Ein Audio-Mitschnitt samt synchroner Folien ist nun als Video erhältlich, in der Hoffnung, dass dieser Workshop auch online vielen Leuten bei der Produktion ihrer Podcasts helfen möge:

Den Workshop könnt Ihr unten direkt anschauen, als Quicktime-Video für den Rechner oder als iPhone-Video herunterladen, sowie Euch die Folien zum Workshop anschauen.

Hier noch ein paar Links, Anmerkungen und Korrekturen zum Workshop. Keine Angst, ich bekomme von keinem der genannten Hersteller irgendwas, sondern spreche nur aus eigener Erfahrung bzw. verlässlichen Quellen.

  • Nicht wundern, der "halbstündige Workshop" ist nur ein Witz, weil die Konferenz mit ca. 30 Min. Verspätung angefangen hat. Der Workshop war von vornherein auf 1 Stunde angelegt :).
  • Für mobile Aufnahmen ist das Zoom H2 und sein größerer Bruder Zoom H4 von Samson sehr beliebt. Für vergleichsweise wenig Geld erhält man eine sehr gute Aufnahme-Qualität und eine praktische, mobile Handhabung. Darüber hinaus kann das Gerät kann auch als gutes USB-Mikrofon dienen.Im Workshop lobte jemand auch den Audio-Recorder von Olympus (nicht sicher, ob dieses Modell gemeint war).
  • Die USB-Audio-Interfaces von M-Audio sind gut und günstig und für den Einstieg sehr empfehlenswert. Nach einiger Zeit bin ich jedoch aufgrund eines Tests im Professional Audio-Magazin zum Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 gewechselt, das mich durch sehr gute, rauschfreie Audio-Qualität sowohl bei der Aufnahme als auch bei der Ausgabe über Kopfhörer und Aktivboxen beeindruckt hat.
  • Tim Pritlove vom Chaos Radio Express und MobileMacs empfahl uns die Beyerdynamic DT 297 Headsets für die stressfreie Aufnahme von mehreren Podcastern auf einmal, da die Mikros guten Klang bieten, man jede Stimme einzeln aufnehmen kann und die Kopfhörer präzises Feedback für die Sprecher erlauben. Alleine das richtige Audio-Interface/Mischpult/Vorschaltgerät, das jedem einzelnen seinen eigenen Feedback-Kanal gönnt und gleichzeitig eine getrennte Aufnahme ermöglicht, scheint noch ein ungelöstes Problem zu sein. Vielleicht hilft ein eigener Mehrkanal-Kopfhörerverstärker?
  • Im MacCast 2009.04.14 gibt es ein schönes Interview mit Heroes-Star David H. Lawrence XVII, der u.a. auch ein eigenes Studio betreibt und vom Radio kommend zum Podcaster geworden ist. Er hat viele nützliche Tipps parat und empfiehlt u.a. das Audio-Technica AT2020, insbesondere die USB-Variante AT2020 USB. Im Workshop hatte ich leider "Audio-Technica" mit "Behringer" als Hersteller verwechselt, ich bitte um Entschuldigung für die Verwirrung...
  • Auch in unserem HELDENFunk-Podcast verwenden wir das Audio-Technica AT2020, sowie ein paar Røde NT5 und können diese sehr empfehlen. Mehr Details gibt es in einem eigenen HELDENFunk behind the Scenes-Artikel. Inzwischen haben wir unser Setup um ein Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 8pre 8-Fach Firewire Audio-Interface erweitert, das wir ebenfalls sehr empfehlen können.

Ich hoffe, dieser Workshop ist trotz der Länge von 1 Stunde für Euch nützlich. Schickt mir Euer Feedback, Fragen und Anregungen, bei der nächsten Konferenz (niche10?) bin ich gerne wieder dabei!

Wednesday Jan 14, 2009

How to get Audio to work on OpenSolaris on VirtualBox

Man playing a big trumpet My regular working environment on the go or when working from home is, of course, OpenSolaris. I've been using it on an Acer Ferrari Laptop for years now and I can say I'm very happy with it, and that's not just because I work for Sun.

Lately, I tried OpenSolaris on VirtualBox on my private MacBook Pro. This configuration turned out to work better than the native OpenSolaris on my company's Acer Ferrari laptop! Due to the MBP being 2 years newer and it having a dual-core CPU plus 4 GB of RAM, it turned out to be the better machine to host my OpenSolaris work environment.

With one exception: Audio.

Audio isn't enabled in VirtualBox by default in the Mac version and that has already been blogged elsewhere. The solution is simply to enable Audio in VirtualBox settings and select the Intel ICH AC97 soundchip.

Then, OpenSolaris doesn't come with an ICH AC97 audio driver and even the new SUNWaudiohd driver doesn't support it. The solution here is to download the OSS sound drivers from 4Front technologies. So far, so good.

But this didn't work for me: Either the sound would play for a few seconds, then hang, or the sound drivers wouldn't be recognized by GNOME/GStreamer at all, resulting in a crossed-out loudspeaker icon at the top! This is very frustrating if you want to show Brandan's excellent shouting video to an audience and have to switch out of OpenSolaris/VirtualBox back to Mac OS X just for that.

Apparently others suffered from the same annoyance, too, but neither of the solutions I found seemed to help: I installed and uninstalled and reinstalled the OSS drivers a number of times, ran the ossdevlinks script to recreate device links, even installed a newer, experimental version of the SUNaudiohd driver. No luck yet.

Then Frank, a Sun sales person who happens to use OpenSolaris on his laptop as well (Yay! a salesrep using OpenSolaris! Kudos to Frank!) suggested to uninstall the SUNWaudiohd driver, then install the OSS sound driver, which worked for him. It didn't occur to me that uninstalling SUNWaudiohd might be the solution, so I wanted to give it a try.

But, alas "pfexec pkg uninstall SUNaudiohd" didn't work for me either! Apparently there's a dependency between this package and the slim_install package bundle. Again, Google is your friend and it turned out to be a known bug that prevented me from uninstalling SUNWaudiohd. The workaround is simply to "pfexec pkg uninstall slim_install" which is no longer needed after the installation process anyway.

So lo and behold, gone is slim_install, gone is SUNWaudiohd, installed the OSS drivers, logged out and back in and audio works fine now! (Notice: no reboot required).

Here's the sweet and short way to audio goodness on OpenSolaris on VirtualBox:

  1. Shutdown your OpenSolaris VirtualBox image if it is running, so you can change it's settings.
  2. Activate audio for your OpenSolaris VM in VirtualBox. Select the ICH AC97 Chip. Here's a blog entry that describes the process.
  3. Boot your OpenSolaris VirtualBox image.
  4. Uninstall the slim_server package: "pfexec pkg uninstall slim_server"
  5. Uninstall the SUNWaudiohd driver: "pfexec pkg uninstall SUNWaudiohd"
  6. Download the OSS sound driver for OpenSolaris.
  7. Install the OSS sound driver: "pfexec pkgadd -d oss-solaris-v4.1-1051-i386.pkg" (Or whatever revision you happened to download).
  8. Log out of your desktop and log back in. Sound should work now.

Thursday Oct 25, 2007

Behind the scenes of the HELDENFunk podcast production

Marc, our heroic HELDENFunk producer Earlier this week, we posted episode 4 of the (german) HELDENFunk podcast to the Systemhelden.com site. It includes a CEC 2007 roundup with a pointer to Alec's excellent Futurology presentation, some information on the new UltraSPARC T2 based servers and some coverage of the Team Jefferson project.

Christian Müller, our studio guest in the latest episode told us that Systemhelden.com and the HELDENFunk podcast are now known as a great example of a well functioning "B2B messaging platform" (you have to excuse Christian, he's in marketing...) and he's busy travelling from marketing droid conference to marketing droid conference telling people what Systemhelden.com actually is. To me it's just a nice place for german sysadmins to hang out in :).

To the right, you see Marc Baumann, our heroic podcast producer while he's making sure that HELDENFunk listeners enjoy good sound. And so, let's take a look behind the scenes of the HELDENFunk podcast:

Once (now twice) per month we gather in a small conference room to record the next episode. Marc got us some nice microphones to record with: An Audio Technica AT-2020 for the moderator and two Røde NT5 for our guests. The audio goes through a Behringer Eurorack MX 802A Mixer where Marc can adjust the volume and pan for each individual speaker, then goes to a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 A/D converter (which I already blogged about) and audio interface that is connected to my Apple Powerbook. We use Logic Audio Express 7 for recording (I'm still waiting for my upgrade to the new Logic Studio 8) and Marc uses Logic Studio 8 for mixdown and mastering (he already got his upgrade). Unfortunately, there are no good pro audio software solutions on Solaris, but who knows what the future will bring...

As you can see (and hear), good audio quality starts with good microphones and good mixing and A/D equipment. Still, post-processing is very important. I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving to work and these are the most common things that annoy me about podcast audio quality:

  • Overall low volume: It's such a hassle to have to turn up the volume a lot so you can actually understand what people say, then get yelled at once you switch from MP3 player to radio. Make sure your podcast has a volume that is comparable to radio or normal music. This usually means peak levels of just below 0 dB.
  • Poor audio quality: As said, 90% of a good sounding podcast is using good equipment before sound goes into the computer. Quality matters and the better quality audio comes into your computer, the better the outcome will be. For mastering, we prefer 128 kBit MP3 because it gives you reasonable audio quality (for a podcast) and maximum compatibility with devices at acceptable file sizes.
  • Large variations of speaker volume: When having multiple speakers, make sure their volume is more or less equal, otherwise some will yell while others will whisper. It's hard to adjust the volume while driving to work :). Using a compressor during post processing helps a lot here.

Me, talking to a microphone, trying not to look too silly.For the casual interview, we use a Zoom H2 audio recorder (here's a great and helpful review). This device offers excellent portable audio quality, ease of use, lots of recording options and great sensitivity, even in very difficult recording situations. For example, listen to the final episode of the CEC 2007 podcast (another podcast I was involved with) where we had a lot of background noise, still the voices could be heard nicely. Thanks to the 24 bit audio resolution, we can increase the volume way up for more distant or less loud speakers without introducing too much noise or artifacts. This can be heard during the second episode of the same podcast, where we spontaneously added John Fowler to the round of guests, while he was sitting at the other end of the table, more than a meter away from the microphone. Still, his voice can be understood quite well.

Yesterday, we recorded another interview for our next episode, which will be recorded next monday. With the new two week cycle, we now live in an "After the episode is before the episode" kind of world...

 If you understand german, try the HELDENFunk podcast. It's also listed in the iTunes podcast directory. And let us know your feedback and suggestions by writing to kontakt@systemhelden.com. Thank you for listening!

Credits: Thanks a lot to Randy and Mel for shooting these pictures during the recording of episode 2.

Sunday Oct 21, 2007

How to burn high resolution DVD-Audio DVDs on Solaris and Linux (And it's legal!)


This weekend I've burned my first DVD-Audio DVD with high resolution music at 96 kHz/24 Bit.

It all started with this email I got from Linn Records, advertising the release of their Super Audio Surround Collection Vol 3 Sampler (Yes, targeted advertising works, but only if customers choose to receive it), which is offered in studio master quality FLAC format files, as a download. Gerald and I applauded Linn Records a few months ago for offering high quality music as lossless quality downloads, so I decided to try out their high resolution studio master quality offerings.

The music comes as 96kHz/24 Bit FLAC encoded files. These can be played back quite easily on a computer with a high resolution capable sound card, but computers don't really look good in living rooms, despite all the home theater PC and other efforts. The better alternative is to burn your own DVD-Audio and then use a DVD-A capable DVD player connected to your HiFi-amplifier to play back the music.

There's a common misconception that "DVD-Audio" means "DVD-Video" without the picture which is wrong. DVD-Video is one standard, aimed at reproducing movies, that uses PCM, AC-3, DTS or MP2 (mostly lossy) for encoding audio, while DVD-Audio sacrifices moving pictures (allowing only still ones for illustration) so it can use the extra bandwidth for high resolution audio, encoded as lossless PCM or lossless MLP bitstreams. Also, note that it is not common for regular DVD-players to accept DVD-Audio discs, they must state that they can handle the format, otherwise you're out of luck. Some if not most DVD-Audio Discs are hybrid in that they offer the content stored in DVD-Audio format additionally as DVD-Video streams with one of the lossy DVD-Video audio codecs so they can be played on both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio players.

 

Now, after having downloaded a bunch of high-res FLAC audio files, how can you create a DVD-Audio disc? Here's a small open source program called dvda-author that does just that: Give it a bunch of FLAC or WAV files and a directory, and it'll create the correct DVD-A UDF file structure for you. It compiles very easily on Solaris so I was able to use my Solaris fileserver in the basement where I downloaded the songs to. Then you give the dvda-author output directory along with a special sort file (supplied by dvda-author) to mkisofs (which is included in Solaris in the /usr/sfw directory) and it'll create a DVD ISO image that you can burn onto any regular DVD raw media. It's all described nicely on the dvda-author How-To page. Linn Records also supplies a PNG image to download along with the music that you can print and use as your DVD-Audio cover.

And how about iPods and other MP3-Players? Most open source media players such as the VideoLan Client (VLC) can transcode from high resolution FLAC format to MP3 or AAC so that's easily done, too. For Mac users, there's a comfortable utility called XLD that does the transcoding for you.

Here's common misconception #2: Many people think AAC is proprietary to Apple, mostly because Apple is heavily advertising its use as their standard for music encoding. This is wrong. AAC is actually an open standard, it is part of the ISO/IEC MPEG-4 specification and it is therefore the legitimate successor to MP3. AAC delivers better audio quality at lower bitrates and even the inventors of MP3, the Fraunhofer IIS institute treat AAC as the legitimitate successor, just check their current projects page under the letter "A". Apple developed the "Fairplay" DRM extension to Quicktime (which is the official MPEG-4/AAC encapsulation format) to be able to sell their iTunes Music Store as a download portal to the music industry. Fairplay is proprietary to Apple, but has nothing to do with AAC per se.

As much as I love Apple's way of using open standards wherever possible, I don't think it's a good thing that their marketing department creates the illusion of these technologies being Apple's own. This is actually an example of how AAC suffers in the public perception because people think it's proprietary where the opposite is true.

How is the actual music, you ask? Good. The album is a nice mixture of jazz and classical music, both in smooth and in more lively forms, great for a nice dinner and produced with a very high quality. Being a sampler, this album gives you a good overview of current Linn Records productions, so you can choose your favourite artists and then dig deeper into the music you liked most.

There's one drawback still: The high-res files available on the Linn Records download store are currently stereo only, while the physical SACD releases come with 5.1 surround sound. It would be nice if they could introduce 5.1 FLAC downloads in the future. That would make downloading high resolution audio content perfect, and this silly SACD/DVD-Audio/Dolby-TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio war would finally be over.


P.S.: A big hello to the folks at avsforum.com who were so kind to link to my previous high resolution audio entry!

 

Monday Aug 13, 2007

So, where's the future of HD Audio?

Gerald Beuchelt gives a nice overview of the two HD Audio formats SACD and DVD-Audio in his blog "Web Services Contraptions".

IMHO, the audio industry has two big problems with HD Audio:

  1. Too few consumers/retailers/publishers care about HD Audio turning it into a small niche,
  2. this niche is scattered across many different formats.

Let's look at the first point for a second: Since the introduction of the CD, the consumer has been conditioned into thinking that 16 Bit/44.1 kHz is "good enough" to present audio to the human ear in a quality that is indistinguishable from the real thing. At the time (the 80s) it made sense from a marketing perspective as a successful industry effort to introduce a major new medium. But the truth is that neither 16 Bit dynamic resolution nor 44.1 kHz frequency range is really enough:

  • According to this table (though this other table is more fun), A symphonic orchestra reaches a sound level of 110 dBA, a rock concert 120 dBA (which is the threshold of pain). Yes, a good classical piece of music at high volume can be a lot of fun, I recommend Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for your first steps into classical pogo-music, but I digress.
    The CD's 16 Bit of resolution allow the representation of signals with up to 96 dB of dynamic range, so emulating a symphonic orchestra is out of the question. Ok, your comfortable volume may be less than 96 dB, but if you want to listen to a highly dynamic piece of music (a piece of music that both contains very low-volume and very high volume pieces) and enjoy a good SNR, then the CD is pushed to its limits. Most professional audio equipment therefore agrees to use 24 Bit encoding.
  • 44.1 kHz of sampling frequency allows the accurate representation of sounds up to 22.050 kHz which is indeed beyond the human auditory range, but this is not enough: The more a high-pitch tone approaches the sampling frequency, the less possibilities there are to encode it's phase. Phase differences between the two stereo channels are very important: Your ears and your brain use them to derive the exact location of the sound. The CD resolution of 44.1 kHz only allows for the accurate representation of phase difference in the range of .05 milliseconds, which is less than what your ears can actually measure. In other words: If you listen to your classical favourite CD, but can's quite make out where on the stage a flute is playing, it may be that you need more than 44.1 kHz sampling rate.
    Another problem with 44.1 kHz sampling rates is that they do not allow to represent overtones higher than 22.050 kHz. This affects the fine nuances that distinguish high quality instruments from regular ones. That Stradivari might sound like a cheap replica if you're listening to it from a regular CD.
  • In addition, CDs only allow to store 2 channels (stereo) of audio. Anybody who has enjoyed a live concert, either rock or in a music hall, can experience that real life has more than two front channels.

The bottom line: Your ears and your hearing system in the brain is a remarkably accurate measuring system for audio signals and the CD does not do it justice. Check out this great article on "Music and the Human Ear" for some more amazing insights.

So, issue #1 is that the average consumer thinks CDs are good enough, CDs are it and why should they invest money in something that claims to sound better? Especially when people today are using MP3 to massacre their sound save valuable storage space. They don't know what they're missing!

Issue #2 is non-technical, non-biological, but purely business-related: High definition audio formats have been at war with each other since a long time. Here is a selection of what's available today:

  • Vinyl: Yes, they are still alive and there's a big community of people who will swear that their vinyl records sound much better than CDs when played on proper equipment. Some factors here are related to the limitations of CDs vs. analog recordings, some are purely psychological, but altogether, the Vinyl market is still there (just search for "vinyl" on Amazon) and it apparently is worth doing business with.
  • SACD: SACDs go beyond traditional digital PCM encoding by using a form of encoding called DSD, which essentially means using a very, very high sampling frequency (2.8 MHz) and recording a single bit that tells you if the wave has been going down in amplitude or up since the last sampling. Hybrid SACDs are backwards-compatible to CDs and they can store music both in stereo and in surround sound.
  • DVD-A: DVD-Audio is a format that competes directly with SACD. It goes beyond the 16-Bit/44.1 kHz specification of the CD and offers up to 24 Bit/192 kHz of pure audio pleasure. Both stereo and surround sound are available but there's no backward-compatibility with CDs. DVD-Audio discs may have an additional channel with Dolby Digital encoded music that makes them backward-compatible with regular DVDs, at the expense of audio quality.

All three of the above enjoy a small niche market where any particular music piece may or may not be available in one or more of the above formats. But the future is even more flawed:

  • Media choice: The war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD has only just begun. Both media types offer HD-Audio using a variety of codecs (see below), but there is no agreement on which one has to be present on each disc. Consumers therefore are confused on what kind of player to buy and most will probably wait and see who wins.
  • Codec choice: Assuming there was no Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD war, the next level of confusion is what HD-Audio codec to choose from: Dolby and DTS are fighting for the better HD codec adoption, while other alternatives include Sony's DSD (see SACD) which is rumored to be expanded and Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), the codec behind DVD-Audio.
  • Audio Connection Hell: We haven't talked yet about how to connect your media player to your multi-channel amplifier/receiver. With good reason: This article is already becoming longer than I intended it to be. Suffice to say: Connecting a high resolution media player with an amplifier is a non-trivial task. You either have to use standard analog connections (which is difficult to do properly and kinda makes the whole point of digital high-quality music moot) or you may or may not be able to use a digital connection (depending on the proprietaryness of the codec, or the HDMI version, or whether your media player is from the same manufacturer than your receiver). The reason here has mostly to do with copy protection: If high resolution audio travels over a digital cable losslessly, the media industry wants to make it 100% sure it does so in an encrypted form to prevent copying.

So, issue two can be summarized as: The market for high resolution audio is already a small niche, and thanks to media wars, codec wars and connection/copy-protection wars, it split up into many confusing and even smaller sub-markets that make the hen-and-egg problem of introducing a new standard an unneccessarily hard factor, if not impossible.

Bottom line: So you've learned that the grass beyond 16-Bit/44.1 kHz can be greener, but the fence to overcome is unneccesarily high and thorny.

Gerald and I both love music in high resolution formats. Hell, we're even willing to spend more money on equipment and media because we know we'll get better quality, while our ears still can hear it. We may be part of a small niche, but I would argue that high-end niches are good and offer a nice business opportunity to both equipment vendors and content companies. So why, oh why is the industry making it so hard to hear your favourite music at a better than average sound quality?

Gerald's latest post is about Linn records, a company that offers high resolution, high-quality audio recordings on DVD-A, SACD, Vinyl and, tadah! as an electronic download. Kudos to them for being truly open and war-independent and forward-thinking in how they try to serve their customers. This evening I'll go to their website and download some music from them only for the sake of supporting this effort.

Happy listening! 

 

Tuesday Jul 17, 2007

A Better Alternative to "Bruellwuerfel"s

A "Brüllwürfel" translates to english as "yellcube". It's a german play of words for cheap, tinny PC speakers. It ryhmes with "Brühwürfel" which is the german word for stock cubes. You know, those cubes you toss into the soup to make it taste like soup.

When sitting at my desk, I don't have any decent speakers to hear music with, only what's built into my laptop. The standard solution for laptop/PC listening are low-cost active speakers, Brüllwürfels, and their audio quality generally tends to suck.

When noone's listening, I'm trying to create some music with Logic Express. Same problem here, but the solution space now expands into the wonderful world of studio monitor speakers. So I went shopping.

It turns out that studio monitors are optimized to sound as neutral as possible (which correlates with my personal definition of "good") withing a short range (home studio or desk, both are near-range) and they come with their own built in amplifiers (which are optimized to sound good with the particular speaker). And they are designed with the musician in mind, not some PC-gamer. Here's a good introduction into the subject.

The german Professional Audio magazine's review list features quite a few low-cost studio monitor speakers below EUR 200. In particular, Fame's 1060 AM speakers earned a "very good" in overall rating and an "outstanding" in price/performance for their class. They are on sale for EUR 99 at Music-Store, so in they go into my shopping cart.

Professional equipment uses balanced signaling instead of the consumer audio connections and they typically come with XLR or 6.35 mm TRS jack plugs - not your regular audio out connection from your laptop. But since laptop sound chips rarely deliver good quality anyway and because we just saved so much by not having to buy an extra amplifier, we can now invest in a decent D/A converter.

Most of the computer audio and electronic music companies sell good, USB-powered D/A converter boxes that sound better than any laptop audio-out jack. In my case, I fell in love with the beautiful Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1. It's portable, it has a microphone pre-amp and inputs (for podcasting), great audio quality at 192 kHz and 24 Bit with balanced outputs (better quality than standard audio wires), fully programmable controller knob and switches and it's full of good german engineering inside as well. It currently sells at approx. EUR 250 but of course you can find lower cost alternatives if you don't care about recording and just want to feed those monitors.

I can't wait to get the stuff delivered, I'll let you know how it sounds :).

Lesson learned: Don't settle with the consumer stuff, check out what the pros use when faced with a similar problem!

Update (Friday, July 6th): Today the monitor speakers and the audio interface arrived, and I only ordered them wednesday evening. Great mail order service! The speakers are a bit bigger than I expected, but that's actually good as they now sit at the top of a shelf, laying on their sides, creating an extra layer on top of them to place my printer on. The NI Audio Kontrol 1  audio interface is simply amazing: Great quality, nice design, lots of features. The speakers sound excellent: Great detail, good sound stage even though they're only at arm's length, not a single speckle of hum nor noise and lots of power. The whole setup is so good that I can easily hear which songs have been recorded/mixed at high production quality and which ones could need some tinkering here and there. Didn't know I could actually hear that.

I'm now in Brüllwürfel heaven...

Update (Friday, Tuesday, July 17th) Since the original version of the article had a few issues with german "Umlauts" and Feeburner and/or the comment function, I'm reposting this with an Umlaut-less title.

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