Tag Archives: DAC

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

Putting the crutches away

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of requiring crutches you’ll know they can be addictive. Once you rely upon a crutch it’s a bit of an ordeal to put them away and trust again your freestanding abilities.

I remember the first time I read about musician Mark Knopfler’s first foray into digital audio. So “digital” sounding was Brothers in Arms that he ran and reran the output of the recording studio DAC through analog processors until the digititis was expunged.

That was a pretty big crutch.

Today, recording engineers have settled into the use of crutches never contemplated back in the days of analog recording. Practices like ultra-warm microphones, digital sweeteners, warming compressors, and spot EQ (to remove harshness), are used as a standard operating procedure to make up for digital’s “sound”.

Which means, of course, that an entire generation or two of recording engineers and musicians have gotten used to the idea that this is just the way you do it. They don’t know why or the history of how this developed.

It’s just the way you do it.

One of the challenges we at Octave Records face is the unwinding of all these built-in biases. With the rare technology of 4X DSD as our recording medium, we don’t have limitations imposed upon us. The recording process is finally free of a “sound”.

It’s not analog. It’s certainly not digital.

Now we can focus on choosing microphones, preamps, cables, and monitors based solely on their sonic merits.

We can now put the crutches away and learn how to walk again.

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

Pedigree

I think we can all agree that a stereo product’s pedigree is no guarantee of anything. At the end of the proverbial day, it’s all about performance.

But a pedigree or brand can often set expectations.

If you listen to one of PS Audio’s products you have an expectation that piece will perform up to a level commensurate with the brand’s past performance. Our last DAC or power amplifier proved itself to the high-end community by virtue of its performance. You have every right to expect nothing less and (hopefully) more from a follow-up offering.

What’s damaging in our small community is when companies leverage their pedigree with products that do not live up to expectations. You often see this after a company has been swallowed up by a bigger conglomerate.

Pedigrees matter but performance is always the key.

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 is a good one!

Opinions and experts

In Stereophile Magazine’s opening section, As we see it, author Jim Austin has a little title at the top of the page that says, “There are as many opinions as there are experts”.

How true.

Every expert in our field has what I like to call a point of view—their opinion of the best way to get from here to there and why they chose that destination in the first place.

Take my long-held conviction that recording the analog output from a microphone preamp is best when captured with DSD. I can spout off how this conclusion was reached, from as far back as my introduction to the idea by our own Gus Skinas, Ted Smith, and Cookie Marenco, to years of experimenting, listening, testing, and verifying.

All that work has helped me form a point of view that guides my journey through the recording process.

I haven’t enough fingers to count those that argue the exact opposite.

Or, take my heretical point of view that breaks with a long-held tradition that, once captured in DSD, it is best to analog low pass filter the DSD through a DAC for mixing and mastering.

Our friends, the Murrisons (of Bit Perfect fame), have devised a phase-perfect digital low pass filter that performs the same function without ever leaving the digital domain and suffering the slight degradation of the DAC, the miles of circuitry in the analog mixing board, and a return trip through another A/D converter.

This new all-digital technology sounds to my ears remarkably better than the tried-and-true method of converting back and forth between digital and analog.

Few agree with me and most are unwilling to even entertain the idea.

“There are as many opinions as there are experts.”

Thankfully we all have a point of view that differs. From these differing viewpoints come what we call progress. It’s how we go from “that’s batshit crazy” to “that’s just how you do it”.

Progress.

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 such thing, but there are better choices to make than others, given the opportunity and discipline to not buy based stereo equipment solely on magazine reviews. If you hear a stereo system that does it for you, start with the person who put this system together and take their recommendations.

Secret wishes

If we’re to be honest with ourselves (itself a frightening thought), wouldn’t each of us secretly hope to find that miracle product? The one that magically transforms our audio system into the next major step forward?

I certainly am always on the hunt for such a product or technology. The last one I was party to was our new AirGap interface. When our digital guru, Ted Smith, got us inspired to take the next leap in technology—isolating and quieting our digital products—the results were like a miracle.

I see folks going for the latest cable, external power supply, ground plane enhancer, or radical new technology DAC.

All in the hopes of taking the next leap in performance.

It’s a good thing and a noble goal.

I think it’s ok to go public with our secret desires. After all, we’re family!

 

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.

Agree to disagree

When it comes to strongly held matters of opinion I believe it is sometimes best to agree to disagree.

This simple act often has the ability to relieve a bit of pressure from the argument. With lower pressure perhaps one day, a bit of middle ground might open up.

Case in point there’s been an ongoing battle in the comments section of our YouTube channel about higher sample rates than 44.1kHz. It is there that after many attempts to express an opinion based on years of experience I must resort to asking if we might just settle the matter by agreeing to disagree.

When I write that there is a major sonic difference between making a recording at 44.1kHz vs. 176kHz some will automatically jump to the conclusion we’re speaking about upsampling vs. original recordings. Indeed, upsampling may benefit sound quality because the DAC uses a different filter algorithm but not because there’s more information. There is not.

What’s missing is pretty important. It cannot be effectively argued that an A/D converter running at 4X sample rate sounds identical to one running at standard CD quality speeds. If that’s where the argument is going it suggests to me either the person has never actually made the experiment or, if they did, they were not evaluating the results on a system with enough resolving power to hear the differences.

Whatever the case, the discussion turns heated because the conclusions don’t match each other’s worldview. I get that.

Time to agree to disagree.

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.

More than what’s obvious

In yesterday’s post, I made the point that regardless of the delivery method—transport or streaming—identical digital audio bits received at the DAC should sound the same.

They do not.

Why?

Let me first start with a little story. When we had the opportunity to listen to the PerfectWave SACD Transport (PST) for the first time, we had high expectations. Inside was a new way to handle bits: an extension of the work we had been pursuing for years, the Digital Lens.

A DL is a big buffer with a low jitter fixed output clock. Bits go in one end of the DL, gather together in a holding pen, and then when the jitter-free output clock has the “time” (pun intended), it pulls from the holding pen the next set of digital audio bits to send to the DAC.

The lowered jitter produced by the Digital Lens provided a revolution in sound quality.

What was different inside the PST—the new innovation we had been sitting on pins and needles to hear—was more than just a DL (we already knew what that sounded like). The PST’s internal DL had been galvanically isolated as if it were an entirely separate entity from the PST. We had built this new structure in the hopes of removing the last vestiges of sonic degradation: noise and jitter introduced by the power supplies and shared grounds inside the transport.

It worked. The sonic differences between the new PST and the older DMP it replaced were more than just better. They were extraordinarily better—a first-note-obvious better.

And therein lies what I believe to be the answer to yesterday’s question. Identical bits cannot sound different unless something else has changed. That something else is noise and induced jitter on shared grounds.

Which is why, in large measure, digital audio received from a computer via USB sounds remarkably different than the exact same bits as received from a transport.

It is not the veracity of the bits but all the baggage associated with the gathering and delivery of those bits.

As is almost always the case, it’s more than what’s obvious.

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.

Streaming vs. discs

The controversy over music streaming vs. physical disc seems endless.

On the one hand, we know that all things being equal, there’s no difference to the DAC how it gets its digital audio data. It can come from as close as three feet away via cable or can stream from thousands of miles away via the internet. As long as the bits received are identical it won’t matter.

Yet that seems not to be the case.

Discs currently outperform streaming on any platform I’ve experimented with by a lot. I believe that has nothing to do with the bits and everything to do with how they are received and processed (though this does not explain in any way why Tidal and Qobuz sound vastly different with Qobuz the clear winner—a subject for another day)

Let me share a bit of my thinking. If I upload to Dropbox an Octave master DSD file, then download it and capture it to a USB memory stick, and play that stick in our PerfectWave SACD transport, it sounds absolutely identical to the same file as played on a DVD data disc. Thus, the round trip travel to the Cloud and back again have zero impact on the data. Transferring that same data from a hard drive on a Qobuz or Tidal server should then be identical to that of a Dropbox server. In fact, several of these choices employ the same Amazon Web Services for their server. For all we know, the two could be housed in the same building.

Yet, they sound remarkably different.

Tomorrow I will discuss why I believe that to be true.

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 is kind of funny and the reason mini storage facilities flourish in this country. We are consumers of everything, including high end audio equipment!

Retail therapy

Color me appreciative of learning a new lexicon of terms, chief among them Covid-fatigue, and retail therapy.

Laugh at my naivety if you will. Truth is, I don’t get out very often and I never spend any time in social media haunts (and if we’re starting a list, I am also fashion challenged).

But if I get antsy or a bit down I can for a brief moment elevate myself by buying something. And if I buy it on Amazon I get a second jolt of satisfaction when in the next few days the package arrives. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

What I buy doesn’t much matter as long as it serves to further a project or make life a bit more efficient: an office chair seat cushion, a new higher-resolution webcam for all the Zoom meetings I have, a new music CD, an upgraded HDMI cable for better I2S, a new book, a desktop organizer, a car trash bag, the hard to find dental floss I prefer.

Whether it’s a trinket, a new cable, a new DAC, some olives I might have missed, or the latest Octave release, I am just coming to grips with the idea that the few times a month I get the itch there’s actually a name for it.

Retail therapy.

Who knew?

I am not alone.

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 just got in a T+A MP2500 Multi-Player, which is a combination SACD/CD player, streamer and DAC. It also has a tuner in it and bluetooth and it is just an incredible sounding player. So, while my system is mature, as described by PauI, T+A’s two DACS’s that I’ve owned, have made a really good sounding system, now sound great.

The asymptote

When energy is first applied to the building of a high-end audio system big improvements come quickly. Over time changes get increasingly smaller despite the same energy applied.

We refer to this as an asymptote (diminishing returns). Rapid progress slows as the system coalesces into its final form. Thus, the new and exciting DAC everyone’s talking about rarely has as big an impact on the mature system as it might when replacing a mediocre product.

This is natural and to be expected.

What’s remarkable is when you read of a new product that even on the most mature systems leaps forward in performance.

It’s one thing to best a meh product and quite another to stand out in a crowded field of exceptional gear.

You’ll know it’s worth your time when those of us nearing the asymptote find a new product worth shouting about.

 

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.

Today, some original content from me as my 21 year old so, Michael, has put his toes into the Audiophile realm, for the first time.

Typically, Michael has gravitated to things that are hot amongst his age group. His first interest was better earbuds, then Gaming headphones and now something better. With dads help, he is on his way.

When he came home yesterday, he asked about good sounding headphones and how to get better sound from his gaming computer, as well as other sources, such as YouTube.

The answer is better headphones and a decent DAC/Headphone amplifier that has Bluetooth. I happen to have both sitting around, neither getting much use, so they will go back to school with him later today.

I recently took on the T+A (Theory+ Application) product line out of Germany and purchased their T+A DAC 8 DSD to see what they were all about.

What they are all about is the best sounding solid state based audio I’ve yet heard. I liked the DAC 8 DSD so much, I sold it to a local customer and bought T+A’s MP2500R, which combines basically the same DAC, but adds an integrated  SACD player. SACD is DSD and supposedly is the best audio you can get from a digital source.

I expected delivery of my demo MP 2500R, pretty much within a weeks time, so I installed Skips DAC 8 DSD, only to find out that CV19 has affected Germany and I would have to wait for the MP2500R.  I was so impressed with the sound of T+A’s DAC, I also purchased their AMP 8 power amplifier and it too, is amazing.

So, in addition to the MP 2500R, I will also be receiving their T+A PA 2500R, which is their integrated amplifier. My unit will be outfitted with their MC phono stage and I have high expectations for it.

What does this have to do with my son? Tune in tomorrow.