Taylor
Taylor

Noise. Static. Useless periphery, extraneous data, superfluous stuff.

Who needs it?

I like to write my column at Moe's Bagels on 28th Street, mostly for the atmosphere. The staff is always bright eyed and happy, too — that goes a long way.

But the atmosphere is great — kind of a dark environment with upbeat funk from the '60s and '70s usually playing.

Today I find myself right under a ceiling speaker, and the extra volume is making concentration difficult.

And that's a perfect analogy to what I wanted to talk about today: computer audio noise.

Noise is a term that describes the anti-focus environment. It's everything you don't want to be paying attention to.

We know about static on the radio, static on the TV and graininess in a photo.

Notice all of these have to do with reception of art. Interesting ...

I made myself a headphone amplifier last year, using a DIY guide I found online. It's a pure, simple class A circuit that does two things really well: It makes music through my headphones more vivid, rich and realistic than I've yet experienced, and due to its simplicity, it passes any noise coming over the USB cable straight into the music signal, and thus directly into my ears.

The latter is unfortunate, because when I'm listening to music via my headphone setup, I can literally hear faint weird noises every time I minimize a window or open a program on the computer. I'm using an external digital to analog converter (DAC) and a separate amp, but these days, many headphone amps offer an on-board DAC.


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If you connect to your music via USB, you are probably living with this kind of noise in your entertainment. Just know that you can fix it, and when you do, you'll actually hear what you're aiming to hear again. It's like when you roll up the windows in the car and realize you have to turn the radio down and everything gets clearer.

For one thing, music streamed over USB doesn't have the benefit of being checked on the receiving end that the music and only the music was transmitted, like it would when you print an image to a printer. Music streamed over USB is a constant blast (at CD quality rate) of 705,600 bits per second per channel of information, with no ability to double-check accuracy.

Talk about wingin' it!

Another of the biggest noise issues present when listening to or recording music over USB is noise caused by the 5-volt power line nestled right next to all of the signal lines inside the common USB cable. On a really good USB cable, these will be carefully insulated from each other, but in most cables it's an issue.

I found a fix in a relatively new product called the Uptone Audio USB Regen. This cute little device both reorganizes the music stream and removes the 5-volt line from the equation. At $175, I think the price is pretty good for the service it performs.

If you're like me and your computer is your chief entertainment machine, check out the Regen. You'll likely benefit as I have from a little noise isolation.

Read more Taylor: coloradodaily.com/columnists