Tuesday, 2 April 2019

MUSINGS: Of Jokers and Clowns... (On Soundstage and Perspective)

More info here.
As I sit here watching the early light in the tropics enjoying a cup of Java, I had a look again at John Atkinson's editorial "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...". I believe this April 2019 issue is the last one where he is the Editor-in-Chief of Stereophile. The article examines a recent event which again brings up one of the age-old contentious issues we run into with the audiophile pursuit (perhaps the most contentious issue ever) - the subjective experience of listening/enjoying music and the use of objective and controlled methods to help us understand how well our audio systems function.

"Sunrise Sentosa" - March 2019, Singapore
Over the years, I've written on the unnecessary "war" between "objectivism vs. subjectivism" when I've thought it worth addressing articles written by some members of the press and at times the strange fear of scientific methodology in high-fidelity. We've talked about the basics of what subjectivity and objectivity mean, and further elaborated on it. In summary, "pure subjectivism" and "pure objectivism" are both extreme positions to take. The problem I find is that for decades in the audiophile press, subjectivism has been posited as somehow more important if not the only worthy position to take to the point where the vast majority of hardware reviews available these days including online sources have lost the objective component. In the process, most reviews have also lost the power to elucidate truth among the subtleties of sonic differences. Without objectivity, sound quality cannot be adjudicated based on the ideal principle of high fidelity.

Friday, 15 March 2019

POLL: Do you subscribe to a music streaming service? And a Wilson Sasha DAW, dCS, Audio Research listening session @ The Sound Room, Vancouver.


Alright guys, first off, I'm trying out a quick poll here since I was interested in how many of you are currently streaming music off a subscription site... No doubt we are seeing the shift towards the streaming, subscription model for music delivery and consumption.

It's interesting to see this article recently about the music industry's revenue growth in these last few years on account of streaming. Considering the decades of decline, I'm sure the music industry is interested in promoting any system that nets a profit. We will need to see however whether the rate of adoption in streaming wanes in the years ahead as warned by Forbes recently.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

MEASUREMENTS: A look at the audio "ultra high-end" - ultrasonics! (And changes at Stereophile announced.)


In this blog installment, let's look at the "ultra high-end" of sound. Of course, I'm not talking about the audiophile "high-end" marketing term which is meaningless (beyond just another phrase for "expensive"). Rather, let's look at the frequency high-end, especially all the stuff our DACs can produce in the ultrasonic range!

If you've ever wondered, ultrasound devices used in medical imaging typically function at around 2MHz on the low end up to about 15MHz. However, the term "ultrasound" simply refers to wave
compression and rarefaction outside of the hearing range which by convention are those above 20kHz or so.

While the presence of ultrasonic content coming out of our DACs is not a surprise, what might be unclear or debatable is whether there is much of it and whether this then affects the "sound" of one's system. Rather than get bogged down in opinions, let's first have a look at what's in the ultrasonic frequencies coming out of DACs... Starting from facts, we can then perhaps come up with opinions.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

MUSINGS: Let's talk about Roon (1.6) and DSP speed... (And an example of a poor quality "hi-res" classical recording.)


I mentioned a few weeks back in a comment that these days I've been using Roon for my music library and playback. A few years ago, I tried out Roon 1.2 and while good, it just wasn't quite compelling yet at that time for my needs. For years I've been using Logitech Media Server (LMS) given that most of my devices had been Squeezebox-based until recently. It certainly serves the purpose well to this day and in fact, I still run it on my server. I'll discuss why later...

I trust that you've already read or seen videos of Roon in operation so there's no need to cover the program's basics. In fact, I think I covered quite a bit of ground already back in early 2017 with the demonstration of Roon 1.2 on an Intel NUC and then subsequently talking about the use of Roon Bridge with the Raspberry Pi 3.

Since that time, with the newer versions, the program has, as expected, gotten better with even more features, more powerful user interface, etc... I appreciate the better support with display of track names and various settings with the older VFD Squeezeboxes. DSP has been added as of version 1.3 with support for room correction, upsampling options for PCM and conversion to DSD for DACs supporting the feature. We might look at measurements of these options in future blog posts. Of course, there's now also the ability to perform the first (and IMO only meaningful) MQA "unfold" in software as of version 1.5; not that I'm a fan of MQA of course.

For today's post, I'll highlight a few of the key benefits, discuss CPU and DSP speed, ending with a few suggestions I would love to see in future versions...

Saturday, 23 February 2019

MUSINGS / MEASUREMENTS: On why 24/96 sampling of the Blind Test of 16/44.1 devices is good enough. [On idealized filtering tests and "real life" music playback.]



As promised, I want to address a comment raised about the idea that the 24/96 recording using the RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC was somehow inadequate for the 16/44.1 samples in the "Do digital audio players sound different?" blind test; that the 24/96 captures are somehow missing significant amounts of the output from the devices.

For reference, I've included the original comment here from Miska:
"It [the samples] just barely catches the first image band between 22.05 - 44.1 kHz and a little bit of next between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. One of the devices is clean though. The ADC anti-alias filter fixes rest by improving the reconstruction by removing further image frequencies. Strongest image for most current DACs is around 352.8 kHz.

Of course playback system then defines how much overlay of these come back again at different frequencies from the DAC, since it is now running at different rate family than the original source.

This doesn't really replicate real device playback performance, but at least it captures some apparent differences. So it gives kind of hint or shadow of how the device actually did."
Although the blind test is ongoing, I figure it's still good to talk about this while not revealing the devices used of course.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

MEASUREMENTS: A Look At HQPlayer 3.25; Filtering, Dithering and DSD Conversion.


Over the years, no doubt many computer audio users have heard or perhaps tried using HQPlayer Desktop from Signalyst for music playback. While there is a GUI for playback as well as a sophisticated network transport architecture, it's the upsampling and PCM-to-DSD features that are the program's claim to fame. There has been a good amount of talk about the sound quality of the upsampling algorithms and some swear by the sonic differences the program makes.

While admittedly I don't follow HQPlayer chatter closely, I don't recall reading about specific settings and what they do other than opinions about the sound quality. In this way, HQPlayer has been a bit of a mystery and I know some folks have had difficulty getting it running over the years. It has certainly been on my list of items to look into. In fact, back in early 2017 when I wrote about Roon 1.2, I mentioned installing HQPlayer but never got around to actually writing about it.

Well, after all these years, and now with the requisite pieces of hardware at my disposal for a more thorough evaluation (reasonably fast CPU/GPU system, ADC capable of >192kHz, DAC capable of DSD512), it's time to have a peek "under the hood" at what it does...

Saturday, 9 February 2019

MUSINGS: Computer audio mythos? A comment on The Linear Solution's DS-1 Network Streamer.

Interesting... But in physical reality impossible of course! Perhaps like many audiophile opinions? [Info on art here...]
"Your desires and true beliefs have a way of playing blind man's bluff. You must corner the inner facts." 
--- David Seabury (1885-1960)
A few weeks ago, I read this "Quick Take" review of The Linear Solution DS-1 Network Streamer device published on Computer Audiophile (now Audiophile Style) by austinpop. Wow... I was impressed by how many computer audiophile "beliefs" were strung together all in one article! A good place to start and think about the "evolution" of computer audiophilia in 2019 perhaps.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

MUSINGS: Why bother with 24-bit DACs? (With thoughts on dithering, digital volume control, normalization, streaming and LUFS.)


I've heard over the years some people wondering whether there really is a point to 24-bit DACs. After all, there is little if any evidence that "hi-res" 24-bit music actually sounds any better - in fact, you might recall that way back in 2014, here on the blog we ran a blind test and the results did not show significant audible benefit among respondents. More recently last year, even with Dr. AIX's "HD-Audio Challenge", very few people were able to experience benefits to "hi-res" audio (no surprise of course!).

Saturday, 26 January 2019

INTERNET BLIND TEST: Do digital audio players sound different? (Playing 16/44.1 music.)


The other day, I was surfing the usual audiophile haunting grounds and came across this poll question on the Steve Hoffman Hardware Forum started a year ago. It reads: "Do You (Think) That Different CD Players Have Their Own Sonic Signature?"

Here are the results when I looked recently. I know it was closed last year, but it looks like it might be re-opened and still running into April if you want to cast a vote:


I thought it's worth spending some time to discuss this very simple question which of course is both understandable and asked frequently among newbies and longtime audiophiles alike. It's an important, and "core" question which can still be highly contentious after all these years! As suggested by the "blind test" title, by the end of this post, I will give you dear readers an opportunity to "cast your vote" and tell me what you think with a poll of our own using test samples to try (if you dare)!

 Let's make this our winter/spring research project...

Saturday, 19 January 2019

MEASUREMENTS: Oppo UDP-205 DSD Playback (DSD64-DSD512), and PCM 768kHz. Plus CES2019 coverage thoughts...


Alright guys and gals, it has been months since I completed the set of measurements of the Oppo UDP-205 last year (here, here, and here).

In early December, David M wondered how the Oppo performed as a DSD player as I had neglected to measure that.

Over the years, I have measured DSD output performance but remember that this is a little bit of a pain :-). To obtain some results for comparison with PCM in RightMark, what I typically do is take the test signals (originating in 24-bit PCM), convert to DSD using software like Weiss Saracon, and then play back the DSD file through the DAC into the ADC which of course takes that analogue output resampled back into PCM for analysis. Doing this understandably adds other variables to the measurement system which should still be minuscule. Over the years, I have looked at things like PCM-to-DSD converters (here and here) to demonstrate that the conversion programs do have an effect as one would expect with different resampling and modulation algorithms.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

GUEST: Future Proofed (and didn't know it) - Adding Streaming to My Existing Hi-Fi.

Every once awhile, it's great to have a guest writer put up their thoughts on the Musings. I've always lived by the principle of "it really isn't what you got that matters, but how you make the best of it". I think Allan's post here is a nice example of that. These days, we have all kinds of products and technologies easily available at good prices, but when mixed with streaming services, sometimes one needs to do a bit of digging to get everything to work right the way one desires. One could spend countless dollars on things that might or might not really be of value. How we use what we have can take all kinds of forms and ultimately is a reflection of us taking control to satisfy our needs while reflecting understanding of how the products and services work... This Guest Post is a nice reminder of that!

Take it away, Allan...

GUEST POST
by Allan Folz


Introduction

Last spring on this humble blog I wrote a guest post reviewing the Sony HAP-S1. At the time I had a number of complaints with regard to the feature set. Indeed, I wasn't entirely sure I was going to keep it for the long-term. My biggest problem with the HAP-S1 was that I could not use it with any of my preferred Internet streaming services. The HAP-S1 has a pair of analog inputs and I bought it thinking I could use those with the headphone jack on my phone and laptop to be able to play back music streamed from the Internet. Also, while I knew when I purchased it that it didn't support Bluetooth, I had planned to get a Bluetooth to analog-out receiver that I could connect to its analog inputs. Unfortunately, after I received the unit I discovered there is a limitation in that the analog inputs can only be used to drive the HAP-S1's internal amplifier. Since I was using the line-out of the HAP-S1 to drive a pair of self-powered monitors, there was no way to get the signal from the analog inputs to the line-out. Instead, I'd have to move the monitor's input wires from the HAP-S1 to the phone or laptop each time I wanted to switch sources, which was a non-starter. (Or purchase a pre-amp, which was far more expense and space than I was interested in undertaking.)

Saturday, 5 January 2019

A Look at the Oculus Rift Touch VR System! (And the Oppo UDP-20X gets a firmware upgrade for HDR10+.)

Happy 2019 everyone!!!

It looks like Archimago was a nice boy in 2018 :-). Look what Santa brought him under the Christmas tree:


The Oculus Rift + Touch VR Bundle runs very well on that Intel i7 / nVidia GTX 1080 computer I have in my sound room.

As I mentioned last time at the end of 2018, I don't use the "man cave" just for 2-channel music listening (I think instead of calling it a "sound room", I should rename it my "media technology room"). Today, I'll just share a few thoughts on this device. While this isn't the usual stuff I talk about around here, I think it's good to look outside the audio hobby regularly and consider all the things the modern media technology hobbyist can do that vie for one's attention and time! VR being one that's still IMO very much in its infancy...