The all-new Laminar Streamer finally solves the problem of digital audio harshness by using only a single clock source for the formation of the pristine digital audio stream. Although the device plays .wav and .aiff files off of SD cards, LessLoss did not incorporate the use of Windows, MAC OS, or Linux for its operating system. Instead, from ground up, a dedicated audiophile operating system was built, streamlined for the specialized task of serving the topmost quality data while avoiding jitter. Unlike any other computer audio playback system, the Laminar Streamer's operating system runs synchronously at the audio sampling rate via the very same high quality audio clock used for the formation of the audio data stream. Thus, a new level of quality is achieved in digital playback, previously unattainable due to the inherent complexity of running an OS clock and an audio clock separately. The intricacies of asynchronous re-clocking, buffering, and jitter reduction have been solved at their very source, a world first for digital audio!
Direct Drive SD Card PlayerPlays any .wav or .aiff file from FAT32 formatted SD cards. About the size of a postage stamp, a Secure Digital High-Capacity (SDHC) card is a flash memory device that can hold up to 32 gigabytes (GB) of data. These cards are a form of removable memory that can be used with many different digital devices, including camcorders and computers.
44.1 kHz–192 kHzPlays any standard sampling rate files, from 44.1 kHz through 192 kHz files.
16/24 bitPlays 16 or 24 bit files at any standard sampling rate.
Instant SD Card PlaybackInstantly recognizes the SD card. Boot time is less than 0.2 seconds. Nothing to configure, ever. No buffering, synchronicity, latency, or compatibility issues, ever. Nor viruses. Just plug and play the perfect audiophile stream, and keep your pristine audio off the noisy grid.
Essential Information DisplaySmall screen displays folder names, file names, sampling rates, absolute phase polarity, playback mode, and time.
FunctionsScreen functions include: text scroll animation stop and Pure Laminar mode (screen off).
Phase Polarity SwitchingOn-the-fly 100% digital realm absolute phase polarity switching during playback.
Pure Laminar ModeIn Pure Laminar mode: screen data, active position monitoring, and back-light are all disengaged. The sole active operation remains Direct Drive clock-to-data pairing. The Direct Drive OS runs off of the active precision audio clock.
Playback FeaturesPlayback features include: Pure Laminar mode, phase reversal during playback, repeat track, repeat folder, repeat SD card, play track and stop, play folder and stop, play SD card and stop, random track, fast forward while playing, rewind while playing.
Expansion PortOptically decoupled expansion port for future remote control functionality without introducing any EM interference to the subtle audio streaming process. No onboard IR or Wi-Fi sensors.
Outputs— S/PDIF output on RCA;
— AES/EBU output on XLR;
— I2S output on 5-pin connector.
Microvibration ControlSuperlative microvibration control through precision milled solid steel and Panzerholz construction.
Dimensions & Weight423.2×400×160.5 mm (16.66×15.75×6.32 inches), approx. 24 kg (53 lbs).
Price: to be announced.
Great design celebrates the interplay between form, proportion, and function. At its core, the Laminar Streamer project could be described as a thorough execution of a fundamentally simple concept. Both its function and its appearance echo this same line of thought.
Digital music is often misleadingly described as brittle and edgy. This false accusation grew out of ubiquitous lackluster execution, both of electronic design, and of the related art of enclosure design. This dichotomy of 'electronics' and 'box' has remained an impediment to digital music's ultimate performance.
The Laminar Streamer manifests the very opposite — its oblique angles, organic flow of circular curves and overall sculpturesque form symbolizes the nature-like laminar flow of music, but not only to the eye. Its intricately positioned, interweaving, almost dancing curves form an organically shaped, yet simple, silhouette from any vantage point. This also holds true for internal vibration, from any angle of incidence.
Even though the Laminar Streamer serves digital data, it speaks the language of analogue, non-turbulent flow of fluids. The Laminar Streamer embraces emotional simplicity.
New Product Under DevelopmentLessLoss continues to strive to be one of the very best cost/performance values around. And our venture did not stop at power products. They represent the very core, the very foundation, to good sound. Then we introduced the Anchorwave and Tunnelbridge series of high performance signal cables to get that great sound from the gear to your speakers. But there has remained a bottleneck in terms of achievable sound quality from Digital which we will now tackle and address in the form of a new device which will take Digital to the next level:
Introducing the LessLoss Laminar StreamerWhat does "next level" mean?
What the Laminar Streamer represents is the point of convergence of two lines of engineering which both have been establishing themselves over the years since 1982.
The first line - CDs, vibrations, and optics1982 marks the date of the first compact disc technology to hit the market. Since then, compact disc players have become more and more refined, as audiophiles complained continually about harsh, digital sound (even if the measured noise floor was lower than that achieved by turntables). This technology brought about better and better physical solutions, with some exotic ones hitting the market which included air bearing drives (Switzerland) and belt drives with robust cases (Japan), precision tracks (Japan), blue diodes and plexiglass (France), extremely heavy top covers (Germany) and many others. With constant emphasis on ever more stabilization of the CD drive mechanism, these "monster players" evolved into giants to address some missing link in the CD reading and data streaming process. And, it must be said, much progress was indeed made in this realm.
A bottleneck remainedHowever far the engineering had gone to bridge the bottleneck, still there were available countless tweaks to be carried out on CDs, to even further optimize playback. These included countless sprays, wipes, black and green markers, lathing machines, high lumen stroboscope conditioners, demagnetizing devices, ceramic ball ion blasting devices, many types of stickers, pads, and others. In fact, one audiophile friend of mine had pinpointed not less than 12 such tweaks which, carried out on discs before playback, each truly resulted in better playback, regardless which of the big players listed above were used. So, evidently, some sort of bottleneck remained, and it seemed to be confined to the optical and vibratory realm.
Furthermore, many an audiophile had discovered by then that taking the time to use freeware ripping software (Exact Audio Copy was very popular shareware) and to re-burn the discs onto CDRs of different types would result in different sound quality from the original (notably, black and dark blue CDRs were known to provide superior sound quality). So there was obviously an element of Jitter entering the stream which was dependent upon the optical realm and was not getting re-clocked out of the auditory realm completely. The tweakers' saga continued, regardless of whether the re-clocking was synchronous or asynchronous, and whether the transport was master or slave to the DAC.
Enter Computer AudioBecause so many audiophiles were now experimenting with burning their own CDRs, it was only inevitable that many would discover the sound quality of listening to their ripped CDs directly from their computers as well. With the advent of the iTunes craze and other even higher quality sound files (24/96 for example through HDTracks), as well as the growing ease of downloading such high-res files and the impossibility to play them back on Redbook CD machines, computer audio was quickly becoming the next big thing. The internet was getting faster by the day.
There developed two schools: one was made up of independent, almost underground, tweakers of desktop computers. More and more was invested in the development of USB as a viable alternative to S/PDIF to reach external DACs from the computers, the reason being that more computers came fit with USB straight from the mass-production factories than those equipped with S/PDIF outputs. (There was a $2888 USB to S/PDIF converter which comes to mind as an indication of how more and more quality could be cajoled out of USB by crossing over to S/PDIF with smart clocking techniques, for USB is a clockless protocol in essence).
Another school was betting on the Firewire protocol (Switzerland comes to mind). Still others were going all out with stand-alone computer audio solutions, with tweaked up professional sound cards and desktop PCs meant for the otherwise mass market of number-crunching machines for the most various of applications (Korea and USA come to mind).
Regardless of the computer audio solution, one general tendency, one line of convergence, was clearly discernible all the while.
Removing servicesBecause these operating systems were enormous (Windows and MAC computers are meant to be universal to the point of sharing processing power even with hidden viruses and malware), it became clear through sonic tests that the audiophile tweakers gained considerable ground by disabling services, and the more, the merrier. As audiophiles delved deeper and deeper into their office computers, they found that there are a plethora of limiting factors in terms of enabling a digital stream to flow completely in laminar fashion, without Jitter. Here is a list of some such limiting factors:
-- High speed processors contaminate the entire circuitry and ambient field with radio frequencies and higher. The higher the frequency, the harder it is to keep other parts of the circuitry from being contaminated by them. (Resistive surface tweaks such as conductive lacquer or carbon fiber / nickel paper proved very effective here.)
-- PC motherboards feature many, many more functions which we don't need at all. Each are powered and run at high frequencies which clutter the entire circuit, which reduce sound quality of digital audio streams, where timing is the only qualitative factor (and the easiest to pollute because it is so fragile and crucial).
-- Video cards and other sections of the motherboard have radio frequency oscillators which further contaminate the environment. They run at high frequencies and intermodulate with the audio sampling rates we need.
-- Mouse, keyboard, USB, Firewire, IR, disc drives, video, ethernet, wi-fi and other synchronization software are running and require many parts which need power. Even more crucially, these elements all compete with the CPU for processing time. The key here is the time.
-- CD ripping software must run (well, not during playback), but all the CD ripping functionality must exist in the motherboard. Wires are dangling in the unit to connect the CDR/DVD burner/reader tray. Each wire is an antenna, and further clutters the atmosphere. Busses of loose wire run high data rate information between the internal components such as storage devices.
-- Fans are often necessary to cool the CPU. Acoustical noise results. Electrical noise results as well.
-- Computer operating systems are extensive and require many services, which all compete for processing time. These processes are allocated according to what are called priorities. It is known through the world-wide consensus of experienced computer audio tweakers that the more services you can disengage, the better the resulting audio. The stream becomes more laminar, less turbulent. Several companies have built entire businesses out of turning off the very services that the audiophile user knows or didn't even know that he had in his household computer. With highly lightened operating system services, these mass-produced office computers are re-branded as specialized audiophile music servers. Still, any connection to the Internet can result in a faulty system, with viruses lurking everywhere.
-- There are memory allocation issues at all times in the operating system of a computer. In high end audio we need extreme silence of operation and 100% perfect time allocation, meaning we need all of the CPU's attention at all times for no jitter to appear. We can't share the individual clock steps with other functions which the computer deems just as relevant for its operation. We want full quality, which means we need the whole clock to ourselves for the sole purpose of the creation of the audio stream alone.
-- There are really many clocks: one for the CPU, one for video, one for the audio card and other functions, and they all interfere with one another due to RF interactions and through the power supplies. This atmosphere is not made for real-time streaming events. It is made for calculation and error-checking, and for being fast at it. You can rip a CD at 52x speed and get 100% data accuracy. Data accuracy is not at all an issue in any computer these days. Timing accuracy is our realm as audiophiles, and home PCs are not suitable environments for the kind of high end audio we wish to achieve.
The list goes on and on, and so the idea for the past 15 years or so in computer audio has been to strip the operating system of all services at every step that they are yet able to do this. This represents the second line of convergence into the Laminar Streamer.
Two lines of convergence point to one solutionTo sum it up, here is a list of the strengths and pitfalls of both lines:
Lineage #1: optics-based solutions
- very simple operating systems
- no viruses ever, plug and play functionality
- the romance of putting it into the machine to play it
- psychology of "Albums" is maintained physically
- microvibrational influence on sound quality magnified
- expensive, massive physical realm solutions
- Redbook CD going out of style
- High-res DVD Audio / SACD war has been surpassed by ease of download
- numerous optical tweaks reveal obvious bottlenecks of performance
Lineage #2: solid state solutions
- absence of optical components
- download capability
- storage media becoming cheaper by the day
- cloud storage (safer backup) on the horizon
- plethora of operating system services competing for clock time
- overall system complexity due to non-dedicated engineering
- clock sharing bottleneck regarding Jitter performance
- power supply issues remain just as important as before
- numerous operating system tweaks reveal obvious bottlenecks of performance
A question for LessLoss Audio:Can we get the best of both worlds into one machine? By doing so, can we circumvent all of the cons of both approaches?
Yes, we can!
The Laminar Streamer SD card player!Just to make sure you know what an SD card is, it stands for Secure Digital and looks like this:
More info is available here:
They are getting cheaper, larger in size, and more efficient in their access procedure. Read speeds of up to 260 MB/sec are now available in Japan. This technology will spread across the globe next.
The Laminar Streamer has been developed by LessLoss from the very ground up, without using any modules or ready-made operating systems available for other purposes (Linux, Windows, etc.). In it, we have created the conditions for the ultimate audio stream to be formed directly from the audio clock. To understand the uniqueness of our solution, consider this:
The audio sampling frequencies available today are as follows:
44.1k / sec (Redbook)
48k / sec
88.2k / sec
96k / sec
176.4k / sec
192k / sec
What you can see from the above list is that there are actually two base frequencies, namely 44.1 and 48, which are multiplied by two and three times. Hence, the list is made up of two main frequencies and their whole-number multiples.
For a perfect stream to form, we need the data to be associated with a running audio clock. This is the only function the operating system should have. Everything else will demand processor time, and, hence, will introduce tiny deviations in the perfect timing we need.
What we have managed to do is to create our own audio dedicated operating system which functions exactly off of the very audio clock. This means that when the operating system is functioning (boot time and SD card recognition is less than 0.2 seconds), the data read off of the SD card is directly coupled to the clock's wavefronts and that is all. The stream is the result of 44,100 such operations per second. And this stream is very close to flawless in the time domain.
When a file is to be played which needs, say, a 48 kHz clock, this is then no longer possible with the original 44.1 kHz clock we used for the 44.1k file before. The solution most computer operating systems use to solve this is an extensive array of clocking functions, each running at different speeds and through what is known as PLLs (Phase Locked Loops) which introduce Jitter into the stream. However, the solution is easier in an engineering sense because only one clock is necessary for all of the different frequencies listed above. You can "round out the clock ticks" to get to the frequencies you need. But this "rounding out" probably need not be discussed here with you. Of course, it results in "that harsh digital computer audio sound".
Instead, what we have done, is have engineered a completely synchronous operating system itself. When a 48k file needs to be played, the 48k clock is turned on and the 44.1k clock is turned off, and the operating system itself begins running off of the new active clock. This is done seamlessly and in no time. No clicks or pops result in the digital stream. This seamless functionality and operating system's tight hold on both the clock and data streams are what make this system unique. Any file of any sampling frequency can be played right after one another, without the sloppy desktop computer CPU operations averaging out the clock speeds to make this work. Whereas an office PC is good for fast operations, we need not that. We need perfect timing operation, something which is not foreseen in the big operating systems.
The Laminar Streamer will be compatible with any sound file which ends in either .wav or .aiff and which was brought onto the SD card by either a PC or MAC computer. Folder names will be created by the user on their own office PC or MAC. We do not want people to have to pay for office computer functionality using their audio money! Let the mass-production world take care of that. We'll take care of the stream, the perfect timing needed to get so deep into your digital recordings, you'll completely rediscover everything you've ever heard in digital.
Compatibility will be with any DAC which has S/PDIF, AES/EBU, or even I2S input (pin configuration to be announced). Use any DAC you like the sound of. Best results will be when the DAC's asynchronous re-clocking is disengaged. The one-clock streamlined system is then maintained. The further quest for quality will then be reduced to the quality of the power provided to both the Laminar Streamer and the DAC in use together with it.
Of course, design wise, we are going to provide something very special. We want the listening experience to be beautiful, but also the domestic visual experience as well.
If the digital stream is laminar, truly laminar, then the largest influence of quality has already been met, and true appreciation of the musicianship and all of the higher content truly present in the recordings can much more readily be experienced.
Join our Newsletter ListWe look forward to serving you with more info about the new Laminar Streamer as it becomes available. We are sure that the divorce of the office PC from the listening station will be an attractive alternative to the invasive information overload we already experience in our everyday lives, and will help bring back a tranquil serenity and meditative aspect to our private listening chambers. We will be so close to our beloved artists and their messages that it will feel only natural to take pause from our emails and other office routines.
More Information Only via NewsletterWe have been posting the latest information about the new Laminar Streamer on our Newsletter. You can see the latest posts here:
LessLoss Newsletter Archive
Please, subscribe to our Newsletter by adding your email address to our list. You'll get the latest information when it becomes available.
We recommend this excellent video about digital audio conversionIf you believe that PCM audio, even the good old "Red Book" 44.1 kHz sampling rate, has deficiencies, and are struggling to understand all the intricacies of the modern day "format wars", we highly recommend you watch this informative video, which shows that there are no deficiencies in PCM audio encoding and conversion, nor have there ever been. The only frontier remaining is the ever lowering of Jitter content, but the protocol and conversion is and always has been spot on.
The Laminar Streamer with its unique Direct Drive OS sounds interesting. But what kind of DAC will deliver the best performance with it?There are two types of DAC chips on the market: the parallel resistor 24-bit ladder technology, and the 1-bit Sigma-Delta technology. In our opinion, having built this device:
in order to directly compare four DAC chips head-on, using the exact same conditions of operation for each, we came to the conclusion that the parallel resistor ladder DAC technology sounds better.
A summarized history of the development so far
Philosophy of design
We first pinpointed and defined the strengths and weaknesses of both disc-spinning hardware versions and computer audio versions of digital audio playback machines. We came to the conclusion that, clearly, two lines of engineering were converging into some yet-to-be-built device. The CD players were becoming more robust and better sounding, and computer audio was being stripped of services and functions which had nothing to do directly with the audio stream's timing. Thus, we mated these two tendencies and named it the Laminar Streamer.
We started with detailed analysis of high performance clocking solutions and came to the realization that the very best clocking solution is the very simplest. This means that re-clocking schemes should not be used, but that the initial clock oscillator must be of extraordinary quality. We examined pretty much all available clock options and different clock schematics, and took into account our learned experience from having developed the excellent DAC 2004 Master Clock DAC back in the early 2000s.
A picture of some of the clock oscillators we compared for performance while integrating them into our purpose-built system. When we designed our operating system to run off of the audio clock itself, which needs two base frequencies to provide support for all available audio sampling rates, we were running into unchartered territory. Until this project, all such operating system solutions, even the top-quality professional systems, were run and synchronized by Phase Locked Loops, which add relatively large quantities of Jitter to the digital audio stream. (When you say "large" in this context, it is always important to know who you are talking to: a marketer or an enthusiast who craves genuine information. You know how it is: everything is relative, except for the strange out-lying die-hard enthusiasts such as ourselves. We don't like compromised sound!)
Custom Operating System built from scratch
At the same time we developed and wrote our own operating system for the device. Compare our 30 pages of custom written code to the thousands and thousands of pages which run popular operating systems such as Windows, MAC OS and Linux. Thus, we had the advantage of custom coding and custom building a system which would be centered only around the ultimate quality performance of real-time clock and data streaming for audio purposes. In doing so, all other extraneous functionality would be absent from the system to begin with. Little did we know how deeply into the bits we would thereby be hearing.
After we made several prototype units we felt we had maximized what we could draw in terms of quality performance from the electronics themselves. We now turned our efforts to the design.
Once we had the running electronic schematic, which contained only one clock source, we realized how obviously audible the influence of the build quality and materials was to become. Weight and microvibration absorption were crucial elements which we engineered into the design using Panzerholz mated directly with chromium plated steel which would not be allowed to ring. (You may care to see our studio experiments with Panzerholz vs. Aluminum for some obvious comparisons.)
The attention to nuts-and-bolts engineering was something we learned from well-known classical CD transport designs which had been becoming ever more sophisticated in their vibration control, not only because of the optical element, as it turns out. The same if not more applies to memory-based audio due to the electromagnetic absence of motor control noise.
Physical design materials and basics
After we had the main materials worked out, we implemented a profound shielding of the PSU from the sensitive circuitry via solid steel of several mm thickness. It was now time to work on design aesthetics. It is no easy task to design for looks and functionality all at once, but difficult tasks require only hard work, and so we began. We canned the "box" design and worked with our functional design incorporating perfect stability on three points, perfect triangular symmetry, as well as maximum visibility of the physically and electromagnetically effective design materials such as the thick steel and dense Panzerholz.
First design sketches
Integration of design ideals with design ideas
After completion of the concept, we turned to the minutiae of making it work with our existing electronic conception involving microvibration control of every single element in the Laminar Streamer.
Conversion to milling machine language
When we had the 3D files ready, we then had to have them calculated into 3D strategy files for the milling machines. To test, we milled a couple using MDF, the most ubiquitous and probably worst sounding wood-based material in the world, but easy to mill and good for modeling.
Performing using real-world materials
After checking for compliance, we were ready to mill our first Panzerholz version. Panzerholz is so much more costly (about 20x) and so much more dense (it actually sinks in water) that any mistake here would set us far back. Here are pictures of the first milling operations, fresh off the mill:
Unique Panzerholz lacquering procedure
Preparing these Panzerholz parts for lacquering is the work of a human mind and skilled hands. Effort is made to prepare the surfaces to perfection and to dye the Panzerholz in a pleasing and aesthetic way. As far as we know, we are the only ones in the world to have chosen to work Panzerholz into a 3D aesthetically pleasing design element while at the same time using it as a structural vibration controlling chassis. Pictures of this process follow.
Integrating functional material as design element (less is more)
Here is a close up using a professional camera as to the real grain structure of the highly compressed Panzerholz (from our Firewall product). The crude workshop snapshots above cannot reveal the actual detail of the look.
Hello world! First assembly of steel and Panzerholz
After receiving the precision milled, brushed, sand blasted and chromium plated steel parts, of which there are five per Laminar Streamer, we were finally able to put together the first unit (minus tempered display glass, connectors, steel buttons and other internals. This resulted in our first opportunity to get real snapshots of the device taken, and here they are.
Probably a new world record
In this form it weighs about 54 lbs (25 kg). Of course you will have read about certain Japanese manufacturers of legendary CD spinning transports extolling the virtues of the ratio between the CD disc's light weight and heavy weight of the entire contraption. Well, you now see that we've taken that legendary ratio to completely new heights!
A darker dye is probably better
We ran some experiments to darken the dye, and we believe it looks better this way, over all.
Protection from the elements (of hatred)
Finally, we completed our first custom built flight cases to ensure the safe transport this fine and weighty device. One thing all audiophiles must constantly come to terms with is the fear of having our prized and beloved gear battered to pieces in the shipping channels. Every one of us has our horror stories. I've had mine, too. Overnight express of a friend's hand built amp turned into its overnight disintegration. Didn't buy insurance. As the Germans say: "Selber schuld…" (I still childishly suspect that there's a secret conspiracy in the shipping agencies aimed against audiophiles alone.)
And what we still have to do
We are currently finishing up the silk screening job and hand assembling the first production main circuit boards.
Here you can see how the Panzerholz will make direct contact to a generous portion around the edges of the circuit board. The anti-vibration qualities of the Panzerholz material will thus be utilized to the extreme. The round holes are for the robust industrial specced control buttons.
Thick steel will immediately surround the SD card upon insertion. You can see the thick round top plate here, viewed from the inside of the device. (This is the underside of the plate.) It is quite amazing how it rings like a bell because it is inherently very resonant material, but when mated to the Panzerholz, even without using any bolts, it is dead silent and doesn't exhibit even the slightest ringing tail. It sounds like a rock buried in the earth.
The same goes for the large, main plate of steel. The aim here is to separate the low frequency EM fields coming from the transformer from the main circuitboard, which will be on the other side of it. Basically, what you see here is what the main circuit board will see when it "looks" at the transformer -- a centimeter thick steel barrier which will absorb all of the low frequency fields. The holes will be full of steel bolts, too, so nothing will get through.
This is an example of the bolts I mean. Here you see how they hold the round leg tightly to the Panzerholz above. Again, I emphasize the uncanny feeling that metal makes absolutely no sound when mated tightly to the Panzerholz. Not even a very short ring, which you'd expect to hear upon rapping on it.
The leg will make contact with the furniture in only three places, for ultimate stability in stance and to minimize any possible micro-vibration at the foot-table interface.
The control buttons, likewise, will have no chance at adding even the slightest parasitic micro-vibration to the unit. The Play button will glow dark blue when engaged, but in Laminar Mode, all power to both the visual display and to the diode in the Play button itself will be disengaged. Even the operating system, at that point, will not know anything about the SD data except the very sample it is currently on, and where the next one is.
Firing up some tests:
Arguing about some intricacies (These are friendly arguments, as we are indeed gentlemen. When it rarely gets out of hand, we have different methods, which often involve beer and separate venues):
Countless hours of this have gone into the Laminar Streamer:
The number of hours is unknown. However, what is known, is that an end is on the horizon. We are making good progress. There are over 350 electrical parts in the Laminar Streamer.