Friday, 22 January 2016

MEASUREMENTS: MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) Observations and The Big Picture...

I. Preamble:

As expected, MQA articles are popping up at the usual audiophile sites. So far, what has been disseminated to the public about the technology remains rather nebulous beyond the basic core ideas. Probably the best technical descriptions come from John Atkinson's article back in Dec 2014. It focuses on the "encapsulation" process of reconstructing high-frequency content. Then there's the Robert Harley articles from May/June 2015 where there seems to be more attention paid to supposedly important time-domain factors and MQA's role (alas, the PDF link I referenced in this post got taken down!).

Since CES2016, I see that articles continue to focus on subjective experience, and there's a chorus of testimony about the greatness of MQA (see here, here, here...). Notice the vacuousness of interviews like this. Testimony is fine and is what it is. I'm sure the MQA folks are smart... And I'm sure Mr. Stuart is a great guy... Yes, clearly Mr. McGrath can show off some well recorded material... But it was perhaps surprising how there remains so little spoken further about what the algorithm is doing or even better yet, providing technical clarification on simple questions. In sum, there's little to suggest that the science makes sense in the way it's supposed to make the music sound "much" better despite vague claims like how research in neuroscience is supposed to support the benefits of this technology (Meridian/MQA, care to reveal which neuroscience papers you're talking about?!).

Saturday, 16 January 2016

MEASUREMENTS: Stealth Releases of Good Remastering in Hi-Res Audio... (Alanis Morissette!)

The other day, a reader suggested that I check out the recent 2015 HDTracks remastered Alanis Morissette albums. I must admit that I'm not a big fan of Alanis (my sister was more into her albums), but back in the day, did enjoy the 2004 album So-Called Chaos. As I revisit the album again this past week, I was reminded of how poorly the original CD was mastered as witnessed below:

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

MUSINGS: 1st Week 2016, CES 2016, and Christmas Toys!

The first week of 2016 was quite busy in terms of getting back to work and the news feed... Let's just shoot the breeze and talk about a few things this for this post...

1. It has been fun reading about CES 2016. I've been monitoring the articles on The Verge. Mainstream broad coverage is good to see the trends heading our way. Overall, it looks like the push towards 4K TV continues with HDR being the buzz (audio industry should make note and try for some higher dynamic range, please).

Among the new VR products and Internet Of Things (hmmm... Not sure if I really want a Smart Fridge), the main audio news that so far has made it to the mainstream is the re-release of the Technics SL-1200 turntable. Clearly, at the asking price of US$4000, the "Grand Class" SL-1200G(AE) is not going to be heading to your local dance club spinning DJ vinyl any time soon! Clearly this is targeted at the affluent audiophile class. As you may know, I've been spinning LP with my Technics SL-1200 M3D for the last year and a half. The machine is built like a tank and I very much expect it to last a lifetime. If indeed the new SL-1200 street price ends up being even close to $4000, I suspect it's not going to make a dent in the used market at all!

I suspect that when vinyl gets elevated to the realm of a luxury item like the Technics, plus a ridiculous association by Sony that their PS-HX500 turntable is anything deserving of  "Hi-Res" status suggests that the vinyl awakening is in full swing and in the midst of being over hyped in the eyes of the general public (articles like this showing up already). The association with vinyl and high-resolution in the mainstream is particularly disturbing and at some point will trigger a backlash against the BS. As I have said before, there is a "cool" factor to vinyl because of it's material properties (physically tangible, size of artwork - great for talk shows when the host wants to show the album cover) and psychological retro coolness triggering nostalgia. But the idea of associating sound quality in the sense of "high-resolution fidelity" is clearly wrong - and the mainstream knows it. They just have to listen to a typical turntable playing a typical LP. Please Sony, don't do this and set yourself up for more ridicule.

Perhaps not surprising is the lack of talk about "High Resolution Audio" in the mainstream (discounting the audiophile press where they are limited to this stuff). Unlike last year with awards handed to MQA and hype around the new Walkmans and Pono, I'm guessing things have gotten pretty quiet this past year in terms of actual sales. (As I noted a few weeks back, it's not surprising when the current crop of music labelled as high-resolution is nothing but the same recycled mixes/masterings not truly deserving of larger digital 'containers'.)

Monday, 4 January 2016

MEASUREMENTS: ASUS Xonar Essence One DSD Upgrade (Part II: NJR MUSES 02 "Audio Opamp Rolling")

As you may recall, a few months back, I posted on the ASUS Xonar Essence One and the DSD Upgrade Kit. That post was only Part I because the kit not only included an upgraded firmware EEPROM to allow DSD64 playback, but there were a couple of New Japan Radio MUSES 02 opamps in there to use as well. New Japan Radio seems insistent on marketing this MUSES brand of opamps for audiophile applications and certainly the price tag is consistent with the audio "high end" - we're talking US$45 per stereo "flagship" opamp (MUSES 01 and 02)! As a result, there are quite a number of fakes out there especially on eBay so make sure you get these chips from a reputable dealer if you're in the market.

On a side note, it's interesting that companies these days are using "replaceable opamps" as part of the feature set of devices like motherboards; even motherboard manufacturers like Gigabyte are in the act of selling opamp kits!

When it comes to the old ASUS Xonar Essence One, I figure why not perform a few measurements and see if replacing the LM4562NA opamps (US$2.00 a piece) I had in there with these expensive MUSES 02's made a difference; the company claims that there's a "Profound Musicality" benefit with the MUSES. As a reminder, I had put in the LM4562NA opamps a few years ago. The stock Essence One uses NE5532 (<US$1.00) so my results may not be the same as someone going from stock configuration to these MUSES 02's. Remember that "opamp rolling" is not uncommonly discussed on message forums. And there have been some excellent write-ups in the past. Like high-end cables, there are those who swear by the improvements they hear but looking around, I have not seen anyone publish objective results from a DAC despite all kinds of testimony.

Note that there are different positions I could place these MUSES in but basically settled on the Low Pass Filter (LPF) stage which potentially could benefit all audio outputs. (In diagram below: 3A - for RCA output only, 3B - XLRs, 4 - headphones only.) I really did not have any great desire to pull out and reseat various opamps to try different configurations so just plugged them into place and closed my DAC, running measurements before and after the surgical procedure.
So here they are situated on the PCB: