Saturday, 21 November 2020

On "Measurements, Listening, and What Matters in Audio" by Robert E. Greene, with unfortunate Robert Harley "counterpoint".

It has been a busy week, so alas, I didn't get a chance to finish some recent measurements in time for the weekend. Will aim for next week!

The other day, I read Robert E. Greene's editorial on The Absolute Sound's webpage titled "Measurements, Listening, and What Matters in Audio". Nice, I didn't think I would ever read such coherent introspection in those (virtual) pages. Probably also one of the first times I have seen the mainstream audio press willing to consider the "beginning of audio wisdom" (hat tip to Proverbs). Of course, seeking wisdom plus achieving a more rational basis in this hobby are overarching themes in many of the articles on this blog. So too, Greene's reference to concentrating on the "fundamentals", the foundation of acoustics whether it be in the production chain (ie. "microphones") or the reproduction/perception system (ie. especially "speakers and their room interactions") are not unfamiliar to readers here - we covered some of this earlier this year. Absolutely agree, Dr. Greene, including the part about "I think that almost everything in audio can be explained by measurements" is a fair and in these days, a very safe statement to make.

Wishing you good health.

Now as for Robert Harley's "counterpoint". Oh my... Surely Harley's ramblings cannot be the last words on this topic because clearly there are issues!

Saturday, 14 November 2020

MEASUREMENTS: S.M.S.L. SA300 - Infineon MERUS-based Class D desktop amplifier. (Screwed up New York Times - Wirecutter/Butterworth measurements/review?! And Klipsch on TIM.)

"BAS" on screen indicates I'm using the bass-boost EQ here.

Today, let's have a look at the little SMSL SA300 desktop amplifier I'm showing above sitting beside the Topping DX3 Pro V2 DAC (previously measured and reviewed here).

As mentioned previously, I found myself in the position of needing to update my computer workstation desktop speaker system. I figured, instead of staying with powered/active speakers, since I do have a few bookshelf speakers around the home, why not try some passives on the desktop as well?

While active speakers are great in that the built-in amplifiers and transducers can be well-matched and optimized, the ability to "mix-n-match" passive speakers while opening up the potential to upgrade amplifiers I think is fun for the hobbyist. As such, I found myself drawn to getting a small low-power Class D amplifier like this.

Since the amplifier will likely be left on 24/7, I wanted something that's highly efficient but provides adequate power. This SMSL device internally is powered by the Infineon Technologies MERUS MA12070 Class D amplifier which uses their "multi-level" modulation such that the switching output can have half-voltage levels which adds an extra level of control and power savings. The device is rated to provide up to 2x30W continuous into 8Ω or 2x80W into 4Ω but realize this is with 10% THD+N. What will be more interesting to me is how much power is available into something like 4Ω with ≤0.1% THD+N, and the noise this switching device produces. Let's see if this amp lives up to hopes of "high-fidelity" playback...

Saturday, 31 October 2020

qSpins: AudioEngine A2 & Edifier S2000 Mk III 2-Way Bookshelf Speakers

Hi everyone, thought I'd just publish a couple of "qSpins" today as I might be away for a little bit to attend to other duties in the next couple weeks.

In the last while, I've been looking at getting another pair of speakers on my computer workstation desktop. Here's basically what my desktop speaker system has looked like for years:

Saturday, 24 October 2020

MUSINGS/HOW-TO: Raspberry Pi 4 "Touch" Audio Streamer, and CRAAP settings! ;-) The decline of public feedback, virtual showrooms, value-added content and Darko Audio?

Left - Raspberry Pi 4B, Right - Raspberry Pi 3B. Heatsinks installed on both boards.

Back in August, I wrote an update on building and running the of Raspberry Pi "Touch" audio streamer with RoPieee software. The article was still written with the Raspberry Pi 3B(+) in mind.

Well, on Prime Day recently, I was able to get a Raspberry Pi 4, 4GB "Starter Kit" for a price I could not resist. It's nice to have all the parts including the appropriately sized heatsinks, ready-to-use microSD card, and 5V/3A USB-C power supply. For now, I have no need for the Pi 4 case and the micro-HDMI cables can go in my box of miscellaneous cables.

For audio streaming purposes, a basic 2GB Pi 4 kit (<US$55) would be even cheaper and works just as well. Given the minimal difference in cost, no point going with a 1GB model although that would still be fine - remember the Pi 3 was limited to 1GB. There is also an 8GB Pi 4 but that's a huge amount of memory for just an audio streaming "appliance"!

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Musings/Measurements: quasi-Spinorama "qSpin" & the KEF LS50 bookshelf loudspeaker...

Auditioning the KEF LS50 Black Edition, powered by SMSL SA300 Class D amp on computer workstation.

With autumn here, sunlight hours reduced and looking towards the rainy months ahead, I thought it would be good to start expanding measurements and be a bit more "serious" with evaluating loudspeakers.

As you know, speaker measurements have been done since the start of the audiophile hobby and there are all kinds of ways to get the job done to varying levels of precision and reliability. Stereophile has been doing this for years with John Atkinson's use of the MLSSA (DRA Labs) system as he summarized in this review which formed his 1997 AES paper. More recently, it's great to see Audio Science Review's use of the Klippel Near Field Scanner (NFS) for many speaker measurements already!

For many of us interested in speaker performance, probably introduced to the ideas with Floyd Toole's book Sound Reproduction - Loudspeakers and Rooms (first edition 2008, now in 3rd edition 2017), there has been a rise in loudspeaker measurements using the "Spinorama" technique. This measurement method plus its standard representation of data has since becoming codified in the ANSI/CTA-2034-A "Standard Method of Measurement for In-Home Loudspeakers" (you can get a copy of the current CTA-2034-A R-2020 here), first published in 2015.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Further Explorations into "Intersample Overs" - Resampling/Downsampling & De-Clip by Charles King

Greetings everyone. It's great to interact with some of you over the years around contents I've posted in this blog. As you perhaps know, recently, I talked about resampling hi-res audio files in my article on "Post-Hi-Res" with the idea that the vast majority of albums we download as supposedly high-resolution content simply do not warrant the file size or bitrate. As such... I routinely just bring them back to 16/48 or 16/44.1.

Here's an interesting comment by Charles King on this and his explorations of the topic:


Hi Archimago,

I was a bit taken aback on reading your 25 July post in which you talked about a need to guard against intersample overs when downsampling hires files. I've collected quite a few albums in hires over the years, often to check if I could hear any difference (I can't, and have given up on that) or to see if they provided better mastering (occasionally true, though in some notable cases the mastering is audibly worse). Since I don't want to litter my long-term storage with gigabytes of useless data I end up downsampling these to 16/48 in Adobe Audition (which is rated as having one of the better resamplers) and then compressing to variable-rate AAC (which is transparent to me).

Saturday, 3 October 2020

HOW-TO: CD Pre-Emphasis & Using SoX De-Emphasis. (And the decline of physical media with vinyl revenue > CD now.)

Have you ever ripped or downloaded an old music CD that just sounds way too harsh? Sounding like the EQ is accentuated with too much treble?

Back in the day, a number of CDs were processed with pre-emphasis used and we can see at least a partial list of pre-emphasized albums here. Typically these would be early CDs from the mid-'80s although as per the list there are also a number from the late '80s and even early '90s.

In those early years, DACs were incapable of true 16-bit resolution and noisy analogue brick-wall filters added high-frequency distortions. As a means of improving signal-to-noise, they boosted the high frequency content and corrected the tone on playback (see this Hydrogen Audio FAQ on Pre-emphasis). As you're probably aware, a CD doesn't just contain the 16/44.1 audio data but have encoded within each "frame" 8 bytes of CIRC error correction and another byte of "subcode" data which can be thought of as "control data"; like a precursor to today's much more complete metadata. One of the subcodes is the "pre-emphasis flag". When activated, a CD player will engage its "de-emphasis" circuitry/filter. These days, DAC chips themselves can implement digital de-emphasis as part of basic functionality.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

MEASUREMENTS: RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition as DAC.


Well friends, it's time to publish some measurements of my new RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition ("FS R BE") unit as DAC. For background, refer to the Preview from August and a couple weeks back, I had published results discussing the ADC function.

As you might be aware, since 2018, I've been using the older RME ADI-2 Pro FS ("Pro FS") for ADC and DAC duties in my measurements. It has performed like a champ and in fact, given that the ADC function is almost identical between the two units, there's certainly no reason to retire the "Pro FS" from measurement duties.

What we know is that as a DAC, the "FS R BE" should perform better than the "Pro FS" due to the fact that the internal AKM chip has been upgraded to the AK4493 from the previous AK4490. On paper, this represents a +5dB improvement in SNR and +1dB improvement in THD+N so we're not looking at Earth-shattering differences in specs numbers. Let's see if we're able to measure these differences on the test bench and identify any other changes to the DAC's performance along the way...

Saturday, 19 September 2020

As We Hear It: Thoughts from an audiophile friend on assembling his sound system.

Every so often, I have the pleasure of having friends and readers add their thoughts to these pages. The other day my buddy whom I visited at the end of 2019 (a.k.a. "linnrd" online) sent me this discussion piece. Back in December when I visited, I invited him to take the opportunity to write about his equipment and how he came to this interesting collection of gear. Well, he delivered...


A Complex Path to Simple Sound

Audio systems are generally an assemblage of products from different manufacturers. While significant R&D resources go into designing the various pieces that make up a system, it is left to the consumer to deal with the "R&D" of system design from "soup to nuts", as it were. The popular audio press is more oriented to singing the praises of individual components instead of educating and helping the reader actually assemble a decent combination of the aforementioned. Perhaps this a result of whom they view as customer and who as the product. A graveyard visit allows one to see much touted wonders such as Shakti Stones and the green CD marker (Ed: also see Harley's extensive investigation in Stereophile in 2004 amounting to nothing of course), to name just two, with the rotting corpse of MQA lying in wait for a plot (in both senses of the word!). 

Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed experts actively ignore existing knowledge and science and make it extremely difficult to fix this fundamental problem of the spread of misinformation by also subscribing to junk science. In other words, they are really messing up the S:N ratio of information transmission. As Bill Whitlock from Jensen says, reiterated in a recent discussion: "It often feels like an uphill battle to educate in a world of marketing deception and self-appointed experts."

Saturday, 12 September 2020

MEASUREMENTS: RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition as ADC.

About a month ago, I posted this preview of the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition AD/DA converter. It has been a wonderful month of simply listening to this device without a care around performing measurements. For listening, I have it set up as per the image in my sound room with the Raspberry Pi "Touch" running RoPieee previously discussed.

So far, from a subjective perspective, it has been a joy to listen to music with this machine.

Alas, as a "more objective" audiophile, it came time to have a look at the performance for this device to check if I'm missing any significant limitations. Over the years, I've discussed limitations to human hearing as well as the idea that many of our audio electronics these days have surpassed human auditory perception such that while measurements of DACs or amplifiers can show limitations, often these are beyond the resolution thresholds of human hearing/perception. Remember that while not all measurable anomalies need to be chased after when the goal is simply to be able to enjoy music, technical "ideals" are useful for devices one may want to use as a "reference".

So to start, today let's just focus on the ADC side of this RME device. Remember that the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition (again, let me just call it the "FS R BE" for short) is an evolutionary step from the ADI-2 Pro FS ("Pro FS") that I started using 2 years ago. Consider this article as building on some of what we already know about the Pro FS as an ADC from 2018 with requisite repeated tests comparing the two machines and using today's software.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

SUMMER MUSINGS: Modern Tech Life; obligatory home computer mechanic - NVMe replacement, WiFi Router. And thoughts about "high end", high priced DACs and value (Recent Darko & Sircom).

I was actually planning to just take a little break this week but given that it's almost September, I'll be away for Labour Day and school's starting for the kids with likely some virtual elements, I thought I'd just pen a not-too-long post not so much about audio but rather the highly computer-dependent world we're living in (with a bit about audiophile stuff to end).

Saturday, 22 August 2020

SUMMER MUSINGS: The Soundroom - speaker layout, vibration control & correction. (And importance for the subjective reviewer!)

I thought before summer's over, it was time to "shoot the breeze" again and talk generally about a very important topic that affects all of us audio enthusiasts with what I hope are some practical suggestions from my own "journey" here at home.

The image above of a room set-up came from an article back in 1960 entitled Room Acoustics for Stereo by Abraham B. Cohen (Electronics World, January 1960 - make sure to also check out Part 2 here from February 1960). This was a time when many homes were still transitioning from the monophonic single-channel era to the bold new world of stereophonic "3D" playback with an opportunity to virtually experience an actual soundstage in the comforts of the living room. Those must have been exciting times, perhaps comparable in my lifetime to the late '90s with the release of AC3/DTS receivers providing discrete multichannel home theater.

As you can see from the pair of articles, already back in 1960, the groundwork had been laid out for what constitutes conditions for good "stereorama" sound. Best practice tips to achieve a sense of realism, the variables related to speaker placement in a room, angles to target for from the sweet-spot, distance between speakers and orientation like toe-in. Room characteristics like absorption characteristics of materials, reverberation time, room layout were discussed as well; all this informed by decades of professional recordings and studio design that came before.