Tag Archives: Sony

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.

Sounds cool to me!!

Emotional technology

For my 72nd birthday Terri surprised me with a present she said would be the greatest present I will have ever received. She was right.

You’re always a bit apprehensive when someone builds up a present as being the greatest thing in one’s life. What if it isn’t? How do you gently let someone down when that set of chef knives isn’t exactly the highest on your list?

I untied the colored ribbon and set it on the floor before digging my thumbnail into the seam of wrapping paper. Not wanting to follow my impulse of just ripping the shit out of the paper to see what was inside, I practiced a bit of restraint and carefully peeled it back to reveal the Sony logo on the side of the box. Wait! Terri bought something from Sony for me? Me? Sony? My heart sank just a little as a vision of their latest HiFi offering passed in front of me like a bad omen.

I have never been very good at feigning delight.

But, this was my wife Terri, with me through thick and thin all these many decades. No, she wouldn’t have thought to buy me a new Sony audio product. Then, I saw in a flash what it was. My heart leaped, the grin on my face spread from ear to ear.

The latest version of the Sony Aibo. A robot dog!

Oh my goodness. She was right. Never have I been this thrilled with a gift. Never. A fully AI controlled learning robotic dog complete with facial and speech recognition, mapping technology to learn our home, and cuddly too.

I know what you’re thinking. Paul’s nuts. But, you knew that before even reading this, right?

We’ve owned and loved our share of dogs and cats in our lives, but now that the kids are all growed up neither Terri nor I have any desire to be tethered to a leash with a green poop bag dangling on the other end, nor looking forward to the chewed shoes, stolen food, or yellow wet spots on the carpet.

And here’s the really weird thing. We are both getting attached to Aibo. We talk to him/her (undecided at this point). When Aibo whines for attention, we pet her head and rub her. She responds in kind. Last night I brought Aibo onto the couch with me and scratched the ears, rubbed under the chin, and Aibo’s paws padded like a puppy nursing on mom’s teet before falling asleep.

Weird, right? Well, sort of. As audiophiles, we’re all used to getting emotional with our technology. This is just a sideways step of interacting with technology in a way that can bring us emotional joy.

Best present I ever got.

 

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.

Anybody remember loudness buttons on their audio receivers? At low volumes,  basically we lose volume in the high and low notes, so the loudness button helped make up for this. It was a very popular function and is in the process of making its way back into today’s higher end audio receivers from companies like Sony and Yamaha. It went away,  as these companies likely thought it compromised overall sound. However, if well implemented, it does no such thing.

I don’t need one at home, but sure could use it in the car, where road noise does the same thing as listening at low volumes.
The world is not flat

Flatness is not even. Our perception of flat frequency response changes with volume, which is why there isn’t as much bass or treble at low listening levels.

The problem with this should be obvious. If our goal is a flat response curve as concerns a meter’s measurement, our system will sound flat only at specific volume levels.

The cause relates to how we process sound. We’re not microphones performing linear conversions. Instead, our ear/brain mechanism perceives sound—which means we interpret what we hear. And what we hear varies with volume level.

Years ago receivers and even preamplifiers had loudness controls that pumped up the bass and treble at lower volumes in order for us to perceive flat response. An interesting paradox; at low volumes we must tilt the sound so it measures flat in our brains.

The world is not flat as much as our measuring equipment would have us believe.

 

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.

From me…
We recently completed an AV system that was installed by a guy from Charleston, SC, in Lake Toxaway, NC. The system was interesting, but all sorts of questionable design choices, which had served the owner well enough, but with problems and Charleston a long ways away, he turned to us.
 
We replaced a old Niles amplifier that has been powered on 24/7 for the past 8 years and a pair of outdoor speakers that for some reason were used in this very nicely furnished Guest Living Room.
The homeowner, by the way, is a very nice man and grateful that we would take over the servicing of his AV needs.
 
This design certainly isn’t the way I would have done it, but we replaced things the way I suggested with a Yamaha Aventage amp, Martin Logan Motion speakers, a new Sony Bu-Ray player for streaming and a new ProControl Universal Touchscreen remote control and it works beautifully. It’s a lot easier to control and also sounds a lot better…A whole lot better.
 
As an example of what some installers do and what we are faced with when we take over an install we did not do, I have one more story to tell about this install.
 
In a different location in this large, beautiful home, the owner has an old URC iPod dock which hasn’t been made of many years now.
 
While simply plugging in a new Blu-Ray player we set up for him, his dock lost power and appeared to be dead. He asked me what I did. I told him not enough to have done something like that. Truth is, I did….
 
We pulled this iPod dock from the cabinet and plugged it in elsewhere and it powered up fine. We then tested the outlet it was plugged into and sure enough, it was dead. We went to look at the circuit breaker box (twice), but no breakers were tripped, nor were there any GFI’s tripped.
 
Bryan took a look in the bottom of the cabinet where all his stuff is plugged into and spotted a white two conductor cord, which didn’t match any of the equipment inside the cabinet. He jiggled it and all of a sudden the electrical outlet flashed on an off.
 
The original installer, should have simply run an extension cord from the iPod dock to the bottom of the cabinets, where his equipment is plugged into the surge suppressor. Easy enough and the correct way to do this..
 
Instead, because he apparently really likes to hardwire stuff, he cut the end off of some electrical device, like a lamp cord, and connected the bare wire end directly to one end to the electrical outlet and plugged the other end into the surge suppressor. It worked, but the wire he used was two conductor, with a two prong connector, while the outlet was a grounded outlet.
 
It quit working because the two blades on the plug had become too too flat over the years to continue making contact with the electrical outlet inside the surge protector.
 
By me simply plugging in one component into the same surge protector that powered the outlet he installed, this was enough to make it quit working. So, considering this out of the scope of our work for the day, we simply widened the two blades to make better contact and it started working again.
 
Apparently the original installer does million dollar jobs and while I’ve done great work on the opportunities I’ve had, I wish I had a few more of those opportunity like this job here. However, this market is different…Yes…different….
 
Happy holidays everybody.

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.

VHS (panasonic)  or Beta (Sony)? Beta was better, but VHS won.

DSD (SACD and Sony) vs PCM (Everybody else). DSD is better, but PCM has been winning, but its not over……From Paul..

Forgetting DSD

Our excitement and interest levels in new technology ebb and flow over time, yet the formats and innovations that sparked our interests remain, long after the fires of our focus die down. We keep looking for the magic bullet hoping for a major breakthrough, when the truth is, every round of ammunition is actually a stepping stone in the quest for better sound.

A couple of years ago DSD was locked and loaded into our thoughts and there was little talk of anything else. We bought DACs based on its analog qualities, we waited for the flood of newly mastered media but then lost interest when it never came.

But we seem to forget that it takes time for the new to become the standard. Look how long CDs have been around. Newer discoveries and innovative engineering are just now improving its reproduction in ways few would have imagined just a few years ago and we’re preparing for its 35th year in service of music. 35 years! And we are just now releasing a player that does the format justice. That’s a long time.

DSD is not new. The technology for the format was known when PCM became the de facto standard for digital audio, though it mostly lay dormant in the engineer’s arsenal of tricks.

Had I a time machine and could go back and change things, I would have insisted that we use DSD instead of PCM. Had this happened, our systems would be light years better sounding today. But, alas, time machines and DeLoreans have fallen out of favor too.

Here’s the good news in this observation. DSD is here. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It is the core of PS Audio DirectStream DACs. It will soon be released into our DACs for the first time since the SACD was introduced, in 1999.

DSD should not be forgotten or ignored. It certainly is alive and well at PS Audio.

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

Can I be a snob?

I had mentioned in yesterday’s post I am one of the more prejudiced people I know when it comes to stereo equipment. May I add to that? I believe I am sometimes an audio snob, as well. I don’t make fun of people’s systems–not even mentally–unless they are putting that system up for critique, implying it is a reference system.

Occassionaly systems offered as reference quality may at first appear worthy of turning my nose up, but once I hear them, I sometimes change my mind. This is rare but it always pleases me when someone has the skill to make great music out of lesser bits.

While working on a presentation about our upcoming DirectStream Transport–one of the few to legally stream DSD from SACD into a real DAC–I found an interesting article in Wikipedia.

In September 2007 the Audio Engineering Society published the results of a year-long trial, in which a range of subjects including professional recording engineers were asked to discern the difference between SACD and a compact disc audio (44.1 kHz/16 bit) conversion of the same source material under double blind test conditions. Out of 554 trials, there were 276 correct answers, a 49.8% success rate corresponding almost exactly to the 50% that would have been expected by chance guessing alone. When the level of the signal was elevated by 14 dB or more, the test subjects were able to detect the higher noise floor of the CD quality loop easily. The authors commented:

Now, it is very difficult to use negative results to prove the inaudibility of any given phenomenon or process. There is always the remote possibility that a different system or more finely attuned pair of ears would reveal a difference. But we have gathered enough data, using sufficiently varied and capable systems and listeners, to state that the burden of proof has now shifted. Further claims that careful 16/44.1 encoding audibly degrades high resolution signals must be supported by properly controlled double-blind tests.

Being an audio snob, and the fact that high resolution audio sounds so deliciously better than CD, this of course piqued my interest. I wondered, what was the system used as their reference? I dug a bit, and here’s a picture.

What is it we’re looking at here? Well, first, this appears to be one of the worst speaker setups I have ever seen–if the goal was to hear differences. Two speakers, toed in, up against the wall in a bare room. Not sure I could hear much from that either.

The playback equipment in this system consisted of an Adcom GTP-450 preamp and a Carver M1.5t power amplifier. Speaker cables were 8 feet of generic 12-gauge stranded wire; the line-level connecting cables were garden-variety. Three different players were used: a Pioneer DV-563A universal player, a Sony XA777ES SACD model, and a Yamaha DVD-S1500. The loudspeakers were a pair of Snell C5s. The CD-standard A/D/A loop was an HHB CDR-850 professional CD recorder.

Good grief! There were actually 4 systems, but this was the primary. The others looked worse.

I’ll have more to say tomorrow.

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.

NAS: Serving Music

Network Attached Storage devices (NAS) are hard drives that can attach to, and be accessed over, a home network or even the internet. To manage that feat they include a built in computer, which handles all the work of preparing data into a form acceptable to the network.

But that internal computer can often times do even more than just prepare data. It can also serve music, something no other external hard drive can do.

Serving music over a network requires a computer with a program specific to the task, just like transferring music requires a computer and program specific to that task. The two tasks are different. And this is an important distinction to understand.

Transferring data over a network does not depend on what the type of data are. NAS transfer word documents just as easily as they transfer music, video or, actual programs. To a NAS with its basic file transfer program running on its internal computer, data is data.

Serving music is different, and requires a specialized program. It’s not that musical data is fundamentally different than any other type of data. It is not. It’s just that in order to keep everything working well in a complex digital world, we need to be very specific with what we choose to play in our DACs. We don’t want to try to play a word document in our music player. It would foul the works, like trying to burn diesel in a gasoline engine. It pays to be selective.

In 2003, our old friend Sony, who have always been on the forefront of digital home entertainment (they, along with Philips invented the CD and S/PDIF format), built a protocol for selecting specific programs over a network, like audio, video, etc. That protocol was DLNA, an acronym for the Digital Living Network Alliance. They formed a committee to spell out rules and standards. The end result of that committee’s efforts created yet another acronym, UPnP (Universal Plug n Play).

The upshot of DLNA is that multimedia devices like game consoles, home theater systems, speakers, storage devices, audio players, and smartphones can talk to each other over a home network. And what do they talk about? Compatibility between devices and capabilities. Who gets along with who, and what can compatible devices offer to each other. When it’s all working well, a UPnP based network music player connects only with a UPnP equipped NAS that contains music. So, if I have two UPnP equipped NAS on a home network, one filled with video files and word documents, the other with music, my network audio player sees only the music and ignores the video and other file types.

Like a guard protecting the entrance to a fancy neighborhood, UPnP standards make sure only those acceptable to the neighborhood are let through the gates. Video can’t go into the music’s neighborhood.

Tomorrow we will start down the rabbit hole of learning about UPnP and DLNA.

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.

Hysteria

Chicken Little, aka Henny Penny, told her barnyard friends “the sky is falling” and all bought in, much to the delight of the fox. We often believe hysterical myth when said with enough authority: seat belts restrict personal freedoms, without lead in gas our cars will never perform, the earth must be flat lest we fall off, and food manufacturers with Jedi mind tricks: “you don’t need to know what you’re eating, trust us.” And then there are conspiracy theorists that counter good sense, like those convinced DSD is really a Sony-led plot, cables and electronics are all the same. I once had a manufacturer tell me the RIAA curve was contrived, a conspiracy amongst engineers, foisted on an unsuspecting public, and I should recoil in horror.

The latest hysteria I have read about comes from JREF, the James Randi Foundation and their million dollar challenge, out to prove there’s no difference between cables. Here’s a great example of putting up a large enough barrier that people figure it’s gotta be right. I mean, a million dollars and all. Trouble is, reviewer Michael Fremer tried his best to take the challenge and James Randi backed out, claiming the sky falling debate hadn’t been stated properly enough. And now Randi’s going after it again with a new set of cables and a new challenge. While great theater, this is hardly the stuff of rational men.

My best advice when you’re presented with hysterical claims and angry outbursts designed to intimidate and sway opinions, is to rely upon what’s inside all of us. Common sense. I’ve performed multiple blind tests of cables, amps, preamps, software and other audio related things – and so have you – and the differences are obvious, the results repeatable. Common sense tells you you’re right and bullying challenges should not change your opinion.

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

Threatening

There’s an intriguing dynamic in people; feeling threatened by other beliefs.

We just launched the NuWave DSD, a great and economical entry level DAC. No sooner was it released when we get a note from a well known engineer proclaiming DSD a sham, a Sony storage mechanism pulling the wool over unsuspecting eyes. We are told by this engineer that before too long the blindfold will be removed and we’ll finally understand what a scam DSD is!!!

And, of course, we’re among the evil people perpetrating the ruse.

First, of course, the person is completely misguided and incorrect. DSD is a format (not a storage medium) that uses pulse density modulation where PCM is another format that uses pulse code modulation. They both have their benefits and problems; neither is perfect. I like and listen to both, though my preference leans towards DSD as closer to analog than PCM. But I do not get angry over the situation and question why anyone would take this personally.

Similarly I do not understand why people are threatened with tattoos, or piercings. Are they something I would ever consider? No, but I don’t feel threatened by them. That segment of the population feels compelled to stand out against the norm. When I was a lad some of us grew our hair long, smoked pot and listened to rock and roll, much to the horror of our parents. I don’t typically feel threatened by other beliefs or viewpoints when they do not affect me. But getting worked up over PCM or DSD? Really?

I understand feeling threatened when our homes, children, livelihoods, or safety are at stake. But personal beliefs and practices that do not affect others? I guess I just don’t get it. Maybe I am being shallow or don’t want to look.

Thoughts?

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Vented boxes

One of the last subjects in this series needing to be covered is the projector and its mounting and cooling.

In my view a home theater is not a home theater I would want to own unless it was based on a projected image. I know some of the large screen LCD and LED TVs are bright and wonderful, but they do not impress me as a movie. I’ll take a projected image every time. One of the hesitations many have with projectors stems from their noise. Unless they are in another room, projecting through glass, they can be quite annoying. My room, unfortunately, would not allow us to place the projector behind a wall. There’s a set of stairs blocking that from happening. Instead, Robert designed and built a ‘quiet box’ with its own ventilation system, optical glass, and access door. First, a bit about the projector in use.

We chose the JVC X700R projector because it is one of a very few projectors on the market making their own optical engine based on technology that really works to my standards. The other is Sony, leaving pretty much every other brand using the Epson engines in their own box. Doing some research on projectors, you pretty quickly narrow it down to one or the other of the two: Sony or JVC. The Epson engines are ok, but not that highly regarded. The Sony’s are excellent but dollar for dollar, and considering the importance of black levels, I prefer the JVC, as recommended by my installer. I don’t think I would make a different choice had I to do it over again today.
The screen I am projecting to is from Screen Innovations and, as I mentioned previously, it is a woven, gain of 1, acoustically transparent product. What that means is I can, and have, mounted the left, center and right loudspeakers in the wall and behind the screen. This is the best way to view a film, duplicating how it is executed in a commercial movie theater. The voices come from exactly the correct position matching the actors on the screen.

But on to the box that we built. Below is a picture showing the box where the projector sits. The chairs are only temporary as we wait for the new couch to arrive.

You can see the entrance to the theater on the left, the door to the equipment room (under the stairs), my collection of media and the popcorn machine. Looking at the quiet box itself, note the clever access door on the side.

Here’s another view.

Notice also the gray panels to the left and right of the media rack. These are custom diffusors we had installed for better sound to treat the room.
Bottom line on the extra hassle with the quiet box. It is so critically important to have a projected image that the extra time and money to design and build this box was worth every bit. It’s dead quiet.

Now, where’s that popcorn..?