Audio: Listen to this article.
When collecting my thoughts for this article, it dawned on me that I've been using a computer for my audio needs much more than I did in the previous couple years. By computer, I mean something with a mouse, monitor, keyboard rather than a canned music server. Both styles are really computers, but canned music servers are usually not called computers because of the connotation that comes with a computer. No worries, perception is important and I completely understand.
It feels like the early days of computer audio here at Audiophile Style headquarters. The flexibility, power, and features found in computers, versus canned music servers, are unbeatable. The most critical item in that list is features (keep in mind that sound quality must be there, or none of this matters). When computer audio started, there weren't any canned music severs that could do anything close to what a computer could do. Then high end companies caught up and released some fantastic products that not only had the features, but also simplicity, sound quality, and great customer support.
I've always used a little bit of everything, but, for the most part, prefer to use a ready-made solution that people can purchase. This coming from the guy who built CAPS Twenty may sound a bit comical, but I built that computer to fill a void in the market. Right now, there are additional voids that need filling, so I'm using my computers much more than in years past. Among the features I just can't get in a high end music server, but would love to have, are support for 12 channel immersive audio, convolution and enough power to run it at 24/352.8 with hundreds of thousands of filter taps, and power for applications such as HQPlayer upsampling to the limits of today's DACs.
Aurender supports Ravenna, and has enabled 12 channel support on my ACS10. It's really nice to have everything that comes with an Aurender, and this high channel count, but I still need to pipe the audio through convolution elsewhere because the system needs frequency correction and time alignment. No immersive system can be optimized without this capability. I say no system, but I suppose a room could be built where all 12 speakers were placed exactly at the same distance from the listening position and the dimensions of the room were perfect for audio playback. Until such room exists, I'll stick with my statement.
It may seem like I'm a bit down on high end music servers at the moment, but that's far from true. I look at what needs to be done in addition to what's been done in the past, and I think the future is really bright. When the last hole in the market was filled, high end server companies created, and continue to create, some truly stunning components. I hope the current void can be filled by some of the same companies because the solutions would take my system to new heights.
I'm focused on the computer aspect of the industry right now, but there are other voids that need filling. Perhaps the topic of another discussion at a later date. A twelve to sixteen channel DAC, with volume control, is needed to compete with or surpass the DACs offered by companies such as Merging Technologies. The current crop of multichannel high end DACs stops at eight channels. That's enough for a 5.1.2 Atmos music system, but not for 7.1.4 or 9.1.6.
While I'm on this topic, I'll briefly touch on a question I was asked this week.
"If you could create or have a single audio device that you believe the market wants or needs, what would it be?"
I love questions like that. They allow for creativity, evaluating needs and wants, and the possibility of improving the music listening experience. Answering this one was easy for me. It's a product I’ve wanted for a few years, and a product that tens of thousands of audiophiles can use, even if they don't know it. Not that I no better than tens of thousands of audiophiles, but tens of thousands of audiophiles are just unaware of the possibilities.
At the most rudimentary level, the single audio device I want is a DSP box that sits between a music server or streamer, and a DAC. This box would have all the digital inputs of a DAC or streamer, including UPnP, and all the outputs needed to feed a DAC. Internally, it would be capable of running convolution and/or upsampling.
Ideally this box would have a simple web interface to upload convolution filters to it. My preference would be for it to run @mitchco Mitch Barnett's Hang Loose Convolver, but technically it could run Dirac, Focus Fidelity, Home Audio Fidelity's Room Shaper, etc... The device could be similar to a dCS Upsampler, but with the power and in/outputs for many more channels and convolution.
Because there is not a single best filter or target curve (Harman curve, EBU curves, Atmos curve, etc…), user selectable filters that switch immediately would also be part of this component, including the ability to disable filters for certain music one may want to hear without correction. A box like this would work with existing music servers, just like they work with a DAC, either via USB, AES, UPnP, etc...
MacBook Pro M2 Pro
I purchased a new MacBook Pro with 12 core M2 Pro chip, 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, last week. This is the best computer I've ever owned, by a long shot. I use it mainly for music playback and music library curation. Using my previous Intel Core i7 MacBook Pro, I could play 12 channel 24/352.8 discrete immersive audio using Audirvana. However, when I tried to play it using convolution, the laptop's fan went into space shuttle mode and the audio suffered from sever dropouts. On my new MacBook Pro I can play 12 channel DXD with 65,000 tap convolution filters, at the same time as doing whatever else I want, and the fan doesn't even turn on. The audio is smooth as silk.
Adding this MacBook Pro to my Thunderbolt dock, previously written about here, is a simple and perfect solution. I can't recommend it highly enough. A single cable with power, 10GbE, 1GbE for Ravenna, and room to attach any drive I may need.
Pearl Jam's Yield Goes Immersive
Today I awoke to the news that Pearl Jam's 1998 album Yield was released in Atmos. This is one of my favorite Pearl Jam album because it features drummer jack Irons. Jack's style is unmistakable and sounds glorious in Atmos. I've had the album on repeat since I returned home from dropping my daughter off at school.
I can't find who mixed Yield for the immersive mix because this information can be ridiculously hard to find. Josh Evans mixed the previous PJ albums for Atmos, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is responsible for this terrific mix.
The tracks use all the Atmos channels in a way that serves the music perfectly. It's adventurous at times and conservative when it needs to be. The soundstage is terrific. I can perfectly place guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, and bassist Jeff Ament as they come and go on each track. This placement is mostly in the 180 degrees in front of the listening position, but extends to other areas when it "works."
I have a feeling my weekend will be full of immersive Pearl Jam, and I love it :~)
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