Saturday, 15 February 2020

MEASUREMENTS & LISTENING: Topping D30 DAC by Greg Dunn. (And briefly, more USB cable nonsense.)


[Ed: Every once awhile, it's a pleasure to have guest posters adding their voice to this blog! There are many folks out there doing measurements, experiments, and I've certainly been in contact with a number of audiophiles with great stories about the gear they have, music they love, and the audiophile pursuit in general!

A few weeks back, Greg got in touch with me around the Topping D30 DAC that he has. This DAC was brought up in comment discussions back in 2018. The D30 measured quite well on Audio Science Review, but has been blasted as subjectively sounding bad - "like ass" as it were - on the Super Best Audio Friends forum. Elsewhere in that SBAF comment thread, the D30 was described as having "poor soundstage and poor timbre".

With this polarization of opinion, it's great to see Greg stepping up with his own opinion based on objective testing and subjective listening... Take it away, Greg!]

Saturday, 8 February 2020

DIY: Archimago's Colorful Set of Speaker Cables. (And about that Darko/McGowan "EXPERT" interview on USB cables & other claims.)


While it's probably perilous to guess which cables "make the most difference" (just look at the different opinions here), arguably, other than very-low-voltage phono cables that can pick up interference easily, I'm guessing that speaker cables probably can make the most difference in a sound system on account of longer lengths and the fact that speakers are low impedance devices. As a result, the additional resistance, inductance, and capacitance of speaker cables may be relevant to performance.

Furthermore, in extreme cases one could run into systemic instabilities, for example years ago the Polk Cobra cable was called an "amp killer" on account of high capacitance and very low inductance. This Nelson Pass article from back in 1980 listed that cable as having 500pF/ft capacitance and discussed the need for a damping network to avoid high-frequency oscillation with high bandwidth amplifiers. Clearly sometimes the amplifier might "see" the difference a cable introduces even if anomalies are inaudible.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

MEASUREMENTS: Do power cables make a difference with audio amplifiers?


Alright guys, as you probably know, here at the Musings, I'm not in general a "cable believer". This doesn't mean I'm a "cable denier", after all, I need them in order to hear something from the system :-). Over the years I have written about silly cable claims, and here's the summary post looking at all the cable varieties I've measured (I will of course include this article in there as well).

With measurements dating back to 2013, I have neither heard nor seen any evidence to compel me to recant my opinions on this matter. Furthermore, I have not seen any new articles exploring the topic with any kind of depth in the audiophile press. No audio cable company has produced material demonstrating a believable, sonic benefits for their $$$$ products. Despite countless ads in magazines, I see a lack of accountability from the mainstream press to investigate; it's really just about maintaining the status quo and promoting sales of high-margin luxury products as far as I can tell. No magazine wants to purposely publish stuff that results in loss of advertising revenue from a whole segment of products, right?

Up to now, the power cable measurements I've published have been with low-power devices (ie. measuring DAC output quality with different power cables), but what happens with higher current demands, when the device needs >100W from the wall socket? In the last few months, since I've been working on amplifier measurements, I have had the opportunity to try measuring power amplifier output using different power cables.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

INTERNET BLIND TEST: Is high Harmonic Distortion in music audible? (plus Pet Shop Boys' newest, HRA needs HDR)


Another year, another Internet Blind Test, my friends! For me, doing this is important because it keeps us honest. It's worth reading this article in Audioholics published recently for an overview of the complexity of perception. I believe it's essential that audiophiles have an opportunity to participate in exercises of perception which I hope can enlighten ourselves and in aggregate, enlighten each other.

It's good to capture naturalistic data of audiophiles "in the wild" on top of information we may read from the "ivory tower" of Academia and profit-motive driven claims from Industry. Arguably, this is some of the most useful data. We can for example quite easily measure amazing levels of performance these days from our devices, but if we never correlate this to audibility, the data says nothing about relevance to humans, which at the end of the day is the only intent of these devices!

If you remember, last year we did the "Do digital audio players sound different?" test (the results systematically discussed starting here). This time around, in late 2019, Paul K [aka pkane] (who also wrote DeltaWave) contacted me to try out the early builds of his new software called "Distort"; aptly named software that allows us to purposely introduce anomalies into audio data. Among a number of distortions one could introduce is the one we've all heard off - harmonic distortion.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

MEASUREMENTS: Hypex nCore NC252MP Amplifier (+ Subjective opinions around objective testing, and CES2020)


Alright, you knew this was coming from the post last week with assembly details for this amp.

As discussed, this is an easily assembled single-board OEM Class D stereo amplifier rated at 150Wrms into 8Ω, 250W into 4Ω, and 180W into 2Ω. The enclosure comes from Ghent Audio. The amplifier is based on the Hypex nCore "phase shift controlled self-oscillating loop" design.

Let's run this box through my usual MOAR testbench as previously described and see what kind of data we get. In general for these tests, the signal path for measurements looks like this:
RME ADI-2 Pro FS AKM DAC (signal generator) --> XLR --> Douk/Nobsound NS-05P passive attenuator --> XLR --> Hypex NC252MP amplifier --> Test leads --> BNC unbalanced input of Linear Audio Autoranger MK II --> Balanced TRS/XLR --> RME ADI-2 Pro ADC --> USB --> Surface Pro 3 laptop
I'll also have some oscilloscope measurements where the test leads will be directed towards the oscilloscope instead of Autoranger and RME ADI-2 Pro.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

An Inexpensive Hi-Fi Class-D Stereo Amp for the 2020's: Hypex nCore NC252MP (DIY Assembly)


Happy 2020 everyone!

A few months ago, I saw this video on YouTube that got me thinking about just putting together an amplifier to start off the decade of the 2020's. That project in the video involved the use of Bang & Olufsen's ICEPower 200ASC and 200AC modules, good Class D amps which I agree should sound great and certainly a worthy project!

But I wanted something potentially even better. Let's put together an amplifier that should perform with even less distortion, somewhat higher power, and this can be done even easier because you don't even need to string two boards together! "Better" does come with a little higher cost, but not that much more.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Visiting an audiophile friend: Avantgarde UNO 2.1, KEF LS50, Tannoy 501A, and Spendor SA1. Merry Christmas & Happy 2020's...

[2020-01 - Update... The active Tannoy speaker was originally listed as the "401A". In fact it's the "501A". Text and graphics changed...]

One of the joys of writing an audiophile blog is the opportunity to meet some interesting people in this hobby over the years! Here in Vancouver, there's no audiophile special interest group or club I'm aware of. As a result, connections are made through receiving E-mails or private messages once awhile by locals to hang out, check out gear, and listen to tunes together...

After meeting up in person a few months back, I paid one of these local audiophiles (who shall remain anonymous :-) a visit at home to check out his main system:


As you can see, he's got quite the pair of speakers and clearly his wife is highly accommodating to his audiophile "needs" ;-).

Saturday, 14 December 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Emotiva XPA-1L (Gen 1) Class AB Balanced Monoblock

Let's continue measuring some amplifiers I have here at home. Today, we're going to get a bit more serious with fidelity into the "audiophile" level. Of course I'm using the term "audiophile" here for fun since audiophilia often does not equate with high-fidelity; but who else uses monoblock amps at home except for audiophiles!?

Here's a single 35lb Emotiva XPA-1L "Gen 1" monoblock which I bought back in 2013, a few months after it was released. Far from the most expensive monoblock amplifier out there, costing a "mere" MSRP US$699 each:


This is one of two I have in use as my reference amplifier for many years now. There's not much to see on the rear - speaker outputs, both RCA and XLR inputs (toggle switch to select), IEC power connector, 12V in/out trigger (can daisy chain a few devices) and main power switch. In the front, we have the large round Emotiva switch to turn on from sleep mode, a single LED that turns red when running diagnostics or if there's a fault, and blue as above when fully on. Notice that there is a switch just above the etched serial number to set it to either "standard" Class AB mode or the special Class A high bias mode which is a selling point for this amp that we'll of course talk about. When the switch is toggled to "A", it operates at Class A for up to the first 35W into 8Ω.

Over the years, I have seen a couple of (p)reviews from Audioholics and The Poor Audiophile, but have not seen any independent measurements of the output quality.

From late 2014 until they discontinued this model (not sure when), Emotiva also made the "Gen 2" model which cosmetically looked slightly different with black instead of silver side trims. I believe internally they also made some changes which were more about cost-cutting than affecting the sound quality.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Redscape and Creative Super X-Fi Amp: Headphone Virtualization

Thought I'd take a little break this week from all the amplifier discussions recently and post on something rather different!


I enjoy headphone listening... But not as much as actual speakers in an actual room :-). I see headphones more as a tool for detailed listening, and will reach for them out of necessity when I'm on the road or for private listening. Otherwise, I would much prefer to be enjoying the sound from my speakers.

Beyond typical reasons such as comfort (no matter how comfortable, I'm just not a fan of things touching the ears or around the head), a big part of the issue is that headphones have never sounded natural to me. Subjectively, the "inside the head" sound, while I can get used to, just isn't an experience that I find particularly pleasurable. A reason I bought the Sennheiser HD800 a number of years back was because it was said that these headphones were capable of projecting sound so that the experience was more outside the cranium. Alas, if one is expecting any headphone to do this well, there will be inevitable disappointment; unless you're applying some kind of playback processing like crossfeed, the physics will not permit such a thing. As a result, I am intrigued by ways of making that head-fi experience more life-like which is what the products today can potentially do.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Onkyo TX-NR1009 "WRAT" AV Receiver Class AB Amplifier... Plus Pi / LP / Resolution miscellany.

I currently have 3 AV receivers here at home. The Denon AVR-3802 is my oldest machine, purchased back in 2001 and being used in the living room for stereo playback. My newer Yamaha RX-V781 (2016) is currently in use for movie playback with Atmos/dts:X decoding. This leaves the Onkyo TX-NR1009 (2011 model) that I bought used in 2013 which has actually been sitting unused for the last few years mainly because it's an older HDMI 1.4 device which did not support full 4K/HDR/60fps switching:


It's a shame because I think of the 3 receivers, subjectively this is probably the best sounding (no blind test done, just a suspicion), has the highest power rating (135W into 8Ω, 1kHz, 1%), THX Select2 Plus certified, can amplify 9 channels (9.2 decoding), and when new, was also the most expensive of the three. I'm sure at some point I'll find a use for this 41 pound monster - maybe if/when the old Denon breaks down :-).

I don't think anyone can fault the external build quality which also looks quite handsome. Onkyo did unfortunately have some electronics failure issues with this generation of receivers however and back around 2016, I sent this unit back to them for an HDMI board replacement (here's a thread on the issue a few years back).

For this post, I think it would be interesting to explore the sound quality of this device as a 2-channel amplifier (especially compared to the little Yeeco TI TPA3116 amp last week). It'll give us an idea of how well a good receiver could perform and give us a peek at a modern Class AB device sitting in the higher end of the consumer price ladder (Class AB receiver amplifier designs have not changed that much in the last number of years). These days a similar tier THX model with equivalent power would be the newer Onkyo TX-NR1030 and TX-RZ1100.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Yeeco TI TPA3116 Class D Amplifier (aka Nobsound NS-01G, Douk Audio F900S, Mogu F900S)

As I posted back in June of this year, we can get inexpensive little amplifiers these days based on Class D chips such as the TI TPA3116D2 (first released in 2012) which is what is inside the device here:

Yeeco TPA3116 amp being probed... Notice that input is through the AUX phono jack in front from the RME DAC.
As you can see, I have a "Yeeco" branded device but these are produced in China and will come in a number of brands like the Nobsound NS-01G from Douk Audio, and other names like Fac"Mogu" discussed in this review and here's Z Review with an older version.

I mentioned in the previous post that once I have the amplifier measurement rig going I was going to have a look at the output from this little amplifier. I figure this would be a good device to start with using the MOAR amplifier procedure described last time.

So what does US$30 buy us in terms of sound quality in 2019?!

Saturday, 16 November 2019

The "Measurement Of Amplifiers Rig" (MOAR): Standard Tests, Loopback results, and the AMOAR Score.

While I'm not a huge fan of acronyms, sometimes one just needs to make something up for ease of reference; hence the "Measurement Of Amplifiers Rig" or MOAR ;-) for short to refer to this system which I'm going to attempt to characterize today:

Running loopback tests.
As you can see, it's a conglomeration of hardware components which will allow me to collect amplifier measurements relatively quickly and I believe with good quality results based on my own testing over the last number of weeks (in fact I've been mulling over much of this for months even before the Linear Audio Autoranger was fully up and running). A hobbyist project to be sure, and one that audiophiles and DIY folks can come up with variants of and try out.

Of course, a measurement system isn't just about bits of hardware but also the software that can be used, the thought behind various tests we can run, and most importantly, a standard procedure that can be followed to ensure that devices are measured consistently and can be reliably replicated here on my test bench and elsewhere with similar equipment. As with most testing, I wanted to find a way to quantify performance, consider what is reasonably "true to life", borrow from tradition for comparison purposes, as well as emphasize aspects I find important. Hence this post will hopefully provide adequate details around a "standard battery" for what will be posted here in the days ahead.