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The good, the bad and the ugly of Apple, La Rosita & Devialet.
In good ol’ IT land there’s an iron-clad adage. Always test new software in a special environment completely isolated from the production environment where actual users work. Once seriously tested and approved by all users in the beta environment, one creates a backup of the current production version and only then installs the new version. With version releases it goes even further. Plenty of companies won't even dream of installing any Dot Zero (x.0) or even-numbered release. They wait for the first service pack, patch or whatever the supplier calls it to even touch the now x.1 software in their test environment before perhaps installing it formally if their entire staff agree.

So what's this gotta do with audio? Actually but sadly a lot. Audio is getting more and more computer oriented. Let's take you through the perils we recently encountered. It all started with the arrival of the La Rosita Beta music streamer. This is a Mac-only affair with its proprietary iTunes plugin. Said plugin is more than just a plugin—a hook into the iTunes library function to get the information on the track to play—and a full-blown high-quality streamer à la Audirvana or Amarra. Except that it only works with the La Rosita hardware. By the time it had arrived, the latest version of the La Rosita plugin needed a more recent version of iTunes than we were happily running still. No problemo, the Apple website was more than happy to provide us with a free upgrade to version 11.0.3, at that time their latest and greatest. There was just one little snag. The new iTunes software needed a later version of the Apple OSX operating system. We were still happily running 10.6 Snow Leopard. What to do? It boiled down to paypalling (is that even a proper verb?) the latest OSX version from Apple: 10.8 aka Mountain Lion.

After this OS upgrade, the installation of the latest iTunes went smoothly as did that of the La Rosita plugin. Everybody happy? Hell no. Before serious listening could commence, we had to do something about our Windows environment. That should have been easy as on our Mac a special Apple software simultaneously runs Windows in virtual mode. This Parallels software had worked swell all along - except that now it started to meow about the wrong combination of underlying OSX and itself. If you thought there was a simple upgrade strategy available, think again. Mr. Parallels wanted his valued customer to buy a complete new package and do so at full price. Sorry dear user, nuevo policy. We will think very seriously whether to accept this behavior or perhaps vote with our feet (that is, run like hell).

Anyway, the La Rosita Beta was able to play nice with the new OSX, new iTunes and supplied plugin. Except now another hurdle popped up. Playback suffered severe dropouts. Joy. Meanwhile we received word from that other French company dealing in streamers with their own accompanying iTunes plugin - Devialet. They'd launched AIR 2.0 which supports not only iTunes but almost any other software player extant as long as you set their music output to AIR. Cool we thought but of course there was a catch too. In order to use AIR 2.0, the receiving end of the transmission, in our case a duo of Devialet D-Premier all-in-ones, needed to be upgraded from software V5 to V6. No problemo, we'd save the current V5.7.3 onto separate SD card, download the V6.0.6 version and install it on both our D-Premiers. We also downloaded the AIR 2.0 software for both Mac and Windows and installed that.

The first thing we now did was play a CD off our PS Audio transport just to make sure things were still peachy. Already the first note had us surprised. The sound we're very familiar with wasn't itself. Far from it. Just how different remains for another article. Our second D-Premier sees duty mostly in a video setup where it feeds off the S/PDIF outputs of our satellite receiver and DVD player. With this D-Premier we had the same experience. The news anchor’s voice was entirely different. Stay tuned. Next the AIR 2.0 was called upon to do its streaming. The fun ended soon as airplay was just as it had been with the Rosita setup - heavily buggered by dropouts. Not good but our conclusion was that the disturbances were not due to either company's plugin but a bad Apple. That this assumption was right turned crystal when an Internet search hit upon an avalanche of similar problems. Or did it? The problems reported were similar but the blame wasn't with Apple. It was with the third-party software providers who'd apparently not adequately tested their new software with iTunes 11.0.3 and accordingly released their plugins prematurely

One would wish unto nobody and no company what next happened to Devialet in countless Internet fora. Those places aren't known for civilized behavior and content and the literally thousands of worldwide threads outlining the problems made us feel very sorry for the French innovators. From the distance we could almost smell the stress, sweat and 'round-the-clock work as the Devialet software guys worked madly to fix the problem. They soon did and AIR 2.1 exterminated the iTunes interface bugs. Over at La Rosita the same dropout problems disappeared with a new plugin version. Except that here the fix wasn't accompanied by a raucous Internet circle jerk of annoyed users and uncorrelated bashers. That's because all users had been personally informed by La Rosita. Chapeau!

Moral of the story? In times of crisis, communication is the only way to prevent serious harm to a company's reputation. Put up a clear message on your website explaining the problem and what's being done to address it. Update that information every so many hours. Mobilize your global distributors to contact their dealers who in turn should contact their customers. Personally. Shit happens. Be prepared to handle it. In the end the dropout problems were solved and all should have gone quiet again on the Internets. But not chez nous. With the luxury of owning two Devialet D-Premier we could easily A/B by swapping speaker cables and the balanced cable from the CD transport. One D-Premier ran V 5.7.3, the other the latest V 6.0.9. Since V 6.0.6 released, three additional patches followed within less than a month! The V6 software package is not only for the D-Premier but the new models 110, 170 and 240 which include USB and Ethernet options. It seems that the deadline of presenting the new models plus accompanying software at the recent Munich High End show was made coûte que coûte. At any price.

We dearly love our D-Premiers for their do-it-all integration, dynamics and neutrality which all were triggers when we voted with our wallets. With the V6 software we now had lost that neutrality and instead were met by a warmer woollier sound as though the rise and fall times had increased. After long hours of A/Bs between V5 and V6 and even a software swap between the two D-Premier systems just to be sure, we concluded that we'll stick to V 5.7.3 and go back to AIR 1.5 for occasional streaming. We are very glad to have saved previous versions of the software and advise anyone in this computer-based audio era to back up, back up and back up. Storage has never been so cheap. Let's use it!