Category Archives: DAC

The Best Simple Mobile Audio Configuration

A friend recently wrote me to help another friend who is interested in getting a mobile music setup. Quality is important meaning “Sound Quality” or SQ… Price is important, meaning “Cost”… Mobility is important meaning “Something that travels with good sound but also sounds good in a room when you get there”…

Here is what I am mostly using lately and can go anywhere with full utility… I have been at this Mobile HRA (High Resolution Audio) as I came to call it, since 2014 when the first DSD USB DACs started pouring out of many manufacturers doors making it easier and cheaper and better sounding to find something that traveled well as both a DAC and a Headphone Amplifier.

These products still are everywhere from DragonFly (AudioQuest) to iFi Audio to Chord to Audiolab to OPPO to FiiO to….m-a-n-y-o-t-h-e-r-s.

I have carried OPPO, iFi Audio, Geek Out, DragonFly and other DACs to different continents on airplanes, so I know how to travel with a battery backed USB DSD/MQA/PCM DAC that can work with both a Windows laptop and an iPhone with the powered camera attachment.

BUT… I’m bucking my own personal trend this past year! For the most part I have heard very good sound but it is not even CD lossless delivery of the audio data. This is something I never thought I’d like! My ears didn’t get worse, just my expectations relaxed enough to try things I never had before. If anything, my ears got a bit better doing these comparisons (sound to sound, not spec to spec).

I don’t need to travel with a DAC at all right now, or even a laptop computer for music. I just need an iPhone, some killer Noise Cancelling Bluetooth (or wired) headphones and a very good portable Bluetooth (or wired) speaker for when I get there…

For these reasons I am still going to call the music covered in this blog post Mobile HRA. It is not hi-res digital audio being delivered, but it is still in my Mobile HRA category for very good sound and very good mobility.

The simplest and best portable stereo I can name straight off is this:

#1 THE MUSIC PLAYER
Any smartphone (iPhone or Android with Spotify app added see next item). You don’t need more than the smartphone because the storage for all the sound is going to come from the cloud…read on…

#2 THE MUSIC SOURCE – AN INFINITE LIBRARY
Spotify 3-month Premium trial. Now you are subscribed to a music library of everything you ever had plus a few million songs you never had. Search by Artist, Songs, Podcasts, Playlists, Albums (limited only by your imagination — I hate when I hear that).

For Spotify, sign up with Visa/MC/PayPal then immediately cancel to avoid $9.99 in 3 months unless you want to continue. Best delivery of CD quality music. MP3-320 is indistinguishable from Red Book CD and even better in some cases depending on the CD master quality, an old experiment from late 90’s verified by me and others with even better ears… same true for MP3-256. While many things in life are not black and white, this one is: Any sample rate below MP3-256 sounds sketchy bad to awful (192, 128 and 64). If you are listening to a service with any of these MP3 sample rates you should really try something different or change the configuration you are using to a higher rate.

Spotify actually uses the Ogg Vorbis codec, not MP3 so it compresses a bit better (streams quicker) without losing quality. Spotify lets you save albums, songs, and playlists in your library for full access anywhere. If/when you start paying $9.99 again (just turn it back on in your account) you resume from where you were. It never goes away unless you Delete your Account.

There is a Download option on any of these 3 categories lets you hear what you save anytime later without cell or WiFi service, like on the airplane. Playlists are easily shared and posted (a huge plus!). Spotify’s Genius/Genome suggestions to me are by far and away the best I’ve ever seen from any service since Pandora in the late 90’s started that idea. Through Spotify’s suggestions I have discovered many artists and playlists that I add to my library and listen to regularly. most of these are in different genres of music that I always have liked but never had much time to explore. Now they come to me with a lot of “Yes” from my ears.

Here’s Why Spotify (lossy $9.99/mo.) and Not TIDAL (lossless and MQA, $19.99/mo.)…

I have subscribed to TIDAL and I love MQA for PCM remasters. The TIDAL catalog with hi-res up to MQA decoded 24/384 (but typically 24/96 or 192) is amazing and continues to grow. So I love the TIDAL MQA sound (the CD sound is a different comparison with Spotify as I mentioned earlier) and now the TIDAL software player makes MQA come alive with no other hardware (MQA DAC) attached up to 24/96. I mostly hate wires, but battery is an issue with the USB DACs as is just carrying it in your jeans jacket pocket or …. ??? along with all the rest.

But TIDAL can’t stay connected… I mean it’s really bad. East Hawaii is a bad place to test connectivity of cell data services (4G, LTE, 5G) if you want to succeed in not being disconnected. So TIDAL fails over and over and over and then I quit trying and use something else. But don’t hold East Hawaii totally responsible because I had similar problems in the East Bay in San Francisco Bay Area (population 10+ million last I knew) where an AT&T DSL connection couldn’t hack TIDAL either but was fine with Spotify and even Qobuz (CD and Hi-Res now in the US). Heck I even have TIDAL Masters of some of my own albums (Crossing (Remastered), The Window (Remastered), others…) online there that decode up to 24/352.8.  It sounds great but if you can’t play the song all the way through…..

On the other hand, Spotify can’t be defeated by poor connections as long as you have any cell data or WiFi connection of any kind. It even buffers the song somehow without the long delays up front like other services to play through short lapses in service that occur like when I’m driving. (My guess is that TIDAL’s server buffering and response to latency is either too server/bandwidth over-tasked or poor algorithms or both.)

No kidding it’s very hard for Spotify to stutter, dropout, pause or just quit playing and need app restarts (like TIDAL). So I have MP3 (they actually use Ogg Vorbis!) streaming with the same sound quality as CD and zero headaches and zero limits on the catalog I can choose from. Not bad and I’m into my 2nd year of digging it at this point. Just one more arrow of proof in the quiver of “don’t buy based on specs, just use your ears.

#3 – THE WIRELESS HEADPHONES
Bose QC35 II – best over-ear Noise Cancelling headphone value I’ve heard in the <$500 range and I shopped it with my ears in the SF Bay Area. Found it today still online at Rakuten for $257 (list as $349) — I’ve had mine over 6 months they are outrageous for travel as well as quiet home time (the coquis in East Hawaii are deafening all night in most elevations, not to mention dogs, leaf blowers, mowers, weed whackers, chain saws, Excavator hammers busting rock, bulldozers, occasional guns fired). These have a very good battery (8-10hrs), hugely comfortable over ear and over head fit, and sound much better than they should for that price. None of the in-ear monitor products I use compare and the quiet they provide as background is just that within reasonable expectations (you might not hear a pin drop).

https://www.rakuten.com/shop/techgeeks/product/789564-0010/?ref=ccbe01e924cdec4454f547c77c2f718e

#4 – THE SPEAKER FOR THE ROOM
KEF MUO Bluetooth or Wired – best value for BT with 3-Unidriver speakers, line/wire-in option, 6-8 hrs battery, also discounted on Rakuten from $349 to $257. Not the lightest speaker for travel (aluminum casing, 3 speaker drivers) but small and tough enough to pack without cracking, and dead on with the sound it delivers. Easy to carry in a day pack with the Bose and maybe a small tablet/laptop (not for music) — my typical rig.

The KEF MUO is a full sounding speaker that plays very well at low volumes as well as turns up (caution it can be overdriven).  It has limits but a nice wide range of sweet sounds with lows and highs well represented. I like to put it near a corner of the room to take advantage of the even better bottom that comes into the room.

I even use this speaker inside when I am outside with some windows slightly open and still hear the music fine. Of course I could take it outside with me, but no need to usually. The only thing irritating about the MUO is that it powers down automatically after it detects a not-so-long absence of music, even when it is plugged into AC. There may be a KEF control for this that I didn’t bother to look for yet but I end up having to turn it back on a lot.

https://www.rakuten.com/shop/beach-camera/product/KEFMUOGLD/?ref=85af8757714761a0036a6d46b7fb0245

THE WHOLE PACKAGE MOBILE HRA IS NOW EASY PEASY

For me the Mobile HRA got simpler without carrying the DAC, also no computer required (I always have 1TB SSD but don’t need it for my daily listening now), just travel with my iPhone. Spotify can find Bluetooth and WiFi speakers (through Apple Talk on the iPhone, Chromecast on Android) and the sound quality (MP3-320 == “Very High” or “Extreme”) is perfectly fine trade off for the lightness of travel and completeness of library. The Bose Noise Cancelling is something I had no idea that I would instantly come to rely on in an airplane or other noisy places including even home sometimes, just to be able to hear only the music and no other sounds. Bose gets high marks from others on their superior NC technology as I and others have compared. (I always thought NC was just kind of as sell-job…it’s NOT). I have used Bose for PA and other speaker gear for a long time so I know how well they do their research but in the end it just sounds great. I preferred the QC35 II sound to their next model the 700 ($399).

Mobile HRA got better since 2014 and barely existed for my ears before that. Well, it just didn’t really exist as a mobile solution. Now I use it for huge amounts of hours every day into the night as well as when I travel.

Aloha!

~ DE
______________________________________________________
Here are some of my Spotify playlists…
https://davidelias.com/spotify-playlists-by-the-artist

Here’s my artist page…


My Ace in the Hole for all the lossy business…

One last mention of my home setup these past months has to do with what I feed the Spotify Ogg Voris lossy stream to that changes everything: The iFi Audio Pro iDSD PCM/MQA & DSD DAC + GTO Filter + DSD1024 Upsample +  analog preamp out to any speaker or stereo setup. I wrote about this recently in a post here and called this miracle box The ultimate media refactoring vending machine.  It takes the stream from Spotify and delivers it ultimately as 1-bit 45 – 49mHz DSD1024 that gets converted to analog and warmed by the tube preamp. You wouldn’t believe how good that sounds until you’ve heard it.

https://art-of-listening.com/2020/01/05/the-ultimate-media-refactoring-vending-machine/

Photo by iFi Audio

When Computer Audio’s Top Quality Hi-Res No Longer Requires A Computer or a Bluetooth Leash and Delivers Stupendous Sound

By David Elias, 01/05/2020

The last 2 years of computer audio (2017 – 2019) for listeners and musicians have been unlike anything I have seen or heard since the earliest exciting and revolutionary days of the introduction of DSD as SACDs into the market which I participated with as an album (SACD “The Window” released in 2003). After the SACD early years (~2000 – 2005) excitement the next step was to launch Sony DSD Disc Format downloads in 2009 with my release of “The Window” in stereo, followed by “Crossing” and then both as multichannel 5.1 studio DSD64 masters. Keep in mind around then Netflix streaming was still new, 5mbps Internet download speed was a marvel to have, and DSD playing on any of the 30+ million Sony Playstation3’s in homes then was astonishing.

Following those years of early SACD Discs (.ISO image downloads to burn to high capacity DVD-R’s) 2013 and 2014 were the beginning of Sony’s official High Resolution Audio (HRA) program removing DRM from DSD recordings and inciting many companies to create low cost DSD USB DACs and headphone amplifiers that soon flooded the market and began encouraging many to listen to excellent recordings in both DSD and PCM (24/96 and DXD).

Since 2016 the introduction of MQA as both remasters for downloads and low bit rate, high resolution (unfolded up to 24/384 but delivered at about 24/48k or far less in my experience (FLAC ~700-1000kbps)) streaming from TIDAL and other services further puts the inexpensive reality of the highest quality studio masters in the accessible hands and ears of music lovers from something as simple to use as an iPhone or Android smartphone, tablet, or from laptop or desktop. Hi-res from a smartphone streaming from the internet. Who would have guessed. No one did, not too long ago.

On the high end of gear in these categories, and as described in this post regarding iFi Audio’s Pro iDSD product released in 2018, there are products now available that can be connected to home studio setups delivering bit perfect transmissions of encoded MQA and 1-bit DSD over WiFi as well as DSD1024 resampling of any streaming source such as Spotify (from 160k up to 320k through the Internet to your phone). These same standalone receiving DAC/DLNA/AirPlay/Google Cast units can also decode MQA from a connected computer (via WiFi or USB), or internet streaming hi-res TIDAL masters. None of this was imaginable in 2009, or 2013, or 2016, let alone anytime before that.

Photo by David Elias

iFi Audio Pro iDSD DAC/streaming/preamp and xDSD mobile DAC/headphone amp


Jump To The Point – What Do I Get Reading This

You get to imagine living and/or working in an environment where you can play any music you like in any audio format from any device you might have (including your Smart TV or Apple TV or CD/DVD player) through your stereo setup or headphones with the best sound you may have ever heard from the exact same music your ears may already know very well. I believe it will sound better to you than it ever has before, even though the listening room, the headphones, the stereo or studio monitors you are using may not have changed at all.

What’s changed is what I’ll call the digital audio cleaning and grooming needed to create an excellent quality analog rendition of the music, as they say, “as the artist intended”. Here is one artist musician who agrees this is finally possible in a single box regardless of the source or format of the data or the destination of the sound delivery (headphones, PA, stereo, studio monitors).

You get the best sound from your own digital album/cd/streaming library collection than ever before by routing and refactoring the audio through the iFi Pro iDSD.

The iFi Audio Pro iDSD digital to analog converter provides an incredibly effective and authentic delivery of analog audio from virtually any digital source using its unique and highly progressive combinations of filtering, DSD1024 resampling, analog tube preamplification, and balanced outputs with headphone impedance matching.

For the first time, what’s commonly referred to as hi-res computer audio requires no computer to play digital audio from any internet stream, both lossy and lossless into perfectly natural and studio quality analog music through your headphones or speakers. And there is no Bluetooth; amen to that too!

All of this can take place over your local WiFi setup in which the Pro iDSD acts as a DLNA or UPnP (AirPlay or Google Cast) endpoint and in fact can extend your Internet router’s WiFi range to allow local devices like smartphones receive streaming music from favorite sources like Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, Apple Music, Amazon Prime.  In my test the Internet WiFi router was located upstairs with a slightly weak 802.11 signal for smartphones downstairs. So I had the Pro iDSD located downstairs air link cleanly to the WiFi router upstairs, and had my phone and computer WiFi connect directly to the Pro iDSD unit as their WiFi router. These music source devices were then more reliable to play music consistently from, and even for any other internet access they might require.

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More about the Wow….

I’ve read some reviews about the Pro iDSD and most of them say they don’t know exactly what to call the device, or they say it has so many features that it’s hard to describe. I don’t have any problem describing what I see and have used the iDSD as: The ultimate media refactoring vending machine.  

It plays from nearly any source and delivers to nearly any receiver endpoint for playback in a perfectly cleaned up audio state of sound quality excellence. It supports the native source format if desired (lossy MP3 or AAC, lossless CD, MQA, DSD) but has tremendous sound quality improvement options as well. It is indiscriminate about what kind of music it receives and what kind of refactored music it delivers as analog. The user decides all of this, mostly in realtime with the ability to then easily listen to the differences between the choices to nail down a preferred sound. I don’t know of any other product that does this to this extent, and usually not even close.

If you play your streaming services in the same crappy 64kbps Pandora input that began in the 90’s, they come out of the Pro iDSD as filtered and upsampled DSD1024 (45mbps). Stream your Smart TV movies and music or your Amazon Prime favorite shows and they get the same filter + DSD upsample (aka resample or remaster) treatment. Send your CD/DVD player audio through your Smart TV via HDMI and get the same improvements.

Stream your TIDAL Masters MQA library from your tablet or laptop and you can hear audio unfolded to 24/384k with ringing corrections on both the encoded (master) and decoded (DAC) side. Play your native DSD up to DSD1024 (wireless DSD64 as DoP, USB wired otherwise). DSD64, 128 and 256 source masters can also be upsampled to the higher DSD bitrates.

Use the DLNA or AirPlay or Google Cast connections to send all your music from your smartphone to the Pro iDSD via reliable and extended distance WiFi. No more Bluetooth woes! Have your MP3 and CD music filtered through iFi’s innovative and effective GTO filter to work through some of the same PCM ringing problems as MQA does before DSD resampling and converting to analog to your headphones.

Enjoy a tube warmed preamp sound for all of it!

The ultimate media refactoring vending machine.  

Much of the music you may already play comes from a phone or tablet streaming from services like Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Qobuz, Deezer, any or all of them, at different times. Using iFi’s Pro iDSD DAC and headphone amplifier or studio (tube or digital) preamplifier you will hear your music take on new depths and clarity and natural sounding characteristics you probably have never heard before with your own music libraries. To my ears, the digital reproductions playing through the Pro iDSD all seem to back off and just let me listen. There are no battles between what my ears hear and how my brain receives the music. It flows pure and simple.

You don’t need a computer to hear this. It can come from the same smartphone you play music on everyday. Forget Bluetooth, go WiFi. It’s a cleaner, bit perfect transmission (also forget about aptX and other compatibility headaches) and without a 30 foot limit (which it never is) before it stutters and drops and waits and drives you crazy. I’ve decried the virtues of WiFi audio over Bluetooth for years and now I have it before my very ears.

The music could also come locally stored as downloads or ripped CDs from your computer (tablet, laptop, desktop) connected via WiFi or via USB to the same iFi Pro iDSD and sound again better than you have heard it before. The player could then be Roon, JRiver, Audirvana, Amarra or others.

Why will it sound better?

If you are used to streaming less than bit perfect CD quality music from Pandora (64k free, 192k paid, lossy), Spotify (Free up to 160k and Premium up to 320k, lossy), TIDAL (Premium 320k, or HiFi 16/44.1 to 24/96 lossless), Qobuz (Premium 320k lossy, Hi-Fi 16/44.1, Sublime up to 24/192k lossless), Bandcamp (up to 256k lossy), Apple Music (up to 256k lossy including Mastered for iTunes), all of your lossy MP3 and AAC streaming music can be properly filtered to address pre- and post-ringing echoes that make digital music sound unnatural, and then get upsampled to DSD1024 (or DSD512) by the Pro iDSD and then output as analog (via analog tube preamp!) to your headphone/speakers with highly improved sound quality and listening pleasure.

All this can happen over WiFi in your home directed from a smartphone.

Lightly depress a Pro iDSD knob to instantly go from “No DSD Remaster” to “DSD Remaster DSD512″ and then once more to advance to ” DSD Remaster DSD1024“. If you are curious why the remaster (aka upsample, or resample) improves the sound, first I say you have to just listen to it. DSD remastering through oversampling has been at the heart of most digital audio players since you may be surprised to know the earliest portable digital players and recorders featuring 1-bit then 4- or 5- or 6- or thereabouts bit DSD (delta-sigma) converters. I’m saying that the heart of PCM digital to analog playback in commercial consumer gear has been a close DSD cousin all along, since the 90’s. The Pro iDSD is a high level Cadillac version of that root approach.

I like to think of DSD as a digital representation of an analog wave, such as you would see on an oscilloscope. This approach (Pulse Density Modulation) is as much as 1024 times the sample rate of CD. Describing the analog wave in binary storage is a very non-destructive way to reproduce the sound later through a DSD DAC. The high sample rate DSD conversion (remaster) of PCM masters also makes the result sound more analog like and natural to my ears. That’s why I’ve always preferred to record to DSD in the first place whenever possible. Now the ability to remaster everything (except MQA) to the highest DSD bitrate comes in a very nice looking 4 pound package.

Read some high level expert discussion on this by the chief creator of the iFi and AMR products:  https://www.audiostream.com/content/qa-thorsten-loesch-amrifi

Prior to resampling the music source you can apply an iFi software invention called the Gibbs Transient Optimized (GTO) Digital Filter. I feel strongly this is a true landmark breakthrough for playback of non-MQA PCM digital masters and streaming music. I also use their Bitperfect+ filter option as an alternative. Rotate the knob on the front panel of the Pro iDSD anytime to change the filter being used (they offer 5 choices) and to hear the differences in real time within the same song.

What I hear with the GTO Filter and DSD resample is a huge improvement in the width of the sound stage, separating the instruments and giving them much more natural sounding attacks (impulse) and decays (sustain). The edgy sound of digital audio ala CD quality which has plagued my ears since it was introduced around 1981 is no longer edgy. It’s suddenly a real sound as if people were actually playing the instruments I’m hearing in the room I’m sitting in. Singing and breathing are similarly more relaxed and natural sounding. I also hear distinct improvements in this same direction between the DSD512 and DSD1024 remasters, preferring DSD1024 as most natural. Some music I’ve listened to through the Pro iDSD sounds best to me using their Bitperfect+ filter instead of GTO. I would need to continue listening to and comparing these filters to decide when and why one filter may excel in natural sounding results over another and if there is any consistency to their different uses.

I want to add here my preference for the Tube switch selection in the Pro iDSD because once again there are distinct natural differences to my ears between how deployment of the J-FET all-valve Class A output featuring two GE5670 tubes warm the resulting sound (of usually acoustic or ambient style music genres as my preference) and get my vote over solid state or the Tube+ (added natural harmonic distortion) alternate choices. Slide the switch on the front panel anytime to instantly hear these differences.

All of this is based on the premise of working with a good recording and production master in the first place. But in all fairness, many recordings that sound crappy through normal CD player setups, will sound improved and even good through, say, a Spotify or TIDAL stream of them (MP3-320 or lossless 16-44.1) into the Pro iDSD streaming DAC/preamp. I’m starting to think of this tasked performed as audible cleanup, a series of steps (highest DSD resample, best filter, tube preamp) that deliver easy to hear improvements on the sound delivered to your speakers or headphones.


It’s in the Apps

I have used numerous music player apps on my iPhone to control playback through the Pro iDSD, it being set in its “Apps” mode through a front panel knob selection of inputs. Again these apps are not delivering audio via Bluetooth which is not present in any form on the device. Wireless audio is always 802.11 WiFi which has been sorely overlooked by the digital music consumer product manufacturers and largely overlooked by prosumer and studio gear makers. Another important topic for another day.

The most complete solution I have found for iOS and Android as a music player capable of providing access to the user’s libraries of music online including TIDAL and Qobuz as well as saved music on the phone, Dropbox, iCloud, or OneDrive is called mconnect from Conversdigital Co., Ltd. This app literally connects any music/video/photo media server to any UPnP or Google Cast (Chromecast) device.  It plays MQA Masters on TIDAL as well. Voila!

With that app in hand, I can connect my iPhone to the Pro iDSD as UPnP and log into my TIDAL or Qobuz account and stream MQA or any other music to the studio playback. I can also send my Apple Music library of albums stored on the iPhone itself to the same destination including MQA playback. (Please note here that unlike what others have mistakenly claimed, MQA is not an audio format which is technically referred to as a codec. MQA is an encoding that can be applied to any of the common lossless PCM audio codecs available, the most popular being FLAC, ALAC (Apple compressed lossless), WAV and AIF. This is significant because I can download MQA masters as 24/44.1 or 24/48k ALAC files and even Apple Music/iTunes will acknowledge them and store them on my iPhone without even knowing they are MQA!) All of this happens over WiFi allowing me the freedom of moving anywhere I’m connected including outdoors.

A video by Owen Delehedy at iFi Audio on how to setup mconnect for playback through the Pro iDSD is online at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkv0_2JAdEA

You must use the paid version of mconnect, not the Lite version. It also doesn’t support Spotify accounts but the Spotify app can run concurrently on the phone with mconnect player and they cooperate. iDSD detects MQA Masters from TIDAL and decodes up to the full 24/384k depending on the resolution of the source recording being streamed.

mconnect app can direct play of DSD and FLAC from the phone as well and supports Gapless playback. It will run on iPhone, iPad, Android phone and tablet. It also supports AirPlay compatible devices Apple TV, Airport Express, AirPlay Audio. You can render on Smart TV, and other UPnP supported Audio and receivers.

You can create mconnect Playlists that contain songs from any mix of servers you are connected to. What? Yes, you can integrate your various music libraries across servers by creating playlists choosing from any or all libraries.

In addition to mconnect player, other apps I’ve connected to iDSD from my iPhone using AirPlay or DLNA include Spotify, Bandcamp, Onkyo HF Player, HiBy, Qobuz, TIDAL.

Beware – AirPlay is lossless to 16/44.1k — so your hi-res and possibly MQA won’t stream via WiFi under AirPlay intact. DLNA support by players like mconnect can do better than that and can preserve DSD as well as MQA encoding. My MQA masters are folded to 16/44.1k so they are preserved perfectly well under the lossless delivery of TIDAL or Qobuz to my iPhone using mconnect, then WiFi over to the iDSD via Airplay and unfolded and decoded to the stereo. “It sounds just like you are playing in the room” was what a listener with good ears said immediately.

These albums streaming to iPhone from both the Qobuz app as well as mconnect (TIDAL library) as 44.1k lossless, then sent via WiFi Airplay to the iDSD where they are recognized as MQA with DXD resolution (24/352.8k) and accordingly unfolded and decoded, sent to the Tube preamp then out to a Yamaha amp and Polk Audio stereo speakers setup in the room. Note that the streaming bitrate for the various songs are in the 700-800kbps range as FLAC! That is roughy 1/2 of the bitrate of a CD (1411kbps). MQA’s tech advances in delivering the highest res PCM with correction for ringing at the lowest bitrates is a big part of what makes the past 2 years in computer audio so fantastic. 700kbps streamed into your phone or computer becomes approx. 17340kbps (24/352.8k) unfolded and played through the MQA DAC. I love the math.

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Rediscover your music just by listening.

What MQA Encoding and the iFi Pro iDSD streamer DAC GTO filter have in common is the ability to correct the biggest problem with PCM recordings especially the CD 16/44.1k format we’ve all had to live with for too long. Both MQA and GTO filter technologies come from two different companies who have in fact collaborated, and help clean the sound you will hear in your digital music in cooperative ways. When I say “clean the sound” I am referring to the problems with PCM and the industry’s decades (think 1980) old standards for preferring to favor frequency accuracy over timing and spatial accuracy. This was done and still done by the industry studios and labels despite the fact that our ears are much more senstive to the timing and locality of sound than to frequency.

By implementing the favored brickwall filter on CD in the earliest implementation of CD, Sony and Philips imposed the burden of what is called pre- and post echo ringing effects all digital music listeners. The ringing artifacts are most severe on CD resolution masters (16/44.1k) and then continue to decrease with the higher resolution masters (24/88, 24/96, 24/176, 24/192, 24/352, 24/384k).

Ringing is a distortion added to the digital audio signal that echos the impulse (accentuated instrument’s note or singer’s voice or drumbeat you are hearing) multiple times before you ever hear the note/voice/beat itself come through the signal to your ears. Pre-echo ringing means an echo before the note is played. Even worse, the echo is an inverse unnatural sound like a tape being played backwards.

Post-echo ringing are those following the impulse. While both (pre- and post-echoes) are confusing to the ear/brain/listener, it is the pre-echo ringing effects that throw off our listening and make our ears tired and disbelieving in what they are hearing. Echoes off a wall in a room are common and natural to our ears. The post-echo ringing artifact is similar to that and so less invasive to our listening.

Ringing happens over and over and over again with typical PCM masters, more so with the lower resolution masters (CD is 16/44.1k) that the higher res masters (up to 24/384k in the DXD category) because of the math related to the steepness of the brickwall filter attenuating all frequencies above a fixed limit (on CD this is at 22.05k or half of the 44.1k sample rate). By attenuating the frequency through the lowpass cutoff filter, echoes are imposed before and after the impulse. The severity of echoes will change with the type of filter used, hence brickwall versus minimum phase versus apodizing versus the new iFi GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimal) filter.

More info here from SoundOnSound.com: MQA Time-domain Accuracy & Digital Audio Quality


My Grandson Baseball Analogy

Imagine you are watching your grandson perfectly crouched over home base with baseball bat raised in anticipation of the pitch now being delivered. You see ball delivered and you see your grandson begin to swing. But just before the bat reaches the ball you think you hear the sound of the bat connecting, not a full impact but a shadow of that sound playing backwards. In fact you might have heard it twice or more times in quick succession. Immediately after that you see the bat connect with the ball and then hear the resounding smack!  Suddenly all is well, but what did you hear before the bat struck the ball?

Your eyes saw the bat had not connected to the ball but your ears heard premonitions (echoes) of the ball to be hit. Then a split second transpired (the difference between the speed of light at your distance and the speed of sound) and you heard the familiar and expected resounding crack of a good swing connecting for a great hit. It may have been followed by tiny echoes of the event but those were masked to your ears by the main impulse event of the ball being hit.

You don’t know what you heard as the shadow of the main impulse event. Your brain didn’t know what your ears were hearing.  Those echoes didn’t exist in the real world. It didn’t happen on the field with your grandson. It was a phantom sound that threw you because you expected to hear nothing from the bat and ball until after he actually hit the ball. (I’ve also read about a precedence factor in the human ear/brain that claims our location recognition of sound is programmed to ignore echoes that would otherwise confuse us as to where a sound originated from after bouncing off numerous walls, floor and ceiling inside a room. If that’s true, then the effect of pre-echo ringing is even worse on our disorientation of what we are trying to listen to in digital music. More on that here…)

My baseball analogy is not even describing the whole problem because it puts the listener in a vision-oriented situation which normally influences some 80% of our sensory perception. So vision in my example is partially correcting the audio problem by deciphering for the brain/viewer what is really going on visually. However when we listen to music from our favorite armchair or tatami mat we can’t use our vision to correct distortions in what we are listening to. We are focused instead on the distortions and spatial discrepancies of what we are hearing. It can be hard frustrating work. Things called ear fatigue, digital glare, edgy unnatural sound are what we then suffer from.


Ringing and Filters

Welcome to the world of pre-echo ringing also known as time smearing and temporal blurring. My example of the baseball batter is the analogy of what we are subjected to with the typical CD quality digital playback that was recorded and mastered with close attention to frequency accuracy not time accuracy. These problems are equally true or worse for MP3 and any lossy derivatives of CD masters. These pre-echo ringing artifacts are created during the analog to digital transformation of sound under Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) processing. They are created to a much lesser and closely or fully inaudible degree by other techniques including DSD’s use of Pulse Density Modulation (PDM).

To this end PCM industry recordings are usually made with what are referred to as linear phase brick-wall (or “brick wall” or “brickwall”) filters to accomplish their best attempts at analog to digital conversions with the 20kHz range of human hearing being catered to and other “noise” above 22.05kHz (half the value of the 44.1k sample rate per Nyquist) sharply removed. By avoiding aliasing, ringing is introduced. It’s at its worst in CDs and less so in the higher res well made studio recordings at 24/96 and higher sample rates. The artifacts of this filtered approach to exacting only preferred frequencies desired are the ringing artifacts then imposed on both sides of the impulse itself (pre- and post-echo ringing). MQA addresses and corrects this problem as does iFi’s new GTO Filter. (More from Stereophile in 2006 on this here…)

Even more (from Audiostream) on ringing and why DSD doesn’t record with this problem…

Other filters have been introduced over the years primarily referred to as mininum phase (or apodized, or listen filters) that can remove the pre-echo and place the entire burden on the post-echo side of the impulse which is not as intrusive to our listening since we are accustomed to hearing and adjusting to post-echos as sound reflections off walls etc.  Once again, iFi’s GTO filter is an advanced approach to resolving these ringing problems for any source digital audio including MP3 and other lossy streaming or downloaded files such as what iTunes has been selling as AAC lossy downloads since 2003 when the store opened with 200,000 songs.


Why WiFi?

Finally and hugely importantly, a fantastic option for input on the Pro iDSD is what they refer to as “App”. The Pro iDSD acts as a DLNA server on your WiFi network. Apps such as the Spotify (lossy) and TIDAL (lossless) players on your computer or smartphone can see the server once you set it up (use a passworded encrypted protocol!) and connect to it for audio output. So the Pro iDSD is your midpoint between your wireless computer or smartphone and your internet service provider through your normal WiFi router. It talks to both sides.

Your iPhone/Android phone is no longer hampered by poor sounding, poorly connected, highly frustrating Bluetooth that you have to sit nearby to stay connected to. Instead your phone sends the signal via WiFi to the Pro iDSD as a perfectly preserved digital signal where it then gets converted to analog. You can walk anywhere in your home or even outside where WiFi reaches and stay perfectly connected. iFi got it right. I’m amazed at how long it has still taken wireless digital audio to migrate to Ethernet where it should have originated from in the first place instead of a sketchy lossy, dropout prone protocol like early and persistent Bluetooth.

Anyone using the Sonos Connect product in a similar fashion will immediately understand the musical and logistical benefits of this. The Sonos product does not however support MQA as iFi’s product does.

All of the source input regardless of where it comes from can be easily resampled as DSD1024 on its way to your stereo. Will you hear the difference? I honestly can’t imagine anyone listening and not hearing these differences. I’ve presented these comparisons in real time to other non-audiophile ears and the results were instant and affirmatively better with the proper filter and DSD1024 resample. My ears find also find it instantly preferrable.

MQA avoids DSD resampling on the Pro iDSD and gets properly unfolded and decoded up to the highest bit rates (24/352.8k and 24/384k) for analog delivery to your headphones or speakers.


Your TV plays through it too…a pretty damn big deal

I can’t stop writing about the Pro iDSD without telling you that you can also easily hook up the optical Toslink cable from your Smart TV as another audio input (Coax/Toslink S/PDIF). This will route your tv’s audio through the same beautiful cleanup process (GTO or Bitperfect+ filter -> DSD1024 -> Analog Tube preamp -> balanced or unbalanced Analog output) as I’ve described for other sources like streaming MP3. It will be upsampled to DSD1024 if you desire. By the way, DSD1024 is a 45 to 49 mHz single bit rate. How far we’ve come.

In case you’re wondering, yes there is a BNC connector (S/PDIF in or sync input) as well as a Micro SDHC and USB A to connect for example your 2TB USB drive with your entire music library or smaller thumb drive to. Here is the Pro iDSD user guide, see page 4 for all inputs and outputs…

Since my test setup CD/DVD player was connected to the LG Smart TV via HDMI, all CD and DVD audio also went through the same Toslink cable into iDSD. Simple. Sounds great. In this setup Amazon Prime (both music only as well as 4k and other films) also comes through as resampled DSD1024 converted to analog signal through the Tube preamp to a Yamaha amp and out to a pair of vintage Polk Audio speakers in the room.

In short, iFi Audio’s Pro iDSD is a fantastic and innovative addition to today’s revolving doors of media playing gear and software. IFi’s products have always made hugely impressive impressions on me, but the Pro iDSD is a new trip to a new universe with all the sound quality I’ve been trying to find find for quite a few decades in the digital domain.


What’s Next?

Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy…

So much work still needs to be done before we can have confidence in asserting what can be heard and what cannot be heard.” – Thorsten Loesch

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Errata…

  • Pro iDSD plays downloaded DSD512 and DSD1024 files only via a USB wire connected, not through WiFi.
  • On a number of occasions I lost the Pro iDSD WiFi connection, or, slightly more confusing, my source device appeared to be streaming music to the iDSD but no sound came from the speakers. Occasionally this was due to a mysterious zero volume suddenly imposed on the iPhone, since it’s not a Bluetooth connection to iDSD it’s either off or on in terms of volume control, but zero volume yields exactly that, no sound, from the amplifier & speakers. Other times, I had to turn off the iDSD unit and power it back up to restore a complete audio path to the house stereo. It seems to occasionally lose the WiFi source connection it supports at least as far as streaming audio. This didn’t happen often, but often enough to note here.
  • Specification
    Sample rates: PCM up to 768kHz
    DSD up to 49.152MHz (DSD 1024)
    DXD and double-speed DXD (2xDXD)
    Inputs: USB (required for DSD, DXD and sample rates above 192KHz)
    AES3 (XLR – single link)
    S/PDIF (coaxial/optical combo)
    BNC multifunction (S/PDIF in or sync input)
    Outputs: Balanced XLR at 4.6V (+15.5dBu – HiFi) or 10V (+22dBu – Pro)
    Single-Ended RCA at 2.3V (HiFi) or 5V (Pro)
    Headphones 6.3mm & SE 3.5mm Jack at 0.55V/2.1V/5V
    Headphones BAL 2.5mm/4.4mm Jack at 1.13V/4.6V/10V
    Headphones out 1,500mW RMS X 2 @ 64 ohm, 4,000mW max. 2 X @ 16 Ohm
    Headphone Output Impedance: Single-Ended (S-BAL): < 1 Ω
    Balanced: < 2 Ω
    Volume control: Balanced (6-gang) Alps potentiometer, motorised with IR remote control
    XLR/RCA outputs can be selected as fixed level or adjusted
    6.3mm headphone jack is always adjusted
    Other Functions: Various digital and analogue filters can be selected for DSD and PCM up to 384KHz
    PCM Filters: Bitperfect 44.1 – 192kHz, always used for 352.8 – 768kHz
    Bitperfect + 44.1 – 96kHz
    Gibbs Transient Optimised 44.1 – 384kHz
    Apodising 44.1 – 384kHz
    Transient Aligned 44.1 – 384kHz
    DSD filters: fixed 3rd order analogue filter @ 80kHz with correction for DSD’s -6dB gain
    Gain (headphone section): user-selectable: 0dB, 9dB and 18dB
    Dynamic range: 119dBA (solid-state, PCM, -60dBFS)
    Output power Pro iDSD 4.4mm socket. (16 Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4200mW /1>1,575mWPro iDSD 2.5mm socket. (16 Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4000mW /1>1,500mW
    Output voltage (600Ω, balanced/single-ended): >11.2V / >5.6V
    Input voltage (Pro iDSD): DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
    Input voltage (iPower+): AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
    Power consumption: < 22W idle, 50W max.
    Dimensions: 213 (l) x 220 (w) x 63 (h) mm
    Weight: 1980g (4.37 Ibs)

 

A complete way to mobile and studio high quality reproduction – Nano iDSD BL (USB DAC now supporting MQA and DSD)

The new release of the ifi-audio.com USB DAC product Nano iDSD BL (Black Label) is so impressive I can’t do it justice here without writing a treatise.

Suffice to say this small gem of a product provides anyone (at a great price for everyone) with a solution to any and all types of high quality digital recordings, whether they be downloaded, ripped or streaming from popular sites like TIDAL, Spotify or Apple Music.

iFi-Nano-iDSD-BL

I’ve had and used an original Nano iDSD product from iFI for several years now. It’s been upgraded several times and the latest incarnation known as Black Label now supports MQA!

It’s retailing in the US on Amazon right now for $199 as well as other outlets.

What does this DAC do for you?

  • Plays 1-bit DSD (up to DSD256) without PCM conversion (ie, native DSD!)
  • Plays MQA up to 24/384k encoded masters
  • Provides 10hrs or more of battery to operate OTG
  • Connects to your iPhone or Android to play music including STREAMING without using the phone battery to operate
  • Will stream MQA from places offering it like TIDAL today and many more tomorrow
  • Includes the heralded iFI iPurifier as a built-in protection against interference and noise on the USB connection
  • Supports S-balanced headphones with a separate output and lots of power
  • Provides headphone amplification giving you plenty of volume headroom on smartphone use and supports low to high impedance headphone ranges
  • Uses an analog volume control (dial) for the highest level of sound quality and convenience
  • Provides easy LED color indicators identifying the exact type of music (PCM, DSD, MQA) being played and its bit rate.

There are no doubt many more reasons this could be a very good affordable solution both at home via computer, with laptop, or with a smartphone to gain a future proof approach to high quality recording playback.

Take a look at their website and documents to read more about the Nano iDSD BL!

Aloha,

DE

 

Spring Price Break ~ DE MQA Catalog of Downloads are now all 25%+ Off

New Prices Online for MQA/Hi-Res/CD downloads…
 
 
21 albums, EPs and singles ranging from CD master to DXD (24/352.8) as folded MQA encoded PCM now range in price up to just $19.95 for the DXD masters.
 
There are some free downloads here as well as announced earlier.
 
All of the MQA masters can be played on *any* software media player or iPhone/Android. They sound good that way, much better than CD to my ears every time. I’m not alone in that conclusion of course.
 
The benefit of the MQA encoding corrects time smearing also known as pre- and post-ringing effects in the recording. This is an artifact of most PCM recordings without MQA.
 
The result is a much more natural sounding playback, easier on the ears and a lot nicer to listen to. All my masters benefited from this including early CD releases (dating 20+ years ago) and more recent DSD masters converted to PCM then encoded as MQA by MQA Ltd.
 
If you have an MQA DAC the hi-res albums/tracks above 20kHz get unfolded and played in their full resolution up to 352.8kHz. Yes they do sound better but the DAC can be added anytime and you still enjoy very high quality recordings with the gear and software you have today.
 
I have listened to all the DXD masters without unfolding (no MQA DAC), and am always pleased and surprised by the sound quality, even without MQA decoding.
 
I like MQA because it provides that easy to play approach, no matter what. You can even burn these to a CD and play them in your car too. It supports lossless streaming in low bandwidth with full resolution on the playback end. Quite amazing. TIDAL is offering this now if you are interested.
 
If you download from my site at http://davidelias-mqa.com just be sure to choose a Bandcamp PCM format that is lossless. It should be one or more of these: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIF. Most things play ALAC including Apple and these are much smaller files than AIF. FLAC is similarly smaller than WAV for PC.
 
Remember too that if you buy online at Bandcamp, you get access to the songs from your computer or Smartphone forever in addition to being able to download as often as you need to in whatever format you want. NOTE: Streaming from Bandcamp today does not support MQA decoding! It may in the future if/when BC provides lossless streaming. I find it to be quite good anyway.
 
One final note regarding BlueSound and some NAD player users. It appears that most of the BlueSound players I’ve been made aware of by listeners require the downloaded audio files to be renamed such that they end with “.mqa” (no quotes of course). This allows the player to properly identify MQA audio files and decode them correctly.
 
Email me from my web contact page if you have any questions about MQA, I’ll do my best to help clarify.
 
It will be Spring any day now. Plant something if you can…
Aloha!
DE-MQA-Catalog-March2017.jpg
 

DVD Data Discs to the Hi-Res Audio Download Rescue

More for some less for others…

If you don’t want to read this and just want to check it out:

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs/


Many of us including me started downloading MP3 music online in the mid 90’s. It sucked then. We used 33k or then advanced 56k modems over telephone dialup lines. This means we were getting our audio file data at the rates of 4.2KB, or 7.2KB per second.

Everything about download or transfer speed today is measured in either MB/s or even GB/s.  An MB/s is 1000 times faster than a KB/s.  A GB/s is 1,000,000 times faster than a KB/s.  I feel old.

Songs in MP3 format were then and are still often 1MB data per minute of music. So a 4 minute song (4MB data) took anywhere from say 16 minutes to maybe 10 minutes top speed to download…. zzzz …. zzzz ….. zzzz ……  one song, not one album.

A CD version of that same song as a WAV or AIF off the disc took about 10 times as long to download!  Now you see why MP3 was so popular even though it didn’t sound great, and why iTunes took advantage of that when they opened their store for downloads in 2004.

(Oops I forgot to mention that by 2004 there was plenty of Cable Modem and DSL and other much much faster internet to the home, but Apple and everyone else was used to MP3 crappy lossy quality by then….so no one adapted to the fact that good quality was also pretty easy to download. Then FLAC format came along and compressed the WAV file size by around half without loss of any music info. Still no one disrupted the money machine called iTunes, even when they made their own FLAC and called it ALAC and could have delivered CD quality back then no problem and no cost.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fast Forward to 2009. I started offering DSD downloads of my SACDs to mostly the owners of Sony Playstation3’s since most of the SACD players of that day could not play what was called a DSD Disc (data disc with DSD files) as defined by Sony then.

The DSD Disc was literally a DVD data disc burned with the DSD song files (as DSF types with tags or DFF without tags) in a specific folder hierarchy that allowed players of the day to read the data files and play the music.  It broke the mold Sony had created for watermarked copy protection on SACD. You still couldn’t rip SACDs (one can today with the right gear and software).

No one came…

Well a few did, but even though Internet was overall speedy by then (cable modem download speed in Hilo in 2009 was about 650KB/s) it still was not mainstream or always easy to download the large ISO image (to burn the DVD with) for many out there.

My download then was a single 2GB image (zipped ISO file) to burn a DVD disc with to play the audio files on something, either on your computer or on the DVD Disc playing in your Playstation3 or  special Sony or Onkyo SACD players that handled DSD Disc as well as SACD.

zzzz..zzz.zzz.zzzzzz

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rapid Forward to 2017 when Hilo’s Time Warner Cable Modem in some people’s homes breaks the speed meter on speedtest.net at 20MB/s and above as high as maybe 26MB/s.

So while it is easy for some to download hi-res audio, it’s not easy for others. Lots of others. Worldwide. In fact 5 miles up the road from Hilo here in East Hawaii many people may not even be able to get cable modems from Time Warner and so use a much slower and costlier satellite confiugration. If they are in the forest blocking the satellite option and more than a few miles from the nearest telephone wire center (for DSL), forget about it.

By 2011 I moved away from the DSD Disc (ISO) format and just started offering to download the DSF files from my website. Then in 2013 a number of retailers came online to offer DSD downloads and that was great.

Nothing against large file downloads (I guess averages of my stereo DSD files are somewhere around 200MB per song and multichannel maybe 500 per song) but a lot of people around the world and in the US still have trouble with this today. Those files can be hard to retrieve and they take up a lot of space if you have a lot of music. (And they are hard to fit more than a small number into your smartphone.)

Problems often come from slow or interrupted Internet links, confusion on what to even do with files once they are downloaded, or combinations of other things like Safari browsers that insert .TXT file extensions on downloaded files because the server they got the (DSD) file from (like Dropbox) does not properly identify the MIME type for .DSF and .DFF music files.

Aren’t you sorry you asked?

It’s enough to … … … …. ………

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few years ago I thought I’d offer to make downloads and their problems go away for those not interested in the challenge but who wanted the music. So I provided a way to purchase the music as a little USB stick I would then mail to you. You get the USB stick, put it in your computer or BDP player and get right to it.

No one came….

Today I am offering a similar thing but this time using DVD discs as data.

http://davidelias.com/dsd_on_dvd_data_discs/

These are just the same kind of good quality DVD discs anyone could burn files to off their PC/Mac for either video or just data. A blank single layer (SL), single sided disc has a 4.7 GB capacity. A double layer (DL) has twice that or 8.5GB. My multichannel SACDs require either 2 SL DVDs or 1 DL DVD.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why would I do that you ask?

If you don’t like downloading large files but want to listen to the excellent qualities of DSD as the native source format for the hi-res recordings I have released, you might try buying the DVD version and just getting it in the mail.

The sound files are 100% identical to what is online for download. They are the same as what is/was on the SACDs for that matter. Many of my DSD titles were never SACD. These are now all available on DVD disc as well, not just as downloads.

You just pop the DVD into your OPPO or Sony or other Blu-ray/SACD/DVD/CD player (aka BDP for Blu-ray Disc Player) and select Music from from the menu.  On my OPPO 103 this is the first icon after the disc (audio CD/video DVD) icon and is called “Music”.

The DVD will then show up on your screen as a “Data Disc” choice (as opposed to, say “USB”).  Selecting the Data Disc media then shows the album song list just as it would from a CD or SACD.

Click on a song, play and enjoy. It continues to play songs from there to the end of the list like any CD/SACD.

If you like (and highly suggested by me), just copy the original DVD data to your computer or any backup media you use. In other words, back it up when it’s brand new. No DRM – if you don’t know what that means, good on you.

You can also play the files on your computer from your software media player through your DAC as DoP like any other DSD download. Just put the disc in the computer CD/DVD drive (just a CD drive won’t work) and select those files from your media player software (JRiver, Amarra, Audirvana….).  They then play DSD through your external DSD DAC (Mytek, iFi Audio, OPPO….).

DSD on DVD Data Discs. Hope this helps.

Questions about DVD Data Discs? Post a reply and I’ll answer you best I can.

Aloha!

~ DE
http://facebook.com/davideliasmusic
http://youtube.com/davideliasvideo
http://davidelias-mqa.com


 

5 Of My Personal Favorite HiFi Audio Gadgets Under $500.

NOTE: I’m not a gear reviewer, just a serious listener for my own enjoyment as well as recording artist trying to get the best sounds on my budget for preparing and editing my own music.

I’ve always had the need to buy things that were on the economy side as much as possible. But my needs for high quality in a lot of the things I am most fond of, particularly music never wants to bend to economics.

So over the years I’ve become persistently good at finding the right products in my price ranges that give me the best sound and best operation overall for music. In our world of virtual realities this is true of guitars, computers, software, microphones, DACs, Preamps/Amplifiers, Internet access, speakers and other disparate things never lumped together in the past so intimately.

I have some favorites for listening to good recordings!

Feel free to contact me via my web page if you have questions about anything I wrote about here. The revolving product I have to buy every 3-5 years that is not listed below is the PC notebook I use for computer audio, a huge part of my world. I spend $250 to $400 on these and can always find the high end portable notebook I need (currently 6GB RAM, i5 Intel quad core 2.6gHz, 1TB 7200rpm drive, 3 USB, 1 HDMI, 14″ screen, CD/DVD RW, Win7 Pro x64).

Aloha!

~ DE


OPPO HA-2  –  $299
While this product has been updated at OPPO by the HA-2SE model at the same price, I have been using the portable HA-2 headphone amplifier, DSD/PCM DAC, iPhone recharger for several years now since its release.

oppo-ha2

It might be easier to describe this beauty in terms of what it doesn’t do as an optimal mobile HRA device (my term), since it has so many interrelated functions. Overall it is the perfect mobile or home device to handle the digital to analog conversion of music on your computer or iPhone/Android and deliver it to either your headphones/earbuds or wired home stereo/studio.

In addition it has a good 4+ hours of battery that will provide DC voltage to your iPhone while traveling in airplanes and the like. It is portable enough to fit in a shirt pocket or banded together (they provide the thick bands…) with your iPhone in a jean jacket.

The HA-2 charges my iPhone 5S at least 1.5 times during travel, so a fully charged iPhone to begin with can play music with the HA-2 handling DSD64 or 128 and any bitrate PCM you throw at it for flights across the mainland or to Hawaii.

The software player I use to handle hi-res audio files I load onto the iPhone is Onkyo’s HF Player. You download the free version first, then upgrade for $9.99 to handle the hi-res which hands DSD audio to the HA-2 using DoP up to DSD128. All PCM and MP3/AAC can be upsampled to DSD in this mode. Nice!  High Precision gives you better signal to noise ratio (i.e., better sound) at a battery use price.

Onkyo’s HF Player app is accessed from the iTunes setup of your iPhone to load the hi-res files (beware this is klunky but can be done). Otherwise it easily finds and plays all your iTunes songs on your iPhone better than the stock Apple music app (reread the upsample to DSD above).

All in all the HA-2 is an incredible value for delivering the highest quality digital audio to your headphones or your home stereo setup. There is both a line out and headphone jack. The analog volume control gives you precise control over gain on the headphone side. I use it this way to feed my preamp too.

Here’s the PDF user guide:

Click to access HA-2%20User%20Manual%20US%20V1.1.pdf

Oh, and it has a patented fast charging AC adapter that recharges the HA-2 in no time.

 

Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC – $299

This is the product that for me broke the floodgates of what a listener can actually experience with PCM masters, from CD to hi-res DXD at 24/352.8 or 24/384. It was  the first DAC to hit the streets that decoded MQA in lossless PCM master files of any format (WAV, AIF, FLAC, ALAC, etc.).

explorer2

In 2015 I’d been reading about MQA and all the trials and tribulations of its definition and promises for producing digital audio content as artists and producers had at least heard it in their mastering studio, if not necessarily intended (my humor). It was interesting reading to say the least and the more I read the more interest I had in hearing it.

Using the Explorer2 beginning in February 2016, I started hearing masters created by some of the highest regarded studios in the world, including Norway’s 2L. I was familiar with and owned 2L’s early SACD releases and now saw some of those titles released as MQA DXD downloads.

What I then heard was unlike any PCM master I’d listened to before in the natural sounding reproduction of especially acoustic sounds (my favorite kind).

For $299, the listener had a full PCM DAC up to 24/192 with two outputs for headphones as well as line level to a home stereo/studio setup. That price hasn’t changed as I write this.

This portable (very small and weightless) convenient way of hearing excellent quality PCM of any quality recordings can now be attached via its USB connector to any computer and used to decode streaming music from TIDAL at full “unfolded” rates.

So the streaming bitrate is roughly that of a CD (1.411mbps) depending on the master format (FLAC/ALAC are typically <1.0mbps), but the unfolded bit rate can be as hi-res as 24/192k (9.4mbps, upper limit of the Explorer2, not the limit of all MQA DACs).

My one complaint is the finicky USB connection for this DAC. It seems to lose its USB connection to the PC at the slightest movement. No substituted USB cables seem to improve this condition. It is also slightly annoyingly upside down based on the USB connector orientation which leaves the LEDs facing down.

I believed in the authenticity and comfortable enjoyable listening of what I heard as PCM using the Explorer2 so much that I became an MQA Ltd. artist/content partner and with their help converted all my CD and hi-res masters to MQA encoding for others to download or stream.

 

OPPO PM-3 Closed Planar Magnetic Headphones – $399

Prices for headphones are as volatile in ranges as the Dow month to month. What sounds good sometimes works for some, even as studio/industry standards, but either costs at least twice the PM-3 price, or just doesn’t sound as good to others.

What I found with this comfortable setup is a highly unintrusive sounding headphone that shields me from outside noise distractions (I hate those) and is comfortable enough to wear for a few hours at a time. They have a clean alive sound that isn’t biased towards either sizzling highs or thumping bass lines and kick drum samples.

oppo-pm3

OPPO loves good sound as represented by all of their products and these are no exception in a price range many can afford compared to other big names in studio quality headphones.  A single stereo 1/8″ cable comes with this which is convenient for wearing as well.

You can read about planar magnetic approaches to speakers and headphones elsewhere. I like them because of their flat honest sound reproduction abilities.

 

Zipbuds Pro – about $25

I found and ordered these a couple years back on a whim based on price and the description of the product which included reference to a military grade fibers that don’t decompose in the weather and rain (Hawaii weather decomposes everything from cars to houses to electronic gear in no time).

Also descriptions of the care taken to complete the audio quality as well as patented zipper approach to no-tangle were attractive. A (very very good) noise cancelling mic for iPhone use was a coup de gras.  For $25 what the heck (list may be closer to $50 but easy to find online for $25 or so).

zipbudspro

I had hated earbuds forever, but Zipbuds allowed me to recover from that remarkably. Their product description did not even mention solving one crucial factor that has had me rejecting all earbuds since the earliest Apple iPhone set in 2007: They really hurt my ears to wear.

Zipbuds fit your ears at an angle. There is a soft rubberized attachment fitted in the 3 sizes (SML) they include. The angular thing greatly helps both comfort and sound problems. I never take the Zipbuds out because they are starting to hurt my ears. That is remarkable.

There is clearly a left and right for fit and sound (which changes dramatically if they are reversed). While the R/L is not well marked on the Zipbuds themselves you just need the logo on the zipper facing out and you got it right.

I have also found more than subtle differences in SQ based on how firmly the Zipbuds are inserted in my ears. If I want more bass, I simply push them in a little further. Is that design or simply the convenience of fate?

I’ve shared these as gifts with lots of people, strict audiophiles and otherwise. Without exception they have been received with the same enthusiasm as I have for them.  My second or third set came with  a note in the box with the CEO Rob’s phone number saying to call if I wanted.

So I did call Rob one day and had a great conversation with him about hi-res in general. They are working hard to make it feel and sound right for their customers and have been at it a good long time now in Internet years.

For travel and on the go, nothing beats Zipbuds for quality of sound and convenience. I eagerly participated in their 2016 Kickstarter campaign for their new Catalyst product which is not shipping yet (ok, they are late by a month or two so far…).

Catalyst is a very high quality Bluetooth wireless set of balanced (fitted/weighted) earbuds that deploy AptX and AAC for lossless delivery of sound to the listener without wires.  Check it out.

No wires – 16 hrs battery for playtime, lossless sound quality, comfortable fit. Wireless is where I’m headed in every aspect of what I’m doing with electronics.

 

iFi Audio Micro iTube preamp/buffer – $329

Another great product I have is the original version of this product. It refers to itself as the Swiss Army Knife of Audio.

An iTube2 was just released by this highly innovative and nimble company. iFi-Audio.com has some killer products they deliver to audio lovers at great economy worldwide. Everything from portable DSD/PCM DACs to headphone amps to USB filters and special cables.

ifiaudio-itube

Here’s the relatively new setup I now buy into with my ears: Tube preamplifiers are the best staging device for any good solid state amplifier.

I place the iFi-Audio iTube in between my OPPO 103 SACD/DVD/Blu-ray player and the amplifier I am using (currently NAD 906 multichannel). Having used other preamps and AV processors (all solid state) I immediately found the tube result to be a much more natural sounding delivery from the amp to the speakers.

Everything just sounds better but most noticeable was the serious bottom coming through my Monitor Audio Gold Series towers. I can’t get that acoustic upright or electric bass and kick drum to sound any more coincidentally solid and spacious in the room (wood floors and ceilings) any other way. Voices and instruments also lost edges and yes, even shimmered.

Another huge benefit here for the $329 price is that it will allow many who are mistakenly playing DSD as converted PCM in a player such as the OPPO 103 to now correctly configure the OPPO to convert native DSD directly to analog to send to the iTube preamp.

NOTE WITH CAUTION: To do this make sure OPPO is set to play SACD as “DSD” not “PCM” and disable Audio on HDMI. ****** Be sure not to set SACD playback to DSD unless you have volume control through a preamp or other means – Otherwise you can send 100% gain to your amplifier and do some damage to your speakers, ears and maybe more.******

You can read more on this from my post in 2013: Bartender, Give Me A Sandwich.

I typically use the iTube “Digital Antidote” feature that notably reduces ringing and digital distortion.  I typically do not use the 3D Holographic sound feature.

Two Track Mind is an MQA encoded CD - plays on any CD Player

One of the planet’s first MQA CDs

This new release of all new tracks on CD, all solo acoustic, is encoded with MQA. That means if you play the CD in a computer audio or CD player setup that decodes MQA, you will get the full sound quality of the tracks.

You can Two Track Mind – Solo Acoustic” here at CD Baby: http://cdbaby.com/cd/davidelias19

However it can play on any CD player including in your car. It sounds great. The MQA encoding is beneficial especially to my ears at CD quality resolution regardless whether it is decoded or not. There is no hi-res to unfold on this master so there is nothing missing!

Just a new way of creating good sounding CDs. You’ll may see a lot more MQA CDs out there in the future…

davidelias-twotrackmind-cdcover-artwork-mqa

You can rip this CD like any other. The MQA is preserved as long as you rip to a lossless format like FLAC or ALAC or WAV or AIF.  The ripped tracks are then identical to what’s on the disc.

A new world in digital music no doubt.  Mahalo!

~ DE

The MQA Revolution – Once in a lifetime?

“MQA is a revolution that comes along once in a lifetime.” – Robert Hartley, TAS, July 2015

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/art…/beyond-high-resolution/

Since CES 2017 a week ago a lot of people have become a lot more curious about MQA.

I started reading a lot of detail about MQA in the latter part of 2015. I started listening to it in Feb. 2016 with a Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC.

I became an MQA Ltd. content/artist partner a few months after that and released my first MQA titles as DXD (24/352.8) encoded with MQA and folded to 24/44.1 in June 2016.

I now have at least 20 CD to hi-res MQA master titles, mostly albums online at http://davidelias-mqa.com for preview and download. MQA sound quality has allowed me to release many things I’ve had in my back catalog as wonderfully natural sounding acoustic recordings. So yes, the way they were intended.

It was the PCM solution to good sound I had been looking for with a very tiny footprint to boot for downloading and hopefully streaming someday (like today). It didn’t replace DSD for me, it fixed PCM.

While a lot has been written about MQA in the past 18 months, I’ve found much of it to be highly politicized and not even always reported correctly.

I find that this article written by Robert Hartley a year an a half ago still serves as one of the best concise (not complete as he states) summaries of what is behind MQA sonically, not politically.

Hearing MQA is still what many have yet to do. But this article helps clearly explain “what” it is, not “why” it is.

I’m no expert no doubt but here’s something I can wholly suggest reading if you are seeking a better understanding of the MQA machinery finally at work in the market today.

If you are on TIDAL’s free trial or paid subscription and want to hear 2 excellent acoustic albums that have been with me my whole life, try James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”. This was 1970 if I remember right.

These two albums in my history with popular music were the very sparks of what went on to define what became the “singer-songwriter” genre some 25 years later.

JT’s master on TIDAL unfolds streaming to 24/192 with an MQA DAC (TIDAL player in passthrough mode) and sounds fantastic. Again if I remember right, “Blue” unfolds to 24/96. Just a truly amazing singer and her guitar or piano or dulcimer.

Aloha!

MQA – When Two Faced Is A Whole

I’ve come to think of MQA as two completely different faces in one container. This appears to be fully misunderstood by many.

On one hand MQA is a time coherence correction tool that makes quantum leaps in restoring the ambient synchronization of frequency and location arrival of sound to the listener. It does this with both analog recording ADC and playback DAC knowledge applied to remove pre- and post-ringing echoes that typically create huge miscues to the listener’s ear on what was played when, and from where in the room on the recording. These miscues are cause for endless fatiguing analysis and corrections done by the human ear which is monumentally sensitive to timing and location, much more so than to pitch (frequency) itself.

The other face (unrelated entirely) of MQA is its ingenious methods of folding hi-res recordings (up to 24/384kHz) to nothing greater than 24/48kHz in any lossless PCM format including the popular file compressed formats of FLAC (PC) and ALAC (Mac). This allows the full spectrum of sound and air/harmonics to be restored on playback by MQA enabled DACs using little more than, or even less than 1mbps bandwidth on transport and delivery to the DAC.

Folding is 100% lossless with regard to the noise floor in the recording. No ambiguities there whatsoever. The fast (compressed) delivery of the data reduces the time and space required to allow quick and easy transport over Internet for downloads or streaming as well as on standard CD capacity disks. This is almost 20x smaller than the data/bandwidth footprint of a WAV or AIF hi-res PCM download at 24/384k and the popular DXD (24/352.8k). The latter monstrous file sizes prohibit downloads for almost everyone and streaming is not possible at all. MQA solves this problem with 100% bit perfect accuracy in a package almost 20 times smaller on delivery.

So MQA’s two-faced solution restores an edgeless natural enjoyable ambient sound to PCM masters at any resolution by removing brickwall filter imposed edges as time smearing. And MQA delivers in a package (PCM format) that fully accommodates all known media requirements for users including (I hope!) future wireless lossless full resolution transmissions.

All this is done with full portability by the user to any and all media devices for playback including non-MQA equipment. CD ripping and format conversions (e.g., between FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIF) can be done by anyone at anytime with the full preservation of the MQA encoding. Royalties are paid by the sources (record labels, MQA compatible equipment mfgs, streaming services) not unlike CD, Dolby, DTS, and many other popular digital audio technologies used by the recording and film industries for many decades.

What’s not to like?
– DE,  http://davidelias-mqa.com

Illegalized: $5

MQA – The Room – Lo-Res got better…

The press on MQA is full of a lot of things but not too many of them have to do with how it sounds. I’ve been listening to CDs since you have, since the beginning, early 80’s. I wouldn’t even buy them until the 90’s cause they didn’t sound good. My cassettes made from my vinyl sounded a lot better to me.

I didn’t have to read about it to know that then.

In fact I didn’t like digital audio until I got introduced to DSD in 1999. It finally sounded better than anything I had heard before!

But CDs and CD quality (and worse: MP3, AAC) didn’t go away. I tried :)

I have made a lot of recordings over the years since the 80’s. Even the 70’s. They started on tape, 1/4″. Even multitrack cassette. So so quality. Good times. Then 8 track digital (not 8-tracks, well yes in my bus in the 70’s) at 16/48. Not bad and way good enough for early DIY and online 1995…

I made those recordings for early CDs, unreleased stuff, and then started recording shows using 1-bit Sony TCD-8 and TCD-10 DAT machines at 48kHz. Not bad! Often these were recorded through a single strereo mic I setup in the room in front of the band. To capture the sound we were making that day with those sets (which weren’t written down usually).

Guess how MQA Ltd describes their tech/product:

“MQA is a revolutionary new technology borne from a simple desire: to bring the listener as close as possible to the artist’s original performance.”

Was I interested in how that sounded when I first read about it? Yes I sure was!

So I have gone back to most if not all my earlier digital recordings and even some tape transfers to PCM and worked with MQA Ltd. to have them encoded as MQA. It sounds a lot better than what I had listened to as CD masters and the like before. Sometimes a lot better.

Here’s what I don’t read the press saying about MQA, but that I find extremely valuable about this technology…

When the master being encoded as MQA is CD quality at 16/44.1, the MQA time resolution repairs (my term) done to the master which remove the audible pre-echo ringing and maybe some post-echo ringing are distinctly heard as huge improvements to the sound, ALL WITHOUT USING ANY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT.

No one has to buy anything such as new audio gear to hear these improvements on the natural sound of the recording.  You don’t need a new software media player or a new DAC or wires or computer or anything else. You just play it through what you usually play music through (computer, phone) or burn it to CD! I think you will hear the difference.

An MQA DAC such as the Meridian Explorer2 (PCM up to 192k for $299 US) will unfold hi-res masters to restore and play the higher frequencies. These sound great too!

This is in addition to what I mentioned earlier. But for CDs as masters (original 16/44.1 recordings) there was no hi-res (high frequencies) recorded or mastered. I find the MQA DAC further improves even these (CD) masters somewhat, but it’s not required.

Here’s what a recent listener who was comparing my “Time Forgets” MQA Master against the original CD said. This was on a Macbook, with no DAC or any other special gear, just iTunes playing the 2 versions of the album, alternating and comparing each song:

“oh wow – oh my god
clearer crisp sharp, gawd!! no question
wow! you can hear everything better, everything being all the instruments
sharper clearer you can hear every distinctive instrument, awesome”

I’ve gotten a lot of comments like these from both straight A music lovers as well as from hard core audiophiles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So I am offering you a 75% discount on the $20 MQA Master download of a live recording of a full band made on a TCD-8 using a single $99 Sony stereo mic setup on a mic stand maybe 6-8 feet in front of the band playing.

Illegal Copy #2 – David Elias & The Great Unknown
Recorded in San Gregorio General Store, 2002

Click Here To Preview or Download the Illegal Copy #2 album…

These 9 songs were a lot of fun to play in the Store that day and were recorded at 48kHz then mastered by me at 44.1kHz. What you can download for $5 is the MQA version of the master encoded by MQA Ltd. (http://www.mqa.co.uk).

I made some bootleg copies of the recording back then for some friends and the musicians but it didn’t sound quite good enough to me to release as a CD. The energy and performance were good, just the sound wasn’t really “the room”. Now it is. Close enough for an illegalized copy :)

This is a roots low-level basic recording. It’s not hi-res. But it sounds like the room when I hear it now after all these years. I’ve had audiphile comments on this same recording expressing their appreciation and enjoyment of the natural honest and ambient characteristics of this master. That’s all I could hope for.

Use this PROMO CODE for 75% off:   illegalized   (no capital letters necessary).

Share this with anyone you want. The PROMO expires on midnight (UTC) 8/31/2016. The CD download is $5.

I now have 17 MQA Mastered titles (mostly albums) online to preview and download here:

http://davidelias-mqa.com

Aloha to all and thanks for listening,

DE