Happy 2022 everyone and greetings from Honolulu. As Bing Crosby once sang, "Here we know that Christmas (and New Years) will be green and bright" in Hawaii. A welcome first escape from Canada since the Pandemic began for myself and the family. Always good to escape winter in Canada for a little bit even if it's from relatively mild Vancouver although this year looks like we also avoided the snowy cold snap!
As a first post for 2022, let's look in the (virtual) mailbag a select a few items from readers for an "As We Hear It" post that have come in over the last number of months.
I. Hypex nCore NC252MP DIY Build (Mark K.)
Seemed too easy to pass up “An Inexpensive Hi-Fi Class-D Stereo Amp for the 2020's: Hypex nCore NC252MP (DIY Assembly)”
Quite a few years ago my Philips FA-960 lost a channel and in pure laziness I dumped it and replaced it with a similar (I thought) Marantz. Turns out the next model UP (Marantz PM-80) would have been the same amp but I have been living with my disappointing decision for a decade. I saw your blog and thought now is my chance to correct that mistake! 😊 Having been looking at nCore for a while this was silly simple and does indeed put my ears back to happy mode.
PS. The Irony of the photo below is with the very old (Stax) and very new (nCore) but all the components share the same feature they deliver sound WAY above their price point… The SMSL DAC (Sanskrit Pro) was a PITA on Linux but it works well in the office with ASIC drivers bypassing Windows sound drivers… And it can render excellent sound and play DSD direct. The last piece (not in the photo) are my homemade bookshelf speakers CSS FR-125 full range that now sound fantastic also ~40$ per driver.
So my sincere thanks for the post…
Great stuff Mark! Lovely example of how in the 21st Century we can do all kinds of mix-and-match to achieve excellent results. A lot of times, we can apply a little bit of DIY to achieve results that I believe would cost many times the price if bought from upscale brands.
On the one hand we have folks who are proud of their very expensive systems which is cool. On the other side, there are those who achieve amazing results without the expense and often IMO with just as good fidelity. Both can be great fun. (Personally, I do like saving money for vacations and other hobbies/purposes!)
II. The Joys of Modern Digital (Andy D.)
Archimago,Another great example of audiophiles making the most of modern technology! Streaming video/audio, remote control will smartphone apps, interconnectivity through HDMI, powered speakers with built-in DACs. Nice that in the 21st Century we also have the opportunity to choose among options ranging from very convenient and inexpensive to something inconvenient and expensive like turntables and vinyl records ;-).
I enjoy reading your blog. I am really happy with a few products I have purchased over the past year, and thought you might be interested in mentioning them or trying them yourself. They could be of interest to younger readers, or those concerned with appearances or convenience.These purchases include a TCL Roku TV along with Klipsch “The Fives” powered speakers. The active speaker plugs into the eARC port of the TV and a proprietary balanced cable connects the active and passive speakers.
Tidal has a Roku App which is synced with my Tidal Hi-Fi account. All of the songs and music videos from the iPhone app are on the Roku app. Because iPhone also has a Roku remote app, I basically have a Hi-Fi system along with access to every song I can think of in CD quality (MQA not available through Roku) [Ed. And now you can save $ with the $10/month plan]. Also I can view HD music videos with accompanying lossless audio. Since the speakers are CEC compatible and synced with the TV, I can control everything with my cell phone (or my wife’s cell phone). I have no remotes. I do not think this level of convenience/performance was available until the past year or two.
The speakers have a built in DAC/Amp which decides up to 24/192. They perform extremely well with my PS5 games and Blu-Ray movies. They are as convenient as a sound bar but with much better fidelity. I clipped a coupon from Crutchfield and got the speakers for $600, and the 55" 4K TV was $650. In my opinion the value far exceeded the cost for both of these. On a side note, I paid $800 for the PS5 and that was also worth it.
III. Bit-Perfect, Upsampling And Streaming (Alireza S.)The next message comes from Alireza S. from Iran. We had a running discussion over the months last year about streaming audio and particularly Apple Music. The idea was how do we achieve the "best" sound from streaming and I'll just quote from one of the most recent E-mail he sent me:
ThanksThis discussion was around streaming Apple Music with a Mac M1 machine and using software upsampling to 24/192 in "Audio MIDI Setup" so one could "set it once and forget it". By doing this, whether the stream is 44.1kHz or 96kHz or 192kHz, the computer can then upsample whatever the data is to 192kHz. Years ago, I tested Mac OS's upsampling algorithm and found it to be just fine (no reason to believe there would be any worse performance these days with newer OS versions). Compared to the Mac, Windows 10 DirectSound did not fare as well unless they've improved the algorithm over the last few years (in Linux we have more options).
I didn't understand that why you don't care about bit-perfectability when you don't own music!
Do you think is there any reasonable reason to purchase music instead of streaming?
And what you mean by absolute best sound quality in first line? Because you say in last line that it will sound more than good enough. Do you think you can hear any difference in first system compared to apple music? With the same source material?
IV. On Audible Differences Between Amplifiers (stoic51)
Hi, Arch,Greetings stoic51!
Great article comparing the Class D Hypex nCore NC252MP and the Class A Pass/First Watt SIT-2. I think it’s one of your best ever, simply because you measure two different amplifiers as they actually sound with the same electronics and speakers in the same room. What a radical idea! And thanks for linking to the J. Gordon Holt article from 1966.
I happen to have a single-ended Class A tube amp (Aric-Audio, with a quad of KT88s, ~45W/channel into 8Ω) and a Class D amp (Crown XLS1502, 300W/channel into 8Ω, with non-defeatable 48kHz DSP, i.e., even if you don’t use the DSP, the signal still goes through the ADC-DAC) on hand. So I thought I would do a little compare and contrast exercise.
Preamps are either an Aric 12BH7A-based tube unit with tube rectification and regulation, or a JBL M-Patch 2 passive attenuator. Interconnects are 3’-6’ Canare from Cable Solutions, and speaker cables are Canare 4S11 star-quad. DAC is a Chord Qutest fed by HQPlayer from a Mac Mini. Speakers are the Harbeth P3ESRs acquired several years ago (so not the XD version).
In general, the tube amp (ultralinear mode) presents a slightly sweeter, yet detailed and dynamic, more three-dimensional soundstage than the Crown. With the latter, you lose some of the (attractive) tonal saturation, color, and dimensionality, but you gain control in the low end and a more highly articulated texture.
A couple of case studies:
The peerless Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s voice, in “Gute Nacht” (with Gerald Moore, CD, monaural, originally recorded in 1955, EMI CMS 763559 2) from Schubert’s Die Winterreise, is magic through the tubes. Through the Crown, the voice is good, but sounds as if it were recorded in a different, less amenable space. After listening to the tube presentation, and then switching to the Crown, some might say that the Crown sounds a bit washed out. I guess that’s a matter of taste. Dynamic contrasts seem to be preserved equally.
The Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield-Stephen Stills Super Session CD (Columbia Legacy CK 63406, originally recorded in 1968), to my ears is one of the best-recorded sessions of the era, sounds color-saturated and dynamic with really striking layering and dimensionality through the tubes, while the Crown is a bit more defined with a more 2D presentation. But if I don’t listen to the tube amp for a while, and play, for example, “Season of the Witch” through the Crown, the sound does not disappoint.
Interestingly, I recently played the mono Fischer-Dieskau for an opera singer acquaintance who doesn’t listen to music much in the home, and this person was actually transfixed by the experience of hearing Fischer-Dieskau virtually appear centered in the space between the two speakers. Afterwards, I was asked, “How do you do that? Where are the other speakers? The sound was not coming from the two front speakers, but from a point directly between them. It’s as if he were standing right there. And it really sounded like his voice.” I explained that’s one of the magical things that good two-channel reproduction can do, and that “stereo” doesn’t mean “two channels”, it really means “solid” or “three-dimensional”. And this was through the JBL passive and the Crown with the Harbeths.
Now, I’m certainly not saying that the Crown is the greatest achievement in stereo amplification, or that the JBL passive is the best-ever preamp (or attenuator). I surely don’t know. They seem to me to be good and transparent devices, and they have the advantage of being inexpensive and light in weight. (The 12BH7A tube preamp works well with the Crown, too, adding just a bit of tube color and dimensionality.) The more-expensive Class A tube amp offers a more tactile, saturated, and dimensional perspective that I enjoy a lot. I say, “Take your pick.” I’ve had fun with each. Whatever the electronics, the P3ESRs are really fine little speakers with surprising reach and range.
To my mind, there’s a broad and inclusive middle “good music” ground populated by electronics and speakers of all types, architectures, and sizes. We need to measure, and we need to listen. Your article strikes that good balance, with measurements that reflect the actual experience of listening in a typical room.
Thanks again. I hope you will consider doing more articles along the same lines.
All best regards,
|Honolulu fireworks by the beach welcoming 2022.|
|Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle arising from the surf.|
|A "conclave" of red-crested Cardinals. ;-)|
|Surfers @ Banzai Pipeline.|
|Sunset. Oahu North Shore.|