Saturday, 24 July 2021

Mega-taps upsampling: Remastero's Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (PGGB) software. (Broadly on audiophile software & the noise boogeyman.)

This article came about after I received an E-mail from an audiophile friend who saw this Audiophile Style thread in praise of "math and magic". It links to a piece of software by a site called remastero, and the program itself is called "PGGB" (Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster), obviously referring to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy with the main author named Zaphod Beeblebrox (who in the book is also the ex-president of the Galaxy). Cute, and of course the number "42" features prominently here and there.

In the past, we have talked about "audiophile" software that supposedly affect sound quality. Years ago, we talked about bit-perfect players (Windows, Mac) and really how "bit-perfect" is simply "bit-perfect" regardless of what software is used. We discussed questionable programs like JPLAY. Then there are the OS tweaks like Fidelizer. Neither JPLAY nor Fidelizer made any difference in my testing or listening.

That is not to say software doesn't make a difference at all. With the computing power we have these days, we can certainly perform highly precise filtering and DSD-PCM transcoding - like with HQPlayer

The idea with PGGB is that this is software that will take (in batch) various tracks you have and convert these to upsampled versions like 24/384 or 32/705.6 or even higher. In the process, applying very strong filtering (eg. on the order of >200M-taps sinc filter for some of the tests we'll run here, very impressive big number, right?). Furthermore, the website states that the software can apply settings for various levels of "transparency", apply HF noise filtering, uses noise shaping, adjusts gain monitoring for intersample overs, deal with convolution filters, and an apodizing setting. That's a bit of stuff so I won't promise that we'll hit on all these here. My intent is to at least have a good look at the foundation of the upsampling effect and the EQ function.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Topping D10s - an inexpensive high performance basic USB DAC with S/PDIF outs. And on "perceptibly perfect" DACs.


Hey everyone, I suspect many of you have already seen or heard of the Topping D10s by now (~US$100-110 at time of writing). It has been out since spring/summer 2020, a DAC released during the early pandemic.

Basically, this is an update of the Topping D10 which I reviewed back in 2019 with change to the DAC chip from the ESS ES9018K2M to the ES9038Q2M with improved specs - lower noise, higher dynamic range, etc.

I bought this through the usual retail channels as I'm planning to give the D10 away to a family member. Let's have a deeper look and consider the implications of this change in the DAC chip to the overall performance.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Apple TV 4K, 2nd Generation (2021, A12 Bionic SoC, 6th Gen Apple TV): A look and listen (to "Spatial Audio" on Apple Music)...

So guys and gals, let's jump from the lo-tech "audiophile boutique" passive AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ last week to talk about something hi-tech this time.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I've been listening to some of the "Spatial Audio" music streaming off Apple Music these days. Easy to give it a shot with the 1-3 month trial period they're offering.

As I mentioned before, while I enjoy the content on headphones and can experience the difference Atmos streaming makes, as one who enjoys excellent high fidelity sound quality (ie. "audiophile"), the best, most natural way of listening to multichannel content is in the sound room where I have my multiple speakers set up. I have a modest surround system with the ELAC Debut 2.0 A4.2 Atmos speakers (previously measured) adding a bit of that height effect with Paradigm Signature S8 v.3 fronts, matching C3 center channel, full tower Studio 80 v.3 for rears and dual subs to make basically a 5.1.2 arrangement.

The trick with getting the multichannel content out to the room has to do with whether Apple Music allows the bitstream to pass through the playback device into the AV receiver that can handle Atmos. As I mentioned in that previous article, I can get the "bed" channels out (ie. 5.1, 4.0, etc...) using my wife's M1 MacBook Air running the recent macOS Big Sur release, but this is with the machine decoding the DD+ (E-AC3) + Atmos stream into 24/48 5.1 PCM sent to the receiver over HDMI.

For bitstream passthrough including the full Atmos encoding, at least at this point in time, the Apple TV works and let's talk about this box today for audio/home theater usage... As you can see above, I have the Apple TV 4K, Gen 2, 64GB here - this was released just recently April/May 2021 with the "A12 Bionic" 7nm SoC which actually was first used in the iPhone XS series back in late 2018. Certainly energy-efficient and plenty fast for non-multitasking media playback. If you don't need the storage, the 32GB model saves you US$20 - as usual, Apple has no SD card expansion for their devices. Internally, the machine has 3GB RAM.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Review of AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ. (And on Milind Kunchur's recent RCA vs. XLR paper.)

Hmmm... What does "LESS DIGITAL NOISE" actually mean? After all, noise that's bad enough to affect digital data will result in errors. Obviously, that would be very bad!

Normally, I don't review stuff like this because there's simply little reason to believe these kind of things do anything of value.

I know, this comes across as highly biased right at the start of a review post! But I want to be honest and I wasn't born yesterday so I know there are all kinds of claims in the audiophile world that simply do not pan out. Furthermore, I've had experience with the AudioQuest company (see the Dragonfly Cobalt / Red / V1.2 DAC review a few years back) and know that they have made claims which turn out to be untrue when tested.

Another admission going into this is that I was introduced to the AQ JitterBug back in 2015, and over the years I have seen other tests like the Audio Science Review thread from 2019. Having said this, I am happy to be swayed if I truly hear a difference or measurements show me that I should change my mind.

So, when a local audiophile friend bought the new AudioQuest Jitterbug FMJ ["Full Metal Jacket" - cute] (~US$60, released mid-May 2021) and suggested I borrow it for a week as he went on vacation, I figured it would be fair to give it a try and see if I can run some measurements to provide data to audiophiles at large on this update to the product. I promised him that I would give him my honest opinion.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

MEASUREMENTS: 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear Headphones (H1707) with wired remote & microphone. And on Galen Gareis / Iconoclast Cables interview recently.

Alright folks, on the test bench this week is the 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear Headphones (let's just shorten name to 3DOE). If you've seen this headphone over the years (released around Christmas time 2018), you'll probably know that we need to clarify a couple of things.

First, they're not actually "over-ear" as in truly "circumaural" headphones. The earpads/cups are not big and unless you really have small pinnae, will sit "partially circumaural" with portions against the pinnae like supraaural designs.

Secondly, it's more of a "dual" driver design rather than "triple". There are 2 active drivers - a graphene-coated 36mm mylar dynamic driver, and a 10mm ceramic/piezoelectric driver for treble. The third "driver" is the passive "bass reflector", much like speaker passive radiators but inside a closed headphone reinforcing a certain amount of bass response.

The silver model like the one I have here is the graphene-coated version. There is also a gold-colored version out there which is a titanium driver without the graphene layer. I've seen comments that the sound is similar between the two versions. This one was bought through the regular Amazon retail channel (on sale for <US$150) and as far as I can tell, is the current model with an inline remote control plus microphone good for use with your smartphone.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

SUMMER MUSINGS: Surround sound to the masses! In support of 3D Audio / Dolby Atmos in music streaming (Apple "Spatial Audio")...

Hey guys and gals, this week I thought I'd take a break from measurements and observe what's going on in the audio, audiophile, and streaming world these days. I noticed some discussions and even concern among music listeners around Atmos and Apple Music's drive towards "spatialized" streaming.

As audiophiles, let's think and talk about this for a bit.

First, let's do a quick background recap so we're all on the same page...

Saturday, 12 June 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Pass Labs / First Watt SIT-2 stereo Class A amplifier. [And Stereophile steps in with MQA yet again...]


Greetings all. For this post, as you can see above, I've got something exotic to review / measure here at chez Archimago. It's a Pass Labs / First Watt SIT-2 stereo amplifier which was made in limited quantities back around 2011-2013.

This amplifier comes with a nice backstory; that of the silicon carbide (SiC) "Static Induction Transistor" which you can read about here (aka V-FET). The thought is that these transistors behave in a "triode-like" manner, hence perhaps they will be able to convey a "tube-like" sound. Furthermore, this device follows the general audiophile philosophy of "simplicity and minimalism" (quoted from the manual) as principles that would result in a device sounding "good". As such, this amplifier has only a single SIT gain stage, operates in Class A, built with minimal components, employs no feedback, and as expected, accepts single-ended input only.

Online I found this user manual and Japanese product flier for those wanting a bit more information from the company. The cost of this amplifier when it first came out was around US$5000.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: (Mass)Drop + HiFiMan HE-4XX Planar Magnetic Headphones (with Brainwavz XL Round Hybrid earpads). Maintenance if the earcup detaches.

Well, as I've mentioned previously, I don't really need more headphones. ;-) Alas, I could not resist picking up these minty Drop + HIFIMAN HE-4XX Planar Magnetics locally used at a price I could not refuse! I also love how they look with the classic headband. The matte "midnight blue" color looks like a dark charcoal with a subtle powder bluish tinge.

I know there have been different opinions on the build quality of these headphones. Some of the early units had issues with right-left imbalance, driver failures, and broken hinges. According to this post, it looks like replacements with serial number 5XXX have many issues fixed. My unit here has serial number 57XX.

The hinge where it interfaces with the headband feels robust on this unit and I think the build quality is very good. The steel gimbal and metal sliders seem like they will be able to hold up to daily use. No complaints there. I did have an issue with the part interfacing the ear cup which I'll discuss below.

The stock cable is a little short for my taste at around 5'/1.5m (6' would be better for my desktop use). Notice that the cable is angled 90°, terminated with a 3.5mm connector which is fine for mobile use. I think a straight cable would have been preferred since most buyers would likely be using these open headphones at home almost exclusively. I like the soft, pliable nature of the cable although I have read some complaints that it can kink and fail. I don't think there's an issue, replacements are not expensive anyway.

Friday, 28 May 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: (Anthony) Gallo Acoustics A'Diva Ti (~2005) & Nucleus Micro Speakers (~2000).

Hey ladies and gents, let's switch from discussing headphones this week and have a look and listen at some speakers.

You've probably seen speakers like the ones above over the years. These are the "iconic" Gallo Acoustics A'Diva Ti speakers from the UK. These specific ones are probably something like 16 years old and the 5" diameter A'Diva orb (with 3" driver) is in fact the larger of the 2 speakers from Gallo we'll be talking about today.

Here's the smaller 4" diameter (also 3" driver) little brother - the Nucleus Micro. Note that this is the "non-Ti" version which is from the previous generation, made around year 2000 with presumably a different driver. Unlike the stainless steel protective grille of the A'Diva, the fabric grille is easily removed for photography:

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Modding the Dekoni Blue ("Arch-Mod5"). Streaming audio: Apple Music to be "true hi-res lossless" stereo with multichannel (Atmos) in June.

A couple weeks back, I measured the Dekoni Blue headphone which as I noted, is itself a "modded" Fostex T50RP Mk 3 planar-magnetic (aka "Regular Phase", aka "isodynamic") headphone. It would be completely remiss of me if in a review/discussion of the Dekoni/Fostex I were not to spend some time talking about modding!

Modding has an very long tradition in the 'head-fi' world and I think it's been generally recognized that the Fostex headphones are the classic headphones to perform surgeries on. Much of what I'll be talking about here will be nothing new to those deep into this stuff already. For more on modding, check out this Headphonesty article for a background.

To start, as always, we need a plan and a "vision". As I mentioned in the last article, the Dekoni Blue sounds pretty good for the most part, so my job isn't to change the performance completely, but to rather refine what is there. If a headphone sound highly objectionable, one should really just move on and buy something else! Let's review the measurements I published last time for the Dekoni Blue with the supplied earpads and see what we can try...

Saturday, 15 May 2021

MEASUREMENTS: AKG Q701 "Quincy Jones Signature" (2012) & AKG K260 (vintage 1987-1988). And recent interviews with audiophile cable/power people [Shunyata / AudioQuest].

For today's post, let's have a listen and look at the two AKG headphone models above separated by about 25 years in age. On the left we have the AKG Q701 "Quincy Jones" Signature Reference-Class Premium Headphone which was released in 2011. I bought this one (I preferred the black rather than some of the funky colors like neon green) in late 2012.

On the right, we have a rather uncommon AKG K260 - first edition released in 1987-1988, borrowed from my friend linnrd locally. A later versions of this headphone was relabeled with the "Professional" name attached. There's also a Philips version from back in the day using AKG as OEM. This particular one here is used but still in good condition which I cleaned up a bit before more critical listening and measurements.

Notice the "AKG look" with the leather or faux-leather headbands and the thin plastic/metal semicircular arches up top.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Dekoni Blue ("Approved" Fostex T50RP Mk 3 mod). And the importance of the room for hi-fi reviews (Wilson Chronosonic XVX speakers in Stereophile).

As you can see in the image above and might know already, these are essentially Fostex T50RP Mk 3 headphones which have been out since 2015. In 2018, the Dekoni company (which makes aftermarket headphone pads and accessories mainly) decided to make a licensed version of the Fostex with their own earpads and blue esthetics - hence the Dekoni Blue (~US$250). If you want a little more background, here's Dekoni's "Short Essay..." on the product.

If you've used Fostex headphones before, I think you'll appreciate that the stock ear pads are thin and rather uncomfortable so upgraded earpads are mandatory for long-term use. When I got these, it was less expensive that a new Fostex + upgraded earpads.