Saturday, 25 May 2019

BLIND TEST Results Part 4: "Do digital audio players sound different playing 16/44.1 music?" - Subjective Comments. Final thoughts on blind testing and critiques.

As we close off discussions and posts around the Internet Blind Test of devices playing 16/44.1 music, I want to publish some of the subjective comments from respondents who undertook this test... Impressions in the respondents' own words about the test when they submitted their results to me.

Remember that these are subjective. Human perception, especially when differences are at the margins of our perception are of course tough to describe. And when we compound that with the limited utility of words to describe ephemeral experiences (even with codifying the terminology as was attempted years back), it's no surprise that meaning can often only be conveyed as impressions. It's great to see the respondents trying their best and in many instances, I certainly appreciate the impressive use of language to express the experiences. Let's have some fun with these!

Saturday, 18 May 2019

BLIND TEST Results Part 3: "Do digital audio players sound different playing 16/44.1 music?" - Listener Results.

Thanks for the patience everyone. We are now into Part 3 of the report on the Internet Blind Test on the audibility of 16/44.1 digital playback using various devices. In Part 1 we talked about the test procedure itself and unblinded the devices (ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard, Apple iPhone 6, Oppo UDP-205 as ethernet DAC, and Sony SCD-CE775 playing a burned CD-R).

Last week in Part 2, we reviewed the objective measurements of the 4 devices. I hope the readership recognizes the importance of doing this to set the context of what we're looking at this time as we dive into the results from the blind test respondents. As with many things in life, it is only with having facts at our disposal first, then we can make comparisons and develop ideas based on this foundation of knowledge.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

BLIND TEST Results Part 2: "Do digital audio players sound different playing 16/44.1 music?" - Relative objective performance. [And a few words about "Legends"...]

Last week, I revealed the four CD-resolution / 16/44.1 playback devices I used for this blind test. (By the way, if you want to have a listen to the original 16/44.1 track excerpts used, I added a link as an addendum to the post last week.)

While I'm still doing some counting, calculations, and writing the summary of the data, I think it's best this week to start by having a better look at those devices and seeing what objective results tell us about them so we can hypothesize what we might find when we examine the blind test results.

While it may be controversial to some in the audiophile world, I think we should keep our minds open to the idea that science and technology for digital audio playback has already surpassed the human auditory system. As discussed years ago, the human perceptual and cognitive systems do not have infinite resolution. I'm of course not discounting that the ears and mind have excellent abilities when it comes to appreciating miniscule differences, yet I think we have to remain humble; even if we believe we have "golden ears". Also, even if we don't believe measurements capture everything, it's not unreasonable to accept that the vast majority of what is heard can already be quantified in terms of fidelity to the source. This is why I think we need to explore the objective performance first... Then we can see if the subjective preferences from the respondents line up with expectations. I think for many of the well-respected audio engineers that design our hi-fi gear, this sequence makes sense. Ensure that the measurements are decent first, then verify and tweak with subjective listening.

Over the years, I've measured most of these devices in the blind test separately with different ADCs. For this post, let's run each one through the RME ADI-2 Pro FS and compare objectively using the exact same "measuring stick". For completeness, here's what the measurement chains look like with each player/DAC:

Saturday, 4 May 2019

BLIND TEST Results Part 1: "Do digital audio players sound different playing 16/44.1 music?" - Devices Unblinded! (Plus unusual exuberance & bias in the media?)

Thanks everyone for taking the time and efforts in performing the blind test which we started back in late January!

I officially closed off my survey from submissions May 1st (I promised April 30th, but gave a few hours more for stragglers from different time zones). I trust the 3 months provided plenty of time for everyone who wanted to perform the test to do so. I'll leave the blind test samples available for download for now and will take the files down in the near future.

You can read about the reason I ran this blind test in the previous post, but in a nutshell it's because of this poll result which I think reflects general audiophile perceptions on the question:

Saturday, 27 April 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Experiments in audio component grounding - using a bus bar & HumX. And on the last The Cranberries album, on audio quality legacy...

You may remember a number of years ago, I talked about reducing interference I was experiencing with my Emotiva XSP-1 pre-amp. The issue had to do with the audio system picking up interference and noise through the pre-amp's "Home Theater Bypass" unbalanced RCA input when connected to my AV receiver. This "HT Bypass" mode is used as a conduit for the front channels and subwoofer out when the AV receiver is in use, typically when I watch movies with multichannel sound.

While this was a bit of a hassle for me, sometimes out of these hurdles and limitations, one is provided with opportunities to explore things like the 8kHz USB PHY packet noise which seeped into my system from the TEAC UD-501 DAC (not an issues these days with my Oppo UDP-205). Playing with things like the Corning Optical USB 3 extender allowed me to lower the noise level. Furthermore, I was also able to show that different USB hubs affected the severity of that 8kHz noise. Remember that much of this investigation was prompted in those days when devices like the AudioQuest USB Jitterbug and the silly single-port-hub known as the UpTone Audio USB Regen were being hyped up by certain websites and forums. To this day, I have not seen any evidence that this stuff improved things like noise level and jitter with reasonable asynchronous USB DACs.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

A Look (and Listen) to some audio gear in Taiwan and Singapore...

Image result for window shopping

Hey everyone, as discussed recently, I had an opportunity to visit Asia over the Spring Break. Since it is "audio show season" with AXPONA in Chicago last week and Munich High End coming up in May, perhaps it's a good time to post up some images and descriptions of what I found in Asia this time.

While it was a family vacation, I found time to do a little bit of "window shopping" myself and check out the audio gear and stores overseas.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

COMPARISON: Roon DSP speed - Intel i5-6500 vs. Intel i7-7700K... (and the value of Intel Speed Shift!)

As mentioned, a little while back when I wrote about Roon, I was about to receive a "drop in" Intel i7-7700K CPU for my Server machine which runs Roon Core. I was able to find the i7-7700K used for a decent price and I didn't feel like dismantling the machine and upgrading the Z170 motherboard since the newest CPUs now need a Z3XX series board. Furthermore, for me, one of the least interesting "jobs" one has to manage as a technophile is reinstalling the operating system and software again... I try my best to avoid this mundane task :-(.

Note that if I were to rebuild my Server these days, I'd probably consider something like the very affordable Core i5-9600K with 6 cores. In fact, for most applications, this CPU will beat out the i7-7700K which I suspect would apply when using Roon for DSP as well.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Roon 1.6 Upsampling Digital Filter Options & A Discussion on "Signal Path" Quality...

As discussed last month, I've started using Roon as my main music player for the sound room recently. Back in the days of Roon 1.2, many users performed upsampling using HQPlayer. While HQPlayer integration is still available (go to Settings --> Setup to access the installation option), since version 1.3, Roon has incorporated its own DSP samplerate conversion which I suspect would be completely adequate for the majority of users.

I was curious about the upsampling digital filter options available in Roon. If you look at the "Sample Rate Conversion" control panel, we see the four main "Sample Rate Conversion Filter" settings:

On the left panel, notice that Roon allows you to select the different DSP options and add various filters to the "chain" (left lower panel). "Headroom Management" is always available if needed which basically means you can set the amount of attenuation you want to use to prevent clipping while doing the DSP processes. Default setting is a very reasonable -3dB.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

MUSINGS: Of Jokers and Clowns... (On Soundstage and Perspective)

More info here.
As I sit here watching the early light in the tropics enjoying a cup of Java, I had a look again at John Atkinson's editorial "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...". I believe this April 2019 issue is the last one where he is the Editor-in-Chief of Stereophile. The article examines a recent event which again brings up one of the age-old contentious issues we run into with the audiophile pursuit (perhaps the most contentious issue ever) - the subjective experience of listening/enjoying music and the use of objective and controlled methods to help us understand how well our audio systems function.

"Sunrise Sentosa" - March 2019, Singapore
Over the years, I've written on the unnecessary "war" between "objectivism vs. subjectivism" when I've thought it worth addressing articles written by some members of the press and at times the strange fear of scientific methodology in high-fidelity. We've talked about the basics of what subjectivity and objectivity mean, and further elaborated on it. In summary, "pure subjectivism" and "pure objectivism" are both extreme positions to take. The problem I find is that for decades in the audiophile press, subjectivism has been posited as somehow more important if not the only worthy position to take to the point where the vast majority of hardware reviews available these days including online sources have lost the objective component. In the process, most reviews have also lost the power to elucidate truth among the subtleties of sonic differences. Without objectivity, sound quality cannot be adjudicated based on the ideal principle of high fidelity.

Friday, 15 March 2019

POLL: Do you subscribe to a music streaming service? And a Wilson Sasha DAW, dCS, Audio Research listening session @ The Sound Room, Vancouver.

Alright guys, first off, I'm trying out a quick poll here since I was interested in how many of you are currently streaming music off a subscription site... No doubt we are seeing the shift towards the streaming, subscription model for music delivery and consumption.

It's interesting to see this article recently about the music industry's revenue growth in these last few years on account of streaming. Considering the decades of decline, I'm sure the music industry is interested in promoting any system that nets a profit. We will need to see however whether the rate of adoption in streaming wanes in the years ahead as warned by Forbes recently.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

MEASUREMENTS: A look at the audio "ultra high-end" - ultrasonics! (And changes at Stereophile announced.)

In this blog installment, let's look at the "ultra high-end" of sound. Of course, I'm not talking about the audiophile "high-end" marketing term which is meaningless (beyond just another phrase for "expensive"). Rather, let's look at the frequency high-end, especially all the stuff our DACs can produce in the ultrasonic range!

If you've ever wondered, ultrasound devices used in medical imaging typically function at around 2MHz on the low end up to about 15MHz. However, the term "ultrasound" simply refers to wave
compression and rarefaction outside of the hearing range which by convention are those above 20kHz or so.

While the presence of ultrasonic content coming out of our DACs is not a surprise, what might be unclear or debatable is whether there is much of it and whether this then affects the "sound" of one's system. Rather than get bogged down in opinions, let's first have a look at what's in the ultrasonic frequencies coming out of DACs... Starting from facts, we can then perhaps come up with opinions.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

MUSINGS: Let's talk about Roon (1.6) and DSP speed... (And an example of a poor quality "hi-res" classical recording.)

I mentioned a few weeks back in a comment that these days I've been using Roon for my music library and playback. A few years ago, I tried out Roon 1.2 and while good, it just wasn't quite compelling yet at that time for my needs. For years I've been using Logitech Media Server (LMS) given that most of my devices had been Squeezebox-based until recently. It certainly serves the purpose well to this day and in fact, I still run it on my server. I'll discuss why later...

I trust that you've already read or seen videos of Roon in operation so there's no need to cover the program's basics. In fact, I think I covered quite a bit of ground already back in early 2017 with the demonstration of Roon 1.2 on an Intel NUC and then subsequently talking about the use of Roon Bridge with the Raspberry Pi 3.

Since that time, with the newer versions, the program has, as expected, gotten better with even more features, more powerful user interface, etc... I appreciate the better support with display of track names and various settings with the older VFD Squeezeboxes. DSP has been added as of version 1.3 with support for room correction, upsampling options for PCM and conversion to DSD for DACs supporting the feature. We might look at measurements of these options in future blog posts. Of course, there's now also the ability to perform the first (and IMO only meaningful) MQA "unfold" in software as of version 1.5; not that I'm a fan of MQA of course.

For today's post, I'll highlight a few of the key benefits, discuss CPU and DSP speed, ending with a few suggestions I would love to see in future versions...