Tag Archives: cd

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Hope for the future

There are many reasons why we launched Octave Records, but chief among them was to add to the small supply of high-resolution recordings as well as to help set standards of what we as the high-end audio community demand in the way of well-recorded material. To that end, I think we’re on the right track.

Part of the reason we felt compelled to add our voice into what seems like an empty wilderness is the deplorable state of most modern recordings. Seems the state of the art has been sliding backwards for years.

I was heartened to learn that a committee formed by the Grammys has been pushing to set some standards for high-resolution recordings. Though they are not taking a stance on either heavy-handed compression or the loudness wars, they are at least addressing the issue of resolution and…get this…pushing hard against not only MP3, but raising the sample rate above CD quality!

Imagine!

“THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 44.1/16, 48/24, 96/24, 192/24 AND BEYOND
Is there truly a noticeable difference between MP3s and 192/24 files? Absolutely, but everyone owes it to themselves to listen and compare. In most cases the differences between CD-quality and 192/24 are at least noticeable, and frequently, they are stark. Skillfully mixed and mastered music with a wide dynamic range benefits dramatically from a hi-res workflow. For recordings
such as symphonic film scores, classical music, or other recordings that feature acoustic instruments, hi-res audio is a perfect fit—the increased audio quality can be appreciated by virtually anyone who hears it. In the experience of this committee and the audio professionals we interviewed (including numerous rock, pop, and urban producers and engineers whose work is aggressive and powerful), recording, mixing, and mastering at resolutions 96/24 or better results in a final product that is both sonically superior and faithful to the sound of the final mastered mix.”

You can download the paper here.

I realize this is a task akin to steering the Titanic away from danger, but we gotta start somewhere and I am heartened to read that recording engineers are being told resolutions higher than 44.1kHz are audible and preferred.

Maybe there’s hope for the future.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Rituals

There are plenty of audiophile rituals. Though they might seem quirky or odd to the great unwashed they are part of what defines us as purveyors of the art.

Take for example the rituals many of us have for playing a vinyl record: how we carefully remove the disc from the sleeve, cleaning the stylus, perhaps zapping the staticy disc with a Zerostat, the care with which we set the arm over the record, the flourish at the end as we make a last check everything’s in order before sitting down in our listening spot.

Did I mention our listening spot? The sweet seat? The ritual where newcomers to our stereo system are offered that lofty perch from which to fully enjoy the pleasures of the experience?

Or the turning low the lights for that special track?

Or setting the cover of the CD or album upright as if it were being presented as a marquee?

I won’t even mention demagnetizing a disc before playing.

Rituals are there to make sure everything’s in order and that chaos does not affect the outcome.

As Audiophiles, we’ve certainly got our share.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Finding your passion

Passion is a feeling of intense enthusiasm for something (or someone). Finding it isn’t always easy but, when you do, it’s great to hone in on the elements that really fan the flames.

If I look at myself I quickly identify two major passions: learning how things work and building solutions.

From as far back as I can remember, I had to know how everything worked: why the sky is blue, what are rainbows, how a button and a switch work, a synthesizer, a phono stage, a vacuum tube, a traffic light. When I interact with the physical world there’s not a lot around me I don’t understand.

Faced with a problem or presented with a challenge, I am inspired to build a solution. When I was unhappy with the sound of the first CD players from Magnavox I figured out how they worked, determined what I could and could not affect, and built one of the first outboard DACs to solve the problem. When I was unhappy with my stereo’s dynamics I added side-firing drivers activated by a log amplifier to extend the system’s dynamic range.

Not everything is understandable to me. Not everything is fixable to me.

That was never the point.

The point is to identify and then follow one’s passion even if it means failure.

What’s your passion?

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

PS Audio has a new CD/SACD transport.

SACD Transport

The Super Audio Compact Disc was Sony and Philip’s follow-up format to the original Compact Disc—itself an innovation that fundamentally changed the world forever.

It’s hard to get lightning to strike twice, which is why it should have been no surprise at the SACD’s tepid success.

The problem for Sony and Philips getting their new super format to replace the many millions of CDs already in play turned out to be of their own making. Few but audiophiles cared about getting sound better than the CD. After all, the CD was pitched as perfect sound forever.

Now, nearly 40 years after the introduction of the Compact Disc, we chuckle at the absurdity of their marketing claim.

Chuckles aside, I think it’s helpful to recognize just how big a step better than CDs SACD’s can be. A CD is limited to just under a megabyte of data, while a dual-layer SACD can store 8,500 times more data. Put another way, one could conceivably archive 8,500 CDs on a single dual-layer SACD.

But we don’t use SACDs for storing our CDs. Instead, their greater storage capacity allows a new and better sounding format to capture our music—DSD. And on top of DSD we can have multiple channels as well as a complimentary CD layer ensuring older CD-only players aren’t incompatible.

PS Audio’s latest transport, the PerfectWave SACD Transport, or PST for short, is more than just a better transport capable of playing SACD. The PST ushers in an entirely new way of delivering digital audio data—whether from a CD or SACD—to your DAC.

Galvanically isolated audio data—pure and noise-free digital audio data without any physical or electrical connection to the transport’s inner workings.

Galvanic isolation happens through our AirGap interface isolating the unit’s internal power supplies and transport mechanism from your connected DAC. PST owners get the isolated benefits regardless of how they connect its output to their DAC: I2S, Coax, AES/EBU.

What’s wonderful about this innovation is we don’t need SACDs to take advantage of it. Good old “perfect sound forever” CDs sound unlike anything you have ever imagined possible.

Yup, just good old CDs shine as never before.

If you want to learn more or experience for yourself the benefits of total isolation for CDs or SACDs, head here.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl

Too many “weeds” here from Paul, but interesting to some.

Sample rates

There sure is a lot of confusion over sample rates. We hear about CD-quality sample rates at 44.1kHz (and its multiples), or another common sample rate, 48kHz (and its multiples), and then there are multiple higher sample rates (176kHz, 192kHz as examples) and of course DSD.

Lots of numbers. All very confusing.

Perhaps a short primer would help.

First, what is a sample rate? Simply put, it’s a snapshot of the audio signal. A slice of time where we capture the voltage level of the music signal. The number of times per second we take that snapshot determines the sample rate. (Bit depth determines the loudness range we can capture within each sample)

First, what’s the difference between 44.1kHz and 48kHz and why do the two exist? The former is what Sony/Philips set as a standard for the Compact disc. When we do higher sample rate versions of this standard we get 88.2kHz, 176kHz and so forth. The latter, 48kHz, is the standard the “pros” use (because, well, they can’t use something as conventional as consumers, now can they?). 48kHz gives us multiples we’re familiar with like 96kHz, and 192kHz.

What’s painful about the above two standards is the difficulty moving between them. When recording studios record at “pro” sample rates of 48kHz they then have to interpolate down a few Hz to 44.1kHz to make something we poor consumers can listen to.

Silliness.

When we nerds talk about sample rates we use different terminology. We base our discussion on how many multiples of the base frequency (44.1kHz) are in play. So, for instance, the CD sample rate is referred to as 1fs. Its multiples are 2fs, 3fs, etc.

The sampling frequency or sampling rate, fs, is the average number of samples obtained in one second (samples per second). Think of 1fs as the minimum baseline to capture 20Hz to 20kHz.

While we might be familiar with all the differing PCM sample rates, DSD brings in a whole other dimension with its far higher sample rates. For example, standard DSD is 64fs while double rate DSD is twice that at 128fs. So what’s that mean? Well, 1fs is running at 44,000 times per second, while 64fs is running at 64 times that frequency, or 2,822,400 times per second! That’s fast, man.

And, while DSD is so much higher of a sample rate as to raise a few eyebrows, it’s instructive to remember it’s a 1-bit system compared to a basic 16-bit system like PCM (remember that the number of bits is needed to measure amplitude). This boils down to something less hair raising if we do a bit of math. 64fs (1xDSD) runs at a very high clock rate of 2,822,400 Hz (2.8mHz). Now, simply divide that by 16 (the number of bits in a PCM word) and guess what you get? A sample rate of 176kHz. Sound familiar? 176kHz is the same as 4fs PCM. So, while PCM requires 16 bits to adequately measure amplitude, and DSD needs 16 single bits to do the same, it all kind of works out in the end. (Don’t take what I just wrote about DSD and 16 bits as literal. I use it only as a means of helping form a picture. DSD is far more complicated, using a Sigma-Delta Modulator, noise shaping, etc.)

Without getting too much more in the weeds, that’ll give you a brief simplistic overview of sampling rates.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

No guarantees

“Flummoxed.” Now there’s a word you don’t hear that often, but it perfectly describes the problem so many people struggle with when it comes to sample rates and bit depths.

How can a high sample rate and full bit depth master sound significantly worse than a lower sample/bit rate track?

The answer is somewhat the same as how great ingredients don’t always taste as good as poor ones: why the best artist paints don’t always make a better painting, lower distortion doesn’t guarantee a great amp, or a big engine the fastest car.

It isn’t the ingredients or technology that matter as much as the skill of the creator.

In the same way a talented photographer can use an iPhone to produce a better picture than an amateur with the planet’s fanciest camera gear, the quality of ingredients matters most as a final touch rather than the starting point.

Just because a record is mastered at a famous label, a release is in quad rate DSD, or the track was little more than a mere CD, does not in itself help us determine its sonic merits.

We need to listen.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

This article from Paul mentions MQA. MQA, or Master Quality Authentication,  is another way to record and playback music that’s supposed to sound better than full WAV files, yet save disc space…That is, it supposed to sound as good or better than anything and  take up less file space. Does it work, or just the latest fad? My T+A MP2500R Digital Multiplayer, which is an SACD and CD transport, as well as a UPnP player, AM/FM tuner, Internet Radio renderer, etc, sounds fantastic, yet no MQA and I do not believe its in T+A’s plans to make their products compatible with the format.  I can tell you that if it actually improved sound quality, they would probably implement it and do so in a heartbeat.

I do not have it to compare, but after promoting it heavily at the beginning, I sense its fading as so many other musical formats before it. Not a big surprise…

Lossie

The title of today’s post might be a misspelling of a very famous collie or a word that should be expunged from audio’s vocabulary.

Lossie media files save bandwidth by sacrificing musical content. As audiophiles, we should be up in arms or at least a little upset. ��

In the same way few of us are happy about the dumbing down of society, why is it in this day and agree we are alright with lossie music?

The creators of MQA tried to make us believe it was not only ok to lose data but worse, it’s better than lossless!

Spotify seems alright feeding us with lossie music. Fine for them because that’s their business model, but why do audiophiles support them? Probably because Spotify’s library has far more tracks to choose from than the lossless services.

In the end, whatever floats your boat works. Music’s music and it’d be a shame to miss out on great tunes because we’re worried over quality.

Still, it stresses me the word lossie remains alive and well in the context of music reproduction.

 

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I purchased this from PS Audios website and will be able to hear it in its native DSD glory. I ask all of you to buy this CD, as the music seems very good and the effort Paul makes to bring stuff like this to market, is deserving of our support.

Temporary Circumstances

Boy, talk about aptly named. Octave Record’s latest release, Temporary Circumstances, is more than half gone. We just launched it yesterday.

This is one hell of a great recording and tasty as it can be musically.

We had to commit to a fixed number of SACDs due to our Austrian pressing plant’s lead times. So, when this batch is gone that’s it. If you want one, I suspect you’d best go to the website and grab it.

Download bundles will always be available.

We do plan on releasing a limited run of virgin vinyl 45rpm pressings—probably 500 pieces—sometime next month if we’re able. Gus and our engineering team have struggled to get a clean cut from the DSD masters. Seems the extended bandwidth and the nature of DSD are upsetting the cutting lathes. To solve this our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, designed and handcrafted a solution. It involves a new type of device unseen in the industry. Turns out the cutting head and the preview track (which knows in advance of the cutting process what to expect in loudness) are delayed so the cutting equipment works together. Tradition has two identical masters feeding each system, one slightly ahead of the other. This can be tricky, but more importantly, it relies upon equipment whose quality we cannot control. Bob’s custom FPGA based solution takes in a single master file and sorts everything out to the exact DACs we wish to use, then reclocks everything, thus maintaining our level of quality from the direct master DSD files. Wicked cool work Bob.

We’ll let you know when the vinyl’s ready.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

So true!!

If you didn’t know

Some of the very best stereo recordings I love are standard resolution CD quality and the opposite is also true. Some of the worst are high resolution.

This means, of course, that it’s the recording quality that really determines if something is good or bad, great or awful. A high sample rate bad recording sounds a bit worse than a standard resolution version because the higher resolution brings us closer to what’s wrong.

How many times have I fallen into the trap of buying the higher resolution version of music new to me without first knowing if the recording’s any good?

Terri put on a new album by a group called Local Natives last night. The music’s really good and refreshing. Though it played in the background as I prepared dinner, I kept getting agitated that perhaps something’s wrong with the system. Dirt on the needle maybe? Nope. Needle’s clean. The high levels of distortion on the record were apparently intended by the musicians. Ugh. A good way to destroy great music.

High resolution recordings can make better what is already good, but you don’t want a better copy of what starts out badly.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl

This may work for some, but depends on type and size of the loudspeaker, as well as the listening room. The Red Norvo piece of music is great!

Tilt ‘er back

If you’re looking for a quick and easy fine-tuning technique, try tilting the speakers forward or backward relative to the listening position.

This is a time-honored tweak that not everyone’s familiar with, but it sure works great. The easiest way to do this is by using a CD jewel case under the front of your speaker for tilt back or under the rear of the speaker for tilt-forward. The half inch or so depth of a CD case is about perfect for a tilt change. You can use multiple cases to arrive at your final position.

What you’re doing is aiming the tweeter slightly above or below your ear—off-axis. Tilt back and above your ear will open the soundstage and offer a more airy presentation. Tilt forward and the opposite happens.

For this exercise, I like to start a well recorded multi-instrument piece like Reference Recording’s Red Norvo How’s your mother in law. As I tilt back the speaker the image gets deeper, wider, and more open, but it also loses a bit of upper harmonic energy. Heading in the opposite direction I increase the HF energy (depending on how your tweeters are now aimed) and gain more life.

Once that recording is dialed in I put on one of my favorite setup discs, Buddy Holly’s True Love’s Ways. Here I am listening for the immediacy of the voice and make my final tweaks to get it just right.

Nice to have an easy tweak we can try at home.