Sunday, 27 December 2015

MUSINGS: The Wisdom of Simplicity [RE: Hi-Res Audio]? And a Happy New Year!

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
--- Confucius
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
--- Albert Einstein (apocryphal?)
Only the simplest can accommodate the most complex.
--- Juni Kimura, 47 Labs / Sakura Systems
:-)

Let us ponder a few moments on the first "As We See It" column for 2016 in Stereophile. Humorously titled "To the Simple, Everything Appears Simple".

After reading it, I was thinking, what was this article about anyway? An admonition (based on some other Facebook comment) about the perils of blind testing? Another caution to listeners that A/B testing involves the activation of analytical brain networks rather than those we use to appreciate art? Yet another attempt to impress/convince readers that music in a high-resolution container is significant for the home listener (like comments and articles about the virtues of Pono and high-res on-the-go)? A fair warning about jumping to conclusions without considering nuances or alternatively an attempt at instilling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in what should be rather obvious observations?

As we sit here at the end of 2015, I remind readers that "high-resolution" audio has been with us now for a rather long time! Many of us interested in technology and the "cutting edge" have likely been listening, perhaps testing, and evaluating >44kHz and >16-bit audio for the last 15 years. We have seen technologies like SACD and DVD-A essentially come and either gone or linger in some state of stagnation. We have witnessed the promise of a better-than-CD but CD-compatible "format" like HDCD come and go. I suspect many of us bought "music DVD's" encoded in 24/96 or 24/48, stereo, and multichannel years ago to get access to that promise of high resolution and listen for ourselves to satisfy our own curiosity - way before the Hi-Res Audio branding hype or inflated expectations from "evangelists" like Neil Young or the corporate push (eg. Sony).

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Merry Christmas! 2015 (NYC)

Season's Greetings everyone! As part of my travels, this past week, I spent some time at the "Big Apple"...


As expected, the crowds were enormous this time of year in Manhattan but what wonderful atmosphere to take in! The museums, the shows, the people, the food... Remarkably mild weather too.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

MUSINGS / BUILD: HTPC Rebuild... Skylake / 4K (Part II)

Okay, after laying out the foundation in Part I, let's rip open the boxes and get building the new HTPC!

Right... So I'm reusing the old Antec ATX tower case from 2003(!) for this build. It used to house an old Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU/board you see on the floor there. I put that computer together back in 2007 and it had been in constant use until 2 weeks ago so I really got my money's worth after 8 years! What I'm really impressed by is that there was still one of the early-model 1TB Maxtor HDs in there in good shape. Time to retire this board in any case... Maybe I can still put it to service at some point for my kids.

And here is the new Intel i5-6500/Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 assembled with the CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Evo heatsink (and Corsair DDR4 RAM) living in the old Antec case. Blue SATA connector attached to the ADATA SP600 256GB SSD:

Sunday, 6 December 2015

MUSINGS: HTPC Rebuild - time for Intel Skylake and ready for 4K... (Part I)


For many of us, I suspect the image above would be familiar... The 'old' Windows Media Center (WMC) software. Alas, as of this year, with the release of Windows 10, the Media Center functionality has died (although arguably after a long period of being on life support since 2009). Not that I ever used the software much but I do recall the hey-day of when Microsoft was promoting the PC as the center of the home theater hub. In fact one of my early Home Theater PC's (HTPC) was built around a reasonably fast AMD processor and running WMC as a PVR with a TV card installed back in the early 2000's.

Now in the 2010's, functions promised of by the HTPC can be handled by Smart TV's and all those standalone boxes like the AppleTV, Amazon's FireTV, or the myriad of inexpensive devices like this. Perhaps wisely from a revenue perspective, Microsoft has shifted the focus on development of media access through their Xbox One game system (and Sony in their PlayStation 4).

Personally, I still love the idea of a full-functioning HTPC in the media room. A machine that can handle whatever audio and video format I can throw at it (I posted some thoughts back in early 2014). And when not watching a movie or listening to music, something I can turn on and use for software like REW or Acourate, surfing, the occasional game, or computer-based karaoke when friends come over :-). Software for HTPC functions have grown nicely over the years - check out some options here. And for those who insist, there's even a hack to get WMC on a Win 10 install.

Friday, 27 November 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Digital Room Correction with AudioVero's Acourate...


A few months ago, I posted on the use of the free DRC software for audio room correction. I was already very impressed with what the technology is able to accomplish and wanted to explore this even further. In this spirit, I invested in a copy of (((Acourate))) from AudioVero. As I had mentioned previously, there are a number of other software/hardware packages to accomplish a similar task. While I'm sure other packages would do a fine job, as a JRiver user, I wanted to create WAV-based FIR filters like I did previously with DRC which I could import into the convolution DSP and Acourate allows me to do just that without needing to run any other plug-in.

Acourate isn't inexpensive and does cost 286€. However, realize that we are entering rather "specialized" territory and although I suspect many audiophiles know about FIR-based room correction, it's not exactly mainstream (for example, how often do showrooms at audiophile shows utilize room correction DSP?)... Personally, given the amount of potential improvement, we could easily spend 286€ (~$310USD currently) on stuff like fancy cables and other tweaks achieving likely no actual improvement in sound quality.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Apple Mac OS X ("Yosemite") Software Audio Upsampling


Well... You knew this was coming, right? After looking at Linux, then Windows, what about all the hub bub with Mac OS X? Depending on which forum one visits, there's often talk about Mac's being "better" as audiophile sources than PCs.

As readers here know by now, I think sound quality these days with a decent modern digital interface is primarily a function of the quality of one's DAC. So long as the digital source device is decent (not a high bar to cross by any means!) with bitperfect results and absent of any timeout errors, or extreme noise pollution, it's just fine. And one can verify the quality with objective measurements of course.

The question being asked today is, compared to the software upsampling in Windows and Linux, how well does the Mac OS X software upsampling measure up?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Windows 10 "Audio Stack" / DirectSound Upsampling



I know, I know... Windows audio mixer sucks... (From the perspective of perfectionist audiophiles.)

But having just done some measurements with Linux and PulseAudio with some of the upsampling algorithms, I wondered just how well the default Windows 10 audio mixer performed as an upsampler...

Friday, 16 October 2015

MEASUREMENTS: A Look at Linux Audio (ALSA, PulseAudio)


What is that you ask? Well, it is the slowest computer in my house :-). It's a "vintage" HP Mini 110 from circa 2009. I decided recently to stick Linux on there just to see how well it ran... Here's the System Information:

As you see, I've got Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (updates current as of Sept 2015) loaded up on the old machine which has been sitting around unused for a few years. It's one of the early Intel Atom N270 CPU's (32-bit, single-core hyperthreading, 1.6GHz), 2GB DDR2 RAM. Slow 16GB SSD as the main drive. Whole OS loaded up on the tiny storage, no problem. Linux runs fine on the machine but it's obviously not fast, but works for light web surfing, E-mail, word processing... Now, how about for audio?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

MUSINGS: Meditations on the limitations of hearing & listening.


For today's MUSINGS, let us take a few moments to think about our sense of hearing. Though the auditory system is not as complex as the visual architecture, the extensive interconnections and association areas they intersect with of course provides us with an altogether unique experience integrating emotions and memories. The "drug of choice" for us audiophiles is in the auditory domain. The music we hear adds to the quality of life, and in so doing, satisfies at least to some extent a sense of meaning to our existence. Much of this is a mystery which perhaps in time with the development of neuroscience, secrets may be unlocked... But even if these remain impenetrable mysteries, there is of course no denying the value and truth to human subjectivity. That joy and meaning is wholly ours alone, it is our right as sentient beings to own and cherish.

As humans, we also recognize that we are limited in every conceivable dimension and sensory modality. We cannot smell as well as dogs, we cannot see as well as cats, we cannot hear as acutely as bats, our proprioceptive abilities pale in comparison to even more primitive primates swinging in the trees... Over the years, I have posted on the importance of being aware of these limitations so as to be insightful about our abilities especially when making claims about what is heard or not heard. For example, I think it's useful to try something like the Philips Golden Ear Challenge as a way to evaluate our own hearing acuity. Having an appreciation of dynamic limits also helps us appreciate the importance of sound levels and silence in the listening environment. Knowing the limits as a human being helps us to understand the importance (or unimportance!) of developments like high-resolution audio and what we should expect.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Light Harmonic Geek Out V2


I know some folks have been awaiting the results for the Light Harmonic Geek Out V2. As you know, I have already provided a bit of a preview a few weeks back so no need to say much more I think. Generally my feelings about this device have not changes over the weeks... The 3D printed plastic smell has completely dissipated by now. It does sound great and I must say, going into the measurements, the impression was that this is some of the best sound I have heard from these little USB devices! Remember, this is a $235US unit I got as an "early bird" off the Indegogo promotion.

Let's see if the measurements are consistent with some of my early subjective impressions.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

MEASUREMENTS: PonoPlayer and DSD Playback

Hey guys, just a quickie posting here for mid-week...

I was looking over the measurements over the last few months and realized I neglected to post results of the PonoPlayer doing DSD64 and DSD128 playback! So, instead of the data just sitting on my hard drive, I thought I might as well throw it out here for reference.

I don't believe I have seen anyone measure results of DSD playback with the PonoPlayer. I suspect a reason for this is that DSD was an "add-on" firmware upgrade released after the major magazines got a hold of these units for review. But then again, how often do you see measurements of DSD output quality?! I'm guessing that DSD playback was a "checklist" feature that some people wanted or it looked good for the company to support. Of course DSD is an acceptable input data format for the ESS SABRE9018K2M DAC chip (as it is with essentially all high quality DACs these days). DSD has been enabled as of firmware 1.0.5 back in February. For my tests, I'm using 1.0.6 from the May 2015 update.

Friday, 18 September 2015

MEASUREMENTS: ASUS Xonar Essence One MKI with DSD upgrade kit. (Part I: EEPROM)


Ahhhh... The ASUS Essence One! Even though looking back, compared to others I have listened to or measured, this DAC had its various imperfections, it has been my constant companion on the computer workstation. Through it, I have listened to hundreds of hours of music, edited my share of audio, evaluated pairs of headphones, and run various "experiments". Like an old friend, you get to learn (and at times even appreciate) the quirks. To this day, it remains my "workhorse" DAC. Why, you might ask?

Because it has 2 nice big volume knobs. One for speaker output, the other for the headphones... Simple as that :-).

If you look back at my measurements and review of this DAC back in 2013, you'll see that I generally liked it. With my perspective today, though I believe much can be improved (everything from channel/volume control balance [apparently fixed with later Essence One MKII edition which also incorporates the DSD feature], J-Test could look better, noise floor cleaner, etc...), it was the hyped up "symmetric upsampling" that was perhaps the most bizarre let-down. Imagine a digital filter that acted as a brick wall at 15kHz! Certainly made the DAC sound "mellow", but in a bad, inaccurate way...

Despite rumours of a fix to the firmware, nothing happened after I reported this anomaly. Until late 2014 by the looks of it. And I wasn't aware of this until this past month...

Saturday, 12 September 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Sound Room Update, Digital Room Correction (DRC) and JRiver DSP Studio...


Many years ago, back in 1992 to be precise - the year Windows 3.1 was introduced, when the typical PC was running below 33MHz, and Mortal Kombat 1 was hot in the arcades - I vaguely remember reading this article from Stereophile and filed it in my memory banks as something from science fiction for another day (I heard my first MP3 compressed song soon after and thought it was amazing given the data compression!). In it, Peter W. Mitchell reportedly "heard the future" and was clearly impressed by the technical wizardry of what a "Digital Signal Processor" could accomplish. The power of the digital room correction was described as "mind-boggling". If you haven't thought much about digital room correction, I would highly recommend reading that article in its entirety and consider whether the arguments make sense to you. I don't recall reading anything further about AudioSoft or whether Snell eventually created this cartridge-based "black box" audio correction system, but as we fast forward to 2015, we are living the legacy of what was described.

These days, DSP techniques are commonplace. As digital has long supplanted analogue as the preferred method of encoding our audio and video media with high fidelity, it has all become data that we can examine and modify as we desire depending on the situation. Compress to MP3 for times we don't need highest fidelity? No problem... Resize from 1080P to 720P for the cell phone screen/storage? By all means!

Explicit uses for improving audio quality include audiophile offerings like DEQX and Lyngdorf (including McIntosh MEN-220), some products like the Devialet amps include their "Speaker Active Matching" correction filters, and the home theater crowd have been using Audyssey and the like for years.

It is interesting these days then that DSP room correction is primarily the domain of home theater and AV receivers, rather than high-end audio. In fact, reading certain "high end" audio forums suggest a stigma against DSP techniques to improve the sound of an audio system. Among audiophiles, it's not unusual to see suggestions around listening to tubes, turntables, and vinyl LPs as providing some kind of elevated audiophile experience, but I've ironically experienced the cynicism when you bring up the idea that digital room correction is important if not essential as a very desirable way of improving the high-fidelity experience.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Phone

As you probably know, for me, convenience and practicality are the most important elements of mobile audio. As much as I enjoy the audiophile hobby and achieving high fidelity sound, I think it's important and realistic in acknowledging that consumption of music on-the-go these days is tied in to the ubiquitous "smartphone" many of us carry around. They have become indispensable tools in so many ways that for music lovers and audiophiles to not take them seriously IMO would be denial. I think it's fascinating that audiophile magazines rarely ever mention these devices despite the fact that millions of us use them every day and gain so much enjoyment in the process!

The last phone I got was the Nexus 5 which I measured back in early 2014. As you can see, it doesn't measure too well using the standard test bench but adequate for busy environments. Not inspiring 16/44 performance and it does accept 24-bit audio but can't really perform beyond close to 16-bit dynamic range. It's also limited to standard resolution 44kHz only.

Last year, my wife got the iPhone 6 which I also examined. Up to 24/48, it performed well subjectively and with objective measures. Clearly a step above my Nexus 5 in terms of achieving >16-bit dynamic range. In terms of output impedance, Ken Rockwell measured the iPhone 6+ as 3.18-ohms and the Nexus 5 is probably around an unimpressive 10-15-ohms.

Well, after close to 2 years, here then is my phone upgrade:
Shown in Otter Box case.

Friday, 28 August 2015

MEASUREMENTS: It's Balanced PonoPlayer Time...


As promised in my previous post on the PonoPlayer, I was going to be getting some 1/8" TRS-to-XLR balanced cables to try out with the PonoPlayer. Mainly I just wanted to see for myself the optimal level of functioning for this device... Already the unbalanced output is capable of respectably low noise and very reasonable distortion numbers especially with high samplerate material for a portable device. I therefore expect the balanced output to be better. As you see in the image above, those cables arrived; inexpensive ones off eBay at about $12USD for the two from China.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

PREVIEW: A Look at the Light Harmonic Geek Out V2...

Well... I guess the good thing about not being a "professional" audio reviewer is that while on holiday, playing with my toys isn't really considered "work" :-).

Here's what the postman brought earlier this week:

From a bang-for-the-buck perspective, I suspect you can really get a lot of quality from the small "USB stick" type DACs. The reason being that manufacturing costs can be quite low with these devices. There's no need for fancy LCD screens, no need for a large enclosure (made of milled aeronautical aluminum of course!), no fancy connectors other than the USB port and some headphone jacks. The challenge of course is in making sure that noise levels are low in the analogue output given the proximity to the computer and dependence on the power rail off the USB port.

Previously I had already tested the AudioEngine D3 and AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2 DACs... This time, enter the Light Harmonic (LH Labs) Geek Out V2...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Audiophile Sound and Operating Systems. (Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Fidelizer & JPLAY again!)


If you look back at my writings and tests over the last few years, you will see a number of instances where I did measurements using different operating systems, computer hardware, different bitperfect software (for Windows, for Mac, "audiophile" JPLAY), and looked at things like computer CPU loads and jitter. Already, in the post on the AudioEngine D3 review, I demonstrated that even with disparate computer hardware and operating systems like Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, Mac OS X "Mountain Lion", and "Mavericks", I was not able to show measurable differences in noise level, dynamic range, distortion or jitter with this DAC which operates up to 24/96.

The results are not surprising really, as a computer audiophile in 2015, it's quite likely that one would be using a high-quality USB DAC which is asynchronous, thus avoiding issues like the potential for significant jitter due to timing problems in the interface (more below). Yet, I get questions still about uncertainty as to whether different OSes make a difference and then there are programs out there like Fidelizer (check out this review, or this one) and even the well popularized Audiophile Optimizer (through reviews like this one) claiming improvements; strangely none of those reviews bothered to tell us exactly what DAC was used!

Friday, 7 August 2015

MEASUREMENTS: PonoPlayer - observations & opinions...


A couple months back, I mentioned that I got myself one of these PonoPlayers. I got it lightly used locally and saved myself quite a few dollars (remember, I'm in Canada so would not be able to buy it directly unless specially shipped across the border). As you can see, I got one of the standard black models. Although the yellow one looks iconic and was what Neil Young went on Letterman with way back in 2012, black is more my style... And it looks pretty cool.

Since its availability back in January 2015, I believe most have no doubt already read a number of reviews on this device... I don't think it's so much the device itself, but the promotion of the whole Pono ecosystem by Neil Young that has ruffled so many feathers in the world of consumer electronics based on his bold claims about the audibility and necessity of "High-Resolution Audio"; claims of an audio "revolution". On one side are the technology sites who view the claims as nothing more than "snake oil", while on the other side - among the "audiophile press" - we see repeated praises of Pono "raising the bar" in its promotion of better sound quality.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Room acoustic absorption panels... (GIK Acoustics Freestand)


"... of course you realize it won't sound exactly the same in your listening room, sir ..."

In the last few months, I've been doing more with REW measurements and examining the acoustics in my room, culminating in implementing digital room correction with my computer audio playback. It is because of this that I made the posts recently looking at speaker cables and the effect of speaker grill(e)s. Along the way, I also measured the effects of a couple of simple acoustic panels I have in the room to objectively examine the outcome.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

MUSINGS: Digital Filters Test discussion, and a 192kHz down-sampling setting suggestion...


Well, I guess I am flattered that the results of my recent Digital Filters Test got attention on AudioStream (Stereophile affiliate). The other day, Michael Lavorgna posted an entry entitled "The Trouble With Audio Tests" including a few quotes originating from my INVITATION to the test as well as my ANALYSIS posts.

I'm going to start today's entry addressing some of his thoughts on the matter and how I view tests like this.

First, let's just start with the quote from Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) brought up by Mr. Lavorgna: "If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment."

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters Test [Part III]: SUBJECTIVE IMPRESSIONS


This is part 3 of the results from the test of digital filters which began with Part I (RESULTS) and follows Part II (ANALYSIS).

As usual with these tests, I provided the respondents with an opportunity to describe what they heard when comparing the two samples (linear phase vs. minimum phase upsampling). In this portion I will collate the responses into what people described as the sonic difference and try to classify the responses to the type of upsampling setting for each of the samples... By doing this, I think one can get a sense of whether there is any subjective consistency and also an idea of the variability of subjective opinion. I have put my editorial comments in brackets and italicized.

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters Test [Part II]: ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS


This post is a continuation of RESULTS: The Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters Test (Part I) where I had already summarized the rationale, procedure, and description of the 45 test respondents including basic demographics, equipment, and raw results.

IV. Analysis

In this segment, let's try to ask some questions to see if we can come up with answers on the significance of the findings themselves. I think the best way to interrogate the data might be to ask a few questions and see if an answer can be teased out...

The Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters Test [Part I]: RESULTS


I. Background

Well, the time has arrived to open up the covers and see what the data reveals!

As a recap, I direct you to the post "INTERNET BLIND TEST: Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters" where the test was introduced and invitations sent out for participants to be involved. In preparation for some of the discussions here, I invite you to read up on an excellent "primer" on digital signal processing done by Kieran Coghlan ("Up-sampling, Aliasing, Filtering, and Ringing: A Clarification of Terminology") published on Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity in May. Note that digital processing affects both audio and visual technology, hence the discussion applies to 4K video as much as it does to hi-fi sound. In it, he talks about the "Fourier pairs"; functions have both time and frequency domain effects. Simply put for us in audio as it relates to this test, the steeper the DSP function in the frequency domain (eg. a steep "brick wall" filter), the more the effect in the time domain (ie. ringing). Here's a chapter in the book The Scientist and Engineer's Guide to Digital Signal Processing for those who want to go into even more of the mathematics.

The reason I want to explore this in a blind test is simply because time domain plots of discontinuous signals as produced by DAC upsampling antialiasing filters (generally presented as an "impulse" / Dirac delta function plots) are often used to portray the reputed benefits of various digital filters in the audio world. Furthermore, there are those who write about and suggest that differences in upsampling digital filter parameters affect the sound in very substantial ways. The idea that if we decrease ringing, especially the pre-ringing prior to the main impulse signal, could lead to significant improvements in sonic quality and that it is desirable to aim for the use of minimum-phase filters (and by extension, perhaps it would be good for the audiophile to purchase a DAC that has this feature). Post-ringing is said to be less problematic as auditory masking reduces audibility.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

MUSINGS: On Audiophile Debates and "Placebos do in fact work..."

From drugsdb.com.

Let's think for a moment what "audiophilia" is about...

'We' love music so the likelihood is that 'we' have lots of albums to listen to. That's one of the great things about computer audio - a unified, easily accessible library. (This is of course not necessarily the case for everyone.)

'We' enjoy talking about hardware that can make the sound better. 'We' in fact often spend a lot of time considering how to match the pieces of an audio system to extract the most out of the collection above.

'We' argue about what's "best" in terms of the hardware because 'we' are passionate about the pastime and it is fun to find ways of making things sound better. When passionate about something, natural human biases (especially among men!) will result in arguments, disagreements, and debates, does it not? Just ask the guys rooting for their favourite team or the "friendly" competition between nations in international sports... The way I see it, there's nothing wrong with this. Debate sparks thought, hopefully ideas which come to fruiting with advancement. Of course, sometimes things do turn ugly and we see unfortunate brawls or riots with alleged fouls or outright unsportsmen-like anger or hatred. Last I checked, nobody got murdered or trampled to death in audio-related debates thankfully.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

ANALYSIS: DSD Conversion Impulse & Spectral Display... Another few images for completeness!

A cool example of the "Spectral Frequency" display - from Adobe.

Okay guys, I actually wrote the text that follows 2 months ago before the Digital Filters Test. As happens sometimes, a post can get lost in the "draft" bin and later found. It refers back to the DSD-to-PCM analysis series from April:
ANALYSIS: DSD-to-PCM Conversion 2015 - Windows & Mac OS X
ANALYSIS: DSD-to-PCM 2015 - foobar SACD Plug-In, AuI ConverteR, noise & impulse response...

Consider this as part 3 of the 'trilogy' for this week as I continue to work on the results of the recently-closed Digital Filters Test.

------------------------

I was reminded recently by Wombat in his post here that we can have a look at the spectral frequency display as well when assessing sonic data in the audio editor. Also, Mnyb talked about the low-pass filtering in SACD players and what "standards" were used. Well, I don't know about the formal standards, but the first Sony SCD-1 SACD player back in 1999 had a defeatable analogue filter placed at 50kHz and according to the DSD Wiki, all SACD players were supposed to include this "optional" filter. I know a few people on audiophile forums suggest they subjectively preferred the filter be turned off.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Digital Filters Test CLOSED & What Do We Have Here? [Updated]

June 25th has arrived!

As planned, this is the close-off date of the Linear vs. Minimum Phase Digital Filters Test. I hope everyone who wanted to participate got a change to have a good listen and submit their results! Thank you to everyone who did this. As usual, I'm very appreciative of the time and effort to download, load up the files, and of course the careful listening!

So, I will take the next little while to process the numbers and see what I come up with. I can share with you though that in total, I received 45 responses. This is actually close to what I imagined (about 50) based on past experience. The procedure isn't as simple as something like the 24-bit or MP3 tests done in previous years so I certainly did not expect the same kind of response.


Looks like North Americans "win" in terms of number of entries by geography :-). 62% (28) of the respondents were from North America, followed by 29% Europeans, then Asians and Australians the same (4.4% each).

Okay... I will post up the data / analysis / and conclusions when I get the information processed!

Now, on a side note... What do we have here?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Speaker Cables / Wires (Canare, Kimber, and the "Frankenstein" Zip Cord)


Awhile back - in October 2014 to be exact, I spoke a bit about speaker cables, posted some electrical data, and made myself a pair of 4' Canare 4S11 bi-wireable lengths with locking banana plugs to use at home. These are the black cables you see above to the right. I've been happy with them since and as I noted in that previous post, I heard no discernible difference compared to standard 12G copper zip cord nor did I feel bi-wiring made a difference so I reinserted the speaker jumpers to effectively make this a single 11G cable (no risk losing the jumpers!).

However, I presented no measurements at that time. As I mentioned last week, since I've been doing some room measurements lately (which I will talk more about in a future post), I figured it was time to put my impressions to the test and see if I can detect a difference objectively with speaker wires. Today, I present a few measurements in 2 parts - Part I is with a very "poor" zip cord (the above image, left cable), and Part II with a well known and "audiophile approved" commercial cable.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

MUSINGS: On Music Streaming, now that Apple's in the game...



So, the big news this week is Apple and the streaming audio announcement; Apple Music. Of course music streaming services have been around for years: Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Google Play Music, XBOX Music, Rdio, KKBOX (Asia), etc... Take your pick. Oh, let's not forget the mother of all media streaming - YouTube! Then there's also the FLAC lossless audiophile "darling", Tidal.

As usual with Apple announcements, it seem like the word "revolutionary" gets used rather liberally (along with describing objects as having "magical" properties). According to Apple, this announcement is "revolutionary", just like MQA from Meridian is "revolutionary" I guess. Lots of revolutions going on these days :-).

Supposedly this new Apple Music service will be streaming 256kbps AAC (not verified by Apple yet) and as expected from the fringe, some folks still are up in arms over the use of lossy compression with streaming services. It's as if lossy compression is morally evil and the mere mention automatically taints the product as deserving to be treated with disdain. Well, I guess I just don't see/hear it that way (the times I actually stream music off the Internet).

Sunday, 7 June 2015

MEASUREMENTS: The Effect of Speaker Grills...

"Clothed" or "Naked"... What's the difference?

A quick measurement for this week...

I was curious the other day as I was doing some room measurements what effect speaker grills make. My Paradigm Signature S8 V3's have typical fabric and plastic grills up front. Simple question - How much difference does the grill make to the sound of the speaker?

Saturday, 30 May 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Computer USB port noise, USB hubs and the 8kHz PHY Microframe Packet Noise

Block diagram of the USB 'PHYsical' chipset. UTMI stands for USB 2.0 Transceiver Macrocell Interface, a standard bus interface for the USB chipsets out there...

One could see the "glass half full" when we run into imperfections in the audio system. For example, it was serendipitous that the Emotiva XSP-1 pre-amp had such a noise-sensitive unbalanced "HT Bypass" input that I was able to detect noise and measure it previously. If it were not for this issue, I probably would never have thought about using the Corning USB 3 optical cable or consider how to isolate the noise originating from the computer USB connection to the DAC simply because in my system using balanced interconnects throughout, I had never had a problem (subjectively audible or objectively verifiable).

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Greetings from Toronto...


I've been busy over the last week in Toronto - work plus a little sightseeing and visiting with family and friends. With my hotel nearby, I managed to scoot over to Bay Bloor Radio at the intersection of Bay and Charles streets downtown to have a listen.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Vancouver Audio Show 2015: Pictorial & Comments...

Remember folks! Get me your "Digital Filters Test" results :-). Thanks to everyone who has already responded with the survey submission so far... Great work. Final results could be very interesting; keep the submissions coming.



Over the years I have traveled to other parts of the world and have enjoyed visiting "tech malls" as I just love technology, science, and advancement. There are huge complexes of geek-toys in Beijing (check out Zhongguancun), or of course Tokyo's Akihabara. You will find the occasional audiophile hangout at these places but admittedly rare... Not surprising I guess given how small a market for what really are luxury niche "audiophile" products (at least the "high-end" specialty shops). A few years ago I showed some pictures of Singapore's Adelphi Mall and I must say that this place still stands out as something special for the audiophile (not to mention places like SunTec and Sim Lim Square not far away in Singapore).

Now as you know, I'm primarily an objectivist when it comes to hardware so I guess it might surprise some that I also will check out the audiophile haunts over the years (like here and here) without getting too disgusted by the usual myths and pseudoscience promulgated. For me, it is a hobby that's fun and merges my love of music (the "spirituality" of the experience and where the subjective enjoyment resides), and the desire to understand how the world and technology truly works (where the objective side lives). The two IMO must exist in harmony, each finding balance in fulfilling the emotional side of being, yet not lost in the realities of this world and what just is.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Corning USB 3 Optical Cable, Ground Loops, and Noise.

Folks, remember, the "Linear Phase vs. Minimum Phase Digital Filter Test" is still running as I post this! Please give it a try and report back in the survey. I want data and hopefully an opportunity to report back on what the readership perceives (or not perceive).


I. Introduction

Indeed, "noise" can be an issue with audio systems. There's little worse that can happen to an audiophile after spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on new equipment, plugging everything in as per "best practice", getting ready to play your first piece of music, and finding that for some reason, noise has seeped through to disturb the expectation of pristine, clean background silence from which music can blossom...

Before proceeding further, remember that noise can sometimes be subtle, and very importantly, ambient noise must be low in your sound room. It's quite possible that slight hum and low-level noise may not be significant from a normal listening distance if the ambient noise level is high (something we urban dwellers especially do have to consider!).

Sunday, 26 April 2015

INTERNET BLIND TEST: Linear vs. Minimum Phase Upsampling Filters


I. Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, audiophiles of all ages; you have probably seen pictures like the ones above many times in the magazines, posted online, etc. You know that many DACs these days feature the ability to adjust the way the antialiasing reconstruction filters are "tuned". I remember reading about and becoming fascinated by the different filters back in 2006 with Keith Howard's article on Stereophile. But it wasn't until around 2009 that I noticed Meridian started using minimum phase settings in their equipment like the 808.2 Signature Reference CD player. (I don't know if many other consumer audio devices used a form of the minimum phase filter before 2009; perhaps not as well advertised as Meridian?)

Monday, 20 April 2015

PERSPECTIVE: Poll - Upgraded USB and Sound?

I enjoy visiting the Steve Hoffman Forums for perspective. I think it's probably one of the most balanced places to hang out at. Of course, as in any audio forum, there will be a number of heated arguments here and there, but overall, it's great to see a place where heterogeneous music lovers of various experience levels and beliefs can congregate, share tips, and get advice... It's certainly one of the more vibrant audio communities out there!

Recently there was an interesting poll on whether USB cable upgrades can improve a system's sound quality. Titled "The Great USB cable debate poll" (full disclosure, I took part and posted a comment as well), it ran from February 22 to March 8th before it was closed. In total, it received 415 votes, gathered 36 pages of responses and the outcome was:

About 1/4 felt that upgraded USB cables make a difference, and 3/4 did not. Surprised?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

ANALYSIS: DSD-to-PCM 2015 - foobar SACD Plug-In, AuI ConverteR, noise & impulse response...

Noise characteristics of PCM vs. DSD - image found here.
In my post last week looking at the various DSD-to-PCM converters, Solderdude Frans made a good suggestion... Let's have a look at the newer SACD plugin which has superseded the DSDIFF plug-in as the converter of choice these days for foobar. Also, it was suggested by Yuri Korzunov, the author of AuI ConverteR 48x44 to have a look at his converter package as well.

Friday, 3 April 2015

ANALYSIS: DSD-to-PCM Conversion 2015 - Windows & Mac OS X

Impulse Response: One of the talking points from back in the day as a selling point for DSD... Yup! DSD can better reproduce a 0.000003 second "click". Source: Merging Technologies

I. Preamble

It is amazing how quickly another year has passed. About this time last year, I posted the first comparison of DSD Encoders and Decoders "shoot-out" of sorts comparing Weiss Saracon 01.61-27, KORG AudioGate 2.3.3 and JRiver 19.0.117 in terms of quality - both encoding and decoding fidelity using the RightMark Audio Analyzer software. The idea was to determine which of the three created DSD files from an original 24/96 PCM test signal and then decoded it back to 24/96 in a way where there was as little change in terms of distortion, flat frequency response, and lowest amount of added noise.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the expensive Weiss Saracon software sets the standard as the most consistent DSD encoder that resulted in the best output once decoded. The differences in decoding capability appeared to be very minor (questionable audibility between the 3) but objectively, both Saracon and JRiver 19 were on par and the free AudioGate 2 somewhat "noisier" in terms of the PCM output (I speculated this was due to stronger dithering algorithm).

Well, another year has passed in terms of software upgrades to DSD decoding and I was interested to compare the decoding capabilities as of late. We have brand new versions of JRiver and AudioGate now, plus I didn't get to test foobar with the DSDIFF plugin last year. Plus we now have DSD decoding on the Mac OS X available with XLD and commercially with DSD Master.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

MUSINGS: Gone 4K / UHD - A "Look" At Ultra-High-Definition...

This week, I thought I'd take a break from just the audio stuff and discuss a new "toy" I got 5 weeks ago. That's right, as the title suggests, a 4K / UHD screen; it's a computer monitor to be exact:

A view from behind the commander's chair :-). BenQ BL3201PH on the table.
Remember that there's a separate "body" defining 4K movies at the local movieplex - the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI). They have "true" 4000 pixel horizontal resolution like the 4096x1716 (2.39:1 aspect), or the very close 3996x2160 (1.85:1) resolutions. Whereas for the smaller screens like computer monitors and TV's, we have the UHD "Ultra High Definition" standard defined as 3840x2160 (16:9 / 1.78:1). So although it's not exactly "4K" horizontally, it's close and I guess "4K" is a better advertising catch-phrase than "2160P". Needless to say 3840x2160 is 2x the linear resolution of 1080P or 4x the actual number of pixels.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

MUSINGS: Audiophiles "Us vs. Them" (Objectivists vs. Subjectivists) Attitudes and Envy!?


Since I'm stuck at LAX on my way home from a wonderful Spring Break with the wife and kids down in Texas as well as a Caribbean cruise, I thought I'd polish my response to Hal Espen's comment in the last post... BTW, I enjoyed visiting Bjorn's in San Antonio just to see the audio and home theater gear they had on display. Some really nice stuff and it looks like they're upgrading their main demo room to Atmos soon. I appreciated the knowledgeable staff and friendly attitude; taking time to demo the gear even though they knew I didn't even live in the USA.

So Hal, nice comment:
Pure confirmation bias from beginning to end. None of this really exists. : )
You can't have it both ways. Either your blog is about providing the little bursts of brain chemicals that us vs. them skeptics receive when scientism is seen to be crushing audiophilia, or you're going to go wafting into the subjective realm of the subtle and imaginative "classy" pleasures of reproducing music electronically, as you do with evident misgivings here.


Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on>
Gets right to the heart of some of the heated debates and arguments I suppose... I guess I "swing both ways" in some regards. :-)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

2015-02-27: HiFi Centre Grand Reopening...

About a year ago, I reported on the B&W Nautilus demo at the HiFi Centre here in Vancouver. That was at their old location... As of late February, they're now in the new place near Vancouver Chinatown and to celebrate, they had a nice (re)opening event (February 27, 2015). It caught some publicity from the Stereophile web site as well.

I decided to go check it out after work on the Friday and see the new space. For fun, here are a few cell phone snapshots of some of the gear on display. Note that it was well attended and I purposely tried not to take shots with people in them to protect the innocent :-).

Upon entering the main building, we see a Nautilus "shell" display; HiFi Centre has always had a good partnership with B&W:

Sunday, 1 March 2015

MUSINGS: Audio Quality, The Various Formats, and Diminishing Returns - In Pictures!

Let me be the first to say that graphs and charts where audio formats are plotted out in terms of unidimensional sound quality ratings are ridiculously oversimplified and can be very misleading! However, they can be fun to look at and could be used as bite-sized "memes" for discussion when meeting up with audio friends or for illustration when people ask about audio quality.

Since they're out there already, let us spend some time this week to look at these visual analogies as a way to "think" about what the authors of these works want us to consider/believe. I'm going to screen capture without permission a couple of these images to explore. As usual, I do this out of a desire to discuss, critique, and hopefully educate which I consider "fair use" of copyrighted material; as a reminder to readers, other than a tiny bit of ad revenue on this blog (hey, why not?), I do not expect any other gain from writing a post like this.

First, here's PONO's "Underwater Listening" diagram released around the time of the 2014 SXSW (March 2014):
PONO: Underwater Listening
Others have already commented on this of course (here also). I don't know what ad "genius" came out with this diagram, but it is cute, I suppose. I remember being taken aback by this picture initially as it's so far out of "left field" (creative?) that I felt disoriented when I first saw this thing...

How audio formats would evoke a desire to compare underwater depths remains a mystery to me. Obviously, there's a desire to impress upon the recipient two main messages - a direct correlation between sampling rate (from CD up) with quality, and to make sure the MP3 format gets deprecated as much as possible (1000 ft?!). On both those counts, this image gets it so wrong, it's almost comedic. Clearly, one cannot directly correlate samplerate and bitrate with audio quality because the relationship isn't some kind of linear correlation. Why would CD quality be "200 ft", and 96kHz "20 ft"? Surely nobody in their right mind would say that 96kHz is 10 times perceptually "better". Sure, there is a correlation such that a low bitrate file like 64kbps MP3 will sound quite compromised with poor resolution, but without any qualification around this important bitrate parameter, how can anyone honestly say that all MP3s sound bad? I might as well say that Neil Young's a poor-sounding recording artist because the Le Noise (2010) and A Letter Home (2014) albums are low fidelity.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

MEASUREMENTS: The Intercontinental Internet Audio Streaming Test...

Time to go intercontinental. :-) [Scene from the old movie War Games.]

After the ethernet cable results last week and the absence of any difference, there was discussion about an extreme internet music server test. What if instead of maybe 100 feet of ethernet cable from server to player, we had thousands of miles of cables in between?

With help from Mnyb from the Squeezebox Forum, we were able to orchestrate a test to demonstrate the extremes of measured performance with the server system basically on the other side of the world. He lives out in Västerås, Sweden approximately 100 km from Stockholm. A direct distance of:


Saturday, 14 February 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Ethernet Cables and Audio...





Remember folks, this is what an "ethernet frame" looks like. It's data. There is no "music" in there until decoded and prepared for the DAC! Notice the CRC bytes for error detection. (The numbers represents how many bytes for each segment.)

0. Preamble

Hey folks, over the years, I have been critical of high-end audio cables... Previously, I have shown that RCA analog interconnects can result in measurable differences with channel crosstalk changes with long lengths. But the digital interconnects themselves do not result in measurable differences even in terms of jitter (TosLink SPDIF, coaxial SPDIF, or USB). Although my HDMI receiver's DAC isn't as accurate or jitter-free, different HDMI cables don't seem to make any measurable difference either. The only caveat to this being that a digital cable can just plain fail, in which case the distortion to the audio signal has a particular (annoying) characteristic which is clearly audible and not a subtle change (eg. a poor USB cable sound).

So far, I have not seen any further measurements to suggest my conclusions are inaccurate. I have seen audiophile reviewers and forum posters still claim digital cables make an audible difference and when questioned they provide lots of words but no actual empirical evidence. It has been awhile since I've seen any articles claiming objective evidence for cable measurements - haven't come across new ads or audiophile articles although of course I may have missed some.

However, as computer audio expands, there will be opportunities to "brand" more hardware as somehow "audiophile approved" and companies that make audio cables likewise will naturally capitalize on new lines of interconnects / cables... And as expected, cost of these things will be commensurate with "premium" products.

Which brings us to the concept of "audiophile ethernet cables" (see here also, and recent mainstream press exposure of the "madness"). Let me be clear. If I have issues with USB cables, or SPDIF cables, making any significant contribution to audible sound quality (assuming again essentially error-free transmission of data), there is no rational explanation whatsoever that ethernet cables should make any difference. The TCP/IP protocol has error correction mechanisms that allow for worldwide transmission integrity (otherwise Internet financial transactions should be banned!),  and is asynchronous so there is no temporal dependence on exact timing mechanisms (jitter not an issue with adequate buffer to reclock and feed the DAC). So long as the "protocol stack" is functioning as it should between the devices, there will not be any issue. Systematic errors causing audible distortion either means hardware failure or poorly implemented communication software. Therefore the expectation if we were to test or "listen to" different ethernet cables is that there would be no difference.

Since I like to make sure objectively, let us at least run a few tests to see if indeed evidence can be found to support the hypothesis.

Friday, 6 February 2015

MEASUREMENTS: Bob Dylan's "Shadows In The Night" - when 24-bit HRA isn't! (Qobuz)

Of shadows... and hot air...
A reader gave me a tip about the new Shadows In The Night album from Bob Dylan. The allegation is that the 24-bit high-resolution downloads of this album are in fact NOT true 24-bits as claimed!

To start, here's a video to show what the inversion-null should look like with a true 24-bit audio sample: