Tag: home theatre receiver

USB hubs and dedicated-function devices–issues that may be of concern

There are many of the USB hubs that allow multiple USB devices to be connected to the one USB port. As well, some devices like external hard disks and keyboards are being equipped with their own USB hubs.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB sockets on printers like this Brother colour laser won’t easily support USB hub operation even if they have a use case for that application

The use of a USB hub is also used as an approach for creating multiple-function USB peripheral devices. Similarly, a device with multiple USB sockets for connecting peripheral devices would have the socket collection seen as a “root hub” if one controller chipset looks after that socket collection. It can also appeal to dedicated-function devices like routers, NAS devices, home entertainment or automotive infotainment setups offered in the aftermarket context where the manufacturer sees these devices as the hub of a system of devices.

USB hubs are divided between the “bus-powered” types powered by the host device and the “self-powered” types that have their own power-supply. The latter type can be a USB device like a printer or external hard disk that has its own power supply or a “bus-powered” USB hub that has a DC input socket for a power supply so it can become a “self-powered” hub.

Belkin USB hub

A typical USB hub which may cause problems with concurrently running multiple devices from a dedicated-function device

The idea of implementing a USB hub with a dedicated-function device can have a strong appeal with a variety of device types and combinations. For example, a router would implement a USB port for connecting a USB Mass-Storage Device like an external hard disk so it can become its own file server but also see this port for use with a USB mobile-broadband modem as a failover Internet-connection option. Or a business-grade printer which supports PIN-protected “secure job release” may use a keypad compliant to USB Human-Interface-Device specifications connected to its USB port which facilitates “walk-up” printing from a USB memory key. Even a Smart TV or set-top box may use the one USB port for viewing files from one or more Mass-Storage devices and / or work with a Webcam and a software client to be a group videophone terminal.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

USB sockets on consumer-electronics equipment may not properly support USB hubs

To the same extent, this could be about a setup involving a multifunction peripheral device. An example of this would be a USB keyboard with an integrated pointing device like a trackpad, trackball or thumbstick being connected to a games console or set-top box, with this setup allowing for the pointing device serving to navigate the user interface while the keyboard answers text-entry needs.

A problem that can occur with using USB hubs or hub-equipped USB peripherals with dedicated-function devices like printers, NAS devices or consumer-AV equipment is that such devices may not handle USB hubs consistently. For example, a USB keyboard that has a hub function may not be properly detected by a set-top box or games console.

This can happen due to a power limit placed on the host’s USB port, which can affect many devices connected behind a bus-powered USB hub. Or a very common reality is that the firmware for most dedicated-function devices is written to expect a single USB device having only one function to be connected to the device’s USB port.

What needs to happen is for a dedicated-function device to identify and enumerate each and every USB peripheral device it can properly support that is connected to its USB port whether directly or via a hub. This would be based on how much power is comfortably available across the USB bus whether provided by the host or downstream self-powered USB hubs. It is in addition to the device classes that are supported by the host device to fulfil its functions.

I previously touched on this issue in relationship to USB storage devices that contain multiple logical volumes being handled by dedicated-function devices. This was to address a USB memory key or external hard disk partitioned to multiple logical volumes, a multiple-slot memory-card adaptor presenting each slot as its own drive letter or devices that have fixed storage and removeable storage. There, I was raising how a printer or a stereo system with USB recording and playback could handles these USB devices properly.

Then the device may need to communicate error conditions concerning these setups. One of these would be a insufficient-power condition where there isn’t enough power available to comfortably run all the devices connected to the USB port via the hub. This may be with situations like external hard disks connected to the host device via a bus-powered hub along with other peripherals or a self-powered hub that degrades to bus-powered operation due to its “wall-wart” AC adaptor falling out of the power outlet or burning out. Here, such a status may be indicated through a flashing light on a limited-interface device like a router or a USB “too many devices” or “not enough power” message on devices that have displays.

If the USB bus exists with the hub in place but none of the connected devices are supported by the host’s firmware, you could see an error message with “unsupported devices” or “charging only” appear on the device. Otherwise, all supported devices would then be identified and enumerated no matter where they exist in the USB chain.

In this kind of situation, there would be an emphasis on using class-driver software for the various USB Device Classes that are relevant to the device’s functionality although there are some situations like USB modems may call for device-specific software support.

What would be essential for the USB hub or multifunction device to work properly with a dedicated-function device is that the device’s firmware has to support the USB Hub device class, including providing proper and consistent error handling. To the same extent, AC-powered devices like printers or home-entertainment equipment would need to provide a power output at its USB ports equivalent to what is offered with a regular desktop computer’s USB ports.

Arcam follows up the Solo Neo with some network Blu-Ray receivers

Article – From the horse’s mouth


Product Page – Solo Music and Movie range

My Comments

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

At the Australian Audio and AV Show 2013, I had a look at Arcam’s Solo Neo network CD receiver which is their entry to the high-quality network CD receiver marketplace. But I subsequently had a look for information on the Web about whether the Solo Neo still existed or was superseded by a better unit.

The Arcam Solo Neo was, at that time, the latest in their Solo range of CD receivers and DVD receivers that this British hi-fi name had designed. Then, it was on a par with the likes of the Cyrus Lyric and the Naim Uniti 2 which were systems of this calibre that were being offered by hi-fi’s “names-of-respect” to answer the needs associated with compact high-quality music systems that are simple to operate.

Arcam Solo Music network CD receiver - press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global

Arcam Solo Music – latest iteration of the Solo network CD receiver lineup

But I had found that they replaced the Solo Neo with a range of network-capable receivers that also had an integral optical-disc player. Here, they offer the Solo Music which has a stereo output and an SACD player which plays ordinary CDs as well which is to be seen as a follow-on to the Solo Neo. But Arcam also offers the Solo Movie 2.1 which has a Blu-Ray player along with support for a subwoofer for deeper bass along with the Solo Movie 5.1 which has the Blu-Ray player and supports a full surround-sound output through its own amplifier.

What are these Solo Music and the Solo Movie network-capable AV systems about?

Arcam Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receiver press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global - www.robfollis.com

Arcam of Cambridge: Solo Movie system incorporate the latest technology and components from Arcam’s 2016 AVR & Hi-Fi ranges, including the acclaimed Class G amplification, High-End Blu-ray and DVD Replay and full App Controlled music networking / streaming. Either available as a 5.1 full-surround variant or as a 2.1 two-speaker variant

All three of these units require you to supply your own speakers rather than being supplied with a pair of speakers as is common for this breed of equipment. Here, the Solo Music and Solo Movie 2.1 could put up 80 watts per channel RMS across a standard 8-ohm speaker load with 0.2% total harmonic distortion while the Solo Movie 5.1 could handle 60 watts per channel RMS with all channels driven into standard 8-ohm speakers, again with 0.2% total harmonic distortion. Here, these systems could handle most modestly-sized speakers that are in existence, thanks to Arcam’s “Class G” amplification technology which combines the sound quality associated with the Class A linear amplification method and the efficiency of the Class AB linear amplification method, serving as another way to achieve high-quality sound from compact equipment designs.

They all have four HDMI inputs for video peripherals along with an HDMI output for your TV with the ability to feed your TV’s sound through these systems courtesy of HDMI-ARC functionality. There are also SP/DIF digital inputs, one as an optical form and another as a coaxial form for other digital-audio devices like MiniDisc decks. Then there are two line-level inputs, one in the form of RCA connections and the other in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack for connecting up other line-level audio devices.

As well as the aforementioned optical disc drives (SACD in the case of the Solo Music and Blu-Ray in the case of the Solo Movie models), there is a radio capable of receiving FM or DAB+ broadcasts along with the ability to play audio and visual media held on your NAS or other network media resource thanks to DLNA technology. It can also play file-based content that exists on a USB storage device like a memory key as well as being able to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone but using aptX for improved sound quality.

You can connect these Solo music and AV systems to your home network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet (including via a HomePlug powerline network segment). But I would prefer that this kind of equipment is connected to your home network using Ethernet or a HomePlug AV connection to allow for reliable home-network operation.

Why am I giving space to the Arcam Solo Music and Solo Movie systems?

The Arcam Solo Music matches its network-CD-receiver peers in so much that it can be the heart of a high-quality three-piece music system for your apartment, dorm or other similarly-compact living space. Here, you can choose to run it with a pair of high-quality speakers, with the fact that these could be a pair of brand-new bookshelf speakers, the traded-in floor/shelf speakers that the hi-fi store you bought the Solo Music from are clearing out or the pair of good-quality speakers you ended up with at the estate sale.

But the Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receivers take this further by integrating the concept of a network CD receiver with that of those DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that a lot of people in the suburbs are enamoured with. Unlike the typical “home-theatre” system offered at Best Buy, Harvey Norman and the like which are only supplied with small speakers for the front and surround channels and are engineered so that the subwoofer does all of the work in handling the bass, the Solo Movie units can be connected to bookshelf or floorstanding speakers that can reproduce the bass notes very adequately.

The Solo Movie 2.1 even impressed me more for people who want something with just two speakers but able to do video playback rather than being the full-bore surround system. Examples of this include a system used in a secondary lounge area, office or bedroom; or by those of us who are just satisfied enough with the two speakers for reproducing our video content’s soundtracks. You could even connect your computer through the Solo Movie 2.1’s HDMI connections so that the sound from YouTube and other online audio sources could be piped through the better speakers connected to that unit rather than your laptop’s or monitor’s tinny speakers.

Hotels and the like would even value this system as something to be installed in a guestroom, suite or apartment to provide the ability to play optical discs, network-hosted sources, the radio or smartphones and similar devices that a guest brings along; along with the TV’s sound through better speakers.

Arcam could provide inherent support for online audio sources like vTuner Internet radio, Spotify and Pandora and this can easily be provided using a firmware upgrade that effectively adds these sources.

But what they are doing is to use the Solo product lineup as their way of providing integrated audio and video systems that are about high-quality sound and vision in a manner that appeals to those of us who are more comfortable with this kind of product. They can also encourage others who offer the network-enabled CD receiver in their product lineup to look towards offering similar simplified products that can fulfil video-playback needs.

Pioneer joins the ranks of the slimline network-capable surround receivers

Article –From the horse’s mouth


New slim receiver from Pioneer: compact, powerful and feature-rich

My Comments

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slim Surround Receiver - Press picture courtesy of Pioneer

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slimline surround receiver with home-network abilities

A current-generation surround-sound receiver that is expected to reproduce a 5.1 channel soundmix through six passive loudspeakers would require the use of six power amplifiers. This has required the construction of very large units in order to cater for these power amplifiers as well as the signal-handling circuitry plus a broadcast-radio tuner and this requirement is underscored with power amplifiers that implement traditional design techniques.

The year before last, Marantz released a series of surround-sound receivers that are the same height as a CD player, tuner or other source component. Some of us would have thought of them as being stereo receivers but these are able to do the 5.1 channel surround-sound job through the use of Class-D amplification which can allow for a smaller cooler-running amplifier.

Now Pioneer has come to the fray with a pair of slimline surround-sound receivers that appear to be as big as a hi-fi tuner or CD player.One of these units, the VSX-S510 has network abilities including the new Spotify Connect feature that allows Spotify Premium subscribers to “push” playlists or similar content established on their smartphones to this receiver. There are of course the usual suspects like adding vTuner Internet radio to this receiver’s broadcast-radio abilities and working with DLNA or AirPlay network-media setups.

What I see of this is that it is a step in the right direction towards a neater surround-sound setup without the need to head towards an integrated home-theatre setup. Yet, this model is able to exist in a position for those of us who are moving up from an entry-level surround-sound receiver towards something more capable and able to the part of the home network.

Sony STR-DN1030–A home-theatre receiver that could just be connected to a screen, speakers and the home network


Sony STR-DN1030 AV receiver with AirPlay, WiFi and Bluetooth starts shipping – Engadget

My Comments

Since the 1960s, the stereo receiver had, like some other pieces of hi-fi equipment, become a “starting piece” for many hi-fi systems. Here, it would mean that the unit, once connected to some speakers, could simply do something like give you access to broadcast radio content. Then, they could take a “building-block” approach to establishing a hi-fi system by purchasing a turntable, CD player or cassette deck as they can afford the equipment.

Sony have worked on this concept with this latest home-theatre receiver by having it able to pull in broadcast radio or be hooked up to a home network for Internet radio, IPTV, content held on a DLNA Media Server or content held on your smartphone or portable media player. But, like with other video peripherals, Sony have pressed the STR-DN1030 in to service as a “smart-TV” terminal.

A design issue that needs to be looked at with these home-theatre receivers is whether they have to be dependent on a TV being on all the time they are in use. I see this being of importance if you are using the receiver to listen to audio content from the Internet or from a home-network source, and you shouldn’t have to “light up” the TV just to select this content.

This reminded me of visiting a friend’s hotel room and “flicking around” the radio content on the TV; or another friend who sent me a picture of their hotel TV tuned to a favoured London radio station when they were in London. Similarly it reminded me of an ultra-cheap DVD player hooked up to a friend’s home theatre system and pressed in to service to play music from CDs for a housewarming. These situations had a television set “lit up” just so that audio content can be navigated.

What I would like to see more with the video peripherals serving as smart-TV terminals is that they capitalise on their strengths yet are like the video cassette recorder. This is where they can augment any old TV with this kind of online TV functionality.

Product Review – Sony STR-DA5500ES network-enabled home theatre receiver

I am reviewing the Sony STR-DA5500ES high-end home theatre receiver which is the first network-capable home-theatre receiver that I have reviewed in my blog. At the moment, Sony have supplied me with the SRS-DB500 2.1 powered speaker set which I will be reviewing in a separate article on this blog, for use with this receiver.

Some of you who may not understand sophisticated audio setups will benefit from a reference page which will explain the terms that I will use when describing this receiver and other audio equipment in this blog.

This unit is the second model down from the top-of-the-line STR-DA6400ES receiver in Sony’s high-end “ES” range of home-theatre receivers but is still very capable in its home-theatre-hub role.

Fit and finish

This receiver has the same fit and finish associated with the good-quality Sony hi-fi equipment that has existed for many years/ The controls are smooth and properly responsive and the unit’s finish looks “very polished”.


This unit excels on useability in a similar manner to most Sony home AV equipment that I have used.It has that very bright vacuum-fluorescent display that is easy to read even at dim levels and the controls are easy to manage.

Normally comes with two remotes – one with many buttons for controlling a home-theatre system’s components and for full control of the receiver; one for GUI-based control of the receiver.

Connectivity and Flexibility

This high-end receiver excels in this field of connectivity and flexibility. There are seven 120W power amplifiers built in to this unit’s chassis. You can set up a 7.1-channel speaker setup so you can properly enjoy movie content on Blu-Ray discs that is mixed to a Dolby Digital EX 7.1-channel sound-mix. On the other hand, you can set up a 5.1-channel speaker setup for Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound-mixes commonly on digital TV or DVD and use the two spare power amplifiers for different setups.

Firstly, you could have speakers in another room to play another stereo sound source to that room or set up a sophisticated “bi-amp” setup where the tweeters and woofers in a capably-wired pair of front speakers are amplified separately. The limitation with this receiver is that there isn’t the ability to have the crossover functionality or the amplifier levels managed in a bi-amped setup.

An example of very good connectivity options

The multi-zone feature also allows for yet another zone to be catered fro as an audio-only stereo zone but with its own amplifier. Similarly, the secondary zone can be amplified with another amplifier. The line outputs for the extra zones are in fact line-level outputs that are independent of the main volume control and you would have to adjust the sound at the remote amplifiers.

These setups also allow you to “scale up” your sound system as you see fit and can afford the extra equipment. You can even start with a pair of good stereo speakers and, as you can afford them, connect up extra speakers for your surround-sound setup.

There are plenty of audio and video inputs for extra audio and video equipment, Music enthusiasts are even catered for with a phono input for a good turntable as well as two tape loops for recording devices like cassette or MiniDisc decks. These same connections can be used for connecting up a computer’s sound subsystem for recording vinyl or cassettes to the hard disk rather than using those poor-quality USB turntables. Those music enthusiasts who believe that the audio reproduction of a dedicated CD player connected to the analogue inputs is better than that of a DVD or Blu-Ray player connected to the HDMI or optical digital inputs of this receiver can connect the CD player to these inputs.

The front panel provides walk-up connections for 1 regular video source (composite video, stereo analogue audio and optical digital audio) and 1 HDMI video source.

There is a DMPORT connection for use with optional Sony-supplied modules that provide connection to and control of various portable devices. These include Sony Walkman MP3 players, phones that have Bluetooth A2DP functionality like my Nokia N85 as well as Apple iPods and iPhones..

For video displays, there is connection for two HDMI-equipped video display devices so you can run a projector or smaller “operator-console” LCD screen alongside the regular large-screen LCD or plasma display. The receiver also supports video-signal conversion from regular video signals to HDMI signals, which means no need to connect composite or component cables to the main display to gain benefit from legacy video sources.

Network AV

The receiver offers some network-enabled functionality but this is limited to playback of DLNA media content with the user controlling the receiver through its remote control and requiring the video display attached to any of the monitor outputs being on to select toe content. For radio functionality, the unit can only work with Rhapsody or Shoutcast Internet radio services.

This network connectivity is made feasible by the receiver having an Ethernet connection. This means that it can work also with HomePlug AV powerline networks when you use a HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge; and is my preferred “no-new-wires” network-connection method for connecting home-theatre and hi-fi equipment to a home network.

When you navigate a DLNA media server, you have to choose the kind of content you are after – music, pictures or video. If you browse around the same server for content outside the class you selected, this receiver will not start any of that content.

It could be feasible to select audio content by using the receiver’s built-in display and through the use of either the remote control or controls on the unit’s front panel. For Internet-radio functionality, it could be feasible to select Internet-radio content from vTuner, RadioTime or Reciva directories which include access to local radio from other countries.

Sound quality

The sound quality is as you would expect for high-end Sony gear, where it is not coloured. I even noticed this with my computer’s sound which was fed through the SACD/CD input and out through the Preamp outputs to the SRS-DB500 speaker set. I switched the unit in to regular 2-channel mode, then to “analogue direct” to assess whether the digital circuitry was colouring the sound. The receiver and the active speakers were set to “tone-flat” – bass and treble at centre positions in order to really assess how it sounded and I had played one of the early “Café Del Mar” recordings from my PC.

The reason I use this kind of recording is to assess the equipment from a mature user’s viewpoint and find out how it handles music other than aggressively-amplified pop music. In the context of the home theatre, it would also include being able to yield the whole soundtrack of a movie or TV series.

I haven’t been able to test the receiver with regular passive speakers but the power amplifiers are something worth trying out and using.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

I had mentioned that there could be some points of improvement as far as network operation goes. These include the ability to use the unit’s display and controls to select and control audio material from DLNA servers on the home network, without the need to switch on the TV display. Similarly, the receiver could offer what competing home-theatre receivers offer where you can “tune in to” Internet-radio stations offered by vTuner, Reciva or RadioTime directories.

For operation, a main point of improvement would be to allocate one video monitor as a “control monitor” while the other monitor shows video content. Here, it could allow for a smaller screen to be used for this purpose while the larger screen is used for the primary video.

Conclusion and Placement notes

Save for certain network-media limitations, this receiver would be considered as a worthy candidate for a primary “hub unit” for the main home-theatre area. It is also well-placed for audio enthusiasts or people who have material on legacy formats like vinyl records and want to be able to play these material on good equipment.


The cited output power is based on manufacturers’ specifications with an 8-ohm speaker load and 0.09% total harmonic distortion (minimum quoted in the specifications).