Saturday 25 December 2021

Audiophile Psychology: Reconsidering Zelinger's "Hi-Fi Fetishism" (HFN&RR, October 1981), and Lofft's "Sense and Nonsense" (SR, October 1982). On neuroses & fantasies.

Greetings everyone. Grab yourself a nice beverage, settle into a comfy chair, let us delve a bit into audiophile psychology.

I think this is an important topic; one that is implied in many of my posts over the years (in fact, we started 2021 with some related thoughts). Some of these psychological constructs I believe explain to a degree the ceaseless arguments we often see online especially when things go off track and disagreements appear irreconcilable between different "sides", "camps", "tribes"...

I. Hardware Audiophiles and Hi-Fi Fetishism

Let's discuss some ideas by building on writings from the past. To start, here's something interesting by J. Zelinger "Hi-Fi Fetishism: a psychologist's view of the lunatic fringe" from October 1981, published in Hi-Fi News & Record Review (I noticed that the link above can be marginal and might not work, here's a PDF of the text).

First of all, I must send kudos to Mr. Zelinger for a thought-provoking piece from the early '80s. It appears that many in the audiophile hobby diverged off into the direction of pure subjectivity, areas untethered from reality testing during that decade. He touches not just on the importance of psychoacoustics (as playing its role in perceptual adjudication of course), but into the touchy subject of the personalities of certain audiophiles.

Let's dive into this without fear and talk/think about this important topic and how it relates to us as "audiophiles" in the 21st Century.

Saturday 18 December 2021

Upsampling: Native DAC Playback, and SoX PCM/DSD upsampling of 1kHz signal. (And the "Beatles: Get Back" documentary, "As the artist intended"?)

Notice one of the waveforms NOS.

A few weeks ago on this blog in a comment discussion, Bennet / Dtmer Hk talked about showing what it looks like when upsampling a 1kHz 16/44.1 signal in PCM side-by-side with DSD upsampling.

Sure, no problem! We can have a quick peek at the 1kHz sine tone from a couple of DACs for comparisons between direct playback with built-in filtering, upsampled in high quality with PCM SoX, and then using high quality DSD conversion with SoX-DSD.

Plus, let's also have a look at the recent Beatles: Get Back documentary series and some thoughts which I think relate not just to the "music lover" which I hope is in all of us, but also to the "hardware audiophile" side of this hobby.

Saturday 11 December 2021

As We Hear It: Another High Dynamic Range Christmas Playlist (2021 Edition) by Allan Folz

Another High Dynamic Range Christmas Playlist (2021)

[Guest Post by Allan Folz]

Last year I shared with readers some of the Christmas albums that were a large part of our family's holiday tradition. Mostly they were CD's I bought in the mid and late 90's, which we listened to every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas. They were an eclectic mix of standards with the one thing in common that they all sounded great. Years later I learned about the importance of dynamic range and realized there was a objective reason I never tired of listening to these every Christmas, year after year. They sounded great because they had excellent dynamic range.

While those albums will always have a special place in our Christmas tradition, with streaming services now broadly available, over the last few years I have added some new favorites to our listening rotation.

Last year's guest post was so well received I took it as an invitation to write another post sharing some of our newer favorites. (Ed: Absolutely, Allan!) Many of these albums I listen to via streaming service so I don't always have dynamic range measurements from the CD's to compare. Rest assured they all sound great.

Saturday 4 December 2021

RETRO: Technics SL-P110 (1986) & Sony CDP-690 (1990) CD Players. Did early CD players sound bad?

As we enter the last month of 2021, let's go back in time and consider the question: "Did early CD players sound any good?"

Over the years, I have heard this question asked many times. Typically among audiophiles, the answer almost invariably seems to be that early CD players from the 1980's "suck" (or similar negative expression). Generally, these comments appear without further details to explain the sentiment; as usual in audiophilia, we can find many opinions out there, but few bother with facts to build their case. I haven't seen many contemporary articles or writers discuss this question while looking at objective data to examine performance compared with the hi-res DACs we have these days.

The genesis of this article came about while chatting with my friend linnrd a number of months ago about the sound of DACs, modern devices, and what we grew up with back in the day. Lo and behold, he dug out the two machines you see above from his "archive" of older hardware. They appear to be in excellent condition despite being >30 years old!

Let's have a good look at the performance of these machines, and a listen as well, of course. ;-)

Saturday 27 November 2021

MEASUREMENTS: S.M.S.L. A6 as amplifier [ICEpower 50ASX2(SE) Class D module]. (And DAC output - AKM AK4452 AMPT.)

Over the years, there have been devices I've been meaning to measure but one thing or another got in the way. This SMSL A6 amplifier was something I discussed here on the blog back in 2017 (a subjective review and measurements of DAC output). Over the years, this device has been happily amplifying signals for my dad's Klipsch Forté which is quite a sensitive speaker of 96dB SPL/m/2.83V; certainly by now it is very much "burned in". ;-)

I wanted to measure this device as an amplifier out of interest, knowing that inside this is the Bang & Olufsen ICEpower 50ASX2(SE) Class D module. While the datasheet for this amplifier module is already very detailed, there's nothing like measuring oneself!

This ICEpower module is rated at 2x47W into 4Ω, both channels driven to 1% THD+N. The power rating halves to 25W/channel into 8Ω. Within the ICEpower ASX series, there is also the 250ASX2 that will supply up to 250W/channel into 4Ω, and 125W/channel to 8Ω if you need more power.

The nice thing about this Class D module is that it's inexpensive and easily available for hobbyists such as through PartsExpress (current price US$118), sometimes through Amazon as well. You could buy one of these and get a simple case such as this Ghent Audio one and assemble it for yourself quickly.

Saturday 20 November 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Yamaha RX-V781 A/V Receiver. Questionable magazine reviews of "high end" amps (D'Agostino). And thoughts on "hardware audiophiles", age and aging.

For this post, I want to have a look at the performance of my Yamaha RX-V781 as an amplifier. It's not new - I purchased this back in late 2016 to replace my Onkyo TX-NR1009 which I published on previously. Awhile back, I also looked at the pre-outs to examine the quality of this device's DAC.

This was an inexpensive receiver when I got it (as I recall, significantly less then US$700), being part of the "V" (Value) series from Yamaha, a step down from their "A" (Aventage) line. From the outside there's not much to look at, it's a black receiver with the usual buttons, knobs, and LCD screen to tell you the status. There's no swivel-open door to hide buttons like in more expensive models. It's a combination of plastic and metal exterior. Weight is not too heavy at 23lbs, mostly from the power transformer (looks like conventional E-I type, less expensive than toroidal but can provide greater capacity for size with potentially higher magnetic interference however).

The V781 is quite a feature-filled 7-channel amplifier capable of running 5.2.2 Atmos / dts-X, even compared to many of today's devices (see Yamaha specs here). What drew me to this model when I bought it was the fact that it had a full array of pre-outs so I could bring my own amps to the party if I wished.

Interestingly, even though over the years Yamaha updated these receivers with models like the RX-V385 and RX-V685, they never updated the "V78X" product line. My guess it that maybe the higher-end Value series might have been too close to the lower-end Aventages in terms of features and quality. For example the current Yamaha RX-A2A (~US$900) doesn't have a full complement of pre-outs, has more HDMI ins, no second HDMI out and quite similar to the Yamaha RX-V6A (US$650) already.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

As We Hear It 2021 (I): Maurizio C on MQA, some ideas about TIDAL, and a few words about audio journalistic legacy...

Generation 1 earphones! For distant aircraft detection apparently...

As you might recall, over the years I have incorporated contribution posts from readers here on the blog. The article that follows was something I wrote back in the summer (2021) but since I was sick and tired of more MQA talk, I held on to it from publication a few months ago. Well, I think the time has come now that a few of the thoughts I wrote about TIDAL have actually come to pass - TIDAL just announced today that the price is down to $10/month, with the lossless 16/44.1 tier, pushing MQA into the "HiFi+" tier for $20/month. We're not sure if the lossless 16/44.1 tier has dumped the worthless MQA-encoded "MQA-CD" content though.

Here's the article with some modifications in light of the recent news...

A comment about MQA leading into 2021; some thoughts about the future of TIDAL and on journalistic legacy...

Here's an E-mail I received in late 2020 from Italy.
December 27, 2020 
To: Schiit Audio, Linn Audio
CC: Archimago

Dear Alls,
I'm an Italian, 60 years old, music lover and Older Analog Hi-Fi Fan and only recently I have converted to digital music, listening almost exclusively through the streaming services (Spotify, Tidal, QoBuz, Amazon, etc.).

Among hi-res listeners, Tidal is the most famous and expanding but they are "Forcing" the exclusive use of MQA format, with large investments, marketing campaigns, reviews from important audiophile magazines etc ..
Unfortunately this Campaign is gaining the upper hand, so much so that MQA Logo is now coveted by both manufacturers and sellers...

Saturday 13 November 2021

Epson Photo ET-8550 13" EcoTank Printer: Excellent, economical, wider photo printing! A quick look...

While for the most part this blog concerns itself with audio stuff, every once awhile it's nice to diversify into discussions of other tech products; over the years we've talked about TV tech, CPUs, and networking for example.

Whether in audio or computer tech, I like products that represent value. This probably will become more important in the years ahead due to inflationary pressures with possible slowing of technological innovations in consumer electronics.

A few years ago, I mentioned about the Epson ET-2550 (these days supplanted by the Epson ET-2760) for basic color printing. Of all the years of using printers, that device was the first time I felt ink jet represented good value. Since 2017, that printer is still going strong! Never had any issues with print head clogging, and it has achieved stable connection through the WiFi in my home and accessible to all computers within the network sitting unobtrusively in the basement.

In fact, I was so impressed that I simply had to jump at grabbing one of these new Epson EcoTank Photo ET-8550 units when they became available recently. This is the wider format 13" (ie. A3+ paper) model. If all you need is standard-width 8.5" then you can check out the less expensive EcoTank ET-8500. As the name implies, this is intended for photo printing with its 6 ink tanks as opposed to the 4 on the ET-2550/ET-2760.

Saturday 6 November 2021

RTL Utility: A look at audio interface latency. Discussion: PLACEBO / NOCEBO in audio (Darko + Lavorgna... again).

Hey guys and gals. For this blog post, I thought it would be of particular interest to some to have a look at latency and audio interfaces. As you can see in the picture above, I pulled out my Focusrite Forte for this alongside the RME ADI-2 Pro FS.

Latency is simply the delay for something to happen after an instruction has been issued for that event. Computers, device drivers, the hardware are not instructed "real-time" down to a bit by bit timeframe, but rather act on "chunks" of data generally issued with some buffer to keep the pipeline flowing. The buffering mechanism is a major, but not the whole, factor in the latency effect.

There is a balance to be struck though. The larger the buffer, potentially the more latency, but the less likely we could run into issues with dropouts. The shorter the buffer, the lower the potential latency, but the more demand on the CPU to deal with making sure the buffer doesn't go empty, and likelihood that we could have audio errors if needs are not met on time. This idea of "strain" on the CPU is particularly relevant on digital audio workstations (DAWs) when all kinds of DSP like VST plugins are used in audio production.

For us audiophiles, we generally don't care too much about latency because normally we're just interested in the sound quality once we "press play" and so long as the audio starts reasonably quickly and is not disrupted during playback, then there's nothing to complain about. Latency by itself has no effect on sound quality (despite the claims of some, which we'll address later).

Saturday 30 October 2021

Revisiting the TEAC UD-501 DAC (2013): THD(+N), DSD output, Sweeps, Jitter, 1/10 Decade Multitone 32. (And on SSD transition, Corsair MX500 SSD, and Hi-Fi+ closes comments...)

After Bennet/Dtmer Hk's comment on this previous post, I thought it might be interesting to revisit my longtime friend, the TEAC UD-501 DAC that I bought new when it came out in 2013. My preview and measurements (Part 2 PCM, Part 3 DSD) are still online of course.

I still remember doing those measurements in my previous home - it feels so long ago! ;-)

These days with the E1DA Cosmos ADC and RME ADI-2 Pro FS available for measurements, let's take a trip down memory lane at what has been over the years a reference DAC for me. I think the TEAC UD-501 is a special device that ushered in for many audiophiles a cost-effective, high resolution, well-built, reliable, low jitter, asynchronous USB audio interface which I suspect has influenced the design and performance of other DACs over the years.

Spec-wise, it was one of the first to catch my interest with the ability to handle PCM 384kHz and DSD128. The high quality metal case looks serious. It's based on a dual-mono TI/Burr-Brown PCM1795 configuration with dual toroidal linear power supplies. There are a number of PCM and DSD filters including the ability to turn off the 8x oversampling and allow "NOS" (Non-OverSampling) mode. The quad JRC MUSES8920 opamps they used were also another "feature" talking point back then. (Quite a complete specs page here for the TEAC.)

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. (I see that variants are available on Amazon now.) 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.

Saturday 10 July 2021

Apple TV 4K, 2nd Generation (2021, A12 Bionic SoC, 6th Gen Apple TV): A look and listen (to "Spatial Audio" on Apple Music)...

So guys and gals, let's jump from the lo-tech "audiophile boutique" passive AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ last week to talk about something hi-tech this time.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I've been listening to some of the "Spatial Audio" music streaming off Apple Music these days. Easy to give it a shot with the 1-3 month trial period they're offering.

As I mentioned before, while I enjoy the content on headphones and can experience the difference Atmos streaming makes, as one who enjoys excellent high fidelity sound quality (ie. "audiophile"), the best, most natural way of listening to multichannel content is in the sound room where I have my multiple speakers set up. I have a modest surround system with the ELAC Debut 2.0 A4.2 Atmos speakers (previously measured) adding a bit of that height effect with Paradigm Signature S8 v.3 fronts, matching C3 center channel, full tower Studio 80 v.3 for rears and dual subs to make basically a 5.1.2 arrangement.

The trick with getting the multichannel content out to the room has to do with whether Apple Music allows the bitstream to pass through the playback device into the AV receiver that can handle Atmos. As I mentioned in that previous article, I can get the "bed" channels out (ie. 5.1, 4.0, etc...) using my wife's M1 MacBook Air running the recent macOS Big Sur release, but this is with the machine decoding the DD+ (E-AC3) + Atmos stream into 24/48 5.1 PCM sent to the receiver over HDMI.

For bitstream passthrough including the full Atmos encoding, at least at this point in time, the Apple TV works and let's talk about this box today for audio/home theater usage... As you can see above, I have the Apple TV 4K, Gen 2, 64GB here - this was released just recently April/May 2021 with the "A12 Bionic" 7nm SoC which actually was first used in the iPhone XS series back in late 2018. Certainly energy-efficient and plenty fast for non-multitasking media playback. If you don't need the storage, the 32GB model saves you US$20 - as usual, Apple has no SD card expansion for their devices. Internally, the machine has 3GB RAM.

Saturday 3 July 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Review of AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ. (And on Milind Kunchur's recent RCA vs. XLR paper.)

Hmmm... What does "LESS DIGITAL NOISE" actually mean? After all, noise that's bad enough to affect digital data will result in errors. Obviously, that would be very bad!

Normally, I don't review stuff like this because there's simply little reason to believe these kind of things do anything of value.

I know, this comes across as highly biased right at the start of a review post! But I want to be honest and I wasn't born yesterday so I know there are all kinds of claims in the audiophile world that simply do not pan out. Furthermore, I've had experience with the AudioQuest company (see the Dragonfly Cobalt / Red / V1.2 DAC review a few years back) and know that they have made claims which turn out to be untrue when tested.

Another admission going into this is that I was introduced to the AQ JitterBug back in 2015, and over the years I have seen other tests like the Audio Science Review thread from 2019. Having said this, I am happy to be swayed if I truly hear a difference or measurements show me that I should change my mind.

So, when a local audiophile friend bought the new AudioQuest Jitterbug FMJ ["Full Metal Jacket" - cute] (~US$60, released mid-May 2021) and suggested I borrow it for a week as he went on vacation, I figured it would be fair to give it a try and see if I can run some measurements to provide data to audiophiles at large on this update to the product. I promised him that I would give him my honest opinion.

Saturday 26 June 2021

MEASUREMENTS: 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear Headphones (H1707) with wired remote & microphone. And on Galen Gareis / Iconoclast Cables interview recently.

Alright folks, on the test bench this week is the 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear Headphones (let's just shorten name to 3DOE). If you've seen this headphone over the years (released around Christmas time 2018), you'll probably know that we need to clarify a couple of things.

First, they're not actually "over-ear" as in truly "circumaural" headphones. The earpads/cups are not big and unless you really have small pinnae, will sit "partially circumaural" with portions against the pinnae like supraaural designs.

Secondly, it's more of a "dual" driver design rather than "triple". There are 2 active drivers - a graphene-coated 36mm mylar dynamic driver, and a 10mm ceramic/piezoelectric driver for treble. The third "driver" is the passive "bass reflector", much like speaker passive radiators but inside a closed headphone reinforcing a certain amount of bass response.

The silver model like the one I have here is the graphene-coated version. There is also a gold-colored version out there which is a titanium driver without the graphene layer. I've seen comments that the sound is similar between the two versions. This one was bought through the regular Amazon retail channel (on sale for <US$150) and as far as I can tell, is the current model with an inline remote control plus microphone good for use with your smartphone.

Saturday 19 June 2021

SUMMER MUSINGS: Surround sound to the masses! In support of 3D Audio / Dolby Atmos in music streaming (Apple "Spatial Audio")...

Hey guys and gals, this week I thought I'd take a break from measurements and observe what's going on in the audio, audiophile, and streaming world these days. I noticed some discussions and even concern among music listeners around Atmos and Apple Music's drive towards "spatialized" streaming.

As audiophiles, let's think and talk about this for a bit.

First, let's do a quick background recap so we're all on the same page...

Saturday 12 June 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Pass Labs / First Watt SIT-2 stereo Class A amplifier. [And Stereophile steps in with MQA yet again...]


Greetings all. For this post, as you can see above, I've got something exotic to review / measure here at chez Archimago. It's a Pass Labs / First Watt SIT-2 stereo amplifier which was made in limited quantities back around 2011-2013.

This amplifier comes with a nice backstory; that of the silicon carbide (SiC) "Static Induction Transistor" which you can read about here (aka V-FET). The thought is that these transistors behave in a "triode-like" manner, hence perhaps they will be able to convey a "tube-like" sound. Furthermore, this device follows the general audiophile philosophy of "simplicity and minimalism" (quoted from the manual) as principles that would result in a device sounding "good". As such, this amplifier has only a single SIT gain stage, operates in Class A, built with minimal components, employs no feedback, and as expected, accepts single-ended input only.

Online I found this user manual and Japanese product flier for those wanting a bit more information from the company. The cost of this amplifier when it first came out was around US$5000.

Saturday 5 June 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: (Mass)Drop + HiFiMan HE-4XX Planar Magnetic Headphones (with Brainwavz XL Round Hybrid earpads). Maintenance if the earcup detaches.

Well, as I've mentioned previously, I don't really need more headphones. ;-) Alas, I could not resist picking up these minty Drop + HIFIMAN HE-4XX Planar Magnetics locally used at a price I could not refuse! I also love how they look with the classic headband. The matte "midnight blue" color looks like a dark charcoal with a subtle powder bluish tinge.

I know there have been different opinions on the build quality of these headphones. Some of the early units had issues with right-left imbalance, driver failures, and broken hinges. According to this post, it looks like replacements with serial number 5XXX have many issues fixed. My unit here has serial number 57XX.

The hinge where it interfaces with the headband feels robust on this unit and I think the build quality is very good. The steel gimbal and metal sliders seem like they will be able to hold up to daily use. No complaints there. I did have an issue with the part interfacing the ear cup which I'll discuss below.

The stock cable is a little short for my taste at around 5'/1.5m (6' would be better for my desktop use). Notice that the cable is angled 90°, terminated with a 3.5mm connector which is fine for mobile use. I think a straight cable would have been preferred since most buyers would likely be using these open headphones at home almost exclusively. I like the soft, pliable nature of the cable although I have read some complaints that it can kink and fail. I don't think there's an issue, replacements are not expensive anyway.

Friday 28 May 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: (Anthony) Gallo Acoustics A'Diva Ti (~2005) & Nucleus Micro Speakers (~2000).

Hey ladies and gents, let's switch from discussing headphones this week and have a look and listen at some speakers.

You've probably seen speakers like the ones above over the years. These are the "iconic" Gallo Acoustics A'Diva Ti speakers from the UK. These specific ones are probably something like 16 years old and the 5" diameter A'Diva orb (with 3" driver) is in fact the larger of the 2 speakers from Gallo we'll be talking about today.

Here's the smaller 4" diameter (also 3" driver) little brother - the Nucleus Micro. Note that this is the "non-Ti" version which is from the previous generation, made around year 2000 with presumably a different driver. Unlike the stainless steel protective grille of the A'Diva, the fabric grille is easily removed for photography:

Saturday 22 May 2021

Modding the Dekoni Blue ("Arch-Mod5"). Streaming audio: Apple Music to be "true hi-res lossless" stereo with multichannel (Atmos) in June.

A couple weeks back, I measured the Dekoni Blue headphone which as I noted, is itself a "modded" Fostex T50RP Mk 3 planar-magnetic (aka "Regular Phase", aka "isodynamic") headphone. It would be completely remiss of me if in a review/discussion of the Dekoni/Fostex I were not to spend some time talking about modding!

Modding has an very long tradition in the 'head-fi' world and I think it's been generally recognized that the Fostex headphones are the classic headphones to perform surgeries on. Much of what I'll be talking about here will be nothing new to those deep into this stuff already. For more on modding, check out this Headphonesty article for a background.

To start, as always, we need a plan and a "vision". As I mentioned in the last article, the Dekoni Blue sounds pretty good for the most part, so my job isn't to change the performance completely, but to rather refine what is there. If a headphone sound highly objectionable, one should really just move on and buy something else! Let's review the measurements I published last time for the Dekoni Blue with the supplied earpads and see what we can try...

Saturday 15 May 2021

MEASUREMENTS: AKG Q701 "Quincy Jones Signature" (2012) & AKG K260 (vintage 1987-1988). And recent interviews with audiophile cable/power people [Shunyata / AudioQuest].

For today's post, let's have a listen and look at the two AKG headphone models above separated by about 25 years in age. On the left we have the AKG Q701 "Quincy Jones" Signature Reference-Class Premium Headphone which was released in 2011. I bought this one (I preferred the black rather than some of the funky colors like neon green) in late 2012.

On the right, we have a rather uncommon AKG K260 - first edition released in 1987-1988, borrowed from my friend linnrd locally. A later versions of this headphone was relabeled with the "Professional" name attached. There's also a Philips version from back in the day using AKG as OEM. This particular one here is used but still in good condition which I cleaned up a bit before more critical listening and measurements.

Notice the "AKG look" with the leather or faux-leather headbands and the thin plastic/metal semicircular arches up top.

Saturday 8 May 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Dekoni Blue ("Approved" Fostex T50RP Mk 3 mod). And the importance of the room for hi-fi reviews (Wilson Chronosonic XVX speakers in Stereophile).

As you can see in the image above and might know already, these are essentially Fostex T50RP Mk 3 headphones which have been out since 2015. In 2018, the Dekoni company (which makes aftermarket headphone pads and accessories mainly) decided to make a licensed version of the Fostex with their own earpads and blue esthetics - hence the Dekoni Blue (~US$250). If you want a little more background, here's Dekoni's "Short Essay..." on the product.

If you've used Fostex headphones before, I think you'll appreciate that the stock ear pads are thin and rather uncomfortable so upgraded earpads are mandatory for long-term use. When I got these, it was less expensive that a new Fostex + upgraded earpads.

Saturday 1 May 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Sennheiser HD650 (~2010-2012) and HD800 (~2010). A comparison of two "Reference Class" headphones, and a look/listen to the "Sennheiser veil / darkness". [Inexpensive 2TB SSD and inflation in consumer electronics...]

As you can see in the picture above, this is a bit of what the "box opening" looks like when you buy either one of these "Reference Class" Sennheiser headphones.

Much has already been said about the headphones being measured today. The Sennheiser HD650 was originally released back in 2003. Of interest historically, there was a fire in the Ireland factory back in 2004 so there probably are not many older pre-fire HD650's floating out there. Tyll Hertsens' article about the Sennheiser HD580/600/650 is a great summary and SolderDude has a ton of stuff on the HD650 on DIY-Audio-Heaven. SBAF has this "compendium" on the HD650 which I think covers everything... and more! Oh yeah, even NwAvGuy got one of these back in 2011.

These days, there's the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD6XX which would be the latest version of the HD650 discussed here, while the Sennheiser HD660S looks similar but has redesigned drivers.

Likewise, you already no doubt would have read about the Sennheiser HD800 over the years. These came out in 2009, sporting the large 56mm "ring radiator" driver (vs. 42mm transducer of the HD650). The HD800 has since been revised with the HD800S in 2016 (here's Tyll's take with mods discussions). Multiple reviews on Head-Fi. The HD800S sounds very similar to the HD800 to me.

For this post, let's look at measurements comparing the two and I'll put in my 2¢ on the sonic differences as I hear them.

Saturday 24 April 2021

Home Network: The ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 WiFi-6 Router & QNAP QSW-M2108-2C mixed 2.5GbE + 10GbE switch. (Internet jitter and "one number" audio objectivism.)

QNAP multi-gigabit switch being installed behind the basement home electrical panel.

Well guys & gals, it seems like every year, I'll post at least an article on computer networking.

I know, this isn't specifically audiophile-related but for us computer/streaming digital audiophiles, that computer network infrastructure we run at home is important and certainly being home-bound in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a smoothly running network has become even more important for work, education, socialization and play these days.

So with both my kids now teenagers in high school, myself and the wife having to do more work from home, and the ongoing (exhausting) use of video conferencing, I figure I might as well optimize the system and hopefully forego thinking about this for a few years. ;-)

So today, let's talk about wireless, router features, and multi-gig wired home ethernet.

The top image is my new WiFi router. The 4lb, 802.11ax "Wi-Fi 6" capable, tri-band (2.4 + dual-5GHz), up to 160MHz bandwidth in 5GHz, DFS, 12-stream, 8-antennae, 1.8GHz quad ARMv8 64-bit cores, 1GB RAM, 256MB firmware, 2.5GbE-port, ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000; from now on I'll just call it the "GT-AX11000".

Saturday 17 April 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Drop + THX AAA 789 Linear Headphone Amplifier. And on Audioholics' THX Onyx DAC/amp "review" with a dash of MQA nonsense...

With much of my soundroom and other parts of the audio system sorted out to my satisfaction these days, I thought it would be time to start paying a little more attention to the headphone side of things. As you can see, in the last few weeks we've talked about the AKG K371 headphone, and prior to that some discussions on impedance and power.

Prior to about 2013, I was very much into headphone stuff when the kids were babies and louder music playback was simply not an option. Thankfully this all changed when the basement man-cave became available! ;-)

When writing about headphones and reviewing, it's important to have a good foundation set-up for "reference" listening. This means I would need a good headphone amplifier on my desktop Workstation computer; one that would support and optimize playback of some of the more hard-to-drive headphones - those with challenging output impedances and lower sensitivities. In alignment with that goal, I have the Drop + THX AAA 789 Amplifier on my table these days as you can see above.

Saturday 10 April 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: AKG K371 (closed-back, over-ear, dynamic driver) - An affordable, modern, standard studio headphone. (And on using the miniDSP [H]EARS rig.)

Hey guys and gals, the post here today will be on the longish side since this is the first time I'm writing a headphone review with some measurements. Best to take the opportunity to discuss the testing itself as well as product impressions.

As you can see above, today we'll be considering the AKG K371, an inexpensive (~US$120) "studio" 50mm dynamic headphone that's easy to drive, with a sound signature based on Harman research into headphone tonality - see this nice presentation from 2017 containing a review of the various research over the years.

I bought these headphones from the usual retail channels.

First let me show you some pictures of these particular headphones, and later, we'll get into measurements with the inexpensive miniDSP (H)EARS test fixture.

Saturday 3 April 2021

MEASUREMENTS: Melody Onix SP3 Mk. II (~2006) Class AB Tube Integrated Amplifier. (And it isn't "diminishing returns" on sound quality, often there are simply "no returns".)

Recently I was curious about trying a tube amp in my system and my dad who's into his vintage gear including some older tube devices offered me this amp to test out. It was time to take up the offer and have a listen plus put some tube gear on the test bench for a peek at the performance.

As you can see, for today's post, we have the Melody Onix SP3 Mark II which I believe was first released in 2004 for US$1000. This one I believe was bought in 2006. It's a relatively compact unit (12" x 8" x 13" or so), 56lb beast designed by Melody Australia, made in China. Over the years, there have been various reviews on this product from 6Moons (Best of 2005 list), Audioholics, Home Theater Review, High Fidelity Review among others. Here's the Melody company website. I think this model was discontinued by around 2010.

I've always liked the look of this box. There's a cage that normally protects fingers from the four large power tubes and individual smaller covers (you can see 3 on the right removed) that protects the 6 flanking tubes. Turn off the lights at night and it all looks very cool.

Saturday 27 March 2021

MEASUREMENTS / MUSINGS: Headphone impedance, sensitivity, efficiency, and amplifier output impedance. (And a quick thought on Darko's "All You Need Is...")

Some people have walls of headphones. Well the other day I thought I'd take out my little collection accumulated over the last few decades around the house, some of them used by the kids, and let's dump them on the sound room ottoman to have a look :-).

The majority are based on dynamic drivers with a couple of balanced armatures (Etymotic ER-4, 1MORE Quad Driver). I'm actually missing a few there that were in use that evening by others around the home - the Dekoni Blue (an officially sanctioned "modded" Fostex T50RP Mk 3) planar-magnetic, the AKG K371, and Apple AirPods Pro (wireless) which my wife had brought to work and "forgot" to bring home that evening.

I was curious about the impedances of these devices and thought it would be good to put together a summary article looking at this along with the power needed to drive headphones and correlating these characteristics with amplification.

Although I have spoken of the importance of mobile audio in the past, I really have been remiss in not putting enough emphasis on this trend or the importance of headphones in these blog pages over the years. Despite this, some of the most common E-mails I've received over the years have actually been about headphones. So let's make sure to incorporate some "head-fi" in the days ahead!