Tag Archives: WAV

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 bit depth, to me, the type of digital file and how its delivered to our DAC’s make the biggest difference. I compared a FLAC file via Qobuz vs a ripped WAV file of a Lee Ritenour 16/44.1 CD last night and there was no contest. Qobuz is great, but just not nearly as good sounding as music ripped from a standard CD and off of my hard drive.  No contest.

Finer bits

There sure is a lot of controversy over bits and depth. One group feels that dividing 96dB of dynamic range into 65, 535 slices (16 bits) is enough, while others are more comfortable dividing 120dB into 16,777,215 slices (24 bit).

Bit depth: the difference between the softest and loudest captured sound. How important is it?

We know that CDs have a dynamic range that blows the doors off analog recordings of any kind. And we know that we’re not limited to just Red Book standards, that it’s trivially easy to get better.

Does it matter?

Of course, the arguments fly as fast as manure at a political rally. The truth lies somewhere in the middle (doesn’t it always?).

It’s all in the hands of the recording and mastering engineer, not the technology. If the engineer decides to use 24 bits but then shoves all the audio in the upper 16 bit space, ignoring the lower 8 bits, then nothing’s been gained other than a marketing advantage when they print “24” on the label. So, it’s rarely the technology at play and more in the hands of the engineer.

Which is a shame because most engineers aren’t interested in the highest fidelity.

We have the means, just not the will to use it.


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.

Air gaps

The long-awaited PS Audio music server, Octave, is inching closer to making its debut in late 2019. Since I’ve not written much about it recently, I thought you’d enjoy an update about one of its innovations, a new invention called the Air Gap Audio Interface or AGAI.

The AGAI solves a big problem in digital audio servers, contamination by noise and electrical detritus.

Inside a server, you have a noisy computer. As it chugs away at its tasks it jitters and pollutes the output signal feeding the DAC. This is why, we believe, FLAC sounds differently than WAV even though the bits are identical. A FLAC file (for example) requires far more bit crunching to extract the original bits than does a WAV file. Those crunched bits contaminate the final output signal through mutually shared power, ground and physical signal traces.

How can we fix that?

Imagine that the noisy computer inside the server was not in the server box and was instead far away (as we are doing in the upcoming Ted Smith Signature DAC). Its noise and ground contamination would not be a problem as long as we took its distant output and regenerated it in a Digital Lens.

Since our goal is to build a one-box server, the next best thing is to physically isolate the two systems within a single chassis. To do that we need separate power supplies, ground planes, physical boards, and at the end of the proverbial day, a physically isolated connection between the internal computer and the output Digital Lens. That’s where the AGAI comes into play. By bridging the gap between the internal noisy computer and Digital Lens by nothing more than light traveling through air, we get excellent isolation.

(In the upcoming TSS DAC the problem is solved with two chassis: a digital and analog separated too by light using a fiber optic cable between the two.)

We’re all familiar with digital data transmitted through lightwaves using a TOSLINK cable but that won’t work for either of our applications because of TOSLINK’s bandwidth limitations. But that isn’t a show stopper. It just means we have to step up our use of technology. Some of the highest speed data in the world travel on beams of light.

Whichever method is used, AGAI or high-speed fiber, transmission of digital data over lightwaves offers the possibility of getting noise and jitter out of the signal and gets us that much closer to musical perfection.

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.

Keeping your distance

One of the great mysteries of our art has started to unravel. Why identical bits sound different.

Of course, we understand bits are bits—just as numbers are numbers. 2+2=4. But that’s where it gets interesting. Timing, jitter, noise, all impact sound quality—just as they impact computational speed. The answer to an addition problem should always be the same, the speed at which it is calculated is not.

The same is true for digital audio. The music from the bits is always the same, the quality of presentation is not.

The same could be said of analog too. Same vinyl disc, very different sound depending on the mechanics of playback.

But we’ve covered these issues in detail before. What’s emerging as interesting is digital noise and its impact on sound quality. Noise enters the system through the power line, power supply, EMI, RFI, ground contamination.

As we work on building the new Octave Music Server we’re discovering the importance of isolating everything internal to the device. Metal shields, trick grounding schemes, optical isolation all play a part.

It’s why FLAC or ALAC sound different than WAV or AIFF. The increased computational activity needed to unfold the compacted data increases noise. The result is more jitter.

Prevent the noise from impacting other systems and the formats begin to sound the same.

I’ll keep you up to date on our progress as we make.


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 the first installment of my summation of an article written by Robert Schryer in the December 2016 edition of Stereophile.

The title is “Take Two Grateful Deads and Call Me in the Morning.” It is also referred to as “Good Sound is Good For Us.”

The article is about the effect of music in general, and music played back on a really good stereo system, when it comes to mental health. In other words, how music can have a positive effect on the brain and how the better a stereo system is, the more its positive effect, at least with many people.

In this case, it was prompted by a friend of the author who had progressively worse panic attacks that eventually became manageable because of his listening to music played back on a really good stereo system. When listening to MP3 files, which is the most widely used digital format today, the effect on his panic attacks were lessened, compared to listening to high quality music files, like the WAV files I listen to, on a good stereo system.

I’ll write more about this, as my sons senior project was about the positive effect of music on Alzheimer’s patients and as a treatment protocol, music is something easily, although to get high quality music re-production will cost somewhere between a bit and a lot more than a bit.

More soon, as I think this is a very interesting subject and pertinent to many people.


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


There aren’t that many audio formats that stick around, or at least that’s what it seems like to me.

What ever happened to Pono and its world changing technology? Or HDCD?

Formats reflect technology and, to the extent those formats serve their intended purpose, they remain valuable and in use—until we exchange them for the next miracle.

A quick search uncovered over 500 different digital audio format containers, including: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, APE, MP3, AAC, WMA, Vorbis, AAC, WMA, Monkey’s Audio, WavPack, MPEG, Musepack, MQA… ad nauseam.

Digiphobes roll their eyes when we spew TLAs. How easily they forget. Dolby, dbx Type I and II, High Com, Toshiba’s adres, JVC’s ANRS, RIAA pre and de emphasis, DNL, DNR…ad nauseam.

We become fixated on all forms of audio enhancement, thinking each a miracle that will live on forever, only to discover they fade from view over the years.

Technology marches on, and it’s good to wallow in its pleasures when available.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that few things in life are permanent, including audio formats.

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.


In yesterday’s post I had mentioned that I get questions on the two compression types, lossy and lossless. Some have questioned the term compression and wonder, if it’s compressed how can it be lossless? Is it a marketing scam or is it real? Probably worth spending a few minutes on this subject.

Lossless is indeed lossless. This means an identical copy can be extracted once uncompressed.

If you’ve ever gotten a ZIP file you’re already familiar with compressing data. You would never expect to unpack a ZIP file and have your picture, text or document anything less than perfect. Audio compression of the lossless nature is the same.

The best known lossless compression schemes, FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), are both able to compress a music file into about half the space of the original. Uncompress it and the bits are identical. There are other lesser known schemes just as accurate too, like MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing), WavPack, TAK, Monkey’s, WMA, OptimFROG, TTA, among others. The list is long.

There is a lot of talk amongst Audiophiles that despite the fact lossless files are unquestionably bit perfect, they don’t sound the same. How could that be? Well, for one thing, the amount of processing resources required to unpack a lossless file are far greater than those playing the original WAV file. If for no other reason, the extra number crunching impacts noise, jitter and increases power supply demands. So while the bits are identical, the payback demands are not.

If you download a compressed lossless file, uncompress it, and place it on your hard drive, that file will now sound identical to the same file on the same hard drive that had never been compressed. In other words, compressed or uncompressed the bits are the same.

Playback of compressed bits has different demands than playback of uncompressed bits. Hence, sound quality varies depending on the hardware reproducing it.

But that should be no surprise.

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

MQA thoughts

We’ve recently spent time in Music Room One auditioning MQA through a small test board supplied to us for testing by MQA. Our results have been unexpected.

MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated and is the brainchild of Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian. I’ve sat on a number of panel with Bob and find him to be extremely kind and knowledgable.  A real asset to high end audio.

You’ve read about MQA, and who hasn’t? I’ve attended two demonstrations of MQA, and both times was pleasantly impressed with what I heard. Blown away, no. Impressed, yes. But those demonstrations were closely scripted and performed on equipment I am unfamiliar with at a tradeshow. Other reporters have been gobsmacked by how good the differences are when attending these demonstrations. That’s not been my experience, but then I never attended the same demos they have reported upon.

Much has been written about MQA so I won’t waste your time repeating descriptions of it. What is most interesting to me is its claim that high resolution audio can be streamed with little more bandwidth than a CD – thus making services like TIDAL capable of upping their game to send us high resolution audio without choking the pipes coming into our homes.

The small sample board we were sent has a cheesy little DAC on it with a pair of RCA connectors to feed a preamp. Input is through USB. Not my first choice to audition a new technology, but it’s what they supplied. In later experiments we will try getting an actual digital signal out and into a DirectStream. This experiment was a simple one: digital in through USB, audio out and into a preamp.

We downloaded a track of music from the 2L website, which always has excellent selections from which to choose from. The selection was Mozart and a nice recording at that. 2L supplied both an unencoded 192/24 WAV file and the same, but encoded with the MQA process. Expectations were high since we’ve heard how much better the MQA file should sound, better than even the original! I’ve seen pictures on the MQA website of people crying after listening – so much better the process is supposed to be. Imagine my surprise when it was worse than the original.

Worse is a bit harsh. Better, it was not; might be a nicer way to put it.

In fact, I was actually impressed how close the two were. After all, this is a pretty amazing process that allows streaming services to send high resolution audio without degradation – no small feat.

If all the hype and hoopla had merely stated the end results were indistinguishable from the original, I might be jumping up and down with how close they got it. Few systems have the resolving power of Music Room One and the fact they got close after folding the music into a smaller file size is quite an achievement.

But tears in my eyes?

Either the test board we were sent is flawed, or others that have openly wept with excitement heard something I have not, or this reporter is just confused and misguided. I do not claim to have the answer, I’m just reporting the facts as I hear them.

As Dragnet’s Detective Joe Friday might have said, “nothin’ but the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

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

Lossy and lossless

Computer audio can be hard to understand. I know this because I get so many questions from our customers. The (seemingly) most misunderstood terms are lossy and lossless, compressed and uncompressed.

For starters, how many of us get an uncomfortable feeling when we hear our music’s been compressed? It’s like hearing your food was frozen; it’s rarely as good as fresh when thawed. Messing with pristine musical content in any way, shape, or form, surely can’t benefit the sound. The best we can hope for is untouched, unmolested.

We compress music to save disc space. Some compression schemes take half as much space, while others a tenth, even one hundredth in some cases. But all compression schemes are not the same. Some throw away “unnecessary” bits of music to conserve space, while others sacrifice nothing. The names for the two types of compression, lossy and lossless, describe which loses data and which does not.

Lossy schemes include MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital, Ogg, and WMA. Lossless formats are primarily FLAC, and ALAC. File names like WAV and AIFF are not compressed at all. One everyone’s interested in as of late, MQA, is compressed, certainly, and uses a combination of both lossy and lossless to achieve its reduction in space. The designers claim to wind up with lossless if a decoder is used, a claim I have no reason to doubt.

How much loss can you hear? Much depends on two factors: who you ask and how much is lost. High bit rate MP3 can sound awfully good to most people, even on a decent system. Though, when you listen closely to your well know pieces, and on a high resolution audio system, the losses are evident: subtle details, low level harmonics in particular. But if you ask some sound engineers, reasonable levels of MP3 compression are inaudible. They have double blind tests to prove it too. Of course, these are the same guys who can’t hear differences in wires, formats or electronics, for the most part.

Lossless? Is it really lossless? There again we have several definitions. If, by lossless, you mean bit perfect, then yes, lossless files (after decoding) are identical to uncompressed files. But, if you mean to ask, do they sound differently, then that’s a much debated question.

To my ears a FLAC or ALAC file that’s been uncompressed, decoded, and stored as a WAV or AIFF file before being played, sound identical to the original. FLAC or ALAC files that are uncompressed, decoded, and played in real time do not sound the same.

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.

Computer Music: iTunes settings

A small disclaimer and reminder first.

As I have been “bashing” two favorite formats of late, WAV and FLAC, let me be clear. I have nothing against either, neither technical or personal. Really.

I recommend AIFF over WAV and ALAC over FLAC for a few good reasons–but the simplest is compatibility. The Apple based formats AIFF and ALAC are compatible with everything, FLAC and WAV are not. It is really that simple. And since there is no price to be paid for using either, it seems a no brainer to take my recommendation. It is easy for Windows based people–experienced people–to ignore Apple people, experienced or not.

And that’s just adding to the confusion.

This isn’t a holy war. I am only trying to help keep things simple.


We’re now ready to begin importing our library into our computer using iTunes. I will show you how to set this up based on the notes I’ve presented in this series of posts.
iTunes is a good way to copy music onto your computer for several reasons. First, their metadata (cover art, song titles, artist’s info) is reasonably rich and complete. Second, their editing capabilities for this same metadata is really quite good, should you need it. Third, they make it easy. Last, most music management programs we’re likely to use in the future, or right now, are compatible with iTunes so all the work you put into your library can be transferred over at any time.

The trick I will share with you is an easy one. It’s called proper setup. iTunes, like any program, must be customized for expected results. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, iTunes does not understand you want high quality – and therefore its default setting is not one compatible with the idea of high resolution audio and good sound. We need to make it so.
To setup iTunes we need to access the Preferences menu. Look at the top of the program for the menu choices.
Mac, choose: iTunes->Preferences
Windows, choose: Edit->Preferences

In the opening screen of Preferences we see the General Tab. Here you want to do two things: set up how you like your computer’s internal CD player to respond, and choose which format to import music in. For the first choice, I like mine to suck the CD in, copy it, and spit it back out automatically. When I have a stack of CDs to copy, this makes it brainless and allows me to do other things while the stack gets smaller. I answer email, write posts, etc. – all the while my library is being managed. It’s easy. Here’s what that screen looks like:

You will also want to tell iTunes what size your library is to be. Medium is the default. If you’re 10,000 tracks or under, medium is just fine.

Once those have been selected, we want to set our format. This is the crux of our many writings.

Click on Import Settings

Here I recommend AIFF, though ALAC can be used. I do not recommend selecting any of the other settings. Choose AIFF for raw uncompressed data identical to what’s on the CD, ALAC for lossless compression if space is an issue. ALAC, once uncompressed, gives you bit perfect music identical to AIFF at half the storage space. My only hesitation using it is the potential for slightly compromised sound quality when your computer works too hard decompressing it. A small point, either will do just fine.

There’s only one more setting we may or may not need – most of us will not need it – and this can be found in the Advanced tab. The last on the row of tabs shown here:

If you are copying music from a CD, that music has to be stored somewhere. iTunes creates a folder on your main hard drive for just this purpose. It’s all automatic. If you’re OK with that, and most of us are, then you need not go to this screen. Just leave it alone and you’re done.
Let ‘er rip!

At this point, you’re ready to let ‘er rip. Start copying your CDs and building your library. In subsequent posts I’ll tell you what the next steps are to have them sound good and curate your library into a thing of beauty, how to control your new library with a mobile device from your listening position, etc. We’re almost there!

For more advanced users or for different storage areas
If you wish instead to place your copied music onto another hard drive–other than your main computer hard drive–perhaps a NAS, external USB hard drive, etc. then you need to tell iTunes where to place those files. This is the screen you need to go to, in that case.

There are two things of note on this screen. At the top, below the tabs, a window showing where your music files are kept. If you wish it to go somewhere else, click Change. A dialog box opens and you simply select where it is to go. If a NAS, make sure the NAS is connected so it appears in your menu when you click Change. Select where you want, and that’s where iTunes keeps it.

Last and only for those few who know what they’re doing
The second thing of note is the second checkbox, labeled Copy files to iTunes Media Folder when adding to library. This should not be checked if you are copying music from another hard drive that you intend to use as your storage. If it remains checked, you’ll wind up with two copies of your music which is a pain in the ass. Here’s how this works.

Imagine you already have your music copied to an existing external or internal hard drive. All you want to do is use iTunes as a music manager. You have some other method of copying CDs to this hard drive (rare – but it happens). You still need to import your music into iTunes but only for purposes of iTunes cataloging it, finding cover art and artist’ data. You do not want a second copy of your files – because winding up with two copies of all your media is not a good thing.

Uncheck this box. Then, add the music on your external hard drive and iTunes will catalog it and get it ready to manage for you.

That’s it!