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About This Club

Club TBVO will look at out-of-print CDs and the latest digital releases, revel in the fun of collecting, and try to separate myth from fact when it comes to tracking down the best digital versions of beloved music.
  1. What's new in this club
  2. It’s definitely worth seeking out the Tim Young remaster. Young’s one of my favorite mastering engineers. He’s also done Clash and Van Morrison remasters, among others. I have a few interviews with him that are long-overdue to publish, but it’s so much material to edit down!
  3. Goodbye Jumbo- I have the 1990 CD. Hadn't listened to it in ages. Good stuff.
  4. Last week, Steve Westman had me on his YouTube channel alongside five illustrious guests. Our task was to pick five (or more) budget audiophile releases. Since the other guests are all vinyl-philes, it was up to me to suggest some audiophile-worthy bargain-bin CDs. What do you think of my selections?
  5. Thank you, I'm happy you're back publishing since I always read TBVO with enthusiasm, with the grain of salt that one should understand that there might be a difference between TBVO and The Best Match with one's system. I gave a quick listen to the title track and the winner is IMO... Not sure, not so clear winner IMO... to be sure I'd have to spend more time and precisely level match but IMO, the best Darcy Proper output is the Mch DVDA. They go for cheap these days and @Miska's HQP is your friend to downmix to Stereo The DP' SACD seems harsher, or maybe it's just louder than its 24/192 incarnation (2.0) and both can't reach air and drums/cymbals impact the 5.1 offers. I don't rule out the MFSL as TBVO for its elegance, the soundstage and layering are amazing. Especially with AMSDM 7EC 512 @512 modulator ; with ASDM7EC Super @ 256 I recover (Holo May DAC) the physicality of the PCM versions but lose elegance. Like I said one should understand that there might be a difference between TBVO and The Best Match with one's system, and even tastes, focus at a given time. For this comparison I used in room response based on good ol' Bruel & Kjaer and did not feel the need to fiddle
  6. A few weeks ago, a reader wrote to let me know that they enjoyed my TBVO on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and to ask me if I had a favorite version of Let’s Get It On. That got me thinking. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a Let’s Get It On Mini-TBVO? Seeing as this is a Mini-TBVO, I won’t be doing my usual exhaustive (or, depending on your perspective, exhausting) history of its recording. Instead, I’ll skip right to the version analysis. But for those interested in reading about the writing and recording of Let’s Get It On, I recommend David Ritz’s indispensable biography of Gaye, Divided Soul; Blair Jackson’s superb Mix article on the title track; Andy Flory’s UDiscover article on the album; and the liner notes to the 2001 Deluxe Edition CD written by Ritz, Ed Towsend, and Ben Edmonds. Now, without further ado, here are the existing digital versions of Let’s Get It On: 1) The first mastering of Let’s Get It On is the 1986 “Motown Compact Classic” CD mastering (MOTD-5192) by John Matousek. This mastering also appears on the 1986 twofer CD (ZD72456) of What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On. Notably, though, some versions of the “Motown Compact Classic” CD (3746351922) appear to use the Matousek mastering with small deviations below 40 Hz. 2) Another a variation (TCD08013TD) of the 1986 What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On twofer contains the second digital mastering of Let’s Get It On, this time by Tom Baker. 3) Let’s Get It On was next remastered by Gavin Lurssen on a CD first issued 1994 (530 055-2) and later reissued in 1998 (314530885-2), among other times. 4) The fourth mastering of Let’s Get It On was done by Kevin Reeves for the 2001 2CD “Deluxe Edition” (440 014 757-2), which includes 29 bonus tracks. This mastering was reused for a single-CD edition with a mere two bonus tracks released in 2002 (064 021-2). 5) Let’s Get It On was next remastered in 2003 by Darcy Proper for a surround/stereo hybrid SACD (0602498605943). A 24/192 PCM version of Proper’s mastering has been released on the 2004 DVD (B0001922-19) and 2015 Blu-Ray (B0022768-46), both of which contain the SACD’s surround mix, too. Finally, Proper’s mastering is also the 24/192 version available on HDTracks, Qobuz, ProStudioMasters, and other downloading/streaming sites tagged as “Universal Music Group Studio Masters” with a release date of 2014. Interestingly, while the other versions are identical once level-matched, the files on the Blu-Ray seem to have miniscule deviations from the other files, mostly below 40 Hz. 6) In 2008, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released its hybrid CD/SACD (UDSACD 2039) of Let’s Get It On containing a new remastering by Shawn R. Britton. 7) The final digital masterin g of Let’s Get It On is a 41-track 24/96 “Deluxe Edition” available on download and streaming sites like HDTracks, Qobuz, and ProStudioMast ers. It’s dated 2023 and dubbed “Motown Studio Masters” with no mastering credit. Interestingly, the release notes on ProStudioMasters for both Proper’s 24/192 download and the uncredited 24/96 “Deluxe Edition” download note that tracks one through seven of Let’s Get It On come from “high-resolution digital transfers of material originating from an analogue master source,” but that track eight, "Just to Keep You Satisfied," comes from a 24/44.1 file. Out of curiosity, I took “Just to Keep You Satisfied” from two releases of Proper’s mastering, the uncredited 24/96 “Deluxe” mastering, and the SACD layer of Briton’s mastering and ran them through MusicScope. Here’s what I saw: The Proper mastering and hi-res “Deluxe” mastering clearly show a cutoff around 21 kHz on “Just to Keep You Satisfied,” while the MoFi SACD does not. However, it’s also not as if there’s much information above 21 kHz on the MoFi SACD, assuming humans could hear it. Regardless, as the ProStudioMasters notes suggest, this issue is confined to “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” Could it mean that both Proper’s mastering and the hi-res “Deluxe Edition” mastering are based off of the same Universal Music digital transfer, perhaps from its Iron Mountain vault? Could it mean that the original master tape for “Just to Keep You Satisfied” is misplaced, and Proper and the mystery mastering engineer chose to use a previous digital transfer, while Britton chose to use an analog safety master? Could it mean none of those things? Something else entirely? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters that much. To paraphrase, the proof is in the listening. What about dynamics? Here’s the dynamic range of each version, measured by both R128 dynamic range and crest factor DR scores: The obvious outlier here is the anonymous 2023 “Deluxe Edition” mastering. However, the R128 numbers aren’t quite as out of line as the DR scores. So let’s compare the waveforms of each in Audacity. Below is the title track, “Let’s Get It On,” in Har-Bal, both before and after Har-Bal’s perceived loudness matching. Proper’s mastering is on the top in blue, and the anonymous 24/96 “Deluxe” mastering in on the bottom in black: The anonymous 24/96 mastering undoubtedly has much more compression and limiting. For now, though, I’ll leave it in the analysis. Let’s start our head-to-head analysis by pitting Matousek’s mastering against Baker’s. Here’s what the tonal balance of each look like in Har-Bal for a sample of three tracks. Matousek’s mastering is in yellow, and Baker’s is in orange: On the title track and “Distant Lover,” the EQ of these two versions is very similar, except that Baker’s mastering has more energy below 100 Hz. On “Please Stay,” there are differences across the frequency spectrum, but they add up to Baker’s mastering being tilted towards the low end and Matousek’s being tilted towards the high end. In subjective listening, the extra low end provided by Baker makes an enormous difference. Matousek’s mastering sounds comparatively honky and hollow. On a recording featuring the Funk Brothers, this is a sin. Thus, our first cut is the Matousek mastering. Next up, Baker’s mastering faces Lurssen’s 1994 mastering. Here’s what Baker’s mastering (orange) looks like in Har-Bal when compared to Lurssen’s (green): The differences are hard to summarize. Baker’s mastering has more energy above 2 kHz on all three tracks, though the degree of this difference varies significantly between the three. Lurssen’s mastering has more low end on two of the three sampled songs, while Baker’s has more on the other. On the title track, the Baker mastering has a greater sense of air and a wider soundstage. It also renders key details — like the deep-mixed auxiliary percussion and Gaye’s signature layered vocals — much more clearly. The Lurssen mastering sounds veiled in comparison. On “Please Stay,” Lurssen’s extra low end is appreciated, but it doesn’t compensate for the extreme lack of treble energy. Again, the Lurssen mastering just obscures too many details. Baker’s mastering (orange) now moves on to face Reeves’s (pink): In general, the Baker retains its low-end edge, while on two tracks the Reeves mastering has much more energy above 2kHz or so. The bigger issue, though, is that Reeves’s mastering almost sounds like a different mix. That’s because, across all three tracks, the left channel has much more treble energy than the right channel. This is very obvious when listening on headphones. It adds more reverb to the left channel, which has the effect of shifting the positioning of instruments such as the snare. It’s also visible in Har-Bal: Ultimately, this is disqualifying for me. It doesn’t sound like the same album. Now Baker’s mastering (orange) faces Proper’s (purple): Besides the fact that Proper’s mastering tends to have a little more energy below 200 Hz or so, there’s no clear pattern. While there are clear differences in the mids and treble, too, these two masterings aren’t so far apart in terms of tonal balance. How do they sound? On “Let’s Get It On,” Baker’s mastering and Proper’s are very close. It took many listenings across several different speakers, headphones, and IEMs, all of them in the vicinity of “neutral.” On warm-neutral transducers, there were times I felt that Proper’s rendering of the title track has a bit too much low end. But on bright-neutral transducers, I felt that Baker’s might have too little. It’s splitting hairs. In terms of EQ, these are two great masterings. However, I came to the conclusion that Proper’s mastering has the edge. Baker’s and Proper’s mastering strike a different balance of crack versus thwack for the snare on “Let’s Get It On.” But it’s hard to decide what the proper (no pun intended) balance is, since it depends on how that snare’s been tuned. More naturalistic elements, such as the saxophone, flute, and handclaps, though, come across as more lifelike on Proper’s mastering. It’s a tough, tough call, but the Proper mastering has a narrow edge on Baker’s for the title track when it comes to tonal balance. It’s advantage is even greater. when it comes to soundstage. I consistently felt that Proper’s mastering has significantly more depth and slightly more width. This pays dividends when it comes to dissecting the mix. At first blush, Baker’s version of “Let’s Get It On” has slightly more overt detail. That’s because it’s a bit “airier” (i.e. has more energy above 5 kHz or so) than Proper’s mastering. But all of those details exist in Proper’s version, too. Thanks to its deep, wide soundstage, Proper’s mastering has rock-solid instrument placement, which makes isolating individual elements in the mix easier despite this relative lack of “air.” The other two songs sampled are even clearer wins for Proper. “Please Don’t Go” is stunning on Proper’s mastering. EQ, detail, soundstage. You name it. This is the best this song has sounded. René Hall’s orchestration is rendered in all of its exquisite detail. “Distant Lover” may be an even more dramatic win for Proper’s version. Something that’s continually frustrated me about this song mix is that the synthetic-sounding drum and tambourine tend to blend together into one sound. They’re finally distinct on Proper’s mastering, with plenty of three-dimensionality and very natural decays. In short, Proper’s mastering (purple) is moving on to face Britton’s (blue): Broadly speaking, Proper’s mastering has more low- and high-end, while Britton’s is more midrange-focused. Despite these differences, both do justice to the title track. Bringing Baker’s CD back into the mix, I think I prefer Britton’s EQ to Baker’s. However, Proper’s version still has the edge on tonal balance. It also has the edge in detail retrieval. David Van De Pitte’s orchestrations are lush and realistic. Proper presents Wilton Felder’s bass with clean and well-defined transient edges, making those on the MFSL disc sound rounded in comparison. Relative to Proper’s mastering, Gaye’s hard-panned overdubbed vocals also lack immediacy and delineation on the MFSL release. The MFSL version of “Let’s Get It On” also runs noticeably faster than the other versions. Precisely lining up the Baker, Lurssen, Proper, and Britton masterings in Audacity, the first three stay in perfect sync, while the latter runs ahead. The same speed issue occurs on “Please Stay” and “Distant Lover.” Putting the speed issue aside, in terms of both EQ and technicalities, I prefer both Baker’s and Proper’s masterings of “Please Stay.” “Distant Lover” brings Baker’s and Britton’s masterings into a near-tie, but Proper’s still retains the lead. What about “Just to Keep You Satisfied,” which Proper must’ve had to master from a different source than the rest of the album? Is it the Proper mastering’s Achilles heel? No. While this is a song that benefits from MFSL’s comparatively dark mastering, I still think I prefer Proper’s rendering. That leaves only the uncredited 2023 24/96 “Deluxe Edition” as a threat to Proper’s near-crown. While it doesn’t quite suffer subjectively as much as one would expect given how much less dynamic it is than the other versions under review, it can’t hold a candle to Proper’s mastering (or several others that have already been eliminated). Where the new “Deluxe Edition” does prove valuable, though, is its 33 bonus tracks. Yes, I wish they were mastered more dynamically. But there’s a bevy of stunning unreleased material to be heard. The same is true for the 29 bonus tracks on the earlier 2CD “Deluxe Edition.” While there’s some overlap between the bonus material on these two “Deluxe” versions of Let’s Get It On, each has unique tracks. Even when the two editions share an unrelease track, its mastering — and, in some cases, mix — is different. So, regardless of the fact that neither “Deluxe Edition” contains the best (or even second-best) mastering of the original album, both are worth seeking out. Even casual Marvin Gaye fans will find themselves in awe of the quality of his demos and castaways. In terms of the original album, there’s a clear winner. When your serenading your lover this Valentine’s Day, be sure to put on Darcy Proper’s mastering of Let’s Get It On. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  7. There aren't many audio companies from my hometown, Youngstown, Ohio. When I began shopping for my first subwoofer six or seven years ago, I didn't even know that SVS was located just a short drive from my childhood home. At the time, I was in living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But the possibility of buying a subwoofer in-person when I was home for a visit helped me decide to go with an SVS SB-1000. Even though in-person sales aren't really part of SVS's business, and even though I'd shown up unannounced, SVS was happy to show me around and sell me a subwoofer. Not someone who cares much about cosmetics, I'd come seeking out a "B-stock" SB-1000. SVS didn't happen to have one on-hand, but since I'd taken the time to visit them in-person, they sold me an "A-stock" SB-1000 at the "B-stock" price. I enjoyed my SB-1000. But as I replaced my bookshelf speakers with better models, I kept an eye out for a subwoofer upgrade, too. I tried subwoofers from several other popular companies, but I didn't find them to be a clear upgrade over the SB-1000. The logical move became trying one of SVS's larger, more tech-equipped models. Four years ago, I did just that, picking up a closeout "B-stock" SB13-Ultra. The SB13-Ultra was a clear upgrade from my SB-1000. Indeed, the only downside of the SB13-Ultra was how heavy it was. (Pro tip: If you have to carry your subwoofer up a flight of stairs, lighter is better.) Sonically and functionally, though, the SB13-Ultra has served me well for the past four years. Fast forward to a few weeks ago. When I turned my SB13-Ultra on, it was clear that something was very wrong. Based on the noise it was making, I assumed it was the amplifier. SVS touts its comprehensive five-year warranty. My subwoofer was just a few months under five years old. As a cynic, I worried that there might be some loophole for closeout "B-stock" subwoofers like mine. Also, the idea of any repair that would involve me carrying my SB13-Ultra downstairs for shipping was even more unappealing. With some trepidation, I sent an email to SVS explain the issue. I've never reviewed any SVS equipment, and at no time did I mention that I write for Audiophile Style. To SVS, I was just like any other customer. Within 12 hours, I received a courteous reply from SVS's Ryan Farmer asking me a take a video of the sound the subwoofer was making to help him diagnose the problem. When I got home from work, I took the video and sent it to Ryan. This time, his reply came even faster. He confirmed it was the amplifier and assured me that I wouldn't need to send the subwoofer back to them. Instead, they were going to send me a new amplifier free of charge. Just a few days later, I received a replacement amp along with simple installation instructions. Moreover, SVS had sent me a better amplifier than the one originally in my SB13-Ultra. This new 4000-series amp has more fine-tuned settings than my original, and all of those settings can be controlled via Bluetooth using SVS's smartphone app. (No more crawling under my desk to twiddle with levels and DSP.) From the moment I discovered that something was wrong with SB13-Ultra to the moment I finished installing the replacement amplifier, I scant seven days had past. That's great customer service.
  8. When new editions of classic albums are released, audiophiles rightly obsess about the source. For pre-digital recordings, it's assumed that the original master tape is the best source for any new remaster. But as the new Still Bill CD/SACD from MFSL shows, that's not always the case. If you want to find out why, scroll to the bottom of my Still Bill TBVO to read the newest update:
  9. I recently published my twofer TBVO on Cream's Wheels of Fire and Goodbye, as well as an update on my Steely Dan Aja TBVO. The former included audio samples of Goodbye, but not Wheels of Fire, while the latter didn't include any samples. For Wheels of Fire, here are edited clips of "Politician" using my level-matched files: Drake: Politician (Drake).wav Hoffman: Politician (Hoffman).wav 24/192 Download: Politician (Hi-Res).wav For Aja, are edited clips of "Deacon Blues" using my level-matched files: Hoffman: Deacon Blues (Hoffman).wav Brown: Deacon Blues (Brown).wav Grundman: Deacon Blues (Grundman).wav Let me know what you hear and think. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  10. Particularly with the growing popularity of surround sound and immersive audio, it’s easy to forget that two-channel stereophonic sound is itself a relatively recent invention. As any Beatles or Beach Boys fan can attest, many of the greatest albums of the 1960s were conceived of as monophonic releases. Stereo mixes, if they were pursued at all, were an afterthought. That’s because in the early-1960s, mass ownership of record players was an even more recent development. Prior to the Great Depression, the nascent record industry mostly catered to relatively well-off Americans, since few consumers even high-income developed countries like the United States could afford such a luxury. The industry didn’t make it easy on consumers, either. It remained hopelessly at war with itself, pushing both Thomas Edison’s cylinders and Emile Berliner’s discs on a confused public. Even after Berliner’s format won out, the industry remained embroiled in the “war of the speeds” until the 1950s. It took the adoption of the modern long-playing record and the post-WWII economic boom to solidify the recording industry’s place in modern American culture. But just as middle-class consumers were beginning to adopt mono record players, the industry introduced stereo recordings. This transition was a tough sell. The industry was asking consumers to chuck out what, for many, was a still-new major purchase. The fact that console-type players — which combined a turntable, amplifier, and speaker into one stylish cabinet — were a consumer favorite made the industry’s task even harder. Besides early audiophiles, who’d want to invest in a whole new three-component system, especially when it would be a larger eyesore than a single console? Ultimately, the industry needed to work hard to sell the benefits of stereo to a skeptical public that was perfectly content with mono. This was no easy task. It was made even more difficult because radio stations had no incentive to begin broadcasting in stereo when most listeners were still using a single speaker. Thus, even as the industry began marketing more and more albums in stereo in the 1960s, it had to account for the fact that many radio stations and consumers would be listening in mono. The best response to this conflict was simply mixing and releasing the same album in both mono and stereo. But this meant that labels had to pay for two mixes and two pressings. Even as the early postwar era’s steep top marginal tax rates, high union density, and modest executive compensation norms kept corporations’ profits-at-all-costs impulses in check (at least relative to today), the temptation to cut corners was overpowering. For an industry caught between a mono past and a stereo future, the Holzer Audio Engineering-Compatible Stereo Generator (Haeco-CSG) system was just such a shortcut. It promised to let labels avoid the costly process of mixing and releasing each album in both mono and stereo. By using Haeco-CSG, they could instead release one processed stereo album, which would be playable in mono, too. Sort of. You see, when a stereo album is played in mono, it messes with the mix. Depending on the phase relationships and panning of each sonic element, when a stereo mix is folded-down to mono, some sounds will get boosted while others will disappear. Haeco-CSG claimed to solve this by shifting the phase of one channel. The recommended setting was to shift the right channel’s phase by 90 degrees. However, the supposed solution of Haeco-CSG actually created its own problems. Not only did it not fully eliminate the cancellation and buildup issues of folding a stereo mix down to mono, but it also made the stereo mix sound off. Subjectively, for example, center-panned vocals on a CSG-processed album tend to sound like the singer is standing almost perpendicular to the listener, rather than facing them. The mercifully brief peak of Haeco-CSG occurred in the late-1960s. Unfortunately, one of the albums subjected to processing was Cream’s Wheels of Fire, one of the two Cream albums covered in my recent TBVO. In some cases, CSG-processing was not applied until the mastering stage, meaning that stereo master is unaffected. In other cases, including Wheels of Fire, it was applied to the stereo master. Thankfully, as I wrote in my TBVO, there’s a way to (mostly) undo the effects of CSG processing. I’m indebted to several other online audiophiles who’ve provided instructions for this process. I’ve mostly followed Steve Hoffman Forum member Alexlotl’s instructions, which can be found here. However, in the years since his 2019 post, several links he provides have died. While it’s far from an exact science, I also came to a slightly different conclusion about the best settings for this process. So how does undoing Haeco-CSG work? Well, since the main upshot of Haeco-CSG processing was shifting the phase of one channel by 90 degrees, we just have to shift them by another 90 degrees to return them to their original phase relationship. It’s not quite that simple, of course. I’ll explain why later. But before I explain the processing of (sorta-kinda) undoing Haeco-CSG, I want to note two things. The first is that it’s possible to do what I’m about to describe with other software, such as iZotope RX and Adobe Audition. Since both of those are fairly pricey, though, I’m going to describe a free alternative. (For those who have RX, though, it’s as simple as using the Phase tool.) One oddity with this free alternative, however, is that doing the same process on the same file two separate times produces resulting files that do not null with @pkane’s superb DeltaWave. Why not? I have no idea. It sounds great, and it almost nulls. But it doesn’t. Using RX twice, on the other hand, produces files that null in DeltaWave. Does that mean the Audacity+PhaseBug option is worse? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to matter practically. Indeed, the resulting files from Audacity+PhaseBug and iZotopeRX sound identical to me. (If anyone knows why files produced with Audacity+PhaseBug aren’t bit-identical, I’d love to know.) The second is that the free version of this process needs to be done on Windows. It is possible, though, to do it on a Mac using CrossOver. Just be sure to install both the software and the plugin described below into the same “bottle.” To begin, we need an old version Audacity. Specifically, we need version 2.1.3. Old versions of Audacity, including the one we need, can be found on Fosshub. (Here’s a direct link to download 2.1.3 for Windows.) After that, we need to install the PhaseBug plugin. This software no longer exists. Fortunately, Archive.org’s Wayback Machine scraped it. (Here’s a direct link to download it.) If you encounter any issues installing the plugin, consult the instructions on Audacity’s site. Most likely, the plugin is just in the wrong folder. It’s also possible that you need to activate PhaseBug in Audacity. Both fixes are described at the link above. Once both Audacity 2.1.3 and PhaseBug are installed, you need to load a rip of one of the digital versions of Wheels of Fire with Haeco-CSG processing. As noted in my TBVO, only the (not great sounding) 2010 Japanese SACD lacks it. So chances are the version you have is encoded with Haeco-CSG. From your Wheels of Fire rip, you’ll need the songs: 1) White Room 3) Passing the Time 6) Politician 7) Those Where the Days 8) Born Under a Bad Sign 9) Deserted Cities of the Heart If your copy also has the “Anyone for Tennis” bonus track, that’s Haeco-CSG, too. Song by song, load each track into Audacity. Select the entire track. Go to Effect -> PhaseBug. Note that both the normal phase bug and the mono version are displayed. (Obviously, use the non-mono version.) Here’s what you’ll see: As the instructions note, you can drag the yellow bubble to change the phase on the left channel and the right bubble to change the phase on the right channel. Once you’ve adjusted each channel to the desired degree, you click Apply. The file on your screen is now “de-CSG’d.” From there go to File -> Export Audio, and export is as the lossless format of your choice. Most guides suggest using -90 degrees on the Right channel, given CSG’s recommended setting of shifting the Right channel by 90 degrees. However, changing the phase does slightly change the channel balance — not necessarily audibly, but enough to push some spikes into clipping. Given that mastering engineers were balancing the channels with CSG applied, my assumption was that either -45L and +45R or +45L and -45R would do the best job of avoiding clipping. However, after trying four combinations (-90R, +90L, -45L/+45R, and +45L/-45R) on “White Room” from both the Drake mastering and the 24/192 mastering, then running the resulting files through Apple’s afclip tool, I found that +90 on the Left channel minimized clipping in both instances. Is this definitive proof that across all tracks and all versions +90L is the best setting? Of course not. But at the very least it points to the fact -90R isn’t necessarily the best. The other issue is that, as noted in my TBVO, changing the phase of a track will change its frequency response slightly: Whether this is positive or negative will depend on the mastering. But assuming you’re starting with a good mastering, I suspect the odds are more likely that these effects will be negative. If you decide to “de-CSG” your Wheels of Fire, let me know in the comments what you think about the results. It’s an interesting exercise and definitely has some audible benefits. Yet I’m not sure if the benefits outweigh the costs. Of course, maybe it’s just that the Wheels of Fire I’ve heard for years has had CSG processing, so it sounds “normal” to me. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  11. I'm sorry that it's been several months since my last update. But that's because I can't seem to stop accumulating various degrees and certificates! Prompted, in part, by the widely reported literacy crisis in the U.S., I decided to pursue a literacy specialist degree this year, while still teaching full time and (when I have the chance) writing for Audiophile Style and designing t-shirts. The latter two pastimes are easily the most enjoyable, but for now the former two have consumed most of my time. Given that, I'm thrilled to say that my new twofer TBVO on Cream's Wheels of Fire and Goodbye is up on the main AS page. As promised in that TBVO, I'll have a Club TBVO post up shortly with instructions on how to remove CSG processing from Wheels of Fire for those who are interested in trying. I also just posted an update to my Steely Dan Aja TBVO, prompted by the new Bernie Grundman mastering. I'm calling it an "update," but in many ways this is a completely new TBVO, or at least the analysis portion of it. The Aja TBVO was one of my first, and I think I've gotten a lot better at it since then. So I wanted to do justice to the importance of this album with my update. Soon, I'll also be posting a much shorter update of my Bill Withers Still Bill TBVO in light of the new MFSL SACD. Finally, I have some new(ish) t-shirts, including Cream, Tina Turner, and Tim Buckley ones. I'll make a separate post at some point for those who might be interested in supporting Club TBVO by buying some cool music duds. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  12. @JoshM I don't recall if I've posted fully about a DAC comparison done by myself and a friend during Covid, so I can't link to anything. But, I mention it because you might be interested in giving the Denafrips Pontus II (not the 12th Annie version) an audition, if only as a point of reference as it seems to have won the ears of many online. My friend and I tried the Chord Qutest vs Pontus II vs Yggy OG. And I eventually got a LiM as well as would go so far as to say, it's a very different sound than the Yggy OG - enough to be considered a different DAC altogether. And yes, considerably better than OG (which has its appealing attributes but ultimately falls short of the LiM, for me). The Denafrips sound perhaps comes in part due to the lack of output stage in the Pontus DAC. I speculate that this results in the DAC's uncanny ability to render ritardando like I've not heard in any DAC, let alone digital playback in general (of course I've not heard everything out there). Still, the Pontus came across for me as a bit too rounded or polite compared to the Yggy and for my taste in music and sound, the Yggy LiM is the way to go (especially with the Shunyata Delta XC power cord, incidentally).
  13. Hi @JoshM, I've been listening to the 7.1.4 Atmos of this. Great stuff!
  14. A month or so ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Alex of BadDanTakes, the hugely popular Steely Dan-themed Twitter account. BadDanTakes has been central to the recent "Danaissance," so much so that Alex was featured in Rolling Stone. Alex invited me on his podcast to talk about Donal Fagen's The Nightfly, which was the subject of perhaps my favorite TBVO: Along the way, we discussed my TBVO series, why Steely Dan's music is so often used to test speakers and other gear, and why audiophiledom should (and can) be accessible to everyone regardless of budget. The episode was posted today. Please give it a listen and support Alex's endeavors if you can: https://gauchoamigos.buzzsprout.com/2146895/13147320
  15. A few weeks ago, a new Blu-Ray of The Hurting put out by Super Deluxe Edition hit my mailbox. I've ripped it, analyzed it, listened closely, and rendered my verdict in an update to my original TBVO: Spoiler: You're going to want to read (and hear) this one!
  16. I can still remember the smell of the Best Buy flier that would come in the Sunday newspaper. Back when the internet was in its infancy, the big box store's advertising circular was the best place to find out about upcoming album releases. For teenage me, that meant alternative and "grunge" CDs. Above all else, it meant Pearl Jam. Vitalogy was released in 1994, when I was 11. It was my first Pearl Jam album, and I was hooked. I quickly picked up the group's previous albums, Ten and Vs., along with every CD single I could get my hands on -- particularly the "Jeremy" single, which included more-than-album-worthy bonus tracks like "Yellow Ledbetter" and "Footsteps." When Pearl Jam's collaborations with Neil Young -- the Mirror Ball album under Young's name and the Merkinball EP under Pearl Jam's name -- came out in 1995, I heard about them from that Best Buy flier. By the release of No Code in 1996, which is still my favorite Pearl Jam album, my dad had the CD waiting for me on the kitchen table when I got home from school. By that time, I'd also started asking my dad to take me to The Record Connection in nearby Niles, Ohio, which had a vast array of bootlegs. He'd look for Van Morrison boots, and I'd peruse the Pearl Jam selection. (At this point in my life, I'd probably be more likely to join him in looking at the Van bootlegs, but back then I didn't quite fully grasp the genius of "Van the Man.") Many of the bootlegs I picked up there -- such as Pearl Jam's 1992 Moore Theater, 1994 Fox Theater, and 1995 Soldier Field shows -- have now been officially released by the band. In 1998, Pearl Jam released its first official live album, Live on Two Legs, and two years later the band began releasing "official bootlegs" for each of its concerts. My dad took me to see Pearl Jam for the first time on August 25, 1998. A piece of that concert made it onto Live on Two Legs, and I made sure to purchase the official bootlegs for the two shows I saw in 2000, along with a handful of others. Then and now, though, there's been a glaring hole in Pearl Jam's slate of live releases. To my mind, Jack Irons was Pearl Jam's best drummer and perhaps the most innovative drummer to come out of the era's alt-rock scene. Irons made a small contribution to Vitalogy and drummed throughout No Code, Mirror Ball/Merkin Ball, and 1998's Yield. However, his time performing live with the band coincided with the group's much-publicized (and, especially in retrospect, righteous) battle with Ticketmaster. In attempting to avoid Ticketmaster-controlled venues, Pearl Jam's touring schedule was relatively sparse during this period, and Irons left the group in early 1998 following a short tour of Australia. This touring era has gone almost wholly undocumented by the band. The aforementioned 1995 Solider Field show was the only official Pearl Jam live release to feature Irons on drums, and -- since that concert occurred well before the recording of No Code or Yield -- it includes only a few songs that Irons played a part in crafting. That all changed last month. But it should've changed a quarter century ago. I vividly recall perusing the Best Buy flier sometime in the spring of 1998 and getting excited about the upcoming August 8 release of Single Video Theory, Mark Pellington's documentary charting the group's rehearsals for the upcoming Yield tour. Even better, Best Buy promised that early purchasers of Single Video Theory would receive Give Way, a nearly-complete CD of the group's March 5, 1998, show in Melbourne, Australia -- one of the last shows Irons would play with the band. The Give Way promotional release never came to fruition, though, disappointing 15-year-old me and countless Pearl Jam fans. Depending on which source you believe, Best Buy allegedly didn't get the band's and/or the label's approval for the promotional release. The Give Way promotion was pulled, and all 50,000 copies of the CD were destroyed. In reality, of course, a few Best Buy employees were sneaky-smart enough to smuggle out some copies of Give Way. For decades, they could be found selling for big bucks on Ebay, and lossless rips reached the interwebs. So if enterprising Pearl Jam fans knew where to look, they've been able to get their hands and ears on Give Way for years. Nonetheless, Give Way existing in hard-to-find, quasi-official limbo was far from ideal. Thankfully, Pearl Jam decided to give it a proper release last month for Record Store Day. Now, Give Way should rank near the top of any Pearl Jam fans' must-listen live releases. As Spin's Jonathan Cohen aptly put it, "Give Way Is The Jack Irons Showcase We Always Needed." While neither version includes any mastering information, having found a bit-perfect rip of the Best Buy (BB) version of Give Way online many years ago, I immediately noticed that the new Record Store Day (RSD) version sounded markedly different. So which one is better? Let's start by taking a peek at the let’s take a look at dynamic range of each version, measured by both R128 dynamic range and crest factor DR score: The first thing to note is that the track lengths vary significantly on certain songs. That's because the 1998 BB version and the 2023 RSD version place banter and Pearl Jam's famous between-song "easter egg" riffs in different spots, with the 1998 release tending to place them at the beginning of tracks and the 2023 release tending to place them after tracks. So the best songs to look at when comparing these two releases' respective dynamic range are ones that retain roughly the same track length, such as "Brain of J," "In My Tree," and "Immortality." Those tracks consistently point to the 1998 BB version of Give Way having a slight edge on dynamic range by both measures. Is this difference in dynamic range obvious visually? For that, let's take a peek at a selection of songs in Audacity. The 1998 BB version is on top in blue, while the 2023 RSD version is at the bottom in red. We can see from these (non-level matched) waveforms that the 2023 RSD version of Give Way is ever-so-slightly more compressed. However, I certainly wouldn't classify these differences as deal-breakers. Before looking at each version's frequency balance in Har-Bal, I was curious about their spectra and true bit depths. For that, I popped two tracks from each version into MusicScope (RIP): We can see that both are true 16-bit recordings. The 1998 BB version has slightly more frequency extension than the 2023 RSD version. But, like the dynamic range data, this is at most a slight point in its favor, since the 2023 RSD version extends to 20 kHz. Now let's take a look at the frequency balance of the two versions in Har-Bal. In order facilitate accurate comparisons, the files for these graphs were level-matched. Additionally, since I didn't want track mark differences to limit my song choices, I edited several of the sampled songs down to the same length, so that empty space, banter, and the aforementioned "easter egg" riffs didn't skew the graphs. The EQ differences between the two versions are remarkably consistent across the sampled songs. Generally, the 1998 Best Buy version of Give Way has more energy below 40 Hz, between 100 and 300 Hz, and above 5 kHz, whereas the 2023 Record Store Day mastering has more energy between 400 Hz and 2 kHz. So which ones sounds best? For my subjective comparisons, I aligned the level-matched, trimmed files in Audacity, which allowed for instantaneous switching. Listening was done primarily with my Focal Utopia headphones, (previously reviewed) Matrix X-Sabre Pro DAC, and (also previously reviewed) Flux FA-10 Pro headphone amplifier. First up is "Brain of J," the dynamic Mike McCreedy-penned rocker that opens Yield. Toggling back-and-forth between the 1998 BB and 2023 RSD masterings, I was struck by how dramatically different they sound. Much more different than the Har-Bal graphs suggest. In fact, one could easily be fooled into thinking these are different mixes. However, I strongly suspect that they're just dramatically different masterings. There are huge tonal differences between these two versions of "Brain of J," which I'll get to in a minute, but the first thing that I noticed was that the BB version seems to project a much wider soundstage, whereas the RSD version is much more center-focused. My hunch was that these differences would be visible by looking at side (left and right) equalization in Har-Bal, as opposed to the above graphs, which show the mid (center) frequency response. To test that hunch, here's what "Brain of J" looks like in Har-Bal's side view: Aha. We can see that the tonal balances of the two versions are very different when we look at the side frequency response. The mid view, which is usually the most relevant, showed that that the 1998 Best Buy version had a moderate subbass boost and a modest high-end boost. The side view, in contrast, shows that the 2023 RSD version has much more low-end energy, while the 1998 version's treble boost is even larger. The combination of these EQ choices pushes the RSD version's image towards the center relative to the BB version, because outside low-end tends to make the soundstage narrower, whereas outside high-end tends to make the soundstage wider. While this is a matter of taste, I pretty strongly prefer the soundstage on on Best Buy version. Listening on my Utopia's McCreedy's opening riff is slightly beyond my left ear on the 1998 mastering, whereas it's somewhere between my left ear and eye on the 2023 mastering. This narrowing of the soundstage makes everything sound a little scrunched together on the RSD version, which contributes to some details getting lost in the mix. For example, as McCready kicks off his opening riff, rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard adds a droning whammy bar flourish on the far right. Because Gossard's guitar (like McCready's) is pushed more towards the center on the RSD release, it's easier to miss this Gossard's clever little contribution. These side-EQ differences impact the perceived height of the soundstage, too, with the BB mastering sounding much taller than the RSD mastering. On the former, Vedder's voice is right around eye level. On the latter, it's close to the tip of my nose. The overall EQ differences between the two renderings of "Brain of J" tend to accentuate the differences created by the 2023's more cramped soundstage. The RSD mastering simply sounds too dull. Its rolled-off high end not only takes some of the bite out of the electric guitars, but it also renders some of Irons's inspired drum work almost inaudible. For example, his rapid-fire ride cymbal strikes in the right channel during the song's chorus come through crystal clear on the BB disc, but I have to strain to hear them on the RSD release. Next up is No Code's "In My Tree," which is perhaps my favorite Pearl Jam song, as well as one of the tunes that most bares Irons's influence. His opening polyrhythmic drum pattern shows better dynamics and resolution at both ends of the spectrum on the Best Buy version. You can hear the rebound of the skins on Irons's mounted toms. His floor tom has more authority, too. Beyond Irons's drum work, Gossard and McCready's synchronized churning guitars have more definition on the BB rendering. Perhaps the only downside to the 1998 CD's brighter presentation is that it reveals more sibilance on Vedder's voice. However, even on a bright-neutral pair of headphones like the Utopia, it only rarely edges into unpleasant, and the costs of the 2023 disc's more muffled presentation aren't worth the slight reduction in sibilance. Finally, "In My Tree" reveals a flaw in both versions, which is that Jeff Ament's bass should really be higher in the mix. (This seems to be a recurring problem in Pearl Jam live releases from this era.) Vedder's superb Vitalogy tune, "Corduroy," is my next audition track. Throughout the song's opening riff, played by Vedder, it's hard to tell which mastering presents the most accurate version of Vedder's guitar. Should it be more bridge or neck pickup? Where's the tone knob? At this point in the song, it's impossible to know. However, as soon as the rest of the band kicks in, it's clear that the 1998 mastering is more accurate. When Gossard and McCready enter on the 2023 release, it sounds as if all three guitarists have their wah-wah pedals engaged and tilted slightly towards them. This dull honk stands in sharp contrast to their tone on the Best Buy disc, which sounds much more like what I remember when seeing them live, as well as what I'd imagine any guitarist would want their "neutral" tone to sound like. "Even Flow," the barn burner from the band's 1992 debut, Ten, is up next. The Melbourne rendition is a particularly [William Miller voice] "incendiary" version of this cut. McCready's solos are slashing, and Irons provides an unbelievable hi-hat/kick/snare groove. (There's also a welcome shaker in there, too.) Moreover, you can really feel the band feeding off of each other. Though "Even Flow" was, by 1998, an obligatory song that you could sometimes sense Vedder, in particular, wasn't fond of playing yet again, his enthusiasm during this performance in palpable. The 2023 RSD mastering acquits itself better on "Even Flow" than on the previous cuts. But the 1998 BB version is still notably superior. On the latter, I feel as though I'm on stage with the band. On the former, I'm somewhere fairly close in the pavilion, but I've got a substandard set of earplug in. While the 2023 version's blanket-over-the-speaker vibe doesn't do Irons's intricate playing any favors on "Even Flow," it's McCready's blistering solo that suffers most. At his best, McCready's playing exhibits the effortless liquidity I associate with The Rolling Stones' best lead guitarist, Mick Taylor, and McCready is absolutely doing his best Taylor impression on this version of "Even Flow." It deserves to be heard in the best light, and that's undeniably on the Best Buy CD. Given that this is an Irons show, "Given to Fly" must be considered. His propulsive drumming is what takes McCready's intriguing "Going to California"-homage riff and transforms it into a song that's wholly unique. Like "Even Flow," I don't find the 2023 mastering's depiction of "Given to Fly" to be atrocious. But the 1998 disc is just better. The soundstage is taller and wider, the guitars have more detail, Vedder's vocals are more articulate, etc. Most significantly, the intoxicating stick-click pattern that Irons introduces at the beginning of the second verse is almost buried on the 2023 disc. Perhaps the biggest flaw in this performance of "Given to Fly" is that (again) Ament's bass is mixed too low and (at times) Irons's snare sounds a bit too loud relative to the rest of his kit. However, the 2023 mastering doesn't fix either of these flaws. Instead of Irons's snare sounding a bit too loud on the BB disc, it sounds too loud and kind of muffled on the RSD disc. My penultimate test track is No Code's "Hail Hail." This song has a special place in my heart. Not only does it come from my favorite Pearl Jam album, but I also remember hanging out with my friends the night that PJ played it on Letterman and making them be quiet so I could hear the performance. (If I recall correctly, I was videotaping it on the VCR at home, too.) Toggling back and forth between the 1998 and 2023 masterings of "Hail Hail," the same guitar tone issue crops up again. On the RSD disc, the guitars just sound too honky and muffled. Likewise, Irons's cymbals simply sound more tonally correct on the Best Buy disc. While I don't think there's too much left to be said at this point, I also compared "Immortality," Vitalogy's oddly rousing downer. Irons's cymbals? McCready's solo? Vedder's vocal? Yet again, the 1998 Best Buy prevails. Is the RSD version all that bad? No. But it's just not as crisp, lifelike, and dynamic as the original canceled Best Buy release. As should be obvious, the 1998 Best Buy version of Give Way is by far the definitive version of the release, which is too bad. Pearl Jam would've been better off just duplicating the original as-is. However I have a great idea for how they can make amends -- release (at least) one show from the No Code tour!
  17. When I write my TBVO articles, I tend to focus on the the version that presents the original album in its best sonic form. Occasionally, I’ll mention bonus tracks, but those tend to be relegated to a secondary concern. Given that, I’d like to use Club TBVO to highlight some superb bonus material from various releases. In particular, I’d like to focus on demos and alternate versions that present a track in a form that’s arguably superior to the official release. Few late-‘70s debut albums were better than The Cars’ self-titled 1978 release. Produced by the great Roy Thomas Baker, The Cars had a polished-yet-immediate sound that built on Badfinger’s No Dice and Big Star’s #1 Record in defining the sound of power pop. The Cars’ partnership with Baker continued for three more albums, and The Cars’ leader Ric Ocasek would prove to be pivotal in bringing this sound to a new generation of listeners through his production of albums by Weezer and No Doubt in the 1990s. However, The Cars radically changed their sound after their fourth release and a two-year hiatus. As the band worked on demos at their home studio in Boston, Syncro Sound, they auditioned producers, including Steve Lillywhite. Ultimately, the band decamped to London’s Battery Studios in mid-1981 not with a Brit like Baker or Lillywhite, but with South African producer “Mutt” Lange. By 1981, Lange was coming off of a series of slick hard-rock chart-toppers like AC/CD’s Back in Black and Def Leppard’s Pyromania. To say that Lange represented a change in sonic direction from Baker — best known for working with Queen, Hawkwind, and Devo — is an understatement. Wheres the sessions for the first four Cars albums with Baker had been relatively short and organic, Lange favored a laborious, overdub-heavy process that stretched on for almost six months. As Ocasek told David Fricke, “I remember asking [Lange] how long we were going to be in London, and he’s going, ‘A couple of months.’ It wasn’t until we got there that we realized his policy was, ‘I don’t care if it takes five years. Everything’s going to be perfect.’” Unsurprisingly, the sessions took a toll on Ocasek and the band. for As a posthumous Rolling Stone profile of Ocasek noted: [T]he album’s nearly yearlong recording with pop-metal producer Robert “Mutt” Lange left Ocasek drained, and he later expressed those frustrations to recording engineer Chris Shaw, who worked with Ocasek on some of his later solo albums and outside projects. “I grilled Ric about working with Mutt,” Shaw says, “and he said, ‘I never want to make a record like that again. You spend four days getting a bass sound for one song. It’s really demoralizing.’ I think the process took a lot out of him.” When it was finally released in March of 1984, Heartbeat City was a hit, reaching number three on the Billboard 200 and selling four million copies in the U.S. alone. However, in retrospect it’s hard not to cringe at Lange’s production. From the album’s opening reverse-echo, heavily processed vocals on “Hello Again,” Heartbeat City sound inescapably of its time — unlike The Cars’ Baker-produced albums, which still sound fresh today. As Ocasek told Fricke, Heartbeat City “sometimes feels stiff.” Few tracks on Heartbeat City are able to transcend this mid-‘80s techno-sheen, but if any does, it’s “Drive.” ”Drive” was penned by Ocasek but sung by bassist Benjamin Orr. For a songwriter known best for sly irony, “Drive” is one of Ocasek’s most unabashedly yearning ballads. “I was very emotionally attached to the lyrics in ‘Drive,’” Ocasek wrote in 2018. “To me, it was a sad song. Like your expectations of what you are going to find are not that good.” “Drive” peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and played no small part in making Heartbeat City a smash. The official release of Heartbeat City was more-or-less the last word on the album’s material until 2018. That year’s release of an expanded edition of the album in both Redbook and Hi-Res formats added seven bonus tracks, including four demos and early versions. These four songs are simply superb. My favorite might be “One More Time,” an early version of “Why Can’t I Have You.” With its simple production, droning organ, and muted electric guitar, it could fit comfortably alongside the best tracks from The Cars’ Baker-produced albums. In comparison, the Heartbeat City version of “Why Can’t I Have You” is almost unlistenable. But perhaps the most intriguing of these four early versions is the demo of “Drive.” In place of the album version’s triad of bass throbs and tinkling synth chimes, the demo places a warbly keyboard wash over a bizarre cha-cha programmed drum track. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Orr’s rawer, drier vocals on the demo underscore the plaintive message of the lyrics, particularly at the moments where his voice begins to fray. Freed from Lange’s polish, “Drive” sound like nothing so much as a great lost Suicide song, which makes sense given that Ocasek produced Suicide’s superb 1980 album. “In a way, Ric almost would’ve been happier if he could have been in a band like Suicide,” Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes told Rolling Stone. “A more or less artier, outside band. Some of the pop fame embarrassed him.” Listen to the demo of “Drive” on Qobuz, YouTube, or wherever you stream your music. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  18. I’ve got one DD ddHiFi product, an adapter between the balanced stereo pin for my IEMs and the different size balanced stereo output jack from my portable DAC. It, too, Just Works.
  19. I’m not one who attributes much sonic impact to cables, especially digital ones. I look for well-constructed cables that don’t add any noise to the system and do what they’re supposed to do. That last, most basic qualification, though, is particularly hard to come by when one uses Apple products. For all their advantages (and I’m an erstwhile Windows user turned Apple adherent), Apple puts a lot of proprietary tech into its products, which can make things difficult when one wants to use somewhat niche accessories — like, say, audiophile-quality DAC/amp dongles — with Apple products. As I’ve discussed in my budget IEM review, the use case that sold me on IEMs was the ability to listen to music in bed on my iPad. What began with using the Qobuz app on my iPad morphed into using Roon remote to access both my own collection and Qobuz’s service. It’s now a nightly ritual to listen to music for an hour on so before I go to sleep using a pair of IEMs, Roon Remote on an iPad, and an external DAC/amp. The stumbling block in this setup proved to be the combination of the last two pieces. While battery-powered DAC/amps tended to work fine with my iPads regardless of the digital cable I used from the iPad to the DAC/amp’s input, this wasn’t the case with DAC/amp dongles that draw power from the iPad. This was particularly true on my older model iPad with a Lightning output. Quality DAC/amp dongles often include a short Lightning-to-USBC cable that will power the device without issue. This was the case with both the iFi Go Bar and the Muse M3. However, many otherwise good DAC/amp dongles don’t include a Lightning-to-USBC cable, and the ones included with the Go Bar and M3 are only a few inches long. That length works well if you’re planning to, say, rubber band the dongle to a smartphone and stick it in your pocket. But it works less well when, like me, you’d like to set the dongle next to you in bed while holding the iPad. That led me on a quest to find a longer Lightning-to-USBC cable that would actually meet Apple MFi specifications for communicating with the iPad while also providing enough power for a power-hungry device like the Go Bar. Plenty of such cables advertised on Amazon claim to meet these specs, but a cursory look at their reviews shows it not to be true. Moreover, several without red flag reviews that I tried simply didn’t work. After several frustrating purchases, I took a chance on the DD ddHiFi MFi06 Lightning-to-USBC cable, which can be had in its 50cm iteration for $35 from Audio64 and $29 from ShenzenAudio. While I’d certainly rather this cable be $15 or $20, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the purchase, because… it just works! The cable seems well-built, and it actually powers both the Go Bar and M3. I was so pleased with it, I also bought the USBC-to-USBC variant to use with my newer USBC-equipped iPad Pro. Were any veils lifted or highs sharpened? No. But I found a digital cable that seems well-built and does what it’s supposed to do. For any other Apple audiophiles struggling to find a good Lightning-to-USBC cable, the ddHiFi MFi06 is the way to go.
  20. A few weeks ago, Audiophile Style published my review of five budget ($50 or less) IEMs. One affordable IEM not included in that roundup is the 7Hz Salnotes Zero, which can be had for a scant $20 USD on sites like Amazon and Linsoul. Based on the suggestions of readers, I bought a pair of the Zero to augment my previous review. Like many Chinese-produced IEMs, there’s not much information online about 7Hz. However, the company’s products are relatively well-known among IEM enthusiasts thanks to its extensive line of IEMs, such as the $220 Timeless IEM, which has received wide praise as one of the best sub-$500 IEMs on the market. Is the Salnotes Zero comparably impressive for its price bracket? Let’s find out. The Zero features a single 10mm metal composite dynamic driver. According to the company, “The metallic composite diaphragm used in this product is made of high-quality materials, making it easier to resonate or vibrate along with sound waves. It was constructed with ease of use in mind as each part has been designed with precision accuracy so that they will not hinder audio transmission.” Physically, the Zero has a smooth, contoured plastic body fitted with a stainless-steel faceplate. The plastic housing is available in black, blue, white, red, and orange. While, unlike some budget IEMs, the Zero isn’t going to fool anyone into thinking it’s a megabuck IEM, I find the simple styling appealingly inoffensive. Indeed, I purchased the powder-blue version precisely because I like its vaguely LEGO-esque vibe. The Zero’s nozzle is plastic. However, it terminates in a metal grille. Overall, I found the Zero to be light and comfortable. My only nit to pick is that the combination of a short nozzle and rather broad body makes for a somewhat shallow fit. How true this is for you will, of course, depend on your individual ear shape. I found that tips with a somewhat tacky texture, such as the (kind of tacky) Moondrop Spring or (very tacky) AZLA SednaEarfit XELASTEC. That means buying tips that are almost as costly as the IEM, but that’s almost unavoidable at this price point. The connector for the Zero is of the flush-mount two-pin variety. The left/right color-coding near the terminals is a nice touch. The Salnotes Zero’s impedance is spec’d at greater than 32 ohms and its sensitivity at 108 dB. However, as will be discussed below, I found them to be somewhat easier to drive than this specs suggest. As should be expected for 20 smackeroos, the Zero is short on accessories. However, the Zero’s cable is well above average for this price point. Indeed, I’d rank it below only the TinHifi T2 DLC’s cable among the IEMs covered in my aforementioned review. Beyond the cable, the Zero comes with six pairs of pretty chintzy silicone tips and no case. However, I think the 7Hz made the right choice in investing in the IEM and cable instead of the tips or the case, since the latter items tend to involve a greater degree of personal taste. Measurements of the Zero can be found all across the interwebs. But I still wanted to take my own measurements with my MiniDSP EARS fixture. I calibrated my EARS with an IEM-adjusted version of Marv from SBAF’s compensation curve, where a perceptually flat frequency response is represented by a flat line. Since the Kiwi Cadenza was the runaway winner of my budget IEM roundup, I placed the Zero alongside it and that roundup’s second-place finisher, the KZ ZS10 Pro in my graph: As the graph (normalized to 500 Hz) makes clear, the Zero measures very well. It has somewhat less bass than the Cadenza and — with the exception of the area near 12 kHz — it generally has more treble energy than the Cadenza, but less than the bright-leaning KZ ZS10 Pro. I also want to show where the Zero ranks among the other IEMs reviewed in terms of sensitivity. As noted in my budget IEM roundup, I used pink noise to discern each IEM’s relative drivability for level-matching. I made the Kiwi Cadenza my baseline IEM (at the EARS’ recommended 84 dB), then measured the other IEMs’ deviations: 82 dB — Truthear x Crinacle Zero 84 dB — Kiwi Cadenza 85 dB — 7Hz Salnotes Zero 85 dB — TinHifi T2 DLC 89 dB — QKZ x HBB 91 dB — KZ ZS10 Pro The Zero is, in other words, a bit more sensitive than the Cadenza. Subjectively, I felt that it sounded even more sensitive than this single-dB difference suggests, perhaps due to the Zero’s overall brighter tonal balance. As in my multi-IEM review, I decided to use “America” from the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's CD of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends to provide a subjective comparison of the Zero and the Cadenza. A good transducer should be able to separate the mix’s interwoven elements — such as the duo’s layered harmonies — without making the dramatic percussion too boomy or Simon’s somewhat sibilant vocals too harsh. While I certainly gave the Zero a less scientific listen with a variety of other material, I found that “America” provides a good illustration of the IEM’s strengths and weaknesses. Before evaluating the Zero’s presentation of “America,” I want to quote my evaluation of the Cadenza’s rendering of this track: The Cadenza’s tonal balance sounds closest to neutral of all the IEMs under consideration. Simon’s vocals still had perhaps a little too much sibilance compared to neutral headphones like the Sennheiser HD6XX or speakers like the KEF Reference 1. However, the Cadenza’s deviation from neutrality in this area is nitpicking, in that it’s not far off from the presentation of the aforementioned Utopia. The Cadenza’s bass is authoritative and nimble, with none of the Zero’s tubby lethargy. I could discern every inflection in Joe Osborn’s churning bassline during the complex buildup to the chorus in “America.” This fact hints at what really impressed me about the Cadenza: its technical performance. It projects a wide soundstage with good depth and does a superb job of allowing the listener to pick apart the various components of the mix, even during busy passages. Through the Cadenza, I could hear the individual vocal overdubs in the hummed intro and separate Simon’s voice from Garfunkel’s in the verses. Instead of blending together in a mass, the strings, background vocals, and cymbal crashes, during the chorus were all easily discernable. Adjusting the volume down a decibel and firing up the Zero, I immediately noted that the Zero seemed to have as much low bass as the Cadenza, but less midbass — an observation that’s not apparent in the measurements. Turning my attention to the upper reaches of the spectrum, I was struck by the fact that the Zero doesn’t sound subjectively as treble-heavy as the measurements would suggest, either. To be sure, it has more energy in that range than the Cadenza does, but it’s mostly inoffensive, perhaps due to its relatively smooth texture. On the positive side, I appreciated the Zero’s additional “air,” as evidenced by room ambiance and reverb. However, this did come at the expense of some added sibilance on Simon’s lead vocal and Hal Blaine’s cymbals. Again, though, I felt that the Zero stayed below the wince-inducing threshold, though other listeners might disagree. Turning to the Zero’s technicalities, I felt that it had a bit narrower soundstage than the Cadenza and presented a somewhat flatter image despite its greater sense of air. Due to the tuning, the Zero at times seemed to render a bit more overt detail than the Cadenza, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that its tonality was just a little off and slightly one-dimensional compared to the more refined Cadenza. The prominent shaker in the fadeout of “America,” for example, just doesn’t sound quite right. Is this a deal-breaker for $20? Of course not. But it does mean that while the Zero can fool you into thinking it’s a much pricier IEM based on frequency response, it doesn’t do so to the same extent when it comes to that ineffable realism that the best transducers deliver. One interesting element of the Zero’s presentation is that its presentation comes across as a little disjointed, meaning that the separation between the instruments can come across as slightly exaggerated. I tend to associate this trait with extreme W-shaped tuning. Again, that’s not at all evident in the Zero’s measurements, but it does align with my sense that it had as much low bass as the Cadenza but much less midbass. Ultimately, this flavor of sound can lend itself to slicing and dicing a mix, but can also make it feel a little uncongealed. Again, is this a deal-breaker for $20? No way. Overall, I think the Zero ranks second only to the Cadenza among all of the sub-$50 IEMs. The ZS10 Pro might tie it for this honor. But given that the Zero is $15 less than the Cadenza and $25 less than the ZS10 Pro, this is a superb showing. If you want a budget IEM that’s cheaper and/or brighter than the Cadenza, the 7Hz Salnotes Zero is a fantastic choice. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
  21. In my pre-audiophile days, I did silly things. I went to concerts and played in my (pretty not good) high school band without ear plugs. Fortunately, these stupid decisions haven't cost me too much in the hearing department, though it's impossible to say how much better my hearing would be without those errors. When I began my audiophile journey in earnest eight or so years ago, I started to think seriously about my hearing. That meant making sure to get quality hearing protection that attenuates sound evenly across the frequency spectrum so that I could enjoy concerts safely. It also meant checking my hearing health. Initially, I tried various hearing test iOS apps and websites. Undoubtedly, resources like AudioCheck are great at helping you determine the highest frequency you can hear. (Warning: If you're over 30 -- or if you're younger than that but have been cranking those AirPods up -- don't expect to hear much beyond 15 kHz.) However, the main flaw in every hearing test app or site is that it isn't calibrated to the correct volume. Most suggest some hack to attempt to correct for this. AudioCheck, for example, instructs users to do the following: First, we need you to adjust your computer's level to match a known reference. Here is the trick: rub your hands together, in front of your nose, quickly and firmly, and try producing the same sound as our calibration file. You are now generating a reference sound that is approximately 65 dBSPL. As you play back our calibration file, adjust your computer's volume to match the sound level you just heard from you hands. Proceed back and forth - preferably with your eyes closed, to increase concentration - until both levels match. Then, do not touch your computer's volume knob anymore. Calibration is done: your computer's volume knob has been set to match 65 dBSPL. This procedure should give us a confidence of approximately 10 dBHL in the next hearing test. While this method is better than winging it, I hardly want the accuracy of my hearing test to depend on whether I've been properly moisturizing my hands. Frustrated with online tests I'd found, I scheduled a professional test with an audiologist. This alleviated my concerns about my hearing, but I didn't want to have to pay for an audiologist visit every time I wanted to check my hearing, given that everything from medications and supplements to sinus infections to aging can impact our hearing. Then I happened upon the Etymotic ER120-HHT at-home hearing test. The ER120-HHT comes with a thumb drive containing the testing software, a calibrated USB DAC/amp, a pair of Etymotic earbuds, various foam and silicone tips, and a carrying case. After installing the software, the main screen provides instructions as well as the test itself: When you begin the test, the software warns you not to adjust your volume: The actual test consists of a series of tones. Like a professional test, you simply indicate whether you do or don't hear the tone: One unique and positive feature of the ER120-HHT test is that it's at least somewhat random, unlike various apps and online tests. This is helpful because if a test is predictable, you can't really be sure if you're hearing something or just expecting to hear something. After the test is complete, you're presented with a results sheet: The results can vary somewhat from test to test, of course, based on a variety of factors, including the level of background noise in your room and your concentration. The right ear 2 kHz dip above, for example, is an outlier. In line with my general IEM rule of thumb, I've also found that using the foam tips tends to lower my 500 Hz score, while the silicone tips tend to lower my 8 kHz score. That said, when I first used the ER120-HHT, I thrilled to find that its results were almost identical to my professional results. The only downsides to the ER120-HHT are that it's Windows-only and the earbuds are uncomfortable. (Etymotic makes great sounding products, but comfort isn't something I associate with them.) It would also be great if the test went up into higher frequencies, though I'm not surprised that it doesn't, since that's not what professional hearing tests care about. Unfortunately, it also looks as though the ER120-HHT is out of stock on most sites. I sincerely hope that Etymotic hasn't discontinued it. If so, we need a grassroots campaign to get this invaluable tool back in production.
  22. Acoustic Sounds just released a new vinyl version as part of their Acoustic Sound Series. I have the others in this series. They are all very well done so looking forward to hearing this one https://store.acousticsounds.com/d/169514/Pharoah_Sanders-Karma-180_Gram_Vinyl_Record don't currently have an ADC or I would send you a rip
  23. A few of my first Club TBVO posts dealt with how to be an ethical music fan in the age of streaming. In the second of those articles, I concluded that ethical music consumers should purchase in-print media, but that the ethics are a bit murkier when the release in question in out-of-print. In this Club TBVO entry, I'd like to lay out how I research my TBVO columns and how I acquire all of the necessary releases in light of these rough ethical guidelines. My research always begins at Discogs. While the Discogs page for a given album occasionally misses a very new or exceedingly rare release, it's the best resource for all of an album's physical releases. Using Discogs, I'll look at the scanned liner notes from each physical release to determine which CDs, DVDs, and SACDs contain the same mastering. Any release where I cannot definitively nail down the mastering goes on my "to buy" list. Discogs does less well when it comes to download- or streaming-only versions. To suss out those, I look at Qobuz, HDTracks, 7Digital, Acoustic Sounds, and ProStudioMasters. With some exceptions, these sites tend to have the same selection, but occasionally one will have a unique release or more identifying details about a particular release. (Acoustic Sounds and ProStudioMasters tend to provide better source information, in my experience.) Finally, I'll read relevant discussion threads on sites like Steve Hoffman Forums, Audiophile Style, Quadrophonic Quad, and other audiophile sites to make sure I haven't overlooked a release. In the process, I'll also take notes on what fans think are duplicate masterings, but absent clear proof, I won't use others' claims to cross a release off my list as a duplicate. My final master "to buy" list will include release that I know to contain unique masterings, as well as ones whose mastering lineage is unconfirmed. From here, I begin the often costly process of purchasing all of these releases. For in-print releases, a purchase is automatic, especially when the release is the product of an audiophile or boutique label that needs audiophiles' support to stay afloat. When it comes to out-of-print releases, I can in theory avail myself of rips that can be found in various dark and not-so-dark corners of the interwebs and still comply with the aforementioned ethical audiophile consumer code. However, in reality things aren't so simple. The goal of TBVO is to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the often copious number of releases for each classic album. Prior to writing my TBVO on Steely Dan's Aja, for example, it was unclear which CDs contained what's thought to be (perhaps erroneously) Steve Hoffman's mastering. Moreover, CDs containing this mastering were believed to be incredibly rare, with only a few thousand existing in the world. Making matters more difficult, one could only differentiate these CDs by looking at the matrix information etched into the inner-ring of each disc's underside. The artwork and catalog numbers were the same. What I found is that, despite different track lengths and peak levels, many of these discs actually contained the same (possible) Hoffman mastering. However, I could've never come to that conclusion unless I actually confirmed each disc's matrix info. Needless to say, most pirates don't take the time provide a hi-resolution scan of the underside of the CD whose rip they're placing online. Instead, it's likely that they'll only provide the catalog number and perhaps a scan of the front and rear of the jewel case. In most cases, this isn't nearly enough information for a TBVO. As a result, I end up purchasing the vast majority of the releases analyzed in each TBVO. The total cost for each TBVO varies, depending on the number of known different masterings and undetermined masterings, as well as how common or rare each is. My TBVO of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love came in at the lower end, with a grand total of just over $150. Tracking down all of the relevant releases for my TBVO of Muddy Waters's Folk Singer, on the other hand, cost just under $350. While I haven't added up all of the other TBVOs' cost, I can comfortably say that Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which I've been chipping away at for several years, is shaping up to be the costliest. Here's just one section of my Discogs purchase for that upcoming TBVO: The above represents only a third of the single-disc copies that I've purchased thus far. I've also had to buy two copies of the Shine On box, for more than $100 each, plus the recent "Immersion" Dark Side box. Ultimately, the math for each TBVO is tricky. For Hounds of Love, I spent less on versions than I made writing the TBVO. For Folk Singer, I spent a little more than I made. And all this isn't factoring in things like purchasing books, or the time I spend writing (though the fact that I find writing each TBVO fun means that it doesn't feel like "work" in the traditional sense). I don't expect to make a profit on every TBVO, but I'd like to do my best to break even. That, in part, is why I started Club TBVO. If you'd like to support Club TBVO, please use the link below to donate.
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