Wednesday 20 November 2013

Getting There... (Early HT Room Setup)

Back from my overseas business trip late last week. It's going to be really busy since I'll be moving to the new house in 1 week. Massive amounts to pack up!

Nonetheless, I didn't want the movers to be involved with the audio system so over the weekend I moved all the components and put together the stereo setup in the home theater room to just have a little "taste". Here she is... (Unfortunately the image is a bit grainy. Resorted to the old Nikon D70 as my D800 developed some autofocus issues and needed repairs.)

Hmmm. Looks like I need to straightening the power/cable/ethernet outlet at the back there...

Room size is decent: 20' x 15' x 8'. The TV is a 55" LG 55LW5600 mounted on a strong wall mount - I might go for a 70" in the future. Components:

- SONY SCD-CE775 SACD/CDP I bought back in 2001
- Emotiva XSP-1 pre-amp
- 2x Emotiva XPA-1L monoblocks connected to XSP-1 with Monoprice XLRs - 35W Class-A bias, max 250W Class A/B
- Paradigm Signature SUB 1 subwoofer crossed over at 50Hz
- Cables: 4' 12G OFC Monoprice zip cord speaker cables, Radio Shack 3' RCA from CDP to preamp, stock power cables

I still don't have the sofa sectional in the room and room treatments, nor have I set up the SUB 1's programmable subwoofer room correction yet with PBK-1. Despite the bare room reflections, it sounds pretty decent still... Played my old Kind Of Blue SACD, Diana Krall's When I Look In Your Eyes, and Beck's Sea Change tonight. Really liking the subwoofer's punch on the Beck SACD. I'm an advocate for a good subwoofer... Good frequency response down to 20Hz is essential for hi-fidelity IMO.

Chat later... More boxes to pack tonight :-(.

Saturday 9 November 2013

GUEST REVIEW & MEASUREMENTS: The Quantum HDMI Squeezer + ULTRA Cable: A look at HDMI cables.

By Keaton I. Goulden-Eyre III, Esq.

With Archimago overseas, he implored that I take a few moments to contribute to this most obscene of blogs (sorry dear readers, "objective" and audio do not mix in my worldview based on experience, wisdom, and my ears). Recall that many months ago, I brought you the review of Dr. Frank's "Best-Coaxial-Digital" SPDIF cable. I remain steadfast in my opinion of that fantastic interconnect!

A reminder - the introductory price is still available until December 31st! At $4999.99, it is a steal.


The cellular phone rang - "How inconvenient!"

That was my initial thought the evening I heard about the cable being reviewed today. It happened in August as I was at my usual Las Vegas soirée with associates enjoying some Château Pétrus on my way to a Wolfgang Puck restaurant with a tender morsel of imported Wagyu in mind.

On the other end was Alfred Fitzgerald, LL.B. A member of my exclusive gentleman's club back home who could not wait to discuss an amazing audiophile find. Having had many deep conversations around our shared passion for audio reproduction, he knew that I would find his news intoxicating. He was correct.

It so happened that recently he was representing the interests of a client; Dr. Joseppi Maltzarelli, in the acquisition of a 30m yacht off the Florida Keys. He discovered that Dr. Maltzarelli was in fact a physicist who interned at CERN's Large Hadron Collider in 2005. His ground breaking theories on the vibrational qualities of quantum superstrings in the terahertz range drew applause but also envy from colleagues such that he decided to leave the "mainstream" physics community to become the chief scientific officer of a startup to leverage his theories and experience. The company: QuantaVibes Inc. based in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, aptly located just across the street from the Gurminj Musical Instrument Museum showcasing the history of stringed instruments.

Although the phone conversation was brief, I could not enjoy the succulent Kobe that night - lost in thought as I contemplated the potential of what I heard! I just had to call Dr. Maltzarelli upon my return home. I was almost unable to enjoy Céline Dion that evening!

After many E-mails and calls to QuantaVibes, I was finally able to track down Dr. Maltzarelli via satellite phone located somewhere off the coast of French Guyana in his yacht. It was a wonderful discussion; here is a good portion of our conversation:

ME: Good afternoon Dr. Maltzarelli. Thank you for taking my call.

JM: Absolutely Keaton, any friend of Mr. Fitzgerald's is a friend of mine. (Both laugh in approval.)

ME: I am curious my good fellow, whatever are you doing out at sea?

JM: The South Atlantic is beautiful this time of the year, my friend! I'm planning to sail down to Brazil and into Uruguay by the spring time where I will go inland to research the acoustic resonances of spiritual earthenware of the Amazonian peoples. Just a well deserved vacation after years of programming my supercomputer to calculate some Super Large Numbers involved in Superstring equations. The company is almost ready to ramp up production on what we believe will be the most significant HDMI audio upgrade in this generation - if not the most significant audio upgrade of all time!

ME: Amazing Joseppi. I'm perplexed however, how did a physicist of your calibre ever get involved in audio in the first place?

JM: You see, this is what happened. In 2005 when I was at CERN, I discovered that free-electron lasers were capable of inducing terahertz vibrations in the Superstring subequations as expressed using the derivative of the semiconductor Bloch equations. This caused quite a stir in the community because it meant that resonance effects created by this perturbation in high order space-time could fold down into our 3 spatial and single temporal dimensions! My colleagues were not able to handle this truth. They started a smear campaign decrying my theories and even went as far as to label me as mentally unstable!

ME: Terrible! Such close mindedness - they probably still believe the earth is flat! Was this why you left CERN?

JM: Yes, amico. I could not tolerate this final insult and left to pursue other avenues to realize the profound implications of this research. As to the second part of your question; audio was a natural fit for these equations. Like the strings of a violin, the Superstrings resonate in a natural harmonic. It just so happens that these harmonics precisely overlap with the audio spectrum when free-electron laser spectroscopy is activated at odd harmonic multiples. As a result, we can precisely tame the stray frequencies and decouple the thermionic energy flux passed across various equipment. My research pin pointed to the HDMI interface as one which could use this "taming" effect as a first foray into audio reproduction for the company.

ME: So, is it something to do with the HDMI interface's complexity?

JM: Precisely Keaton. You see, HDMI transports "bits" like how the Transporter in Star Trek transports matter. HDMI communicates using TMDS which sends those bits and nibbles with no respect for timing or integrity. This just shreds the musical information apart and artificially reproduces it at the other end! No wonder people experience horrific digititis, headaches, gout, sarcoidosis, gastrointestinal problems, and other forms of neurasthenia with this wretched interface for music. Is it any wonder how jittery the HDMI interface is?

ME: Impressive, doctor. So what is this product soon to be released to combat the problem?

JM: Soon, we will be releasing the QuantaVibe Quantum HDMI Squeezer and accompanying QuantaVibe ULTRA HDMI Cable. They should be purchased as a pair for synergistic effect. The Squeezer consists of an adapter for regular HDMI to micro-HDMI because supercomputer simulations demonstrated that the smaller size of the micro-HDMI interface precisely corresponded to the wavelength of these Superstring terahertz vibrations. The increased density of electron flow through the micro-HDMI connector accentuates the resonant-transduction effect by 323%. We've treated this device with a patent pending ultramicrochip which precisely aligns the resonances. Unfortunately this is a trade secret so I cannot elaborate any further.

ME: And how about the ULTRA Cable?

JM: We understand if an audiophile wishes to use a standard size HDMI-A connector or cannot modify their system to accept the micro-HDMI. It is more convenient but no matter how I load my equations for the terahertz wavelength, it is still a compromise due to the size of that connector. Nonetheless, we will be selling separately our ULTRA Cable which has some of the technologies incorporated in the microweave of the insulator. Again, I cannot divulge any further information on the technology itself lest I get in trouble with the CEO of the company. (Both laugh.)

ME: You know Joseppi, many insane "objectivists" will be very critical of these worthy products. What do you have to say to potential critics?

JM: Keaton, my friend, there will always be "haters" in this world. I faced many back at CERN under the guise of "peer review" and still get many thumbs down with my Facebook posts and criticism with interviews like this one probably. I do not expect everyone to appreciate the benefits. In our extensive testing in the lab, only those with excellent hearing, trained ears, truly high-end equipment, and impeccable taste in music can fully enjoy what we are about to produce. Furthermore, we are so convinced that the discriminating audiophile will love this product that we will be offering a 35-day guaranteed satisfaction or full refund! Absolutely no risk! I do not believe anyone can beat that.

ME: I have never heard of this kind of offer - 35 days! Now how about sending a set to me for a review?

JM: Absolutely, sir. I will have my people contact yours. I apologize Keaton, I have to go now, the fidanzata is calling... Never let the fidanzata wait...

ME: I absolutely understand. I look forward to the review sample and our next opportunity to converse. Perhaps at an audio show? I hope you find some hidden truths in the spiritual earthenware of the indigenous Amazonians.

With that, and good to his word, a package arrived from Tajikistan two weeks later. Neatly secured in its own black silk pouch I found this set of adapter and HDMI interconnect:

The workmanship was excellent. Black which matches my custom-designed HDMI DAC (connectors personally soldered by Nodko-san in Japan) with fabulously gold plated connectors. Directionality was clearly marked on the cable (not shown). I was informed by an associate at QuantaVibes that these are prototypes and the production units will feature gold embossed lettering on aerospace-grade titanium in place of the white label shown above.

The Quantum Squeezer is a mere 6cm (2.5") in length but tucked within it the full package of Superstring optimizations. At perhaps 15 gm in weight it was ethereally light - befitting of the level of technology! The ULTRA Cable is 12' in length and should be long enough for essentially any connection between your source and the HDMI DAC. This cable was optimized for music so do not expect it to carry nonsense HDMI 1.4 extensions like 3D or even 1080P to some sources*. Wow! Mind boggling how the potency of these optimizations were capable of limiting video transmission in the service of audio.

"Ultimate Smooth"
I immediately connected up the Quantum Squeezer and ULTRA Cable to the HDMI input of my UltraBook computer and custom DAC for a listen. (Remember, the Quantum Squeezer only works with the micro-HDMI port common on newer portable computers like laptops/ultrabooks.)

I don't know how Dr. Maltzarelli did it, but he did! I swear, the Herbert von Karajan & Berliner Philharmoniker Beethoven Symphonies played in my soundroom from my 16-driver 863 pound custom speakers with GIA FL grade diamond tweeters driven by special edition Nodko 8-Watt SET tube amps with a sparkle and clarity I had not thought possible. The strings were smooth like a well aged Highland single malt scotch whiskey or the hum of my newly acquired Jaguar F-Type V8 S. The timbre of each instrument resonated with a "note" beyond the vocabulary of the best Wine Spectator writer. This was the power of Superstring audio optimization!

The beautiful multi-layered vocals from Stephen Layton & Britten Sinfonia's version of Chorus: For Unto Us A Child Is Born (off "Handel's Messiah", 2009) almost dislodged me from my seat with the immensity of the recording venue's soundstage (St. John's, Smith Square, London). I had never heard the numerous voices with such definition. I could make out the fact that the tenor in the second row secretly picked his nostril at 1:23 into the track. Replacing the QuantaVibes cables with my AudioSearch Whiskey HDMIs ($300/3') demonstrated just how superior the QuantaVibes were and stepping down again to generic HDMIs ($20) resulted in either a collapse or dissolution of soundstage, leaving the voices decapitated, floating in space in one instance and the next congealed in an incomprehensible mess as if lying supine in a morgue. The joy was gone, the textures made bland, soulless. It was so obvious that anyone who could not tell the difference must be auditorily blind.

The same effect could be found with more pedestrian music. Consider the sitar on the Beatle's Norweigian Woods (off the 24-bit remaster of course). On the vast majority of HDMI cables (including very expensive ones I might add), they sound shrill, overly trebly, and ethnic. Through the Quantum Squeezer and ULTRA Cable, this instrument played with its full glory demonstrating George Harrison's connection with the numinous (perhaps aided by various hallucinogens?), altogether natural, at One, familiar. This level of sonic reproduction is priceless!

Finally, my luscious wife Candy wanted to participate in the audition.We cued up her favorite track from the Spice Girls - If You Wanna Have Some Fun. The soundstage exploded beyond the walls side-to-side, front-to-back; and the vocalization from the Girls were lined up beside each other - you could even discern the relative heights of these women! Candy squealed in delight exclaiming "I ain't heard it go so low before, Big Daddy!" Indeed, we had fun.

Readers, let me be perfectly clear about this. Forget all you have heard about "holographic" sound from inferior equipment. These cables offer HOLODECK sound. Miles Davis' spit could be heard and visualized dripping off his trumpet, Coltrane's sax keys rattled before my eyes, Elvis' hips gyrated in concert with his live performances, and Michael Jackson's lewd gestures beckoned beyond the grave off Thriller! Dare I say, this is the first time I have experienced digital sound even begin to achieve parity with my vinyl collection. Such was the presence. You know you want this.

Now, as per my agreement with Archimago, measurements are a pre-requisite for reviews of such gear on his blog (again, absurd). I lent him the QuantaVibes HDMI Squeezer and ULTRA Cable for a couple nights just before he went off on the plane. I'll be back in a moment after this unnecessary interlude...

Objective Analysis:

Okay, as Keaton said, I had the chance to measure his review cable with a couple other HDMI cables using the following setup just before I leave:

AMD A10-5800K HTPC with HDMI-A connector or ASUS Taichi with HDMI-D (micro-HDMI) --> Test HDMI cable --> Onkyo TX-NR1009 --> shielded RCA --> E-MU 0404USB --> shielded USB --> Win8 laptop for analysis

Cables tested:
1. HDMI "high speed" cable, ION branded, 6' long, used in my previous Onkyo DAC measurements. No problem with HDMI 1.4 functionality like 3D to HDTV. Cost - about $20.

2. Fancy 4m (~13') Energy branded HDMI with all the check boxes ticked for HDMI 1.4a. It's touted as the "Connoisseur" Series which I'm sure Keaton would approve of. High speed to "13.8Gbps" specified, ARC, 3D, ethernet, 4K... Even has a tag as seen in the picture with "Confirmation of HDMI ATC Testing" - ATC in this case means "Authorized Test Center" and for this cable, the center was "Dat Tran". Nice metal connectors and general cable build quality.

At $50, this is probably the most expensive cable I have and will be used between the Onkyo receiver and LG 3DTV in my new setup. Note that the upcoming HDMI 2.0 standard specifies data transfer rates up to 18Gbps but is backward compatible with high-speed cables so I hope this cable will do the job in the years ahead.

3. The review QuantaVibes Quantum HDMI Squeezer + ULTRA HDMI Cable. The HDMI Squeezer looks like a standard HDMI-A female to HDMI-D male converter capable of a 90-degree rotation. Although said to be "heavily modified", I do believe similar adapters can be found at the local Radio Shack :-).

The ULTRA Cable is "standard speed" - tested to be OK with 1080P with my TV and the ASUS Taichi ultrabook, but NOT fast enough for 3D video off my Panasonic BMP-TD220 Blu-ray player.

Starting with the usual RightMark measurements, here's the summary (all done at 24/96, HDMI WASAPI driver):

Frequency Response

Noise level
No difference folks! Frequency response, noise level, distortion levels appear indifferent to the HDMI cables used.
Let's look at jitter with the usual Dunn J-Test:

Hmmm, what's this? The QuantaVibes spectrum is more jittery - especially noticeable with the 24-bit condition. However, notice what's happening here. Both the ION and Energy cables are being measured off the standard HDMI connector whereas the QuantaVibes is off the ASUS Taichi laptop's micro-HDMI port. What happens if we use the "HDMI Squeezer" converter but with the fancy Energy HDMI cable instead?

Voilà, the jitter spectrum now looks like the one above with the QuantaVibes ULTRA HDMI cable. Basically what is demonstrated here is exactly what I saw with the TosLink, USB, and coaxial digital interfaces. The jitter spectrum is a function of the sending and receiving device. The cable itself does not change the pattern; in this case, the little ASUS Taichi ultrabook tends to show more jitter than the HTPC AMD A10-based computer. Whatever HDMI cable is used does not change the jitter pattern (although I suppose one could wonder whether the HDMI-A to micro-HDMI adapter has an effect; not likely).

Bottom line from the objective side: No evidence that HDMI cables make any difference to standard measures of frequency response, distortion, noise floor/dynamic range of the DAC (Onkyo TX-NR1009 in this case). Jitter remains a function of the active devices, not a property that varies with the passive cables themselves (at least within the reasonable lengths tested up to ~13 feet). I'm happy to be proven wrong if anyone else has good data especially with less jittery DACs than this receiver.

I am therefore at a loss as to Keaton's enthusiasm around this product.

Back to Keaton for his conclusions.

Keaton's Konclusions:

Bollocks, more squiggles from Archimago... Yet again, measurements remain insensitive and unable to achieve the resolution of my 73-year young experienced ears. Hence useless and invalid for audio evaluation. We all know that everything matters, even more so digital cables because there isn't such thing as digital according to these enlightened gentlemen. HDMI is of course the worst of all the digital connections for audio (some other enlightened gentlemen at Audio Asylum agree) which makes it so much more important that we spend more money on ensuring perfect digital transmission.

As a side note, I connected the ULTRA HDMI Cable by itself to my Blu-ray player and 85" 4K TV. I swear, the image was more stable, colors brighter, and the actors moved so smoothly and with such poise that B-movies seemed Oscar worthy. Likewise, the audio-video synchronization was even better with these cables that I wondered how I managed to watch movies without them! Here again, the power of jitter-free sympathetic Superstring resonance at work. Indeed, I will be ordering a separate set of ULTRA's just for the Blu-ray player when the final product is released. Nonetheless, I feel that without the HDMI Squeezer, the synergism just wasn't there. The sound didn't reach as deep, the trebles didn't quite touch the heavens; without doubt, you need the full set!

You likely are aware that so far I have not said how much these high-tech devices will be sold for. I was told the company is still perfecting the quality control due to the precise manufacturing standards and complexity of the patent pending process. Expectations are that both the HDMI Squeezer and ULTRA Cable will be priced as a set at the $3000 mark. By itself, the ULTRA Cable will be around $2000. Mere pocket-change for this level of sonic/video revelation - I bet your power cords costs about just as much and they only have 3 individual wire lengths inside at most, and require less precise shielding! This is very comparable to other high-end HDMI cables such as these or these or these especially given the improvements on the quantum scale!

With this premier product from QuantaVibes, I am confident that we will 'hear' more from this up-and-coming newcomer to the high fidelity audio scene. I have a strong feeling that Dr. Maltzarelli's research into Amazonian earthenware will yield many revelations into audio resonances for upgrading the sound room. It was with supreme regret that I had to return the review cable back to QuantaVibes after 3 weeks of audio bliss for fear of industrial espionage. Currently awaiting their formal release with bated breath and ample liquidity in hand.

Until next time; Magico wishes and Burmester dreams.


* This cable is rated as "Standard HDMI".

Ed: And so ends the digital audio cable measurement quadrilogy. That is, until yet another digital audio interface shows up with fancy cable claims... Enjoy the music till then :-).