Category Archives: HRA

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

 

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

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.

IMG_0026.JPG

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.

IMG_0027.JPG

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:

http://download.oppodigital.com/Docs/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.

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!

4 MQA Songs to Try (1 Free) – CD to Hi-Res

Introducing you to MQA with 4 songs.


UPDATE OFFER – January, 2020 – Some of the best-known songs by David Elias are now available at a 50% Discount for the MQA Studio Masters on his Bandcamp catalog.  Coffeehouse MQA Playlist #1 (Remastered) contains 10 MQA tracks some of which decode up to 24/352.8k.

Use check out code TRYCOFFEE50 and pay about $5.

Some of David Elias’s best known music played at audiophile trade show demos, on Spotify  and TIDAL, and as mobile HRA OTG go to’s on Smartphones including “Morning Light/Western Town” and “The Old King” are in this collection.

Preview and Buy Coffeehouse Playlist #1 (Remastered) as MQA. It plays on any media player (hardware or software). It can also be decoded as MQA up to 24/352.8k with compatible gear.

Hear Acoustic like you never have before.

No DRM. Full Previews. With purchase you have unlimited downloads forever. All popular audio formats supported (suggested: FLAC, ALAC). Also unlimited streaming from Bandcamp’s free Bandcamp Music iOs/Android app.

Get 50% off – Use check code: TRYCOFFEE50 and pay about $5 for the entire playlist.

coffehouseplaylist-50%-screenshot


UPDATED Jan 18, 2017
These 4 songs now download for $4. There is 1 free track available
——-Here is how MQA Ltd. described me in their newsletter this week (emphasis is mine):

MQA Artist Release
Sound quality has been a driving motivation for singer-songwriter David Elias since he started recording his music digitally more than 20 years ago. On listening to some of his earliest recordings encoded with MQA, David noted, “The original intention and sounds are much more accurately represented [with MQA] and are therefore much, much more enjoyable to listen to. The convenience of MQA’s smaller file size is an additional no-brainer.” 

This paragraph says a lot for me because I’ve lived with CD and its problems with sound quality as long as everyone else. In fact I had no CDs long after many did, sticking to vinyl and even my own mix tape cassettes (analog ruled) for years after the CD deluge. It sounded better. I liked album covers. What can I say.

I broke my teeth on CD quality recording in 1995 making my first CD in a home studio setup. I recorded to Hi-8 Video Tape at 16/48 on an 8-track Tascam DA-88. I’d recorded myself at times on various tape machines and a few digital boxes for almost 20 years but this was much different.

I listened to a lot of everything I put on tape through that whole process of recording, mixing analog (lengend original Mackie 1202!) to 16/44.1 (Sony TCD-10 DAT) and then mastered on a DyaxisII Workstation. It sounded good and in fact better in the studio than on the final CD that was printed.

Those early CDs and many later recordings were either created or converted to PCM to be moved online one way or another. All my released songs are on YouTube Music now for example, as audio, as well as lots of other places, like 50 or more. The more they travel in the Etherspace the worse they sound generally.  They get downsampled and converted into whatever suits the retailer or streaming radio like Pandora (one of my least favorites for sound quality).

But shoots, I want to get heard…otherwise I wouldn’t put music I write out there in the first place.

Enter MQA… I started listening to it in February on hi-res converted music from 2L in Norway. Classical works. I knew some of them from 10+ years prior as SACDs I had actually been given by Morten Lindberg there. 2L put MQA converted masters (DXD conversions which are PCM at 24/352.8) online to try as well as other hi-res formats. I was using a Meridian Explorer2 MQA DAC connected to my Dell Windows 10 notebook running the latest JRiver.

All I can say is I didn’t hear anything I didn’t like, and in some cases heard some things I really really liked.

So I started listening to other MQA encoded tracks. MQA is not a new audio format. It is still linear PCM, just has its own corrections (aka filtering) applied to the encoding of the music.

 What I started paying attention to more and more and hearing more and more were the timing coherence corrections in the playback. What PCM has always done to my ears, along with countless others, is present a very sharp unnatural edge to the sound that can get worse for me the louder or harder the music is played. It doesn’t flow like vinyl, cassette, or DSD. Usually it kind of attacks quickly, then disappears. It’s not relaxing, let me put it that way.

MQA encoded tracks I listened to had lost much of that sharp attack, no decay characteristic. They were well presented and much easier to listen to. They positioned things more clearly in the stereo space noticeably including the front and back locations in addition to left and right. The soundstage was then more 2 dimensional with depth as well as 3 dimensional with up and down.

This listening started with a lot of music I didn’t know, yet I was happy to listen to it with open ears so to speak.

Over the next few months, I decided I wanted to hear some of my PCM recordings as MQA and started making inquiries as to how I might do that. In the end, I became an MQA artist partner and have converted my catalog and archives to MQA encoded PCM.

I’ve actually had most of my catalog online as PCM on the Bandcamp site (http://davidelias.bandcamp.com) as CD quality up to 24/88.2 for a couple years now. Now most of that has been updated to download in the smaller FLAC or ALAC MQA encoded files.

Overall, MQA sounded better to me than any CD or hi-res PCM master I had. It doesn’t need much more proof to me. I have read a lot about the “what it is” and “why it works” to understand that better, but after my intro through reading and some YouTubes, I just started listening a lot. I still am.

What About The 4 Songs…  The first album on the page at the link above is a free download. You can also stream it as much as you want. Bandcamp lets you download songs in a variety of formats. The default is MP3.  Don’t download it as MP3! 

MQA requires what’s called a lossless format — The 4 big lossless formats being used out there are the original WAV (PC) and AIF (Mac) and their file (not audio) compressed counterparts FLAC (PC) and ALAC (Mac).  Choose one of those when you download from anywhere no matter what the site or music! It is not missing some of its music from the original like MP3!

FLAC and ALAC are roughly 1/2 the size of WAV and AIF. They sound identical and are better at carrying the magic metadata or tags that include all the song and album info for the media player to display when playing the track.

MP3 and Apple’s AAC use math to remove audio data in an original CD or hi-res audio master to make it a much smaller file (in general about 1/10th the size). That was the strategy from the beginning when everyone was dialing up the Internet on modems. It made sense then as one didn’t want to stay online for hours or days to download an album. Apple cemented that approach since iTunes Store came online in 2004. How long will that go on? As long as people buy it I guess.

 Excuse Me, What About The 4 Songs…  Ok, I have a lot of MQA encoded music I am really kind of hearing for the first time myself. This includes both very good and some not so great recordings (like live public hall stuff through a single $99 Sony stereo mic to DAT).

Most of it got created as a PCM recording. The MQA encoded versions of these tracks changed how they sound to me and took me a lot closer to the original performance whether was studio or live stage. It sounds more like the sound in the room at the time and what was played and I am relaxed when I listen to it because of that.

Go here and try 4 songs at 3 different PCM resolutions, all encoded as MQA

https://davidelias.bandcamp.com/album/mqa-track-sampler-any-player-works-1-free-track

If I went into too much detail this email might get long :)

Here’s the (short) not so fine print:

1) If you have an MQA DAC you can hear the full resolution up to 24/352.8 or the limits of your MQA DAC.

2) If you don’t have an MQA DAC you can just play it anyway at 16/44.1, 24/44.1 or 24/48 depending on source track

3) If you get an MQA DAC later (or the media players do it for you) you’ll hear the hi-res then

 The song audio resolutions range from CD (16/44.1) hi-res (24/96) to DXD (24/352.8). They are all only about as big as a CD file to download (about 700MB), maybe a little bigger.

CD’s sound better as MQA to me with or without the MQA DAC gear. You can just play them. I’ve had different people tell me the same thing about my stuff. So far I have heard its biggest benefits on the lowest res recordings. I might even know why.

If you have questions you can reply to this email, it just comes to me…I hope you try downloading the tracks. If you have an MQA DAC, don’t stream them, download them!

Thanks For Listening!

DE
http://www.davidelias-mqa.com (MQA Downloads)
http://www.davidelias.com/dsd_downloads (DSD Downloads)
http://youtube.com/davideliasvideo

David Elias MQA 24/352 Masters

MQA = Master Quality Authenticated.

Maybe you don’t keep up on this stuff. I don’t always either…But MQA has been something gnawing at my good sound quality curiosity for awhile now. It is a mysterious (to some anyway) approach to getting better sounding audio from just about any source including typical downloads (compared often to iTunes), streaming (compared often to Pandora) and even CDs (compared often to “the industry”).

So… enter MQA, not anytime that recently, as they (MQA Ltd. spun from Meridian-Audio.com) have been at this research and development for some years now.

My short version is:

Yes, in order to get the hi-res unfolded benefits of MQA encoded audio files you need a DAC that is MQA enabled. There are a few for sale out there now.

Yes, MQA is being supported by some large streaming providers including 7Digital. Others with interest may follow.

Yes, MQA might eventually be deployed in software media players so the need for DAC compatibility could become optional.

Yes, MQA folds the hi-res audio data such that the transport of the data whether streaming or downloaded as a file is a much smaller image than what hi-res files cost today in bandwidth. MQA is always not much bigger than a normal CD to download or stream. But you can get the big hi-res unfolded quality when you play it! If you don’t have the MQA DAC, it still sounds good and is playable on what you might have today.

Yes, MQA playback can sound a lot better to my ears than what I usually hear from PCM masters. The biggest improvement in my unlearned opinion comes from what is referred to as a reduction in the temporal or time blurring of the playback. There is a better focus and location of each instrument in the mix. It is also a more relaxed, natural sound losing some of the PCM edge that I have become pretty sensitive to picking up over the years.

It is more ambient and to me, more DSD-like. It is also more 3-dimensional. I described it to an audiophile friend as a pyramid of sound with the point of the pyramid pointed slightly towards the listener, not straight up in the air. So the image of a band performing the song came to mind very readily, with the back edge of the stage raised and tilted slightly towards me.

So I developed MQA masters of my hi-res albums and my newest CD release “Rare To Go – December Solstice” to allow easier and faster downloads of my masters to be accessed by those who are not especially interested in DSD, or just are maybe just especially interested in MQA or better sounding PCM masters.

Trying to download a 24/352.8 audio file is a “good luck” proposition normally. But MQA allows this to be easily done where the total album is still just around 1GB of data. That’s it.

However the playback sounds excellent with an MQA DAC in use. I am using the Meridian Explorer2 which retails for $299. It does not play DSD files, just PCM at all bit rates.


My MQA Promo…Go here for 2-for-1 MQA downloads…

If you are listening to MQA today and want to hear how my albums sound with that encoding, I will give you a free title of your choice when you buy any of the four 24/352.8k releases: “The Window”, “Crossing”, “Acoustic Trio”, “Coffeehouse Playlist”.

It’s Memorial Day Tomorrow! You can get the Buy 1 Get 1 Free deal until May 15, 2016

If you have questions about MQA feel free to reply to this message, it just goes to me.

I have been working with MQA Ltd. in the UK on getting my DSD masters converted to DXD and then having the PCM masters encoded as MQA. All the work was done by MQA Ltd. and the results have been very and sometimes surprisingly excellent.

I like good sound. If it sounds good, it is good. I don’t have to go too much beyond that for my own sonic barometer. Good job MQA.

I’ve always maintained that DSD is the magic sauce behind many many great sounding recordings and master tape transfers. That’s still 100% true to my ears. How can it be delivered through PCM channels including streaming? The hybrid SACD was and still is a good but only partial solution with the Redbook CD layer.

But what about hi-res DSD conversions as well as native PCM hi-res masters at 24/96 and above?

PCM needs help.

Large hi-res file downloads (DSD and PCM) need help saving time and the ISP’s gigabyte limit for many.

Streaming needs help sounding a lot better than it has from most big sites.

Regular CD download quality needs help sounding a lot better than it has since the beginning, especially when it’s in the form of lossy compressed formats like MP3 and AAC from iTunes, but even as it’s delivered on a typical CD.

MQA helps… Mahalo!

– DE

See the eclipse video...link below is post.

Eclipse this… and 60% off Discography (24-bit HD and 16-bit CD masters)

Happy Holidaze. . .

Well it’s a thankful time as a reminder at least, if not more. I was up in the middle of the night again and found a way to put my entire Discography online at Bandcamp (BC) as a one-time purchase at a big discount.

You get the downloads in any or all of the BC digital formats: 16/24-bit FLAC (PCM lossless masters), ALAC (lossless) and MP3 (320k). Buying the downloads as my Full Digital Discography also gets you unlimited streaming of all these tracks anytime forever from the Bandcamp pages. They are arranged nicely by album and very easy to play continuously.

Hey you can also give it to someone as a gift!

Take a look:  http://davidelias.bandcamp.com

When you click the link, scroll down until you see “Full Digital Discography” and that’s it. It looks like this:

bc-discography-60-elias2

I have 12 albums and singles up there right now including “Crossing”, “The Window”, “Acoustic Trio”, “Slipper Sessions” (all 24/88.2 PCM downloads from the DSD masters) as well as my released CD masters of “Lost in the Green”, “Time Forgets”, “Half an Hour Away” and “The Blue Planet”. There are also some singles there you won’t find anywhere else!

The Discography now is exactly 60% off what the download albums cost individually. That’s the holidaze part. Reply to this message if you have questions I can help with.


Part 2 of this email is the Eclipse part which is a 1080p video I made of the lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014 from here on the Big Island (where there’s no light pollution…at all).

You can see all 3 minutes of this video (my attention span has now shrunk to be in the optimal hit single range of around 3 minutes or less) on YouTube at this link:

https://youtu.be/bFiXzSniF8M

The instrumental soundtrack is my song “Inverness” from “The Blue Planet” CD. If you haven’t heard it you might not recognize me in there cause I just play a single keyboard/synth in a single take. But that’s me and as you can tell the music wasn’t written out.

Here’s a still shot I took of the Blood Moon that night:

Blood Moon Eclipse by David Elias, 10-8-2014, Hawaii



Have a wonderful holiday
and time off everything that’s anything “out there” and a good time with everything that’s “in there” with any and all loved ones who “are there”.

Aloha!

– DE