|Hmmm... Non-OverSampled waveforms - "accurate", "high fidelity"?|
|Here's the TDA1543 x 4 DAC board. Typically fed with a 12V DC power supply.|
Furthermore, we see that these are supposed to be -6dBFS sine waves at 1kHz, 5kHz, 10kHz, and 16kHz. Clearly, the "Sharp" digital filtered tracing shows us that the reconstruction algorithm does a good job in recreating the intended waveform compared to the NOS tracings with visual inspection. While the NOS output from the TEAC and TDA1543 look similar, there are differences we can make out in terms of the output from the TEAC appearing to have more overshoot at the transitions.
Something else to notice is that as the frequency increases, with fewer samples to define the sinusoidal wave (since we only have 44.1kHz sample points), notice that many of the frequency peaks do not reach the full amplitude of the sine wave with the NOS output. This correlates with the dip in high frequency amplitude response which we can easily measure:
Notice in the graph above, I've included both the RME ADI-2 Pro FS output in NOS mode as well as the old TDA1543x4 DAC compared to the TEAC UD-501 with "Sharp" digital filtering turned on. This shows us that regardless of old (TDA1543) or modern (RME ADI-2 Pro FS with AKM DAC) device used, the moment you turn off the digital filter, one creates this dip in the treble response which in the measurements above are down to about -3dB by 20kHz.
For fun, I can use the "Extremus" filter setting with my Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Touch to oversample the 44.1kHz signal to 88.2kHz (this DAC can handle up to 96kHz) and create a smoother looking sine wave:
Notice that the upsampled waveform is still rather jagged looking. This is because the TDA1543 is only a 16-bit DAC, plus we're only upsampling to 88.2kHz here. What is obvious is that now all the sine wave peaks are at close to full amplitude at 10kHz at least. And this improvement of frequency response can be confirmed with measurements:
The SoX upsampled 16/44.1 test signal to 88.2kHz now has a flatter frequency response but it's still obviously not perfect. Less than -1dB dip into 20kHz compared to -3dB without filtering.
Finally, remember that those jaggy, squarish NOS waves imply that there are high frequency anomalies. Here's a look at the FFT analysis up to 192kHz (384kHz sampling rate using RME ADI-2 Pro FS) of what is simply the 10kHz sine wave through the TEAC UD-501 with filter engaged, turned off, the TDA1543 DAC in NOS and when sent a signal from the Raspberry Pi 3 with SoX upsampling to 88.2kHz.
Obviously, the old TDA1543 device (bottom row) is much noisier than the TEAC DAC (based on much newer TI/Burr-Brown PCM1795 chips). We see with the TEAC in NOS mode the ultrasonic imaging distortions, the result of ignoring the proper reconstruction based on sampling theorem, compared to the typical "Sharp" digital filter available to most modern DACs. As for the TDA1543, notice the improvement with less high frequency distortion when we use even a 2x oversampling from 44.1kHz to 88.2kHz for this 16-bit DAC.
As fate would have it, I had started writing this article when I was reminded this week that Stereophile reviewed and measured the BorderPatrol DAC SE back in August of this year. Imagine, in 2018, a 'new' DAC designed around the geriatric Philips TDA1543 DAC chip released back in 1991 with fancy copper case and supposedly great power supply going for somewhere around US$1000-2000. Evidently despite the power supply and fancy chassis, the device measures rather poorly to say the least - go figure... The owner of the company even claimed "I was aiming to make an affordable DAC that sounds refined, clean, relaxed, fluid, colorful and human and free from the artificial ‘hi-fi’ sound that characterizes so many budget designs"! Since when did jagged edged reproduction of digital become anything but "artificial"!? Since when is this "refined" as claimed by the Stereophile reviewer? And how in the world does that price tag represent a "budget design" or "a very reasonable price" when clearly that jagged simple sine wave output can be surpassed by almost any decent modern DAC at US$200 or less?
I see in the last few years that there are other "high end" DACs based on the TDA1543 around. For example, there's this 16-chip Computer Audio Design 1543 MKII DAC proclaimed to be the "world's finest" at a mere £7,250.
Stereophile's "As We See It" penned by Jon Iverson for this month's issue brought out the BorderPatrol DAC again (I noticed some similarities in the philosophy expressed with my previous post here). In the article, Iverson quotes Jon Atkinson as saying "If this is a 'great' DAC, I'll have to hang up my measurements." While I may not agree with some of Atkinson's opinions, obviously I do not want to see the loss of measurements in Stereophile; if anything there should be more emphasis on the importance of measurements especially for controversial stuff like cables, questionable DACs like this, and digital tweaks. Over the years, I have opined that it is the objective measurements in Stereophile that actually make the magazine worthwhile reading as an archive for information rather than just subjective opinion.
IMO, obviously Mr. Atkinson has no reason to worry about his findings regarding this not-great DAC. When measurements clearly show that there are all kinds of issues with a device - channel imbalance, linearity anomalies, high-frequency noise, clearly poor low-level performance, high jitter, and terrible ultrasonic characteristics inherent in NOS devices - how can anyone who desires "high fidelity" audio argue that these are "good" (forget "great") characteristics?
(BTW, notice Figure 8 on the measurements page and the similarity with my capture of the -90dB signal from back in 2013 of the TDA1543 x 4 DAC I have. Despite the expense and fancy power supply, it certainly doesn't look like the low-level waveform has improved any!)
Apparently the subjective reviewer was not able to hear these anomalies. The question is should the subjective reviewer have been able to? Should subjective reviewers have the hearing acuity to appreciate the channel imbalance found? Should the reviewer have been able to tell that this DAC inverted polarity (a "golden ear" claim of significance)? Or that the DAC allowed all kinds of nasty high frequency noise to hit the amp and speakers which could actually have added distortions in the audible frequencies?
Let's summarize... IMO...
1. NOS DACs are not "accurate" or "high fidelity" when asked to reproduce typical 44.1kHz samplerate material. Clearly they have reduced frequency response and create all kinds of ultrasonic distortions. Personally, the only time I ever listen to my DACs in NOS mode are if I'm upsampling to 192+kHz using good software that does the filtering for me or if I listen to native hi-res files 96+kHz (maybe with piCorePlayer with SoX upsampling, JRiver with upsampling, or HQPlayer).
While this might be true in some circumstances especially in the old days, who ever said this was universally applicable? After decades, with the maturity of sound technology, assuming the collection of measurements was done appropriately, an alternate explanation is just as likely: "If it measures bad and sounds good, maybe your hearing isn't as good as you think." I think it would be hard to argue against this perspective when a subjective writer waxes poetic about stair-stepped squarish waves coming out of an old NOS DAC as if there is some special, non "digital-sounding" quality. From my perspective, these squarish waves are as "digital-sounding" as it gets! Another example of this might be how forgiving our ears/mind are to the effects of jitter; objectively, it takes quite a lot of timing irregularity before most people would be able to put their finger on an audible problem. Yet think of all the times various reviewers have claimed that cables of all things affect jitter significantly or manufacturers seem to think femtoseconds are audible...
When the technology is advanced enough to exceed perceptual thresholds, this is exactly what one would expect. The human perceptual system has been surpassed in many domains already. When this happens and there is a desire to differentiate devices, creative imagination becomes a greater factor and the mind projects descriptions of the devices fed by psychological expectations and biases than objective reality.
Audiophiles. Know thyself?!
Just want to let everyone know of a cool new tool by Yamamoto2002, our man in Japan :-) - WWShowUsbDeviceTree.
With this program, you can inspect a bunch of USB parameters of devices hooked up to your computer which of course includes USB DACs. Things like USB Audio Class compatibility, compatible bit-depth, power requirements... Here's what my ASUS Xonar Essence One looks like:
Yeah, totally geeky. Have fun if you're into this kind of thing. :-)
I was over at an audiophile friend's place the other evening. He put on the DSD128 version of Jacintha's Fire & Rain. Sounds good with nice dynamic range (~DR13) if you're into the audiophile female vocals genre and James Taylor cover songs :-|. When examining the DSD128 files, I noticed the noise floor was higher than expected for a high resolution production.
The Bohemian Rhapsody (DR8) soundtrack with its mix of remastered tracks and live recordings was certainly fun listening to that evening! And if you're interested in some older-sounding new pop music, be sure to check out Steve Perry's Traces (2018, DR6) - especially if you're a Journey fan back in the day :-).
Enjoy the music folks. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to the American friends.