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Hi-Fi musings

January 31, 2012

During the Christmas break I was checking out an Engadget post about some new and ‘cheap’ HiFiMan planar headphones.

Since I had never heard of this ‘planar’ technology I had to read about it. In the process I came back to something that I had stopped doing for some: listen to music often.

Also I found several interesting sites and reads related to headphones, audio and electronics.

But what was really surprising to me was to find all this avalanche of very expensive equipment: headphones, amplifiers, DACs, CD players, etc. and also an avalanche of reviewers that swear that X piece of equipment sounds ‘better’ than Y where usually COST( X ) > COST( Y ) and COST( X ) some irrational number (irrational to me and in the sense of ‘How come that thing costs that much’.

Why would I buy a very expensive amplifier for example? The quality of the parts can be the best the money can buy, the quality of the manufacturing can be the best, the design can be the best, but at the end what matters is what you hear and whether you can tell the difference between X and Y.

NwAvGuy writes extensively about this subject and that’s how his amplifier came to be.

Digital sources

It seems that Hi-Fi equipment designers often thread the waters of diminishing returns and subjectivity is all around the industry. To give an example: I’ve found that people state that no two CD players sound alike and some are better sounding than others or give some specific characteristics to the sound.

This of course can be perfectly valid for analog audio sources but for digital ones I have a hard time swallowing that anything before the DAC would make any difference to the sound quality except for jitter

For digital audio sources you shouldn’t see any difference in the data passed to the DAC in any CD player reproducing the same disk except for jitter. This means that what the DAC gets it’s what was recorded during masterization of the recording.

Why you ask? Because the audio is stored in digital format in the disk and there are several error-correcting mechanisms that are part of reading any disc so providing you have a clean disk and a correctly implemented reader the DAC should always get the same samples at its inputs.

So then the quest becomes that of the reader block to provide a jitter-free input to the DAC.

To prove my point I’m going to rip a few songs form the same CD from different CD drives and then compare the WAV files between them. My prediction is that the samples will match in all cases.

Digital times

What I’d like to see as a fan of high-fidelity is for music to be sold in digital format where no mechanical/optical devices are involved at all in the process of retrieving the original PCM samples, that we get higher sampling rates and resolution and that the files come directly from the master recording not from a ripped CD.

And I’d like to see a jitter-resilient protocol to feed the samples to the DAC *and* I’d like to see the DAC as close as possible to the speaker.

This would reduce any variations and crap coming from cables and the like.

For headphones that would mean something like having one DAC an one amp on each can probably powered by batteries. This approach of course rules out the use of tubes

For speakers this means having one DAC and one amp per speaker as well.

Given the stratospheric prices people are willing to pay for audio equipment having all this redundancy would not be frown at.

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From → Audio

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