Feb 02 2017

USB UAC2 DAC in Linux (the Emotiva Big Ego with Gentoo Linux)

Recently I was on a mission to make my audio experience on my main desktop more enjoyable. I had previously just used some older Bose AE2 headphones from 2010 plugged in directly to the 3.5mm audio output on the back of my desktop. The sound quality was mediocre at best, and I knew that a combination of a Digital-to-Analogue Converter (DAC) and some better headphones would certainly improve the experience. I also knew that the DAC would probably yield the most noticeable improvements, so I purchased the Big Ego USB DAC from one of my favourite audiophile-grade manufacturers, Emotiva. I have several of their monoblock amplifiers and use their amazing XMC1 for my preamp/processor in my home audio system, so I knew that the quality would be outstanding, especially for the price.

Emotiva Big Ego DAC and V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphones

Now, the Big Ego FAQ on the Emotiva website indicates that it should work with all modern computing devices:

Q: What devices can I use the Ego DACs with?
A: The Ego DACs are basically designed to work with any modern โ€œcomputer deviceโ€ which can be used
with an external USB sound card, which includes:
1) All modern Apple computers
2) All modern Windows computers (Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8.0, 8.1, and Windows 10)
3) Many Linux computers (as long as they support USB Audio Class 1 or 2)
4) Some Android tablets and phones (as long as they support UAC1 or UAC2)
5) Apple iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 (with the lightning to USB camera adapter)

For many Linux users, the Big Ego probably works without any manual intervention. However, if it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get it working properly, and I hope that this guide helps if you are running into trouble.

Firstly, let’s get something out of the way, and that’s USB Audio Class 2 (UAC2) support within Linux. With all modern distributions (>=2.6 kernel), UAC2 is readily available. It can be validated by looking at the audio-v2.h file within the kernel source:

# grep 'From the USB Audio' /usr/src/linux/include/linux/usb/audio-v2.h
* From the USB Audio spec v2.0:

Feel free to look at the full file to see the references to the UAC2 specification.

Kernel support:

Secondly, and also speaking to the kernel, if your distribution doesn’t even show the device, you are likely lacking the one needed kernel driver. To see if your system recognises the Emotiva Big Ego, try the following command and look for similar output:

$ lsusb -v | grep 'Emotiva Big Ego'
...
iProduct 3 Emotiva Big Ego
...

The full identifier (Vendor ID and Product ID) from lsusb is 20ee:0021, even though it doesn’t have a description:

# grep -A 4 /var/log/messages
kernel: usb 9-1: New USB device found, idVendor=20ee, idProduct=0021
kernel: usb 9-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=3, SerialNumber=2
kernel: usb 9-1: Product: Emotiva Big Ego
kernel: usb 9-1: Manufacturer: Emotiva

$ lsusb | grep '20ee:0021'
Bus 009 Device 005: ID 20ee:0021

If you don’t get similar output, then you’re lacking kernel support for the Big Ego. The one driver in the kernel that you need is the “USB Audio/MIDI driver” which can be found in the make menuconfig hierarchy as:

Device Drivers --->
  <*> Sound card support --->
    <*> Advanced Linux Sound Architecture --->
      [*] USB sound devices --->
        <*> USB Audio/MIDI driver

You can also check your kernel .config for it, or if you have it as a module, load it:

$ grep -i snd_usb_audio /usr/src/linux/.config
CONFIG_SND_USB_AUDIO=y

OR

# modprobe snd-usb-audio

Emotiva Big Ego DAC and V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphones

ALSA configurations:

Thirdly, and now that you have the appropriate kernel support, let’s move on to configuring and using the Big Ego with ALSA. You can see a list of device names by using aplay -l, and it’s best to address the device by name instead of number (because the numbering could possibly change upon reboot). This one-liner should show you precisely how it is named (note that your output may be different based on the available sound output devices on your system):

$ aplay -l | awk -F \: '/,/{print $2}' | awk '{print $1}' | uniq
Intel
NVidia
Ego

With that information, you are ready to set the Big Ego as your default sound output device by editing either .asoundrc (in your home directory, for a per-user directive) or within the system-wide /etc/asound.conf (which is the one that I would recommend for most situations). I tried various configurations for my ALSA configuration, but would end up with various oddities. For instance, I ran into a problem where I had sound in applications like Audacious, mpv, and even ALSA’s own speaker-test, but had no sound in other terminal applications like ogg123 or, more importantly, web browsers like Firefox and Chromium. The only configuration that worked fully for me was:

$ cat /etc/asound.conf
defaults.pcm.!card Ego
defaults.pcm.!device 0
defaults.ctl.!card Ego
defaults.ctl.!device 0

After changing your ALSA configuration, you need to reload it, and the method for doing so varies based on your distribution and init system. For me, using Gentoo Linux with OpenRC, I just issued, (as root), /etc/init.d/alsasound restart and it reloaded. Worst case, just reboot your system to test the changes.

Now that you have it set as the default card, applications like alsamixer and such should automatically choose the Big Ego for your levels and mixing. One thing that I noticed with alsamixer is that there are two adjustable level sliders:

alsamixer with the Emotiva Big Ego USB DAC

What I am guessing is that, even though they are labelled “Emotiva Big Ego” and “Emotiva Big Ego 1”, they actually correspond to the output that you are using on the DAC. For instance, I am using the 3.5mm headphone jack on the front, and that corresponds to the “Emotiva Big Ego 1” slider, whereas if I were using the line out jack on the back of the DAC (those rhymes are fun ๐Ÿ˜› ), I would adjust it using the slider for “Emotiva Big Ego”.

Additional configurations:

Now that we have configured ALSA to use our USB DAC as the default sound card, there are some additional things that I would like for my convenience. I prefer to not use a full desktop environment (DE), but instead favour a more minimalistic approach. I just use the Openbox window manager (WM). One of the things that I like about Openbox is the ability to set my own key bindings. In this case, I would like to be able to control the volume by using the designated keys on my keyboard, regardless of the application that is using the USB DAC. Here are my key bindings, which are added to ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml:


    <!-- Keybinding for increasing Emotiva Big Ego volume by 1 -->
    <keybind key="XF86AudioRaiseVolume">
      <action name="execute">
        <command>amixer set 'Emotiva Big Ego',1 1+</command>
      </action>
    </keybind>
    <!-- Keybinding for decreasing Emotiva Big Ego volume by 1 -->
    <keybind key="XF86AudioLowerVolume">
      <action name="execute">
        <command>amixer set 'Emotiva Big Ego',1 1-</command>
      </action>
    </keybind>
    <!-- Keybinding for muting/unmuting volume -->
    <keybind key="XF86AudioMute">
      <action name="execute">
        <command>amixer set 'Emotiva Big Ego',1 toggle</command>
      </action>
    </keybind>

Take note that the subdevice is ‘1’ (bold in the code above). That is because, like I showed in the alsamixer output, I’m using the headphone jack (so it corresponds to the secondary volume slider).

Further troubleshooting:

I hope that these instructions help you get your USB DAC working under Linux, but if they don’t, feel free to leave me a comment here. We’ll see what we can do to get it working for you. One last note is that I experienced some rather severe popping and other undesirable sounds when I had the Big Ego plugged into one of the USB2 ports on the back of my tower. Swapping it to its own non-shared USB3 port fixed that problem. So, if you have it plugged into a USB hub or something similar, try isolating it. Remember, it is a sensitive piece of audio equipment, and special considerations may need to be made. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cheers,
Zach

Jan 04 2017

Debadging – Removing the model emblem from my 2017 Honda Civic

Last week I received an unexpected but great email that my new car had arrived way ahead of schedule. I had ordered a 2017 Honda Civic EX-T back in November, but it wasn’t slated to come in until February 2017. I had to order one from the factory because I wanted to get one that perfectly matched my needs and wants, and apparently, that’s rare. When the 2016 came out, I was uninspired because I wanted the 1.5L turbocharged engine instead of the 2.0L naturally aspirated one, and I also wanted some of the bells and whistles (like the larger display, more speakers, et cetera), but above all else, I wanted a manual transmission. For 2017, Honda came through in that I could get the manual transmission a trim higher than the base model. The EX-T had everything I wanted, and I picked it up on Friday, 30 December 2016.

As with all of my previous vehicles, there are things that I want to change about this car, but far fewer than ever before. I’m quite happy with the performance, the smooth ride, and the niceties that come with the higher trim level. Not even a week later, though, and I took on my first modification to the car (albeit a minor one). Though it wasn’t something as involved as swapping a JDM K20a / Y2M3 (from the ITR), it did make a noticeable difference with the car (just a cosmetic one this time). ๐Ÿ™‚

Though I love the looks of the 2017 Civic, I think that the “Civic” emblem/badge makes the car look asymmetrical and a little less classy. So, I thought it best to remove it completely.

2017 Honda Civic emblem removed - debadged letters

The process was relatively straightforward, but I understand that it can be a little unnerving to remove a badge on a brand new car. What happens if I scratch the paint? What if the adhesive is really strong and leaves a full residue? Those are legitimate concerns, but this little project turned out to be pretty easy. Here’s what I did:

  • Used a hair dryer to heat the adhesive behind each letter for ~60-90 seconds
  • Used a piece of floss in a seesaw motion behind each letter until they came off
  • Used an old credit card to remove some of the excess adhesive
  • Applied Goo Gone Automative Spray Gel to the remaining residue
  • Held a rag under the letters to catch the excess Goo Gone that would otherwise drip
  • Used my handy-dandy AmazonBasic microfiber cloth to get rid of the remaining residue
  • Washed the spot with some soap and water
  • Dried the spot with another microfiber cloth
  • Basked in the glory of having a much cleaner look to the rear of the car ๐Ÿ™‚

I think that the results were well worth the minimal amount of time and effort:

2017 Honda Civic emblem removed - debadged before and after

2017 Honda Civic emblem removed - debadged before and after - wide
Click each image to enlarge

The only thing that I would note is that I did need to apply a good amount of pressure when getting rid of the excessive adhesive with the old credit card, and especially when using the microfiber cloth & Goo Gone to clean the remaining residue. I was a bit nervous to press that hard at first, but soon realised that it was necessary, and as long as I was careful, it wouldn’t damage the clearcoat or the paint. I thought that it would take about 10 minutes, and it ended up taking about 45 to do it in my OCD manner. That being said, it could have been a lot worse. My friend Mike always used to say that “to estimate the time needed for a project—especially one involving a car—take your initial guess, multiply it by 2, and go up one unit of measure.” In that case, I’m glad that it didn’t take 20 hours. ๐Ÿ˜›

Cheers,
Zach

Nov 03 2016

2015 Syncopation red blend and Acoustic white blend from Mike Ward on Wine

At the end of August—I know that it’s now November, but time seems to get away from me more often these days—I got the honour of trying the new 2015 vintage of Syncopation red blend (read about the 2014 vintage here) from Mike Ward on Wine! This is the second year that Mike has produced the incredible blend that changed my perspective on Missouri wines, and this year, it was joined by the new Acoustic white blend. Before getting into the new white blend, let’s take a look at the changes for this 2015 release of Syncopation Rhythmic red blend.

2015 Ward on Wine Syncopation Rhythmic Red and Acoustic White

Unlike the 2014 vintage—which was a blend of Chambourcin, Vidal blanc, Seyval blanc, and Traminette—this year was a cuvée of Chambourcin, Vignoles, Norton, and Traminette. So, the primary varietal is still Chambourcin, and the Traminette remains (though is slightly more prominent than last year). The Vidal blanc and Seyval blanc, though, were replaced by Vignoles and Norton. The breakdown in varietals is 70% Chambourcin, and 10% of the remaining three grapes.

Seeing as the Vidal blanc and Seyval blanc, which are both white grapes, were replaced by Vignoles (a complex hybrid) and Norton (a very deep purple grape, somewhat resembling Concords), I didn’t really have any idea what to expect from this new blend. Below are my impressions:

2015 Syncopation Rhythmic Red blend – tasting notes:
With its beautiful ruby-to-garnet colour, this wine shows wonderfully when backlit in the glass. Subdued purples shine through the burgundy in the centre, and it is encompassed by a dark pink ring at the edges. A bouquet of red plum and blueberries is evident, but completely unassuming and lovely in its simplicity. Interestingly, though, those fruits didn’t come through for me in taste. Instead, I found raspberry, strawberry, and forest underbrush (akin to some Pinot noirs from Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to be much more prominent on the palate. Those flavours were further complimented by slight hints of clove and white pepper. Fascinatingly, though this is not a sparkling wine in any way, there was a slight effervescent feel upfront. Like the previous vintage, I found that this Syncopation red blend is best enjoyed with a slight chill on it (14-16°C / 57-61°F).

Mike Ward of Ward on Wine with his 2015 Syncopation wines
Mike and his 2015 Syncopation wines
2015 Syncopation Rhythmic Red blend with a glass and Sommelier knife
Syncopation Rhythmic Red

I was quite confident that I would enjoy this new vintage of Syncopation red, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the new Acoustic white blend since this year was its debut. Once again, Mike Ward challenged what I thought I knew about my taste preferences by creating an absolutely outstanding white wine that is sure to please a wide array of tastes! Syncopation Acoustic White is a blend of 70% Vignoles, 20% Vidal Blanc, and 10% Traminette.

2015 Syncopation Acoustic White blend – tasting notes:
A light but vivid yellow in the glass, this brilliant blend demands your attention due to its dazzling vibrancy! On the nose, there is an elegant mix of less pronounced, almost musky fruits like apricot and the mellow sweetness of Bosc pears. There is an ever-so-faint hint of ginger and lemon zest that adds to the wine’s elusive profile. It has a crisp yet completely approachable acidity. The lemon starts to come through, but is almost immediately thwarted off by the more rounded flavours of nectarine and apricot.

2015 Ward on Wine Syncopation Acoustic White blend bottle with glass

Overall, I enjoyed both of these wines, chiefly seeing as Missouri wines are not usually my favourites. Having tasted the 2014 and 2015 Syncopation Rhythmic Red blends side-by-side, I slightly prefer the 2014. That could be caused by any number of factors, but I am willing to bet that it is due to my strong preference for Vidal blanc. Changing out two white grapes (the Vidal blanc and Seyval blanc) for another red grape (the Norton) significantly changed the flavour profile, especially given the almost mordant forwardness of big fruits exhibited by Norton. We are splitting hairs here though, because both years have shown me the intricacies that Missouri wines are capable of producing. Further, I was taken aback by the Acoustic White blend, and find it to rank amongst my favourites of Missouri whites. I am sure that I will enjoy many bottles of these two wines over the upcoming year, and am excited to experience the next incantation of Mike Ward’s Syncopation!

So, I encourage you to pick up at least a bottle of each and experience them for yourself—even if you were like me in thinking that Missouri wines didn’t hold their own. You can purchase them at several Saint Louis area Schnucks grocery stores, or by stopping in at The Wine Barrel on Lindbergh near Watson. At The Wine Barrel, you can also choose to try Syncopation by the glass, and if you’re lucky, Mike may even be there when you stop by. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cheers,
Zach

Older posts «