Saturday, 8 December 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Raspberry Pi 3 B+ as streamer - switching power supply, battery, WiFi, touchscreen noise??? (32GB RAM, MI: Fallout and The Beatles' 2018 "White Album")

Battery-powered Raspberry Pi 3 B+ with JustBoom Digi. Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack.
Remember that within audiophile circles, there are often all kinds of claims about noise affecting streaming devices; especially computer-based devices. I already touched on this last week when referencing the videos by Innuos. Over the years, I had addressed software playback, different OS's, lossless formats, "need" for ethernet galvanic isolation, and explored the lack of difference between machines used for playback. In a similar way this post will also explore some "received wisdom" which seem so common among mainstream industry-supported audiophile websites.

Since I had my set-up running for last week's evaluation of the JustBoom Digi, I figure I might as well do a few more tests to demonstrate for myself (and you, fellow readers) whether these beliefs hold any truth.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

MEASUREMENTS: JustBoom Digi S/PDIF HAT for Raspberry Pi. (Plus "Why isn’t digital audio 'just ones and zeroes'?" anxiety...)


I mentioned a few months back in September that I updated my Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Touch device with the JustBoom Digi HAT for S/PDIF coaxial and TosLink digital audio output. Over the last few months, I've been using it more regularly for my nightly music listening.

As I noted previously, this device is essentially a 1-chip solution featuring the Cirrus/Wolfson WM8804 transceiver with jitter attenuating PLL (rated intrinsic jitter of ~50ps RMS) released in 2009. It also uses the Murata DA101JC isolation transformer for the coaxial output.

The device is rather plain otherwise as you can see. It does sound good and is capable of up to 24/192 with both coaxial and TosLink outputs. And at <US$40, it's also very affordable. Let's see how well it measures!

Saturday, 24 November 2018

NOS vs. Digital Filtering DACs: Exploring filtering turned off, implications, fidelity and subjective audibility. (Recent BorderPatrol DAC chatter...)


Hmmm... Non-OverSampled waveforms - "accurate", "high fidelity"?
The waveforms above were captured with my RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC at 384kHz. As you can see, on the left side, we see the waveform from the TEAC UD-501 DAC with the digital filter turned off (Non-OverSampling - NOS mode). In the middle, we have the TEAC's "Sharp" oversampling filter engaged. And on the right, we see the same waveforms captured from an old 16-bit Philips TDA1543 x 4 DAC with chips in parallel (supposedly improves noise level), a multi-bit NOS chip, without any oversampling.
Here's the TDA1543 x 4 DAC board. Typically fed with a 12V DC power supply.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

MUSINGS: Multidimensional Audio! (An old article... Subjective perceptual ability... And a rigged Atmos / DTS:X setup... :-)


Well folks, it has been a busy last number of weeks around here since I returned from the overseas work trip. No time to play with much audio or tech stuff as a result until earlier this week.

Today I want to just discuss/show a couple of things...

Consider the phrase "multidimensional audio". In today's world, I think if anyone were to use that phrase, one would be thinking about multichannel and surround sound as "multidimensional". Instead, that graphic above is taken from this article - "Multidimensional Audio" (1979) by Henning Møller of B&K.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

MUSINGS: Raspberry Pi 3 B+ "Touch" Optimizations; CRAAP Settings, and the "Extremus" Filter Setting.


Okay, let's have some fun with the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ motherboard, piCorePlayer, and my little "Touch" device I recently updated. As discussed before and in the picture shown above, these days, I have the inexpensive JustBoom Digi HAT (~US$40) board attached out the back for simple S/PDIF connectivity as well as USB when I need.

Today, let's hit a few topics related to the Pi 3 B+ setup above. Some little tweaks, things to get it working well, and fooling around with a piCorePlayer/SoX filter you can try for yourself without unnecessary hype nor expense...

Saturday, 13 October 2018

MUSINGS: On the RMAF 2018 MQA talk, pseudonyms, and the right to anonymity.


“A desire for privacy does not imply shameful secrets; Moglen argues, again and again, that without anonymity in discourse, free speech is impossible, and hence also democracy. The right to speak the truth to power does not shield the speaker from the consequences of doing so; only comparable power or anonymity can do that.”
--- Nick Harkaway, The Blind Giant
Boo!

Well, Halloween's coming up and it looks like we're about to talk about some scary, dramatic stuff involving emotional incontinence and anonymity :-).

Saturday, 6 October 2018

MEASUREMENTS: RME ADI-2 Pro FS as DAC (Part II - frequency response, noise, distortion and jitter)


As we saw previously, the RME ADI-2 Pro FS is based on the AKM AK4490 DAC chip and provides a good assortment of features like filter settings. We've seen that the headphone output amplifier provides plenty of power and the beginnings of what looks like a highly accurate DAC; consistent with my subjective opinion.

Time for part 2 of the objective evaluation today as we continue to explore the DAC output quality.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

MUSINGS / MEASUREMENTS: A look at Intersample Peaks and Overload Tolerance... (RME ADI-2 Pro FS, TEAC UD-501, Oppo UDP-205)


I suspect that many audiophiles were introduced to the topic of intersample peaks (ISP) when Benchmark first released their DAC2 HGC which advertised and discussed the provision of +3.5dB overhead for digital conversion back in late 2012. Over the years they've discussed this in their blog such as this post that came out to discuss the technical bits of the Sabre DAC and DAC2 in particular.

Remember however that ISPs and the potential for intersample overloading have been discussed in the technical literature for years. For a good review of the topic, have a look at this paper from Nielsen and Lund "Overload in Signal Conversion" presented at the AES Conference in 2003. Because almost all modern DACs utilize oversampling filters, the internal interpolation creates extra "points" between samples. For loud music (common since the late 1990's!) with samples approaching the 0dBFS level if not already clipping, it's likely that many of these intermediate points created will be above 0dBFS. Even in 2003, the paper listed a number of albums and showed that quite a few have "hot spots" where the "true peak amplitude", after going through an interpolator would be above 0dBFS. (A NOS DAC doesn't do digital intersample interpolation but could still overload with analogue filters [as per Mans' comment].)

Saturday, 22 September 2018

MEASUREMENTS: RME ADI-2 Pro FS as DAC (Part I - output levels & digital filter settings)


After having explored a couple weeks back the ADC capabilities of the RME ADI-2 Pro FS, for this installment, let's start with evaluating the DAC output quality of the device and in the process examine the objective fidelity with audio playback.

Remember, with that previous article, I had already discussed my subjective opinions based on listening sessions. My opinion has not changed in the last number of weeks as I'm still very much enjoying the sound I hear hooked up to my main system. Subjectively, the output sounds very clean, has a neutral tonality and low noise level very much like the Oppo UDP-205 and other high quality DACs. As usual, it will be interesting to compare measured results among the different devices I put through the test bench.

But before we do that... Let's start with the basics and some of the "microscopic" measurements I usually begin with - things like output levels, filter settings, etc...

Saturday, 15 September 2018

MUSINGS / MEASUREMENTS: About THD(+N) and standardizing testing here... (With a taste of the RME ADI-2 Pro FS as DAC...)


Last week, when I published my look into the RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC performance, I started using SpectraPLUS for measurements in high resolution for THD and THD+N. I know, it's an old measurement and everyone does it. I realized shortly after publication of the article that while I was using the same technique to measure the RME vs. Focusrite ADCs, I had the ADCs running at 192kHz and so issued an addendum that the results included the rising ultrasonic noise from the ADC and not just a reflection of the DAC. Not unreasonable as a comparison between the two ADCs I think, but this would not be fair to the DAC or other component measurements since much of the noise would be arising from the ADC stretching out to a 96kHz bandwidth. It's worth taking some time to think, going forward, how I could improve the usefulness of this test and in a standardized way here when focusing on whatever device is being tested...

If we look around, we see that the THD+N spec is probably the most used objective "number" for audio equipment as a quick snapshot of fidelity. The THD (page on calculation, how it's done) component tells us whether harmonics are being added to the sine wave at the integer multiples of the fundamental frequency (these are the results of "nonlinearities" in the equipment), and the +N piece adds the noise component found in the signal being tested which of course is also subject to noise limitations of the measurement device and the computational limits of the FFT technique used. In essence, the THD+N ratio is a representation of everything that's being added to a simple single-tone test which of course has its limitations as a test paradigm as well when real music is far from static.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

MEASUREMENTS: RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC performance and as measurement hardware.


I discussed the features and some listening impressions of the RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC/DAC a couple weeks ago. As I noted at that time, my main aim in owning this device is for the purpose of using it as an ADC for measurements here on the blog going forward.

For the purpose of measurements, we want a tool that can allow us to obtain reproducible results and good accuracy. Over the years, I've achieved reproducible results with consistently minimal inter-test variation by standardizing the way I run most measurements with the digital sources, cables, standard procedures, and types of tests I run. What I want is better accuracy - an ADC that has lower noise floor for improved resolution, doesn't add as much of its own distortions, have higher timing accuracy (eg. for jitter tests), and perhaps more features to expand the measurement quality (eg. higher sample rate to capture impulse responses more accurately, and can handle wider input levels for the range of devices tested).

Given that this is the priority, instead of measurements of DAC performance first, let's get straight to describing the characteristics of and using the ADI-2 Pro as a measurement tool which means we'll need to get a taste of how well the analogue-to-digital capability performs. Let's compare the results I'm getting from the RME to my previous measurement ADC device over the last couple years, the Focusrite Forte for a sense of the changes in resolution I can expect from the new upgrade.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Update: Raspberry Pi 3 B+ "Touch" Streamer, JustBoom Digi HAT, 3.0A power supply... And did they mess up Coltrane's "Both Directions At Once" in hi-res!?


Back in early 2017, I documented on the building of my little Pi "Touch" music streamer that I've been using over the last while for playback through my Logitech Media Server system at home. Over the last year, I've used this quite a bit for music playback and also some of the testing I've done on this blog.

As some of you may know, there has been an update of the Raspberry Pi 3 to the B+ model (~US$40). The upgrade isn't a major change to the existing Pi 3 board. However the new SOC, based on the Broadcom BCM2837B0 quad-core Cortex A53 (ARMv8, 64-bits) is slightly faster at 1.4GHz (1.2GHz previously, about 15-20% speed gain), and another upgrade is better ethernet speed which supports gigabit link but since it's still communicating through the USB2.0 port, will max out at ~300Mbps. In some benchmarks I've seen, though not true gigabit speed, the throughput is about 2x that of the previous Pi 3. For those interested in wireless connectivity, there are upgrades in the WiFi and Bluetooth departments as well.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

PREVIEW: RME ADI-2 Pro FS AD/DA Converter


I. Prologue

For those who have followed along on the blog, you may recall that this blog started with some arguments I had with folks on an audiophile forum around the audibility of high bitrate MP3. Back in those days (err... late 2012), there were all kinds of claims made by quite a few hobbyists that they could "easily" differentiate lossless FLAC from 320kbps MP3. I'm sure there are still many in the audiophile forums who hold this view although I think things have softened about the magnitude of differentiability (I think this shift has changed with high-res audio as well).

That disagreement was enough to push me to put out a blind test, to start looking into what I could do to help further my own understanding and awareness around audio hardware. The articles on this blog basically have been the culmination of that pursuit in hopes that the ideas and tests have been useful for others also on this journey looking for some clarity, typically found with more objective analysis.

Objective testing requires disciplined procedures and tools. Methods to reduce variables so that we can have reasonable "apples-to-apples" comparisons and reduce or eliminate psychological biases when we make decisions and search out facts beyond opinions colored by idiosyncratic preferences. Whether it's using an ABX tool, asking a partner/spouse/family/friend/neighbor to change something without our knowledge when listening, or measurement devices - letting the tool demonstrate changes - I believe we can find answers to uncertainties or prove claims. I personally believe objective testing is not only something "nice to have" with reviews, but an essential part of developing insight into the devices being tested and our own perceptual and cognitive limitations.

That's a long intro which brings us to today's preview of a new tool. :-)

When it comes to using an ADC for measurements, over the years, I've gradually upgraded starting with my old Creative E-MU 0404USB from 2012, to the Focusrite Forte in 2016, and now, let's start with a look and listen to the RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC/DAC. The aim has been that each step brings with it more accuracy for the measurements and this third iteration of the measurement hardware should bring with it opportunities to explore further and continue the process of finding clarity in a hobby that for too long IMO has been filled just with mere opinions - or even worse perpetuation of myths. (Remember, nothing wrong with opinions... But let's make sure it's grounded in objectivity!)

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


Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Look at the Oppo UDP-205 & The Great Audiophile Debate AK vs. JA of 2005.

Oppo UDP-205 and Black Panther.
Although I have already collected quite a bit of objective testing results from the Oppo UDP-205, I have not had the time to analyze the data or constructed the graphs and charts due to time constraints. Rest assured, the number, graphs, and charts will come :-).

At the time of this writing, I see that while the UDP-205 is in very short supply if even available any more (excluding the speculative price gouging on eBay of course), the UDP-203 is still available.

Today, as a start, let's just spend some time talking about this device and the features. By now there's no mystery since reviews over the last year have been thorough such as from TechHive and Audioholics. Oh yeah, even The Absolute Sound put in a review. In fact, the Audioholics review provides some excellent data on the performance of the Oppo UDP-205 versus its sibling the Oppo UDP-203.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Computer USB +5V Power Noise by Raoul Trifan & MQA's Bob Stuart Speaks Again...


Editor's Intro:
Hey there guys. One of the joys of running this blog has been the opportunity to meet some of you and connect through E-mail with folks from around the world with shared interests.

Every once awhile, I get the chance to see some of the measurements and work you guys have done. Today, I want to show you some work from Raoul Trifan from Romania.

In the last year, we've been in contact about his work with USB ports using the various computers he has at his disposal. What he's sharing today is literally the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the data and measurements collected over the last while. He has done all kinds of other work with power supplies, modifying audio gear and such which I'll leave for future discussions.

Today, let's just consider the noise on the +5V USB line from computers:
Using a PicoScope 2204A, he has produced some interesting screen shots to consider with the various machines.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

MEASUREMENTS: MSI X370 SLI Plus AM4 Motherboard Audio (RealTek ALC892 codec). [And the importance of measuring the "low end".]

Image on the right shows the multicolored multi-channel "speaker" audio output. The standard "front" stereo channel is the left middle-from-top light green one.
Hey guys, I managed to find some time this week to write up the measurements on the inexpensive MSI X370 SLI Plus AM4 motherboard I described in my AMD Ryzen 1700 CPU workstation build from last year (note the other details like the Antec power supply used).

GlÜÜkZ reminded me that I had not posted the results which I had already collected on the motherboard a number of months back. As you'll see, I also gathered a bit more data to show what happens with the internal DAC when the computer is strained with high processor and GPU loads.  You may recall that years ago, I showed that indeed we can detect noise from a computer running at high load with my old ASUS Xonar Essence One DAC. Let's see what that looks like these days with integrated motherboard audio output!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

MUSINGS: On DRM, MQA, the (supposed) Techno-Libertarian opposition, and Honesty... [Plus a quick look at MQA-CD]

Eugène Delacroix - "La Liberté guidant le peuple" (Liberty Leading the People).
Looking around the audiophile press this past couple of weeks, we see the next installment of Jim Austin's exploration into MQA - "MQA, DRM, and Other Four-Letter Words" in the pages of Stereophile.

I asked myself after reading the article, do I and others who share my views on MQA fit the description of being "in a state" about the threat of DRM? And am I and others who oppose MQA the kind of person he generalizes about when he said this?
Because they are a certain kind of person: advocates of open-source, open-standard software. We meet them at the intersection of audiophilia and information technology. These are the Internet libertarians I mentioned earlier: audiophiles whose sensibilities were nourished in the software industry.
For this post, let's think about comments like those above, and consider some peripheral yet important aspects around freedom in audio data file formats, DRM, MQA, and more...

Sunday, 22 April 2018

MEASUREMENTS: Going 10 Gigabits/s home ethernet (10GbE) on Cat-5e cables. (ASUS XG-C100C cards & Netgear GS110MX switches)


Over the years, I have upgraded many parts of my computer system. New motherboards go in and out, new CPUs updated, more advanced GPUs, gigs of RAM, faster and higher storage size hard drives and SSDs...

A few months back, I mentioned that one of the more "boring" parts of the computer system with little actual need for updating has been the wired network system. I have not significantly upgraded anything in many years. While I suspect many of us over the last decade have upgraded our home ethernet systems to 1 gigabit/s ethernet (1GbE), since the mid-2000's, 10 gigabit/s speed has been waiting in the wings for larger scale adoption. In business and enterprise settings, one may have already seen fibre-optic networks (for example, those using enhanced Small Form Factor [SFP+] connectors), but 10GbE in the form of standard copper modular RJ-45 8P8C connectors (also known has 10GBASE-T) has been talked about since 2006 with relatively few of us I suspect incorporating the technology into the home yet (in early 2018). The price point is only starting to dip into consumer territory.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

MUSINGS: On the joy of numbers... Yet more on that audio "Subjectivist" vs. "Objectivist" debate.


You might recognize the opening graphic from a previous post years ago where I commented that I actually believe it's healthy to maintain balance rather than seeing extreme polarities. In that post, I mentioned an article by Michael Lavorgna from AudioStream that I thought was grossly off base. That was in 2015. Here we are again in 2018, with another post on AudioStream, but this time penned by Herb Reichert called "Audio Without Numbers" that I think needs to be addressed. (Hmmm... What's wrong with numbers? :-)

Before getting into the discussion, let me lay out a couple of suggestions not just for this post, but also in general when we're simply talking about audiophilia, the science and philosophy behind our hobby.

First, let's talk plainly. Yes, we can bring up the names of long dead philosophers all day long... Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle of classic fame, to more recent men of high thinking like Hume, Kant, Poincaré, Popper, and Kuhn - they likely all have something to say about this debate depending on philosophical leanings around the nature of "truth", "knowledge", and other metaphysical ideas. Over the years, I've dropped a couple of these names as well where I thought a quote or reference might be meaningful, but ultimately so what? Time has passed since these thinkers put down their words, scientific knowledge has advanced in ways that the thinkers above have not been privy to and perhaps they would have vastly different ideas if alive today. For example, other than Kuhn and Popper, the rest of them were gone by the time the double-helix was discovered, or the advent of modern molecular biology or neuroscience to explain sensory phenomena and the limits of perception. Besides, I'm not sure any of them were audiophiles :-).

Second, let's not appeal to scientific domains that more than likely have no practical relevance to the hobby. Yes, relativity, Einstein, and Hawking were way cool guys! Likewise, quarks, hadrons, superstrings, the wave-particle duality, and Erwin Schrödinger and his cat are also very much worth pondering about. While these concepts have great relevance in this universe, as far as I am aware, there is no evidence that sound waves, the consumer electronics we're talking about, or even human perception "materially" requires that we engage in laws governing subatomic particles, the space-time continuum, or velocities approaching light speed. Who knows, maybe consciousness involves quantum-level phenomena (as per Roger Penrose for example), but this is highly speculative. To bring forth these theories as if of relevance is IMO at best engaging in some unnecessary science fiction writing, and at worst it makes the writer sound pretentious. BTW, I think audiophile companies need to keep this in mind while advertising their products to maintain some semblance of sanity (folks like thisthis, and this likely have crossed the line).

Saturday, 7 April 2018

RETRO-MEASURE: 2001 Sony SCD-CE775 5-disc SACD/CD Player (CD test)

Sony SCD-CE775 sitting below the Panasonic Blu-Ray player... A relatively large box - 17" wide, 15" deep, 5" tall.
Every once awhile, I like putting up measurements and thoughts on gear that I either own or borrowed of an older "vintage". I think it's good to have measurements of these older equipment for the sake of perspective! These days, it seems like the moment one buys a new smartphone, wait a few days and we see an announcement for the next generation of product... It was not always like this of course :-).

For this post, let's have a look at the performance of one of my favourite budget audio players that I have owned for the last 16 years - the Sony SCD-CE775, one of the earlier consumer-level SACD players released back when the SACD was viewed as the new-kid-on-the-block of digital formats. This specific model was released in 2001, at around the same time as multi-channel SACDs became available for sale - there was a copy of Kind Of Blue multichannel SACD in the box. I picked this unit up new in the summer of 2002 I believe and it has been a constant on my audio rack since then. My thought at the time was that this would be my back-up SACD/CD player, but as history would have it, with the transition to computer audio, I sold off my Sony SCD-555ES at some point back in 2004 and just stayed with this multi-changer and my old DVD player for spinning disks.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

MUSINGS: On Dysphonic Sounds, and Moby's "Fight" Against the Loudness War...


For this post, I thought I'd share some personal experiences and opinions. Back in the "old" days - more than 10 years ago now, there was a time when I used to routinely listen to new albums start to end. I enjoyed getting into the lyrics of new music, learned to sing along, and tried to imagine the message being composed by the song writer and parse the emotional prosody of the piece.

I've been trying to think why I don't do this much any more with the new music I buy. Am I just getting old (in my mid-40's now)? Do the new generation of singers and songwriters not appeal to my taste? Did the music industry "sell-out" with promoting one-hit wonders instead of cultivating those with substance who could "carry" full albums? Is it that I no longer have the time I used to have and instead prefer to do other things (lots of entertainment options these days)? Is it that I have too many albums on my music server now so it's just much easier to make a playlist of individual songs and neglect the album as a "body" of work? Is it that maybe musicians themselves don't bother creating thematically coherent albums anymore (hey, even artists like this guy says so - "Why Tiësto thinks the album is dead")?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

MUSINGS: A quick discussion on what's OBJECTIVE and what's SUBJECTIVE (alas, more MQA-related stuff).

Infographic, from pediaa.com.

Hey guys, very busy this past week and about to go out of town... Nonetheless, it has been fun participating in discussion forums this week. Therefore, I thought I'd just fire out a "quick" post this morning.

I see some rather disturbing back-and-forth arguments on the recent Stereophile post on MQA from folks like dalethorn and boulderskies that IMO reflects a fundamental disagreement on the differences between what the words "subjective" and "objective" means when we use them to address ways of understanding audio (among other ways of discerning knowledge in this world). Obviously, unless we are all on the same page with definitions, we won't be going anywhere with debates and arguments!

At first, I was going to just make this comment a forum post, but given the length and for future reference, I'll just put it here instead of a typical comment buried deep in a thread. We can potentially get deeply philosophical about this, but let's see if we can just hit the main points at least...

Saturday, 10 March 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Blade Runner 2049" - Digital "Nearly 4K" Filmmaking (3.4K)


Another excellent movie! It might be heresy to those who adored the first Blade Runner, but I thought this was an even better flick than the first; kudos to Denis Villeneuve.

I want to continue in this series of comparisons showing resolution of 1080P Blu-Ray versus the 4K UHD Blu-Ray version of the same film. If you've been following along, so far we're actually not seeing much if any significant improvement in spatial resolution comparing typical "analogue" film-to-4K movie conversions. This goes for Interstellar's 35mm portions, the original Blade Runner, and last week with The Prestige. As expected, 2K Digital Intermediate movies like Pacific Rim can benefit from HDR color/contrast regrading, but there would be no resolution enhancement. Of the movies I've looked at, Dunkirk and the 70mm IMAX filmmaking process clearly provided a resolution enhancement.

For this post, I want to show you what a "nearly 4K" movie presented on UHD Blu-Ray looks like resolution-wise. Blade Runner 2049 was filmed digitally using ARRI Alexa cameras using the ARRIRAW 3.4K format (3414 x 2198) then converted to a 4K Digital Intermediate and special effects were said to be rendered in 3.4K as well. Let's have a peek...

Saturday, 3 March 2018

"MQA: A review of controversies, concerns, and cautions" week...

cf. As We See It - More on MQA :-)
Hey everyone, it has been a very busy week for me at work plus I was able to put the "final touches" on the article just published on Friday on the Computer Audiophile site:

MQA: A Review of controversies, concerns, and cautions

As the title indicates, this is a review of much of what I have presented here over the years as well as accumulated knowledge by folks who have taken time to dissect and divine some of the inner workings of this "format". I salute the audiophiles who have worked to figure these things out (many of them references in the footnotes in the article) - those who have had the courage to "call a spade a spade", those with the perseverance to ask tough questions, and pursue meaningful answers.

I would also like to thank Chris Connaker for reaching out and having the courage to publish the article. I don't know what the "politics" are like behind the scenes in the audiophile world, but I cannot imagine there not be pressures to conform to the "official" sanctioned message especially dealing with a product originating from a veteran audiophile company, endorsements of the major print magazines, and with the apparent backing of major music labels in the Industry.

Hope you all have a great week ahead!

Enjoy the music...

Saturday, 24 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "The Prestige" - Modern 35mm Filmmaking


I love this movie! It was one of those flicks I walked into with no expectations and came out realizing that I just had to grab the video for the home movie collection...

At its heart, The Prestige (2006) is a drama with sci-fi/fantasy elements based on the 1995 novel by Christopher Priest which was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. I know that the fantastical elements may be a turn-off for some, but given the historical mystique of a character like Nikola Tesla, I was willing to suspend belief to enjoy the themes of ambition, sacrifice, and redemption.

Technically, like the movie we looked at last time (Blade Runner: Final Cut), this movie was filmed in 35mm anamorphic primarily using Panavision's Panaflex camera with Kodak film. It was created more than 20 years after Blade Runner. While visual effects were rendered in 2K, the Digital Intermediate was done in 4K. Just like others in the recently-released Christopher Nolan 4K Collection, this film was advertised as "remastered by the director in a stunning new format". 

So... The question is, does a more "modern" 35mm movie benefit resolution-wise from a 4K release?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Blade Runner (Final Cut)" - Classic 35mm Filmmaking


Ahhhh, Blade Runner!

Here's an example of a "classic" from 1982. While arguably, the film was more style than substance, it certainly has left an enduring mark in the world of science fiction. Remember that Ridley Scott started his career in TV advertising which must have informed his visual aesthetic to create some iconic imagery such as this vision of Los Angeles in 2019 (alas, technological advancement and climate change must have been much more severe in this alternate universe).

As you know, beyond the detective film noir and some action sequences, it does touch on important science fiction themes of sentience, rights, the soul, genetics and transcendence. Of course, as a music lover, I very much enjoyed the soundtrack from Vangelis (for the completist, the 3-CD 25th Anniversary Edition contains everything)!

Blade Runner was filmed in 35mm with some special effects filmed in 65mm. Aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Over the years, it has undergone a number of revisions; the main ones being the original Theatrical Release, 1992's Director's Cut, and the 2007 Final Cut. When they did the 2007 Final Cut, the frames were digitally cleaned up, continuity errors fixed, new CGI effects added, 65mm footage were scanned to 8K, and everything finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate which is what ultimately ended up here on the UHD Blu-Ray with added HDR color grading.

As a comparison, I thought it would be interesting to grab a number of scenes to see the difference between a standard Blu-Ray release from 2011 (VC1 codec, ~17Mb/s) and the UHD version released in 2017 (HEVC 10-bit HDR10, ~50Mbps)... Is it worthwhile upgrading to a higher resolution version even with an old (35 years old!) movie originating in 35mm?

Monday, 12 February 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: "Pacific Rim" - Digital "2K" Filmmaking (and a look at Blue Planet II)


Having looked at Dunkirk (70mm IMAX - 65/15-perf and 65/5-perf) and Interstellar (hybrid of 35mm and 65-15-perf) previously, over the next few weeks, when possible I'm going to try for a survey of comparisons using different types of movies and show the kind of resolution difference one might see going to 4K.

Today, let's consider a very common type of movie production - digitally filmed movies mastered to a 2K Digital Intermediate (DI). In Real or Fake 4K, these would of course be classified as "Fake 4K" movies that would need to be upsampled going from 2K/1080P to the 4K/2160P on your shiny new UHD Blu-Ray disc and 4K screen.

Pacific Rim would be a good example of this type of production in a big budget movie (said to be ~US$190M back in 2013). It was captured on Red Epic cameras capable of up to 5K (5120x2560) raw frame quality, then downsampled to a 2K Digital Intermediate mixed with 2K rendered visual effects.

While admittedly not a great movie, for guys and gals who like steam punk themes, monsters, and of course really big robot mechs, Guillermo del Toro serves up quite a feast of a real-live action anime. Nothing wrong with turning your brain off and enjoying some mech-on-monster brawl once awhile :-).

Saturday, 3 February 2018

MUSINGS/MEASUREMENTS: On "blurring" and why MQA probably worsens transient smearing.


Yes, I know. The last time I specifically addressed MQA was supposed to be "FINAL final" :-). But I got curious again. This is especially after the exploration of various filters recently suggesting to me that there actually is a case to be made that "blurring" can be seen with minimum phase filters. The question is, what do we "know" or "believe" MQA is able to do, and can we demonstrate that MQA even "de-blurs"?

Let's talk and think about this for a bit...

Saturday, 27 January 2018

1080P Blu-Ray vs. 4K UHD Blu-Ray: Does "Interstellar" actually benefit from 4K!?

Compromised quality?
As you know, Christopher Nolan is known for demanding the best out of his work visually. A few weeks back, I had a look at Dunkirk and was able to appreciate the difference the 4K/UHD Blu-Ray made compared to standard HD 1080P Blu-Ray. Despite the plot holes and nitpicks (it is sci-fi after all), I very much enjoyed Interstellar in the standard digital IMAX theater when it first came out in 2014. As I was watching the recently released UHD Blu-Ray, while the HDR effect looks ok (I wouldn't say great), I was rather disappointed by the apparent lack of resolution enhancement moving from 1080P... Even in the IMAX 70mm scenes, everything seemed less defined than I had expected coming from Dunkirk. Seemed a bit strange especially since it's claimed that this was "released under the supervision of the director himself, approving the 4K scan and colour timing".

Let's have a closer look shall we?