Sunday, April 6, 2014

CD masters vs Vinyl masters

Many years ago, before I bought a CD player I listened to almost all of my music using a record player. I had a few players, nothing really "high end" but they were competent solid performing record players with wooden bases, metal platters and metal tonearms. I was perfectly happy with their sound.

When I bought my first CD player I was immediately struck by how wrong the music sounded. Even at the time I recall describing the sound to others as being harsh, steely, artificial, and having excessive high frequncy energy, and a distinct lack of bass.

This all happened around 1993. Right around the time that CD was really starting to take over as the dominant format. New vinyl was being sent to the tip to be crushed and was reported on the news. ( I think this was more of a marketing stunt by the record companies). I advocated to friends and family and anyone who would listen, that CDs didn't sound very good. I only bought CD's if the LP wasn't available.

A few years later I discovered by accident that some CD players did sound acceptable. The CD player that changed my mind was the Akai CD-A7. It used the Burr Brown PCM53 DAC chip.
I liked this player because it had really huge dynamics, strong realistic bass and treble that wasn't overpowering, and this resulted in a fairly natural sound. It sounded closer to LP than any other player I had heard.

Now that I had come to the realisation that digital audio could sound OK, I set upon finding the most analog sounding player.  This search has taken many years and is a search that still hasn't finished.

I've owned or auditioned a great number of CD players and stand alone DACs, from commercial products through to kits.

One thing I have learned is that the overall design and associated components does greatly affect the end result. All "flagship" DAC chips can sound great if the circuit around the chip is designed intelligently and sympathetically to highlight the strengths and address the weaknesses of the chip.

Even though I own a couple of players and DACs that meet my objective of "closest sound to analog possible" I am still left with a problem, and this is where I come back to the topic of this article. CD masters vs Vinyl masters.

People like me who own the same album on both vinyl and CD will probably have performed this experiment. You play the LP and CD simultaneously, and swap between each source. Generally what I find is that the LP sounds more preferable to my ears. However the opposite is sometimes true.
I generally find the LP (being the first "version" of the music that I heard) to have a particular sound or "mix" or "mastering" that I am familiar with, and that I like. I also find that the LP is generally mastered with a greater level of bass and quieter treble, which is a sound that I prefer.

I've found that LPs sound better when the album is an analog recording from the 1960s up to the mid 1980 or early 1990's. Post 1990 digital recordings I find to sound better on CD than LP, (but not always)

 I began to wonder if the difference in sound between the LP and the CD was due to the format, or due to something else. In order to narrow down the point of difference, for experimental purposes, I digitally recorded a few LPs.

What I found is that playing back a digital recording of the LP sounds basically the same as the LP played back directly.

I've found that the predominant difference in sound between the same album on LP and CD is the way the disc is mastered.

I've recently learned that when cutting the LP master, the cutting engineer would have to make adjustments to the equalization of the music in order to make sure the needle would stay in the groove, and he would also make subjective equalisation choices that sounded good to him. The cutting engineer would also spend more time on albums where he personally enjoyed the music. So, what this means is that the master tape was mixed relatively "flat" with the knowledge that each LP master cut in different countries was going to sound different, and that each cutting engineer would impart his own sound upon the record. This is one reason that record collectors seek out pressings from other countries. With certain pressings being more prized than others -due to the equalization choices made by the cutting engineer.

This raises a few questions with regard to CD reissues of albums originally not released on CD such as music from the early 1980's and before.

  • Have record companies been providing us with the "flat" two-channel mix down versions or something else?
  • Do record companies realise that these versions don't sound the way people wanted or expected them to sound?
  • Have the record companies deliberately given us the "flat" versions knowing that at a later date they would release a "remaster" which contains a more "ear friendly" mix?
When CD was first released it was advertised as "perfect sound forever". Capitalism dictates that providing any consumer with the "perfect product forever" is not conducive to making more money.

The reader can make up their own mind if this is a deliberate act by the record companies.



Saturday, January 19, 2013

USB SPDIF WARS - Audiophileo vs Yellowtec PUC 2 review.

I have just compared two USB spdif converters. This is the review

In one corner, the extremely well reviewed Audiophilleo 1.

In the second corner the relatively unknown, in hi fi circles - Yellowtec PUC 2.

Yellowtec, distributed in Australia by Production Audio Video Technology, is a German company that is well known in the professional broadcast industry.  The Yellowtec PUC 2 has been around since around 2006.

The PUC 2 is a USB to AES converter, providing 24 bit 192khz playback and recording. It provides AES input and output, and a pair of balanced analog inputs and outputs. This means it really is aimed at the professional market, which is the primary user of balanced signals and XLR connectors.

My DAC has an RCA SPDIF input so I had to make up an XLR to RCA adaptor.  I used a female XLR connector with pins 2 and 3 connected to a digital transformer and the secondary connected to a female  RCA cable. Ideal? Yes, no, maybee? It did the job!

The comparison was done using a stock standard un-optimised XP desktop computer. Software used was Foobar, and cPlay (running on the desktop - not in CMP mode).

A low noise external aftermarket linear power supply, powered both converters, by "injecting" power into the device-end of a home-made USB cable. External power is the best way to power any USB audio device.

The review:
The Audiophilleo 1 is a really good sounding converter. It is nicely balanced, smooth and detailed, and clearly has low jitter, and exceptional clarity. I don't think I need to say much more. It has been reviewed before in so many other forums and online places. Just do an internet search.

The Yellowtec PUC 2 in direct comparison, gave that little bit extra of everything. Deeper cleaner more defined bass. Cleaner mids and highs. We did listen to a few test tracks but one that increased the obviousness of the improvement was German band "Focus"  the track "Hocus pocus" typically using a lower fidelity source with this 1970's (by today's standards - low-fi) recording, the separation between bass guitar and bass drum is usually very hard to pick. The bass frequencies usually sound murky.

The Audiophilleo did a good job, but the PUC 2 was so much better. I could hear the bass guitar being picked, the "twang" of the strings, and the hit of the mallet on the bass drum even more clearly. The Audiophilleo just didn't do this as well - the murk was still there!

Many times when I have tried a cleaner audio transport, there seems to be the perception of less bass, but with the PUC 2, you get to have your cake and eat it too. Bass gets cleaner, deeper, and more tonal, yet maintains the same perceived amplitude.  Perhaps giving even a little more perceived bass.

The PUC 2 presents a more forward detailed midrange,  in a way that seems to strip back layers of muck, that I never knew was there, revealing the full clarity on the recording, yet without ever sounding harsh or clinical.

In conclusion, the PUC 2 retains all the smooth grain free sound of the Audiophilleo, but takes clarity, musicality and tone to a higher level, right across the frequency spectrum.

Professional users will be delighted with its robust functional exterior, and highest quality sound. The domestic audiophile will be suitably impressed with never before heard detail, and lowest jitter performance from a USB audio converter.

To me, at first it seemed strange that this professional device would out perform the highly reviewed and widely advertised Audiophilleo. I guess the marketing hype had got to me. However after thinking about it for a while, it makes perfect sense - the professional audio industry requires and demands the highest standards of audio capture and reproduction.

Sometimes there can be confusion regarding professional audio products. It can be difficult to know which ones are the real deal.

"Prosumer"  (Professional products for the domestic consumer) come at a budget price and have XLR connectors, they "look" professional, and they do the job, but sound like nothing special.

Then you have real professional products, with real electronics engineering behind them, striving to push the boundaries, and developing new technology and techniques to beat the competition. Yellowtec falls into this category. Underneath the PUC 2's functional exterior lies a finely engineered circuit,  designed to give the ultimate audio performance.

The PUC 2 comes supplied with a low latency ASIO driver developed by Ploytec. Even though the device is plug and play, and does not need a bespoke driver, use of the supplied driver provides even higher sound quality when running a windows operating system. The PUC 2 is not officially supported with a Linux driver, however it has been tested with the latest Vortexbox software and works perfectly and sounds wonderful.

For those who don't need analog inputs and outputs, Yellowtec also make a PUC 2 lite . I suspect this might sound even better than the unit reviewed, due to the lack of power demands from the analog circuitry.

The PUC2 sounds better in all areas, and there are no compromises to be had.. The PUC2 costs less as well, and the Lite version is even cheaper!

Australian Pricing:

Audiophilleo 1 is  $986 delivered. 
PUC 2 is $761.00 inc 10% GST (Recommended retail price)
PUC 2 Lite is $599.00 inc 10% GST (Recommended retail price)

I guess its possible to get them cheaper than this, because no-one pays retail price anymore. Do they?
And I guess if you are in the industry you could probably get "dealer" (=cheaper)  pricing.

If you would like to read another review of the Yellowtec PUC 2 see this blog:

Original vs Remastered CD

I have compared a few remastered CD's to the original 1980's releases.

I have found that on most occasions, the original CD's sound so much better than the remasters.

I will list a few reasons why I think this is so:

1) Take any 1970's album. - When the album was first recorded, it was mixed in a way that was the best that could be achieved, and probably done by a competent and (now) famous engineer / producer. - It is not required to repaint the Mona Lisa in more contemporary style.

2) A 1985 CD was pressed only 10 years after a 1975 recording - the tape was fresh and in good condition.

3) A 1990's or 2000's remaster is using a tape which is 20-30 years old. Tape does not get better like a fine wine - it gets worse! The hiss is worse on an older tape, and extra digital noise reduction needs to be applied to remasters of older recordings. Digital noise reduction can be very good, but generally I can still hear if it has been applied to a recording.

4) Sometimes modern engineering attempts to present the sound in a modern way. Sometimes this is done  by compressing the bass guitars and bass drums, and making them louder in the mix. Boo!

5)Sometimes (more often than not) a remaster will have clipped (brickwalled) audio, reducing the dynamic range of the recording. = epic fail

If this article has been of interest you may be interested in my article on CD masters vs Vinyl masters

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Squeezebox touch as a source

Out with the old.....

Even with soundcheck mods, the Squeezebox Touch (SBT)  is a very competent but average transport.
The Squeezebox Touch was amazing technology a few years ago, and was a revolutionary product which introduced many unfamiliar people to the world of streaming music. Of course SBT was not the first product to stream audio. The Slim devices Transporter was released in 2007, and the touch came along in 2010.
To put things in context - the XBOX was streaming audio with XBMC somewhere around 2002.

The main problem with the SBT is the grainy sound that comes from its digital output. Its a good transport, but it is not great. You can do much better.
 CMP + cPlay (and Vortexbox) using a USB SPDIF converter sounds much, much better than the SBT.

The best sounding audio streamer I've heard would have to be the Netgear EVA9100. Basically this to my ears sounds just about on par with computer software like foobar, and this is much better than a Squeezebox.

However, if controlling music from your phone is your primary concern - Stick with the Touch.
the Netgear has a terrible web based browser, with a horrible GUI, which is very buggy.

In fact from  the point of view of usability. The Netgear is a bit old fashioned - you need to have the TV or other monitor connected to it and use a remote control to select your music. Only in this regard is the SBT better.

Edit 18/02/13:

The Himedia Q5 sounds a lot better than a Netgear EVA or a Squeezebox touch. It really is a great source You need to install the Neutron App for it to sound its best.- Highly recommended! See my review here!

In with the new....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Audioline Australian made speakers

This post is a tribute to, and a documentation of the various models of Audioline brand speaker. There is no other mention of Audioline speakers on the internet so I thought I would do a brief write up.

Audioline speakers, were manufactured in Melbourne Australia by a company called BD Imports. They also made similar speakers under the Linear Design name.  BD Imports was run by a fellow named Wayne Douglas. (From the Douglas hifi stores) This company currently make the Jensen branded speakers sold in JB Hi-Fi.

BD Imports does not appear to make any speakers under the Audioline brand name anymore.

The Audioline brand name is now entirely owned by JB Hifi and currently makes car amplifiers and some PA speakers.  I am unclear if the Audioline brand was always owned by JB Hi-Fi or if BD imports previously had some ownership of the name? I will try to find out.

This blog post covers the Australian made speakers manufactured by BD imports, between the late 1970's and 1990's. It does not cover the newer Audioline car amps or PA speakers. As a side note, I did in the past own an Audioline car amplifier and found that it sounded very clear, and was extremely reliable.

I like Audioline because they are made and designed in Australia. (using imported speaker drivers)
They are usually big, and have a minimum of 10" bass drivers.
They usually have a wide frequency response. No matter which model, they all seem to genuinely  play low to about 30Hz. They also give a "big" sound that I like.

I guess Audioline was Australia's version of Cerwin Vega, and according to the "About us" section of Jensen speakers website, even some Cerwin Vega speakers were designed in Australia, presumably by Wayne Douglas? -If anyone can confirm this, let me know....
I also like Cerwin Vega.

In order to honestly review Audioline speakers I have to mention the negative aspects as well as the good.
The cabinets on some models use thin wood.
The crossovers use very cheap components and also only use 6dB/octave crossovers. (some people actually like the sound of 6dB/octave crossovers better than 12dB) Some bass drivers on some models run full range!
The plastic surrounds around the drivers on some models cause dispersions and reflections and negatively affect the sound. Thankfully the plastic surrounds can be removed and this improves the sound dramatically.

The good aspect is that overall these are a very good sounding speaker, they are able to deliver deep clear tonal bass, and dynamics like only a big speaker can. Sonic detail is very good. The presentation of the mid and high frequencies is not as refined as more expensive speakers (over $2000), but I would describe this as being more like an error of omission rather than something which is glaringly wrong with the sound. There does not appear to be any major peaks or dips in the mid/high region which negatively affect the sound. Vocals sound clean and clear. The sound quality of these speakers is well above anything else at their price point.

For better sound - remove the plastic surrounds from around the drivers, and power them with a quality amplifier and source.  

When searching the internet I found a post on a forum discussing the sound of Audioline - this is what one guy thinks of the sound.

Pictures of various models below: 


Also sold as the Linear Design TS-1000 shown below:

Size W - 36cm, H - 105 cm, Depth - 38 cm


    Dual 12" woofers
    5" Mid-range
    Dome tweeter
    Dimensions: 41" (H) x 13.5" (W) x 15" (D)
    Max power: 200Watts
    Response: 26 - 20 Khz
    Sensitivity: 95 dB   

AL-1200 version 1

AL-1200 version 2. - Note the different tweeter
AL-1200 version 2

A couple of notes regarding this speaker. There are two versions of this model that I know of.
One of them is an earlier version. It uses two 12" (30cm) bass drivers. The later model also known as the AL-1000 has two 10" bass drivers. Sometimes you cant tell from looking at a photo with the covers on which one has the 12" drivers. The distinguishing feature is the sticker on front of the speaker. The 12" says 2x30cm on the sticker. They also look very different with the covers off.

12 inch cabinet dimensions:
Measuring 97cm H x 40cm W x 36cm D

Woofer: 2 x 30cm (12")
Mid: 11cm
Tweeter 1" dome
Maximum Power = 170Watts

10 inch cabinet dimensions:
 Size: 96cm H x 30cm W x 33cm D

Woofer 2 x 10"
Mid 11cm
Tweeter 1" dome
Maximum Power = 170 Watts

This AL-1000 above has two 10" bass drivers.
The AL-1000 above has two 12" bass drivers.

Dimensions: 60 x 30 x 25cm
Weight: 8 kg each
Power Handling: 120w (Peak)
Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 94dB




This one has a more upmarket "look" to it. But I think it only has two 8" drivers which would make this the smallest bass driver that Audioline used - but even so, this is still bigger than most other "tower" speakers.

 Here is a picture of the VX-800 with dark wood veneer. I prefer the lighter colour.


                                                                      Audioline 807B

This model also seems to use 8" bass drivers. You can also see that Audioline also made centre speakers for home theatre use. It seems they were sometimes sold as a "package".


                 965mm high, 300mm wide & about 270mm deep.

The AL-800 only goes to 34Hz. It also only goes up to 18Khz. This one is interesting because it has a paper cone tweeter.

 How cute is this?
             The AL-250 mini bookshelf / rear surround speakers.

 Height 97cm W 24cm D33

AL  8018

H97 W24  D33 
(same as the 8078 above but with different drivers)

Audioline 232
No information

Audioline by Foster
no information

Audioline AL-200
90 Watt
Dimensions 36cm high  x 23cm wide

The last picture is of the AL-4415 because who doesn't like a 15" bass driver?
I know I do :-)

              The AL-4415 has a 15" woofer, two mids and a tweeter.
Height - 850mm
Width - 435mm
Depth - 390mm

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Playing back music in safemode sounds better

This post refers to the XP operating system.

cPlay with CMP will run in safemode. It sounds better when running in safemode becuse there are a host of drivers and processes that don't start in safemode. Less processes running in the background equals better sound!

For those who prefer to use other software such as foobar,
you will run into problems if you try to run in safemode. Namely, you wont get audio to work.

A person called Dealazer, has made a nice registry file to enable the audio drivers to operate in safe mode.This will get your sound going.
I have tried it and it works. Here is a link if you want to try it...

The best computer audio playback software (updated)

Jump to the bottom of this post to the  27/07/13 update for the latest developments... there is a new player in town, and it beats everything!

Screen shot of cPlay GUI

 I will qualify my comments below by saying that I am presently using a USB Spdif converter, and so my comments are limited to using this output device. Perhaps results will be different if using a PCI soundcard to output the SPDIF signal?

I  use cPlay with CMP to play back my flac and wav files.

The sound quality can be very very good, but setting it up can be fiddly, and one wrong change to a registry value can completely ruin the sound. You can go from, totally amazing sound to very underwhelming sound with one minor registry change. CMP sounds great when you manage to set it up well. For those who only have one PC and are able to dual boot, this is my pick for the best Windows audio software.

Another very good playback software is Vortexbox

Vortexbox does not have to be used as a streaming server. It can be used as a stand alone player -except for that you will need to control it either from another PC, or by using an app on a mobile phone, or pad.

You can use a USB to SPDIF converter with Vortexbox, but you are limited to devices that will run using the Linux ALSA driver.

Vortexbox straight off the bat, sounds very open and balanced. Bass goes very low and highs are very extended and open sounding, with lots of detail presented in a non fatiguing way.

In comparison, CMP with cPlay,  when set up well, sounds quite a bit darker, and thicker, but it also sounds more dynamic. Bass goes deeper and highs go higher on CMP cPlay. But either one is very good.
CMP is still my favorite, but I need to see if I can extract any more from the Vortexbox before further comment.

Update 28th November 2012
A friend of mine who uses CMP with cPlay tried Vortexbox and he said that he prefers the sound of Vortexbox.

I will also add that I have tried a couple of different software such as Stealth player, XXXHighend, Album player, and probably some ones that I can think of right now... but still from my point of view the two best sounding players are CMP with cPlay and Vortexbox.

The major advantage to Vortexbox is the ability to control it with an Apple or Android phone or pad.
For those seeking convenience, this is a no brainer - Use Vortexbox.

Possibly the best playback interface is the Yellowtec PUC 2. See my review here!

Vortexbox installer GUI

Update: 27/07/13

If you have windows 7 or 8, you MUST try  MQn software.  It is under constant development. The latest version sounds quite amazing. It beats CMP +cPlay by a big margin. It is smoother, more detailed, and has bigger cleaner bass. I didn't think computer audio could be this good.

How your MQn folder should look on your C drive
Screen shot of MQn "GUI" - actually there really is no GUI, its just a window.

For more information visit the website....

The technical question, and general discussion thread to visit, is HERE