February 11th, 2003


Tweaking without drugs -- the fine art of home audiology.

Today, I got a home audio toy that I've been wanting for a little while -- an RF (radio frequency) transmitter for the computer room that allows us to listen to either our computers' mp3s or Rio Riots through the main stereo system.

I was going to hold off on getting it until my inheritance finally cleared, but after I mentioned it, Kirsten spotted a deal online, and spontaneous purveyor of deals that she is, bought it.

To be precise, she got the Jensen Matrix JW901... I couldn't find a review of it anywhere, but I figured I would write a bit about it, since I spent my afternoon fiddling with it.

In theory, the JW901 sounds simple. You plug in a transmitter and connect the sound output to the transmitter with a simple yet nice to have splitter cord that comes with the device. You also plug in a receiver next to your stereo and "tune in" the broadcast, the signal of which goes into one of your inputs for your stereo.

In practice, however, the JW901 takes a bit of trial and error, and isn't an ideal solution without a bit of effort on your part. Once you do have it working, however, it delivers near-CD quality to your home stereo.

The input for the transmitter is basically a stereo headphone jack -- the same style that is used for basically all computers and portable music devices. Hooking it up is effortless, but the hard part is getting a good signal at the receiver. In order to get a really good stereo signal, I found that I had to fiddle with the transmitter (high up, antenna facing the door), the receiver (also high up, antenna facing the transmitter, unblocked by as many obstacles as possible).

Perhaps more importantly, I had to fiddle with the volume levels coming from my computer in order to keep the transmitted signal from overmodulating and distorting. I suggest keeping the volume output for your computer at about 40% of maximum volume for ideal performance.

Also, the rationale of using a receiver, although seemingly obvious, is also redundant. A home stereo *is* a receiver, after all -- it receives FM and AM broadcasts. There are other systems, such as the LineX, that are capable of broadcasting FM signals the same range -- you just tune your stereo to the right channel. So, if I am going to pay for a receiver, I would like it to do something helpful, such as equalization or improved reception of the broadcast...

Which brings me to a bigger problem -- equalization -- specifically, equalizing the volume level of the thousands of mp3s that I have. Anyone who has used mp3s a lot knows that the volume levels can fluctuate very significantly (and very jarringly) between tracks. What I would *like* is not to have to run every mp3 that I get through a program to equalize the volume levels -- it should all be done in the player.

I have poked around for good solutions, but they are few and far between. I did notice one plugin for Winamp that will determine the gain values of files the first time they are played and thereafter try to equalize the levels, but are there better solutions out there, ideally ones that are player-based?! I'd like to know...

In an ideal world, I would have one transmitter device that could accept inputs from several different devices (two computers, maybe a rio...) and then broadcast several different customized channels that I could just tune into. One for dancing, one for conversation, one for relaxation/meditation -- the player would handle all the equalization, and even all the mixing.

In an ideal world, we'd all be our own favorite deejays... still, I can get a very listenable signal from my computer to my stereo now without stringing a ton of cables across the floor, and I guess that's what counts. It's ready just in time for the weekly Tuesday gathering at the house. You're welcome to come if you'd like... email me ( insomnia at livejournal dot com ) if you need directions.

What I need now, of course, is a way to wirelessly broadcast the output of my computer's video to my television... because every television should have a cool screensaver!
  • Current Music
    Omar Faruk Tekbilek - I Love You