Sunday, 19 August 2018

Local Audio Store Visits: Liquid Sound, Vancouver. (And engagement with high-end audio dealerships...)

Well, it is summer and today I thought I'd post something a little "lighter", "softer" and I think more typical of audiophile blogs :-).

I was thinking the other day, I'm fortunate to be living in Vancouver where despite the decrease in brick & mortar hi-fi audio stores over the decades, there are still a number of stores in town that have listening rooms and show off some high quality equipment. In fact, I live less than 10 minutes away from the Headphone Bar (article on Inner Fidelity a few weeks ago). Over the years, I've also talked about local places like Hi-Fi Centre and Commercial Electronics - both about 30 minutes away. If I head in a somewhat different direction from home, further west, we get to Liquid Sound along West 10th Ave.

Obviously, based on my writings, tests and listening, I have a "more objective" take on the audiophile hobby than the "mainstream". I have not seen any large polls but I suspect that the number of audiophiles who appreciate objective analysis might be rather significant.

There is something to be said about knowing about the local dealers and having the opportunity to visit, see, feel, and hear the latest on offer out there. Likewise, I think the local dealers need to check the "pulse" of the audiophile hobby and appreciate the demographic characteristics especially as the typical Baby Boomer audiophiles age. This IMO includes engaging the "more objective" folks who might be more than a little turned off by obvious hype and pseudoscience.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

DEMO / MUSINGS: Let's listen to some jitter simulations with sideband distortions...

A couple weeks ago, we started getting into the topic of jitter and the concept of whether jitter is audible and at what level. As I had expressed at that time, my belief based on experience with the equipment I have looked at / listened to is that with almost any reasonable modern day digital audio device, the likelihood that one would hear sampling jitter effects is extremely unlikely. No need for crazy expensive cables that claim jitter improvements. No need for high-priced servers (like this), expensive streamers, or "de-jitter"/"reclock"/"regen" devices. But one of course does want to have a good DAC with excellent jitter rejection, and these days, competent asynchronous USB devices almost universally will achieve excellent results by reducing jitter from the interface (remember, the older S/PDIF digital interfaces typically perform worse than modern USB or ethernet even though newer devices like the Oppo UDP-205 perform excellently with any of the inputs).

The reason I say this comes not just from measurements and my own listening to devices with different severities of sampling jitter, but also experimentation over the years in simulating the distortions introduced by jitter.

As I mentioned last time, with Yamamoto2002-san's WWAudioFilter, we can easily use DSP to introduce fixed amounts of sinusoidal periodic jitter to "bake in" the kinds of sideband anomalies often found with devices that suffer from jitter. For today's post, what I want to do is provide some test files you can use to actually hear what severe jitter distortions with sideband anomalies sound like. Think of this post as similar to one years ago when I demonstrated what poor USB cables sound like.

Furthermore, coming out of this article, I hope the audiophile reader can appreciate the magnitude of jitter that is necessary in order for the effect to become audible. In so doing, I hope it will help us appreciate the results from the J-Test FFT's I publish here and also when you look at measurements elsewhere (like on Stereophile).

Friday, 3 August 2018

"MQA-CD x UHQCD" Listening Test by Agitater.

[Editor's Note: As you may have read in the last few months, there is a new variety of "MQA-CDs" released into the wild. Here in the West, we have seen the new release by Steve Reich Pulse/Quartet contain MQA encoding (playback FFT commented on here). In Japan, a series of MQA-CDs have made their way into public hands from Warner, called "MQA x UHQCD" (UHQCD stands for Ultimate HiQuality CD) which is basically a combination of MQA encoding + "better material" on what is still basically a standard "compatible" CD with 16/44.1 PCM data at premium prices. I guess this kind of thing still interests Japanese audiophiles!?

Techmoan did a review of these which IMO missed the mark as the reviewer clearly does not understand the limitations of MQA itself and believes it really is a "high resolution format" which is IMO false as previously discussed. He also used a glitching portion of Brothers In Arms as a gauge that the MQA-CD sounds "better" through the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 rather than normal playback (clearly the MQA decoding and filtering changed the output amplitude on the Box - the MQA playback sounded louder).

Techmoan's video did not really compare actual CDs already on sale for years with these new MQA/UHQCDs using higher quality equipment - he just used a computer setup and headphones, obviously having trouble getting things working. To "fix" this situation, here's Agitater and his buddies on Steve Hoffman's Forum! With his permission, I've posted in full his detailed listening sessions conducted with audiophile friends on very high quality systems. Slight editing with headings added for the blog format. A beautiful write-up that just had to be shared and not get lost within a message forum!]


Asked and answered . . . Here are my music listening group's listening notes and conclusions about the following four UHQ/MQA-CD releases. The albums are, in order below Moanin' by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Blind Faith the eponymous album by the early supergroup Blind Faith, Getz/Gilberto by the studio trio of Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Aja by Steely Dan.

Here's the DAC. It's a MyTek Brooklyn DAC+ with fully switchable MQA filter. Note the little, blue MQA indicator light. It was used in all of the listening sessions in a variety of systems, and acquitted itself brilliantly. Note that one of many peeves related to MQA DAC implementations is that the MQA filter can't be turned off and is applied to all streams including non-MQA (standard?) CDs. MyTek made its licensing deal with MQA, obviously, but in the process has retained its own superb filters. That's my Benchmark DAC3 HGC (unused in these listening sessions) below the Brooklyn DAC+.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Quick Review: Inexpensive Spigen Legato Arc wireless Bluetooth headphone with aptX. And an attempt at "getting through"! (Magazines & blogs nothing more than audio Industry advertising?)

As I head off camping for the week, I thought I'd mention an inexpensive impulse buy the other day... Something to consider if you're thinking of getting into wireless Bluetooth headphones on a minimum budget. For ~$US60 (hmm, I just saw it's currently ~$70), here's the Spigen Legato Arc wireless headphone with aptX:

Comes with a couple sets of extra ear pieces in the bag (large, small), charging microUSB cable and manual. Notice that I extracted the left ear piece in the picture while the right side is compactly retracted.
I was in fact able to grab this for ~$30 on Amazon Prime Day recently (hence impulse buy :-).

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Summer Update! Huawei Matebook X Pro, Western Digital Gold HDD, and jitter simulation.

Well guys and gals, hope you're having a great summer (or winter as the case may be!). The weather here is certainly conducive to taking it easy and just enjoying the music instead of thinking much about the audiophile hobby apart from short comment/forum posts.

But tech things are happening in the background :-). Really exciting things as well which I'll discuss more in the days ahead. For today, I just wanted to discuss a couple changes / acquisitions this month...

Saturday, 7 July 2018

MUSINGS: Zen and the Art of High Fidelity Audio. On transparency, in response to "Measuring Emotional Connections to Music".

Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities, the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.     --Thomas Jefferson
I ran into this article on Inner Fidelity: "Measuring emotional connections to music" penned by Rafe Arnott & Vinnie Rossi the other week that got me thinking about the hobby and the different "sensibilities" of those who partake and who write.

As you know, recently, I measured and discussed the sound of the Oppo UDP-205 player/DAC. I said that the device is "transparent". I believe that this is an important aspect to focus on because it touches right at the heart of the ideas and philosophies expressed in the article. Today, let's explore the themes brought out in that article a bit. As you can imagine, I come at audio from another perspective compared to Mr. Arnott and Rossi.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

MUSINGS: Thoughts on audio device "modding" (eg. a tube modded Oppo BDP-105). [New Oppo UDP-205 firmware out with MQA USB-B...]

Couldn't resist the similarity :-). I'm sure the sonic output of both devices have been affected by the modifications! Notice that this Oppo is also sitting on a "Base" device that IMO is very much of the Dubiousness Class A variety...
Have a seat and let me tell you a tale, my friends. A number of years ago (summer 2013), around the time I started this blog, I had the opportunity to check out an interesting device that a friend had just received... It was a "tube modded" Oppo BDP-105 Blu-Ray player.

One afternoon, I went over to this friend's house to have a listen to this brand new device. He obviously spent quite a bit of money on it. The BDP-105 at that time was new and had an MSRP of US$1200. He is clearly an enthusiast so he "drop shipped" an unopened brand new player to the mod-shop and it came back to him with tube sockets for the analogue stage along with a fancy new external power supply. As you would expect, the modding itself being laborious, hand-assembled, and using premium parts was rather costly - about twice the price of the Oppo.

That afternoon, I had the opportunity to hook up my old test kit (with the Creative E-MU 0404 ADC) to the device to grab a few measurements. Since another friend already had a stock BDP-105 for me to listen to and measure, it allowed me to compare the results...

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Oppo UDP-205 Part 3: Jitter, some conclusions, discussions, and suggestions.

We've reached the last of the "trilogy" measurement posts I'm planning to make on the Oppo UDP-205 (at least for now!). We've already examined some "microscopic" measurements like the oscilloscope reading of square waves, talked about the filter settings and relative differences. Then we've looked at the RightMark measurements demonstrating excellent low noise level, low distortion readings, good frequency responses, and minimum crosstalk across the different outputs.

With this post, let's have a look at the J-Test results from the various outputs to make sure there are no issues, and of course in the process examine temporal stability with the various digital inputs including USB, ethernet, S/PDIF, HDMI, and of course as a CD player. We will then close off with some general thoughts, suggestions, and opinions around this device and broader about the features that might be worth pursuing in audiophilia.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Oppo UDP-205 Part 2: Frequency Response, Noise and Distortion Levels. (Plus a look at the new v60 beta firmware.)

Let's continue today with the measurements of the Oppo UDP-205 as started a few weeks back when I looked at the digital filter settings and output levels for this device.

As promised, this time we're going to dive into some RightMark measurements of this device looking at the quality from the different analogue outputs, whether the digital inputs make a difference and we'll even explore a little around multi-channel.

As I noted in the preview, this device is based on the ESS ES9038Pro DAC, currently the "top of the line" reference DAC available from ESS. The results here I think would be interesting by providing comparisons with other DACs such as with the previously measured Oppo BDP-105.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

MUSINGS: Why Do People Equate High End Audio with Snake Oil? [And McGill MQA Study Summary]

I ran into this video post by Paul McGowan a few weeks back... "Why do people equate high end with snake oil?" (Start at 3:00 to skip past the chat on building their studio...)

Interesting discussion I guess...

If you do a search for the words "snake oil" on this blog, you'll see that I typically don't use the term much in my writings. But we do find it used in the forums and in discussions online. It's certainly not uncommon for people to express opinions that certain marketed audio devices or components belong to this understandably maligned category of product.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Oppo UDP-205 Part 1: Output levels and digital filter settings... (And a few words about recent Munich 2018 MQA interview videos, McGill listening test out.)

Well guys, with this post, I'll begin a multipart look at the Oppo UDP-205 4K Blu-Ray player as an audio component "more objectively". Clearly, as I presented in the preview a couple weeks back, the UDP-205 is very much a device created to appeal not only to videophiles but audiophiles. Why else would Oppo go the extra mile and use dual "reference" ESS ES9038Pro Sabre DACs, provide 2-channel asynchronous USB 2.0 input, both multichannel and stereo analogue outputs plus balanced XLR? It even provides a secondary HDMI 1.4 "audio" output for lower jitter to an external DAC compared to the higher spec HDMI 2.0 which is of course a necessity for 4K/60fps/HDR video; something that I have not seen before. IMO, for home video purposes as a 4K player, the UDP-203 would in fact be very much sufficient - the upgrades found on the UDP-205 are primarily for those who want elevated audio performance. We'll look at whether this is true through these objective measurements.

For the post today, let's start with a few of the "microscopic" measurements that I typically put devices through. The reason I'm breaking measurements into multiple parts is because there are so many ways you could use this device! You could spin disks and make this a CD/DVD-A/SACD/BluRay-Audio player. Hook it up to a streamer/computer through the USB 2.0 interface. Use HDMI input for multichannel audio decoding. Of course it could be used as a S/PDIF DAC with TosLink or coaxial inputs. How about use it as a DLNA/UPnP streamer (works fine with JRiver, even 5.1 multichannel FLAC)? We'll look at bits and pieces in the performance of this device over the next while, concluding in a general assessment of quality and shortcomings once all is said and done...

Sunday, 27 May 2018

REVIEW: Sony HAP-S1 [by Allan Folz]

Editor's Note:
Life has been extremely hectic over the last few weeks! As a result I am extremely grateful that some fellow hobbyists like Raoul Trifan a couple weeks ago and this week Allan Folz have been able to dream up some relevant content for me :-).

For the post this week, Allan has worked on a review and discussion for the Sony HAP-S1 high-resolution audio player with integrated hard drive storage. I appreciate Allan's honest look at the device, discuss real-world situations, benefits, blemishes and quirks encountered, and by the end, provide a thorough pros/cons evaluation. Enjoy!

Sony HAP-S1 Review
Guest Post
by Allan Folz