Category Archives: hi-res streaming

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/

3 Things – Nothing Related To Anything Except Everything

It’s 2020. I have been recalling the beginning of the 21st Century which was 2000 – 2001, and that would be 20 years ago. At that time I was able to do lots of projects that just kind of presto happened. For NYE on 12/31/2000 I had a large version of the band called “David Elias & The Great Unknown” perform for our openly invited friends in a theater on the Hwy 1 coast in Half Moon Bay, California. I know some of the email addresses on my list here were there in the HMB Mel Mello Theater which is now called something else maybe twice or thrice over, who knows.

We had SF and Coast and East Bay and even Humboldt people on stage helping me with lots of songs played. Different nice & kind people from all over including La Honda and Pescadero brought perfect food including hand-dipped chocolate covered nasturtiums, and we (let us remain anonymous) brought kegs of beer inside and then there was other things to not notice too closely…

21st Century started a long time ago folks. I have to think about that when I wake up at 2:30 am or 4:00 am or 6:21 am if I slept in. Is it now the XO10014xo910#9999 Century???? No one knows. It could be any century forecast by Asimov or so many who came before him as well as later to write about the impossible. But that’s today. Impossible. Who can deny it.


The 3 Things Revisited

I still love music and I know you do too. Sanity and Balance through music comes in a language we can all understand perfectly but only few can read. No matter. How does it get better than that? So I don’t just write music, I write about music. But not just always about music but sometimes about things that make music more enjoyable, if you are needing to find that improvement in your life through your ears and deep down in your knowing know-dom.

So here are 2 articles I wrote just this month (I started working on the first one in December) and were published in A Creative Forum For The Audio Arts which is Positive-Feedback.com — I know my friend Chief Editor Dr. David W. Robinson through music for more years than we remember unless we count. PF as it’s called is a lightning rod for finding out about how to enjoy music in improved ways for your knowing know-dom if you need it. No kidding. Go there and see all the things they write about since 2002 or so. You can’t stop reading once you start, that’s all I’ll say at this point.

PF….

First I wrote an article and review about why it is no longer necessary to be called an audiophile who has a designated sweet spot to sit to hear the best sound in a perfectly acoustically correct room as incredibly good sounding studio quality, reference quality, perfect bit perfect quality, and any term you’ve heard to describe da kine! music. There is so absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things and I have been there myself in my way many times over many years. Audiophiles pay lots of attention to music, What’s not to like about that.

It’s that Audiophile Armchair Perfect Seat that I think is fading now as a type of requirement, and that is a huge freedom release for everyone who likes to listen to music.

These days, and really more like only in this past year or two, you can finally hear your music as really really good sound, in many different ways from many different sources including your TV, your phone, your CD player (I hate CD, but bear with me and read the post), DVD player, the Internet, a NAS drive or USB thumbdrive, anything Airplay or Google Play can reach….all of it.  No Bluetooth needs to be involved. I can repeat that because Bluetooth is probably sorely and mistakenly missing from the AMA’s Top 5 List of Frustrations That Lead To A Personal Breakdown Of At Least One Type If Not More. 

What I’ve realized working with new audio products and just paying attention to my now dated total affinity for Wireless WiFi Networking For Audio is the dawn of what I felt I should call “the transparent network” evolving that lets anyone play anything they ever heard or can imagine hearing (the global music library), and hear it with not just good but very excellent sound quality.

None of this existed even a couple years ago. This is not yet in many or most products, but the beginning of this transparency is in progress with more to come no doubt.

I’ll go out on the limb here and say that even if you don’t think sound quality matters all that much, you would think that it matters if you really heard the difference. It could take as little as 15 seconds. I’ve seen this happen more than once. You just have to use your ears, not your eyes reading a spec or brochure or YouTube video training. Just by listening.

A lot of people have said “David writes a lot of interesting stuff and it is about music which I care about but a lot of times I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

All I’m Talking About Here Is Really Good Sounding Music You Like To Listen To Online Or From Your Phone Or Computer or CD/SACD/DVD/Blu-Ray Player…


You don’t have to be an IT System Admin to hear really good sounding music today. In 1995 that was so not true for just about everyone online. Dialup internet and online music (downloads only, no streaming the network was too darn slow) was too new and too fun to worry about how inferior it sounded compared to vinyl or even the dreaded CD in most cases. By 2003 when I released an SACD, some really excellent digital sound was only possible for people who could speak Audiophile and who knew where to buy what gear for the best price which was usually a lot even in 2003 US Dollars today.

So… It’s a good thing we can now hear some very very good sounding ANYTHING we want, streaming or downloaded or otherwise for not hardly any new money spent and it’s another very good thing that our music library just got UNIVERSAL and ever expanded, never stagnant, like Asimov’s entropy, for  as little as say $120/year if not free. That’s a lot to think about but fortunately for us all, all we want to do is hear music.

So now you don’t have to read what I wrote in my blog and for PF, but if you want to read it anyway, it’s here:

https://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/the-fading-audiophile-armchair/

THE SECOND THING is another piece I wrote during the past 4 weeks that was mostly about reviewing an exceptional piece of innovative and comprehensive audio gear created by iFi Audio (iFi-Audio.com)

The product which is over 1 year out in the market is called the Pro iDSD. It breaks the doors down on most of the preconceived notions of DAC and even preamp or network audio or computer audio. The one reason for breaking the mold is that the Pro iDSD is a the ultimate refactoring audio vending machine. I made up that term for my blog review of the Pro iDSD, but that’s what it is. You can read about it here.

And THE THIRD thing is that I have a brand new web site as of today. It too started being written in December and now my past 20+ years of online hosting with Hostbaby is dust in the ether as a new host (Bandzoogle, yes, Bandzoogle) takes over. I’ll say now that not having heard their name before, I went to the sidecar to see what might happen. But it turns out they have tons of music and musician and ecommerce experience and dang, they made it easy to get going.

I believe that all is well on my new website at the moment so please stop by and take a look or a few listens to some of the song/album players or videos embedded there.The same “Contact” menu choice gets your private message to me (or just reply to this message). In fact, nothing about my web stuff or email or anything should have changed at this point except the content. Amen. Thank you Bandzoogle. If something does go wrong for you there, please let me know.

https://davidelias.com

FINALLY AS A 3b ITEM….On the new website you’ll see and can hear my latest album “Nighttime Music” that was released on Bandcamp about a week ago and will be on Spotify, TIDAL, Qobuz and all their cousins in about another week or less.

Nighttime Music” is a collection of songs (19 tracks) spanning a full 35 year horizon of original music by me with songs dating as far back as the mid-80’s when I was using a Porta One 4-track cassette recorder in Palo Alto to put down things I was writing with various instruments I played and voices I sang in. Talk about the good old days. (That’s one thing that can be so good about the good old days James.)

Thanks to all who take a listen to this album. There are songs as newly written and released as 2019 as well as old songs from back as far as 1985 which you can’t have heard before. There are also some bootleg versions of songs you might know but these are previously unreleased even though I always liked how they sounded. And there’s some tried and true older released tracks as well because they just fit right in the mix. These are probably not the songs you might guess. Well, you might. I don’t know.

Wishing you all much good fortune as 2020 rolls on, it’s a new decade, so the adventure is there for sure. I hope the music stays with all of us.

Aloha Nui and Take Care,

– DE
https://davidelias.bandcamp.com
https://youtube.com/davideliasvideo
https://davidelias.com
https://art-of-listening.com

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)

 

Why MQA? It Solves Magic Step #3…

My magic 3 ingredients on any good recording are, in order: #1 – the song, #2 – the take/performance, #3 – the recording. I rank them in this order because if the energy and musicianship are there in any good song (#1 and #2), it will be conveyed to the listener at many / all levels.

But being able to capture that in the right mechanical and physical terms (mics, preamps, recording levels) followed by careful mixing and mastering are surely what produce the finest collections of recorded music (#3). There’s no other way.

I am slowly realizing the emphasis behind MQA’s tag “Take Me There”. There are often very big differences between what an artist / producer intend a final recording to sound like, and what the actual artist and song takes do sound like in the studio or live show. In order to produce the intention of the art direction (which may not require elaborate effects and tricks in the studio, but still require craftsmanship to the highest levels), #1, #2, and #3 above have to be present. There’s no other way.

Capturing great sessions or multi track overdub creations that don’t have all of #3 can still be considered great, despite the lack of full delivery of intention due to limitations on the original source recording. My musical listening history is filled with these less than perfect recordings but simply incredible songs and performances. I probably treasure some of these as the finest in my personal/memory collection.

But until there were DSD conversions from master tape archives, there was, to my ears, no way to deliver a good sounding #3 in a digital format which was initially CD, then even worse MP3/AAC, then HDCD and even HDTracks / ProStudioMasters (which I’ve purchased but rarely play).

There are indeed limits of DSD conversions from tape which include slower time to process, limited catalog availability, more expensive and larger files without streaming to deliver to any large consumer base as well as the additional audio setup to convert DSD back to analog properly. So be it.

DSD is great for what it does and the “right” way in my opinion to convert analog tape masters to digital as intended (!) by Sony and Phillips originally to rescue their aging deteriorating master tape archive vault.

Now with MQA that intention is finally achievable and deliverable in all current modern formats to all listeners without extracting source masters from tape in every case.

It literally undoes the artifacts imposed during step #3 (by decompressing, not compressing, which is the same as removing edges and correcting time coherence) by re-encoding already existing hi-res PCM masters.  It then proceeds to deliver the master CD quality and higher over low bandwidth (approx. CD 1.44mbps) and even on printed standard CDs, with a hi-res component (unfolding) for any compatible setup.

So the intention’s follow through in #3 after capturing a great song, then recording and producing it masterfully, is realized, at least compared to anything we’ve had in the PCM digital domain for audio reproduction to date.

Tidal MQA Master Streaming

Here are my TIDAL MQA Master albums online so far… more on the way.

“Angelo” (16/44.1), MQA release Jan 6, 2017
https://listen.tidal.com/album/69457307

“Lost in the Green” (16/44.1), MQA release July 1, 2016
https://listen.tidal.com/album/72050409

“Crossing (Remastered)” (16/352.8). MQA release Sept. 1, 2017
https://listen.tidal.com/album/7902261

And here’s a Playlist for them:
https://tidal.com/play…/24705b24-1fb2-4c07-9ce1-0b54a07e6cbd

Happy streaming…

The Mobile HRA Mighty Duo (Safe for Home Use Too!)

XDP-100R and HA-2

Pioneer XDP-100R and OPPO HA-2 linked via USB (DoP). Together they comprise a mighty mobile or home studio duo.

Well I’d say in these modern days of tech not enough things work well together, at least not as expected given the decades of preparation those science/art folks have had to interoperate and optimize efficiencies for best results at lowest cost.

Do I expect too much? Maybe I don’t know. But I know I have been using two perfect examples of that kind of interrelated power with these two devices.

From Pioneer last year came the XDP-100R a High Resolution Audio (HRA) player with its own storage for audio files. The “gotcha have to try that” incentive for me was that this was one of the very first (and still one of the only) portable audio players that supported native DSD (1-bit to analog via DoP, or conversion to PCM up to 192 on the player itself and PCM to 384 via USB) as well as full res MQA decoding (up to 24/384kHz).

The OPPO HA-2 (now supplanted by the HA-2SE) is a “simple” headphone amplifier (analog circuitry) as well as a supreme native DSD DAC as well as PCM — both convert to analog and presented to either a headphone jack (with amplification) or a line out jack (for home stereo/studio use). In addition it is a lithium battery pack capable of charging other devices (like a Pioneer XDP-100R or iPhone/Android smartphone).

I’m working with DSD as a recording media for my music over 15 years now and MQA as a mastering with authentication PCM encoding for over 1 year. To me these don’t compete!  I am not surrounded by people of that same persuasion but then again, I’m not sure that matters to me either.

There’s a lot more to this story of the Mighty Duo…

Given that these 2 devices work independently of each other and the XDP-100R is a standalone player with a headphone/line out jack and 161 position volume control, it is not that obvious why I might want to pair them together.

Granted the HA-2 needs a player attached as its role is to do digital to analog conversion (DAC) and amplify the resulting signal as needed.

However in addition to the fact that the XDP-100R decodes MQA as studio authenticated masters up to the maximum resolution of masters out there today (24/384kHz), it can also upsample the resulting PCM to DSD and pass it on to the HA-2 via DoP!

The result for me (MQA decoded then upsampled to DSD at 5.6mHz Real Precision and sent to HA-2 for 1-bit conversion to analog) is absolutely some of the best sound quality I have ever heard.

I typically listen to these devices using OPPO PM-1 (open planar magnetic) though also PM-3 (closed planar magnetic) as well as earbuds (typically travel with Zipbuds Pro at about $25 on Amazon – amazing!).

If I play DSD tracks on the XDP-100R they get sent as-is to the HA-2 for 1-bit conversion and off to the headphones/stereo. Again both components doing exactly what they were made to do and doing it expertly well. This is really what I consider the best sound possible: A native DSD master played from the linked XDP + HA-2, as DSD via DoP, with no conversion except to analog out the headphone jack on the HA-2.

Well made recordings as native DSD masters (not upsampled to DSD but recorded/mastered as DSD or transferred from analog tape masters) will translate perfectly well as needed to any other media format.

To me PCM with MQA  encoding is a perfect media format for today’s media environment as it delivers hi-res up to 24/384k (19mbps) in right around 1.5 mbps streams or audio files in a lossless FLAC or ALAC format at 24/48k or 24/44.1k folded MQA. That’s smaller than 1/10th the size of the hi-res file or stream it becomes when it plays! The MQA DAC unfolds the hi-res on playback after the file or stream is downloaded or received.

Dare I say that when MQA decoding can be done from a Smartphone app, the cell network bandwidth required to stream MQA masters at 24/96 to your phone will not be a problem…even if you are not on an unlimited plan. If you are on an unlimited plan most of those get restricted around 22GB anyway.

So the differences between 1.5 mbps and say 5mbps for hi-res audio streaming have big effects on what someone might do with great quality music playing anywhere they go. Remember MQA in a FLAC format is not just smaller (about 1/5th the size of a 24/96 WAV/AIF file or DSD64 file for that matter) it is time corrected as well, so it sounds much better than the original PCM master did.

The same master images can also be delivered on standard CD discs which again on playback or when ripped can be MQA decoded to full high resolution. These are then 16-bit depth with the same excellent sound quality to my ears as others. They can play on any CD player and to be honest sound very very good with no MQA decoding or unfolding at all. Pretty nifty.  These stream at well under 1mbps!

Back to the Mighty Duo…

What is unusual about this combo of devices  is that the XDP-100R as a audio player, is able to play and decode the MQA audio file and then upsample and convert it to DSD and pass it on (DoP) to a DSD DAC to be played as an analog signal.

This dual function is not possible with the typical MQA/DSD DAC such as the very capable Mytek Brooklyn.  It (the typical MQA/DSD DAC) is not an audio player, it only can decode MQA and convert to analog or it can convert DSD to analog to play. It can’t do both functions (decode MQA and then convert to DSD) in series as the XDP-100R does before handing it to a DAC to play as an audio signal.

Nor can any other strict DAC that I’m aware of (though I’m sure they could if minds were put to it).

So what I’ve found is 2 devices of very similar dimensions and weight that can inter-operate such that the resulting sound is as good or better than most pro setups out there.

By maxing out the storage support for media on the XDP-100R by buying and inserting 2 SD Micro chips at 200GB each, I arrived at a full 432GB storage that I can carry around on a device as big as a slightly fat smartphone. If I wanted to add 200GB, 400GB, … etc. I could just buy other SD Micros to swap as needed. Unlimited storage in other words with no USB drives to carry around, and certainly not a laptop.

The total package (XDP-100R and HA-2) with extra RAM, water resistant case for both devices ($10) and all cables and still easily fits with notepad in my day pack all cost me well under $1000 US, closer to $800 really. That also includes about $150 of the extra memory (400GB) which is of course optional. The XDP comes with 32GB and you could add any additional amount of storage via SD Micro chips as you wished.

Hard to believe but I found the XDP-100R for a very low price special. It was last year’s model, as the newer XDP-300R has 2 Sabre chips (left and right channel) as well as a separate balanced headphone jack. Not sure what retail prices and specials are today but suggested retail is probably somewhere in the $500-600 range which means you can find it for less.

I think the OPPO HA-2SE followup to my HA-2 is still retailing at $199. I didn’t check.

I shouldn’t go into some of the other enormous capabilities of the XDP-100R but suffice to say it is a full blown Android palm computer. It hosts and runs any Google Play app. I regularly use email (BlueMail), Dropbox, Skype, some internet browsing and a few other apps. The only thing it isn’t is a cell phone and a camera. It stores and plays (on a very nice display) pretty much any video format as well.

There is a TIDAL app for streaming MQA if you buy the account. The number of MQA (Warner and perhaps UMG now) masters released on TIDAL for streaming at this point is in the thousands including Zeppelin, Doors, Petty, Talking Heads, Costello, Black Sabbath, CSNY, Neil Young and many many other pop/rock legends.

Playing DSD and having it sound par excellence is easily achieved here.

Playing Studio Authenticated MQA on audio files or streaming is easily achieved here.

What I’ve found and written about elsewhere is that there are some huge gains to my ears in sound quality improvements when MQA Masters at the CD Red Book resolution (16/44.1) are upsampled to 2.8 or 5.6mHz DSD and played via a DSD DAC like the OPPO HA-2.  Other DACs supporting DoP (DSD over PCM) should work with the XDP’s in the same way.

The reason I think the MQA gains in reducing edgy, compressed CD-like sounding masters are greatest at this low resolution are due to the steepness of the brickwall filters used to cutoff frequencies above 20kHz. The backlash of this industry common way of filtering PCM is that it introduces large pre- and post-ringing echos on the digital signal.

This ringing also referred to as time smearing or blurring effect lessens with the increased resolution of the master recording (88.2k or 96k, 176.4k or 192k, 352.8 or 384k). DSD also measures very low in this ringing effect right out of the box.

MQA practically removes these echoes in its careful PCM technology and so the image you hear as a result is much more natural sounding and easier to listen to for longer periods of time.  Instruments and voices are much more naturally located in space (left to right, up and down) as well as less confusion in our brain as to what is going on with these echos we’re hearing before the note or pulse actually gets to us. The ear is much more sensitive to location than it is to pitch! Thank you Darwin.

What’s commonly referred to as ear fatigue then gets reduced greatly and you can continue to hear the music without having to give your ears breaks.

Upsampling to DSD is now also a common feature on audio players both software and hardware. Doing this with a decoded MQA digital signal is something I’ve found to be nothing short of magical in terms of what you end up hearing from the DSD DAC as an analog signal (ie, music).

So Mobile and Home HRA has made some mighty gains in what it can do for all listeners at prices that really most if not all listeners can afford if they are looking for audio gear to feed their music habits.

– DE

Streaming Hi-Res… “Crossing”

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time…

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/davidelias24

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…is present high fidelity recordings of my stuff to as many people as possible. In the past this has been done using special gear which used to be a lot more expensive than it is today but still requires quite a bit of knowledge and interest in buying and setting up hi-res fidelity.

Today that has improved because they are ways to stream hi-res that don’t require any special hardware at all. I’ve been an MQA partner (artist/content) for over a year now and released a lot of 24-bit downloads of my work.

Now for the first time I have a streaming 16-bit CD version of the hi-res that will soon be on TIDAL and 7Digital/Onkyo as well as Deezer as remastered MQA. This was folded from the 16/352.8kHz DXD remaster.

On TIDAL’s HiFi subscription ($19.99/mo) you can hear full MQA masters and other 24/96 masters from thousands of titles coming from Warner. This includes the likes of Tom Petty, Costello, Black Sabbath, JT, Joni, CSNY, Talking Heads, Emmylou, Albert King, Alice Cooper, Bowie, America, The Who, The Doors, The Band…you get the idea.

With the 16-bit streaming version of hi-res MQA I can print the CDs that will sound just as good. Anyone with MQA decoding at their end will hear the full resolution on these hi-res albums as they get released.

For now, you can try streaming the whole album at the link! It’s not lossless MQA streaming from CDBaby like it is on TIDAL but maybe that’s the point cause it still sounds good.

Aloha!

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Hi-Res DSD MQA Integration To The Max…

I’ve been integrating audio components since…. …. …. never mind….. I’ve been integrating hi-res (HRA, hi-rez, high resolution) audio into my different playback systems since 2000….

I’ve never seen or heard a more advanced integrated Digital Audio Playback (DAP) device than the Pioneer XDP-100R I recently (finally) ordered.

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On the lower left is the Pioneer XDP-100R, last year’s model. There is now an XDP-300R. When the 100R came on market sometime over a year ago it listed and retailed for right around $699. Since then I found one for $299 new and have it with me pretty much all the time. 

I was very interested in it from the start because it was the only device I knew that play both MQA and DSD masters in a seamless fashion. 

The other device in the photo to the right is my trusted and beloved OPPO HA-2 (since replaced by the HA-2SE at OPPO, still retails for $299). The HA-2 provides the hefty headphone amp, native DSD conversion to analog playback as delivered from XDP, and lots of extra battery to run or charge the XDP from.

I can travel anywhere with *just* the XDP but there are sound reproduction results with the combination of those 2 devices that are very very very hard to beat especially (and almost exclusively today) if you want to hear and travel and hook your home system up to play both native DSD and MQA up to 384k unfolded. 

It delivers native or upsampled 5.6mHz DSD (for PCM tracks including decided MQA) with a quality of sound reproduction I believe is very hard to beat no matter what you use.

~~~~~ THE SHORT VERSION ~~~~~

I’ve written some audiophile friends about the new setup I have. It is portable, it is long term with battery twice over (really more). It perfectly delivers MQA as well as native DSD analog to any output recipient gear you have (headphones, Bluetooth, Line Out to stereo/studio). It has aeons (days, months, years?) of storage onboard for music or video.  

It doesn’t need a computer to play anything. It *is* a computer.

How does it do this? Here’s my answer:

– It’s an Android PDA (personal digital assistant) and digital player running Android 5.1.1 from Google.  This makes it a very usable and convenient multipurpose tablet that fits in your palm and can host all the Google Play apps you might throw at it. 

I’m using Bluemail and Skype mostly cause I don’t want to burden or clutter it (yet). What I’m saying is it can be your browser, email box, music (and video, hint hint), YouTube player, any media streaming or stored onboard all in one. 

It can’t be your cell phone though you can Skype with calls in and out for $6.99/mo. I’ve used Skype to call out to any cell or Skype or landline number for $2.99/mo. for a very long time when I don’t have cell service (which happens a lot on The Big Island).

By relieving my iPhone of the responsibility of being my portable music player (using the same HA-2 via DoP and the Onkyo HF player app) it freed up all the iPhone  storage (a very conservative 32GB total in comparison to XDP’s whopping 432GB) for photos and videos I take with the phone.  Good trade!

– It is an exceptional MQA decoder providing full resolution unfolding Other popular lower cost MQA DACs I’ve had and used like the Meridian Explorer2 are limited to 192k. None of these support DSD either. 

The TIDAL software player alone with no external DAC just gets you to 96K (one unfold) as will presumably other software MQA players.

– It is 100% DoP (DSD over PCM) compatible that allows it to deliver native DSD to an upstream device (in my case the OPPO HA-2) via a short USB wire (see photo).

– It upsamples PCM to DSD up to 5.6 (11.2mbps stereo) with real precision (no rounding errors) and sends this as DoP to the HA-2 as well….

– It hosts the TIDAL app for streaming MQA etc…

– It has a lot of battery depending what resolution you are playing and how much Android app you use concurrently — but — I back this up with the HA-2 which is also a battery charger good for at least 1x XDP charges.

– It has up to 432GB of storage (!) using 2 SD micro flash slots up to 200GB each on top of its internal 32GB memory for the OS, apps, and music etc.  The SD micro flash cards are of course unlimited in number if that’s not enough for you.  They fit on a thumbnail literally to carry.

– It weights about 7oz.  The HA-2 is a bit heavier (battery!).  All fit in the add-on XDP hard zippered case I got that fits anywhere with cables, Zipbuds PRO (check those out online Amazon for around $25 — and their  brand new “26” AptX wireless creation I got through Kickstarter) and other various audio detritus.

~~~~~ CONCLUSION ~~~~~

What I get from these two devices working together is unlimited headroom for amplification (HA-2 provides necessary oompff even though XDP supports up to 16-300oHm headphones) with the most sophisticated PCM sound ever experienced in my humble opinion. It plays native DSD beautifully as well!

The synergy of MQA decoding with DSD upsampling delivered through an analog 1-bit perfect conversion by OPPO’s HA-2 is a level of Sound Quality on the otherwise edgy compressed qualities of PCM I’ve never come close to experiencing. 

I’m saying MQA sounds great but MQA upsampled to DSD sounds better.

The 2 together fit in my jean jack inside pocket.

The XDP can play everything on its on however the DSD in that case is its PCM converted counterpart, the same as all non-native DSD media players and DACs including Korg’s AudioGate, JRiver and the like. These all also support DoP to connect a “real” DSD DAC to like OPPO, Mytek and many many more.

If you are asking: How can I play the full studio authenticated MQA as well as Native DSD from one setup both in my home and on the go and have all the battery and power for rock n’ roll that I need as well as the convenience of a full Android/Google tablet in my hand traveling around, then look no further…..

Onkyo has very a very similar nearly identical product in collaboration called the DP-X1.  There is also an Onkyo Music app that allows you to buy MQA and other downloads online.

Good stuff. Low Price (I got 2 x 200GB San Disk SD flashes for a total of $150 online btw). Very Amazing Sound.

Did I say it plays your videos stored as well in all the popular formats with 720p resolution. I really like its video quality too.

Aloha!

– DE

….integration….the secret sauce for MQA and all PCM is hi-res DSD upsampling. XDP can do this with HA-2 attached and the result is not like any CD you ever heard.

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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!

Try TIDAL’s offer for 90 days – Hi-Res, MQA Masters streaming to your desktop

Want to try MQA Masters for 90-days? TIDAL has a free subscription trial (you have to cancel to avoid paying after 90 days). Once I signed up I went to the Account and upgraded the subscription to the “HiFi” version. It says $19.99/mo but under the trial it didn’t charge me for the upgrade.  I then actually cancelled the subscription so it wouldn’t charge PayPal after 90 days. I can always sign up later again and start paying :)

http://tidal.com/us/lemonade-offer

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[NOTE: If that 90-day offer special for Beyonce goes away here is there standard trial signup page for 30-days trial: http://tidal.com/us/try-now-b  — Select the trial for the HiFi-Masters program on the right. ]

Then download the TIDAL player from here — you need the desktop app to stream MQA masters (it says the Chrome browser will do it as well but I didn’t try that).
http://tidal.com/us/download

Choose the browser app (leftmost) to allow Master MQA playback from your computer.

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Once you are in the player you can find MQA under “What’s New” then scroll a page down and you’ll see “Masters” (I highlighted in yellow) in the center of the screen. Choose it to get to the MQA mastered titles. Then you can choose “Show All” to view all the albums available. I have quickly picked over 500 titles (choosing entire albums) and 36 hours of music to try this.

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If you have an MQA DAC (Meridian, Mytek,…) you can choose “Masters” again in the lower right corner of the player to popup the setup. You can pick your MQA DAC if it sees the driver. If not, you can use the TIDAL app to decode MQA within its limits whatever they are.

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In order to use my Meridian Explorer2 I also had to hover over the driver name then pick the Gear icon setup that allowed me to set the player in “Passthrough” mode which means it hands the audio to my MQA DAC for decoding. I prefer this because it supports up to 24/192k which I see for example on James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim” album playback. Amazing! Also choose the “Exclusive Mode” option too as a suggestion.

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I bought that LP when I was little more than 10 years old. I still listen to it a lot. Wore out a number of vinyl copies over the years. CD versions of this are never good at all, but the MQA playback at 24/192 streaming from TIDAL (all 3 LEDs and Blue Light) is incredibly good!

I added titles in my playlist from Joni, Jethro Tull, Sabbath, The Dead, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Jackson Browne…many others. They have some great stuff up there already. I then added Mott The Hoople, Todd Rundgren, Bowie, Dwight Yoakam, Mudcrutch, Mark Knopfler, CSN, Doors.  All albums, not songs. I’ve heard some of these CDs with distaste for decades! They sound great through the lossless streaming on TIDAL. What more can I say.

I have a slow Internet sometimes and buffering (stutter) has been a bit of a problem but when the skies are clear, the sound streams fine. This is a great way to try MQA masters lossless quality online without buying any new gear as the TIDAL player will decode the MQA for you. There may be advantages to having your own DAC at some point but not required… Enjoy!

Aloha! – DE