Wanted: Help with determining the best audio components for Project Cauã


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jan 03, 2012 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Since I have written about Project Cauã before, most of the readers of this blog know that Project Cauã is about using Free Software to create jobs for Systems Administrator/Entrepreneurs (SA/Es), both selling and supporting services that utilize Free Software.

In implementing Project Cauã we decided to take a half-step and create a demonstration unit that people could use in their homes as a home theater, store pictures and store music. From there we would expand Project Cauã to the full vision of the home unit, adding items like home security and home automation.

We have selected xbmc as the media project on which to base Project Cauã, and we are now putting together a reasonable set of hardware to make available for SA/Es to sell to their customers. As discussed before, this hardware should be “off the shelf” and available from retailers as well as wholesalers and OEMs.

This has turned out to be more difficult than you would expect, particularly for Brazil where we are running the first pilots. You might expect that a country of 194 million people would have a broad range of solutions available, but that does not seem to be the case.

For example, getting the motherboard to be assembled in Brazil was becoming a bit of an issue which is still not resolved, but the vendor we are working with is starting to come around.

Motherboards produced in Brazil reduce duty on the board coming in, and also generate jobs and expertise inside of Brazil. This sounds like a simple concept, but....

An alternative for the short term would be to use the ASUS E35M1-I DELUXE Fusion AMD E-350 APU (1.6GHz, Dual-Core) AMD Hudson M1 Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo which works well and has received extensive testing from us. This is not the board we want to use in the long run, but it would allow us to get started with a pilot.

Some people may object to the quality of the sound coming from a board like this one, but for higher-end units we can position a USB sound card between the board and the amplifier.

The second part seems to be difficult to find is the amplifier. Now I know that a lot of people reading this are saying “maddog, you have to be kidding...” but a lot of the “media center” projects feed the output of the media center motherboard directly into a multimedia receiver, not an amplifier.

To understand the difference, please first look at the Simplifi Digital 8-channel amplifier. It costs 129 USD in silver and 149 USD if in black. It has eight connections for speakers (Left-Front, Center, Right-Front, Left-Rear, Right-Rear, Left, Right, and sub-woofer) and eight connections for the motherboard to connect to it. The amplifier can be adjusted to turn on when audio starts to flow and stay on for up to ten minutes after the audio has stopped, and it handles 75 watts per channel, with the sub-woofer providing its own power. Turning the power on and off automatically helps with saving electricity, another goal of the project.

Unfortunately the amplifier weighs about thirty pounds and would cost and estimated 300 dollars to ship to Brazil. Probably the shipping costs could be reduced drastically in volume, but since duty is collected on the combination of value of product and shipping, in small numbers the unit would cost about 900-1000 USD by the time it gets to the customer. This is unacceptable.

When I try to find a similar unit in Brazil, I am shown mass-market “all-in-one” tuner/amplifiers, also called a “receiver”. They not only “amplify” the signal but they tune it and process it before amplifying it. They have their own on-off switches, volume controls, input selection switches, and (worse of all) their own remotes. Sometimes they are packaged with their own speaker set. All of these things complicate the installation and use of the flexible and open media center.

I have searched through many websites for audio components in Brazil. This is not easy to do when you do not speak Portuguese (thank you, Google Translate!), and have not found what I feel is needed, so I decided to use the techniques of Free Software and ask the Free Software community to help me locate a good solution for an amplification system for Project Cauã.

First of all, we only need an amplifier, and it should be able to handle 8 channels (seven speakers plus a sub-woofer). It can have a physical on-off switch, but that is not necessary as the xbmc unit can turn the power for the amplifier on and off at the power socket. If the company that makes the amplifier also makes a 6 channel amplifier (five channels and a sub-woofer) for less money that is also good, and we can offer a 6-channel system for even less money.

The amplifier should be about 75-100 watts per channel. The sub-woofer will have its own amplifier, so that channel does not have to be that powerful. If the company that makes the amplifier also makes a more powerful version of the amplifiers for more money, we will probably make that available also.

The project will not be limited to just these on manufacturer's amplifiers, but we will want to test and tune the xbmc system to work with at least one manufacturer's amplifier “out of the box”.

While we are at it, what speakers are suitable for either a six channel or 8 channel system? What power range do they support?

At this point we are really interested in units easily (and inexpensively) available in Brazil. This will typically mean units that are manufactured in Brazil. However, other amplification units that are available in other Latin American countries or elsewhere are also welcome to be mentioned. If other people in other countries want to “follow along”, you are welcome.

Also welcome are other people's complete configurations of xmbc-based systems, from Brazil or other places.

Tell us about how you have set up your home theater, specifying the equipment you used and why you chose it.

You can either submit them here as comments, or email them to maddog AT li DOT org

Carpe musica!

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