Saturday, 14 January 2017

COMPARISON: TIDAL / MQA stream & high-resolution downloads; impressions & thoughts...

As I mentioned last week, and I'm sure you've seen all over the audiophile news, TIDAL has started streaming MQA audio and has embedded a software decoder into the Windows/Mac desktop player. It will basically take a 24-bit 44kHz or 48kHz stream that's encoded by MQA and spit out an 88kHz or 96kHz data stream to send out to your DAC; whether the internal one in your laptop, or a fancy external DAC with options for "Exclusive" mode which allows changes to the appropriate samplerate (I know this works well on the PC, have not tried the Mac).

If you're not using "Exclusive" mode, you can tick "Force volume" to set it to 100% volume so the internal mixer/dither routine hopefully doesn't mess with it. "Passthrough MQA" should be ticked only if you have an MQA enabled DAC or want to purposely hear MQA undecoded (I'll say it now that this is not recommended). My assumption is that if you do have one of these MQA DACs and passthrough is on, you should either make sure "Exclusive" mode is ticked or if not, manually make sure the OS samplerate is correct (ie. 44kHz or 48kHz at 24-bit depth) and that the volume is 100% (either with "Force volume" or making sure the computer volume slider is 100%). Otherwise, it will not be "bit-perfect" and the DAC will not recognize the MQA encoding. I suspect this could be confusing for some.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

MEASUREMENTS: Raspberry Pi 3 as USB Audio Streamer (with recommended CRAAP config & TIDAL/MQA arrives)

A few weeks ago, I got this question from Josh Xaborus in my previous post on the Raspberry Pi 3 + HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro measurements:
Have you measured the USB output from the RPI3 to a USB DAC to see if it's "clean" like the ODROID?
Good question Josh, and perceptive as well. I had not posted anything on the Raspberry Pi 3 specifically, whether there was any difference to be found streaming to the same USB DAC as compared to say the ODROID-C2. Let's have a good look at this and see if we can arrive at some facts and come to some conclusions...

Sunday, 1 January 2017

MUSINGS: On the Digital Music Collection, Metadata Tagging, and Hygiene...

Happy New Year everyone! I hope the holidays went well and you're ready to take on 2017.

Today, I thought I'd spend some time talking about something extremely important and one which I'm surprised I don't hear more about looking around forums and audiophile watering holes... It's the topic of how one creates a collection of music. The difference between a collection and just plain hoarding is of course the discipline of organization involved in the collector's hobby. The collector knows what he/she has. The collector has mastery over the collection. Though responses may be variable, I believe a friend or even complete stranger would be able to appreciate the time and dedication that a collector has put into achieving this mastery as opposed to a sense of revulsion when faced with the hoarder (this is honestly the feeling I get when looking at this "collection").

Over the years, I have seen a handful of articles like this one which also introduces one to Picard, the free MusicBrainz software that will do the job in an automated fashion. If I were to start putting a new collection fresh today, I'll probably do something like this and grow from there, adding customizations, and checking accuracy along the way. However, I have been collecting CD's since the 1980's and over the years, especially after 2004, I have migrated all the "physical" music over to my music server. Through the years, although I have gone through multiple hardware servers, the data from the music collection really has not. It has been essentially rip once into a lossless format, and the CDs packed up in storage thereafter. As the years go on, I suppose like every collector, one develops a unique way to archive the albums, manage the directory structure, and a way to tag the files in a fashion that "works" for oneself.

Let's start the new year with a look at one way to manage the music collection (my idiosyncratic way :-). It has served me well and maybe some of what I do will resonate with you as well...

Monday, 26 December 2016

QUICK COMPARE: AVC vs. HEVC, 8-bit vs. 10-bit Video Encoding

As I mentioned in the last blog post on HEVC encoding in response to "Unknown" in the comments, I do believe there are potential subtle benefits to the use of the 10-bit x265 encoder in Handbrake even with an 8-bit video source. I figured I'll run a very quick test to show what I've seen...

Friday, 23 December 2016

MUSINGS: End of 2016 - Video Encoding (HEVC 10-bits, the HDR "Trinity"), Multichannel Streaming, and Other Thoughts...

For those of you into video, I suspect you're already very excited about the "next generation" H.265/HEVC encoding format. About a year back, I already made mention of the impressive results I was seeing with playback of HEVC on the Skylake HTPC I was putting together. A year down the road, we see the ongoing development of software harnessing the power of the new encoding technique - even lower bitrate for very high quality output.

As we say goodbye to 2016, I thought I'd just "shoot the breeze" a bit and meander down some related topics. Let's talk about video encoding, what I've been doing, what I've found useful/interesting, and some speculation of what I think would be in the not too distant future as it applies to high dynamic range (HDR) video...

Monday, 12 December 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Yamaha RX-V781 Receiver (a look at the pre-out quality)

With the upgrade recently to a 4K TV, it was alas also time to upgrade the surround receiver system I was using. A number of years ago, I bought a used Onkyo TX-NR1009 which I wrote about. It has served me reasonably well over the last few years but not without some issues. The most bothersome was the fact that the HDMI board died last year and it had to be sent back to Onkyo for a board replacement. Thankfully, despite the machine being released around 2011, Onkyo still honored the repair as apparently this is a common problem acknowledged by the company. Not good that the product was defective due to an engineering oversight (soldering & overheating issues), but at least the company "manned up" to the problem.

These days, to make full use of the surround sound system connected to a full-featured 4K TV, the best way is to upgrade the receiver to be compatible with the latest HDMI 2.0 specification with allowance for 4K/UHD @ 60Hz, HDCP 2.2 copy protection compatibility, as well as passing through the full video signal - including full color information (Rec. 2020/BT.2020 and HDR). (For those new to this kind of AV talk, you might want to review the 4K tech article from a few months back.)

Unfortunately, the Onkyo was only good to HDMI 1.4. It was time to upgrade to one of the new receivers... And this is what I found on sale locally:

It's a new model year 2016 Yamaha RX-V781 (current price ~US$700).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

MEASUREMENTS: On the value for ethernet "galvanic isolation"...

Ponderous. That's the adjective that comes to mind so often when I visit audiophile sites and come across yet another tweak suggestion. Over the years, there have been many such nuggets... Ideas like using a battery to power devices to make them "sound better" in supposedly very significant ways. Switching mode power supplies in general are said to be "bad". USB carries with it significant noise so we should to buy certain "filter" type devices (Audioquest Jitterbug, Uptone Regen, etc...). Server computers sounding different using the same high quality DAC when there's no DSP processing applied to the actual digital signal. OS optimization tweaks "reduces jitter" and again "sounds better"... The possibilities are endless!

On a few occasions, there are nuggets of truth in some of these ideas. For example, yes there is jitter to be found in some circumstances (small but measurable amounts like with S/PDIF and HDMI). Yes, sometimes you can detect noise from computers situated close to a DAC. Realize of course, many times the "solutions" advocated do not necessarily fix the problem. For example, I have yet to see a situation where a fancy passive piece of cable can fix jitter. And more often than not though, the subjective advocate/testifier/witness appears to magnify the purported effects to such extremes in the hopes of drumming up interest in what really should be rather insignificant issues. (Why folks would do this will be left to the reader to decipher... :-)

Which leads to today's topic... Ethernet galvanic isolation.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Moving on to 4K: A look at the Sharp LC-75N8000U UHD "HDR" TV.

As you can see above, I made the move to a larger 75" screen 4K/UHD-TV from my 55" LG 55LW5600 purchased in 2011. Not sure if it's as appreciable in the image above, but the extra 20-inches diagonally make a huge difference in the movie watching experience from the sofa! (The camera focal length and perspective clearly makes a big difference in pictures...)

This is the Sharp LC-75N8000U. As I discussed recently, I've been looking around at 4K TV's for quite awhile. Admittedly, I just could not resist the price to give this a try at least (currently only ~US$2000 on Amazon)! With this post, let's have a look at this display and I'll throw out a few thoughts...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Micro 1m Interconnects... Differences vs. Generics???

Alright guys... As you know I've measured cables in the past - why audiophile magazines never seem to get around to this is anyone's guess :-). And as I summarized here, there really hasn't been evidence of a meaningful difference between various cables of all sorts.

Over the years, I have tried to measure cables which are considered "audiophile quality" when I can get my hands on them. You know, things like the Synergistic "Tesla" power cables, or these Kimber 8TC speaker cables. Note that obviously if I really wanted to, it's not like there aren't a selection of audiophile stores locally in Vancouver. Without evidence in my own subjective experience or reasonable theory that major differences are even possible, I'm obviously not going to go out of my way to test these things when there are so many other topics to learn about and explore! When I had the opportunity from a friend to hang on to these cables for awhile and test them out, well, why not? Especially since he's had these for years and they're well "broken in"! :-)

Behold, the Crystal Cable Micro; we're often reminded in reviews that Crystal Cable is based in The Netherlands (parent company International Audio Holdings which also owns Siltech):
Notice the small round "silver billets", all part of the typical Crystal Cable esthetic. New models have a more ovoid shape.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

MEASUREMENTS: HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro, PCM5122 digital filters & further thoughts on filtering...

A summary slide from this presentation slide set. Just a reminder of the general desirability of digital filters providing higher accuracy compared to analogue...
Thanks to Jim Ambras in the discussion of the measurements for the Raspberry Pi 3 & HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro for pointing me to some settings available! So in the "Wait! There's more..." department, there are some "advanced" settings available in Alsamixer for the DAC+ Pro I2S HAT board you might wish to experiment with. Let us have a look at the different digital filters built into this very affordable DAC and how it changes the sound objectively...

Friday, 14 October 2016

MUSINGS: Keeping it simple... MQA is a partially lossy CODEC.

Connoisseurs of French cuisine will know this guy...
In the last few days, I noticed my inbox containing a number of questions again about MQA... Presumably due to a combination of the last blog post with Agitater's comments and I guess some news on MQA after the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016 where a number of companies were playing MQA and apparently allowing A/B comparisons of sorts.

I say "of sorts" above because it seems from descriptions the best comparisons were more along the lines of using the same file but with MQA decoding turned on/off "on the fly". Not an actual native 16/44 CD resolution file vs. MQA decoding in a volume controlled state using the same source mastering of course. Remember, the processing itself likely affects the sound quality (indeed, Meridian/MQA wants us to believe MQA processing will still benefit playback even without a decoder and folks testify about this as well). My little ABX test suggests small differences as well.

So, let's just keep it "simple" ("but not simpler" as per Einstein). Here's the bottom line for us consumers IMO...