Thursday, 27 March 2014

MEASUREMENTS: Another Look - Audioengine D3 clipping at 100% volume.

The ability to interact with you guys over the last year or so running this blog has been vastly educational for me! Whether data gathering with the MP3 test last year or comments and suggestions with each post... In general I do try to keep up with comments if I can but after 80+ posts now, I apologize if there are some comments I've missed along the way.

The post today is thanks to the keen eye of "Solderdude Frans" and his comments & suggestions to the previous post on the Audioengine D3. As per Addendum 2 in that post, indeed there is indication that a 0dBFS signal is clipping with the D3. I had missed it due to the fact that I was looking at the square waveform without considering the possibility of clipping contributing to the shape observed. Also while calibrating for the RightMark tests, RightMark and E-MU were flashing red for clipping and I thought it was that the amplitude was too high for the E-MU 0404USB rather than considering the possibility that the clipping was actually from the D3 output itself.

So, as suggested by Frans, this is what a 0dBFS 1kHz sine wave looks like with no volume attenuation (ie. 100%):

Yup, the peaks are being clipped!

The point where the clipping ends is with the hardware volume control turned down to 92% (93% almost was good enough) in the Windows 8.1 control panel (software volume level in foobar stays at 100%):

I re-ran the RightMark measurements ignoring the warning about clipping to see what happens to the measurement results:

As expected, there's a deterioration to the measured THD and IMD results going from 92% to 100% with clipping - still low using the RightMark methodology but more than 10-fold worsening with the clipping in place.

Interesting... Like the first sample AudioQuest Dragonfly reported in Stereophile awhile back, it looks like one needs to back off the Audioengine D3's volume setting a bit in order to avoid clipping. In the case of my sample, pulling down the Windows volume control to 92% did the trick.

Well, this fact obviously blemishes my impression of this little USB DAC as an accurate audio device. In practice, it's unlikely I will push the volumes to 100% but I wonder if this was by design. I find it hard to believe that the engineers did not check the clipping characteristics. Rather, my suspicion is that the engineers felt it was OK to allow the signal to clip a bit to increase the perceived amplification level. In a noisy environment, the extra amount of amplification of low level signal at the expense of distortion might be a reasonable trade-off that may not be too noticeable (possibly no problem at all if the music is soft and rarely hits 0dBFS) - of course, this would not be a "high fidelity" practice.


Seems like there are some ruffled feathers around the recent "Geek Out vs. others" measurements published by Light Harmonic. Good to see that the Geek Out is being designed with good measurements in mind; encouraging. I can see how other manufacturers can be a bit unhappy about all this... Although it's probably wise to have a 3rd party perform the tests rather than a direct LH release, I suppose if it gets the manufacturers thinking about better engineering and competition in this regard, that's a good thing. Curious that there was no frequency response measurement. I wonder if at 44kHz, the Geek Out does measure like a NOS DAC with some early roll-off in the high frequencies.

Ho! Larry somehow believes that "It's proven wrong to assume people could hear only below 20KHz" (see the comment section of that article). Ok. I suppose Ashihara's paper from 2006 could be used to argue this. But we're talking SPLs around 80 dB at 20kHz for most subjects as the threshold of hearing pure tones and there's quite a significant jump between 18 to 20kHz. Threshold for hearing pure tones isn't exactly evidence that this is beneficial for real music! Furthermore, if you look at the test subjects, they're aged 18 to 33 and the majority of these are young women! Good that hi-res can satisfy the golden-eared audiophile lady in our midst... Unfortunately it's not going to do much for the old boys I suspect ;-).


  1. Maybe the AE D3 can operate without clipping.
    It may have something to do with the power supply voltage coming from the USB possibly being on the low side of things.
    It may be a long shot but it is possible to use/make an USB cable that has the +5V coming from the USB interrupted and insert a good 5V (or maybe even 5.5V) on the wire/connector going to the AE-D3.
    Look for 'USB power injector' there are plenty ready made products and DIY tutorials around.

    1. Maybe... You know what... Tonight I'll have a look with a USB hub and also with one of the desktop machines. This would be very interesting if it actually makes a significant difference.

      As for a power injector. Well that would really kill the idea of a small portable device :-)

    2. Just tried tonight, Frans.

      No go. Whether it's a USB2 or USB3 hub with separate power supply or the i7 workstation's motherboard USB3 port, clipping characteristic looks the same. Need to get down to 92% to remain clip free.

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  3. Judging from the comments in the 'ruffed feathers' link it could be called a design error implementing the digital volume control.

    A higher power supply voltage is not going to help in that case.
    Most likely the audio section in the DAC is fed from a regulator in any case.

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