Thursday, 18 August 2016

MUSINGS: Convenience, lossy audio, societal trends, and worsening sound quality?

IMO, a realistic graph of audio formats and quality first discussed here.
Last week, as I was browsing the internet catching up on the news after a long day out doing touristy things in China, I came across this interesting post on Stereophile. A whimsical look at the proverbial crystal ball and presenting a rather dystopian audiophile future of 2116. For some reason, the protagonist seems to be a hippie and references to Baby Boomers are made. As if these terms would even be of contemporary significance by that time! Plus it's presented as if high quality sonic reproduction would be absent in a century's time!

The basic lament is the tiring belief that we don't seem to care about sound quality any more as a society, the quality is "deteriorating", and that ultimately it's all got to do with "convenience".

But is this true?

Short and sweet:
NO, I don't think so.

I suspect it's much more complex and worth putting some thought into...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

MUSINGS: Do "audiophile" computer-based players make a difference? On "Everything Matters" and wisdom.


Since publishing the results from the NUC measurements a week back, permit me to discuss the topic of "audiophile" music servers, streamers and transports - specifically addressing the idea some have that they make a significant sonic difference.

As audiophiles, we've all seen them reviewed in the various websites. Names like Aurender, Antipodes, SOtM, Small Green Computer, Baetis Audio for machines that run either Windows or Linux, or more customized non-PC looking devices like the Auralic streamers, SONORE microRendu (Wow! So much hype!), and established audio companies within the arena like PS Audio, Ayre, Bryston, Simaudio, etc. Even JRiver sells their customized NUC server/player, called the Id.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Intel NUC [6i5SYH] (and Audio)

Packaged contents of the NUC - mounting screw, universal power jack attachments in the bubble wrap, metal VESA mount plate under the power supply, basic instructions.

Like most of my computer upgrades lately, it's not because I need the speed, or expect much power saving, or necessarily to silence a noisy machine... Speed, efficiency, and quietness have been achieved to the level I'm satisfied with for years now! No... It's because I wanted to upgrade my work computer to something that handles 4K resolution :-). As discussed here and here, over the last year, I've been transitioning to what I think is going to be the target resolution for the foreseeable future (in a way very much like how audio CD resolution has been completely fine for decades). Beyond 4K, the reasons for even higher resolutions drop off exponentially based on the physical limitations of vision. (Of course, beyond spatial resolution, HDR color range and contrast ratios are important and those are catching up nicely.)

A few months ago, I decided to upgrade an aging 24" Dell monitor with a new ASUS PB287Q - quite a nice reasonably priced 28" 4K unit. (If I were to buy today, I would take a good look at the LG 27UD88 or consider the 21:9 LG 34UC98.) Alas, for the last while, I've been running the monitor at 1200p resolution with the current work computer. Though the upscaling doesn't look bad, it's noticeably compromised compared to actual native resolution of course.

As a simple way to upgrade instead of buying all the parts and assembling a new computer, I decided to go with the current generation Skylake NUC "Next Unit of Computing" - the Intel NUC6i5SYH which houses the Core i5-6260U processor with the Iris Graphics 540 integrated GPU. This NUC case allows for a 2.5" SSD/HD and M.2 SSD. If you want an even smaller, flatter unit, consider the similarly-priced NUC6i5SYK, the same innards but with a smaller case removing the 2.5" bay so the internal SSD will have to be an M.2 card.

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Response RE: MQA, "blocking" of Meridian's responses, and A/B Tests...

Just a quick note (remember... I'm on summer holiday and all!). Someone passed along to me this article from Hi-Fi+. It's an interview with Bob Stuart and Morten Lindberg (2L) apparently conducted in May. I'm bringing this up because the first Q&A is about "detractors" and there's this curious response:
BS: We’ve had some detractors, but frankly where we sit, we’ve been actually rather pleased how few. We’ve come in with an inconvenient truth – digital audio hasn’t been done right – so we thought the community might attack us. And one person put up a long blog about MQA that was just inaccurate, but blocked all our replies. As we say in England, “That’s not cricket!”
Now I don't know if this is definitely in reference to this blog and specifically to posts here and here but over the last few months I have heard this claimed... That somehow Meridian tried to post a response but the message was "blocked" (presumably by me) and that presumably the message would have contained corrections and answers to the issues raised.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Focusrite Forte USB Audio Interface (ADC & DAC) + Summer Musings


Product shot from here.
A few weeks back, I mentioned that I grabbed one of these Focusrite Forte USB2 audio interface units for some home recording projects I wanted to do. Beyond using it as a measurement device, my old Creative E-MU 0404USB was being used for some of these recordings and I figured it was time to upgrade to something new since a couple of the analogue pots were getting a little scratchy and I figured an all-digital device like this would allow me to more accurately adjust the volume on the microphone pre-amps (indeed it has worked out very well!).

A size comparison.

Friday, 1 July 2016

MUSINGS: Digital Interpolation Filters and Ringing (plus other Nyquist discussions and "proof" of High-Resolution Audio audibility)


A couple weeks ago, Whackamus posed this interesting comment and question which I thought would be a good topic to discuss and explore in greater detail and with some examples/samples:
"I've been reading your blog for years. Or for almost four years, at any rate. I have to thank you for doing what you do. I've likewise always wanted to ask you a question, too, but I don't know how the bleep to to contact you. In any case, since I've been fretting over it afresh, I thought I'd just post it here. If you ever do decide to get to/address it, that'd be great. If not -- hey, no sweat. :)

In any case, I read the following (tonight) on the Stereophile forums:

"I personally think that MQA has some noble goals, in terms of getting as close to the original master as possible, but I think that is far less important than the elimination of the damaging pre-ringing distortion. This has been the bane of digital playback for 30 years, and over-sampling and various filter techniques have tried to deal with it, with limited success."

I won't say that I've never heard ringing -- because I probably have -- but I will say that I've never explicitly said: "Aha! Eureka! Thar be ringing!" Because -- outside of maybe a blurring during transients? -- I have no idea what it sounds like. But my question is less about MY having heard ringing than about the AUDIBILITY of ringing -- pre, post, or otherwise. In a quality DAC (which I've got to assume most of the folks posting on Stereophile.com have access to), how audible are ringing effects? Or, rather, how COMMON are they? I kind of imagine that the Meitners, Lavrys, Levinsons, Stuarts, etc. of the audio world take great care to minimize (pre-/post-)ringing effects and to eliminate ringing in the audible realm. I likewise imagine that both such things are doable, inasmuch as most of us have been enjoying digital audio for decades now. But the Stereophile poster makes it seem as if ringing is the apodeictic bane of digital audio. What am I missing?"

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Vancouver Audio Show 2016 (June 25): Pictorial & Comments (the MQA Demo, and Show Musings)


As I mentioned a few weeks back, the folks at the Chester Group have put on the Vancouver Audio Show again this year at the Hilton Metrotown (in Burnaby). I must admit, it's not the ideal weekend for an audio show. Summer holidays starting, weather getting better, this is also the opening weekend for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival... I guess the "music lovers" can enjoy the great outdoors while "audiophiles" can hang out indoors checking out the gear :-). Last year, they had it in May which probably makes more sense.

I spent most of Saturday at the show. It was a blast meeting up with Mitch (aka Mitchco on Computer Audiophile, recent eBook on the use of DSP in the listening environment) and wandering the hallways through the various showrooms with my buddy Phil and catching up with my dad who was there as well. As I mentioned before, I think Vancouver has the luxury of a decent selection of "high end audio" stores already but it's certainly nice to be able to come to one place to check out the gear and listen to what's new.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 (Creative Recon3Di) - Motherboard DAC / Audio Output

A number of months back, I rebuilt my HTPC set-up to run the new Skylake i5 processor. I thought it might be interesting to measure the motherboard audio output of the Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 to have a peek at what a typical modern "gaming" motherboard's audio output performs like. Here's the back panel and a picture of the MoBo:
Rear panel - note the blue TosLink cable, beside it the analogue phono plug for stereo out...
As I described in that article, the Gigabyte motherboard forms the foundation for the the new build. Technologies built into the new "consumer performance" Intel Z170 chipset includes compatibility with the new Skylake processors of course, more PCI-E lanes, up to 10 USB3.0 ports, up to 3 M.2 interfaces for SSD storage, etc. As I mentioned previously, this motherboard also has HDMI 2.0 + HDCP 2.2 capability (firmware upgrade available now and ready to go), plus there's Thunderbolt 3 out from that little USB 3.1-Type C port - very cool.

If you look at the Gigabyte literature on the website, you see that they're also hyping up the audio output somewhat. Upgradable opamp, Creative Sound Core3D quad-core processor (for 3D positional sound), high-end capacitors (Nichicon MUSE MW "Acoustic Series"). After installation, the audio device is identified as the "Sound Blaster Recon3Di" [presumably the 'i' indicates "integrated"].

How good is the analogue output from a modern computer motherboard like this?

Saturday, 11 June 2016

MISCELLANY: Vancouver Audio Show, Focusrite Forte Ahead, HEVC, Surround Audio CODECs...



Hey there guys, life and work is busy so I thought the post this week would be to cover a few miscellaneous thoughts from the last few weeks.

First, as you can see in the picture above, it's coming again this year! I guess the Vancouver Audio Show went well enough last year that we're going to see a repeat performance with the Show this year... Nice. I remember that there was no mention of the Show at the usual audiophile websites so I figure I'd let everyone know it's coming. Thankfully here in Vancouver we do have a few audiophile stores with good showrooms. Plus with the city (as well as much of the West Coast of North America) being a place where rich Asian investors like to park their cash (just look at the housing market!), it's a nice place to show off the goods... Of course, it also doesn't hurt given the relative strength of the US dollar to attract a few Americans up from nearby Seattle.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

MUSINGS / ANALYSIS: Is there any value to 176.4 and 192kHz Hi-Res audio files? A practical evaluation...



Check out this article from 1998 written by the founder of Earthworks, David E. Blackmer (1927-2002).
 
Although I believe some of the contents in the article above are debatable, in the years since 1998, high-resolution, high samplerate audio has of course become common-day reality for audiophiles. As I expressed years ago, I do like the 2xCD samplerates like 88 and 96kHz. But as a result of realizing that 176.4 and 192kHz songs were not being streamed properly with my Logitech Media Server with BrutefirDRC set-up described a few months back, I started asking myself, what is it we would be missing if these albums were downsampled to 88.2 and 96kHz?

Put another way, we could ask "Is there something musical about the highest octave in these 4x samplerate files?" This highest octave for 176.4kHz files would be audio containing 44kHz to 88kHz, and in 192kHz files from 48kHz to 96kHz.