Saturday, 23 October 2021

Miscellany: FlexASIO for 384kHz, Philips 2001 SACD/DSD64 test signals (thanks Black Elk!), and Roon network multicast. [And Coltrane's A Love Supreme Live Hi-Res, Music Industry Crystal Ball, Magic Quantum Fuses!]

A scene from The Simpsons 1996...

Hey everyone, for this week, let's talk about a few "miscellaneous" topics which I've either wanted to mention over the last few months or have just come up as interesting tidbits I think worth documenting but not necessarily large enough as topics in individual posts. The main topics are:

A. Instead of ASIO4All, we can use FlexASIO with the E1DA Cosmos ADC for 384kHz samplerate measurements in Room EQ Wizard.

B. A look at some "standard" SACD test signals from Philips back in 2001. With many thanks and great discussions with Black Elk.

C. Roon needs network multicasting. Check this out if you're running into network issues; I had some problems initially with my ASUS ROG GT-AX11000 and relatively complex home network.
 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

REVIEW: Topping D90SE DAC - Part III: Subjective Impressions, AMPT, and Summary. A few words about "warmth" and "accuracy" in sound systems.


This is the final part of my trilogy review/evaluation of the Topping D90SE DAC (see Part I, and Part II for the objective testing results).

As we end off, let's close with a discussion of subjective impressions developed over many evenings of listening (about a month or so). I've described the soundroom previously in some detail and for the two channel system, the main amplifier is my home-assembled Hypex nCore NC252MP, main front speakers are the Paradigm Reference Signature S8 v3, and dual subs (main Paradigm SUB1 with the little Polk PSW111). The Topping D90SE feeds my Emotiva XSP-1 preamp. All cabling is balanced XLR from DAC to amplifier (no need to fret, inexpensive Monoprice Stage Right XLR runs are all ya need, feel free to spend more on cables if you see fit of course).

I listened both with and without DSP room correction activated; generally I prefer with DSP. Knowing the frequency response characteristics (flat to 20kHz) and setting to "Fast Roll-off Linear" (Filter 5) allows me to use the same DSP settings for my room interchangeably with the RME ADI-2 Pro FS Black Edition without need to remeasure (equivalent frequency and time-domain performance). As discussed before, one of the benefits of a high quality DAC is that we can have even more headrooom with DSP processing whether it be full room correction or applying volume normalization like ReplayGain.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

MEASUREMENTS / REVIEW: Topping D90SE DAC - Part II: Resolution

In this Part II of the review of the Topping D90SE DAC, let's focus on the performance that this DAC can achieve. As you can see in the picture above, I've got the machine on the test bench ready to capture some data. Given the anticipated performance as described in Part I last time, the E1DA Cosmos ADC is used for the measurements being presented today.

As you can see on the LCD screen, it's playing DSD512 (22.6MHz) material at the time of this picture. For a more complete examination of the device's performance, let's see if we can capture both PCM and DSD performance.

This device does have a broad number of features, so let's try to hit the key (and also some not-so-key) features to better understand how well it works and if there are nuances that the audiophile should be aware of. As readers here I'm sure are aware of over the years, objective testing can often show anomalies that listening tests easily miss due to the limitations of human hearing and cognitive ability. Sure, one could argue that inaudible limitations are not important. I'd like to think that in principle, audiophiles have an interest in achieving both technical perfection as well as immaculate subjective performance. 

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

MEASUREMENTS: DSD Testing with SoX-DSD Signals Part II (RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition, DSD Direct, Filter @ 50/150kHz) [Updated with 44.1kHz PCM --> DSD.]

 


Okay guys and gals, a rare "mid-week" update on DSD testing, a "Part II" follow-up to the previous article.

As I mentioned as an update in that article, I have a suspicion that the Topping DX3 Pro might not be using "DSD Direct" in its playback. However, I do have the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition here as well. As you might know, I've been using the RME line of ADC/DACs for awhile now. These are certainly some very well thought out and high performance units with a ton of customization options.

Two of these options are shown in the screen in the picture above - "DSD Direct" and "DSD Filter". The "DSD Direct" is either OFF/ON, and "DSD Filter" either 50kHz/150kHz and is only activated when "DSD Direct" is ON, in recognition of course that DSD noise shaping does create significant ultrasonic content that in general probably should be filtered out; how much filtering is up to you.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

MEASUREMENTS: A look at DSD and using SoX-DSD as a standard for test signal conversion. The 1/10-decade Multitone 32 test. And retro-pop remixes... ;-)

Hey everyone, although I'm in the middle of the Topping D90SE review series, I thought this week I'd make a slight detour! Like I suggested last week, I'm planning to savor the D90SE measurements / discussion series and enjoy the DAC. No rush needed. I see this blog as more educational and philosophical than mere opinions about things you can just buy and try for yourself. ;-)

Over the years, the fun part of the hobby and blogging for me has been to "evolve". As an audiophile, it's fun taking on the challenge of examining this pursuit with a more objective lens. To do that, it has been good to see what others are up to and incorporate incremental improvements in the testing gear and techniques I use within the budget of a home audiophile.

Each of these "MEASUREMENTS" posts is like a mini-experiment that we as hobbyist/"citizen scientists" can do for ourselves. I trust that the information I post can be repeated and verified if you have the interest, time, and some know-how.

Inspired by discussions with Bennet Ng (aka Dtmer Hk recently and in the Topping D10B review), DSD measurements is something that I have seen little discussions of in reviews. For reference, in these blog pages, we have talked generally about DSD/SACD back in 2013, looked at conversion software (here, here), as well as talked about PCM --> DSD playback like with HQPlayer a couple years ago.

But I haven't really taken a more intentional look at my DSD testing regimen... Something I hope to rectify here and clarify the "standard" signals I'll use in the tests ahead.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

MEASUREMENTS / REVIEW: Topping D90SE DAC - Part I: The Hardware, Filters, MQA, and Jitter Performance



Today, let's start with what I'm aiming to be a 3-part review/discussion of the Topping D90SE DAC. I figure I'll take my time on this since things are busy around here and I hope not to purchase more hi-fi DACs going forward, so I might as well savor the moment. ;-) As a "more objective" audiophile who has a vision of aiming for "high fidelity" / "transparency", there is a clear target and end-point to what's needed from hardware performance especially with DACs.

Readers of this blog know that I've had a number of Topping devices reviewed here over the years. In fact, for any single brand of DACs, I think I've reviewed more Topping gear here than other brands. This, I believe, is a reflection of a brand that provides multiple products at price points with features that actually speak to me as a consumer interested in value which includes features, and price. I have certainly not been disappointed by overall quality to this point.

At a current retail price of around US$900, this is not an inexpensive model. As per most of my reviews, I bought this through usual retail channels so what I'm reporting on here is not any potentially specially-selected unit sent from the manufacturer.

Feature-wise, this is a DAC only but accepts multiple inputs - USB, HDMI-style I2S, S/PDIF Coax, S/PDIF TosLink, and wireless Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC, AAC, aptX [LL,HD], LDAC). While it has both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs, there is no headphone amp. For that, Topping recommends grabbing their top model the Topping A90 (~US$500).

What makes this DAC interesting in mid/late 2021 is that this is reputed to be the highest fidelity converter in the world (available to consumers) at this point in history, Topping's "flagship" device. 

Let's take a look...

Saturday, 18 September 2021

MEASUREMENTS: USB Isolation with Nobsound ADuM4160 device and hi-res DAC. The world these days, and the audiophile microcosm.

 

After writing about very high resolution measurements with the E1DA Cosmos ADC last week and touching on basically "state of the art" fidelity like the Topping D90SE, for this week's post, I thought it would be good to talk about something more "fundamental". Often spoken of among audiophile tweakers but rarely have I seen evidence of actual value/effect for many of these devices.

Before I begin with this post or even show you anything, let me just say that I do not believe audiophiles need USB isolation for use with devices like DACs unless you know you have noise issues. I think we've all see indiscriminate suggestions that audiophiles need all kinds of noise filters and isolators (like this, or this). Sometimes these things cost quite a significant chunk of change compared to the downstream device (like DAC) itself!

Over the years, I have tried out a number of USB DACs with computers and simple streamer devices like the Raspberry Pi. With a normal set-up, I cannot say I have ever heard an issue with any of the various decent DACs I've tried. Likewise, measurements already suggest that in general there are no major noise issues with at least reasonable modern devices.

However, there are times when the system is complex enough where indeed you do see ground loops and noise like the 8kHz USB PHY noise pop through. A couple months back, I showed you some of this when we took the rather useless AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ for a spin in some of these situations! Today, let's look at the effect of that little inexpensive Nobsound ADuM4160 USB Isolator (typically can be purchased for <US$25) you see in the picture above.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

EARLY LOOK: E1DA Cosmos ADC - affordable high performance measurements for the audio hobbyist!

As you can see in the picture above, I have one of Ivan Khlyupin's (aka IVX) Cosmos ADCs. It's not available yet on the market, so watch for when it's released from E1DA in the days ahead. Thank you Ivan for reaching out and sending this unit for me to use!

[If you're wondering about the E1DA name, as explained by Ivan, it comes from the pronunciation of "Ivan" as sounding like "E1" in Russian as opposed to the Americanized "Eye-Ven". "DA" as in "dah" ("да", "yes") - so it means "Ivan Yes".]

While this unit is one of his builds for external testers, I suspect that it should be much the same as the final product when available hopefully later this month. Obviously there could still be some changes with the final production release.

I think the price is slated for around US$150. Also, in the days ahead, E1DA will be releasing the "APU" (Analog Processing Unit) that can complement an ADC for measurements with the ability to notch out the 1kHz fundamental among other features allowing even more accurate measurements of very high performance gear. And there's also the Cosmos DAC coming as well to complete the "trinity".

For today, let's have a peek at the Cosmos ADC. Let's explore how to get it going, some of its features, and although still early days, we can take a quick look at measurements with this tool, with some DACs I have here.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Archimago's Musical Performance Track (AMPT): Standard test track for listener evaluation of source playback. [RME ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, Topping D10s, D10 Balanced, TEAC UD-501, Squeezebox Touch recordings.] Loss of RMAF, Bluetooth aptX Lossless. PS: Topping D90SE.

Over the years, we've seen websites, blogs, and videos try ways to demonstrate the sound of a hi-fi device or for the adventurous, even try to convey the sound quality of listening rooms. For example, there are binaural recordings at audio shows, soundroom demos, speaker comparison samples, etc. This is not an easy task because high-fidelity is about nuances and slight variations; not wholesale "obvious" differences for many devices like DACs or high performance amplifiers. Unlike what you might read in audio reviews, assuming you have a decent DAC already, a replacement would be unlikely to result in obvious changes in characteristics like bass response or claims that jitter effects are somehow obviously audible! Sorry folks, a lot of that kind of talk is just fantasy.

While it is convenient to view and listen to typical YouTube clips, I think we can all appreciate that sound quality would be highly affected by: the recording microphone, room acoustics, set-up quality, the lossy audio compression from YouTube among others that I may have missed. Dissociating the effect of the different components would be impossible. And obviously any time you use a transducer to convert the sound pressure into electrical signal (ie. speaker, microphone), there will be a significant reduction in resolution if we're trying to determine the effect of something like a DAC!

Then there's the issue of what music is being used? Is it music that audiophiles have general access to? Is it material that audiophiles/music lovers would even generally listen to? Obviously this bit is very subjective but I think there's something to be said about esoteric test material that might be recorded amazingly well, but just not adequately popular to have "mainstream" level acceptance. When "subjectivist" audiophiles complain that test tones are artificial and synthetic, is it that much different from listening to a handful of albums that barely anyone cares about? ;-)

Saturday, 28 August 2021

SUMMER MUSINGS: On the dreaded "Digital Glare" in audio, and conversely, exaggerated analogue evangelism.


A reader E-mailed me the other day asking about what I thought of the dreaded "digital glare" because it was mentioned by a "more subjective reviewer" he was also connecting with.

Basically, I don't believe "glare" exists as a generalizable phenomenon that is somehow special to digital audio. Rather, my guess over the years on how some audiophiles started using this term is that many of the early CDs (not necessarily subsequent remasters) did sound overly bright and harsh. As much as I love the music on The Nightfly (Donald Fagen, 1982), Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (1985), Dead or Alive's Youthquake (1985), OMD's Organization (1980, 1985 CD release), Culture Club's Kissing To Be Clever (1982, ?1984 CD), ABBA's The Visitors (1981, 1983 CD release), despite excellent dynamic range, the sound of these albums are just "bright", too "thin", a bit "glassy". Perhaps some of this also has to do with the synthetic instrumentation and studio techniques of the time.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

SUMMER MUSINGS: Room EQ Preferences - Vintage Spendor SA1-like curve, Hang Loose Convolver (HLC), and the increasing relative importance of software.

Getting ready for an evening of digital filter evaluation!

I mentioned a few month back in my Spendor SA1 (1976) review/measurements that I really enjoyed the sound of these classic speakers!

While it would not be possible to exactly replicate their sound - these are complex devices with all kinds of unique properties including distortion idiosyncrasies and unique radiation patterns - to some extent, we can try to replicate the frequency response via DSP.

These days, we have the technology available to modify the sound we hear in the soundroom without great difficulty; the trick is to make sure the sound has improved, at least subjectively, when we add things like EQ or applied other signal processing.

Although some (typically more traditional) audiophiles will speak of maintaining "purity" of sound with minimalistic set-ups, if one is a contemporary technologically astute music lover and audiophile, especially one already using complex streamers, computer gear, networked libraries, I don't believe there should be any fear in going all the way using high-quality DSP to shape and adjust what we hear. In fact, from the frequency response perspective, we can "emulate" almost whatever we might want depending on the flexibility of the software used.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

MEASUREMENTS / REVIEW: Topping D10 Balanced (D10B) DAC. Simple, no-nonsense USB DAC, excellent balanced sound quality.

Last month, I published on the Topping D10s DAC which performed excellently for such a small, USB-powered device. Fantastic price to boot!

Today, let's have a look at the newest sibling in this line of DACs released in July 2021 - the Topping D10 Balanced (I'll just call it D10B for short). As you can see in the image above, the contents in the box are similar to the Topping D10s, with manual (including measurements), pamphlet with various other Topping products listed, generic USB A-B cable, and for this model a couple of TSR-to-XLR male-male adaptors.

At <US$150, this is certainly still inexpensive. And as the name suggests, this baby is capable of balanced analogue output. Balanced transmission provides improved common-mode noise rejection and this should result in quieter analogue output including rejection of potential issues like mains hum in the signal.

I bought this DAC through the usual retail channels; no relationship with the company.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

SUMMER MUSINGS: No... Not all amplifiers sound the same (but many do! ;-).

With both my Class D Hypex nCore NC252MP amp and linnrd's Class A Pass/First Watt SIT-2 in my sound room a couple months back, this allowed me to switch reasonably quickly between them to listen. You might be wondering about some comparison comments on how the amps sound. Certainly much has been said in the press about sonic differences between amps over the decades, but relatively little has been shown with measurements in an actual room using what comes out from the speaker.

First thing I'll say is, "No, not all amplifiers sound the same!". This should be obvious actually when looking at the objective measurements of the amplifiers and what they mean if we extrapolate the results to a known system.

Like I said, it seems uncommon to see measurements "in situ" with amps connected to the same DAC, preamp, and speakers to show differences. To demonstrate the differences in my room with my speakers, I set up the miniDSP UMIK-1 microphone in the room like so to run some sweeps and tonal FFT's for comparing:


Saturday, 24 July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 17 July 2021

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

 

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

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

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